Friday 21 October 2016

Letters to the Editor: Sharing memories of Lourdes

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30


Madam – Reading nearly every day about the ongoing Pistorius case, my mind was cast back to another rude-sounding name, which in itself was funny. In 1991, my young wife was diagnosed with cancer (and only given three months to live).

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We were given the present of a trip to Lourdes by a benefactor. It was our first pilgrimage and, of course, we knew no French.

I went down to the Grotto on my own on arriving at our hotel. I needed to get to the toilets badly when I arrived at the Lourdes demesne, but was too embarrassed to ask for toilets as I did not know the word for same. On arriving at a sign that said Piscines, I thought I am on the pig's back now, but when I saw the queue I was totally dismayed, as there were literally hundreds queuing, women on one side and men on the other.

A kind-hearted Irishman understood my plight and explained that we were at the baths (Piscines). He also directed me to the toilets, and I would know in future that Hommes and Femmes were what I was looking for.

My wife lived three years instead of three months, (thanks no doubt to Our Lady's intervention), she made three trips with me in total and I brought back pilgrimages of my own for the next 10 years to this beautiful place. However, that first trip will always stick in my memory, as there was sadness interlaced with comedy, and on subsequent trips, I was able to direct other pilgrims to Femmes and Hommes locations, and also Piscines.

Murt Hunt, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo


Madam – At last, the election battles are over and hard-earned seats on the new councils decided.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan can proudly gaze across the blue skies from the balconies of Leinster House, feeling like a true Alexander Selkirk: "I am monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute. From the centre all round to the sea, I am Lord of the foul and the brute."

Exercising one's vote this time round, with local and European combined, was a challenging task that must have blogged many minds.

The abolition of town councils and county councils are typical of the policies of this Government. They are in keeping with the social bottlenecks already created throughout the country with the closing of post offices, garda stations and banks, not to mention the hardships inflicted by water and property taxes.

The whole exercise is a conniving effort, disguised as an economy-saving measure, to distance the people of Ireland still further from the seat of governance and further complicate communications with Dublin.

This election put candidates through savage and challenging canvasses across the country, the new municipal districts spanning huge tracts of countryside.

With a diminished number of councillors, there is going to be less than ever contact with voters. It is certainly not 'putting people first' – so often quoted by Mr Hogan as his recipe for effective local government.

Before the local election, there was 35,000 population per council; this has now increased to 130,000 for new council.

In France, there is 1,600 per council and in Germany there is 4,500 per council.

For a small country like ours, it shows how little our Government cares.

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary


Madam – While members of An Garda Siochana are duty bound to report any maladministration of justice within the force to the highest level, I would have grave misgivings when they bring their stories to members of Dail Eireann from an organisation whose terrorist wing murdered 12 members of An Garda Siochana.

Their leader in the Dail, Mr Adams, with McGuinness, Doherty and others, used every device, including the threat that the terrorists would resume the campaign that they had been operating for the previous 30 years, to have the few that had been incarcerated for these crimes released, or to have their sentences greatly reduced. This included the cowardly killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, who was brutally slain while protecting the incomes of senior citizens at Adare, Co Limerick, in 1996.

If you have a strong stomach, read the reports from the so-called Sinn Fein Ard Fheis of 1999.

I wonder was Adams including those 12 brave Irishmen who were murdered while serving the people of this country when he made his sick remarks during the past week about the brave men and women of An Garda Siochana.

Christy Callanan, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary


Dear Madam – In his article (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014) Dan O'Brien argues that out of the three countries (Iceland, Ireland and Cyprus) that experienced severe financial shocks from 2008, which placed the very sovereignty of those states at risk, only we in Ireland can with hindsight conclude that our Government made the right decision to transfer all banking sector debt to the taxpayer.

This implies that there was, or is, no alternative to the policies of austerity when this is patently not true.

All three countries were faced with the same financial crisis but each made a different choice. Ireland completely bailed out its banking sector, Iceland refused to, while Cyprus tried and failed to take a middle route.

