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Govt to look at phasing out pandemic supports from October – Varadkar

The Government will begin to look at phasing out financial pandemic supports in the final three months of the year, the Tánaiste has told colleagues.

Speaking at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting tonight, Leo Varadkar indicated supports would remain in place throughout July, August and September.

These months will be used to give people time to return to work and to allow the economy recover, he said.

Mr Varadkar repeated that there would be no cliff-edge to the payments, which had been due to expire at the end of June.

The matter will be finalised by Cabinet next Tuesday.

Earlier, Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald called for the extension of the pandemic payments until the autumn at least.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin had told the Dáil that there would be targeted financial supports put in place to assist sectors such as aviation, hospitality and the arts, which were hardest hit by the pandemic.

Mr Varadkar also told Fine Gael TDs and senators tonight that the portal for 40 to 45-year-olds to register for vaccines should be open within days and they will have the option to take the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

He confirmed an announcement on international travel will be made on Friday.

The Tánaiste warned that the threat of a fourth wave is still real and there is a need to remain cautious for the coming weeks given that 2.5 million people still have not received any vaccine.

Separately, the Department of Health has been notified of 448 new cases of Covid-19.

The number of people with the virus in ICU is 41, unchanged since yesterday.

The department has also issued updated Covid-19 case numbers since 15 May, when an alternative approach to reporting daily figures was introduced following the cyber attack on the HSE’s IT systems.

The department said that the revised numbers were the result of “further validation process”.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus safety guidelines issued by Fáilte Ireland state that a maximum of six people aged 13 years and over will be allowed per table when restaurants, pubs and cafés open next month.

There will be no limit on how long customers can remain eating and drinking outdoors, nor will there be a limit on duration indoors where tables are at least two metres apart.

Also today, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil that emergency pandemic measures, including additional powers for the gardaí, will only need to be extended “for a very short time”.

He said the regulations will be extended from 10 June until 9 November.

Mr Donnelly also said he had been in touch with the National Public Health Emergency Team and the “trajectory is positive”.

Elsewhere, a new report from the Health Information and Quality Authority has revealed some of the main factors behind outbreaks of Covid-19 in nursing homes.

It said there were a disproportionate number of deaths among those living in nursing homes during the early stages of the pandemic.

Among the key factors linked to outbreaks were: rising community incidence of Covid-19 around the home, the number of beds within the home and the presence of other nursing homes in close proximity.

In other Covid-related news, Belgium has decided that Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine against Covid-19 will be limited to people aged 41 and over, following the death of a woman who received the jab.

It comes as the European Union asked a Belgian court to impose penalties running to millions of euros per day on AstraZeneca for Covid-19 vaccine doses it has failed to deliver to the EU.

Elsewhere, authorities in Melbourne, Australia are scrambling to contain a growing Covid outbreak in the city.

Thousands of football fans were told to self-isolate and get tested for coronavirus after an infected spectator attended an Australian Rules match locally.

Article Source – Govt to look at phasing out pandemic supports from October – Varadkar – RTE – Mícheál Lehane

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Planning applications for residential units drop

The number of residential units submitted for planning permission fell by nearly a third in the first quarter of the year, according to a new report by Deloitte.

The level of residential planning applications remained relatively stable at 77, but the level of applications granted dropped 26% year on year.

The number of commencement notices was 44% lower in the first three months of the year compared to the same period last year.

“The reduction in the number of units submitted is most likely a direct implication of the restrictions imposed over the first quarter of 2021,” said John Doddy, Deloitte Real Estate Advisory.

“The slowdown in residential planning permissions will inevitably have an impact on housing supply at some point in the next few years, compounding the impact from the construction shutdown caused by Covid-19.”

The report also found that the mix of residential unit types subject to commencement between January and March shifted substantially to housing over apartments.

The Deloitte report shows that of the 77 new residential scheme planning applications lodged in the first quarter, 36% were in Dublin, 36% in the rest of Leinster, with the balance across the rest of the country.

Of the 32 residential schemes for which commencement notices were lodged, only 12% were in Dublin, down from 42% in Q1 2020.

“It is evident the strong requirement for housing has not disappeared due to the current Covid-19 crisis, with significant pent-up demand for both rental and sales accommodation,” Mr Doddy said.

