A prominent figure in Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry warned me a couple of months ago that Stormont politicians would one day somehow turn Covid-19 into an Orange and Green virus.
didn’t really believe him, though the Bobby Storey funeral was obviously a hugely divisive issue that stretched the DUP-Sinn Fein relationship to breaking point.
But last week, as the two parties disagreed over a two-week extension of coronavirus restrictions, my man rang me to say, without a scintilla of satisfaction, “I told you so”.
Even though the extra fortnight will hit him hard in the pocket, he reckoned it was the least worst option.
Now, I’m not a politician, a scientist or a medical expert, but I know who I would tend to believe when it comes to advising on the best way to handle the coronavirus crisis – and it isn’t the folks on the hill.
Quite incredibly, just when I thought its handling of Covid-19 couldn’t get any worse, the Executive managed to outdo itself and prove me wrong.
Last week’s row over whether or not to extend the four-week restrictions was a disgrace. It was hard to see why it took so long to come to a decision over a matter of life and death.
Okay, not everyone sees the way forward the same as they try to balance health issues against the economy.
But four of the five parties in the power-sharing government wanted to follow the medical and scientific advice and add a couple of weeks to the mini-lockdown.
The DUP, meanwhile, was implacably opposed to any extension and even used the cross-community petition of concern veto mechanism to block it. In the end, the compromise was a one-week extension similar to what the DUP’s Diane Dodds had proposed earlier in the week.
Sinn Fein was against the idea but didn’t scupper it, as the party could have done, and the SDLP abstained in the vote, which was carried just hours before the restrictions were due to be lifted.
The debates within the Executive, which were apparently rancorous at times, were an inexcusable slap in the teeth for the thousands of business owners and workers who wanted clarity about what was happening.
But if you turn the clock back to last month’s announcement by Arlene Foster about the four-week circuit-breaker lockdown, you can see that the warning signs were already there.
She insisted the restrictions would end on Friday and though she didn’t actually add the phrase ‘come hell or high water’, it was the very definite inference contained in her statement.
There was no mention of a possible review of the shutdown, just an assertion that Friday the 13th would signal the end of the curbs. No ifs, no buts.
Everyone I spoke to wondered how the first minister could be so sure that a four-week shutdown would be enough to regain the control over the virus.
For the only certainty about coronavirus is that there’s no certainty about what it’s going to do next.
I think that many people in the hospitality industry, like my contact, were bracing themselves for an extension of the shutdown and probably could have lived with it for another fortnight, as Donal Doherty, the owner of Harry’s Shack in Portstewart, so skilfully articulated on UTV Live on Thursday.
He said he didn’t think it would be right to reopen at a time when coronavirus deaths were soaring, adding that his brother-in-law, who works in a Covid ward, said Altnagelvin Area Hospital had been inundated with cases.
So where are we now? God only knows. With our hospitals becoming overwhelmed and the number of infections and deaths increasing, there seems little doubt the experts are right: we can’t just let things slide.
Some people insist that we will just have to live with coronavirus, but that attitude surely means we are destined to live with more deaths.
The truth, unpalatable as it is, appears to be that the virus is winning the war. Although spirits have been lifted by the news that a vaccine is maybe just around the corner, let’s not carried away before it has been approved by the health professionals.
No matter about the rest of the world, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Executive’s action, or rather inaction, has dented any confidence there was in the community in its ability to cope.
The only positive thing that can be said is that the Executive did finally reach a consensus of sorts, even though there was hardly a meeting of minds. Naomi Long (left) clearly came close to quitting and Nichola Mallon talked of her embarrassment at being part of it all.
At one point during the stand-off, some people were even talking about a collapse of the Executive, which of course could have led to the reimposition of direct rule from London.
Just think what that would have meant – a return to bonkers Boris getting his hands back on the tiller or maybe even his partner Carrie.
And that would have been a real horror movie.