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

5 Reasons political correspondents deserve our love and understanding

Further to my recent ramblings on the fallibility of our politicians, I wish to add a special little article dedicated to that most controversial of journalistic professions. I’m but a babe, fresh out of journalism college, but even I can see that the job of Political Correspondent (or pol corrs, as they are known in the trade apparently) is a tough one.

Now, I’m not saying pol corrs are perfect, fabulous, wonderful people – that is a job for their long-suffering spouses. But it would be remiss of me if I didn’t jump in to defend them at a time when a lot of them have been criticised for feeling sorry for Éamon Ryan after he was outed on social media for sleeping during a vote.

So, here are 5 reasons why pol corrs deserve our love and understanding.

They NEVER sleep.

Unlike a lot of politicians, pol corrs don’t have the luxury of falling asleep in their chairs. They spend long hours in government buildings every day listening to politicians. And as we know from their media appearances, politicians are a noisy bunch; they speak out of turn, they shout at each other, they drone on and on and on and on about obscure pieces of legislation that, more often than not, nobody really cares about. It’s the pol corr’s job to sit in the uncomfortable press box all day and listen to these Dáil sittings just in case anyone says anything newsworthy. Or falls asleep, as Éamon Ryan did. (He isn’t the first to do so, and he certainly won’t be the last). Even if a poor sleepy pol corr was tired enough for a nap, they wouldn’t be able to sleep on the wooden benches in the press box. Perhaps it’s just as well. But it’s not just Dáil sittings, pol corrs are essentially like baby monitors for politicians; if there’s a hint of trouble or scandal you can bet everyone in the country is logging into Twitter to check what their fave pol corr is saying. This brings me to the next reason why the cratúrs deserve our understanding…

Their job is VERY competitive.

Perhaps the main reason pol corrs don’t sleep is politicians are so damn unpredictable. They have no discernible schedule for doing something idiotic. That, coupled with the 24-hour news-cycle (thank you, internet), means pol corrs are expected to be permanently on the ball waiting for whatever the next big political scoop is. They compete to tell us all the news like teacher’s pets in school, only the teachers in this scenario are newspaper editors, and the pets are, yeah, the pol corrs. Journalists are usually hoors for a bit of gossip so, in times of scandal, the sports desk, the culture desk, etc will be deserted in a newsroom as everyone gathers around some glee-ridden pol corr’s screen. After the scandal is reported, whichever lucky pol corr has been lucky enough to break the story will be inundated by tweets. A lot of these will be from fellow journalists congratulating them, but most of the buzz is generated by the public who can’t resist indulging their schadenfreude tendencies.

It’s thankless work.

You’d think that people might be more grateful – or at least more well-disposed towards political correspondents, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. These past few days I have noticed some pol corrs get almost as much abuse as the politicians they’ve been reporting on. We’ve been through how little sleep these guys and gals get, but despite the fact they probably get about five hours kip a night if they’re lucky, they are not lizards. They are human beings, and it is sometimes difficult to be both human and a journalist at the same time. The same goes for using Twitter, but that is another story for another day. It is natural for pol corrs, who have more insight into the lives of politicians than you or I, to sympathise with the plight of a disgraced politician. Expressing compassion for someone who falls asleep in the Dáil is not a hanging offence, as many would have it. It is simply a tired journalist expressing their valid view that sometimes politicians do dumb things. Take it from someone who has seen it all.

They have seen it all.

Senior pol corrs work very closely with government ministers, and lots of them have direct lines to people working in government. Don’t freak out; this is how news gets reported. But while they are close to politicians, pol corrs can never be too friendly as it is their job to hold politicians to account. This must be very strange for both the pol corrs and the politicians, but it’s a relationship that has evolved to work, however (dys)functionally over decades. A lot of the things pol corrs know to be true cannot be reported or released into the public domain for legal reasons. Ireland has very strict defamation laws, for instance. Pol corrs know the difference between rumour and journalism, and they are always very careful never to confuse the two. This cannot be said about some so-called civilian journalists who think they can do the job better than the pol corrs. Leave it to the professionals. They’re not biased; they just appreciate that good reporting takes time and deserves nuance.

They know stuff.

Do you remember the by-election of 1962 in West Clare when two sheep with a surfboard tried to get into the polling station causing national outrage? No? Well, there’s a good reason for that which I’m sure you can discern, dear reader, but humour me. I’m trying to make a point here. Pol corrs would remember that; they could tell you who was running, what number SPF sunscreen the sheep were wearing, how the people voted, what President de Valera said about the whole ordeal. (He said nothing about the sheep by the way, what a prude…) Pol corrs have an encyclopaedic knowledge of our political system. Not only do they understand the very intricate workings of the system, but they also understand the reasons why it is the way it is – ie complicated – and the psychology of the Irish electorate. Next time you are at a party with a pol corr, ask them to explain PR-STV to you and your guests. Hours of entertainment will be had. You’ll be nodding off into your vino faster than Éamon Ryan was a couple of days ago. Maybe then you’ll understand, which is exactly what the pol corr wanted all along…