The news is making us miserable, edgy and tired

Ireland is a nation of moaners and whingers. If complaining was an Olympic sport, we would win gold every time.

Perhaps it’s the weather, or perhaps it’s a by-product of the years of societal oppression and joy repression courtesy of the Catholic Church – either way, we love a good whine. We are so good at it, in fact, that our infamous black humour is well-renowned all over the world. In that sense, we have achieved the impossible, turning a negative into a positive.

Whereas the Americans are almost annoyingly positive all the time, we Irish don’t have great expectations of ourselves or anyone else, which makes us relatable and even a bit loveable, like Eeyore.

Our national talent for never looking on the bright side of life, to paraphrase Monty Python, has stood to us recently as we endured lockdown in its various stages and levels of severity.

You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.

Warren Ellis

The news on Sunday night that Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, was recommending a national Level 5 lockdown – that’s the one where you can hardly skim a stone – fairly put the kibosh on it all. The nation was stunned; we weren’t expecting such a strict lockdown so soon. Somebody on Twitter – where else – said that if Holohan really cared about public health he wouldn’t have delivered such a recommendation on a Sunday night, a time when most are highly strung thinking about the week ahead and what horrors it might bring.

Speaking personally, I tend to do most of my worrying from 8pm on a Sunday to 2am on a Monday, so I agree with part of the Tweeter’s statement. (As my nearest and dearests can attest, I don’t restrict my complaining hours; complaining is a 24-7-365 gig.) I would not be so negative, however, as to allege Holohan doesn’t care about public health. It’s kind of his job, and he seems a very empathetic sort. So, his heart is in the right place even if his call for a move to Level 5 was far too abrupt.

With Holohan cracking the whip, and anxious to avoid another strict lockdown, I decided to submerge myself neck-deep to wallow in that cesspit of negativity, Twitter. I read all of the takes – most of them miserable, for misery loves company. I only emerged periodically to rehash some of the takes I agreed with aloud to my parents, who seemed to be taking the news like a pair of slowly sinking stoics on the Titanic long ago. “Sure if we do go into Level 5, we do,” seemed to be their attitude. I looked at the dog to see if she might start a one-man orchestra, but she snored away oblivious. Lockdown means more walkies for her.

Some people, like me, seemed very critical of NPHET; others were critical of the people criticising NPHET. For a lot of bleeding-heart liberals criticising NPHET seems to be akin to killing puppies or eating Walker’s crisps – things you don’t do in Middle Ireland. I wondered did Tony Holohan and the Robin to his Batman, Ronan Glynn, suffer from vertigo such was the height of the pedestals they were being put on by many. On Sunday, I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about how fantastic NPHET is; I was in the depths of despair at the thought of going into Level 5. I was also enraged that most people thought NPHET were right – why aren’t these people complaining more, I asked myself.

On Monday, when the government decided to half-listen to NPHET’s advice and bring us all into Level 3 – an acceptable compromise – even more people joined the moan-fest. Smooth operator Leo Varadkar spoke to Claire Byrne on RTE about the government’s reasons for half-listening to NPHET. He was convincing, to a point, talking about the need to balance all public health interests, not just coronavirus, but he made a hypocrite of himself when he declared to Claire that NPHET members would never have to suffer the consequences of losing jobs under Level 5 restrictions. He also spoke about poverty, despite the fact his government continuously side with property owners over cash-strapped renters. (Not to complain, or digress too much, but I have been unemployed during Leo’s tenure as Taoiseach, and getting social welfare was like getting blood from a stone. To add insult to injury, there was no complaints department at the dole office.)

Uproar ensued because if there’s something Ireland loves as much as complaining, it’s a good fight. Over-caffeinated political correspondents typed feverish tweets claiming that the government was now at odds with NPHET, and there was no going back. They ignored, however, the fact that Varadkar said he has a very good working relationship with Holohan et. al. They just disagreed on the need to go into Level 5. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from silly season or what but manufacturing “a big split” between the government and a health advisory board in the middle of a pandemic is not a very nice thing for the Irish media to do. Especially as it isn’t true. Of course, everyone lapped it up, and soon it was as if Varadkar had literally stabbed Holohan in the back.

The whole thing turned into a soap opera with everyone shouting at each other while the pol corrs clapped their hands with glee. Normally I like pol corrs, but I think some of them desperately need a night off to attend the Abbey en masse when theatres re-open because they’ve forgotten what real theatre is supposed to be like. The public isn’t much better.

We need to stop complaining for once in our lives and take some personal responsibility for ourselves in our own situations. Cocoon if you need to. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Adhere to guidelines issued by epidemiologists (remember NPHET are not epidemiologists) as best you can. (Actually, this is more or less what Holohan said in a recent statement.)

Finally, a mention must go to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s response to a pol corr asking who would be responsible for further coronavirus deaths going forward. In a moment of pure, beautiful smart-arsery, Donnelly said, simply: “The virus is responsible.”

With public representatives like that is it any wonder we are the way we are?

Seeing the glass as half empty is more positive than seeing it as half full. Through such a lens the only choice is to pour more. That is righteous pessimism

Criss Jami, Killosophy
Watching the news in 2020 with a face on you like an otter eating a watermelon

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