Close analysis suggests Leo Varadkar (not for hanging out in Phoenix Park), Micheál Martin and (perhaps) Dominic Cummings should all resign, for basic and flagrant breaches of lockdown rules.
By Michael Smith.
We are all fed up with plague restrictions. Some of them were disproportionate; some of them are needed and will continue to be needed. We’re all tired of them.
We live in the era of Fake News so when maskless Donald Donald Trump, handshaking Boris Johnson, and picnicking Leo Varadkar say something is authorised or, better still, “legal” you know it may not be true.
This article is about what the law, rules and guidance say, not what some status-unclear departmental official, or a garda on duty, said.
It reflects very badly on two of Ireland’s Taoiseach-candidates, and Johnson’s peripatetic advisor, Dominic Cummings.
Since there are many people who have been unable to visit dying relatives or to attend the funerals of parents and children, it is clear that serious breaches cannot be dismissed as forgivable mistakes, if the social contract is to be maintained.
That is why Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, scrupulously avoided visiting his 96-year-old mother in her care home in the last weeks of her life https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/26/dutch-pm-mark-rutte-did-not-visit-dying-mother-due-to-covid-19-restrictions.
Nobody, surely, would advocate a lower standard in modern Ireland.
One of the premises I take as read is that if a rule provides for an exception, acting on the exception is not a breach, however much people go on about it. Let’s see how the exceptions position Ireland’s political leaders, and – in Britain – Boris Johnson’s fractious advisor, Dominic Cummings.
Varadkar, 24 May, Phoenix Park
Since for the last few weeks we have been allowed to meet in groups of four, outside, the Taoiseach’s hunky beering in the Phoenix Park last weekend was ok in principle. https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/taoiseach-was-in-line-with-public-health-guidance-while-sunbathing-in-phoenix-park-1001539.html
An official in the Department of the Taoiseach, Liz Canavan, thinks we should not picnic, but that’s her view, not official written government advice. Asked this week whether it was okay for people to have picnics, Canavan said that the Government was “not madly encouraging people” to take up “a lot of space and time in amenities where they are cramped”. “We’re asking people to use their head”, she said.
But the outing should have been distanced and photos, like the one above, show it was not. The failures may have been brief. It’s impossible to tell. We all do it; we should probably get over it.
There is something that is far worse.
On 24 March, the Taoiseach said people need to stay at home and only leave to:
- go to work
- go to the shops for essential supplies
- care for others
On 27 March the Departments of Health and of the Taoiseach jointly provided the following “policy” which was stated to be a “measure in place”:
“The only reasons you can leave home:
Stay at home in all circumstances, except in the following situations:
- to travel to and from work, if your work cannot be carried out from home
- to shop for essential food and household goods
- to attend medical appointments and collect medicines
- for vital family reasons, such as providing care to children, elderly or vulnerable people – but excluding social family visits
- for farming purposes – that is food production or care of animals
- To take brief individual physical exercise within 2km of your home, which may include children from your household, as long as you adhere to strict 2m physical distancing.
- to escape domestic violence“.
The reasons are exclusive. There are no further exceptions.
In his televised speech to the country on 27 March the Taoiseach put it succinctly: “Apart from the activities I have listed, there should be no travel outside 2km radius from your home for any other reason”.
In fact Leo Varadkar left his home and moved to Farmleign during the lockdown. That was a major breach of advice not justifiable, or close to justifiable, under the listed limited exceptions.
There is no ‘Taoiseach’ exception, no ‘I need better internet’ derogation, no ‘it’s ok I work for the government’ exemption. Just ask Mark Rutte or Dominic Cummings. And so, honestly, he should resign.
Micheál Martin photographed in Courtmacsherry on 1 January for New Year’s swim
Meanwhile Micheál Martin went off to West Cork as late as April 4. Remember the guidance cited above had been clear for at least two weeks at that date.
