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Five post-Covid changes our communities need

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

At this embryonic stage of re-opening, talking about life after Covid is a bit premature. If anything goes wrong, we’re looking at reverting to full restrictions and the prospect is hard to bear. However, the crisis has given us a chance to stop and reflect on the type of country we want when it’s over, so what should we be aiming for?
Here are five things we should be considering to make our communities better places post-coronavirus.
First up: Shop local. Eerily empty streets have shown us the dystopian future that might await our town centres if we continue to buy from overseas multinationals instead of local retailers.
Behind many closed shop doors in Mayo are the dreams and livelihoods of many local families, most who give generously to fundraisers, festivals and community groups. Yet we send nearly €3 billion of our money overseas annually for the sake of saving a few shekels.
Not only do large online companies promoting environmentally damaging fast fashion fail to support communities like ours, but several have also came under fire for insisting employees work in close contact throughout the Covid crisis without adequate safety measures. Are these really the types of companies we want to be supporting?
Secondly, insist on services, not charity. While the generosity of the Irish people has come to the fore during Covid like never before, it is startling to note just how heavily the State depends on charities – and in turn, our €1 billion annually in donations – to deliver essential services.
The most recent database available on the Charities Regulator website shows 30,303 registered charities in Ireland, which at the very least, suggests some avoidable duplication. It’s not straightforward; charities vary wildly and there are strong arguments in favour of charities delivering certain services. But when it comes to things like mental-health supports, cancer care, heart disease, hospice services, supports for those with disabilities, it is at least worth asking, why are we subsidising our health service, in particular, in its failure to meet these basic needs across the country?
Thirdly, get off the hamster wheel. Enforced lockdown is not pleasant, and many households are struggling for various reasons. For others, the slower pace of life has been a blessing in disguise, meaning we can breathe and focus on ourselves, instead of working all hours, commuting, cramming for deadlines, running to events, meetings, classes, training and other commitments.
It has led to a period of rest that has allowed creativity to flourish, families to bond, and some self-care and re-evaluation to happen. Maybe when this is over, we can learn to say no a bit more, and continue to focus on the important things instead of reverting to the rat race.
Fourth: reward our essential workers. The air has been thick with platitudes acknowledging our healthcare staff, and to a lesser extent, the other workers that have exposed themselves to risk to keep the wheels turning, including (but not limited to) retail workers, couriers, post office staff, utility providers, cleaners, pharmacists, bankers and the media. Many of these professions are poorly paid, despite just how much we have traditionally relied upon them.
Clapping in the street will not pay the bills for our nurses, and sentimental posts on social media will not ensure our retail workers can afford to own their own home or afford things like health insurance. So, the next time we pass a picket line, it might be worth asking ourselves just how much their efforts are really worth to us.
Lastly, fight for fairness. Flags are flying about the austere future ahead. Having emerged (or in the case of rural Ireland, started to emerge) from the crash of a decade ago, the sting of injustices perpetuated during austerity from 2011 onwards is still sharp. This time around, are we really going to stand by and watch the vulnerable targeted, and essential services being cut in the face of state wastage and the prioritisation of the wealthier classes?
It’s hard to mobilise and protest in the face of overwhelming cuts and worries, or when all your energy is consumed with trying to survive. This time it might be different, but now is our chance to do better.
Once we can leave our houses, that is!