One of the myths being fostered during the virus crisis is that Ireland is pluckily standing on its own two feet, making all of the key decisions regarding protections, and with the economic resources to see us through.
The truth is rather different. We are still dependent for some of the protections on items manufactured in Chinese slave labour camps. Why? Surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of a state which controls ever increasing parts of Irish society to come up with an alternative, domestic source?
Likewise, we are in the humiliating position of having to join a queue and pay the inflated market price for protections that are produced here; by multi nationals which pay little or no tax and have enjoyed substantial state supports.
Some of these companies like Crowe have now added the “opportunities” inherent in catering for the virus market to its website, alongside the usual attractions of low tax, free infrastructure, non union labour (although that is not made explicit) and an increasing immigrant workforce.
John Waters has been one of the few to highlight all of this. The fact is that not only do we remain passive clients of the corporations, but seem to have no plans to perhaps re-deploy currently unemployed people in practical ways to supply some of what we need to beat this virus. The days when the Irish state had the initiative to develop our sugar and turf to address national crises are long gone. Would they even be permitted to anymore?
Which brings me to O’Neills, the sports manufacturer which earlier in March was forced to lay off 900 staff as the GAA and other sports closed down.
Interestingly, while having nothing to say about the multi nationals – who do not allow them inside their door – the trade unions were quick to condemn O’Neills. They referred to company profits, which have been relatively modest for such a large long standing concern founded in 1918, and implied some sort of selfishness on O’Neill’s part as though they were planning to decamp to Malaga.
In fact, O’Neills, which faced potential ruin due to the suspension of GAA activities in particular, had within two days presented a plant to begin manufacturing medical gowns and scrubs, thus immediately saving a significant number of jobs. Perhaps a press release praising the company was issued by Derry Trades Council, but I failed to find it.
O’Neills was supported with orders from the local health authorities. The initiative, however, originated with the company. Presumably they will be replacing what would otherwise have had to be imported. So that provides a template for what might be done, given the proper support from the state. The supplies orders O’Neills are now fulfilling come from health authorities in the Six Counties.
The self-confidence required by nations to come through a crisis is very evident in Germany, perhaps the most powerful state in Europe, and how it has been coping with Covid 19.
In contrast with the early incompetence of states like Italy and Spain, Germany has coped quite well.
Of confirmed cases, just 0.6% have resulted in death, compared to 10% of a vastly larger number in Italy, though that may be a reflection of the vast numbers tested in Germany.
The Germans tested a huge number of people and identified mild cases of infection before they have a chance to fully develop in public. Germany’s high rate of acute hospital beds – the second highest in Europe – has also been a key factor in managing the pandemic.
Germany’s current worst case scenario is that the death rate will rise to 1% but they seem confident that they have the situation mostly under control and that it may begin to trend downwards.
Hats off to Teutonic efficiency, but the German example is also a lesson. Countries that were free to make their own decisions and control the mechanism to secure vital supplies are faring best in the crisis.