On March 17, 2019, not many people would have been sitting at home watching the news. But this year is very different. If you weren’t among the brave workers providing essential services, you should have been at home.
Because, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said from a podium within Government Buildings: “This is a St Patrick’s Day like no other.”
The state of the nation address was kept under tight wraps until an hour before the broadcast.
These type of things can startle people but the Taoiseach’s intention was to reassure the nation.
The speech was a little heavy on clichés but the message throughout was very clear – things are going to get a lot worse, but the Government will do all within its power to keep citizens safe.
The tone was sombre but he looked to offer people some hope as they sat cooped up with their families on our national day. He wanted to show there was a light at the end of the tunnel if we can all come through the darkness together.
He told viewers honestly he did not know when the virus will be contained or when life will go back to normal.
He simply does not know.
The social distancing measures introduced over the last week may stay in place well into the summer.
More strict rules for social interaction may even come into place.
Tomorrow, the Dáil will vote on new emergency powers which will allow the Government to detain people and lock down communities.
We looked on in amazement with how China addressed the virus, but now our leaders will have similar powers.
They don’t want to use them and the Taoiseach last night urged people to keep social contact down to an absolute minimum.
Varadkar had a direct message for people of all ages.
He said the elderly and vulnerable will soon be asked to ‘cocoon’ in their homes for several weeks.
He assured them someone will check up on them and bring them food or other supplies they might need.
But it’s the human contact they will miss – their children, grandchildren and friends.
He said they should use Skype and FaceTime calls to keep in contact with their loved ones.
Young people were asked to go easy on their parents and offer to help out around the house.
Whether any of them looked up from their smartphones to watch this landmark speech is anyone’s guess.
But hopefully over time they will learn to deal with the boredom of social distancing and self-isolating.
People were also asked to work differently and be creative. Find new ways to carry out their business. Work from home, hold conference calls or stick to emails.
As Varadkar said: “In short – we are asking people to come together as a nation by staying apart from each other.”
He gave special thanks to the country’s healthcare workers and noted he has direct knowledge of how anxious people working on the crisis are feeling.
His partner Matthew Barrett, his sisters Sophie and Sonia, along with both their partners, all work in the health service.
“Not all superheroes wear capes… some wear scrubs and gowns,” he said.
The line is a little overused but it hammered home an important point.
When we come through this crisis, this speech will be remembered fondly as we look back on 2020.
Although we will probably be constantly reminded of it on ‘Reeling in the Years’.
He also extended Ireland’s hand of solidarity out to other nations struggling to fight a common enemy.
“Tonight on our national holiday, I also want to send a message around the world that we are all in this together.
“To the people of China, Spain and Italy who have suffered untold heartbreak and loss – we are with you.
“To all of those across the world who have lost a loved one to this virus – we are with you,” he said.
Varadkar’s speech may not signal a turning point in the spread of the virus, but hopefully it will mark a change in public attitude to how we combat this god awful disease.
Politics has been put aside by our country’s leaders and they have come together to fight this thing.
And now it is time for the rest of us to play our part and support the efforts of those leading the charge against the pandemic.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has brought back a leading communications guru, who was part of the controversial and now defunct Strategic Communications Unit, to manage the Government's public information campaign on the Coronavirus crisis.