Ireland ranked 10th, USA 11th among countries (with 1000+ reported #COVID19 cases) by deaths per 1 million population

There is loads of data available and I know by posting what I have below, I’m open to accusations of “cherry picking”, but these are metrics I consider to be significant. If we must insist on comparing countries on handling of the COVID19 crisis then IMO, morbid a task though it may be, the most important thing to do is level off the death figures by population of country.

First of all I felt it important to exclude the teeny tiny countries like San Marino and Andorra so I drew the line at countries with a minimum of 1000 reported cases.

As you can see, among over 200 countries, Spain and Italy, the most notorious for their handling of the situation, are at or near the top, though it is interesting to see Belgium between them. France and UK round out the top 5 and the entire top 10 are all in Europe.

The reason I included population density (people per square km) on the chart is that many have claimed it to be a factor in relative growth among nations. For me, this theory is disproved by the numbers since so many in the top 20 in the world are ranked 100th or lower on the planet in density.

Finally the second graphic shows a statistic I feel isn’t being highlighted anywhere near enough. Apparently there have been over half a million reported cases of COVID19 around the world which have reached a conclusion, and of these, 79% have recovered. This number has remained steady over the past couple of weeks. For me this gives us a general (if extremely basic) idea of what kind of outcome to expect from a diagnosis.

Of course I appreciate the caveats involved with this information, not least of which is the fact that most countries vary in the way they report their data. For example, apparently the US has only been reporting deaths from hospitals, Ireland is well behind on testing so there may be COVID deaths left out, and as for China’s figures, well, who knows.

But it’s important we remain engaged with information as much as we can, if not too much throughout the day as we try to get through the lockdown. JLP

CountryTotal deaths*Deaths per 1m pop*Density rank**
1Spain18,255390118
2Belgium4,15735933
3Italy21,06734870
4France15,72924194
5UK12,10717849
6Netherlands2,94517232
7Switzerland1,17413668
8Luxembourg6710757
9Sweden1,033102193
10Ireland40682139
11USA26,06479174
12Iran4,68356156
13Portugal56756101
14Denmark2995288
15Austria39344104
16Germany3,4954260
17Slovenia5627108
18Norway13926203
19Canada90324222
20Iceland823227

* = source = https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries (note – countries have been excluded with less than 1000 reported cases, eg San Marino, Andorra, etc)
** = source = https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/countries-by-density/
ALL STATS WERE TAKEN AT 10AM ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15

Leo should remain as Taoiseach for now but not without strong Opposition and challenging media #COVID19Ireland

These are unprecedented times.  Our worlds have been turned upside down and we have absolutely no idea what comes next.

I have been periodically blogging on this site for almost four years, and I have never made a secret of the fact that I believe in a Progressive government for Ireland.  This of course means the parties which have always represented the status quo such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have never gotten my vote. I also have little faith in other parties purporting to be “left” such as Sinn Féin and Labour.

Yet when faced with a situation like COVID-19, I do not believe that a radical change to the face of our government is what is needed, even when it comes as it did right after a general election.  Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael were in power when it was time to lock the country down and particularly in the most relevant departments like those of An Taoiseach and Health, we need continuity and stability so regardless of political hue I think the correct course would be for them to remain for now.

Now I’m hoping that my established premise will be remembered as I voice some concerns over the current situation.  In his address to the nation on St Patrick’s Day, Leo Varadkar literally referenced Winston Churchill.

“This is the calm before the storm – before the surge.  And when it comes – and it will come – never will so many ask so much of so few.”

Address by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar 17th March

For the life of me I cannot fathom why there was not more of a backlash to this.  I am absolutely no fan of Sinn Féin but am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that they would be lambasted for any kind of Nationalist references at this time yet our Taoiseach, one who has often expressed a liking for the leadership of one conservative UK leader in Thatcher, gets a free pass after throwing a nod to another?

This point is one of semantics and cosmetics I know, but I make it first because of the levels of reaction I have seen on social media ever since.  Of course we need to stick together as much as possible during these times, and given the original nature of the crisis there should be much leeway afforded to our government, yet the levels of praise for his leadership have been, in many, many cases, “Churchillian”, and this concerns, nay frightens me.  

Strong opposition and challenging media are important ingredients to any democracy.  If a day ever came when Ireland had Progressives seated around the Cabinet table, I would expect nothing less than for them to have their feet held to the fire where possible, and we all know that would be the case.

And while the Green Party did not get my vote at the last election either, I cannot understand why they are being vilified for not unconditionally joining FF and FG in government.  They claim to have offered three options to the “Civil War” parties, all of which have been rejected…

“I think the idea that FG and FF would present this narrow option to the people of the two of them in power with one of the smaller parties propping them up is very self-serving. It has the coincidental effect of giving them the most amount of power, for the most amount of time with the least amount of oversight.” 

