If events of the last week have shown, public figures in Ireland have really figured out the knack of shooting themselves in the foot. Multiple resignations have devolved into a protracted struggle with an embattled EU Commissioner and Supreme Court Judge. In what are otherwise grim times, strange entertainment has appeared in the form of these side shows. But they are only side shows.
For all the trouble that "GolfGate" has caused the government, it ultimately amounts to little more than a PR disaster. One wonders if as much effort that has gone into comprehensively putting out this fire through a series of apologies, condemnations and resignations, had gone into preventing further clusters, such situations may never have even arisen.
That is not to say that the incident in the west is of little significant. Public figures have public responsibility to lead by good example. Those that have been seen at recent lockdown protests are only empowered when they see those who make and protect our laws breaking them.
The protest in Dublin City Centre last weekend was easily one of the largest of its kind seen in Ireland for some time. A feeling that has perhaps been building, but a turnout nonetheless encouraged by inaction at the highest level.
One Facebook group, 'Ireland Breathes Free,' has quickly amassed over 11400 members in a week. It regularly features posts attacking healthcare workers and other posts spreading fake information and conspiracy theories that range from laughable to downright racist. “Dangerous nonsense” as it was put by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Notable contributions to the movement include Dolores Cahill, a UCD Professor with links to the far right in Europe and whose party opposes immigration, as well as Una McGurk SC, a member of the International Protections Appeals Tribunal. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has since called for the Tribunal to “act urgently” in preparing a report into Ms McGurk’s participation.
What is most sad in all of this is how little focus the government seems to be making towards fighting the causes of the most recent outbreaks. While targeting house parties is of course necessary, there has been no mention of the issues currently facing direct provision centres in dealing with outbreaks. Despite the large numbers seen last week emerging from workplace clusters, the extent of the government’s advice in this regard is for businesses to resume remote working where possible.
While this may be possible for office settings it completely disregards the reality that most clusters have emerged from factory floors. Government guidance in how firms deal with this has been minimal. While it is easy to castigate individual meat plants for not taking enough precautions, if it is not made clear to them what the specific rules and procedures are and the necessity to follow them can they really be blamed?
Clarity is key, and as the events of the previous week have shown the government can be clear when they want to. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to their credit, have done a good job in addressing the problems from within their own parties. Taking steps to lock down certain counties and revert back to previous lockdown restrictions is proactive, however unpopular it may be. They do ultimately however shoot themselves in the foot if the mismanaged easing of such restrictions creates the problems they and the Irish public have for so long worked to eradicate.
In a perverse way given the political cost involved, GolfGate may actually prove a welcome distraction for government. Phil Hogan is clearly universally disliked, and the longer attention stays on him the less it will be on government handling of the virus. However, attention will eventually shift away from Phil Hogan and back on to a concerningly high number of daily cases. Far more real consequences lie ahead.