Sir - I enjoyed reading Carol Hunt's article on turning 50 (Sunday Independent, December 13). I celebrated that milestone myself last year. Having heard gloomy stories from some of my friends who had passed this significant date in their own lives and how it had affected them, I decided I wasn't going to be like them.
I threw a party and invited all my friends. I even took out an ad in a local magazine inviting all my supporters who had supported me in the previous local elections.
I also wrote a letter about reaching this milestone in my life and its significance in relation to friendships in my life. Your sister newspaper printed it.
However in the months that followed I realised that I was just like my friends. Being 50 did play on my mind at times. This is quite a significant birthday. I took comfort from what one of my friends said to me at the time. He had found being 50 difficult but when he reached 60 it didn't bother him at all.
Over one year down the line I am much more philosophical about my age. I realise we are all just passing through. I see young people and I realise I was their age once.
They, hopefully in the fullness of time will reach my age and much further, just as I hope to.
Not wanting to be too morbid I'll finish with a sobering thought about an inscription I once heard of as being written on a tombstone: "I was once where you are now. Someday you will be where I am."
Tommy Roddy, Lower Salthill, Galway
Puppies at Christmas
Sir - My heart sank at Deborah Spillane's article (Sunday Independent, Living, December 13) about getting a pup from a breeder for Christmas.
Firstly, rescues around the country are bursting at the seams with dogs looking for homes.
Secondly, for years, animal rescues have been asking people not to get a puppy at Christmas due to the stress both to the pup and to the family.
It is like beating your head against a brick wall when newspapers such as your own decide to work against everything they are trying to achieve, by not alone extolling the virtues of getting a dog at Christmas, but actually listing "The top 10 pups we buy at Christmas".
Your article was highly irresponsible and I have no reservations in stating that it will contribute to the huge number of pups dumped at shelters (or worse) after the initial excitement of "a pup at Christmas" dies down. Shame on you.
Teresa Liddane, Tralee, Co Kerry
Sir - Deborah Spillane's article in last week's Sunday Independent was very apt especially at this time of year.
Many families will be contemplating the gift of a puppy for their loved ones as a surprise at Christmas. As she pointed out, there is great responsibility attached to owning a dog, and you can't change your mind after the festivities. However, many people do.
This is why charities like Dogs Trust and many more, who do such wonderful work, are snowed under with unwanted dogs in the aftermath of Christmas.
I hope that anyone who has ordered a puppy for next week will read Deborah's article carefully before they commit.
A dog is for LIFE not just for Christmas!
Emma Mac Sullivan, Eglinton Road, Dublin 4
Awful problem of binge drinking
Sir - I would be grateful for the opportunity to reply to Eilis O'Hanlon's article on alcohol (Sunday Independent, December 13). Four years ago, my wife and I became involved in the campaign to address the binge-drinking culture in our country. Our involvement came about after the inquest into the death of our son, David.
At the inquest, the coroner allowed me to read out a statement in which we asked that the whole area of price and availability of cheap alcohol would be addressed.
We asked for a minimum price to be introduced on alcohol that is sold in supermarkets, shops and garages. No one told us what to say, we could see with our own eyes the problems that cheap alcohol creates. Our only wish was that changes would be made that would at least help to prevent more deaths like David's.
I don't think we fit into the booze-hating prohibitionist category or the former drunks category; in fact, I don't believe we fit into any of the categories that Eilis O'Hanlon mentions. We do, however, belong to a category that is not mentioned at all. We are parents of a boy who died by suicide as a result of binge drinking. There are many more people like us in our country, some who speak out and others who wish to remain silent, which is quite understandable.
The link between alcohol and suicide cannot be ignored: a person is eight times more likely to die by suicide if they are abusing alcohol, and alcohol is a contributing factor in almost 50pc of suicides.
It cannot be said that Health Minister Leo Varadkar is trying to fast-track this bill into law - it has taken four years to get this far. Eilis O'Hanlon says: "Politicians no longer have the backbone to stand up to the health lobbies." I think it would be more accurate to say that at last politicians are standing up to the alcohol lobbying.
