Opinion: The Berlin debacle indicates the lack of leadership everyone is feeling right now

With cases rising, local lockdowns causing tension, and impromptu parties breaking out in cities, it doesn't feel like anyone's steering the ship


Casting my mind back to St. Patrick's Day, it feels like a lifetime ago. Full lockdown was still ten days away but restrictions had begun to be introduced — schools had closed, and I was working from home.

Sitting down to watch the then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's address to the nation after a very boring Paddy's Day spent at home, I felt scared, uncertain. This pandemic was like nothing we'd ever experienced, and this 'new normal' we kept hearing about didn't seem very normal yet.

While myself and the rest of the country watched, Varadkar spent ten minutes reassuring us, while still portraying the seriousness of the situation. I went onto Twitter afterwards, and everyone seemed to have a similar reaction — we were frightened, but felt a sense of unity, that, at the very least, we were being steered in the right direction. I haven't felt that way in a while.

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Take the reins

I should probably preface this by saying that I am not a Fine Gael voter. Prior to Covid-19, I really had no time for Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach, and even now, I consider my position in the voting booth to be unchanged — there are too many families devastated in various ways by Fine Gael's time in government to sway me.

But it has to be said, that when Fine Gael and their leader left the Dáil, that sense of community and certainty around Covid went with them.

Since Fianna Fáil took over the reins, as lockdown restrictions gradually lifted, and everyone got a taste of the summer, there doesn't seem to be anyone at the wheel. Gone is that sense of unity against a common enemy — when I go on Twitter now, all I read is bitter back-and-forths between those who want to break free from lockdown and those still fearing the virus.

Passive-aggressive comments, criticisms of how we're spending our new-found freedom, and inexplicably long-winded arguments about the meaning of the word 'staycation' — underneath it all, everyone seems to be screaming out for some structure, some leadership.

Ultimate fear

That feeling of shaky uncertainty was revealed in all its glory over the weekend, at the now-infamous Berlin D2 venue on Dame Lane. The bar hosted a brunch event on Saturday, promising 'one hell of a hooly' to those attending. Videos of the event surfaced on social media on Sunday morning (ensuring the ultimate hangover fear for those who had been there), showing patrons drinking, dancing and generally having a wild time, while the bar staff poured spirits into their open, party-deprived mouths.

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Viewers described the video as a 'slap in the face' — just that week, the hashtag #SupportNotSympathy began trending on Twitter, calling for a better government response to pubs around the country who have been closed for five months. Those still obeying restriction rules bayed for blood, and Ministers soon joined in.

Where's the line?

The party in Berlin was inevitable. Young people are desperate to enjoy the last dredges of summer before an impending winter lockdown, and when a venue offered the opportunity to do so, they leapt at it. Because where is the line anymore? We can go to pubs to eat but not drink at the bar. We can travel but only to a set list of countries. We should spend money, but we should stay home. We should show respect to the frontline workers, but we should support our local businesses. We should have fun, but not too much.

That isn't to say that the party in Berlin wasn't a terrible idea. It was dangerous and put the patrons, the staff, their families and anyone in contact with them in danger, and that's inexcusable. But when everyone feels lost, uncertain of what's to come, uncertain of right now, and there's no heartening national address on TV, going out and forgetting about it all for a few hours seems understandable.

Scapegoat

It also must be mentioned that the event in Berlin will almost certainly be used as a scapegoat for our current Covid-19 situation. Various TD's have and will admonish the party; there's no doubt it will be the main topic of conversation on episodes of Liveline and Lunchtime Live this week; and many will cite it as the cause of Ireland's downfall into early 2020 figures. But it isn't.

The party in Berlin was unacceptable. It was irresponsible, and disrespectful, and it shouldn't have happened. But make no mistake that this instance of drunken silliness, or the various other house parties that have taken place around the country, are not the driving force behind Ireland's rising numbers.

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Don't forget the reason Kildare's figures are so high compared to other counties of its size and population. Poor working conditions, lack of protection for employees, cramped living conditions — these are what have driven the highest spike Ireland has experienced in months. TD's can't come into your home and force you to chuck out your party guests, but they can influence these issues — and they haven't.

I don't want another lockdown. I want to continue to go to cafés, and the cinema, and see my family and friends, and make the most of the 'new normal'. Eventually, I want to go to the pub, and even have a dance after if the mood takes me. Today, I don't feel like that's within reach. I don't feel reassured, or supported, or that I understand where we're headed. The ship is still drifting, and it needs a crew.

Images via Twitter


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