Postcard From Derry

A reader in Northern Ireland has been in touch with some cheery news: the people of Northern Ireland haven’t succumbed to Coronaphobia. Face masks still aren’t mandatory over there. And you don’t even need a passport, just some ID.

The atmosphere in Derry is very close to normal now. People are chatting and friendly, and even though cafes, etc. have fewer seats, the ones that are open are quite busy.

Last week there was a brief flurry of mask wearing, but it seems to have died down. About a third of people wear them in Marks and Spencer Food (that middle class virtue signalling is everywhere!) and a much lower percentage elsewhere. Staff in (NI) aren’t wearing masks, but south of the Border (e.g. in a really good cafe called Tank and Skinny’s), they do have to. The South seems to be going backwards very badly, having initially been getting better.

Talking to people here, there is a great deal of scepticism about the disease and the response. I get the impression from Lockdown Sceptics and my friends in England that the atmosphere is a lot more Stasi-like over there, so we are all very glad to be here!

There are a few other local peculiarities which help.

The history of the Troubles mean that the police are very wary of giving any excuse for a riot, so they were pretty light touch even during the worst of the lockdown. The Troubles also mean people are much less trusting of the media and the Government anyway, especially on the Nationalist side of the fence.

There is also a sense in Ireland, North and South, that people are entitled to their view (apart from that obnoxious and tiny minority which has caused most of the trouble over the years), which doesn’t come over in the media at all, and does make daily life a lot less Orwellian than, say, undergraduate studies at Oxford…

On the downside, the public sector is basically completely inert here just like everywhere else.

As well as that, the economic impact of the lockdown is increasingly visible. It is clear many of the shops, cafes and restaurants won’t be re-opening, possibly ever, and from my own perspective trying to get a new tax consultancy business off the ground, not being able to meet people face to face has not been good news.

It’s hardly the biggest problem caused by the lockdown, but I suspect in aggregate it will hit new businesses disproportionately and so hamper the recovery. Certainly, from my own experience things were going very well up to lockdown, and then went into the deep freeze and have been slow to come back out again. Many people thought in June we would be back to normal by September, but we all now think it’s going to be the New Year before the nonsense stops.

Anyway, overall things are about as good as they can be here, and if people wanted to visit somewhere in the UK with nice scenery, nice people and the same very little to do as everywhere else, they could do a lot worse!

By 30 July 2020