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The Corona Files: Can we trust our leaders in this crisis?

[This post got a bit longer than planned and you might not have the time to read the whole post, but I can promise you that it is worth it, because there is some amazing and unheard of news towards the end of it!]

After more than a month in “lockdown”, with a significantly changed infection rate and considering what is happening in other countries, it is now time to think about the trust we can or should have in the politicians in Ireland to do the right thing.

While the picture here is by far not as shocking as in the USA, where Trump suggested to put UV light “inside people” to kill the virus or maybe to inject disinfectant (www.youtube.com/watch?v=33QdTOyXz3w) so that the virus dies, we still need to keep a close eye on what is done with our lives and to us by the people who are in power.

Because I do believe that we are dealing with a virus, a virus that is more dangerous than other viruses (I will write another time about THAT discussion and the Conspiracy Theories that are connected to it.), I do think that the soft-ish lockdown that we were put under, was the right thing to do.

But I am wondering of the people in charge are the right ones to get us out again.

Who is in charge?

First let’s have a look at the power structure in Ireland to see who is really in charge right now.

It seems that the following people and organisations/forums are on this list: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris, National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and maybe also Professor Philip Nolan, who is leading the modelling team.

This is an interesting list for many reasons:
The majority of people on it are seemingly un-elected and are employees or subcontractors of the Department of Health. It seems to be really difficult to find out who is part of the NPHET (I wasn’t able to!) and the NPHET doesn’t release any minutes of their meetings anymore. But it seems that the two elected politicians (Don’t worry, I will come to that!), Varadkar and Harris, leave ALL or nearly all decisions to the NPHET. Alan Kelly, the Labour leader, has some justified concerns about NPHET: www.thejournal.ie/taoiseach-nphet-alan-kelly-5082184-Apr2020/

In a setup like this, there is a huge risk that experts are experts ONLY in their area, but don’t really see/understand or want to care about any other aspects of their decisions. You probably know the saying, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

Because a modeller cares very much about his models and a Chief Medical Officer cares very much about the medical aspects of this pandemic, they definitely have to be PART of the advisory group, but after that should it not be the elected politicians that carry the responsibility and also then make the decisions and announce the decisions?

Yes (I am getting to that now!), I am fully aware that neither Harris nor Varadkar are confirmed in their roles after the recent election. And strictly speaking, they lost the election and would have to get re-elected or re-appointed before they are confirmed in their roles. However, they are – according to the Irish Constitution – rightly and correctly continuing in their roles until a new Taoiseach is elected and a new Minister of Health has been appointed.

On the way into the lockdown, I think they did do the right thing and performed well. But a critic could say that the getting into a lockdown is easy and you can’t do much wrong, the way out of the lockdown is MUCH more complicated and requires completely different leadership.

I am not convinced that the people in power are the right ones to get us out of the lockdown. The Chief Medical Officer will be judged by the only statistic he focuses on on a daily basis: Number of newly infected and number of deaths. The Modelling expert, only looks at the virus reproduction number R (and surprisingly for an expert he seemingly doesn’t understand that R0 and R are not the same!! R0 is the max reproduction number and R or Reff is the REAL reproduction number. Prof Nolan got it wrong here www.gov.ie/en/publication/ea86cc-covid-19-modelling-data-thursday-16-april-2020/). And if you are judged by ONE specific result or number, then naturally you only focus on that one single issue and tend to loose sight of any other issues.

So who will look at the other effects and impacts? There are social, mental, economic, educational and political impacts as well.

This is the sphere were politicians need to make decisions, but to do that, they might have to tell the medics and modellers that they appreciate their advise but might choose not to follow it for now and do we think Varadkar and Harris would do that? I don’t think Harris would and I am not too sure about Varadkar.

NO politician anywhere in Europe or even worldwide KNOWS what to do in the current situation, so we can’t be tooo harsh with our judgement. No medic or modeller really has reliable and 100% correct data! Apart from the number of deaths, everything else is pure guess work. We have NO idea how many people have been infected. We don’t even know exactly how the infections happen and why some people have a weak reaction and others have a strong reaction to an infection. So all the people in power are totally winging it! Not only in Ireland, but worldwide.

So what can be done? In my opinion, we should watch closely what is happening in other countries. Austria, Germany, Denmark and Czech (and a few more) are starting to ease the restrictions and our politicians should look at that to 50% and listen to the experts with the other 50%.

