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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Sir - In a letter to these pages last Sunday, one correspondent informed us "that there are citizens who believe that the Seanad should be abolished".

It is well to remember that in a referendum a few years ago the Irish electorate voted to retain the Seanad.

The vast part of the political establishment with the full resources of the State favoured abolition - but the Seanad was saved by a whisker thanks mainly to the magnificent performances in the debate of such people as David Norris, Michael McDowell, Ronan Mullen and the late Noel Whelan.

There is, however, general agreement that the Seanad is in need of reform. I throw out one simple suggestion which I think ought to be tried at the present time of grave crisis in our country.

Under a provision in article 28 of Bunreacht na hEireann, two members of Seanad Eireann may serve in cabinet though not as Taoiseach or finance minister. In the coming days our new Taoiseach will nominate 11 members of the new Seanad. In the past these appointees have, with some exceptions, been party apparatchiks. On this occasion the Taoiseach can rise above the party political fray.

He (or she) has an opportunity to take an imaginative leap. Why not nominate our chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, as a member of the Seanad? At the moment he is playing a most inspirational role and enjoys enormous confidence among the people.

He could then be invited to serve in government. What a health minister he would make. As a leader in the war against Covid-19 what heart, determination and sheer will to win he would inspire in the foot soldiers (the ordinary citizens).

Fr Iggy O'Donovan,

Fethard, Co Tipperary

 

Swallows return to Claregalway

Sir — The swallows returned to our back yard shed this week. My Tuesday morning tug of the blinds revealed the delight.

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This field is required

Wednesday and my hubby returned from a trip to the supermarket, complaining about some “bird” he’d encountered. I had never heard him use the term for the fairer sex before. One of them got too close as he traversed the aisles — her coughs and sneezes certainly raised his ire.

Thursday morning then I awoke to the beautiful sound of birdsong, coming from the feathered variety.

Not rushing for work enabled me to revel in this joy. The blue skies gave a real holiday feel to our humble abode.

Later, the kids informed me that our dog was missing, hunting after a croaking pheasant in undergrowth in the field behind the garden. All was well that ended well on that score.

A nightly phone call to my mum at home is tinged with sadness. We’d love it if she could get on with her life as normal. Unfortunately she has to “cocoon”.

The young lad blames bats when he starts complaining as to why he can’t meet friends. It seems that when it comes to the world of nature, you’ve got the good and the bad.

Much like the experts I suspect, that are guiding us through this crisis. At the same time, we can only wish them all well.

Jane Murphy,

Claregalway,

Co Galway

 

Don’t penalise me for working past 70

Sir — Covid-19 has affected all our lives from job losses to self-isolating and, in my case, to cocooning as I am over 70 and immunocompromised.

For over 50 years, I have been paying my way with Vat, PRSI contributions, income taxes, USC charges and other government charges as part of my contribution to the Exchequer.

For the past number of years I have qualified for the pension and have collected the same gratefully. This has been a result of 45 years of PRSI contributions.

However, I still work and have a thriving business in Limerick which has grown over the past few years to being the largest in its field in Munster. I pay all my taxes on time and in full.

Unfortunately, due to the Covic-19 outbreak, my income has stopped, along with many others. Yet due to my age I have no entitlement to the €350 payment.

I appreciate I am rare to be working at my age but still make a worthwhile contribution to the economy. It is discriminatory for a person who has paid taxes all their life to be denied this payment. I understand the

Government is under pressure but feel that people in my position should not be victimised.

My need for the payment is far greater than younger people who can return to work earlier than me based on all official information I have seen. I won’t be able to return to work for a far lengthier time than a younger person. Therefore my need for such a payment is even greater. After all I am only working in my retirement as I need the income.

The over-70s are rare as full-time workers. We are united by having to cocoon. Please don’t punish me because of my age and show mercy. My business is suffering and my age lengthens the period of suffering.

John Loftus,

Clarina, Co Limerick

 

Clamp down on flights and ferries

Sir — While Ireland is justifiably on partial lockdown, it is important to question the draconian decisions being taken.

