Terry Prone: Stephen, Stephen, Stephen. Stop explaining and answer the question. Please

This week, some free advice to ministers floating daft policy ideas (from me) — and to all of us (from Paul Mescal)
Terry Prone: Stephen, Stephen, Stephen. Stop explaining and answer the question. Please

Here is some free advice for health minister Stephen Donnelly: Cut your media appearances by half. And, when you are interviewed, answer the questions you are asked. File picture: Niall Carson/PA

Day 192

When you have your first baby, people send all kinds of messages and, for the most part, those messages speedily get forgotten. When my son was born, one message stuck out in its simplicity. It read: “I hope you and your son will always be pals.” 

It came from a writer whose death happened today: Lee Dunne. I’ve used the line ever since in congratulating new parents, varying it by baby gender. It has to be the ultimate good wish for any parent and their newborn.

Day 193

Am I alone in focusing on the luggage in pictures of people returning to Ireland before 16 more countries get added to the list requiring mandatory hotel quarantining?

Day 194

Never realised that the movies The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were directed by the same man until I read Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris, recently published by Penguin. The stellar career of this man is something of a miracle, given his early experience as a little Jewish boy born in Nazi Germany, escaping on a ship with his slightly older brother, speaking no English.

Dustin Hoffman and the bestockinged leg of Anne Bancroft in an iconic scene from the 1967 movie 'The Graduate'. A new biography tells the extraordinary story of director Mike Nicols. File Picture: AP Photo
Dustin Hoffman and the bestockinged leg of Anne Bancroft in an iconic scene from the 1967 movie 'The Graduate'. A new biography tells the extraordinary story of director Mike Nicols. File Picture: AP Photo

And then, safe in the US, he had an allergic reaction to a whooping cough vaccine that resulted in a complete and lifelong inability to grow hair. Any hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows. Living with wigs and false eyelashes would deter many from going into showbusiness, but he developed a reputation as part of a standup duo with Elaine May, then acted, and became a massive long-haul success as a theatre and film director.

Always empathy

The book is fascinating about a colourful man who believed — having worked with the definitively nasty Walter Matthau — that one bad personality could sour an entire production.

“But for him,” Harris writes, “actors with substance abuse issues didn’t fall into that category; Nichols viewed addiction as a fact of people’s lives, one to be worked around or through but always approached with empathy. 

His awareness of Art Carney’s struggle, of Richard Burton’s and even of [George C] Scott’s, only made him understand how much harder they had to work; he thought his job was, in most cases, to give talented actors whatever supports they needed, not to judge them.

Day 195

A new study says housework helps you live longer. It sure as hell makes it feel longer.

Day 196

Stephen Donnelly's proposal to revisit the order in which age cohorts are prioritised for inoculation seemed to favour people likely to engage in risky behaviour over those susceptible to infection for reasons out of their control. File picture
Stephen Donnelly's proposal to revisit the order in which age cohorts are prioritised for inoculation seemed to favour people likely to engage in risky behaviour over those susceptible to infection for reasons out of their control. File picture

According to The Irish Times, “Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has asked officials to examine the possibility of re-visiting the order of age cohorts scheduled to receive the vaccine so that younger people in the 18-30 age group would get their shots before those aged 30-50, once those in their 60s are vaccinated. 

Some senior officials fear a spike in cases among younger people once society begins to open as under-30s are more likely than other groups to socialise together in large numbers.

Rewarding future risky behaviour

The ministerial message, in short, is: “All you middle-agers who’ve ground your way through the pandemic, worried on the one hand about your kids and on the other hand about your parents, stand back, now, and let the hard-partying young folk have first dibs on the vaccine.”

The minister is proposing to reward future risky behaviour. At the same time, he is proposing to punish the compliant poor hoors who have box-roomed their way through the pandemic.

Nobody resented old people getting the vaccine first, because age is an inevitability, not a chosen behaviour. (If it were a chosen behaviour, a lot of us wouldn’t choose it. We’d opt out, like it was hot yoga.) 

Age is an involuntary condition

Age is an involuntary condition which, statistically, increases the chance of getting the virus and dying from it. We all understand that, and so, since vaccines came over the hill to rescue us, we accepted that older people should get vaccinated first. 

Now, according to the minister for health, those middle-aged heroes could be made to wait again — this time while people at the other end of the age continuum get jabbed. 

The age-based vaccination distribution system may be sacrificed on the altar of socialising. Standing by that age-governed system forced the minister for education to stand firm in front of a bunch of hostile teacher unions, and the minister for justice to do ditto in the face of GRA fury about their frontliners being — as they see it — disrespected and unprotected. 

One throwaway comment

And now, in one throwaway comment, Stephen Donnelly devalues the system his Cabinet colleagues defended under fire.

While Paul Reid says the HSE will deliver the vaccine in whatever order Government decides, the chances of Government deciding to go along with Donnelly’s kite are small. The fact is that every time the minister does media, he finds another shoe to drop. Of shoes and changers he has an endless supply.

Here’s some personalised free media advice for Mr Donnelly: 

  • Answer the question; 
  • Don’t explain, illustrate, or tell us the significance. Just answer the question;
  • Don’t speculate. Just answer the question;
  • Don’t add value. Just answer the question;
  • When you can’t answer the question, apologise and promise to get back to them;
  • Halve your media appearances.

Day 197

Middle of the night, the screams lift me a foot off the bed and go on for three minutes. 

Invader Cat has met Dino. The following morning, the kitchen is an inch deep in fur. 

I corner Dino to see if he’s injured, because the last time he defended his territory he nearly lost an ear, developed an infection, and ended up wearing a lampshade as a result. Dino doesn’t understand that — like Stephen Donnelly — I am doing my level best and have nothing but his best interests at heart, so he bites me. I swear at him, and Specs, the other cat, shrinks as if physically wounded and I yell at her, too.

I prefer Dino’s dental directness to the cowardly neuroticism of the other cat. Everything’s out to get her, including the dishwasher, and when the radiator thermostat clears its throat, she leaps like it’s about to launch a bazooka at her. Dino, on the other hand, is up for any bazooka.

Day 198

Listen to Paul Mescal. No, really: 'Nobody’s going to remember your Instagram following. It’s not going to be written on your tombstone'. File photo
Listen to Paul Mescal. No, really: 'Nobody’s going to remember your Instagram following. It’s not going to be written on your tombstone'. File photo

'Normal People' actor Paul Mescal has shut down his Instagram account, which boasted 1.1m followers.

“Nobody’s going to remember your Instagram following,” he says. “It’s not going to be written on your tombstone.” He’s not wrong.

Day 199

The minister drops the other shoe. It’s all off between him and the 18- to 30-year-olds. He now says he’d just asked Dr Ronan Glynn if any data supported his notion.

“The short answer is no... It certainly wasn’t floated, and there is no plan in place.”

Uh uh, minister. It definitely WAS floated. Couldn’t have been more floated. Impertinent suggestion, minister: Re-read the advice from Day 196.

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