2 January 2014 New Years Day
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Johnson has entered a competition to build a man powered flying machine. Priceless.
Set up website, and email potter around
Scrabble today Mary wins and get just under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.
Sir Michael Butler, , who has died aged 86, played a crucial role in securing for Margaret Thatcher the substantial reduction she demanded to the UK’s contribution to the European Community budget.
A Europhile who prided himself on having been the only Englishman “in on every phase” of European enlargement, Butler was posted to Brussels as Britain’s permanent representative to the EC at the start of 1980 – just after Mrs Thatcher had told fellow European leaders: “I want my money back.” Working 80 to 90 hours a week, he managed to secure for her at Fontainebleau in 1984 the rebate, most of which Britain has retained to this day.
It was by no means an easy process. The tall, bald and bespectacled Butler’s famed unflappability was tested to the full as the prime minister took out on senior ministers and civil servants her irritation at the refusal of other European leaders to see things her way.
Once she banged down her papers on the table and exclaimed: “I’ve had enough. We will leave the EEC next Tuesday.” Unfazed, Butler replied: “Even so, Prime Minister, we’ve still got to work out what we do on Monday.”
Rated by colleagues “a hugely superior machine”, Butler also laid the groundwork for Mrs Thatcher’s goal of a single European market. She acknowledged his contribution by having him appointed GCMG, one of the few ambassadors to receive the diplomatic service’s highest honour.
Yet they were miles apart in their attitudes toward Europe. Butler rated the EU a “huge and historic success”, an attitude which saw the Tory Right regard him with increasing hostility. Boris Johnson called him a “federast”.
In tandem with his diplomatic career, Butler established himself as a leading collector of 17th-century Chinese porcelain, and an authority on the subject respected in China itself. He began collecting in 1958; his first piece, a green teapot made to resemble a bamboo, cost him £15 with three other pieces thrown in. By 1985 Butler had 600 pieces from between 1620 and 1680, and he filled his embassies with dazzling displays of the best. He wrote several books on late Ming ceramics, and his interest led to his becoming deputy chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Michael Dacres Butler was born at Blandford, Dorset, on February 27 1927, the son of TD Butler and the former Beryl Lambert. Educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford, he joined the foreign service in 1950.
After serving in New York and Baghdad, he was posted in 1961 to Paris. There he orchestrated the opposition to President de Gaulle’s obstructiveness over Britain joining the EEC; French officials were deeply offended that so junior an official should presume to mount a challenge.
Butler returned to Whitehall in 1965, then three years later went to Britain’s mission in Geneva as counsellor. While there, he had the tenant of his house in Chelsea jailed for contempt of court for sub-letting after the Court of Appeal had ordered him not to.
Following a sabbatical at Harvard, he served briefly in Washington before being recalled in 1972 to head the FCO’s European Integration department as Britain entered the EC. Two years later he became assistant under-secretary in charge of EC affairs, and one of the officials who led Labour’s renegotiation of Britain’s membership prior to the referendum of 1975.
A spell in charge of economic matters followed before his appointment as UK Permanent Representative (Ukrep) in Brussels, succeeding Sir Michael Palliser.
Butler was expected to move on to a more prestigious embassy, and maybe even to head the diplomatic service. But all-night budget negotiations both prolonged his time in Brussels and took their toll, and in 1985 he retired two years early. His final act was to persuade Mrs Thatcher during the single market negotiations to accept an extension to majority voting.
He joined the board of Hambro’s Bank, serving until 1997. Butler played an important part in Hambro’s move, after the “Big Bang” in the City, to diversify into Europe, negotiating links and joint products with German, Italian and Spanish banks. He also chaired Honda’s European consultative group, the international advisory board of ICL, and a consortium which ICL formed with De la Rue and Girobank to bid for the contract to automate post offices and the payment of benefits.
Butler left Brussels convinced checks were needed on bureaucracy and arrogance in the Commission, but he also became concerned that Mrs Thatcher had stopped meeting her advisers and was letting her prejudices take over on the issue of Europe.
She was still in power when he proposed a European Monetary Fund issuing a “hard Ecu” based on the Deutschmark as a dual currency for Europe. John Major, then Chancellor, took up the idea, but before long the die was cast for the eventual adoption of the euro.
Butler incurred the wrath of Eurosceptics by insisting that all Britain would give up under a single currency was “inflation, followed by periodic devaluations”. In 1996 he joined forces with Palliser and Sir Michael Hannay to attack John Redwood for opposing the concept.
Soon after Tony Blair appointed Butler his personal envoy to countries hoping to join the EU; Butler told a curious Boris Johnson it would be “improper” to say whether he intended to vote Labour.
He saw “very little possibility” of a Labour government being able to pass the necessary legislation and sign up to the euro by the starting date of 1999. In the event, Labour made the preparations but did not join.
Butler was at various times chairman of the Senior Experts’ Group, the European Committee of British Invisibles, Business Link Dorset and Oriental Art magazine; a director of the Wellcome Foundation; a senior fellow of the Royal College of Arts; a council member of the Oriental Ceramic Society; a conciliator for the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes and a board member of Britain in Europe.
His book Europe: More than a Continent (1986) won the Adolphe Bentinck prize for important contributions to European unity.
He was appointed CMG in 1975, KCMG in 1980 and GCMG in 1984.
Michael Butler married Ann, the daughter of Lord Clyde, in 1951. They had two sons and two daughters.
Sir Michael Butler, born February 27 1927, died December 24 2013
Stephen Twigg is sadly mistaken if he thinks that having the Office for Budget Responsibility audit the spending pledges of Ed Balls will reconnect the public and politics (Letters, 31 December). Political parties need to simply state what their social and economic vision of a future Britain is, how they would achieve this, and what their spending priorities would be. Many disaffected voters are not actually interested in the intimate detail of how our society will change, more the values of those who want to make the change. In Scotland, Alex Salmond gains support for a “yes” vote not when he talks about budgets but when he offers a vision of what a future Scotland could look like.
• It is gratifying to read that Stephen Twigg appreciates that we need to “change the way we do politics”. Since 2010, while Michael Gove – the worst education secretary in living memory – was, in the words of Lynsey Hanley (Comment, 30 December), “balkanising the education system to within an inch of its life”, at the same time becoming, in the eyes of teachers and parents, a figure of ridicule and loathing, Twigg was busy establishing himself as the embodiment of the lack of any kind of hope of a Labour alternative to Tory education policy. It is a testament to the man that he now has the courage to seek to involve himself in the search for a solution to the problem that he, more than most, personifies.
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
• One of the reasons why people are being turned off by the political process can be seen in your headline (EU rules lift lid on £2.7m pay deals for top staff at Goldman Sachs, 31 December). A further reason can be found in the same article, where you report that 2,714 bankers in the City received more than €1m in 2012 compared with Germany’s 212 and France’s 177.
St Austell, Cornwall
Church grounds are often used by people such as street drinkers, drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless, and such groups are frequently seen by churches as nuisances to be removed (Editorial, 31 December). We at SS Mary and John Church in Oxford conducted a pilot project of presence ministry in our churchyard over the summer of 2013. In a team including Rev Sabina Alkire, Ruth Conway and Rev Adam Romanis, my job was to conduct maintenance tasks in the churchyard, while positively engaging with churchyard users. This experience taught me that behind the rowdiness, such vulnerable groups are typically warm-hearted, friendly, wise and in desperate need of love. Boundaries and professional involvement are vital, and antisocial behaviour should be challenged, but as Christians we must cultivate the utmost love for all who come to our door, because “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. Matthew 25:40.
Labour’s proposals for universal childcare are by no means supported by everyone on the progressive left (Labour sets its sights on free childcare for all, 30 December). Imposing universal childcare as a cultural norm will both compromise many vital early attachment relationships essential for young children, and interfere with parents’ essential parental learning process, thus merely stoking up intra-familial problems for the future, as children grow older.
These considerable resources would be far better spent requiring more flexible working, bringing down the cost of living (especially housing), investing in parenting education and community-based parent and toddler groups, and implementing family friendly allowances and tax incentives, enabling one parent to stay at home for at least their child’s first three years, if that is their preference – freeing up employment for the unemployed in the process. Shadow minister Lucy Powell is right that mass institutionalised childcare will “have a deep impact on the wellbeing of children” – but in exactly the opposite way to that which she is assuming.
Dr Richard House
Senior lecturer in early childhood studies, University of Winchester
• Labour’s pledge to make affordable childcare a priority, including 25 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds for working parents, is very welcome but there is much to be done before the vision can become a reality. Currently there is 15 hours of free childcare for all three- and four-year-olds and for disadvantaged two-year-olds, but the rate of funding goes nowhere near covering the real cost of providing quality childcare.
Before any political party can commit to extending the number of funded places it must undertake a consultation on the real cost of care and subsequently fund it adequately, otherwise childcare providers will withdraw from the market.
United for All Ages and Good Care Guide
• The right service at the right time for the right child underpins effective early intervention. A recent London Councils report shows that we need a diversity of responses. The report notes the group of young people (and families) who are likely to be receptive to these services are different than those who will need adoption, fostering or children’s homes. There is an unspoken assumption that early intervention will reduce the need for these alternative, supplemental or substitute caring options. As the report observes, this is unlikely to be the case.
Early interventions work for many but not all and often this other group of young people need safety, specialism and choice provided by fostering and children’s homes. Local authorities need to find funds for early intervention and are looking for them through cutting expenditure on those services that provide subsequent interventions.
Already many young people who become looked after have to suffer five or more placement changes in a year. It is not uncommon for a young person arriving at a children’s home to have 30 or more. Early intervention also means the right service at the right time for these young people. The way to make the funds more effective for higher-level needs is by a needs-led national strategy that ensures matched and most appropriate placements. In that way we get stability.
We are not seeing leadership for this policy direction from either national or local government. The shortsightedness of this will become apparent when we have too few children’s homes.
Independent Children’s Homes Association
The Royal Mint’s idea of commemorating the beginning of the first world war with the iconic image of Kitchener (Report, 1 January) is a dreadful start. He symbolises colonial wars (Sudan), concentration camps (Boer war) and is the front man for the ruling elite that led so many to their deaths in the first world war.
• Protest by black people in Britain didn’t begin in the 1970s and wasn’t all male, as your article implies (Report, 28 December). Leaving out Claudia Jones and her work in Notting Hill from the 50s onwards is an injustice to a woman who dedicated herself to the struggle for black rights.
• What is interesting about the boom in digital media (Report, 1 January) is that it was pioneered by “pirate” organisations against the fierce resistance of the entertainment industry that now benefits from it. The fringe becomes the norm, indeed.
• Switching the date of the New Year honours list, as Zoe Williams suggests (Comment, 1 January), is a bit too modest a move. Perhaps what’s needed is a Dishonours list to accompany it. Though since some of the names would be on both lists, that might be confusing. Any suggestions for names and fitting awards?
• Among the inevitable gongs for cronies, celebs and bankers, it’s nice to know that in the Ruritanian otherworld that we so cherish, the Queen still has a swan marker (worthy of an honour) and that not only can the Duchess of Cornwall not dress herself, but the person that does dress her needs an assistant (also worth an honour).
Dr Neil Denby
• I, too, got in a muddle with my Christmas online shopping (Letters, 30 December). Instead of six onions, I received six bags of onions. Onion soup, anyone?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
While there is a utilitarian core to Mary Dejevsky’s delightfully provocative call for the abolition of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (No role for the FCO, 30 December) can I say how mistaken that would be?
As minister for the Middle East and North Africa during recent turbulent times, I was constantly impressed by the political relationships developed by ambassadors and their excellent teams throughout the region. These encompassed government and opposition figures, media and business, allowing insights into complex situations impossible if our presence was merely to be trade or development orientated.
I was also taken with how often our embassies were the first port of call in difficult moments. We are not the richest, nor the biggest, nor the most powerful kid on the block, but we are trusted in a way others are not. Our support in so many ways over the past few years is working for peace and helping to avoid yet more bloodshed from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.
Readers would be impressed with how our diplomats abroad, increasingly locally drawn, represent us. This should not solely be driven from No 10; the FCO under William Hague is far from being merely the sum of its embassy parties.
FCO minister 2010-2013
• Mary Dejevsky argues convincingly that the Foreign Office and embassies have outlived their traditional roles. She should go further and ask why our embassies, our prime minister and various ministries should be devoting valuable time abroad promoting so-called British business interests at taxpayers’ expense, when there are hardly any businesses remaining that are actually owned and registered in Britain, and most seem to be adept at avoiding paying taxes. In an age of transnational business, the outdated concept of nationally based “British business” and its promotion by governments needs urgent overhauling. Or perhaps we should demand a return to a genuine “British-owned” business model where companies are British-owned, located in the country and pay their due taxes?
• I served in the Tehran embassy in the period immediately before the fall of the shah (I left three weeks before he did), and greatly admired and respected my ambassador, Anthony Parsons, and grieved that he felt he had let us down by mistaken analysis of the developing crisis. I was much comforted by the comments made by David Owen when reviewing Parsons’ account of his time in Iran, The Pride and the Fall.
The role of the FCO, Owen said in that review, is “to try to put themselves in the position of the government and the rulers whose actions they have to interpret back to their own country”. Parsons had cited the defence put forward by others that the embassy had “concentrated too exclusively on commercial work during the boom years”, but dismissed this as he took responsibility on his own shoulders. But Owen concluded, “If criticisms are to be made … they should be directed at us politicians.”
If Britain is to trade successfully with other countries, it is absolutely vital that the economic, social and political circumstances in that country are reported in depth, and that politicians detach their understandable desire to boost trade with an appreciation of the risks involved. To enable its staff to do this, our embassies need to be wholly detached from consular and commercial considerations. I was horrified when David Cameron announced that embassies should focus on trade promotion .
Dejevsky is right to say that trade promotion does not need to be undertaken by embassies, and that it could and should be the responsibility of teams from the government department primarily responsible for overseas trade. But she is utterly wrong in using that as justification for abolishing embassies.
• My committee conducted – as one of its first pieces of work in this parliament – an inquiry into “the role of the FCO in UK government”. We concluded, in spring 2011, that the FCO’s core role for the government is “the provision of foreign policy information, analysis, judgment and execution”. We heard evidence that the government’s need for informed judgment about foreign countries was increasing, not declining. And we also formed the view that maintaining a network of embassies and other posts overseas, covering political as well as commercial and cultural affairs, was an essential means for the FCO to be able to discharge its role effectively.
The FCO of course makes mistakes, and there is no guarantee that the government as a whole will act according to its judgment or that the desired foreign policy outcome will be achieved. There are serious questions about the best way to run and organise the department, especially given the tight resource constraints it faces – indeed, we have consistently raised concerns that budget cuts might jeopardise the FCO’s ability to discharge its functions effectively. The FCO itself is acutely aware of the questions that exist about its role and is engaged in important reforms. But my committee has encountered little since our 2011 report to undermine the basic conclusions we reached then.
For example, in one of our last evidence sessions before Christmas, witnesses again suggested the importance of an FCO presence overseas when they told us that government policy on Syria faces difficulties partly because the government was obliged to withdraw diplomatic staff from the country at an early stage in the crisis, and thus lacks reliable on-the-ground information.
Our 2010-11 inquiry did not consider the FCO’s main public-facing role, namely the provision of consular services. We are conducting an inquiry on this subject now and would welcome written submissions.
Richard Ottaway MP
Chair, Foreign affairs select committee
When a third-world country takes the bit between its teeth and has the guts to make extravagant self-sacrifices in order to survive, we call it a “plucky little country” – patronising, maybe, but at least a fair assessment.
When young families in such countries quietly settle to sell the only thing they have, their labour or their brainpower, going abroad to the only markets they can find, we should admire them.
As if conscripts in a war, they have to leave their families to go to work abroad and to send what money they can to support them. Despite the sneers, they are, in fact, too proud to beg our help.
The extreme, brick-headed Conservatives lurking in the nasty party, and in Ukip, seem to have no moral relationship to the great Conservatives of the past who, love them or hate them, had a high sense of responsibility for the unfortunate, sick and disabled, the poor, old, rejected and needy, who abound these days in this obscene world of bonny, bouncing bankers. They are concerned neither about people other than their own, nor about pockets other than their own.
Kenneth J Moss, Norwich
Whether immigrants are good for this country or not is not the point. It is the negation of democracy that sticks in most people’s craws.
The invasion of other cultures on the scale of the past 15-20 years will inevitably change the nature of our nation. The questions are: “Were we, the established population, asked whether we agreed to this fundamental change in our society? Were we given an adult explanation? Were we consulted?” The answer is an emphatic no.
They feed the interests of business; they don’t let the people decide the nature of the country in which they wish to live; and the politicians, who treat us with such scant regard, wonder why they are so despised.
Finlay Fraser, Cottingham, East Riding of Yorkshire
Your headline “Talking Turkey” (21 December) once again demonstrated either the Prime Minister’s lack of understanding of the EU or his choice to ignore this understanding and play personal politics, dragging our country along with him.
I find it really hard to believe in the former, so have come to the conclusion that it is the latter. The Prime Minister recently stoked the threat of waves of Romanian and Bulgarian “benefit tourists” and “job thieves”, and apparently we are now faced with further waves of Albanians, Serbs and Turks.
Conversations with Danish friends suggested that there was a similar disquiet in Denmark, and the idea of concern across many EU states has been repeatedly reported in the media.
But instead of opening discreet but meaningful dialogue with other member states to come to a consensus on the regulation of benefit payments, the Prime Minister switches to his “fight them on the beaches” mode.
I can only believe that this fear of dialogue is because any agreement then reached would smack of integration, something which is apparently even more to be resisted than waves of fellow citizens of the EU.
Closer integration in more areas would surely better define Europe, with more common application of social and welfare policy creating standards which new entrants would have to meet, as well as putting some substance to how we view human rights within the EU.
This fear of further integration must be a source of confusion to our EU partners when they look at the make up of the UK. While Scots are all citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I have yet to meet one who, when asked, was anything other than a Scot.
And while we have common policies on finance, tax, defence and the like, Scots hold to their laws and education systems.
Surely this demonstrates the very model of an integrated society that the EU could become?
John E Wright, Newcastle upon Tyne
In the midst of this endless xenophobic barrage we might do worse than remember the 100,000 or so Scots who migrated to Poland in the 17th and early 18th centuries to seek work and escape from a miserable poverty. Just as well that Cameron was not around then. When will this nastiness end?
Peter Kampman, Edinburgh
Privatised power has cost us dear
J D Woodcock (letter, 31 December) is right to praise the engineers and technicians trudging about in foul weather to restore service to customers.
However, it’s a fair bet that they are not on the same remuneration as UK Power Networks CEO Basil Scarsella (believed to be £1.7m). This farce of profits from electricity generation and distribution, water, railway passenger and freight operations etc going overseas to benefit Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and China is a Government-conducted rip-off.
I was under the naive impression that, when I voted, I was electing a government to manage our country for the benefit of the British people. This is obviously not so.
All our nationalised utilities needed investment which the Government was not prepared to fund, as this would have increased tax.
We are all now paying far more than we were before privatisation, and not getting a better service. The state should take the utilities back into state ownership. MPs talk about hard-working families; let’s see them actually doing something to help ordinary people and British industry, which is also affected by high power costs.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Your front-page headline “‘Blackout boss’ earned £1.7m” (31 December) is totally misleading: he did not earn that sum; it is merely what he is paid.
Robert J Jones, Chelmsford, Essex
We all admire the engineers who come out in all weather to restore power. But we have no time for the directors and senior managers of the energy companies whose greed beggars belief.
We have far fewer engineers than we used to, as many have been sacked to boost profitability. The fact that they were there to ensure everyone has the power they need is regarded as an unnecessary expense; if a few customers are without power for a week or so, then so be it! The only priority is achieving higher bonuses and dividends.
Energy prices increase year on year well above inflation; all customers expect in return is that proper staffing levels are maintained to provide a decent service. If bonuses were conditional upon maintaining power supplies rather than profitability, we would all get the level of service we are paying for.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
How to silence infantile MPs
Donald Macintyre is right to ask: “Is it time to bring rowdy MPs into line?” (28 December). But Ed Miliband has the remedy to hand. He says he would like to change the “bunch of kids who shout at each other”. All he has to do is tell his side to be silent when a member of the other parties is holding forth, then respond firmly but politely.
The public will soon identify the public-school antics of the other side as puerile and pathetic, and I can guarantee that we will soon be able to hear what our representatives actually think in orderly debates.
I observed this way of dealing with self-indulgent rowdiness in a nursery school and have never come across a more effective way of dealing with infantile behaviour than publicly identifying it as such.
Colin Burke, Manchester
We need to take our consciences to work
Sally Bland says it is “professional” to do things at work that you would not choose to do in your private life (letter, 27 December).
The implication that a professional person should leave their moral judgement at the door when they enter the workplace is worrying. Perhaps it explains why every month sees a large organisation fined for appalling abuses without any expectation that those involved should be held accountable, as they were just following orders? No doubt, many involved knew things were wrong, but they also knew they would be worse off if they tried to do something about it. Do we not need to have more people who act in accordance with their conscience rather than denigrate them for lacking “professionalism”?
Nick Bion, Reading
Syria: a victory to remember
During our festive season and our reflections on 2013, I have observed no mention of one of the greatest achievements of last year: that great day for British democracy as France, the UK and the US were posturing to bomb Syria when our Parliament “nipped it in the bud”.
So, no repeat of our disastrous and tragic follies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, over the festive season, I read that we are sending billions in aid to Syria. This success really is something to celebrate.
Andy Turney, Dorchester, Dorset
Mira Bar Hillel claims that the percentage of Christians in Israel has fallen since 1948. Clearly, immigration since Israel’s independence has boosted the percentage of Jews in relation to other faiths. Yet such a focus on percentages distorts the fact that Israel today is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is actually growing, due to freedom of worship in the region’s only stable democracy. At a time when Christians sadly are fleeing many parts of the Middle East (450,000 have fled Syria, and 900,000 have fled Iraq), their numbers continue to grow in Israel, where the Christian population has more than quadrupled from 34,000 at the time of Israel’s independence, to 158,000 today. There are many positive lessons that the region could learn from Israel’s treatment of its Christian community, and we hope this will be possible in the future.
Embassy of Israe
Sir, To make a case for God (pace Philip Collins, “Will Welby ever make the case for God”, Dec 27) is surely impossible. He or She is beyond proof or definition. Belief in God is a matter of choice, based largely on one’s cultural background and inner perception. For some of us modern Christians (if not our churches) the real problem is Jesus. His human existence is undeniable, example admirable, and achievement extraordinary. But any requirement to believe in his divinity and the supernatural events of his life and death challenges credulity and distracts us from the ultimately more important search for God, which we share with Jesus.
Sir, Philip Collins calls on the Church to argue the case for Christian belief, but surely there are also unspoken questions for atheists to answer. If God is taken out of the equation, they need to explain the fact that the universe exists at all (without resort to improbable ideas of “multiverses”) and, perhaps more importantly, why, in that case, what we are or do matters?
The Rev Paul Dowling
Sir, Many years ago a wise man told me a story. It is called The Parable of the Gardener.
There were two people travelling in a desert place; they were tired, hungry, thirsty and conscious of the danger of death.
As they struggled on they came upon a valley with fresh water, fruits and flowers and every good thing. Truly a land flowing with milk and honey. Rejoicing they gave thanks for their deliverance.
The first said: “Behold the wonders wrought by the untrammelled hand of nature.” But the second rebuked him saying: “We must go and give thanks to the gardener.”
The evidence available to both of the travellers was the same but their understanding was different. We do not seem to have got any further.
Professor Bohumil S. Drasar
Sir, Dr Willshaw (letter, Dec 30) calls for greater honesty in the Church with regard to the difficulties of faith and belief. The challenge for the Church is to put in place something that does not compromise its own tradition and yet meets the needs of a massive, new constituency which rejects the concept of God and/or creedal religion but, at the same time, is serious about the business of living. The Church has a lot to offer in the area of “spirituality”; it needs to be willing and able to share it with people who reject its theology. Perhaps there is a place for a “God-lite service” which incorporates the elements which people still do connect with: music, poetry, food, story-telling, reflection and drama.
