Lockdowns cause Irish government spending and debt to soar – dpa international

Shoppers in the west of Ireland loading their cars outside a supermarket. one of the handful of retailers allowed to stay open during Ireland's lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Coronavirus-related borrowing and spending caused an 18.4-billion-euro (22.01-billion-dollar) government deficit in Ireland last year, equivalent to around 5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to official data published on Wednesday. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said Dublin borrowed almost 14 billion euros to meet ballooning health and social costs incurred by pandemic restrictions, which have left hundreds of thousands of people out of work and dependent on state support. In 2019, the government reported a surplus of 1.9 billion euros, before a swing into the red of of more than 20 billion last year, even as GDP grew by 3.4 per cent due to surging exports in multinationals-dominated sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information technology.

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.

Unemployment to linger in Ireland after economy recovers – dpa international

Empty main street in Castlebar, a west of Ireland town, in early March 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s economy could recover “quite strongly” from pandemic-related curbs in 2021, but employment is unlikely to bounce back for at least two years, according to the state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). In a report published on Thursday, the ESRI cut its earlier 2021 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast from 5.2 per cent to 4.4 per cent, citing the likely impact of Ireland’s ongoing third lockdown, which was imposed in late December. The ESRI said the revised projection assumes “a gradual easing of restrictions” from next month and that Covid-19 jabs “will facilitate the broad relaxation of public health restrictions in the second half of 2021.” Ireland’s economy grew by 3.4 per cent in 2020 on the back of record exports in multinational-heavy sectors that have thrived during the pandemic.

Irish imports from Britain down over 900 million euros in January – dpa international

Inside an Irish branch of the British Tesco supermarket chain (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s imports from Britain fell by 65 per cent in January after the British departure from the European Union led to more complicated trade with its nearest neighbour. Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Thursday that imports from Britain fell 906 million euros (1.08 billion dollars) year-on-year to less than half a billion euros. Ireland usually sources around one-fifth of its goods imports from Britain, though the EU and the US account for most of the country’s overall trade. Irish exports to Britain saw a much smaller decline compared to imports of 14 per cent, the CSO said, to make up 7 per cent of the January total. Irish exports to Britain fell by almost 10 per cent in 2020.

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.”

Ireland not even halfway through third lockdown, according to taoiseach – dpa international

The usually busy main street in Knock, a popular Catholic pilgrimage town in Ireland. As seen at evening time during Ireland's third coronavirus lockdown.

DUBLIN — Almost two months into Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said the country “is looking at a continuation of severe restrictions” until the end of April, despite case numbers plummeting since a January peak. Martin made the warning in a late-night Thursday interview with the Irish Mirror newspaper, in which he said extending the lockdown would be “worth it.” Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, Ireland’s main opposition party, slammed Martin’s comments as “flippant.” Peadar Tóibīn, head the small opposition party Aontú, said the government’s proposed extension amounted to “policy failure.”

Ireland reports record-breaking exports even as Brexit hits trade with Britain – dpa international

Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s goods exports were worth an unprecedented 160.8 billion euros (196 billion US dollars) last year, a new record underpinned by surging sales of medical and pharmaceutical products during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Estimates published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed “medical and pharmaceutical products making up 39 per cent of 2020 goods exports, a value increase of 25 per cent on 2019.” Exports to the 26 other member states of the European Union accounted for 40 per cent the 2020 total, the CSO said, an increase of 13 per cent on 2019. Belgium and Germany were Ireland’s two biggest markets in the EU. Exports to Britain, Ireland’s nearest neighbour, fell by 9 per cent during 2020 and made up 8 per cent of the year’s overall amount. After Britain left the EU in early 2020, an increasing proportion of Ireland’s exports to the continent ended up being shipped directly rather than transiting Britain, with ferry companies in some cases doubling cargo sailings from Ireland to France.