Restricting people, except essential workers, to within two kilometres of their homes is justified, but this is not being applied to people entering Ireland through air and ferry ports.

Several ferries are arriving at Dublin each day, and while this is necessary for cargo purposes, passengers arriving from the UK especially should be restricted due to the worsening Covid-19 situation there. Some airlines are still bringing in passengers from London, as well as from countries in Europe such as France and Poland.

Any passengers arriving from these countries should be obliged to self-isolate and their travel around Ireland should also be curtailed as they pose a far more serious threat than the millions of Irish citizens now on lockdown. We should also question daily flights between Dublin and Kerry airports, connecting with incoming flights from the UK.

The other issue to be questioned is the cocooning of all people over 70 within their homes. This draconian measure amounts to virtual imprisonment without trial. A US scientific study in 2018 found that isolation was a major cause of premature deaths. Some over-70s are vulnerable because of a medical condition, but many are not.

Those who are medically vulnerable should be advised to isolate within their homes but not compelled, as the risks associated with isolation for elderly people may be greater for them than the risks associated with coronavirus.

Also, the over-70s are likely to be a lesser risk of spreading the coronavirus than the younger members of the community, and they could and would still be restricted to two kilometres from their home. We know to our cost that our politicians don’t always get things right.

Edward Horgan,

Newtown, Castletroy,

 Limerick

 

Over-70s ‘arrest’ ruling is shameful

I consider the policy to put all over-70s under house arrest shameful, disrespectful and a gross discrimination against a section of this country who worked hard over a lifetime.

They have earned their freedom and deserve to be treated like all citizens. They are the people that have bailed out this country several times in their lifetime. They have had to pay for the many costly wasteful decisions of government.

There are vulnerable people in all sections of society. The fact that there is an imbalance in deaths by age due to the virus is because the response to nursing home requests in early February for Government and HSE to curtail visiting was ignored and now the costly result is lives lost.

We are as responsible as any grouping about our health. I could go on but what’s the point?

Name and address with Editor

 

Oh, Labour has served seven times

Sir — Eoghan Harris writes in last week’s Sunday Independent that the Labour Party will not be punished if it goes into government with Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and others.

Ah Eoghan, of course you know that the Labour Party has served in government on seven occasions since its formation.

Six times in government with Fine Gael alone, or with Fine Gael and smaller parties, and once with Fianna Fail — all in the national interest — and you still want them to be a tailgate for the larger parties?

As James Connolly said: “We believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times.”

Pat O Callaghan,

Mallow Co Cork

 

Replace Seanad with assembly

Sir — Eilis O’Hanlon’s column headlined ‘We should have taken our big chance to put the Seanad out of its misery’ in last week’s Sunday Independent concisely outlines why our upper house as it now stands should be terminated. Should a secondary discussion chamber be essential, we have a superb replacement in the Citizens’ Assembly.

The Citizens’ Assembly was initially conceived to deflect heat away from politicians during the abortion debate. However, due to the laws of unintended consequences the assembly has emerged as a progressive, efficient and independent forum for political debate. Since this gathering of our peers first met in Malahide in 2016, their contribution to 21st century Ireland has been immense. They have gone on to intelligently scrutinise contemporary issues such as climate change, gender equality and our pension timebomb.  

But if this suggestion was to ever see the light of day, our challenge would be to ensure the assembly maintains its integrity and that the politicians are kept at bay.

Pat Condon,

Swords, Dublin

 

Let’s make sure all voices are heard

Eilis O’Hanlon is right to say ‘it’s not all bad news’ regarding the Seanad in reference to Senator Ronan Mullen’s re-election and “his ability to provoke a collective meltdown in the politically correct” with his pro-life stance.

It never ceases to astonish me that those who call themselves ‘liberals’ constantly refuse to allow those who oppose their views to be heard.  I can only conclude that they are afraid of robust debate.

While I voted to retain the Seanad, it was on the basis that proper reform would take place and it would not continue as a halfway house for deposed TDs who toe the line. 

