[WSMDiscuss] How coronavirus is spurring the cause of a united Ireland (Una Mullally)
jai.sen at cacim.net
Sun May 3 18:49:01 CEST 2020
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Viruses in movement…, Ideas in movement…, The Irish in movement…
[May this idea go viral… :
How coronavirus is spurring the cause of a united Ireland
Una Mullally <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/una-mullally>
A pandemic that knows no borders has arrived at the same time as political support for unity is growing
‘Northern Ireland first minister, Arlene Foster (left), and deputy Michelle O’Neill held opposing views about closures.’ Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA
The outset of the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland was beset with political disputes. First Minister Arlene Foster, of the DUP, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Féin, held opposing views about the closure of schools, universities. and childcare facilities. In the Republic, schools were closed by 13 March <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/12/ireland-school-closures-reveal-stark-contrast-to-uk-covid-19-response>, but the UK planned to close schools a week later, on 20 March. As often happens, the situation in the North evoked the Irish saying idir dhá stól, a shorthand for falling between two stools, neither here nor there.
While the Irish government offered grave clarity, the North remained caught up in the UK government’s widely criticised <https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/19/six-points-of-criticism-uk-governments-flailing-coronavirus-response> tactics. These divergent responses to coronavirus established an accidental case study of two separate but overlapping approaches to the pandemic taking place on the same island – something researchers will no doubt pore over in the future.
The Irish caretaker taoiseach, Leo Varadkar <https://www.theguardian.com/world/leo-varadkar>, had spoken to Boris Johnson about the island of Ireland being one epidemiological unit, but the political divisions north of the border did not allow for that. Instead, different approaches were taken at the crucial first stage of the pandemic. While the British government leapfrogged over the containment phase, largely abandoning the WHO’s mantra of “test, test, test”, the Irish government scrambled to keep a lid on things, gradually introducing early lockdown measures, which benefitted from huge public cooperation. One of the most frequent refrains here in the patter of Covid smalltalk among friends and neighbours is “at least we’re not in England or America”. But of course, part of the island is in the UK.
Border counties are experiencing a different pattern of cases compared with much of the rest of the Republic. The border county of Cavan now has the highest number of cases <https://www.thesun.ie/news/5365481/coronavirus-in-ireland-cavan-highest-number-per-100000/> relative to its population, even though it is only the 25th largest county by population in Ireland. Early on during the pandemic, it was reported that up to 70 healthcare workers <https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-in-ireland-cavan-general-calls-in-reinforcements-as-at-least-70-staff-go-off-sick-cr2grxdnm> in Cavan general hospital had contracted Covid-19, and there are also clusters of cases in residential-care settings in the region. While Dublin and its surrounding counties have been the worst affected, the border counties of Louth, Donegal and Monaghan have a higher rate of infection than those further south.
The tendency to jump to a conclusion that the number of cases in border counties is related to the porous nature of the border itself, and so is a consequence of travel between north and south, may be misleading. We just don’t know yet. Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, who has cut a stoic figure throughout the crisis, has said it is unlikely that the high rate of infection in border counties is due to a “spillover” from the North.
The public health doctor Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, has said such hotspots require investigation. Scally lambasted the Department of Health in Northern Ireland on Twitter, saying the department “is in deep and very hot water over their provision of statistics about Covid-19. I’ve been very critical of their dreadful performance, and now the UK Statistics Authority have quite correctly, reprimanded them.” He referenced a letter from Ed Humpherson, the director general for regulation at the statistics authority to Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary of the Northern Ireland <https://www.theguardian.com/uk/northernireland> Department of Health, indicating that speculation about border cases is just one element of a wider issue about statistics related to the pandemic in the North.
Right now, people are viewing the question of Irish unity through the lens of epidemiology. The pandemic is many things, but it is political, and so too will be its consequences. The DUP showed that it was content to sacrifice the economic stability of Northern Ireland <https://www.theguardian.com/world/ireland> in pursuit of the empty, jingoistic rhetoric of Brexit, and at the outset of this pandemic, it did seem that public health was playing second fiddle to the party’s lemming-like tendency to follow Westminster’s instruction.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s recent (and vague) framework document for government formation, drafted as bait for the smaller parties they need to form their “grand coalition”, having frozen Sinn Féin <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/sinn-fein> out of the process, tried on some of its policies, which essentially represent the mandate for “change” voted for in the recent general election. One of the document’s proposals is to establish a unit in the taoiseach’s department “to work towards a consensus on a united island”, signifying a growing political case for a united Ireland, as well as something of an appeal to Sinn Féin’s massively increased voter base.
Unexpected events often act as a catalyst for finding new pathways towards a goal. Nobody could have conceived that the case for a united Ireland would dovetail with the now urgent practicalities of a united approach to a public health crisis. But the big ideas we have about society often don’t pan out how we anticipate. Eradicating the border’s segmentation of two jurisdictions has been a peacetime issue, a Brexit issue and is now a public health issue.
“Disease knows no border. We have to work on all-island collective basis in what is an emerging crisis,” O’Neill said early on, a narrative that has continued through the course of the pandemic. “It’s pure common sense that we need an all-island and a unified approach in dealing with this pandemic,” Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/mary-lou-mcdonald-tests-positive-for-coronavirus-after-two-week-wait-1.4228544>, said on an RTÉ radio programme, after she was praised for the low-key manner with which she dealt with a nasty bout of Covid-19, removing herself from the spotlight and only emerging when she recovered. And it’s not just politicians proposing a unified Ireland in this context. The University of Limerick’s professor of general practice, Liam Glynn, told the Irish Times, “Anything other than an all-Ireland approach is bananas. We are an island.”
• Una Mullally is a columnist for the Irish Times
Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa
jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900)
CURRENT / RECENT publications :
Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? (Indian edition). New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press. Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?. New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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