2 October 2013 Meg
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are to launch a rocket with one of them in it into outer space from Troutbridge. Leslie ends launched into orbit Priceless.
I get Meg to put books on Amazon
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today Mary wins and get under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who has died aged 93, survived the Warsaw Ghetto to become, in the words of one colleague, “Germany’s most read, most feared, most observed, and therefore most hated literary critic”.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki Photo: EPA
6:20PM BST 01 Oct 2013
In a country uneasy in its own identity, Reich-Ranicki’s folksy, bluntly-expressed opinions, grounded in an encyclopedic grasp of European literature, were capable of making or breaking the reputations of struggling first-time novelists and Nobel Prize winners. With his heavily-accented German and lacerating wit, Reich-Ranicki became a cult figure, notably through regular appearances on a popular television books programme, Das Literarische Quartett, but also through acerbic articles in Die Zeit and in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, whose literary editor he was for 15 years.
No one, from Heinrich Böll to Günter Grass, completely escaped his wrath; indeed Grass became something of a favourite target. In 1995, four years before Grass won the Nobel Prize (and many years before it was revealed that he had served in the SS), a cover of Der Spiegel featured a photograph of Reich-Ranicki ripping apart the celebrated author’s latest novel, Too Far Afield.
Yet for much of Reich-Ranicki’s career as “the Pope of German letters”, two central facts of his own identity – his Jewishness and his experiences in wartime Warsaw – were scarcely mentioned. Indeed he recalled that the first German to ask him about his past had been a young journalist he had met in 1964 and rather liked – Ulrike Meinhof.
However, when in 1999 Reich-Ranicki published his autobiography, My Life, the book remained at No 1 in the German bestseller lists for more than a year, and there is little doubt that his status as one of just a handful of Jewish public figures to resettle in Germany after the war formed a cornerstone of his influence. For not only did he represent continuity with the great German humanistic traditions that were destroyed by Nazism, but in a nation still nursing its damaged conscience, his Jewishness meant that he could get away with a level of rudeness and absolutism in opinion that might have been judged unacceptable were he a German.
He was born Marceli Reich in Wloclawek, Poland, on June 2 1920. His father ran a construction company, but when Marcel was nine the company went bankrupt and Marcel was sent to live with relatives in Berlin.
There he attended a Prussian Gymnasium. By his teens he had become an avid theatregoer and bibliophile, working through Heinrich Heine, Schiller, Goethe, Thomas Mann and Georg Buchner, as well as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and Dickens, Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert.
Marcel gained his high school diploma but was denied entry into a German university because he was Jewish, and in October 1938 he was sent back to Poland. When Germany invaded the following year, he was herded into the Warsaw Ghetto with his parents and his brother.
It was his knowledge of German that saved his life. Though he could only stand by helplessly as his parents and brother were loaded into the cattle trucks to Treblinka, he managed to avoid the same fate by working as a translator and clerk in the Judenrat, the council that administered the Ghetto until it was liquidated in 1943.
Among other things he recalled typing out the infamous order of July 22 1942 announcing the deportation of the entire Ghetto for “resettlement” (ie to the death camps) while, outside the window, SS troops lounged in the sunshine playing Strauss waltzes on a portable gramophone. Hearing that translators, and their wives, were exempt for the time being, Marcel married his sweetheart, Teofila Langnas, the same day.
The following year, shortly before the final phase of the Ghetto uprising, the pair managed to escape from a column being taken for “resettlement”, fleeing through an abandoned building. They found refuge with a Polish typesetter and his wife on the outskirts of Warsaw, where Marcel “paid” for their accommodation by telling the couple stories from all the books and plays he had read, remembering that “the better they liked a story, the better we were rewarded – with a slice of bread, with a few carrots”.
Emerging from hiding after the Red Army occupied Poland in 1944, Marcel enrolled in the Polish Communist Party. After the war he was recruited as an intelligence officer and posted as the Polish consul to London, where he organised spying on émigré groups, a mission for which he adopted the Polish pseudonym Ranicki – later incorporating it into his surname. But as anti-Semitic purges swept across Eastern Europe, Reich-Ranicki found himself out of favour. He was thrown out of the party and, following his return to Poland, briefly imprisoned.
On his release he began working as a translator and critic, but found himself frustrated by the censors and by further bouts of anti-Semitism. In 1958 he and his family managed to travel abroad and fled to Frankfurt in West Germany.
There, first with Die Zeit and then as head of literature for the FAZ, Reich-Ranicki soon established himself as one of the country’s most prominent voices. In his early years he championed the Group of 47, a loose affiliation of young writers that would produce two Nobel Prize winners: Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass. From 1988 he hosted Das Literarische Quartett, where his outspoken and often inflammatory criticisms won him a large popular following.
The taboo against discussion of his Jewish background began to break down after the fall of the Iron Curtain brought an influx of younger Eastern European Jews to Germany . But the new openness also emboldened some of Reich-Ranicki’s enemies to take potshots at the eminence grise of German literary criticism. In 2002 his cultural roots formed the focus of Death of a Critic, a novel by Martin Walser about a Jewish critic who is murdered by an angry author. In the ensuing outcry Reich-Ranicki found himself becoming an unwilling lightning rod for disputes about the meaning of the past and the return of the far Right.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s wife died in 2011. Their son survives him.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, born June 2 1920, died September 18 2013
The support of the Daily Mail and its owner Lord Rothermere for Nazi Germany and the Blackshirts here in Britain in the 1930s, when Nazi thugs were escalating their violent attacks on Jews and socialists, is well known. For the same paper to pursue this same agenda 80 years later with the nonsense it is printing about Ralph Miliband is remarkable in its stupidity (Report, 1 October). However, as the Spectator put it in January 1934, “the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made.” Plus ça change.
• In 1977 I travelled to Saudi Arabia from London by VW van with my boss (Driving harms ovaries, Saudi cleric claims, 30 September). One day the police stopped us and told me I was to be arrested for driving. I clearly was not doing so, but they’d not seen a right-hand-drive vehicle before. So they decided I should be locked up for driving without a steering wheel. I started to smile; my boss swiftly told me to grovel or it could be 20 years. I said I was very sorry for driving without a steering wheel and wouldn’t do so again.
• Ben Ainslie was already in Team USA’s squad so, rather than being akin to signing Lionel Messi at half time (Letters, 27 September), his appearance on Team USA was more like keeping Messi on the bench going 8-1 down and then thinking it might be a good idea to bring him on.
Picture editor, Jersey Evening Post
• From 1998 to 2000 I worked for the European commission in Belarus. Every so often we received a letter stamped by the Belarussian postal services with apologies because it had been “found open” in the post and resealed by them (Letters, 26 September). Perhaps the rest were just better resealed after scrutiny.
• Get your girls into politics, Melissa Benn urges (G2, 30 September). What an excellent idea; when they become home secretary the Guardian can then publish a picture of their shoes at the top of the front page (1 October). Get a grip.
In March Liberal Democrats among others expressed concerns that regulations introduced under schedule 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 would force the NHS to put all contracts out to tender. The concerns were not just that this would favour private providers of healthcare. There are major concerns over the increased costs and complexity of putting detailed contracts out to tender, evaluating bids and defending contested decisions. The regulations were announced with the minimum possible time for consultation, but the public outcry was nevertheless considerable.
They seemed to breach assurances given by Lord Howe during the passage of the bill in 2012: “Clinicians will be free to commission services in the way they consider best. We intend to make it clear that commissioners will have a full range of options and that they will be under no legal obligation to create new markets, particularly where competition would not be effective in driving high standards and value for patients.”
When it was pointed out firmly to the government that the section 75 regulations did in fact compel commissioners to introduce competition, the regulations were modified, and health ministers in both houses repeated the reassurances. Similar assurances were given by the prime minister and deputy prime minister. Close observers of Lansley’s health reforms will be more saddened than surprised to read this week not only that most new contracts in the NHS have been put out to tender, but that clinical commissioning groups believe the regulations make this compulsory. Lawyers may argue the finer points of competition law, but in the face of the legislation that has been foisted on the NHS, few CCGs will dare to take on the powerful legal forces mustered by healthcare corporations. We believe the prime minister has questions to answer.
John Ball Suffolk Coastal Lib Dems
David Beckett Newcastle under Lyme
Eleanor Bell Winchester
Gareth Epps Reading
Spencer Hagard Cambridge
Fiona Hornby Devizes, Wiltshire
Nick Perry Parliamentary spokesman, Hastings and Rye
Paul Pettinger Westminster borough
George Roussopoulos Hindhead
Naomi Smith Westminster borough
Charles West Shrewsbury and Atcham
Your letters (30 September) show a completely one-sided view of Israel’s response to Rouhani and his attempt to thaw relations with the west. As usual Israel is painted as the bad guy and Iran the innocent bystander which has a legitimate right to nuclear weapons. Iran has long been a sponsor of international terrorism, primarily directed at Israeli and US targets. It funds and supports Hezbollah and together they are both supporting Assad in Syria’s civil war. All three have the blood of innocent Syrian’s caught up in the conflict on their hands.
