Spare a thought for locked down Ireland

Ireland is the only place in Europe where you can’t drink in an Irish pub.

Larissa Nolan

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Topics Covid-19 Politics World

Spare a thought for your neighbours in Ireland – the lockdown capital of the free world. While you Brits prepare for Freedom Day, we still are not permitted to eat or drink under a solid roof. As 90,000 fans are set to fill Wembley for the Euros final, no one here has been to a normal gig or event in 16 months. Live music – and even just loud music – is banned.

There is no sign of when any of this will change. Many Irish people have convinced themselves that this is fine, or they piously frame it as ‘cautious’. The rest of us are tearing our hair out, hoarse from screaming: ‘But look over there!’

We have become like the lotus-eaters of the Tennyson poem, marooned on an island, in an altered state and isolated from the rest of the world.

Ireland is now a land of draconian rules that are only getting tighter. We make a performance art of what the Americans call ‘security theatre’ – measures that provide a feeling of safety, while doing little to achieve it.

We are the only country in the EU not to have opened indoor hospitality – still sitting outside like morons, while responsible businesses who want to open fully go to the wall. You can have a drink in an Irish pub anywhere else in Europe, except Ireland. Our National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) tells us it is right and the rest of the world is wrong.

Ireland is the worst country to be stuck in at this point of the pandemic. Our approach is disproportionate, lacking in both common sense and trust in the people. It has no regard for personal freedom at all. Those of us who value freedom above all else just want to get out of here. But even that is difficult with non-essential travel still banned and the passport service halted. We are the only country in the EU that has not yet rolled out the EU Digital Green Certificate for travel within the union.

We are being governed by a bunch of coddling zealots for whom any risk is too much risk. The Delta variant is being talked up here like it’s Ebola, even when half of the adult population has been fully vaccinated. Our leaders take direct orders from public-health officials who are treated as infallible – just like the bishops they have replaced. Their stated approach is ‘an abundance of caution’.

Everything in Ireland is about Covid. It dominates all our media and politics, and it dictates every aspect of our lives. We are suffering from some form of national Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Ireland’s only strategy so far has been: keep lockdown going until there’s a need for another lockdown. To be sure, to be sure. We have the harshest nationwide restrictions in all of Europe, Asia, America and most of Africa. We owe the most Covid debt in Europe – €20,000 per head above the rest of the EU.

One of the few countries in the world with stricter rules is Eritrea. It already had a repressive regime anyway, and so there weren’t many freedoms to lose. Basically, we went into lockdown in March 2020 and never fully came out of it.

Traditional pubs have been closed for that entire time, and no one knows when they will open again. Nphet deems all indoor hospitality too risky – yet hotels and gyms have been open since June. Public-health officials have discussed reopening hospitality with the use of vaccine passes, though they won’t allow antigen or PCR tests to confirm you don’t have Covid. This will create a segregated, surveillance society. No normal nation would choose this path now. If this scheme goes ahead as planned, Ireland can no longer call itself a free country.

We have no easy access to antigen tests here, because Nphet is against rapid testing. It is not only failing to provide what could be an important tool for public health, but it has also actively warned the population against using rapid tests, which its experts dismiss as ‘snake oil’.

Even when we are not in full lockdown, we are still heavily policed. Back in May, pubs were finally allowed to start selling takeaway pints. A month later, when crowds of young people gathered in Dublin city centre, police charged at them with batons.

We have lost the plot and are now living in a prison of our own making. Brits should be glad to live in a country that knows when to substitute courage for caution. Ireland is a cautionary tale of a culture consumed by safetyism.

Larissa Nolan is a freelance journalist based in Ireland.

Picture by: Getty.

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