It’s been nearly two years since the pandemic hit Ireland. Since March of 2020 we’ve seen a government fail again and again to get things in order. Authorities have given the public mixed messages and then they’ve been sacrificed on the altar of capitalism when opening up for Christmas was believed to be vital for the economy. If you were solely relying on the government for information, the virus was dangerous only until it wasn’t. And the latter was the case when vested interests made that decision for the government.
This cynicism has created a level of discontent in the public not seen since the days of the bank bailouts of 2008 and the subsequent years lost to the recession. Playing games with people’s lives in such a blatant fashion isn’t a particularly great vote-getter. It goes some of the way to explaining Sinn Féin’s ascent in the polls and could usher in the end of Civil War politics. But the other side of this has been the growth in anti-vaccination sentiment alongside extremist far-right groups trying to take advantage of the situation. The growth of a toxic mix like this could’ve been avoided. Instead, the government has handed them all the propaganda they need because of its own greed and shortsightedness.
Risks versus apathy
For the groups against vaccinations and doubtful of the dangers of COVID-19 in the first place, the government has only proven to them that they’re correct. Members of the ruling parties had soirées while most of us were taking steps to ensure that we wouldn’t spread the virus. Our leaders even managed to get the attorney general to essentially retroactively change the law so that they and their political and media friends couldn’t be charged for breaching COVID-19 legislation around social gatherings. A blasé attitude like this towards the pandemic, and the guidelines that are supposed to apply to all of us, suggested to some that the government was lying and that there’s no risk from COVID-19. How could there be when some of Ireland’s most powerful are happy to spend time together in close quarters?
Unfortunately, there’s more.
Everybody has known for a while now that children are at risk from the virus. But the government insists that it’s safe for them to sit together in cramped and unventilated conditions. Proper tracking and tracing of cases in schools ceased. Lives are again at risk. Such sheer stupidity has only fed the conspiracy that COVID-19 is harmless to children. And it’s helped give rise to the conspiracy theory that there’s some kind of agenda at play when it comes to vaccinating children.
Thoughts like this permeate the minds of most of the noxious morass now taking to the streets to protest against children having to wear masks in schools. The inevitable vaccinating of children is also troubling to them. Of course, it’s entirely normal to worry about the health and well-being of children. And there are undoubtedly people with good intentions who are involved at some level with these anti-mask and anti-vaccination rallies.
But the involvement of the far right cannot be doubted. From the very start of the pandemic extremists have done their best to use the uncertainty it created and ethical dubiousness of our leaders to try and gain a foothold where they had none before. Their presence has been a consistent feature at these rallies. From the likes of Dara O’Flaherty and Dee Wall, aka Dolores Webster, to the National Party and Irish Freedom Party, all of them view the pandemic as an opportunity.
At first it was about the lockdown legislation and the supposed attack it was on our civil liberties for us to have to stay at home to try and stop the virus’s spread. Then having to wear masks in public became the issue of the day. And now it’s about children. With each scenario the far right has merely been reacting to people’s concerns; using them as a wedge to get the slightest bit of entry. From there the indoctrination can begin.
Luckily the far right is small in Ireland and — for now at least — largely unelectable. But the damage that even a single person can do should never be underestimated. Considering this, far-right political parties and individual extremists promoting these rallies as well as attending and speaking at them should’ve been part of any assessment of the situation taking place in the department of health. It’s not that the government isn’t aware of the far right. Via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request The Beacon showed that the government is indeed monitoring the far right in Ireland. Unfortunately the information released as a result of the FoI request didn’t detail the extent of the observation, just that it’s taking place. Other warnings, from activists and various groups, should have been heeded. But they weren’t.
At the same time the rhetoric at these rallies has become more strident. At a large rally in Merrion Square last week one of the speakers referred to the crowd as an “army”. It’s an apt description given that many of them believe they are indeed in a war against the government. It’s a sorry situation that can quickly devolve into something much more dangerous. As things currently stand, the rallies will continue and the unvaccinated will go on representing a substantial portion of those hospitalised because of COVID-19. And it’s a mess entirely of the government’s making.
Featured image via YouTube – RTÉ