The GAA need to take over the response to the Coronavirus

Our collective reality has changed. Most of the ordinary people of Ireland seem to be ahead of the politicians and the HSE leadership on this point – to name but two slow moving elites. I know that there are still a few pockets of resistance to this idea out there. I am not here to try and change your mind, you can believe whatever you choose at the end of the day. But for me the world has tilted on it’s axis once more.

The good news first – in my lifetime the world’s collective reality has changed at least twice. Once in 2001 moments after the second plane hit the Twin Towers in the United States and the second time in 2008 when the global financial crisis washed up on Irish shores like a tsunami. We survived both.

The coronavirus pandemic is potentially bigger than either of these two events. Indeed bigger than both combined. In a purely Irish sense, this pandemic is the greatest threat to the health of the nation since the Irish Famine. Yet, the instinct of our politicians at the moment is to cling to protecting the past reality and protecting the economy. Now is not the time for that. We need to protect the health of as many of our people as we can. All actions should have that ultimate goal. We are a dynamic people we will figure out the economy, when the high-tide of coronavirus fever has passed. Now is the time for drastic bold action to ensure the high tide watermark is as low as we can make it.

Close all schools and third level institutions immediately. (Update: Schools and Universities to close 13/03) Last weeks farce was St Patrick’s day parades. It seems this weeks farce is schools. We have much more important matters to tackle, make the decision and move onto the next one. The government approach should be as follows. If you think it might be too soon to do something – do it anyway. (Update: Schools and Universities to close 13/03)

This brings us to an important point. We don’t have a government at the moment. I believe now is the moment for the leadership of the GAA to step up to the plate and take control of things at a local level countrywide. That means John Horan, Tom Ryan and right on down to every GAA club chairman in the country. The GAA has the man and woman power to respond in our hour of need. At it’s best, the GAA, is the best of us as a country. John Horan needs to call Leo Varadkar not to ask can he help but to tell him what he is doing.

The defining characteristic of a leader in crisis – is not an ability to get people to follow their haphazard direction. It is almost the opposite. It is an ability to take the first few steps into the abyss alone – armed only with the courage of their convictions – in full uncertainty, if or when, anyone will follow. Fortunately though, history tells us, enough good people normally do.

To begin, the GAA leadership should announce the cancellation of every single game from U-6 club level up to senior inter county level. (Update: Major announcement due on 12/03/20 PM full shutdown of games expected) It should simultaneously announce that it is diverting the majority of it’s resources and human capital towards dealing with the coronavirus. Lead from the front.

The GAA is Ireland’s only grassroots, village by village, national secular institution. In the day’s and weeks ahead we are going to need massive local support and local responses on a village by village basis. The GAA is the perfect instrument to spearhead the delivery of it. Importantly it is not of one particular party persuasion. Has there ever been a greater need to call on the volunteerism that lives and breathes at it’s core. Our doctors, teachers, nurses, firefighters, ambulance drivers, Gardai and medics are all members in large numbers. It might just be the instrument to save lives and ultimately our way of life.

It seems to me that politicians only respond to one thing – gross embarrassment. This would embarrass them. It would send a message to every single politician in Ireland, that the people are more than willing to by-pass them. If they are not up to the task of delivery and transparency they should leave the stage. For instance, today’s announcement (March 11th) of daily COVID-19 infections cited 9 new cases. None in the West of Ireland. Funny that, as 3 people in Galway received notification this morning that they’ve tested positive. Maybe it’s a glitch or a time delay in the reporting mechanism – but we’ll wait and see what tomorrow brings on that front I suppose. And follow up on it if necessary.

I wrote two weeks ago that we need a temporary national government of all parties to respond to this crisis. I still feel the same way. Except even more so. Sinn Fein, FF and FG should all be at the table or on Skype talking about this subject. It need not be forever – but the country needs it yesterday. If the HSE and Simon Harris spend another 5 days continuing to lecture the nation about the importance of washing our hands – we should very quickly wash our hands of them. In coronavirus terms, Ireland is about 14 days ahead of Italy. That’s all. We will collapse a lot more quickly than Italy or China due the inadequacies of our Health Service. And then only anarchy will reign and anarchy won’t help anyone.

The new reality I speak about means – we need a government formed by the end of the weekend. If there isn’t one the new reality will mean Fine Gael and maybe even Fianna Fail will cease to exist in any meaningful way.

Poland as of today at 18:38 pm had 26 cases of the coronavirus. They have already closed all of their schools. We have 10 more cases than the Poles and 1 death. In times of crisis, people forgive actions even if they are the incorrect ones. The people understand that the future is uncertain. The people want to do more than wash their hands in response. Now is the time for big, bold actions. Not all of them will be correct. It is far better to be safe than sorry though. Decisions taken in the next 10 days might be the difference between 100 deaths and 10,000 deaths.

There are hundreds and soon to be thousands of micro decisions to be made. For example, At least five parents from around the country have contacted me today to talk about Transition Year students and the hundreds of thousands of euro they have already paid to go on school tours to Italy, Spain and France in the coming weeks.

The Irish tour companies in a lot of the cases are refusing to refund the money or to refund only 20% of it. Losing 500 euro a child is not something many parents can afford in the uncertainty of the weeks ahead. And yet I also understand the view of some of the tour companies. The refund is going to put them out of business.

Once upon a time, I used to own a small computer business and I understand that if the computer virus version of the coronavirus swept through the operating systems of every computer I was selling at the time, I would’ve had to close within 7-10 days. This is just one of the thousands of new difficulties we are faced with as a nation in the days ahead. The massive initial disruption will cause many, many big problems. As with the above example, there will be times the government need to respond to both sides of the problem equation.

The music has stopped and not everybody has a chair never mind a bed. Time to get moving.

A reminder of what is to come if we do not.

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