The former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson put it best.
“When it is the people who are setting the rules who break them,” she said after the Prime Minister’s right-hand man, Dominic Cummings, was accused of breaching the lockdown, “you are going to get angry.”
That’s why there was such an outcry at news that a government minister in Dublin attended a social function at a hotel in Galway at which at least 80 other people were present, in breach of new regulations banning indoor gatherings of more than six people.
Sinn Fein certainly didn’t hesitate to condemn the minister in question.
“We can’t make excuses for people,” declared David Cullinane, the party’s health spokesman. “Guidelines were very clear.” All involved, he said, “should resign”.
Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary has since done just that. Others at the dinner have stepped aside, too. They could hardly do anything else.
But, of course, neither David Cullinane or any other member of Sinn Fein was prepared to say the same when almost the entire past and present leadership of their own party went en masse to IRA veteran Bobby Storey’s funeral in Belfast at the end of June, while preaching to others to stay home and stay safe.
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald actually travelled up from Dublin to attend. Her deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, posed for photographs with other mourners.
Political opponents both north and south have roundly criticised the party for this display of double standards, but that hasn’t stopped Sinn Fein doubling down on it.
“Everyone I have spoken to is angry and upset”, says the party’s Sligo-Leitrim TD Martin Kenny. Presumably, it must have escaped his notice that there was exactly the same anger and upset across Northern Ireland at Bobby Storey’s funeral, from unionists and nationalists alike.
People who’d made huge personal sacrifices during the Covid-19 crisis to stay within the rules, even as loved ones were dying, or being buried, flooded the media to express their feelings of betrayal.
Sinn Fein didn’t care, merely issuing mealy-mouthed statements of regret to anyone who was hurt. There were no resignations.
Now, when their opponents do the same, they say without any trace of irony: “It all smacks of one law for them and another one for us.” Do they have no shame?
The answer to that question is an emphatic No. That’s one of the things psychologists have learned about people who say one thing and do another. They don’t actually realise what they’re doing. They genuinely believe that their own circumstances are special. They buy their own excuses.
It was obvious to most reasonable people, as soon as Sinn Fein turned Bobby Storey’s funeral into a republican show of strength in the middle of a pandemic, that they were abandoning any moral authority in future to complain if rival politicians breached the letter or spirit of the coronavirus restrictions.
In retrospect, what should have been equally obvious is that they’d claim the moral high ground, anyway, and simply bank on their devoted supporters to go out batting for them regardless. That’s what happens in an age of increasing political polarisation.
Right and wrong no longer matter. It’s all about picking a side and slugging it out and the damage this does to public faith in the political process is incalculable.
There’s nothing that ordinary voters find more alienating in their elected representatives than double standards. It suggests they don’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths. It’s all just a game.
That still doesn’t make it any less astonishing, or deplorable, when they’re so blatant about it.