Last night, some students in Limerick unaccountably refused to take the opportunity to sit at home and watch me on Prime Time. Instead, they decided to do a pretty normal thing for students, and have a party, outdoors, in the fresh air, in Castletroy.
Simon Harris is not happy:
My understanding is a full investigation is underway by both the Gardai and by the university authorities. Any student in breach of restrictions and regulations must & will face serious consequences
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 2, 2021
Now, there are a few things to make clear here. First, there is no doubt that this party was in breach of the Covid regulations, and the lockdown. It’s also perfectly understandable that people are angry about it. There are, roughly, two approaches to lockdown. One group, into which many readers probably fall, want to end the lockdown straight away.
But it’s important to remember that a second group, which is probably larger, want the lockdown to end as soon as possible. And they believe that the only way to accomplish that is to reduce the number of Covid cases. So, when they see students partying, they see a risk of covid spreading amongst them, and – by extension – a risk of a longer lockdown. Sometimes, we anti-lockdown people make the mistake of thinking that our fellow citizens want people locked up, or locked down, for the fun of it. And while that might be true of the odd begrudger, it’s not true of most people. Much of the anger at the students will be genuine, and heartfelt.
But, hopefully, what we can all agree on is that Simon Harris is just pointlessly bleating here. “Serious Consequences”, he says. Investigations by the Gardai and the University.
The Gardai, on the one hand, investigating the party is fair enough. But what penalties, as a society, do we really want to seen thrown at young people for being young people? To be sure, in normal times, having an open air party would be a nuisance and a pain in the backside for local residents. But, in normal times, the party wouldn’t be happening outside. They’d have been in a bar, or a nightclub. Those places are closed.
Arguably, in fact, they were much safer outside than they would have been in someone’s house. A house party would have been much harder to detect, after all, and if they’d really wanted to get away with it, holding the event in someone’s house, or in a hayshed somewhere, would have been the clever – but more dangerous – thing to do.
So, what’s the appropriate “serious consequence” for what they did? A fine is not what anybody would call a “serious consequence”, but it’s also probably the most they deserve, and the most that legislation would allow to be imposed on them. And what does the University have to do with it? In fact, what does Simon Harris have to do with it? What “consequences” could, or should, the University, or Mr. Harris’s department of higher education, impose? Detention?
We have to realise, as a people, that we are presently asking people to live and behave in ways that are fundamentally unnatural. When people go to University, they don’t just go to get an education. They go to meet people, socialise, have parties, make terrible decisions in romance and love, and learn a little bit about being an adult. Asking a whole generation to sacrifice two years of that – which we have – is a brutal requirement. And it is not even a little bit shocking, especially as case numbers fall, that some of them just can’t do it any more.
It’s not an endorsement of the party, or the students, to say that Harris is being an idiot here. He knows full well that he cannot impose any “consequences”. He knows full well that this will be forgotten by next week.
What he’s doing is pulling out the hard man act, to impress a few voters, in the knowledge that the media will carry his comments without any criticism.
But while we’re on the topic of consequences: Harris was Minister for Health before the pandemic started. Ireland entered the pandemic with the lowest number of ICU beds per head of population in the EU. That’s one reason we’ve had such a long lockdown. He also ignored, for weeks, a request from nursing home Ireland for an urgent meeting. Our nursing home deaths speak for themselves.
So these students, he says, will face “serious consequences”.
Harris, naturally, will skate by, consequence free, continuing the Eoin McLove act that has never, yet, let him down.