AM: There was a march in Dublin at the weekend organised by the Campaign For Truth And Proper Health Care. One estimate put it at around 700. I passed it and felt it was closer to 1000. You helped put it together so I’m wondering why you thought it a worthwhile exercise.
PM: Ironically, as the restrictions were eased on Saturday, it’s no longer an issue to be an "organiser". Had they not eased I would have corrected you on that point as charges have been brought on people for allegedly doing just that.
The march was planned since Christmas time looking into the New Year and a continuation of the restrictive policies in place, particularly since the introduction of the Covid cert.
We would place the number in attendance far higher than reported. But to answer the question - we do not see an easing of restrictions as satisfying our objectives. Those objectives are the outright abolition of all restrictions and the emergency powers vested in the Health Minister.
AM: Frequently, these events are depicted as a right-wing attempt to manufacture bias. You are anything but right-wing. The evening prior to the march you gave up your time to go out on union activity with me in defence of employees being denied rights. And you have a socialist republican history. How in your view has this far right characterisation come about and what difficulties does it present for mobilising on what you feel is the core question – one of rights?
PM: If you look pre-Covid we had the emergence of anti-establishment right-wing groups in the country. Yellow vests, The National Party, The IFP. These were supplemented by an alternative right-wing media, something which appeared to copy British and American versions. They existed predominantly to focus on immigration and topics ranging from fundamental Christianity to very conspiratorial topics. These were prime and fertile grounds to embrace Covid 19.
My analysis of the mishandling of the country through Covid was based on quantifiable inconsistencies such as how those we knew we had to protect (the elderly) were treated in care homes. Then the introduction of mask mandates, then the Covid cert. My politics didn't change.
A vacuum emerged where questioning the narrative was concerned and this was filled by these right-wing groups. It wasn't until March 2021 where I could see middle ground and left-wing activists emerging. This is when I first considered becoming active on this issue. And its incumbent on anyone with a social justice outlook to offer an analysis and direction and look at the effects of lockdowns and discrimination on ordinary working class people.
The working class always bear the brunt both socially and economically. And I believe objective analysis will support this view in the months and years ahead. The biggest transfer of wealth and reduction in rights occurred during this time. To not look at this from a worker’s perspective is an utter failure of the left.
We looked to offer a non-ideological middle ground on this issue, citing rights as fundamental and clear the noise of left and right politics. Clearly, many moderate right and left-wingers identified with our outlook. We also played a vital role in countering far right ideas on the ground while others who shout from the sidelines did nothing.
It’s important we maintain that space otherwise another vacuum emerges. To be clear too, not everyone charged as far right in my experience actually is. I observed a number of throwaway terms used throughout the last two years which created a dehumanising effect, which is always a breeding ground for hate.
AM: Most people seem willing to regard the powers as some form of necessary intrusion or inconvenience. With the receding of the powers (for now) did the march organisers not jump the shark? It certainly did not look as big as the 27 November one which I also passed and I am wondering if you think that is down to the issue no longer being perceived as being so pressing?
PM: We were very happy with the numbers and the vibrancy of those who turned out on January the 22nd. I think it's fair to say if it had been the previous weekend, it would have been huge, off the back of discussions on Mandates. After 2 years of Covid, and constant bombardment with doom and demonisation from the media, it’s understandable the intensity would wane on the day restrictions eased as people were given a break that didn't appear remotely likely just one week previous.
The thing is, you cannot react to every announcement of government. We've had very conflicting directives for two, sometimes in the same day: so we must be confident in our outlook and conduct our campaign with a clear strategy to oppose undemocratic decrees and definitively discriminatory segregation.
Restrictions on people's liberties and freedoms must as a minimum be proportional to the risk. The 26 County state was one of the harshest on its citizens for restrictions. And as the scandal of children sitting in a class room with windows open wearing masks continues there's an obvious absurdity to tackle.
As the crowd on Saturday made clear, there is no trust in the regime in Leinster House with such sweeping powers. Our focus is on campaigning to abolish mask mandates, stopping the extension of emergency powers and a holding to account of those in authority. We have always and will always uphold the rights of people who freely consent to wear masks and seek vaccination.
