An August weekend starts with the inhabitants of Counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly placed back into restricted movements and business activity.
This is thanks to outbreaks- ‘clusters’ in the strange, instantly adopted jargon of the pandemic- arising from direct provision and meat plants.
Both involve almost voiceless people. In Direct Provision, overcrowding was raised as a problem immediately by the people living in those conditions That was dismissed. Access to the PUP payment for people in Direct Provision was refused. This week, the Taoiseach had to say
Following reports that there was an issue with people in Direct Provision settings being reluctant to come forward for tests because of fear of losing income, we have decided that, lest there be any doubt, Direct Provision residents will be treated the same as any other citizen in terms of social protection supports when it comes to Covid-1.'
There was no doubt, because the Social Protection Minister and her Department had reflexively refused to apply the rules to people in Direct Provision. This was just those chickens coming to roost.
In meat plants, the fact that 90% of staff are reported as not being paid sick leave, and work and live in very close quarters was a receipe for disaster. When the matter was raised in the Dáil in May, the Minister dismissed even discussion of the problem as ‘smear tactics’.
And then he set out a statement of the then FG government’s view of who was to be listened to about safety concerns;
“The import of your question seems to be that management in these companies would in some way jeopardise the ongoing production of their own plant operations. The primary concern in all these issues is the safety of people… I have staff in my department working in conjunction with management in those plants."
Covid-19 is a virus. It doesn’t care who it infects. It can’t be dismissed or PR’d away. When people- any people- are left unprotected, it will take advantage. And then that effects the people who are used to being listened to as well.
The virus is systematically revealing that the habits of the Irish state in their treatment of different classes of people are one of the major challenges to truly addressing its spread.
Dublin has long been imagined in relation to its pubs. With the ones without kitchens closed and the ones with food struggling to attract locals in the same numbers as tourists, perhaps that will change.
But, at the moment, a trip into town is a tale of two cities. By day, it is becoming a pedestrian and bike friendly destination- with increasing numbers of car-free streets making it a viable place to take children as a pleasure not a chore.
And then, at around 6pm, the shops shut and everyone just goes home.
Drink isn’t the only reason to stay in a city. But its nearly the only one left when there are no shows, no music venues, no cinemas and no theatres. While publicans clamour for things to return to the way it was, without that network of nightlife options they may find that, even in Dublin, nightlife does not live on pints alone.
Whatever comes next, it won’t be the same thing that was there before.