Miriam Lord: Golden certificate to indoor carousing is tarnished by confusion

Dáil Sketch: Tone of befuddlement as the Coalition goes roaring down the road to reopening

Mattie McGrath: The Independent TD  is taken to task, not for the first time, by the Taoiseach over his references to totalitarianism and authoritarianism.  Photograph: Tom Honan

Mattie McGrath: The Independent TD is taken to task, not for the first time, by the Taoiseach over his references to totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Before the Great Reopening comes fear of the Great Unravelling. Nervous days for the Government.

It would love nothing more than to throw open the doors for everyone to drink, dine, dance and do whatever they used to do before the shutters came down. Ministers and backbenchers are getting it in the neck all year from angry lobby groups and cheesed-off constituents, and they hate it.

Enforcing Covid-19 restrictions is a continuing nightmare for politicians desperate to be in the good news business. But, argue the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, what is the alternative? “How long have you got?” chorus the Opposition.

But now, after what seems like forever, pubs and restaurants (no news of the other weakened Irish businesses overlooked because they don’t sell drink) are on course to pick up the pieces by July 26th at the latest as the Coalition goes hell for leather down the road to reopening. Even the famously raucous seagulls of Leinster House are drowned out by the sounds of feverish hammering coming from Government Buildings. And an evolving plan has been produced.

It involves awarding a EU Digital Covid Certificate or Tony Ticket to fully vaccinated people or those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months. This golden certificate to indoor carousing will be required to get entry to establishments. How the system will work is still a bit hazy.

While a Tony Ticket carries the imprimatur of the chief medical officer (the Government wouldn’t issue it otherwise), there won’t be a fancy Holohan hologram on it or anything like that. It can be emailed to the holder or posted out and then printed or photographed or saved onto your phone or screen-printed onto a T-shirt or written in biro on your arm. Certain proofs are needed to get your hands on a coveted Tony Ticket, although it seems the requirements are flexible.

People who have recovered from the infection are subject to a 180-day Lazarus clause which means they will no longer be covered by the certificate after that period. And then there is the very important part that GPs might or might not play in assisting the rollout, once the confusion over identifying the formerly infectious goes away.

Categories

There are also different categories of cert. This set the tone of befuddlement on Tuesday morning when Minister for Tourism and Light Entertainment Catherine Martin said on radio that family doctors would be drafting letters to confirm patients had tested positive for Covid-19. “News to us,” roared the exhausted GPs of Ireland, affronted by this sudden imposition without as much as a courtesy phone call to their representative body.

The junior Minister at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and Catherine’s Green Party colleague, Ossian Smyth, was rapidly rolled out on the next radio programme to clear up the “misunderstanding”. The doctors will not be dispatching reverse sick notes after all. “I will be issuing the recovery certificates,” announced Ossian, who is an IT specialist. “If anyone has tested positive, they should not involve their GP.”

Then the Minister for Light Entertainment issued a clarification some time later. It was just a little mix-up over a memo. She had been talking about the European travel certificate and not the Tony Ticket for indoor gallivanting.

“News to us,” roared the GPs again, refusing to open their notepads in protest. And there the matter stands, or wobbles.

Criticism

At least the Opposition was delighted to see things going so well and promising signs of light at the end of the tunnel. “A really crazy situation,” railed Paul Murphy from the Leinster House plinth before he went off for the afternoon sitting in the Convention Centre to say more or less the same thing.

“Flawed. It’s a mess. A complete mess,” wailed Alan Kelly, also from the plinth, before heading across the Liffey to repeat himself.

“Discriminatory and unenforceable,” cried Mary Lou McDonald, continuing the theme when the Dáil commenced its last week before the summer break. Deputies rounded on the Government for trying to rush through the Bill permitting reopening under certain conditions without allowing adequate time for debate.

Under fire for his Government’s efforts to get business going again in the indoor hospitality sector after nearly two years of lost trade, the Taoiseach was losing patience. He put it up to the majority of Opposition TDs who have been calling for the reopening. What do they want him to do now? “We can decide not to open indoor hospitality at all… if that’s what people want us to do, please articulate it.”

Medical records

Speaking of articulation, Mattie McGrath might want to see the pubs of rural Ireland open again but not if unvaccinated people are going to be barred from going inside. His rural independent group compadre, Michael Healy-Rae agreed. “I certainly wouldn’t be telling you my medical records,” he said earlier when his group outlined their opposition to the Bill on the plinth, as if bouncers on pub doors will be demanding confidential details of surgical procedures or sexual health history.

“My body, my choice,” declared Mattie, declining to say whether or not he has been vaccinated and, in the process, gladdening the hearts of Repeal campaigners by finally accepting the basic tenet of their argument that it is a woman’s right to choose on abortion. And fair enough, it is Mattie’s choice to decide whether or not to be vaccinated in the interests of public health and his choice to remain outside the door of a pub.

“Is that what we’ve come to now? Are we back to 1933 in Germany? We’ll be all tagged, and the yellow and the mark of the beast on us. Is that where we’re going?” he ranted. Because not getting into a pub without being vaccinated to protect yourself and the people around you from harm is tantamount to the worst abominations of Nazi Germany?

“But that’s what, that’s – if you study history and I’m not a historian and you’ll see what happened in Germany… Huge correlations. Exactly the same if you want to study it. Exactly the same… Restricted their movements. They couldn’t go where they wanted to go. They were treated like – I won’t mention the other…” Comparing the holocaust to getting a vaccine? “I am, I am comparing it, yeah. So it’s for me to compare and for anyone else to read history [to] make their own decisions on it.”

In the Dáil, the Taoiseach, not the first time, took McGrath to task over his references to totalitarianism and authoritarianism. It’s not on. Look up the history. “Do you understand what the Holocaust was about?” And Mattie howled in protest. He never said the “H” word, forgetting what he said earlier on the plinth.

Meanwhile, there was a warm welcome for new TD, Ivana Bacik. She entered the chamber for the first time at 2pm. By 3pm, and Mattie’s latest outburst among other rows, we hear she was seeking repatriation to the Seanad.

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