6 August 2013 Hospital

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark The dear old Troutbridge crew is invited to join the fleet, but due to some cheap paint provided by Pertwee she is mistaken as the target ship. Priceless
We are both tired but go to hospital Mary gets her pill and we meet Dr Hillman
We watch Yes Minister quite good, Norman rings
No Scrabble today we are too exhausted


Sir Kenneth James
Sir Kenneth James, who has died aged 87, was Ambassador in Warsaw as Poland was beginning to experience the turmoil which would culminate in the collapse of communism.

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Kenneth James with Nina Petrovna Khrushchev (centre), wife of the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev 
12:50PM BST 05 Aug 2013
James arrived in Warsaw in 1981, the year after the formation of the trade union Solidarity. In December 1981, in an attempt to stifle dissent, General Jaruzelski imposed martial law. Pro-democracy movements such as Solidarity were banned, and their leaders, including Lech Walesa, detained; borders and airports were closed, telephone lines disconnected.
There had been fears that the Soviet Union would invade, just as it had intervened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia when its hegemony had been threatened. In the event, Soviet dependence on grain from the United States to feed its people, and the robust Western reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, convinced President Brezhnev to put his faith in Jaruzelski’s hard line at home.
To compound James’s difficulties, only days before the declaration of martial law he suffered a serious heart attack. On realising that his hospital room in Warsaw was bugged, he insisted on being moved, and was eventually able to fly back to Britain to recover before returning to his post.
Martial law remained in force until July 1983, and throughout this period James — already an expert on the Soviet Union and its satellite European states — was sending magisterial reports back to London and advising the government on policy.
Meanwhile, his elder daughter, Emma, then in her twenties, was involved with Solidarity (and occasionally being followed by the secret police). The Ambassador was aware that on one occasion she brought food, medicines and letters from Britain to the wife of Janusz Onyszkiewicz, who had been interned by the authorities (he would later serve two terms in the 1990s as Poland’s defence minister).
James’s first experience of the communist bloc had been in the period 1959-62, when he had served as First Secretary and Cultural Attaché in Moscow. A fluent Russian speaker, in 1960 he helped to draw up a British-Soviet cultural agreement, under which in 1961 the Royal Ballet, with Margot Fonteyn, came to perform in Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev (the Bolshoi later made a return visit). There was also a major theatre exchange; and the London Philharmonic came on a similar tour, conducted by Malcolm Sargent.
It was James’s responsibility to oversee these exchanges, and he made many friends — among them Shostakovich — in Muscovite cultural circles.
Inevitably there was interference by the KGB, and a postgraduate exchange scheme, under which 20 British graduates came to the Soviet Union annually to carry out research at Russian universities, was seen as particularly hazardous in this respect. The embassy was in loco parentis to the students, and had to warn them of attempts to suborn them, including the danger of “honey traps”.
Under the agreement, the British could invite four Soviet cultural personalities a year to visit Britain, and one of those selected during James’s time in Moscow was the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. When, later, President Khrushchev clamped down on dissident artists and the avant garde, Yevtushenko was partly protected by the acclaim he commanded in the West.
Cynlais Morgan James (always known as Kenneth) was born at Resolven in the Vale of Neath on April 29 1926. His father sang at the Royal Opera House, where his mother worked in the wardrobe department, providing costumes for stars such as Maria Callas and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
A gifted singer himself, Kenneth attended the London College of Choristers in Warren Street. Aged 12 he won a scholarship to Winchester, but was unable to take it up for financial reasons and instead went to Marylebone Grammar School. Among the churches at which he sang as a boy was St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, where many years later he would become a churchwarden. He recorded for the BBC, and was about to record I Know That My Redeemer Liveth when his voice broke.
From 1944 to 1947 James served with RAF Intelligence; he was sent on a Russian language course at Cambridge University and was later posted as an intelligence officer in Trieste.
In 1948 he returned to Cambridge to read French and Russian at Trinity College. As an undergraduate he made lifelong friendships, including with Leopold de Rothschild, the conductor Raymond Leppard and the playwright Peter Shaffer.
James joined the Foreign Service in 1951, and his early postings included Tokyo (1953–56) — where he put his experience in the Cambridge Footlights to good use by putting on productions of Othello and The Importance of Being Earnest — and Rio de Janeiro (1956–59), where he took the opportunity to travel around Brazil with Aldous Huxley.
A four-year spell in Paris , where he was promoted to Counsellor in 1968, was followed by a posting to Saigon (1969–71) before he became head of the Foreign Office West European Department.