Hepworth, W Yorks
Sir, Falling numbers in the Church of England is not a failure of the message of Christmas (Philip Collins, Dec 27). Neither is faith in a remote God the gift of Christmas (letters, Dec 30). Christmas is about God coming to us. The usually descanted verse of O Come all ye Faithful is not the last word, Mr Collins. C of E tradition is to sing the real last verse only from Christmas Day, “Yea Lord we Greet Thee, Born this Happy Morning”. As was said in Bath Abbey recently, “Don’t listen to something I am not saying.”
St Albans, Herts
Sir, The principal cause of flooding in Britain (letters, Jan 1) is the inability of watercourses to carry away the rainfall from a heavy storm over their catchment areas. Water can drain into a watercourse only if the level of the surface is kept low enough.
A century of neglect to maintain them properly has allowed them to silt up so that they quickly fill from upstream and water levels in the surrounding land areas are bound to rise and lead to flooding. As in this winter, this will occur even when storms are not particularly heavy, but follow in series over any length of time.
The answer is to institute a permanent, regular schedule of dredging to maintain flow areas of sufficient capacity to maintain lower surface levels. British engineers have plenty of originality to devise novel waterborne machines for this purpose, and are we not looking for new work for our dockyards?
Professor B.J. Brinkworth
Sir, Many lessons might be drawn from all the rhetoric about a possible influx of East Europeans. One might be that we need them (“British firms seek 60,000 Romanians to fill jobs gap”, Jan 1). Another, perhaps, is that we could consider ourselves fortunate to live in a country to which so many wish to come and which for all its difficulties is still seen in the wider world as a land of opportunity.
R. F. Taylor
Sir, The statistical massaging from Ofgem in your report “Average power bill to fall by £153 — but yours won’t” (Jan 1) is becoming silly. We are now being asked to believe that the average annual domestic dual fuel bill will have gone down from £1,621 to £1,437 to £1,284 between 2011 and now. It is true that most of us have been forced to ration our energy consumption, but the huge increases in charges would suggest that our bills are still rising, not falling.
Would it not be simpler for Ofgem to require each of the Big Six to provide annual figures for the total number of their domestic consumers, these consumers’ total consumption, and the total price they paid? That would give us the means to calculate average figures for consumption and expenditure on the same basis each year. To cope with regional variations, each company should be asked to give area figures too.
Separate figures should be given for electricity and for gas. Many of us are off the gas grid and this makes Ofgem’s figures for a so-called “average dual fuel” customer irrelevant. I am worried that this fixation with statistical manipulation may mislead government policy attempts to alleviate what is a very serious problem for many households.
Sir, Alex O’Connell’s list of the most dramatic theatrical spats (times2, Dec 31) leaves out the best of all. This took place in 1821 when Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852) played Iago to the great Edmund Kean’s Othello at Drury Lane. Booth was considered Kean’s only serious rival, so this was a grudge match, winner takes all. The public and reviewers agreed that Kean had won, which led the disgusted Booth to emigrate to America, along with his mistress Mary Ann Holmes. Unfortunately this meant that their ninth son, John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865), also an actor, was in place to assassinate President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, Washington on April 14, 1865. And all because of a histrionic spat between luvvies.
SIR – The reason a blue tit was inspecting Roger Tame’s nesting box is that the bird was looking for overwintering insects.
SIR – A female blue tit has been roosting at night in our nest box for several weeks now, as documented by the webcam inside. Her partner remains outside, on duty.
This is normal practice and, particularly in cold weather, there are records of birds sharing their box with others at night.
SIR – Blue tits start prospecting for their nest site in January. They will choose their site and defend it until they start nest-building in March and April. They time the laying of their eggs so that they hatch just as the caterpillars on which they feed their nestlings are hatching.
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
SIR – At last, the Government is going to restrict access to the NHS.
In more than 30 years working as a doctor, I have never seen any attempt to count or audit how much money is spent treating non-British residents every year, but I am certain that the figure is far higher than most people realise.
Sadly, by charging only for some services, like accident and emergency, the Government is continuing to skirt around the problem. One patient treated in intensive care can easily cost £100,000; even relatively straightforward treatment can cost the taxpayer a lot of money.
Perhaps all users of the NHS could receive a statement each month to improve awareness of costs.
Tony Narula FRCS
SIR – Many are concerned by the number of migrants using our NHS facilities.
Maybe this is payback for accepting from those same countries thousands of doctors and nurses who have been trained at the expense of others but work for the NHS.
SIR – Have none of the MPs and doctors who protest against charging patients ever been abroad and needed to pay for medical treatment?
SIR – I am a student at the Queen’s College, Oxford, and am the proud owner of both a duffel coat and a scarf in my college colours.
The reason I have not been wearing either during this holiday is that this winter it has done nothing but rain, rendering all that wool completely useless.
I suspect that, like me, most students are finding a cagoule more useful at present.
SIR – There are still some students, myself included, who do wear the colours of the university. However, the scarves are overpriced at about £40 – a large sum for students living on a budget.
If the price were reduced, perhaps more students would wear university scarves.
SIR – I have just given my granddaughter a university scarf for Christmas. She was delighted.
Herne Bay, Kent
SIR – As one who has completed a “Dry January” for the past four years, I would like to give Allison Pearson a word of warning: don’t over-celebrate finishing the month.
The potential to feel terrible on February 2 is very real.
SIR – I have just found a list of mnemonics that I compiled many years ago.
Three that I particularly remember are: one for remembering trigonometric functions, Some People Have (sine = perpendicular / hypotenuse); Curly Black Hair (cosine = base / hypotenuse); and To Push Back (tan = perpendicular / base).
Where hunting fails
SIR – Riders and hounds cause great disturbance to wildlife while they charge around. A hunt meets frequently where I live, and I have witnessed the deliberate working of a pack of hounds through a mile or two of dense reed bed in order to flush out foxes. Not only does this disturb reed bed inhabitants, but it also ignores the fact that these same reed beds have status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area.
Fox controls do not need the traditional mass of riders and hounds charging about all day in order to be effective. What are the totals of foxes killed during most of these hunts – one? Two? A team in a vehicle at night with high-powered rifles and spotlights would be far more efficient.
SIR – Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, says that the charity’s purpose is “stopping animal abuse without fear or favour”. But while it spends millions on fighting foxhunting, it has not one word to say about fishing.
Colossus of computing
SIR – The first stored-program computer was built by Prof Frederic Williams and his team at Manchester University. Their Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), aka “Baby”, first ran on June 21 1948.
As with many computing machines of the period, Colossus didn’t have an electronic memory. The SSEM was built specifically to demonstrate the concept of electronic memory using cathode ray tubes as the store, which it did. It was developed to become the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first commercially available computer.
If I ruled the world
SIR – Day in, day out, British politicians and European Union bureaucrats say and propose ridiculous things.
A day or so later, Daily Telegraph letter-writers puncture the nonsensical and add the commonsense checks that normal mortals, with their feet planted firmly on the ground, would have applied before opening their mouths or pressing “send”.
Could a band of Telegraph letter-writers run this country in 2014?
West Woodhay, Berkshire
Females at the forefront of Britain’s railways
SIR – Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, has deemed the Thomas the Tank Engine stories sexist . She argues that the dominance of male characters discourages girls from considering a career in the rail industry.
She should visit the Bluebell Railway, where steam trains can be run by all-women footplate crews – for example, driver Liz Groome and fireman Ruth Lee.
Or at the other end of the industry, see what a good job Elaine Holt, the then chairman of East Coast Trains, did on Britain’s premier railway line.
Benedict le Vay
SIR – That the shadow transport secretary should reveal her colours over the Rev W Awdry’s children’s favourite probably comes as little surprise to those who love the wonderful differences between the genders.
My attempts to interest my granddaughters in trains has failed, despite the fact that locally we have the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railway, HS1, Eurostar and the run-of-the-mill Southeastern.
Girls go for pink and stereotypical girly toys. Boys, meanwhile, despite the enormous influence of their mothers and female teachers, still go for parking articulated toy lorries, construction and, yes, toy trains.
About 5 per cent of genes differ between male and female. Come on Mary Creagh, give your politically correct mission a break.
SIR – Congratulations are due to all honoured in the New Year list, but it is a matter of regret that so few scientists are included.
Many who might have been honoured have already been elected Fellows of the Royal Society, and no greater honour exists. They themselves do not seek recognition, but their treatment sends out the wrong message to young people.
More than ever, the country needs to attract the best brains to discover, invent, and develop new ideas. It should be made clear how much we appreciate the endeavours of our scientists. The honours system is the best way to do this.
Major Colin Robins
Strictly for the birds: tracking a blue tit in winter
01 Jan 2014
SIR – The reintroduction in 2012 of the British Empire Medal (BEM) by David Cameron has again resulted in a goodly tranche of awards to civilians in the New Year’s honours list. I note that the medal has still not been reintroduced for the military.
Sir John Major’s idea of a classless society, and his concomitant scrapping of the BEM, has served only to ensure that non-commissioned ranks of the Armed Forces have virtually ceased to feature in the bi-annual honours lists. Of 47 awards to members of the Army in the New Year list, 39 were to commissioned officers, four to Warrant Officers Class 1 (who were always eligible for the MBE), and only four to other ranks – a number which, in Mr Cameron’s own words, is disproportionately low.
The Army is anything but a classless organisation, and awards are made on a strict rank basis. It seems that the system still cannot bring itself to give officers’ awards to other ranks and, having no other option, gives them nothing.
SIR – It was a surprise to see the Order of Merit included in the honours list. These honours in the personal gift of the Queen have previously been announced after the death of a member left a vacancy in their group of 24.
The OM sometimes seemed to be a valedictory accolade for the eminently meritorious. Ted Hughes’s membership lasted three months in 1998, and was beaten by Cardinal Hume’s two weeks the following year. But members are getting younger. If the appointment of such spritely world-shakers as Neil MacGregor, Tim Berners-Lee and now Simon Rattle continues, the OM could, in effect, become closed for decades. In an age of aspiration, it is a discouraging prospect.
Icklesham, East Sussex
SIR – I am not alone in thinking that the New Year’s honours list is a farce.
I am sure that the first political party to state in its manifesto that it intended to abolish the system would win the election hands down.
Sir, – Only in Ireland could the continuing mass emigration of our youngest and brightest be spun as a good news story. Under the heading “Emigration to fall as economy improves, says ESRI” (Home News, December 27th) your report confirms an ESRI estimate of 78,000 people who will leave the country in the year to April 2014. As this figure represents a drop of 14 per cent on the previous year’s exodus of 89,000, it is trumpeted as “the lowest net migration figure since 2008-09.”
It might be appropriate to put these latest figures into an historical context. Of the last 10 decades of our so-called independence, eight have been marked by mass unemployment and mass emigration, a pattern that continues as strongly today as it did when my father was forced to leave these shores in the 1950s and before him his eldest sister in the 1920s. I had to repeat my father’s journey to England in the 1980s.
Now I look at my children and wonder where they will they end up in the decades ahead as this State faces into decades of repaying the debts of private bankers.
This is the shameful legacy of unbroken conservative rule in our country, a rule that our electorate still seems determined to cling to despite all the evidence of its failure. The carnival of reaction continues. – Yours, etc,
Castleconnell, Co Limerick.
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole in his column (Opinion, December 17th) correctly highlighted three key bailout truths which can only now be told. I have an interest in the second of these truths – that of the plan to “burn the senior bondholders in Anglo-Irish Bank”.
Since 2000 I have been board chairman of an investment fund based in the IFSC. All the investors are EU residents and investment management is delegated to a European fund manager. During the crisis period of 2007-2011 the fund held senior bonds issued by Anglo-Irish Bank and two Icelandic banks attracted by the above-average yields. They were small holdings and represented little over 1 per cent of the fund’s total assets. So a total write-off would have been embarrassing for the investment managers but not serious for the thousands of investors who would be protected by the normal risk-spreading policies.
Because of the explicit guarantee granted by the Irish government in September 2010 the Anglo-Irish bond held a price of around 90 cents whereas the Icelandic bonds fell rapidly to prices of 25 cents and 6 cents respectively, reflecting that country’s decision not to guarantee bondholders.
In due course the Anglo-Irish bond matured on March 2nd, 2011 and was repaid in full. The Icelandic bonds continue to be priced at their distressed prices.
It is now clear that the fund’s investors owe a debt of gratitude not only to Irish taxpayers but also to Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank who demanded that no bank bondholders should be burned. That decision has cost this country some €7 billion in respect of Anglo-Irish and Irish Nationwide alone, enough to complete the children’s hospital, the LUAS extension and a multitude of other needed projects.
Michael Noonan, thanks for trying to recoup these monies but you and Brian Lenihan were dealing with a Eurocrat with other things on his mind. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Pádraig Ó hUiginn’s letter (December 12th) prompted me to write. I am a former principal officer of much more recent vintage (retired February 2012). I had responsibility with others for Department of Environment housing division’s policy and funding for homeless services. Our objective was to ensure delivery of effective, person-centred services in order to prevent, intervene, stabilise and return each client/family to independent housing and supports appropriate to their needs in the shortest possible timeframe.
So, what does the State provide via the tax and ratepayer and what charity organisations got the money? Recent Parliamentary Question replies to Deputy Terence Flanagan of November 26th, 2013 (Dáil Debates Nos 489 & 657) confirm my former department provided revenue funding of €46.5 million to county and city councils in 2012 towards the operational costs of adult and family homeless accommodation and related services; councils’ own resources provided a further €4.5m (circa 10 per cent); while HSE social inclusion taxpayer funding provided a further €33 million to bodies working in the area of health and social care services to tackle adult, child and family homelessness during 2012; making €84 million public funding in total in 2012, not including the Department of Social Protection income and rent supplement to individual/family homeless services users.
So, what organisations got the money? A Parliamentary Question reply to Deputy Sandra McLellan on October 23rd, 2013 (Dáil Debates No 63) indicated revenue funding by Department of Environment and county/city councils to voluntary sector providers in 2012 totalled €26.11 million and included amounts over €1m to individual charities, as follows: Simon Communities Ireland – €5m, Focus Ireland – €3.93m, Crosscare – €2.63m, St. Vincent de Paul – €2.49m; DePaul Trust – €2.2m; Novas – €1.92m; Salvation Army €1.82m; Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) – €1.53m; with seven other charities receiving amounts ranging down from €939,000 to €253,000. This is in addition to similar amounts or more provided by HSE to the same organisations. Big business indeed for these charity service providers, but a search of their respective websites, with the honourable exceptions of Arlington Novas & PMVT, will show opaque if any disclosure of this (taxpayers’) funding! So where is the media hue and cry on behalf of the taxpayer/donor?
The “Rough Sleeper” report (Home News, December 4th) refers to 139 people sleeping rough in Dublin on November 12th, an increase of 45 in just six months, being described by Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan as unacceptable and troubling. What troubles me is that the Dublin Simon Community and Focus Ireland are tasked and funded by the public purse to provide an outreach and placement service for rough sleepers in Dublin from early morning to late night. Why are they not called to account for their performance? The Simon Communities of Ireland have one national office head and eight regional office heads/CEOs – who in the media has sought information on their salaries?
In my recent experience, dedicated housing Ministers Michael Finneran, Willie Penrose and Jan O’Sullivan – with their senior Ministers and department officials – have worked tirelessly to protect budgets and deliver housing-led policy solutions for homeless people and families, while some institutional charity service providers have subjected Ministers to, in my view, unfair criticism.
Despite my overall reservations about the management and finances at the top of the larger homeless organisations, I think staff and volunteers working to improve the plight of homeless people day and night, such as the soup run, the detox and mental health workers, deserve enormous credit and thanks for their efforts with people who are the most marginalised and lost in our society.
I would also have high regard for the approach of individual charities, for example, the Iveagh Trust and Threshold placement and tenancy services in securing independent living for homeless people referred to their services.
So, let’s see more people going “home” in 2014 and less protocols, bureaucracy and institutionalisation all round. – Is mise,
Sir, – For years the health services North and South of the Border have been justifying cutbacks in medical services over the shortage of medical professionals in areas such as emergency medicine.
It has long since become obvious that: 1. The universities are not doing their job in delivering medical professionals. 2. The medical profession in Ireland must lose control over training and numbers being trained because of their manifest failure in this and other areas over many years.
The two governments need to act to solve this problem once and for all. Why not allow hospitals or trusts to sponsor students in areas of skills shortage in exchange for commitment to work for an agreed number of years in an areas of skills shortage?
Restrictive practices have to be addressed urgently here as in other professions – why does the medical profession feel it has immunity? We must normalise the labour market in the medical profession.
Cllr CADOGAN ENRIGHT,
St Patrick’s Avenue,
Sir, – Noel Whelan (Opinion,December 28th) rightly highlights Lucinda Creighton’s political contribution to date and her unnecessary loss to the current Government because the Taoiseach took such a “hard man stance” on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, buoyed up by opinion polls following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.
While Whelan considers Creighton, a politician of conscience but out of touch with the views of the majority on the issue; he fails like others in the media to consider the actual arguments Creighton made, specifically that the Bill was flawed by not including time limits and so failed to consider the human rights of the unborn. Ironically, this is the same issue that is now being debated in the UK and US regarding a review of abortion legislation that is perceived as too liberal, neglecting the rights of near-viable and viable unborn. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The publication by the Higher Educational Authority of a Performance Evaluation Framework for Higher Education (December 28th) purports to facilitate a new approach to strategic planning in such organisations and the attainment of national objectives.
The omission of any reference to the gender profile of those in senior academic and senior management positions is surprising, since it is now widely accepted that diversity is associated with innovation.
The EU has been concerned about the under-representation of women in senior academic and management positions in higher education, and sees it as reflecting systemic and organisational issues. The OECD (2012) sees gender equality initiatives as contributing to economic growth.
In Ireland over four-fifths of senior academics and of those in senior management positions in publicly funded universities are men. Yet the Higher Educational Authority does not see the gender profile of those in these positions as meriting monitoring. Is this an example of turkeys unwillingness to vote for Christmas? – Yours, etc,
Prof of Sociology and Social
Department of Sociology,
Sir, – I saw no mention in your various round-ups of 2013 about how the direct provision system of dealing with asylum-seekers in Ireland will, in time, become the defining characteristic of our country.
I’m sure in years to come there will be plenty of remorse and hand-wringing and perhaps even an apology in the Dáil, but this wrong is occurring right now, on our watch. Meanwhile, those responsible lobby hypocritically for an amnesty for Irish economic migrants in other countries. Can we not just learn from past mistakes instead of repeating them all the time? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Reading about the unexpected demand for condoms which became available on prescription following the enactment of the the Health (Family Planning) Act 1979 (1983 State papers, Home News, December 27th) brought back memories of my teenage years – not that most of us teenagers required condoms back then!
In particular, I remember having above my bed in boarding school, a poster of Charlie Haughey and a number of other prominent political and religious figures, including the then archbishop of Dublin. The poster showed all these leading male figures to be clearly with child. The caption from memory was “If they could get pregnant, would we have this bill?”
A telling poster, and one I wish I still had a copy of, to remind me of where we were then and whether our journey since has led us for better, or for worse. – Yours, etc,
St Lawrence Road,
Sir, – Anthony Leavy (December 30th) asks why enough people did not “blow the whistle on the reckless abandon” of the Celtic Tiger boom. Surely, it’s because a culture is almost always stronger than any individual within it. – Yours, etc,
JAMES A QUINN,
Sir, – The Taoiseach is quite right to respect the will of the people in the recent referendum.
The people voted to keep the Seanad as it is constituted, not to change it. There was no option for change. – Yours, etc,
THOMAS J CLARK,
Sir, – John F Jordan (December 27th) is perfectly entitled to stimulate debate regarding health professional fees, but the figures he uses should be both reliable and quoted in context.
Comparing GP fees in Ireland to Belgium he attributes a cost of €60 to attending GP here. However, the well-respected 2010 National Consumer Agency report on GP fees found the average “standard” fee was €51. “Standard” fees are usually maximum fees, and these report do not take into account average fees which include reduced charges, or in some cases no charges, for children, those in financial difficulty, multiple family members together, review consultations and telephone consultations.
Also, possibly 20 per cent of the clinical consultations in general practice in Ireland are performed by practice nurses, and these would not attract a “standard” charge. Therefore the true average consultation fee in Ireland would be far lower than €51.
Belgian GPs often work alone without any administration or nursing support, which is very similar to how Irish general practice operated in the 1970s. Belgian patients are refunded much of the fee of €32 through their health insurance, therefore they will be charged the full fee for each consultation. Patients will not have the opportunity to be tended to by a nurse or even an administrator, explaining the higher GP consultation rates in Belgium compared to Ireland.
The evidence promoting healthcare change should be both reliable and convincing before new policy is enacted. The problem with the current debate in Ireland is that it is often lacking in both balance and reliable data. – Yours, etc,
Dr WILLIAM BEHAN,
Sir, – The re-publishing of 40 of the year’s letters (Opinion, December 27th) exercises Edith Wynne (Letters, December 28th) more than somewhat. She states that 80 per cent of the letters were from men and that “that tells its own story”. It tells a number of stories if one could be bothered searching for them – what particularly convoluted point is she trying to make? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The support by Karen O’Leary of the National Consumer Agency (Home News, December 28th) for below-cost selling and vegetable price wars is so compelling that I would like to recommend the Government pay less for the vegetables sitting on many of the quangos it promised to abolish.
In Ms O’Leary’s own words “lower prices are good for the consumer” and in line with her views why not begin with her agency. – Yours, etc,
Bullock Park, Carlow.
Elaborating on the recent nonsensical comments by Jose Manuel Barroso, A Leavy (Letters, December 31) overlooks some basic facts. Nobody is seriously suggesting that “all in the garden would be rosy” if we didn’t repay the reckless bondholders that invested in equally reckless banks. However, the burden being shouldered by Irish citizens would be considerably more bearable had these huge financial institutions been forced to shoulder their own fair share.
Also in this section
Letters: A game that will go down in history
Tribute to a man’s courage and foresight
Haughey did not invent ‘cute hoorism’
When you make a reckless investment that subsequently goes bad, then you lose that investment. That is one of the basic tenets of capitalism. Except, of course, if you happen to have been a major European bank that invested recklessly in Irish basketcase banks, in which case the Irish citizen will ensure you don’t lose a cent of your bad bet. Even the IMF recognises the need for Ireland to recoup some of the cost of saving the banking system. It is only our ‘friends’ in Europe that are determined to see Ireland repay every last cent of the bank recapitalisation debt.
Despite the now-annual cuts in public services and increases in stealth taxes being endured by the Irish people, Mr Barroso could not help but lay the blame for all of Europe’s woes at the feet of Ireland and we have a steady trickle of Irish citizens willing to pat Mr Barroso on the back and bemoan our own lack of gratitude. Perhaps they have an ideological attachment to the EU project.
We do indeed have to take our own share of responsibility: government policies during the boom certainly fostered the culture of risk and greed that led us to our current austere state. Those same policies were encouraged and even driven by our current government parties while they were in opposition.
The failure of our own politicians, of every hue, however, should not allow large investment banks to avoid responsibility for their own failed investments. Yet that is the ‘bailout’ that has been imposed on us. It is time we realised that our “friends” in the EU are not concerned about fairness or the best interests of Irish citizens.
CRUMLIN, DUBLIN 12
* In response to my letter criticising EC President Jose Manuel Barroso’s recent scathing attack on Ireland, A Leavy (Letters, December 31) accused me of revisionism. Indeed, if it’s the general consensus that our current economic predicament is our fault entirely, then I am, without doubt, advocating a revisionist view.
Mr Leavy refers to pre-bailout Irish banks as if they were arms of the State. They were not. Would he suggest that we take on the debt burden of every insolvent business in the country, even those, like Anglo and Irish Nationwide, that cease to exist after their debts are paid in full? I would think not.