It is worth pointing out that when the Icelandic government was faced with the same crisis as Ireland, its government initially intended to follow the Irish example and bail out its banking sector, too. But the people of Iceland took to the streets – unlike the Irish public, to whom the bailout was presented as a fait accompli –and their president referred the bailout to its supreme court, which in turn referred it to a referendum, which the Icelandic people voted against.

And guess what happened the next day? The banking system imploded but the sky didn't fall in, ATMs kept working and people got their pensions and salaries. Inflation rose and there was a recession with a major economic adjustment, but the damage to Icelandic society was nothing like the damage done to Irish society.

For reasons that even the current Fine Gael/Labour Government – usually so quick to provide any evidence that blackens the last government – refuses to explain, all banking debt was transferred to the Irish taxpayer. The Irish Cabinet couldn't even raise themselves from their beds for the most important decision ever made by an Irish government, and our then president just signed the bill without batting an eyelid.

If only our political class had been of the calibre of Iceland's, just imagine the mess that could have been avoided.

Icelandic banks defaulted on $85bn. Its government ring-fenced domestic banks and implemented capital controls, which we were told was not possible in the euro area but which has been done for Cyprus, and it created new state-run banks. Its government then agreed that amounts above 110 per cent of home values would be written off on mortgages, with the result that debt equivalent to 13 per cent of Iceland's GDP was forgiven, resulting in a far lower debt burden on citizens. The market took it on the chin.

Iceland's economy will grow 2.4 per cent this year, according to the OECD, and 2.9 per cent next year. The OECD thinks the euro area will grow 0.2 per cent for the same period. Also, the cost of insuring against an Icelandic debt default is the same now as it is for Belgium, and Iceland's application to join the EU is on hold and unlikely to proceed any further with a vote due to be held about whether to withdraw its application. The portion of the Consumer Price Index in Iceland made up of housing is only 3 per cent less now than it was in 2008. Fitch Rating has increased Iceland's debt rating to investment grade with a stable outlook. Even the IMF has officially confirmed that targeted debt-reduction policies can work.

The Icelandic government managed to rewrite its constitution, have a banking inquiry, comprehensively reform its regulatory governance structures and complete the trial of both its former prime minister, and the head of the worst affected bank, who in December 2013 was sentenced to five years in jail.

Yet our system of governance is so inept we can't even set up a committee to look into the banking crisis, never mind get to the bottom of why it went wrong and who is responsible.

Due to a complete and total failure of governance at every level of the Irish public sector, from the top down, due to our historical culture of cronyism and corruption, fostered in large part by the culture of deference to authority instilled in generations of Irish people by the ethos of the Catholic Church (Iceland is a Protestant country) and which is also generally explained on the grounds of how small we are, so that being impartial is difficult (yet Iceland manages it), the people of Ireland have possibly lost about 20 years of economic development – and for what?

The evidence indicates that all of the decision-making systems, and the people who make the decisions, that were in place before this crisis remain in place – as most recently brought home by the revelation, following the resignation of Mr Shatter, that although this Government is in office over three years, no department's governance structure has been subject to an external review.

Mr O'Brien is wrong to conclude that Ireland made the right choice to agree to borrow tens of billions to be handed over to the banks or that there wasn't, or isn't, an alternative, even now, to the policies of austerity.

Any country that, like Ireland, can pay over €7bn a year in interest on its debt, as well as forgoing €6bn a year in lost revenue due to myriad tax reliefs, paid for from the taxes of people who themselves rarely get to benefit from such reliefs, has options and can afford to make better choices.

Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London


Madam – Thank you for your great coverage on the Sinn Fein/IRA propaganda machine. I agree with Fionnan Sheahan (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014) that it is indeed a cult, and that Mr Adams is its leader and should be seen for that. When we read of the public rise in support for Sinn Fein, because of the rage over water charges, etc, do we not see the bigger picture?