To allow a state like Iran that has repeatedly suggested that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth” (no matter what translation you use), to acquire or develop nuclear weapons would be dangerous in the extreme. Any attempt to equate Israel’s (unconfirmed) nuclear arsenal with that desired by Iran is foolish. Iran, given its previous record of international terrorism, would either use them at first opportunity or pass them to one of its proxy terror groups. And then deny any responsibility. Israel has repeatedly said that any use of its nuclear arsenal would only occur if the survival of the state was threatened.
Many suggest that Israel should give up this arsenal or join the NPT. It is the threat that the unconfirmed arsenal presents that has kept its hostile neighbours from trying a repeat of the many wars that have been raged with the sole intent on destroying it. Rouhani is described as a moderate compared to Ahmadinejad. This would be similar to describing Herman Goering as a moderate compared to Adolf Hitler.
• The reason that you receive letters exclusively from people (including Jews) who are hostile to Israel is that no one who supports Israel bothers to read the Guardian any more. That is why your circulation is dwindling to zero, by the way. The support of your correspondents for Iran – a theocracy ruled by tyrants – is pathetic. Israel is quite right to be very wary of Iran, since what its leaders say and what they do are at odds, especially their support of Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza. The letter-writers are the same people whose heroes were Hafez al-Assad, after his accession to the Syrian dictatorship, and Muammar Gaddafi, before his downfall. Incidentally, the whole of the Sunni Arab world is fearful of Shia Iran. What do the Birnbergs and Kaufmans say to that?
• Israel professes to want peace, yet whenever there is a danger of this happening, it protests loudly that the adversary is not to be trusted. In the case of the Palestinians, it sabotages peace efforts with assassinations and intensification of its illegal occupation. Without mythical enemies, Israel cannot justify its huge expenditure on security and defence, which contributes so much to the prosperity of the country. Israel’s hypocrisy is most blatant in its possession of nuclear weapons, which it condemns in the hands of anyone else in the area. Without the artificial threats, money would not pour into the country from the US government and from Jews who have no desire to live in Israel, but contribute out of feelings of guilt. One day, Israel is going to have to realise that its only hope of peace and security is a fair and just sharing of the land with the people who used to form 90% of the population, the Palestinian Arabs. It was the theft of that land that led to the continuing hostility of Arab and Muslim countries, a hostility that will only go away when the Palestinians receive justice.
Author, Palestine: A Personal History
As a 57-year old jobseeker’s allowance recipient of a couple of years’ standing, I stand aghast that in the 21st century we have a Conservative chancellor preaching Victorian “tough love” to the long-term unemployed (Osborne in crackdown on jobless costs, 30 September). It takes an expensive education not to be able to see what should be obvious – that the unemployed are there because they are superfluous to the requirements of the nation’s employers. If there were five million vacancies and nobody was filling them because of their quotidian attachment to the Jeremy Kyle show, a six-pack of Stella Artois and an afternoon siesta, the Tories’ campaign would make sense.
The idea that people will have to sign on every day is just petty harassment. Why not hand out whips and demand a daily 10 minutes of self-flagellation? Why not put people in stocks so they can be pelted with rotten vegetables by a public riled by the latest scrounger revelations in the Daily Express or the Mail? Most unemployed people I know are volunteering already, primarily to retain their sanity but also to accumulate experience and work contacts. A bit of non-exploitative, paid, state-mandated community work would be welcomed by many.
The problem in the Tory party is that their normal Rotary Club prejudices have fused with the US Republican party tactics of attacking “welfare queenism” to produce this particularly toxic brand of populist political attack. People of my age have 35 years of tax and national insurance under their belt; so have the parents of many of the young unemployed. The conflation of a drunken lumpenproletariat (which certainly exists) with the bulk of claimants is an absolute outrage.
• How much more quickly can claimants lose their benefits? Quicker than immediately they miss an appointment because their mother has died that morning? Quicker than being sanctioned immediately for being at the hospital with a partner giving birth? Quicker than being sanctioned after finding a job, so that the back-to-work package does not have to be paid? We now live in a world where jobcentre employees have targets and are in fear of losing their own jobs if they do not keep to them. Perhaps you could try living in the real world, Mr Osborne!
Food4U, Stanley, Co Durham
• I eagerly await a Polly Toynbee article following each horrific addition to the Tory agenda of kicking the poor, as her perceptive critiques always raise my spirits. However, her latest (Who will vote for Osborne’s even nastier medicine now?, 1 October) does reveal a weakness: a tendency to believe that as soon as the electorate wake up to reality they will follow her advice and vote Labour with conviction. “It will soon dawn on voters…” she writes, but far too often, Polly, it doesn’t – and one of the major reasons for this in the recent past has been that a step in the right direction by Ed Miliband is frequently followed by months of silence, an inexplicable inability of shadow ministers reluctant to pursue publicly Ed’s train of thought, and a consequent loss of momentum. It is vital now that the initiative gained on power prices is not frittered away; otherwise voters will have no moment of revelation as Polly hopes.
• Polly Toynbee is correct in criticising the fundamental flaws of a conscripted workfare force. However, she misses out a very important point about Osborne forcing the long term unemployed to “clean graffiti and cook for the elderly”, and that is: what have the elderly done to deserve unwilling and possibly unemployable workers forced upon them? I was part of a compulsory “work boost” in 2010, and like so many people I was forced to work in a residential care home for four weeks. It was obvious by the end of the second day that the staff had taken me on sufferance. I bit the bullet and completed my work boost. But the idea of grabbing hundreds of thousands of long-term unemployed who may not have basic social skills or may even have an embittered misanthropic world view and forcing them to work in a residential home will lead to abuse of the residents and possibly murderous violence.
• We are a group of benefit claimants who have come together to make a film about the reality of welfare reform, and the government’s attempts to “help” people back to work. We were motivated to do this by the government’s labelling and stereotyping of benefit claimants as “scroungers” who do not want to work. George Osborne’s latest announcement on workfare yet again shows that he does not have a clue. Many of us already volunteer. The Work Programme is not working, and tougher sanctions aren’t what’s needed, nor making us sign on every day. We want to work, where that’s a realistic prospect. We need real help and real support, and for jobs to actually be there. Workfare is simply a threat – and one which isn’t needed. Until Osborne and his gang recognise this, their welfare reforms will inevitably fail.
Adrian, Chloe, Isobella, James, Cath, Sam & Susan http://www.doleanimators.org
• So the government, having turned the unemployed into social outcasts, now proposes to treat them as criminals. Reporting to the jobcentre every day is harsher than bail conditions.
• How will unemployed people in rural areas will report to jobcentres every day? The government can’t have thought about it at all. There are few buses and those that do run are very expensive when related to benefit income. This is statist madness.
South Petherton, Somerset
• Where are they going to put them (Some benefit claimants face 35 hours a week in jobcentre, 1 October)? There are millions of them. And they’ll all want to go to the toilet if they are there all day.
Cafod, the catholic aid agency, should resist the growing clamour for action against Damian McBride (Diary, 26 September). I got to know Damian a little after he lost his job in politics and started work at my son’s school, where he became immensely popular, loved and admired by teachers and pupils alike. He then got my old job as head of media at Cafod, and more recently I was invited to sit on his interview panel for promotion to director of communications. He was an exceptional candidate, the warmth and admiration for him from his senior colleagues was striking and my overwhelming impression was that an overseas aid agency that often struggles to grab the media’s attention was lucky to have found this talent. Cafod trustees may justifiably be cross with Damian for publishing his book and and he will have to work hard to regain lost trust. But an agency associated with compassion, charity and forgiveness should act on those values, not react to outsiders desperate to see this man get an even bigger kicking.
Former head of media at Cafod
My alarm bells rang in deafening tones after reading four features in the 20 September issue (Twitter eyes stock market; California is the face of the new economy; How not to do it; and Geoengineering “last resort” to stop global warming). Interface all four and a recipe for disaster emerges.
The disconnect of almost all world political leaders from science and technology is well documented. Peter Wilby’s critique of The Blunders of our Governments makes an equally compelling case for what we have all long suspected: the total lack of awareness on the part of our ruling regimes regarding the needs, desires and day-to-day existential demands of most of their electorate – or should that read “subjects?”