We did need a bailout to help balance our annual budget as we sought to rein our deficit in. But this could have been done with the assistance of the IMF alone, an institution in favour of the bondholders taking a hit. If this had happened, then the burden on the taxpayer would have been a great deal less. Instead our partners in the EU and ECB decided that the Irish people should take full responsibility for all bank debt. I am often bemused when I hear people say that the EU and ECB have our best interests at heart, and find it somewhat akin to Stockholm syndrome.
PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH
PUBLIC SECTOR BONUSES
* So junior minister Brian Hayes feels that public servants should receive bonuses for jobs well done.
Why not pay full salary to those public servants who achieve or exceed goals and penalise those who do not?
GOREY, CO WEXFORD
* I read with incredulity Brian Hayes’s comments in relation to remuneration in the public sector.
In a throwback to Celtic Tiger years, when bonuses were thrown out like confetti to departments heads, secretaries, all high-ranking public servants, he now intends to enhance middle-ranking servants — that is, teachers, nurses, guards etc — and pay for those who deliver “exceptional service”.
In a recent internal review carried out by department bosses regarding staff performance, predictably results were 99pc “exceeding performance” with less than 1pc being judged as “needing improvement”.
Based on this analysis, virtually all civil servants would qualify for such bonuses.
Why on earth’s name would he choose to further enhance the most protected workers in Ireland who have guaranteed jobs for life or hugely inflated voluntary severance packages, and enjoy massive pensions.
In sharp contrast, such terms and conditions are unheard of for the vast majority of workers in the private sector, where so many people are trying to survive on wages of €300 to €400 per week; then, there are our pensioners, who may have saved through their personal pension schemes throughout their working lives only to find that the Government has hacked away much of the funds through levies. This insanity needs to be halted now.
The solution is quite clear — if the public sector worker does his/her job well, they should get paid. In the event they do not meet the required standard, they should receive a pay cut or be dismissed, as is the case in the private sector.
BATTLE OF CLONTARF
* Referring to Monday’s letter from Tom May on “1014 must equal 1916″ and the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf, I would like to say I fully agree with his sentiment.
In the broader historical context, I feel that 1014 millennium commemorations will be a useful lead into the centenary commemorations over the next few years. To have people engage with a less emotive and further distant topic of the Battle of Clontarf can help condition people to see how our history is far more complex than often portrayed.
Many groups are planning events around the country including Clontarf, Swords, Dublin, Killaloe, Cashel and Armagh and we are still hopeful that support will come at this late stage from the Government.
In Clontarf, community groups are working closely with Dublin City Council to deliver a programme of events to commemorate the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf.
Details of the programme are now available on our community website — http://www.clontarf.ie/2014. Our first event of 2014 will be an evening lecture in the Clasac, Clontarf, on January 13, with events each month leading to a culmination of events during Easter 2014.
CLONTARF 2014 COMMITTEE
CLONTARF, DUBLIN 3
A PARTY FOR ONE
* Jools Holland saw out the old year with customary style and aplomp
I hope I can shake it off as easily; but it may take more than a few soulful tunes, masterful though they were, to shed the blues that descended in 2013. I am looking forward to a bright shining new year. We all need to rise out of the collective despond that has shrouded the country. Right through Christmas, I was struck by the look of pained anxiety on the faces of shoppers in the capital. We need to remember that each of us has unique control over our individual happiness index. I plan on resetting mine to glass half full mode. There is no point in waiting for anyone else to get the party started.
T G Gavin
KILLINEY, CO DUBLIN
1 January 2014 New Years Eve
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. The have been sent off to Batawanaland to pick up an old frigate that the Batawanalanders no longer wish to rent from the Royal Navy, but their new one sinks and the want the old one back. And our heroes have to fly home. Priceless.
Nexus comes and I set it up potter around
Scrabbletoday Mary wins and get justunder 400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.
74, was part of the satire boom of the 1960s, and continued to lampoon the Establishment in the New Labour era.
As Tony Blair’s government, encouraged by a hopeful electorate and a compliant media, took power in 1997, satire seemed a thing of the past. The Sixties spirit of Peter Cook’s Establishment Club had long since faded; the barbs that poured from the latex mouths of Spitting Image’s puppets had fallen silent in 1996. The Conservative Party was on the run. When in 2001 Nigel Wattis, the television director, produced a documentary on Fortune and his longtime comedy partner, John Bird, he noted: “Along with [the impressionist] Rory Bremner, they’re the only real political opposition we have.”
This despite the fact that Fortune put himself “pretty far to the Left” on the political spectrum. Yet just a year into the New Labour administration, Bird and Fortune were working on a comedy special. Years before others put the boot in, the duo had pinpointed the government’s particular weakness: “It’s a combination of the authoritarianism of a Labour Party with a big majority and the fact that they all hate each other’s guts.”
The form of Fortune’s satire with Bird, in a series of spoof interviews called The Long Johns, seemed at first blush to be far from cutting. Rather than tautly shaped gags and one-liners, the two men engaged in apparently rambling sketches in which they took turns to play the Establishment crony – banker, politician, businessman, diplomat, or oil man, always called George Parr – and his increasingly baffled interviewer. The comedy came, as Fortune noted, from getting Parr “either to tell the truth or to defend the indefensible. Like British defence policy. Then you don’t have to make up jokes. You just say it.”
As the minutes of each sketch rolled by, the delightfully pompous interviewee would happily reveal, without blush, the flabbergasting oversights, ignorance or simple criminality behind his trade. With absurdity piled on absurdity, the straight face and enduring, if somewhat quizzical, deference of the interviewer only served to heighten the comedy.
It was a double act, broadcast first on Rory Bremner’s Who Else? programme and then on Bremner, Bird and Fortune (1999 to 2008), that seemed almost effortless. And so indeed it was. Bird and Fortune would meet for a few hours before each broadcast, pick a topic, and then try to make each other laugh. The result was that their performances were neither improvised, nor scripted, but somewhere in between.
Not that they could afford to be laissez-faire with the facts. Each statistic or detail was rigorously researched, and the sketches were run past lawyers before being broadcast. On one occasion, John Bird was playing a BP executive, and Fortune asked him: “So wouldn’t you say that everything you have ever done in your life has been a complete disaster?” When Bird answered: “Yes”, the lawyers objected. So the patter was modified – if only very slightly.
Fortune claimed not to enjoy working too hard to get in character. “We don’t rehearse because I’m far too lazy,” he said. “You know what people are like. If you did rehearse, they’d make you do it for hours.” In Who’s Who, he listed his recreations as “Lounging About”.
It seemed that the pair did not need to work too hard. The send-ups of assorted oleaginous figures was lent particular credence because, as Oxbridge-educated performers, Bird and Fortune always appeared convincing in role. Fortune – tall, eyebrows arched – was particularly credible as the patrician politician or corrupt banker. But in reality such characters could not have been further from his origins.
The son of a commercial traveller for small engineering firms, John Fortune was born John Wood on June 30 1939 in St George, a working-class district of Bristol. There was no bathroom and the lavatory was outside. At Bristol Cathedral Choir School, where the English master, Teddy Martin, introduced him to TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, he abandoned an early ambition to become a laboratory assistant and went up to King’s College, Cambridge, on an open scholarship to read English. There he met Peter Cook, became a founding director of the Footlights, and flirted with Trotskyism before graduating in 1960.
His early stage career began the following year at Cook’s Establishment Club in Soho where he was paid £20 a week (his father was only earning £16). He auditioned Barry Humphries for the Establishment, and worked with the actress Eleanor Bron. But a brief venture in America meant that he and Bird missed out on the televised launch of That Was The Week That Was.
Having settled in Scotland, he made weekly trips to London to appear in Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964-65); BBC3 (1965-66); The Late Show; and later The Frost Report.
But it was his connection with Bird, whom he had first met at the Establishment, and Bremner that catapulted him into the mainstream. Initially introduced merely as a foil to Bremner’s impressions, the Bird and Fortune act soon became an essential part of the show. They shared a Bafta in 1997 for their work on Who Else? and were nominated a further four times.
Latterly Fortune appeared in the award-winning Radio 4 sitcom Ed Reardon’s Week, in which he played the head of a literary agency.
He was the author of four books: a satirical novel written with John Wells, A Melon for Ecstasy (1971); Is Your Marriage Really Necessary? (1972, with Eleanor Bron); The Long Johns (1996, with John Bird); and (with John Bird and Rory Bremner) You Are Here (2004).
Apart from lounging about, John Fortune enjoyed music, particularly jazz and Scarlatti. He also loved food and cooking, putting any self-indulgence down to his experience growing up during post-war rationing. In particular he liked to forage for fungi, armed with a guidebook in order to avoid the poisonous varieties, afterwards preparing a mushroom risotto with his spoils.
John Fortune married, in 1962, Susannah Waldo, with whom he had three children. The marriage was dissolved in 1976, and in 1995 he married Emma Burge, a film producer, who survives him with the children of his first marriage.
John Fortune, born June 30 1939, died December 31 2013
I have to congratulate you in publishing the screamingly funny article on Sacha Baron Cohen’s new creation Yevgeny Chichvarkin (When mobile phone tycoon fled Moscow for London, 28 December). How does he do it? His character’s observations on the poor are hilarious. I do hope he makes a film – it will be the comedy of the year.
• I was very interested in the Open door about Guardian readers (23 December). As a congenital Tory and rugger aficionado, I enjoy the paper every week, especially on Saturdays – sometimes it is even free with Waitrose shopping. I agree with many of the articles and then I turn to the humour section, better known as “letters and emails”; there is often displayed a worrying amount of bigotry and sanctimonious twaddle. I also checked my score against the survey results and found I fitted about half of the criteria. Clearly, Guardian readers have moved on from my student days with quiche and sandals.
• Illustrating a summer heatwave with a picture of sunbathers crammed on to Brighton beach is something of an enjoyable journalistic cliche. It was a surprise therefore to see the recent storms represented by a picture of a sea-lashed Brighton (Report, 31 December)
Eastbourne, East Sussex
• How splendid to see the extended space given to the Country diary this week and the inclusion of photographs. The knowledge displayed by your diarists, and the high quality of their writing, deserves to be recognised by making these changes permanent.
• Aren’t the latest comments from Alastair Cook just duck-filled platitudes (Sport, 30 December)?
• Some letter to go in here. Could be from Keith Flett or Peter Barnes (Some type to go in here relating to the element opposite …, front page, first edition, 30 December).
Your report (28 December) brings welcome attention to a remarkable group of 400 East Anglian parish churches containing pre-Reformation painted rood screens. It was because of their international significance that the Church of England’s church buildings council, in partnership with the Headley Trust and Hamilton Kerr Institute of Cambridge University, set up a project to identify the conservation issues surrounding these screens. The intention is then to undertake further conservation to enable them to remain in the churches where they belong. The C of E’s 16,000 parish churches are among Europe’s finest historic buildings and display an unparalleled array of treasures, rivalling the collections of the world’s great museums and attracting millions of visitors. Yet their care and conservation falls on local parishes, who need support to care for their treasures. The council through its 100 Church Treasures campaign is fundraising to conserve these national treasures (see www.churchcare.co.uk).
Director, Church of England cathedral and church buildings division
• Whether the Church of England remains established, the future of its buildings remain a challenge. Once the generation of current 60- to 80-year-olds have died, who will be the volunteers to maintain these historic buildings when many local churches are not attracting people aged between 18 to 40? Church buildings at the local level need to have stakeholders from local communities. This means being able to develop church buildings that are multipurpose and open Monday to Friday.
Rev David Woodall
Among the many crucial omissions in the letter “Time to end Israel’s Gaza blockade” (28 December), the most striking is any reference to the responsibility of the Hamas terrorist organisation, which has taken Gaza hostage.
There was, it should be recalled, no blockade on Gaza before Hamas launched hundreds of rockets forcing over 1 million Israelis to live within seconds of bomb shelters. Nor would there be any reason for the restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt on Gaza if Hamas were not working ceaselessly to acquire weaponry to carry out further attacks.
Palestinians too pay the price for Hamas’s brutality and corruption. The electricity shortage in Gaza is a result of Hamas’s refusal to pay the Palestinian Authority standard tax on the fuel it is receiving. As a Palestinian representative in London said recently: “Since Hamas took power in Gaza, there are 1,200 new millionaires who have taken advantage of the tunnel industry and the fuel transfers”. Finally, Gaza is not the same size as Newcastle. Gaza is 360 sq km while Newcastle is less than a third of that size, at 113 sq km.
Spokesperson, Embassy of Israel
In response to the desperate plight of Syrian refugees (Migration: politics of fear, 31 December) we are writing in support of the Refugee Council’s campaign to urge the government to allow some of them to settle in the UK. We in the Jewish community know only too well the perils of being refugees and the indifference that too often meets their attempt to find sanctuary.
Syrians now make up the largest refugee group in the world. It is estimated there are more than 2.2 million, 1 million of whom are children, deeply traumatised by their experiences. We appreciate that this is not a job for Britain alone, but we must do our fair share, and join other European countries who have already pledged to take in Syrian refugees. This is why we are calling for the government to work with UNHCR and the international community to establish a worldwide resettlement programme. It is the very least we can do.
Dr Edie Friedman Executive director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Rabbi Sybil Sheridan Chair, Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, Rabbi Alexandra Wright, Jeremy Beecham House of Lords, Geoffrey Bindman QC, Professor Marc Saperstein, Professor Stephen Frosh, June Jacobs, Judith Ellenbogen
• You rightly argue that Britain should open its doors to the Syrian refugees. However, experience shows that refugee flow, once begun, induces its own flow. When Britain decided to allow in Tamil refugees in the 1980s, the flow began with a trickle. Today, Britain’s Tamil population stands at half a million, and growing. Let Syrian refugees come, but let their stay be temporary.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• The debate on immigration is always presented in the context of benefits, yet the real issue is that England is both the most densely populated country in Europe and the one with the fastest growth in population. Such numbers are not sustainable. Of course house prices rise, the price of land is rising. As our population grows, we need more land for agriculture, not less. It would be wonderful to have a debate on immigration that took account of these issues instead of giving would-be immigrants unsavoury labels in an effort to keep them out. It would be even better if we could discuss population as an issue that could be affected by humane and liberal policies. We need a policy on population. In such a context other countries might well be comfortable with Britain seeking a balanced approach to immigration.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• Among other evidence, the latest results of DNA-marker research make it clear that we British are all immigrants, the last ice age having scoured the land of all previous occupants, leaving these isles at the back of beyond to be resettled from abroad, a process that began about 9000BC.
This week, at one of the most pressured times of the year, hundreds of thousands of dedicated NHS staff throughout the country will be providing high-quality healthcare to millions of patients – something that often got lost amid last year’s headlines. As we move into 2014 can we, as organisations representing the NHS frontline, call for a new page to be turned as we start a new year? The failures in patient care must be addressed, and part of doing this means, in the words of Professor Don Berwick’s review of patient safety, leaving “fear, blame, recrimination and demoralisation” behind, and going forward with energy and optimism.
Undoubtedly, there are challenges to face in ensuring we have the high-quality service that everyone in the NHS wants to offer, including increasing demand on services and the need to do more with tighter budgets. But we need to reach a more measured view of how the NHS is performing. We must strike the right balance between recognising the extraordinary achievements that NHS staff deliver every day and the need for improvement highlighted by the Francis report. Rather than looking back to the failures of the past, we now need to devote our time and energy to meeting the very real challenges we face to secure a sustainable NHS for the future.
Chris Hopson Chief executive, Foundation Trust Network, Dr Mark Porter Chair of council, BMA, Dr Clifford Mann President, College of Emergency Medicine, Matt Tee COO, NHS Confederation, Phil Gray Chief executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Dr Maureen Baker Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Cathy Warwick Chief executive, Royal College of Midwives, Dr Peter Carter Chief executive and general secretary, Royal College of Nursing, Richard Thompson President, Royal College of Physicians, Professor Sue Bailey President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
• It’s worth contrasting the government’s latest miserly and cruel rationing of NHS services (Tourists and migrants to be charged to use NHS emergency services, 30 December), with Cuba’s approach to health needs – a country with a GDP per capita of 15% of the UK’s. At home, Cuba has provided long-term care for 18,000 victims of the Chernobyl disaster and has provided eye surgery, at no cost, for hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans. A recent study by Professor John M Kirk reported that Cuba has more medical personnel serving abroad than the G8 nations combined. As of April 2012, there were 38,868 Cuban medical professionals working in 66 countries, of whom 15,047 were doctors.
Cuba’s medical internationalism programme rarely gets reported, although it did when the country offered 1,500 medical professionals to the US to support the disaster relief effort after Hurricane Katrina – which George W Bush rejected. When Bevan founded the NHS he said it would be based on the principles that it would meet the needs of everyone, be free at the point of delivery and be based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Comparing that with the mean-spirited utterings of David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, he sounds like Fidel Castro.
• Your article on charges for antenatal care and childbirth (Report, 28 December) said that the health of migrant women and their children were being put at risk, but failed to give details of the rules or how to contest charges being made by NHS trusts misapplying rules. It seemed that all immigrant women were being charged – though a moment’s thought would have raised questions about EU nationals. On checking, it emerges that asylum seekers and women who have overstayed visas can be charged. However, if they cannot pay, then services are still provided – something that the article did say. So it would be helpful to reduce worry for women with valid visas, refugee status or waiting to hear about asylum claims, if it were made clear that they will not be charged.
• The last time NHS staff were ordered to refuse to treat foreign patients without charge was during Thatcher’s leadership. Shortly after, I was called to see a distressed woman who’d brought her sick baby to our hospital’s children’s ward. Before I arrived, an enthusiastic administrator had told her that while she was entitled to treatment as the daughter of a US serviceman stationed in the UK, her baby had no such right. She had already been given the same information at the military hospital, which is why she had come to us. By the time I attended she had left, her baby unexamined and untreated.
I felt deeply ashamed on behalf of my department and my hospital that we had been the expression of our politicians’ parsimony. I’m appalled that my successors may be forced into adopting the same commercial approach to those needing help.
Dr Harvey Marcovitch
Seumas Milne might have missed the real picture when he writes: “The US has been boosting its military presence in the archipelago of bases in the Gulf, and the Middle East will continue to be crucial to the global energy market” (6 December). It should be clear that the United States is actually withdrawing from the global stage.
Exhausted by two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, most Americans are suffering from what can be called “terminal combat fatigue syndrome”: the reluctance to shed any more American blood and treasure in distant lands. This explains why the US has refused to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war.
Opposition to America’s foreign involvement is also coming from ultra-conservative groups. Rallying conservatives opposed to intervention in Syria suggests an organised political movement led by the right-wing Tea Party to oppose any foreign military intervention abroad.
Since its inception in 2009, the Tea Party movement focused on economics, fighting off other issues as distractions from its core mission to drastically reduce public spending. “There has to be money spent when you buy Tomahawk missiles to lob over Damascus,” said David A Dickerson, a leader of the Barren County Patriots in Kentucky. “My feeling is we don’t need to involve ourselves in a civil war halfway around the world when we have the needs we have at home, like bringing spending under control.”
Facing the dual pressures of the combat fatigue and financial crunch, the US is clearly withdrawing from the global scene. The recent deal with Iran offers it an opportunity to reduce its military presence in the region. But if America is reluctant to act as the global policeman, who will?
Israel and the bomb
Binyamin Netanyahu knows that nuclear arms are an obstacle to Palestine peace talks (13 December). But what he says about a possible Iranian bomb is just as true of his own. In a two-state future, a still nuclear-armed Israel would perpetuate the long unjust imbalance in that land between Jew and Arab.
If Netanyahu is really “ready for historic compromise that ends the conflict between us once and for all” and not “unwilling to show flexibility”, he should also finally renounce Israel’s own nuclear weapons, even if their president Shimon Peres vows “Over my dead body”. Those peoples, and the world, cannot wait for that eventuality.
Nelson, New Zealand
Where democracy falls down
Jonathan Freedland’s article on democracy (13 December) is confused at best and incoherent at worst. Democracy may “not solely exist to provide good, functioning governance”, but if it cannot provide some semblance of it, then what is its purpose?
Freedland outlines Indian discontent with the political system and the corruption that is prevalent throughout the state bureaucracy, then goes on to conclude that because “everyone is represented” and issues “get played out” we should take comfort in the fact we have “the right to vote”. Light a fire, hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
If democracies don’t strive for good governance and all that it entails, then no matter how much everyone gets to voice their opinions, discontent grows and elections merely vacillate from one inept party to another that promises change but does very little to change the lot of those who voted.
Maybe the problem is not democracy in India and South Africa, but the size and diversity of these countries. Maybe democracy’s stumbling block is that on such scales it becomes ineffective.
Nuriootpa, South Australia
Sceptical of the sceptics
I was raised to be a sceptic, to question both the apparent truths and to question the motives of those who iterate them. I suppose I am a sceptic if I take a different path to those who absorb false science and, at the drop of the hat, reiterate it as if it were fact. They are not even as honest as snake-oil salesmen, who knew exactly what they were about.
Many letters on the Guardian Weekly “Reply” page are written to grind a particular argument, like one writer’s recent plea that citizens should “persuade governments to reprioritise their energy agendas”. This reader is apparently against the use of oil as well as nuclear energy. Meanwhile, another reiterates the exhausted old idea that man’s activities have anything to do with the periodic global warming that we find ourselves entering. Another seems to be against all human activity. It’s a wonder how these correspondents can live with themselves.
It is a shame we have got used to, and value, electric light because your correspondents would have had a field day when alternating current was first suggested.
• It’s interesting to note that most people in government seem to be climate change sceptics, whereas the people they govern are mostly climate change believers. I can think of many words to describe a country where policy is dictated by an ideological ultra-minority. “Democracy” is not among them.
The irony of the deer cull
Patrick Barkham’s admonition of the need to cull the more prolific survivors of Britain’s shattered ecosystems resounds with unintended irony (13 December).
Both the badgers who carry TB from intensive cattle farms, and the red deer whose numbers have ballooned in the absence of their exterminated lupine predators, must now have their numbers managed by the very primate species that has thrown their worlds into chaos. The same goes for the starving Canadian polar bears, whose retreat from their melting ice pack habitat has seen them increasingly deemed an intolerable nuisance to the sparse local humans.
The irony of the “difficult decisions” that Barkham advocates is that they don’t go near the human population explosion that is occasioning them, and that is carrying us inexorably toward the greatest cull since the dinosaurs’ demise.
Weegena, Tasmania, Australia
Gun control starts in the mind
Minimising the amount of gun-related deaths in the United States (Sandy Hook still waits on gun control, 20 December) is not a matter of formulating stricter gun control policies, but a case of changing our mindset on the use of guns. We should all have the right to bear arms, as long as we know how, when and where to use them correctly.
I have many friends who engage in violent video games, where they consciously orchestrate massacres and hold-ups against our usually assumed victimised positions for fun. We must find more effective ways to moralise the mindset of our youth, rather than hand the responsibility to the government to create useless gun control policies. How can we expect events such as the Sandy Hook massacre to become non-existent if we find it humorous to do the same thing on video games?
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Monbiot on veganism
In response to George Monbiot pondering veganism (6 December), many grasses have a symbiotic relationship with grazing animals and need water, grazing, nutrition (manure) and rest to flourish. Remove animals from the equation and plants lose the pruning and nutrition that they need; eventually they become rank and die. Although humus does come from decaying stems in the short term, in the longer term ungrazed land often reverts to scrub either before or after catastrophic fires.
Monbiot correctly refers to the dangers of soil compaction, which is the result not of grazing, but of overgrazing, where damage to ground cover and a breakdown of soil biological activity prevents the creation of humus, which inhibits the absorption of moisture – for dry matter and humus act like blotting paper. If grazing animals are removed from agriculture, we will be almost totally dependent on manufactured fertilisers to maintain production.
Loss of humus is a social and ecological problem; Afghan farmers grow opium poppies in badly damaged soils that are no longer able to absorb their limited rainfall; plant and animal diseases of all sorts are associated with damaged soil. Droughts and floods both appear more severe when soils cannot absorb moisture, top soil is eventually carried away to pollute the sea, and irrigation becomes essential to try and rehydrate the land. If Monbiot wants to save the world, he really needs to learn to love humus and understand soil.
