Between banning church attendance and jailing grandmas, Ireland has had a bizarre time with COVID during 2021.
Between banning church attendance and jailing grandmas, Ireland has had a bizarre time with the Chinese Coronavirus during 2021.
2021 has been a strange year for Ireland.
The island — which has kept a stringent mask mandate in place for the entire year — has gone as far as banning in-person religious gatherings, attempting to censor journalists, and even jailing a grandma.
All this in the name of curtailing the Chinese Coronavirus.
Despite implementing harsh restrictions, however, there were multiple times during the year where rules were bent, if not outright broken, by those with political and social power in the country.
With this in mind, here are a few stories you may have missed from the Emerald Isle…
Irish Government Renders Church Going Illegal:
For slightly over a third of 2021, if you went to church on Sunday in Ireland, you were breaking the law.
Starting in late 2020, a ban on in-person religious worship was in place in Ireland, with all ceremonies being mandated to take place online only.
At one stage, even meeting a priest outdoors for the Catholic sacrament of confession was rendered illegal, despite a contemporary report at the time claiming that only 0.1 per cent of Irish COVID cases were linked to outdoor exposure.
The ban on religious gatherings culminated with Gardaí breaking up a Latin Mass in County Westmeath, with video of the incident gaining hundreds of thousands of views shortly before the ban was lifted.
Gardai storming a Catholic Church today in Athlone. pic.twitter.com/Lb8CHHm6sl
— Catholic Arena (@CatholicArena) April 25, 2021
The ban did not go unopposed.
Irish entrepreneur Declan Ganley took a case to the High Court late in 2020 in the hopes of challenging a similar ban on in-person services that was put in place earlier that year.
“Based on HSE data, our client does not believe that public masses are associated with any greater risk of Covid-19 infection than other important activities, including schooling and childcare, which are permitted under current regulations,” a statement issued by Ganley’s solicitor read.
After being deferred a number of times, Ganley’s challenge was eventually thrown out of the High Court earlier this month, the judge ruling that Ganley’s case was “moot” as the ban on in-person religious worship was no longer in place.
This is despite the fact that the ban, as previously, has come and gone before.
Protests Also Bad…:
The Irish government also stringently opposed acts of protest during this year.
While never technically illegal to protest in the country, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties criticised the lack of clarity and guidelines for how protests could be safely and legally organised early in 2021.
Although the status of protesting remained ambiguous in Ireland at times during the pandemic, the view of politicians regarding anti-lockdown and other anti-government protests remained crystal clear.
More video from yesterday’s Anti-Lockdown protest on Grafton Street.A number of rockets were fired at Garda leaving one in hospital. pic.twitter.com/n4qUnEJFrU
— Padraig O'Reilly Photographer (@padraig_reilly) February 28, 2021
After one anti-lockdown protest in February resulted in a number of clashes with police, politicians were quick to condemn protesters regarding the effect they would have on the spread of COVID.
“The large gathering, in the face of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, showed a complete lack of respect to the people who have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic,” said Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheál Martin.
“Horrified to see this on our streets. Irish people have spent last year fighting Covid. There is no excuse for violence to Gardaí or anyone,” wrote Deputy PM (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar online. “This behaviour on Grafton St by a selfish few undermines sacrifices that millions have made in the last 12 months.”
Varadkar was also later revealed to have written to social media companies in order to ask them to take steps to prevent protests from being organised.
“This behaviour by a selfish few undermines the sacrifices that millions have made in the last 12 months,” Varadkar wrote in a letter sent to internet giants Facebook, Twitter, Google and Tiktok. “I’m writing to see how you can help prevent the promotion of such gatherings in future, to minimise the risk to public health and to prevent the spread of false information.”
One member of parliament even suggest a future protest be banned because of the day’s events.
