Only Two Questions Matter For Ireland...

A year into the crisis, and you could circle the globe with all the articles that have been written about the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland. In the time it would take you to listen to every podcast, every interview and every media debate on the matter, you could probably have walked around it too. It is remarkable that over a course of this most disturbing of years, and despite all the coverage it has been given, Irish society has failed to identify the most important issues facing the nation.

Ireland’s leaders seem no closer to understanding the threats posed by this virus, or how to manage them in a way that doesn’t involve the degradation of our communities and our society. Throughout the crisis, they have neglected to put obvious, sensible risk management measures in place – the wholesale refusal to implement international travel restrictions being the most egregious case. The WHO’s advice has routinely been ignored, as has best practice from abroad. A year on and it is difficult to know what the nation’s goal is, who is making the decisions, or where the lines of responsibility run between NPHET, the HSE, and the government. One gets the impression that Ireland’s policymakers are not entirely displeased by this.

The Irish media have done little to improve this desperate situation. They seem content to track the cases up and then down, and to follow whatever stories happen to find their way into the daily news cycle: boozy brunchers in Dublin, late-night revellers in Killarney, golfgate. The media don’t seem to understand that it is their responsibility to provide leadership and clarity to the people at all times, but especially when the politicians and policymakers do not. All liberal democracies depend on a free, open, independent and engaged media to hold their policymakers to account. Sadly, Ireland’s media lack either the willingness or the ability to fulfil their primary responsibility to society. When there is no accountability for policy mistakes then the policy mistakes will continue, and with predictable consequences for the people and for their physical, mental, and financial health.

Most of the people have zoned out by now anyway, and who could blame them? After doing all that was asked of them during the first lockdown, they have since become convenient scapegoats for an establishment that has failed them at every turn. The continuous cycle of lifting and reinstating restrictions, along with nightly admonishments about personal responsibility from NPHET and the total failure of the media to hold the policymakers to account, serve as proof to the people that no one is in charge. There is no goal and no plan. What difference does it make whether they adhere to the various and constantly changing measures?

Right now, only two questions matter. In fact, they are the only questions that have ever mattered for Ireland. Sadly, no one seems to be asking them. They are:

1. How do we get rid of the virus?

2. How do we ensure this never happens again?

If you are listening to a conversation in the media, be it a podcast discussion, a radio interview, a TV debate, or some reporting from NPHET's latest conference, and it isn't trying to answer one of these questions, then it is a waste of time: a waste of your time, and a waste of the nation's time. It's just noise. Turn it off. Or better yet, complain. Let the media know that you have no interest in reporting or 'content'. You only want answers to the questions that matter, and it's the media's responsibility to ask them.

Every decision that we have had to make since the start of this crisis has resulted from our failure to address these two questions. Are schools dangerous? Should retail be open? Should we have more restrictions or less? None of these questions would have any relevance if we had eliminated the virus. These are decisions that have been forced upon us by our failure to address the first of these two questions.

If our focus had been in the right place from the start, we would have ended this crisis a long time ago. There would have been no need for the €9 meals, the Gardaí in the underwear aisles, or the arguments over...everything. The miles of newspaper columns and the hours of media commentary and debate could have been put to better use. We could have avoided so many arguments and difficult decisions. We wouldn’t have wasted so much money. We wouldn’t have lost so many viable businesses. And yes, we would have saved so many lives.

When we can get rid of the virus, the fear, the frustration, and the uncertainty that has dominated our lives since March 2020, will disappear with it. The clouds will be lifted. The threat to every part of our health system will fade away. There will be less pressure on vaccine distribution. Business will have the clarity they need to engage with suppliers and employees. The government’s deficits will narrow. We can socialise and plan our lives again. Everything goes back to normal. That’s what we want, isn’t it?