The remote village of Cloghan on a back road between Ballybofey and Glenties in Co. Donegal doesn’t rate a listing on Google in regard to population, so at a wild guess I would think there might be 200 residents there; could be a lot less.
Anyway, last Thursday as fuel was running low I pulled into the only filling station in the village and as I was about to enter the shop to pay I noted the clear instruction placed on a large notice at the door: “Please use sanitizer provided before entering these premises”.
Just 24 hours later myself and the wife had to go to get some items in Derry, the fourth largest city on our island, population around 120,000. We needed to go to two stores – one in the city centre, another in the Culmore area – and the culture was remarkably different: no sanitizers, no social distancing, no masks. It was almost as if as far as Derry was concerned there was no such thing as Covid 19.
On Saturday on RTE radio former president Mary McAleese didn’t pull any punches when she said Ireland was lucky to have a government that seemed to be dealing properly with this virus, a government that was willing to take the tough decisions such as closing pubs, clubs and schools, unlike in Britain where, she pointed out, the political leaders dodged every which way to avoid making those very same decisions. They issued advice where, she said, people were ‘advised’ not to do things, not prevented from doing them.
Needless to say no one paid a blind bit of attention to this ‘advice’ or the advising.
And anyone who has been watching Sky News in recent weeks could see how this whole health crisis was being played for public consumption. It was suggested by various commentators in Britain that their approach was the correct one, that the actions of other countries was way over the top. As politically a part of Britain Northern Ireland adopted this low key approach, Arlene Foster even refusing to dovetail with the Republic in closing the schools.
[This, it should be pointed out, was in marked contrast to the attitude adopted during the Foot and Mouth scare when the northern government acted in lock-step with Dublin all the way. Animals more important than humans?]
It was only on Thursday evening when the scale of the death rate in Italy hit home that the urgency in London to change course was ramped up to warp speed.
Now let me get to the point: people in the South have a real problem because of this divergence of approach.
This is not an anti northern thing but on a huge number of beaches and in the many caravan parks right across Donegal you will see people congregating, playing football, some drinking and partying. Social distancing doesn’t seem to come into the equation at any level. The vast majority of these people are, clearly, from the North; a quick survey of the vast majority of car registrations will confirm this.
Their behaviour is not only causing concern but real anger. Not only risking their own health but the health of people here. Any perusal of social media will soon make this point very clear. Indeed, Sinn Fein TD, Padraig MacLochlainn went public stating he had been ‘inundated’ with complaints about people travelling ‘from outside the area’ – nice way of describing the North! – as if it were holiday time, not a national emergency. Pointing out that people had been advised to stay in their primary residences, not their holiday homes, he called for all caravan parks in the Republic to be closed.
One island, two approaches. It doesn’t work.