Ireland’s GDP up 3.4 per cent in 2020 but other measures show decline – dpa international

Sign outside business park in Castlebar, Ireland. IDA Ireland is the country's main foreign investment agency (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an estimated 3.4 per cent last year, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), an expansion driven by foreign business and exports but coming as domestic output shrank. “Multinational sector growth was 18.2 per cent in 2020 while non-MNE [multinational enterprise]-dominated sectors declined by 9.5 per cent,” the CSO said on Friday. Ireland reported a record 160.8 billion euros (198 billion dollars) in goods exports last year, but businesses geared towards the small domestic market “experienced significantly lower levels of economic activity,” according to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, with hotels, restaurants and construction hit hard as personal spending fell by 9 per cent. US multinationals in sectors that have enjoyed surging global demand during the pandemic, including pharmaceuticals and big tech, have European headquarters in Ireland – drawn by low taxes and EU membership. Amazon and Microsoft were among the American corporate giants to announce expansions in Ireland last year. According to Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe, “the pharma and ICT sectors recorded extraordinary export growth, driven by blockbuster immunological drugs, Covid related products, and the shift to home-working.”

Irish human rights commission criticises government’s pandemic restrictions – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) on Thursday accused the government of having “persistently blurred the boundary between legal requirements and public health guidance in its Covid-19 response.” In a report co-authored with academics from Trinity College Dublin, the commission said though “core pandemic measures” were  “generally proportionate and justified in light of the scale of the public health emergency.” parliamentaryy oversight was “lacking.” The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), a once-obscure advisory body that has become a household name in the wake of the pandemic, has acted as “de facto decision maker,” the commission reported, leading to the risk that public health advice “captures the whole decision-making process.”

Irish government apologises for mother and baby homes – dpa international

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DUBLIN — Ireland’s head of government Micheál Martin on Wednesday apologised on behalf of the state to former residents of so-called mother and baby homes for “unforgivable” treatment spanning nearly 8 decades. Citing a “profound generational wrong” inflicted on unmarried mothers and their children, Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, apologised “for the shame and stigma they were subjected to.” Martin’s statement to Ireland’s parliament came one day after the publication of findings by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The almost 3000-pages-long report outlined a “very high rate of infant mortality” in the homes, which housed “about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children.”

Irish public broadcaster says sorry for sketch showing God as rapist – dpa international

Lining up at a shop in Knock, one of Ireland's main Catholic shrines, in early December 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — After receiving what is described as “a significant number” of complaints, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ on Thursday apologized for and said it would remove from its website a sketch depicting God as a rapist that it broadcast as part of a New Year’s Eve countdown show. The public television and radio station said the item, which was “intended as satire,” did not comply with its Editorial Standards Board requirements. “On behalf of RTÉ, I fully apologize,” said director-general Dee Forbes. RTÉ, which receives state funding, on Wednesday said it had fielded “approximately 4,375 emails and 1,390 calls” regarding the mock news broadcast, which was written by satirical website Waterford Whispers News and voiced by Aengus Mac Grianna, a former  news anchor, who apologized earlier this week. The head of Ireland’s Catholic bishops, Eamon Martin, said he was “shocked” that the producers of the broadcast “did not realize how deeply offensive” the sketch was.

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.

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.

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.”

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.