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Leaders must use Dáil break to rethink and to regroup

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheal Martin

It is true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But it is equally true that any fair-minded person will, over time, make allowances for false starts, provided the person or people concerned can show a much better side after their negatively framed introduction.

The leaders of our new three-party Coalition Government will be looking to the second element of things cited above, as they try to pick themselves up from a calamitous first month in office. The sad part for the Irish people is that this is a unique government experiment, combining disparate talents and viewpoints, which still can meet our very pressing needs at this time of considerable crisis.

The August Bank Holiday more usually signals some merciful political silence, as the bulk of politicians take a break, and the general public, wearied by controversy, also turn their attention more to sport, recreation and/or travel.

This year is vastly different due to coronavirus. In the first place, sport, holidays and travel opportunities are vastly curtailed. Secondly, it is inordinately hard - if not impossible - to put the ongoing social, economic and political crisis, which all Irish people face, on the backburner until September.

The challenges of the initial virus lockdown in mid-March were carried with an unusual spirit of national solidarity.

In recent weeks we were reminded that there was a national esprit de corps abounding last March and April which had not been seen since the glory days of Italia 90 and the Republic of Ireland's first venture to the soccer World Cup under manager Jack Charlton.

We have many examples of how "it is easier to lock down than it is to unlock". We know national esprit de corps is hard to build - and very difficult to sustain. There is dread about what the coming six to nine months will bring as people who were laid off from work gradually realise that they will not have a job to go back to any time soon.

There is a growing realisation that this virus is very likely to stay with us for at least the coming three years. And we cannot as a nation spend the next three years in lockdown. So, we have to learn to maximise social and economic movement, while minimising risks to personal and public health, taking special care of vulnerable groups.

That requires hard political choices which must have widespread public buy-in. The coronavirus lockdown was instigated by public health experts advising political leaders who delivered the messages with decorum, dignity and wisdom. In March and April there were few other choices evident.

Now we face the pressing need to come back in the other direction. Other social and medical needs, parked for the early weeks of coronavirus, are mounting up to crisis levels. These add to pressing economic needs to put some order on things and frame the semblance of a way forward.

In times of full and plenty, a government can often be styled as a kind of "benevolent night watchman" whose key role is to do no great harm.

In times of crisis, we need coherent government leadership.

Irish Independent