News Archives - Page 4 of 317 - Pat Carroll PCCO - Chartered Accountants & Tax Advisors

British economy slumps into recession after record drop in quarterly output

Britain’s economy shrank by a record 20.4 per cent between April and June, when the coronavirus lockdown was tightest, the largest contraction reported by any major economy so far, according to official figures published on Wednesday.

The data also showed the world’s sixth-biggest economy entered a recession as it shrank for a second quarter in a row.

There were signs of a recovery in the month of June alone when gross domestic product grew by 8.7 per cent from May, the Office for National Statistics said.

That was just above economists’ average expectation in a Reuters poll for an 8 per cent rise. Growth in May was revised up too.

“The recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to the biggest fall in quarterly GDP on record,” Jonathan Athow of the Office for National Statistics said.

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Digital Hub warns of need for emergency funding from State

Dublin’s Digital Hub, which is home to more than 70 companies, has warned it may need to seek emergency funding from the State as Covid-19 impacts its finances.

According to briefing notes recently prepared for Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan, the Digital Hub Development Agency alerted his department in April of the effect of the pandemic on its capacity to generate commercial income.

The news comes as the Government is to announce a new €12 million enterprise centres fund.

A spokesman for the agency told The Irish Times it has worked with client companies facing rent challenges “and found creative solutions to support their continued operations.”

“With a relatively fixed cost base it was prudent to flag the anticipated financial shortfall for this financial year, on which we are in ongoing discussions with the department for additional support,” the spokesman said.

“We have taken steps to achieve savings where possible in our operating costs,” he added.

The agency operates under the aegis of the department and is funded through a mix of commercial income – rent from client companies – and State funding of €795,000 per annum.

In 2018, the last year for which accounts are publicly available, it recorded revenues of €4.2 million, of which €3.3 million was from rent.

Consultants Grant Thornton were appointed by the Department for Communications in December to undertake a review into the agency. The department has said that any request for emergency funding will only be considered in the context of the recommendations from that study.

The department’s review is in part intended to conclude whether the agency should be allowed to expand further, given the increases in commercial property values and a lack of housing in the capital.

Since the Digital Hub was established in 2003, more than 200 companies have passed through its doors including some well-established companies such as Stripe. The agency, which is headed by former Abbey Theatre director Fiach Mac Conghail, claims to be the largest cluster for digital companies in the State.

It occupies 10 buildings of which nine are in use for the purpose of the cluster. Over 50 per cent of the campus has been developed with 72,000 sq ft of lettable office space currently in use.

The hub offers flexible office arrangements and business support services to growing tech companies and is also involved in providing digital-related learning and training opportunities geared to the local community.

“Notwithstanding the near-term challenges, we remain confident that the Hub can continue to provide the sort of creative community that since its foundation has provided a home to over 400 companies, and supported over 2,000 jobs, making a major contribution to the regeneration and revitalisation of the Dublin 8 area, the agency spokesman said.

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Irish talent tech is helping businesses and employees to learn and thrive

In these turbulent times, many firms are viewing the period of disruption as an opportunity to reassess and improve how they care for and develop employees – and ultimately build better organisations.

Irish talent tech firms are supporting HR and organisational development departments at global firms as they examine how a push for employee development, behavioural change and organisational transformation can help businesses build strong capability for the future, whatever it may bring.

While companies have had many organisational challenges in adjusting to the ‘new normal’, the human side of remote working has been the most critical.

“We are all social beings,” says Jim O’Brien, one of the co-founders of Our Tandem, a performance management technology company based in Ireland with offices in London, New York and Toronto. “We have lost that time we used to have to interact with colleagues and build trust in the workplace, so organisations are looking for ways to replace it.”

Our Tandem re-imagines the world of work to provide a digital employee experience and engagement solution, designed to ignite and sustain a workplace culture that inspires all employees.

Initially, Our Tandem was more focused on being a feedback channel, but it has evolved, says O’Brien. “It is now a culture-change tool, helping you to shift the culture from one of low feedback or judgemental feedback, to one where the entire employee experience – from feedback, to goals, check-ins and surveys – is an everyday experience, with no surprise or fear involved.”

