Civility and public discourse


A chara, – A very unhelpful and distasteful dimension of the public exchanges on how to deal with Covid-19 is the frequency of criticising or condemning the person who expresses a certain view rather than expressing disagreement with the views themselves.

The Irish Times front page report (October 4th) says that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar “criticised Dr Holohan and Nphet”, and that he said that, “It was a bad day for Nphet, a bad day for Government and also for the Irish people.” However much he disagreed with the recommendations, it would be more dignified if he would confine his criticism to the recommendations themselves rather than criticising those who expressed them.

The Irish Times report said that, “Mr Martin’s statement represented a sharp rejection of the advice from Dr Holohan and the public health team.” To say it was a “sharp rejection” does not sit well with what the Minister for Health said: “The Government had to balance public health advice against the impact on businesses and on people.” Your report adds: “The Irish Times understands that in its own deliberations, Nphet officials dismissed Level 3 for the entire country.”

To say “dismissed” makes it sound very peremptory. Did Nphet not offer substantial arguments for its position?

It would be better were those making statements to address the content rather than criticise the speakers, and to treat with respect those with whom they disagree, even if those others do not do the same.

One can stand up clearly for one’s convictions without resorting to ad hominem tactics, directing the criticism at the other person.

It makes for better headlines, of course, when reporting is of personal clashes, but it can inhibit rational thinking.

In the matter of the pandemic, it must be kept in mind that no one perspective has the full picture.

Health matters are affected by various social determinants of health which are not in themselves medical: poverty, housing, lack of funding for health services, etc.

Similarly, social matters are affected by health concerns and other factors.

Emotion may be high in the stress of the pandemic, but it would be helpful if those involved would, for the sake of civility, address the issues rather than condemning the opponent. – Is mise,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Leo Varadkar was blunt. But maybe it was reasonable. Many people have had their livelihoods put at risk by this pandemic. But probably very few civil servants. This is not a criticism but a fact.

It is a huge responsibility to make decisions for people who may lose the ability to provide for themselves and their families. It must feel like it is important to tread carefully. It shouldn’t be such a big leap to respect each group and to accept that the considerations of those whose remit is to recommend what is best medically, and those who have to look at the bigger picture, might not always converge.

It shouldn’t be so difficult to accept that both groups are working hard for the best outcome. It should be easy to understand that we need less negativity. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.