ACCORDING to Mark Twain, There are only two types of speakers: “The nervous and the liars.” How true that statement is depends very much on the views of the reader! During the pandemic we have been subjected to many public statements which might or might not bear Mark Twain out. Two in particular stand out for me.
Former Health Minister in the south of Ireland, Simon Harris, knows a thing or two on how to handle the media. Away back in June last year it was announced that he had to wait three days for the result of a Coronavirus test. He remained isolated in his home from the Thursday after he took the test, Zoomed into a cabinet meeting next day and remained at home until Monday when he was given the all-clear. This was at a time when there was concern about the time the time taken for swab results to come through. When the minister’s plight was reported the storm abated.
Just two months earlier in a radio interview Minister Harris was explaining why a vaccine might not be found for some time. “Remember this is coronavirus Covid-19 – that means that there have been 18 other Coronaviruses and I don’t think they have actually successfully found a vaccine for any,” he told listeners to the RTE2FM morning programme.
Later that day when Dr Holohan was asked about the minister's observations he told his audience that this was the seventh Coronavirus and the 19 referred to the year in which it had first occurred.
Minister Harris then published a video on twitter in which he said he had made “an awful boo-hoo”.
“Don’t ask me how or why; I can only presume it's a degree of cabin fever after being in this department on a very, very regular basis for the very last while - maybe a bit of sleep deprivation. I stupidly talked about there being 18 other coronaviruses, which of course, there isn't... I can be an awful old idiot at times.”
By contrast, when the former president of Ireland made what she described on The Late Late Show as “a big mistake” she only admitted it more than two years later. Her admission came after the BBC’s Panorama showed the magnitude of her error.
In February 2018 Princess Latifa of Dubai, one of some thirty children sired by the Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, tried to flee Dubai in a sailing yacht. As the yacht neared India it was raided and the princess captured. Initially it was thought that the raid was by pirates but Panorama confirmed that it was carried out by UAE commandos at the behest of the ruling Sheikh. News filtered out that the princess was living quietly in Dubai but some knew otherwise.
Mrs Robinson told The Late Late show last Friday that in December 2018 she was attending a conference in Marrakesh when she received a phone call from her friend, Haya, an ex-wife of the Dubai Sheikh. She was going on to Paris to attend another conference. She agreed to fly from Paris to Dubai on Saturday, December 15 to attend a lunch with Princess Latifa, who is a stepdaughter of Haya.
At the lunch Mrs Robinson sat next to Princess Latifa but she didn't speak directly to her as she believed her to suffer from bipolar disorder. She said: “And I didn’t really actually want to talk to her and increase the trauma over a nice lunch.”
After meeting the girl and posing with her for “proof of life” photographs, Mrs Robinson released a statement saying the princess was “a likeable young woman but clearly troubled, clearly needs the medical care that she is receiving” and her family “did not want her to endure any more publicity”.When Mary Robinson learned of the Panorama programme and was shown footage of Princess Latifa speaking on her smartphone and confirming that she was imprisoned, she had little option but to appear in it. She details how she was misled during a lunch with the royals in 2018 into believing Princess Latifa had bipolar disorder and needed psychological treatment following her traumatic escape.
“I was misled, initially by my good friend princess Haya, because she was misled,” Mrs Robinson said.
Explaining why she didn't enquire about the woman’s welfare, Ms Robinson said that she “didn’t know how to address somebody who was bipolar about their trauma”.
The Labour Party and the Workers' Party jointly nominated former senator Mary Robinson to be their candidate for President of Ireland at the 1990 presidential election. She left the presidency in 1997 shortly before her term was up to become UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She later joined The Elders, the “independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights,” becoming chairperson and continuing her friendship with Princess Haya of Dubai.
A common feature of the “mistakes” made by Simon Harris and Mrs Robinson has been the soft reaction by the Irish media. Harris displayed a total lack of knowledge four months into the pandemic, going on national radio giving out false information. However, his “silly me” approach gave him a free pass.
Robinson was elected as president of Ireland under the slogan,”The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.”
She has admitted to being naive but didn't go down Simon Harris “boo hoo” Road. She might now add that she has rocked the boat.