Brexit is war, not a nervous breakdown
Sir - Some of Colm McCarthy's statements (Sunday Independent, December 31) in relation to Brexit and the EU are open to challenge.
He characterises Brexit as Britain "having a nervous breakdown", and the €85bn bailout, which resulted from the most calamitous collapse in this country since independence, as "a straight-forward stick-up".
Brexit is no nervous breakdown. It is a declaration of economic war by the UK on the countries of the rest of the EU and especially on the people of this former colony.
When he says that Europe should have "picked up the portion of the bill for stabilising the eurozone banking system imposed improperly on Ireland" he is ignoring the fact that it was the Irish Government that spent €103bn in 2010 but took in little more than half that - €53bn - in taxes.
These were record deficit figures relative to the size of our economy and were three times worse than Greece which was also bailed out in that year.
Calling the EU advice that we should pay the bills which resulted from a tripling of both Irish Government expenditure and Irish bank lending in the pre-2009 period a stick-up is, therefore, a bit over the top.
The taxpayers of poorer countries in Europe, who contributed to the bailout, should not have had to pay for the Celtic Tiger recklessness of a small number of powerful people at the head of Ireland's governmental, financial, developer institutions etc.
Lastly, when Colm McCarthy quotes with approval the statement that "our future lies in the European Union" it cannot at the same time, as he also says, be "foolish" to have to put up with the consequences.
Questioning proof of sectarianism
Sir - Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, December 31) has again misconstrued the figures for suspected Protestant spies and informers killed in Co Cork during the War of Independence suggesting they accounted for 52pc of those executed. The actual number was 22 out of 71, (31pc). The conclusion I reached at the West Cork History Festival was that the dominant feature of these killings was an association of the victims with crown forces, most notably Catholic ex-soldiers. That 22 Protestant suspects were killed does not provide proof that the IRA had sectarian motivations.
David Fitzpatrick's figure of 52pc (cited by Harris) is arrived at by removing the ex-soldier element, which of course alters the picture entirely, since this was by far the largest group targeted. It is not surprising that Protestants constituted a higher share of the victims than they did of the population at large; they constituted a higher share of the active loyalist opposition, though the fact that the great majority of victims were Catholic reflects a substantial Catholic element in this portion of the population (which has been understated by Peter Hart). I have addressed Fitzpatrick's defence of the sectarian thesis in a more detailed response in History Ireland, but I would like to say emphatically here, that nobody in the audience at the West Cork History Festival politely, or otherwise, suggested that my statistical interpretation was perverse. That is a flagrant perversion of the exchange. Furthermore, the core statistical perversion is Fitzpatrick's removal of ex-crown forces from the data in October's History Ireland, which only facilitates the historical porkies purveyed by Harris last Sunday.
It seems clear that this small group of Protestants killed either in relation to total suspects killed, the wider civilian fatalities in the conflict, or the 528 persons killed in total in Co Cork during the War of Independence, simply cannot support the weight which Hart attaches to sectarianism as a major factor driving the revolution in Cork, as set out in the concluding section of his book The I.R.A. And Its Enemies (published in 1998).
While fully accepting that the Dunmanway massacre in late April 1922 (during the Truce) was a sectarian reprisal, the single greatest error in Hart's book was to assume this quite exceptional event was merely the culmination of a series of sectarian attacks which gathered momentum in Cork from 1920 onwards. The qualitative evidence gathered on a case by case basis indicates that Protestant and Catholic suspect victims in 1920-21 were broadly killed for similar reasons, which does not support the sectarian interpretation, so Harris and Fitzpatrick have got this one rather badly wrong.
School of History,
Amnesty's refusal to return €137,000
Sir - Ruth Dudley Edwards (Sunday Independent, December 31) summed up perfectly Amnesty Ireland's refusal to return the €137,000 it received from George Soros's Open Society Foundation. As Ms Edwards stated Colm O'Gorman seems to be operating from a stance of "Our ethics are better than your ethics".
Another word that could be used in this context is "hubris". Mr O'Gorman wouldn't be the first person in history to succumb to this condition. In ancient Greece this human trait was often seen in its leaders. They even had a goddess called Nemesis, from whom this present day word came from, whose job was to enact retribution on those afflicted with this condition.
Today we don't rely on the gods to keep us on the straight and narrow. In this case, the Standards in Public Office Commission will be Colm O'Gorman's nemesis.
People just never learn from history.
Out for a day of casual killing
Sir - Buoyed by Fiona O'Connell's Lay of the Land column (Sunday Independent, December 31), and it being the day I turned 65 years, I drove off down the road to reach a safe walking spot.
How disheartening and utterly depressing to find the road gorged by parked cars and horseboxes. The weekend warriors, men, women and children, showing contempt for our wildlife, out for a day's casual killing.
I recognised the faces I had earlier encountered at Mass, praising God for His glorious creation and here they were finishing a day's hunt where a beautiful fox, our cherished wildlife, would have been torn apart by crazed bloodhounds.
St Francis tells us that "interfering in the natural world is a sin. Every animal has intrinsic value, every creature has its own purpose. They are not just there for us. This is our common home".
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister Michael Creed, it is in your gift to end this senseless, disgusting exploitation of our treasured heritage.
This is Ireland's shame. Please make 2018 memorable for another forward-thinking, civilised achievement.
Delight of the full printed edition
Sir - I have been reading the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent online for the past year.