Green TD Neasa Hourigan

Why are politicians so reluctant to form a government?
Justin McCarthy – RTÉ.ie

…and the backlash appears to be “shut up and get on board”. Whatever your levels of respect were for them before, surely they would be lowered should they accept those terms.  But this post is not just about the Green Party. It’s for the type of representative body we want the Dáil to be when it comes to acting as a check on our Government.

Then there is the Irish mainstream media, one that already had a reputation for being more stenographers than challengers.  And that was even before this particular Taoiseach came to power, one who sought in virtually his first act to set up a media arm with the sinister title of the “Strategic Communications Unit“.

Below are just some areas where I would like to ask questions of Leo Varadkar and his government, in no particular order:

  1. What exactly happened with those orders from China which arrived with inadequate supplies?
  2. If Opposition parties should feel shame for insisting that the Dáil convenes due to risk of social distancing among civil servants, have any measures been discussed to allow for some kind of COVID-19 friendly Dáil sittings until the crisis is over?
  3. COVID-19 tests – they are in limited supply.  Is there any transparency as to how they are allocated?  And I have heard stories that the testing itself can take over two weeks to produce results – why is that, is anything being done to speed up the process and is this fact reflected in the numbers we are being given?
  4. We have all has been adversely affected by this crisis, but that does not mean we will all be struggling by its end.  When everyone’s assets have been reduced, the priority of Government care should be those who are left with little or nothing.  So what exactly do you mean by “tough decisions” that have to be made once this crisis is over? Is there to be a period of austerity similar to that affected by the banking crisis or will the burden at very least shared regardless of wealth if not borne by the 1% at the top?  

I am happy for Leo and Simon to remain in their jobs.  I am delighted that Leo is rolling up his sleeves to pitch in as a GP.  That’s all great. But if a republic values its democratic principles, no government should go unchecked, and we certainly shouldn’t assume everything is rosy on these shores based on a comparison to the leadership of the blond buffoons either side of us.  All I’m asking is that we be mindful of this. JLP

What’s “left” in Dublin South Central?

Personally, I don’t see Sinn Féin as ‘left’ at all, but they are considered as such, apparently. So given that, then all four candidates in my constituency are now left, which is an amazing feat. Congrats in particular to Bríd Smith of SOL-PBP, Patrick Costello of the Greens and especially Joan Collins of I4C, who benefitted greatly from transfers to leap from both of the FG and FF candidates after the first count.

A powerful statement for change in priorities has been made by the Irish electorate. I hope the government we end up with reflects that.

RTÉ inadvertently explains how PR:STV should be, not how it is #GE2020

FOREWORD : In this post I give my reservations of the PR:STV method of holding elections. Please don’t take them as my discouraging you from voting!!!! It’s the most important thing you can do!!!!! However flawed the method any vote is better than no vote!!!!

Ahead of today’s General Election vote, RTÉ did one of their “Montrose-splain” videos, using schoolchildren to illustrate how the PR:STV system works. Production-wise, it is excellent. Information-wise, I feel it is misleading.

First, just in case there is any doubt, I am entirely in favour of proportional representation voting. The “first past the post” system the UK insists on using isn’t just archaic, nor is it just mathematically flawed; it is downright unethical.

But PR is far from a single entity in itself. And the one used in Ireland, the “single transferable vote”, is so complicated that I reckon as many adults would need the above refresher course as much as children would. Unfortunately, to create their simplified example in the video, RTÉ have both left out and glossed over some of the method’s most undemocratic aspects.

First and foremost, in the example above, there are only two seats on offer, and the “parties” are each running just the one candidate. This means that you cannot have the practices we see today, where the bigger parties run two or more candidates in a constituency and “manage” their voters in an effort to get more than one over the line.

I remember watching some RTÉ election day punditry in years gone by when Willie O’Dea was being interviewed from his Limerick constituency. He topped the poll by a whopping majority, yet rather than be congratulated by his fellow party member Dermot Ahern who was in the studio, the former Foreign Minister gave out to him for not manipulating his loyal voters to make sure a second FF candidate also got a seat.

People should be able to vote for the candidate they want – it’s not rocket science, although as far as election methods go, PR:STV does a decent enough impression and it is totally unnecessary.

For me, the practise of parties running multiple candidates in the same constituency is almost as undemocratic as first past the post. The principal benefit of PR is meant to derive from the fact that voters choose an alternative ideology to their first one, yet with our brand of STV, most of those who vote FF or FG with their first pick will tend to also use it for their second. And to those who say “What if a they don’t like any of the other candidates?” I give this simple answer : “You are free not to offer a second preference”.

All of which means that RTÉ’s truncated scenario is actually more ideal. Two, possibly three, seats should be the maximum in any area. So rather than having 39 constituencies many with 4 or 5 to produce 155 TDs, why not have all 2- and 3- seat ones in around 50 (with a stipulation that no party may run more than one member in each) to produce around 150 TDs or less?

