As the clock struck midnight on 21 October, Ireland was plunged into its second lockdown of the year with the same restrictions as before – non-essential shops closed, households were unable to visit each other and travel beyond 5km was restricted…
But what’s different this time, for me at least, is the bleak realisation that a full seven months since we first closed down the country, the powers that be have not come up with any solution beyond choking the economy and keeping people under house arrest.
Back in March, when our then Taoesieach Leo Varadkar closed down the country just before St. Patrick’s Day, the severity of the situation hit home for me, and thousands of other small business owners. The government was ordering us to cease trading. Overnight my income dropped to zero. As I locked up my premises on the final day, I was utterly convinced that I was about to lose everything.
What followed next was a masterclass in either political spin or political leadership, depending on your point of view, and back then I was firmly of the opinion that Leo Varadkar was proving himself to be a decisive, brave and strong leader.
We locked-down quicker and harder than most of our European counterparts. The government commandeered every private hospital. The Pandemic Unemployment Payment – the third highest in the world – was handed to every person out of work due to the crisis. Banks were ordered to cease loan repayments for six months, mortgage lenders were required to offer repayment breaks, all without penalty.
For the self-employed there were grants galore, government-backed bank loans, business rates were (and remain) on hold. Leo promised us we had the political will and the resources to navigate our way through the pandemic, and he certainly seemed to be putting our money where his mouth was.
As the spring made way for summer it seemed that the whole country had donned the green jersey. For you non-Irish readers, this means to put the interest of the country before anything else.
Despite the death and economic catastrophe that surrounded us, there was a sense of pride in our strict lockdown. The media filled us with reports on the disaster that was unfolding in the UK, reinforcing our sense of superiority. The UK’s indecision contrasted sharply with our own governments firm, decisive and harsh rules. And as the rest of the world began to open up, we ploughed on with the longest and strictest lockdown in Europe.
On 21 September our pubs finally reopened and it felt like we were catching up with the rest of the world, but less than a month later we were plunged back into lockdown again for six weeks.
And it is here, at the start of this second lockdown I find myself entertaining the arguments I had spent the summer dismissing, because it no longer makes sense.
After seven months our ICU capacity remains one of the lowest in Europe, shockingly we have fewer nurses in Ireland than we did in March, and the student nurses who were promised payment for working through the pandemic are yet to receive a single cent from the government.
According to the current rules, I cannot visit my elderly mother because we’re not allowed to mix households, but my sister, who is a teacher, can go to work every day and mix with students from 30 other households.
If you go to a supermarket, you are unable to buy a toy for your child, because it’s not “essential” but you can buy a bottle of Buck’s Fizz.
The only road out of my town has a Garda checkpoint checking that people aren’t breaking the 5km rule, meaning a person living in New York can travel to Dublin, but I can’t.
It just doesn’t make sense.
As far as I can make out, we’re all still expected to be wearing our green jerseys. The handful of anti-lockdown protests have been met with almost universal disdain. Ciara Kelly, the only voice from the mainstream media to question the government’s strategy, has closed her Twitter account because of the vitriol she received when she said on her morning radio show that she thinks we’ve got it wrong.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had during the summer on a zoom call with two friends – one of whom was convinced the whole thing was a multi-government conspiracy, the other was of the opinion that not wearing a mask amounted to manslaughter. I now find myself somewhere in between these two positions.
As I sit at home, collecting my rather generous Pandemic Unemployment Payment while my business teeters on the verge of collapse, I can’t help but think there’s more to this than meets the eye and we’re not being given the full picture.
I’m not ready to join the handful of protesters in Dublin, I’m not convinced there is a multi-government conspiracy, and I’m not entirely unhappy with the government’s actions since March.
But I am eyeing up my tinfoil hat, and, if the rules get any more bizarre, I might just have to try it out for size.
Photo credit: Cormac Kavanagh