29 May 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard


The tentative beginnings of a return to social and economic activity signalled by the first phase of the Government’s recovery roadmap to take the country out of the virtual lockdown situation imposed by Covid-19 has brought with it a distinct agitation for the pace of progress to be quickened. Different sectors of business unhappy with their place in the recovery queue have been engaged in intense lobbying and various forms of friendly and not-sofriendly persuasion to try to get closer to the starting line.

And some members of our caretaker Government’s Cabinet are, perhaps as a consequence, agitating for a review of the two-metre social distancing stipulation, arguing that some form of amendment or relaxation will facilitate the return of businesses and schools to a state of viable operation. The considered but cautious view of the social distancing relaxation argument given by Cavan/Monaghan Fine Gael TD and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys to this newspaper this week (see page one story) encapsulates the dilemma in which the Government currently finds itself.

It must strike a very judicious balance between protecting the population against a resurgence of the Coronavirus while at the same time relieving some of the mounting fiscal pressures on the State by the restoration of economic functioning. It is a precarious balancing act, with strong tensions on either side of the Government as it negotiates the slippery rope of recovery.

To be swayed overmuch by the caution of expert medical advice, or by the urgency of important sectors of trade and employment for whom inactivity is creating unprecedented pressures, risks losing the grip on the strong political and social consensus that has thus far bedrocked the country’s ability to negotiate its way through the pandemic without putting unsustainable pressures on our health service.

We are all stakeholders in this consensus – everyone who has sacrificed hitherto unquestioned freedoms of movement and association has contributed meaningfully to the extraordinary effort it has taken to get the country through these challenging recent months with our social order, altruism and fortitude preserved intact. We should not give way to impatience now.

Economic realities are knocking ever louder on the doors of our commercial and industrial enterprises while those doors remain locked or only partially open. But to force them wide open too early will only serve to risk a reversal of the roadmap and undo the pedestrian but positive rate of progress that all our collective efforts have brought about. For a little while longer, let us all cleave to the wisdom beneath the contradiction of the classical adage festina lente and make haste slowly through the crucial days ahead.

The astonishing social media footage circulating this week of people indulging in dangerous practices in and around farm machinery, presumably for their own amusement and that of others, was condemned in suitably unequivocal terms by both the Health and Safety Authority and the leaders of the main farming organisations.

At a time when consciousness of the need to protect the physical wellbeing of those who work in the agricultural sector and those, particularly children, who are on farms during busy production periods, was presumably never higher, and considerable effort and expenditure has been devoted to disseminating best practice protocols, for such irresponsible behaviour to be celebrated and openly shared as a possible goad to emulation or “betterment” was profoundly disturbing. While mitigation of the occurrence might be found in the prevailing sense of ennui and boredom that is an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the collective isolation efforts deemed necessary to curb the spread of Covid-19, this can only mildly blunt the edge of the affront to good sense and the need to set good example that has been delivered.

But there is within this thoughtlessly arrogant and even defiant act the kernel of a strong wake-up call for those charged with the important responsibility of delivering the farm safety message effectively. Despite the powerful and repeated nature of the warnings and advice there is obviously a constituency of people out there immune to them.

A glance around our streets and public places occasionally shows a small but similarly disaffected constituency heedless of or apathetic to the ubiquitous urgings about the need to social distance as the battle to stem the spread of Covid-19 continues. Whether defiance, ignorance or immature bravado lies at the heart of such a behaviour is a question for the social scientists to ponder but undoubtedly there is something eloquent about the deep divides that lie just under the surface of contemporary Irish society in such seemingly nihilistic kickbacks against prevailing norms.

It is hard to argue against IFA President Tim Cullinan’s recommendation that people responsible for behaviour of the kind circulated on social media this week should be dismissed from their employment if they are responsible for discharging any form of professional farming function. But such punitive approaches will hardly extend the limits of the reach of the efforts of his organisation and others to make Irish farms safer places and reduce the annual toll of fatalities, which has already reached eight this year with some of the busiest periods of agricultural activity yet to take place.

For the overwhelming majority of those engaged in the farming sectors, the safety messages repeatedly imparted to them represent preaching to the converted, although they are assuredly salutary reminders to regularly monitor and update their best practice standards and prevent complacency keeping in at times when work pressures and the level of activity are at their most intense.

For the dangerously heedless remaining minority, perhaps recourse to the same social media platforms that this week gave an audience to wanton bad behaviour is the means to ensure that the absolute necessity of protecting physical wellbeing on farms hits home to all. A focused social media campaign showing in graphic detail the ruinous physical harm and deep and lasting grief which negligence of farm safety can cause would surely be the most effective rejoinder to the deeply regrettable footage that made its way to public attention this week.

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