In July 1976 the Provisional IRA assassinated the British Ambassador in Dublin, Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs, and it was thought that James would replace him. James was proud of his Welsh heritage, and believed that his Celtic background could prove useful in the role. In the event, it was discovered that his name, too, was on an IRA hit list, and instead he was sent to the Nato Defence College in Rome . The threat to his life was still considered real enough for him to be given protection during his five years (1976-81) as Minister in Paris.
Following his return from Poland, James served as Assistant Under Secretary of State, and was then posted as Ambassador to Mexico. In 1985 an earthquake in Mexico City killed between 10,000 and 65,000 people, and James arranged for British engineers to be brought in from Belize to help the relief effort.
James was appointed CMG in 1976 and KCMG in 1985.
After retiring in 1986, James remained active. He was Director General of Canning House, the foundation for fostering understanding between Britain and the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian world, from 1987 to 1992; a director of Thomas Cook (1986–91), of the Latin American Investment Trust (1990–96) and of the Polish Investment Trust (1996–2002). From 1988 to 2000 he was chairman of the British Institute in Paris, and in 1995 was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.
A man who clearly relished club life, he was a member of Brooks’s, the Beefsteak, Pratt’s and the Travellers in Paris.
Kenneth James married, in 1953, Teresa Girouard, whom he met at a cocktail party at which his hostess was trying to fix him up with a German baroness. Teresa died in 2009, and he is survived by their two daughters.
Sir Kenneth James, born April 29 1926, died July 19 2013


If a nation about to stage an Olympic tournament were to discriminate against people on grounds of race, the world would protest, yet Russia, which is to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, has passed laws that persecute gay, lesbian and transgender people (G2, 31 July). Indeed, its sports minister cannot guarantee that gay athletes will not be arrested during the Games. Can we boycott them, and find a country to host the “Equality Games”, to give athletes from more enlightened nations the chance to still compete at the highest level?
Tim Matthews
Luton, Bedfordshire
• I was almost moved to tears by Yotam Ottolenghi’s article about becoming a parent (Weekend, 3 August) but it was marred by the repetition of “straight” to describe people who are not gay. As one who is “heterosexual”, I hate this usage – the opposite of “straight” isn’t “gay”, it is “bent”, or “warped”, or “twisted”.
Dick Hadfield

Unless the BBC plans to alter the past, present and future of Gallifrey, Peter Capaldi becomes the 12th and therefore the penultimate doctor (Report, 5 August). A time lord has 12 regenerations, as opposed to lives, so assuming William Hartnell’s doctor was the first, Capaldi is not the last.
Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
• On a horribly hot, overcrowded train my morning read brought me to Wenlock Edge (Country diary, 31 July). At first I longed for Houseman’s gale to blow through holt and hanger. But the previous evening I’d been collecting data at Ely station’s low bridge and level crossing mash-up. When a faint breeze disturbed the sultry, traffic-fumes-laden air, I was confused by a beautiful aroma – and showered with tiny shiny black beetles. Looking up from the duff-strewn Tarmac I saw the vaulted greenery of the lime tree, bejewelled with disintegrating flowers. By the time I’d finished reading Evans’ piece I just wanted to be there.
Jane Frances
Ely, Cambridgeshire
• Your leader (Editorial, 31 July) refers to RBS’s troubles in 2008. Fred Goodwin, the chief executive, paid the price for his folly by being stripped of his knighthood. Is it not time for RBS to lose its “royal” title?
Tom Jackson
Stockport, Manchester
• Here in North Britain (alias Scotland) many of us are entering the last week of the school holidays before term begins again on 12 August. Can you please, out of respect and sympathy, begin to subdue the holiday focus that has recently been so dominant in your pages?
Veda Franz
• O Spain, for the love of God, don’t invade Gibraltar. Remember the Falklands and Mrs Thatcher. We’ll have bloody Cameron and the Lib Dems for years. Mind you, Dave says he’s taking it very seriously, so there’s not that much to worry about.
Eoin Dillon
Dublin, Ireland
• The correct response to “I’m good” (Simon Hoggart’s week, 3 August) is surely “That is not for you to say”.
Jim Norris

Giles Fraser is right to assert that religion should not be denied a voice in the public square (Loose canon, 3 August). One of the functions of the church, and religion in general, should be to speak “truth to power”. Faith groups have a contribution to make to the issues of the day, whether economic-related or on the environment or migration, just as other groups should be able to voice their views in a pluralist society, including humanist groups. They should have a voice, but not a veto. We do not live in a theocracy, but a mature democracy should welcome a multiplicity of views in the national conversation, including those of faith leaders.
