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Deputy First Minister catches Covid… August 31, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Michelle O’Neill of SF has caught Covid despite being fully vaccinated. One hopes that she will be fine, and given she is vaccinated most likely she will. But, one result – ironically – is the cancelling of the Executive to discuss the ‘remaining Covid-19 restrictions’. The DFM will be in isolation for a week before returning to work and Executive Office Minister Declan Kearney takes over her role in the interim.

Thought this interesting:

The executive had been due to meet tomorrow to discuss Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland.

But it cannot now proceed as it requires both the first and deputy first ministers to chair the gathering.

The executive is now expected to meet next week.

Check out the DUP’s attitude to those restrictions, particularly the language:

DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons told the BBC: “We need to start moving on these issues, we have to take into account the impact on the economy, the health service and society more generally.

“Although we have a steady number of cases, we have had a massive reduction in the number of hospitalisations compared to January and February.

“As an executive we’ve all said we want these restrictions to end as soon as possible, taking all the evidence on board including the economic and health data as well.”

Well they might compare and contrast the situation with the ROI where 1,382 cases were notified today with 355 being treated and 54 in ICU. Whereas in NI?

In Northern Ireland today, there were six more deaths linked to coronavirus and 1,313 new cases of the virus were confirmed.

Near enough the same numbers of new cases with what, less than half the population as the ROI?



After the pandemic: attitudes to social welfare August 31, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Here’s a thought. Was talking to someone at the hard end of local politics recently who was saying that during the first phase of the pandemic when so many people had to transition to the PUP they were faced by incredible numbers contacting them from people who had never had to use social welfare in their lives and simply didn’t know how to go about it or claim the supports. It got to the point where they were getting calls seven days a week, morning noon and night.

And that made me wonder. I know myself from attitudes in my own family that however leftwing some people were, or thought they were, there could be huge hostility to the idea of someone (me) on social welfare at various points in my life. I’m sure many have experienced that. While for me it was a simple quid pro quo – I paid PRSI, believe in the welfare state, etc, for others it was a sort of symbol of failure. I never understood or shared that attitude. I’ve wondered in fact did some of it come from those expressing that coming from a rural background and a sense of people knowing each others business more than in a city. Or was it part and parcel of attitudes exacerbated by the right in the 1980s.

So, does this extension of PUP across social classes and so on and the fact many many more people were supported by the state for a prolonged period of time offer the possibility that some of those attitudes will change?

What the hurry with the return to workplaces? Plus an interesting piece of information on the reopening of indoor ‘hospitality’… August 31, 2021

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So, hot on the heels of the return of full capacity public transport comes the news that the Government is ‘ending almost all Covid restrictions by 22nd October’. Throw in a return to workplaces starting on 20 September and the improbably optimistic line from Minister Michael McGrath that “there will not be a declaration that Covid is over but there will be a “gradual move” from regulations to personal responsibility”. All this feels very certain. Never a good feeling in relation to the pandemic.

Not everyone is convinced. After all, as noted yesterday, we’re currently in the middle of a return to education – one unlike any seen before, even during the pandemic – given the reality of Delta. And here’s a cautionary voice:

[the] Professor of Immunology at Dublin City University said that we should prioritise the reopening of schools over other sectors of society.

Christine Loscher told RTÉ’s Drivetime that Ireland is “racing too fast” in terms of reopening society.

She said schools should be prioritised, the impact of them reopening over a few weeks should be assessed and then return to a full capacity on public transport.

“We are opening too many things, too quickly. We have staggered things until now and it has worked well,” she added.

Could there be a link with another piece of news released yesterday? The IT certainly didn’t make a big deal about the following information gleaned from continuing ESRI polling over the period of the pandemic. 

Despite the return of indoor dining and drinking in late-July, no increase in visits to cafes, pubs and restaurants had been recorded by mid-August. In the latest update, the average number of locations outside the home that a person visited fell slightly.

The average number of people met outside the household remained stable at 3.5 over a 48-hour period, including an average of one person who was not vaccinated.

So, for all the column inches and paper and ink and pixels used about the supposedly absolutely necessary reopening of ‘hospitality’ and the demand for same from the public it appears that actually most people were happy enough with the status quo ante. Obviously, and in fairness, this isn’t optimal for those working in those sectors, who deserve all the support it is possible to give, but given how close we are to a potential transition forward it is curious there’s not more made of that or a sense that a certain delay may be warranted.