Gravesend, NSW, Australia
• George Monbiot makes a good ethical case for a vegan diet, but I fear the way he describes his own poor experience of actually trying it might put readers off trying it for themselves. In fact a vegan diet can be extremely healthy, as well as varied and delicious. Anyone not eating meat or dairy has to take care to get enough protein and other nutrients; however, this is not difficult nowadays, as there is plenty of information available. The Vegan Society website might be a good place to start.
• Less than a month after lambasting the Sri Lankan regime for its abuses of power, David Cameron flew to Beijing to kiss the feet of the Chinese Community party (6 December). China’s human rights record is far worse than that of Sri Lanka, but it has suddenly become the UK prime minister’s best friend. The worship of economic growth outstrips human rights concerns.
The work of all those who risk their lives for the restoration of the rule of law and public accountability in Sri Lanka is severely undermined by the hypocrisy and double standards practised by the UK and US governments when it comes to human rights.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
• I enjoyed Ian Jack’s clear-sighted piece on Nelson Mandela’s canonisation by the media (20 December), but think the effects of such unqualified veneration are deeper and more dangerous than mere alienation. By denying the fullness of Mandela’s humanity, we deny and dishonour ourselves.
At a friend’s funeral recently, I felt so skewed and diminished by a eulogy describing her in saintly terms, which she would have hated, that I immediately started writing my own, including words like harpy and misery-guts.
Our shadow, denied, is projected onto other people, genders, cultures and species with ugly, fundamentalist consequences. Could Nelson Mandela have so transformed evil if he hadn’t first engaged with its roots in himself?
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
• China and South Korea should save a population from maniacs by agreeing to take over and divide North Korea between themselves and giving the population the option to live on one side or the other.
North Balwyn, Victoria, Australia
It has become evident recently that the problem of anti-Semitism and racism in sport is yet to be eradicated.
It has plagued sporting associations and clubs for decades, and has rightly been met with admirable attempts to curb abuse: organisations such as Kick It Out and the introduction of financial sanctions have incentivised moral conduct on the sporting field, while addressing the notion that it is the role of sport to hold its players and supporters accountable for misplaced opinions.
It should be the role of bodies such as Fifa to address racist or discriminatory actions in order to cleanse their game of all aspects of inhumanity and political inflammation.
Despite numerous attempts by anti-racism organisations to allow sport and other aspects of popular culture to self-regulate, problems persist. Regulation is therefore essential, and this is something agreed upon by sporting associations such as Fifa when they ban players for committing acts such as biting players or fixing matches. If the same penalties are not issued for racist actions, these actions are tolerated and swept under the carpet.
Racist actions in a football match can be perceived by children and young adults such as myself as less significant and less serious than violent acts. But this is wrong, because racism and violence go hand in hand, and discrimination based upon ethnicity fosters future intolerance.
Even if the guilty party is not aware of an act’s significance, they are still guilty because of how widespread the audience involved is. When a Premier League match in West Bromwich is broadcast, it is viewed by an international audience. Children in Uganda worship Premier League football players in the same fashion that British children do, and are equally likely to copy the actions of their sporting role models.
To address the worst problems, the toughest penalties must exist. I am a worried onlooker who wants a cleaner game, one where I can feel free to attend sporting events without the fear of racial abuse, one where I can watch television without the malice of the minority permeating into the consciousness of the rest, one where political messages do not transcend the sacred realm of sporting achievement.
Sporting occasions give players the platform to voice their political opinions, and the sport should not grant publicity to those who abuse it. I propose a lifetime ban for all players and fans who break this boundary, in the hope that the vicious cycle of hatred which has engulfed the sporting world may soon be stopped.
Jack Lewy, Radlett, Hertfordshire
If the furore over Nicolas Anelka’s hand gesture helps nip an anti-Semitic campaign in the bud, it will have been welcome. But it also highlights recent selectivity over racism by the French government and media.
One of the most shameful affairs in French public life in 2013 involved the crudest and most blatantly racist insults aimed at French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who is black. Her Socialist ministerial colleagues and the French media ignored the affair (your Paris correspondent, John Lichfield, was a notable exception).
In the autumn, a far-right local election candidate had likened her to a monkey. Right-wing protesters took up the cry, waving bananas at her. Weeks after the original insults and after Mme Taubira had expressed shock at the lack of support for her, the government made some clucking noises; and a dribble of intellectual commentators wrote mealy-mouthed columns claiming this wasn’t really racism but was linked to France’s colonial past.
Being partially against racism is like being partially pregnant. Let’s kick out anti-Semitism, but clamp down equally on all strains of racism and xenophobia. An irony lost on most of the British media was that their condemnation of Anelka coincided with another volley of insults to the Romanians, Bulgarians and Roma – not strictly racist but using the same, base coinage.
Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France
An establishment without honour
The doctor who delivered the royal baby gets a knighthood for doing what thousands of midwives do every day, and Andy Murray gets nothing – it says all you need to know about the clueless British Establishment.
Watch out for the scramble to recover the situation in May as Scots Nats garner votes from the injured indignation.
Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent
A doctor who “oversees” the birth of the third in line to the throne is granted a knighthood. A nurse, who possibly has saved many lives through whistleblowing at the Mid Staffordshire Trust, an OBE.
Bill Luty, Pudsey, West Yorkshire
I see that, once again, I have been overlooked in the New Year Honours. This is after 40 years of monitoring, speaking on and writing about the lethal quacks of the medico-pharma mafia, the planet-killers of the petro-industrial complex, the spivs, half-wits, quarter-wits and quislings who have managed to slither their way into Parliament, and the cowardly, corrupt, incompetent, derelict-of-duty, impossible-to-insult, Establishment-lackey trash-hacks, trying to pass themselves off as journalists.
Where am I going wrong?
Pat Rattigan, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
This Government, which is busy whipping up racist hysteria over Bulgarian and Romanian migrants, has just made Angela Lansbury – a naturalised American citizen since 1951 – a Dame of the British Empire in the New Year Honours. Aneurin Bevan was correct: the Conservatives are “lower than vermin”.
Sasha Simic, London N16
Your 30 December editorial (“Tarnished honours”) and article by Bobby Friedman (“Money talks: from donor to the honours list”) are based on a fundamental error – the honours system and appointments to the House of Lords are two completely different, unrelated processes.
And unlike honours, peerages are working appointments which carry with them the expectation of future service.
The number of peerages awarded in the 2014 New Year Honours is – as in all years – zero.
Richard Tilbrook, Head of Honours and Appointments Secretariat, Cabinet Office,London SW1
Prime Minister out of touch with reality
I am sure that many people are amazed at the sensitivity of David Cameron’s political antennae to the public’s perception of justice.
He uses the Fraud Act 2006 against benefit cheats, but will have to introduce a new law (not saying when) to be able to charge bankers responsible for an increasing range of immoral frauds that have cost all taxpayers (covering the banks’ fines) and so many individuals (through their loss of savings, jobs, homes and even lives through suicide).
He expects taxpayers to cover the costs of green policies, while energy companies are allowed to continue with their integration of wholesale and retail operations (effectively a series of monopolies) and increasing their charges, profits and shareholder dividends.
He aims to stop the immigration of non-EU citizens, but happily opens the UK to Chinese “investment”, apparently unaware of the reputation of the Chinese across Africa and Latin America where, having bought their way in, they bring in their own staff rather than employ local people.
Is it really so difficult to understand why so many people seem to think that our Dave is out of touch with the real world?
Malcolm MacIntyre-Read, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
If our Conservative Party has any chance of surviving the next general election, surely David Cameron should reconsider his position as leader and stand down to allow grassroots MPs to elect a prospective Prime Minister who is more in touch with British people?
Terry Duncan, Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Political comment? You must be joking
David Blunkett wants satirical TV shows to face tighter regulation because their comedy is politically motivated (“Satire crossing the line into denigration, Blunkett claims”, 27 December).
If only… Shows such as Mock the Week, 10 O’Clock Live and, recently, even Have I Got News For You may make fun of politicians, but they rarely discuss politics in a substantive way.
Mock the Week joked about Mr Blunkett’s blindness, but wouldn’t have dreamt of satirising his immigration or crime policies as Home Secretary.
Richard Berry, LSE Public Policy Group, London School of Economics, London WC2
Kalashnikov’s other target
Further to David Boggis’s letter (30 December), Mikhail Kalashnikov did not originally aspire to become the inventor of the AK47. In 2002 he sent me a letter stating that, as a boy, his ambition was to be a poet.
Dominic Shelmerdine, London W8
We need a widescale programme of flood abatement, whereby water is retained in the ground rather than flowing over it to rivers
Sir, The building of more flood defences is no answer (reports Dec 27 & 28; letters, Dec 30). Their effect is short term, as worse and more frequent storms arrive; and, spatially, they tend simply to shunt the floods on to places downstream.
What is needed is an urgent, widescale programme of flood abatement, whereby water is retained in the ground rather than flowing over it to rivers. There are two simple and proven strategies.
One is “buffer strips” alongside watercourses, where there is no grazing. The effect is pretty well immediate. Surface water will be absorbed into these ungrazed strips as into a blotter.
Secondly, afforestation within catchment areas. Woodlands hold huge amounts of water. Beneficial effects may be observed within a decade or two.
How is this to be achieved?
In most of England county councils have the responsibility of “leading” on floods but few powers or funds. Strategies like those above require strong powers of direction and compensation to landowners for the loss of grazing. Yet, typically, no such powers or funds are available.
There have been at least four “one in 100 years” floods since 2000. Time is not our friend in answering this threat.
Sir, We are experiencing an increasing frequency of natural disasters. Thousands of people have suffered a miserable Christmas flooded, without power or unable to travel. Thousands more have exhausted themselves working ceaselessly in dreadful conditions to restore infrastructure. The rest of us have looked on in sympathy and impotence. Among us is a sizeable proportion who can fetch and carry, drive vans, fill sandbags, lift furniture upstairs, make barrages, row boats, climb ladders, apply first aid, and do anything else that will help. There is an untapped resource in the ranks of the fit retired, but arriving individually, unannounced, at a disaster is unlikely to contribute anything useful so we look on in guilty inactivity. The country needs a disaster volunteer reserve, a network of willing people that could be summoned at a moment’s notice.
The manpower is there, it just needs recruiting and organising.
Sir, After the recent heavy rainfall and flooding in several parts of the country — including in my own county of Kent — what are the odds of hosepipe bans and water-use restrictions next summer should we have a dry year? We have been told by water companies that it is expensive to pump water from areas of excess to areas of need, and that we do not have the infrastructure to move large volumes of water around the country. But would a network of water pipes (maybe alongside trunk roads and railway lines) not be a good investment for the future?
Dr Peter Collins
Sir, Urban flooding seems to have become endemic. A practical and cheap solution would be to build a series of dams further upstream to capture the water so that only farms’ fields would get temporarily flooded with fresh water which would not affect the utility of the land or cause erosion.
These dams could be just simple earthworks with temporary sluice gates, but it would also be possible to build more practical constructions which would allow these dammed temporary lakes to produce hydro-electric power which would help pay for their construction.
R. G. Williams
Hove, E Sussex
January 1, 1828
Sir, Upon looking over your Bow-street report in this day’s Times, I perceive a complaint made by a gentleman of a most daring attempt at robbery from his phaeton on the Bayswater-road, and in consequence of that great thoroughfare being so badly lighted. I am induced to trouble you with this, in order to my being informed by one of the correspondents of your widely-circulated journal, why that part of the road from Maida-hill to Kilburn is not watched and lighted as usual, the very respectable inhabitants in the immediate vicinity having to grope their way through mud and dirt ere they can arrive at their dwelling-houses, to say nothing of the facilities given to robberies by this shameful neglect of the commissioners. The enormous rates paid by the inhabitants of Marylebone parish ought surely to protect in some measure their persons and properties. By your insertion of the above, you will greatly oblige.
An Inhabitant and a Sufferer
Lost luggage woe
January 1, 1914
Sir, As many people are coming to the Riviera at this season, may I have space to warn them through your columns of the risk they run of being separated from their luggage for several days on arrival in the South?
When we started from London we registered our baggage on the previous afternoon. The officials at Charing-cross assured us that we should have to clear the Customs at Calais. On our arrival there we were told that it had gone on overnight and must be cleared at the Gare de Lyon, Paris.
In Paris they informed us that it would be cleared at our destination — St. Raphael. But when we reached our journey’s end we learnt that there was no Customs House here and that our things were detained at Marseilles. By dint of telegraphing and writing we eventually got them after some inconvenience and worry.
We were assured in our hotel that the same thing happens every day. What impels me to address you is that a party of 46 people who reached here yesterday had precisely the same experience, and have not been restored to their possessions yet. Another gentleman, living near here, tells us that on one occasion he came for a 10 days’ visit, and was minus his luggage for five days.
Evidently the officials en route will continue to give wrong information until somebody makes it his business to enlighten them.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
John Adam Fergusson (Colonel)
Published at 12:01AM, January 1 2014
Sir, I have carried out a survey of the official engagements undertaken by the Royal Family during 2013 as reported in the Court Circular. After the busy Diamond Jubilee year it is not surprising that members of the Royal Family carried out fewer official duties in 2013. The Duke of Edinburgh’s engagements were reduced following surgery and convalescence. Also the Duchess of Cambridge’s work was limited due to her confinement and Princess Alexandra’s ill health affected her engagements. I should emphasise that the table of figures, below, should not be converted into a “league table” of individual royal performance. All engagements differ as to time and content and there is also the time taken in preparation, whether it be a visit, investiture or speech.
Except for Christmas Day and Easter Day, the Queen never has a day off from the official red boxes which pursue her everywhere.
Sir, Your report “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash” (Dec 28) states that the Charter of Fundamental Rights [of the European Union] “enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations”, one of them being “a proposed ‘right to marry and found a family.’ ”
Not so. Article 9 of the Charter mirrors Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that “Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.” Article 12 of the Convention was incorporated into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998, section 6 of which provides that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.
Perhaps the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, should read the 1998 Act.
Sir, Once back on his farm, the first thing Captain Cook needs to do is to invite messrs D. B. Close and R. Illingworth to dinner.
Ten minutes in the company of the pair would teach him more about actual captaincy than all of the scientifically produced information which has increasingly straitjacketed his decisions.
Closey and Illy were masters in the art of doing the unexpected, often setting outrageous fields in order to sow doubts in the minds of even well set batsmen. Cook, pre-programmed to the point of inertia, hardly ever goes off message.
So, drop him for Sydney and play our B team instead: Boycott, Brearley, Bell, Bumble (capt) Balance, Bairstow, Botham, Bresnan, Broad, Borthwick and Big Freddie. The Aussies would be helpless.
Rotherham, S Yorks
SIR – Whatever happened to university and college scarves? About 50 years ago it was common to see young people during the holidays, especially at Christmas time, wearing their college scarves, more often than not with a duffel coat.
Around 1960, only about 5 per cent of school-leavers went into higher education. Now it’s nearer 45 per cent, and there are at least twice the number of institutions. Yet there seem to be fewer scarves on show now than then. Why?
SIR – Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, argues that the Countryside Alliance is out of touch with public opinion. But public opinion is out of touch with the realities of managing the countryside, both for farming and wildlife. This includes the majority of politicians, who frame the laws and regulations that are so damaging to countryside management.
We have a perfectly good Animal Cruelty Act, yet insist on protecting badgers – an overpopulous, omnivorous species having a devastating impact on wildlife that really is endangered and on our dairy and beef industries. If the countryside is to be managed by public opinion, its future is uncertain indeed.
SIR – The Burns Report contained no evidence that traditional fox-hunting was cruel. In fact, hunting emerged in a better light from an animal welfare perspective than the shooting of foxes, which has increased since the Hunting Act.
It is the RSPCA that is out of touch, wasting its supporters’ money and even more taxpayers’ money in bringing vindictive prosecutions against hunts that are trying to help people continue with their traditional lifestyle within the limits allowed by a flawed Act of Parliament.
David A Rothery
SIR – Not everyone who lives in the countryside enjoys killing wildlife, and we resent being portrayed as such by the likes of Sir Barney White-Spunner, the head of the Countryside Alliance.
West Huntspill, Somerset
SIR – Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner, has called for a smacking ban. I doubt her suitability to advise on such issues, given that she states that she has “never understood” where one draws the line between physical chastisement and physical abuse.
SIR – Celia Walden describes how she almost made an Angeleno “pass out from revulsion” when she explained to her what bread sauce was.
This American distaste for one of our iconic dishes is not new. In Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady (1881), Isabel Archer’s aunt, Lydia Touchett, “detested bread-sauce, which, as she said, looked like a poultice and tasted like soap”.
Brasenose College, Oxford
SIR – The surgeon suspended for allegedly engraving his initials on to the liver of a transplant patient reminded me of the account of the American army dentist E J “Jack” Mallory.
In 1946, Mallory was asked to make dentures for General Hideki Tojo, Japanese prime minister from 1941 to 1944 and architect of the attack on the US Pacific Fleet in December 1941.
While awaiting trial for war crimes, Tojo requested dental treatment for his decayed teeth. Determined that he should taste defeat, Mallory, an amateur radio ham, engraved on to the upper denture in Morse code: “Remember Pearl Harbour.”
Vetting and the Church
SIR – Your report “’Overzealous’ Church vets 58,000 workers in a year’” poses a multitude of questions.
First, is not Christianity rooted in the forgiveness of sins? Secondly, would the Church preclude someone who had a criminal record, thereby going against its own teaching? Thirdly, where does this obsession with records end?
Robert Duncan Martin
SIR – As a retired vicar, who occasionally works with children associated with the local church, I have to use vetting procedures to comply with the Government’s Disclosure and Barring Service.
I am also required to attend “safeguarding training”, which points out, for example, that children should not sit on an adult’s lap and that two adults should always be in a room with a child. The diocese employs three people to implement this, which seems unnecessary.
Where, oh where, is the Church of England going?
Rev W D Rees
To say, as the helplines did, that the problems were caused by “atmospheric conditions outside our control” is too facile and complacent an explanation. A technical solution will surely be found if the broadcasters, whose output is lost, push for it and the transmission engineers can be persuaded to put their minds to it.
Let us have some improvement in Freeview services before listeners are put to the expense of switching to digital radio.
SIR – Since we installed solar panels on our roof, the DAB radio switches off on the last of the hour pips, and the FM radio won’t work if the sun shines.
St Asaph, Denbighshire
Signs of Spring
SIR – Not only have we too seen blue tits inspecting our bird box, but we also have a flowering strawberry plant in our garden.
Alan Turing’s pardon sets a precedent for others
SIR – It is good to see common sense prevailing with the posthumous pardoning of Alan Turing. Is it not time that the monstrous stitching up of Admiral Byng by the government and the Navy in 1757 be now “unstitched” by a similar posthumous exoneration?
The Ministry of Defence in 2007 turned down a request from Byng’s descendants for a pardon; surely it is time for this to be reconsidered?
South Ascot, Berkshire
SIR – The posthumous Royal Pardon for Alan Turing is a generous move by a state comfortable with recognising that, in some cases, contemporary values can be applied retrospectively.
As the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War approaches, one of the greatest wrongs of the time could be corrected by the universal pardoning of all the soldiers, some too young to serve legally, who were executed for desertion.
Whatever the circumstances, the injustice of the slaughter of so many in terrible conditions requires such forgiveness, even if it may appal those who say we cannot make judgments upon decisions made in a bygone age.
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
SIR – The Colossus, the first stored-program electronic computer, was designed and built by Tommy Flowers at the Post Office Research Labs at Dollis Hill, London, but the invention of the machine has been attributed to Alan Turing at Bletchley Park.
During the Thirties, Flowers had been engaged in telephone exchange development, specifically the replacement of electromechanical relays by electronic switches. He knew that the environment in which the valve switches operated must be controlled and that valve heaters, once switched on, must remain on to achieve the requisite reliability.
Flowers built Colossus using his unique knowledge and it worked first time in December 1943. He is the father of the stored-program computer.
If a GP issues a prescription, is the overseas visitor going to pay the full cost of expensive drugs or just the usual prescription charge? What is to stop GPs registering such patients and issuing NHS numbers that could then be used to access free consultant and hospital treatment?
Why is it so difficult for GPs to monitor whom they treat? The reception staff could help. The allegedly complex charging arrangements are carried out by NHS and private dentists without any problems.
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – Any non-resident requiring medical attention for a pre-existing condition should be charged for their treatment. This would normally be covered by insurance.
The airlines should be responsible for ensuring that their passengers are covered before boarding.
SIR – Within every group there are individual human beings with individual needs, including that of being treated fairly by their fellow humans when they fall ill.
While the NHS remains a service free at the point of delivery, we should be careful not to allow the mob to decide which people should or should not have treatment for their health problems.
SIR – Restricting access to public services on the basis of nationality alone would conflict with at least 200 years of English Common Law. The problem facing us is caused not by immigration per se, but by the non-contributory basis of our welfare system. Its reform would be welcomed by the majority, including the charming and industrious Eastern Europeans who have come here to improve their lot through their labours.
SIR – With all the debate over uncontrolled immigration, it is surprising that a major agreement signed by Cecilia Malmström, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner, on December 16 2013 has not received more attention.
This agreement opens the way, within three years, for lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens travelling to EU countries – even though Turkey, with a population of 76 million, is not yet near to joining the Union.
SIR – New migrants will be allowed to see GPs. I wish them the very best of luck.
G S Deighton
Old Tupton, Derbyshire
2013 was a memorable year in many ways — a great summer, the legacy of young Donal Walsh, the passing of the great Nelson Mandela, the withdrawal of the dreaded troika and the many sporting highlights.
Also in this section
The sporting highlight for me — and, I suspect, for many hurling supporters — was the All-Ireland final, or should I say the two finals. I am with Roy Keane when he says that hurling is the best game in the world.
I had been a little concerned in recent years for the future and possible decline of the magnificent silky skills and the high-octane energy of this beautiful game.
The emphasis on defence and the curtailment of skilful forwards was a negative development, which removed the excitement and enjoyment of witnessing classy points and net-bursting goals.
I was looking towards the Kilkennys, Corks and Tipperarys of the premier division to rescue the situation. Then, out of the ether, came the Banner Men. Where did they come from? Where did that amazing skill, speed and first touch come from?
This was pure hurling — pure magic. I didn’t want it to stop — this was nerve-tingling, hair-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. My God, I would pay anything, get up in the middle of the night, crawl on my hands and knees to see this.
Of course, Cork also played a huge part in this wonderful spectacle — it takes two to tango.
In case you’re wondering, I am a Tipp man who hopes this Clare team and Davy Fitz will be around for a long time.
‘I gazed and gazed but little thought what wealth to me this game had brought.’
NEWCASTLE WEST, CO LIMERICK
IT’S GOOD TO ASK FOR HELP
* In the Irish Independent ‘Weekend’ supplement (December 28), Marian Finucane in “Talk Therapy” is interviewed about her involvement in the First Fortnight festival, a two-week festival that challenges mental health prejudice through the creative arts. In the article, societal attitudes to people who experience mental health difficulties are explored, and she states: “It was a steady trickle of changes . . . at both the national and international levels, that finally encouraged people to open up.”
In my local paper in Galway over Christmas I read that the Galway branch of the Samaritans receives almost 100 contacts a day to its centre and that over one-third of calls are from people who are feeling suicidal.
On the face of it this is scary reading, but on reflection it is positive that people who are in this frame of mind do contact an organisation such as the Samaritans.
On this first day of the new year, RTE is showing a documentary on inspirational Kerry teenager Donal Walsh, who lost his battle with cancer last year. Donal spoke about his desire to live and the anger he felt when he heard of someone taking their own life. In a video to be shown to second-level students, he pleaded: “No one’s going to judge you at all because everyone has to open up. It’s something everyone has to do. Why keep it to yourself when people you love and that love you are there to help you? They want to help you, they want to get rid of these feelings that you’re feeling.”
