We deserve far better than the shabby disrespect of our elite

EU Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan.

Those of us who have lost loved ones in this time of Covid-19 have been denied the solace of a traditional Irish funeral, and deserve so much more than the shabby disrespect of those who make the rules and feel they are above those rules.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you will probably know the whirlwind of compassion that is a traditional Irish funeral.

If you’ve ever stood in that receiving line, be it at a funeral home or a family home, you will be familiar with the conveyor belt of well-wishers – friends, family, strangers, and even enemies – who come to offer their support at the worst moment of our lives.

When you stand there for the first time, I don’t think that anyone ever tells you that you will soon be raw and sore from shaking hands, or that you should be sure to have a lot of drinking water to hand. Handkerchiefs are a wise investment too, and not just for you, but for the others in the line, and also for the visitors.

A word to the wise: Hollywood conditions us to believe that people are at their best at the worst of times. That’s nonsense, of course. Everyone who is grieving is under enough pressure without believing that we can be saints when we are suffering. Try to go easy on yourself, and on those around you.

If it’s a traditional Irish wake in the family home, chances are the aunts and the uncles and the cousins and the neighbours and the friends will take over the house, making sandwiches and pots of tea, and stewarding the well-wishers in and out.

I think an Irish funeral is the ultimate expression of our humanity. It’s a time when old enmities are forgotten and we reach out to support the living in their hour of need, when we celebrate the dead by remembering the best version of their lives, and when we tell death that what we do in life is far more important than the grave which awaits us all.

We laugh, and we cry, and we reminisce and we remonstrate, and we get drunk and we rage against the dying of the light, and we remember the life, the living, and the love.

Willie Nelson has a wonderful line about the loss of a loved one. “It’s not something you get over,” he says, “but it’s something you get through”.

An Irish funeral doesn’t help you get over the loss of a loved one, but I think it does help you to get through.

And then, this year, Covid-19 took that from us.

Since the Coronavirus pandemic struck, many of us have marked the deaths of friends and family in what is horribly called ‘the new normal’. We’ve stood, socially distanced, as funeral corteges inched past us, we’ve resisted the ingrained urge to shake hands and to hug the bereaved, and we’ve accepted that we have to sacrifice our own innate kindness just to save lives.

We’ve all heard desperately sad stories of people dying without seeing their loved ones, of saying goodbye to family members through windows, or through electronic screens, and of dying people in their pain and confusion not understanding why their family was not there with them.

How many cried out for their loved ones at the end, or went alone into the dark without familiar voices telling them they were loved?

We all know the sacrifices of those on the front line who have risked everything to help others, and these horrible times have reminded us forcefully of just how brilliant our nurses and doctors are. The sight of Dr Tony Holohan giving his absolute all to the fight against Covid-19, before stepping aside to mind his dying wife was both humbling and inspiring.

In our own individual ways, we’ve all sacrificed so much in order to fight an invisible enemy, but we have done so on the understanding that – as the advertising claimed – we really are all in this together.

That’s why #GolfGate – as the Irish Examiner has christened Aoife-Grace Moore and Paul Hosford’s scoop about 81 of the great and the good flouting Covid-19 guidelines at the Oireachtas Golf Society hooley in the Clifden Station House Hotel – has broken our collective spirit.

We’re six months into this, and we’re already at breaking point, and there’s probably at least another year ahead. We’ve put up with a lot, and we’ve done it for the greater good. That’s why the idea of 81 of our betters – from politics, the judiciary, the banks and the media – cocking a snook at the rules has us ready to storm the barricades.

We’re not all in this together, clearly, and that makes a mockery of all our sacrifices, and it does so at a critical time in our fight against the pandemic.

Barely half-a-day after the Examiner broke the story that he had been there for #GolfGate, Dara Calleary resigned as Agriculture Minister – following Barry Cowen’s earlier departure from the same office and sending Taoiseach Micheál Martin into Oscar Wilde “to lose two looks like carelessness” territory – while confirming the across-the-political-spectrum consensus that Calleary is a thoroughly decent person.

Five days later, veteran RTÉ journalist Sean O’Rourke, who was also there in Clifden, has paid a huge price as a private citizen, with the State broadcaster shelving a planned radio series. I know Sean slightly, and I can tell you he is very kind, and deeply honourable.

EU Trade Commissioner Big Phil Hogan was there too, of course, and his initially and characteristically arrogant responses did nothing to assuage public disquiet at his zigzagging from Kilkenny to locked down Kildare – according to some reports to pick up his golf clubs – and across then to Galway.

Predictably, there’s been a lot of noise on this from Sinn Fein, but in truth, they haven’t a leg to stand on, having bussed supporters from all over the island for the fake funeral of IRA terrorist Bobby Storey, where nearly 1,800 Shinners breached social distancing at every opportunity,

As for the Government, I’m genuinely starting to wonder whether this coalition was conceived on a fairy fort, and I think if Micheál and Leo can’t get past their mutual contempt – essentially, John Halligan was right: FF hates FG, FG hates FF, and everyone hates the Greens – this accursed temporary little arrangement (© Albert Reynolds) is doomed at birth.

Those saying Phil Hogan is too big an asset to Ireland in Brexit negotiations to resign are – frankly – exaggerating his importance while badly misreading the public mood.

I think Big Phil is toast, and if he isn’t, he damn well should be.

Phil Hogan has – through his own thoughtlessness and indifference – become the poster boy for the public suspicion that after all we’ve sacrificed to fight Covid-19, those making the rules clearly believe those rules don’t apply to them.

If Hogan doesn’t go – on his multimillion-Euro pensions – it will be perceived as yet another indicator of the shabby disregard in which the ruling elite holds the rest of us.