“However, affordability remains an underlying issue. Coupled with this pent-up demand and the evident slowdown in supply, this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”

Article Source – Planning applications for residential units drop – RTE – Will Goodbody

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Survey suggests measures needed for affordable housing

A new survey has found that four out of every five adults think the Government should introduce new measures to improve the supply of affordable housing here.

The research, carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes on behalf of employers’ group Ibec, also found that a third of respondents would like to be able to buy a home in the next two years.

But just 15% of both first-time buyers and movers think they would be able to do so.

“Housing supply and affordability is clearly one of Ireland’s main societal challenges but it is also a significant constraint for employers and the wider economy from a talent attraction and retention perspective,” said Fergal O’Brien, Ibec Director of Lobbying and Influence.

“A renewed national effort is required to address the housing issues which are now undermining the quality of life for so many people in Ireland.”

The survey of 760 adults conducted last month found more than half of those polled are in favour of the Government’s shared equity scheme, with a third expressing an interest in availing of it.

Almost a third of those respondents who are renting a property said they see mortgage approval as a barrier to purchase.

16% believe that they will not be able to borrow sufficient funds from a bank, the survey revealed.

Among the younger age groups, half said they would consider moving to rural areas for housing and quality of life factors.

51% of those aged 18-34 said they think it will be between 3 and 10 years before they can buy a home.

The demand for purchasing or moving home is greatest in the Dublin region, amongst those at pre-family and family pre-school lifestages, as well as within the white collar and professional working status, the survey found.

“This new research underlines the scale of pent-up housing demand and also identifies the main challenges to home purchase which include a lack of availability in the right areas, affordability and bank lending constraints,” Mr O’Brien said.

The survey also revealed shifting trends in what potential buyers are looking for driven by the pandemic, with almost two thirds of respondents saying it is important for them to have a garden or outdoor space in their home.

A similar proportion said having extra space to use as a home office had become more important since the Covid-19 virus arrived.

Article Source – Survey suggests measures needed for affordable housing – RTE – Will Goodbody

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Number of people receiving PUP falls more than 29,000

The numbers of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment (PUP) this week has fallen by a further 29,174 to 333,993.

In total €102m will be paid out to recipients of the PUP.

This is on top of the further 177,969 who were on the Live Register at the end of April, the Department of Social Protection said.

25,824 people closed their PUP claim in the last week because they were returning to work.

Of these, the sector with the greatest number of claimants going back to employment were wholesale and retail trade and other sectors, which includes hairdressers and beauty salons.

Accommodation and food service is the sector with the highest number of recipients this week, followed by wholesale and retail trade.

The biggest overall reduction in claimants came from the “other sectors” category.

It is down by 11,708 claims on last week, the department said.

Dublin remains the county with the largest number of PUP recipients, followed by other next largest cities of Cork and Galway.

The department also said 1,389 people are in receipt of an Enhanced Illness Benefit payment, compared with 1,558 last week.

“The figures that I am publishing today include the largest number of people to close their claim in a single week since the year began,” said Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys.

“We are also seeing reductions in the number of people receiving the PUP in every county and across all occupations.

“These are all really positive signs and reflect the impact of sectors such as retail re-opening in full.”

Article Source – Number of people receiving PUP falls more than 29,000 – RTE – Will Goodbody

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Central Bank to conduct major review of mortgage rules

The Central Bank of Ireland will begin a major review of its mortgage lending rules next month, the first since the measures were introduced in 2015.

The review will consider the effectiveness of rules, whether they have achieved their aims and the evolution of the housing and mortgage markets since their inception.

It comes amid another acceleration in house-price growth, and an outcry over foreign investment funds bulk-buying family homes.

According to the minutes of the Central Bank’s latest macro-prudential meeting in April, “a plan for proposed listening and engagement events regarding the mortgage measures was discussed and agreed”.

The events are part of an “overarching framework review” of the mortgage measures, which limit how much banks can lend to homebuyers, taking place throughout 2021 and 2022.

The review, first announced by Central Bank governor Gabriel Makhlouf in 2019, will run concurrently with the regular annual reviews of the mortgage measures.

“While the mortgage measures are a permanent feature of the market, it is approaching seven years since the introduction of these measures, and the Central Bank seeks not only to maintain the good practice of regularly reviewing the calibration of policy but also the over-arching framework,” the minutes said.

