Anthony McIntyre favours a societal front government in the battle to defeat Covid19.
Many citizens of the society in which we live face an existential threat from the Coronavirus. While the government, to give it credit, has been working flat out trying to avert a plummet into the abyss, party political interests have not taken a back seat.
During the week, talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail took place against a backdrop of a body count that has saw a shift from incremental to exponential, with the peak predicted around mid-April. As a society that has largely unquestioningly deferentially acquiesced in an increasingly but unavoidable authoritarian culture, the least we might expect from our elected representatives is that they put their own sectional interests on hold and work to fashion a government that is as talented as possible so that we are best equipped to fight Covid19.
Yet we find something else, a determination to be exclusive rather than inclusive. If we are all in this together how do we explain the determination of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to insist on sending Sinn Fein to the back of the bus? The Mary Lou McDonald-led outfit has more votes than either of the two parties currently jockeying for government. We can criticise it for many things but being talentless is not one of them.
I am not a Sinn Fein supporter, and cast not even the lowliest preference its way in the recent general election. In an ordinary situation I would not want to see Sinn Fein in government for a host of reasons articulated elsewhere and which require no repetition here. But these are extraordinary times. We have seen the old certainties turned upside down and inside out. We have assented, even reluctantly deferred while holding our noses, to an array of draconian measures that would normally see us pouring onto the streets to protest in a manner that would mock any concept of social distancing. We are aware of the very real dangers that once the policing and surveillance agencies have eaten from the forbidden fruit, they will never relinquish the taste and as such we are creating a whole array of problems down the line. We pragmatically live with the trade off, the lesser of evils, in the knowledge that in order to fight another day we first have to live to fight another day.
We understand that governments will always be found, but to have good government we need a robust opposition. Yet, even here, we could park the concept of an official opposition in the face of an existential threat on the basis of understanding the Bulgarian proverb that we are permitted in a time of great danger to walk with the devil until we have crossed the bridge. I no more believe in the devil than I do in god - baloney the both of them - so the analogy is figurative. And having engaged with or listened to some Christian hate merchants this week, it is impossible to see any difference between the vindictive devil they claim to abjure, and the hate filled god they claim to love. Yet opposition is crucial. Its vital indispensable function would need to shift to civil society including social media. The task of opposition would not be to scrutinise just the government but also to rubbish the crankology of the conspiracy cockwombles willing to believe and then amplify anything so long as it is whispered or preached to them.
It is almost certain that this society will need further emergency legislation to be passed to enhance our efforts to push back against Covid19, including assisted dying if ICU capacity is maxed out, leaving many with the prospect of a horrible death. Constitutionally such legislation cannot be effected until a new Seanad is in existence and that can only happen after the office of Taoiseach has been regularised instead of the caretaker capacity in which it currently functions. There is no point in changing the captain now on a ship battling to stay afloat unless his command has been so cack-handed that we face a Costa Concordia outcome. The vessel he captained, from the moment it set out, was not remotely seaworthy to ride out the current storm, a consequence of chronic underinvestment in the health care system, leaving us with one of the most compromised ICU systems in Europe. Too late in the day to head for port and change boat, we are now in the eye of the storm and the journey through to the other side has to be undergone. There is no retreat. Varadkar started so he should finish. Not because we approve of his politics or share his ideological slant, but because it is difficult to see how rupture can trump continuity.
Arguably, the ship can be best fortified by an expansive and embracive mindset which recognises that our chances of making it across - even though we will lose many on the way, thousands of us buried at sea - are enhanced if we have in the engine room the best logistical brains that this society has to offer. As a society can we afford to have people like Eoin O'Broin and Pearse Doherty stuck in the cabins while less capable minds are in the engine room? It is an arrogant fallacy to feel that the best brains exist everywhere but Sinn Fein.
We stand to gain more than to lose if this society has a government drawn from all parties and none, inclusive of people like Eoin O'Broin, Pearse Doherty, Ged Nash, Peadar Toibin, Paul Murphy et al. The government in a public health emergency should not be the outworking of some sectional interest but a societal front against the existential threat society faces. Sinn Fein's economic policies which have been designed for a normal time should not be a factor in the abnormal situation in which we find ourselves. The party should be judged on logistical ability and competence to deliver in a crisis situation, not on what its taxation policy might be in a world that no longer exists.
Once the emergency ends the parties should immediately go before the electorate. For now, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have a duty of care to stop playing party politics with people's lives. If no one left behind is to have any meaning it must also apply to Sinn Fein.