Will Hutton’s conclusion that the current Californian “Silicon Valley” example is one we should emulate is surely based on an idealistic view of world society: one where venture capitalism collaborates with information technology/social media and wise, benevolent government, in order to bring about a new version of the industrial revolution, but this time with fewer or no casualties.
I’m sorry, Will. The momentum of short-term exploitation of people and resources, which exemplifies the present model of capitalism in vogue world-wide, will not easily be stopped, or even slowed down, simply by asking Apple to slap on a few more human-friendly apps or seeding clouds with seawater. It will require a much more radical reappraisal of our core values and methods of choosing our leaders to achieve the necessary turnaround. We can only hope we’re not already too late to make the change.
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
• In Alok Jha’s article about geoengineering (20 September), the astronomer royal Lord Rees appropriately describes such action as “an utter political nightmare”. Two of the strategies under consideration are cloud seeding and the injection of sulphate particles into the upper atmosphere, in both cases with the intention of reducing the solar radiation reaching the earth. However, such an approach would mean that both thermal and photovoltaic solar panels would work less efficiently, thereby increasing the demand on carbon-based energy sources. Thus these approaches might prove to be self-defeating.
As Lord Rees says, the time to start decarbonising the world’s power generation is now.
Alexandra, New Zealand
Keep Kenya’s aquifers safe
The discovery of vast aquifers in the arid areas of north-west Kenya (20 September) is good news indeed as it has the potential to transform the livelihoods of the people in the area. I worry, though, about our exploitation of this valuable resource and suspect that it will end up being plundered rather than used carefully and sustainably.
The first steps to take would be a) accurately determining the recharge source(s); b) finding out the rate of recharge; and c) aggressively protecting the recharge watershed. Collectively, our history of resource exploitation suggests that this will not happen and opportunists will already be plotting how vast sums of money can be made from the discovery.
Migration policy myopia
Re: Migration debate “needs to change focus” (20 September), there’s a blind spot in the global debate over migration and that’s exactly the way the new Australian government likes it. By only communicating select information about the arrival of asylum seekers in its waters, they use this blind spot to their advantage. The blind can only lead the blind.
Never mind the International Organisation for Migration report mentioned in the article, which states that migrants between poor countries fare poorly and are unlikely to feel optimistic about their lives. Never mind that the burden of refugee crises across the globe already fall on disadvantaged nations. Never mind that Australia is the envy not only of poor nations, but rich ones as well.
Ignore these realities and the border between the rich and poor – the sovereign border – will be secured.
Perth, Western Australia
Keep Greens off the fringe
At last a mention of the UK’s Green party in the Guardian Weekly (UK News in brief, 20 September). And a clue as to the inclusion of the tiny article? The Green party leader is a former Guardian Weekly editor.
Why the almost total lack of coverage of any other than the major parties? Even the current percentage of the vote smaller parties receive in UK elections is a mystery to me.
Here in Australia the Greens are a much stronger political force and its players and policies command a high profile in the media, albeit often a negative one in the Murdoch-dominated press. However, if coverage of Green party policies in the broader British press is as poor as that in the GW, then surely the UK Green party is doomed to remain on the fringe.
IOC must confront Russia
Owen Gibson’s critique of the new IOC president, Thomas Bach (September 20), was a welcome change from the usual worshipful treatment of all things and all men Olympic.
However, Gibson omitted one significant act reported in other media.
After Bach had received the congratulatory phone call from President Putin, he “joked” to reporters that they had not discussed Russia’s anti-gay law. To trivialise this issue, one of the biggest challenges facing the Olympic industry since the bribery scandals, is more than just a bad beginning to Bach’s presidency. It’s one more indication of the IOC’s moral bankruptcy.
Helen Jefferson Lenskyj
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Much ado about doing
I found your banner headline Merkel’s mantra: “Do as we do” (13 September) very interesting. Far from only being the mantra of Germany’s Angela Merkel, it is probably one of the world’s most used and the cause of the vast majority of wars. If only we could all adopt a philosophy based on the Indian expression “paach angulia bara bara nahin”, meaning that on one hand the fingers are all different but they work very well together.
• An old saying, but still a valid one: He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Tutukaka, New Zealand
Leave family out of women’s careers
In reference to Rowan Moore’s article: Zaha Hadid: queen of the curve (20 September), we are not aware of any proven relevance of a partner or children to an architect’s creativity or career. Indeed in Moore’s piece on Richard Rogers in July this seems of no real significance. When will the unnecessary noting of a successful women’s family life, appearance or fashion be recognised as simply another form of misogyny? Were you just throwing us a curve ball or have you already forgotten your rightful indignation at the similar treatment of Julia Gillard?
Mugnanese, Loc Gioiella, Italy
• Re: Henry Porter, Britons and privacy (13 September). It may be that Britons who do understand privacy to be important have also, rightly, always presumed that it has never existed on the internet. But the government that tells us that if we have done nothing wrong we have nothing to fear from exposure also fears its own activities being exposed.
Our real fears are that the agencies will then misinterpret the information they procure. They did on intercepting Iraqi communications actually referring to the long ago destruction of the country’s weapons of mass destruction, and judging by the amount of car parking around NSA and GCHQ offices in Cheltenham, they cannot work out bus timetables. And of course it is those being spied upon who are paying for the spying.
• I am an 85-year old male born in England and can honestly say Nancy Blackett, intrepid captain of the sailing dingy “Amazon”, was the fictional hero who shaped my life. Somehow Kate Mosse (Where have all the brave girls gone? (20 September) must have missed out on the Manchester Guardian’s wonderful Arthur Ransome who wrote about the Swallows and Amazons in 12 books, detailing these amazing children from the Lake District. Recently I received pictures of an Arthur Ransome festival held near Henley-on-Thames. My granddaughter and all the girls there wanted to play the part of Nancy Blackett.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• I liked David Shariatmadari’s piece on the threat of plastic bank notes (20 September). He can rest assured that if he ventures outside the eurozone and Anglo-Saxonia, he’ll still find some fabulous paper notes.
Tonbridge, Kent, UK
Has the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, read a different report to the rest of us? (“Climate change? People get very emotional about the subject. It’s not all bad”, 1 October). The latest report by IPCC scientists proves beyond doubt that climate change is a huge threat to the world and that urgent action is needed to slash global emissions.
Oxfam knows from its work with poor farmers around the world that climate change is hitting people’s lives right now. The IPCC makes it crystal clear that it will become even harder in the future for millions of families to earn a living and feed themselves unless global emissions are urgently cut to keep the planet on a path of 2 degrees warming or less, to limit the damage.
Worryingly, Mr Paterson – who is in charge of ensuring Britain is able to adapt to the impacts of climate change – does not seem to have read the verdict of his own department. Defra’s own Climate Change Risk Assessment from 2012 warns of the risks of flooding, water stress and biodiversity loss at home and also repercussions from climate change abroad. In the light of this and the latest evidence provided by the IPCC, Mr Paterson needs to take seriously his responsibility to protect Britain’s future generations from the worst impacts of climate change.
Head of Economic Justice Policy, Oxfam, Oxford
It is very worrying that Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, is so complacent about the risks created by rising greenhouse gas levels.
Climate change is already affecting the UK. The average annual temperature has increased by about 1C since 1970, and the seven warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000.
There is strong evidence that the UK is experiencing mounting risks of coastal and inland flooding due to climate change. Global sea level has already risen by 39 centimetres since 1901 and is now increasing at a rate of more than 3 centimetres every decade. The Met Office has pointed out that annual rainfall is increasing, that heavy downpours are becoming more frequent, and that four of the five wettest years on record have all occurred since 2000.
Last year, the second wettest on record, the insurance industry paid out more than £1bn in claims for flood damage. Our flood insurance system is at breaking point because of the rising number of homes and businesses that are at significant risk. But Mr Paterson’s department has now proposed a new insurance scheme based on faulty analysis that ignores the findings of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, which was published last year, and assumes that climate change will not increase the risk from flooding.
Mr Paterson needs to understand that his views on climate change are not only eccentric and unscientific, but they are also potentially dangerous because they could expose millions of lives and livelihoods across the UK to serious risks.
Policy and Communications Director,
Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science
Thank you for printing such a splendid endorsement of Owen Paterson , the Environment Secretary.
It is rare for a left-leaning newspaper to sum up so concisely the finer points of this man of the people. Printing in comparison the incoherent ravings of the climate change fanatics, who fly off the handle every time anyone dares to oppose the views that keep them in their various well-paid public offices, was inspired.
Congratulations, and keep up the good work.
