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If I Hear the Irish Government Use the Phrase “Personal Responsibility” One More Time I’m Going to Lose My Mind
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Irish Government has used the excuse of “emphasising personal responsibility” to avoid taking any responsibility themselves for managing our way back to normality.
This has meant maintaining a narrow focus on short-term crisis management micro-solutions (hand-washing etc), with the intent of shifting the pressure off their own shoulders and onto those of the public, using NPHET as a scapegoat, intermediary or enforcer, depending on the circumstances.
Only a few days ago the ESRI (a government-funded body) announced that it’s research showed “public support had swung hugely” in favour of increased restrictions.
Polling is mostly a way of programming public opinion rather than understanding it. The ESRI has not carried out any research as to whether the Government is taking on too much or too little responsibility for solving our current situation; whether the key to getting back to normal will be individual behaviour or more structural changes to the health service; or whether people would like to see the government prioritise those kinds of changes in it’s actions and communications.
The press has not carried out any polling of this type either, and has focused on churning the government’s push-polling, giving the official approach a further veneer of public support.
Last week in an article on the current situation the Irish times, the Health Editor asked us to have sympathy for Stephen Donnelly and the personal responsibility approach. He noted that while certain changes were within Donnelly’s gift, he is “the Minister for Health, not the Minister for Nightclubbing or Christmas Parties. Basic personal common sense cannot be outsourced to the government”.
Stephen Donnelly decides when nightclubs open and close. He decides who can and can’t gain entry. He decides whether those criteria are being applied strictly enough. So let’s be clear - he absolutely is the minister for nightclubs; the powers that he has assumed make him so.
Since being introduced by the Minister for Health, the Covid emergency powers have been extended to February 2021 and look set to be extended further to June ‘22 without debate or advance scrutiny. It’s impossible to square this with the idea that individual personal responsibility is key. The government want to be able to tell you where you go, when, and for what reason, but also that fixing this crisis is entirely on you, not them.
Our real Covid strategy is to hide from the implications of endemicity and hope the problem goes away on it’s own, or that someone comes out with a miracle medical solution. Until then, the government will string us along from delay to delay and restriction to restriction, with each one promised as the light at the end of the tunnel.
Each new restriction the public accepts creates the certainty they will be asked to accept two more in the future, because it signals to the government that we’re still willing to shoulder the blame, and that there is no pressure on them to look at the root of the problem - the health service itself.
Whatever value the personal responsibility argument had, we are near-total vaccination with no end in sight. Telling everyone to slather themselves in hand sanitiser and hide under the kitchen table for the next five years while Leo Varadkar fucks off to a Techno weekender in Brighton isn’t going to cut it. From this point on our approach must reflect the fact that Covid will be with us forever, and that we can’t continue living the way we have been, even in the medium term. It has to stop.
The time of personal responsibility has passed; the time of Governmental responsibility is here.