A PR disaster? A reflection on how Ireland has reacted to the events presented by covid-19 situation.

It’s no secret that Ireland both North and South haven’t been the best at coping with the Covid-19 situation. In saying that, it’s not like any country or government could have prepared for the pandemic. I going to be reflecting on a few, let’s call them “situations” that have happened over the last couple of months and investigating how the two governments reacted to them. After reading it may cause you to re-think the phrase “any publicity is good publicity”.


Both North and South of the border there has been a number of lockdowns put in place as we are all aware. In my personal opinion I feel that the Irish government has been more consistent with their use of restrictions. Any announced restrictions by the Irish government has included a timeline which thus far they have stuck too. Unlike the Northern Ireland power sharing executive which has made itself look like they can’t make an informed decision. I say this in regard to the most recent restrictions the executive has put in place.

The Northern Ireland executive initially imposed what was supposed to be a four-week lockdown on the 16th October, this lockdown saw the closure of pubs and restaurants as well as a two week closure of schools. The lockdowns as we all know have been having a very harsh effect on businesses in Northern Ireland. Restrictions were due to end at midnight on 22nd  October, however there were calls made for those restrictions to be extended, lifted or somewhat altered. The government left the whole country waiting and it wasn’t until Thursday night before any announcements were made. The decision was to extend the lockdown and impose further restrictions. As a result pubs and licensed restaurants, which were due to re-open on Friday 27 November, will remain closed for another two weeks.

The idea of another lockdown has caused serious unrest within the public, and I think how the government handled the whole situation was a catalysis in why there is so much unrest about the current guidelines. Firstly, the fact that it took so long for the executive to make a decision was disgraceful. Businesses that were due to open didn’t know how to react or prepare for the next coming weeks.  DUP MLA Paul Frew himself called the situation “an absolute farce”. He further stated that “It is a shameful position to be in. It is an act of vandalism to not be able to tell a business on the Tuesday that they can open up for sure on the Friday, that they can fill up their fridge, bring in their stock and pay their supply line – it’s no way to run a business and no way to run an executive.” The delay in an informed decision highlighted the problems in the power-sharing executive and has since caused me personally to lose faith in their ability to take ANY immediate action.

Secondly, another issue with the new lockdown regulations is that it doesn’t seem to be entirely thought through. There is another lockdown until the 11th of December, however the government are allowing certain business to open for 7 days and then shut again for two weeks? This part of the restrictions is where we begin to see problems. It is unfair to be selective to certain industries while ignoring the needs of others. Hairdressers, retail and beauty industry organisations are allowed to open for the next 7 days before they have to shut again. Meanwhile restaurants and pubs will continue to be closed in which should have been their busiest period. The problem with allowing certain business to open for a week is that business owners will take advantage of this and rightly so! I know that in my area that hairdressers and beauticians have over extended their opening hours working on even on a Sunday until 11 at night. Shopping centres have done the same now opening until 11 every night until the lockdown is imposed.

Lastly, the idea of retail only being open for a week has sent shoppers crazy. With thousands of people flocking to the shops. An image emerged on Sunday after the restrictions were imposed of the queues outside Primark in Belfast. This caused serious unrest with restaurant and pub owners. The picture has since been retweeted thousands of times and has been circulated throughout the media. Bob McCoubrey, the owner of the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast’s city centre, said he could not understand why his restaurant had to stay closed while shops were still open. He retweeted the photo on Saturday, with a message that read: “Hard to accept pictures like this when we can’t even use our outside area.” Many Belfast nightclubs such as the Limelight bar and venue have followed in his footsteps. Stevie Higginson the owner of two restaurants in Lisburn and Ballynahinch,  told the BBC that the current rules were a “joke”.

It is understandable the unrest this would likely cause, it again shows how the Northern Ireland executive as a government does not think its decisions entirely through.

The leaving cert fiasco

It’s safe to say that leaving cert results was one massive f*** up. I think the Irish Times sum it up best by stating the only positive to come out of the whole ordeal “ The only good thing that may emerge from this debacle is that calculated grades will probably never be used again”

In case you were living under a rock and didn’t hear the grading system that the education authority in Ireland used to mark the Leaving Cert results caused thousands of incorrect results to be given out. The fallout from this critical error couldn’t be more destructive with many students having already taken their second choice options for university, even though they may have had high enough points the whole time to get into their first choice. The worst part is that the government knew a week before about the error before even telling the public therefore wasting even more time.

Education Minister Norma Foley apologised to the class of 2020 for the “anxiety and worry” that the Leaving Cert debacle caused. She explained that two errors had been found in the calculated grade system. She also pledged that all affected students would be able to gain the university places they deserve, something that isn’t realistic now as many students had already accepted places in different universities and organised accommodation for the year.

Minister Foley also said in her speech to the Dail “For the students who might have taken up one offer and may now be in a situation to receive a higher offer, we are going to move might and mane, to ensure that students will be in a position to receive those offers this year, to the best of our ability,”. That sounds all good in theory but the words “to the best of our ability” don’t sound all that promising to me.

Phil Hogan Sandal

I have to admit that the situation regrading Phil Hogan almost made me laugh I mean, can he really be that ignorant? As a Commissioner to the European Union surely you can’t be that unaware of your self-image. I’m pretty sure not everyone has stuck to every covid-19 guidelines throughout the course of the pandemic, but then not everyone is a working in a global position.    

Phil Hogan who was Ireland’s European Union Commissioner for Trade had to resign in regard to his actions when he attended an 81-person golf-society dinner. This dinner directly contravened government guidelines on social distancing. The same guidelines that he agreed to enforce. Senior government figures in Ireland (who he was a member of) told the public not to congregate in crowds, especially indoors, and to avoid traveling abroad for purposes other than emergencies or essential work reasons. So why was Phil Hogan reportedly seen dining in a public restaurant of a country club, despite the fact that he was supposed to be partaking in a 14-day quarantine on return from Brussels? 

The media obviously had much to say on this, The Daily Mail called it: “A Toxic Scandal.” As well as this  The Daily Mirror, released an Irish edition in which led with photos of some of those who attended the dinner and a one-word headline: “Muppets.”

Breffni Burke, a public-relations consultant had this to say “Small-town thinking like this has been a major slap for me, and many like me, who have observed all of the restrictions, who didn’t hug their parents or see their parents for months.”

The Take-away

So what to take away from this then? I understand that the Covid-19 situation is crazy and hard to handle for everyone and it must not be easy to be a position of power about how to enforce guidelines. However, if this is the case should these people really be making the decisions? All I can say for sure is that the previous few examples I gave have clearly shown that it a learning curve for all governments and they obviously  made some mistakes along the way.

Alicia Fox is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at Linkedin and Twitter.