Cllr Chris Middleton
P S: I don’t suppose you’ll publish this, but thank you for giving me such pleasure this morning, reading your excellent, if eccentric, newspaper.
Unemployed are not being immoral
“Ought” implies “can”: that’s a principle of moral philosophy. You ought to save the children from drowning, only if you can. If you cannot swim, you do not merit blame for not saving them.
Transpose the principle to the arena of the unemployed. Only if the unemployed can find jobs do they merit blame for not doing so. With at least 2.5 million unemployed and half a million vacancies, manifestly there are not the jobs for at least 2 million – so obviously they cannot find them.
Hence, contrary to the Government’s current stance, the vast majority of the unemployed deserve neither blame nor penalties – and being compelled to sit every day in a Jobcentre is hardly likely to create the required jobs.
What I have always found strange about those on the right is their view that the state of the economy is determined by the attitude of the unemployed.
Since the unemployed are unemployed by choice, booms and busts are caused by their behaviour. Recessions result from laziness, as more people choose to be unemployed; recovery starts when people go out and look for work. All so simple. Throw away the macroeconomics textbook.
Why the military prescribes Lariam
In reference to your article entitled ‘The Lariam scandal’ (27 September) I want to emphasise that mefloquine is a drug that is licensed in the UK by the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency.
This is based on the expert guidance of the advisory committee for malaria prevention of Public Health England, which advises on malaria prevention for all travellers from the UK, and mefloquine remains one of the drugs that they advise may be used. Mefloquine is used across the UK, not just by the military, and is only ever prescribed after an individual risk assessment. It is also used by other countries around the world including the wider EU.
The life-threatening risks of malaria are extremely serious, and mefloquine is one of a number of effective antimalarials that we use. We need to be able to use the most appropriate drug for the areas to where our people deploy, to help ensure their resistance to this disease.
The MOD will continue to follow the best advice as provided by Public Health England.
Air Marshal Paul Evans
Surgeon General, Ministry of Defence, London SW1
Take back mail and railways
To put it politely, the Labour Party does not have much of a history of unanimity. Yet its Party Conference voted unanimously to renationalise the Royal Mail, and again unanimously to renationalise the railways. Polls consistently show those to be the views of 70 per cent of the electorate, the same percentage that supported Ed Miliband’s successful prevention of a military intervention in Syria.
If Mr Miliband were to announce that he intended to renationalise the Royal Mail, then he could stop its privatisation, since no potential buyer would take the risk. As for the railways, whereas the private franchise-holders cost the taxpayer colossal sums in subsidies and have abysmal levels of passenger satisfaction, the publicly owned East Coast Main Line is very highly rated by its passengers, and it is heavily in profit. Yet this insane Government wishes to return it to the private sector from which it has already needed to be rescued not once, but twice.
Miliband should promise to take back each of the franchises into public ownership as they came up for renewal in the course of the next parliament. Renationalisation could then be achieved at no cost whatever. On the contrary, the precedent suggests that it would transform appalling drains on the public purse into a tidy contributor to it, the East Coast Main Line writ large, British Rail. Most people already recognise that. Let them be given the option of voting for it.
Lanchester, Co Durham
Why they call us nimbys
It is hardly a surprise that the Labour Party is going to promise to increase the number of new houses to be built, primarily around London. It is also unsurprising that local opinion is going to be ignored, as in a recent survey of my area: 94 per cent of respondents were against a massive increase in housing.
The reasons for the chronic shortage of affordable houses in the London area are threefold: an increase in life expectancy; family breakups which involve two houses instead of one; and immigration. One of these is a direct result of central government policy.
Thus people like me, who moved out from London to give our families a better quality of life, are called nimbys and are given their comeuppance by London moving to us.
The end of a tolerant era
Reading Robert Fisk’s heartbreaking narrative of what has befallen the 2,000-year-old town of Maaloula (26 September) it occurs to me that Syria is finally broken. It cannot be put back together. The dystopian ideology of Wahhabism/Salafism nurtured in the sands of Arabia is succeeding in putting an end to the culture of pluralism and tolerance in Eastern Mediterranean for all time. That it is being done with active support of our political elite for the perpetrators who raided Maaloula in the name of Islam is a matter of conscience for each of us.
M A Qavi
On Sunday I, along with at least 50,000 other people, marched through the centre of Manchester to protest at the Government’s cuts – especially what they are doing to the NHS. Given that the police said that it was one of the largest demonstrations they have policed, I thought that you would have some mention of it in Monday’s paper. You, like the BBC, appear to have ignored it. If there had been trouble I have no doubt that it would have got major headlines in all the media.
Peril at sea
At least it was a stolen kayak in which burglar Paul Redford tried to escape across the Channel, not a Thames amphibious tour craft.
Getting rid of formal structures abandons the majority — who generally need structures — and consigns the less able to the junk-heap
Sir, The debate between Mr Gove’s department and its critics (report & letter, Oct 1) is as much about professional autonomy as about the deleterious or otherwise effects of testing on children. My mark books of 40 years ago tell me that I constantly assessed and regularly tested the progress of pupils. However the tests were tailored to my teaching and the outcomes were for private diagnosis, not public branding.
If teachers were then left too much to their own devices, the reverse is now true; the message that they are incompetent, untrustworthy and about to be exposed is not calculated to bring out the best in them. The description of the Secretary of State’s critics as “The Blob” by a “source close to Mr Gove” is strange — anyone familiar with the 1958 movie of that name will surely equate the slimy space invaders with the National Curriculum and Ofsted.
Appleby in Westmorland, Cumbria
Sir, The approach to education advocated in the letter from academics and writers is that we should get rid of formal structures, and replace them by giving an “abundance of new experience” to “natural learners”. This approach does benefit the self-motivated and intelligent. It also abandons the majority — who generally need structures — and consigns the less able or less self-motivated to the junk-heap. This is exactly the opposite of what we want our State education system to achieve, and the signatories should be ashamed of themselves for advocating it.
Sir, I am a retired teacher from a family of teachers with children who teach, and Mr Gove does not rate highly on my popularity list, but the 200 writers and academics must get their facts correct when attacking him. If anything, by stopping or limiting coursework and stopping endless repeats of modular exams, Mr Gove has reduced the endless testing, not increased it.
When I was a secondary school teacher of maths every pupil had an end-of-year exam and ones through the year to monitor progress, as did virtually all schools in nearly every subject and that went back to my school days in the 1960s. My wife, as a primary teacher, set “tests” for her class to measure progress. Focusing only on tests results is wrong — writers and academics should do their research properly before pontificating.
Sir, Patrick Derham, the Head Master of Rugby School, (letter, Sept 28) writes eloquently of the visionary approach taken by Victorian educators in encouraging their students to adopt a visionary and reflective stance towards important issues, an approach which, as he rightly points out, hardly obtains in the present climate. However, he must be aware that this privilege was available only to a tiny minority.
Thomas Hardy had siblings in education, and his second wife had also previously been a teacher. One needs only to read the Hardy biographies by Gittings and Manton to appreciate the lowly status of ordinary teachers at that time and the grudging attitude with which even basic training was doled out to the less advantaged by “the powers that be”.
‘Any form of decriminalisation will still require a basic distinction between what will be allowed and what will not’
Sir, Mike Barton rekindles the debate (report, Sept 28) concerning the decriminalisation (or is it legalisation) of the possession of drugs but does not deal with what should happen in relation to those drugs that — even in the liberated times he espouses — no state would dare sanction or tax.
Any form of decriminalisation will still require a basic distinction between what will be allowed and what will not. It would be a surprise if any government were to sanction the sale of crack, crystal meth or skunk because of the terrible damage they do to health.
However, because many users actually prefer these drugs to their less exotic variants, there will still be a ready market for them.
Dealers will demand a premium price to compensate for the increased risks that they take. Even though users may face no criminal penalty for possessing them they will still have to pay severely over the odds to buy them. This will lead to the same consequences that they face today — namely stealing and prostituting themselves to fund their unlicensed addiction.
Very few people go to prison for simple possession of drugs; they go there because of the crimes they commit to fund their habit. Mike Barton’s proposals will make little difference to those who would prefer to use what the State will not allow others to sell and that is a lot of drugs.
Assistant Chief Constable, Hertfordshire Constabulary,
‘Judicial supervision reduces the risk or perception of collusion and it also limits the room for accusations of political interference’
Sir, Dame Stella Rimington is right that the covert, intrusive powers of the UK intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies require greater oversight (report, Oct 1).
However, the problem also lies in the executive’s responsibility for approving those agencies’ eavesdropping, electronic surveillance and informant operations. As long as ministers control these operations, the public will believe that there is an unhealthy, seamless relationship between those ministers and the agencies they supervise.
