The Health Minister's statement to the Dail last week was 2,720 words long, and it only took 200 of those before he honed in on his target: "People are following social media and at times they can be exposed to myths and misinformation about coronavirus."
This was before he'd uttered a single word about the Government's plans to delay the spread of the virus and to handle the anticipated outbreak. Ticking off social media is hardly the most pressing issue at hand during a pandemic.
Most people just want reliable and regular information. It's the Government which is creating a climate of mistrust by refusing to give it to them, even as Ireland remains in a containment phase, before any likely spike in cases.
The official approach to informing the public has been begrudging from the start, and they justify it by insisting that saying more would both breach patient confidentiality and potentially "create a sense of panic". Why does government always think that the general public is irrational and prone to overreaction at any moment?
If confronted about this, the minister's response is invariably to state that he is following the advice of medical professionals, as indeed he should; but a decision on whether to withhold or share information is a political, not a medical, one, and it's unlikely that the HSE is micromanaging the Government's communications strategy. It has better things to do. Even if it was, any advice to keep details to a minimum can still be challenged. As former justice minister Alan Shatter said last week: "Ireland is not China."
Of course, that works both ways. There are measures which have been introduced in other countries which would be resisted by people in Ireland as too draconian, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from places such as Singapore and South Korea, where information about the spread of the virus is shared openly by authorities, down to naming streets. Irish ministers are hiding behind a fiction that they'd love to say more, but that the scientific advice on how to handle matters is settled, when the truth is that there are plenty of alternative voices in the medical community.
One former regional director of Public Health England says the public should be "equal partners in tackling this", and "need to know if it's in their area on a daily basis".
Unfortunately, there are far too many people in positions of authority in this country who are comfortable with keeping people in the dark for as long as possible, all with the excuse that it's for their own good - even as the Health Minister admits that "anything that lessens trust or confidence is not helping in terms of containing the virus here or globally". Is he even listening to his own words?
Those happy to see silence prevail are not just in government or associated agencies. Of the party spokespersons who responded to Simon Harris's Dail statement, only Fianna Fail's Stephen Donnelly expressed disquiet at the department's strategy of "erring too much on the side of withholding information". He returned to the first case of infection, the woman who arrived back from Italy to Dublin Airport and proceeded to make her way to Belfast on public transport.
"I am not criticising the minister or the advice given by the healthcare officials," Donnelly said. "However, I saw no benefit in not sharing with the public the mode of transport concerned. I see a real cost in terms of spreading fear and concerns of information being withheld." Others appeared to have no quibble with it at all.
Take Sinn Fein's approach to the crisis in the North, where it is in government. Is it championing openness? Don't be silly.
In his famous study, the German sociologist Max Weber showed how bureaucracy exploits technical and practical knowledge of how things work to keep the little people in their place and to increase the power of those who administer the system. It's not a left/right divide. It's ingrained in the system.
That's why opposition politicians happily collude in the culture of silence, as the number of unanswered questions about the current state of coronavirus in Ireland grows exponentially.
When officials told a press conference last week that "many people" have now been asked to self-isolate to safeguard public health, the obvious question was: How many? Everybody's idea of what constitutes "many people" is different. A simple number would have ended all speculation.
Instead, omerta prevails. When approached, the community hall at the centre of that by now infamous fake/not fake letter asking members of a band to self-isolate after exposure to a student who tested positive said: "We have been advised not to speak to the media, to refer everything back to the HSE."
But what if the HSE in turn says nothing? Earlier this week, I contacted the HSE with a simple query, and received a cut and paste reply that it was its policy "not to discuss individual cases, groups of cases, or individual acts of preparedness". They can't then shake their heads disapprovingly when rumours spread. It's only human to speculate, especially when the coronavirus touches your own community. Dismissing those who share what they've heard as purveyors of fake news is a form of gaslighting, designed to shame them into feeling like hysterics.
Other countries are not descending into dystopian chaos because they openly disclose such information to the public. Only the Irish, it seems, are not to be trusted by their own government.
An effective strategy must involve getting information to where it's needed. That means to those who are respectful of authority and do as their told, and those who are more suspicious, and need more persuasion. There's no clinical value in directing public pronouncements at only one group.
It's not as if the HSE and Department of Health have proved themselves wholly trustworthy of late. The cervical cancer screening scandal also revolved around a reluctance to just provide affected women with relevant information as soon as it became available.
Officials knew there had been misdiagnoses, but left it to individual doctors to decide whether to tell patients, when they ought to have had a right to know from the start. They promised to listen and learn after the cervical cancer scandal, but how easily they slipped back into bad habits of secrecy and concealment. Misinformation cannot be tackled with silence.
The media needs to confront ministers every time their answers don't make sense, such as when they insist that everyone who has been in contact with confirmed cases so far has been identified and properly advised, because common sense says that cannot be true, that it is in fact impossible; but it's as if everybody is being too polite to say so. No one is blaming the authorities for being unable to track down everyone of interest in an open and vibrant society such as ours. But don't say that you can, and that you have, because that's how distrust in authority grows, in the compost of implausible claims.
It's important to challenge this culture of cap-doffing reticence now, when the virus remains at a pre-crisis level, because it won't be long before the situation reaches a critical stage, and then it will become more crucial than ever to trust what the Government says.
If we can't believe what they're saying now, why should we believe them at that point either?