Zaki Cooper
Council of Christians and Jews
• Of course Christians should be involved in politics. Quakers have always known this. In 1682, William Penn, an early Quaker and the son of an admiral, told them: “True godliness don’t turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavours to mend it … Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port.” We can but keep trying.
Penelope Putz
Newton Abbot, Devon
• It is all very well to trash the “heresy” of gnosticism but at least the gnostics had a serious go at explaining the existence of evil and suffering in a God-created universe, whereas all Fraser’s lot can come up with is “moving in a mysterious way”. As a militant agnostic I think the material world would probably be a better place to live in if it had more gnostics in it and fewer oil executives.
Dave Bradney
Llanrhystud, Ceredigion
•  I am glad to hear that, like me, Giles Fraser is a secularist. Even so, I would prefer it if the space occupied by his weekly column were devoted to more readers’ letters.
Tom Knooptom
Wirral, Merseyside
Charles Arthur and Jemima Kidd (What can you do to take action against the trolls? 30 July) posed the question “Is a rape threat on Twitter more urgent than a real-life stalker?”. In the digital world, and certainly for “digital natives”, there is no distinction between the “real” and the online world. A “like” on your Facebook page is as great as someone saying something nice to you in the playground. A nasty comment on your timeline hurts just as much as any spoken bullying snipe – and lasts longer and is more widely shared. Similarly, a rape threat online should be treated exactly the same and with no less seriousness and urgency than one in real life.
Sarah Mann
Head of e-learning services, Civica
• The rules for social media sites should consider their size and market dominance. Consider a town with several pubs. Behaviour tolerated in one pub may cause some to drink elsewhere. But if the customers have nowhere else to go, it seems reasonable to expect the landlord to adopt a more interventionist role. Sadly, the way Mark Luckie, Twitter’s manager of journalism and news, withdrew when subjected to a fraction of the abuse endured by the people who indirectly pay his salary shows corporate incomprehension of this responsibility.
Why not provide tools to formalise natural tribal segmentation, as noted by Professor Vincent Jansen? That way we can all choose which pub to chat in and avoid the boors as well as the bores.
Philip Cunningham
• Threats have always been sent by any media that do not have an intermediary, as the abuse of snail mail and the telephone demonstrate. However, the internet has seen an escalating coarsening of social life. When haters can threaten their victims with apparent impunity, it is not just those targeted who are at risk. The threat is to us all.
Trevor Fisher
•  After a handful of articulate and influential middle-class women find people have posted tasteless and/or insulting comments, the media subjects the topic to intense scrutiny (Report, 4 August). As a result, Twitter is to add a complaint button, and apparently staff will also be questioned by a government select committee.
Meanwhile, women who might be defined as non-influential, or poor and inarticulate, are, and continue to be, victims of domestic violence: the actual violence of a physical assault by a current or previous partner that results, on average, in the death of two women a week (see, for example, statistics on domestic violence cited by Women’s Aid). Where’s the outcry from the chattering classes about the two “real victims” of gendered violence that are killed, offline, every week?
Eddie Duggan
Ipswich, Suffolk
• I’m sure GCHQ would be happy to help locate the Twitter trolls. After all, if it’s not to help fight crime, why else are they collecting the data?
John Gessler
• While I have great respect for many of those involved in Sunday’s Twitter boycott, do they really think that Rosa Parks would have been remembered if she’d stayed off the buses, and walked?
Dan Adler
Farnham, Surrey

Simon Goodley and Phillip Inman list a number of disadvantages with zero-hours contracts but overlook the one you would expect the government to seize on in its campaign to get people off benefits (Report, 5 August). People leaving jobseekers’ allowance for paid work have their benefits removed or adjusted in the expectation of a proper pay packet out of which the rent and council tax will be paid. If the pay turns out to be a fraction of that expected, the immediate result is unpaid bills, most likely rent arrears, followed by attempts to persuade the local authority to adjust housing benefit. It can easily reach the point where the wages for a week are less than the jobseekers’ allowance – I have come across instances where no work has been offered for two weeks or more, the next step being a trip to the food bank.
The days when casual work was done by “non-working wives” for pin money while their husbands were breadwinners have long gone. The employer/employee relationship should mean commitment on both sides and the government should realise that a flexible labour force has harmful effects on the benefits system it is so keen to reduce.
