Lifeline remittances stay steady despite pandemic and recessions – dpa international

DUBLIN — Global remittances fell by 1.6 per cent last year to 540 billion dollars, a less-than-expected decline in what the World Bank labelled “lifeline” cashflows for millions of people. The global total, which amounts to around the same as Belgium’s gross domestic product (GDP), held up far better than other economic indicators, according to a bank report published on Wednesday. The bank earlier estimated a global GDP fall of 4.3 per cent and a 30 per cent drop in foreign investment into low and middle-income countries in 2020.

Democracy undermined by pandemic restrictions, according to Council of Europe – dpa international

Restrictions have seen pubs such as this at the foot of Ireland's best-known pilgrimage mountain Croagh Patrick closed for most of the time since March 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic have “compounded” what the Council of Europe describes in a new report as “democratic backsliding” across the continent. According to Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric, even “legitimate actions” by governments to deal with the virus have curtailed liberties “in ways that would be unacceptable in normal times.” “The danger is that our democratic culture will not fully recover,” Pejcinovic Buric warned.  The council’s 47 members, which include some of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, have veered in and out of lockdowns of varying duration and severity since March 2020.

With most sports banned, Ireland’s long lockdown saw walkers step up – dpa international

Sports facilities such as this Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Centre of Excellence in Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland have been closed for most of the past year due to government restrictions (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s recent third pandemic lockdown led to an increase in “recreational walking,” according to Sport Ireland, a government body, with the usual mist-laced winter gales blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean proving no deterrent to a population otherwise told to stay at home for months on end. The report said “overall levels of physical activity have increased on 2019 figures,” with the percentage of Irish adults “walking for recreation” climbing from 65 per cent before the pandemic to 76 per cent during the first quarter of 2021, slightly below the high reported during Ireland’s first lockdown last year. “Running and cycling experienced similar fluxes,” according to Sport Ireland, with the early 2021 step-up in numbers coming “despite a decrease in organised sport participation.” The lockdowns required people to mostly remain within five kilometres of home, another limit that seemingly did not deter walkers.

Ireland set to end long-running pandemic lockdown next month – dpa international

The parish church in the Irish pilgrimage town of Knock, where Mass has not been celebrated in public since late 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland will end one of Europe’s longest and strictest pandemic lockdowns next month by accelerating a phased relaxation plan to allow restaurants and pubs to reopen sooner than expected and public religious services to resume. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told broadcaster Newstalk on Thursday that “from the 10th of May there will be changes in restrictions, quite significant ones.”  Services such as hairdressers and “non-essential” retailers are expected to get the green light to reopen, with a ban on and related criminalisation of attending religious services expected to be lifted at the same time. The capacity limit on public transport is to be doubled from the current 25 per cent. Outdoor service at pubs and restaurants could resume in June, according to media reports that a revised reopening plan would be announced on Thursday – accounts Coveney said were “quite accurate.”

Ireland at odds with EU Commission and member states over Covid quarantine – dpa international

Ireland's lockdown rules have meant cafes only serving take-away drinks and food for most of the past year (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A rare row brewed on Friday between the usually pro-EU Irish Government and the European Commission, over Dublin forcing arrivals from five European Union member states to quarantine in hotels. Responding to criticism from the commission, Ireland’s Justice Minister Helen McEntee told broadcaster RTÉ the measures are “proportionate and reasonable.” Last month Ireland imposed mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals, including returning Irish, from countries regarded as hard-hit by the pandemic. Spokesman Christian Wigand said on Friday that the commission sent a letter to the Irish Government questioning the rules, which include EU members Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg among the 71 listed countries. “Less restrictive” measures could be used, Wigand said, including exempting “essential” travel within the bloc.

Irish airport traffic nosedives due to pandemic and related travel rules – dpa international

Ireland West Airport saw no passengers for 3 months of 2020 as travel slowed to a crawl after a pandemic was declared (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Footfall at Ireland’s airports plunged last year, according to official data released on Wednesday, with numbers down almost 80 per cent compared to 2019. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said almost 8.3 million passengers passed through Irish airports in 2020, down from roughly 38 million the year before. Almost 5 million of the 2020 total passed through the airports in January and February, before numbers plummeted in the wake of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic in March and governments imposing lockdowns and travel curbs. The fourth quarter of 2020 saw an even bigger fall, with passenger numbers down 90 per cent compared to late 2019. The CSO said the decreases “are associated with the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.”

Unemployment stuck at around 25 per cent as Irish lockdown drags economy down – dpa international

Most sports in ireland have been banned as part the current lockdown, leaving pitches such as this in the west of Ireland empty and unused (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland lingered near the 25-per-cent mark in March as a third pandemic lockdown continued to hammer the economy, according to official data released on Wednesday. Though the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said March’s 24.2 per cent unemployment was down slightly on February’s 24.8 per cent, pandemic restrictions continued “to have a significant impact on the labour market,” according to the CSO’s Catalina Gonzales. Many businesses were forced to close for a third time in less than a year after the Irish government imposed a third lockdown in December, less than a month after a second six-week lockdown ended. The government on Tuesday announced it will slowly unwind some of the measures from mid-April, saying people would be permitted “non-essential” journeys within their county of residence, beyond the current 5-kilometre limit.

Pandemic restrictions mean two-thirds of borders are fully or partly closed – dpa international

DUBLIN — Pandemic restrictions have completely or partly closed two-thirds of destinations worldwide to international tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), a United Nations agency. One year on from the World Health Organization labelling the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, 69 out of 217 destinations remain “completely closed,” the UNTWO said on Monday in its latest Travel Restrictions Report. Around the same number of destinations are “partially closed,” the UNWTO calculated. Thirty-eight of the 69 completely-closed destinations have been that way for at least 40 weeks, the UNWTO said, noting “regional differences” in how curbs are applied.

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,” parliamentary 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.”