To open up and ask for help is a sign of strength. If we achieve nothing else in 2014 than a marked reduction in the alarming suicide rates in this country, then we as a nation will be richer for it. My hope for 2014 is that this indeed does happen.
SAVING MOORE STREET
* The announcement that Dublin is to have an Independence Trail (Irish Independent, December 30) is most welcome to those still campaigning to save the GPO/Moore Street 1916 battleground — the only extant battleground in 20th-Century British and Irish history.
Under the planning application by Chartered Land, this historic area is to be obliterated to make way for a shopping centre development. Under that proposal, the planned freedom trail would have to be routed through, of all things, a ‘Celtic Tiger’ shopping mall.
The inclusion of this historic area in the proposed Independence Trail is official recognition, at long last, that the campaign to preserve and restore the area and its laneways of history, as An Taoiseach describes them, is now accepted as the way forward.
The Save 16 Moore Street Campaign Committee deserves great credit for its tireless efforts to save this historic area from the wrecking ball.
There is now a golden opportunity for the State to preserve and develop this battlefield site into an historic and cultural quarter for future generations as a 1916 Centenary Project.
JAMES CONNOLLY HERON
CONCERNED RELATIVES OF THE SIGNATORIES TO THE 1916 PROCLAMATION,
C/O 4 OXFORD ROAD, RANELAGH, DUBLIN 6
NEW YEAR, NEW HOBBY
* As the new year is upon us, everyone is thinking of what they might give up. I’m wondering why we aren’t thinking about what we will start. A new year, a new hobby — perhaps Guiding?
Since joining the Irish Girl Guides at the age of six, Guiding has become a huge part of my life. Through Guiding, you develop many life skills and make friends for life. As a Senior Branch member (girls age 15+), I get to help with the younger children and I am greatly involved in the community.
Through Guiding, I have had many opportunities that other girls my age would not have. I have camped in all weather conditions and I am a lot more independent due to Guides.
I want to encourage everyone to consider starting for the new year — and I don’t just mean young people like me; adults too can participate in Guiding activities by volunteering to be a leader or a unit helper.
EMER HICKEY (AGE 16)
COMPASS QUAY, KINSALE, CO CORK
* The newly acquired positive thinking of Jobs and Trade Minister Richard Bruton since becoming an ardent student of the American best-selling jobs bible written by a professor of labour economics, Enrico Moretti, has already sent his adrenaline soaring (Irish Independent, December 24).
‘The New Geography of Jobs’ has set out many controversial and debatable issues on job creation and taxes. Against the odds, it has become a US bestseller. Mr Bruton rightly believes if the Americans think it can be done, why not us?
More sustainable jobs for Ireland are vital and I see a lot of sense in many of Mr Moretti’s theories. He argues that regions — often cities — “reach a tipping-point dynamic” when they have enough of innovative companies and an adequate supply of university graduates available; they will have a magnetic draw on other entrepreneurial outfits of similar or associated technologies.
He highlights San Francisco, a city with such companies as Twitter and Yelp, as one example. Dublin’s so-called Silicon Docks, which still thrives despite all our problems, is another.
Using data on nine million workers in the US metropolitan areas, Professor Moretti concludes each new innovative technology company job creates five additional jobs — lawyers, doctors, consultants, waiters, hairdressers and all the basic services.
Mr Bruton is aware over 200 people a day were leaving our shores, loaded with ‘brainpower’. We will, hopefully, need some of them back, having first catered for the ones at home. I would be dismissive of some Moretti theories, but I say: “Get on with the positive, applicable ones.”
We started the last big boom by attracting the ‘hi-techs’. Take to the air, Mr Bruton, with a super-powered delegation and lure them in. We did it before, why not now?
THURLES, CO TIPPERARY
31 December 2013 Sharland en fam
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. The have been sent off to Batawanaland to pick up an old frigate that the Batawanalanders no longer wish to rent from the Royal Navy, but is it safe to sail h9me? Priceless.
Bank, supermarket. Sharland en fam plus Molly.
Scrabbletoday Mary wins and get justover 400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.
Maxine Powell, who has died aged 98, was an etiquette and deportment guru recruited by Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, to help package his black stars for the white pop music market.
Before moving to Motown, Maxine ran her own “Finishing and Modelling School” in Detroit where, in the 1950s, she broke new ground by persuading Detroit’s major automobile companies to use black models at their trade shows and by placing her girls with advertisers that bought space in local newspapers. “In the 1950s, there was no market for black models and blacks didn’t make the papers unless they committed a crime or did something naughty,” she recalled.
Berry Gordy’s sisters — Loucye, Esther and Gwen — attended Maxine Powell’s school and Gwen became one of her top models. She brought Maxine Powell to Motown in 1964 and introduced her to her brother, a fledgling songwriter who had founded his small record label five years earlier.
Berry Gordy had become convinced that something had to be done to improve the image of his singers, many of them Detroit street kids with attitude who lacked discipline and finesse. In 1962, the Motown roster’s first “Motor Town” touring revue had been characterised by the copious consumption of whisky and marijuana offstage, and nervousness and lack of professionalism onstage. What was required, he felt, was an in-house “grooming school”.
It was decided that Motown’s chief talent scout, Harvey Fuqua, would run the operation, with Maxine Powell coming aboard as a consultant to make Motown’s performers fit “for kings and queens”. It was her idea to call the new division “Artistic Development”.
Her department soon became known as “Motown University”, and recording artists were required to attend Maxine Powell’s classes for two hours every day. “They were all from humble backgrounds, from the streets and the projects,” she recalled. “Some of them were crude and rude and some of them were speaking street language. All they wanted was a hit record. I’m the woman who gave them class.”
Maxine Powell worked with all of Motown’s stars, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. She taught them basic table manners and how to stand, walk, speak and shake hands, emphasising the importance of body language, public speaking, appropriate clothing and etiquette. “Everybody walks,” she explained, “but I teach how to glide.”
Among other things she taught them how not to alienate their fans by losing their cool or giving negative answers in interviews; for promotional photographs, stars were instructed to pose with one foot forward. Female singers were exhorted to “remember your gloves, walk with class — and never, ever protrude the buttocks”, even when bending down to pick something up, because it was like telling audiences to “kiss my ass”. If any of her protégés objected to such injunctions, she would say: “Do not confuse me with your parents — they’re stuck with you. I’m not.”
One of her more challenging pupils was Diana Ross who, Maxine Powell recalled, “came in a bit snooty. And I worked with her to show that there was a vast difference between being snooty, and being gracious and classy, because snooty people are insecure… I taught her not to bend in all directions and act as if she was going to swallow the microphone while making ugly faces… I also wanted her to get rid of her eye-popping routine, and she did.”
Though the singer was never cured of her overweening ego, Diana Ross did call up Maxine Powell on to a Broadway stage many years later (by which time Ross had become an international superstar), and introduced her to the audience as the woman who had taught her everything she knew.
Maxine Powell’s training helped to establish the ladylike glamour of Motown’s female singers and girl groups and the refinement and polish of the men that set the Detroit label apart from its scruffier competition and made it so successful. As one commentator observed: “All of Miss Powell’s ladies remembered their training. Their wigs were always impeccable. They exited cars like Princess Grace. The men — Smokey Robinson, Levi Stubbs, Marvin Gaye — exuded a kind of suave, reined-in sexuality that appealed to black audiences and didn’t frighten white ones.”
She was born Maxine Blair at Texarkana, Texas, on May 30 1915 and brought up by an aunt in Chicago. After studying dance at the Sammy Dyer School of Theatre, and modelling at a John Robert Powers School, she began her career as an actress, becoming a member of the first black theatre group to perform at the Chicago Theatre. “I always got in places where blacks were not supposed to get,” she recalled. “I never saw prejudice, I just saw human beings. I knew if you had class, style and refinement that it would make you outstanding around the world.”
In 1948 she moved to Detroit where, in 1951, she opened the Maxine Powell Finishing and Modeling School, the city’s first black school of its type. As well as running her school she became the chief negotiator for a civic group devoted to desegregating the city.
In 1969 Motown began moving its operations to Los Angeles, and Maxine Powell left the company; but she continued to teach at various institutions around Detroit until recently.
Maxine Powell’s commitment to her protégés continued long after she left Motown, and she had a keen eye for backsliders. Many years after transforming Marvin Gaye (who, she recalled, had slouched grumpily into his first class wearing some sort of white rag on his head) from rough diamond into suave crooner, she attended a Gaye concert in Detroit where she noted with dismay that the singer had gained weight. “Marvin was fat!” she exclaimed. “Much too fat to be dancing!” After the concert she told him to let his two skinny male dancers do the moving around until he had lost the flab.
The only star who never needed her advice was Stevie Wonder who, as she recalled, “was always beautiful”.
Maxine Powell’s marriage to James Powell was dissolved.
Maxine Powell, born May 30 1915, died October 14 2013
I am 76, I have voted in every general election since I reached voting age, and yet I have never had a vote. I have always been in a constituency where the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Only a tiny minority, floating voters in marginal constituencies, decide the outcome of elections. The rest of us go through a mere ritual. There is widespread disgust with politicians, but hardly any with our voting system that reduces most of us to voting zombies. A sensible system of PR, which gave us two votes, one for a party, the other for our local MP, would do more to revitalise our politics than any other single measure.
Emeritus reader, University College London
• Although it is worrying that so few young people voted in the last general election, it is encouraging that 47% of the electorate are angry rather than bored (25%) with politicians. Anger is better than apathy. Hopefully some of these angry young men and women will be motivated to direct their youthful vigour into improving the system by getting involved.
• One way to deal with voters’ anger that “MPs are just on the take” would be a new self-denying ordinance to ensure that everyone entering parliament gives up all business interests to concentrate full time on the job of being an MP. A minimum entry age of 35 would ensure that they all had experience of the world outside the Westminster bubble.
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan
• One simple reason for fury must be paramount: the recession was caused solely by bankers and all their rich beneficiaries, but those who struggle to feed, clothe, house and warm themselves are paying for it. No failure on the part of politicians could be more damning.
• Surely one of the main reasons for the decline in voting is the steady growth of identity politics. If we stopped celebrating diversity and celebrated instead what we have in common, then we might see more political engagement.
Your recent poll (Report, 27 December) emphasises the shocking disconnect between the public and politics, and should dispel any Christmas cheer for MPs. It was a stark reminder that people are uninspired and angered by politicians and modern political parties. We have to sit up and listen – and change the way we do politics.
By the time of the next election Labour will have a platform with clearly costed promises, offering only what we can then deliver. That is why Ed Balls has asked the Office for Budget Responsibility to audit every tax and spending pledge in our manifesto.
We recognise the need to look at how we can change as a party. Ed Miliband has called a special conference on party reform in March, with the aim of building a mass membership political party fit and relevant for the 21st century.
We also need to achieve a greater diversity in the people who become politicians. In 2010, nearly one in four of the new MPs had already worked in politics. My colleague Jon Trickett is leading work on practical solutions to allow people from all different backgrounds and careers to enter Westminster and serve.
Your poll confirms the importance of youth engagement. That is why we support votes at 16 and strengthened citizenship education, which, if implemented correctly, could help create a new generation of politically active citizens.
Shadow minister for political and constitutional reform
• I am surprised that only half of Britons say they are angry with politics and politicians. Prior to the 2010 election the Tories promised to defend the NHS not only from budget cuts but from continuous re-/dis-organisation. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 laid the foundation for a privatisation of the NHS for which there has been no political mandate. But public opinion stopped Cameron joining the proposed bombing of Syria, and public opinion can stop this privatisation. Read NHS SOS edited by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, especially the last chapter “What you can do to save the NHS”. Join Keep Our NHS Public.
There’s a more prosaic issue that alienates politicians from the rest of us: the way they dress. Nearly all male MPs wear expensive suits of a similar cut and hue, offset with plain ties that follow a childishly tribal colour code (ie, Tories can’t be seen in red ones, centre-leftists in blue and so on). Female MPs, even the younger ones, dress like newsreaders. The result? Our parliamentarians have the aura of bankers or privately educated salespeople. Their clothes set them apart from, and create the impression that they’re superior to, 95% of the population they’re supposed to represent. At the same time – worryingly – these uniforms signal a willingness to conform to peer pressure, apparently born of collective insecurity and lack of integrity.
How refreshing instead it would be for them to dress down and make their own outfit and accessory choices the way most of us do, including while we’re at work. A degree of mismatched hippy scruff or retro irony might even make us feel they’ve something in common with us after all; even better, consider the debunking effect of the image of two men shouting at each other in parliament wearing street sportswear and trainers.
• The “political baby talk” politicians engage in reveals contempt for their electors. When they speak the inner psephologist takes over: their speech must be nuanced so as not to offend any significant group of voters, yet also evoke warm feelings towards the speaker so as to win over uncommitted voters and retain the support of the core voters. In attempting to reconcile these demands, political speech-making becomes vacuous and confused; as all speeches and policy pronouncements are a muddle of different elements designed to appeal to three very different audiences.
The problem you outline is not new (Fury with MPs is main reason for not voting, 27 December). Since universal suffrage came in, there has been a substantial minority not turning out. This dropped away in the 1950s and 60s, but since 1974 the year of two elections, voters started turning away from the two principal parties of government and opposition, and then increasingly towards not voting at all. Even the Blair “landslide” of 1997 actually masked a substantial jump in the proportion of non-voters, who (as it were) came a fairly close second. In this century, governments have been elected with the support of fewer registered voters than did not vote at all.
For all her youth, energy and commitment, Chloe Smith‘s comments (Report, 27 December) unwittingly indicate another aspect of the problem: they’re all directed towards how politicians should talk, rather than listen, to people. She seems to take it for granted that politics is something that is done to, or at best for, rather than with (and God forbid that it should be by), the people. Is it not time for some sort of national constitutional consultation/convention, initially outwith the existing processes and frameworks of parties, central government and parliament, to go out and ask people what would make the system more comprehensible and responsive to them?
• The establishment parties have certainly given voters plenty to be angry about. It’s not just the expenses scandal or the sense that none of the three main parties can ever be trusted again after Labour‘s lies on Iraq, Nick Clegg’s duplicity over tuition fees and David Cameron’s broken promises on the NHS. It’s the fact that the Westminster pantomime seems completely remote from and irrelevant to the real challenges we face – climate catastrophe, social inequality and unemployment. People need to feel that there is a reason to vote, that it might result in actual change. That’s why the Green party is championing major reform of our political system. Proportional representation would be a start, alongside a robust recall procedure, ensuring that “safe seats” were a thing of the past and that MPs were genuinely accountable. And the whole of parliamentary procedure should be dragged into the 21st century, with an end to corporate influence and far greater transparency.
Sadly, the government is not only opposing progressive democratic reforms, but actively seeking to muzzle some of the voices that hold politicians to account. It’s ill-conceived lobbying Bill, currently before parliament, would render it far harder for charities and other campaigners to speak out and influence policy. It should be scrapped, before the anger that people feel against their elected representatives is redoubled by finding that the means to express it through democratic channels have been blocked as well.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green, Brighton Pavilion
• May I add a crucial, and usually overlooked, dimension to the malaise from my perspective as an active legislator? This is the dispiriting volume and baffling complexity of legislation, now beyond the ability of most parliamentarians to really shape and control. The causes of this continuing tsunami of law (more of it than any comparable democracy I have discovered) are complex. They have to do with such cultural shifts as the breakdown of community life, with its concomitant self-regulation, relationships and loyalties, and the related metropolitanisation of everything, particularly politics. Modern communications, too, have added to these trends, even while theoretically increasing accessibility. Until we grapple with this hydra-headed set of problems, politics and politicians will continue to disappoint and the citizenry will grow ever-more resentful of what, often unconsciously, they feel as their practical exclusion from a democracy they no longer own.
House of Lords
• Heather Brooke (Comment, 27 December) puts it succinctly: “The act of voting has been rendered decorative rather than functional.” Paul Mason adds, equally succinctly, that the dominant global political culture “is more unequal than it’s ever been; its core economic model is destroyed; the consent of its citizens to be governed is eroded” (The next Occupy?, 27 December). In other words, economic destruction is responsible for the destruction of democracy.
So if (in Raymond Williams’s terms) the dominant is teetering towards the residual is there an emergent culture that can lead us out of this wasteland? Gar Alperovitz thinks there is. In America Beyond Capitalism he explores how a new economy in the US, emerging from both left and right, is creating different institutional structures, replacing the traditional corporate forms; structures which “democratise wealth and empower communities not corporations”. As he quotes in its support Henry C Simons, founder of the Chicago free market school and Milton Freidman’s revered teacher, perhaps even the neoliberals should consider it.
• Politicians have always been scapegoats and in some cases deserve it, but the public are as much to blame. Voters allow their expectations to rise and when circumstances change and some “promises” can’t be delivered, they fail to consider what is possible. Most of my friends show only contempt for politicians but wouldn’t dream of standing for office. In this they are encouraged by many political commentators who are in a position to know that most politicians, at all levels, are at least sincere and hardworking, and should be given credit for taking on an essential but incredibly difficult job.
Polls that begin by asking why people don’t vote (Fury with MPs is main reason for not voting, 27 December) are bound to miss the point, especially when the possible survey responses are so similar (is it because politicians are corrupt, because they lie or because they are untrustworthy?). The analysis appears to be based on an understanding of democracy as an elite-led process, in which the privileged participants must be careful to keep voter turnout above a certain level to maintain legitimacy.
Instead of asking the public why they refuse to play along, flip the question on its head. What can be done to better support the public in exercising their democratic rights, and ensure each vote has maximum influence? Once we have rid Britain of its safe parliamentary seats, unelected peers, arbitrary restrictions on the franchise and obscure voting procedures, polls such as this would get very different results.
Democratic Audit UK
• Your editorial Democracy v the demos (27 December) expresses alarm at the seeming near total disconnect of the young with electoral politics as revealed in a Guardian/ICM poll, and urges them “to get off the sofa and down to the ballot box”. This schoolmasterly advice ignores the extent to which the young are already actively engaged in extra-parliamentary politics – an engagement the press plays down – and the influence such engagement can bring to bear on parliamentary perspectives.
It also ignores the extent to which the mainstream press itself contributes, by consistently skewed reporting, to the political “quietism” the editorial professes to find alarming. For example, there was little coverage of the recent all-day opposition-sponsored debate on food banks, where opposition MP after opposition MP described the desperation of poverty-stricken constituents driven to reliance on food banks to be met with jeers, laughter and embarrassed silence from the coalition benches.
Fortunately the young and the electorate at large are increasingly less reliant on the mainstream media for the formation of their political views.
I am writing in support of power engineers, technicians and electricians, together with their support workers, labourers, drivers etc from all over the country for the work they have done in recent weeks during the inclement weather. And to say thank you to all those who have sacrificed their holiday with families for the benefit of the rest of us.
I am prompted by the incessant sniping and often combative attitude of the media. Topping the list are BBC News 24, Radio 4’s PM and The World at One and practically every phone-in on 5 Live. When you know nothing of the subject, don’t be so critical.
The most corrosive vitriol came from a contributor on PM who appeared to be saying that she actually had a right to a power supply on a continuous basis without interruption, ever. What astonishing naivety.
I fully understand that most of the complaint was about restoration times, but the work involved in these circumstances is complex and usually hazardous. It is not a simple question of just flicking a switch.
There are not vast pools of spare staff waiting for a call; they have to be transferred from other projects. This involves travel: not easy when roads are closed. The circuits affected are then assessed and must be made safe before work begins.
Next, locating the fault means travelling over challenging terrain, as routes are often across open country. Equipment and materials have to be positioned, while all the time working in extreme weather. Damaged items have to be dismantled and removed before any reinstatement can start.
The repair zone may extend over large distances, the work is arduous, and heavy equipment is required. How many of you reading this would be able to climb poles or towers in high winds and operate complex tools in cold, driving rain?
And the job is not finished. Equipment and broken fittings have to be removed to a safe location, maybe hauled through flooded fields. All the repaired circuits must then be tested – time-consuming when things are perfect, never mind in adverse conditions. The restoration procedures then begin.
I hope this helps alleviate the frustrations of consumers – who want uninterrupted service yet still demand lower prices. Please be more realistic.
J D Woodcock
A common response to the disruption following the recent storms has been to say: “This should not be happening in the 21st century.” The reality is that this is happening precisely because it is the 21st century.
The assumption that “progress” should enable us to solve our problems instantly ignores the fact that it is progress that is the cause of our problems. Sophisticated technologies enable ever more complex societies to push survival strategies to the limit while their environmental impact ensures our climate will become ever more precarious and extreme.
As global civilisation teeters on the brink of sustainability, we need to temper our expectations to the realisation that, as we blunder our way to oblivion, all this is happening because it is the 21st century.
With storms raging across the UK, trains delayed and ferries not sailing, it does not seem an appropriate time to make 400 members of the Environment Agency redundant. Unless we accept climate change is happening, I cannot see much of a future for our grandchildren.
Muslim Demands no longer surprise
The case of a Marks & Spencer Muslim sales assistant refusing to serve alcohol is yet another instance of Muslims seeking special privileges. We have recently had demands for segregated seating at universities organised by Islamic societies, and for students at the LSE to remove Jesus and Mo T-shirts on the grounds that they constituted “harassment” of Muslim students.
The problem is that “separate rights” and the importance of cultural and religious differences in our supposedly multi-faith and multicultural society have become so embedded that such separatist demands are no longer surprising.
The law is not helpful as it allows religious people to sue employers for “indirect discrimination” if their religious beliefs are not accommodated. This is what happened in a case in 2008 when a hijab-wearing Muslim woman took the owner of a hair salon to an employment tribunal when she was refused a job. The tribunal awarded her £4,000 for “injury to feelings”.
Now if employers do not hire or remove Hindus who refuse to handle beef, or Jews and Muslims who refuse to handle pork, there is every likelihood of the prospect of legal action on the grounds of “injury to religious feelings”.
The alienation felt by the majority – by and large, irreligious – society cannot be underestimated.
Dr Rumy Hasan
Senior Lecturer, SPRU – Science & Technology Policy Research,
University of Sussex
The decision by Marks & Spencer to, in effect, exempt Muslim employees from having to handle alcohol is counter-productive. What next?
Will agnostics working in bookshops be allowed to refuse to sell Bibles?
There is no reason (other than fear of them) why Muslims should be treated as a privileged group – immune to the rules that apply to the rest of us.
Sally Bland (letter, 27 December) claims that halal and kosher meat providers “are allowed to only employ people of their own faith”.
As far as the kosher trade is concerned, this is simply not true. Many non-Jews are employed in all aspects of the trade, with the exception of the actual slaughtering and other religiously mandated activities.
Martin D Stern
Salford, Greater Manchester
Britain’s complete U-turn on Bulgaria
I was once privileged to serve as British ambassador to Bulgaria. While I was there, the communist system collapsed.
Political parties sprang up, eager for contact with the West. And my instructions changed. Where only a few weeks earlier I had been tasked with criticising the regime’s abuse of human and civil rights, now I was a proselytiser for all things Western (British especially), for pluralist democracy and civil society, for freedoms of markets, movement, association, religion – for almost everything the Bulgarians had been denied.
Through the Know How Fund, a marvellously adaptable British aid mechanism, we were able to help Bulgaria start rejoining the civilised world. Implicit in all this activity, and growing in strength, was our encouragement of Bulgarian ambitions to reach out and become part of a new and wider Europe. And right from the beginning, we made it plain that Britain was Bulgaria’s new firm friend. So it surprises and saddens me that only a few years later it has become British Government policy to demonise Bulgaria, as though it was some evil, hostile power intent on overwhelming our fragile state.
Where has this ludicrous xenophobia sprung from? Where is the strength of leadership that can say boo to the Daily Mail and Ukip geese, instead of passing “emergency” legislation only days before the New Year’s Day Armageddon when, apparently, we shall all be flattened by a tidal wave of Bulgarian benefit scroungers?
Winchelsea, East Sussex
There were many thousands of turings
The Queen’s announcement of a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing is to be greatly welcomed. However, the British state seems prepared to forgive historical homosexual acts providing they were performed by a national hero or academic giant. This is the opposite of the correct message.
