Ireland’s lockdowns drive spike in unemployment and savings – dpa international

A car park in a shopping area in the town of Castlebar in the west of Ireland, shortly after the early December end of the country's second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland stayed above 20 per cent in December, official statistics released on Wednesday show, as the country continues to reel from the economic impact of coronavirus-related restrictions. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the December rate, adjusted to include those receiving pandemic-related unemployment payments, was 20.4 per cent, a slight improvement on November’s 21 per cent. The CSO’s Catalina Gonzalez said “the Covid-19 crisis” is having “a significant impact on the labour market.” Around 7 per cent of “all persons” would be classed as jobless if pandemic-related layoffs, some of which could prove temporary, were omitted, according to the CSO. Irish revenue officials said on Wednesday that some of the hundreds of thousands of pandemic-related recipients will face tax bills for the payments, one day after the Department of Finance projected a 19-billion-euros budget deficit for 2020. In April, during Ireland’s first lockdown, the pandemic-adjusted unemployment rate shot up to a record 28.2 per cent. January unemployment numbers will likely increase after Ireland announced another national lockdown shortly before Christmas, with people told to remain within 5 kilometers of their homes and many businesses forced to close for a third time since the pandemic started. Ireland’s second lockdown ran for six weeks until early December.

Can a pandemic kill a curse? Old rivals meet again in Ireland’s national final – dpa international

Roadside building in Manulla, Co. Mayo, painted in the colours worn by the county's Gaelic football team. Taken in evening fog on December 7 2020, the day after the team qualified for a 5th All-Ireland football final in 9 years (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Any tickets?” “Anyone buying or selling?” Any other year, such would be the refrain in the streets near Dublin’s 82,000-capacity Croke Park throughout the morning of Gaelic Football’s All-Ireland final. But instead of the usual August or September, this year’s delayed and truncated competition will finish the week before Christmas, with those tens of thousands of supporters told watch from home. Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that come 5pm on Saturday, the vast arena will echo only to the collisions of the 30 players and the yelling of substitutes and coaches. “It’s a pity there won’t be a crowd to see [the final],” said Maurice Quinlivan, part of the Tipperary team thrashed by Mayo in the last four, while previewing the match on Irish radio. Even watching in a bar will be difficult, as only premises that serve food can operate under pandemic-related rules. Around 3,500 of Ireland’s pubs have been forced to close since March for all but two weeks. “We miss the fun, the craic,” said John Maughan, a former Mayo player and manager. “It’s not the same.”

Pandemic curbs set tourism back three decades, according to UN body – dpa international

Some retailers open, some not, along central Dublin street in June (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  — International arrivals have likely dropped by over 70 per cent in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions, taking overall tourism and travel numbers back to 1990 levels. The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said on Thursday that it “expects international arrivals to decline by 70% to 75% for the whole of 2020,” after the January-October period showed “900 million fewer international tourists when compared with the same period of 2019.” Such an outcome would mean that “global tourism will have returned to levels of 30 years ago,” according to the UNWTO, when the world’s population was over 2 billion less than it is now. The travel collapse could mean “a loss of some 1.1 trillion dollars in international tourism receipts,” according to the UNWTO.

Ireland’s ‘first Covid-free pub’ gets back to pouring pints – dpa international

Pints of Guinness served on June 29 2020 as Ireland allows some pubs to reopen after almost 4 months closure due to coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A bar in the west of Ireland is reopening on Thursday evening as the country’s “first Covid free pub,” with drinkers being tested for the novel coronavirus before entry.cAccording to Eileen’s Bar, a pub in the village of Aughamore, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from capital Dublin, customers must first wait at “a designated area” where they are “tested for Covid by a trained tester.” Announcing the reopening in a Tuesday Facebook post, pub owner Donal Byrne said only regular patrons will be permitted entry and then only after testing negative – but with the promise that they can “enjoy a drink in the testing area” while waiting for the result.

Irish broadcaster questioned by police over virus rule breaches -dpa international

Government reminders about coronavirus-related restrictions are ubiquitous across Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s public broadcaster RTÉ is facing a police probe after several TV and radio stars were photographed while not observing coronavirus-related distancing during an office party. Director of Human Resources Eimear Cusack said on Monday that RTÉ representatives “met with An Garda Síochána [the official Irish name for the police] today in respect of their inquiry.” The news presenters and talk show hosts involved have apologized, with Miriam O’Callaghan saying on RTÉ radio on Sunday that “I let everyone down, and for that I will be forever sorry.” Moya Doherty, chair of the station’s board, said in a statement there is “an onus” on RTÉ to be “both above reproach and to lead by example.”  The Irish Independent, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, said on Monday that the apologies were “half-hearted lame excuses.”

Northern Ireland shuns following Ireland back into lockdown – dpa international

A Catholic church in Co.Mayo in the west of Ireland. Public religious services are prohibited in Ireland but not in Northern Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — After the Republic of Ireland became the first country in Europe to reimpose a coronavirus-related lockdown, officials in Northern Ireland are saying instead that a more focused approach will be maintained for the British-controlled region. “If we are not going for a full lockdown then restrictions have to be targetted,” said Robin Swann, health minister in the northern administration. Northern Ireland last week added new local measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, including closing pubs and restaurants for one month. After tightening curbs several times in recent weeks, the Irish government on Monday ordered the imposition of a six-week stay-at-home lockdown.

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.

Northern Ireland reports over one thousand virus cases in new daily record – dpa international

Social distancing markers on floor of Dublin supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland confirmed an unprecedented 1,080 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, breaking not only the region’s previous highest daily tally, but also that of the bigger Irish Republic recorded at the height of the pandemic in April. “The situation is grave and getting more so,” said Robin Swann, the region’s health minister. Northern Ireland’s record was based on 6,447 tests, suggesting the virus is widespread. Almost one-third of the region’s roughly 18,000 cases have been diagnosed over the past week. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and has a population of 1.8 million, while the population of the Republic, usually referred to as Ireland, is a shade under 5 million. Ireland’s caseload topped 40,000 on Thursday after 506 new infections were reported, out of over 19,500 tests. Ireland’s daily record of 936 infections, recorded on April 23, was based on fewer than 5,000 tests.

Pandemic boosts Ireland’s exports but restrictions hammer local commerce – dpa international

Some retailers open, some not, along central Dublin street in June (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s small businesses were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic while sectors dominated by foreign investors grew, according to official estimates. The Central Statistics Office reported on Thursday that gross value added in “non-MNE [multinational enterprise] dominated sectors” decreased by 19.8 per cent in the second quarter. The CSO estimated that the “foreign-owned MNE dominated sector increased by 1.1 per cent over the same period.” The state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) described Ireland’s experience in lockdown as “a tale of two economies.” This “duality in performance” is down to “a concentration of Irish exports in lockdown-resistant sectors” such as computer services and pharmaceuticals.

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.”