Thank you so much for taking the time to explain to me how I am being manipulated and why I should not wear a mask. It is true as you said that fearful people are controlled more easily and what is more fearful than an invisible danger, an alleged virus?
But the thing is always of course: controlled by whom and what for?
When you explained that I was going to be controlled by Jews that was worrying but the lizards who were going to control me (as well or instead of?) were really scary. Then the Chinese Communists, with one of the permanent seats on the UN Security Council taking over those of the other four powers – that was terrifying. And then controlling the whole EU!
It’s amazing that the secret manipulators have managed to frighten or fool nearly every doctor, nurse and medical expert in the world – must be millions of them — into supporting the hoax and masking and vaccines. Thank God we have a handful of medical people spilling the beans. Still, it’s all quite terrifying.
And the plan to replace all white people through contraception, abortion, LGBT rights is frightening too – well, I’m white of course and I don’t want to be replaced. I’ve already been replaced by a machine at the checkout desk where I worked, which was easily done since most people during the pandemic – sorry, the hoax – preferred to use the machines and pay by bank card. Of course the bosses took advantage of the situation to replace some of us but nobody warned us about that.
Like you advised, I have refused to have the vaccine because I don’t want nanobots injected into me so They can control me and see where I go and what I do – even when I’m in the toilet or the shower. I can’t understand how all those controlled people are still managing to hold protests – like about housing, or people killed by police, or for the Palestinians. It’s very confusing so you’ll have to explain that to me again.
I told Brigid (remember, next door but one) about all the antifascists being pedophiles and she said does that mean all the people who fought against Hitler and Mussolini were pedophiles too? Then she said some disrespectful things like if you’re really concerned about pedophilia how come yous are always defending the Catholic Church? When I told her about Hillary Clinton running a pedophile ring from above a pizza restaurant, Brigid just burst out laughing so hard she said she’d have to go to the toilet. When she came back, she asked if John Kennedy and Bill Clinton couldn’t even keep their affairs secret from the public, how would Hillary Clinton manage to run a whole pedophile ring and keep it quiet? I didn’t know what to say and felt quite stupid. I wish you’d been there to answer her.
Brigid’s nephew has been wearing a mask in public since the authorities advised it. He got 99% in one of his exams and mostly around 90s, so I was wondering about that Dolores Cahill saying our children would end up stupid through inhaling carbon dioxide. Then I was wondering whether Brigid was lying or being manipulated. Or her brother, the boy’s father, was. Or the school, faking the results. Or the Government forcing the school to fake the results and fool the father and the son.
So anyway I’m confused and frightened. Tell me what to do, please.
Politicians were last week briefed by the Irish Department of Health to the effect that the construction costs of the projected National Maternity Hospital are expected to reach €800 million — and it appears that neither the land nor the management of the hospital will be under the control of the State. The project has been controversial from the outset, with issues of its location, cost and religious institutional management and now conflicting narratives on discussions of ownership of the land have appeared between the Government and the religious bodies involved.
It is precisely concerns over governance arrangements at the hospital, linked to ownership of the site, which have stalled progress on construction over the years, while projections of costs have grown from the original €150 million. The most recent estimate was around €350 million but on Friday, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Stephen Donnely said: “The building infrastructure cost has been priced at €500 million. Further commissioning costs, including fit-out and transferring an entire hospital to a new site, will be a further €300 million.”
The Religious Sisters of Charity, which order owns the land, is transferring it to the newly-created private charity St Vincent’s Holding CLG, which will then lease it to the State for 99 years. The directors and members of this new private charity are the shareholders of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, of which in turn the Sisters of Charity are the sole shareholders.
According to a report in the Irish Times, politicians were told on Thursday that several attempts had been made to purchase the site but this was contradicted by the religious institutions.
The Religious Sisters of Charity said it had “never at any point been contacted by Government or the State to discuss purchasing the site”, while SVHG – on whose campus the new hospital is to be located – said in a statement: “At no stage was any proposal or approach to sell the land, meaningful or otherwise, received or considered by the board of SVHG.”
While the text of a letter in 2017 from the St. Vincent’s Group may appear at one reading to contradict their later statement, another reading may see it as purely forestalling any attempt to purchase the site from them. The text, shown to the Irish Times presumably by Government sources reads: “This is why SVHG cannot countenance any sale or lease of part of the land on site, or any separate ownership of a hospital on site”.
The versions of the Government and of the religious institutions contradict one another and which is correct remains to be ascertained. What is certain however is that the religious institutions wish to control the site and at least influence governance, while at the same time it is the taxpayer who will fund the construction and the running costs of the hospital.
Asked on Saturday if the site might have to be abandoned for the hospital, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “Of course there is that risk, that’s the reality of the situation.” He added: “This hospital has to be publicly owned and it has to be the case that any obstetric or gynaecological service that’s legal in the State has to be available in that hospital.”
Earlier, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Irish government) Mícheál Martin told RTÉ, the national TV network: “But there’s a very basic point in terms of the taxpayer, and I think into the future we’re in a new era, when the State is building new hospitals and paying the full total of the costs, the State should own the facility.”
UNHEALTHY SERVICE IN THE IRISH STATE
The Irish State has never had a comprehensive public health service, unlike the rest of Europe. When the State was created in 1921, there were a number of health care institutions run by the Catholic Church and the State integrated them into the state-funded service, leaving them under religious institutional management but providing them funding through the state’s health care budget. And so it continued to this day.
This means not only that the public taxes of residents of the Irish state are funding private health care but that those institutions are not answerable to the public in terms of policy on what they consider moral issues – in other words Catholic Church ideology. Hence it is not known at the moment whether the new proposed National Maternity Hospital will provide a service within the terms of what is legally permitted in the Irish state such as voluntary sterilisation, gender adjustment or IV fertilisation. Or pregnancy termination along the lines of what is agreed and desired by the majority of the citizens in the State, as shown in public opinion polls and the 2018 Referendum on Abortion.
In addition, private health centres compete with public services for funding and for staff.
The controversy around the governance and construction costs of the National Maternity Hospital is not alone since there is also another with regard to the projected National Children’s Hospital siting and construction costs, with BAM company claims against the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) totalling €300 million. The original construction cost estimate was €1.74 but some projections now are estimating an excess of €2 billion — and completion not until 2024.
Since construction companies in the Irish state are all private capitalist companies, these problems of course end up in the profits of the companies and a loss to the common taxpayers.
INCREASED HEALTH FUNDING – FOR WHOM?
The Tánaiste (Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has stated that the funding of the State for the Health Service which was increased to deal with the Covid19 pandemic is not to be cut when the pandemic is over but will be kept at €22 billion. If the projected costs of the maternity hospital construction works of €800 million are going to come out of that (without any estimate on site purchase cost), it would leave only €21.2 billion to run the whole health service which is actually less than the 2018 budget of €22.5 billion. And if the €300 million of BAM’s claims were granted, this to be deducted from the budget, only €20.9 billion would remain.
If we assume that the projected construction costs of the National Maternity Hospital are to come from a different budget then it still leaves us the question of who is to benefit from the health budget, the public health service or the private services (Church and other).
In 2019, €1.311 Billion of public funding went to just five private health services1
Sisters of Mercy (including Mater Hospital, Mercy University Hospital — €432 million
Sisters of Charity (including St. Vincent’s University Hospital — €373 million
Brothers of Charity — €218 million
St. John of Gods – 166 million
Daughters of Charity €122 million
A TWO-TIER HEALTH SERVICE
The existence of private alongside public health care facilities creates a two-tier system, one with fast access to treatment alongside another with long, sometimes fatal delays (especially in the case of cancer diagnosis and treatment). Yet both are funded, as we have seen above, by the taxpayer.
With the disparity in waiting time and, to some extent quality of treatment, people who can do so of course tend to opt for the private service. And in order to afford that access, they take out private health insurance.
“According to the Health Insurance Authority, the average health insurance premium has increased from €423 per person in 2002 to €1,200 today”, “which has led to tripling of premium income for the insurance industry, from €822 million in 2002 to €2.5 Billion in 2016, as the numbers taking out insurance have also increased substantially.”2
It is not tolerable that our taxes are going to fund health care facilities that may not, because of religious ideology, provide a full service within what is legally permitted. Nor is it tolerable that our taxes are funding private healthcare facilities at all, never mind funding them to compete with public ones.It is not acceptable that our two-tier system discriminates against the less wealthy and promotes the huge growth in the private health insurance sector. Nor that people are being driven to take out private health insurance which has that sector’s companies raking in profits.
People resident in Ireland need and are entitled to a public health service that is well-funded and staffed to undertake timely illness prevention and health care at all levels in all areas of medicine. And a service that has the spare capacity to deal with emergencies without straining its facilities and harming its staff.
That is what we need and the vast majority of the population would support that, in this state and even in a united Ireland3. But which political party would give us that in government? Not FG, FF, Lab, Greens or SF, on any rational prediction. Although it would be just a reform, will it take a revolution to achieve it?
Let the religious fund their religious-ethos health services and let the rich fund their own private services but ALL PUBLIC FUNDING FOR ALL-PUBLIC SERVICES ONLY.
1From “A brief history of Ireland’s two-tier system”, (Rupture Issue 2, p.22).
2Ibid, p.23, quoting the HIA 2004 / 2005 report and Irish Times article.
3People in the Six Counties have a part of the UK’s NHS there and use and by all indications approve of a public health service.
Instead of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, this year saw a number of far Right-organised demonstrations. The Level 5 Lockdown as part of measures to prevent the continued spread of the Covid19 virus meant the cancelling of the traditional parade and the ongoing closure of bars, people instead taking advantage of the fair weather to head out to parks, river and canal banks and the seaside. A number of far-Right organisations however convened protest events for a number of locations in Dublin under the pretence of caring for mental health and defending civil rights. Hot food services for those in need normally served from outside the GPO were cancelled due to concerns about possible trouble from far-Rightists and a limited service was provided instead.
Unlike many other occasions in the past year, the Gardaí mobilised to take control of the demonstrations, in some cases arresting people who could not give a valid excuse for exceeding the 5-kilometer from home permitted limit without a valid reason, or refusing to give their name and address, or preventing their re-entering the city centre later in the day. The Gardaí general tolerance of far-Right events and of the latter’s continual flouting of anti-contagion measures appears to be worn down, at least for the moment. This tolerance (and at times actual collusion), at marked variance with their treatment of Republican and some other Left events, seems to have been broken by the Far-Right event at Stephen’s Green, where some of the demonstrators threw fireworks at the police.
The most effective operation of the police was in the surrounding of the RTÉ’s campus, the national television service. Unlike a protest last year when they permitted far-Right demonstrators to enter the grounds, on this occasion they were effective in keeping them out. At least two of those arrested there, a man and a woman, had traveled down from the North, they were detained for refusing to give their names and addresses. Altogether, the Gardaí reported having arrested 21 people, including four females, and that 14 were taken before a magistrate’s court that evening and seven charged and released on bail. A number of others may have been told they would be fined for having exceeded their permitted traveling distance without reasonable excuse.
One of the arrested was Joe Doocey from Mayo, variously a member of Gemma Doherty’s “Anti-Corruption Ireland” and “Integrity Ireland”, both racist and far-Right organisations; Doocey was sentenced to prison a few years ago for driving over a Garda at a checkpoint and running an on-line harassment campaign against his victim.
The small gathering earlier at the Garden of Remembrance seems to have been somewhat different, apparently a Christian fundamentalist group calling for “Reclaim St. Patrick’s Day for the Holy Trinity”1. At least handful of those present were seen the previous day in O’Connell Street, wearing a red sash and dispensing Catholic leaflets from the “Irish Society for Christian Civilization”, with a right-wing message.2
The fairly small gatherings at the GPO and the Garden of Remembrance earlier in the day were monitored with a heavy Garda presence, some of which was in evidence there later that evening. Hot food services and tea for the needy, which would normally be provided in the evening, were cancelled due to worries about possible far-Right interference. One low-level cold food service was however in operation with antifascists, mostly of Irish Republican origin, in the vicinity in case of trouble from the far-Right, who however did not materialise.
DEMONSTRATING IN SUPPORT OF MENTAL HEALTH?
For public consumption, these far-Right groups pretend to be demonstrating for civil rights to to march etc and in defence of mental health. To see Far-Rightists who wish to push their authoritarian agenda on the public now marching in defence of “democracy” and “civil right” would be amusing were it not for the serious intentions of fascists hiding behind those slogans.
Mental health services in Ireland are and have been underfunded and overstretched for many years, with long waiting lists for treatment. So are these far-Rightists at least marching to remedy that situation? No, they are demonstrating for an end to the Lockdown which they say is the cause of mental illness.
Not to be unkind but mental health services might help some of the believers in crazy conspiracy theories which make up the numbers at these events organised by far-Rightists and fascists. Believing that the Irish Government is part of a communist plot organised by the Communist Party of China through the UN and EU is surely not a sign of a healthy mind. Nor is a belief that antifascism is a paedophile ring support group, or that pregnancy termination and gay marriage rights are intended to reduce the native (white) population so they can be replaced by (non-white) migrants – an alleged plot which Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party declares is being run by the EU and by the Irish Government.
And in fact Kelly’s “Irish Freedom Party” is the reality behind the false mental health event organised for St. Patrick’s Day in Herbert Park, through the newly-created front organisation “Le Chéile”3 claimed by Tracey Mahoney of the IFP, who spoke there. The remaining speaker was Dr. Anne McCloskey (who last October resigned from her Derry & Strabane Councillor seat for the right-wing Aontú party) and her daughter was arrested outside RTÉ. The party’s Vice-President (and castle owner in Athy), Dolores Cahill, was the main speaker at the event and claimed that wearing face-masks leads to oxygen deprivation which in turn led to a reduced IQ in children and would harm their career prospects in adult life.
These bizarre claims would have all those whose work requires wearing masks in healthcare, surgery, laboratories, “clean workshops” etc worried – if there were any scientific basis for them. There isn’t of course and Cahill can no longer use her position as lecturer in Medicine at UCD as some kind of validation for her claims, since she has been replaced on the course. Not before more than 130 UCD students, mostly from its School of Medicine, had signed a letter protesting the University’s silence on her claims. The University had however already publicly disassociated itself from Cahill’s view, though not at the time replacing her in her First Year course in Science, Medicine and Society, which it has now done.4 According to the text introducing an on-line petition calling for her to be disciplined by UCD because of her publicity-seeking statements being in contravention of all scientific health understanding, Cahill has also been asked to resign from the EU’s Scientific Committee of the Innovative Medicines Initiative and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Studies.
Cahill’s claim and that of other far-Right conspiracy theorists is that “oxygen-deprivation” leads to passivity, which is why it is being enforced against an “invented” pandemic. Completely contrary to her own logic (but being cheered by many in attendance) was her complaint that the HSE is failing to obtain a particular substance which would be effective treatment (in the “imagined pandemic”)!
“FOR FREEDOM AND CIVIL RIGHTS”?
These campaigners for the right to congregate without masks (i.e freedom to spread the virus) are far from general advocates of freedom. At a Dublin event organised in August last year on Custom House Quay by the Irish Yellow Vests, a mob organised by the National Party (another fascist party) attacked unarmed counter-protesters with metal bars and clubs disguised as flags, leaving one of their victims unconscious. A few weeks later they assaulted a tiny group of LGBT campaigners in Kildare Street, clubbing one of the women to the ground.5
Alan Sweeney6 of Irish Yellow Vests and others boarded a LUAS tram in Dublin after one of their events and abused passengers who were wearing masks and far-Right demonstrators regularly accuse passers-by of being “muzzled”. A man arrested the day before St.Bridget’s Day in Faughart was said to have been ripping masks off elderly people (picking on older people might be thought as safer than others) and Ben Gilroy, one of the Irish Yellow Vest leaders, videoed himself following a masked elderly man around a supermarket while abusing him. Karl Cohalon from Limerick, who goes by the name James Collins on YouTube also had himself videoed on his way to an event in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, shouting homophobic and other insults at a man in the front garden of his home.
Many of the far-Right and fascists are Catholic fundamentalists too, also not known for supporting democratic rights such as the rights of LGBT people or of women needing a pregnancy termination, not to mention vulnerable children (of course they do not condemn the Church for paedophilia and in fact claim the accusations are false). These include not only the openly fascist parties mentioned earlier and Síol na hÉireann but also QAnon and the likes of Gemma O’Doherty (“make Ireland Catholic again”!) of Anti-Corruption Ireland and Dolores Webster (aka Dee Wall) of QAnon, both of whom who demonstrated last year against Croke Park being made available to a Muslim group to celebrate the Eid Festival. Both those women were seen during the events of St. Patrick’s Day as were other fascists such as Carey (“helping the homeless”) and Andy Heasman from Mayo, a supporter of the fascist Síol na hÉireann party, who shared a video expressing his disappointment at the poor turnout, blaming Sinn Féin (undeserved credit there!) and Glen Miller of the Yellow Vests, who apparently cautioned people not to attend.
Whether people genuinely confused or believers in fantasy conspiracies of devil-worshippers, paedophiles or faraway communist parties, they are kept together to make up the numbers by fascist organisations with racist agendas, pretending Irish nationalism too although a number have Far-Right British and Loyalist connections. Those who for other reasons demonstrate alongside racists and fascists cannot escape the facts of their association by declaring that they are not fascists, racists or even far-Rightists – they are giving those forces the numbers they need to seem like a viable force and to attract other supporters. Of course, once they have served their purpose, like the SA “Brownshirts” in Nazi Germany, they will be disposed of. But meanwhile …
ST. PATRICK WAS …
St Patrick is one of three patron saints of Ireland, the others being Brigid and Columba and is revered not only by Irish Catholics but also by other Christian sects, for having established Christianity in Ireland around the 5th Century CE. However over the centuries since, St. Patrick has become symbolic of far more, being a representation politically and culturally of Irish nationhood at home and among the nation’s far-flung diaspora.
Contrary to those who try to employ this symbol to push an “ethnic” racism against immigrants, it needs to remembered that Patrick first came to Ireland as a captive taken in a raid by pagan Gaels, was then sold as a slave and exploited as a swineherd. Some time after escaping from his servitude (probably back to Britain), he returned to spread his faith in Ireland. He was then a migrant, one of the very group against which many of the far-Right and fascists organise.
1No doubt drawing on the legend of Patrick using the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity, which no serious historian credits because a) he did not mention it himself in his biography, b) the Gaels already had pagan divine trinities and c) the legend only surfaced comparatively recently.
2Their website declares that the “The aim of the association is to resist, in the realm of ideas, the atheistic, liberal, and socialist trends of our times and proudly affirm the positive values of Christian Civilisation”.
3Not at all to be confused with the youthwork organisation NGO of the same name, nor the Catholic schools management trust, nor the very recent antifascist and anti-racist coalition, all of which have the same name.
5The National Party played it safe and held their event on the Hill of Tara where their Fuhrer, Justin Barret made a speech celebrating St. Patrick, ignoring the man’s origins, of course. The Irish Yellow Vests stayed home.
6Who operates far from his Co. Galway home and who last year attempted to strike a disabled woman counter-protester on the ground and spat at her
The Far-Right in Ireland have been been for some time hiding behind the homeless. Fascists, other racists and even anti-vaxxers have been organising public demonstrations while pretending concern for homeless people and the crisis of homelessness within the state. But recently they sank to a new low – impersonating the homeless.
Fascists are unable to go to the public with their true intentions unadorned, which is understandable. Why would most people support a capitalist dictatorship built on the suppression of all defence organisations such as trade unions and all other democratic organisations? So fascists need to point to false enemies and false problems, along with false solutions to real problems. One section of the false enemies are migrants and therefore immigration is a false problem. But in a real problem, the ongoing homelessness crisis within the state, they propose a false solution: “house the Irish first”.
The Far-Right ignores the real source of that crisis, that local authorities are not building municipal housing for rent and that for several decades governments have denied them the finance to do so. It is not migrants, who struggle to pay high rents in often sub-standard accommodation, who benefit from that situation but property developers and landlords. And their credit-extending backers, the banks, that our governments forced us to bail out not so long ago at the price of an austerity program and interest-repayment schedule to run for decades.
It is rational for the Far-Right to shift the blame to the blameless and away from the real causes for to do otherwise would bring them up not just “against the Government” but against the capitalist system that all our governments have represented and continue to act for.
When the Irish Yellow Vests started up in Ireland a few years ago, a number of Socialist and Republican activists, along with people not active previously, unaware perhaps of how the Far-Right in France had infiltrated the movement there, joined the rallies and marches. But it quickly became clear that this “movement without leaders” did indeed have leaders and that they were of the Far-Right, one a prominent islamophobe and the other a self-promoting opportunist1. And that fascists and racists were working within it using, among other things, the homelessness crisis and promoting “house the Irish first”. Landlords were only targeted for housing migrants and property developers and the banks not at all.
The theme continued as other sections of the Far-Right accused migrants and asylum-seekers of being housed in luxury accommodation and at public expense. Fascists and other racists organised against buildings being used as asylum-seeker hostels and whipped up fears of invasions by thousands of muslim terrorists and in at least one case, set fire to a proposed hostel building.
Another opportunist and cynical use of the homelessness crisis has been the holding of anti-vaxxer rallies and other publicity-seeking events while claiming to be doing so “for the homeless”. Carey has been holding little rallies for a number of Saturdays at the Garden of Remembrance, having himself videoed there, also broadcasting regular videos of himself sitting in his car, addressing his supposed public support group that is regularly failing to show up. Carey claims that his actions are designed to help the homeless but they neither challenge the cause of the problem nor supply relief, for example through delivering free food or clothing services. Oh yes, he did have a fundraising appeal but where did the money go? Carey was also at one of the early Irish Yellow Vest gatherings on Custom House Quay, Dublin, where he was videoed by their own people behaving aggressively towards a tiny group of antifascists who were present there, also attempting to snatch one of their flags.
A similar publicity stunt was a supposed “walk from east to west” by another anti-vaxxer, Alan Sweeney, who was raising money “for the homeless”. His call for people to join him seems to have resulted only in one woman who was doing it, she said, “for the mentally ill”. Among wide disbelief that he is walking all the way, his sparse videos showed him occasionally walking or, in at least one case, having a confrontation with staff in a shop who didn’t want him in there without wearing a protective face covering. On that occasion, it is the woman “doing it for the mentally ill” who is videoed by Sweeney while she gets served in the shop twice without a mask and goes in a third time to get the confrontation she is seeking.
While they manage to keep both staff (apparently brothers) in pointless argument, what seems to be the no-nonsense father comes along and pushes them out the door. No physical reaction from the bold Sweeney, who was videoed last year aiming a kick at and spitting on a disabled woman on the ground, an antifascist protester who had been knocked down and kicked by another nazi warrior.
All that is reasonably well known and much of it in the public record though it might take a little digging to unearth it. But last weekend the Far-Right went beyond pretending to support the homeless to actually pretending to be homeless themselves.
CONVOY &RALLY AGAINST THE LOCKDOWN
On Sunday (10th January 2021), QAnon called for an anti-vaxxer2 “anti-lockdown” convoy from Belfast to Dublin. QAnon is one of the negationist groups who proclaim that the pandemic is either not real or not serious, that the (rather insufficient) preventative measures brought in by the Government are just intended to restrict the freedom of assembly for other purposes. They also have a range of other conspiracy beliefs that include, according to which individual is speaking, Jewish financiers or the Chinese Communist Party or Millionaire George Soros being behind it all and financing their opponents, Republicans, Socialists, “Antifa” etc. Or that all are in the service of paedophiles. And that the vaccines are going to inject nanomachines into people’s bloodstream which will allow the Government to control them.
There are a number of QAnon groups around the world and they are especially prominent in the USA, where they have been enthusiastic Trump supporters and were among those who stormed the Capitol building just recently (and where the woman shot by police was a duped by QAnon supporter3).
On the day of this intended great “convoy”, Covid 19 reported cases within the Irish state were just starting to fall again, at 153,000 with 2,532 reported deaths.
Advertised to start with meeting at Dublin Airport at noon, the anti-vaxxers were going to head north to Belfast and then swing around to come into Dublin with a number of stops along the way to meet at the GPO, a regular weekly rallying point of QAnon in the past. The bringing in of individuals and small groups of people from different parts of the country has been a regular feature of Far-Right rallies to make them seem as having much more public support than is actually the case. Despite current travel restrictions being in place as part of the tardy effort of the Government to prevent or reduce the spread of Covid19 infection, currently at 5 kilometres for exercise, and no outside activities to be organised, the anti-vaxxers clearly had no fear of their convoy and rally failing to attract their supporters nor of any interference by the State.
Although anti-virus contagion measures on a number of occasions have put travel restrictions in place, until now the Far-Right have been able to travel about freely, and assemble unmasked without social distancing. On one occasion in Dublin they marched to the Garden of Remembrance (dedicated to the martyrs who fought for an independent Ireland) and chanted in triumphant mockery “Where’s your Lockdown?”
But last Sunday was a different case.
IMPERSONATING THE HOMELESS
Last Sunday, the Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had roadblocks out and were stopping traffic to question the drivers on their starting point and destination. The British colonial police force, the PSNI did too and turned up to a score of the anti-vaxxers back at Newry. On the quays in Dublin, Gardaí checkpoints stopped a number of other anti-vaxxers and fascists, such as Alan Sweeney4, who had himself videoed in a short argument from his car refusing to tell a Garda where he was bound or the reason for his journey (which at one point he claimed was for “family”) or to give his address, which he quickly did when threatened with arrest and a hefty fine. Later, on foot, while shouting at Gardaí carrying out other checks, he claimed he was “of no fixed abode” and “homeless” before giving his address, again under threat of arrest. Alan Sweeney does have a home, which is in the lovely area of Kinvara in Co. Galway (sorry, Kinvara but we know he does not represent you) and is 213.3 km from Dublin city centre.
Having reached the GPO without making most of the scheduled stops, Dolores Webster, one of the leaders of the QAnon group regularly rallying there who broadcasts videos under the nom de guerre of “Dee Wall” (and known to her opponents by other names such as “Deemented”, “Off Dee Wall” and “the Screech”) was approached by Gardaí. She claimed she was homeless and was waiting for the homeless feeding service5 to set up but eventually she and her coterie ran out of excuses and had to disperse.
There are an estimated in excess of 8,000 people without a permanent home in the 26-County State, only part of which were the 1,117 families who accessed emergency accommodation in October 2020, including 2,642 children. The use of the homeless as a cover for fascist and racist mobilisation, as a pretence for targeting migrants and asylum seekers, for fund-raising and, in the end, as a cover for violating contagion prevention measures, shows the total cynicism of the Far-Right. Furthermore it exposes their total lack of any concern or feeling of social solidarity for the victims of the capitalist system, in addition to their complete lack of any intention of resolving the real crisis of homelessness.
1 Glen Miller is a prominent islamophobe and Ben Gilroy has often been a speaker for it, when not being a self-publicist.
2A collective term for people opposed to vaccines but in particular those campaigning against their use.
3Ashli Babbit, a former member of the US military, her QAnon support confirmed by posts on her FB page and reported interviews with family and friends.
4Sweeney has regularly been associated with the fascist National Party headed by Justin Barrett.
5There are feeding services for the homeless and poor people in hostel accommodation etc provided at the GPO by voluntary organisations, religious and secular, every week. The General Post Office is a grand building in the middle of Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street and was the HQ of the insurgents in the 1916 Rising.
Dear Mr. Tony Holohan, We write to congratulate you on being voted Man of the Year for 2020 in the Today FM poll this month1. It must have come as a pleasant surprise to you – it certainly surprised us. We couldn’t have expected the Irish public would forget that embarrassing debacle with the cervical cancer checks.
People might think it reasonable to send the test results off to the USA for screening but, when it turned out that many of those “all clear” results were in error and that some who who later learned of the error were too late for treatment and going die …. you couldn’t hope they would forgive you for trying to keep a lid on the news or for declining to create an urgent response. Well, of course, some of those who wouldn’t be likely to forgive you aren’t with us any more …. but surely so many others would remember? Well thank God for short memories, you must’ve thought!2
Still, that was news in 2018 and your award was for this year. What is more surprising is that they forgot that when the HSE first became officially aware of the pandemic in February this year, as Chief Medical Officer, you did not advise the Government to close the ports. Or even to isolate those returning from watching the rugby in Italy, where the pandemic was raging. Well, we can’t have the flow of capital interrupted, can we?
We wonder too how it slipped the mind of so many that you did not advise the Government to order precautionary arrangements and protective measures in essential services, so that An Post workers had to strike for such provision and shops and supermarkets only put them in place slowly, piecemeal. We’re sure your thinking was that those who are making money out of such establishments are the best placed to decide what is needed and when – even if they won’t actually be working at the danger point.
Then there was the advice to lockdown, relax, lockdown, relax, lockdown again …. what one know-it all TD called “the yo-yo policy” as reducing rates of contagion recovered and shot up again, etc.
More surprising still — and must have been more than you dared hope — was that people who are nearly unanimously and everywhere now wearing masks, apparently forgot that back in the early days you declared in public that wearing masks was of no help at all in reducing the spread of the virus.
We thought your humble acknowledgement of the award was excellent and especially that you refrained from one of those insincere responses one often hears like: “I feel I don’t really deserve this award.”
According to news reports, the Government is considering a relaxation of restrictions and a return to work – but with people wearing masks1 and with monitoring of preventative measures. An obvious question is, if these measures are thought to be effective in future, why are they not being implemented now? And why not in the past? Will we be going back to work but also to contagion?
PRESSURE TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS
There is clearly some pressure to lift restrictions – many people want to be able to earn money and socialise as before. People want to go on holiday, get on with education and projects, visit relatives. Small businesses want to save themselves from bankruptcy or climb out of debt. And bankers and industrialists want to continue squeezing people for profits. The State too, in both its ‘national’2and municipal forms, wants to raise taxes to fund its essential services: power generation and supply, water purification and sewage treatment, health service, postal and electronic communications, public transport and road maintenance, fire-fighting, refuse collection and disposal …. To all of those pressures the Government seems to be bowing – but have they thought it through?
In Germany, which has lifted some restrictions, people have been obliged to wear masks in public but even so, the authorities are urging people to be cautious, that they “will have to live with the virus” for some time. In other words, “forget about going back to normal, probably for a long time”. Initial statistics show a rise in infection cases there after the lockdown easing. In Britain, especially England, trade unions have attacked the “mixed messages”from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, about returning to work as “potentially lethal”.3
So, about the pressure. Ordinary working people have bills, mortgages and rents to pay, small business people have the same and clearly a state needs to have money to fund essential services. Yes, and big companies and banks are pressurising too. And we all know how successful banks are at pressurising governments, don’t we? Especially our governments.
Apart from banks and building societies, the Government could ease the pressure on ordinary working people and small business people by declaring a moratorium on mortgages and rents for the duration of loss of earnings due to the pandemic. Yes, it would need to take powers to do that but wouldn’t most people support them in doing so?
The building societies, banks and big businesses wouldn’t support it however, all of which are interconnected. Well, when the banks and building societies messed up – and not for any reason like a pandemic, either – our governments forced US, the ordinary working people, to bail THEM out. In fact we’re still paying for that out of our national reserves and in cuts in all kinds of provision. A little bit of “comes around” would do them no real harm.
As to the finances to run the essential services of the State and of local authorities: end the tax write-offs, holidays and low taxation rates etc. And change the line on “We don’t want Apple to pay us the money which even the neo-liberal capitalist EU says they owe us!”. Yes, we DO want it – and we NEED it, ALL of it and NOW!
The German authorities, with a much more efficient and better-funded health service and financial reserves, have been warning its public about false confidence. Now and again we see some indications of that here in Ireland too.
OK, so a section of the public is not properly educated or just willfully ignorant – stupid even. But if when you introduce a lockdown to deal with a pandemic you talk about it being for an initial two weeks ….. what kind of message are you giving out? And if you tell most people not to bother with masks or gloves? And if in the early days of the pandemic told them firstly that public events would not need canceling4 and then that to attend outdoor events of up to 500 and indoor events up to 100 people5 was basically safe? If the responsible authorities never seemed to be taking it all that seriously until late in the day and even then have managed it quite lightly – are some people to be blamed for having false confidence?
Another cluster of infections has just come to light, ten meat processing plants accounting for 566 cases so far. Prof. Catherine Motherway, President of the Intensive Care Society was reported as cautioning that a lot more needs to be done before restrictions are eased. “We need to know that our health system can cope … find and isolate the cases and treat them.”6
FACE-MASKS NOW – BUT NOT EARLIER
According to reports, the Government will want us to wear face-masks when they relax the restrictions. But ….. weren’t they telling us from the start that there was no point? Wasn’t even the World Health Organisation playing down their usefulness?
Well, either they know they don’t work, in which case they just want us to feel safe enough to start the wheels of industry turning and the money flowing into the big accounts …. Or they know they do work, and they’ve been advising us wrongly all along.
That’s where my bet is and I’ve written about this already, weeks ago7. It’s bloody obvious that face masks must help prevent spread the virus and depending on the type and procedures employed, would also help protect the wearer to some degree. Quite a number of countries made wearing them in public obligatory. And now the Government will be doing that here too.
Good. But I just wonder how many people got sick – or even died – because the authorities discouraged them from wearing them earlier?
The Government has yet to specify where the masks are going to come from and, little respect as I have for any person prominent in the Labour Party, Alan Kelly TD is obviously correct when he says that the Government should be organising the production of those masks NOW!8
OTHER MEASURES AND MONITORING
Face-masks help you not to spread droplets on to other people – and you don’t know for sure whether you have the virus or not, because you can carry it for a few days before it starts to show. Good face-masks will help you not catch it from someone else too. But you really need gloves as well and a good procedure in removing the gloves and face-mask, combined with hand-washing. And of course, social distancing. To be honest, with all those being practiced, there should be no need for 2km distance from home limits on exercise or travel – or even for telling older people to stay indoors, vulnerable to depression and ill-health through lack of exercise and even to accidents in the home.
But, for effective measures, don’t they/ we need to know who is infected and who is not? And where the major infection points in society are to be found? Yes — and for that we need mass testing, which our Government has not been doing because of how the health service has been run down. Not even with sending test samples away (to Germany) for analysis!9
And then we need tracking, tracing where people think they may have got infected, who they may have infected in turn, testing them …. the proper pandemic scientific procedures. But our Government is hardly doing that either. We get the following estimates10 of infection sources based on people who tested positive: 34% close contact, 63% community contact, 3% travel abroad.11But what do these categories actually mean?
OK, “travel abroad” is reasonably clear. “Close contact” might mean family, close friends, lovers, elderly relatives in nursing homes (more about them further on). But “community contact”, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the total? Would these be neighbours, workmates? You know what I suspect? Shops and supermarkets – customers and staff – are a big section. Why? Because most people visit them at least weekly and the precautions taken there have been all along — and are still – inadequate. But the authorities don’t do the tracking to find out. Or if they have, they’re not telling us.