Founded in 2016, Our Tandem has built a large client base across Europe, these include financial firms such as Swiss Re, Abn Amro, Axa, and Société Générale.

In these changed times, it’s vital for employers to have a culture of safety and care, says Pa Fealy, CEO of PulseLearning, an award-winning, global learning company founded in 1999.

“People often have a deep desire to help each other but they’re not sure what to do. On the flip-side, we all need help sometimes, but we are not sure how to ask for it. PulseLearning bridges the gap between someone who has a willingness to help and someone who needs help.”

PulseLearning created the ‘I Am Here’ employee mental health and wellbeing programme with clinical experts to facilitate cultural change within organisations. It promotes an environment where asking for help is encouraged and facilitated.

Clients using I Am Here see an increase in the use of employee assistance programmes and a significant, sustained reduction in sick days and workers’ compensation claims for clients.

“I Am Here creates a behavioural and cultural change in an organisation. Mental health and wellbeing supports are not just a nice-to-have, they are a need-to-have. Loss of time in the business by a team member has a business impact as well as a human impact.”

Upskilling is a real concern for any company engaged in digital transformation, especially as it can leave experienced employees doing their best with outmoded skills.

Time and again, however, Code Institute has seen large firms being able to take their seasoned employees and help them adapt, thereby benefiting both the workers and their employers.

Code Institute’s core product is a university-accredited diploma in full stack web development.

Its content is reviewed quarterly under the auspices of an industry council, which includes representatives from Accenture, Intercom, Microsoft and PayPal, among others.

While individuals can sign up to study, Code Institute also works closely with HR and learning and development teams within corporate clients.

Jane Gormley, director of employer engagement at Code Institute, says: “Giving existing staff new skills is vital to successful digital transformation and also supports internal mobility for employees. We all know there is a massive digital skills shortage, but it is really positive to be able to retain your existing experienced staff. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

  • David Corcoran is a senior market advisor at Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland has published a Talent Tech Directory this week through its network of 40 overseas offices and includes Irish companies, Our Tandem, Code Institute, and PulseLearning among others delivering talent solutions across the employee life cycle. The directory is available in full via: https://irishadvantage.com/talent-tech-directory

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Unemployment falls sharply last month but threat of reclosure looms

The unemployment rate fell to 16.7pc last month as thousands of employees returned to work.

New official figures show that the rate fell by over 6pc in July from 23.1pc in June.

However, unemployment is still over 10pc higher than it was before the crisis when the economy was close to full employment.

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Pandemic saw anxious Irish savers cut their pension contributions

More than one fifth of Irish pension savers have reduced contributions to their scheme during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Irish pension savers are three times more likely than those in the UK to have stopped or reduced pension contributions during the period, according to a survey by State Street Global Advisors (SSGA).

Globally, most people surveyed responded to the deteriorating economic situation caused by the pandemic by reducing their living expenses, with over half having reduced spending on non-essential items, or eliminating monthly savings.

Turning off pension contributions to save cash will hurt people’s long-term savings and post-pension lifestyle, according to Ann Prendergast who heads SSGA in Ireland.

“We found Irish savers were more active than those elsewhere during the crisis, checking their balance more, shifting out of shares, for instance, and re-allocating risk or reducing contributions and were more accepting of employers who reduced contributions,” she said.

While people here are more likely to feel personally responsible for their pension’s performance, the effect is often damaging, she said.

“Ideally your pension should be ticking away in the background, a period of crisis is not necessarily a good time redirect risk or make wholesale changes,” said Ms Prendergast.

In the UK, just 7pc of pension savers surveyed reduced their contribution during the pandemic, compared to 22pc here and 13pc globally.

Irish people were also more likely to make changes to the mix of investments in their scheme during the period, potentially undermining their long-term strategic returns, Ms Prendergast said.