AM: My abiding memory of the protest is one of being accosted by religious nutters as I passed it. They weren’t at the march but when a captive audience appears the sandwich board men will prowl for somebody to inflict Jesus on. The march organisers can’t be blamed for that. But there is a wider tendency to look over the history of the anti-vaccination movement and see religious wackos and right wingers heavily involved in it. Do you think there is a danger that your campaign which is not anti-vaccination, but anti mandate, is nevertheless suffering from that perception, which is likely to have a limiting impact on it? Also, although you say there is no trust in the government, I think to the contrary that there is. There seems to be a consensus across the board within Leinster House around restrictions. SF is in favour and is currently the most popular party in the country. I think the most that can be said is that those who turned up last Saturday have no trust but how representative is it? Apart from yourself, I have not talked to anyone opposed to the restrictions who comes at it with a substantive logic. I talk to a wide range of people from the left to the right (something which I think the ethos behind The Pensive Quill also reflects) and if the anti-government sentiment was as pervasive as you suggest I think I would pick up on more of it. In general, I have little interest in the broader theme and for that reason zone out from a lot of the discussion. But I have been approached by people who remind me of the screamers from the republican community who loudly label MI5 and touts anybody disagreeing with them. On this issue they see everything in terms of a grand conspiracy by government, the media and the science community aimed at bamboozling society: they alone know the problem and the solution. You can easily grasp the type of response that is likely to induce.
PM: It's funny who and what goes on with public events, I looked around me at the November the 27th Rally and there was a guy on stilts at the front of the march, others with crass signs of grim reapers and "new world order references": don't know where they came from and don't know where they went. My own view at the time was suspicious" - were these people there to discredit what were very clear principles around rights, truth and equality? I haven't seen much religious or far right stuff other than on social media, as we have asked to leave all that aside. These distractions could be considered as threats to how we are perceived though we resonate a very simple message continuously which gets through well I believe and I don't think it has impacted the Campaign for Truth and Proper Healthcare in recent times.
There is no trust in government among the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people impacted by the discriminatory Covid cert. Of that I'm quite certain. If we want to take a snapshot of trust in government's approach to restrictions, we can look at the Dail vote which passed the indoor dining legislation. It was voted in favour 74 to 68 and that's within the Dail, So much apathy was present and parties like SF and PBP maintain in correspondence that they were not in favour of mandates or Covid certs though our issue is they did nothing beyond those votes to protect those positions. Many of the impacts on society from these policies are not apparent to the middle or upper class as they have adapted to remote working. Many in lower paid jobs didn't necessarily feel it due to PUP payments but many others felt hardship and isolation not to mention fear. It’s easier to see this week how happy people are to see the easing of restrictions.
I never subscribed to conspiracy theories. They were distractions from the issue of what was actually happening to people here. People were being divided by a digital authenticator. To regain equality you had to consent to a medical intervention which you didn't want. That is coercion. A good way to highlight the level of coercive intent is to ask why didn't the government here allow a third option in the form of testing to access goods and services? European and British controlled regions did this. Leo Varadkar stated very clearly late last year that vaccines hadn't proven very effective at stopping transmission but very effective at driving up vaccine rates. Nobody should be comfortable with this. With the money spent on digital certs its difficult to imagine it's the last we have heard of them particularly given this isn't the first incarnation of them (The Public Services card).
Our position on the discriminatory nature of Covid certs was recently vindicated by Fianna Fail TD Willie O Dea and the ICCL. Of all the claims made against the vaccine free cohort only one continued to be levelled into January and that was the over representation of vaccine-free in ICU and this has been shown to be a classification sleight of hand.
AM: But the right rather than the left has long been associated with opposition to public health measures. And they usually come at it from an individualist position rather than a collective one. Prior to Covid the strongest criticism of vaccinations has been from the right. So, there is no surprise that they will hitch their wagon to the type of campaign you try to push. I have found it in the anti-censorship debates – we can end up campaigning around the issues that the right are also engaged with. In fact, I think the free speech issue has been taken up by the right while the Left has been defending censorship, no platforming, cancel culture. Do you see comparisons?
I doubt it is possible to create non-ideological space and clear the left-right noise. By you coming at it from a Left perspective militates against that. You are not some Left winger who has decided to leave your leftism at the door of the campaign, but have sought to bring that leftism to the campaign. The right will of course do the same. So, rather than a non-ideological space, you have a contested ideological space. In this sense can you explain something of the “vital role in countering far right ideas on the ground."? I think this often goes under the radar and the work in this field needs to be shown not concealed.
