The general rule when we report on polling that shows a result which readers might not like is that we will get a lot of comments saying things like “fake poll” or “didn’t poll me”. So, for context, note that this is the same opinion poll which, over the weekend, showed that 83% of the public agree with President Higgin’s decision to give two fingers to the event commemorating the establishment of Northern Ireland. It’s also been conducted by one of the best pollsters in the business, DCU’s Kevin Cunningham:
🚨 POLL 🚨
Ireland Thinks / Mail on Sunday
Q. Should employers have the right to ask workers whether they are vaccinated?
18th September 2021
— Next Irish General Election (@NextIrishGE) September 18, 2021
In a sense, polling on this question is a bit irrelevant. The law is very clear vaccination status is a private matter. Indeed, as recently as June of this year, Employment lawyer Richard Grogan posted a lengthy analysis on his personal website about how much legal trouble the Government was exposing employers to, over the issue of vaccination. For example, even the segregation of vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees, he writes, could pose issues on the basis that such a policy would, de facto, reveal each employee’s vaccine status:
“The segregation of employees creates huge Data Protection issues. The reason for this is that if the employees are segregated then in those situations the employer has identified to the vaccinated employees who is not vaccinated and to the non-vaccinated employees who are vaccinated. Effectivity the employer in those circumstances has disclosed medical information in respect of all the employees and all the employees potentially have a claim against the employer for disclosing their medical history.”
That would, of course, also be true for almost every policy an employer could enact in relation to vaccination. It is a universally accepted rule that you may not disclose an employee’s medical status without their consent. How on earth could you make any policy specifically targeting the unvaccinated (mandatory mask wearing, for example) without also revealing their status to their colleagues, and your customers? You can’t, is the short answer.
Absent significant (and very controversial) legislative change, employees who are unvaccinated have a very strong legal position vis a vis employers who might wish to get tough with them.
The main significance of the poll is not in relation to any potential change in the law, but in what it reveals about the continuing decline in social tolerance for the unvaxxed. A year or so ago, vaccine passports would have been controversial, even unthinkable. But as the numbers vaccinated have increased, so too has intolerance for the holdouts. And slowly but surely, public blame for the remaining restrictions is shifting away from the Government who enacted those restrictions, and towards the unvaccinated who are perceived as being the cause of them remaining in place.
Of course, with 90% of the public vaccinated, that belief is not especially rational. The unvaccinated, in such small numbers, pose vanishingly little threat to the country, or to the health system. They are disproportionately young and healthy. They will also, disproportionately, have people amongst them with natural immunity, who have already had covid. Those people are actually more protected from Covid than the double-jabbed are.
But public opinion has never been, and never will be, a matter of logic and reason. It is emotional. And the public are of the view that their fellow citizens have a duty to get vaccinated, and should be punished for it if they refuse to do so. It is astonishing, actually, that the Government, in the face of this attitude, have been as restrained with the unvaxxed as they have.