Well it’s not as though my post is going to change the process, but I do believe it should be up for debate. I sense a degree of smugness from general opinion that our system is democratic while the British one is not and if that’s the consensus, and I reckon it should be challenged for two reasons : 1) Do we have to judge everything we do by comparing it to what they do?, and 2) while no method of voting is 100% ideal, I think we can do better than our current brand of PR:STV.

One final point – I really, really want someone to explain to me why I’m wrong, and no doubt someone can. I thought someone was going to make a cogent defense in a twitter thread yesterday but they stopped replying. JLP

#IrishMediaWatch #GE20 : RTE 9oc News Wed 15.01.20

Mr Varadkar said he was very concerned about the case of a man who was seriously injured after the tent he was sleeping in was removed from the banks of the Grand Canal by an industrial vehicle. 

Housing issue dominates first day of election campaign
Paul Cunningham RTÉ.ie

Now that #GE20 is underway I’m planning to keep an eye on the national media outlets to see how they are covering the campaign trail, just to see how balanced the coverage is. For this first installment I have to say things were better than I expected.

On RTÉ’s Nine O’clock news Wednesday, the election featured third in their running order although the piece was related to the second story, about a homeless man who was badly injured by an industrial vehicle which was cleaning a canal area and apparently didn’t know the man was still in his makeshift tent.

This provided a segué into their election coverage as Leo Varadkar was questioned about it on the campaign trail, and in his remarks he suggested a statement from the Lord Mayor of Dublin was appropriate. In response, Micheál Martin accused the Taoiseach of politicising the tragedy since the Mayor is currently from Fianna Fáil.

After watching the quotes from the two men I thought “this is typical – on a classic progressive issue here’s the two Civil War parties finding a way to argue over anything BUT the search for real solutions.”. But to be a little fair to our national broadcaster, for this topic they did at least broaden the scope of opinion.

We also heard from Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who outlined his party’s plans to allocate actual money to address the problem of homelessness by way of improved social housing. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s all very well saying what you;d do if your party held a majority in the Dáil, but the odds of that are slim and none.

Eamonn Ryan of the Greens also chimed in, saying that this was a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Finally Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin appeared more interested in having a pop at RTÉ (re exclusion from debates, something I’d agree with her on if that were the topic) rather than comment on the situation at hand, although it is very possible that the clip was selectively edited.

So no progressive opinion in this piece, although Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn was interviewed for his opinion on the unfortunate homeless man.

VERDICT

As far as I’m concerned, any kind of election coverage that looks for opinion beyond the “Big Two” parties is an achievement by the Irish corporate media. I’ll give them 6 out of 10 for this piece – I wonder will anyone score higher between now and February 8? JLP

The “discussions” about a date for #GE20 took longer than the campaign will

Saturday, February 8. Just a few weeks for the Republic to discuss the issues of the day and vote for representatives in what will be the 33rd Dáil. Absolutely shocking.

Traditionally it is the sitting Taoiseach who gets to set the date, and I have no problem with this. But let’s be clear on what has actually happened in recent weeks – Leo Varadkar was consulting heavily with the so-called leader of the opposition Micheál Martin over the timing of the election.

Why? Because they have been in a virtual coalition government, that’s why. The official terminology is “confidence and supply” but the reality is that by abstaining on votes for legislation, Fianna Fáil have effectively been supporting Varadkar’s agenda. Now we are suddenly expected to see them as rivals yet again, while those who are actually offering a real alternative to the electorate are left on the outside.

Then there’s our system of voting on these shores. In my opinion, the “PR:STV” method we employ, while it includes the words “proportional representation” in its title and thus creates the illusion of being inclusive, is actually anything but.

In my opinion, offering voters the opportunity to choose a second option* does appear democratic, UNTIL you realise that most constituencies have the leading parties running multiple candidates. If you voted Fianna Fáil number 1, chances are you will also vote them number 2 if you have the chance. So, much like the infamous “first past the post” system used in the UK, the non-establishment parties are generally shut out.

What I would prefer is for something like a merger between the two systems. Currently there are 158 seats. Rather than 3-, 4- and 5- seat constituencies, I would have 158 x 1 seat ones (actually I’d prefer fewer TDs, maybe 150 or less). THEN we can use a simple PR method of voting where there is infinitely less confusion over counts, surpluses and transfers, plus we know for sure that over 50% of voters chose the winner. And to be clear – although I favour progressive candidates, should we employ this method and the FF/FG duopoly still prevailed, I could hardly complain about it, could I.

Anyway, that is of course more of a technical matter – what lies ahead right now is a shortened election campaign, with the ridiculous posters already going up on lamp posts within 24 hours of the announcement being made.

