It is now commonly accepted that people in the northern half of the country, the elderly and the vulnerable, those with known health conditions and those without, have been put at far greater risk of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic because of the actions of the main leaders of the northern unionist and pro-union community, Arlene Foster, Robin Swann and Naomi Long, and their apparent belief that maintaining the appearance of the so-called “union” between the Six Counties and the United Kingdom was of greater importance than the well-being of many of their own constituents. The trio chose to force an alignment of the region’s crisis response with the inane “herd immunity” plan initially advocated by the Conservative Party government in the UK, even when that plan was revealed to have potentially catastrophic consequences for hundreds of thousands of senior citizens and those with preexisting aliments.
They did so egged on by their colleagues in the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and by unionist MLAs in the Stormont Assembly. They did so with the support and the rhetoric of some well known local newspaper journalists and editors in the UK-ruled region. They did so against the advice of international health experts and organisations, and against the anti-coronavirus policies adopted across Europe and on this island in particular. They did so in an exercise that for some individuals seemed to be little more than an opportunity to spite the northern nationalist community and its elected leaders. Ignoring the evidence in front of their eyes the DUP, UUP and APNI chiefs failed absolutely in their duty as democratic representatives to acknowledge and reject the de facto “culling” policy advocated by the Downing Street administration of Boris Johnson.
Yesterday the Irish Times provided a platform to those individuals who are now seeking to excuse and obfuscate the inaction of the leaders of northern unionism in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, warping the sequence of events in Belfast, Dublin and London over the last fourteen days into so much word garbage. This has had the deliberate effect of turning the chief offenders in the controversy into its chief victims. Let it be stated with clarity. Such distortions are contemptible and it is to its everlasting shame that the Irish Times has joined the partisan ranks of those news media legitimising the pitiful excuses offered up by Foster and company. Excuses that fell apart under the pressure of their own voters, under the criticism of scientists and doctors in Ireland and the UK, and the eventual retreat by the authorities in London from their ill-conceived health policy. (Though there is still a strong suspicion in press circles outside of Britain and among international experts that what the British leaders are claiming in public and what they are advocating in private may be quite different things.)
The response to the pandemic in the north-east of the island will now closely align with that of the rest of the country. Not just because that has always been the right – and scientific – thing to do. But because the unionist bloc in the power-sharing Executive at Stormont has been forced and shamed into doing so. That is the real story of the last few weeks. Not fatuous and untrue allegations of “Anglophobia” and “ethnic slurs” or that the controversy can be reduced to a mere question of “timing”.