However last week (December 31), having browsed the edition online, I went out and bought the Sunday Independent which had so much of interest.
In an era when we have abundant wealth in young talent and money and when the general physical condition of our country is much improved in the past three decades, we have a grave deficit in public services and in the general well-being of our society. These matters are raised by your journalists and also by contributors to your letters page. Dr Geraldine Mooney Simmie and Colm McCarthy caution us in our trust of the EU. Mrs Mary Stewart says women deserve better than abortion; while Dr Eoin O'Malley thinks the Government was great on Brexit, but will "deliver real change" in 2018 with the abortion referendum.
In his comment page article, Brendan O'Connor asks us to forget all the bad things that have happened to us and to "move on".
Brendan's optimism is good for the psyche and opposing points of view are part of a healthy democracy.
No doubt the new year will bring changes. But I believe it is time to examine what kind of change is really needed to have a proper functioning democracy; where support and care is directed towards the most vulnerable in society - the unborn, the young, the old and infirm, those with physical and mental disabilities. But, above all, where the basic unit of society, the family, is upheld and supported and not undermined.
College fees rise may prevent education
Sir — Last week (Sunday Independent, December 31) retiring NUI Galway president Dr Jim Browne fired a parting shot across the bows of those of us who believe education is a right, not a privilege. He even went so far as to suggest our view is “naive”.
Fifty years ago, Donogh O’Malley, a dynamic Minister for Education (1966-68), opened the portals of knowledge and opportunity for the children of the nation by introducing fee-free education for all Irish citizens. Compared to Mr O’Malley’s vision, Dr Browne’s call for higher fees and a student loan scheme is regressive and disturbing. As a lifelong campaigner for the education entitlements of young people, I believe education at all levels should be based on ability to learn, not ability to pay.
Means-testing of grant applicants is so restrictive that thousands in higher education are ineligible for any financial aid. Capping the gross annual income level for grant eligibility at €39,875 makes a mockery of spiralling living costs. The price of rental accommodation alone has reached an all-time high in cities, putting a great deal of accommodation out of reach of students.
Third-level education is very expensive — 60pc of parents get into considerable debt to cover college costs. Parents have to save for 10 years to finance their children’s college education and six out of 10 family budgets are adversely affected by the €3,000 student contribution. Thousands of students who are ineligible for grants need about €12,000 annually to maintain themselves if they are living away from home or about €4,000 if living at home. The student contribution of €3,000 must also be paid.
Despite Dr Browne’s views, the Government must ease the financial burden on hard-pressed families by abolishing the €3,000 student fee contribution and increasing the standard maintenance grant from €3,025 to €5,000, with other grants increasing on a pro-rata basis. The insidious threat to reintroduce tuition fees linked to a student loan scheme is hanging like the sword of Damocles over the heads of financially pressed families. If enforced, it will impoverish generations of young people for years to come and will prevent thousands of young people from ever getting a third-level education.
Burden no one should carry
Sir — Dr Jim Browne calls for a doubling of university fees (Sunday Independent, December 31). Students would leave college with a three-year degree and a debt of up to €24,000.
This creeping privatisation of education is another example of turning ordinary people into cash cows for the loan sharks and speculators of the financial sector. Why should young people be financially exploited for doing exactly what we need them to do — study diligently to gain qualifications so they can better contribute to society?
The salary of a university president is approximately €200,000 per annum. For someone with these means, a debt of €24,000 probably seems paltry. But for any young person starting out in life, it is a burden no one should have to carry.
Education is not a cost. It is an investment in our future, ensuring an educated and well-informed populace which can drive our intellectual, technological and social progress. The individualistic, neoliberal principle of “every man for himself” undermines a collective and collaborative society, on which we all depend.
Minister Donogh O’Malley’s announcement of free secondary school education in 1966 led to a doubling of school completion rates within a decade. Without these visionary initiatives, would the subsequent economic development in the US and Ireland have ever occurred?
The argument that “we cannot afford it” no longer holds water. In 2008, we found €64bn to hand over to failing banks. Collectively, the world bailed out the global banking system to the tune of $17 trillion, enough to eradicate world poverty for 600 years. How much more deserving of funding are our most precious resource, our young people?
Ciara’s wonderful short story
Sir — I hadn’t yet read my Sunday Independent (December 31) when a man I know tapped me on the shoulder to tell me he had read a wonderful short story by Ciara Ferguson, called The Little Smashed Girl, while having his coffee in a St Stephen’s Green cafe. “Do read it,” he said.
It was a wonderful read and captured, so accurately, what we have begun to take for granted in our capital city and beyond. Ciara portrayed the many emotions, some hidden, when telling the story of this young, homeless woman in Dublin. It was fiction, maybe in this instance, but so real. While we are bombarded with statistics on a daily basis, I hope this didn’t deter people from reading this short tale. It should be read by those with responsibility for planning and delivery of services — because it’s what so many homeless people are experiencing today, but they are often unable to articulate their problems.
Alice Leahy Trust,
Damaging effect of anti-UK comments
Sir — Many commentators have attributed the 7pc reduction in UK tourists to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, even though UK tourism overall is only down 1pc (see Office for National Statistics, ‘Overseas Travel and Tourism: September 2017’) and has increased to other EU destinations apparently unaffected by this uncertainty.
I wonder what effect the constant deluge of comments from Irish politicians, civil servants and commentators that British people (aka tourists and consumers of Irish exports) are racist, isolationist, stupid and Empire obsessed, might be having?