The trickle of information from the Government on restrictions has made a grim situation so much worse
The poor communication strategy shows a lack of respect and a lack of leadership, writes Amanda Cassidy
Over 15 years ago the World Health Organisation published communication guidelines that would promote the public health goal of rapid outbreak control with the least possible disruption to society.
It focused on things like trust, transparency, early announcements and planning. One of the other key areas was listening to the public; it suggested that “maintaining the public’s trust throughout is key, and that understanding the public’s risk perception, views and concerns is critical to effective communication.”
Of course, public communication during an outbreak represents an enormous challenge for any authority and therefore demands planning which also translates into action. Not an easy task, given such unpredictable factors such as new varients, vaccine delays, and poor health infrastructure.
I’m sure we’d even take a Heaney quote or Batman line in a speech right about now.
However, after a week where the Taoiseach seems intent on sprinkling vague messages throughout the media, contradicting himself in parts and leaving us all hanging over the weekend after another dose of sprinkles from the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting, these guidelines don’t seem to apply to the Irish Government.
The lack of communication from the leaders to the people during a time of unparalleled challenges has been shoddy at best. Many of us feel let down. I’m sure we’d even take a Heaney quote or Batman line in a speech right about now. But the waffle about holding the line is wearing pretty thin especially when there doesn’t seem to be any escape plan, at all.
There are things we can’t control, that we accept. And as hard as it has been, we’ve done what was asked of us. We flattened the curve, we stayed away from granny’s funeral, we tore our children away from their friends; We. Stopped. Everything.
But all around us now is the sense that those in charge dropped the ball when it comes to their responsibilities – those key things the WHO outlined; transparency, planning, listening to the public.
Today marks another grim communique from the Taoiseach who announced on RTÉ’s Raidió na Gaeltachta that no consideration will be given to opening hospitality until mid-summer. That’s in five months’ time.
This was highly distressing news to many in this industry already struggling to stay afloat. The manner in which it trickled out not only added to the distress but also marked a more concerning trend from the current communication; disrespect.
Restaurants Associations say that the comments on hospitality by the Taoiseach puts those in the sector “closer to financial ruin and meltdown” with many extremely angry with the way these announcements are being made.
We live in a country that has been locked down for almost a year. We’ve been penned in like animals. People have stretched themselves thin to try to do the right thing to help save lives. Livelihoods are decimated, parents’ work is suffering because they also have to homeschool, mental health issues are a steadily growing “tsunami of sadness” which is barrelling down the tracks, according to one GP.
People are losing hope.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
While we have been protecting the vulnerable, many of us have become vulnerable – in non-Covid related ways. From the squeeze of the restrictions, a bottleneck of other concerning problems have mounted; cancer screening, addiction services, special needs education, domestic abuse, obesity…suicide.
And while much of that isn’t the fault of the leadership, (although some might argue that the explosion on UK variant cases over Christmas was as a direct result of government decisions over allowing unrestricted air travel) by communicating with the public in a respectful way, this could make some aspects of this a whole lot easier to bear.
Coherent messaging shouldn’t be to much to expect
The rest of Europe is taking tentative steps to reopen slowly and safely, having short-term reviews. In many cases, like in Spain, the people have been given some form of control. If numbers rise above a certain amount (1000 per 100.000) the shops and restaurants close, once the numbers drop again, they reopen.
Other countries have evening curfews but people are happy to abide by them as they are free to move around, to exercise, or socialise carefully throughout the day. In other words, they are still (relatively) getting on with their lives.
By treating the Irish people as disobedient children who must remain indoors or within their 5km and continue living a non-life for another five months shows little regard for the lives and mental health of millions. It would be different if vaccines hadn’t been developed too, don’t forget.
These are concerning times for everyone, but having the decency to at least level with us, especially the older generation (so not through tabloids or Twitter) during particularly harrowing times shouldn’t be too much to ask. Coherent messaging shouldn’t be too much to expect.
Don’t underestimate the toll this has taken on Irish people. The curtain twitching, the resentments, the pressure, the collective trauma that has been inflicted.
We are social creatures, we can’t live without hope or communication. Unfortunately, there is a staggering lack of both from those at the top.