How we can watch, and listen to, Mr Adams? He is getting away with murder. Wake up, Ireland before it's too late. Don't let the genie out of the bottle.

Una Heaton, North Circular Road, Limerick


Madam – Reading the Sunday Independent (May 18, 2014), I would like to point out to some of your reporters who are well paid that it is very easy to criticise others – and in particular Sinn Fein – without offering an alternative.

It is very obvious that these reporters are not suffering the austerity that thousands of families are enduring all over the country. Also consider the OAPs, the poor, the unemployed – the new poor, who are being turned into criminals by the parties you support and indeed I once supported.

Can you leave your comfort zone and look beyond your noses with some semblance of compassion for the poverty all around you.

So, before you criticise or accuse parties who show a light at the end of the tunnel, take a good, honest look at yourselves. Then you may suggest an alternative party that can show a similar light.

Frank Shortt, Mungret, Co Limerick


Madam – A distressing article by Niamh Horan caught my eye last weekend: 'An ugly world when a little girl suffers for the sake of beauty' (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014).

The scene that Niamh came on in a pharmacy, was of a young girl of about seven, tears pouring down her face, as her mother insisted she have her ears pierced. I am very pleased Niamh wrote an article on what she witnessed. This was very wrong, both by her mother and the pharmacy staff, who should have refused when they saw the child in distress.

We should let young children live their childhood; it's their right. Remember we passed a Children's Referendum in 2012 which said: "The views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight." This should apply to all our everyday dealings with children, not just in a court of law.

Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co Donegal


Madam – It's shameful that the English language schools have failed in their duty of care to the young people who had enrolled with them, and whose money, they accepted.

But it's puzzling how these students were capable of finding part-time work, 20 hours a week. And work that financed their living expenses, their tuition, and their flights to and from their countries of origin. While our own people (English-speaking and therefore with no language barrier) are unable to get any employment.

And they have to live on unemployment benefits.

Strange. Puzzling.

Margaret Walshe, Dublin 15


Madam – I was flabbergasted to hear that former Justice Minister Alan Shatter was entitled to €70k severance pay, while he still sits as a TD. His decision to accept or waive this payment is entirely a matter for his conscience. However, I take umbrage with Fine Gael, whose 2011 election manifesto included a commitment to abolish severance pay to ministers.

This begs the question, why has it taken the Government three years to draft and sign a 14-page Act? Perhaps I am being cynical, but I believe when legislation is needed to extract more money from citizens it is usually done with greater alacrity.

John Bellew, Dunleer, Co Louth


Madam – I read Ayla Mahon's nice letter in praise and defence of dandelions (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014).

I agree with her that dandelions are attractive to look at with their bright yellow flowers, which attract bees in spring. Other wild flowers, such as celandines and marsh marigolds, come out and flower even earlier in spring than the dandelion. They also have bright yellow flowers, which make them easily seen by bees and other insects. In fact, very many of the spring and early summer wild flowers are yellow, eg buttercups. Is it not interesting that many of the high-visibility jackets worn by cyclists, gardai, council workers, etc, are the same colour as dandelion flowers?

Dandelions were, indeed, used in cookery and as medicines by our ancestors; they are still being used to some degree in cookery, as are other wildflowers, including the unattractive nettle! Are nettles weeds?

Practically all plants can be regarded as weeds. It depends on circumstances. A weed can be defined as a plant that is growing where it is not wanted.

For example, somebody has a beautiful lawn containing only lawn grasses. If a dandelion appears in that lawn, it is a weed. If there are dandelions growing in hedgerows along a country road, they are not weeds but wildflowers.

O Lane, Clonmel


Madam – When God created the world in six days, you would think he would have taken another week and created jobs.

He created politicians who turned out to be gobdaws, who have been "creating jobs" ever since and can't be stopped.

Then along comes technology – which is quicker, smarter and cheaper and makes jobs disappear with no end in sight.

So it's over to the gobdaws again. Anyone any ideas?

John Arthur, Dublin 16

Sunday Independent

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