It feels like a very long time ago now, but it is worth remembering, and reminding ourselves, that the original point of lockdowns was to reduce social contacts between people, and limit opportunities for Coronavirus to spread amongst the population. The success of lockdowns was supposed to be measured in scientific terms – the flatness of the epidemiological curve, the number of people in hospital, how well the health service was coping, and so on.
That was then, of course. This is now:
Plans to ease lockdown restrictions further in July will have to be reviewed if there’s evidence that people aren’t following the public health guidelines, Taoiseach Micheal Martin has warned. His comments come as gardaí were called in to disperse large crowds of people socialising in the city centre for a second night in a row.
Note what is absent from the Taoiseach’s statement: The necessity for lockdown and restrictions, you will note, is no longer measured by the number of covid cases, or the number of people in hospital, or the pressure on the health service. It is now measured entirely by how well-behaved the public are. If we are not well-behaved, then we will be hit with extended lockdowns. Lockdown is now a tool not of public health, but of collective punishment. “Do as we say, or kiss your freedoms goodbye”.
It is important not to overstate things, as a general rule, but it is also important to speak plainly. And speaking plainly, this is evidence of a Government, and Irish establishment, which has gone mad.
As you read this, countries around the world have opened up their societies and economies. At the weekend, 250,000 spectators attended the Indianapolis 500 motor race in Indiana. Two weeks ago, tens of thousands attended the Eurovision. In a few weeks, people will pour into stadia across Europe for the European Football Championship. In Ireland, and in Ireland alone, people are being threatened for drinking, and meeting other people, outdoors.
The Irish Government cannot even decide what their crime is. Listen to them talking about it, and you will not be able to discern whether the covid risk bothers them, or whether the litter and filth that comes from people gathering outdoors bothers them more. Dublin City Council refuses to provide bins and public toilets, it says, out of fears that people might come into the city centre and use them. Their official policy seems to be that they would rather people defecate on our streets than provide public toilets, and be seen to endorse human nature. Outside of Dublin, the weekend saw beaches filled with people, and no facilities provided for them.
We often forget in Ireland that the purpose of Government is to serve the people, not to rule them. That spirit of service is what sets democracies apart from tyrannical states. The only reason we have a Government in the first place is to provide things that people need, which can only be provided collectively: policing, healthcare, education, public toilets, and so forth.
In Ireland, we have a Government that officially does not want to get its hands dirty by serving the people, lest anybody think that it approved of the people. They do not approve, and, as punishment, the people must wallow in their own poop, and if that does not deter them, they will be locked up again.
And now, confirming that approach, we have the Taoiseach stating it outright. Do as your told, or we will lock you up again.
A Government that issues threats like this is two things: In the first instance, it is tyrannical. But in the second instance, it is weak. This is a Government that has completely lost the country. Yes, to some extent, people will still tell pollsters that they approve of NPHET and Tony Holohan and that the Government has handled Covid well, but the proof of a pudding is in the eating, and masses of Irish people have now decided simply to ignore the Government altogether.
Thus far, the public’s attitude to the Government has manifested as apathy and civil disobedience. In all likelihood, were an election held tomorrow, the same people would be voted back in, give or take a few changes in seat numbers, without much controversy. The media, certainly, is working overtime to support the Government’s version of events. But that will not last forever. Unless he changes his way, and quickly, Mr. Martin, having spent his entire life scrambling for the Taoiseach’s office, having been a TD since 1987, will find himself recorded in history as the most universally loathed man ever to hold that office.
A Taoiseach that has to threaten people is not a leader. That is the behaviour of a tyrant.