In countries – including the UK – where auto-enrolment is up and running, the survey found people are less anxious about their pension and less likely to make adjustments to their pension planning, the survey found.

The research found that 28pc of Irish pension savers surveyed had checked their pension balance more regularly during the pandemic – 50pc higher than the global average.

The survey is based on online interviews with 3,479 retirement savers in Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States who have access to a workplace-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement savings plan.

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‘Particular concern’ for SMEs as winter comes – Varadkar

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, has said there is “particular concern” for survival rates among small and medium businesses (SMEs) as winter approaches.

Speaking at the launch of the Government’s Covid-19 Restart Plus grant for small businesses, Mr Varadkar said: “Then we would have a concern in spring, when the wage subsidy scheme ends, that this may be a pinch point for companies.”

There are currently over 248,000 SMEs in Ireland employing people in cities, towns and villages across the country, according to figures from the Irish SME Association (Isme).

Mr Varadkar said his department does not have up-to-date figures on the insolvency rates among SMEs. However, he said he’s heard anecdotally of a number of firms that have tried to reopen for business but found “they can’t get by or can’t make money”.

“I don’t have up-to-date numbers on insolvencies, but it is something that we will monitor,” he said.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar also warned that a very strong economic recovery next year following the Covid-19 lockdown now looks less certain.

The country’s economy – which had been the fastest growing in Europe before the pandemic hit – is forecast to contract by 10.5pc this year and bounce back by 6pc next year, the Department of Finance predicted in April.

“I think, to be frank, the economic impact is going to be a lot worse than you or I may have thought back in March or April or when the Government was formed [in June],” Minister Varadkar said on Newstalk.

“Back in March or April I would have said this is going to be a three-month phenomenon, a single-quarter severe hit to the economy and that we would be in a very strong recovery by next year. That now looks less certain.”

The Government is currently paying the pandemic unemployment payment to 262,500 people, down from a lockdown peak of 600,000. A further 370,000 employees are being supported by a wage-subsidy scheme.

The Covid-19 Restart Grant Plus, which was announced as part of the July stimulus, increases the maximum grant available to SMEs to €25,000 from €10,000 – in order to help firms recover. The minimum grant has increased to €4,000 from €2,000.

Companies with up to 250 employees can now apply, where previously the grant was for businesses with fewer than 50 staff.

“I’d like people to see this [grant] as part of a wider package,” Minister Varadkar said.

“There are other supports as well, for example: the wage subsidy scheme, the Vat cut, the rates holiday for six months, it’s a really big package for business. We are open to doing more, but that is a matter for the budget in October,” he added.

The grants are being run by the local authorities and the Government is aiming for decisions to be made on applications within two weeks. However, he said in some cases it might take “a few more weeks”.

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Small firms ‘kept waiting for weeks’ for restart grants

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will launch the Government’s plans for a beefed-up Covid-19 Restart Grant for small businesses today – a support that has been inaccessible since last month’s stimulus plan announcement.

In his prepared remarks on the expanded Restart Grant Plus, Mr Varadkar says applications are now open. His spokesperson said this means all 31 city and county councils nationwide that must process these applications will be expected to update their ­websites today to permit this.

While those local authorities have received applications from more than 40,000 rates-paying firms since the initial scheme went live in May, not one of their online pages yesterday was permitting such applications.

“Following the announcement on 23rd July 2020, the application form for the Business Restart Grant is temporarily unavailable,” Dublin City Council said. It pledged to resume taking applications “once the exact details of the changes have been confirmed and the necessary development work completed”.

“The restart grant is temporarily offline,” Laois County Council advised above step-by-step application instructions.

Cork City Council’s Restart Grants page said it would keep all answers blank on its FAQ section – including ‘How soon will I get my grant?’ – until “confirmation of details of the revised grant are received from Central Government”.

Anthony Casey, partner in financial advisory Noone Casey, says 90 of his retail, tech and entertainment clients have sought the grant under either new or old rules – but most haven’t received a cent.

