WHEN I was at school, I had the misfortune to be in a class full of very bold boys.
This was all very well at break time, when you could cadge a ciggie off one of them behind the tuck shop (the bike shed was, like, soooo far away, dude).
But it worked against me personally when it came to the last lesson of the day.
For some reason, this always seemed to be religion, and given by a teacher who was a strict disciplinarian. (He had one eye visibly higher than the other, so was inevitably nicknamed ‘Isiah’, but I digress).
Anyhow, whenever there was an interruption or a ball of paper flew across the classroom, Isiah would explode, Old Testament style, and tack another five minutes onto the lesson for each mortal sin.
Working on half an hour past the school bell wasn’t unusual. And that was fine for the rest of the class, who all lived a mere bus ride away. It meant they were half an hour late for their tea, and back in time to watch Blockbusters. No biggie.
For me, however, it was a different story. I had to get a school bus to my home town 30 miles away — and if I missed it, I faced a torturous journey: A 15-minute walk past a rival school, then a bus, then a train, then another bus. I wouldn’t be home until 7.30pm some days.
This injustice happened several times until I eventually cracked and went to my year tutor.
He listened carefully to my complaint that I never caused a disturbance in class as the consequences were so drastic for me, while the bold boys didn’t care a damn as they gained classroom kudos for their antics.
“Dolan,” said my tutor with a sigh. “Are you suggesting that you of all the 30 boys in the class be allowed home on time?”
I nodded, and my face fell. I knew where this was going.
“Son, we can’t be seen to be giving preferential treatment. I can see your predicament... but I hope you can see mine. Sometimes, life’s unfair.”
Why on earth old Isiah couldn’t pick out the giddy individuals for detention and leave the rest of the class to go home on time was never explained to me — but the Bible does say “Thus I will punish the world for its evil, And the wicked for their iniquity.”
Er, you guessed it, Isiah 13:11.
But no mention of making a scapegoat of Dolan...
I suffered that sinking feeling of being punished for the sins of others again this week, when the Government set out its latest crackdown on our freedoms in an attempt to stem a resurgence of Covid-19.
My family and I — like millions of people across the land — have been blameless since the start of the pandemic in early March. We have dutifully followed every order and edict.
We have stayed home, only left it for essential reasons, not travelled anywhere, worn masks when told, and hardly mixed with anyone, even when restrictions were gradually lifted. We have heard anecdotes of people partying, of people travelling and congregating, and been aghast that anyone could be so selfish.
And yet now we are told all of us, the good guys and the bad guys, have to go back a step. Where is the justice in that?
In recent weeks, we have seen large outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat plants and in counties up the country. We have seen shocking pictures of people partying in a Dublin pub. We have seen many men failing to wear masks (and yes, my Saturday colleague Áilín Quinlan is correct — it is always men. Have you ever seen a female without one?)
And yet we, and you, good reader, are being made suffer for the sins of others.
The people I pity most are the over 70s, who have most assuredly been doing everything right but have now been told to get back in their box for a while longer.
Let’s face it, the Government’s announcement on Tuesday barely made sense when you scanned the details. Much of it was wishy-washy. Try not to go into the office if you can work from home. People over 70 are advised to limit their social network... Weren’t we doing that anyway?
A lot of the restrictions lacked logic. Why prevent people from watching a sports fixture outdoors, socially distanced from everyone, while masses and weddings can continue?
As one guy wryly pointed out on Twitter: If two players marry on a GAA pitch, can their 50 ‘guests’ then watch the match?
Nowhere in the latest tranche of rules did it mention measures to prevent outbreaks in meat plants, while any crackdown on pubs and house parties flouting the rules will, we are told, be difficult to enforce. It will be a month before the Dáil can convene to pass new laws on that.
The new announcement was baffling and inconsistent; no wonder so many of us were vexed and annoyed.
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin really didn’t do himself any favours either.
Most of the new measures had been leaked before the end of the meeting — he needs to bang a few heads together for that. This was his opportunity to deliver a big State address, in a similar vein to Leo Varadkar’s back in March: A rallying cry to the nation, along with a sympathetic acknowledgement that many people had done nothing wrong.
Instead, few could be bothered watching his speech as we already knew the gist of it. What a wasted opportunity for him... and that was before that golf night out.
So, where does all this leave us in the ongoing fight to stem Covid-19?
We face a critical few weeks, as the nation anxiously awaits the daily teatime bulletin of cases and prays the numbers start to fall.
What is almost certain is that the number of ICU admissions and deaths will begin to rise in the coming weeks, as the resurgence in cases starts to tally up and, inevitably, the predominantly younger people who caught it pass it on to the more vulnerable.
What is equally certain is that this virus will be with us for a while more yet — perhaps a year, perhaps longer. And we have to find a way to live with it, while acting to curb its spread.
That will be devilishly difficult, and little the Government has done so far makes me optimistic. At some stage, public health has to be balanced against reality, economy and common sense.
All the while, the deadline for schools returning edges ever closer. Have no doubt that our politicians realise that their re-opening is key for the health and wellbeing of the entire country.
As ineffective and confusing as these new rules appear, if they open schools in two weeks’ time, all will be forgiven — by me at least.
We are in this together, Leo Varadkar told us on St Patrick’s Day. And yes, that’s meant as a positive thing. But in that religion class in my school days, we were all in it together as well...
The question for our country is: How do we get the bold boys to do the right thing? And how do we stop punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty?