Fear of punishment changes behaviour – fear of killing others doesn’t

Why or how is it that so many people, who otherwise appear to be intelligent, seem hell-bent on ignoring Covid restrictions?

That’s it. Eight years of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I’m fed up with it now. So I’m giving it up. No more COPD. I’ve had enough. So I’m going to stop having it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was just that simple?

Wouldn’t it be great if all the things which impinge on our enjoyment of life could just be brushed aside, if obstacles in the way of doing what we’d like to do could be removed by wishing?

It’s not the case of course. And everybody knows that.


Or, almost everybody.

Why or how is it that so many people, who otherwise appear to be intelligent, seem hell-bent on ignoring restrictions, regulations and expert advice which has been put in place, or offered, in the middle of a pandemic in the hope of minimising casualties?

On the one hand, it’s quite baffling but on the other . . . well, you just have to sit into a car and drive for half an hour to see numerous drivers breaking red lights, pedestrians wandering across roads without looking in any direction, cyclists holding mobile phones in one hand and looking at the screen as they cycle along and scooter riders weaving in and out of traffic with apparent disregard for their safety and that of other road users.

House party

You only have to stroll down virtually any street in the centre of Dublin and, by all accounts, many if not most Irish towns, to see unfortunate addicts huddled in doorways or begging for loose change that nobody has any more.

You don’t have to look far to see or hear a house party, where adults – some young, some not so young – pack into a house to do whatever it is people full of drink do in packed houses. Whatever it is, it shows utter disregard for their own safety or that of others they might meet in the days following.

Rules and regulations on their own won’t do it, won’t curb bad behaviour, won’t persuade people of danger and won’t keep us all safe.

Yes, it is a problem that worries and upsets me.

I am disturbed when I go into a shop and find customers wandering around, maskless. A minority, certainly. But they’re there nonetheless.

I have been fortunate enough to eat out a few times in recent months.

Before I took my seat in the restaurants we had chosen, I checked carefully. Staff masked. Tables socially distant. Rules being obeyed.

In one, I was pleased to see that the menu was accessed via a QR code on a small plastic stand on the table.

In another, our cutlery arrived in a sealed envelope.

My brother, on the other hand, visited a well-known restaurant to find tables close to each other, customers sitting back to back and no member of staff wearing a mask. I wouldn’t have gone near it if they’d offered me a free meal.

It was in March last that I first said on these pages, and on Prime Time after someone in RTÉ had read my words and contacted me, that there was a glib attitude among some people to this disease.


Some, who thought it wouldn’t affect them, behaved normally as opposed to “new normally”.

Believing there was no risk to themselves, they behaved in a way that was a risk to others.

Me, for example.

Stage Four COPD. A compromised immune system. It won’t take much to see me off.

A surface touched by someone who became infected perhaps in a bar which is breaking the rules.

A cup, not properly washed by someone who thinks, like some sad deluded Irish people, that, the whole thing is a hoax.

A door handle touched by someone who believes, for some reason, that taking precautions is an infringement of their human rights.

Well, they’re infringing my rights. They are possibly taking away my basic right to life.

Certainly, the current reactive regime isn’t working. Introducing bits of regulation here and offering a little bit more advice there is not doing the job.

And really, while I don’t believe regulations alone will change the behaviour of the irresponsible few – more education, a proper, honest information campaign which pulls no punches might help – I think the threat of tough punishment might.

And that’s the amazing thing.

Fear of punishment could change behaviour.

Fear of killing others hasn’t.