At the time of writing – 2pm on Tuesday, news is trickling through that the nation’s great leader – No, not Tony Holohan, the other one – is planning yet another address to the nation to explain the latest full scale retreat in the war on Covid, which has been comprehensively lost for some time. An hour ago, word came through that the Government have decided that Ireland shall now enter a phase of “enhanced restrictions” – a phrase so skin-crawlingly manufactured that it could only really have been invented by one of the fifty or so ex journalists paid six figures a year to advise this Government.
Pubs and Nightclubs will close at 11.30pm. This is, in effect, a move to close nightclubs altogether, without wanting the bad public relations from announcing that nightclubs will close altogether. Families will have to isolate for five days if one person in the family or household tests positive.
Neither measure will, you can be assured, do anything to “stop the spread”. Nightclubs will be replaced by house parties, and other unregulated activities. Schools – which, everybody with a brain knows, are the main vectors of the current spread – will remain opened, as they should.
There is often a reluctance in the Irish media to identify the cause of the problem, and point a finger at him. This is because, for understandable and human reasons, people do not like being personal. Journalists have to look Micheál Martin in the face. It is harder to do that, after you have told the truth about him. But journalism is about being honest, too. Or it should be.
It especially should be so when we are talking about the man who is, effectively, the nation’s chief executive officer. Nobody is more powerful, in Ireland, than Micheál Martin. Nobody has more responsibility for the state of the nation, or the conduct of Government. The buck must stop somewhere, and Mr. Martin’s desk is that place. There is nobody above him, forcing his hand, or telling him what to do. He has wanted this job for his whole adult life. He has now had it for approaching 18 months. It is fair to judge him on his record. It is also important to say that judging him on his record does not mean that he is a bad person – by all accounts, Mr. Martin is a very nice man, and, in his personal life, a decent man.
But in terms of his professional performance, it should be, by now, abundantly clear that the country is presently led by the most vaccilating, ineffective, ill-equipped man ever to hold the office of Taoiseach.
It should also not be a surprise. In a political career spanning 34 years, Micheál Martin has one notable achievement – the smoking ban. He has been a career follower. Loyal to a fault first to Charlie Haughey, and then to Albert Reynolds, and then to Bertie Ahern, and then, until it looked as if his own seat might be in peril, to Brian Cowen. His leadership of Fianna Fáil has been an unmitigated, directionless disaster unparalleled in the history of that once-proud party. In over a decade at the helm, he has failed, even once, to have an idea of his own, or a policy that is distinctive. He has followed the herd at every turn, chasing votes and voters and popularilty and the latest trend in public opinion without any idea of what he wanted to do, once he took power.
His leadership of the country has been identical.
Ireland, under Micheál Martin, has definitively and absolutely lost the fight against Covid. In truth, the Taoiseach has never even tried to lead it. He got the job he spent his life wanting, and then promptly installed Tony Holohan as the shadow Taoiseach.
Over the last year and a bit, the country has been crying out for leadership. A sense that somebody – anybody – is at the reins and has a plan. The Government has comprehensively failed to provide that leadership. If you want an explanation for the bizarre cult of Tony Holohan, then there it is. For all his many flaws, Holohan is the only leader in power who makes any attempt to provide reassurance, or guidance. That so many still look to him is not testament to any great success on his part, but that he is about the only person in the Government with the ability to communicate a plan or give the impression that he has one, or that he can speak with confidence about where the country will be, in three months.
We have been reduced, under this Government, and this Taoiseach, to a cowering wreck of a nation. A country where a substantial portion of the population lives in fear of the daily number of covid cases, and hopes that somebody will come and save them. We are a country that, in the absence of any leadership, has turned on its own citizens, absurdly blaming 7% of the population who can not, or will not, take a vaccine for the fact that that same vaccine clearly is not working to eliminate transmission.
What the country needs is a leader who will tell it that the worst has passed, and normal life is perfectly safe. The United Kingdom, for all that it is led by a deeply flawed man, has such a leader, and life in that country is normal, without any restrictions. The virus is still there, in the background of public life. But it is not the all-consuming daily nightmare fuel that it is in Ireland, under Mr. Martin.
It starts, and ends, at the top.
Tony Holohan is running the country, on Covid, because Micheál Martin will not. He does not want to. He does not know how to. The strategy, from day one, has been to let NPHET handle it, and hope that Government will take the credit, and Holohan the blame.
The result, predictably enough, has been the opposite: Holohan gets the credit, and Government gets the blame. Because people, for all their flaws, instinctively recognise that the Government is a sideshow to NPHET, and not really running the country besides.