Telling though:

About one in six people who attended substantially more risk social settings are described in the report as “socialisers”.

Another group, referred to as “non-mitigators”, adhere to social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing advice less than half the time. This group has grown to 24 per cent of the population, from 14 per cent in April.


The proportion of the population who are both “socialisers” and “non-mitigators” has also grown steadily, to 11 per cent.

And, almost inevitably:

“Although these people engage in much riskier behaviour than the average person, they mostly see themselves as low risk. They are also more likely to view restrictions as unfair,” according to the study.

Now why is that not a surprise? 

Interesting thread from Andrew Flood on twitter on this.

He makes the point that currently about 3/4s of the population tends to the view that ‘casual hospitality’, ie eating and drinking indoors isn’t worth it given numbers and prevalence of Delta and indeed the lack of CO2 monitors, ventilation etc. Whereas 1/4 isn’t that fussed. But the problem is that you can’t run a hospitality industry on that 1/4. There’s not enough people in it to do so.

The thought has struck me that some of the push to reopen more widely comes from the realisation of this dynamic more broadly and a near desperation to present things as being largely over – or as Flood notes the rhetoric about living with the virus is really synonymous with ‘hoping it goes away’.

That, unfortunately, is not going to happen and people aren’t stupid, they know that to be the case. After all there’s precious few meals, or drinks, or gigs any of us would feel were worth pointless risk exposure.

Have to agree with another comment on that thread above where someone notes that if the hospitality industry took all this more seriously they’d increase their business. So why aren’t they?

And this raises another point, long aired on this site. Hospitality could reopen tomorrow with all restrictions dropped (indeed in the last fortnight some of their lobby groups were demanding precisely that). Live entertainment seems set to return in a fortnight. But that 3/4s, of which I count myself amongst that number, isn’t going to go indoors. Indeed, that would likely make me less willing to eat or drink outdoors, as I have a number of times in the past month or two. And the idea of going to a gig indoors is for the birds at this point. Again, why doesn’t that sector recognise this? The cynical thought arises that the government knows from polling such as the ESRI study that public appetite to go out (or in) is more limited than the media rhetoric and therefore that provides something of a cushion with regard to excessive interactions – so they can acquiesce to the complaints of business knowing that the population will be more hesitant and numbers of cases will therefore remain lower. If so one hopes they’re right.

Which brings us back to the broader ‘reopening’. Some will be leery about returning to workplaces during such an unpredictable period, but while many won’t have a choice about that, nothing is going to force people to go back into hospitality. What is troubling is not the idea of reopening, but the lack of caution in respect of what reopens and when – ie education first, then public transport, then once it is clear what the impacts of they are on to live events of some form, and then a return to work and so on, and so forth. And allied to that lack of caution is the equally troubling fixation on specific dates in this pell-mell dash towards some sort of finish line – a line that McGrath himself notes won’t see an actual declaration made about.

What was it Loscher said, opening too many things too quickly. Haven’t we been here before?

That Labour bounce? August 31, 2021

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.

Think back over the Summer and how there was some talk by some commentators about how the by-election win for the Labour Party would result in a bounce for that party at the polls. Eoin Ó Murchú on Tuairisc takes this line to task a piece here (thanks to JH for the link).

He notes that ‘Beidh sé spéisiúil súil a choinneáil ar an dáilcheantar seo/It will be interesting to keep an eye on this constituency’, but of the broader picture?

Ach san iomlán níl aon athrú ar sheasamh na bpáirtithe: Sinn Féin ag barr an liosta le 30%, ansin Fine Gael 24%, is ar Fianna Fáil 15%. Tá an Comhaontas Glas ag fanacht ar timpeall 4% agus na Daonlathaithe Sóisialta ar aon dul leis an Lucht Oibre ag 6%/But overall there is no change in the position of the parties: Sinn Féin tops the list with 30%, then Fine Gael 24%, and Fianna Fáil 15%. The Green Party remains at around 4% and the Social Democrats in line with Labor at 6%.

So no bounce, as of yet. 

