So sorry, Dr Holohan - we let you slip through our fingers...

In her weekly column Ailin Quinlan reflects on the Dr Tony Holohan appointment fiasco
So sorry, Dr Holohan - we let you slip through our fingers...

The botched move by Dr Tony Holohan to Trinity College resulted in a horrendous loss for the state, says Ailin Quinlan

DEAR Dr Holohan,

I want to unreservedly apologise. I want to express my remorse for the cack-handed, ham-fisted, bird-brained, utterly avoidable, and ultimately harmful handling of your secondment to a teaching position which would have been of immense benefit to both the public and the Irish state.

I want to express the outrage felt by many people at this most shameful chapter of the pandemic.

As someone who contracted a nasty dose of Covid and who saw friends and relatives come close to death from the virus, I was shocked by the treatment of a man who, in the words of William Butler Yeats himself, weighed so lightly what he gave - whilst in the midst of a national crisis and his own personal tragedy.

What a lost opportunity.

Your role as Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at Trinity would have afforded not just the chance to improve and better manage the Irish public health system, but to provide guidance for much-needed solid and effective leadership ahead of what may well be yet to come.

Instead, thanks to... what exactly? - we’ve lost you. Hard to figure out why. Butterfingers? Arrogance? Stupidity? Envy? Resentment? Contempt for rules and due process? Who knows what bewildering mix of negative bias, ignorance and complex emotions led us into this steaming mess?

The only certainty now is that we are to be left without your knowledge and experience in the face of God only knows what fast-moving new illnesses, at a time of devastating climate change, environmental decline, and in an era of increasingly ineffective antibiotics.

You gave excellent, courageous, thoughtful, solid and dignified leadership (not just “very strong” as the Taoiseach underwhelmingly described it) in an unprecedented, frequently terrifying public health crisis, while dealing with deep private grief.

Your appointment as Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at the renowned Trinity College was, to put it mildly, a bloody marvellous idea.

The controversy caused by the perceived furtiveness surrounding this open-ended secondment (such arrangements are apparently usually temporary and for a specified period of time) has resulted, as the Provost of Trinity College commented, in a huge loss for Ireland’s education sector, and for all the students who could have learned so much from your experience.

Why didn’t they just do the thing properly?

Why, once all the ‘i’s were dotted and once the ‘t’s were crossed, wasn’t a press release - written in clear and simple English - issued to all, explaining that you were being appointed Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at Trinity College and under the following conditions?

Who in their right mind could have spoken against it after what you did for this nation?

How can the Taoiseach say that although “lessons” have to be learned from the controversy, he doesn’t see “further consequences for anyone”?

I don’t get it.

In truth, everything that is stupid, ignorant, mean-spirited, self-righteous, careless of others, secretive, begrudging or envious in our culture, everything that thrives in the writhing nest of snakes on our society’s shadow side, seems to have won the day. Again.

And the rest of us, the silent majority, must stand by in helpless outrage.

When you retire this summer, Dr Holohan, make sure to have a long and wonderful holiday.

Know that many, many people, saw and appreciated and publicly acknowledged, and continue to acknowledge, what you did.

Enjoy every happy, peaceful and lovely thing you day-dreamed about during the endless, exhausting days of illness and death as you and your team struggled to manage the pandemic and those brutal daily press conferences.

Enjoy the hiatus. It won’t last long. Because the clear-eyed ones who know your worth will be lining up, begging to have you.

A few more words from William Butler Yeats to remind us of the nature of ingratitude:

September 1913

What need you, being come to sense,

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone;

For men were born to pray and save:

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,

The names that stilled your childish play,

They have gone about the world like wind,

But little time had they to pray

For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,

And what, God help us, could they save?

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;

For this that all that blood was shed,

For this Edward Fitzgerald died,

And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,

All that delirium of the brave?

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,

And call those exiles as they were

In all their loneliness and pain,

You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair

Has maddened every mother’s son’:

They weighed so lightly what they gave.

But let them be, they’re dead and gone,

They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

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