The British were wrong on coronavirus and the unionist parties were wrong to follow them

Posted By: April 16, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast.Wednesday, April 15, 2020

On Monday Bernard Jenkin, right-wing Tory Brexiteer joined a cross-party group of MPs asking for the return of Parliament.

He said it’s needed because ‘proper, considered, penetrating, constructive scrutiny does really matter.’ He added, ‘this crisis calls for candor and transparency; that’s what speeds up the learning process, leading to better decisions and more effective action.’

Yet here, anyone questioning the performance or decisions of what passes for ministers in the executive is castigated on the grounds that, ‘they’re doing their best’. Yeah right. Maybe their best isn’t good enough? Look at the results. After repeated promises to supply personal protection equipment to nursing and medical staff and GPs, it hasn’t happened. GPs have followed the RCN in England by threatening not to deal with patients if there are no masks, gloves or overalls. Why are no MLAs backing the doctors and nurses hereby demanding action from the Department of Health, by dragging senior officials and the minister into a committee and asking for an explanation?

One reason is that with only five MLAs out of ninety not from parties in the executive there is no scrutiny. You criticize my party’s minister and I’ll criticize your party’s minister. So no minister or permanent secretary gets hauled over the coals. A myth has also developed about collective responsibility in the executive which was never intended to be the case. The executive is not a coalition of parties which agreed to form an administration on the basis of a common manifesto or program of government that, for example, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are trying to cobble together. The executive is formed of parties who qualify on the basis of their number of MLAs, that’s all. Ideally, they will find policies to agree about, but they don’t have to. The reality is there is always going to be a cleavage because of the north’s inherently divided society.

The present cleavage is exacerbated by the unionist parties slavishly following the zigzags of British government policy, however hazardous. Arlene Foster can intone that she’s “following science,” but that’s not true. The British government hasn’t been following science, certainly not the science of the World Health Organisation. Initially the British intended to develop so-called ‘herd immunity’ which is impossible safely without a vaccine, then did a U-turn when they discovered too many – a quarter of a million – would die. By the time they swerved away, it was too late to conduct massive testing and tracing. They were a fortnight too late imposing a lockdown. In fact, the public was ahead of them, canceling football matches and outdoor assemblies (except Cheltenham).

The British were wrong and the unionist assembly parties were wrong to heed them in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Unionists are apparently unable to think for themselves. They followed the failed British approach, which now looks likely to produce the biggest death toll in Europe, for the sentimental and emotional reasons for their unthinking attachment to Britain, not for scientific reasons. Michelle O’Neill was dead right to call them out on that. For once the SDLP backed her, though since then they’ve retreated into waffle, polishing the fence they’re bestriding.

Double standards operate on the role of executive parties. It’s unacceptable, to unionists for Sinn Féin to object to an executive minister’s action, but a unionist minister can do a solo run with impunity. The latest example, asking for the British army to help, is just a dangerous politically motivated stunt, again playing copycat with England. As many people have pointed out, there are hundreds of lorries sitting idle and hundreds of building workers available here. You realize British troops will have to have armed guards? That’s all we need. Swann’s a genius.

The big question now looming is when do we relax the lockdown? The same time as the Republic or England; border schools, supermarkets, pubs? Surely the answer’s obvious? END.