Right from the start of the pandemic, it felt like the public, the civil service and politicians were really “all in it together” – for about the first two months.
or a brief while, working at home seemed a novelty for some and we all stepped outside our houses and clapped for frontline staff.
But the novelty very quickly wore off.
People grew tired of never-ending restrictions, and it wasn’t long before the political scandals started,
We had Golfgate, Merriongate and now details have emerged of a champagne party held within the Department of Foreign Affairs after Ireland landed a seat on the UN Security Council.
Remarkably, it was the department’s own secretary general, Niall Burgess,
who is now our ambassador to France and Monaco, who posted the photo from
within Iveagh House, where staff were crowded around with no masks or social distancing.
The department called it a “moment of happiness”.
When asked yesterday by the Irish Independent whether any staff faced sanctions or would face sanctions for the event, a spokesperson for the department said: “The department did not meet
the standards expected of it with this impromptu gathering and we repeat once again that we are sorry it happened.”
Chris Donoghue, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney’s spokesperson and a former Newstalk broadcaster, also did not answer the question when asked whether the minister made his way to Iveagh House later that evening.
He said Mr Coveney was in Government Buildings at the time the now infamous photo was taken and that the staffers should have not gathered as they did.
Mr Coveney was rumbled during the summer following his botched appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy.
Then the Irish Mirror reported yesterday that HSE CEO Paul Reid, already earning more than €420,000 a year, claimed a €19,000 company car allowance.
That was despite him having access to an army driver in a sponsored BMW on trips from his home in Leitrim to Dublin.
He used the service “intermittently” until late June 2020 when travel restrictions were lifted.
Nobody is questioning that running the country’s health service is hard work, but
the fat salary as well as the lavish benefits further perpetuate the “us and them” mentality.
Few offices around the country were popping open bottles of champagne during the pandemic – because they were empty because people were working from home on government orders. Any achievements had to be toasted on Zoom.
Members of the public were not trekking off to Clifden to attend Oireachtas Golf Society events.
They were also not making their way over to posh hotels to see their former cabinet colleagues.
They weren’t getting spins from army drivers in expensive cars.
While the tireless work done by both the Government and the civil service during the pandemic deserves to be commended, so do the efforts of the everyday person living in Ireland – probably even more so.
Young people have watched two years of their lives
wasted due to tough restrictions, even during periods when society probably could have been much more open.
Families had to grieve lost loved ones with little support around them.
Elderly people spent their last days with no family around them in nursing homes.
Tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs and watched as their careers and futures were thrown into disarray.
Nobody in the top ranks of the civil service was told they would have to avail of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
No senior ministers had their livelihoods shattered.
Restrictions have chopped and changed and the Irish public has shown incredible resilience in staying on board.
Crucially, it is this understanding and willingness from the public that has saved thousands of lives – because people were on board with public health advice and did as they were asked.
The challenge for the Government is to not lose that trust.
There is no “all in it together” when the starting line is different for everybody involved.
If anything, the pandemic has further exposed the “us and them” mentality, highlighting the bold line between the decision makers, the legislators, the elite and those who were struggling to begin with.