THE fact that the decision to delay further the reopening of pubs was expected does not make it any more palatable for the thousands of family businesses that may face financial ruin as a result. The incoming president of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland has described the decision not to reopen all pubs next Monday as a “kick in the teeth”. Paul Moynihan said publicans had done all that was asked of them to reopen in a safe and sanitised way and said it was “very late in the day” to tell them they could not reopen on August 10 as expected.
He is right, but the overriding consideration must remain using all means possible to fight the coronavirus. The priorities for the Government remain public health in general, the normalisation of the health service and the reopening of schools and it is those concerns that are driving this harsh but necessary decision.
The Government has a job to do, though, in persuading the body politic that the delay in implementing Phase 4 is not some form of collective punishment for the transgressions of a reckless minority. They must also put in place extra financial supports for the pub sector as publicans are not to blame for the rise in Covid-19 cases. Scenes last month in Dame Lane in Dublin where hundreds of young people gathered with no thought for social distancing or safety has raised anxiety among the public as well as politicians and the health authorities. So has the proliferation of house parties all around the country with one party in Kildare being attended by around 200 teenagers.
Of the 50 confirmed cases last night, 81% were in people under 45 years of age. There is a fear that further re-opening of the economy and society would be taken by those younger people already acting recklessly as a signal that they can relax their guard altogether. This, in turn, could increase the spread of the virus at community level and, according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, this is already happening. The rise in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is being driven by clusters of cases all around the country.
Ireland is, perhaps, unique among western societies in its level of inter-generational harmony at a social level. Young and old go to GAA, soccer, and rugby matches together. They attend many family and other social gatherings together and, when the pubs are finally reopened, they will once again share a drink together, comfortable in each other’s company.
At a broader social and political level, mutual regard is also evident. The 2015 referendum on same sex marriage is an example of this. Though driven to a large extent by younger people it would not have been so overwhelmingly endorsed without the support of older generations.
But the danger is that this form of happy co-existence could easily be shattered by the actions of a minority of youngsters who think they are invincible, don't consider the safety of others, or are simply just bored.
Covid-19 is an insidious disease, with wide-ranging effects. It attacks our bodily organs, challenges our mental health and now threatens our social cohesion.