Northern Ireland to close schools, pubs, restaurants due to coronavirus concerns – dpa international

Social distancing guidelines in St. Stephen's Green, a park in central Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Faced with rising novel coronavirus infection numbers, Northern Ireland will require restaurants and pubs to close for four weeks, the region’s First Minister Arlene Foster said on Wednesday.”There are increasing numbers of people requiring acute care in our hospitals and sadly we learned yesterday of the death of seven people from Covid-19,” Foster said, referring to the disease sometimes caused by the virus. Hairdressers and salons must also close for one month, though restaurants and pubs can offer takeaway or delivery services. The restrictions come into force from Friday. Schools will close for two weeks and people have been asked to avoid “unnecessary travel” and “work from home unless unable to do so.” Responding to the announcement, industry body Hospitality Ulster warned Foster’s administration of “redundancies across the sector” unless an “emergency financial package” is put together for affected businessses.

Ryanair loses court challenge to Ireland’s pandemic travel rules – dpa international

Irish tourism destination such as this beach on Achill, an Atlantic coast island, are mostly empty (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN —  Ryanair has endorsed a Friday ruling by Ireland’s High Court that the government’s pandemic-related travel measures are advisory rather than mandatory. Despite losing the case, the said airline it “welcomes” the decision as it “confirms there is no legal requirement for the current travel restrictions.” Backed by Aer Lingus, formerly Ireland’s state carrier, Ryanair sued the government in July over the guidelines, which it claimed were presented as “mandatory” and were imposed without parliamentary oversight. Opining that the measures are neither compulsory nor an abuse of power, Justice Garrett Simons said on Friday that “advice to avoid non-essential travel and to restrict movement on entry to the state is just that: advice.”

Ireland tightens pandemic-related curbs in capital Dublin – dpa international

Social distancing guidelines in St. Stephen's Green, a park in central Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s capital Dublin faces three weeks of tougher coronavirus-related restrictions than the rest the country, the government said on Friday, with indoor dining banned in restaurants and religious services prohibited. Announcing the measures, which take effect from midnight, Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheál Martin said they are needed as otherwise “Dublin could return to the worst stages of this crisis.” After conducting almost as many tests over the past two months as the preceding five, Ireland has since August seen a similar resurgence as elsewhere in Europe of new daily case numbers of the novel coronavirus. The Department of Health announced 253 new cases on Friday, almost half of them in Dublin, which is home to 1.4 million of the country’s 4.9 million people. Friday’s announcement means that Dublin follows cities such as Madrid and Reykjavik into tighter restrictions relative to elsewhere in their countries, with one of Europe’s longest pub shutdowns to be extended in the capital ahead of the rest of Ireland’s pubs reopening on Monday.

Irish police throw stick in spokes of alleged bicycle thief – dpa international

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DUBLIN — A man was arrested early on Saturday by Irish police investigating the theft of thousands of bicycles over the past year. According to a police statement, the arrest took place “following the search of a house in County Cavan [bordering Northern Ireland]” the previous day. Police said that the operation followed the discovery late last year of 116 stolen bicycles in a container in the capital Dublin. Police said they seized 13,000 euros (15,477 dollars) in cash and froze a further 122,500 euros held “in various bank accounts.” Gardaí, as Irish police are called, also found memory sticks “containing photographs of suspected stolen property, including bicycles.” Over 2,500 bicycles have been stolen across Ireland during the first half of the year, according to police records. There was a 40-per-cent jump in thefts in June, after the lifting of restrictions on movement related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Belfast terrorism probe hears of murky ‘agent provocateur – dpa international

The Free Derry Corner, marking the entrance to the Bogside, an Irish nationalist stronghold in the city (Simon Roughneen)

GALWAY — Defence lawyers representing six people charged with terrorism in Northern Ireland told a Belfast court on Monday that a British security forces “agent provocateur” played a role in the suspects’ arrests. The six, who appeared on video from a nearby police station due to concerns about spread of the novel coronavirus, are accused of membership of the “New” Irish Republican Army (IRA) and of planning terrorist attacks. “Did an MI5 agent organize and finance these meetings?” one of the lawyers asked, referring to a British spy agency.

Irish government reimposes some virus curbs on midlands region – dpa international

Hand sanitiser near the entrance of a church in Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A resurgence of coronavirus cases in parts of Ireland has prompted the government to stop residents of three adjoining counties from travelling elsewhere in the country for two weeks. Prime Minister Micheál Martin announced the curbs in a Friday evening press conference, saying that “over the past week, there have been a number of localised clusters, which are of serious concern.” The restrictions affect counties Laois and Offaly, as well as Kildare – a densely-populated county that is part of the commuter belt ringing capital Dublin. The almost 400,000 people living in three counties can only travel elsewhere in Ireland – which recorded a population of 4.76 million in the 2016 census – for work or “essential” purposes such as medical treatment. 

Push to ban books such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from schools in Ireland – dpa international

Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird on a bookshelf in a west of Ireland home (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A county council in Ireland is calling on the education ministry to review the school curriculum for books containing allegedly offensive language. The council in Meath, a county adjoining capital Dublin, in Ireland’s east, is petitioning the Department of Education and Skills to consider culling novels such as “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the latter a Pulitzer Prize-winning anti-racism parable. Citing conversations with mixed-race families, councillor Alan Lawes said on Friday that the books caused students to use “certain racial slurs” against classmates. “I don’t think 12-year-olds have the mental capacity to deal with such books,” Lawes said, discussing the council’s request on Newstalk, a Dublin radio station.  Ex-diplomat Eamon Delaney said on the station that people should be “wary of banning books … it is censorship.”

German-registered fishing boat detained by Ireland’s navy – dpa international

The Atlantic Ocean seen from the coast of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A German-registered boat was detained overnight by Ireland’s navy for “alleged breaches of fishing regulations,” the Irish Naval Service and Irish Defence Forces said in a statement on Friday. The intercepted vessel is being escorted to port by an Irish navy ship named after poet William Butler Yeats, where it will be handed over to police, the navy said. The vessel was stopped in the Atlantic Ocean around 250 nautical miles (463 kilometres) north-west of Malin Head, the island of Ireland’s northernmost point. The waters where the vessel was detained are rich in cod, haddock, whiting and plaice, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations body.

Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.

Singapore ends two-month virus lockdown, though some curbs remain – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore on Tuesday began allowing activities that “do not pose high risk of transmission” to resume after two months of lockdown, despite reporting the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia. Some offices and factories resumed operations, children went back to school, while places of worship began to open their doors.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that the relaxation will likely prove “a big relief to all” but one that is “certainly not without its risks.” The wealthy city-state, an investment and trade hub whose seaport and airport rank among the world’s busiest, has diagnosed 35,292 cases of the new coronavirus, more than any country in East or South-East Asia except for China. Most of the cases are among foreign migrants confined to dormitories, though the related death toll, at 24, is one of the world’s lowest.