(Please note due to a reluctance to push certain media for reasons you’ll see below, I’m doing this independently of them. Therefore if you find it interesting and think it has value, do feel free to share a coin or two at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/ewanmackenna. Also note that if you are going through a tough financial time as many are, I don’t want a cent. I’ve always written primarily to help those worst off, not to profit from them. Thank you. Ewan.)
Chapter I – As It Was
It was on the Holy Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur in Judaism – when those in Israel were pulled away from their most important moment in a panic. The year was 1973, and Egyptian forces to the south and Syrian forces to the east made their move amidst religious distraction.
Their goals were multi-faceted but one was focused on land taken several years before. And so, with little resistance met, the Arab states made their way across the Suez Canal and out onto the then-annexed Sinai Peninsula, and into the Golan Heights. Despite tensions and recent history, arrogance around invincibility and timing around faith meant Israel was caught cold.
Over the days that followed in that October War, their military strength would ultimately win back across pre-ceasefire lines, but a mighty lesson had been learned from a near-miss.
It was one that the Israelis made sure they’d never need to learn again.
The Agranat Commission was formed to look at what went wrong, and created two new and key defence mechanisms. There was the position of the Tenth Man, and along similar lines there was the option of writing ‘different opinion’ memos without it being career suicide.
The logic was simple.
With nine others in a room, that Tenth Man had to play devil’s advocate and always had to disagree. As William Kaplan put it in his fine book ‘Why Dissent Matters’: “The task was to generate intelligence estimates that ran contrary to research department assessments… This approach was important because it allowed for the consideration of a number of possible intentions of the enemy, including those deemed less probable than others.”
If this Tenth Man’s purpose was then to look at alternative assumptions, it was interesting to note that the commission also realised that the very same data could be used to support contradictory conclusions anyway. Had this position been around before that Yom Kippur, then intelligence gathered in advance would have led to two competing assessments that were equally valid, and would have seen precautions taken against both possible scenarios.
Ultimately, they had realised the hard way that consensus is a terrible and dangerous thing.
That story came to mind repeatedly across recent months because many key people and much of the masses in Ireland couldn’t even consider the concept, never mind adapt to it.
Today, as eyes slowly open though, it’s too late for many if not for them.
Indeed now there’s merely a desperate and pathetic scramble for reputational salvation and financial betterment within the societal ruin their echo chamber has inevitability led to.
Chapter II- As It Is
‘Move past the social media rage, deception and fear, and find the truth about the story because integrity, trust and quality journalism matter. The truth matters.’
RTÉ advertisement, May 2021.
Back in the 1970s and on into the 1980s, journalist Vincent Browne was on a mission. He would shack up at Charlie Haughey’s press conferences and ask about the source of his wealth. Most of the parliamentary correspondents used to snigger and roll their eyes. “Vincent again…” was the common uttering and muttering.
Suddenly though, in 1994, many of those very same political correspondents that toed the easy line for favour were trying to tell us that the source of Haughey’s wealth was a massive story.
The problem was, it was two years after he was gone from the game.
It was much too late, helped by their cowardice and laziness, yet still they wanted credit, attention and sales.
See where I’m going with this?
If the church told Ireland how to think for an age, the media has replaced that. It happened for a number of reasons such as a vacuum needing filling, the changing role and growth of access to such media, and a dumbening of people to the point that critical thought seems complicated so it’s easier to tune in and ape whatever you hear on the telly or radio. In Covid, that has been exacerbated as, with contact reduced, key media voices grew louder in the silence.
Sadly, those voices have been nothing like Browne’s.
Instead they’ve been the very same sort that once muttered, “Vincent again…”
The other week I heard Pat Kenny grilling Stephen Donnelly about antigen tests, but those that raised their usefulness months before that were openly mimicked and mocked by him.
In recent days Matt Cooper took to Twitter to bemoan the 105 minutes of indoor dining as if a personal inconvenience, and I thought if only there’d been some sort of protests about this kind of farce. Then I remembered just two months back he had unchallenged security experts on his show calling for internment for those raising issues he now does, before he nodded along to Sam McConkey not talking of 105 minutes, but of five years of restrictions.
The list goes on for there was the outpouring of grief from numerous journalists too when their open-air watering hole of Portobello Plaza was closed for a weekend, after a year of these very journalists demanding civilians shouldn’t leave their house and reporting heavy traffic in heavy tones if they did.
Most sectors of the industry in fact still allow uncontested diatribes from that laughing stock over in ISAG. In the shadows of NPHET from the off, to any right-thinking person they come across like a group of nerds in the basement playing dungeons and dragons and dividing up an imaginary world between them. Yet as the real world opens up, they are still given the freedom of a platform in Ireland to talk about Zero Covid and buffer zones and sentinel areas and more. Turning the nation into a made-up play-thing so they can get their chunk of funding from what little is left.