There is also a need to avoid sloganizing. And the left do look at it from what you call a worker’s perspective. And most workers approve of the measures. I know from the trade union movement that the whole thrust is from a worker’s perspective. There is a massive amount of left-wing literature outlining such a perspective. I think it is possible to argue that the Left has called it wrong but much less so to insist that is has done so from a perspective that is not one of workers. In this sense the Left would reject a characterisation that it has utterly failed.
I think it is all too easy to label people fascist: I was struck by something Brendan O’Neill once wrote – fascist as a term has lost much of its meaning and has become a new way of calling someone a bastard.
PM: My views and that of the Campaign group are not one and the same in terms of analysing from a left perspective. So, to be clear, I also subscribe to leaving ideology at the door but that doesn't change me. It only means I'm not pushing my politics on others who may be fairly politically naive or indeed politically opposed.
There are a lot of identifiable left wing people involved but it's agreed that we don't approach it in that manner. That can be achieved in other avenues. We agree that this issue is rights based.
The concept and basis of the collective good in this was always characterised as support for restrictive actions to protect the public health of the broad mass. I too was not opposed to that at the very outset based on absolute risk and proportionality.
That view wasn't compatible with objective analysis of Lockdowns. They caused huge economic and health damage not to mention social damage. I always believed the at-risk should have been protected but disagreed on how it was being done.
Anything after the first lockdown was unnecessary. I believe the collective good was not served by further restrictions.
I don't believe the left view is dismissive of individual rights either, clearly seen in the 8th amendment which ironically the right see as an argument for the second entity (the unborn). There can be huge paradoxes for ideologues.
Vaccination is well accepted to have been of huge benefit to humanity: not this one in my view. Look at the revision in the UK on Covid deaths, slashed from 152,000 down to 17,000 on review. So public health measures were implemented on false figures. This is where the truth argument comes in.
The Covid vaccines are not within the classical definition of a vaccine. They didn't immunize, they didn't stop transmission nor did they prevent death and severe disease. I always accepted that they had short term severe illness benefit but not at no cost. They also carried risk. So the collective good argument wasn't upheld and brought declining one down to an individual rights issue as the narrative persisted with pressure.
Sadly I saw little evidence of the left in Ireland do anything other than promote vaccine uptake or indeed push harsher lockdown ideas like the zero Covid concept. They campaigned for workers' health on a one ticket only basis - vaccines.
My issue began before vaccines were released because lockdown ignored all normal public health procedure and adopted the Chinese solution rather than the normal pandemic response, but that's a question for the WHO which must be questioned.
I agree with your observation on censorship but I think those being censored will always be in favor of free speech.
On countering the far right, we countered it in messaging, debates and in person. We would see fascistic language like "pure bloods" and patriots etc and try and eliminate it where it grew by offering another analysis to follow. We opposed parties joining our protests, we shutdown attempts to distribute right wing Nationalist literature at our rallies, we opposed platforming some speakers all to the extent that we were literally taking fire from both the left and the right. We have been labelled communists and controlled opposition by the far right so we must have made some impact on their programme.
The problem with over using a term is its devalued which I think you have highlighted but it's use then becomes trivialised. In the past any moves to control the movements of people, coerce them to do things against their will, segregate them, label and dehumanise them would all fit a fascist profile. In this case these were all done by governments aided by the major left wing groups.
So I can agree with you that, the left has supported restrictions by virtue of believing it to be of the collective good.
Though, you cannot apply such measures with absolutely new technology and claim it's in the common good without a holistic review of all component parts and that can only be done when all the cows come home. The difference for me is I took another view than the majority, one I'm convinced is correct.
AM: Where now for the campaign? People like me feel it will be drained of momentum given that Covid seems to be getting much weaker and the restrictions are being reduced. I suppose if a point is reached where there are zero restrictions, you might feel the campaign would then have zero purpose.
PM: It's about zero potential and not just zero restrictions. Emergency powers must go, they are undemocratic in their application.
The Dáil barely debated the statutory instruments that were introduced and that isn't healthy for a democracy.
I think some really good networks have been formed on this issue that will remain in place until all restrictions are totally removed and I can see discussions then continuing on reorganising towards the other endemic issues in society like the homeless situation, housing, poverty, and holding power to account, some of the issues many of us are already active on. Those topics will surely be less divisive.