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.

Lockdowns leave 10-trillion-dollar hole in global economy – 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 — A stronger-than-expected rebound this year will still leave the world down an estimated 10 trillion dollars due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Although the global economy could expand by 4.7 per cent in 2021, it will nonetheless wind up “short of 10 trillion dollars” – about twice Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) – compared to if the pandemic never happened, UNCTAD said on Thursday. Last year, the global economy was hit by what UNCTAD described as “its sharpest annual drop in output since statistics on aggregate economic activity were introduced in the early 1940s.” While wealthy economies have proposed huge damage-limitation fiscal spending, such as the United States’ 1.9-trillion-dollar “stimulus package,” and while China returned to growth in late 2020, people in smaller and poorer countries are struggling, UNCTAD warned.

Nature conservation disrupted since pandemic started – dpa international

DUBLIN — Nature conservation has been “significantly impacted” by the coronavirus and related restrictions, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Thursday, a year to the day since the outbreak was declared a pandemic. While responses to the pandemic “temporarily slowed down human impacts upon nature,” the IUCN said, restrictions such as stay-home lockdowns and widespread travel curbs later led to “conservation work job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols and environmental protection rollbacks.” Over the past year, according to the IUCN, “protected and conserved area operations were scaled down or suspended, visitor facilities closed, workplaces shut, many staff withdrawn from duty stations and supply chains disrupted.” Over half Africa’s protected areas “were forced to halt or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations as well as conservation education and outreach,” according to IUCN surveys.

Pandemic restrictions mean two-thirds of borders are fully or partly closed – dpa international

DUBLIN — Pandemic restrictions have completely or partly closed two-thirds of destinations worldwide to international tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), a United Nations agency. One year on from the World Health Organization labelling the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, 69 out of 217 destinations remain “completely closed,” the UNTWO said on Monday in its latest Travel Restrictions Report. Around the same number of destinations are “partially closed,” the UNWTO calculated. Thirty-eight of the 69 completely-closed destinations have been that way for at least 40 weeks, the UNWTO said, noting “regional differences” in how curbs are applied.

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.”

Catholic leaders worry about post-pandemic congregations – dpa international

KNOCK — On December 2, almost two months to the day since his parishioners were last permitted to attend Mass, Father Richard Gibbons’ greeting to eager, returning worshippers mixed relief and barely disguised elation. “Good afternoon to you all and welcome back to Mass,” said Gibbons, parish priest in Knock, a village in the west of Ireland and Marian pilgrimage site visited by Pope Francis in 2018. Ireland’s second coronavirus-related lockdown had just ended. Among the restrictions, which included pubs, restaurants and “non-essential” retail being forced to close, was a ban on attendance at religious ceremonies other than weddings and funerals. So, after two months of saying Mass to unseen believers watching online from their homes, Gibbons was glad to face even the sparse gathering permitted inside the vast Knock basilica, which can seat almost 4,000 people. “It’s great – for me – to have somebody at Mass,” he said, emphasizing the “somebody.” But the reprieve did not last: on December 22, the Irish government announced a return to lockdown, citing concerns over a new coronavirus strain in nearby Britain.

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.