Paul Healy’s Week


Revisiting Covid

It is right – although it will be harrowing for many – that public inquiries into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic are happening.

In the UK, a wide-ranging inquiry is already underway, its brief to look into the British Government’s preparations and response to the pandemic.

The row over the leaking of thousands of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages is a distraction, although certainly their content gives some insight into the mindset of some politicians (and some advisors) during the crisis.

Here, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged that the Government will establish a public inquiry later this year.

The reason I say these inquiries will be harrowing is self-evident: in many instances they will trigger memories and emotions relating to what people experienced.

I have no doubt too that any large-scale renewed attention on the pandemic – which claimed millions of lives worldwide – will dominate social media, the discourse inevitably often vicious and vitriolic.

Covid-19 was horrendous. Mistakes, perhaps monumental ones, were made. The fact that so many people died alone, without the comforting presence of loved ones, is heartbreaking. The pain, loneliness and grief experienced by millions of people hurt at the time, and will continue to take a toll in the future. Some of this could have been avoided. There is a real sense that governments reacted too slowly at first, then made errors of judgement when the scale of the threat became apparent. Some people feel that governments overreacted. All views need to be examined.

There is justifiable anger. We are entitled to hold to account any public figures guilty of hypocritically demanding one course of action from the public, while behaving differently themselves. But, that apart, I wouldn’t like to see these inquiries evolve into ‘blame games’. It’s easy to criticise politicians, but this really was uncharted territory. The vast majority of politicians, scientists, medical experts, etc. were doing their best, in extraordinarily challenging circumstances.

But it is incredibly important that we find out why certain decisions were taken, across a range of fronts. For example, was there conscious age discrimination by the authorities? Were other groups victims of discrimination? The real benefit of these inquiries ought to be the lessons they will teach us, which in turn can positively inform our collective response to  any future pandemics.


Graeme v Gary

Sometimes I wonder how I managed without Sky Sports for so long…

I’d resisted it for one simple reason: the fear of ending up watching Doncaster Rovers v Rochdale on a Friday night.

I worried about being vulnerable to the beast…that over-exposure to its incomparable menu of sporting temptations might turn me into a ‘couch potato’ – and reduce my productivity, not to mention quality time with family.

Eventually, resistance gave way to submission – and subscription. Mostly, I have managed to keep the beast at bay. I watch the odd live Premier League game, and record a few others. The weekend golf is usually great. (Of course you have to be vigilant, as the beast is very cunning. It’s not all about live football: one night you’re drawn in by a Rugby League game, the next by an old George Foreman documentary).

The lads at Sky have pulled off an audacious miracle, seemingly convincing millions of people that their live games are worthy of an hour-long preview, as well as extensive analysis after the final whistle. Meanwhile, the terrific Jeff Stelling and his cast of ex-players (‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’) have somehow drawn us in to watching them react as live goals go in…a bit like Gogglebox without any footage.

I enjoy the after-match debates. On Sunday, there was a cracker (a word Jeff would like), as Graeme Souness waded into a shell-shocked Gary Neville following Liverpool’s remarkable 7-0 win over Manchester United.

Souness and Roy Keane had been quite diplomatic with one another – these warriors are so alike, they often draw their horns in when sharing a studio – but when Jamie Carragher and Neville arrived, club loyalties took over (Souness and Carragher are ex-Liverpool players, Keane and Neville ex-Manchester United).

The gloves came off, a fired up Souness goading an irritated Neville (who I thought was talking sense). For once, Keane was reduced to bemused spectator role. Carragher laughed slightly nervously. It was tense, riveting, entertaining. Just what the Sky beast likes!


GAA bombshell!

There were unconfirmed reports over the weekend that a leading GAA team – identity currently being withheld pending legal advice – may have lined out for a National Football League match as selected the previous Friday.

The astonishing claim is that all 15 players announced as ‘the team’ by their manager on Friday actually took to the field for their weekend fixture.

One stunned supporter we spoke to said: “I was sitting in the stand with a few friends, like we normally do…we were all buzzing to hear the various changes to the teamsheet which had gone online on Friday. I had the match programme and two pens ready. You can imagine our shock when it emerged there were no changes and that the team which had been announced a few days before was actually playing, as selected. Incredible stuff”.

The fan said he hoped this was a one-off. “Look, supporters are creatures of habit. We are used to seeing the team on a Friday and then being made aware of wholesale changes – or a few at least – just before throw-in. This experience was quite upsetting”.

A spokesperson for the County Board in question is reported to have told local media there had been an inexplicable error and that lessons will be learnt.

Meanwhile, the PA Announcer at the venue in question, devastated at not being required to announce changes in personnel, is said to be “very confused, but stable”.