Everything remains relative; the least bad is still bad. Ireland can be rightly proud of the collective effort that has meant, to this point, we have found a way to cope with the initial spread of COVID 19 within our borders, negotiate the much-feared resurgence with its return to a more compromised lockdown. As a result, we can tentatively begin to see a path out of the crisis. Certainly, we seem to have fared better than the US, the UK and other EU member states such as Italy, France and Spain who all continue to struggle to control the virus and deal with its consequences.
Apart from the obvious losers in the leisure, tourism, physical retail, airline and banking sectors, businesses that service these sectors are also suffering badly. Electrical and related contractors, food suppliers, cleaning services to name a few have been under pressure to stay economically viable. Up to now employment by these small businesses was supported by furloughed arrangements such as Ireland’s PUP Pandemic Unemployment Payment. With many of these schemes coming to an end, employers who had been long fingering the moment to release staff will now have to deal with the situation.
Beyond this pandemic is the looming spectre of Brexit, a large risk to begin with at the start of 2021 due to the uncertain nature of the specific agreement to finally complete Ireland’s biggest trading partner’s withdrawal presuming an agreement is even achieved at this point.
There is, however, room for some positivity. The recovery seems to have begun sooner than most anticipated, probably fuelled by the unprecedented pace that multiple vaccines are being developed. The CSO estimates GDP growth rate at 11% for the start of this quarter, the highest rate since 2016, and +1.4% in 12 months time (up from 3.5% in June); latest ISME numbers for business confidence and KBC/ESRI for consumer confidence also show similar upward trends from the depths of the Summer.
So Ireland seems a cautiously optimistic place, we still have a long way to go but the road is rising to meet us and we have a fair wind at our back.