The Taoiseach’s big test is at hand, and on it rests confidence in the Coalition and even the fate of his Government’s whole conflict with Covid.
The revised plan for Living with Covid, to be announced after Cabinet tomorrow, must be clear, cogent and well communicated. And there must be rewards on offer.
With people fed up to the back teeth with lockdown, further compliance can only come with a real belief this is the last tunnel and there truly is sunlight at the end of it, not another oncoming train.
Ministers and the head of Government really have to think hard about the psychology of asking for further suffering, while the least the public can ask for in return is for serious State measures that actually work.
Public confidence has been dented by the slow progress toward mandatory hotel quarantine (announced four weeks ago and will still take weeks to put in place) involving a limited number of 20 countries that can easily be side-stepped, and the detection of the new P1 variant thanks to flight arrivals which involved 2,000 people coming in from Brazil in the space of a month – as revealed by the Sunday Independent yesterday – in a timeframe when the South American country was a known red-alert risk.
Government spokespersons and spin doctors insist there are not mixed messages, hybrid messages, or confusing and contradictory messages coming down from on high.
One said yesterday: “It is the one and the same message. But people don’t like that message.”
Unrest was being voiced in cloaked terms because the message itself was unpalatable – Level 5 lockdown continues.
Having been horribly ambushed by the B117 variant just when Ireland opened up in December, the Government – and Nphet, with whom it is wedded again – now fears the South African, Brazilian P1 and other versions.
Meanwhile, new cases and new hospitalisations remain stubbornly high, far too high for any relaxation of national controls, which is an annoying circumstance for all involved in studying and adapting to the trends.
This may reflect fraying at the edges of society already under way as those who have lost patience with this sacrifice drop their guard and become infected, which means the agony continues for
But the “rolling lockdown” idea, once it becomes embedded as the perceived sole response, cannot succeed and must inevitably involve more people abandoning the fight as time goes on.
There is also the sight of vaccine supply being too slow, even if Ireland is getting it into arms as quickly as possible, with 100,000 to be jabbed this week, rising to 200,000 a week in April, May and June.
It was last year that Leo Varadkar used the WB Yeats phrase “too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart”, but it is all weighing heavily on society at this time – which is why the Government really now has to convince, especially after a week in which it has been unconvincing at best.
Winter is over, but self-imposed winter is set to continue. The rationale and rewards, and Government resolution in parallel, must be comprehensively set out in one last Grand Bargain with the people.
Polish and perfect every last word of this speech, Taoiseach. The public will hang on every one, as ultimately might your Government.