There’s a key lesson though for all of these people.
The present doesn’t erase the past and, as many squirm to be on the right side of a wrong history they allowed and helped create, their efforts shouldn’t be forgotten. For it’s not even that there has been a consensus, it’s been worse than that. Those that challenged an at-best questionable narrative and tried to offer valid but alternate viewpoints were dehumanised.
Granny killers. Murderers. Nazis. Rat lickers. They’ve been called them all.
Never mind a Tenth Man, for most of this there was only one voice from the pulpit.
And perhaps more than anyone in our media that surmises the if-it-bleeds-it leads ethos we’ve endured is Claire Byrne. Even in the face of such despair, this lady is still not for any sort of turning.
As an example, a few weeks back on her television show, her producers trawled through those who had issues with lockdowns for a myriad of genuine reasons and who had strong arguments and CVs, but passed up on them. Instead they found a softer touch they could chalk down as a conspiracy theorist, said their views weren’t fact before a pre-recorded interview, suggested psychological help for someone not there to defend themselves afterwards, and then by association Byrne proceeded to tar all those with an issue about lockdowns as yet more conspiracy theorists.
By ridiculing alternatives, it allowed her back to her agenda.
So it was on her radio show just this Monday, with Michéal Martin in studio and Ireland going it alone with a primitive and oppressive strategy that would be fine if lockdowns had no negative effects. She decided to challenge him. It wasn’t about the slowness in opening up though, it was about why we were opening up at all, what with her views about the Indian variant being the “the big dark cloud on the horizon” and a need for “more caution” or there’d be “big trouble”. A whoring of fear for ratings via dishonesty and disinformation she decries when it doesn’t suit. By Thursday indeed she was using vaccine delays to suggest it wasn’t safe while at the same time asking if fully vaccinated athletes could possibly be safe at an Olympics she doesn’t want. If only there’d been a lock on that shed…
For me, the point of even basic journalism isn’t merely to report bad news, never mind support it. It’s to stop it. To do this you’ve to be truthful and not neutral, and more than anything it involves listening to and understanding how things effect people differently, rather than ignoring them because it doesn’t effect you in that exact way.
This view has become an outlier in Ireland in these times.
I’ve had my own long list of experiences that have been an insight into Irish media this past year, and to bring them up isn’t for attention or sympathy or anything close as I don’t need any of that, but more as a demonstration of how the industry acted. I’ve been told I’d never work again, that I should get back to “real journalism”, and that I’m “not a journalist”. I’ve been the butt end of many jokes on WhatsApp groups within the profession, been called a conspiracy theorist, far-right, a disciple of Gemma, and warned I’ve gone down the wormhole.
I’ve been kicked to touch by newspapers. TG4 invited me onto a show only to cut the entire interview that was critical of NPHET and government. Virgin Media asked me on, proceeded to give me less than three minutes and then refused to put a single point made to their panel, making my appearance as pointless for viewers as it was for me. Newstalk meanwhile had me on their lunchtime show, failed to introduce me as a journalist or even by my full name, and then edited out key facts for their podcast version and, when caught out, slipped them back without comment or apology.
All of this wasn’t proof of balance, but of massive bias.
After that last effort at silencing and changing my thoughts, colleagues even criticised me for Newstalk’s actions and since then several have gotten in touch to suggest my outlook on this has been a needless career sacrifice.
Recently one even asked: “Why are you so angry?”
The funny thing is I’m not angry at my treatment.
I’m angry at what that treatment represents when it comes to a profession I loved. And more than anything, I’m angry at what the journalists that accepted consensus have done to people.
Look at the stunted development of children, the missed education of adolescents far beyond just the classroom, the loss of jobs of adults that won’t just come back, the mental health of a nation, the spread of diseases that will last and shorten lifetimes for years, the economic misery to come, and another generation that’ll be forced to flee abroad.
That’s why I’m angry and I feel genuinely awful for those who have been ruined and ridiculed by the arrogance, negligence and selfishness of those in the comfort of cosy work. But when it comes to those journalists who have laughed at this and loved the attention and profile of these times, I feel very differently.
For I always wondered how Vincent Browne felt about those a decade behind him that tried to steal thunder after the storm had subsided. I long since hoped he smiled plenty at their desperation and their incompetence.
Chapter III – As It Could Have Been
Ireland likes to think of itself as the place of saints and scholars.
I’ve only see an outpouring of greed and idiocy.
It likes to think of itself as the land of a hundred thousand welcomes.
I’ve only seen mandatory hotel quarantine.
It likes to think of itself as getting out of this quick.
Well think again, because this isn’t the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning.
It didn’t have to be like this and that was the point all along.
To merely have a conversation that made it least worse for the most people possible.
Would that have been so terrible?
Across the last year, I’ve had a list of questions around all that has transpired. They weren’t so much specific to Ireland but the answer of the Irish jury was most telling.