“It is clear that subversive elements used the opportunity presented by this protest to spread their far-right propaganda, dangerous anti-science rhetoric and ultimately attack our Gardaí,” Neale Richmond TD said. “The consequences for attending protests can be damaging not just because they are super spreader events but because they can quickly descend into illegal chaos.”
…but Not Always:
While anti-lockdown protests were repeatedly frowned upon, especially during the beginning of the year, not all protests during periods of intense lockdown were treated with the same level of ire.
After George Nkencho — a black man — was shot dead by Irish police in the dying days of 2020, violent protests erupted in parts of Dublin, with projectiles being thrown at local law enforcement.
Frontline Gardaí have a lot to put up with, unfortunately. Here's a clip of some of the violence directed at them during what the media described as peaceful protests in Blanchardstown, early January 2021. During a pandemic. In level 5. pic.twitter.com/qvMXuE9Fg8
— 243Cal (@243_cal) February 27, 2021
Despite the violence occurring during a period of intense lockdown — in-person religious gatherings were banned at this point in time — little-to-no condemnation of violence during the protests, or even comments regarding the spread of COVID at the protests, arose out of Irish politicians.
This mirrors the reactions of those in government to Black Lives Matter protests that took place in June 2020.
Despite lockdown restrictions being in place at the time of one 5,000 man march protesting the death of George Floyd — again, including a ban on in-person religious services — not only did the then PM (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar not condemn the demonstration on COVID grounds, but instead posted online a day after the protest that “racism is a virus that we have been fighting for millennia”, in what some have called an implicit approval.
Racism is a virus that we have been fighting for millennia. Despite the progress we have made, it is no less virulent today and no less dangerous. We need to show solidarity as people of all races & backgrounds around the world come together to stop its spread and defeat it.
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) June 1, 2020
Unvaccinated banned from indoor dining:
While the ban on religious service was criticised by many, one thing that could be said is that it applied to all equally.
Not so for the government’s implementation of COVID passes.
After a long period of absence, indoor dining for bars and restaurants finally reopened in Ireland on June 26th, but only for those who had a COVID pass.
While most Europeancountries allowed unvaccinated people to show proof of a negative test in order to gain a temporary pass, Ireland never allowed this option, restricting indoor dining to vaccinated and recently recovered individuals only.
For context, a similar requirement in the German region of Lower Saxony was shot down recently by the region’s Higher Administrative Court for not being compatible with the general principle of equality.
What’s more, while the internal use of COVID certs was meant to expire on October 9th, allowing unvaccinated individuals once again to access indoor dining, this deadline was later extended to October 22nd, and once more again after that, this time with no set end date.
Meanwhile, areas requiring the pass have since been expanded to include nursing homes, cinemas, theatres, nightclubs, as well as a host of other events, none of which could ever be accessed with a negative COVID test.
Some politicians however feel like these restrictions have not been enough, with one Irish Senator calling for vaccination to be a requirement in order to participate in society at all.
“If you want to participate in society, you need to be vaccinated,” Senator Gerry Horkan stated, saying that those who do not want to participate should stay at home.
“You’re putting the rest of us at risk, and you’re putting the economy at risk,” he continued.
Sen Gerry Horkan (FF) on vaccine apartheid:
"Why not supermarkets? Why not public transport? I know it is difficult to police some of these things, but really, if you want to participate in society, you need to be vaccinated." pic.twitter.com/kWkN9wS2tL
— JRD (@JRD0000) November 23, 2021
While the Irish government has repeatedly imposed draconian restrictions on the public, they themselves sometimes have difficulties following their own rules.
This became apparent back in 2020.
Early on during the pandemic, then-PM (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar was forced to deny breaking lockdown rules after he was caught attending a barbeque, while topless, in a park in Dublin.
Although Varadkar may not have broken any rules, he seems to have made the decision to go barbequing — topless — despite the advice that was given at the time by the assistant secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach, which was to avoid staying too long at public amenities or having picnics.
