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

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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)

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.

With daily coronavirus case numbers in the mid-hundreds, Ireland’s 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.

All school classes will reopen from April 12, but business-related changes were limited to residential construction restarting and a promise to later in the month examine a possible May reopening of non-essential retail and personal services such as hairdressers.

Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation said he was “bewildered” that all construction was not given the go-ahead.

“We’re the only country that continues to have construction sites locked down,” Parlon told Dublin’s Newstalk radio.

Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said there was “absolute fury” as owners and staff were “given no hope and no confidence.”

The government should have given “clear details of how pubs can reopen,” according to the Vinters Federation of Ireland.

Around 3,500 pubs have been closed for over a year under Ireland’s curbs, which have been among Europe’s strictest, according to a University of Oxford database.

Ireland’s loosened regime from mid-April will still likely be more restrictive than many European countries that are now reimposing curbs in response to a so-called third wave on the continent.

Restaurants, pubs and hotels depend heavily on tourism, which has collapsed in the wake of the pandemic and restrictions. Ireland’s international arrivals in February were less than 55,000, the CSO said earlier this week. In February 2020 more than 1.2 million arrivals were recorded.

Ireland’s gross domestic product expanded by 3.4 per cent last year, the most in the European Union. With domestic-oriented sectors hit hard by the pandemic and lockdowns, the growth was driven by exporters that have fared well over the past year, such as medical, pharmaceutical and computer-related.

Last week the Economic and Social Research Institute, a government-funded group, cut its 2021 growth forecast from over 5 per cent to 4.4 per cent, citing the impact of the current lockdown.

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