The executive must leave the authorisation of these highly intrusive methods to the judiciary. That means that application must be made direct to the judiciary for authority to eavesdrop, intercept telephone and electronic communications, mine the communications data sought by the Communications Data Bill, and employ informants.
Judicial supervision reduces the risk or perception of collusion and it also limits the room for accusations of political interference. This concept of judicial authority for intrusive covert surveillance is not new. Many jurisdictions adhere to it and appoint judges for the task.
I have worked under this system, and I was relieved not only to have those balances ascertained judicially , but also at trial. It is a system I would wish to see in all the UK agencies’ covert, targeted operations.
Former Legal Director, Intelligence
The treatment of actors by British politicians is appalling, particularly in the land of Shakespeare and the home of the best drama since Athens
Sir, As one who has worked in the performing arts for most of my life, I’m alarmed to think that many of the highly talented young people striving to get a foothold in these professions will be forced to take jobs that are irrelevant to their talents (report, Oct 1).
In the past such people would have been willing to struggle on dole money until they got their breaks. European cultural attachés have told me how appalled they are by British politicians’ treatment of actors in, of all places, the land of Shakespeare and the home of the best drama since Athens. The dole is a way to survive for the fine actors of tomorrow, as well as for the painters, musicians and (dare I say it?) the poets.
Yet Shakespeare, Austen, Turner, Shelley, Garrick and Dench will, happily, count for much more in the future than those who strive to make their followers pick up rubbish in the streets.
(former Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actor)
It is bewildering that the Government is now proposing to offer mortgages of up to 95 per cent – is this not a huge risk to the taxpayer?
Sir, I am bewildered by the Government’s proposal to offer up to 95 per cent mortgages (report, Sept 30). Following the condemnation of what was deemed to be reckless lending by the banks, contributing to the economic downturn in 2008. Does this seem like a good idea now that the risk will be effectively underwritten by the taxpayer?
SIR – It is of huge concern that the financial value of fashionable breeds has soared, resulting in so many being stolen (“Kate’s fashionable dog leads to thefts”, Mandrake, September 26).
From huskies to chihuahuas, the attitude that dogs are fashion accessories to be bought and sold as the latest must-have status symbol has led to ever-increasing numbers being abandoned at rehoming centres, such as those run by the animal charity Blue Cross. Dogs are dogs, not trophy items.
Chief Executive, Blue Cross
SIR – Making claimants work for their benefit money is surely a good idea (report, September 30). A work ethic has to be learnt and that is the way to start.
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall
SIR – Mr Osborne’s policy of eliminating the “something for nothing” culture is to be applauded. We have yet to hear when he will apply it to those who buy and sell property at a profit they haven’t earned, and on which they pay no tax. Or will it be one rule for those on welfare, another for Middle England?
Revd Richard Haggis
SIR – It seems that the failure to impose fines on people and businesses for littering has created an opportunity for me, a long-term unemployed person, to “contribute” to society.
Dogs are pets to be cared for, not trophy items
01 Oct 2013
I would sooner be empowered to apprehend litter louts and ensure that they are financially penalised as a result of their anti-social activity. I do much unpaid charity work, as do many others in my circumstances. Will we be taken off those voluntary tasks to pick up litter?
SIR – George Osborne’s announcement on tough dole conditions is welcome. But why not start those conditions on day one of signing on?
Provision of compulsory training and working to keep streets clean are positive state interventions to the benefit of both claimant and wider society. The more people in employment and paying taxes, the more productive the economy, while cleaner streets and surroundings make for a more attractive Britain.
Pulborough, West Sussex
SIR – Welfare claimants required to participate in any Community Work Placement scheme should receive the national minimum wage of £6.31 per hour, (£189.30 per week less benefits). For example, if a welfare claimant receives £71.70 Jobseeker’s Allowance per week, he should be paid an additional £117.60 per week for being on a work placement.
Any Community Work Placement should be commensurate with a welfare claimant’s skills and abilities. There should be no “punishment without law” and no work without pay. The proposed scheme is punitive. A benefit is not a benefit if it has to be earned.
SIR – During three months of unemployment in 1962 I was required to sign in, every weekday, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, at pre-determined times. There were penalties for being late.
SIR – Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is correct that the 2004 GPs’ contract is a bureaucratic monster (report, September 28), but the Government’s meddling over the past three years has made things much worse. Its soundbites have led to the erosion of effective family medicine, instilling instead the expectation of a service that cannot be delivered with current resources.
As a GP, it is not a case of wanting to earn more, but that there are no more hours in my day. The necessity of ticking boxes to maintain income via the Quality and Outcomes framework has eaten into the time available for the empathic patient-centred family medicine of years gone by.
Email consultations, with the expectation of rapid response, would increase this workload. Perhaps I will find myself answering emails instead of heading home at 8pm, as at present. If Mr Hunt wants an improved service, then there will have to be an increase in the GP workforce.
Dr Peter Grimwade
SIR – Complex interaction in a consultation cannot be reduced to email. I would love to “keep tabs on the elderly” more frequently, but I cannot do this and be accessible instantly for every runny nose and sore throat.
Mr Hunt may not understand that the elderly are more likely to be ill and therefore require acute admission, investigation and treatment.
Dr J O J Powell
SIR – Allison Pearson assumes that the entire Islamic community supported the recent violence against Christians by so-called “Muslims” in Nairobi (Comment, September 26). This is not only provocative, but it is also wrong.
The Somali community is singled out because al-Shabaab are Somali-led and based in Somalia. But the Somali people, both in the West and within Somalia, hate al-Shabaab. They have killed more innocent Somalis than any other group before them. Act4Somalia condemned them on the first day of the attacks, and we continue to denounce them for their savagery and barbarism.
The Somali people are a victim of this murderous group. We need globally co-ordinated action and support for the new Somali government to root them out and destroy their violent philosophy.
Communications Director, Act4Somalia
TV detector vans
SIR – Having worked in TV detector vans for 20 years, going all over the British Isles, I can assure you that they were working vans (Letters, September 30). They could tell us what programme was being watched and the distance of the television from the van. My van was Van 13 – lucky for some, but mostly unlucky if we picked up an unlicensed television set signal.
SIR – When I gave a talk on mausolea, which had been announced to be about mausoleums (Letters, September 30), I recalled the story of students at the Royal Military College of Science telling their tutor: “Yes, we have finished the experiment with pendula, have done the sa and are sitting on our ba sucking winega.”
SIR – As a Brit living in Spain for 10 years, I think the best way to explain the situation in Gibraltar is through an analogy.
Imagine you have a neighbour who lives in rather a modest house. Over the years, you haven’t had a very good relationship with him for a number of reasons. First, he often boasts he doesn’t pay any council tax due to some strange exemption. Secondly, vans pull up and dump boxes in his garden at night, and people pick him up in flashy sports cars. You’re sure it can’t be legal stuff that they are transporting.
Moreover, there are always car engines, oil and petrol cans scattered around his garden. You’re worried that there might be an explosion that could affect your house. Then there’s the neighbour himself, a rather obnoxious person who has the habit of popping his head over the fence when you’re relaxing to insinuate that you must be on some kind of illegal scam to lead such a comfortable life.
So when the neighbour starts building a structure from “cement blocks” in the middle of his garden, spoiling your view of the surrounding hills, you finally decide to talk to the local council. Being a good neighbour is one of the defining characteristics of the British, and I cannot understand why Gibraltar cannot make more of an effort to be one.
La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
SIR – What business does the UN have to “stand by its bedroom tax critic” (report, September 27)? Article 2.7 of the UN Charter says: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…”
I understand heated debates about whether or not intervening in a country’s civil war might contravene Article 2.7, but not housing benefit payments.
SIR – I have just moved house and
utilities companies are hugely enthusiastic about helping. I thought it might be of interest to share how I scored their performance out of 10 – Royal Mail: 10. Lloyds Bank: 6. Royal Bank of Scotland: 0. British Telecom: 0. Scottish Water: 8. Scottish Power: 7.
Growing economies cannot rely on wind energy
SIR – The debate about global warming continues (“Global warming ‘unequivocal’, say scientists” report, September 28), but it isn’t realistic for major industrialised countries to make drastic reductions to their carbon dioxide emissions.
Will America, Europe, China and India rely on wind turbines and solar panels to power their huge and growing economies? Will the oil- and gas-producing countries agree to leave their huge reserves of crude oil and gas in the ground? Will shale gas and shale oil be abandoned, too? And what about the ships and aeroplanes that cannot operate without oil products?
Carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by building nuclear power stations, improving energy efficiency and by replacing a lot of coal by shale gas. But covering the world with wind turbines and solar panels is a pipe dream, because huge numbers of back-up fossil-fuel-fired power stations would have to be built to compensate for the unreliable electricity supplies generated by these sources.
Hartlepool, Co Durham
SIR – I was a meteorologist during the Seventies when glaciers in Europe and other continents had been growing for the previous 10 years, and pack ice had been increasing during winters to cover almost all of the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. Scientists were then warning that the Earth could be entering another ice age.
The current deliberations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have conveniently overlooked this. Before insisting that humans have been the main cause of global warming an explanation of this apparent anomaly should be promulgated.
Captain Derek Blacker RN (retd)
Director of Naval Oceanography and Meteorology, 1982-84
Newton Abbot, Devon
SIR – So the IPCC is 95 per cent certain that mankind has been the main cause of climate change. Do they simply mean that 19 out of every 20 of their scientists agree?
Harvey T Dearden
Sir, – Governments tend to tell us what we like to hear. In these times of economic hardship, the alleged cost-savings associated with dissolution of the Seanad seem impressive. Yet, €14 million is being happily spent on a referendum while the homeless are told they must wait until 2016.
So, what is the emergency for Seanad dissolution? Are the vocal, non-party, competent, conscientious Senators too influential in enlightening the masses?
Currently, a four-person cabinet runs Dáil Éireann – surely this is undemocratic? If there is a Yes vote, might this number be reduced to two, or, perhaps, to one – Emperor Enda? A few lashes from his “whipster” would then keep the toddlers in toe in this, the authentic nursery. The thought is nauseous. I shall vote No to Seanad dissolution. – Yours, etc,
Celbridge, Co Kildare.
Sir, – The cynical logic of the Fine Gael poster which states that saving € 20 million (highly debatable, anyway) and having fewer politicians are reasons for abolishing the Senate, infers, in the same cynical mode, that we can save much more than € 20 million and have an even greater reduction in the number of politicians by abolishing the Dáil. It’s confusing, and also insulting to the electorate. “Demand real reform” sounds much more honourable, and is so – especially if it is meant. – Yours, etc,
Dr JAMES FINNEGAN,
Woodland, Letterkenny ,
Sir, – A question was posed to the Taoiseach on RTÉ radio recently as to whether the Fine Gael party would survive the current difficulties in Government. His response was that the Fine Gael brand was strong and would survive into the future. This begs the question whether Fine Gael sees itself as a “brand” rather than as a political party with an ideology.
A Senate made up of at least 50 per cent of wise people, without political affiliation, would be a welcome and important counterpoint to a single house legislating within the confines of the party whips. – Yours, etc,
Crosthwaite Park East,
Sir, – The Referendum Commission’s Guide to the Seanad and Court of Appeal Referendums poses, in the English language version, two questions for answering in the referendums: “One asks do you agree to the abolition of Seanad Éireann” and “The other asks do you agree to the establishment of a court of appeal and other changes to the courts system.”
Whereas, in contrast to the one-sided description of the questions to be answered in the English language version, the Irish language version more properly describes the two issues to be decided “i gcóir nó nár chóir” – for or not for – the proposed change in each question. The one-sided description in the English version is unacceptable coming from a professional body charged with being scrupulously fair.
If one reads further into the commission’s explanatory booklet it becomes clear that not only are we being asked to abolish or not Seanad Éireann, but also to implement consequential changes to the Constitution and, additionally, to abolish the right of the President to refer a Bill to the people for decision in certain circumstances. The latter is not a consequence which would follow if the Seanad were to go; it is a separate matter, but it has been hidden away in that it has received no mention in the introduction. Many recipients of the guide may read no more that the chairperson’s introduction to the referendums. – Yours etc
Sir, – It is somewhat bemusing that the Democracy Matters campaign is emphasising that abolition of the Seanad would constitute a “power grab”. The Taoiseach’s ability to appoint 11 senators following a general election all but ensures the majority of senators are supportive of the government of the day. This argument made with respect to the current Taoiseach is all the more remarkable given that most of his chosen 11 nominees were Independents.
Effectively, on that basis, there is practically no ultimate transferral of additional powers to the executive in the advent of abolition. Special distinguishing powers as stipulated for the upper house in the Constitution are so rarely invoked that they are irrelevant in a modern sense. For example, the argument that the Seanad has “90-day brakes” on legislation has been made during this campaign. The last time such a power was invoked was in 1964, in relation to pawnbroking. The “power grab” assertion is therefore a disingenuous one, and represents one of the weakest possible arguments for retention.
The Seanad’s main role in a realistic sense is to contribute to legislative advisory review oversight. The Government is maintaining that the parliamentary committees (which already sit for more hours per annum than the Seanad) can be correspondingly adjusted to assume further capacities, with a stated determination to consult more civic voices in the preparation of legislation. The Taoiseach has even stated in the Dáil that letter writers (such as those to your newspaper) could be asked to contribute at parliamentary committee stage. Such an ambition would be equivalent in a de facto sense to the objectives of possible Seanad reform in terms of reaching out more to society in a vocational sense with respect to legislative analyses. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We are appealing for a No vote. We believe the abolition of the Seanad will make the adoption of EU decisions and legislation easier for a government that is determined to do so, even if those decisions are inconsistent with the stated views of the Irish people. Abolishing the Seanad will eliminate the chance of ever establishing a reformed institution that could scrutinise future EU military issues and will make it less problematic for Enda Kenny and his successors to pass controversial legislation.
With the EU pushing for more militarisation there is a need to increase scrutiny and accountability, not support a decision that will allow for the easier passage of such decisions. Compared to Scandinavian countries, Germany and many of the new member states, Ireland’s has one of the least effective scrutiny systems of EU legislation. A reformed Seanad could potentially correct this weakness in Ireland’s oversight of EU policy-making, particularly on military issues.
The recent European Parliament session, which approved a report on EU’s military structures: state of play and future prospects, demonstrates that the further erosion of Irish neutrality and the continued militarisation of the EU are on the EU and Government agenda and this will be made easier by removing the threat of a reformed Seanad.
This report, aimed at boosting efforts to further militarise the EU, calls for the creation of a fully-fledged EU military headquarters, for the strengthening of EU battle groups, for more money to be spent on arms production and research, and for a closer relationship with Nato.
While the report is non-binding, it sets the agenda for the EU Council meeting in December where further EU militarisation and increased support for arms production and research will be discussed. It is most disturbing to note that all Fine Gael MEPs – the party that wants the Seanad abolished instead of reformed – supported this report and only one Irish MEP, Paul Murphy, Socialist Party voted against it.
Just because the Seanad has failed to promote peace and neutrality issues in the past is not a justifiable reason to support its permanent abolition. The failures of the Seanad are the direct result of the failure and refusal of the political parties to reform it.
It seems the Government’s strategy is to “to get rid of the Seanad quickly” before there is a chance to reform it in a way that would make any future government’s task of passing controversial legislation more difficult.
While we all agree with the criticism of the current Seanad and the undemocratic procedure for allocating seats. If abolished, it can never be reinstated without a referendum, and the only body that can propose this is the government itself. Thus it’s unlikely that the institution that wants the Seanad abolished will ever propose its reinstatement. – Yours, etc,
Dr EDWARD HORGAN,
Retd Army Commandant &
UN Military peacekeeper;
Dr JOHN LANNON, UL &
Galway City Councillor;
Former Green Party MEP
and peace & neutrality
activist; Prof JOHN
MAGUIRE, Prof of
C/o Iona Road,
Glasnevin, Dublin 9.
Sir, – The Senate has proved one thing very clearly – how quickly politicians change colour when it suits the agenda. It does nothing to assure me of anything political. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We generally get the opportunity to elect individual politicians every four years or so. This time we have the opportunity to eliminate 60 of them in one fell swoop. It looks like a case of the chickens coming home to roost! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – To those who wish to reform the Seanad, here are some reform measures.
First, I would propose two senators representing each of the 26 counties, making a total of 52, and elected by the people of their respective county just like senators in US, representing their state. The position should be an honorary one, with no salary save for travelling expenses to and from Dublin, including accommodation.
Senators should be a voice for the social and economic problems of their respective county and “play” with vigour and enthusiasm of Gaelic footballers or hurlers. Yes, the Seanad should give balance to democracy, but above all the position of Senator should be an honorary one, where people act out of love and passion for their county. Am I going to see this? No.
That’s why I am voting with Molly Bloom’s words. Yes, yes and yes again. – Yours, etc,
Beggars Bush Court,
Sir, – How ironic that your long-overdue discussion on voting rights for emigrants (Ciara Kenny, “The votes at home: Is the diaspora disenfranchised?”, September 28th) was printed adjacent to a full-page spread on the referendum to eliminate from our electoral system the last vestige of franchise for the diaspora!
