As second Irish lockdown ends, central bank announces record savings

Pandemic distancing sign at football pitch in Charlestown in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s banks have been flooded with record savings in 2020 after government restrictions forced many pubs, retailers and restaurants to close for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Central Bank of Ireland announced on Monday that household bank deposits in October hit “the highest on record,” reaching 123 billion euros (147 billion dollars). Some of those savings are unlikely to last, with Retail Ireland, an industry body, on Monday predicting an extra 1.2 billion euros would be spent over Christmas. Many retailers will reopen on Tuesday as Ireland’s second coronavirus lockdown ends after six weeks. Retail Ireland said earlier this month that “footfall in Irish retail has fallen more than anywhere else in Europe.”

Microsoft expanding in Ireland with 200 new engineer recruits – dpa international

Outside an Amazon office in Dublin (Smon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — US computer and software maker Microsoft is hiring 200 engineers in Ireland and will build a new “engineering hub” to bolster its operations in the country, where it employs 2,500 people. Microsoft Ireland announced on Monday that “recruits will be involved in the development of new cloud services and technology solutions for customers around the globe.” Meeting Microsoft Ireland managing director Cathriona Hallahan at government headquarters in Dublin, Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar labelled the announcement as “really good news” that could set Ireland up “to be a leader in engineering.” Hallahan said the expansion the country “at the centre of innovation,” while Martin Shanahan, chief executive of government investment agency IDA Ireland, said it shows Ireland’s attractiveness to investors “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.” In contrast to the rest of the economy, Ireland’s large electronics/technology and pharmaceutical/medical sectors have prospered due to the pandemic and related restrictions.

Xi keen on US-led trade pact ditched by Trump – dpa international

DUBLIN — Chinese President Xi Jinping told Asia-Pacific leaders – including US President Donald Trump – on Friday that Beijing will “give positive consideration to the idea of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).” The CPTPP is the revised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional trade deal promoted by the US during the 2008-16 Obama administration. The US withdrew from the TPP shortly after Trump took office in early 2017, prompting the 11 other signatories to rewrite the agreement, which Britain is also interested in joining. Xi and Trump were taking part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which is being hosted by Malaysia, but taking place by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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.”

UN agency data suggest Asia worst-hit by pandemic curbs – dpa international

A near-deserted street in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — International travel has plummeted during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with nowhere worse affected than the Asia-Pacific region, according to United Nations tourism body data.International arrivals across the region have dropped 72 per cent so far in 2020, according to the data, which was compiled for the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) new Tourism Recovery Tracker.International arrivals in the Asia-Pacific were down 99 per cent year-on-year, a standstill that came after countries imposed strict lockdowns and holiday bans aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. China, Japan and South Korea were among the worst affected, with the UNWTO tracker showing an 83-per-cent drop in tourist arrivals across northeast Asia as most countries prohibited all but essential travel.

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.

Ryanair to cut capacity by 20 per cent, blames pandemic travel rules – dpa international

Bleak midwinter at Dublin Airport (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ryanair said on Friday that it will slash capacity by 20 per cent in October, blaming coronavirus travel curbs introduced at short notice. The Dublin-based airline said that “EU government travel restrictions and policies” aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus “undermine consumers’ willingness to make forward bookings.” Announcing its second 20 per cent capacity reduction since August, Ryanair accused the Irish government of keeping the country “locked up like North Korea” and of operating “a defective” quarantine system that means arrivals from most countries, some with lower infection rates than Ireland, are expected to self-isolate for 14 days. Supported by Aer Lingus, Ireland’s flag carrier airline, Ryanair has taken the government to court over the curbs, which will not be aligned with EU guidelines until mid-October.

Irish government gives green light, again, for pubs to reopen – dpa international

Pouring pints in an Irish hotel restaurant on June 29 2020, the day some pubs and restaurants were perrmitted to reopen

DUBLIN — Pubs can resume pouring pints from September 21, Ireland’s government decided on Tuesday, ending a prohibition introduced in March as part of a pandemic lockdown. “About time,” the Licensed Vinters Association, a group representing Dublin pubs, posted on Twitter. “Absolute relief,” said Mellett’s, a pub in the west of Ireland. Citing health worries, the government previously postponed a scheduled mid-July reopening three times, though restaurants and pubs serving food were allowed to open from June 29 – with provisos that drinkers purchase a meal priced at 9 euros or more and leave after one hour 45 minutes. Another 3,500 pubs have had to wait, prompting anger among owners left out of pocket after restocking ahead of the postponed reopenings. “We have been marched up this hill several times before,” said Padraig Cribben, Chief Executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, in a Tuesday statement.

Street party sharpens row about virus restrictions in Ireland – 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)

CASTLEBAR — Another spat about coronavirus curbs has erupted in Ireland, days after Phil Hogan was forced to resign as the European Union’s trade chief for flouting rules while visiting his homeland. Revellers seen drinking on the streets of Killarney, a tourist-draw town in Ireland’s south-west, were branded “disgraceful” by Mayor Brendan Cronin after footage was posted online. Health official Paul Reid said the scenes were “unfortunate,” while Simon Harris, a former health minister, said “there will always be people who do stupid things.” The weekend hedonism in Killarney could have been avoided, said Michael Healy-Rae, an independent parliamentarian from the area, if Ireland’s coronavirus curbs were relaxed to allow pubs reopen. “If our public houses are open, people will get alcohol in a measured and sensible way,” Healy-Rae told public broadcaster RTÉ.