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.

Can a pandemic kill a curse? Old rivals meet again in Ireland’s national final – dpa international

Roadside building in Manulla, Co. Mayo, painted in the colours worn by the county's Gaelic football team. Taken in evening fog on December 7 2020, the day after the team qualified for a 5th All-Ireland football final in 9 years (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Any tickets?” “Anyone buying or selling?” Any other year, such would be the refrain in the streets near Dublin’s 82,000-capacity Croke Park throughout the morning of Gaelic Football’s All-Ireland final. But instead of the usual August or September, this year’s delayed and truncated competition will finish the week before Christmas, with those tens of thousands of supporters told watch from home. Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that come 5pm on Saturday, the vast arena will echo only to the collisions of the 30 players and the yelling of substitutes and coaches. “It’s a pity there won’t be a crowd to see [the final],” said Maurice Quinlivan, part of the Tipperary team thrashed by Mayo in the last four, while previewing the match on Irish radio. Even watching in a bar will be difficult, as only premises that serve food can operate under pandemic-related rules. Around 3,500 of Ireland’s pubs have been forced to close since March for all but two weeks. “We miss the fun, the craic,” said John Maughan, a former Mayo player and manager. “It’s not the same.”

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.

Irish economy recovers between lockdowns but further losses loom – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 11.1 per cent during the third quarter, according to official estimates published Friday, suggesting the country’s economy saw some temporary respite between two separate lockdown periods. Jennifer Banim of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said the “easing of Covid-19 related restrictions led to growth across almost all sectors of the economy in quarter 3.” The CSO data show Ireland’s economy rebounding after GDP contracted by around 6 per cent during the second quarter, which coincided with the country’s first coronavirus lockdown. Restaurants and pubs that serve meals reopened on Friday, after the end of a six-week second lockdown. Non-essential retail reopened earlier this week.  Ireland’s daily coronavirus case numbers, which topped the 1,200-mark in October, had dropped to below 200 by Thursday. The second pandemic wave was far less deadly than the first, according to official data released Friday. The average mortality rate in November was eight people per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 74 per 1,000 in April, the CSO reported. Hospitalisations were 58 per 1000 cases in November, down from 192 in March.  

US health firm to hire 170 people in Ireland to research Covid vaccine safety – dpa international

On December 2 2020, Catholics attend the first Mass held in Knock Basilica in the west of Ireland after the end of Ireland's second pandemic lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — US health information and clinical research company IQVIA plans to appoint 170 people in Ireland to work on “ensuring vaccines administrated post authorization are safe for the public,” according to state investment agency IDA Ireland. Barry Mulchrone, IQVIA Ireland’s head of pharmacovigilance oversight and analytics, said the company is “proud to play a role in the humanitarian effort to ensure the safety profile of vaccines used for Covid-19 are monitored to the highest international standards.” Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar welcomed the IQVIA recruitment announcement, citing “positive indications recently regarding the potential for a Covid-19 vaccine.”

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.”

Irish broadcaster questioned by police over virus rule breaches -dpa international

Government reminders about coronavirus-related restrictions are ubiquitous across Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s public broadcaster RTÉ is facing a police probe after several TV and radio stars were photographed while not observing coronavirus-related distancing during an office party. Director of Human Resources Eimear Cusack said on Monday that RTÉ representatives “met with An Garda Síochána [the official Irish name for the police] today in respect of their inquiry.” The news presenters and talk show hosts involved have apologized, with Miriam O’Callaghan saying on RTÉ radio on Sunday that “I let everyone down, and for that I will be forever sorry.” Moya Doherty, chair of the station’s board, said in a statement there is “an onus” on RTÉ to be “both above reproach and to lead by example.”  The Irish Independent, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, said on Monday that the apologies were “half-hearted lame excuses.”

Microsoft expanding in Ireland with 200 new engineer recruits – dpa international

Outside an Amazon office in Dublin (Smon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — US computer and software maker Microsoft is hiring 200 engineers in Ireland and will build a new “engineering hub” to bolster its operations in the country, where it employs 2,500 people. Microsoft Ireland announced on Monday that “recruits will be involved in the development of new cloud services and technology solutions for customers around the globe.” Meeting Microsoft Ireland managing director Cathriona Hallahan at government headquarters in Dublin, Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar labelled the announcement as “really good news” that could set Ireland up “to be a leader in engineering.” Hallahan said the expansion the country “at the centre of innovation,” while Martin Shanahan, chief executive of government investment agency IDA Ireland, said it shows Ireland’s attractiveness to investors “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.” In contrast to the rest of the economy, Ireland’s large electronics/technology and pharmaceutical/medical sectors have prospered due to the pandemic and related restrictions.

Northern Ireland shuns following Ireland back into lockdown – dpa international

A Catholic church in Co.Mayo in the west of Ireland. Public religious services are prohibited in Ireland but not in Northern Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — After the Republic of Ireland became the first country in Europe to reimpose a coronavirus-related lockdown, officials in Northern Ireland are saying instead that a more focused approach will be maintained for the British-controlled region. “If we are not going for a full lockdown then restrictions have to be targetted,” said Robin Swann, health minister in the northern administration. Northern Ireland last week added new local measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, including closing pubs and restaurants for one month. After tightening curbs several times in recent weeks, the Irish government on Monday ordered the imposition of a six-week stay-at-home lockdown.

Northern Ireland to close schools, pubs, restaurants due to coronavirus concerns – dpa international

Social distancing guidelines in St. Stephen's Green, a park in central Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Faced with rising novel coronavirus infection numbers, Northern Ireland will require restaurants and pubs to close for four weeks, the region’s First Minister Arlene Foster said on Wednesday.”There are increasing numbers of people requiring acute care in our hospitals and sadly we learned yesterday of the death of seven people from Covid-19,” Foster said, referring to the disease sometimes caused by the virus. Hairdressers and salons must also close for one month, though restaurants and pubs can offer takeaway or delivery services. The restrictions come into force from Friday. Schools will close for two weeks and people have been asked to avoid “unnecessary travel” and “work from home unless unable to do so.” Responding to the announcement, industry body Hospitality Ulster warned Foster’s administration of “redundancies across the sector” unless an “emergency financial package” is put together for affected businessses.