It hadn’t been a great week. The Ministers in charge of public health matters had been issuing multiple clarifications of various bits of their plan to increase restrictions since Tuesday.
The public had been monumentally fed-up with them, and their lot in life. By the time the Minister for Health had found himself, unbidden, comparing a pandemic to bouncing on a trampoline the Taoiseach must have felt things couldn’t get worse.
He was wrong. He was so wrong.
A good walk spoiled
The flubs and fumbles of the start of the week may not have been impressive, but they were, as the Taoiseach would later admit, a function of rushing best-effort decisions forward in the face of a virus that didn’t keep to office hours.
But then the Irish Examiner broke the story of the Oireachtas Golf Society and their 80 person shindig. And the public realised they hadn’t been angry before, because now, now they knew what angry was.
As is traditional, Liveline on RTE radio one provided the outlet. But it wasn’t the expected shouting and railing of outrage. It was something more devastating than that. People told stories of losing loved ones, of a mother dying alone and being buried under the covid restrictions. Of sisters visiting their brother behind glass, not recognised with their masks on. Of deep, harrowing tragedy and open wounds left with people who sacrificed more than it was decent to ask for the greater good.
And behind every story, the contrast to the lads in the plus-fours, whooping it up at a ‘gala dinner’, the sort of event where gammon appears on the menu and also pays the bill.
The Agriculture Minster’s evening efforts to apology the problem away were done by morning. He was gone. But the tide of fury kept rising. The excuses started to become more baroque as public servants explained they’d only accidentally attended the gala dinner, as it had been sprung on them unexpectedly. Presumably they had made their way to a hotel function room expecting to find an indoor crazy golf course, and been so disorientated by the lack of novelty windmills they’d fallen back onto a chair set for a meal.
The Taoiseach hit the communications nuclear button and went on the Six One News to do a live interview, just to signal he was still somewhere in the vicinity of his job.
The man with the touch of crud
Sometimes something strange happens in politics. A government can suddenly lose the people. A sort of inverted Midas effect is triggered. And from that moment on, everything that government touches turns to crud. Their arguments aren’t even listened to. Humiliations pile up.
It happened to John Major’s government after the run on sterling. It happened to the Cowan government as the banks imploded.
And that government can carry on. It can still hold its majority. But it’s a zombie, marching undead towards an electoral decapitation.
Ireland can’t afford a zombie government in a public health and economic and social legitimacy crisis. It needs better.
And, as Livelines’ stories showed, it deserves better.
Micheál Martin bought his truncated term in office with his party’s future. But it would be better if he didn’t haggle the price up to include our futures too.