Leading article

Lockdown necessary but executive's credibility damaged

THE Stormont Executive has reached the correct decision in introducing a two-week Covid-19 lockdown.

Yet in doing so, it has also managed to allow its credibility and reputation to plummet even further.

Despite asking so much of the public, the executive has displayed an almost perverse lack of leadership, even by the lowly standards of recent weeks.

The restrictions, which are effectively a repeat of the spring lockdown with the important difference that schools can remain open, will come into force from Friday.

These are far more intense and wide-ranging than the public had been led to expect.

Indeed, until Thursday morning the DUP had been insistent that even the current restrictions were too stringent.

But a rising R number, in addition to already-overstretched hospitals and healthcare staff, meant it was unfortunately inevitable and necessary that restrictions be dramatically tightened.

These will require individuals, households and families and businesses, groups and organisations to make enormous sacrifices, just as they did in the spring lockdown during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

In that context, it will strike many as astonishing that the lockdown was communicated not by an announcement from a minister or ministers but through a press release.

Nicola Sturgeon, Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson have spoken to the public directly when announcing tighter restrictions in Scotland, the Republic and England respectively; yet neither Arlene Foster nor Michelle O'Neill, health minister Robin Swann or any other executive minister made themselves available to the public or journalists on Thursday evening.

It does not suggest a strong and united approach. The contrast with the start of the pandemic, when the entire executive stood together, is stark.

Some did publish short videos on social media, but the public may feel they deserve better than that when the government is setting a course of action that so dramatically alters their way of life.

That sense was reflected in colourful comments from hotelier Bill Wolsey who described the executive as a "coalition government run by numbskulls".

Frustration at the executive's lack of preparedness is palpable. For example, Diane Dodds, the economy minister, has yet to offer a convincing explanation as to why financial support is still not reaching businesses.

The responsibility for halting the spread of the virus ultimately lies with individuals and not a bickering and disunited Stormont administration.

But political leaders play a vital role in setting the tone and providing leadership; the executive must urgently meet the challenge.

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Leading article