Sleepless nights over Covid-19


A chara, – I usually look forward to David McWilliams’s column in the Saturday Irish Times, with its positive outlook and ideas. This week’s (Weekend Review, October 24th) was a bit of a cold blast, but probably captured something of the deep frustration, anger and anxiety among small businesses and the self-employed across Ireland. What many now face is heart-breaking.

Nobody is sure what is the best ongoing approach to managing Covid-19. Most European countries are battling a surge of cases that again threatens to overwhelm, but we don’t know when or how it will end. Only later will we be able to say if Ireland’s imposition of such severe restrictions is the wise choice at this point in the surge.

In these very difficult times I would ask him not to promote divisive narratives, pitting one sector against another. Politicians are answerable to the public. However civil servants have no right of reply to his accusations of complacency, thoughtlessness or ignorance.

I have worked as a public servant for all of my career and as a (UK-based) civil servant for the last six years of it. The vast majority of civil servants I have met are concerned, intelligent and very able people who value being public servants. They provide well-informed advice that highlight both the positive and negative impacts of policy decisions. They are often the ones who nudge politicians to more sensible conclusions. In these Covid-19 times there are many, many civil servants working very long hours, weekends and holidays behind the scenes to keep the Covid-19 control plan functioning and keep up with ever-changing picture. They too will have had many sleepless nights, will have woken in a sweat of anxiety, and will have had to neglect their families since last February, all with the intention of keeping the nation safe. They should not have to apologise for getting paid. – Is mise,



Co Galway.

Sir, – Last week, Kathy Sheridan’s column, “Now is the time for humility, not cynicism” struck a chord with me: we must come together if we are to get though Covid-19 with minimal negative effects.

What a pity the article did not have the same effect on many of your regular columnists. Instead, I read opinion pieces that ranged from the sensational to the ridiculous. Diarmaid Ferriter compared Nphet’s power to that of 1950s’ bishops; Newton Emerson compared advocates of a zero-Covid-19 policy to climate change deniers; and David McWilliams said the advice of health experts could not be relied upon if their salaries were independent of Covid-19 restrictions. I could go on.

Are we to abandon expertise as we don’t have an immediate solution to address Covid-19? Are we to fracture into groups and point the finger at others?

Perhaps some humility might follow a week of cynicism in your paper’s columns: we are all doing our best. Some kindness and constructive views will serve our common purpose far better. – Yours, etc,


School of Education,

UCD, Dublin 4.

Sir, – David McWilliams’s description of the economy as one which is primarily divided between the productive small business sector and a protected public sector is outdated, naive and flawed. (“Lockdown decision-makers still get paid”, Weekend Review, October 24th.)

It is flawed because it is the sort of analysis that enabled some to explain the private sector-induced economic crash, that bankrupted the economy post-2008, as originating with public sector workers.

It is naive because we regularly hear about the calculated risks that dynamic business owners have to take and deal with daily. Surely this pandemic, including the decisions taken by public officials, is just another risk?

Some businesses will lose and go bankrupt, some will survive and some will prosper.

If a11 male public servants are responsible for those who fail they logically must be the reason why many businesses will survive and in some cases thrive. Or is it that entrepreneurs are responsible for business success only and public servants for failure?

The current pandemic shows how outdated his thinking is. For example we are constantly being told that we have to keep schools (staffed by public servants) open if we want our (private sector) economy to survive. In reality small businesses, and indeed the economy in general, would not function if it were not for public servants. The same is true in reverse. Ultimately it’s a mutualisic, and not a parasitic, symbiotic relationship. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 15.

Sir, – David McWilliams’s piece hit the nail precisely on the head. His observations are timely and apposite but likely to fall on deaf ears, yet again.

His comment that small business provides 74 per cent of all productive jobs in the economy was a revelation that may not resonate yet in Government Buildings.

Were it to do so, might we see the Covid-19 standing committees expanded to include the CEOs of both Ibec and Isme? Or would Mr McWilliams’s assertion be disregarded as fake news? – Yours, etc,


Co Kildare.