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Italy criticises Irish quarantine plans

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A determined effort by the Irish Government to reduce the number of Covid 19 infections has unexpectedly strained relations with its EU colleague Italy. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, the Italian Ambassador to Ireland was quick to criticise Irish quarantine plans in a move that has caused dismay in diplomatic circles.

Two weeks ago the Government in Dublin added Italy to a so-called ‘red list’ of 75 countries, including the USA, whereby any visitors visiting Ireland from these destinations would have to quarantine for 12 nights at a cost of €1,875 until given the corona virus all-clear to subsequently circulate amongst Irish people.

The policy was seen as a determined final push to decrease the number of infections in Ireland as the Government faces growing criticism over the slow roll-out of vaccinations.

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What seemed liked commons sense by the Government in Dublin to prevent a fourth unpopular Irish lockdown was, to the bewilderment of the diplomatic corps in the City, met with surprising criticism when the Ambassador of Italy took to YouTube to record a highly critical attack on his political hosts.

Speaking to the Italian community in Ireland, Ambassador Paolo Serpi said on camera in his native language that the mandatory quarantine was “selective and discriminatory.

“We believe that these measures are excessive and do serious, severe harm to our co-nationals and in particular to our communities here in Ireland, and we cannot accept this.”

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His words were met with shock and dismay within Irish political circles where comments and concerns of this nature are usually raised behind closed doors in polite diplomatic speak and not broadcast to the wider world!

Ambassador Serpi appeared to imply that the Irish Government was under the impression that the authorities in Italy were not taking the emergence of Covid variants with any sense of seriousness. He insisted that the reality is different.

In his YouTube address, Ambassador Serpi added, “I also noted that our country Italy is undertaking a serious vaccination campaign and that in reality in Italy there exists at this moment, the same variants that are hitting Ireland, there are not others.

“So measures that are in a way selective and discriminatory in Ireland towards communities, countries that are in the European Union, are measures that should be done with the utmost caution,” the ambassador added.

Questioned on RTE Radio about his comments, he said he believed that countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, France and Italy were being "targeted" by the Irish Government for "being serious in the detection of variants".

Surprised Irish Government officials were quick to play down the comments by Ambassador Serpi.

They insisted that they had engaged at all times with the European Commission about their Covid quarantine plans.

 “We kept the EU informed about our plans at every stage and the various EU member State embassies were also advised and briefed in advance about our plans,” a Government official in Dublin told the Irish Independent newspaper.

The Italian-Irish Chamber of Commerce also rowed in on the issue saying that that the decision by the Irish Government had not been properly thought out from a business point of view.

Its Secretary General Alberto Rizzini told the Irish Times, “The real issue here is the impact on the trade relationship between Italy and Ireland in the coming months. Such impact is not only for Italian companies or Italian businesses but for any corporation in Ireland working with Italy or having a large population of Italian employees.

“While larger corporations will be able to deal with this, smaller enterprises will struggle to survive,” he said.

In response to the diplomatic furore, Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, who has been under pressure over the slow roll-out of vaccines, went on RTE Television to defend his position.

He said he would “make no apologies” to the European Commission or Italian ambassador to Ireland for introducing mandatory hotel quarantine stating he was “confident” the move complies with existing EU laws relating to the free movement of people and the ongoing battle to tackle the global spread of the virus.

Ireland

Irish government sets out biggest ever investment plan

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The Irish government has announced the largest national development plan in the history of the state as it unveiled spending proposals for the next decade, writes the BBC.

The plan envisages a total investment of €165 billion (£141 million) between now and 2030 on various capital projects such as housing and transport infrastructure.

Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin hailed it as "unprecedented in scale".

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He said the plan will "drive the next phase of our post-pandemic recovery and will create thousands of jobs".

The investment will include extra money for cross-border projects, with capital funding for the government's Shared Island initiative to be "at least doubled" to €1bn (£853m) until 2030.

Mr Martin said the planned spending of €3.5bn on north-south infrastructure was a "significant increase" in investment on infrastructure projects.

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He described the investment as "a pragmatic approach on our side".

Those projects include the Irish government funding the Narrow Water Bridge between counties Louth and Down, the Ulster Canal and the A5 road as well as more money to be spent on greenways, higher education, biodiversity and industrial parks.

However, opposition parties have questioned the government's costings and timescales, with the Labour Party dismissing the plan as a "work of fiction".

Outlining the coalition government's investment priorities, the taoiseach said they would "respond to the housing crisis and tackle the climate emergency" at the same time as reforming public services.

He announced a target to build 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030, which would include 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes.

He also said there would be a swift reform of the planning system to address "the planning and legal delays which bedevil infrastructure and housing projects in Ireland".

