A few months ago I wrote about the most miserable lockdown in the Western world, which belonged, I believed, to Ireland. The level-five lockdown that lasted from last October to late in the spring of 2021, save for a short break around Christmas, restricted nonessential workers to 5km from their homes, forbade them from gathering with other households, even outdoors, forbade the crossing of county lines, etc. In that piece I noted that Ireland’s government “was effectively, if not quite legally, handed over to a National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).” That is, the elected government had an attitude of deference toward public-health experts that was totally unusual. It was as if the government was trying to create the illusion that the nation could be governed purely by “the science.” I personally think this was a not just an immoral bit of misgovernance — an abandonment of politics for a delusion — but that it was also a political mistake. The grand coalition government between old rival parties was trying to avoid responsibility for doing something unpleasant, but it also put itself in a position in which it could never claim real credit for addressing the crisis if it was done successfully.
But of course, it wasn’t.
Ireland had two upcoming phases of reopening. On July 17, international travel is supposed to reopen. On July 7, indoor dining, the possibility of 50, rather than just 25 people attending a wedding, and 500 not just 200 people at an outdoor sporting event. Recall, that many Irish people are watching on television as absolutely full stadiums gather in peer countries for the Euro soccer tournament. These countries have similar case and vaccination rates. Ireland currently has about a dozen people being treated for COVID in ICUs.
But before the resumption of the hospitality industry could begin — an industry that employs many people in tourism-heavy Ireland — NPHET met and gave its advice to the government. It predicted utter doom. And the government abandoned its plan. From the Irish Examiner:
The Government has effectively cancelled the summer for hospitality as it agreed to pause the return of indoor dining to an unspecified date.
Ministers have agreed to act on a “bleak” and “sobering” warning from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) who have effectively said a fourth wave is on the way.
There was deep annoyance within Cabinet as to how Nphet landed this problem on Government late last night.
“People were wildly pissed off,” one source said.
As a result, Taoiseach will announce “a plan to announce a plan” on July 19 as to how entry to pubs and restaurants could occur, subject to the Attorney General approving a scheme.
This is learned passivity from the government. The public-health team has basically bullied the elected government into adopting a new strategy for dealing with coronavirus, one that nobody in government knows is possible. That plan is vaccine passports. From the Irish Times:
The Cabinet has agreed to postpone the reopening of indoor dining until there is a workable plan for how customers can prove they have been vaccinated.
The plan is to be drawn up by July 19th but a decision has yet to be made on when indoor services can reopen.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced details of the Cabinet decision just after 1pm.
Speaking on the steps of Government Buildings, Mr Martin said the clear advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was that indoor dining should be restricted to people who were fully-vaccinated to limit the spread of Covid-19 at a time of highly-infectious variants.
This is insanity. Israel, a country that had decided on and invested in a vaccine-passport system very early on — a country that is capable of inventing technology to shoot down unguided and unpredictable missiles from the air — could not make a vaccine passport work as a practical matter, or as a constitutional or political matter. Yet Ireland has, without any thought or debate, been scared into agreeing to come up with something similar in three weeks, just to salvage some of the summer.
The plain fact of the matter is that NPHET’s advice is wildly out of line with other European nations on the dangers of outdoor gatherings. Ireland is out of line with other nations on the danger of indoor dining — and its pundit class is trying to explain to itself that this is because Ireland’s health sector isn’t as robust as those in peer nations. They will have to cook those numbers to make that excuse work.
The fact is, if the political class cannot tolerate the risks of July and August, and the exit wave of cases that we’ve seen in the U.K. — one where infections go back toward winter levels, but where wide vaccination means deaths are at 2 percent of the winter rate — then Ireland will not tolerate the risks of winter and fall and will be basically locked up again until 2022, watching big events from nations that have the exact same vaccination rates, and almost surely worse health-care sectors.
Ireland is an object lesson in not letting unelected technocrats govern. Once again, I want to recommend an essay by Conor Fitzgerald on how the Irish came to be this way.
We are run at every level by middle-managers whose job is firstly to protect themselves within that system, and second to enact a technocratically pre-determined programme rather than interrogate or change it. It’s fine for some group of people to be like that, systems need technicians. But systems need visionaries and critics as well, and (certainly in Ireland) we basically don’t have any of those in positions of authority inside the system, and that includes in opposition.