The pandemic has taught us how science fuels a ‘messier’ political system


One of the biggest lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is how the formal processes of science and medicine feed into the “much messier system” of politics and politics.

That was the view of Professor Philip Nolan, who chaired the group that modeled the trajectory of the virus for the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which advised the government.

Speaking to the Irish Times at the launch of Pandemonium: Power, Politics and Ireland’s Pandemic, the new book by Irish Times political journalist Jack Horgan-Jones and Irish Independent political correspondent Hugh O’Connell, Professor Nolan called the work “very good journalism”. ” .

He described the book as “really well researched” and “a good document of what happened”.

“Thorough thinking about this will be helpful,” he said.

Professor Nolan, now chief executive of Science Foundation Ireland, said the most important thing to learn from the pandemic was to understand communications and human behavior “in a political and sociological context”.

“It’s not just about knowing what the public health advice is. It is a question of what the government and the people are going to do with public health advice,” he said.

In a speech to a packed gathering at the book launch in Dublin, Horgan-Jones said the pandemic was “all encompassing…in a way that previous crises simply weren’t”.

“There was not a life in the country that was spared and it was the most remarkable story we have ever covered, perhaps the most remarkable story we will ever cover,” he said. he declared.

He said the authors are committed to making their book “the best possible version of the truth; to tell the story in as much detail as possible of an extraordinary moment in Ireland. ”

O’Connell said journalism has been “absolutely essential” since the founding of the state and it has been especially so over the past two years during the pandemic.

Every citizen has been affected by Covid-19, he said, and the authors’ job was “to account for those who make the decisions that dictate our lives”.

“There was a lot of debate about the leaks during this period, but the leaks were ultimately essential in telling the story of what really happened in Ireland over the last few years,” he said. declared.

“That’s why it’s important because it’s about how it affects you and how the pandemic has affected you.”

Mr Horgan-Jones said their obsession with finding accurate information went so far as to verify what an original source described as ‘the silken curtains’ at senior civil servant Robert Watt’s home which formed the backdrop of his Zoom calls for critical Covid-related meetings. .

Not content with doubling down on details about the curtains, the writers sought confirmation from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in an interview, prompting what Mr Horgan-Jones called an “unforgettable description” of the Fine Gael leader: “Like something of a boudoir”.

Among the politicians present at the launch at Hodges Figgis bookstore were Social Democrat co-leader Roisin Shortall and Labor TDs Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Ged Nash.

Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan said this week’s revelations from the book – that HSE chief executive Paul Reid viewed Health Minister Stephen Donnelly as ‘disrespectful’ at first – were ‘extraordinary comments’ and “unprecedented”.

He said he was looking forward to reading the book in its entirety because Nphet “came out of nowhere to become the dominant player for two years” and Nphet’s politics “always fascinated me”.

The pandemic has taught the political system important lessons about what it could do, he said.

“We’ve never dealt with anything like this before. I think the political class as well as the medical experts have all learned from the last couple of years,” he said.

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