“There have been no monies paid out, no grant approvals, for nearly three weeks – in a period when companies are suffering the most,” he said.

“I can’t for the life of me understand, in this time of crisis when SMEs are being battered, why you would announce something on the 23rd of July and then three weeks later still not have that process in place.”

While the initial May benefit was limited to firms employing fewer than 50 workers and with less than €5m annual turnover, the new scheme will raise those limits to 250 workers and €25m turnover.

The size of grants will rise from May’s €2,000-€10,000 range to a new range of €4,000-€25,000. This means successful claimants from the initial scheme can apply for significant top-ups, while many larger SMEs excluded under previous rules will gain access.

“Hairdressers, sports clubs, cafes, restaurants and several other businesses can use this money to help with the costs associated with reopening and adapting to what is a very different environment,” Mr Varadkar says in his statement.

However, one of the original scheme’s weaknesses – excluding businesses such as B&Bs that don’t pay rates – still appears subject to a vague timeline. While B&Bs are to become eligible for €4,000 grants, the announcement says Fáilte Ireland will begin taking these applications “over the coming weeks”.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said: “What should have been a straightforward expansion has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare.”

He said Mr Varadkar’s plans had produced “complete confusion and at least three postponed launch dates”.

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Bank of Ireland to refund customers after fraudulent ‘smishing’ campaign hit accounts

Bank of Ireland will reimburse customers hit by a cyber fraud that dropped fake texts into genuine interactions between the bank and account holders.

The bank said it is launching a fraud awareness campaign highlighting tactics deployed by criminals to trick customers into providing their banking details. It will also reimburse customers identified as being impacted by a targeted text ‘smishing’ campaign – which dropped fraudulent texts into the genuine Bank of Ireland text thread – which has been active during Covid-19.

The nationwide fraud awareness campaign will advise customers on how to protect themselves from fraud including through text ‘smishing’ attacks.

So called ‘smishing’ is serious criminal activity which targets customers of a range of institutions around the world – including banks, postal authorities, social welfare payments, and tax collection.

Fraudsters gain access to confidential information then move quickly to extract funds.

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What will the office market look like after the great remote working experiment?

When lockdown was imposed and workers were forced to desert office buildings en masse, it was a novelty. Hundreds of thousands of employees across the State decamped from bustling city centres to clear out their spare bedroom, turning ironing boards into stand-up desks or even making their own bedroom double up as a home office.

It was, without doubt, the biggest office experiment since so-called knowledge workers begun inhabiting glass walled buildings in the first place.

And yet, it was a long time coming. Telecommuting has been advocated in the United States since at least the 1970s as an approach to avoid the emerging trend of urban sprawl. Calls for remote working increased when technology allowed it and, more recently, as the cost of living and hassle of commuting continued to spike.

Then, in an instant, offices lay dormant as public health required it. So, has the experiment worked and what is the future for the office as we know it?

On the first question, consensus is yet to form. The national remote working survey by NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute found that 83 per cent of the more than 7,200 people surveyed wish to continue working remotely after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.

Of those, however, only 12 per cent want to work remotely on a full-time basis. Clearly, working from home is an option that people want but most will be disappointed if it became a requirement.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a topic that has gained in prominence over the past months, moving out of management magazines and into the zeitgeist. Ronan Corbett, director and head of offices at Cushman & Wakefield, says the “loudest voices in the room are the working from home advocates who have been talking about it for years”.

“The technology works but that’s as far as it goes. A lot of people don’t really understand what it is to grow and foster a company’s ethos and you can’t do that from home. You can’t run a business on Zoom,” said Corbett.

“It’s only within an office environment that you can foster a corporate culture or the learning environment – where junior staff can be trained,” noted Brian Moran, senior managing director of multinational property developer Hines.

Irish sentiment on remote working appears to be shared internationally, indicating that a landmark shift seems unlikely. A Morgan Stanley report issued on Tuesday examined European attitudes to working remotely. It found that 82 per cent of the 12,500 people surveyed would like to work away from the office environment more in the future.

