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Laughter before and after the tears

* Driving through Connemara, I could not help but observe again the landscape, that is scarred, even seemingly in the most inhospitable and inaccessible places, by the long-abandoned markings of potato allotments that were the only giver of life and harbinger of death should they yield or fail in their cultivation.

This was in a country and time of both plenty and want. Yet, they were the only legal comfort left to a seemingly doomed indigenous people. Still too, they could smile just before and after the tears.

Hermann Von Puclker-Muskau, a travel writer from Germany visiting Ireland in 1828, and between famines, wrote the following observations:

"Our driver blew his horn, as in Germany, a signal from the mail-coach to get out of its way. However, the sound was so distorted and pathetic that everyone burst into laughter.

"A pretty 12-year-old lad, who looked like joy personified, though almost naked, let out a mischievous cheer, and called after the driver in his impotent rage: 'Hey you! Your trumpet must have a dose of the sniffles, it's as hoarse as me auld grandmother. Give it a drop of the craythur or it'll die of consumption before ye reach Galway!'

"A crowd of men were working on the road. They had heard the feeble sound from the horn, and all laughed and cheered as the coach went by.

"'There you are, that's our people for you,' said my companion. 'Starvation and laughter – that is their lot. Do you suppose that even with the amount of workers and the lack of jobs that any of these earn, have enough to eat his fill? And yet each of them will put aside something to give to his priest, and when anyone enters his cabin, he will share his last potato with them and crack a joke besides.'"

Barry Clifford

Oughterard, Co Galway

GARLIC RATE FOR APPLE

* This thing with Apple only paying 2pc on its income: could we try taxing them at the rate for garlic?

Donal O'Keeffe

Fermoy, Co Cork

MALE PREGNANCIES

* With the many advances in medical science, surely it should now be possible for males to become pregnant. Abortion debate, what debate?

Eithne Mac Fadden

Carrigart, Co Donegal

SUNNY SIDE OF POLITICS

* Jerry Buttimer TD reckons the abortion legislation might not make the Government's deadline of being ready before the summer.

Free GP care for the long-term ill has been pushed back; the children's hospital is on a longer finger; reform of the Dail, Seanad and local government is moving at a snail's pace; and jobs strategies are barely moving. Now TDs head off on a summer break, still claiming expenses, while families struggle with less and less and the retail sector keeps going despite less money in families' pockets and rising rates.

It proves the point that politics is the conspiracy of the unproductive but organised, against the productive but unorganised.

Conan Doyle

Pococke Lower, Co Kilkenny

IMPACT OF NEUTRALITY

* Mary Kenny comments on Ireland's wartime neutrality in the wake of the pardon for Irish army deserters. Yet she shuns the term deserters (Irish Independent, May 20).

Rather she refers to the "Irish soldiers who joined the Allies". Your columnist states how "neutrality was widely democratically supported". Only one Dail deputy, James Dillon, courageously opposed the policy. Ireland had no enemies: "a small nation stood alone",

She mentions some social consequences of Irish neutrality, eg: Irish women only took to wearing trousers in the 1960s. Oddly enough, she ignores the most important and immediate impact – innumerable Irish lives were saved. Eamon de Valera's finest feat was his successful pursuit of a neutral policy. Alas, eaten bread is soon forgotten.

Anthony Barnwell

Dublin 9

FINGER ON THE PULSE

* Whatever one says about Alan Shatter, as a minister he can't be accused of not having his finger on the pulse.

Mark MacSweeney

Upper John Street, Cork

SHATTER AND THE TRUTH

* I would ask Justice Minister Alan Shatter to consider the real reason for the disharmony from the public regarding the current penalty points fiasco.

I do not believe that the public's anger relates to how individual gardai use discretion whilst performing their duty. The anger relates to when a member of An Garda Siochana punishes an offender for a road traffic offence that they believe should be penalised, and another member of the force removes these penalties from the Pulse system. Once an offence has been recorded on Pulse, it should stay there. If the offender feels the penalty is unjustified, it should be up to the courts to decide.

This is where the anger lies as it is seen to benefit a minority of motorists. Mr Shatter clearly believes it is moral to inform the public of a named individual's brush with garda discretion, but not moral to name those who had penalty points removed from the Pulse system by members of the force.

Tony Finn

Finglas, Dublin 11

CALLED TO ACCOUNT

* Can somebody explain to me why Deputy Mick Wallace's law breaking (because using a mobile phone while driving is law breaking) should be kept confidential?

Just because the gardai did not prosecute or issue a penalty notice does not change the facts. I suggest that had Justice Minister Alan Shatter, or any other minister, been found using their mobile phone the incident would not have remained private for long and the media or opposition deputy would consider it a national duty to reveal the facts.

This is akin to the fallacy that because a deputy is going to or from the Dail he cannot be given a fixed penalty or prosecuted for driving offences. I accept that they should be immune to arrest while travelling to the Dail on a day when the Dail is in session, as otherwise an arrest could be made to frustrate democracy.

As it is, it appears that a TD can claim to be travelling to the Dail at any time and so is practically immune from prosecution.

Andrew Duffy

Address with editor

ANTI-MAN LAWS

* The tragic issue of male suicide has received widespread media coverage. While the causes are many and varied, one theory which has gained widespread acceptance is that men don't talk about their problems or seek help.

Those who subscribe to this theory tell us that there is always help available. I can think of eight male acquaintances who died by suicide in the past decade. All of them talked openly about their problems and sought help. There was one common factor in all of these cases. Each had been through the family law system and had his life and fatherhood severely diminished or even destroyed in a variety of ways.

Can those who tell us that there is always help now tell us how we can save innocent, law-abiding men from what in my opinion are anti-man, anti-father practices in law, which are undoubtedly a contributory factor in the high rate of male suicides?

Name and address with editor

Irish Independent