Sorry, but we are all 'Not Free'


Roisin Ingle reports on the measures being taken in Ireland to see today's game

Two words written in the diary of the Taoiseach tell us much about the likely state of the nation during the 90 minutes when Ireland take on Germany at 12.30 p.m. At that time this afternoon the leader of our country is, according to his diary, "Not Free".

Bertie Ahern will probably spend his extremely valuable Not Free-time watching the match from the comfort of his office, surrounded by Government colleagues. Past World Cup experiences suggests the rest of the country will come to a standstill, with all eyes and ears turning hopefully to events in Japan.

As employers expressed concern about the anticipated high-levels of absenteeism in firms across the State, a Government spokesman said that as many supporters as possible should be given a chance to cheer for Ireland today.

"We are hopeful that, where possible, arrangements can be made to facilitate people who want to watch the match," he said yesterday.

Those who don't have the luxury of telling their employers that they aren't available for work may throw soccer sickies. However, many employers have laid on television screens and refreshments in the hope that communal viewing will boost morale.

At Clery's in Dublin, management expect business to be slower than usual and have made sure staff don't feel they are missing out. There will be televisions in the sports department and in the staff canteen.

The match will also be shown in one of the display windows of the store. Clery's opened an hour-and-a- half later than usual last Saturday to give staff and customers a chance to watch the Cameroon match.

Past experience also suggests that taxis will be as elusive as Roy Keane around the country when the match kicks off.

But at Dublin 8 firm City Cabs, manager Sarah Mullins said she didn't expect customers would be disappointed. "It will be a balancing act, we expect demand to be high just before and after the match with a lull in between, but we have set up viewing facilities in-house so drivers can come in and watch," she said.

She speculated that most calls made during the match would be for urgent cases. "Our drivers are very good and we expect to be able to accommodate everyone," she said.

At the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, assistant matron Rosa Nugent said expectant mothers and fathers would be spoilt for choice when it came to the game. "We have televisions in all the sitting rooms and the wards and the soccer will be showing on all of them," she said.

A spokesman for Iarnrod Eireann said a full train service would be provided today, as it was last Saturday, even if demand is lower than usual. He said drivers are usually kept up to date on the score by central control and that in some cases guards would relay the news to passengers through the public address system.

Newspapers tomorrow will most likely carry ghostly photographs of abandoned main streets all over the country. Pubs will be packed with people on extended lunch breaks while normally bustling public areas will be eerily quiet.

And while business is expected to take a hit for 90 minutes - much longer if there is a positive result - a spokeswoman from the Chamber of Commerce of Ireland said it was not all doom and gloom. "It has been the case in the past that a win can result in a boost in consumer confidence which leads to a rise in spending," she said. She would not comment on how the economy might be affected should we be trounced by the Germans today.