Of those, almost half want to work from home only one or two days a week while 32 per cent would do so three or four days a week.

Ambivalence
This ambivalence about working from home in the longer term perhaps tells us that the status quo will hold in the commercial office sector. As if to prove that point, Facebook on Tuesday agreed a deal to lease 730,000sq ft of office space for thousands of employees in New York.

This is the same company that said in May that about half its workforce would work remotely over the next five to 10 years. For a company embracing remote work, it’s certainly sending out mixed messages.

Dr Maeve Houlihan, associate dean and director at the UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business, said that, often, companies like having “statement buildings” to “communicate a message around community and lifestyle”.

“There’s always the external communications bit about showing the public ‘who we are’,” she said. Her view is that, once this crisis passes, there will be “a strong desire for place”.

That’s not to suggest there won’t be any move to tinker around the edges of office portfolios. Dr Houlihan wouldn’t be surprised if companies downsize, “but it’s not a death sentence” where the office is concerned, she says.

That view was backed up by Morgan Stanley boss James Gorman, who caused consternation with his comments on the office when lockdown set in, noting that it was clear, going forward that the bank would have “much less real estate”. But last month, he clarified that the bank “will remain a major player in the commercial real estate market globally”.

“Are we going to be radically expanding real estate across the firm over the next five years? I doubt that very much. But are we going to be radically shrinking it? I doubt that very much,” said Gorman on an earnings call in July.

The suggestion is, therefore, that prime, well-built offices will likely retain their appeal.

“HQ-style offices, a significant, visible high profile presence may take on a certain role given that certain functions have to be in an office,” said Goodbody analyst Colm Lauder, adding that he would be optimistic where those buildings are concerned. “I’ve seen a few examples in the UK with firms saying they’d rather dispose of secondary, tertiary offices and focus on a HQ-type place.”

Dublin
What that could mean in practice is that, instead of having regional buildings, remote working could be encouraged as well as the odd trip to Dublin. Because Dublin has certainly not lost its appeal, especially for international investors.

“There are a lot of enquiries out there,” developer Johnny Ronan told The Irish Times, adding that, this time, “we’re not overbuilding”.

“The vacancy rate in prime Dublin is still very low,” he said.

With a net vacancy rate of 2.7 per cent, Dublin remains a challenging city in which to locate high quality office space. According to figures from Cushman & Wakefield, there is demand in the market for 2.5 million sq ft of office space.

For the past number of years, demand has run at about 3 million sq ft, indicating that the drop off hasn’t been significant.

Though rents will likely take a hit, Dublin continues to be a city in which office investors want a piece of the pie. “We forget this, and it’s an Irish thing that we’re very down on ourselves, but Dublin is in a good place right now internationally. There are a lot of cities around the world that would give their left arm to be in our position with tech occupiers driving growth,” noted Cushman & Wakefield’s Corbett.

With interest rates lurking in negative territory, there is an onus on institutional investors to seek out yield in commercial property. Office investments are a place where investors can gain exposure to the “world’s biggest companies, and thus the strongest covenants”, Johnny Ronan says.

Goodbody’s Lauder supported that view, noting that there is “all this money chasing yield”.

“For high quality [commercial office space] I’d expect some valuation hits in the near term but I wouldn’t be overly worried in the medium to long term,” Lauder said.

If anything, Ronan sees this as a “once in a century’s event”. “Why would a prime investment on a long lease to Facebook, Amazon, Google or Salesforce be more expensive in other European cities than Dublin? There is no logical reason and investors are beginning to see that fact,” he said referencing the fact that prime yields in Dublin are higher than the European average.

Rethink
But even for Ronan, who is perhaps well insulated given that his list of office tenants reads like a who’s who of technology companies (Amazon, Facebook and Salesforce are all clients), the pandemic will cause a rethink on some projects.

“The hotel has to be rethought,” he said when asked about a planned development on Tara Street – the AquaVetro tower – which is currently the tallest permitted building in Dublin, running to 23 floors and comprising hotel and office space.

Not only that, but office design will have to change, he says. “The days of packing them in like sardines; I think that’s gone.”

Nevertheless, the ebullient developer is optimistic about office rents, given that new starts on speculative development will “likely be subdued over the next 12 months, which will translate into increased rents in the longer term as occupier demand takes off post-Covid but supply remains constrained”.

But a separate source who has had considerable success in the commercial property sector noted that the bias slant at the moment is negative for rents.

While he was broadly positive, he added: “At this point, I wouldn’t be a buyer because I don’t think you’re getting paid to take the risk around the future economic disruption [and] the structural shift in terms of unemployment.”

Rents aside, Brian Moran of Hines agreed that some cities will face “major challenges around high density offices”.

“Dublin is a different paradigm to London or Paris. We do not have the same reliance on mass public transport. A lot of people can hop on a bike. So we don’t have the same challenge to get our city back to work again,” he said.

But even if the office sector is spared hardship, it’s difficult to imagine that the commercial property sector as a whole, and the retail sector in particular, will escape unscathed.

Retail
“From a sentiment perspective we could be close to the floor [where retail is concerned],” noted Colm Lauder, adding that values of Irish retail spaces probably have about another 20 per cent to fall.

“For a long time, you took a building on Grafton or Henry Street and the rental income from the ground floor would have been so sufficient that they didn’t need to develop the rest. We need to try and inject some vibrancy.”

“Retail is hurting, there is no doubt about that,” said Ronan in agreement.

Hines, which has $3.8 billion (€3.19 billion) in assets under management in the Republic, also has some retail space. Moran noted that if you have a prime pitch and a sophisticated retailer, the property will be fine.

“From a landlord’s perspective, the key is curating the right mix of retailers in your shopping centre. If you have old school retailers, get rid of them,” he said, adding that “I think you’ll see an evolution into partnership with retailers and landlords where rents will be linked to turnover”.

But even sophisticated retailers, as well as high profile office occupiers, have had to make staff redundant.

And as it appears that we’re only at the beginning of a period of liquidations and layoffs, many have begun to compare this crisis to the last. Ronan points out that this is very different. “In the old days, the banks were handing out money like slot machines, that’s not the case now.”

Whether a public health crisis is better or worse from an economic perspective clearly remains to be seen. But whatever happens, it appears that the office sector, in some form or another, has copperfastened its standing in cities, even if the architecture and the space between desks may change.

Interesting that it required everyone to work from home to arrive at that conclusion.

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Irish tourism must also help itself to survive the pandemic

There is no need to rake over old ground. We already know the tourism and hospitality sectors have been hit like no other by the pandemic and its war on fun.

We could argue over whether this has been compounded by recent Government decisions, such as the petty move to force restaurants to close at 11pm, depriving many of their final evening sitting. (Has somebody discovered that the virus is nocturnal?)

To those who know the sector best, the State’s overall approach to the sector is weighed down by an overabundance of caution and a tin ear for expertise that doesn’t come wearing a stethoscope and white coat. Policymakers who wearily claim to be just “following the science” would do well to remember that economics is a science too and we should not ignore it when dealing with an industry in mortal danger, like tourism and hospitality. Help it breathe or it will die.

But if we have a frightened Government, it is because it is leading frightened people. That fear will not go away until the threat of the virus abates.

Until then, tourism and hospitality businesses – and the 265,000 people once employed in the sector –will remain reliant on State help, much of which has yet to arrive, which is in itself an indictment of Government.

In the meantime, is the industry doing enough to help itself?

I spent the last two-and-a-bit weeks travelling around Ireland with my family. Discouraged from taking a foreign break by the quarantining quandary, we turned our “staycation” into an epic road trip, passing through four provinces, two jurisdictions and 17 counties.

We made stops in eight counties with varying degrees of tourism pedigree – Fermanagh, Derry, Limerick, Waterford, Kerry, Roscommon, Donegal and Wexford, the latter four accounting for all of the overnight stays. In each, we found evidence of an industry in obvious crisis, with a surfeit of shuttered storefronts in what would normally be hotpots.

