In MacHale Park in Castlebar last weekend, three GAA fans were escorted out of the grounds by Gardaí, during the semi final encounter of Breaffy and Westport. Three lone supporters standing in empty stands that could easily hold 25,000 people were a public health safety.

Mayo Journalist Michael Commins, expressing the same frustration that Mayo GAA people poured out on Facebook said: “We can’t take this bunkum any longer…

“Honest to goodness decent people being escorted from MacHale Park in Castlebar that can hold around 33,000 people.” (Presumably he meant the maximum-packed, country GAA-steward capacity, because its official capacity is 25,369.)

He continued; “a few parish-loving people at a Mayo semi-final are treated like this. It is time to take back our country.”

Back in March, the GAA around the country shut down, leaving rural Ireland (and the urban areas), bereft of one of the social staples that make life enjoyable.

After six months of living in fear, and with a much better picture of the actual threat posed by Covid19, it looks like the GAA are intent on failing the Irish people as badly as the pathetic Irish government are.

To put it bluntly, allowing local Gardaí to enter MacHale stadium and remove 3 people from a massive outdoor arena that can contain more than 25,000 people was as timorous a move as the GAA could make. The fact that these unenforceable rules are applied selectively, only adds to the frustration, because at many grounds around the country a great many more than 50 people (40 from each team including mentors and players) lined the edges of pitches to watch parish derbys played out.

And why wouldn’t they? For many people, especially in rural Ireland, the parish involvement in local league and championship is a hub of cultural interaction and social synergy. Life literally revolves around the local GAA in much of Ireland. The curtailment of this this year, along with the never ending idleness of lockdown, will have an impact that will far outlast the backslapping of the D4 set and the political elite when they announce, Churchill like, that we have defeated the dreaded Covid.

The GAA seem intent on implementing illogical and reactionary Covid restrictions, which don’t seem to follow any coherent rationale. For instance, in some clubs parents are not allowed onto pitches, so they all wait in the carpark and hover around the gate. This happened all summer at cúl camps around the country where coaches fretted about social distances on wide open fields, so they told parents to congregate at the choke points in the car park. This ostensibly was to “keep everyone safe” but it feels more like compliance with senseless punctilio. One thing it did not do was keep people distant from one another.

Rural Ireland is dying. It was happening before Covid, but with the Covid lockdown we are seeing that demise accelerated at an extraordinary rate. For instance, it is estimated that two out of every three rural pubs will not reopen. The anecdotal evidence for this is worrying. On Facebook trading pages the amount of Pub clearance sales is a hint that lots of these rural family owned pubs are admitting defeat.

The Covid panic seems like a societal suicide. Oddly enough it’s a suicide that will not affect its implementers in chief. The politicians and media elite leading this manic strangulation of rural Ireland will keep their jobs and will still get paid when all this is over. In fact we might see the politicians making sure this happens by subsidising the failing private mainstream media. So mugs, you will be forced, through your taxes, to keep the Irish Times afloat as well as RTE.

Why are we still so afraid? Another story on the weekend showed an elderly gentleman in a pub, with a meal and a drink, who had set an alarm clock so that he wouldn’t stay over the 105 minute limit allowed. Where is the sense in terrifying the elderly with these arbitrary rules? Surely the older people should be allowed to make up their own mind about what risks they are willing to take at this stage?

Last week we also learned from official HSE figures that the average Codid death (82 years of age) is slightly older than the 2017 life expectancy (81.4 years). We learned that, similar to the recent US study,  94.6% of Covid deaths had a comorbidity.

Of course pointing out this comorbidity figure is not the same as saying that these were people who were on death’s door anyway. We should, of course, watch out for vulnerable people and take extra vigilance around them, but that has always been the case, you would not visit an elderly relative with respiratory problems if you had a flu. There is a sensible middle road to thread.

A further breakdown of this HSE co-morbidity figure would be very useful in allowing us to assess risk to vulnerable groups. And most importantly it could provide vulnerable people, especially the elderly, with a method of assessing risk if they want to carry on with life without living in terror-stoked isolation.

Professor Michael Levitt, the Nobel Prize winning Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford, made a very interesting analysis. He put it that the real measure of the deadliness of Covid19 can be measured in excess deaths.

This may be the only concrete figure we can point to, because the Covid19 death count mixes up so many co-morbidities and other effects, and can be very misleading. For this reason we have had an interminable debate about the distinction between dying of Covid19, and dying with Covid19.

Prof. Levitt looked at excess deaths in the US, and calculated that the total excess amounted to a month of natural death. Applying this as a stochastic risk, it is like taking an average of a month out of everybody’s life. That of course is a very crude calculation because the virus doesn’t apply an identical risk to everybody, but it does give us a very useful – because its tangible – figure with which to make decisions on an individual basis.

Bear in mind also that there are many risks posed to the elderly and people with underlying health issues. The risks that Prof Levitt calculated are weighted across all of these, so it is reasonable to view the Covid19 risk in the same way. For instance he found that in Israel there were similar excess deaths in 2017 and 2018 as there were in 2020. It looks like there were other pathogenic reasons for this. What were they? We don’t know.

One way to contextualise Prof. Levitt’s insight is this: If you are approaching the end of your life and you possibly have 20 (estimated) months of life ahead of you, are you willing to take that risk of one month of lost life, so that you can lead a normal existence where your grandchildren can visit you?

It’s a reasonable calculation to make, because the alternative is to live those 20 (possible) months in isolation. In reality people can, and would, make a compromise. Maybe if you are 80 years of age you might not go to a tightly packed large gathering, but you might want to go to a local cafe for a late morning tea.

There is another reality here also, because loneliness and stress can have just as great a life shortening risk. Prof. Levitt pointed out that panic shortens life also, and that it might shorten it by much more than one month. We have to be wary of what this state of tension is doing to our society’s physical, cultural, and economic health

Professor Levitt’s analysis points to something very important, which most people are blinded to; you can be so paralysed with the fear of dying that you end up afraid of living.

 


 

Lorcán Mac Mathúna