Over now to Government Buildings for this month’s State of the Taoiseach address.
“This evening I want to talk to you about…”
What, Micheál? What?
“…where we are in the management of Covid-19.”
Sigh. And where is that?
The Taoiseach duly explained, without recourse to motivational quotes or inspiring poetry because this would have sent his browned-off audience ever further around the twist. It’s been a long year. We are where we are. Which is the best place we’ve been in 12 months, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet.
Accordingly, Micheál Martin found himself in the unusual position of being able to begin one sentence in his latest State of the Taoiseach speech with these five daring words: “The very good news is…”
He was talking about the vaccine tsunami about to make land here next month with the help of God and a few policemen. Only the ones knocking on a bit, though. Younger officers will have to wait their turn in the new chronological pecking order for vaccinations.
Now that we know where we are, Micheál delivered a more upbeat message – cautiously optimistic but definitely not losing the run of himself. This time he held out a whiff of a carrot and a smaller stick with the promise of better days around the corner if we behave for a few more weeks.
The seagulls in Merrion Street were certainly up for a loosening of restrictions. Their noisy cries have been noticeably absent around Leinster House and Government Buildings since lockdown left little food for them to scavenge in the city streets.
As the Taoiseach outlined tentative steps towards reopening society, the seagulls screamed encouragement. With any luck they’ll be back ripping open rubbish bags and nicking burgers out of people’s hands by June.
The first, modest, easing of restrictions will not happen for another two weeks. So there will be no “meaningful” Easter to mirror the disastrous “meaningful” Christmas let-up. A meaningless summer doesn’t bear thinking about.
So the Taoiseach held out his provisional timeline, including milestone calendar dates for us all to obsess over next month with the promise of a review after a few weeks to see how things are going and if we can loosen restrictions that little bit quicker. He held out the tantalising prospect of official haircuts in May. And official extended travel areas. And official socialising outdoors, but with strictly confined numbers. (But none of this mixing outdoors in private gardens.)
All of this is happening anyway, and then some, but Micheál had to pretend it isn’t. It seems we were lucky to get any leeway at all.
Long Government meetings over the past week saw the Cabinet agonising over the latest advice from the Nphets of Doom which was reportedly “grim”. But if we take it handy and abide by the Government advice as the slow reawakening outlined by the Taoiseach unfolds, we should be able to go mad altogether by July.
After he got his televised address out of the way, Micheál went back into Government Buildings to round up Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan for a press conference and allow for the placing of three more lecterns outside at the steps. The fourth one was for the deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn.
When they emerged, Micheál and Leo were wearing the same outfits. If this had been a wedding they would have been mortified – navy suits and blue ties. They were like non-identical twins with nothing in common except their matching clothes.
Cracking the cocooning
Eamon Ryan was looking on the bright side. “For our older people there is now a sense of the path to recovery,” he said. “That isolation, that cocooning is starting to crack in a really good way.” This is true. There is a “vaccine bonus” coming the way of older people with both Covid jabs. The antiquated but vaccinated will be able to meaningfully mingle like they were young ones again while the younger crowd will have to wait.
“Focus on the data, not the dates,” cautioned Leo, adding the Government expects people to be able to holiday in Ireland this summer. But there is no certainty, it all depends on things going to plan. Everything said by the Taoiseach and his Ministers carried a health warning.
“We have more concrete reasons for hope now than at any time over the last year,” soothed Dr Glynn. These are “just the first steps, though they are the first steps towards a better future”.
“We are on the final stretch of this terrible journey,” said Micheál Martin. “Steady and safely let’s get through this final phase together.” Next time he has to make a State of the Taoiseach address, let the news be better again.