Turing should be forgiven not because he was a modern legend, but because he did nothing wrong. The law was wrong when it was used against an estimated 75,000 other men, whether they were famous scientists or office clerks. To single out Turing is to say that these men are less deserving of justice because they were somehow less exceptional.
The 2012 Protection of Freedoms Act allows those convicted of homosexuality offences to apply to have their criminal records removed if the facts of the case would no longer count as a crime
There is no reason why this provision could not be extended to cover all those convicted, living or dead, without the requirement for a personal application – to be called Turing’s Law perhaps? That really would be a fitting tribute to a national hero.
After pressure from the Lords, Alan Turing, whose nephew is a baronet, is (rightly) pardoned for being guilty of being in a private homosexual relationship with a working-class Mancunian, Arnold Murray. Does the royal prerogative stretch to Mr Murray, or does the Establishment only look after its own ?
Sir, Philip Collins (“Will Welby ever make the case for God?”, Opinion, Dec 27) misses the point. Of the 1,200 words in the Archbishop’s Christmas exposition, only 300 were on social issues. Mr Collins, acknowledging a social message in the Letter of James (which he calls “the Gospel of James”), ignores the central concern with poverty in the Old Testament prophets and in the life and teaching of Jesus himself.
One of the reasons the Early Church spread, even under persecution, was that it stood up for the poor. As for the idea that the Church of England has “not spoken yet” in response to atheist attacks: has Mr Collins not read Alister McGrath or John Polkinghorne? The great apologists of the last century, G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, re-created worlds of beauty and imagination within which the Christian faith made sense — the point made by the Bishop of Oxford on Christmas Eve. Only when the Church works for justice and celebrates beauty will its well-argued message about Jesus carry its full meaning.
The Rt Rev Professor N. T. Wright
(former Bishop of Durham)
St Mary’s College, St Andrews
Sir, Philip Collins made an eloquent appeal for the Church of England to present the Gospel with fine and learned words. I fear he misunderstands both our culture and the Church. A world in which the text message is the main medium of written communication is not going to be impressed by any number of fine intellectual treatises.
And when I read that “the Church used to be place where you went to for great writing” I was puzzled. I thought our calling as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was to holy living and spiritual preaching not fine writing. The Christian faith can be defended intellectually but the most effective evangelism is surely that practised by the Early Church. They didn’t so much think better or write better than their pagan contemporaries: through their faith in Jesus they lived and died better.
The Rev Canon J. John
Sir, Canon Ashenden (letters, Dec 28) says of non-believers that in an empirical age “we might have expected critics of Christianity to have tried it and critiqued it”. I was a regular churchgoer in my forties when I discovered that I was a Humanist. It was a liberating experience to shed the baggage of belief and be true to my rationalist self. We have become accustomed to believers asserting a monopoly on morality and the spiritual life, but in claiming pragmatism as his own, the Canon risks the accusation of arrogance.
Sir, Like Sam Banik (letter, Dec 28), I am a secularist and, like him, I love the idea of Christianity. It has for 2,000 years been at the heart of the tradition and culture and the great works of art of Western civilisation that explore and define the human condition are the result of it. This thought struck me forcefully when I was lucky enough to see two of the most sublime: Caravaggio’s Beheading of John the Baptist and Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. I was conscious that they were inspired by one of the greatest stories ever told, the appeal of which is universal and eternal.
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks
‘Jack Straw refuses to countenance the possibility that anyone other than Israel might have a part to play in the plight of the Palestinians’
Sir, Jack Straw (Opinion, Dec 26) asserts that Palestinian shacks in the South Hebron hills are being gratuitously demolished by Israel while their residents are charged exorbitant sums for water.
In fact, although these structures were built without regard to planning permission, the Israeli authorities, which under the Israeli-Palestinian agreements are charged with responsibility for planning regulations in the area, invited the residents to submit a master plan to regularise the situation.
The proposed master plan which was submitted was rejected. Not, as Straw suggests, because of gratuitous harassment, but because the planning committee found that it did not provide adequately for welfare services for the residents, and in particular would deprive Palestinian women of access to educational and professional opportunities. The committee has invited the residents to make an amended application.
The price of water is determined by the Palestinian Water Authority, not by Israel. Jack Straw refuses to countenance the possibility that anyone other than Israel might have a part to play in the plight of the Palestinians. Far more damaging than the castigation of Israel, however, is the effect of such condescension and low expectations on the Palestinian side.
Ultimately, the most effective way of dealing with the issue of the South Hebron hills is for the two sides to reach a final status agreement. But ignoring the fact that the Palestinians too have responsibilities will not help bring that agreement closer.
Ambassador of Israel to the Court of St James’s
Sir, The National Trust’s review of nature in 2013 (report, Dec 27) shows how different conservation organisations view the same subject. The positive view of the Trust contrasts vividly with press releases from the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts earlier in the year emphasising the parlous state of our wildlife.
The conclusion that nature is in trouble — based on only 5 per cent of the species on which we have data — often leads to a link to join the conservation NGO so that you can help to reverse the decline in wildlife.
The financial requirements of conservation are not disputed but how refreshing it would be if we were given practical ways to help nature by perhaps changing our consumption habits and our diet, thus directly highlighting our connection with food and wildlife at the same time.
Sir, The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was almost alone among Austrian leaders in believing that his ramshackle empire must never in any circumstances fight Russia. “A war between Austria and Russia”, he wrote presciently, “would end either with the overthrow of the Romanovs or the overthrow of the Hapsburgs — or perhaps the overthrow of both.” His death precipitated the conflict that he had been determined to prevent. “Weedy, callow” Princip perhaps influenced the course of events to a greater extent than Ben Macintyre (article, Dec 27) allows. He removed the only serious opponent of the warmongers in Vienna.
House of Lords
Sir, I can only assume that Roger Lewis (letter, Dec 28) is under 6ft. I agree that the National Theatre resembles a concrete bunker but not every new theatre needs to look like that. Inside, the seats are comfortable if you are 6ft 4in. They are also well spaced and the sight-lines are uncluttered.
Comfort contributes hugely to enjoyment (and to a snooze if the play is boring).
SIR – The switch to digital television seems to have been reasonably successful, largely because most televisions have an outside aerial. But having an outside aerial for a portable digital radio is not practical. While it is possible to listen to an FM radio with a weak signal, a weak one on a digital radio creates all sorts of pops and it soon becomes impossible to listen to.
The additional circuitry in a DAB radio also requires more current and therefore battery life.
Modern homes tend to be built with foil-backed plasterboard for insulation, which affects reception. Although I live 600ft up in the Chilterns, where the outside signal strength is very good, DAB reception can still be a problem in the house.
Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire
- Japanese shrine visit insults war-camp victims
30 Dec 2013
SIR – As a classical music lover I now listen to Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Classic FM via the internet. The sound quality is as good as FM and the station is a delight to listen to compared with the two UK equivalents.
I retuned to a Chicago blues station in readiness for the arrival of the grandchildren on Boxing Day.
SIR – I wish the Royal Mail would stop postmen from dropping rubber bands all over the place.
Dogs have a tendency to swallow them, which can cause a painful and distressing obstruction in their innards that requires surgery to clear.
SIR – Phillada Pym should be aware that it is illegal to reuse stamps even if they are not franked.
John G Prescott
SIR – In the English language version of “Winter Wonderland”, the couple build a snowman and pretend he is Parson Brown, who can marry them when he’s next in town. They then go inside to dream by the fire.
In the French version, the couple dispense with the middleman and go directly inside to enjoy fireside intimacy.
SIR – Sir Barney White-Spunner shows once again how out of touch he and his colleagues at the Countryside Alliance are with public opinion in this country.
He is clearly unhappy that the RSPCA continues to represent the views of the majority of British people, who do not want to see the return of fox hunting, and to speak for animals that have no choice and no voice. This has been reinforced this week by a new opinion poll showing that more than 80 per cent of both rural and urban dwellers oppose any repeal of the Hunting Act.
Sir Barney criticises the RSPCA for bringing a prosecution against a hunt, but fails to mention that the hunt pleaded guilty and the judge in the case was criticised for making unhelpful and inappropriate comments.
He also criticises the RSPCA’s inspectors, who work every day of the year to ensure animals are protected from cruelty. Most of their visits involve giving support and advice to pet owners to help them improve care for their animals. In some cases, however, the only option is the legal route.
The RSPCA has more than a million supporters – a number that is growing, contrary to Sir Barney’s assertion.
The RSPCA does not apologise for doing what the charity was formed to do more than 100 years ago – stopping animal abuse and, without fear or favour, bringing those who harm animals to justice.
Chief Executive, RSPCA
Keep quiet at the pump
SIR – In reply to Jon Furness-Gibbon, when filling a car with petrol, vapour is displaced from the car’s fuel tank. This is collected by the petrol pump’s vapour-return system, which directs it to the filling station’s underground storage tanks.
Any vapour not collected by the system will (petrol vapour being heavier than air) accumulate on the ground around the pump area until it is dispersed by the air.
A person using a mobile phone while filling a car with petrol could drop it. If dropped, it is extremely likely to come apart upon impact with the ground. Its battery is likely to become detached, emitting a spark in so doing. A spark can ignite the potentially explosive mixture of petrol vapour and air.
SIR – Next year, Radio 3 is to broadcast every opera by Richard Strauss to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. This year I was looking forward to hearing some, if not all, of the amazing piano music written by a composer who was born 200 years ago and who died 125 years ago. But it would appear that Charles-Valentin Alkan’s genius is not recognised by Radio 3.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who was born 150 years ago in 2010, received similar short shrift.
SIR – I was interested to read of the children (report, December 21) who are getting headaches due to excessive use of chewing-gum, and the subsequent effects on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
I have chronic TMJ pain due to teeth-grinding, but my daughter insists it is due to Too Much Jabbering.
A New Year’s resolution to plug a missing link
SIR – Around a third of your readers are likely to have a bath or sink plug that has become detached from its chain. Instead of replacing it, my suggestion is to go as early as possible in 2014 to a hardware store and invest a few pence in a suitably sized key ring. These are made of stronger metal than the original ring, and they go round one and a half times. They are virtually impossible to break. It’s one small way to improve the lot of humankind.
Upton Grey, Hampshire
SIR – My New Year’s resolution is to try not to let my blood pressure rise when I read or hear the phrases “to die for” and “ticks all the right boxes”, and when the BBC report distances in the UK in kilometres.
Jonathan L Kelly
SIR – New Year’s resolution: not to get up until The Daily Telegraph has been read from cover to cover. Winter blues sorted.
SIR – It is not only the Chinese and South Koreans who believe that the Yasukuni Shrine honours convicted war criminals. Survivors of the Japanese prisoner of war and civilian camps of the Second World War and their families do, too.
That the British Government has remained silent about the recent provocative visit by Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, to the shrine is an insult to the memory of dead PoWs and civilian prisoners. Even America felt obliged to issue a (rather meek) statement expressing concern, given the tensions between Japan and its neighbours, at Mr Abe’s shrine visits.
SIR – The Yasukuni Shrine was established to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died for Japan, not to praise their actions.
In 1874 the Emperor Meiji came to the new shrine (built in 1869) and declared in a poem: “I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine.” Since then it has been the practice to record the names of the war dead with no comment as to the worth of their service.
It is roughly analogous to the Cenotaph ritual in Britain. We commemorate the service and sacrifice of those who died for the sake of the nation, irrespective of the merits of their deeds.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – After the floods in Gloucestershire in 2012, all parish councils in the county were encouraged to make an emergency plan to alleviate the chaos caused by flooding until the emergency services could reach them.
Being cut off would be a big problem in our small village, which is 10 miles from any major centre. So we identified owners of generators, rigid inflatable boats, tractors and large chainsaws, and trained First Aiders who were prepared to help should the need arise. There would be hot drinks and information available at the village hall. We have not had to put the plan into action yet, but we have updated it yearly and more volunteers have come forward with expertise.
Surely if a place has been flooded or cut off before, the community should plan for it happening again and making it bearable, rather than waiting for help. That is part of living in a community: knowing whom to turn to in the hour of need.
SIR – A contributory cause of the increased frequency of flooding is the failure of farmers and local authorities to maintain ditches.
The result is that during periods of even moderate rainfall, water no longer drains away and fields become close to saturation.
When there is heavy rain, no absorptive capacity remains, and water runs straight into the waterways, causing flooding.
Not only do modern farming methods neglect ditch maintenance, but flail-cutting makes matters worse, as hedgerow debris falls into ditches and is never removed.
SIR – When I was a small boy in the Thirties, I liked to watch the “hedgeman” keep roads tidy by clearing the verges and picking up autumn leaves.
Now all this detritus seems to go down the nearest drain and into a river.
St Austell, Cornwall
SIR – Have we produced a generation that thinks there should be a vast array of people permanently on standby lest any misfortune befall us?
SIR – Are we incapable of suffering inconvenience and shortages for a few days? In the aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987, parts of west Surrey and Sussex lost electricity for many weeks, and this in an area where few houses had a gas supply. I cannot recall anyone complaining.
SIR – I would never rely on just one source of power. At present I have electricity, gas, a multifuel stove, diesel-powered central heating and a 6.5kw generator.
My home rises and falls with the water levels. I live in a boat.
B N Bosworth
Sir – I read with disbelief Fionola Meredith’s article about the sex industry in Ireland (Opinion, December 28th). This article seeks to slam, as “radical feminists and religious conservatives”, those behind the Turn off the Red Light Campaign who lobbied for the introduction of the recently enacted Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013. This article is predicated entirely on a statement that “the second most important and hard won freedom is the right of Sex Workers to say Yes”, while entirely ignoring the first fundamental human right of a person, whether this be a man, woman or child, to say No when being trafficked, held against their will and repeatedly raped for the profit of those unscrupulous gangs engaged in human trafficking for the gratification of others.
There are clearly a number of significant facts not considered by the article’s author: According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) persons involved in the sex industry fall outside the definition of decent work – which is described as productive work under conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity, in which rights are protected and adequate remuneration and provision for their social welfare is provided. An international study that investigated the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, entitled, The Wrong Way to Equality, recommended states should be encouraged to enact civil and criminal sanctions to hold customers accountable for their behaviour. Before the Irish Government enacted the recent legislation it was the “prostitute” who was deemed to be breaking the law while pimps, criminals and customers got off scot-free.
The groups behind the Turn off the Red Light Campaign were concerned with the increasing number of men, women and children being trafficked into this country by the illicit sex industry to satisfy a growing demand from clients. These groups included many civil society organisations including trade unions.
My own union, the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) was the first trade union to be so involved, not for the narrow and conservative reasons put forward by the article’s author, but in defence of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. If, by our actions we manage to save even one child from the horrendous exploitation of the sex industry we may have achieved something for real people in the real world, and not the world as seen by some through rose-tinted glasses. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Not since a news item on August 29th, 2011 announced the posthumous publication of Kader Asmal’s memoir, Politics in my Blood, has there been any Irish Times mention of that book until Conor Brady’s article (Opinion, December 28th). Editor at the time of Mandela’s July 1990 visit to Dublin, when Mandela’s “negotiate with the IRA” remarks were described as “dangerous” and “not well informed”, Conor Brady now writes that “revelations since would tend to suggest that he knew precisely what he was saying”. Asmal had related how the spectacular Sasol bombing carried out in 1980 by MK, the ANC’s military wing, was as a result of IRA reconnaissance, secured through the indirect mediation of my late father, Michael O’Riordan, and Gerry Adams.
Fintan O’Toole’s uncritical hagiography of Mandela (December 6th) sits illogically alongside his column’s vituperative denunciation of Adams (December 10th). Conor Brady’s critique of Mandela at least restores some consistency in having a double target for his hostility. He, however, harps back to the argument that there was no Irish comparison with Mandela’s example of Britain not insisting on a ceasefire before engaging in talks with Mugabe and Nkomo, on the grounds that the white racist regime in Rhodesia was illegal under international law. He misses the point that, if Mandela knew what he was saying, he also knew what he could not say at that juncture about his own South Africa, whose apartheid regime, however odious, was not illegal.
Mandela had been freed in February 1990, without abandoning the armed struggle, and political violence in the first half of 1990 had already led to 1.500 deaths, or more than in the whole of the previous year. ANC talks with the South African regime nonetheless continued. It was only a month after his Dublin visit that Mandela acceded, at first reluctantly, to the proposal by the MK chief-of-staff, the South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, that the armed struggle should be suspended. Mandela and Slovo are to be applauded for the successful transition from war to peace in South Africa.
As one who had always been opposed to war in Northern Ireland, I also recognise that Adams and McGuinness are as essential to the successful maintenance of its peace as to the achievement of that Belfast Agreement welcomed by Mandela. Conor Brady is at least consistent in his opening comments, if only to the extent of finding nothing incongruous in Adams being in the guard of honour at Mandela’s funeral, when an ANC debt owed was appropriately repaid. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The former editor of this paper Conor Brady has done a service in recalling the episode in 1990 when Nelson Mandela, receiving the freedom of the city in Dublin and seated next to the then taoiseach, Charles Haughey, in the Mansion House, endorsed the idea of talks without a ceasefire between the IRA and the British government (“Mandela remarks on ceasefire reflected close links with Irish republicans”, Opinion, December 28th).
What actually happened that day is that early in the press conference Eamonn Mallie asked Mandela a question along those lines and was given the positive, if initially general, answer which Conor Brady cited. Other journalists present failed to appreciate the seismic significance of what Mandela had said and a series of unrelated questions followed. I (then editor of Fortnight magazine) eventually lobbed in something of a tennis ball of a question, inviting Mandela to clarify his remarks – only for the ANC leader specifically to introduce the comparison with Rhodesia, which carried the implication of talks similar to those at Lancaster House in 1979 with Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, which had led to an end to white rule there.
When I returned to Belfast it was no surprise to find on my fax machine a press release from Gerry Adams endorsing Mandela’s comments.
This was, of course, hugely important to the IRA. No reasonable person can doubt that the ancien regime at Stormont was oppressive towards the Catholic community and represented an illegitimate denial of democratic pluralism and human rights. But the campaign by the IRA never met the twin criteria of a “just war”: ius ad bellum (the right to wage war, based on the absence of any democratic alternative, which the achievements of the civil-rights movement showed to be false) and ius in bello (maximum restraint within war, which the ruthlessness of the IRA towards civilians, such as Jean McConville, completely traduced).
The ANC’s case in these regards, however blemished by the torture camps it established for “collaborators” in the neighbouring “frontline” states, was much more positive and it is no surprise that the IRA grabbed at its coat-tails. The Provisional IRA campaign was so prolonged, we now know from Rogelio Alonso’s interviews with members, not just because of iron discipline on the part of the Adams/McGuinness leadership but also because of the misplaced idealism which formed the enduring “groupthink” of many who joined.
It was evident at the press conference that Mandela had gone into a long, dark, 27-year tunnel on Robben Island and had emerged from it, however heroically, still caught in the cold-war, “anti-imperialist” simplicities of the 1960s. History will rightly be very kind to him but no one should recast him as a bronze icon without blemish. – Yours, etc,
Dr ROBIN WILSON,
Sir, – Conor Brady (Opinion, December 28th) insinuates that Nelson Mandela may have delayed the peace process in Northern Ireland because of remarks made at a press conference in Dublin in 1990. There is a massive leap of the imagination involved in this assessment backed by a highly selective and self-serving version of the event.
I was at that press conference and saw a world figure, suffering from pneumonia, being dragged into the provincial mire of Irish politics by those who wanted, for various reasons, to associate him with the IRA. It became clear quite quickly that he knew little about the situation in Ireland and that he had never even heard of the Birmingham Six, whose case was very prominent at the time.
Brady’s attempt to associate Mandela with IRA assistance to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in the 1980s is a specious and self-serving attempt at guilt by association. At that time the entire mature leadership of the ANC, Mandela included, was in prison and MK had fallen into the hands of a younger more violent group.
By the time Mandela had been released from prison in 1990 the MK’s armed struggle had become a policy rather than a practice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu made this clear to me at the time saying: “I think their stance is really rhetorical, I mean almost an academic issue and many in the South African government are aware that hardly anything has happened which could say these people are violent.” (The Irish Times, March 2nd, 1990).
It is regrettable that a veteran journalist such as Conor Brady should descend into the contrarianism that infects so much of today’s editorial commentary. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Considering Karen O’Leary’s position as head of the National Consumer Agency, her views seem remarkable and surprisingly poorly informed (National Consumer Agency chief welcomes grocery price war”, Home News, December 28th). “It’s great,” she says, adding “And I don’t think anyone has proved that there has been a downside”.
There is sufficient competition case law to inform her otherwise where such practices in the long term may well become predatory.
Selling vegetables below the cost required to produce vegetables is likely to foreclose competitors who do not have the same financial resources as supermarkets. Once weaker competitors are driven out, supermarkets can raise prices above competitive pricing levels. In the long run, the predator supermarket regain losses.
Worse still, the remaining market trends from being diversified to becoming oligopoly – once one of the few raises their prices, the rest follow. Furthermore, market entry for new competitors become more difficult. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The column written by John McManus (Business, December 23rd) makes for both curious and disturbing reading.
In it he states: “The suggestions that newspapers over which O’Brien has influence are taking part in an orchestrated campaign to undermine the national finances and advance the interests of his friend is not one he would be happy to let go unchallenged. The notion that he (O’Brien) would use his control of the country’s largest media organisation in such a fashion is in no doubt abhorrent to him.”
For the record, Denis O’Brien has had not hand act, or part in the coverage of Nama anywhere at any time. Nor indeed has he been “one of the beneficiaries of . . . largesse from the taxpayer” (Letters, December 18th).
On the issue of who in Nama’s thinking is trying to undermine the State, I recall Mary Lou McDonald TD questioning Frank Daly and Brendan McDonagh, chairman and CEO of Nama respectively, on this particular matter recently. In particular she asked if they thought Paddy McKillen was involved. Mr Daly emphatically denied the suggestion.
To introduce Denis O’Brien’s name into the Nama story has all the hallmarks of someone scurrying around on the Sunday before Christmas looking for a topic, any topic, to write about. It is obviously much easier to speculate, hint and infer that you might have stumbled on a smoking gun. There is no smoke and no gun. The probity of such journalism is questionable.
The professional approach for John McManus to adopt would have been to ask The Sunday Independent directly why it allocated “five pages” to the Nama story. But maybe he would have received a response that would have rubbished the column he was writing? It is possible that the editor of the Sunday Independent decided that the coverage was in the public interest? – Yours, etc,
Communications adviser to
Sir, – Time for some New Year resolutions? 1. Would commercial outlets please avoid “up to” before the percentage sale prices in their adverts? For example, “up to 50 per cent off”. This is confusing.
2. Would all those responsible for printing sell-by dates on food commodities, such as tinned or bottled items, please make them legible?
3. Could large organisations (insurance companies, banks and service industries please employ more telephone staff? Hearing a litany of more than three digits to press for assistance is, quite frankly, disrespectful to customers.
4. When the shop phone rings while staff are speaking to a customer, remember it does not have to be answered immediately. After all, first come, first served.
5. And to everyone who provides a service, do use our names if possible. This is good practice and business-like. We keep them in a job after all! – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Quoting the State Papers 1983 (Home News, December 27th) you report Garret FitzGerald telling Mrs Thatcher what the SDLP told him. Namely, that in one polling booth in the North the SDLP agent, a woman, had “turned away 240 people who were attempting personation – out of a total of about 900 who were supposed to vote at the booth. She had been threatened by Sinn Féin and, finally, driven away from the booth in a Saracen armoured car.”
Lest this myth go down as historical fact, let me state that the alleged incident never took place. I was Sinn Féin’s national director of publicity at the time. No such complaint was made by the SDLP or appeared in the media or was reported to the electoral office. In fact, the only political party to be “found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices by an election court” was Joe Hendron MP of the SDLP and his election agent, as late as February 1993. And the only person to be driven away in an (RUC) armoured car was a member of Sinn Féin from Howard Primary School polling station in Dungannon on June 9th, 1983, when it came under attack from unionist supporters.