John Higgins, Ballina, Co Mayo
Attack on personal responsibility
Sir - Eilis O'Hanlon's article, "Booze-hating prohibitionists need to give up the boos" (Sunday Independent, December 13), is a timely and sobering reminder of the harm that can be done to the civil liberties of all by the actions of a few.
This ill-thought-out legislation is an attack on all who believe in the concept of personal responsibility and who wish to live their lives as they see fit, not according to the dictates of their so-called betters.
The unholy alliance of well-paid politicians, greedy publicans and moralising medics is designed to browbeat ordinary people.
I am an adult, well able to make my own decisions in life, and I resent others who think they know better trying to tell me what is good for me. This kind of arrogance needs to be confronted head-on by all who value their freedoms. I for one will not give my vote to any politician, of whichever ilk, who supports this oppressive legislation. I hope and trust that I will not be alone.
Eddie McDonnell, Blackrock, Co Dublin
What fate awaits the country's bees?
Sir - I've lost most of my bees. It now looks as if I'm going to lose the remainder.
I come from the days of keeping bees in butter boxes. Over the past 50 years, I have been far too busy to pay much attention to my bees, but nevertheless I achieved good results.
This last season was the worst in my life. For the first time, I had a bit of time for my bees and paid more attention to them than ever before, but results have been a disaster.
A swarm in May is worth a cock of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm in July is not worth a fly.
This season, I was in a position to expand my beekeeping and did so last spring. I hived a large number of natural swarms. Previously, a swarm in May not only survived but produced a crop of honey with some left over for the winter.
This year, every swarm died some time about August or September. They did not even make it to the autumn. I do not know why.
Well, I thought it was a particularly bad summer, but they survived many a bad summer over the past 50 years, so I discarded that thought.
What about the Varroa mite? Varroa is imported into this country unintentionally and has done enormous damage to bees.
Unlikely, I thought, as the demise of the bees was too sudden. I asked myself: what is the biggest change in circumstances between then and now?
There is a huge increase in the use of sprays. I met by accident a microbiologist and spoke to him about my bees. He said it was most likely a virus. Maybe, but I am not so sure.
I asked a farmer friend if I could put my bees on his oil-seed rape and he said: "Certainly, but wait until I've sprayed it."
Fences are no longer being cut, they're sprayed; clover (the main source of honey) is discouraged in silage; there is a great scarcity of butterflies; there are no more grasshoppers; frogs are very much reduced in numbers; the corncrake is no more; the eels in the rivers are nearly all gone; even the ordinary fly is a lot less plentiful; you do not now see a large cloud of birds following the plough, picking up worms; I do not know when I last saw a ladybird or dragonfly; rabbits are nearly gone and hares are very scarce.
I think the time has come to discover the cause. I shudder to think where it will all end.
Michael Kiely, Ovens, Co Cork
Time for social backlash
Sir - There was an infamous Citigroup memo leaked in 2005 which the majority of the American people, and the world, was not supposed to see. It described the plutonomy - the wealth gap - in America, where 1pc of the population own the majority of the wealth.
What was most curious, though, was the analysis of what was described as a "social backlash". So long as the majority of the electorate believed that one day they too might become wealthy, they would continue to support income inequality, perhaps at an unconscious level.
If the majority of the electorate ever realised that this might not happen to them, they might divide the wealth pie much more evenly. This was one of Citigroup's greatest fears.
Hugh McElvaney gloated recently (Sunday Independent, December 13) that he will top the polls again in Co Monaghan. He has "many, many supporters" in the local area willing to vote for him. This may be so. But are his "many, many supporters" truly representative of the majority of his constituency? I am not convinced. Maybe that should be at the forefront of his mind, and one of his greatest fears, going towards the next elections. Maybe it's time for a "social backlash" here in Co Monaghan.
Christopher Malone, Co Monaghan
McElvaney's views find their uses
Sir - I was so incensed by disgraced former county councillor Hughie McElvaney's arrogance (Sunday Independent, December 13) that I decided to cut the article out of the paper and put it in the cat's litter tray
Barry Mahady, Leixlip, Co Kildare
Change World Cup to save the planet
Sir - 196 of the world's nations signed the Paris Agreement at the Convention on Climate Change, a milestone in world history. If the governments, leaders and rulers of these 196 nations wish to show they are serious about their commitment to saving the planet, let them begin by putting pressure on FIFA to cancel the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Qatar (population 2.2 million) is the world's worst for CO2 emissions, with an annual output of 44 tonnes per capita.
