President Michael D Higgins spoke for everyone yesterday when, via local radio stations, he acknowledged the growing debt we owe to thousands of frontline workers battling the pandemic. In a bespoke address, President Higgins said that this virus will pass and when it does we can celebrate that by supporting what is local.
The simplicity of that message, especially the certainty that the crisis will eventually pass, may seem underwhelming but it is far from that — irrespective of who offers it. That it came at a moment of unrelenting challenge made it all the more valuable.
That unrelenting challenge, as it has been for many days and weeks now, is exemplified by a lengthening list of unprecedented metrics. One, that more than 6.65m Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, is more than challenging. Some 3.3m sought support the previous week, bringing total claims to 9.95m in two weeks.
This will challenge even the most robust economy, especially one where social supports are all too often seen as an indulgence. They also seem to challenge earlier estimates of job losses as they are almost half the global total predicted by the International Labour Organisation, which previously warned that nearly 25m people may lose jobs. That compares with 22m jobs lost during the 2008 bank crisis, one that took far longer to peak.
Ireland is not immune this time either. Employment Affairs and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has warned that 400,000 job losses predicted is a conservative figure. Should her analysis prove accurate, that means almost one-in-six of the record 2.28m jobs in our economy today will be lost.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe yesterday gave an early indication of what the might mean when, publishing exchequer returns, he indicated that the potential hit to tax income this year could be more than €8bn. That is a double blow as €8bn has been committed to minimise the impact.
These figures are startling but not in anyway as startling as those describing Spain’s struggle. That country’s death toll has passed 10,000 and it had a record single-day rise of 950 this week. Their crisis is so great that the pro-independence leader of Catalonia — the region hardest hit after Madrid — has had to eat humble pie and seek help from the Spanish army.
Last month, Quim Torra’s separatist administration said the Spanish military was not needed but 21,804 cases and 2,093 deaths up to Thursday changed priorities. That Britain’s toll moves towards 3,000 may change priorities too but almost more importantly, even if pointlessly, it may make the huge Commons majority entrusted to Boris Johnson because of his separatist ambitions, seem a lethal misjudgement.
As these realities bite, Tánaiste Simon Coveney suggested yesterday these challenges will persist for days and weeks to come when he continued the Government policy of hint and nudge before implementing. He conceded that restrictionson movements may be necessary beyond the initial Easter deadline.
It might be tempting, human too, to allow these grim realities weaken resolve but that concession would make President Higgins’ promise even more remote. This is a once in a lifetime challenge, let’s show we are equal to it.