Martin must not fluff his lines on new Living with Covid plan

Micheál Martin has been at his best when he has spoken plainly and clearly to the Irish people, and he will need to be at his best speaking to an increasingly weary nation today.
Martin must not fluff his lines on new Living with Covid plan

Taoiseach Micheal Martin arriving at Government Buildings for a Cabinet meeting. Picture: Sasko Lazarov /

Today is probably the most important day in Micheál Martin’s tenure as Taoiseach so far.

In publishing his Government’s revised Living with Covid plan, Mr Martin knows an awful lot is riding not only on the message he will be delivering but also on the manner in which he delivers it.

Mr Martin must draw a line under a week of shambolic communications, misspeaking, and confusing double-talk from ministers and Government mouthpieces.

He must be clear, concise, and leave no questions unanswered where he can.

That may not be possible, and undoubtedly he will not be in a position to do what British prime minister Boris Johnson did yesterday and give a definitive date as to when lockdown restrictions will end.

With our vaccine delivery way behind our nearest neighbour, a quarantine system which is nowhere near ready and a hospital system nearing breaking point, Mr Martin can give no such assurances. But what he must do is give a clear roadmap to normality, even in broad terms.

It is the very least we can expect after nearly a year of significant limitations to our personal freedoms.

Public confidence in the Government and its authority over this nasty pandemic is under severe strain. Just look at the high level of movement of people in recent days beyond their 5km limit, as shown by CSO data obtained from mobile phones.

The CSO study found that one-third of the country’s population are not staying within 10km of their homes, and the level of adherence to Covid-19 restrictions has been decreasing during February.

However, the large majority of the country continues to stay hunkered down — 66.7% remained within the 10km zone analysed between the weeks ending February 5 and February 12.

However, it is alarming that people in every single county are increasingly travelling further than 10km, according to new data identifying “some relaxation” in adherence to Covid-19 restrictions.

People are clearly angry at being limited to such a short distance when thousands have been allowed to arrive into the country from abroad with little limitation on their movement or, in fact, without any meaningful tracking of their attempts to isolate.

To make matters worse, according to justice minister Helen McEntee our quarantine system, which will be half-baked at best, is at least a month away from being up and running.

But while he delivers the bad news, Mr Martin must also seek to give some glimmer of hope to a weary, beaten, and exhausted populace.

Getting children back to school — albeit on a phased basis — is a significant, if long-overdue development, as is looking to relieve our hospitals of the backlogs to non-Covid illnesses caused by the onset of the pandemic.

Mr Martin has endured a mostly torrid time as Taoiseach, but has been at his best when he has spoken plainly and clearly to the Irish people.

After the Cabinet signs off on the plan, the Taoiseach is expected once again to speak directly to the people through our television sets this evening.

For a politician of more than three decades of experience in Leinster House, he cannot afford to fluff his lines.

The country needs to see its Government govern — and politically, Mr Martin needs to end the constant uncertainty about his capacity to be its leader.

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