And a most interesting point he notes with regard to the SDs and the LP.

bhí buille faoi thuairim fíorspéisiúil ag Máirín Ní Ghadhra i Tuairisc.ie go bhféadfadh an dá pháirtí sin teacht le chéile agus dúshlán a thabhairt do Fhianna Fáil don tríú háit/and, of course, Máirín Ní Ghadhra had a very interesting guess in Tuairisc.ie that those two parties could come together and challenge Fianna Fáil for third place.

Haven’t seen it phrased in that way before but actually, yes, that’s true. There’s a space there that would allow for them to rival FF. He himself admits he’s sceptical about that, and he’s probably right. That said he asks a key question. Who will these parties support at the next election – a Fine Gael-led coalition, or a Sinn Féin-led coalition. And does a likely antipathy to SF mean that Fianna Fáil become, as it were, the key to the next government. 

But of course all this presupposes that the LP, SDs and indeed others hold their current seat numbers, despite likely SF sweeping many of the smaller groups aside. 



Returning to a new normal? August 30, 2021

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No end of pieces in the media at the weekend discussing how matters were changing in relation to Covid, on foot of vaccinations, and how restrictions would be loosened yet further. And – in fairness, much ground has been clawed back and, one can credit the government with some sense in the manner in which (at least since Christmas – though not in the run-up to Christmas) it has acted reasonably cautiously.

So on the one hand the announcement that public transport will return to 100% capacity next week makes some sense. On the other, isn’t this yet another case where the government is moving perhaps three weeks too quickly given the terrain that has to be crossed in the immediate future.

It seems curious that with education returning and with a number of unknowns in relation to that that all this isn’t pushed back a fortnight or so. Perhaps notably the Sunday Business Post yesterday had a piece on this very matter from Rachel Lavin which stated that:

The role of children in the transmission of Covid-19 is a question that has lingered throughout this pandemic. Just how much they could be silently spreading the virus, from schools to homes, amongst themselves to wider families, has been speculated on at length – but without confident answers.

The issue, however, is about to come to the fore. In the coming month, just as children return to school, the Delta-driven fourth wave of Covid-19 cases is projected to peak.

New scenarios published in the past week show that cases could rise to between 3,000 and 12,000 a day depending on the latest range of optimistic to pessimistic scenarios modelled by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).


But will this return to school be like before? Children have never attended school when cases are as high as they are today.

The first time schools fully reopened in August 2020, there was a seven-day rolling average of 99 cases a day. In the third wave, it was 687. Today, the seven day average is roughly 1,800.

The dominance of Delta will also add to the transmission risk in schools. A European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) technical report on the role of schools settings in transmission published on July 8 stated that: “increased transmissibility across all age groups has been reported for SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs), most notably for the Delta variant.”

But as the article notes, the current assessments of children’s transmissibility are based on the pre-Delta situation which saw the virus transmitted at about half the rate of adults. Whereas with Delta it is now ‘about the same as adults’ according to one member of ISAG. 

And while – thankfully – very malign impacts are rare, though not unknown, there are other practical problems:

“This is a nasty infection in children,” Anthony Staines, professor of public health at Dublin City University, said. “If they have symptoms, they’re quite sick for three days to five days roughly. The child is going to need to be minded for that length of time. You can’t isolate a child. The person who minds them immediately becomes a close contact, as does the household.”

As well as mild illness, severe illness in a small proportion of children will occur. “A proportion of these children will get very sick,” Staines said.

And keep in mind that the state has 31 critical care beds for children. But look again at that line about isolation and think how that impacts workplaces struggling to bring people back in at this point. And let’s bear in mind that surges are expected in September, everywhere. 


So. Another experiment which undercuts the rhetoric of the opinion pieces in the the Sunday Independent and elsewhere over the weekend demanding ‘freedom’ and immediate reopening. It’s not that there shouldn’t be steady progress to that latter goal – the last thing anyone wants is for the situation as it is to go into reverse – but rather that at points where there are particularly evident unknowns a little delay in one area in order to protect another might make for greater speed further down the line. Education has to reopen, and as fully as is possible. There’s no question about that. So let’s see how that goes. 

Another poll at the weekend, this time on unity… August 30, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

The Observer had a LucidTalk poll at the weekend on the issue of partition. Interesting reading too. As reported here:

Two-thirds of voters in Northern Ireland believe there should be a vote over its place in the UK, but only 37% want it to take place within the next five years, according to a new poll for the Observer.