But this expert forum has to change now! Medics and modellers are still needed, but in addition we need to add people that know about mental health, that are experts in education and in economy. The expert group that will ADVISE our politicians (not lead instead of the politicians) has to spread wider and cover more bases.

How come I dare to say that? Do I think that all the deaths are not real? Do I think that we are over the hospital emergency?
No, I do not think that at all! What our health care workers experience is definitely real and we definitely need to continue the work on easing the pressure they are under.

But we also need to be aware that Covid-19 is not the only health issue in this country. There are people avoiding hospitals that urgently should be seen and possibly operated. And we need to take into account that there is NO good justification for some of the restrictions and the renewed clamping down that gardai have announced for this coming weekend. There is a good justification for the physical distance, but NOT for the 2km radius for exercise and also not for the travel limitations (as long as you continue to keep the physical distance wherever you go to).

And if business life doesn’t continue in some shape of form, we will NOT be able to pay for the out of work aid that is being paid at the moment and we will NOT even be able to keep financing the hospitals. Heck, we were not able to finance hospitals sufficiently to avoid overcrowding when the economy was going well, so how can it be possible when the economy has stopped?

I am NOT talking about a “getting back to normality”, but I am talking about moving out of emergency shutdown mode into a emergency handling mode in the same way as these other European countries do it.

And YES, it could happen that we will get back into lockdown mode again for another 2 weeks or so. Maybe even a few times. And that is absolutely ok, but we now need to work on a plan for getting out and I am not sure we can trust the people who are currently in charge to have the ability to do that in a reasonable way.


I should mention something else as well and I have to admit that it influenced my opinion a good bit. It is a very important aspect and maybe I should put up a separate post about this, because it is VERY surprising:

The deaths that we are currently experiencing is the only reliable number. We don’t know in a lot of cases if a death was caused by Covid-19 or not and for the dead person or his/her family it is not even relevant. But we know that these deaths are real! The ridiculous and brutal restriction to just 10 family member at a funeral, no matter how big the church or funeral venue is is also real and there is not the slightest justification for it. Thanks NPHET for one of exceptionally nonsensical rules!
But I discovered something else this week and I have not found ANYBODY writing or talking about it!!

There is a European Project that has the cute name “EuroMOMO”, but is not cute at all. EuroMOMO is a European mortality monitoring activity, so they cound the number of deaths that happen in Europe. And the goal of EuroMOMO is to detect and measure excess deaths related to seasonal influenza, pandemics and other public health threats.

So, the 24 participating countries report their number of deaths to EuroMOMO and EuroMOMO creates graphics and reports to show if and to what degree the deaths in a certain period of time are above or below the “normal” death rate. In normal years the deaths that are above the normal death rate are considered as influenza deaths if they happen between October and May. EuroMOMO has a lot of graphs and stats on their website, but the most relevant is the Z-scores by country and you should have a look at that here www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps/#z-scores-by-country

The results are shown on a time graph and the Z-score shows by how much the current number of deaths varies from the normal number of deaths. In Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and UK you see a significant peak. That shows that they are having significant more deaths than in normal years.

But now check Ireland! And you will be surprised to see that Ireland has LESS deaths in this Covid-19 period than it would be normal this time of the year. LESS!!!

I have no idea why that is, maybe it is because there are less other hospital operations. Maybe because there are less accidents because people stay at home. Maybe the fact that people avoid going to hospital if they have some other issues, keeps them alive longer? I have no clue! It also doesn’t mean – and I repeat that on purpose again – that Covid-19 is not happening or that it is harmless or that it is just like a normal flu. NO! That is all nonsense! And the numbers in other countries clearly show that. But if our excess mortality at the moment is lower than normal, then maybe the 1014 deaths (as of yesterday) are at least in Ireland, just normality. And if that is the case then we have to continue keeping the virus under control by keeping a physical distance, but we have to wonder if the current lockdown is justified in its current form!

Soooo, can we trust the people in charge? What do you think?

Help! Elections in Ireland – Who should I vote for?

In the past it was simple: Either you were the type who would vote every time (even if it is your first opportunity) or you are a non-voter. And if you are the voting type, then you probably had a good idea who you would vote for.