The virus reached Europe as early as September 2019, and certainly was in numerous cities in October, which meant it would have been rampant by the time we gave it a name. So why did no experts notice something was off? And with hospitals flooded with people struggling, why did those who demand no one can die now not show any care or even interest? Is it just possible that this was all solely about their safety once they realised they were at some sort of risk?
With Ireland’s shocking health system often pointed to as a reason for lockdowns, how was it that three times we were told across Covid it was on the verge of and at risk of collapse, when the numbers the previous time were a fraction of what they were when it was used to scare everybody again? And if this was about keeping the health system safe, why isn’t everything open given those that almost exclusively take up beds have a key first vaccine that hugely protects?
Why is seasonality not brought up more, particularly now summer has arrived? After all it is a respiratory illness. After all everywhere else in the EU opened all last summer and saw no major surge. After all, Ireland’s Christmas sorrow began while in level five meaning the most strict lockdown couldn’t keep it out at a cold time of year. After all many reputable studies have said it peaks and troughs naturally based on that, which would explain numbers coming down after Christmas 2019. After all, NPHET mentioned that very seasonality as a reason to lock down again later in 2021.
Why is there a fear, to the point of outright dismissal, of looking at data with an open mind rather than with a pre-conceived notion? Sweden without locking down has been shown to have one of the lower excess mortality rates in the EU, but this is rubbished by comparisons with neighbours when its demographics are more similar to Scotland. Texas opened up and New York locked down and they faired very similarly, indeed there’s been no surge with Texas hosting world record crowds at boxing and full houses at baseball games. Florida has a much, much older population than California and didn’t shut up shop which the latter did, and they too had similar results. On and on we could go.
Wouldn’t these be worthy of further investigation rather than ignorance, as just maybe they show there’s a better way?
That though is telling for it’s become not about living with Covid or dying of Covid, but about those who lazily staked their reputations on one side not being burnt. And that’s been the most frustrating part for it has created such an entrenchment. Science and data no longer matter. There’s a large and comfortable cohort who would rather others suffer via lockdowns than to ever dare admit they were wrong about them.
That comfort is crucial around such stubbornness for many of these people have it so easy that they’ve nothing to lose but face.
Claire Byrne earns the equivalent of the highest weekly pandemic unemployment payment available every 12 hours, night and day, week and weekend, even if she’s sitting at home with her feet up. Michéal Martin earns it about every 14 hours. Tony Holohan and his half-dozen assistants bring in the same value of that pandemic payment every three hours. Paul Reid over in the HSE trousers it about every seven hours, meaning every seven days he receives the equivalent of about 24 times the best paid person on the PUP.
These are the people that have been treating you like idiots.
For they’ve no skin in the game.
They’ve created, sold and repeated stupid and simplistic and childish terms like handbrakes and circuit breakers and togetherness and caution. They’ve spoken about vaccine bonuses as if something from Supermarket Sweep – only instead of Dale Winton pulling a sticker off an inflatable pineapple to reveal to some couple in hideous yet matching sweaters they have won five pounds, this has stripped your most basic of human and civil rights.
We’ve reached the point where the populace are liked parched dogs over water.
“Take this and you can eat a three-course meal on top of a bin down the square. Or have a pint while trying to shield yourself from a wind that would saw a man in half behind a traffic light pole.”
We’ve even people regurgitating this nonsense as if life is pretty much as it was before, because it suits them.
The sort of folk who are now campaigning for public toilets so they don’t have to wipe their arse with a dock leaf after a sandwich in a field outside Boyle on their staycation.
If it gets much better for their ilk they might even loosen the chain on their grandfather who has been locked up in the shed for the last year for his own safety.
The new normality.
It’s been largely accepted because those who’ve dictated it are comfortable and those that have demanded everyone adhered to it are themselves safe. They’ve forced others to lose jobs so they could keep theirs; they’ve forced others to get and endure and perhaps die from serious illness so they could avoid what to many was a next-to-zero risk anyway.
And now they expect thanks. These smarmy, soft and entitled people always want thanks.
No wonder it’s so easy to treat a nation like babies when so many Irish adults are still on the nipple.
Chapter IV – As It Will Be
Some facts that have emerged of late, despite their inevitability emerging in consensus.
Stephen Donnelly has said that the state of emergency will now roll on to February 2022 despite saying the country will long since be vaccinated by then, laying grounds for winter lockdown.
Unemployment, according to Social Justice Ireland, could end up about 390,000 by the time the pandemic does end, which will be well past the peak of the last economic collapse.
Due to the massive shortage of houses – not solely created by, but helped along by the fact we stopped construction for a chunk of the year – half of 18-to-35-year-olds’ fear they’ll never purchase their own dwelling and a large amount will be the latest sorry brain drain.
