Northern Ireland news

Analysis: Failure to act will look increasingly like negligence and incompetence

The new strain of coronavirus will place greater pressures on the health service. Picture by Mal McCann

ON a number of occasions over the past ten months, hindsight has shown that some decisions and actions taken by the Stormont executive didn’t turn out to be the most effective in combatting the spread of coronavirus. Yet given that we were dealing with unprecedented circumstances, a degree of latitude was permitted, as sometimes even the best intentions don’t achieve the optimum outcome.

It has become increasingly apparent over recent weeks, however, that even when it is clear what action needs to be taken, the DUP resists it.

It could be suggested that it’s not so much Arlene Foster who’s out of step with her ministerial colleagues but that her party often applies the brake, preventing the DUP leader from acting quickly and decisively. November’s blocking of an extension of restrictions, Peter Weir’s decision to reopen schools in early January to accommodate transfer tests, and Sammy Wilson’s almost constant dissension suggest there’s some kind of warped libertarian ideology driving this resistance to comply, or perhaps it has more to do with party politics and a reluctance to acquiesce to unionist rival Robin Swann’s requests.

Whatever the reason, what Sinn Féin’s Pat Sheehan yesterday characterised as “dithering and delay” may well cost lives and further extend the current health crisis.

As you read this, it will be 72 hours since news of a new strain of coronavirus emerged but so far the executive response has been minimal (Update: Executive votes against travel ban from Britain), with the DUP again being blamed for what at best looks like apathy. Meanwhile, the EU has a blanket ban on flights from the UK, Scotland has imposed tight travel restrictions and Wales has brought forward lockdown measures. Today the Stormont executive will hold its second meeting since the more virulent strain of virus was identified and it’s still unclear whether there will be a major shift in policy.

What the latest developments also highlight is that the all-island approach advocated, though only partially adopted by Dublin, is little more than a buzzword, with little evidence of consultation, never mind cooperation with the authorities in the north. The result of this lip service approach is a rising number of cases and growing pressures on the health services in both jurisdictions.

Soon the argument that we are in uncharted territory will no longer be that persuasive and failure to act appropriately will look more like negligence and incompetence.

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