“It will consider the current objectives relative to the overall aim of the measures, the evolution of the housing and mortgage markets and the advent of new data sources, such as the Central Credit Register, allowing for an in-depth analysis on the effective design of the measures,” they said.

At an event in February, the Central Bank’s deputy governor Sharon Donnery said house prices would have been 25 per cent higher without the mortgage rules. The estimate related to the four-year period after the rules were introduced to March 2019.

A separate study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which covered a different timespan, suggested house prices would have been 9 per cent higher without the rules.

Ms Donnery said the macro-prudential rules had helped the financial sector “absorb rather than amplify the shock of the pandemic”.

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The Central Bank’s rules restrict the loan-to-value limits on a mortgage to between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of the value of a property, while a separate loan-to-income rule restricts consumers to borrowing 3½ times their salary. Banks can, however, breach these limits for a certain portion of their lending.

The minutes of the meeting also noted that the committee was apprised of a separate review into the Central Bank’s macroprudential framework for bank capital.

This comes as debt ratings firm DBRS Morningstar suggested tough capital requirements – limiting their exposure to mortgage lending – may have triggered the exit of Ulster Bank and KBC from the Irish market.

“This work will inform the bank’s future approach to the appropriate mix and levels of macroprudential capital buffers, consistent with the level of systemic risk faced by the domestic Irish banking system at different points in the economic cycle,” the minutes said.

Article Source – Central Bank to conduct major review of mortgage rules – Irish Times – Eoin Burke-Kennedy

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Gas supply driving power generation in April

Gas demand for power generation reached its highest level in six months in April as wind generation fell to its lowest in nine months, new figures show today.

Gas Networks Ireland said that over 53% of Ireland’s electricity demand was met by the national gas network, a 4% rise on March.

Wind’s contribution to the power supplies dropped to below 24%.

At peak times natural gas provided more than 80% of Ireland’s power needs in April. Wind topped 70% at times, but fell to 0.3% on other occasions.

Total gas demand was up 9% on April 2020 with the total so far this year up 1.5% on last year as almost all sectors experienced significant year-on-year increases in gas demand.

Several sectors heavily impacted by Covid-19 showed strong growth compared to the same month last year, with construction jumping 168% on last year, heavy transport rising by 154%, leisure increasing by 146% and manufacturing up by 41%.

Sectors that remained relatively solid, including pharma, medical devices and food and drink, also continue to grow.

Meanwhile, residential gas demand is up 2% year to date compared to 2020, reflecting a significantly colder opening third of the year.

Brian Mullins, Gas Networks Ireland Head of Regulatory Affairs, said the country’s gas network continues to be the reliable and flexible backbone of the energy system and key to energy security of supply.

“Gas demand figures for April indicate that we are beginning to see an increase in economic activity. Most sectors are now performing ahead of 2020 levels in terms of gas demand with only tourism related industries left to catch up,” he said.

Article Source – Gas supply driving power generation in April – RTE

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Guidelines for reopening of hospitality sector due out

Guidelines for the reopening of the hospitality sector are expected to be published today.

They have been drawn up by Fáilte Ireland ahead of Friday’s Cabinet meeting which will look at a further easing of Covid-19 restrictions in June and July.

The guidelines are expected to say that tables will have to be a metre apart for both indoor and outdoor dining.

But there will be one key difference in the approach to indoor hospitality, it will have a time limit unlike the service that will be offered outdoors.

There is also set to be a strong emphasis on ventilation when it comes to indoor dining.

Outdoor hospitality is expected to resume on 7 June, but Cabinet must decide on Friday when the sector can serve customers indoors again.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicated yesterday that this may not happen in the first week of July and he said it remains the case that outdoors is best.

Meanwhile, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin said that progress has been made to provide grants for pubs to serve customers outside.

Article Source – Guidelines for reopening of hospitality sector due out – RTE – Micheál Lehane

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Unemployment could exceed 390,000 post-pandemic – Social Justice Ireland

Unemployment could end up exceeding 390,000 when the pandemic ends – a higher rate than at the peak of the last recession, according to the Social Justice Ireland research body.

Its latest Employment Monitor also shows that over a fifth of people whose jobs have been impacted by Covid-19 do not expect to return to their pre-pandemic job.

Social Justice Ireland warns of a looming crisis of youth unemployment, and calls for an extensive package of measures to support those experiencing joblessness.

According to the body, CSO data suggests the post-pandemic unemployment rate could top 16.1% – the highest since 1986.

