Irish government’s pub reopening plan criticised as “discriminatory” – dpa international

Outdoor drinking on a June Sunday afternoon in Galway (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Pubs in Ireland’s capital Dublin have slammed government plans to make them screen customers for proof of coronavirus vaccination as “discriminatory” and likely to spark conflict. The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said the measures, which would apply nationwide as part of a plan to reopen indoor service in restaurants and pubs, “will lead to flashpoints between hospitality staff and potential customers.” “Our members are already reporting there is real anger about this,” according to LVA chief Donall O’Keefe, who on Tuesday said there are “major question marks” about enforcement of the proposed rules, which would also cover customers with proof of previous coronavirus infection. However the LVA believes it has “no option” but “to go along” with plan due to the government’s threat to otherwise retain Europe’s sole remaining ban on indoor drinking and dining until at least September.

Chinese cyber power not a match for the US’s, according to experts – dpa international

Near the entrance of a hospital in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  — Despite long-running allegations of Chinese hacking of Western governments and businesses, Beijing’s “cyber power” is “clearly inferior” to that of its chief rival, the US, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). China is “unlikely to match US cyber capabilities for the next decade at least,” according to the IISS, which regularly stages conferences involving some of the world’s most powerful defence ministries. The US is out on its own as the world’s leading cyber power, the IISS said, in a new 174-page report looking at the “cyber capabilities” of 15 countries.

Singapore aiming to live with flu-like ‘endemic’ Covid-19 – dpa international

DUBLIN — Singapore’s government on Thursday said it should be possible “to live normally” with Covid-19, which it expects to become “endemic” like influenza.  The three ministers responsible for the government’s coronavirus response announced “a broad plan” to “turn the pandemic into something much less threatening.” Pointing to the example of influenza, Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that “we can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19.” 

Irish GDP up 7.8 per cent though local businesses hurt by lockdowns – dpa international

Retaliers deemed 'non essential' such as this sports shop, were not permitted to open during Ireland's pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product grew by 7.8 per cent in the first quarter of the year due to surging exports by multinational corporations, according to official estimates. However, gross national product, a measurement which cuts out multinationals, fell by 1 per cent quarter-on-quarter, the government’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Friday. According to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, “the tightening of Covid-19 related restrictions led to lower levels of economic activity for many of the sectors focused on the domestic market.” Ireland’s government lifted a third pandemic lockdown in May after almost five months of restrictions that were ranked among Europe’s harshest by the University of Oxford.

Ireland’s hospitals hit by ‘sophisticated’ cyberattack – dpa international

Sign for a coronavirus vaccination centre in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A cyberattack on Ireland’s Health Service Executive is “having a severe impact on our health and social care services today,” according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, with hospitals across the country battling disruptions. The University of Limerick Hospitals Group warned of “long delays” at its six facilities, while the Ireland East group said staff at its 11 hospitals were asking for “the public’s patience at this time.” Although emergency departments remain open, “delays should be expected while hospitals move to manual, offline processes,” the HSE said later on Friday. The National Maternity Hospital said “a major IT issue” would mean “significant disruption,” while Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital, said the attack forced staff to “revert back to old-fashioned based record-keeping.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”