DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions could shrink the Irish economy by nearly 14 per cent in 2020, according to the country’s central bank. In a report published on Friday, the Central Bank of Ireland said that a “widespread shutdown of businesses caused by the pandemic” led to “sudden and large-scale job losses” and a “severe negative shock to both consumer spending and investment.” The worst-case scenario of a 13.8-per-cent recession is based on the virus lingering through the year and prompting some restrictions to be reimposed. The bank’s best-case outcome would see Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) down by 9 per cent, slightly better than the 10.5 per cent projected earlier by the Finance Ministry.
DUBLIN — Leaders of Irish political party Sinn Féin were among hundreds who gathered in Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of Bobby Storey, a senior figure in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who died nine days ago aged 64. After the funeral was criticised on social media for seeming to breaching rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in Northern Ireland – which cap funeral attendances at 10 people – some of Sinn Féin’s political rivals took aim. Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said at a Tuesday press conference that “no person” is “above the regulations and guidance we have laid down on how we combat Covid-19.” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) parliamentarian Gregory Campbell called for “police action,” claiming that Sinn Féin leaders “showed no respect” for the restrictions – which it previously said should be applied without exemption. A police spokeswoman later told The Belfast Telegraph newspaper that officers will review footage of the funeral. Though Sinn Féin shares control of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration with the DUP, the two parties are ideological rivals. The DUP – and Swann’s UUP – oppose Sinn Féin’s aim of ending British rule in Northern Ireland.
CLAREMORRIS — Some of Ireland’s pubs were pouring pints on Monday for the first time in nearly four months as the country lifts most coronavirus-related restrictions. Speaking over the evening chatter of customers in The Western, a pub and hotel in Claremorris – a town of around 4,000 people in the west of Ireland – manager Patrick Mitchell said “we had no idea what to expect today, we have been quite busy, but it is a bit different.” Patrons are allowed one hour and 45 minutes drinking-time in bars that serve food – as long as they splash out on a “substantial meal” priced at 9 euros (10 dollars) or more and adhere to social distancing requirements. Inside The Dalton Inn, about 100 metres down the street from The Western, owner Andrew Cooper said “we’re sticking strictly to those rules.” The regime means that only bigger pubs equipped with kitchens will reopen for now – with the food tab so far a deterrent to would-be punters.
DUBLIN — Ireland plans to allow public religious ceremonies again from Monday, despite confusion over how many people can attend and over how new rules will apply to places of worship. Starting next week, a maximum of 50 people can meet indoors as part of the latest roll-back of curbs imposed in March to stem to spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Ireland. After Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, described the proposed blanket 50-person ceiling as “strange” and “disappointing,” outgoing Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that “a specific protocol” based on the seating capacity of places of worship “is going to be worked out” with religious authorities.
DUBLIN — Citing a slump in air travel due to the coronavirus, Aer Lingus on Friday announced it will fire 500 workers and slammed Ireland’s interim government for failing “to take steps that other European [Union] member states have taken.” Citing a “catastrophic” collapse in air travel that has reduced it to 5 per cent of its pre-pandemic operations, the airline said that other European countries “have progressively restored transport services and connectivity in response to a European Commission invitation to do so.” The 30 flights undertaken by Aer Lingus in the past week amount to around 10 per cent of the level of activity the same week one year ago, the airline said. Friday’s jobs cull followed a Monday announcement by Aer Lingus that pay and working hours will be cut to 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
DUBLIN — People in Northern Ireland are more likely to identify with either Britain or Ireland since the 2016 British vote to leave the European Union, going by the latest annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. A majority of the region’s 1.8 million people view themselves as either “nationalist” or “unionist” in the latest survey, which saw 1,200 people canvassed in late 2019 and early 2020 by researchers from Ulster University and Queens University Belfast (QUB). In 2018, half of those surveyed eschewed identifying as either nationalist or unionist. Paula Devine of QUB said “it is striking that 2019 also saw a strengthening of unionist and nationalist identities and growing pressure on the so-called middle ground.”
KNOCK — Hundreds of thousands of Catholics gathered under dark rain clouds as Pope Francis said Mass in a Dublin park and stopped briefly to pray at Knock Shrine, a pilgrimage site in the west of Ireland, on the second and final day of his visit to Ireland. Clouds of a different sort were gathering over Francis’s increasingly troubled papacy, however, after a former Holy See ambassador to the U.S. called on Francis to resign over claims that the pope protected Theodore McCarrick, who was forced to resign as cardinal in July after accusations of sex abuse crimes. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C., sent a statement to several Catholic newspapers overnight, in which he claimed Francis “continued to cover” for the disgraced McCarrick, who, Vigano said, was sanctioned by Benedict XVI, Francis’s immediate predecessor as pope.
DUBLIN — Pope Francis on Saturday vowed to adopt “stringent” measures to rid a crisis-convulsed Catholic Church of the “pain and shame” caused by decades of sexual abuse and its tolerance by clerical authorities. Francis traveled to Ireland, once a bastion of Catholic belief, but where religious practice that has been eroded by years of church scandal that has fed a process of secularization similar to preceding variants elsewhere in Europe. He met privately for an hour and a half with eight survivors, the Vatican said, without providing details. Two of the participants in the meeting later said the pontiff equated the scandal and cover-up with excrement.
KNOCK — When Pope Francis lands in Dublin on Saturday morning, he will encounter a land much changed from the one that gave predecessor John Paul II a euphoric welcome nearly four decades ago. “Devotion was at its peak, there were around 450,000 people here in Knock to see the pope,” said Bernard Byrne, 74, sitting inside his souvenir shop next to the parish church in Knock, a village in the west of Ireland. Behind him loomed statues of the Virgin Mary and framed photos of Francis, who will visit the Catholic pilgrimage site on Sunday, emulating John Paul II.
BELCOO, NORTHERN IRELAND — On the short bridge between Blacklion and Belcoo stand two clues that the crossing links not only a pair of towns, but two countries. The road-sign speed limits for Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometers per hour. In Belcoo, in Northern Ireland, miles are used. Over the last two decades — particularly since the 1998 peace deal which ended three decades of civil war in Northern Ireland — Belcoo, population 540, and Blacklion, population 194, have are effectively operated as one town. “There are no barriers, it’s how people want it,” said Eugene McCann, who runs a well-stocked grocery store and post office in Belcoo, his hometown.