By Wednesday there were reports of lights flicking on in holiday homes all over the south-west and west.
Despite the pleas, despite the softly-softly “please obey your social conscience” appeals by a government which should have put the boot down hard last weekend and, if you ask me, brought in the army to show they were serious, holiday destinations were briskly filling up with city residents openly flaunting the Covid-19 restrictions, to the utter horror of their rural neighbours.
Days before the government got around to giving gardaí the power to actively enforce the coronavirus restrictions, the suitcases, the groceries, and the boxes of white wine were being unloaded in the driveways of second homes all over the country. And this despite the fact these visitors are currently blatantly not welcome and that all beaches, playgrounds, pubs and restaurants are closed.
By Thursday morning the Minister for Justice — scrambling to close the stable doors after the horses had bolted — was warning that gardaí could potentially knock on the doors of holiday homes and send the occupants home.
If you believe the Garda Síochána are going to spend already over-stretched resources driving around peninsulas and country boreens checking if holiday-homes are occupied and turfing out these outrageously irresponsible virus-spreaders, you’re in for a disappointment.
It all soon began to get confusing — on the one hand you had the Minister for Justice saying that the gardaí could send holiday-home arrivals back to their main family houses in the cities. On the other hand, the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was warning that people who had travelled to their holiday homes should now consider these premises their place of residence and not leave during the current restrictions.
It will be interesting, though probably deeply aggravating, to see just how few of these thousands of irresponsible morons will actually end up forking out €2,500 in fines or spending six months in an over-crowded prison. Both of which, by the way, they thoroughly deserve.
Green Party politician Róisín Garvey revealed on the radio how her 83-year-old neighbour was driven to tears by the sight of all those Dublin-reg cars arriving in her village. A woman from Dingle was quoted as saying it was like Christmas in the area, with all the holiday homes filling up with people who are not obeying the restrictions.
On Wednesday, Bandon councillor Gillian Coughlan revealed that locals were noticing an increase in traffic through the town — presumably visitors heading west to their holiday homes in West Cork, many from the urban areas of the East coast and potentially bringing the virus with them every time they call into a small local shop to buy a newspaper or a bottle of milk.
So yes, the army should be out there backing up the gardaí and, it should be emphasised, any re-enlisting Defence Forces members should be in receipt of their pensions during the Covid-19 crisis, just like returning healthcare workers and prison offices.
Nobody could deny that the Irish government had been coping very well up to this, but it dropped the ball badly on Easter, as well as on the nursing homes and direct provision centres. The failure to come down really hard in terms of restricting movement across the country well in advance of the Easter weekend, has facilitated the exodus by thousands of urban holiday-makers from the Covid-19-infected Leinster region and UK into a whole network of rural villages and towns, just as the country was starting to get a handle on the virus.
Why weren’t these people stopped at checkpoints and turned back on the main routes from Dublin into Cork and to the West from as early as last weekend? Why weren’t UK holiday-makers stopped at the ports?
The decision to only give gardaí the emergency powers for the very short span of the few days to Easter Sunday effectively allows the people to drive back to their first homes on Easter Monday, no questions asked.
No one wants to live in a police state. No-one wants to see people being arrested for going on holiday, but the dogs on the streets know by now that how we behave this weekend is key, because it’s inevitable that some of those cross-country-travelling holiday-makers will spread the virus.
The inadequate number of hospital ICU units, which we have been warned about for weeks, have the potential to become massively overwhelmed and once this happens, just as in Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA, off we go over the cliff.
You can talk about your civil liberties all you like, but when it gets to people dying as a result of the insistence on these rights, we’ll all be sorry. Never mind the softly-softly approach and the appeals to peoples’ social consciences and better natures. Bring out the army.
At this point in time, travelling across the country to your holiday home is not just selfish and self-indulgent. It should be categorised as a crime against humanity.