Michael Smurfit: total lockdown of economies a ‘serious mistake’

Business veteran tells Inside Business podcast impact of restrictions will last for years

 Michael Smurfit says the lockdown of entire economies could come to be viewed as a ‘serious mistake’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Michael Smurfit says the lockdown of entire economies could come to be viewed as a ‘serious mistake’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Veteran Irish entrepreneur and businessman Michael Smurfit has added his voice to criticism of the decisions by governments around the world to lock down their economies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an interview with Inside Business, a podcast from The Irish Times, Mr Smurfit said: “My own view is that the lockdown will, upon examination by historians, look [like] a very serious mistake. There should have been a partial lockdown for elderly people and people with underlying symptoms and so forth. But to lock down entire populations, period, never happened before. Destroys the economy, destroys jobs, which is going to last for years and years to come.

“We haven’t seen the end of this by any manner of means – the results of the lockdown, the grounding of aircraft and cruise ships and everything else. It’s going to be a very tough time ahead, I’m afraid.

“So many people depend on the weekly or monthly pay packet. If you take that away from them for a few months, it has an enormous effect on the economy. It’s an horrendous effect. The quicker we get to opening up the economy, the better in my view.”

Mr Smurfit, who in 2006 brought the Ryder Cup to Ireland at the K Club hotel and golf resort in Kildare, which he sold earlier this year, described the rules in Ireland around how far you can travel to play a round of golf as “somewhat ridiculous”.

“A 5km radius for golf clubs is a bit stupid when most people live within 15km of Portmarnock, for example but they can’t play there. That’s a stupid nonsense. What’s the difference between 5km and 15km, I don’t know.

“A lot of mistakes were made, a lot of harsh decisions were taken too quickly and not thought through. I call it ‘panic-demic’, people panicked, particularly in the UK.”

Cocooned

Mr Smurfit, who built the Smurfit Kappa packaging business into a world leader during his career, has cocooned in his apartment in Monaco since the lockdown restrictions were introduced in mid-March. At 83, he is in the age group that has been among the most vulnerable globally in terms of deaths.

“I’ve never been worried about death in my life because when I was in my late teens and early 20s I was diagnosed with a severe form of tuberculosis and they more or less hinted at me that I might not have a year to live. They thought that would be a generous amount of time if I did.

“When I was in Peamount sanatorium [in Dublin], I held people’s hands when they died. I held men’s hands because I was a sacristan in the hospital at the time and lucky enough got out after nine months and never looked back because they developed new antibiotics that cured me. Every year since has been a bonus to me.”