Tales of the mighty robin
Sir - Lovely to read the heart-warming tales of the mighty robin, our ubiquitous red-breasted garden bird, with a deserved reputation for calm and charming curiosity (Country Matters, Sunday Independent, January 21). This wonderful little fellow, a close cousin of the blackbird, gets amazingly close to us humans on a daily basis and, as such, we treat it as a special friend - any sighting is viewed as a sign of good luck and positivity for that day.
We encourage its presence, we feed it and, as Joe Kennedy points out in his article, we even talk to it.
Their pluckiness and bossiness is legendary - the two residents in my garden marshal all the birds at my bird feeder, large and small.
The robin has a special place in our hearts in the same way that swans, ducks and owls do. Long may it flourish in our gardens.
The total contempt for law and order
Sir - The ongoing savagery of the latest gangland feud in Dublin is shocking. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan stated it was "a total disregard and contempt for law and order" (Sunday Independent, January 21). That sounds ministerial and sombre but utterly meaningless.
The perpetrators, in a feud fought across Spain and Ireland, wouldn't know who Charlie Flanagan is if he sat across a cafe table from them. The battle between those two gangs, and other gangs, is fought with a total obliviousness to life norms and Queensberry Rules. They regard themselves as a business but with a difference - cross us and you will be killed.
When the Dunne family finally fell into the courts in the early 1980s, Larry Dunne grimly warned the Dublin world that what was coming to replace the Dunnes would make them (the Dunnes) look like good guys. His words were lost amid the back-slapping from the Garda and DPP. And yet Larry Dunne was correct. A fearless Veronica Guerin paid with her life as those people the Dunnes warned us about continued in business unimpeded.
The hydra-head mentality of those Dublin gangs, now coalitioned with Russian, East Europeans, etc, doesn't heed the Charlie Flanagans of this world. What the public now see is the newly tooled garda armed response units are more for show than actual crime reduction. Flanagan is correct about "a total disregard and contempt for law and order". Unfortunately, that phrase could legitimately apply to bankers, businessmen and developers along with certain politicians, particularly so since 2007 where billions have been plundered here.
Those gangs see what's happening in the so-called "legit world". Not having the connections and access that many charlatans there have, the gangs go out and run their show their way. They know the risks, death or jail, but to many of those living in twilight sinkholes, it's a choice worth taking. Again I go back to an old-fashioned remedy. Reopen the garda stations and put the gardai back into the community.
Rats don't like light. Gangs don't like being watched. And Charlie, talk is cheap. Action is what's needed, not gibberish.
Debate in a too narrow context
Sir - The binary distinction between ''pro-life'' and ''pro-choice'' in the abortion debate is seriously misleading, taking the discussion up a series of blind alleyways invariably exhibiting a drift towards irreconcilable cross purposes. ''Pro-life'' is an elusive concept and does not do the work intended.
Last August, my three-year-old granddaughter insisted on helping a worm cross a pathway as it was being incapacitated by the heat of the sun. She said she did not want it to die. Here we have an intuitive awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things, extending the meaning of ''pro-life'' beyond reference to humans. For instance, are there coherent grounds for believing that the aborting of a kitten is less significant than the aborting of a prenatal human?
The abortion debate takes place in an unduly narrow context. We seem to be trapped in a biological understanding of life, excluding questions about its quality. We are happy to get babies safely into the world with insufficient thought given to the world they will inhabit. The harshness and cruelty of life, experienced by so many, is lived out under our noses.
''Pro-choice'' shares the same ambiguous world as ''pro-life''. I assume what is entailed here is that questions about abortion are solved through the exercise of rational choice. However, it is difficult to exercise some form of pure choice cleansed of all bias, prejudice and special pleading.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis bemoaned the fact that his Church is concerned with far too few things. He saw it as departing from the central beliefs of Christianity, putting dogma before love as it becomes obsessed with contraception and gay marriage while failing to focus on the Church's clear mandate to serve the poor and oppressed.