He told Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late show of 22 May https://www.thesun.ie/news/5460487/coronavirus-ireland-fianna-fail-leader-micheal-martin-not-seen-family-weeks/:
The lockdown started – West Cork, I was there. I came to Dublin and have stayed since and that’s it.
That was untrue. The Irish Independent confirms he went from Dublin to West Cork on 4 April. This is a scandal waiting to break.
According to the Irish Independent the Fianna Fáil leader, “was in Courtmacsherry when the lockdown rules were announced, and travelled to work in Dublin the following Monday”. On 4 April , he returned to his holiday home.
According to a Fianna Fáil spokesperson: “In line with Government advice he returned to where he was when travel restrictions were introduced”.
The spokesperson said this was in line with Government advice, the Indo swallowed it, but it was not. Where is this ‘return to where you were’ exception to be found?
After he went to Dublin he should have returned to his home in Cork City. It was simple.
“On April 6, he travelled back to Dublin where he has remained since”, said his handlers – from where he tells stories about missing his family and jogging in Merrion Square.
The spokesperson confirmed that Mr Martin has not been to his home in Cork city since the lockdown began: “Micheál has adhered to all of the expert advice and Government restrictions during this emergency”, they said.
For the blatancy of his flouting of the rules. for his equivocation on the Late Late show and for the cynically obfuscatory line that “Micheál has adhered to all of the expert advice and Government restrictions during this emergency”, Micheál Martin too should resign.
In England they have nastier public servants and a nastier press than we have in this country.
Cummings answering questions in Downing St garden, 25 May
Dominic Cummings has been assailed over his long return journey to, and sojourn in, Durham in the early part of lockdown in England. His actions have been much more assiduously taken apart than those of the leaders of Ireland’s two establishment parties.
Official guidance published there in March reads as follows:
“You should stay at home as much as possible
The reasons you may leave home include:
- For work, where you cannot work at home
- Going to shops that are permitted to be open – to get things like food and medicine
- To exercise or spend time outdoors
- Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid illness or injury, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or help to a vulnerable person
Who this guidance is for
This guidance is for people planning to visit second homes or holiday premises during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays. People must remain in their primary residence. Not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.
Cummings of course did not remain in his primary residence.
The advice in England says “it is very important that individuals with symptoms that may be due to coronavirus and their household members stay at home”.
However, it does acknowledge that it is not always straightforward when children are involved.
It says: “If you have children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.”
The day after lockdown began, 24 March, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, clarified who could look after a child if both parents or carers were incapacitated. This was a clarification by an appropriate person, albeit not guidance in writing.
She said: “Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance”.
Cummings clearly was looking after such a child. It’s a pandemic, family were ill: it was traumatic; assuming he was telling the truth let’s give him a pass on the trip to his parents’.
His clearest big offence was not that.
After he decided he should go back to London he claims – implausibly – that he needed to test his suspect eyesight so, with his wife and child beside him, he took a thirty-mile, half-hour each-way return drive with a recreational stop-off at idyllic Barnard Castle.
Of course driving during lockdown has not been completely banned in England. The government states it is allowed for four specific and essential reasons.
“- Infrequent shopping for basic necessities, such as food or medicine. People should use delivery services where they can
– For exercise, either alone or with people you live with
– For a medical need, such as a doctor or hospital visit, or to take care of the vulnerable
– To go to work, but only if this cannot be done from home”.
Cummings took a recreational trip, when five minutes in front of a mirror or a minute in the car would have revealed how challenged his eyesight was.
It was an unnecessary trip lasting an hour with a recreational destination, reportedly on his wife’s birthday. It was a blatant and serious breach.
His offence is much less acute than that of Ireland’s leading politicians.
If you take his patently inexcusable recreational trip with the other dubious decisions he took Cummings’ position is difficult.
It rings hollow, with all that we’re going through and the rise of national solidarity, but the transgressions of both Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin were in a different league. Not that anyone in the media here has noticed.