23 April 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill’s famous cautionary utterance at a crucial juncture of the Second World War appears applicable to the situation this country is currently heading into with regard to our response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the days between now and the projected end point of the current Covid-19 restrictions on May 3, the Government will share with us some of the detail of their plans for a tiered relaxation on social concourse and movement and the recommencement of some areas of economic activity that for the present have been deemed non-essential.

The Government is faced with a very delicate balancing act and it is crucial that they get it right. And it is even more crucial that all of us as citizens ensure that the cautious and gradual steps towards the restoration of some social and employment activity are made at a deliberate and considered pace.

The overwhelming recognition that we are, as public health advice continues to urge upon us, all in this together has enabled our country to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus within parameters that our health services have been able to cope with so far.

There has been admirable public buy-in with the restraints on customary freedoms and entitlements that the health experts deem mandatory in order to navigate this global emergency. But a stabilisation of the Covid manifestation, a flattening of the curve of occurrence, does not mean the beginning of the end of its baleful influence on our lives. The very best we can hope for is the approach of an end to the beginning.

Until an effective vaccine is developed and widely disseminated, our lives as individuals and communities, countries and continents, will continue to be lived under the shadow of this disease. Therefore it is of essential importance in the weeks ahead that we use whatever freedoms are returned to us circumspectly and responsibly.

We will still be required to be cautious and patient, to refrain from close contact with those dear to us and to restrict our employment and social activity – something which will demand from us individually and collectively an even greater exercise of restraint and self-sacrifice than that which is being compelled upon us at present.

Some sectors of the economy currently in enforced hiatus will be allowed to commence functioning, but many will not; some level of human interaction will be endorsed, but we will continue to live the greater part of our lives in some or other form of isolation.

The choices that the Government make in these regards will not be uncontested. While all businesses not currently functioning are experiencing kindred levels of anxiety and financial complication, it will seem penal to those whose resumption of activity is not immediately sanctioned to have to continue in this agony of uncertainty while other sectors can again start to operate. Similarly, there will be the impulse to cavil over continuing restraints on travel, recreation and contact with family and friends.

Those aggrieved at the modest relaxations in the Covid- 19 precautions we are likely to be told of in the coming days have of course the right and entitlement to lobby and argue their case. But these representations should be informed by a consciousness of the peril we are still trying to find a safe path through, and by the imperative that the needs of the many must always outweigh the needs of the few.

Parallel to the very cautious end of the beginning of our address of the pandemic is the similarly advanced process towards the formation of a new government. While both situations seem inextricably entwined, those engaged in parley on the formation of a grand, or, perhaps, grandiose Coalition should cite the pandemic as an imperative at their peril.

The smaller political groups currently assessing the framework document hatched between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should not be made to feel traitorous of the national interest if they decline to play the supporting role that the fading stars of the former Big Two of Irish politics have assigned to them in their collaborative stage play.

If there is truth to the undertone in some of the invitational comments directed by FF and FG to the less populated groupings – namely that a strong and stable new government is urgently needed to guide the country through the remainder of the Covid-19 era and the economic rebuilding process that must follow – then surely the right-of-centre establishment parties should not have set their faces against dialogue with Sinn Féin.

If we require the solidity of a truly “national” government, then surely the party to which voters gave the most preference to in the February General Election should have been included in talks to form a bipartisan, or even tripartite, administration. Assuredly we will, eventually, need a new Government and that Government will undoubtedly have to frame and implement policy in a landscape profoundly changed from the one in which the election was held. But the Irish people will need to buy in to that policy for it to succeed in addressing the post-Covid economic climate. Therefore the exclusion of a significant portion of the voices of the people from participation in that Government would seem to place it on very perilous ground before it even emerges from the womb.

Editorially, we wish the current moves to form a Government well, a wish enhanced by the parochial consideration that a successful outcome to the moves could see two female voices for the Cavan/Monaghan constituency at the Cabinet table in Heather Humphreys and Niamh Smyth. But morally we are minded to be critical of any stratagem by FF and FG to win over a junior collaborator by throwing Covid-19 guilt in their direction.

While the economic cost of the pandemic will require a comprehensive and carefully considered Government response, it pales into insignificance beside the current and ongoing human cost of this crisis. It is therefore not something to play politics with.

The Northern Standard this week returns to print after a brief suspension of publication dictated by the pandemic restrictions. We are grateful for the support and encouragement received from our readership over the past weeks and, mindful of that, were anxious on our return to convey their and our own deep sense of appreciation for the efforts of the many people in our communities continuing to provide frontline services or stepping up to offer their time and talents to the support and protection of the needy and the vulnerable. The example of these local heroes is a shining one, something we should all strive to emulate as we face into the end of the beginning of the challenging times we find ourselves experiencing.

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