From top: Cork County Council meeting on March 23 with representatives practising social distancing; Dan Boyle
There should not be a pecking order in these things. Most of us are in awe of the work being done, and the risks being faced, by our healthcare workers.
Similarly those workers in food retail, often the lowest paid of workers, have exhibited how essential they are to us in a time of crisis.
I would like to give a particular shout out to public sector workers. The latest phase of the shutdown has seen the suspension of over the counter services at City and County councils.
The public still can, and will, be met through appointment. Services are being prioritised but with the intent to see them being delivered to meet the growing need.
Many public sector workers are not particularly well paid either. They may possess a greater job security than other workers, but at times like these their importance to the social contract comes to the fore.
Local authority workers sometimes suffer from poor perception from the public. The individual at the counter is seen as the bureaucracy. An impediment to prevent progress, indifferent to all things human or humane.
As an elected councillor I have long known this to be a lazy stereotype, but stereotypes have been known to stick.
What has surprised me has been to see elected representatives being listed as essential workers.
When I think of the three categories of workers I’ve listed here I’m glad that there isn’t a pecking order, because none of us public representatives would come anywhere close to what these workers are doing and achieving.
If there was a category of being of potential use then we might sit more comfortably there. Those of us who meet, sit and talk, occasionally to think, can feel especially useless at times of crisis.
By necessity decision making channels become more narrow, responsibility become better focused on those with specified expertise.
There is a role in ensuring that resources are made available and seeing they are being fairly distributed.
The actual role is to act as a conduit to connect those who wish to help with those who have a need.
This week I had the opportunity of linking of someone providing quantities of a much needed product, for free, with a group providing a service to those most in need.
My role was peripheral, the least important part of a chain that included two hugely important social actors – the generous provider of the product, and the service provider giving service to those in our society who are excluded far too often. It was good to be able to make a contribution, however small.
We seem to be rediscovering things that have been hidden deep within ourselves. A sense of us. A willingness to abandon much of what we had treasured but have since found to be useless in a crisis.
There will be conversations after this. These will be critical in tone and raised in expectation. There will be much to repair, socially as well as economically. But there is also much that we can leave behind.
Like those false of Gods of consumerism who have let us down badly when our need has been greatest. We have learned that the simplest of pleasures can represent the greatest of wealth.
I don’t want to be a hero. I don’t ever expect to be one. We are well served with the heroes we have.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Piv via Cork County Council