But after years of “same old, same old” even if the government was provided by different parties and coalitions, people are quite confused this time. Politicians promise the “sun, moon and stars” before an election and afterwards…they totally disappoint. And the shocking thing is that even the ones that we had put our hopes in will disappoint.

If they all disappoint should I even vote or just forget about it?

Yes you should definitely vote, because the people in government will – without a shadow of a doubt – influence your future quite significantly. And if you are not part of choosing them, then maybe your dim neighbour from down the road or the obnoxious guy in your company might have more control over your future than you do. Not good!

Yes, but if I decide to vote, WHO will I vote for?

Ideally you should compare your opinions with the opinions of the candidates in your constituency to know who to vote for. And there is a website that can help you (and it won’t take long). Go to whichcandidate.ie and answer the few questions about your opinions and then the system will compare it with the answers from candidates. The result will not be a perfect guideline, but might help you to find the right direction.

Can you tell me in general something about the parties?

Sure, the biggest problem in Irish politics is that there is too much of the same. So for eternity Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fail (FF) were the only two big parties and they were just alternating in government. FF was in government when the economic crisis happened and a lot of people swore that they will never forget that and will NEVER again vote for FF. But surprisingly (or maybe not), a few years of Fine Gael government (with FF’s full endorsement – they called it a “Confidence and Supply” agreement), now suddenly people will consider voting FF again just to get rid of FG.
Another unexpected thing happened with the emergence of Sinn Fein (SF). Sinn Fein has as bad bad past, considering their direct involvement in the Northern Ireland conflict and the ongoing criminality through their IRA links. But people are so disillusioned by FF and FG that they seemingly are prepared to gamble the house on Sinn Fein.
SF will definitely change things more significantly than any continuation of the FF/FG governments will, but the big question is if that change is not too risky.
“Protest Voting” (to punish a former government) is always a dangerous move, because the party you voted for could win the majority and consequently be in power for the next 4 years.

What about the other parties?

Labour and Greens were part of previous governments and didn’t necessarily impress back then. The Social Democrats and People Before Profit were not yet involved in governments before. All four will never become strong enough to lead the government, so yes, you can vote for some of their candidates, because a coalition will probably be a good thing for the country.

So if one of the parties are not so great, should I vote for an Independent candidate?

No, no, no, no!!! Do not vote for ANY independent candidate. IT is very odd that 20% of the people in Ireland are prepared to give independent candidates their vote because the Independents either achieve nothing or they will or they will sell their soul to the highest bidder of the other parties, which will totally compromise them. Independent candidates are MAYBE good for the constituency, but because they are only interested in getting re-elected, they have NO interest in national politics outside their constituency.

Shane Ross, an independent who helped the previous government, achieved great things for his constituency, but was the worst Minister for Transport.
Michael Lowry, who was once a minister and was kicked out of FG, has been described as “profoundly corrupt”. The Healy-Rae Candidates from Kerry are only interested in Kerry gaining from whatever they do. They couldn’t care less about the rest of Ireland.
So Independent Candidates are unreliable, change their opinion depending on who offers them most and would definitely run the country into the ground…as long as their own voters get an advantage.
Do NOT vote for Independents!!! NEVER! ;-)

Thanks for the advice, but I still am not sure who I should vote for!

I know, it is REALLY difficult this time. I could tell you who I would vote for, but you are not me and your opinions might be different than mine, so even telling you won’t help you much.
So, let me just remind you again of my main recommendations: NEVER vote for Independents. Always vote for the party (or parties) you want to see in government, never vote out of protest for a party that you don’t necessarily want to have running the country. Don’t just vote for a specific party because lots of other people say so! Make your own decision! Be aware that all three main parties (FG, FF, and SF) have a bad historical record and then decide whoever’s bad record you can live better with. Is it ruining the country in 2008 (Fianna Fail) or not making anything better in the last 8 years (Fine Gael) or is it the involvement in the killings in Northern Ireland (Sinn Fein)? You need to decide! On the positive side: Maybe Fianna Fail have learned how to do it better after 8 years in the opposition? Or Fine Gael needs more time to fix things better? Or Sinn Fein is a changed party since the Good Friday agreement?


