Alison O’Connor: Patience and tempers fray, but a sense of unity must be preserved

Alison O’Connor: Patience and tempers fray, but a sense of unity must be preserved

THE difficulty is in organising a détente between the squabbling sides. But that is exactly what is needed to repair relations between the Government and Nphet.

Group hugs are not currently allowed and it’s likely to take more than a paintball session in some woodland. For maximum chances of success, we may be looking at a Zoom weekend retreat with a highly experienced facilitator — either way this situation needs sorting and fast. Standing back from it, the row is hardly a surprise when you consider the pressure-cooker conditions that both sides have been operating under for such a sustained period of time.

Repairing this bust-up will take patience and humility on both sides and a healthy dose of perspective. It will also require the setting aside of petty jealousies, less bullheadedness, a genuine recognition of the fragility of the human condition, and less concentration on party politics. There is also no getting away from the very robust egos in this mix. On this, we plead: Please park them, lads.

It is worth reflecting on past, impressive, successes in terms of how Ireland has managed such incredible social cohesiveness through a global pandemic that keeps taking us to places we simply do not want to be.

It should help that there is fault on both sides here — although, as mentioned earlier, this sort of acknowledgement is often only achieved through the interventions of an expert facilitator. Any volunteers out there? The politicians need to acknowledge to themselves how they have been so jealous for so long of the profile of Nphet, particularly of chief medical officer Tony Holohan. In turn, Nphet, in particular Dr Tony, needs to have respect for the job the Government needs to do.

This all appears very basic stuff, but unfortunately it’s where things are at right now. 

Just as you might say to your child having trouble on the playground, it’s often worth seeing where the other person is coming from and try and recognise what is motivating them.

There are, of course, strong shades of pot, kettle, and black in the Government accusing Nphet of being leakier than a colander. After all, it is not that long ago we heard of leaks texted directly from the Cabinet table regarding decisions that were being taken by ministers. Who knows better only Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar how leaky it can be when you get a large group of people together — once the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings went online, there were shades of a weekly soap opera as journalists tweeted the human drama, I mean, proceedings, virtually in real time.

The Government has covered itself in little glory in recent times with its mixed messaging, whether that be to do with pantomimes, antigen tests, testing for travel, or Varadkar describing the latest restrictions as “peculiar”.

But there is no doubt that some of the communications we have had from Nphet of late — both officially and unofficially — have not been largely helpful.

This is in terms of people maintaining the trust that has largely served us so well so far. I think it’s worth going back to that meeting in Government Buildings , over three weeks ago, attended by members of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid: Tony Holohan, his deputy Ronan Glynn, HSE boss Paul Reid, and Colm Henry, chief clinical officer.

This column previously addressed the complicated dynamics at play that night and the overspill from a year ago when Nphet’s sudden recommendation for tougher restrictions drew strong criticism — most publicly by the Tánaiste on Claire Byrne Live.

Rocky relationship

The HSE personnel present did not feel heard by the Cabinet members present in terms of the pressure hospitals were coming under from the latest surge. The CMO took rather a passive role that night. Remember also that a rocky relationship exists between Holohan and Reid.

In the intervening weeks, that baggage has not disappeared and the situation has been added to by the appearance of the Omicron variant and the huge uncertainty that has surrounded it. It’s been well-rehearsed that Glynn posted a video in October advising people to work from home where possible when this was not official Government policy. 

It was rat

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