Justice for the muzzled medics. Micheál and Leo’s disappeared doctors haven’t been seen, heard or quoted for days. Locked up like truth-telling Chinese tennis players by a control-crazy, image-obsessed Government.
Since the weekend journalists have tried to make contact only to be fobbed off by bureaucratic jobsworths acting on behalf of their powerful political masters.
It’s a scandal. The ruling Coalition should hang its head in shame and resign Ireland’s seat on the UN Security Council immediately.
On the other hand let’s not be too hasty here. Where’s the justice for the rest of us?
They’re a great bunch of lads in the Nphet but we’ve been listening to them morning, noon and night for nearly two years. No offence, fellas, but the massed ranks of the beaten-down and befuddled would probably appreciate your absence from newspapers and the airwaves until the New Year.
Perhaps it might be better if the Taoiseach doesn’t remove the gag he insisted in the Dáil on Tuesday is nothing of the sort, just merely a fine example of “centralising” public health advice.
Keep the lads quiet for sanity and Santy’s sake. That would be one way of delivering a restful, meaningful Christmas to the nation.
It could turn out to be the best thing Micheál has done for the health of the nation since he introduced the smoking ban in 2004.
At leaders’ questions Alan Kelly raised the plight of Nphet’s muffled martyrs and the inhumane practice of severely limiting their access to media time. He was very concerned.
“What is going on as regards the communications with Nphet?” he asked. “I don’t want to use the phrase ‘gag’ but that seems to be what it is.”
The Labour leader wondered if this was as a result of information leaking from a Nphet meeting before the Cabinet had a chance to deal with it properly. He said he understood that Government makes the big decisions and was responsible for marshalling communications, but there were times when it was necessary to hear “directly” from public health experts regarding “specifics”.
At this point Kelly deliberately produced a gag in the chamber.
“We have a storm going on outside” he said.
Indeed, the terrifying gravity of the situation became all too apparent a couple of hours earlier when Darragh O’Brien, the Housing Minister, took over as commander in chief of the emergency operation by doing his Teresa Mannion impersonation – “do not take unnecessary trips” – at a press conference in Dublin.
Earlier, meteorological experts – who did not have to be vetted by the Government Information Service – were on the radio explaining that the problem with Storm Barra was not merely a dangerous outbreak of wind but one of “sustained wind”.
More impersonation fodder there for Darragh.
The country was hugely reassured.
Speaking of sustained wind, back to the Dáil and Alan Kelly’s reference to the ongoing storm.
“With all due respect” to Darragh O’Brien he would “rather hear from Evelyn Cusack and Met Éireann as regards the direction of that storm than from the Minister for Housing” because she could deal with the specifics.
“I say that in jest,” he added insincerely, clearly of the view that Government trying to control what the medical experts say “in the middle of a pandemic” is only marginally less hilarious than O’Brien embracing his inner weatherman in the middle of a howling tempest.
Kelly can say what he likes, but the Taoiseach was adamant. His Government isn’t gagging anybody.
“It is extremely important that public health advice is independent, is transparent and is seen to be so…as long as I am Taoiseach there will never ever be an attempt, in any shape or form, to undermine the independence or transparency of public health advice” said Micheál.
What the Government has decided to do is “co-ordinate” the lads. There is no point in having half a dozen or so Nphets “out on the one day as opposed to maybe two or three”. Tony and Ronan and the rest of them must be part of a “synchronising” administered centrally where they will be “facilitated in making media appearances in the context of Government policy”.
As for muzzling the medics since last Thursday, refusing to let them appear on radio shows or talk to print journalists without permission, did that happen?
It certainly did not, Micheál assured the Dáil. He had checked back on the situation himself “and nobody was stopped talking over the weekend it seems to me from what I’ve garnered”.
This will come as a great surprise to the, rightly, disgruntled hacks. However, they must be commended for their part to reducing the media dosage of the doctors for the rest of us.
But rest assured, soothed the Taoiseach, the Nphet lads will be available as always. All the journalists should continue to contact the HSE and the Department of Health to request interviews with officials.
Alan asked what happens if they don’t want to go through the department and contact the Nphets directly?
The answer is simple. “Then”, began the Taoiseach, emphasising his words in case any of the muzzled medics were listening, “they should notify the grid”.
Dear God. Are they electrocuting them as well as depriving them of the oxygen of media appearances? Amnesty may have to get involved in this.
No. Notify the grid “and make sure that everyone knows who is appearing on what show at a given time”. Because sometimes Claire Byrne can’t get in the door of the studio for all the Nphets wedged inside because they didn’t know, nor did the producers know, that more than one of them had been invited on.
And then where does that leave Pat Kenny? There’s only one non-Nphet Luke O’Neill to go round. (He also needs to be rounded up for Micheál’s meaningful Christmas temporary cull.)
Other than storm-addled Alan and his justice crusade for the muzzled medics, the other main topic was another old Covid topic.
HEPA HEPA Hooray!
Almost everybody singing from the same hymn-sheet in the Dáil on Wednesday. Even the Taoiseach thinks putting HEPA air-filtration machines into school classrooms is a good idea. He was just very hazy on the when, and sounded a evasive and stingy about paying for them.
Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats reckoned that with the money currently on offer some less advantaged schools might have to choose between fixing a broken toilet or getting in a filter.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, familiar with the tune, started things off with a few rousing bars of Ventilation Once Again. She was later joined by Richard Boyd Barrett and Gary Gannon.
“And then I dreamed I yet might see
More filters to obtain
And Ireland long be Covid free
Ventilation once again!”
Any day now, kids. Any day now.
And in the meantime, open a few more windows. It’s nice and fresh outside.