For the past 40 years, the postal ballot for the NUI Seanad seats was my only connection with the Irish political system. Over the years, I have had the satisfaction of helping to vote in such diverse personalities as Gemma Hussey, Gus Martin, Brendan Ryan (of the Simon Community) and Michael D Higgins. Together with the TCD senators (especially Mary Robinson), they have disproportionately enriched Irish political culture. Admittedly, we were a privileged sub-set of all emigrants. But what a shame that the standard response to the charge of elitism is to level down rather than level up!
Ireland needs to harness more of its elites, not less. A broadening of the representation of significant sections of Irish society both at home and abroad would take no more than a full utilisation of the flexibility inherent in Articles 18 and 19 of our Constitution. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As an ordinary non-academic citizen of Ireland who believes in a democratic electoral system, I will this Friday for the first time have a right to vote in relation to the Seanad. I will be voting Yes. That’s real democracy. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – We are told a new court of appeal needs to be established because of an “unacceptable” backlog of cases on appeal. This new court will involve, of course, the appointment of new judges, and more money trickling down the line for the legal profession.
Meanwhile, our health (and education) services are crippled by a recruitment embargo, which prevents the appointment of new medical personnel, teachers, etc, despite “unacceptable” backlogs and lengthening waiting lists in all hospital departments.
Existing health (and education) staff are expected to work harder and longer. Why can’t the judges do the same? Shorten their holidays, lengthen their working day, and let the legal backlog be dealt with the same way as hospital backlogs.
If we don’t have money for our hospitals, why should lawyers jump the queue? When we stop paying money to the banks, and have put the crisis behind us, then perhaps we might look at the idea of a new court, more judges and more money for the privileged. Let’s get our priorities right. – Is mise,
SINÉAD de RÓISTE,
Sir, – So the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, feels the proposed court of appeal is a “crude device” that will lead to a rise in appeals. (Front page, September 30th). The fact is that the referendum on Friday has been called to deal with the issue precisely because there is evidence that the backlog on appeals is so considerable that it goes far beyond mere administration and case management as suggested by Mr Honohan. It is a truism to say that justice delayed is justice denied. I assume that Mr Honohan will accept that, under the Constitution, our citizens are mature enough to make up their own minds on whether the proposed court of appeal is necessary or not. It is part of the democratic process for voters to decide on such matters. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – We have become used to disastrous opinion poll figures for the Labour Party, but Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin’s response (Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll, Front page and Breaking News, October 1st) is so blinkered as to be delusional. He argues Labour’s figures won’t improve until voters get money in their pockets, oblivious to the sense of betrayal that working class voters feel towards Labour and to the fact that indeed they have been betrayed.
Everyone knows that the bank crisis and subsequent economic collapse impose severe restraints on our society. But it isn’t a question that the bills left by the collapse must be paid, but who will pay them. And Labour has pushed the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil policy of toeing the EU line and making the poorer sections of society pay, so that the bankers – at home and abroad – can maintain or regain their wealthy status.
It will take working people generations to undo the damage being inflicted on them at the moment, but people’s anger is there because they know it is unnecessary: that it is the rich and the people who made the big profits out of the boom who can and should pay.
No amount of recovery is going to assuage that anger.
I have always thought the Labour Party was an essential component of any united Left alternative to the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil alliance, but unless honest voices who have learned the real lessons of the betrayal come to the fore in Labour, it is becoming increasingly hard to see any role in the future for a party that has proved such a woeful disappointment to those who voted for it. – Is mise,
EOIN Ó MURCHÚ,
Baile Átha Cliath 22.
Sir, – Your Front page report (October 1st) shows Labour support at just 6 per cent in your latest opinion poll. Meanwhile, the Letters page features an appeal for a No vote in the Seanad referendum, signed by 29 politicians of various hues. The signatories include two Labour TDs, despite Seanad abolition being the agreed policy of the coalition Government of which their party is a member.
The lack of cohesion and coherence in Labour’s ranks is a godsend to the party’s opponents, who continue to peddle snakeoil remedies that purport to provide an alternative and pain-free escape route from the crisis in our national finances.
Labour TDs, MEPs and councillors need to hold their nerve and hang together. Otherwise, they will surely hang separately! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We are a diverse group of politicians, and we will all vote No in the Seanad abolition referendum.
We come from different political parties; some have never been members of any political party. We come from across every social, religious, and educational background.
We agree on very few things, but we agree to vote No. The interests of Ireland are best served if the Irish people vote No. The Seanad has an important role to play in our democracy.
There are many reasons to vote No, each of us has their own reasons why we will vote No. But this is not a sign of discord, it is a sign that a No vote goes beyond politics. – Yours, etc,
Senator SEÁN BARRETT; Senator PAUL BRADFORD; Deputy LUCINDA CREIGHTON; Senator JOHN CROWN; Senator MARK DALY; Deputy STEPHEN DONNELLY; Deputy TERENCE FLANAGAN; MEP MARIAN HARKIN; Senator FIDELMA HEALY EAMES; Senator JAMES HEFFERNAN; Deputy COLM KEAVENEY; Senator JOHN KELLY; Senator DENIS LANDY; Deputy PETER MATHEWS; Deputy MICHAEL McCARTHY;
Deputy MATTIE McGRATH; Deputy FINIAN McGRATH; Senator MARY MORAN; Senator RÓNÁN MULLEN; Deputy DENIS NAUGHTEN; Senator DAVID NORRIS; Senator MARY ANN O’BRIEN; Deputy MAUREEN O’SULLIVAN; Senator FEARGAL QUINN; Deputy SHANE ROSS; Deputy ARTHUR SPRING; Deputy JOANNA TUFFY; Senator JOHN WHELAN & Senator KATHERINE ZAPPONE,
C/o Leinster House,
Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Sir, – Surely Breda O’Brien (Opinion, September 28th) is misguided if she thinks a ballot paper with anything other than the vote on it, will “probably” be counted. A spoiled vote is just that, as any self-respecting scrutineer would tell her. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – What’s the problem with Taoiseach Enda Kenny refusing to debate on Prime Time at Micheál Martin’s invitation? Were I at war with an enemy I would not go to battle on his chosen ground. To do so would prove my real weakness to lead. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I feel Enda Kenny’s refusal to debate with Micheál Martin on RTÉ (Breaking News, September 28th) not only goes against the origins of democracy, but also gives us a flavour of life in Ireland without the Seanad. Surely debate in Ireland is at our core? Is it not the Irish voice that has held our place in the world much more so than our economic relevance? Of course we have to reduce costs, but not at the cost of who we are. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Enda Kenny will not debate the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad because he has realised his mistake and he cannot justify the unjustifiable.
It is a power grab of phenomenal proportions. If this referendum is passed the Taoiseach can then remove Supreme Court judges, the ombudsman and the comptroller and auditor general if he has a sufficiently large majority to which the whip can be applied. Garret FitzGerald would never have proposed such a constitutional amendment. – Yours, etc,
Ardnacrusha, Co Clare.
Sir, – A letter from some of our university colleagues (September 27th) raises some valid points about accountability in Irish governance.
However, we argue that the wider campaign against Seanad abolition has overstated the potential of upper houses generally to effectively perform a check upon government.
It has been widely claimed that Seanad abolition would remove an important check on executive power, amounting to nothing less than a “power-grab”. But the purpose of upper chambers, where they do exist, is usually to assist in the legislative process, not to sanction government. In practice, oversight is better exercised by the lower chamber to which government is directly responsible.
Indeed the referendum will effectively make it much more difficult for the Government to secure the removal of a judge or a president because a greater level of cross-party Dáil support will be needed. If this is a “power-grab”, it is not a very well designed one.
We are also puzzled by our colleagues’ support for the Quinn/Zappone plan, as this retains the vocational and graduate-specific structure of the current Senate. The “panel” seats have never been meaningfully vocational, and there is no good reason to believe this could now be achieved simply by expanding the franchise. It is much more likely to yield a miniature and pointless replica of the Dáil, risking parliamentary gridlock.
Finally, we urge caution against our colleagues’ suggestion that the national parliament should give direct representation to “expertise”, whether through vocational panels or otherwise. There are many good ways of incorporating expert knowledge in the legislative process without giving experts parliamentary seats.