But we also found evidence of businesses innovating to survive, such as the tourist pub we visited in Donegal, Biddy’s O’Barnes, which previously only ever served pizza with its pints. It has reopened with a full food menu, a one-way customer system and a canopy in the carpark to allow it function effectively as an open air restaurant, driving much-needed cashflow. The pints were still good.

Inevitably, we also found instances where some businesses didn’t appear to be taking the threat of the virus seriously enough.

Masks in shops are a legal requirement from Monday, but they ought to have been a common sense requirement for staff in hospitality businesses everywhere since reopening started in early summer. They are an easy win in the fight against the virus, and also in the parallel battle to win the trust of wary customers. In too many places, masks were still not ubiquitous among staff.

Masks

Masks in shops have been law in Britain since July 24th, although not in Northern Ireland. Less than a week before that date, we stopped in a small village in south Fermanagh with the intention of eating lunch sitting on a stone wall: a simple pleasure.

My wife, masked up like Dick Turpin, went into the local shop to buy a sandwich and found she was being stared at as if she really were a robber. Amused, she cheerily asked the shopkeeper why she was the only one wearing a mask. “Ach, we don’t have to do that until next Friday,” he replied, as if the threat of the virus was holding off until that day, too.

The shopkeeper was mistaken on the date – there was widespread confusion in the North over its opt out from British policy. But his attitude was still baffling.

In Killarney – filled with domestic tourists paying prices tailored for Americans – our waitress wore a visor instead of a mask. But a visor is no use as a virus-fighting tool if it is opened up on its hinge, like a welder on a tea-break.

Surprisingly, we found the most impressive adherence to masks in one of the least traditionally “touristy” areas, west Roscommon, where we “glamped” happily in a yurt.

The Castlerea pub where we ate lunch, Hesters, appeared to be following every safety guideline to the letter and far more vociferously than anywhere else we visited. Many customers wore masks coming in and some only took them off when their food or drink arrived.

Many older people even wore masks on the street and nobody made a fuss about it. They were simply getting on with things.

This responsible attitude ought to bode well for the reopening of small, rural pubs, if policymakers can ever be convinced to give them a chance. Anecdotally, we found people and businesses in rural areas such as Roscommon were much more responsible than those in the usual urban tourist hotspots.

Enough domestic tourists have ventured out to throng areas that we had expected to be quieter. I was heartened when the woman working in the hotel in which we stayed on the glorious Hook Peninsula in Wexford told me that she didn’t have a room free for weeks.

Traffic on the Ring of Kerry, meanwhile, seemed quieter than usual, less snarled by tour buses filled with foreign visitors. Yet a local told me she had never seen the gardens of Muckross House so busy.

But, as always, greed is liable to rear its head in the Irish tourism industry, and the virus has yet to kill off this depressing tendency.

Here is an example. There was little self catering accommodation left in Kerry when we went to book. Through a popular website, I found a reasonable-sized three-bedroom house near Killarney for four nights for €1,000. It had also been available on Airbnb for €1,450, but, obviously, I went for the cheaper price.

Shortly after I booked it, and less than a fortnight before I arrived, I noticed that it was back up for rent on Airbnb for the same nights that we had it booked for €1,650, even though I had prepaid for it through a different site.

I contacted the owner to say I feared a double booking and she tried to reassure me, not very convincingly, that it was an “error” and my booking was solid. I didn’t believe her, and feared being gazumped. She was obviously seeking a higher price, even though our booking was confirmed.

Lo and behold, two days before we arrived and already 10 days into our road trip, the owner cancelled the booking, leaving us facing the prospect of arriving in Killarney with nowhere to stay. I confronted them over the phone, as well as contacting the website through which I was supposed to have a confirmed booking. The owner relented, proffering another flimsy excuse for the “error”, and the booking was restored. It left a sour taste.

Much of the domestic tourism industry is doing its best to survive while it waits for State help in the pandemic. But some things may never change.

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