Around 150 birds of prey species face “persecution” and possible extinction – dpa international

DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most majestic eagles and swiftest hawks could soon be no more, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Up to thirty per cent of the planet’s 557 species of raptors “are at risk of extinction,” say researchers from the National Autonomous University in Mexico, a country home to over 90 different kinds of raptor, the fourth-highest number after Indonesia, Colombia and Ecuador. According to the team, the past three decades have seen “many species” experience “severe population declines” due to “habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, human–wildlife conflicts, and global climate alterations.” While raptors such as falcons have been kept for hunting and underpinned family prestige by appearing on heraldry, others have been “persecuted,” the authors said, due to “predation of game species and livestock.”

Ireland’s bishops challenge government’s restrictions on some ceremonies – dpa international

St. Saviour's Catholic church in Dublin in mid-July 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government and several Catholic bishops have clashed over whether already-postponed first communion and confirmation ceremonies should be put off until later in the year. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said plans by three of Ireland’s 26 dioceses to proceed with the ceremonies, which usually take place during the school year but have been postponed as part of pandemic curbs, amounted to “putting lives at risk.” Donnelly’s warning followed similar comments by Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Michéal Martin late last week. However the health minister acknowledged as correct an interpretation advanced last week by Kevin Doran, bishop of the western Elphin diocese, that the apparent bans are guidelines rather than laws. Alphonsus Cullinan, bishop in the southern town of Waterford, said on Saturday he could “see no valid reason for the further postponement of the sacraments,” after crowds returned to sports events.

Multinationals in Ireland outdid rest of economy combined last year – dpa international

US multinatonal's Baxter Healthcare operations in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen

DUBLIN —  For the first time on record, multinational corporations in Ireland last year produced more gross-value-added (GVA) than all other parts of the economy put together. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), “sectors where foreign-owned multinational enterprises are dominant grew by 23.1 per cent,” pushing their share of GVA from around 45 per cent in 2019 to almost 53 per cent in 2020. But, with Ireland’s government imposing some of Europe’s longest-lasting pandemic restrictions, domestic-focused sectors, including construction, farming and retail, shrank by almost 9 per cent. The CSO said in June that around three-quarters of Ireland’s smaller enterprises reported falling turnover last year.

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.

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.”

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.

Some Irish business sectors reviving ahead of end of long lockdown – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left usually-busy streets empty, such as in this west of Ireland town as seen in March 2021, nearly 3 months into Ireland’s 3rd stay-home lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s services industries picked up last month ahead of the government ending a third coronavirus lockdown, according to a survey of around 400 businesses published on Thursday. The jump was the strongest since the pandemic started, going by April’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which said “total activity and new business both increased at the fastest rates since February 2020.” Published by Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and IHS Markit, which produces monthly PMIs covering manufacturing and services in dozens of countries, the survey reported rising employment in media, telecoms and financial services, but said there was “broadly no change” in tourism or leisure, sectors unlikely to reopen until later this year. “Although much of the services sector remains in lockdown, the data are encouraging,” said AIB economist Oliver Mangan.

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.”

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.