Disclaimer: As you probably know, I am a foreigner and therefore I have no clue anyway (according to some commentators on public news forums), so because of that, feel free to discard my opinions completely. ;-)

Go Voting on Friday

Yes, on the coming Friday (26 October) the presidential election is taking place in Ireland and you should go and cast your vote if you have one! Only if you are an Irish citizen you get to vote and I know that MANY Dublin Event Guide Readers are not citizens in Ireland, but the rest should definitely go and vote.

You might ask WHY? Because in the end it will have absolutely no impact on your life (or anybody else’s) or on Irish politics or on your wealth or wellbeing. Yes, indeed, voting for the Irish President is a bit of a waste of time as far as real life issues are concerned. BUT using your vote, whenever you have the opportunity, is – in my opinion – a sort of duty for everyone who cares about democracy. There will be no repercussions if you don’t vote, so the “duty” element is just a “moral duty”, but nevertheless it is relevant to keep democracy alive/working.

If you want to know my opinion about who people should vote for – and yes, it is a bit controversial – you will find it at www.joergsteegmueller.com/2018/10/19/presidential-election-anyone-but-miggeldy/

By the way, you will ALSO have a vote about a referendum on that Friday. The referendum will decide if the Blasphemy article will stay in the constitution or not. (Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred things.) Total nonsense in a secular society that does not depend on any church (anymore). And in the Irish version, the Blasphemy  article even only covers the Christian definition of a “God” and ignores all other religions. Even more a reason to get rid of this silly article from 1935.

Presidential Election: Anyone but Miggeldy!!!

The Presidential Election in Ireland is coming closer. On 26 October all Irish citizens in Ireland will be asked to vote for a new President. There are six candidates (including the current president) and the term is a very long 7 years.

The candidates are Sean Gallagher, Gavin Duffy, Peter Casey, Joan Freeman, Liadh Ní Riada and the current president Michael D. Higgins (a.k.a Miggeldy Higins, after a primary school’s child answer to the question “Who is the President of Ireland?”).

None of the candidates is any better than another, considering that the Irish President has virtually NO political power. But none of them is unsuitable either. So who should you vote for?

In my opinion you can’t do ANYTHING wrong, no matter who you vote for, so if  – for whatever reason – you feel passionate about one of them, go ahead and vote for him or her. But if you are not sure and care about my opinion, then I would suggest to vote for anyone but Michael D. Higgins!

Why so? There are two reasons: 1) Age and 2) Arrogance

We have a minimum age for a President. For some reason it has been decided that anybody that is younger than 35 years of age is not eligible to be voted as a President. In the same way, it also would make sense to have an upper age limit. It can’t make sense that an over 80 year old is the President of a country unless we are super desperate and absolutely can’t find anyone else! Higgins will be 84 when the next term ends and there is no good reason for that. Aras an Uachterain should NOT be a retirement home!

And the point about arrogance? I know he took part in the debate on Virgin Media One on Thursday, but his refusal to take part in previous debates is an arrogance that no candidate should be allowed to get away with. And Sean Gallagher, who also refused because Higgins refused, doesn’t get any stars for this from me either.

Speaking about debates: The Virgin Media One debate was really interesting, because it showed that Michael D. Higgins is not at all an impressive candidate, actually he is surprisingly weak, considering that he was in that position already for 7 years. (So don’t expect anything impressive from him in the next 7 years!) But it also showed, that there is no outstanding other candidate.

And finally, what would I do…if you care? The one that I would probably vote for is Gavin Duffy! Seven years ago, it would have been Sean Gallagher, but this time around I am not convinced about him.

For me, the biggest surprise of the evening was that Pat Kenny did a really good job in probing the candidates!

Nobody is allowed to check the President’s spend?

The job of the “Public Accounts Committee (PAC)” is to check the expenditure of all offices, departments and government agencies to make sure that they don’t waste money and that everything is done and accounted for properly.

They are meant to do that regularly, but oddly it seems that the expenditure of the President wasn’t checked for a much longer time.

Now they have decided to do that checking in the next week. But suddenly the “Secretary General to the Government and Accounting Officer for the Office of the President” has a big problem with that check. He thinks it is even unconstitutional because nobody is allowed to check the President. Interestingly the Taoiseach and the leader of the opposition both also are worried about that check.

Odd! If all is well, nobody should be worried and if things are not well, then we should definitely find out BEFORE the presidential election. Don’t you think?

RTE writes about it here.

 
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