We believe a Yes vote is a reasonable step towards a reformed political system. – Yours, etc,
EOIN O’MALLEY, School of Law and Government, DCU; BEN TONRA, School of Politics and International Relations, UCD; EOIN DALY, Sutherland School of Law, UCD; KEVIN RAFTER, School of Communications, DCU; JOHN O’DOWD, Sutherland School of Law, UCD; MÁIRÉAD ENRIGHT, Kent Law School, University of Kent; ALAN DUKES, former TD and Minister; RICHARD HUMPHREYS, Law Library, Dublin 7; LIAM THORNTON, Sutherland School of Law, UCD; JIM POWER, Economist & SEAN DONLAN, School of Law, UL,
C/o Sutherland School of
Law, UCD, Dublin 4.
Sir, – With the exception of the six university seats, Seanad Éireann’s members are elected democratically, but by indirect franchise.
Forty-three of the Seanad’s 60 members are chosen by the members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad and the country’s major municipal authorities, all of whom, with the exception of the outgoing Senators, have already been elected by direct universal franchise. Accordingly, the TDs, Senators and county and city councillors effectively constitute an electoral college for the election of a new Seanad. This system is not unlike that for choosing the president of the United States, with each state of the US electing a certain number of delegates to an electoral college, which in turn elects the president.
The Taoiseach’s 11 nominees also get their seats by indirect franchise. The Taoiseach is elected by the members of Dáil Éireann who are in turn directly elected by universal franchise.
While it can be argued that the university senators are chosen by a privileged minority, these panels could be extended, not only to include graduates of all third-level institutions, but also to give representation to members of trade unions affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and to registered members of employers’ and business groups such as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association. This would reflect a much wider range of interests and provide a valuable input into the scrutiny of proposed legislation.
The Seanad may need a makeover but it should be retained and reformed. – Yours, etc,
SEÁN Ó BRIAIN,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The Labour Party’s Seanad referendum poster proclaiming One Parliament Yes! is intriguing. Is it possible the Labour Party thinks the Seanad is a national parliament? If it were, Ireland would be unique in the whole world. – Yours, etc,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
Sir, – Breda O’Brien calls on those seeking reform of the Seanad to “choose No to abolition, and then write ‘Reform’ on the ballot” as the ballot will then “be set aside for later examination and, as any fair-minded scrutineer could only find there was a clear intention to vote No, it will in all probability be counted in that way” (Opinion, September 28th).
While this is technically correct, having observed many election counts I would advise her that the inclusion of political slogans or statements of any kind on the ballot is a very hazardous enterprise.
Under the Referendum Act 1994, the returning officer has the power to exclude a ballot “on which anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the local returning officer, is calculated to identify the elector”. While this seems to restrict the power to exclude a vote to a very limited instance, in practice it gives the returning officer quite a degree of latitude to exclude ballots which have anything written on them. Personally, I wouldn’t be willing to take a gamble that my vote would not be counted!
There are only two options in this referendum. Anyone wishing to abolish the Seanad should vote Yes. Anyone who wants to retain it, or believes that it should be reformed, no matter how slim the chance of that might be, should vote No. With all due respect to Ms O’Brien, the detail of one’s views on a referendum ought to be conveyed directly to one’s political representatives, rather than to the returning officer on the face of a ballot paper. – Yours, etc,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
The interesting thing about the forthcoming referendum is the level of interest it has generated in an institution that not too many people have taken much notice of in recent years.
Also in this section
Charges of a not so light brigade
Recognise teenage angst for what it is
It’s like having a clear-out and deciding on what items you really want to keep. Sometimes you come across a discarded item and find a new use for it. Could this be the case with Seanad Eireann?
Well, first of all, the public needs to be informed of its uses and limitations. I read through the booklet that came through my letterbox and really felt no wiser afterwards.
I notice that there are two proposals: the Seanad abolition and the provision of a Court of Appeals.
The latter appears straightforward as there are long delays and it will accelerate the judicial process.
However, as regards the campaign on Seanad abolition, the only signs I have noticed are very negative, eg, save €20m a year by abolishing the Seanad and we will have 60 fewer politicians.
Can we choose the 60 to go? Perhaps, like the ‘X Factor’, we could swap some of the 166 TDs in Dail Eireann and keep Feargal Quinn or John Crown.
There have been many arguments on both sides of the debate but despite the importance of such a decision, the Taoiseach refuses to debate the abolition of Seanad Eireann on TV.
Is it not important enough, and if so why have a referendum on whether to abolish the institution without a wider discussion?
The rich get richer
Ireland is a country of two cultures, the culture of the rich and that of the poor. It is a division that is locked in place by the persistent inequitable distribution of the country’s wealth.
There is a glaring contradiction between the Christianity or Humanism we profess and our tolerance of shameful levels of basic need experienced by so many.
A recent report by Social Justice Ireland suggests that 700,000 of our citizens live in poverty. The proportion of people who do not have access to healthy, nutritious food is particularly alarming. We are landed with a failing welfare system that is clearly not fit for purpose.
The Government has institutionalised insensitivity to the glaring injustices that define our way of life by building a brazen shield against the recurring outrage generated by the official appropriation of Ireland’s finances through self-administered excessive salaries, expenses and pensions.
Additionally, we are trapped in an insidious class system that is based on the vulgar display of possessions as we steadily lose our sense of enough and our awareness of the needy.
We seem to give raw approval to any indication of improvement in the country’s wealth without giving serious consideration to identifying its potential beneficiaries.
The uneven struggle between politics and principle has led us to lose sight of the significant moral issues about equality and respect for human lives that arise in relation to the distribution of wealth.
Every cloud has a silver lining. I found mine in the realisation that the global debt mountain is now so high, our children can take refuge on it after the high tides we bequeathed them from global warming sweep the rest of us away.
Sandycove, Co Dublin
Reform or abolition
Like many people who long to see rigorous Seanad reform, I have reluctantly opted to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum. I do so because I suspect that the Government will not enact the necessary reforms, any more than any previous government has honoured pledges to democratise this toothless and increasingly irrelevant institution.
A factor that might have dissuaded me from voting for abolition is the handful of outstanding senators we’ve had, among them Mary Robinson and Noel Browne. But the vast majority of those who entered Seanad Eireann have, sadly, been party hacks, line-towing career politicians, and cute-hoor types who used it either as a launching pad for the next Dail election or a halfway-house or retirement home following the loss of a Dail seat.
I have taken the trouble to review a list of senators from 1937 to the present day and I honestly feel that the number of truly noteworthy ones does not justify the Seanad’s retention.
The senators have had ample opportunity over the decades to press for meaningful reform and allow all people of voting age have a say in who did or didn’t get to sit in the chamber.
But instead they were content to enjoy the perks and privileges of the Upper House, huffing and puffing and having no demonstrable effect on anything.
Demolishing the house
There’s this property in which I, among others, have a small but symbolic stake as landlord. It comprises an interconnected set of venerable old houses, constructed in the 1920s, which are well-located in the heart of the capital and enjoy ample car-parking.
It is seen as a much-prized des res to the extent that we have never been short of candidates when renewal of places occurs at the end of every five-year lease.
For all this grandeur, having never been properly modernised, the internal structures of the complex are not entirely fit for purpose. Its timbers creak – possibly due to the strain of too many tenants (although it is said that they are only ever there for a limited number of days); it is prone to leaks; and a great deal of the hot air generated within seems to be released without having any real beneficial effect.
Nonetheless, its residents have always seemed extremely happy with their conditions. Once they have moved in – some having been there for decades – precious few among them have shown any serious interest in the prospect of the disruption that would arise if meaningful renovations were to be carried out.
Almost as an afterthought to the imposing main house, a much smaller but equally well-appointed building of the same vintage is annexed to it.
This is practically out of sight. Looking at the dusty old deeds, it seems that among the original intentions for this opulent outhouse was to house the night watchmen to ensure that those in the big house would not lose the run of themselves.
It has instead been variously pressed into action as a temporary halfway house for those who have fallen on hard times and been evicted from the main house, as a granny-flat for retirees and even a creche of sorts.
Overall, its tenants have tended to keep to themselves. To be honest, even as their landlord, I don’t know what most of the current batch do.
Recently I’ve received notice from the head of the residents’ committee that a majority of the tenants of the main building wish to carry out some significant building works. At first I imagined that they were looking to fix the entire roof or insulate the external walls. Instead, it turns out that they plan to focus attention on the second house in isolation.
Rather than renovating, they want to demolish it entirely, taking some of the fixtures and fittings into their own building, and leaving a vacant space where it stood.
This is a much more far-reaching proposal than tenants asking permission to put up some shelving so it merits very careful consideration on the part of us owners.
The question is, will this course of action improve how the property, as a whole, functions, given that the structural problems are by no means confined to the smaller of the buildings? What effect will knocking down significant support pillars have on the overall architecture? Indeed, could the whole edifice be weakened and come crashing down?