Irish Examiner View: Leadership is a vital tool in war on Covid

Fighting the coronavirus requires stability, consistency, and no little degree of faith
Irish Examiner View: Leadership is a vital tool in war on Covid

Dr Tony Holohan and Nphet's advice was initially rejected.

All great leaders have common traits, one is that they attract unquestioning loyalty no matter how grim the circumstances. 

The relentlessly bellicose Georgy Zhukov and George Patton, both almost indifferent to the sensitivities of the soldiers they commanded, were great if unsettling leaders. They, one way or another, inspired the kind of faith needed to overcome the very greatest challenges. 

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jnr, and John Hume, too, inspired the same kind of unshakable loyalty, though one was more opposed to violence than the other. 

There is a significant difference though; Zhukov and Patton secured loyalty often through fear, while Mandela, King, and Hume won loyalty by radiating grace and the steel-in-the-velvet conviction they brought to their cause. 

Equally, there was a great similarity between those leaders.

Each knew that once loyalty is misused, that once leadership can be questioned their authority is on borrowed time. 

Even though it would be unfair to compare our leaders to Zhukov or Patton — thankfully — or Mandela, King or Hume, the very same principle applies. Once that nebulous energy driving all good, effective leadership seems to fade, it has faded. 

Great leaders such as John Hume inspire unshakable loyalty.

Great leaders such as John Hume inspire unshakable loyalty.

We may not have reached that point just yet but it seems precariously close. 

The Cabinet decision earlier this week to move the country to a modified level 5 to fight the pandemic, unfortunately, pushes us closer to that point.

That decision, as unavoidable as it was difficult, came after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had twice recommended the intensification but Government asserted its authority as the final arbiter and rejected that advice. 

In an effort to assert its authority, as the irony latent in these conflicts often does, the Government actually undermined its authority when it had to finally concede to the chastening lockdown advice earlier this week. 

Monday's U-turn is indeed an opportunity for Government's opponents of all kinds to gloat.

But Government cannot afford to further undermine its authority or credibility any more than the population can afford to have that authority undermined. 

This is not a slavish endorsement of the status quo but rather an acceptance that fighting a pandemic almost defined by rolling uncertainty requires stability, consistency, and no little degree of faith. 

That it is all but impossible to set targets so these measures might be reversed underlines the depth of that uncertainty and how very strange these times are.

The pandemic is not the only force of nature undermining faith in Government. 

Patrick O'Donovan,  the minister in charge of the Office of Public Works (OPW), speaking after he saw the impact of the latest floods to hit Cork city centre — "the worst in years" — appealed to those objecting to the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme (LLFRS) to reconsider so flood aversion works might be finalised. Cork City will be deluged “again and again and again” if LLFRS  doesn’t go ahead, he warned.

Just as there is an undeniable logic in Monday's lockdown there is an undeniable logic in that assertion but both are undermined. 

The lockdown by prevarication and indifferent preparation, the flood scheme by the OPW's poor record in Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bandon, and elsewhere.

Inspiring leadership is part of the solution to most of our problems, we should protect and value it accordingly.

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