OPINION: It won't matter what Covid Level we go to unless the Government gets tough with enforcement

Damian Moran


Damian Moran



OPINION: It won't matter what Covid Level we go to unless the Government gets tough with enforcement

A Garda at a Covid-19 checkpoint

Ireland is staring down the barrel of another countrywide lockdown.

Whether it is Level 4, Level 4.5 or Level 5, much tighter restrictions are set to be imposed.

But unless there is a strong enforcement element with the new suggested restrictions, we could go to Level 500 and we would still be on a hiding to nothing.

It was different in March.

There was a real sense that we were all in it together.

There was a real urgency to deal with something that caught us off guard and was taking a severe toll in terms of lives lost, on people's health and bringing our already pressured health services to breaking point.

And while it also brought a huge personal sacrifice from so many, many of whom are still making the sacrifice today, it worked.

The leadership was strong and organised and the message was clear and concise.

Jump forward seven months and while we are once again facing a lockdown, the mood in the country is very, very different. Leadership is muddled and the messages are mixed, and that's being kind.

There is a tangible anger among the overwhelming majority of people who have been obeying the Level 3 rules that they are being punished for the actions of those who have flouted the Government guidelines in recent months.

The most high visibility examples of this were the mass celebrations after county final wins across the country, students gathering in Galway and the endless reports of house parties in every town in the country.

But it wasn't all in the open.

We have all heard the stories of the large gatherings at houses for birthdays, funerals, christenings and communions. Some of us might even have attended them.

We have probably also all seen, although it is a tiny minority, people in shops without face coverings.

And it's not just the people who attended these events who caught the virus. They brought it back to the unsuspecting people in their homes. They brought it to their places of work. They brought it with them everywhere they went. They spread it far and wide.

But what did these super spreader events have in common?

Nobody at any of them did anything illegal so, in the eyes of the law at least, if not common decency, they did nothing wrong.

And what about the people who did not self isolate for 14 days when they tested positive? Or the people waiting on test results who felt grand and decided to go for a pint over the weekend only to subsequently test positive after coming in contact with even more people? Again, except for ignoring what was essentially a suggestion to stay at home, they did nothing wrong.

There was nothing stopping them moving around at will.

And therein lies the entire problem with how the Government has dealt with Covid in recent months.

Policing the virus by consensus worked well while there was actually a consensus. That particular horse has long since bolted and is running free somewhere on the Curragh.

While laudable, the garda mantra of the three 'E's', engage, educate and encourage are about as useful as a glass hammer when a minority of people have no interest in being engaged, educated or encouraged.

It is time, actually it is long past time, for fines to be introduced for people who break what should be laws rather than hapless guidelines.

The majority of people have been obeying Level 3 restrictions, actually many have been living their lives at Level 4 already, but for those who are not abiding by the guidelines, it is time to get tough.

Speaking on Morning Ireland today, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne implied that a penal element would not be added as gardai would not be able to catch everybody who breaches the suggested restrictions.

I'm sorry but that is a truly bizarre and utterly false logic. Do gardai catch everyone who speeds and every drink driver? Absolutely not, but that does not mean those laws should not be on the books. If not catching someone is a reason for not having a law, it would be a total free for all. Let anarchy reign!

He also said that social solidarity was the important element where people do things themselves for the benefit of everyone else. I'm sorry but social solidarity is also out grazing on the Curragh at this stage beside policing by consensus. 

We are no longer all in this together. We are in this because of the actions of a selfish few at super spreader events that have sowed the seeds of the second wave throughout our communities.

Let's actually take the step to punish those who flout the regulations rather than locking up everyone who has shown solidarity and played by the rules all along.