The pandemic has impacted the jobs of almost 1.25 million people.

Of those, 21% do not expect to return to their previous jobs.

Of those voicing those fears, almost half are under 34 – potentially heralding a “major explosion” in youth unemployment which was already under way before the pandemic.

The unemployment rate in Dublin could soar to 21% – up 350% – with joblessness doubling in other regions.

Social Justice Ireland calls for an extensive – as yet uncosted – package of investment in training, housing, schools, broadband and other supports – particularly in rural areas – along with tax reform to assist the lower paid and those in vulnerable jobs.

The body’s CEO, Dr Sean Healy, noted that emigration is no longer available to assist in reducing joblessness, and warned of the danger of a rise in long term unemployment.

Article Source – Unemployment could exceed 390,000 post-pandemic – Social Justice Ireland – RTE – Ingrid Miley

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Publicans call for indoor opening ‘no later’ than July 1

Publicans have called for indoor trading to resume no later than Thursday July 1.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland said that after “sacrificing” their businesses for over 15 months, now is the time for Government to confirm that pubs can fully reopen by the first week in July in time for the traditional start of the summer tourist season.

While the VFI welcomed the reopening of pubs for outdoor trading on June 7, it said that running an outdoor-only business is not sustainable that for the vast majority of its members, so clarity on when publicans can resume indoor trading is required this week.

“Every day counts for our members and they need to hear from Government this week that indoor trading can resume no later than July 1,” Padraig Cribben, VFI’s chief executive said.

Mr Cribben said the successful vaccination programme is sending a strong signal that life is returning to something approaching normal.

“This week pubs in the North will reopen indoors, three weeks after outdoor trading started there. We have said all along that pubs in the Republic should follow the same timeline, which would see our members reopen indoors by July 1,” Padraig Cribben said.

“We can’t have a two-tier pub sector on the island for longer than a couple of weeks as already people are crossing the border to socialise,” the VFI CEO said.

“As we remain on course to have the vast majority of the population receive their first vaccination by the end of June, it follows that a full reopening of pubs should then be permitted,” he said,

“When our pubs do reopen they must follow strict social distancing guidelines and we are asking Government to get those guidelines published immediately so our members can begin preparations,” he added.

He said the Government must bring finality to what has been a “catastrophic” period for the pub trade.

Article Source – Publicans call for indoor opening ‘no later’ than July 1 – RTE

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What will be the result of the global remote work experiment?

A pioneer of remote work, IBM installed remote terminals in employees’ homes as early as the 1980s, and by 2009, when the idea of remote work was still a novelty for most, 40% of IBM’s global workforce worked at home.

The technology company saved about $100 million in the US annually as a result of reducing its office space.

In 2018, I interviewed a former worker with IBM about the benefits and challenges of working from home for a radio report. She spoke enthusiastically about the flexibility of working her own hours; how her children knew not to disturb her when her headphones were on and how her colleagues who worked on the same team but in different corners of the work, would gather online to socialise.

I asked how she managed her work life balance, and she said, “I think it’s more about work life integration”. I could almost hear the collective groans of listeners on their commute who already felt overworked without the need for ‘integration’.

Working from home seemed like a fanciful notion in 2018, but little did we know that many of us would take part in the ultimate remote working experiment in 2020 because of a global pandemic.

The question now is, what will be the results of that experiment?

We can gain some insights from a home working experiment carried out at the largest online travel agency in China, formerly called Ctrip, in 2013.

The CEO of Ctrip, James Liang, attended a graduate class at Standford University in California when he told Professor Nicholas Bloom about how expensive property was in Shanghai where the company was headquartered. He was considering letting staff work from home because of it but was concerned if it would result in a fall in productivity.

Mr Liang and Prof Bloom teamed up to find out.

They divided 1,000 employees into two teams, separated by their dates of birth. Those born on even days got to work from home four days a week. Those born on odd days stayed in the office all week.

It was easy to monitor the productivity of both teams because their tasks, such as making bookings and phone calls, were quantifiable.

After 9 months, Mr Liang and Prof Bloom discovered workers were 13% more productive at home. This was a surprise to who expected that the trade-off to saving money on office space would be reduced productivity.

