Martin’s simple new Covid plan is about as clear as a muddy puddle
THERE are a few constants when it comes to Ireland’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The daily virus briefing usually inspires little more than a desire to scream into the void; the smell of hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol permeates every indoor space and seeing someone’s nose and mouth is now akin to glimpsing a Victorian era woman’s ankle.
Finally, there’s Government pronouncements and the, by now, inevitable confusion that follows the latest mixed up health message Micheál Martin and his team try to issue.
The Government’s dire communications strategy – though to call it a strategy is to give it far greater credit than it deserves – has come in for plenty of criticism in recent months but it reached a new nadir last Tuesday.
After weeks of build up – and days of carefully crafted ‘ leaks’ – the Taoiseach; Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly stepped up to their respective podium’s to set out the Government’s vaunted plan for ‘Living with Covid’.
The idea – according to Mr Martin – was to provide the people with a clear, concise and easy to understand explanation of the Government’s plan for the country to deal with Covid-19 over the winter months. The idea was and is a good one. The delivery, however, left an awful lot to be desired.
In the midst of speeches that were as heavy on jargon and platitudes as they were light on detail, it was confirmed that, for the next six to nine months, day to day life in Ireland will be governed by a carefully designed five level system of restrictions based on the level of the virus in various areas.
So far so good. The plan, well flagged in advance, made sense and the approach seemed eminently logical.
Then – mid briefing – the Government decided to tear it up. Dublin, responsible for more than half of the hundreds of new cases each day, was not going to be part of the ‘five level’ plan.
While the rest of the country was on Level Two the capital would be one level ‘ Two and a bit’ as one unidentified Minister told the media shortly before the briefing.
In Dublin – where wet pubs would remain shut – there was anger that the city was set for three more weeks of tough restrictions.
Across the rest of the country – and, one imagines, particularly in Kildare, Laois and Offaly – there was anger and incredulity that Dublin seemed to be receiving special treatment.
Was the Government really so spineless that it wouldn’t impose the restrictions on Dublin that it had literally just announced? Is that not enormously unfair on the rest of the country?
Not at all, bristled a clearly irritated Taoiseach when those suggestions were put to him by the media and the opposition.
The Five Level plan is ‘nuanced’ and can be tweaked when the need arises, as it apparently had in Dublin. Furthermore the Cabinet had merely followed the advice of Nphet. A point Mr Martin was a pains to repeat several times lest it escape unnoticed.
While the Government did, eventually, pull the trigger and impose a new lock-down on Dublin the damage to its credibility and message had already been done.