Long before Sinn Féin entered electoral politics in the North the unofficial election slogan of unionist and nationalist politicians was “Vote early and vote often”. Personation, which did happen, was a waste of energy as the efforts of one side only cancelled out the efforts of the other.
The truth is that the two governments’ refusal to recognise the republican electoral mandate prolonged the deadlock.
Today, in the North, under the tightest election regulations in Europe, Sinn Féin in the last Assembly elections won 29 seats to the SDLP’s 14 – and there wasn’t an armoured car, real or imagined, in sight. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Perhaps someone could explain to us exactly how was calculated the figure of €170 million in tourist revenue alleged to have been generated by The Gathering? I’m not at all cynical . . . – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Louis Hogan (December 30th) has a problem, it seems, with cars (generally with children in the back seat) still adorned with “silly” red noses and antlers.
Deer, oh deer. If such joyous decorations offend him, perhaps he should stay in more. – Yours, etc,
P THOMAS MURRAY,
* Bearing in mind the historical hostility of many media outlets to Fianna Fail in general and to the late Charles Haughey in particular, it was very gratifying to read Eamon Delaney’s fair and balanced article on the late Taoiseach’s record and reputation (Irish Independent, Saturday, December 28).
Also in this section
A good journalist does not depend on diatribes to make points; an excellent one prefers verifiable facts and honest and honourable evaluation. The reality that the dead cannot sue is never relevant to such a journalist.
The annual release of the state papers around this time, of course, is a catalyst for some persons to indulge in a recrudescent attack on, inter alia, the late Taoiseach’s perceived incompetence, lack of foresight, courage, imagination, etc.
A brief stroll back in time, editor, with your permission. Any person familiar with Butt Bridge in the 1980s will recall that a glance down river revealed a devastated area, not unlike a World War II bomb site. The same area today is a workplace for thousands of young men and women from all over Ireland working in a renowned financial services industry. The area is alive and vibrant. Many more work in the same relatively new industry throughout the State.
The political driving force for the establishment of that industry was Mr Haughey and his cabinet. After years of dithering and delay by others, the industry was on its way to being set up in Ireland immediately following Mr Haughey’s return to power in 1987.
Problems in Brussels and opposition in certain European capitals were overcome. Today, hundreds of millions in income and corporation tax flow into our State’s coffers from that new industry.
Some lack of ability, foresight, determination and courage by the late Mr Haughey!
Well may Eamon Delaney opine that Mr Haughey would have secured a better deal from the troika. That assumes, incorrectly of course, that they would ever have had to set foot inside the door at any time with CJ in charge of the shop.
CABINTEELY, DUBLIN 18
A FINE YEAR FOR WINE
* My new year resolution is to encourage support for the Irish wine industry. Ireland has taken to wine in a big way to the delight of the Government which taxes it with unrivalled enthusiasm.
What I fail to understand, however, is why we tend to ignore our native wines, some of the finest in Europe. Why not give your introduction to the new year an Irish touch and celebrate fionta na hEireann. The following is just a small selection which I have tasted.
Using the traditional method, Bubbly Bertie is a vintage sparkling wine from the vineyards of the south-facing slippery slopes of Drumcondra. The delicacy that greets you on the nose is counteracted by a hint of noble rot.
Cote de Cowen is not the most refined red available. However, it is unusually full bodied and should provide a suitable accompaniment to porridge or black pudding.
The sparkling sauvignons from Phoenix Park are An Uachtarain’s favourite as they provide just a suggestion of irreverent bubbly busyness.
My own favourite comes from the house of Leinster. The Chateau Enda is the best of the bunch. It exudes promise. However, some may find it too light on the palate, not delivering all that one might reasonably expect. It is currently on offer in the Dail gift shop.
The current Pinot Fianna Fail is a somewhat down at heel vintage, lacking character, having seen better days.
Gerry’s Sherry is well worth a try, though it is indistinguishable from Provisional Port.
Happy New Year to all.
EDITH ROAD, OXFORD
PYLON PLAN A MISTAKE
* EirGrid’s plans to locate power pylons above ground across north-east Ireland is a mistake and must be curtailed or modified to ensure the preservation of the cherished countryside.
As frequent visitors to Cavan and nearby locations, my wife and I were dismayed and angered upon learning of EirGrid’s plans to place pylons across the many beautiful hilltops that dot this region. Recently we climbed a hilltop from where we could see five counties! To think that this region would soon become littered and scarred by steel towers is heartbreaking.
Residents will lose much more than they may gain. While a few landholders and farmers will benefit financially from the pylon project, a far larger majority of residents will be victimised.
The potential harmful effects from electric lines have been called into question. While the science may be debatable, the long-term effects of these pylons is clear: scenic vistas destroyed, historic sites jeopardised, tourists driven away, the country’s reputation tarnished.
The Irish Government holds the power to influence EirGrid to take the longer view for the betterment of Ireland, its people and its future. Power lines are necessary, to be sure, but the investment to locate these power lines underground will serve the people of Ireland and secure the future of tourism and farmers alike.
Once erected, the pylons will become an eyesore for decades. Now is the time to take the right decision that will preserve the interests of the people of Cavan and Ireland.
GERALD T MCNULTY AND KATHLEEN M MCNULTY
RED HOOK, NEW YORK, USA
IRELAND NOT BLAMELESS
* Like many other commentators, John Bellew is missing the point about the reason why this country became bankrupt and had to call in outside help and on the consequences of default (Letters, December 28).
He berates Jose Manuel Barroso for saying that “it was our entire fault” and accuses him of “rewriting history”.
While Mr Barroso was a bit over the top, I am afraid Mr Bellew is in fact doing a bit of revision of the history books himself.
We cannot deny that it was the domestic policies of the Celtic Tiger era which caused the crash in this country and the policies of austerity that ensued.
Nobody compelled our most powerful citizens to borrow from what Mr Bellew calls “the reckless banks on the Continent and in the US” or anywhere else for that matter.
When he says that “we have very few friends in the EU” he is ignoring the fact that it was the EU/ECB/IMF that have been keeping the holes in the wall open and the public services/social welfare etc paid for the past number of years.
Like many others, he implies that if bondholders were not paid and banks which were “not of systemic importance” were allowed to fail, all in the garden would be rosy. That is, to put it mildly, a very questionable assumption.
He is right when he says that “Ireland are the losers”, but whether we like it or not it could have been worse but for our friends in Europe and the IMF.
HANDS OFF CONNACHT
* I read with interest George Hook’s reference to Connacht in his column. What I would say to George is, you seem to know all there is to know about rugby in Ireland and what’s good for the game. We in Connacht are proud of our team and will not let our team be downgraded.
Finally, I would say to you George, no more nonsense. Hands off Connacht.
CORNAMONA, CO GALWAY
30 December 2013 pottering
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. It turns out that due to en error of navigation, they w were married at sea, Captain and Mrs Povey are not married. Priceless.
Potter around sort instagram and chrome
Scrabble today I win and get just under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Márta Eggerth , who has died aged 101, was an actress and singer from the “silver age” of operetta. She sang the role of Adele in Max Reinhardt’s 1929 production of Die Fledermaus in Hamburg; starred with Judy Garland in Me and My Gal; and appeared in more than 2,000 performances of The Merry Widow on both sides of the Atlantic.
Franz Lehár and Emmerich Kálmán were among the composers who wrote for her, while the conductor Clemens Kraus pleaded with her to forsake operetta and instead dedicate five years to studying Mozart in Vienna — but to no avail.
Márta Eggerth and her husband, the Polish tenor Jan Kiepura, were one of the most glamorous musical duets in Europe, often referred to in the press as the liebespaar, or “love pair”. Their Broadway appearance in The Merry Widow choreographed by George Balanchine brought glamour to wartime New York, and for many years after the war they toured it around Europe in five languages.
Operetta was at its height in Old Europe. Although Gustav Mahler had described it somewhat dismissively as “simply a small and gay opera”, audiences flocked to see works that fell somewhere between opera and the modern musical. Many were turned into films by the burgeoning Berlin studios of the 1930s. In 1932, for example, Márta Eggerth appeared in seven films, including Lehár’s Es War Einmal ein Walzer (released in Britain the same year as Once There Was a Waltz) with a screenplay by Billy Wilder.
Asked on one occasion why she had chosen not to pursue a career in opera, Márta Eggerth — who was sometimes known as “the Callas of operetta” — replied: “Grand opera is very nice, but the light operetta is best for me because I have the temperament for it. Operetta can show love, but never murder.”
Márta Eggerth was born in Budapest on April 17 1912, the daughter of a banker who was a talented amateur pianist and of a dramatic soprano who gave up her singing career for her daughter. Márta was eight when she sang an aria from The Barber of Seville, and she made her stage debut at 11 in Pál Ábráham’s operetta Mannequins. The press declared her “Hungary’s national idol”, and by the age of 17 she had toured Europe several times.
Kálmán engaged her at the Vienna State Opera to understudy for Adele Kern, a well-known coloratura, in his operetta The Violet of Montmartre, and after six performances Márta Eggerth was called on to step in when Kern was indisposed. The critics declared her a sensation, and Reinhardt invited her to Hamburg for Die Fledermaus.
Now the German film directors came calling, and soon she was working in Berlin, where she made more than 40 movies. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Márta Eggerth had seen Kiepura, who was 10 years her senior, in Puccini’s Turandot and vowed that one day she would marry him.
But it was not until 1934, when they were both working on the set of My Heart is Calling You, with music by Robert Stolz, that they first met. At first she found him cold and distant, but they married in 1936.
With the rise of the Nazis the couple, both of whom had Jewish mothers, planned to settle in southern France; but at the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe they were in New York, where Kiepura was busy singing Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera.
Their respective careers now blossomed in the United States — his in high opera, hers in operetta. She went to Hollywood to make Me and My Gal (1942), but her big number, The Spell of the Waltz, ended up on the cutting room floor of a studio that felt there was room for only one star – Judy Garland. (Márta’s effort survives on a director’s cut album.)
She also appeared with Garland in Presenting Lily Mars (1943), but by now Tinseltown had lost its appeal. “I hated Hollywood – hated it,” she once told Anne Midgette from the New York Times. “I was used to playing the lead, and in Hollywood I was second.”
Back in New York with her husband, the couple embarked on their Merry Widow marathon, conducted by Stolz. Soon they had acquired an elegant house at Rye, north of New York City, where they entertained the likes of Vladimir Horowitz and Marian Anderson.
After Kiepura’s sudden death in 1966, Márta Eggerth withdrew from the stage. Other than occasional television appearances she was hardly seen until 1984, when she sang in Seattle with Diana Rigg in Colette, a musical based on the life of the French writer, though it failed to reach Broadway. She also appeared in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Pittsburgh.
In 1999, 70 years after her debut, Márta Eggerth returned to the Vienna State Opera, where she reprised a medley from The Merry Widow in four languages and was rewarded with a standing ovation. Afterwards she was accosted in the street by an elderly passer-by. “Excuse me,” he asked, “weren’t you once Márta Eggerth?”
There was also an interview-in-concert at the Wigmore Hall in London in 2001 and occasional Berlin-style cabaret appearances at the Sabarsky, a Viennese-style café in New York. A CD of her greatest moments was released in 2003.
In 1935 Márta Eggerth told an interviewer from the New York Times of how she abstained from alcohol, a practice she continued all her life. When her inquisitor challenged her about her predilection for Tokay, the Hungarian wine, she chortled, and scolded him with the words: “Tokay, this is medicine.”
With or without alcohol, her career had been so busy in the 1930s that Márta Eggerth did not always have time to enjoy the fruits of her labour. Victor Janson’s The Blue from the Sky (1932) was one such film; her mother had simply told her that it was “good”. Márta Eggerth finally saw it for the first time in 2010 when the Museum of Modern Art in New York included it as part of the Weimar Cinema: 1913-33 season, the announcement of her presence drawing gasps of amazement from the audience. Touchingly, she was still able to hum along to the music.
On another occasion she recalled how, while renting an apartment in pre-war Vienna, she had agreed to a neighbour using her piano while she was out. “I came back, the whole room was dark with cigar smoke and there were socks on my bed. He was a little crazy. It was the conductor [Otto] Klemperer.”
Asked at the time of her 100th birthday how it felt to reach her centenary, Márta Eggerth, ever sprightly, replied: “I don’t know. You must ask me when I am 200 what it was like to be 100, and then I will be able to tell you.”
Márta Eggerth is survived by her two sons.
Márta Eggerth, born April 17 1912, died December 26 2013
• Neither of your articles celebrating the centenary of the crossword (100 down, Review; Never a 5, 4: how the word cross was born 100 years ago today; both 21 December) mention the acrostic – surely, an ancestor of the crossword and arguably the origin of the cryptic clue. Ronald Knox published a book of acrostics in 1924 with an introduction tracing the history of these puzzles back to “the Latin poet Ennius (ob. 169BC)”. Some of Knox’s cryptic clues are quite hard!
• I was outraged to read the term “bosses” applied – twice – to trade union leaders in one article (Report, 27 December). Unions, unlike employing organisations, have democratic constitutions and their leaders are subject to election by the membership. Please ask your journalists not to use the hostile terminology of the Daily Mail.
Emeritus professor of industrial relations, St Albans
• This year I ordered the Christmas fare online. Unfortunately, when it came to brussels sprouts I entered the figure 1 under items instead of kilograms. The groceries duly arrived and among them, in its own plastic bag, labelled and barcoded, was a solitary sprout – price 4p. Pretty expensive, I thought.
• Boxing Day, page 38, article by Priyamvada Gopal on the “cult of the super-rich”. Page 4, “Pick of the bargains”: shoes reduced to £535, a coat for £970.
• May I point out that, as good Guardian-reading socialists, we should all be in favour of the continued establishment of the Church of England (Letters, 27 December)? After all, it’s the only remaining nationalised industry.
Rev Christopher Griffiths
I can’t believe the statement by transport minister Stephen Hammond “that it was a matter for independent train companies to decide if it was in their commercial interest to run services today” (Report, 26 December). These “independent” companies are the ultimate welfare queens, trousering vast amounts of public money at no risk to themselves. They can and often do walk away from these contracts, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill, after taking vast sums of free cash. They are reliant on public funds for their operation and should therefore be told by ministers that they will run services on Boxing Day and any other day that the funders say trains should run.
To blame Labour for this is ludicrous. It was the Tories who privatised the railways and turned them from being a public service into subsidised profit-making operation. It was said, at the time of privatisation, that these entrepreneurs would invest in the railways and wouldn’t need government subsidies. Perhaps we should let volunteers run the railways on public holidays in line with David Cameron’s “big society”.
• High winds and heavy rainfall led to widespread disruption to rail services due to trees on the line. After privatisation of the rail network, standards of routine lineside vegetation clearance were dramatically reduced as a cost saving. Trees were allowed to grow to maturity and sections of rail routes across the country quickly became “green tunnels”. The fallen tree count had already passed 200 by Christmas Eve.
• Would the billions of pounds earmarked for HS2 not be better spent on weatherproofing our existing railways and other infrastructure?
I would like to thank the Guardian for continuing to give good coverage of Northern Ireland when most of the British-based media virtually ignore what goes on here. You expose the extent to which paramilitaries are still engaged in substantial levels of intimidation in the communities in which they are located in hard-hitting pieces by your correspondent, Henry McDonald (Report, 28 December), giving voice to the suspicion, widely held, that a blind eye is being turned to these activities to sustain the fiction that these groups are still on ceasefire.
What your readers will not know is that the lord chief justice of Northern Ireland has just struck down a decision made by the Sinn Féin minister for agriculture on distributing EU farm subsidies, at the behest of a case brought by the DUP minister for finance: one executive minister against the other. The Haass talks may yet succeed on the areas of flags, parades and how the atrocities of the troubles are dealt with, but there are plenty of other structural problems to resolve within the Belfast agreement institutions which increasingly do not provide for effective or good governance.
Professor Emeritus Bob Osborne
• It is not widely known that Tony Blair secured the political deal in Northern Ireland by saying all salaries to politicians would be stopped in the event of a failure to agree. You say (Editorial, 28 December): “The negotiators face a hard choice between tribal assertiveness and practical compromise.” Perhaps Dr Haass, currently battling with the same people on the display of national flags etc, should be aware that the hardest choice these negotiators ever faced was that of not being paid.
This has been a depressing month for those who care about the UK’s record on human rights and justice.
Despite mounting evidence of the involvement of UK officials in the rendition and torture of detainees overseas (MI6 ‘turned blind eye’ to torture of rendered detainees, finds Gibson report, 20 December), we’ve seen a likely U-turn over there being a judge-led inquiry, as well as an important civil court case on rendition struck out by the high court.
The Libyan national Abdel Hakim Belhaj’s civil action against the UK over his rendition to Libya has been described by the presiding judge as “well-founded” (Report, 21 December). So it’s deeply disappointing that the court has accepted the government’s argument that UK officials should benefit from immunity for acts committed by agents of foreign states and that it would somehow harm our relations with other countries or even our own “national security” to allow the claim to proceed.
Ministers from Mr Cameron down are willing to talk about human rights and justice in the context of selected foreign visits, but at home “national security” seems to trump human rights every single time.
Head of policy and government affairs, Amnesty International UK
• Previously we were encouraged by the coalition’s commitment to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into the UK’s post 9/11 complicity in torture. Yet Sir Peter Gibson’s detainee inquiry failed to meet human rights standards from the start. Now the government has passed the buck to the secretive intelligence and security committee, hinting that this will obviate the need for a judge-led process. We do not see how a less transparent and independent process can expose the truth and restore the UK’s reputation as a promoter of the rule of law.
We work with 1,500 torture survivors a year. We know from experience that redress is essential for them to move on and rebuild their lives; but the government’s actions thrusts them to the sidelines. They and the UK public deserve accountability. Unless the prime minister delivers a proper human rights-compliant inquiry he will lose the moral high ground he sought to assert when he came to power. Instead he will face accusations that he has slowly but surely become part of the whitewash.
Chief executive, Freedom from Torture
• Is this really what centuries fighting for the rule of law have come to – that the CIA would not like it?
Julian Le Vay
• Given the profoundly unsatisfactory outcome to Belhaj’s “well-founded rendition claim”, it seems appropriate to this rank and file Labour party member of 35 years that our party should show how it feels about Jack Straw’s role in this sordid chapter in our country’s history by petitioning the leadership to deny him a peerage on his retirement from the Commons in 2015.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
• The British state has increasingly used its powers to inflict punishment without trial or any burden of evidence. The latest target has been the former Guantánamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg, now deprived of his passport on grounds that it is “not in the public interest” for him to travel abroad (Home Office confiscates Moazzam Begg’s passport, 23 December). He had been exposing the UK’s crimes in outsourcing kidnapping and torture, as well as publicising these crimes globally; apparently the home secretary equates a cover-up with the public interest.
This year Theresa May also has deprived at least 20 people of their UK citizenship, on grounds that they endanger the “public good”; they have no legal redress because they were abroad at the time. On similarly vague grounds she attempted to deport the Australian Boat Race protester Trenton Oldfield, though fortunately her attempt has been rejected by the immigration appeals tribunal (Report, 24 December). These arbitrary, unaccountable powers should be opposed as a threat to us all.
Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
• While the government and MI6 dodge and weave around the issue of the abduction and torture of Belhaj, Alexander Blackman [the marine recently convicted of murdering a Taliban insurgent in 2011], one of our many heroes, languishes in a British jail. We have to decide, once and for all, whether we will protect our people or pursue all injustices. If we choose to protect, as we seem to be doing in the case of Belhaj, Blackman must be released immediately.
It is a tragic irony that the billionaire entrepreneurs behind the Seasteading Institute (“A tax haven on the high seas that could soon be a reality”, 27 December) should squander wealth amassed through businesses dependent on the rest of society on seaborne communities designed to avoid reciprocating the relationship.
The world view of these “libertarian free-thinkers” intent on removing themselves from “the restrictions of nations, welfare systems and punitive taxes” does not extend, it seems, to recognising the role played by the global community in creating the financial means by which they plan to cast themselves adrift – other than helicopter “access to land-based hospital facilities” or for imported labour to do the “dirty work in exchange for a wage and a place to stay”.
The hubris on which such technocratic visions are based is evident in every expression of their DNA: lacking even the most superficial understanding of the wider social and environmental implications of the word “green”, their solar-panel tokenism simply underscores the extent of their disconnect with the real imperatives of our planetary predicament and their indifference to the challenges humanity faces.
Anyone who has seen the film Elysium will have been mortified by its dystopian vision of extreme inequality, where a hyper-privileged minority retreats to a vast satellite community but one which, poignantly, is still dependent on the subjugated masses remaining on a ravaged Earth for its continued existence. Life, indeed, imitates art.
Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire
The super-rich may be able to avoid taxes by living at sea in floating cities and therefore free from any national tax regime.
However, there may be a drawback to this splendid idea. Queen Elizabeth I authorised privateers to plunder foreign vessels at sea. Perhaps in the Second Elizabethan Age we ought to follow this example where “seasteads” are concerned.
John Naylor, Ascot, Berkshire
Recently, I learnt that I could hire the yacht RV Pegaso for a week at a cost of £441,000, rent an island off Grenada for £300,000 a week, or spend seven nights in a bulletproof chalet in the Austrian Alps for just £231,088.
There is just one small problem: I have insufficient funds for any of the above.
Bearing in mind that there is a limited number of pop stars, Lottery winners and footballers, I find myself wondering who is able to afford such luxury and what do they do to earn enough money to pay for such expensive holiday breaks.
This letter is not written out of envy, as I have no desire to go on a yacht, live on an island or spend a week in a bulletproof chalet.
There must be many in the fortunate position to be able to afford these activities, otherwise the owners would have to offer their services for considerably less. But just what do they do for a living?
In an age in which there is so much poverty, the need for food banks, and hundreds having to sleep rough, we really are faced with the old social divide of them and us.
Colin Bower, Sherwood, Nottingham
British aid makes a difference to Africa
Peter Popham (World View, 27 December) is right that we are a major supporter of South Sudan, but he has misunderstood how British aid works. Recognising the results we are delivering does not mean that we view the country through rose-tinted glasses.
We know that there is no easy route out of poverty and conflict. Britain’s targeted aid projects are measured against specific objectives and realistic goals to ensure that aid money is spent well.
It is right that we do not leave countries like South Sudan to descend further into crisis and failure. Funding provided this year is already allowing agencies to scale up their response to the current crisis, including medical supplies and surgical staff. While we are under no illusion about the challenges still facing the country, this is making a real difference to the lives of people in South Sudan.
That is why, alongside our emergency humanitarian funding, we have a long-term development programme to build a brighter future for the people of South Sudan.
Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, London SW1
The proposed “temporary transfer” of UN peacekeeping troops from other trouble spots in Africa to South Sudan is the clearest indication that the crises in Africa are stretching the UN to breaking point (“More peacekeepers for South Sudan”, 26 December).
With Africa hosting eight out of 16 UN peacekeeping missions in the world, and with concurrent violence in Egypt, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, the UN is likely to be overwhelmed, unless urgent measures are taken to have a standby pool of peacekeeping troops from Africa. The only alternative is to deploy Nato troops if Rwanda-like genocide is to be avoided.
Sam Akaki, London W3
Another view of Kate Losinska
Your obituary of Kate Losinska (26 December) smacked more of hagiography than a balanced assessment – starting the piece with “Heroism was in the very soul of the woman who fought a 20-year battle for the future of trades unionism in Britain”. Goodness, what modesty.
In fact, she was a virulent right-winger who used the right-wing press to attack the left in the Civil and Public Services Association. For example, Bernard Levin in The Times could always be relied upon to “expose” the names of left-wingers standing for election and to support the right wing.
One “fact” seems to have evolved over time. Your obituary notes that “Reform of the block-voting system led by branch meetings of activists was a cardinal aspect of her campaign”. In fact, the successful campaign for the individual vote for union members was launched by the left. She opposed the campaign initially, seeing it as another plot to attack the right. Only when her adviser Charlie Elliott realised that the right could take advantage of such a reform did she swing to supporting the campaign.