The fact that it was only last week that a high cluster of infection around meat-processing plants was revealed shows the need for testing, tracking and testing again and how little work on that level is being done. Ten sites with 566 people infected12 so far is not something that should be coming to light over two months after the first case was identified in Ireland.
Who will carry out the monitoring, ensuring best practice and compliance? I’d like to believe that whichever body the Government sets up will do a good job but unfortunately I doubt it. It was left up to the supermarkets and shops to monitor their own provisions and they did it late and inadequately13. The Government at first even left it up to the pubs whether to remain open or not! Now this body appointed by them, aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the Government to interfere with the business of making money, will be supervising and monitoring every factory, shop, depot and farm? Really?
In this small relatively low-industry state of the 26 Counties, the Health & Safety Agency recorded 22,500 non-fatal workplace accidents reported to it for the year 2017-2018, along with 48 fatalities. Remember that all generic studies maintain that most and possibly all accidents at work are avoidable and result from lack of awareness or of appropriate training, or of fatigue as well as from bad practices, bad supervision and badly-maintained equipment.
The understaffed HSA is not adequate to the task of monitoring even a representative sample of workplaces and relies a lot on accidents and breaches of regulations being reported to it; the trade unions in general are not up to the job either, especially with the low percentage of union membership of recent decades.14 So whichever agency is set up for monitoring good working practices during the pandemic, even if such adequate practices have been identified and published, is not likely to be up to the job either.
But at the very least that agency should publish its general guidelines and insist each workplace publish the specific procedures in place along with the underlying rationale. Then at least employees and public can see what they are, complain if they are felt to be inadequate and report those that are not being practiced. And gloves and face-masks at least should be provided for all, with work practices adapted to allow for them.
THE DISPOSABLE PEOPLE
As soon as the pandemic took hold in other countries, a high percentage of infected people were known to be healthcare workers – around 10% as an average. Even if you didn’t realise straight away that nursing homes were going to have a high rate of infection, as soon as you thought about healthcare workers you’d be quick getting to that point (and one step away from thinking about homeless hostels and direct provision centres etc too). Once you thought of the high vulnerability of those facilities, you’d make special provisions for them, wouldn’t you?
But no. No provision at all until a few weeks ago. No special issuing of guidelines for staff and visitors, insufficient PPE (protective equipment etc), low admission rates to ICUs for the infected ….. According to stats published at the weekend, 855 coronavirus-19 deaths have been associated with care homes and 740 of those were residents. And since the total deaths recorded within the state at that point were 1,429, well over half the deaths have taken place in care homes.
A shocking rate of attrition out of ineptitude for which the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team should be held responsible. Or …. was it even worse than that? These facilities contain, on the whole, people who are no longer economically active, people some might even consider a drain on society’s resources. And often low-paid migrant workers caring for them. Could it be that they were all just considered “disposable”?
11Yes and most intelligent people wonder why the Government allowed people to travel to an international rugby match in a country swamped with the virus and, even worse, not have them quarantined upon their return. And for heaven’s sake, why people can still leave and arrive at our air and marine ports and sit on planes next to one another with cabin crew having to bend close to attend to them during the flight, do a turnaround and bend close to another group of passengers on the flight back.
Gárdaí ‘can’t’ enforce social distancing on visitors from the Six Counties…!
(Reading time text: 5 minutes)
Irish Republicans looking at the sub-headline could be forgiven for bursting into laughter, for the Gárdaí, in particular the Special Branch, the political police, have never had any reluctance in harassing, arresting and even refusing bail to Republicans from the Six Counties.
And likewise with their counterparts on the other side of the British Border, who have never had much problem enforcing and even exceeding their laws with regard to Republicans from the Twenty-Six counties.
However, according to a news report in today’s breakingnews.ie, day-trippers from the Six Counties are flooding into the picturesque coastal areas of County Donegal and ignoring Coronavirus-19 legislation. The report says that the day-trippers are from “Northern Ireland” which is nonsense of course, since Donegal is the real Northern Ireland, i.e the northernmost geographical point of the country. And it is in Ulster too, though not under British occupation.
Anyway, back to the main issue in the report, which is that Donegal residents have been complaining that the Gardaí there are not enforcing social distancing on day-trippers from across the Border.
It appears that the Gárdaí were applying the Coronavirus-19 restrictions but were told that they could not. Why would this be? The laws against theft, assault and public disorder apply not only to residents in Ireland but also to visitors – why would laws intended to control a pandemic be any different? Indeed, one would think they’d be, if anything, more enforceable.
Meanwhile, “a Gárda statement” quoted in the report states that “anyone visiting the State even temporarily is amenable to such criminal laws of this State while visiting here.”
So it’s the law, applies to everyone including visitors, so … what’s the problem?
There is a saying that states that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and it is difficult to see an explanation in this case other than that for some reason there is no political will to enforce the law on visitors from the Six Counties. Of course, if they were Republicans attending some Republican event, well in that case ……
“THE VIRUS DOESN’T RESPECT THE BORDER”
According to a number of Donegal public representatives, local people have been bombarding them with complaints about the incursions and the lack of Gárda action. Councillor Jack Murray, from the Inishowen area, saying he had been “inundated” with complaints about Gárda failure to apply the legislation to people from the Six Counties, said that “the virus does not respect the Border and tackling it should recognise that.” Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, a TD (member of the Irish Parliament, the Dáil) for Donegal, lives in Buncrana, a popular destination in the holiday season. “This error is unacceptable,” he said, “considering that all government legislation goes through the Attorney General’s office.”
Clearly, a rational response to the pandemic would require either an Ireland-wide approach or a strict closing of the Border between the two administrations. The authorities on each side have done neither.
At the end of February, the first person recorded positive for the virus arrived in Dublin from Italy aboard an Aer Lingus plane and was permitted to travel on to Belfast – she is/was a resident of the Six Counties. No quarantine was ordered for the rest of the passengers. And so on.
Ineptitude of Governments apart, it has never made sense to partition Ireland on economic, geographical or human rights grounds. Now we see that it doesn’t make sense on grounds of pandemic control either. How does it make sense? Well, on the wish of the rulers of Britain to keep a foothold in Ireland and of their loyal subjects in the Six Counties to remain in domination of that foothold.
GENERAL PROBLEMS WITH 2Km LIMITS
To be honest, I have never seen the point of the 2km limit. Is it the case that you can infect or be infected by someone outside the 2km limit but not inside? Of course that does not make sense but how does this limit make any sense otherwise?
I don’t drive a car but if I did and were to get in my car in my garage, drive out to a secluded spot on the mountains, get out and walk, then return to my car and drive home, how would I have endangered myself or anyone else? If I went to a park or beach outside the 2km limit from my home and, while there, kept my distance from other walkers, how would I be endangering anyone?
