Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The chickens come home to roost

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 3rd, 2020 at 04:15:52 PM EST

Today the UK has joined Italy, Spain, the USA and France in surpassing the total of Chinese deaths despite having had a couple more months to prepare and learn from the Chinese experience of dealing with what had been a new and unprecedented corona virus disease. European governments were slow to identify and react to the gravity of the threat while Trump dismissed the pandemic as nothing more than a Democratic party hoax and the deputy Chief Medical Officer for England dismissed WHO advice on dealing with the pandemic as being appropriate only for low and medium income countries.

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Bordering on madness

by Frank Schnittger Tue Mar 31st, 2020 at 03:00:08 PM EST

Covid-19 seems to be doing what even Brexit could not achieve - reinforcing the border within Ireland. From the get-go Ireland and the UK have been pursuing different strategies to deal with the Pandemic. Ireland has been pursuing the WHO mandated strategy of physical isolation, closing all schools and non-essential workplaces, testing as much as possible and tracing and isolating the contacts of those who test positive.

The UK, on the other hand, flirted with a "herd immunity" strategy, was slow to shut down mass sporting events, schools and non-essential work places, tested only those hospitalised and never attempted contact tracing. When presented with evidence by epidemiologists that this could lead to a quarter of a  million deaths Boris Johnson's government did a U-Turn and belatedly introduced much more comprehensive measures, all the while denying there was ever a change in policy.

However with the number of infections doubling every three days, the two week delay in implementing stricter measures could lead to a 32 fold increase in infections and deaths, and more if the health care system is overwhelmed. Even now, health care professionals in the UK cannot get tested unless hospitalised themselves, no contact tracing is being attempted, and suspect cases are told to self-isolate for 7 not 14 days, as is the case in the Republic of Ireland.

If the Republic succeeds in suppressing the disease while N. Ireland does not, the government may have little option but to close the border to prevent new infections being re-introduced via the north.

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And now for some good news about the crisis...

by Frank Schnittger Mon Mar 30th, 2020 at 02:16:22 PM EST

Perhaps its time to focus on some relatively good news in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The OECD estimates that the Irish economy will suffer the mildest shock of any OECD economy as a result of the crisis, a reduction of 15% in GDP. How anyone can make such estimates with any precision at this stage in the crisis is beyond me, but there is perhaps some logic behind that prediction.

The Irish economy is heavily invested in sectors where working from home is widely possible such as financial services and software development, and also in the pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors which may grow as a result of the crisis, and may actually make a major contribution towards combating it.

Medtronic, (based in Dublin and Galway) has just made the design specification and software of one of their ventilators public to enable it to be more widely produced by other companies, and a collective of medical equipment design engineers from a number of companies have just completed the design of a "battlefield" emergency ventilator which could be manufactured rapidly all over the world.

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LQD: Merkel does Leadership

by Frank Schnittger Sun Mar 29th, 2020 at 11:48:46 AM EST

The Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It

Angela Merkel doesn't do drama and she doesn't give speeches on TV. So the mere fact that the German chancellor faced the camera across a desk and spoke to the nation Wednesday evening made the gravity of the situation clear. "Es ist ernst," she said--"This is serious"-- and those three bland words had more power than a hellfire sermon. Then she pivoted from statement to plea: "Take it seriously." Quickly, she moved on to historical context, the reason for her unprecedented impromptu appearance: "Since German unification--no, since the Second World War--no challenge to our nation has ever demanded such a degree of common and united action."

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Batten down the hatches...

by Frank Schnittger Sat Mar 28th, 2020 at 12:25:46 PM EST

The number of new confirmed cases of Covid-19 surged by 302 yesterday, the highest daily increase so far. There are now a total of 2,121 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland and 22 deaths to date. Update [2020-3-28 20:11:29 by Frank Schnittger]: 294 new cases and 14 new deaths today. Update [2020-3-29 18:27:1 by Frank Schnittger]: 200 new cases and 10 new deaths 29/3 - the first significant reduction in new cases in the series...[end update] The total number of cases has been doubling roughly every 4/5 days, which is somewhat better than was forecast at the start of the outbreak. Up to last Wednesday, 419 patients had been hospitalised with the disease and 59 of these had been admitted to ICU.

Given the shortage of ICU beds hospitals are now operating at close to capacity and the government has just issued its strictest restrictions  yet, basically saying everyone should stay at home for the next two weeks except for the purposes of buying essential food or medical supplies or a much more tightly defined list of essential work.

