North needs return to ideals of 'champion of peace' Hume
Former SDLP leader John Hume's 80th birthday is today.
It is a sad irony that in the week that the institutions in the North collapsed in acrimony and rancour, the man who towered over the chaos of the Troubles celebrates his 80th birthday.
In the Irish Independent of September 18, 2000, Dominic Cunningham described Mr Hume as a "an uncompromising champion of peace, democracy and reconciliation".
Even in the darkest of days, Mr Hume never lost faith in the primacy of politics and used non-violent constitutional means to chart a new future in the North and on the island.
Nearly 20 years ago, with courage and bravery he fashioned the ideas at the core of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). This agreement remains his crowning glory and is a testament to his vision, leadership and negotiation skills.
The ambition and hopes of the GFA may be under serious strain today.
The best way to honour Mr Hume's 80th birthday is for all of us to reaffirm our pledge to the spirit of generosity and respect at the heart of the agreement.
As Mr Hume said in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, let us build a new Ireland based "on respect for diversity and for political difference. A future where all can rejoice in cherished aspirations and beliefs and where this can be a badge of honour, not a source of fear or division".
Cllr Tim Attwood
SDLP West Belfast
Andersonstown Road, Belfast
Baptism barrier just tip of iceberg
I write regarding Education Minister Richard Bruton's comment piece (Irish Independent, January 17).
Even if Mr Bruton's "final option" regarding the 'baptism barrier' is effected (ie, its complete removal), it will not change the fact that children of minority faiths and none will still be subjected to "faith formation" in State-funded schools against their parents' wishes. The Constitution grants parents a right to withdraw their children from timetabled "religious instruction" (Article 44.2.4), a right reinforced in legislation and the rules for National Schools. However, requiring a child to remain at the back of the class during a period of religious instruction (the most common method used by schools) is not an effective opt-out.
Moreover, religious instruction is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Children do not have the right to be insulated from the "religious education" aspect of faith formation, which, because of the "integrated curriculum", can and often does permeate the entire school day.
The integrated curriculum makes it virtually impossible to opt out of faith formation, in effect nullifying the conscience provisions contained in the Constitution and the Education Act 1998.
Successive human rights bodies have criticised the virtual monopoly of Irish primary schools by religious institutions, the baptism barrier and the integrated curriculum.
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Irish-American heartland mourns
An unusual disaster was remembered on its 98th anniversary last Sunday. This was the incident in Boston on January 15, 1919, when 21 people were killed by an explosion of molasses from a storage tank. It is remembered there the same way the Titanic anniversary is here.
Victims fell and drowned in the flood of 2.3 million gallons rushing at 56kmh and about 25 feet at its highest in the North End of the city. Rivets shot out of the tank like bullets, 150 people were injured, horses were smothered and buildings destroyed. The dead included Bridget Clougherty (65), Patrick Breen (44), William Duffy (58), John Callahan (43) and Peter Shaughnessy (18), and the two youngest victims were aged 10.
The clean-up took some 80,000 hours and the harbour went brown from the clean-up. The smell remained for months and some say they can still smell it on hot summer days.
One theory regarding the tragedy's cause was that a build-up of carbon dioxide exploded the tank. Another study by 'Civil and Structural Magazine' found the steel was too thin and of a type used in the Titanic. Steel manufacturers did not know a low amount of manganese could make the steel brittle.
Safety tests like filling the storage tank with water to check for leaks were neglected and it was painted brown to disguise flaws.
The disaster led to better building standards and zoning laws in Boston and most of the US and to a first major class-action suit in the US.
It sometimes takes a tragedy to ensure safety improvements, a situation that has been repeated around the world many times since.
Pandering to couch potatoes
John Masterson ('Dance show needs a turkey', Irish Independent, Letters, January 17) says exactly what a lot of people really think. In fact, this whole "see how celebrities dance, bake, or cope in a jungle" device is easy and lazy TV programme-making, for the TV channels as well as for the viewers.
Celebrity TV watching must be one of the most time-wasting and inane activities known to modern man and woman, driven often, but not solely, by the aim to expose millions of couch potatoes around the world to commercials.
If only all those TV crews and their celebrities would just head out for the Bermuda Triangle, dancing, baking and singing all the way. It would be a case of "bon voyage", and then we could finally look forward to something completely different - that is something worth watching on TV.
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Your report that Fine Gael is attempting to get back lost rural votes with grants for refurbishing old buildings sent a shiver down the spine ('Cash incentives to restore properties in rural areas to lure people to small towns and villages', Irish Independent, January 17).
It has potential similarities to the 'Renewable Heat Incentive' scheme that has just plunged the North into chaos.
Your report was accompanied by a photo of a what appears to be a tin-roofed cowshed. Fine Gael should consider the damage that will be done to an already badly tarnished brand if in a year or two a follow-up report appears complete with a cow, knee deep in carpet and surrounded by Ikea's best while watching a 70-inch TV - especially if an adjoining page is carrying a photo of a human sleeping on one of our capital's pavements.
Rathedmond, Co Sligo