Ahoy, Commander Steve…

Steve Aiken, leader of the ‘Ulster’ Unionist Party and former Naval Commander, was on Raidio Uladh/Radio ‘Ulster’ this morning. He was being asked about rules on Covid 19 and his party’s line on same, so naturally he replied that Sinn had lost all credibility on Covid since Bobby Storey’s funeral. Being a Naval Commander, let alone leader of the UUP, must have a scrambling effect on the old brain cells, where you mix up one funeral with another. I watched the Storey funeral on TV and was struck by the social distancing on show. Dozens of men in white shirts and black trousers kept at least two metres from each other, as did those following the hearse.

But of course I’m now doing what Commander Aiken wanted me and all the listeners to do – I’m talking about the Storey funeral and not whether the UUP have a Covid policy that makes sense.

There can be no disputing that if the south of Ireland is to be successful in suppressing and eliminating the virus, it needs to have control of who comes into the state. As we’ve seen with the Brexit negotiations, the only sensible policy for the south is that it is embraced by the north as well, or vice versa. Which means that if the north and south are serious about eliminating Covid 19, they need to have a common set of guidelines or rules.  If, for example, people can come from England to the north and drive down to the south, both north and south will have a helluva time eliminating the virus.

But don’t try telling Commander Steve that. He kept going on about the Common Travel Area, as if life over the last four or five months had been going on totally as normal.

Here, Commander – I’d put my arm around your shoulders only for the Covid distancing rules – ease up a bit, would you?  You’re not really breaking the bond with Mother Britain if, in these extraordinary times, you allow the northern state to follow a shared policy with the southern state. Get that clear, control your ports and airports, and the virus will be on its knees in no time.

Conversely, flying the Union flag at the front of your warship or whatever it was you commanded, and keeping it flying even in the face of sane health policy is one sure way to keep the virus happily feeding on the population north and south.

Because there’s health and then there’s politics, and where politics is allowed to make decisions over health, then you’re steering the public health boat towards some really nasty rocks.

So keep your eye on the health prize and not political advantage, Commander Steve, and you’ll have acted rationally and earned respect on all sides.

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