It is a lockdown in all but name, and pretty much the last shot in the governments locker - one last attempt to "flatten the curve" and, if possible, suppress the disease. Compliance, so far, seems to be high. The first death of a healthcare worker is adding to the sombre mood, although the situation doesn't seem to be quite as chaotic as in the UK's NHS, h/t  ThatBritGuy.

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The Covid-19 Patterns are changing

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 26th, 2020 at 10:49:27 PM EST

The table above is continuously updated here and by John Hopkins University here.

The pandemic patterns are changing, with the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases now in the USA, despite a lack of a timely and comprehensive testing regime. Italy and Spain are still leading the mortality column with France also moving up the table. On a per capita basis, Luxembourg and Switzerland actually have a higher confirmed infection rate per million inhabitants and there is some hope that the rate of new infections is actually beginning to slow down in Italy where new infections have increased by less than 10% per day for the past four days in a row.

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Ireland becoming a socialist state?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Mar 24th, 2020 at 10:45:56 PM EST

The Irish government, led by the most conservative major party in the state, has instituted a number of emergency measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic:

  1. The government will fund 70% of workers salaries up to a maximum of €410 per week tax free in businesses effected by the crisis.
  2. Social welfare, unemployment, and sick pay is increased from €203 per week to €350 p.w.
  3. The government is taking over all private hospitals and incorporating them into the public hospital system for the duration of the crisis.
  4. A rent freeze and ban on evictions.
  5. The cost of these measures is estimated to be €3.7 Billion over the next 12 weeks - greater than the total annual budget surplus estimated prior to the crisis.

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The patterns of a pandemic

by Frank Schnittger Mon Mar 23rd, 2020 at 11:53:13 AM EST

Update [2020-3-23 23:40:41 by Frank Schnittger]:Table updated

You can find the table above constantly updated here, where you can also sort it by each column header.

A number of factors can influence the spread and mortality rate of the pandemic in different countries:

  1. Timing - the number of days since the first case in a region
  2. Preparedness - the ability of local hospital facilities to cope with rapidly elevating demand
  3. Timing and effectiveness of counter-measures taken - principally non-pharmaceutical interventions like the closure of schools, pubs, restaurants, non essential business contacts, sporting events, and the practice of self isolation, physical distancing and personal hygiene.
  4. Level of testing and contact tracing
  5. Demographics - older people (and men), especially with pre-existing serious medical conditions, are disproportionately at risk

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Sectarianism goes viral

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 19th, 2020 at 11:58:56 AM EST

Letter to the Editor

A Chara,

If I were charged with murder (and guilty as hell) I would hire your columnist, Newton Emerson, as my defence attorney. Based on his article "Sectarian split over school closures feels ominous", Opinion, 19 March, he would have even me believing in my innocence.

The whole point of the WHO (and now belatedly, the UK) expert advice is that the infection rate will increase exponentially until herd immunity is achieved unless there are radical interventions on the part of governments and peoples.

The further one is up that exponential curve, the more difficult it becomes to isolate and control the rate of infection. Exponentially more difficult. So days and even hours matter, and two weeks is an age.

There is , in any case, no evidence to support Newton's assertion that N. Ireland and the UK are two weeks behind Ireland in the course of this pandemic.

To try to cast those who sounded the alarm when they realised how serious this was all getting as engaging in sectarian politics is itself sectarian politics of the most crass kind almost equivalent to accusing Jews of alarmism and racism when they warned of Nazi atrocities.

Globally there could indeed be millions of casualties - and thousands in Ireland - before this is all over, and then those who delayed and procrastinated over essential measures will indeed be in the dock. Guilty as charged, I'm afraid.

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Facing the Surge

by Frank Schnittger Tue Mar 17th, 2020 at 11:45:58 PM EST

I don't agree with his economic policies, and his party has just been roundly defeated in a general election by a people yearning for change. But every now and then it's nice to see some basic competence in your leaders. Leo Varadkar didn't announce any radical new measures in this broadcast to the nation and to the world on St. Patrick's day, but he got this speech just about right. The detail can come later.

For the full text, see here.

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The Corona Crisis gets real

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 12th, 2020 at 03:14:27 PM EST

The Covid-19 crisis is reaching a new phase in Ireland even though, to date, there has only been 61 confirmed cases and one death of an elderly patient with a pre-existing terminal illness. Update [2020-3-12 22:52:5 by Frank Schnittger]: there were 27 new cases in the Republic and 2 in N. Ireland today, resulting in a new total of 90 cases.[/update] The government has just announced a nationwide closure of schools, colleges and child care facilities and strongly recommended all indoor meetings of more than 100 people and outdoor meetings of more than 500 people should be cancelled.