Some 31% of voters said there should be a vote at some point about Northern Ireland’s place in the UK but after 2026, the LucidTalk poll found. A further 29% said there should never be such a vote. There is currently a seven-point lead for Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK should any vote take place.


Asked to state how they would vote, 49% said they would back remaining in the UK, while 42% backed being part of a united Ireland, with 9% saying they did not know. Other recent surveys have put support for a united Ireland much lower. The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, published in June, suggested that 30% backed a united Ireland.

Some very intriguing points made, such as:

Bill White, managing director of LucidTalk, said: “Once again, and as with all polls about the NI border issue, we see that approximately 50% of Northern Ireland support the union and remaining in the UK. This pro-union score has been remarkably consistent in all Northern Ireland border referendum polls. It’s the other 50% where we get a difference of opinion between those who support united Ireland, and the don’t-knows.

But he continues:

“However, this isn’t particularly surprising as a united Ireland is still the unknown option, and although many people support the concept of a united Ireland, they would like to know a bit more about it, and how it would work.”

In other words this is a process of engagement and education. I’ve mentioned before that it seems improbable given that calling a poll is in the gift of the Secretary of State it is implausible that it will happen within the next few years. But, as Peter Hain quoted in the article points out, “don’t think an early poll is very likely, but I think there’s an inexorable momentum towards one. That would throw the kaleidoscope up in the air and who knows where it’ll fall.”

That’s the key in all this. Consider that Northern Ireland may have its first Sinn Féin First Minister in the next couple of years. The census will show demographic change, albeit likely parity between Unionism and Republicanism and Nationalism with each below 50%. And the fall-out from the Protocol, Brexit and indeed the remarkable implosion of the DUP, will continue. 

I think Hain is right, with the slight caveat that the kaleidoscope is already up in the air. 

Left Archive: Republicanism and the Working Class, People’s Democracy, c. 1993 August 30, 2021

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Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive

This is an interesting addition to the Archive, a document from People’s Democracy [to see other documents from that source in the Archive please go here] dating from the early 1990s (though we would be very grateful if the date could be clarified) that discusses across six pages aspects of Republicanism and the working class. In essence the document considers different phases from 1798 onwards of Irish history and the position of Republicanism at every point thereafter.

There is a strong critique and criticism of Republicanism arguing that ‘republicans had nowhere to go but down after the 1930s’. It continues:

The sectarian nationalism of the 26 county state – an artificial construction with no historical authenticity – was absorbed almost totally by the republicans leaving little difference with Fianna Fáil other than the gun. When the current phase of political struggle opened up through the civil rights movement the republicans were a fairly anachronistic outfit. That the unreconstructed wing, the provisionals, came to be the dominant force in the struggle is entirely due to failures on the left.

It argues that republicans adopted a ‘more left leaning stance’ at times of particular struggle, but that this ‘never went beyond a radical populism that can be seen with hindsight as being within their traditional politics’. 

Robot, robot? August 29, 2021

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Why does this seem the technological equivalent of computing vapourware?

Elon Musk said he would probably launch a humanoid robot prototype next year dubbed the “Tesla Bot”, which is designed to do “boring, repetitious and dangerous” work.

The billionaire chief executive of the electric carmaker Tesla said the robot, which would be about 5ft 8in (1.7m) tall and weigh 125 pounds (56kg), would be able to handle tasks such as attaching bolts to cars with a spanner or picking up groceries at store

And file the following under ‘well I never’!

Speaking at Tesla’s AI Day event, Musk said the robot could have “profound implications for the economy” by plugging gaps in the workforce created by labour shortages. He said it was important that the new machine was not “super expensive”.

Though file the rest under ‘well I never’!

But Musk gave no indication of having made concrete progress on actually building such a machine. At the point when a normal tech launch might feature a demonstration of a prototype model, the South African entrepreneur instead brought out an actor in a bodysuit, who proceeded to breakdance to a soundtrack of electronic dance music.


Companies on the cutting edge of robotics, such as former Google subsidiary Boston Dynamics, have produced bipedal robots. But the clunky, heavy machines they have demonstrated bear little resemblance to the svelte designs Musk claimed Tesla could build.

