It’s hard to explain just what life is like here to those abroad – because it’s beyond belief. Better to be in any other country in the free world, than to be at home during the pandemic.
Ireland in the time of Covid is a totalitarian state. One of the only nations on earth more restricted than us is Eritrea, known as the most repressive country in the world.
The Irish Government has only one, brutal, strategy – full lockdown. A year on, past the acute stage of the emergency, it’s disproportionate, causing profound and lasting social and economic harms, and is against WHO advice. It’s inhumane.
There is no plan to take us out of lockdown or to even ease the toughest of restrictions. It’s house arrest with no parole in sight.
While the rest of the world is vaccinating and opening up, we’re lagging behind and tightening restrictions. The public is expected to take the brunt of the painfully slow vaccine roll-out.
Other countries make reasonable concessions to continue some kind of quality of life – percentage limits or outdoor dining. We stay in lockdown until there’s another lockdown.
We look on while England announces it will open beer gardens next month; we were amazed to see New York taverns open - albeit with an earlier closing time - on St Patrick’s Day.
In Ireland, we spent the national holiday at home in our houses, alone. Meeting another person is banned. The unhinged message from NPHET on Paddy's Day was: "Risk having one drink outside with someone and you’ll die."
We have consistently locked down harder, longer, and earlier than any other country. Nothing has been open at all in 2021 so far. The country has been closed for five and a half months of the past six months.
The last time anyone ate in a restaurant was December 23, when they were open for two weeks before closing up again.
Everything is shut, cities are dead, spirits are broken. The traditional pub has been closed for a full year. All bars and restaurants are closed.
Half of them face permanent closure. All shops are shut, apart from essential retail such as grocery or pharmacy. Click and collect is banned – only click and deliver is allowed, further hammering businesses.
Nonsensical rules-for-the-sake-of-rules include dry cleaning being permitted, but not on-site clothing repairs or alterations.
Hairdressers have been closed all this year so far, with some vague hope of perhaps being able to get a hair-cut in mid-Summer.
We cannot travel outside our 5kilometre zones. We are only permitted to leave our houses for exercise, or if we have a “reasonable excuse”. We cannot have any visitors in our homes. We cannot meet anyone outdoors for a social reason.
We are permitted to meet one person from one other household outdoors for exercise only. Protests are banned; passport applications halted.
Any breaches are severely punished, under various new laws. A man in Co Clare was jailed this week for participating in a group boxing session out in the woods. Anyone who leaves the country without a mandated reason faces fines of €500, soon due to be increased to €2,000.
Why do this to a nation? It’s under the banner of “good intentions” but really, it’s zealotry. Even considering the serious and extraordinary circumstances, it’s absurd and wrong.
Our leaders have tunnel vision about Covid – all other health, economic and social concerns have been recklessly parked.
It’s now clear there is no parity of esteem between mental and physical health in Ireland, even though both come under public health. Psychologists say the enduring nature of endless lockdowns is causing trauma, defined as “too much, for too long”. Dr. Martin Feeley - the consultant who lost his role as clinical director in the HSE for speaking out about it - said: "The mood of the country is depressed."
Those of us stuck here only wish we had gotten out while we still could.
Yet outside of Ireland, people don’t seem to fully realize just how utterly shuttered the entire country is, has been, and will be for some time to come.
In my view, the political response here is a human rights crisis. Every freedom has been removed, for endless months now, with no other solutions considered.
We have veered into safetyism: unwilling to make any safety trade-offs demanded by moral or practical concerns. We have shut down all lives, in the pursuit of saving some lives from Covid. It’s a strategy akin to closing roads to stop traffic accidents.
Our pathological over-reaction is a pyrrhic victory. In the name of "beating a pandemic", we are living in tyranny.
* Larissa Nolan is an award-winning journalist and commentator, with a focus on social and cultural politics. She has worked in national journalism in Ireland for more than 20 years. Based in Dublin, she is a regular contributor on radio and television talk shows and public debating panels.