Mike McGrath, Leeds
Real hunt supporters are few in number
This year’s claim by the hunting fraternity of “a quarter of a million supporters at more than 250 Boxing Day hunts” averages out at 1,000 supporters per hunt, but just how viable is that figure?
For every high-profile venue, there are dozens attracting just a couple of hundred at the most. And these people, who drift back to the pub as the hounds move off, can’t be counted as “supporters of the repeal of the Hunting Act” any more than the 30,000 who packed Lewes’s High Street for bonfire celebrations can be used as justification for the reintroduction of burning traitorous Catholics at the stake.
I would admire the hunters if they were open in their defiance, but instead they sneak about in isolated corners, hunting foxes in the old way and intimidating monitors who get in their way.
The only way you usually see them is when they’re galloping in pursuit of hounds as they rampage after a fox through your back garden.
Dave Wetton, Tonbridge, Kent
Parents know where to draw the line
I am an 80-year-old grandparent and have had two girls of my own. How Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson (“Children’s tsar wants smacking to be illegal”, 28 December) can talk about the morals of smacking children in the way she does bewilders me, in particular her conclusion: “I have never understood where you can draw the line between one [physical chastisement] and the other [physical abuse].” If a parent cannot make that distinction, heaven help us.
The idea of bringing yet another piece of criminal legislation to bear on the home is horrifying. There are already ample laws to protect children: the problem is that they are not enforced – as with the virtually non-existent prosecution of female genital mutilation.
Ralph Copnall, Barnet, London
kalashnikov’s debt to the Germans
The big omission from reports on Mikhail Kalashnikov and the AK47 is the debt the Russians owe to German arms manufacturing. The AK47 owes an enormous amount to the Wehrmacht’s MP44, the world’s first “assault rifle”, introduced in 1944. The designs, on the outside, are close to identical.
David Boggis, Matignon, France
A word of agreement
Do I agree with Terence Blacker’s list of words and expressions that ought to be banned (26 December)? Oh, absolutely.
Sir, There should be an immediate public inquiry into the reasons for the disastrous failures of electricity, rail and air services over Christmas (reports, Dec 27, Dec 28). In essence the engineering work required is straightforward. Provide alternative electricity inputs to vulnerable distribution systems; improve railway permanent way maintenance to remove trees and other potential hazards; improve surface drainage to prevent localised flooding and land slips; where necessary, build new flood defences; and ensure that immediate and accurate information is provided if failures do occur.
However, this requires investment. Essential infrastructure must have sufficient investment to provide the back-up necessary to withstand reasonably foreseeable events. Are weather extremes really so much worse than before, or are private operators failing to deliver where their nationalised predecessors succeeded?
David Newland Freng
Emeritus Professor of Engineering,
Sir, We have just emerged from nearly three days without electricity which meant, no water (borehole supply) no heat (oil-fired boiler) and obviously no light. All were overcome to a degree by recourse to camping gear and the use of the ample supply of rainwater. In 18 years of living in rural Hampshire we have never previously been cut off for more than half a day. All credit to the hard work and hours put in by the repair crews, however, gazing into the flames of the log fire and listening by torchlight to the radio telling us how difficult it has been to get to sites of damage two thoughts cross my mind.
First, why can’t the Army help in these situations? Overcoming physical obstacles quickly with machines, men and ingenuity is what they are trained to do. Second, in recent years very many fields that were previously open have been securely gated and padlocked, presumably to guard against travellers. If this has been a cause of some of these extended delays (and five minutes with an angle-grinder would open any field gate) then perhaps some rules and regulations need looking at?
Three days, in midwinter, is too long.
St Mary Bourne, Hants
Sir, The Government is spending more than £2.3 billion tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion which is more money than ever before (report, December 27). With any new scheme the priority is always to protect homes and we are on course to protect 165,000 by 2015 — 20,000 more than our target.
Funding will increase further from 2015 when the Government will be spending £370 million each year on new flood defences, rising to more than £400 million in 2021.
This will help better protect a further 300,000 homes.
Sir, Charles Humphries (“Dickensian season”, letter, Dec 28) neglected to mention whether he wrote by pen and ink or by more modern means such as email.
Of course, for the truly authentic Victorian Christmas experience,he could have posted a hand-written letter on Christmas Day andit would have arrived at The Times before the sun set.
The geomagnetic storm which caused a blackout in Québec was in 1989, not 1999 (“Met Office looks out for damaging storms — in space”, Dec 26)
Requests for corrections or clarifications should be sent by email to email@example.com or by post to Feedback, The Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1TY
Sir, Philip Collins (“Will Welby ever make the case for God?”, Opinion, Dec 27) rightly reminds the Church of England that the Christian faith has no monopoly on compassion, but he adopts a lofty, under-informed critique about the factual basis on which the faith is contingent.
Not only is the historical narrative more compelling than he allows, but so is the experience of those who have put the faith into practice. We live in an empirical age, and so we might have expected critics of Christianity to have tried it and then critiqued it. Those of us who approached it as a working hypothesis to be tested have grown ever more deeply committed as it delivers what it promises — even to intellectuals.
Perhaps G. K. Chesterton was right when he wrote that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.”
The Rev Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden
Chaplain to the Queen, and Canon Theologian, Chichester Cathedral
Sir, I agree with Philip Collins that the Church should do more to make the case for the Christian faith. However, to dismiss the Christian narrative as unable to withstand “the probing questioning of an inquisitive seven-year-old” is altogether too casual. Yes, the miraculous events described in the Bible may test our credulity but a God who is unable to do the miraculous would be no God at all.
Serious questions have been asked of the Christian faith by many intelligent people who have found answers that satisfied them. Mr Collins mentions some books but there are others that make the case better. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison are two of many. Strobel was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and an atheist when he began to investigate the evidence for Jesus. Frank Morison was a journalist who began his book with the intention of disproving the Christian narrative. Both men became convinced Christians.
I would encourage all who have questions about the Christian faith to look into it with an open mind. They will find a much stronger case for Christ than that generally presented in the media.
Sir, Philip Collins cannot be correct when he asserts that the Church of England must find better arguments for the survival and continuance of its belief. Empirical analyses would invalidate the Immaculate Conception and transubstantiation as implausible, but what is wrong with such innocent and popular beliefs? I am a secular expatriate but I love the idea of Christianity as a unique expression of love and compassion, charity and a great source of moral support at times of anguish and hopelessness.
Sir, I agree with Philip Collins that the Church of England “should concentrate on devising retorts that didn’t collapse under the weight of their own evasions”. However, when he tells us that the theological basis for the Church’s political involvement is found “notably in the Gospel of James” one begins to wonder if he has read the documents he does not believe in.
West Monkton, Somerset
Sir, Further to your report “Millions for wind farms to switch off” (News, Dec 27), it is true that wind farms are paid money not to produce electricity when the grid is stretched — but so are most other electricity generators. As your report indicates in the penultimate paragraph, “constraints payments” are used by the National Grid to regulate the system. Anyone not reading that far, however, would miss the key fact that puts the issue into context: wind accounts for only about 10 per cent of constraints payments, which means that 90 per cent of payments go to gas, coal and oil, etc.
Wind is more flexible than most generators and is therefore easier to take off the system at short notice when the grid is at capacity. Constraints payments are necessary due to the current inflexibility of the grid — the issue would exist even if there were no wind turbines. However, once a reliable interconnector with the Continent is in place there should no longer be a need for constraints payments, and we will be able to sell the excess electricity we produce to other countries.
Partnerships for Renewables
Cromwell’s challenge to unjustified authoritarianism demonstrates his continuing relevance — including in Putin’s Russia
Sir, In the preface to the 2008 edition of her seminal biography of Oliver Cromwell, Antonia Fraser writes that the 18th-century Russian radical Alexander Radischev regarded Cromwell (letters, Dec 26 & 23, and leading article, Dec 20) and the Parliamentarians as a “standing challenge to political systems like the Russian autocracy of the Tsars”. This telling reference demonstrates not only the continuing relevance of Cromwell, but the need to ensure that his achievements (accepting that not all were positive) remain widely known and understood — including in Putin’s Russia.
Now it seems that the Cromwell Museum at Cromwell’s birthplace in Huntingdon is threatened with closure as a result of planned budget cuts by Cambridgeshire County Council, so it is to be hoped that all those who acknowledge Cromwell’s significance as a standing challenge to unjustified authoritarianism will add their voices and their resources to the campaign to keep the museum open.
Stephen Hockman, QC
SIR – David Cameron’s programme of commemoration for the First World War does not mention soldiers from the Empire who were drawn into the conflict.
There is great ignorance of the fact that thousands of Canadians, Australians, Indians, Africans, West Indians and New Zealanders were in Britain and France. In the case of New Zealanders, there were 131,000 in hospitals here, out of a population of less than a million. At Ewshot, Hampshire, where 5,000 New Zealanders were based, there is nothing to mark their presence.
Mr Cameron’s outline also neglects the suffering of the civilian population. The Defence of the Realm Act turned military towns like Aldershot into armed centres with such limited civil liberties that they resembled later towns in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
SIR – My father-in-law, Jim Purfield, joined the newly created 8th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent, in September 1914. After a year of training in southern England, the battalion, untried in battle, was pitched into the Battle of Loos on its second day. After a disciplined march across open ground, the battalion was decimated by fire from three sides.
I remain, Sir, disgusted after all these years…
27 Dec 2013
Cpl Jim Purfield’s diary records: “Ultimately got caught in a proper trap in front of barbed wire from L and R flanks. Stuck it for a time, losing heavily… Awful time, but boys stuck it grandly and behaved splendidly. Lost the battalion myself and wandered around for the rest of day in reserve trenches trying to find them again. Spent night in dugout in evacuated trench.”
Jim survived and, like many others, kept his memories and experiences to himself.
Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire
Sir, – Dr Brendan Crowley (December 27th) writes of the case of an 84-year-old lady with Alzheimer’s disease whose medical card was cancelled as the HSE received no reply to its validation exercise. For this he personally blames the Minister for Health and insults him by suggesting Dr Reilly cares more about cars than people.
Advocacy on behalf of one’s patients, an integral part of the duty of a general practitioner, is demeaned by such low-ball attacks. Blaming the Minister for every action of the HSE is as illogical as expecting the HSE to know the personal circumstances of the particular patient involved.
GPs have a history of not telling the HSE when their patients have died and it is therefore not unreasonable to frequently check on those whose longevity has surpassed the statistical life expectancy.
Better behaviour by all concerned would be helpful. – Yours, etc,
Dr MAIT O FAOLAIN,
Sir, – Dr David McConnell makes a compelling case (Opinion, December 24th) for the acceptance of GM technology in the context of good science and the possible benefits that could accrue for the less fortunate. He is correct in thinking there can be a degree of hysteria in the arguments put forward with regard to the potential doomsday impact of exposing the natural environment to GM crops. Nature is in a continuous process of genetic mutation albeit in at a more sedate pace.
The real concern, which Dr McConnell seems to brush over without significant comment, is both economic and thus political.
The generation of intellectual property through the GM effort is seen as a lucrative source of income for many corporations, including Monsanto, and thus the prospect of the food chain becoming increasingly controlled by private unelected entities is real.
Where will that leave struggling farmers in the third world, who could benefit most from the science of GM but could then also become trapped by its implementation? This is the real debate that is needed on GM. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Barry Walsh’s letter (December 24th) misrepresents the Central Bank’s Economic Letter Profiling the Cross-Border Funding of the Irish Banking System by Dermot Coates and Mary Everett. First, it is not a Central Bank report; the paper notes the “views expressed are solely the views of the authors, and are not necessarily those held by the Central Bank of Ireland or the European System of Central Banks”.
More importantly, the document specifies two important caveats to the analysis. The first concerns a compositional shift in the statistical reporting population. A number of banks active in the Pfandbrief (German covered bonds) market were considered as Irish headquartered banks for statistical reporting purposes, and formed part of the Irish data between 2002 and 2011. Many of these banks were European and their activities would not now be included in Irish data; however they were regarded as Irish banks for the purposes of this study.
The second caveat concerns the location of ultimate asset ownership, the so-called City of London effect. International data limitations prevent looking through the veil of transactions via off-shore centres and intra-group funding, and thereby partially distort the geographical profile of foreign borrowers. It means the study does not reflect the extent to which finance sourced by Irish banks in London, New York and from off-shore financial services centres may have originated elsewhere.
Mr Walsh also states the “Central Bank found just 1 per cent of foreign lending to our banks during the property bubble came from Germany”. The document states: “Germany was the source of approximately 11 billion or 25 per cent of total foreign funding at end-2002. Thereafter, absolute German funding fell quite quickly to . . . 1 per cent by end-2007”, a rather different thing. It also finds “Pfandbrief banks headquartered in Ireland accounted for nearly 80 per cent of this funding” and as noted earlier, the real nationality of these banks cannot be determined.
Also, while Mr Walsh mentions only lending by German and French banks, I (December 21st) explicitly cited lending by British banks as well. The document he quotes found the “interbank market in the UK was the primary source of wholesale funding for the Irish banking system”. Moreover, Mr Walsh’s letter missed the central point of my criticism of Mr Barroso’s refusal to consider retrospective funding for Irish banks. Mr Barroso’s justification for this position is that Ireland must pay the cost for the failure of its own regulatory authorities and the Irish banking system; the failed institution/country bears the costs of its failures. However, applying this logic to lenders who recklessly fuelled the property bubble here and therefore ended up with exposed loans would force these institutions and bondholders to carry the cost of these failed loans. Instead, Europe insisted all bondholders, including unsecured, unguaranteed bondholders, would be repaid by the Irish taxpayer. The Irish government gave in to these European demands, saddling the country with huge debt into the future.
The consequences of “foolish decisions made by Irish politicians and Irish voters” as Mr Walsh describes them, have indeed been imposed on the Irish taxpayer, but the usual outcome of reckless speculative lending has been spared the bondholders and banks who made them, regardless of their country of origin. – Yours, etc,
Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Of all the masses of verbiage about our precipitous fall from the heights of the boom to the lows of the bailout, Natasha Abdul Aziz’s article stands out as a gem (“It was great while it lasted, Ireland, but it’s time to say goodbye”, Opinion, December 23rd).
She captures magnificently the atmosphere of the boom. The “showy” offices and houses, the “flash suits and fancy cars”, the “reckless abandon” were all so “intoxicating”.
But then “the bottom fell out of our world” and we became “mean”, “petty” and “selfish”. We started to say that it was all the fault of the mostly foreign, other fella.
However, at the end of it all, she thinks that a “glimmer of hope is still there”.
It takes an outsider to see what the rest of us, who are involved in the grim day-to-day details, cannot see.
What puzzles me is why enough of those, who were in a position to know about the dangers of what was happening during the boom and not be intoxicated by it, did not become mean, petty and selfish on behalf of us all and blow the whistle on the reckless abandon. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I’m waiting with baited breath for John McGuinness to call a number of our Ministers to the Public Accounts Committee to give an account of themselves regarding “top-ups” they gave to their advisers. What chance? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Christmas Day is the only day in Dublin when there are no trains or planes whatsoever, an absolute silence which makes it easier than ever to hear the never-ending burglar alarms of those who’ve gone away until New Year. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Memo to all those motorists still driving around with silly red noses and reindeers’ antlers on their cars; the New Year beckons, for goodness sake get a grip. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your photograph (Barry Cronin, Front page, December 27th) projects the picture postcard image of foxhunting, the alluring pomp and pageantry of this traditional English pastime that England has banned.
What nifty blood red or shining black jackets the hunters wear as they set off on their festive pursuit of Reynard. And what lovely white breeches and well polished gleaming jodhpurs they wear. Not to mention all those impeccably behaved hounds scampering past cheery sightseers. Almost any one of the hunt images that surface in the newspapers at this time of year wouldn’t look out of place on a Christmas card.
Unfortunately they present a misleading picture of foxhunting. We never see a photograph of a fox at the end of a hunt, on the point of exhaustion, its lungs spent and the dogs closing for the kill. No pictures either of this much-maligned wild dog of the countryside having the skin ripped off its bones in a melee of orchastrated savagery.
Instead we have again the feel-good colour pieces and happy-clappy snapshots.
I accept photographers and journalists have to make a living, but no amount of whitewashing can alter the truth about this blood sport. I have witnessed the cruelty firsthand and I can assure your readers that the agonised death of a hunted fox by disembowelling is not a pretty picture. – Yours, etc,
(Campaign for the Abolition
of Cruel Sports),
Sir, – Alan Barrett of the ESRI overlooks a key fact (“Emigration to fall as economy improves”, Front page, December 25th, 26th & 27th) that your “The picture improves” Editorial (same date) also overlooks.
Your Editorial states, “employment has increased significantly, with 58,000 more at work, a 3.2 per cent annual increase”. Besides the fact that the 58,000 figure was based on a limited survey and may be out of line, a significant thing about it is: two-thirds of the work was of the low-income sort that is more attractive to immigrants than to our “highly educated” natives. Such work is like asking our highly-skilled young jockeys to settle permanently for being point-to-point riders instead of going abroad permanently to get money to afford expensive US lifestyles when married. Mr Barrett ignores that lifestyles factor.
We’ll continue to have some high-income work. But most of the new work that will arise as/if our economy improves enough, to offset the further shrinkage that is still necessary in some public and private sectors, will be of the low-income sort. At best most of our “highly-educated” will use them as temporary stop-gaps.
We should cheerfully think and plan in terms of 75 per cent of our current generation cheerfully emigrating permanently by the age of 30. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – I was at a most joyful “Gospel” Mass in Cabinteely, where the priest announced the collection taken up at all Masses recently in the Archdiocese of Dublin for Syria and the Philippines totalled the staggering sum of €1.3 million.
Over a couple of hours in one weekend in November, at the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses, the faithful contributed this amazing amount of money for people in an other country of many religions and none – in their time of hardship.
The Catholic Church in Ireland does wonderful things from time to time and shows that the spirit of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” has real meaning for ordinary Catholics in their every day lives. This is the Catholic Church leadership and their laity at their best.
May the people of these two countries adversely affected by the calamities which befell them enjoy the fruits of this aid and hopefully 2014 will be a better year for them. – Yours, etc,
Eamon Delaney’s balanced article on Charles Haughey’s position in Irish politics gave a different perspective from the generally held view of him. In fact, as Mr Delaney states, Mr Haughey did not invent ‘cute hoorism’ in Irish political life.
Also in this section
Letter of the week: Dole out soup, Enda
Letters: Light of Marie’s flame will shine
Letters: Sirens break peace
That term dates back to the enactment of the Local Government Act 1898. Gerald Balfour, responsible for its passage, introduced democracy into the Irish countryside.
At one stroke, Mr Balfour had destroyed the political and economic power of the old Protestant ascendancy.
Their successors — the plain people of Ireland — carried the tradition of ‘jobs for the boys’ inherited from their ‘masters’ over the previous hundreds of years.
This was not unique to Ireland as one has only to look at the governance in the former colonies of Africa where the now ruling classes there learnt their trade from their former colonial masters.
On another matter, that Mr Haughey destroyed Anglo-Irish relations similar to how Jose Manuel Barroso seems to believe that our last government destroyed the eurozone.
However, it now seems from the state papers that Garret FitzGerald spent his energy trying to make Margaret Thatcher happy.
People should read her autobiography in which she states that she found Mr Haughey easy to get on with — “less talkative and more realistic than Garret FitzGerald.
“Charles Haughey was tough, able and politically astute with few illusions and, I am sure, not much affection for the British.”
She also states as a matter of interest that she explained the question of the hunger strike to the Pope when she met him in Rome and, as a result, the Vatican brought pressure on the Irish hierarchy to call on the prisoners to end their strike which they did, although it did not please her that the hierarchy urged the government to show flexibility.
Finally, she states that Mr FitzGerald had “little time for the myths of Irish republicanism and would like to secularise the Irish Constitution and State, not least — but just — as a way of drawing the North into a united Ireland”.
“He was a man of as many words as Charles Haughey was few,” Mrs Thatcher wrote. And he was inclined to exaggerate — much more than Mr Haughey — the importance of essentially trivial issues, she added.
CLEGGAN, CO GALWAY
BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
* Clearly the writer of the letter ‘No men allowed here’, (Irish Independent, December 28), doesn’t know how well off he is. He decries the sexism of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA).
Would he consider for a moment that the female-only members of this organisation may have male partners at home — happily, I opine — bereft of their spouses on the occasions of local guild meetings and their ancillary keep fit classes, Zumba dancing, and other events too numerous to mention?
Does the above writer wish to deprive the multitude of males left behind on the above occasions their freedom to enjoy the peace and serenity of home and the meals prepared and labelled in advance with microwave instructions for such absences? Let’s have a bit of brotherhood here.
NAME OF ICA MEMBER’S HUSBAND WITHDRAWN FOR OBVIOUS REASONS.
* Referring to Saturday’s letter on Bethlehem, yes it is beautiful — I spent nine days there a few years ago and really enjoyed the experience.
I visited the manger at 6.30am one morning and the atmosphere was magical but, later on in the day, it was ruined by the Israeli army corralling the Palestinians into pens as they got on to buses.
It was harrowing for them and they have to put up with it every time they wish to leave or re-enter their town. Surely the PLO are not responsible for that as Len Bennett seems to think? Anybody who has visited the area will be aware of the continuous harassment the Palestinians have to endure as a daily consequence of the Israeli land grab.
It is unfortunate that so many Christians have left the area but, perhaps if pilgrims stayed in the West Bank rather than Jerusalem, it would provide a livelihood for some Christians.
WESTPORT, CO MAYO
1014 MUST EQUAL 1916
* The millennium of the Battle of Clontarf occurs next year. The year 1014 was a momentous one in our history, and should be comparable to 1916 and its proposed commemoration in 2016.
Yet, apart from my letter — which you published in your newspaper on December 1, 2010 — I have seen nothing about it since. How about it Bord Failte? Tom May
BALLINA, CO MAYO
* My new year resolution is not to make a new year resolution.
BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9
QUESTIONING THE ECB
* Colette Browne’s review of the year (Irish Independent, December 27) was both witty and insightful. However, I was surprised that she attributed blame to the IMFs Ajai Chopra for Ireland not burning the bondholders as part of our bailout deal.
The reality is that, from the very beginning, the IMF was in favour of the bondholders taking a hit. It was our good friends in the ECB who insisted upon us taking on the burden of debt by paying the bondholders.
Now that any chance of a retrospective deal on our bank debt looks increasingly unlikely, is it not time for the Government to ask the Attorney General to examine the letter from former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet, which forced us into these payments in the first place?
DUNLEER, CO LOUTH
MUCH FOOD FOR THOUGHT
* I got through two of three books during the Christmas festivities. The first tome, ‘I am Malala’ concerns the story of a young girl living in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
Malala (12) dreamt of being able to educate herself and have a life rather than follow the traditional route of an arranged marriage at the age of 14.
She tried to make her dream a reality and attended school until she was shot in the head by the Taliban.
Education for women was shunned by the Taliban who were imposing a strict version of Islamic law that forbade the education of women. They started a campaign of bombing schools and beheading teachers.
Another tactic was to throw acid in the girls’ faces for attending school, so they had given the 50,000 girls being educated in the Swat Valley an ultimatum, or suffer the consequences.
Malala survived the assassination attempt despite being shot in the head at close range. She has met world leaders, appeared on television screens worldwide and continues her aim of trying to convince factions in her home country of the benefit of educating their daughters.
Words of wisdom that jumped out from the pages uttered by this girl were: ignorance allows politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be elected.
The second book, ‘The Escape’, by Gerry Kelly MLA, pieces together the story of one of the most audacious prison breakouts in modern history.
He played a lead role in the meticulous planning and organisation of the escape from Long Kesh prison in 1983.
According to sources in the British government, it was escape-proof. The words that stuck in my mind after reading it were: it always seems impossible until it is done.
GORT AN CHOIRCE, CO DONEGAL