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.”

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.”