Keep compassion for the vulnerable
Sir - Aine O'Neill (Letters, Sunday Independent, January 21) argues that ''pro-choice'' ''allows for those who wish to obtain abortions and those who wish to continue with their pregnancies''. I have been asking for some time why many people claim to be ''pro-choice'' but not ''pro-abortion'' so I suppose her letter clarifies it in the sense that pro-choice in fact denotes being pro-choice for abortion. You don't give anyone a choice to do something you don't agree with. Anyway, if you vote for repeal, you are voting for abortion and, according to Minister Harris, if you are a taxpayer you will be paying for abortions.
Ailbhe Flynn refers to ''the hundreds and thousands of women'' who have had abortions but omits any mention of the hundreds and thousands of babies who were not allowed the gift of life. Why is there practically no mention of the babies involved in abortion by those who wish to see it legalised here? It is unbelievable that widespread discussion is taking place on repealing the Eighth Amendment without any reference to the fact that, if it is repealed and abortion is legalised up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, all babies up to that stage are under threat of death. How humane is that? How has it come about that the deliberate killing of a baby in abortion can be hidden under the slogan of ''choice'' and ''repeal the Eighth''.
Have we really lost our compassion for the vulnerable and helpless to that extent? Why are we not offering the positive option of support and assistance to those with crises over pregnancies, instead of assisting women to kill their babies? This is actually described as being ''progressive'' in some quarters, but it really smacks of a return to medieval times with its widespread child sacrifice. Why is adoption not promoted with so many people wishing to have a baby and unable to become pregnant?
Finally, I would suggest that those who wish to have abortion legalised here read the heartbreaking letter last week addressed to ''Dear Baby'' (Letter I Wish I'd Sent, Sunday Independent, January 21), a baby that was aborted. As stated in that poignant letter: ''Everyone knows that there are more dignified and compassionate solutions for mothers and babies alike. So too does the abortion industry whose only interest is in amassing huge fortunes from vulnerable women."
An unenviable task
Sir - Philip Ryan's article, "FF TDs to block new abortion legislation" (Sunday Independent, January 21), makes it clear that our politicians face an unenviable task in relation to expressing an opinion on the planned abortion referendum. Being overtly pro-choice or pro-life seems to be a recipe for electoral damage and taking a middle position may be a safer option.
Some of us may see the issue as a women's health issue and that she should always have the right to choose. Others may see it from an ethical position, believing that no action should lead to a negative outcome for another human being. Arguably the challenge for politicians is to find a proposal that can traverse this void as far as possible.
Perhaps it might go some way in preparing the ground for a respectful and honest debate if we all agreed to respect the right of all politicians to vote according to their social conscience on this issue and offered all health care professionals a guarantee that their rights, too, will be respected should abortion be introduced.
The women's vote
Sir - Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, January 21) seems to suggest that only women should vote in an abortion referendum. It would be rarely I would agree with Harris, but I find myself sharing his view in that respect. It is surely presumptuous for men to dictate to women on such a matter.
Leo and bank of mum and dad
Sir - Poor Leo. He just doesn't get it. I'm starting to be concerned about his sensitivity to the economic reality young Irish people face. The majority endure a life of relatively low pay and dubious job contracts, including zero-hour ones. For most families, the bank of mum and dad is not an option. Leo may have been fortunate enough to rely on mater and pater - but most maters and paters have not yet recovered from the severe economic downturn.
Leo advises our young people to move in with mum and dad - wake up Leo, they are already here. His final suggestion did not redeem his original two, advising emigration as a way to save for a deposit.
We want our Taoiseach to inspire us, not irritate us with his jolly hockey sticks, immature mouth farts.
Leo must resist the temptation to share everything that he is thinking and sensitise himself to the harsh economic conditions he and his government imposed on us.
