Twitter tantrums

On the Edge

EGO EMBARRASSMENT In January, at the height of the post-Christmas Covid-19 crisis, Stephen Donnelly queried why Department of Health tweets weren’t mentioning him more, and requested a comparison with the Department of Education’s tweets about Minister Simon Harris.  Pic: merrionstreet.ie


On The Edge
Áine Ryan

MAYBE it is because I have just had a break from the media monster. Or maybe it is because I turned off all my apps, unplugged all the devices that rule my daily life and listened to the pulse of the natural world again – birds, singing, newborn lambs bleating, waves playing along the shoreline.   
Surely the latest story about our Minister for Health cannot be true?
Stephen, we are in the middle of a bloody pandemic and you asked a top civil servant to explain why you were not mentioned in Department of Health tweets.
Unfortunately, it is Monday, April 12, as I write and not April Fools Day. April 1 didn’t even incite us to gallows humour this year.  
That is because we are all too exhausted: waiting on our vaccines; listening to daily figures, still; being scared about ‘rare event’ blood clots; Brazilian variants; post-Easter surges; clusters in schools; breaking the five-kilometre rule to walk on a deserted beach.
The irony is that I had only recently decided to develop a more empathetic attitude to our Minister for Health. After all, who would want to be him? To upgrade former Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s ‘Angola’ analogy when he was in charge of that portfolio, that department must be like a scene from Mad Max with Mel Gibson chairing all those emergency fire-fighting, U-turn meetings.         
So, to get to my point, The Irish Times has reported that Minister Donnelly queried why he was not being mentioned in tweets posted on his department’s Twitter account. Apparently, internal records show that his civil servants completed an analysis of the offending lack of tweets in mid-January for the Minister. This was in the middle of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and there was not one mention of him.  
However, the analysis showed that other individuals and State agencies had been mentioned 78 times. For example, Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan was referred to in 21 tweets whilst Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) and its members were also regularly mentioned.
Just to be scientific about the ‘major crisis’ (my apostrophes), the analysts made a graph of the tweets made by the Department of Further and Higher Education where – coincidentally – the last Minster for Health, Simon Harris is now ensconced. And, oh dear, Simon Harris appeared in ten more tweets than any other person or entity.
Fortunately, the situation at the Department of Health was rectified after Robert Watt,  Interim General Secretary, raised the issue in a ‘private and confidential’ email with its Head of Communications, Deirdre Watters, The Irish Times reveals.
“Deirdre, the Minister completed an analysis of the department’s Twitter feed. There is no reference to the Minister, as you can see. We need to discuss. Thank you, Robert.”  
However, a spokesperson for the department has since told The Irish Times that Minister Donnelly is now happy with the handling of his tweets.
Phew!
What a relief for the families of the 4,785 people who died from Covid-19 related deaths in the republic since the pandemic hit last year. How consoling that must be for all those people who contracted the virus in our hospitals, particularly those who had to be intubated in ICU wards.
Beyond-exhausted nurses and doctors who are finishing 12-hour shifts this morning must be breathing a collegial sigh of relief that their Minister will no longer have to spend his time counting tweet mentions.   
Forgive my anger, but doesn’t this this little Twitter Tantrum expose the basic problems with our health system? Shouldn’t our newly appointed Secretary General – whose substantial salary caused much media discussion recently – be busy with more urgent maters of State than a minister’s fragile ego over the onward trajectory of his tweets?
Time to get over yourself, Minister Donnelly, and start counting vaccines instead of tweets.