Posted on 6th February 2021

Slane Castle

At times I despair at the lack of real and decisive leadership.  Several times this column has emphasised that saved time saves lives.  The sooner that vulnerable people are vaccinated they are no longer exposed to Covid and possibly death.  Any impediment to this makes no sense.  Now in its wisdom the government has decided for the moment to restrict the over 70’s to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.  Reasoning being is there is insufficient data on this cohort.  However, 35,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available next week.  It is easy to distribute, store and administer.  This is not the case with the Pfizer vaccine.  I would have thought it should be an absolute priority to get to the maximum number of over 70’s as soon as possible.  If the Taoiseach is lacking the guts to change direction from this, just look at the UK where at this stage they have successfully vaccinated millions and almost certainly saved thousands of lives.  In the UK they have now vaccinated over 15% of the population.  In Europe they have managed 2.4%.  This, of course, brings me to the mastermind of the EU vaccine programme, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.  To be frank, her attainment of the Presidency was something of a surprise.  On her appointment former European Parliament President, Germany’s Martin Schulz said “ Von der Leyen is our weakest Minister.  That’s apparently enough to become Commission President”.  Hardly a ringing endorsement.  She had been Germany’s Defence Minister since 2014 and her stewardship was widely regarded as a failure.  So, in short, hardly the right kind of person to be head of the Commission in the midst of a pandemic.  However, even if her vaccine programme is far from ideal, her blunder over the Irish protocol was a stunning achievement.  In one fell sweep she had Boris Johnson, Micheal Martin, Michel Barnier, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill all singing off the same hymn sheet.  She also succeeded in throwing the delicate balance in Northern Ireland out of kilter.  It showed an extraordinary level of ignorance considering the months of tortuous negotiations during Brexit when the sanctity of the Good Friday Agreement and the danger of the Border were cited ad infinitum.  Then in such a cack-handed way to bring the hammer down on the pretext of protecting the Single Market is inexcusable.  Still, don’t expect her to do the honourable thing and resign.  She is too well dug-in in her apartment on the 13th floor of the Commission’s Berlaymont Headquarters.  Surrounded by a coterie of tight-knit and loyal advisers, she will brazen this one out.  Such a pity then that none of our senior politicians has the balls to call her out.  Then in life you need leaders to show courage and like him or not Boris Johnson showed flair in the way he has dealt with the vaccine issue.  He made a radical choice in asking Kate Bingham to head up the UK vaccine taxforce.  She is a venture capitalist who has a first class degree in bio-chemistry from Oxford and an MBA from Harvard.  The UK roll-out has been a success.  In this case, time saved has saved lives.  We are still waiting.

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