The bank of mum and dad is a privilege afforded only to the privileged. Bully for you, Leo.
Is the country that much better?
Sir - "Ireland changed for the better" is the heading of your leading article (Sunday Independent, January 21) and there are many who would wholeheartedly agree with this assessment of the modern-day Republic.
Some commentators of the "dark days" of the 1970s and 1980s in those days were probably still in short pants or gymslips. In those "dark days" one would walk the street at night-time in safety; vulnerable elderly folk in rural homes were not prey to cowardly, psychopathic predators, robbing and assaulting. There was no gang warfare, no killings in broad daylight, fuelled by rival absentee drug barons. Fatal stabbings a regular occurrence. Widespread, organised theft of tradesman's tools (their livelihood), farm machinery, even livestock.
No doubt in the 1970s and 1980s everything in the garden wasn't rosy, injustices hidden or ignored, minorities victims of prejudice and ignorance - but, on the other hand, is it altogether valid to compare and contrast the present with the past and form definitive conclusions?
Perhaps a more apt title for the leading article should read: "Ireland, changed for the worse."
Tokenism and the vote for Trump
Sir - With reference to Eilis O'Hanlon's article (Sunday Independent, January 14) and A Leavy's letter in response (Sunday Independent, January 21). At a time when women have never had it so good in terms of educational and life opportunities generally (unlike in this writer's mother's day when she was barred from pursuing her career as a schoolteacher because she was married, something which necessitated our family - I was eight at the time - having to emigrate so that she could find work in keeping with her qualifications), ongoing feminist-inspired complaints about how disadvantaged women are supposed to be, have a distinctly unconvincing ring to them.
As for A Leavy's regret at Hillary Clinton's defeat in the 2016 American Presidential Election, the approximately 30 million American women (who are probably better qualified than A Leavy to judge what's in their own best interests) who voted for the much-criticised Donald Trump did so, not because they were suffering from that mysterious feminist-invented pathology, "internalised misogyny" (they weren't), but because they were able, in their wisdom, to recognise that Mrs Clinton's brand of shallow feminist identitarian politics had little of real value to offer them (or their menfolk).
As for Mrs Clinton being "highly competent", it seems that many Americans (who are best placed to be the judges in such matters) would beg to differ - though that, of course, won't stop either the lady herself or her more ardent fans in the USA, Ireland, and elsewhere from continuing to try to explain away her defeat as being due to "misogyny" (well, they would, wouldn't they?) as well as, more plausibly, the quirks of the American electoral system.
Also, for someone who is supposedly so "sexist" and "misogynistic", Mr Trump hasn't hesitated to appoint able women, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, to his administration (something which receives almost no media attention), though, no doubt, his critics and detractors will inevitably try to dismiss these ladies as being mere "token women", or worse.
Light shining on the politicians
Sir - The US Senate has passed a short-term funding bill that will put a stop to the government shut down, or at least until February 8. It was always likely to be resolved or put on hold within a few days but what does this really mean on a global scale?
It's an easy throwaway quip to say that no government may actually be an improvement over the Trump-led regime, but how much difference will it make to the unemployed, the refugees and the hundreds of thousands who face deportation? Our political futures are too big a concern to give to petty politicians. This 'minor' political catastrophe has value in the light it shines on politicians who should be the best we have. Other countries should not be gloating about their own performances as the events may be different but the characters are the same. Let the best lead the rest.
Sir - I always thought that the Irish people were noted for hard necks, but apparently they are the softest in the world. A recent report has described Ireland as the whiplash capital of the world.
The average whiplash claim is settled for €15,000, double the UK payouts. Whiplash claims account for 80pc of all soft tissue injuries and are beloved of lawyers who know insurance companies are reluctant to contest cases in court. The companies merely wring their hands as they hike premiums yet again.
It is stretching the imagination more than a bit to believe all these claims are genuine. Various ministers have promised action, but powerful vested interests always stifle their efforts.