On Tuesday, when we heard the terrible news that many young Irish men and women working for the summer in California on J1 visas, had been killed or injured in the balcony collapse in Berkeley, it hit us in a special way.
You see, over the last few years we have had the great pleasure of having many lovely young people from Ireland visit us in New York while they were here on J1 visas. Most of them worked long hours in restaurants or country clubs and then saw a bit of the US before heading back home.
Thus it was with disbelief that we read the 'New York Times's' very insensitive if not downright cruel coverage of Tuesday's tragedy, starting with the headline: 'Six deaths in Berkeley cast pall on visa program'.
Six young people died in a horrendous way and many more suffered life-threatening injuries, and yet "the program" was the story?
The article went on to discuss the criminal behaviour of a few Irish students (out of 8,000) who came here on J1 visas last year, a situation completely unrelated to the Berkeley deaths.
And a reference was made to the "party-hard" lifestyle of some Irish students - again, completely unrelated to the tragic deaths.
Ireland is now in deep mourning for the loss of so many of its children while they were guests of the United States.
This is the story the 'New York Times' ought to be covering.
May Eimear, Olivia, Lorcán, Eoghan, Niccolai and Ashley rest in peace.
Patricia and Tom Phelan
Freeport, New York, USA
Wooden balcony supports
I was surprised to learn that the balcony in the Berkeley tragedy was founded on wooden structural supports. Surely, given that wood is perishable, the supports should have to be steel and the building code must insist on this.
Your article (Irish Independent, June 18) mentions that originally the balconies were meant to be decorative rather than functional. For that reason, the authorities may have been less demanding. But even a decorative feature would still eventually suffer from the perishing of wood. It seems that the building authorities in San Francisco have serious questions to answer.
John F Jordan
Killiney, Co Dublin
McAleese for Taoiseach
As the general election campaign looms, which of our political parties will seek to present themselves as 'the party of renewal'?
It is very clear, following her robust intervention in the marriage referendum campaign and her severe dressing down of the 'New York Times', that Mary McAleese has not lost the ability to poke a stick into a wasps' nest. Her interventions continue to carry far greater weight in the country and across the globe than those of any other public official, or ecclesiastical dignitary, since the era of Charles Stewart Parnell. She demonstrates a unique capacity to blow cobwebs away; an instinct to reflect the public will and an appetite to make important and timely contributions to public affairs - which are heeded.
If she were to become the incumbent of another major public office she would likely confer a spark of dynamism, prestige, innovation, elegance and ambition on the nation that is not evident at present because she understands and responds to the aspirations of the people. If any of the political parties want to present themselves as 'a party of renewal', should they not seek to persuade Mary McAleese to become party leader?
A party led by her becoming the pivotal party of the next government would be a highly realistic proposition - reflected in new and more interesting candidates that seek to emulate her, higher voter turnout, votes cast directly and indirectly in support of her, seats won and she becoming Taoiseach.
The notion of a former president holding another major public office is not as far-fetched as some might think.
William Howard Taft concluded his tenure as the 27th President of the United States in March 1913 and a decade later became the distinguished 10th Chief Justice of the United States, retiring from that role in 1930 at the age of 73.
Glenageary, Co Dublin
Double standards at concert
I was privileged to attend a Tom Jones concert for the first time last night; an experience I'd been waiting 50 years for, ever since 'It's Not Unusual' hit number one in 1965.
But a brilliant concert by a truly great singer was ruined by the infantile behaviour of a minority in the audience: the youngsters a quarter of his age holding up banners blocking the view of others, the idiot with the ponytail who kept howling like a wolf, and the low-life women who threw bras and underwear at the stage - how insulting, undignified, degrading, disrespectful, indecent and totally stupid. Sadly, however, all of this is accepted. If a man were to throw underwear at a female artist, he would be promptly ejected from the premises, arrested and charged with indecent behaviour.
Drogheda, Co Louth
Pope on climate change
While I applaud Pope Francis for his interest in the environment, the problem that's driving climate change isn't unsustainable consumption - it's unsustainable population growth.
If we don't stop population growth, then no amount of austerity or technology is going to save us. We need birth control. It's simple maths. If we cut our resource usage in half and the population doubles, we have gained nothing. We live on a finite-sized planet with a growing population. That isn't sustainable.
One of the leading causes of population growth is the Catholic Church's opposition to birth control. If the Pope is truly interested in climate change, he should reverse this church policy.
The Pope is in a unique position to impact the climate and it is irresponsible for him not to act. If the pontiff reversed his position on birth control, he would have more impact on climate change than anything the UN can do.
Gilroy, California, USA
Wrong about rights
Define a basic human right. A right to work; to education; freedom of speech; freedom of conscience; a right not to be tortured, raped or mutilated because of race, gender, orientation or accident of geography.
But a right to prevent workers from working because of an indefensible right to have a service - in this case water usage - without paying for it?
Amazing how a minute of fame on the internet can inspire zealots.
Lismore, Co Waterford