THE purpose of this regular feature in The National is to show that independence is normal for European countries with about the same or even smaller populations than Scotland.

Today we feature the three countries in the European Union who have all gained independence from the UK in various ways. Not one of the Republics of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta has ever expressed a national wish to rejoin Britain.

Each of them has also been dealing pretty successfully with coronavirus pandemic, and yesterday it was revealed that Ireland is making such progress that it has established a new tourism taskforce to prepare the country for a future in which tourism – one of the most important sectors of the Irish economy – will be done differently.

Minister for transport, tourism and sport, Shane Ross, and the minister of state for tourism and sport, Brendan Griffin, announced the formation of a special Tourism Recovery Taskforce with an independent chair, dedicated to spearheading economic recovery for the tourism sector.

Ross said: “Tourism is our country’s largest indigenous employer and central to the economic and social health of the nation. The tourism sector has been near decimated by the current crisis. The vast majority of people working in this sector have either been laid off or are availing of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.

“There is a real risk that our communities, towns and cities will not recover from this devastating loss of income, employment and business.

“This cannot be allowed to happen. In order to ensure that the tourism sector can emerge from this pandemic ready for business, we need to plan early, plan well and plan together.”

Griffin added: “This taskforce will work to ensure that Irish tourism recovers strongly through a strategic and well-formulated plan. I wish all of the taskforce members and the wider stakeholders the best in the challenging times ahead and look forward to working with them all to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”

Malta says test and trace is winning

AS the country with the smallest population in the European Union, Malta has been tackling the coronavirus pandemic successfully – there have been just six deaths from 600 cases of Covid-19 on the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino.

Malta is the smallest of the three EU countries that gained independence from the UK, doing so in 1964. It is a close-knit community with a population about the size of Edinburgh’s. British influence is still strong from the empire days and English is widely spoken.

Malta is increasingly being seen as a place in which British companies that need an EU presence after Brexit can set up offices.

Such considerations are mainly on hold while the pandemic continues, and the good news is that Malta’s pick-up rate, which is the number of new daily cases divided by the number of tests carried out that day, has decreased.

Malta’s superintendent of public health, Professor Charmaine Gauci (pictured below), has stressed how vital testing and tracking has been in tackling the virus.

She told reporters: “The most important thing is to identify and isolate the cases, quarantine the people they were in contact with and follow up on them. That is why we increased the number of tests and in fact Malta is one of the countries with the most tests per capita.

“We’re doing this intentionally to ensure we catch all the cases. Our pick-up rate used to be very high, but while the number of new cases is increasing, so is the number of tests and the pick-up rate has decreased. Our goal is to find all the Covid-19 cases.”

The National:

Cyprus split healing over coronavirus

EVER since gaining independence from the UK in 1960, there has been an internal dispute within the island of Cyprus.

The large number of people of Turkish descent in the north east of the island meant that, when an attempted coup in 1974 threatened complete union with Greece, the Turkish military invaded the island in support of the Turks living there.

A new state of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in 1983, with the Republic of Cyprus and every other country bar Turkey refusing to recognise it. There have been long and bitter disputes over the years, with the EU backing the Republic of Cyprus at all times – another reason why Turkey was not going to be allowed to join the EU, despite what the Leave campaign so often claimed before the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The National:

Tackling the coronavirus pandemic has brought the North and the Republic together, it was revealed yesterday. Cyprus had closed crossings between the North and the Republic, allowing people to cross only for humanitarian reasons.

President Nicos Anastasiades had a telephone conversation with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on the issue of crossings yesterday morning and the result is that more crossings will be allowed, though only by small groups of people travelling by car.

The Cyprus Mail reported that Turkish Cypriots working or studying in the south, or people who undergo treatment at the Bank of Cyprus Oncology Centre, the Institute of Neurology and Genetics and state or private hospitals within the Republic, will be allowed to cross.

The Mail stated: “It was also agreed that the bi-communal Technical Committee on Health will convene as soon as possible to exchange views on the gradual opening of crossing points, depending on the epidemiological situation at the time.”