Sir – In early April, I consoled myself by reasoning that we were lucky not to be facing into winter in the then growing shadow of Covid-19.
ow, as winter beckons and the menacing pandemic still casts a long shadow, I’m not as gloomy as I might have expected.
Somehow, despite some regrettable exceptions, I believe that the demonstrated ingenuity and dedicated selflessness of my fellow man will see us through this challenge, even if we have to live with it through a second winter.
The ‘little Englander’ tantrums of Boris this past week and the looming precipice of a hard Brexit also indicate a winter, even winters, of wilderness. However, the track record of the steadfastness, commitment and propriety of our European neighbours since the process began sustains my belief that neither is Brexit the winter’s sword of Damocles.
For that weapon we must look to the US presidential election. Should Mr Trump be re-elected, the values, the code of ethics and principles, that have been foremost and that will be fundamental to leading us through both Covid-19 and Brexit, will be further subverted and grievously harmed.
Four more years of this man’s cynicism, divisiveness, egoism and duplicity will continue to incubate and stimulate an even more belligerent template for Johnson, Bin Salman, Bolsonaro, Putin et al, their minions and, critically, their apprentice generation, all of whom had free rein to disregard and disrespect as they chose and to spurn even the pretence of the sovereignty of the people during the past four years.
Joe Biden may not have the years to repair the vandalisation we’ve witnessed since President Obama, but Kamala Harris will, and I anticipate, at a time when the US will be ready for a leader with the humility and calibre of Angela Merkel or Jacinda Ardern.
St Thomas’ Sq, Kilkenny
We must be told virus hotspots
Sir – When Covid-19 cases in Kildare became a serious threat to public health, that county was rightly put into lockdown.
Now parts of the greater Dublin area have become hotspots for the disease. Surely the general public has a right to know the local areas where safety might be compromised, in particular those with weakened immunity.
It has become increasingly obvious that the fight to contain the spread of Covid-19 is losing momentum and government warnings appear to be falling on deaf ears, especially in some parts of the capital.
As with all matters medical, confidentiality is usually a prerequisite when dealing with the dissemination of sensitive information.
That said, this global pandemic is a once-in-a lifetime threat to us that strikes at the core of our once normally interactive lives.
There are, of course, many reasons why governments too are reluctant to reveal information where it might be seen as unfair finger-pointing or the deliberate targeting of disadvantaged areas.
Challenges from civil liberties groups would undoubtedly come thick and fast.
But these well-meaning platitudes should be answered with a stiff resolve to do what is in the best interest of the country and its people.
Normally functioning constraints on the release of sensitive information may have to be bypassed to arrest the progress of this deadly disease and the time to act is now – not when it’s too late.
Killester, Dublin 5
Red card for odious practice of ‘sledging’
Sir – Dermot Crowe, in his article (September 6) gives us a comprehensive guide to the nauseating practice of ‘sledging’ in Gaelic football.
This tactic stems from the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality, where the end justifies the means. It doesn’t help when people who should know better try to excuse this particularly odious form of gamesmanship by euphemistically referring to it as ‘getting an edge’ or ‘playing on the edge’.
Thankfully, GAA people of long standing and status, like Pat Gilroy, Liam O’Neill, Declan Bonner and Manus Boyle, have expressed their abhorrence of ‘sledging’. Manus states that he would take a player in his charge, who was verbally abusive, off the pitch. If every mentor at every level adopted this ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, this virus would be eradicated.
Declan quotes the great Mick Higgins of Cavan who wished his legacy to be: “That I never hit anyone, played a clean game and I was never put off.” He concludes by writing that: “How you win should always matter.”
His final sentence recalls for us the words written by America’s first great sportswriter, Grantland Rice: “For when the one great scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”
Ashtown, Dublin 7
Scourge of verbal abuse in sports
Sir – I would like to compliment Dermot Crowe for his article last Sunday. Players being subjected to personal verbal abuse by opponents should have no place in any sport.
It is essential that players, coaches and individual sporting organisations are strongly encouraged to challenge such behaviour as, if it is ignored or accepted, it soon becomes the norm.
Management and club officials in all codes have a responsibility to set the right type of example and standards.
Credit to people like Declan Bonner, Manus Boyle and Ciaran McLaughlin for having the personal courage to speak out on the matter.
It is only by drawing attention to it that the people who engage in or encourage this horrible type of behaviour will feel isolated.
Nobody who participates in sport should be insulted or abused because of a personal issue, their family circumstances or their physical appearance.
Please continue to highlight this issue in an effort to eliminate it, so that genuine sports people from all codes can continue to enjoy sport in the right spirit and atmosphere.
Clonakilty, Co Cork
Hello – Is that Covid calling?
Sir – I am neither scientist nor medically minded, but it seems to me that we are destined to live with the dreaded Covid as long as mobile phones exist.
Despite our best efforts to wash our hands in warm soapy water, maintain our distance, and generally comply with the advice of our great leaders, we are still doomed to fail.
Your phone will almost certainly get Covid before you do. Every single thing we touch is followed by a quick browse on the mobile.
If that door handle had Covid, the mobile has it now. You can wash your hands all day long, but as soon as you pick up your phone again… yes, you’ve got it too!
So, stay at home, hide the mobile, and all will be well.
For those compulsive social media people, you can clean your phone before and after every use.
That will reduce the time you spend staring at a screen, and will likely keep you healthier in more ways than one.
Claregalway, Co Galway
Build maternity unit in children’s hospital
Sir – If the new National Children’s Hospital is so over-sized that half its outpatient rooms will remain empty and its operating theatres underused, as Professor Brendan Drumm stated in a private letter to the Taoiseach last year and reported by the Sunday Independent (“Size of children’s hospital ‘reckless’, former HSE boss warned Varadkar”, September 6) then there is, perhaps, one last chance for the Government to put a much-needed maternity unit into the shell of the building under construction on the St James’s Hospital campus.
