Slavishly following Boris Johnson’s incompetent government does not serve us well

Posted By: April 01, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The hypocrisy and incompetence and dishonesty of this British government is wondrous to behold.

There they are, with Johnson in the lead, applauding NHS staff for their efforts, with a slogan Protect the NHS [National Health Service]. The same people cut funding for nurse training, cut NHS nursing staff, leaving a shortage of 40,000 nurses in England, kept promising thousands of more doctors who, of course, never materialized, a Conservative party whose MPs cheered when they won a vote to veto a pay rise for nurses in 2017.

This is a government which gave the NHS the lowest funding in its history, but kept saying they were giving it ‘more money’. Sure they were, but not in real terms because of inflation and the crash of the pound after the Brexit vote. The new ‘Nightingale’ hospitals? Where are the staff coming from? Other hospitals because there is no new staff ?

As for incompetence, did they order personal protection equipment (PPE) when they knew the pandemic was coming? Of course not; that’s far too obvious. Did they arrange testing to track contacts? Not at all. That’s what countries that successfully deal with coronavirus do. What did they do instead? Invented their own response to the coming crisis by ignoring the World Health Organization [WHO] policies, then changed their mind and have spent the past month catching up. As for dishonesty, have you listened to the different figures and false comparisons Ministers make when confronted with the failure to test? 7,500 tests, 10,000 tests, maybe 25,000 in three weeks, er no, by the end of April.

Now the annoying aspect of all this is the pathetic, slavish, craven adherence by the Executive here [Northern Ireland] to every mistake and change of course [Boris]Johnson & Co make. It’s not a matter of the difference between Dublin and London, or orange and green as Michelle O’Neill put it, reinforced by Dr. Gabriel Scally yesterday. It’s between following WHO guidelines and successful policies in South Korea, Singapore, and Germany or the thrashing around and swerving in England.

The worst recent example of dishonesty by Johnson’s government was the refusal to participate in bulk purchasing of ventilators by the EU. Initially, Johnson’s spokesman told the press lobby: ‘It’s because we’re not in the EU.’ Then they claimed they hadn’t received the email inviting them to participate despite the health secretary referring to it on TV the previous week.

In these circumstances, the definition of partisanship is the inability to adjust judgment in the light of overwhelming contrary evidence. That applies here especially. There have been repeated opportunities to strike out independently from the shambles in England and the divergence of the British government from international best practice: to close schools before them as Sinn Féin, SDLP, the Catholic Church advocated, to equip staff with PPE, to begin rigorous testing and contact tracing as in the south – all following WHO policies. In all these instances the Department of Health here and its Minister have dragged their feet. He dutifully reads out the statements written for him by civil servants, reciting in a monotone the frantic twists and turns across the water.

The most obvious example was the failure last week to support Conor Murphy purchasing a share in tons of PPE equipment the Irish government is buying from China. We now know much is unavailable here until the summer. As minister of finance, he took the initiative and stepped in to try to organize the deal because the department of health wouldn’t move. Why didn’t the Health Minister take the initiative? Again, it’s not Dublin versus London, but doing the best for NHS staff here. Without full Executive backing, it looked as if it was just Conor Murphy asking Simon Coveney for supplies for here.

What’s the point of a devolved administration if the people who pass for Ministers haven’t the wit to take action for the benefit of people here? END.