The danger in general, we are told, comes from physical contact with people or being within two metres of them, when droplets from an infected person may reach us. Would that danger be reduced if everyone were obliged to wear a face-mask of any kind? Clearly. Yet not only are we not obliged to wear such masks in public but we are being actuallydiscouraged from doing so by statements from the HSE (and also from the WHO). Would the danger be reduced if, in addition to wearing masks, we wore gloves in public and had a safe procedure for removing them at home? Obviously – yet we are not being informed, never mind encouraged, in this regard either.
We hear talk from time to time about essential frontline workers, a discussion the origins of which can be traced to the call on the Government to shut down all non-essential work. That of course raised the issue of what is essential work and therefore, who are the essential workers. High among the category considered essential were health practitioners and their rate of infection, when statistics were published, was exceeding 25%. But there is another group of workers who are essential and vulnerable and although most members of the public are in contact with them on a weekly basis at least, nevertheless they are given little protection and rarely mentioned.
Essential workers include, apart from healthcare workers, those maintaining our supplies of clean water, electricity and gas, sanitation, agriculture, production of necessary equipment, public transport, transport of essential supplies, fire-fighting, telecommunication (but not commercial call centres), postal services …. All of these should be in the first rank of consideration for protection from the Coronavirus-19, because they are vulnerable and for the selfish reason that we need them. But much more exposed on a daily basis to a greater number of people are the shop and supermarket workers.
They are the most numerous of the essential workers in daily contact with the public, which puts them at risk and, if they become infected, puts the general public, the shopping customers at risk too. And yet, their levels of protection organised by their employers are very poor overall. Despite this, we rarely hear them mentioned in public discourse, they do not receive particular attention from the Left and even their own trade unions are inactive on the issue.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE
Let us take a moment to consider what should have been the measures put in place for these workers and for the public coming into contact with them:
Immediate training program in prevention for all staff, with regular refresher or reinforcement measures
Immediate supply of protective clothing, disposed/ washed after each break and shift, this to include face-mask and gloves
Hand-sanitiser at every work station
Wrap-around screens at all checkout points
Disinfection routines for all work stations at shift changes
No shelf-filling during hours open to the public or non-essential interaction between public and staff inside of six feet distance
Staff in necessary close proximity to members of the public, including security staff, to be given special protection in clothing and in shift arrangements and testing
Safe social distances enforced by restrictions on numbers of customers in store at one time
Safe social distances marked for queues and enforced
Regular disinfection of automatic checkout machines
Supply of hand-sanitiser at all entrances/ exits and checkout machines for the public
Prevention informational visual and audio prompts for public and staff
All companies obliged by Government to publish their protocols so as to educate staff and public and also give a point of correction if either feel that the protocols are not being adhered to.
Some readers may protest that management had no previous experience of a pandemic, that some of these measures were implemented but a delay was inevitable and some measures are too extreme. I would respond that any group of reasonably intelligent people, knowing the danger and typical transmission routes, sitting down to think of precautions, would come up with a similar list. Companies are supposed to carry out risk assessments of their procedures. Trade union officials and representatives would be trained in how to assess levels of risk and how to employ measures to eliminate or reduce the level of risk as much as practicable.
Should anyone consider any of those measures excessive, they should be able to point out which and to say why. Or likewise justify the claim that late implementation was unavoidable.
WHAT WAS DONE
Let us now take a moment to review which of those measure have been implemented, how and when.
I am not in a position to give a definite answer on whether staff were given intensive training in avoiding infection or not but from my observation while shopping of staff in a number of supermarkets I would feel confident in saying that they had not or, if they had, that the required practice was not being monitored by management.
Even to the day of writing this piece, in only one workplace, Eurospar in Fairview, have I seen all the staff wearing face masks. Workers in a number of other companies have told me that they are not supplied with them.
Hand-sanitiser was supplied to work-stations in some supermarkets (possibly all) but weeks after the pandemic hit Ireland (though it had been raging abroad for many weeks before that and covered in news reports).
No screens were in place at work-stations until weeks after the arrival of the virus and even now are rudimentary in many places. Single screens with spaces between permit staff and customers to position themselves in the open spaces, which I have seen both do at times. A number of cashier screens with an open section for customers to receive and load their checked-out purchases are well inside six feet of the staff member.
Whether there are any such shift-change disinfection routines at any supermarket I cannot say but in some supermarkets I have seen staff leave or take up work at a station without any evidence of its disinfection.
I have seen frequent shelf-filling during-open-to the-public hours in Dunnes, Tesco, Centra and Aldi (I have not been in a Lidl since the virus arrived) and even without gloves; also unprotected staff moving among customers on other pieces of work, including stacking and removing empty baskets. Even this evening in a Tesco outlet, although at least they were wearing orange (?) gloves, staff were attending to shelves (and without face-masks, as was the staff member stationed near the automatic machines).
In addition to the above, staff maintaining queue lines, including security staff: every single one without masks and all being passed by customers at distances inside of six feet. The most shocking case was of a security guard in Tesco Drumcondra being passed by customers at distances of between one and three feet – he had no mask and only his company uniform, which he probably takes home to his family and puts on again next day. As to testing, given the long waiting times reported for testing and even longer for results, along with the general level of care for employees shown by the companies, how likely is any are being regularly tested?
Yes but in at least one case, I saw that the security guard on the door monitoring numbers was absent for awhile. Of course, there are calls of nature but shouldn’t the protocols require the temporary replacement of the person at this post? Would we wish to be the ones who were infected because this probability had not been foreseen and provided for?
The safe social distances for queueing customers – but not among staff — are now being enforced in most supermarkets, weeks after the arrival of the virus (but I noticed today that the separation is actually less than the advertised two metres).
I have very rarely seen disinfection of automatic machines.
In a local Centra, the first I saw to erect perspex screens, there was a sanitiser dispenser at the entrance with instructions. On at least one occasion it was empty and I have seen customers pass it without using it or having it called to their attention. I saw none in any other chain supermarket, although in Aldi a spray was provided by the baskets with instructions to use it on the basket handles.
Prevention information posters may be seen but usually of the most generalised kind (like those from the HSE) and asking forstaff to be treated with patience; graphic posters very rarely, film and audio prompts never. In other words, the means supermarkets use when they really want something, like mood enhancement, customers aware of bargains or special promotions, urgent attention to a checkpoint machine or stores about to close – are precisely those that they are not using for promotion of infection prevention.
The Government has not obliged companies to publish their protocols (not even suggested that they should do so) and the companies have not done so themselves.
This is a serious lack of care provision for a large section of essential workers and with a potential collateral effect on most of the public. First in line of responsibility for this failure must beof course the companies but their main motive has always been profit. Next in line must be the Government, which has the power to implement emergency measures (and used it recently with giving extra power to Gardaí an courts to employ against individuals) but our governments have always been primarily in the service of capital. Who do I personally blame most for this area of neglect? Those whose very publicised reason for existence is the protection of workers and the promotion of a just society – the trade unions and the Left.
Among the statistics that are published on rates of testing positive and deaths attributed to the virus, there are breakdowns into age and gender groups and, at least in the earlier days, of healthcare workers. We never see, among those statistics, any for shop workers. Or for those who might in turn have been infected by them. The largest statistic given for route of infection is that of “social contact” and presumably that’s where they are, hidden. We remain uninformed and the low level of protection continues, with no real effort being made to change the situation.