Every year, approximately 200 babies with complex congenital conditions are transferred within hours of birth from maternity hospitals to Crumlin and Temple Street hospitals for life-saving interventions.
Everyone agrees, in keeping with best international practice, that high-risk babies with life-threatening congenital disorders are best delivered in a co-located maternity hospital.
They can then be transferred across an internal link corridor to a tertiary children’s hospital.
There is, however, no provision for a maternity hospital in the current development. On-site delivery of critically ill babies won’t happen, according to the official plan, until the Coombe Hospital moves alongside the National Children’s Hospital on the St James’s Hospital campus.
But there is no time frame, no money and no space for this. Sadly, this plan is just a fantasy; everyone knows this.
The Coombe Hospital is less than 1km down the road from St James’s. Both hospitals work closely together, sharing both staff and services. The Coombe Hospital needs to be rebuilt. Like the other standalone Dublin maternity hospitals, a small number of its high-risk mothers also need to be cared for on the site of a tertiary adult hospital.
Given the excess capacity identified by Prof Drumm, I would urge the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to seriously evaluate the co-development of a small maternity unit within the shell of the building under construction – for the small number of high-risk babies and mothers who need immediate access to the National Children’s Hospital and St James’s Hospital.
Such a high-risk maternity unit could easily be integrated with the Coombe Hospital, which could be redeveloped over time on its current site within the context of a more flexible tri-hospital campus.
Failure to build a maternity unit on the St James’s Hospital campus now will end in a long-term failure to do so – and the consequences of the State turning a blind eye will yet again be borne by vulnerable babies and mothers for generations to come. This is an avoidable déjà vu tragedy.
Professor Chris Fitzpatrick
Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital
Who’d ever make a deal with UK now?
Sir – Having had Brexit, and desperately seeking trade treaties, the British government now thinks it is a good idea to renege on an international agreement into which Britain freely entered.
The spin is being put out that this is merely precautionary. But the clear perception is that Britain is illegally preparing to break the Brexit Withdrawal Treaty, with the great risk of reigniting the Troubles once again.
What reputable country will make a trade deal with a country that cannot be trusted? That seeks to break international treaties when it suits them?
Great Britain’s reputation took centuries to build. It is increasingly being seen as some kind of banana republic, its government as dodgy and unreliable.
Dominic Cummings’ crew are using Covid-19 scares as a useful distraction to keep their scandals off the front pages. And their destructive strategies still continue behind the scenes.
We need to be protected from the small clique who have seized control of this government.
Open competition for Phil’s vacancy
Sir – We call where we live a republic, so why do successive cabinets gift the post of European Commissioner to a favoured one as if we were a kingdom? We are obliged to nominate a commissioner to the EU every five years. So why don’t we have a timely, open competition for the post as we do, for example, for key civil service appointments and judges? A reputable, private-sector employment agency would do the shortlisting and the Cabinet make its selection from the shortlist of preferred candidates? The job need not go to a politician.
Leixlip, Co Kildare
Fond memories of Friel’s Lughnasa
Sir – I enjoyed reading Brendán Mac Suibhne’s article (September 6) on this the 30th anniversary of Brian Friel’s classic Dancing at Lughnasa.
It is based on his mother and four aunts who lived here in lovely Glenties in the 1930s and was first performed by the Abbey Players here in 1991 with Friel himself in the wings. I well remember crying and laughing at the brilliance of the ladies’ dance scene.
Something very special indeed was happening.
The Glenties Drama Group, in 2012, had the great joy of performing Lughnasa with the writer’s full blessing. He was a generous and lovely man indeed.
Glenties, Co Donegal
Universal health before Irish unity
Sir – As long as there is no national health service in this country, a united Ireland is out of the question.
In any Border poll the core issue of what the health service would look like would certainly be considered by all in Northern Ireland.
This includes nationalists who would not sell out to a dreadfully commercialised Irish system as exists here now.
Our health system should be nationalised to give healthcare to all equally and not just those who get the red carpet because they have money.
As long as we have a two-tier health system, any aspirations of a united Ireland are pure folly, while the rich get treated and poor have to wait on indefinite waiting lists.
Shanbally, Co Cork
Notes to the editor on North coverage
Sir – The difference of opinion on this page between the present and recent editors of the Sunday Independent over the paper’s coverage of John Hume in 1993 (August 16) raised at least as many questions as it answered. As someone who knew all the participants mentioned to some degree, I may be able to elucidate a little.
As editor of the Sunday Independent, Aengus Fanning’s exercise of his editorial judgment in relation to the Northern conflict was entirely legitimate.
Whether that judgment was sometimes flawed is another matter.
The former Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Maurice Hayes, at that time a profoundly significant voice in the Northern Ireland conflict, later told me personally that he once met Aengus Fanning to warn him about the possibly unforeseen and dangerous consequences, in the North, of his editorial viewpoint. I am unaware of the details of what transpired at that meeting but, from memory, I believe that the newspaper’s editorial attitude to Hume softened to a degree subsequently, although its attitude to Sinn Féin remained sharply critical.
This demonstrates, among other things, that one of the strengths of a good editor is to recognise good advice. Maurice frequently contributed to the paper at that time.
I can endorse what Anne Harris says in one particular – her rejection of the idea that reporting at length on Hume -Adams and/or Northern Ireland in general sold newspapers.
Vinnie Doyle, another fine editor in the Independent stable (although his idiosyncrasies were sometimes startling) once told me that on any day he made Northern Ireland the main story on the front page of the Irish Independent, the paper sold 5,000 fewer copies.
Emeritus Professor of Journalism, Dublin City University