This is in stark contract to the UK where the Cheltenham racing festival with many thousand spectators is going ahead as I write, and also to N. Ireland where no such measures have been announced despite the fact that the outbreak there is at least as serious as in the rest of the island.

The government have also announced a €3.1 Billion emergency aid package for people and businesses impacted by the crisis. On a per capita basis this amounts to almost €630 per person,which compares compares with just €21 in the US and €124 in Italy. Talks on government formation and all meetings considered non-essential have been postponed and President Trump has announced a travel ban on all Europeans from the Schengen area (excluding Ireland and the UK).

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Prepare for the breakdown

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 27th, 2020 at 02:35:27 PM EST

Both the EU and the UK have now published their mandates for their negotiating teams on their future relationship. As might be expected at this stage, they couldn't be further apart, and some "expectations management" is no doubt involved. But neither is there anything to suggest that my central expectation of a no deal Brexit at the end of 2020 will not, in fact, come to pass.

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The wonder of democracy

by Frank Schnittger Sat Feb 22nd, 2020 at 12:08:26 AM EST

There has been a lot of hot and heavy commentary in the Irish media as to who has and has not got the "right" or "responsibility" to form a government following the inconclusive Irish general election result where three parties, Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, got between 25 and 21% of the vote.

Most of this has been legitimate banter between partisan supporters trying to portray their party in the most favourable light and place it in the best position to either lead a government or force the other two parties to break their electoral pledges and form a most uncomfortable coalition government.

The received wisdom is that whichever party ends up leading the opposition will be able to exploit the discomfiture of the coalition parties and clean up at the next election. Few believe Ireland's public health care and housing problems will be solved in the next few years, but that won't prevent the next government from copping the blame when they fail to do so.

But lest the naive be disillusioned by the whole process, I have provided some context in a letter published as their lead letter by the Irish Independent:

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Political revolution or government as usual?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 13th, 2020 at 02:39:14 PM EST

My highest probability expectation both before and after the Irish general election is that it is unlikely it will be possible to form a stable government from the configuration of parties the electorate have thrown up. It took 70 days to form a government in 2016 when Fine Gael had 50 seats, and that government was only possible because Fianna Fail, with 44 seats, agreed a "confidence and supply" arrangement with Fine Gael under which it would abstain on votes of confidence in order to allow a government to be formed.

It is generally agreed that the confidence and supply arrangement did Fianna Fail no favours with the electorate as it was unable to pose as a radical alternative to Fine Gael, having facilitated the broad thrust of Government policy over the past 4 years. Although Fine Gael were the biggest losers (-15 seats), Fianna Fail also lost 6 seats with Sinn Féin (+14) and the Greens (+10) the biggest beneficiaries.

The only other time a major opposition party has facilitated a government in office was in 1987, when then Fine Gael leader, Alan Dukes announced his "Tallaght Strategy" to facilitate a Fianna Fail government basically implementing Fine Gael policies. That, too, didn't end well for Fine Gael.

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Live Blog: Irish General Election results

by Frank Schnittger Sun Feb 9th, 2020 at 11:45:05 AM EST

Ireland went to the polls yesterday, and the counting of votes began at 9.00 am this morning. Counting is a labour intensive manual process, and given the complexities of the multi-seat, single transferable vote system can take some days to complete. Early indications are that the poll was quite high given the inclement weather conditions and that the pre-poll indications of a surge to Sinn Fein are being borne out by the actual results.

Last night's exit poll indicated a statistical tie between the main three parties but the earliest indications today are that this may understate the performance of Sinn Fein who appear likely to top the poll in a lot of constituencies. They will rue their decision to run only 42 candidates, however, which will put a ceiling on how well they can do. The exit poll makes for some fascinating reading as it allows a demographic analysis of who voted how. Sinn Fein appear to be well ahead in every age group bar the 65+ demographic.

Health, Housing, Homelessness, Pension age and climate change were the issues influencing most voting decisions with Brexit and immigration cited by only 1% of voters as the most important issue influencing their vote. 65% of voters regard increased expenditure on public services as more important than reduced taxation, and 63% stated they had not benefited personally from the upturn in the economy.

The first first count results are expected this afternoon, and I will update this diary as more results come in.

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A Revolution in Irish politics?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Feb 3rd, 2020 at 03:39:35 PM EST

Sinn Féin level with Fianna Fáil at 24% in latest opinion poll

Sinn Féin has surged ahead of Fine Gael and is tying with Fianna Fáil for the highest vote among political parties, according to the latest opinion poll published on Sunday.

The Business Post/Red C poll puts Sinn Féin at 24 per cent, up 3 per cent on the previous survey by the same pollsters a week earlier.

