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Nightclubs to Government: Scr*w you, we’ll just open earlier.

It is fair to say that The George bar in Dublin, Ireland’s oldest and most well-known Gay venue, is not anybody’s idea of a far-right, anti-lockdown, institution. So, it should be notable, then, when it effectively tells the public, and the Government, that it intends to do everything in its power to undermine the intent and the effectiveness of the most recent restrictions:

They’re not alone, either. Is there a more famous nightclub in Ireland than Copper Face Jacks?

Remember, the intent of the restrictions on nightclubs was to reduce socialising. Not to reduce socialising after 12pm, but to reduce socialising, and social contacts, altogether. For most of the pandemic, Ireland’s Government has benefitted from widespread compliance with its mandates and its restrictions and its instructions. Now, there’s a full-scale rebellion afoot.

Good. If nothing else, this should force the issue, and force the Government’s hand.

Nightclub owners, and staff, have been treated abominably. This time a fortnight ago, you might remember, a decree came down from Government that they would have to provide ticketing facilities to all attendees – not an easy thing for a business to develop in just a few days. They’ve already been lumbered with the need to invest in the technology to check, and verify, vaccine certificates. All of that required investment in technology, and training, and general covid compliance. No sooner had they spent that money than they were told, on Tuesday, that they would have to close again, effectively.

They have not been the only people treated poorly, either. Their customers tend to skew towards the young, and the healthy. People going to nightclubs are not, we can confidently assert, disproportionately occupying beds in hospitals and intensive care units. That generation – the young adults amongst us – has paid a higher, longer term price than anybody else over the course of the pandemic. Unlike people of my generation, many of whom are married and live with a husband or a wife, a lot of people in that agegroup live alone, in rented accommodation. They have been prevented from living a normal social life for coming up on two years, despite the fact that the coronavirus poses them a risk no greater than the flu, or the common cold.

There have been anti-lockdown protests in Ireland for a very long time. For most of that time, however, those protests have been restricted to the relative fringes of society. In some ways, though it will frustrate my anti-lockdown readers to say it, it is a credit to young people, and business owners, that they agreed to sacrifice themselves for what they were told was the common good. In any country, widespread trust in the authorities is not necessarily a bad thing: It is, after all, the basis of law and order and social cohesion. The rules in any country work best when a widespread majority agrees to obey them in both letter, and intent, voluntarily.

What we’re seeing now, though, is the inexorable collapse of trust and confidence in the authorities. More and more Irish people have eyes to see that in this country, the behaviour of those in charge has been significantly out of step with the rest of the world: The longest hospitality lockdown in the western world. A complete refusal to even consider antigen testing for months. A “restrictions first” approach to greeting every new wave of the virus. And a complete and total refusal to even attempt a significant expansion of healthcare capacity.

Now, at long last, we have businesses stating openly that they will, in effect, do their best to evade Government restrictions.

Many will cheer. Hell, I am cheering, mostly.

But it is also a sad day, because it marks a point where the Government and public health in Ireland have so totally lost the trust and co-operation of a section of the public that people are now openly ignoring them. When a Government, and the authorities, lose that kind of trust, it becomes very hard to get it back.

What’s more, we’re now seeing a real cleavage and divide in Irish society which may be difficult to heal. On one side, an older, professional, comfortable generation whose main fear in life is death. Those people still dominate the media, and politics, and the professional classes, and they will continue to push for restrictions in the apparently sincere belief that people socialising are recklessly toying with other people’s health.

On the other side, a population more worried about the loss of a meaningful life than the threat of a virus, completely frustrated with the exaggerated over-reaction to daily case numbers.

In the longer term, there is only one winner. A state which loses the moral authority to make laws loses, ultimately, the ability to enforce them. Government, if it is sincere about its latest restrictions, will end up having to forcibly close these nightclubs. Or it will have to back down. And neither course of action will win it any friends.

They are in a mess. Deservedly. Those of us who are sick of them can, at least, enjoy that spectacle.

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