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Alban Maginness

Only intensive co-operation between north and south will help us beat our common enemy

Alban Maginness


Political play-acting has no place as the planet struggles to come to terms with Covid-19, says Alban Maginness

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

PA

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

PA

Boris Johnson

In sharp contrast to the bumbling, often chaotic, stance of Boris Johnson, Monday night's Prime Ministerial address was more decisive, but still fell short of the impressive quality of Leo Varadkar in his St Patrick's Day speech, where he struck a chord with many by demonstrating confident leadership.

Ironically, Boris's hero is Winston Churchill, the great wartime leader, whose decisive leadership was crucial to the British people during the dark days of the Second World War.

Boris, who is an accomplished writer, has written a very readable account of Churchill's wartime premiership. Without doubt, Boris would like to imitate the great leadership shown by Churchill during the course of his current premiership.

Perhaps, with Brexit, he had hoped to repeat Churchill's outstanding political leadership. However, in the meantime, Covid-19 has abruptly and savagely intervened, wiping away Brexit and everything else from the political agenda.

Britain, Ireland, Europe, America and the rest of the world are faced with the disastrous crisis of coronavirus. This "unprecedented crisis" - as former Labour PM Gordon Brown has termed it - is a grave challenge to our way of life, healthwise, socially, economically and politically.

This mega-crisis calls for leadership of the highest calibre and, to date, we have not seen it from an uncertain British government and, especially, its head, Boris Johnson.

No wonder that a recent public survey found that only 36% of the public have confidence in the Prime Minister on giving good advice about coronavirus.

The continent of Europe has now been recognised as the centre of this global pandemic, causing its complacent governments and citizens to panic about their basic welfare.

However, in the EU, as well as in the south, governments have speedily introduced social distancing and other restrictive actions to deal with the pandemic. Lockdowns and border closures have been commonplace throughout continental European countries.

Social distancing, in the absence of a vaccine, which is, by the best estimates, at least a year away, is the best way to contain the spread of this virulent disease.

By contrast, the Westminster government was much slower in introducing a more aggressive strategy of containment, which would have lessened the pressure on the heath service in dealing with and containing Covid-19, which has a lethal capacity 10 times that of influenza.

The World Health Organisation has given universal advice, that stresses the importance of tracing and isolating victims of the virus. Its advice to all countries is to "test, test, test".

The British government approach to testing, however, has been inconsistent and confusing.

At Stormont, we have at last witnessed a remarkable and welcome coming together of the Executive and the Assembly in trying to navigate a sensible and effective way through this enormous attack on our way of life.

This has been achieved despite Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill's unnecessary attempt to upstage Arlene Foster over the difficult issue of the timing of school closures and the fissure that public spat revealed.

It would seem that issue has now been resolved by the collective decision of the Executive to close schools this week.

Political play-acting by Sinn Fein, or other parties, has no place at this crucial moment in our history.

Playing politics at this time is a thoughtless and irresponsible act of sabotage. As Arlene Foster has rightly said: "The coronavirus has no political consideration. It is neither British nor Irish, unionist or nationalist. Politics must be set aside."

Now what is required is a united Executive agreeing a decisive programme of action to curb this pandemic.

Central to this must be a strategy between north and south to work together to defeat the spread of this disease throughout our vulnerable island.

There is good evidence that, despite political bickering on the fringes, there is considerable co-operation between top health officials on both sides of the border.

This co-operation needs to be intensified in the coming weeks by the respective ministers of health, Robin Swann and Simon Harris.

The political channels of communication between the two administrations should be as open as possible in order to jointly tackle and defeat this common enemy.

The lives of many people, particularly the seriously ill and the elderly, are in imminent danger if we do not act together, with strict measures of social control, including travel, over the whole population of this island.

None of us are casual bystanders in this real life-and-death drama, but, rather, we are active participants and potential victims at the interface with this invisible and powerful enemy.

Therefore, we must observe a strict social discipline and, thereby, preserve not only our own lives, but the lives of our friends and neighbours.

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