I’m going to do my best to follow the “campaign trail” as best as I can over the coming weeks and see what kind of promises these people will be making (if any) plus how the Irish media is covering it all. JLP

* – yes I know we can also vote for 3,4 and 5 etc but seriously, how critical are those choices when it comes to your ballot being counted?

“Why does Fine Gael need Fianna Fáil’s votes?” – A BBC explainer of Ireland’s “virtual coalition” government

The election could be held within a month, analysts suggest.

Varadkar and Martin to meet amid election speculation – BBC.com

Some, nay many, may scoff at my using the BBC as a source for my post on Irish politics, but our mainstream media here is so complicit in the goings on at the very top that I feel it actually helps us to be reminded every so often in black and white terms.exactly how our government has been run for the past few years.

Why does Fine Gael need Fianna Fáil’s votes?

The results of the Irish general election in May 2016 failed to secure Fine Gael a majority government.

To form a government – a process which took more than two months – Fine Gael sought a confidence-and-supply agreement with opposition party Fianna Fáil.

Both parties are electoral rivals.

But the agreement has seen Fianna Fáil facilitate the passage of four budgets by the minority administration.

This agreement was extended in December 2018 for one more year, which ensured a general election could not be held before 2020.

Just to tack on my personal commentary, their so-called ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement took two months to thrash out because the result of the 2016 election posed a very real threat to the Civil War parties’ duopoly on Irish government. Either party could have formed a majority coalition were they able to persuade enough parties to go with them, yet as it turned out they could only do a deal with each other.

This to all intents and purposes is a coalition government, yet since they need the general public to believe they are mortal enemies as opposed to basically the same party, they conjured up this “confidence and supply” concept to prolong the illusion.

All of which results in the general assumption that Micheál Martin, despite being a prominent member of the blatantly corrupt Ahern/Cowen Celtic Tiger era, is effectively Taoiseach in waiting.

Unless all those keen to break the stranglehold of the “electoral rivals” on Irish government decide to show up on election day, that is. JLP

Record-breaking hospital waiting lists left until late in RTÉ News broadcast, with little or no discussion #IrishMediaWatch

“The most frustrating part is that we know how to solve this problem: increase staffing and bed capacity, expand community care, and get going with the Sláintecare reforms. Instead, the HSE continues to enforce its rigid recruitment controls, starving hospitals and community services of the staff they need. Our members are rightly appalled by the conditions they are forced to work and care for patients in.”

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha
Trolley overcrowding 9% worse than any other year

To be clear from the outset, this is not a post about the Irish health service. I will do them from time to time on this site, but what I m more interested in is the coverage by the Irish Media, and that is my focus today, specifically that of RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock News on Thursday, January 2, 2020.

And before I get to that particular episode, I should probably make my feelings known about RTÉ in general. Of course I don’t have a problem with the existence of public service broadcaster, but I do believe that the Irish one is, shall we say, far from a shining example of how one should be organised. I am opposed to the continued charging of a license fee and I feel RTÉ tends to approach broadcasting from a perspective of what I call “elitist group-think”.

But all of that said, even I can’t complain about their lead story on their primetime (lower case ‘p’ so as not to be confused with their current affairs programme with an upper case) news show leading off with news of the untimely passing of Marian Finucane. She was well respected both inside and outside Montrose and this was definitely news to be leading off with even if wasn’t on RTÉ.

That said, I still have issues with the sequencing of stories on this particular half-hour broadcast. After an extensive report which chronicled Finucane’s career, there then followed coverage the Australian bush fires, talks in the north on the resumption of the Stormont Assembly, and the appointment of Hillary Clinton as ambassador of Queen’s University, all before the commercial break.

When they returned, there then followed a further segment on Finucane where anchor Eileen Dunne interviewed a former colleague. Personally I feel this was unnecessary. There will no doubt be several tributes on the network in the coming weeks and that would be the time for such interviews.

I feel that time could have been allotted to a more intensive discussion on a report released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which offered alarming statistics. Instead when they did get to the issue all they could fit in were brief quotes from representatives from the INMO and the Irish Patient’s Association (essentially saying “the numbers are bad”) as well as one from Minister for Health Simon Harris (essentially saying “when you look at it another way, the numbers aren’t so bad”).

Normally I am annoyed when an important topic such as this is covered with soundbytes from politicians representing just the government and the “opposition”, which these days is technically Fianna Fáil even though they are in what I call a “virtual coalition” with Fine Gael. But this report didn’t even have that.

In an ideal world, the Progressive viewpoint should always be heard when the topic is the public health service, as this is one of the movement’s main priorities. But even talking points from one of the so-called “principle left-wing” parties such as Sinn Féin and Labour would have done in my opinion. For the record, the piece on the RTÉ website follows a similar vein.

Maybe I’m alone in wanting the full range of debate on key national issues when it comes to our national broadcaster? But I think not.