FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

5 June 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

COMMENT

The sense of our country and our communities emerging from the enforced hibernation of social distancing and stay-at-home practices deemed necessary to curb the spread of the Coronavirus will accentuate on Monday next if, as widely expected, the Government okays the move to the next phase of its recovery roadmap.

Already, the return of some freedoms of movement and association, and the recommencement of economic activity in some spheres, is inducing a widespread sense that the worst might have passed. Inevitably this is tempered by a wariness that even the cautious pace we have set for recovery, or complacency brought about by over-confidence in the effectiveness of our remedial actions heretofore, might precipitate us into a backward trajectory that will see levels of infection spike upwards.

The balancing act that the Government must achieve if it is to bring about a sustainable reactivation of Irish employment and social life remains a delicate one. Crucial to the maintenance of this precarious balance is the attitude which each of us as individual recovery stakeholders strikes in the days and weeks ahead. The balancing act needed from us involves the scales of caution and optimism.

The enhanced appreciation of those of our customary individual and collective freedoms we have had to forego in the greater good should behove us naturally not to be cavalier about their use upon their return. Yet pressures are mounting on the Irish people in all aspects of their lives as the battle against Covid- 19 continues. The immediate effects of employment suspension and consequent loss of and reduction in earnings might have been temporarily mitigated by the various ‘holidays’ from debt that have been introduced, but many will be conscious that financial difficulties have merely been postponed rather than effaced. To these individual concerns are added the collective anxiety over the ultimate cost of the measures introduced to stem the spread of the virus, and what toll will fall to be paid in taxation or cutback in the future in order to balance out the books.

Sectors of the economy agitating for an early place in the recovery queue have been told to be patient and wait their turn – but for many the agitation is based on the substantial fear that by the time their turn comes around it might be too late for them to reopen their doors. The childcare and education sectors wait anxiously for clarity and guidance in order to make their return to functioning viable and sustainable.

Many in the population have been neglecting aspects of their physical health not related to the Covid-19 pandemic and it will be a challenge for the health service to catch up on the backlog of appointments and treatment while maintaining the tight grip that it has achieved on the invisible enemy in our midst. And greater still perhaps are the emotional and mental health legacies of social isolation, still to reach full flower and bound to make additional and more complex demands on support services in the time ahead.

The cost of the Covid-19 pandemic is already prodigious in economic and social terms. Costs that will arise from the ongoing recovery period and the post-Covid landscape are likely to be equally large and it will be a defining task of the next Government to find the resources to meet them and ensure that these resources are targeted where the need is most urgent and where they can be most effectively and fruitfully deployed.

The greater freedoms likely to be restored to us from next Monday on – to travel further, associate more with family and friends and shop and do business with greater choice – must be utilised with a sense of proportion and a sense of responsibility if we are not only to preserve the steady forward momentum of the roadmap we are following, but if we are also to avoid difficult economic and social circumstances arising for us all collectively in the post-Covid period. We have all earned a little optimism and positivity, but we have also surely learned in the months passed the value of caution.

Instructive words in this regard were spoken on the national airwaves yesterday by Monaghan physician Dr Illona Duffy. Dr Duffy’s bulletin from the front line showed that medical professionals are still dealing with a steady manifestation of new cases and pointed to areas, such as factory settings, where targeted measures are now needed. The spread of infection among families noted by Dr Duffy is something she links to the ongoing GP crisis in our county, with many people unable to access the services of general practitioners not only for vital testing and treatment requirements but also advice and the certification needed to access forms of welfare.

Difficulties confronting members of non- Irish communities whose limited English is hampering them from accessing and understanding best practice prevention advice as well as medical services are also highlighted by the Monaghan doctor and, like the lack of GPs, represent an area of deep concern which surely demands an emergency response from national government.

It would be very beneficial for our constituency’s national political representatives to come together to present a powerful lobbying voice on the issues which Dr Duffy has highlighted. They are at the core of important principles of access to health care and social inclusion which, if left unaddressed, can only have very negative consequences for life in our county and region in the times ahead, when the resources available to the Government to address such inequities will be constrained and the competition for them fierce.

Now is the time for our TDs and Senators to make their voices heard. Whatever freedoms we regain from Monday next, let us exercise them cautiously and responsibly. True recovery will only come about at a steady pace, a pace that affords us time to identify the areas of our economy, the dimensions of our health care and the sectors of our community in need of particular attention and address if the recovery is to be sustainable, equitable and improving.

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