Ireland (population five million) has an output of 10 tonnes per capita. Qatar was awarded the World Cup 2022 by the FIFA administration, led then by the since discredited Sepp Blatter.
Holding such a massive event in Qatar will only increase the country's CO2 emissions to an unacceptable level, even by their own standards.
FIFA will argue that the cancellation of the 2022 football extravaganza will not be possible due to contractual and legal agreements - a case of fiddling while Earth burns.
If the Paris Agreement is to have any credibility, the 2022 Qatar World Cup must be cancelled or re-located.
Joe Taylor, Dublin 4
Magnanimity for their minorities
Sir - As a unionist, I would agree with Peter McKenna, up to a point, that Unionist bigotry fuelled IRA (Sunday Independent, Letters, December 13).
However, not all unionists were bigots and his claim that Catholics were treated like dirt is an emotional gross exaggeration. I am now a pensioner, and from my early 20s I am proud to say my best friends were Catholic, for whom I would have done anything within reason and them for me.
The situation that existed in the North cannot however be viewed in isolation from what was happening in the rest of Ireland, which was not exactly utopia for Protestants. Both former Taoiseach and President Eamon de Valera and former Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of All Ireland John Charles McQuaid were profoundly anti-Protestant, and together oversaw the decimation of the Protestant population in the Republic by more than 66pc since the foundation of the state. So much for "treasuring all the children of the State equally".
I am sure Mr McKenna would agree that had the governments of both jurisdictions been more magnanimous towards their minorities the Ireland of today would be a much better place.
A Thompson, Tyrone
Sir - It is strange to see a militant Irish republican analysis of how the Troubles in the North began coming from an Alliance Party supporter (Letters, December 13, "Unionist bigotry fuelled IRA", by Peter McKenna).
Yet however lacking credibility the letter may be, it needs to be refuted. If it is the only issue refuted during the run up to the Assembly elections next May, then it would still be a good day's work for the SDLP.
The violence of the Troubles was not inevitable, contrary to what Peter McKenna states. Nearly every demand of the civil rights agenda of the late 1960s was achieved by agreement by the early 1970s. Most were agreed in 1969.
While unionist bigotry existed, the IRA launched a war, not to overcome unionist bigotry, but to drive the British out of Ireland. Many unionists interpreted this war as meaning that they themselves, as British citizens, were going to be forced out of Ireland.
At the moment, militant Irish republicans, and I'm referring not just to the dissidents but also to Sinn Féin, who must be included as they're still taking instructions from the army council of the IRA, are attempting to re-write the history of the Troubles, particularly in respect of the beginning in 1969.
The beginning of the Troubles is very inconvenient for the Sinn Féin analysis for it shows republicans at their worst, starting a war with Britain it could never win.
Any supporter of a united Ireland would have known that it could only be achieved through agreement with unionists. The IRA campaign destroyed any SDLP attempts to achieve agreement at that time and then trundled on until it ended in 1994 with several large but meaningless bangs in Britain, portraying itself as winners, but with no real success, as can be proven from the subsequent negotiations.
Sinn Féin need to stand up and admit that revenge is what the IRA campaign was about, not freedom, but then Sinn Féin don't do honesty.
John O'Connell, Derry
Sir - I refer to Peter McKenna's letter of December 13. Writing as a member of that community there is some truth in his point and unionism has never seriously admitted its role in creating the environment which lead to the troubles. However, like most things in Irish politics, it is more complicated.
Does his theory mean that unionists were simply bigots for no other reason than that was/is part of their culture and upbringing? I would suggest that the unionist people have felt for over a century, and arguably since the Plantation, that they have been under threat both physically and politically.
Hardly an environment which fosters openness rather than the defensive mindset which they believed was needed to survive as a people. Unfortunately both 'sides' were prisoners of history and it is only in recent decades that an attempt has been made to break free.
David Scott, Belfast