By Larry Donnelly
WICKLOW, Ireland – During recent weeks, a sense of relief and – dare I say it – joy has been palpable in this country as the tight restrictions imposed by the government after Christmas celebrations led to a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases are gradually loosened. Inter-county travel is back, we golfers (and tennis aficionados) had our lost paradise restored on the 26th of April and pubs began outdoor service again on the 5th of June.
The last engendered a particular exuberance summed up perfectly by Irish Times columnist Róisín Ingle in a piece written from Grogan’s Pub in Dublin city centre as she drank a pint of Guinness at 10:30 a.m. on what was “a special day” for her and many others, yours truly included.
The partial reopening of pubs was nearly overwhelmed in the run-up by scenes of young people in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and elsewhere drinking on the streets, in parks, and in other spaces. A small number caused mayhem and there was widespread outrage at public urination, littering, and worse instances of malfeasance.
One can condemn the excesses of a minority while simultaneously recognising that young men and women have already sacrificed an awful lot since March of 2020 and that politicians and health officials have been calling for an “outdoor summer.” There was no excuse for an abject failure to prepare for what was, in the main, an understandable release of tension and renewal of socialisation.
At a personal level, I was delighted to receive my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on May 29 in Greystones, Co. Wicklow at a centre that was run with ruthless efficiency. The rollout here was considerably slower than it was in the United States – almost all of my friends back in Boston have been fully vaccinated – but the pace has picked up. I should have my second jab before the 4th of July.
As such, I know there are many people in my old and new homes who have very itchy feet. The vast majority on this side of the Atlantic, though, seem to have long resigned themselves to not leaving the country until late 2021 or early 2022. And, indeed, the government advice is still to avoid all non-essential foreign travel.
That is likely to change in July, yet most holiday bookings have been made and the usual hotspots up and down the west coast and in the cities will be thronged right through August with domestic tourists. It will be wonderful to see my fellow Americans start reappearing on this island once it is safe and feasible to do so. We need you.
There are signs that Irish politics is also emerging from the state of suspended animation that it has been in since the pandemic arrived. A by-election to fill a seat in Dáil Éireann (lower house of Parliament) is in the works following the resignation of Eoghan Murphy, a former housing minister, in the Dublin Bay South constituency. And it is the issue of housing that is to the fore in the return to Irish politics as usual.
There is a severe shortage of supply. The dearth is being felt especially acutely in the capital city and other urban areas. Young couples, even those with two good salaries, find it very difficult to get a mortgage for a residence within a reasonable commute of their jobs; and buying a home is even harder for a single person.
Increasingly, Irish people reject the idea that there is a market-based solution to the problem and feel that the two traditionally dominant centrist parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have neglected the next generation on this front. Accordingly, although this is one of the most affluent constituencies in the country and a Fine Gael stronghold, the insurgent Sinn Féin decided to parachute a high profile, extremely capable politician, Lynn Boylan, into Dublin Bay South to contest the race.
The choice was not made lightly. Sinn Féin apparently views the by-election – which will garner massive media attention because it is the only show in the land – as an unmissable opportunity to tout its more radical policies to ameliorate the housing crisis to a national audience. Even a second place finish in this relatively unfriendly territory would be cast as a victory insofar as it would suggest that some wealthy people are so aggrieved at the plight of their children and grandchildren that they could cast a ballot for the erstwhile political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
The vote will probably occur on July 8 and it is Fine Gael’s to lose (it is worth noting that the Labour Party has a chance, too), but it is one that will be watched intently by Sinn Féin’s supporters in Irish America.
On the subject of politics, my friends and relations in the Boston area find it incomprehensible that after decades away my ear remains so close to the ground when it comes to all things political in Massachusetts. I’d guess that an embarrassing percentage of the out-of-state hits on local news websites and downloads of “The Scrum” podcast from WGBH or MassInc Polling Group’s “The Horse Race” emanate from my home in Wicklow or my office in Galway.
I am grateful for these brilliant resources and, while I am sure that the Globe will ramp up its coverage as the Sept. 14 primary approaches, it is regrettable that this unprecedented campaign hasn’t featured more prominently to date in the newspaper of record.
From this geographic and temporal remove, I can’t help but think that there are good-sized lanes to the Nov. 2 final for Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councillor Michelle Wu, and a slightly larger lane for City Councillor Annissa Essaibi George. My suspicion about the latter’s lane is predicated on a belief that a substantial bloc of long-time city dwellers, who will be disproportionately represented in the primary electorate, will opt for the daughter of immigrants and Dorchester native.
It is much too soon to shut the door on former Boston School Committee member and Marty Walsh’s director of economic development John Barros (my BC High classmate), City Councillor Andrea Campbell, or state Rep. Jon Santiago. There is a potential path for each. All are compelling candidates and it is crucial to remember that the early polls showing them lagging well behind the rest are just that – early, with plenty of undecided voters to play for.
At any rate, a fascinating political battle lies ahead and I will be monitoring it with keen interest thanks to modern technology.
On a final lighter – or heavier, depending on how you look at it – point, I’ve been reading about the June heat wave in Boston and have seen reports that it hasn’t been as hot since 1925. I keep hearing the same complaint from my brother and others: “It’s horrendous.” Our weather was very wet in May and mixed in the first days of June. Met Éireann says that better temperatures are on the way, however. Here’s hoping you all cool off and we warm up!
Larry Donnelly is a Boston-born-and-educated attorney, a Law Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and a regular media contributor on politics, current affairs, and law in Ireland and the US. Twitter: @LarryPDonnelly.