Hopefully, in this changed climate, efforts will be made to ensure our politicians will step up to the mark and ensure that all our people are represented and allowed to have their voices heard. Surely that is the least to be expected in a democracy.

Mary Stewart,

Ardeskin, Donegal Town

 

A few lines for all the drama groups

I would like to share the sentiment sent via WhatsApp to our drama group from our director, Anne Gallagher:

“Thinking of all the people in drama groups all over Ireland who spent the past few months rehearsing and perfecting their plays in the hope of a place in the All Ireland finals. Let’s pray it won’t be long until all is back to last-minute nerves, standing ovations, and the fun of it all.”

Brian McDevitt,

Glenties, Co Donegal

 

Students deserve a level playing field

Sir — During World War II, at the age of 10, I was quarantined at home from an independent school for three weeks.

At the time of Dunkirk, I returned to find no one had bothered to inform my parents the school had been evacuated. A soldier said that those who had not been evacuated went to a school in the town. I duly reported to this school, was registered and placed in the first form.

The summer term was mainly completed in the school’s underground air raid shelters, where I learnt to play cards. When I returned in the autumn I was placed in the second form on the assumption the curriculum between the two schools was aligned. They were not, with the consequence I missed much of what was taught in the grammar school’s first year to my long-term detriment.

The lesson I learnt is that the assumption everyone learns at the same rate is flawed. They don’t, and we can assume some students will be affected differently by withdrawal from schooling, leaving teachers to ensure their pupils start with a level playing field.

It is for this reason the minister is to be applauded for ensuring students have formal tuition immediately prior to the Leaving Cert. Whether a fortnight will be enough is a matter for debate.

My learning was further interrupted by a term at home, where I received private tuition that did not induce much learning. Later, when the school was bombed, we could go only for half a day as the building was shared with another bombed school.

My understanding has been that the matriculation allowed a small percentage of marks for students in such situations. Unless the Leaving Certificate papers have been changed, such an adjustment would allow for the inability of teachers to complete the syllabus.

The last time the value of a public exam at the end of the Junior Cycle was debated was in the Committee on the Form and Function of the Intermediate Certificate in 1975. It came down in favour of such an exam but thought it should be by a nationally normed test and teacher assessment. Had the idea been taken up, we would not be in the difficulty we are today. But the question of an exam at all at the end of Junior Cycle should be debated.

You should know I was quarantined with German measles.

Prof John Heywood,

Bray, Co Wicklow

 

Celebrate our true patriots

Sir — The words “patriot” and “patriotism” are much used and abused. What makes a patriot and what is not patriotism?

Patriotism is not shoving your fist up when our national anthem is played. It is not shouting “Up the Ra” in some pub when you have a few too many on board. It is not showing an audience you know all the words of Come Out Ye Black And Tans. It’s not sitting on your couch sending insulting messages to anyone who does not hate everything British as much as you do, while you support some Premier League team at the same time. It’s not being an armchair terrorist or a keyboard warrior castigating anyone who does not support the same party as you.

It’s the stuff of people who put themselves second as they look after those less fortunate.

They are doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners and porters, truck drivers, supermarket staff, transport workers, gardai, the Army (the real Oglaigh), ESB workers, social workers, carers, teachers working online, radio and TV people, postmen and women, politicians who are trying their best from all parties and from none, voluntary workers, farmers, food producers, fishermen and many more.

These are Irish patriots. They should be honoured and celebrated when this is over.

Pat Burke Walsh,

Gorey, Co Wexford

 

Home from home for tax exiles

Sir —Reports (Sunday Independent, April 5) that billionaire tax exiles are to get a free pass to stay in the country for the duration of the coronavirus crisis and still not have to pay tax won’t exactly strike the right chord with the thousands of healthcare and other workers who are doing so much to keep us all safe – often at considerable risk.

In the wake of the last recession, newly elected Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared Ireland was the best small country in the world to do business in. It would be ironic if, in the wake of the present crisis and the recession it brings, our boast will be that Ireland is the best small country to be a billionaire tax exile in.

John Glennon,

Hollywood, Co Wicklow


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