Fianna Fáil is down 2 per cent to 24 per cent and Fine Gael down 2 per cent to 21 per cent.

In the space of the two surveys, Fine Gael is down 9 per cent and Sinn Féin up 11 per cent, confirming a trend in other polls.

Sinn Féin secured their first seat in Dail Eireann in modern times in 1997 with 2.5% of the vote. Since then their vote and seats has increased steadily to 14% and 23 seats in 2016. Their fortunes seemed to be waning with the failure of the Northern Ireland institutions and their failure to have any influence on the Brexit debate in Westminster. However since the Brexit withdrawal deal was done and the N. Ireland institutions were restored their standing in the polls has skyrocketed in inverse proportions to the fortunes of Fine Gael.

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Brexit Day

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 31st, 2020 at 12:25:42 AM EST

It is with very mixed feelings that I approach Brexit day. On the one hand I have argued strenuously and at length that Brexit is in the interests of neither the UK nor the EU, and plays into the hands of ultra-nationalists, disaster capitalists, global corporations, and great power imperialists. On the other hand I have tired of the seemingly perpetual whingeing, prevarication, lying, and sheer incompetence of successive UK administrations and their oppositions.

From a purely practical point of view, it is reasonable to hope that the EU institutions will operate more coherently, cohesively and efficiently without the continual disruptions caused by UK participation. The loss of 73 mostly far right and often disruptive UK MEPs will be no loss at all. It his high time the EU focused on other priorities and for Brexit and Brexiteers to leave the stage.

Although EU Chief negotiator Barnier and Trade Commissioner Hogan will continue to be centrally involved in UK EU trade negotiations, I expect that issue will gradually decline in the list of EU priorities and the UK's baneful influence on EU foreign policy will also diminish. A lot still depends on whether President Trump is re-elected, or not, but it is relations and trade with the US, China, Russia and third world countries that will gradually come to dominate the EU agenda.

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The narcissism of minor differences

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 14th, 2020 at 08:46:08 PM EST

An Taoiseach Leo Varadker has called a general election in Ireland for February 8th. - in the immediate wake of Brexit actually happening at the end of January and the devolved institutions being restored in N. Ireland following an agreement between the N. Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments.

The timing is significant for a number of reasons. Fine Gael's slim Dail majority had become increasingly precarious as the "confidence and supply" agreement with Fianna Fail had faltered and as various independent and other TD's threatened to withdraw their support. A no-confidence motion in Health Minister Simon Harris could well have been carried and would have further high-lighted the governments greatest failing while in office.

Leo Varadker and deputy prime Minister (Tanaiste) Simon Coveney are widely seen as having done a good job on Brexit and so it was in their interest to hold the election while Brexit was still high on the news and political agenda. When the two governments and the N. Ireland parties finally agreed to the restoration of the N. I. Assembly and Executive after a 3 year hiatus, another important item on the Government's to do list was ticked off.

That said, a win for Leo Varadker and Fine Gael is anything but a done deal. Fine Gael have led the government for almost exactly nine years since 2011 and it is rare for any Irish government to win 3 elections in a row. There is considerable yearning for change in the country, despite full employment, the economy growing at c. 5% p.a., and the government actually running a surplus. Failures in public housing, healthcare, and transport policy have sapped the electorate's patience and homelessness, rapid housing rent increases, hospital waiting lists and impossible commuting times are likely to figure prominently in the campaign.

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Happy New Year to one and all

by Frank Schnittger Tue Dec 31st, 2019 at 07:25:56 PM EST

For many people 2019 was a year to forget and the decade of the 2010's wasn't much better. What were your highs and lows, funniest moments, and greatest achievements or regrets?

Comments >> (18 comments)

Home comforts

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 01:11:47 PM EST

House clad in 120MM insulation and with new ventilation grills visible near the apex of the roof.

The last 6 months have been a crazy busy time for me and my family as we have a new baby in the house and are (hopefully) moving towards the end of a major home renovation. My eldest daughter, her partner and new baby have been forced to move into the family home by Dublin's crazy house prices and it has given us the opportunity to have a major rethink about how the family home should function.

I could no longer justify having a detached house largely to myself, and so their move is very welcome from my point of view. They have injected a new energy into the house and increased our ambition for what the house can achieve. A government deep-retrofit scheme has enabled us to improve its energy rating from a very average (for a 1980's house) D rating to A1 - the highest possible, and it is now apparently one of the ten most energy efficient older houses in Ireland.

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News and Views

 December 2019

by Colman - Dec 11, 506 comments

Your take on this month's news

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