Suppressing opinion is to eliminate discussion. And that’s the anathema of democracy. But there are times when shutting up some opinions might be no bad thing.

The trend over the past 12 months in debating the rights and wrongs of trying to deal with a global pandemic has been invariably turned into playing the man, not the ball.

If science and medicine was applied unhindered to tackling COVID-19, the pandemic would be smothered. In a world controlled by politics and discussion forums, it’s impossible.

Politics has muddied science and medicine since the very beginning. Politicians run countries, not scientists or medics. We cannot exist without care for economics or respect for culture.

You could argue that strong political leadership speeds up that process too

However, let’s imagine an ideal world where ideology and economics were of less consequence. If scientists and medics wielded more power, in my opinion the pandemic would have been brought under control. You could argue that strong political leadership speeds up that process too.

Objectively, by its very definition, the scientific results of anything should not require the balance of contrarianism from the flat-Earth society.

Yet the greatest pandemic to paralyse the globe in a century has managed to facilitate the questioning of science and medicine by vested political interests alongside the predictable fringe lunatics. The result has been the continuing waves, mutations and sadly the rising death toll across the world.

Political leadership should not be confused with government leadership

It’s very difficult to see it right now, but maybe history will be kind to the political leadership which Ireland has shown in comparison to some countries when all of this is over. Political leadership should not be confused with government leadership, for the approach to tackling the pandemic has had mostly cross-party in Dáil Éireann.

That is not to say, there isn’t profound frustration and angst among the public they serve. In accepting that the “health v economy” debate has hindered the elimination of the virus across most of the world, it is regrettable in hindsight that it became so muddled, noisy and divisive.

There is simply no other game in town

And it is playing out very ugly online where a global pandemic is being used selfishly for political point scoring. In the broad scheme of things whether we agree with them or not, NPHET and the Government are who we need to look to for advice and guidance right now.

There is simply no other game in town. But it is difficult not to take notice of the destructive and unseemly contribution which online discourse is playing at this horrific time for us all. While for the most part, there may be cross-party co-operation in navigating the country through this crisis, it’s far from the case on public forums where government ministers and prominent medical experts are subjected to the vilest form of hate speech. It is vital that politicians and high-profile medical officials making decisions on our behalf are held to account.

But it is time political parties take proper action against their online cheerleaders who don’t hide their political affiliations, even those afraid to identify themselves by name. Journalists reporting the news and not willing to row in are also seen as fair game for vile abuse.

Free speech is nothing if it is hijacked by hate mobs

Why is this important? What’s said “online” is the most unreliable of bell weathers but media, doctors and politicians are still quite vulnerable to being influenced by the online mob who – in blatantly abusing the privilege of free speech – serve to undermine strong political leadership and sound medical advice at a time when we need it like never before. Free speech is nothing if it is hijacked by hate mobs.

Spring greetings

February, you look aesthetically fabulous with your perfect 28 days divided equally among the seven days of the week. Hope you turn out better company than our last month, January.