I guess it’s possible we’ll all be amazed by a sophisticated robot revealed in a year or two’s time. But it seems unlikely. 

Wired had an excellent overview of the demo.

“This will be quite profound,” Musk said. “Because if you say, What is the economy? It is, at the foundation, it is labor.”

The problem is that outside demos actual robots are much much more practical and, whisper it, prosaic. This may be a good thing actually. Prosaic is good. Prosaic is safe. Prosaic isn’t Skynet and Terminators and Judgement Day. Or the Matrix. Or any number of dystopias from Metropolis on. 

But perhaps all these prosaic robots are slowly working away at something Musk notes, however inelegantly – that being labour, that being the economy. 

Unfortunately, we’ll see. 

Sunday and other Media Stupid Statements from this week… August 29, 2021

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.

Even by the standards of the IT this – from their Health Editor in the middle of a pandemic – is quite some statement:

Prof Nolan rightly sees education as essential; no doubt many music and arts promoters would also see their activities as essential. Is teaching Friel or Shaw in the lecture hall more important than putting it on the stage?

Speaking of the IT someone was arguing that one single issue – the lack of a full airlift capability on the part of the state in Afghanistan:

Ireland is just one of two EU countries without the capability of airlifting its citizens out of danger in an emergency. It begs the question of what we think we are doing on the security council when we can’t even look after our own people but have to rely on the French and British to get our citizens out.

Means this:

The episode should be the final wake up call for the Government to take the Defence Forces seriously and ensure that they are given adequate resources to protect Irish interests. By all accounts the Rangers are an extremely well trained and effective unit, but the inability to deploy them without the help of friendly nations is deeply embarrassing. The Defence Forces have been starved of resources down the years. What is now required is not simply more money but a strategic vision about how extra resources should be spent to ensure that the country has the capability in the future of mounting necessary operations.

The term mission creep comes to mind.

Someone is overstating the case as usual:

There are lessons to be learned here from the pandemic. Governments upended our daily lives in staggeringly forceful fashion. Some of us railed against the most obvious excesses of the approach, its contradictions and mistakes and the occasional administrative overkill. At times policy makers walked the line between leadership and near-authoritarianism.

So is someone else this morning and in much the same way:

In a way, introducing an intrusive, autocratic state is easy. Revolutionaries and Strong Men have been doing it for years. There are teething pains, yes, but ultimately most people settle down under the new yoke, as most of us did. We were constantly praised recently for hitherto sinister sounding things like our “compliance” and “obedience”.

But don’t underestimate the difficulty of dismantling such a technocracy. You don’t just wake up one day and unravel it all.

All other examples of similar statements welcome… 

That poll from the Belfast Telegraph August 28, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Thanks to SonofStan for noting in comments the following:

Quite a result and one that potentially points to a redrawing of the electoral map in Northern Ireland in the future, if the DUP are unable to claw back support. If it were a matter of support moving towards the UUP alone that would be one thing, but the fact that the TUV has increased its numbers is problematic for unionism as a whole since that party is ill-placed to capitalise on its increased support. Indeed tellingly, and perhaps indicative of the fundamental issues around them RTÉ reports (under the Regional News heading, no less):

Despite unprecedented gains for his party, TUV leader Mr Allister was the least popular, with 51% rating his performance as bad or awful.

So in an Assembly how would this work? RTÉ seems to think that:

The results could leave Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill on course to become First Minister after the next Assembly elections due to be held in May 2022.

And allied to that change there would be the return of the UUP.

Doug Beattie of the UUP would then become Deputy First Minister, the poll suggests.

The problems for the DUP are legion. Having managed the political equivalent of stabbing themselves in the eye while simultaneously shooting themselves in the foot by the process of jettisoning Arlene Foster and crowing Edwin Poots briefly before resiling from that decision they cannot run another leadership election. And they’ve effectively collapsed their reputation as a serious, if profoundly unlikeable, political vehicle. How Donaldson could possibly turn this about is difficult to see. One presumes his argument will be one of patience, and hope that those voters going to the TUV and elsewhere will realise the only game in town is the DUP. But a revitalised UUP presents a real problem even if it too will be subject to interesting pressures – how does it manage the balancing act of taking votes from liberal inclined Alliance voters and disenchanted DUPers? Can it even manage that? 

A lot to think about. 

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