Another major event was the so-called #GolfGate scandal of 2020, during which a number of senior politicians, judges, and other high profile Irish figures were caught attending an over 80 person party in the west of Ireland, despite a strict lockdown being in place at the time.
The scandal resulted in the resignation of then-European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan over his attendance.
EU Trade Commissioner Under Pressure to Resign After Golf Party Which Broke Lockdown Rules https://t.co/QljtZVIsnK
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) August 23, 2020
Perhaps an even greater scandal in the context of Irish politics occurred in 2021 however.
Dubbed #MerrionGate, the scandal revolved around a party organised by former Cabinet Minister Catherine Zappone.
Held at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, the party — which was being held to celebrate Zappone’s questionable appointment to a lucrative government “special envoy” position — was attended by around 50 guests.
This is despite health guidelines at the time saying that “organised events, indoor and outdoor, are not permitted,” according to the Irish Hotels Federation’s understanding of official rules set out by Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority.
Regarding the event, Deputy PM (Tánáiste) Leo Varadkar said that there was ‘probably‘ no breach of guidelines in place a the time.
The guidelines themselves were later updated to reflect a clarification that up to 200 people had been permitted to attend outdoor gatherings by the guidelines the entire time, despite the Irish Hotels Federation’s previous interpretation.
Kinzen and Ireland’s reporting of “harmful misinformation”:
The government’s lockdown efforts haven’t always been limited to the island of Ireland however.
Ireland’s socialised healthcare service, the HSE, has had a policy of reporting misinformation online regarding the pandemic to social media companies.
However, according to an investigation by Gript Media, Ireland’s Health Service went beyond just that.
The conservative publication found that the HSE had flagged as misinformation posts by mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times.
Also flagged were two videos of parliamentarians speaking in their respective parliaments, neither of which contained any medical misinformation, according to the report.
The health service had also been flagging as disinformation early reports that the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines could be linked to blood clots.
Further investigation revealed that a significant proportion of the flagged material had been brought to the attention of the health service by an anti-disinformation firm called Kinzen.
EXCLUSIVE: We've published the full text of every "Disinformation Digest" Kinzen sent to the Department of Health over the last 5 months.https://t.co/cRqBG80r9e
— gript (@griptmedia) November 13, 2021
Co-founded by Mark Little, a former journalist for Ireland’s state-owned broadcaster RTÉ, Kinzen received nearly €110,000 over a nine-month period for the work they performed for the Department of Health.
The department cut ties with the company without explanation shortly after Gript’s exposé.
Gript also went on to report that emails seen by the publication show Kinzen asking department officials not to mention the firm’s work publicly.
The publication has also since reported that the Department of Health has claimed that all records of contracts signed with the firm have been lost, along with any record of negotiations with the company that led to the signing of any contract, as well as all records of discussions the department had with Kinzen before ending its relationship with the firm.
Speaking to Breitbart London on the exposé, Gript Media journalist Gary Kavanagh said the following:
“Kinzen and the HSE went way beyond just reporting on misinformation, and we were able to show that the misinformation reporting programme was actively reporting purely political messages, like promotional material for anti-lockdown rallies, as misinformation,” Kavanagh said.
“It shows the dangers of these programmes, and it shows that neither the state, nor third-parties such as Kinzen, should be trusted to control what people see.”
Nothing betrays how extreme the Irish lockdown experience has been than the story of Margaret Buttimer.
Despite having no criminal convictions before the start of the COVID pandemic, the Irish grandmother has since been jailed twice for disobeying public health guidelines.
As a result of the judge refusing to hand down community service — claiming that the woman was engaging in “persistent community disservice” — Buttimer’s most recent conviction in December resulted in her being handed a one year sentence, with six months being suspended.
As a result, the grandmother spent Christmas behind bars.
Grandmother Who Violated Mask Mandate to Spend Christmas Behind Bars https://t.co/VjOGi6Bo4v
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) December 19, 2021