THE FIGHTING IRISH: Public service from the public

Mike Davis, Thursday, March 19, 2020 11:54 AM

Writing in the past about earthquakes I’ve railed against California’s policy of relying totally on professional emergency services.  People have been told basically ‘hoard toilet paper and wait to be dug out of the rubble.’  This is in stark contrast to countries such as Japan where the public is encouraged and trained to provide aid to neighbors.  It also ignores enormous capacities for self-organization.  

Who can forget the hundreds of boat owners – the ‘Cajun Navy’ – who spontaneously rushed to New Orleans after Katrina to rescue residents in drowned neighborhoods, or the ordinary people of Mexico City in the last big earthquake who dug their neighbors out of the rubble, drove the injured to hospitals, gave shelter to the homeless and cooked meals for firefighters.  In both of these cases when the state failed, citizens followed their best instincts and responded with cool generous courage.  Think what a mighty force resides in communal solidarity if encouraged, trained and given democratic leadership.

A highly contagious pandemic might seem an entirely different case, where good Samaritanism could even spread infections.  That at least is what most governments are telling their populations.  Stay cloistered and helpless until a vaccine arrives. But one country is defying the trend and mobilizing community as a weapon against the pandemic. Perhaps surprisingly, the country is Ireland, and here are two recent clippings from the Irish press.

* ‘Volunteers in Ireland have rallied on social media to provide support for the most vulnerable as the government ramps up plans to battle the spread of Covid-19. Thousands of Good Samaritans took to Twitter using the hashtag #Selfisolationhelp to offer assistance and run errands such as grocery shopping for those asked to self-isolate.’

*  “With the health service struggling, a request was made to the Irish people: be on call for Ireland. The Health Service Executive (HSE) asked “all healthcare professionals from all disciplines who are not already working in the public health service to register to be on call for Ireland.

“We will be creating extra hospital and care beds and will need extra hands to provide the care that’s needed. We need your help to meet the challenge that’s ahead. Maybe you aren’t a healthcare professional, maybe you’re studying to be one, or maybe you have other skills to offer or just want to volunteer to do your bit if needed. Hopefully we won’t need to call, and if we do, we may not need every one of you. But knowing you are there if we do will make all the difference.”

The heartfelt call to help the country and its people resonated with many– 24,000 people in just 24 hours, in fact.People from all walks of life, from healthcare workers to students to volunteers, put their hands up and offered their help.Minister for Health, Simon Harris, announced the figures with an emotional and hopeful post on Twitter where he said: “In the last 24 hours, 24,000 people have contacted [the HSE] responding to our call for help!”

Although the criminal shortage of protective masks in this country makes it more difficult to put volunteers in the field or tap into the retired ranks of medical professionals, the ould sod should be an inspiration.

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