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The Great re-opening: Why the wait?

Photo Credit: Alde Party Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you were to ask a progressive parent in Ireland, or indeed most of the western world, about their attitude to teenage sexual activity, the chances are that at some stage you would hear somebody say words to the effect of “if they are going to do it, let’s make sure it’s as safe as possible”.

In this spirit, much of western society has re-orientated its attitude to sex education over the past twenty years to promote contraception, safe sex, consent, and all the other increasingly familiar phrases.

Why start a piece about the Government’s plan for a re-opening of society with a paragraph about sex education, you ask? Well, because it’s interesting to compare and contrast the approach they take there with the approach they are taking to Covid.

Last weekend, across Ireland, thousands – tens of thousands – of people met, socialised, and partied outdoors. They drank alcohol, and ate food. They danced, and sang. They made a bit of a mess of the public spaces they occupied.

We are facing into a bank holiday weekend, and the weather forecast, by Irish standards at least, is pretty good. We’re going to see the same thing again. Which poses the question: Why are we delaying the opening of outdoor hospitality until June 7th?

That is more than six weeks away, remember. What is going to change between now and then? What level of cases do we expect to see by then? Do we think we’re going to arrive in early June with vastly fewer than the 3-400 cases a day we are experiencing right now? None of those questions were answered. The approach seems to be “we can’t do it too soon”, but the logic behind that seems absent – as if the whole thing is based more on a form of superstitious emotion than any real science.

What was missing from Mr. Martin’s address to the nation last night was this: Any justification, or rationalisation, at all, for the continuing restrictions which he expects us all to live under for the coming months. We were told, ostentatiously, that communions and confirmations are banned during May. What, one might ask, is the science behind that?

We know, for example, that children are at almost no risk whatever from Covid 19. If your daughter is getting married in May, you can hold a celebration with up to 20 people. But if your daughter is due to make her first communion, or confirmation, holding that event, and a celebration with up to 20 people would be, by all accounts, too dangerous.

Does that make any sense? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this one: Will the media even bother asking any questions about it?

Indeed, across the media last night, the news that the most serious restrictions would last at least another month was greeted by a rush to pull on the Green jersey and blare the good news from the mountaintops. At the press conference, Mr. Martin was asked – not kidding here – if perhaps the Government was being too generous with our liberties:

One of the great criticisms that can be levelled against you in Ireland, of course, is that you are some sort of negative Nancy, a constant naysayer, and refusing to look on the bright side of life. And it’s important to note that for many people, last night’s announcement, limited and absurd as it was, will offer a ray of hope that was not there yesterday.

But that does not mean that we should settle for it. The public are being denied, every minute of every day, basic liberties. As of today, it is still illegal to leave your own county. It is illegal to go to the cinema. It is illegal to get a haircut. It is illegal to go to mass.

These are not minor restrictions. For the guts of a year, hundreds of thousands of Irish people have lived in a form of house arrest. The Government’s approach, which is to grant us back our freedom one tiny piece at a time, is not something to celebrate. It is not something to thank them for. Our freedoms are ours, not theirs.

When you are deprived of your liberty, it must be for a good, and overwhelming, reason. What is that reason at present, other than a vague, undefined belief that Covid is lurking out there somewhere and might stage a stunning comeback? Isn’t the real reason that we’re being deprived of liberty simply that the Government is too afraid of political blowback if cases rise?

Consider that, this weekend, when you see (as you will) people gathering outdoors, and partying in parks, and on beaches. These people are congregating in public purely because the Government lacks the courage to open bars and restaurants. That, in turn, is costing those bars and restaurants, and those who work in them, money. But it is making no difference, because people intend to congregate anyway.

It is no longer, in any meaningful sense, about a virus. What it is about, unfortunately, is politicians who have grown much too fond of addresses to the nation, and having little goodies to give the public if they behave. We are living through an era of petty, political, tyranny.

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