PS: Readers may wonder at the absence of information directly from the workers themselves. The reason is that personally I am unaware of anyone in my acquaintance working in this sector and did not wish to cause the workers more stress than they have to deal with already.
For focus on steps trade unions and the Left failed to take, see article titled WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN in Rebel Breeze.
To wear a face-mask or not? This article seeks to clarify some of the issues of conflicting advice around the advisability or otherwise of people who are not healthcare frontline staff wearing face-masks.
There has been some discussion around this on social media and in my sphere some of it particularly tense and even illogical. I have observed at a number of times throughout my life that the reaction of some people to a stressful situation is to create more stress around it – as human behaviour one assumes it must have a function, though I find it difficult to see what it might be. However, the question, with possible repercussions to general safety from the Coronavirus-19 is a serious one.
It is worth remarking that some bad advice and information about the Coronavirus-19 has circulated on social media and even been given by Governments. I myself have seen advice on drinking hot drinks as an effective remedy and I am aware that the President of an East European country claimed that drinking vodka killed the virus or prevented one contracting it. Why anyone should wish to put out unscientific advice about such a serious matter is beyond me but it has happened a number of times from different sources.
FACT AND ARGUMENT
There is general agreement that the primary method of contamination by the virus, especially in the case of no physical contact with an infected person, is by droplets from a person who has the virus passing it on to us. The method of passing these droplets might be sneezing, coughing, spitting (for example unintentionally, during speech). The virus then lingers on our face until we convey it to our mouths by touch from the infected area, or by inhalation etc, from whence it proceeds to infect our lungs.
That being so, it is completely counter-intuitive and appears to contradict logic to say that masks would be of no preventive use whatsoever. However, intuition is sometime wrong and many times what has been promoted as “common sense” has turned out to be merely an expression of prejudice or ignorance – or belief in an individual or institution. So maybe a face-mask provides no protection, right? Well no, because frontline health practitioners are wearing them and in fact there is some agitation about their not being available in sufficient numbers for their use.
A SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENT AGAINST EFFICACY OF FACE-MASKS?
OK, so what is being said by the main group of face-mask-usefulness deniers, from my observation, is that the particular face masks used by those health professionals, with a filter, is a good defence against contracting the virus from direct contact with infected droplets to the face. But only those. OK, that might be so, in which case we’d expect to be given a rational scientific reason. However, no-one arguing with me has supplied such an explanation nor have I seen scientific argument justifying it. In fact, I have seen, quite apart from my “common sense”, scientific evidence that seems to show that other types of face-mask do indeed help to prevent direct droplet infection.
So why are some authorities arguing against it? A conspiracy theorist might suggest those who rule us don’t want the expense of supplying us with those masks but, considering the effect this pandemic is having on our economy, I would be inclined to dismiss that explanation. What I tend to believe instead is that the authorities fear that wearing such masks will give us a false sense of security, leading to incautious behaviour and a greater chance of contracting and spreading the virus.
If that were so, why don’t they give us the best advice all around about face-masks but still strongly advise us about the other precautions, such as wearing gloves, washing hands with soap, keeping a distance of six feet etc? I would assume they don’t do that because they don’t trust us, they think most of us are stupid. The behaviour of some during this pandemic would indeed seem to prove their point which in some ways might not be surprising; if you deprive people of responsibility for most things that regulate their lives, it’s somewhat contradictory to then expect them to act responsibly. But in fact, most people have been acting responsibly – and caringly. And neither the Government, the HSE or the capitalist concerns are in a great position to be lecturing us on our lack of responsibility – but I leave that for another day’s discussion.
I am not a scientist and I have not done a huge amount of research but I think I have done enough to convince me that wearing of most kinds of face-mask in public does indeed provide some protection against direct contaminated droplet contact. And in fact, even many of those who say it would not give the wearer any protection do admit that it would give other people some protection from an infected person. And since one can be carrying the virus for some days without exhibiting signs of it, surely everyone should be wearing a face-mask in public? EVERYONE!
When I was employed managing teams working with homeless people and/ or substance misusers, our health safety advice was to assume that anyone we worked with was HIV positive. Because you can never know for sure.
The advice being put out from the HSE is that in the case of this virus no face-masks except the special ones work. However, the World Health Organisation began in the early days by saying it would help but lately says only that it would only help to prevent its spread. Well, well …. only help to prevent its spread? ONLY?
COUNTRIES ENCOURAGING OR ENFORCING GENERAL FACE-MASK WEARING
A number of Asian countries insist that the level of transmission in their countries is much lower than in some European countries and they ascribe that to the universal wearing of face-masks. Czech Republic says the same. I have not seen statistics to confirm those claim but nor have I seen a statistical refutation. The US Centre for Disease Control recommends everyone wear face-masks.
I have seen reported an experiment which seems to prove that the droplets do not pass through a cotton-and-paper barrier (see the accompanying video for the experiment and also practical demonstration on how to construct such a reusable face-mask from a T-shirt). I have also read an article in the well-respected medical journal The Lancet, discussing the scientific merits of the arguments for and against.
I think the evidence tends to support the case that wearing most kinds of face-mask does help protect the wearer but the fact that they help in preventing the spread to others should be enough on its own to encourage us all to wear them.
There are some social issues with wearing the masks that have emerged in some parts of the world and I list the ones I have come across:
STIGMA: People may shun someone wearing a mask as they consider the wearers to be infected. So what, if they have an effective role? And isn’t countering this a job for the responsible authorities, community organisations etc?
EXCLUSION: Some facilities may refuse to permit entry to people not wearing face-masks, as is apparently the case in Hong Kong. But the exclusion has a fairly simple solution.
EXPENSE & RACKETEERING: Yes, we saw some examples of that here in Ireland with some suppliers of latex etc. gloves and hand sanitiser gel. If we learn how to make effective ones we can overcome this problem but, in any case, the benefits of wearing the mask outweigh the negative aspects involved in supply.
WHO SHOULD WEAR THE MOST EFFECTIVE FACE-MASKS?
Some people have put forward the argument that no-one but the front-line health professionals should wear the most effective models and I have even seen posters on the internet telling people not to wear one unless they are infected. Their reasoning is that there are not enough of these available to supply those who need them most. Well that seems to make sense except that their condemnation is often directed at the occasional non-healthworker person wearing such a mask rather than at the Government and HSE which have not laid in sufficient stocks.
Is it an issue that many people are wearing the special face-masks and that is the reason health-workers are not being supplied with them? Certainly there has been no evidence of this in Ireland.
Some concede that certain high-risk groups are entitled to wear the special face-masks also, which is very gracious of them.
On a personal note, my special mask was given to me as a gift, I did not seek it nor was I aware of its special nature when I received it. In addition, on a number of counts I do belong to a high-risk group; readers are free to believe or disbelieve me but I do not intend to explain that or to justify it.
On this and other general questions I would encourage people to concentrate on the overall issue and to be a part of the solution rather than add to the problem.
Feel free to comment on the scientific and practical points made in this article but please do not respond with purely personal opinions or those substantiated by restricted sources (e.g “HSE professionals have told me”) and without dealing with sources and points listed here.