Ailin Quinlan: We have landed here due to stupidity and self-indulgence

We have landed here now, see-sawing straight into another lockdown because of some people's stupidity, so says Ailin Quinlan
Ailin Quinlan: We have landed here due to stupidity and self-indulgence

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, in his office at the Department of Finance. Picture: Moya Nolan

SHE was getting a whole load of t-shirts printed, the woman in the shop said. She was getting them for herself and her husband and children; she was getting them for her mother and her sisters and brothers. The t-shirts would come in a rainbow of different colours, but they would all bear the same slogan. The slogan would read: “There’s No Vaccine For Stupidity.”

The idea had come from her mother, the woman said. During a family discussion on the behaviour of large numbers of the Irish public since the lockdown ended, the no-nonsense octogenarian had come up with the pithy message.

People can’t plead ignorance because the warnings about social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing are everywhere, the old lady had said, so putting oneself and others, be they friends, close relatives or even just somebody you met in a queue, at such risk of such a horrible virus through the way you behaved, simply had to be down to sheer stupidity.

She had much the same thing to say about the anti-face-mask campaign. And Trump’s insistence that people shouldn’t worry about Covid. Not to mention the kind of moron who recently walked in front of me into a shop, passing the hand sanitiser and heading straight for the takeaway coffee machine, to press the button for his morning cappuccino with a potentially contaminated index finger.

We have landed where we now are — see-sawing straight into another lockdown — after all the effort and care that was taken last spring, through the sheer bovine stupidity and self-indulgence of some people. By a lot of people, actually.

Me? I’m fully with the octogenarian and her family on this. When I heard the latest restrictions on Wednesday night — absolutely no visits between households — I felt like screaming. I’d had an enjoyable Sunday morning planned for myself and my three-year-old grandson. We were going to bake two Halloween barm bracks for which I would have already steeped the fruit in tea and collected the necessary charms. I had the gold ring which means you’ll be married before the year’s out, the pea which says you won’t be wed this year, and the €2 coin which signals wealth and good fortune ( I was leaving out the stick, which forecasts rows or an unhappy marriage and the rag, which stands for bad luck (we’ve all had enough of bad luck, trouble and strife).

My grandson’s job was going to be wrapping the charms in baking paper and helping to mix the cakes. Finally he would get to stick the charms into the dough before the bracks went into the oven.

Later on, his mammy was going to come up to enjoy some of his barm brack with a cup of tea and give her verdict on his baking. It was only a little thing, but something we were all looking forward to. So now I’ll just have to bake them myself and leave one on their garden wall.

In fact, I’m so fed up now, I’ve a good mind to print up a There’s No Vaccine For Stupidity t-shirt for myself as we face into yet another massive, howling health and financial cyclone brought about by the sheer obtuseness of large numbers of the Irish public.

One little ray of sunshine here; I’m just glad that Paschal Donohoe is in charge of the economy side of things. Beneath the reassuringly mellifluous tones and the pleasant, slow paced delivery, behind the apparent kindliness (and maybe Pascal just doesn’t appear kind; maybe he really is kind, I don’t know) lies a cold-eyed, razor-sharp intelligence and a huge ability to manage crises.

An intelligence and ability, which, I’m very glad to say, is at the service of the Irish public, and not some cut-throat hedge-fund or private bank.

History may prove the quiet-spoken, unobtrusive Donohoe to be one of the best finance ministers this country has ever had, apart from Michael Noonan. Both men have many things in common. Rapier-like intelligence. Ability. Gravitas. Calm. Solidity. Utter unflappability (at least in public). I could add more and put loads of glowing adjectives in front of these attributes, but I don’t need to.

I thought of Donohoe, oddly enough, when I was watching an episode of Ozark on Netflix recently. A drug lord comes into a financial consultancy to try to convince the partners to launder his billions. One partner, the guy with the easy smile, the big talk, the flashy designer suit and the expensive silk tie, falls over himself with delight at the prospect of such a customer. But the drug lord isn’t watching him. He’s watching the quiet, drab, unassuming and rather reluctant guy in the corner, whose name is Marty Byrd. Because the drug baron knows that this is the guy he really has to convince. The drug lord is a very bad person, but he reads people well.

I have often thought since that in any teeth-bared, down-to-the-wire crisis with everyone shouting at everyone else, Pascal Donohoe’s the quiet guy in the corner you really need on your side.

In the meantime however, as we tilt, along with a number of other countries in Europe, into ever more dangerous levels of the virus in the community, it is time to accept that we can’t keep locking down and opening up indefinitely to save Christmas or whatever.

No matter how hard Micheal Martin, Stephen Donnelly, Leo Vardkar or Pascal Donohoe work to buffer us against the chaos being wrought by Covid-19, the man/woman on the street will eventually have to bite the bullet and accept that we have now reached a point where it is a case of every man or woman taking responsibility for themselves.

We will eventually be forced to acknowledge that, as the health experts have repeatedly warned, at the end of the day it is our absolute responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones through the way we individually behave — and stop expecting the government to do it all for us.

But for some of us, that realisation is still a way down the road. Like the old lady said: There’s No Vaccine for Stupidity.

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