The investment will including extra money for cross-border projects, with capital funding for the government's Shared Island initiative to be "at least doubled" to €1bn (£853m) until 2030.

Housing protester
The new plan contains a target to build 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030

The investment proposals were presented as the revised "National Development Plan" - an updated version of a capital spending programme first outlined in 2018.

The revised version is more costly and ambitious, as it involves almost €50bn (£42m) of extra spending that had been envisaged three years ago.

The new plan includes a €35bn (£30m) investment package for Ireland's transport system, including proposals for new light rail systems and 1,000 km of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who is both the minister for the environment and minister for transport, said it would create a "cleaner, greener, connected Ireland".

"It means that for every euro we invest in new road infrastructure we're investing twice as much in new public transport," Mr Ryan added.

However, the Labour Party's spokesperson on finance and public expenditure, Ged Nash, called the revised National Development Plan "a work of fiction".

"The glossy updated plan is an expensive reheat of the 2018 version," he said.

"How can we take a plan to develop public transport links like Metro Link and the Dart extension to towns like Drogheda seriously if no costings or firm timelines are published?" Mr Nash asked.

"If government had the confidence that the vast number of projects mentioned in the plan would be delivered, then they should publish clear costings and the indicative delivery dates."

Sinn Féin's housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the plan was "very disappointing news for housing".

He claimed the actual extra spending on social and affordable housing in 2022 "will be minimal".

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Ireland

Simon Coveney: Irish foreign minister to face confidence vote

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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney (pictured) is to face a confidence vote later when the Dáil (Irish parliament) returns from its summer recess, writes the BBC.

Coveney has been criticized for his handling of the appointment of former government minister Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy.

He has denied that he was lobbied to appoint her but apologised for not informing cabinet before a meeting in July.

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She has since turned down the post.

Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Coveney, but the government is to put down a counter, confidence motion which will be debated by TDs (members of parliament) and voted on later.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, of Fianna Fáil, described it as an "oversight" that Coveney had not informed his government colleagues about the appointment ahead of the cabinet meeting, a move which has been reported to have caused divisions.

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Coveney's party, Fine Gael, is part of a coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

Katherine Zappone
Katherine Zappone was a ministerial colleague of Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar

It later emerged that Coveney's party leader Leo Varadkar had not been aware of the appointment of a "Special Envoy to the UN for Freedom of Opinion and Expression" until a week before cabinet, when Zappone texted him about it.

In messages released by Varadkar in September, he showed that he subsequently asked Coveney about the role before the cabinet meeting in July.

Zappone replied that her contract was soon to be finalised.

On 4 August, Zappone announced she would not take on the special envoy position as she believed "it is clear that criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself".

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has called for Coveney to be sacked and raised the prospect of a vote of no confidence.

She branded his actions as not being "of the standard expected of a minister".

The Labour Party has indicated that it does not have confidence in the government, but leader Alan Kelly said there were "bigger issues" than the row.

On Tuesday (14 September), Coveney told a party conference that he was "embarrassed" that the appointment had led to a "fiasco".

"It's not been my finest month in politics," he said.

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Brexit

Commission approves €10 million Irish support measure for fishery sector in the context of Brexit

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a €10 million Irish scheme to support the fishery sector affected by the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, and the consequent quota share reductions foreseen in the provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK. The support will be available to companies that commit to temporarily cease their fishing activities for a month.

The aim of the scheme is to save part of the Irish reduced fishing quota for other vessels, while the beneficiaries temporarily suspend their activities. The compensation will be granted as a non-refundable grant, calculated on the basis of gross earnings averaged for the fleet size, excluding the cost of fuel and food for the crew of the vessel. Each eligible company will be entitled to the support for up to a month in the period between 1 September to 31 December 2021. The Commission assessed the measures under Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which allows Member States to support the development of certain economic activities or regions, under certain conditions.The Commission found that the measure enhances the sustainability of the fishery sector and its ability to adapt to new fishing and market opportunities arising from the new relationship with the UK.

Therefore, the measure facilitates the development of this sector and contributes to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure that fishing and aquaculture activities are environmentally sustainable in the long term. The Commission concluded that the measure constitutes an appropriate form of support in order to facilitate an orderly transition in the EU fishery sector following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU State aid rules.

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Today's (3 September) decision does not prejudge whether the support measure will eventually be eligible for Brexit Adjustment Reserve ‘BAR' funding, which will be assessed once the BAR Regulation has entered into force. However, it already provides Ireland with legal certainty that the Commission considers the support measure to be compliant with EU State aid rules, irrespective of the ultimate source of funding. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64035 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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