Before Covid, 600,000 were on hospital waiting lists but that will likely rise above a million, meaning thousands of missed cancers and rising rates of many more diseases for years. Some will say this is because of Covid but, last summer, hospitals were empty and full service never resumed, and now they are empty and full cancer service is still six months away at best. So don’t be fooled, this grave injustice is down to the hyperbole of lockdowns.
The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council have said Pascal Donohoe’s nonsense of Ireland spending its way out of its biggest hole yet accompanied by no hardship just doesn’t add up.
There’s so much more.
Contrary to the nonsense about wanting death and destruction, hating the old, joining the Church of Gemma, or believing Bill and Melinda insist on chipping them, this is what a lot of people who wanted to merely talk about and challenge consensus warned of throughout.
How much would lockdowns really make a difference?
How much damage would they do if they did make a difference?
And what’s the best way of finding a balance?
Were those questions really worthy of silencing those behind them?
Being patronised by smart people is irritable but being abused by people who think but never demonstrate they are smart is completely different. As kids we were told in school to have debates where we swapped sides so we’d go against our beliefs and try understand why others see and think differently. Today adults cannot fathom such basics.
Thus, while one side asked for discussion based on a set of facts, the other tried to ruin them based on association with whatever crossed their minds. Guess which won out? Just as Bertie Ahern suggested those who thought the housing bubble would burst should kill themselves and the arrogance of a nation thought no more of it, we had Michéal Martin this time fury over the idea that cancer might be an issue and told us to “get real”.
Again, no one baulked for the mass psychosis had taken hold.
Wash, rinse and repeat the stupidity.
It’s all got us to here.
After being told to hold tight for a fortnight some 14 months ago, now we are being told that it’s five more weeks of holding tight before they have a look at what isn’t even close to normality anyway. People are finally getting it. Which means there’s that mass scramble of all sorts who backed the wrong horse as they flee from their own prior demands.
Just watch them for it’s all so predictable.
Firstly there’ll be an attempt to actually benefit from and seek credit for a mess they created as we return to the shallowness of virtue signalling, of turning issues into causes for votes in politics, attention in activism, and profit in media. A few weeks ago it was the excitement of John and Mary driving three miles down the road, come July it’ll be Tony and Ann hurrying to finish a burger as they’ve four minutes on the clock before being thrown out, all framed as something given back when it’s just one less thing that’s been taken away.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the chance to blame someone else for what these people themselves supported all along. In fact that’s already begun.
The government who allowed the longest lockdown on earth with no end in sight are pointing at the likes of Aer Lingus for laying off staff. The opposition are bemoaning the extension of a state of emergency when they wanted a plan that the World Health Organisation said would’ve needed three years of such states. Do-gooders who wanted protests banned officially because of the risk of Covid now protest the lack of protests allowed. And much of the media want to attack over issues that lockdowns rather than Covid created, having planted these same issues in fertile soil and watered them and watched them grow with a smile slapped across their faces based on ratings.
It’s always the same with these groups.
Run with the foxes, and hunt with the hounds.
After so much consensus, what we hear into the future might sound hugely different to what went before.
Don’t be fooled though for it’s that very same consensus of what’s best for me.
28 May, 2021
Insufferable inane and tediously long
I’ve been following your work since the turn of the year. To say you are a breath of fresh air is an understatement. This piece is sublime, along with all of the other letters.
What’s gone on in this country since March of last year is quite incredible when you step back from it. Like having all of your worst fears confirmed. The February 2022 thing from Donnelly the other day was breathtaking – the actual gall of the man. Hard to imagine where we’d be without some form of vaccine (actually, probably not far off where we are now!)
Brilliant article. It won’t just be the journalist though, the opposition are waiting until this is over and it’s safe to ask questions that should have been asked 14 months ago and asked repeatedly every day since.
Well done Ewan really enjoy your pieces a voice of reason
I personally want to thank you so much for your fantastic journalism. You are a voice for us people not so blessed with words. I know it must be hard but you have to keep fighting for your and our beliefs. You were brilliant on newstalk and the George Burges analogy was great.
I’ve been following your podcast/writings throughout the pandemic and let me just say thank you for being a voice of reason. I agree with pretty much every point you have made about the handling of Covid and I share all your frustrations.
I thought your interview on Niall Boylan was great a few months back, I’ve shared it around. There’s more people than you might realise that feel this way. It couldn’t be more obvious to me that Holohan hates the pub/ party culture that we have in this country and has surrounded himself with a bunch of spineless “Yes” men in order to get his own way at every turn. He has shown contempt for the general population for years, inferring that we were too stupid to wear masks, do antigen tests not to mention the cervical scandal.
It’s a shame you are being driven to the margins, even when Newstalk had you on recently it was At. Patrick’s Day, when very few people listen to the radio. I only caught it a few days later.
Keep up the good work.