Les Masters
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
• I run a fruit-growing business and my wife runs a children’s nursery. Neither of us is in control of weather or the whims of parents. Zero-hours contracts allow us to tailor our labour to prevailing events. All our staff get holiday pay and are entitled to sick pay as the law requires. The bottom line is that we can employ people on fixed-hours contracts when you, the consumers, are prepared to pay for them to sit at home while you work. We do not use these contracts as a way of denying anyone employment rights but to allow us to run a business which provides us, as well as our staff, with a reasonable living.
Andrew and Sue Chesson
Sevenoaks, Kent
•  It is not only private sector employers that promote unfair employment practices. Labour-controlled Waltham Forest council has some staff employed on zero-hours contracts, as does the local housing organisation Ascham Homes. Isn’t it time that the Labour party publicly opposed such archaic employment practice?
Dave Knight
Branch secretary, Unison, Waltham Forest
• I have a piece of advice for union leaders such as Len McCluskey. Instead of interfering with Labour party selections, concentrate on the job you were elected and paid (rather handsomely) to do. This is an issue you and your fellow general secretaries should be pursuing with vigour. It will require resources and organisational skills as well as political tact to rid the public and private sectors of this practice but the rewards are tantalisingly substantial with the prospect of significantly increased membership in an era of substantial trade union membership decline. You could start with Sports Direct, G4S and the NHS.
Gordon Craig
• Policymakers should clarify to British businesses the difference between freelancers and zero-hours workers. Freelancers are independent workers who choose to undertake often unusual and unpredictable working patterns as part of a mutually agreed, mutually beneficial contract. Zero-hours workers are salaried employees who do not have the same degree of choice or control, and are unlikely to have the same negotiating power as highly skilled knowledge-based freelance workers. Businesses that confuse the two put the wellbeing of their employees at risk – and they miss the benefits that engaging freelancers could bring to them.
Chris Bryce
CEO, PCG – The Voice of Freelancing
• Times are hard indeed when even the Queen needs to load her financial problems on to the backs of the rest of us, whose taxes will be paying for the benefits that her zero-hours employees will need in order to be able to live (Report, 31 July). The cynical reliance on public money to subsidise low wages seems to be something that the establishment, industry bosses and shareholders alike can reconcile with their consciences. Where’s the Taxpayers’ Alliance when you need it?
Peter Millen
• The Tate Britain’s exhibition, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, is thought-provoking as well as enjoyable. Alongside Lowry’s matchstick men going to and from the mills are texts on poverty, the industrial world and an idea of art that celebrates humanity even in its misery and aims for a “grim compassion” with its subjects. Ironic therefore to read of Tate Enterprises Ltd being one of the organisations using zero-hours contracts for its part-time staff. Grim perhaps, but not compassionate.
Veronica Marris
Heckington, Sleaford, Lincolnshire
• I was on a zero-hours contract with a high street store while at university; it enabled me to work during the Christmas sales and over the summer months – but not during term time. It was a means to an end until I got a job in my profession and it helped me pay off my overdraft – but it’s not a sustainable system for people requiring permanent, full-time employment to pay the bills.
Jenna Mahoney
Luton, Bedforshire
• Child labour was not limited to Victorian times (Why stop at zero hours? Why not revive child labour? 5 August). During the first world war, thousands of schoolchildren were directed to farms and factories. Of course, only working-class children, not those at public schools. When David Cameron makes his patriotic speeches to celebrate Britain’s victory in that war, will he also recall what happened to low-income families at home?
Bob Holman

I am afraid that Dr John Davies (Letters, 2 August) loses his “fair bet” because during my entire time as a consultant in the NHS, I never treated any private patient or received any payment for doing so; this was not permitted under the terms of my employment and I did work full time. I hope that this rebuttal convinces him and others who might be similarly minded, that I had no ulterior motive for supporting Melissa Kite’s viewpoint.
Charles Rowbotham
Carnforth, Lancashire
• It is all well for John Pilger (Comment, 30 July) to excoriate the Australian government and its opposition for their policies of not admitting refugees and instead diverting them to Papua New Guinea. However – and typically – he hasn’t offered a single word on alternative policies for handling the dire situation.
Michael Batchelor
• It appears from your photograph of the cloud formation on your front page (3 August) that Scotland has already gained independence.
Tessa Jones
• On a different tack, who would hold the reins of power (Letters, 3 August)?