Of that 13% increased output, around 4% of it came from workers being able to do more tasks per minute due to fewer distractions. The remaining 9% was attributed to workers working more minutes per shift. Prof Bloom put this down to the fact that commutes were eliminated, lunch breaks were shorter and fewer workers took sick days.

Ctrip offered the option of working from home permanently after the success of the experiment. However, half of the workers who opted to work from home found it harder second time around and wanted to return to the office.

Three quarters of the control group who initially requested to work from home, decided to stay in the office as well.

Those who chose to work from home were the highest performing employees at CTrip. Their productivity rate increased by over 20%. Lower performing employees preferred to work in the office.

Amanda Shantz is Associate Professor of Human Resource Management at Trinity Business School.

She found the experiment fascinating and “probably predictive of where we are going now”.

“The vast majority of people want to spend at least some of their time within the office and so providing this type of flexibility and autonomy may be the best way forward,” she said.

“But there are questions about this hybrid approach. People are saying, ‘Oh sure, just give people a chance to make a decision themselves as if this is a panacea for all of our problems. But other research suggests that there might be limitations or challenges for taking a hybrid approach as well.”

She cites another study on the limits of remote working entitled, “Contagious offsite work and the lonely office: The unintended consequences of distributed work”.

It looked at a Fortune 100 company on the forefront of allowing offsite work.

Employees at their California offices who were free to determine their place of work were interviewed and surveyed. Most employees worked at least some of the time off site.

Employees talked about how working with others at the onsite office made some aspects of their job easier, while also serving important social needs. People who came into the office often did so because they wanted social interaction. As one interviewee who spent most of his time in the office said, “[When at home], you don’t get the, as you walk in, “How was your weekend?” “Oh that’s great.”

“The desk across from mine is the goody table, so somebody brings in coffee cake this morning, candy, whatever, you get the impromptu meeting of somebody grabbing something and you just say hi.”

Another employee who only worked about a third of her week offsite noted the productivity advantages of coming into the office. If you have to pick up the phone or e-mail someone, you have to extend extra effort:

“If you are sitting in the office next to somebody and an idea pops in your head, and you want to bounce it off somebody [you are able to] … picking up a phone is a lot, suddenly it is more important. Writing an e-mail becomes more formal. And so I think that you lose a little bit of that instantaneous kind of collaboration.”

The study also found that when enough people chose to work offsite, there was less incentive for others to come to the workplace because their colleagues might not be there.

The choice that some people make about coming into the office was likely influencing other people’s choices. “This suggests that working offsite could be contagious—once co-workers work offsite the motivation to come to the onsite office is reduced, impacting yet another group of individuals,” according to the authors of the study.

Here in Ireland, the Government is encouraging businesses to embrace remote working and facilitate employees who wish to work from home to do so, long after the pandemic has lifted.

Under the National Remote Working Strategy launched in January, new legislation will give employees a legal right to request remote working.

There is no guarantee they will get it, but if the employer doesn’t have good grounds for refusing, the employee can take a case to the Workplace Relations Commission.

This week, HR Group, CIPD Ireland, held its annual conference, themed “Designing the Future of Work”.

It said the next challenge facing companies as the economy re-opens will be balancing the new demands of workers with the realities of running a business.

Director of CIPD Ireland Mary Connaughton said developments over the past 15 months have made one thing clear.

“Planning a return to the traditional way of working is too much of a risk. Our research shows employees have realised there is another way and they want to have a say in how it will work for them.”

She said responsiveness is key to striking a balance for retaining and recruiting staff. “We’ve come through a prolonged period where we relied heavily on trust to keep the show on the road. That trust will be vital as we enter the next, rebuilding phase of this experience,” she said.

So what is really needed to make working from home possible long-term?

Associate Professor at Trinity Busines School, Amanda Shantz said the short answer is management. “If all senior leaders are working from headquarters, then workers would be drawn to that location to get fact time.

“But if leaders are intentional about working from home, and encourage virtual socialisation and teambuilding, and set an example by working from home themselves, distributed organisations may emerge as the future of work.”

She said employers need to trust their employees. “They tend to be more productive when working from home but they also tend to be lonely and require structured, intentionally planned social activities.

“Communication is radically different in an online world.” Associate Prof Shantz advises employers to adjust accordingly and talk with employees about these differences.

Take care in providing choice to work from home, she said. “Flexible policies should be managed with care.”

Article Source – What will be the result of the global remote working experiment? – RTE – Petula Martyn

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