Pete Bibby
• Berlusconi’s message “defused on one of his TV channels” (Editorial, 3 August)? We should be so lucky.
Desmond Painter


It is suggested that the number of people working on a zero-hours basis is likely to be at least four times greater than official estimates would have us believe.
For any who lack historical knowledge, there was a time (not so long ago) when men lined up outside factory gates hoping to be employed on a day-to-day basis. So far as wages and conditions were concerned, the employee could take it or leave it.
The last to be employed and the first to be dismissed were those who belonged to unions and “troublemakers” who attempted to improve wages and conditions. The employer took on whomever they chose and dismissed whomever they pleased, with impunity.
The growing trend to substitute, by default, proper contracts with zero-hours employment is a deliberate attempt to return to those days when workers had no rights.
I suspect that we are considerably further down the road towards that destination than some would care to admit.
Robert Bottamley, Hedon, East Yorkshire
It’s good to see that the ethics of zero-hour contracts are being discussed. The zero-hour mentality is more widespread than official statistics may suggest.
Supply teachers often find themselves in a similar situation. They have a legal right to protest if their rates are beaten down, or if they are offered classroom assistant jobs when demand is low.
But while they technically have the right to turn down unsuitable work, it’s not in their best interests to do so.
They cannot predict their monthly or weekly income because there is no guarantee of a minimum amount of work.
Saraswati Narayan, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
A greater level of ignorance and adherence to right-wing dogma, as expressed by Grant Shapps, is hard to imagine. Changing employment law to make sacking easier and cheaper for employers is totally wrong.
A high level of insecurity among employees does nothing to improve productivity. The need to use a hire-and-fire policy shows an appalling level of management inefficiency. Intelligent recruiting procedures and good team-building combined with sound market planning – ie, good management – are the only way to improve all areas of a business.
A manager should know if an employee is in the right job within three months of recruitment – if not, the manager is in the wrong job.
The right-wingers heading our Government show their true colours as they become even more arrogant.
Brian Willis, Snape Bridge, Suffolk
Boles: architect of a grey and unpleasant land
First, planning minister Nick Boles wanted to cover “boring” fields in concrete. Now (following the flop of the disastrously underfunded Portas Pilots) he has declared the high street “dead” and suggests turning it into housing, over the heads of local communities’ wishes.
On top of this council of despair, Eric Pickles is encouraging middle-class householders to tear up their front gardens and rent them out as car lots.
Bees and earthworms, eyes and lungs, go hang. 
In many towns, street trees have long been felled and most front gardens already destroyed due to the spread of the concrete cancer that is front-of-house parking.
The once celebrated notion of leafy suburbia is in its death throes thanks to Pickles’ latest brainwave.
Naturally, now that we are all becoming chairbound robots glued to plasma screens, who needs things like flowers, trees and independent shops in this brave new world?  
All this adds up to a dystopian vision of a vast plain of characterless greyness covering town and country, adorned only by cars, with people having nothing to do except stare at a computer screen, purchasing more cars.
Thanks to Boles and Pickles, England’s green and pleasant land, along with local shops and the cottage gardens beloved of generations of artists, are all to disappear under a blanket of hardcore.
Aldous Huxley is vindicated and Sir John Betjeman is turning in his grave.
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines
Nick Boles is to promote the idea of empty shop and commercial premises being converted back into housing. This will require serious funding. It saddens me that the Government has not embraced the recommendation of Mary Portas for a “town centre first” policy.
The Government’s new policy is good news in some of the regions, although it wouldn’t work everywhere.
In my short life, I have seen streets that have turned all properties to commercial use. In my infancy, it would have been only 10 out of 100. Many properties that were once large grand houses are now offices.
The big issue is parking. If residents are allowed to park outside their properties, conversion back into homes will be a success. Without on-street parking, these properties will become empty houses instead of empty commercial premises.
Of course, poor parking and vehicle access are responsible for killing our town-centre shops in the first place.
Nigel F Boddy, Darlington
We are backing future engineers
Contrary to comments reported in “Mega-projects facing cost hike on skills gap” (29 July), Crossrail is not facing an engineering skills shortage. Crossrail and Transport for London (TfL) are committed to investing in future engineers in the transport sector through the development of a number of opportunities.
Before construction commenced in 2009,  Crossrail identified a need to establish a dedicated academy to train the next generation of engineers and also to upskill people already working in the wider industry.
Crossrail has developed a £13m Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy in Ilford which plays a leading role in supporting the Crossrail project, but will also support future projects such as the Northern Line extension, Thames Tideway and HS2.
TfL is also delivering a huge programme of investment to improve London’s transport network, and over the past three years TfL and its supply chain have created 3,283 apprenticeship roles which include London Underground engineering roles.
TfL is also one of four sponsors of the new University Technical College being set up in Greenwich, and TfL employees will be providing time and technical expertise to inspire future employees in engineering.
Terry Morgan CBE, Chairman, Crossrail Ltd
Mike Brown MVO, Managing Director,  London Underground and London Rail, TfL
Second-rate Great Western
Should First Great Western be renamed Second (Rate) Great Western following its nightmare service from Penzance to Paddington at the weekend which broke down for almost six hours, resulting in a journey time of nearly 12 hours.
We in Cornwall are appalled that the Government is investing millions on “improving” the A303 to Cornwall and desecrating the Cornish countryside by widening the A30.
Cornwall has been exploited and ruined by mass tourism. The road “improvements” have led to Cornwall being one long, bad-tempered traffic queue for hours on end at weekends and throughout the summer. Road improvements will suck in more traffic.
We need rail investment and have received none since the 1980s. We saw the results of this lack of investment at the weekend.
But I guess a second-rate rail service is OK for the Cornish, as second-home-owners use the roads.
Tim James, Penzance
Car hopes buried in a black box
My 19-year-old will shortly become a university student. While living at home and as an A-level student, she has been able to run a car thanks to part-time jobs.
With the forthcoming move and insurance due by the end of August, she has been getting some quotes online to see if it is possible to keep her car at home for the university holidays.
Herald the black-box: student/young driver pay-as-you-go insurance! But after entering all her details, the outcome was that her P-reg Nissan Micra was too old to have the black box fitted. What do insurance companies expect young people and students to drive?
Sigrid Marceau, Faversham, Kent
It’s unbelievable
“‘Big lie’ behind the bedroom tax”, proclaims your front page (5 August). What? You lead me to believe that this Government does not tell the truth? Shock horror!
Next you will ask me to believe that those in power are trying to blame the poor for all our ills. Well, them plus all the foreigners who take every house and job in the land. You might even start claiming London boroughs are using housing shortages as opportunities to socially cleanse the city.
Ken Persaud, Surbiton
Who’s WHO
I’ve just looked up Peter Capaldi in the Internet Movie Database to remind myself what else he has been in. I see he was in World War Z. His role? WHO Doctor.
Paul Dormer, Guildford
Jobless mum?
Ramji Abinashi (letter, 5 August) suggests “Public Service” might have been a better description of occupation for the Duchess of Cambridge than “Princess of the UK”. When I heard it on the news,  I assumed it was just another Government-inspired euphemism for “unemployed and on benefits”.
Peter Coghlan, Broadstone, Dorset
“Princess of the United Kingdom”?
I would have thought, with a child in her arms, that “Housewife” would have been more accurate.
Chris Harding, Parkstone, Dorset
In bad taste
Test-tube burger? No thanks. Saw the film. It was called Soylent Green.
Keith Nolan, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, Ireland


‘There is a manifest public interest in the executive acting within the law, and it is the responsibility of the courts to ensure that it does’
Sir, Ross Clark (“Judges have no right to decide if hospitals are closed”, Aug 2) asserts that most judicial reviews come from “wealthy vested interests out to crush popular decisions”. The Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that over three quarters of applications for permission to apply for judicial review in 2011 were in asylum and immigration matters: hardly the realm of the anti-democratic special interest.
The decision of the High Court in the Lewisham case, as Mr Justice Silber made clear, did not relate to the merits of reducing hospital services. The Court held that the Secretary of State had acted outside the powers conferred on him by Parliament. There is a manifest public interest in the executive acting within the law, and it is the responsibility of the courts to ensure that it does. The availability of judicial review should be welcomed by all, save those who subscribe to the theory of the late President Nixon that the law of the land is what the government of the day says it is.
Richard Howell
London SE11
Sir, Ross Clark misses the point. The Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, and his special administrator were trying to use legislation intended only to deal with emergencies caused by financially unviable NHS Trusts to make major changes to a successful and well performing Trust. They were circumventing the consultation and local engagement which should precede such a decision. Mr Justice Silber’s decision was in support of proper process not an undermining of democratic decision making.
Those of us who led the opposition to what was proposed at Lewisham were always clear that change was likely to be needed at some point for clinical reasons. However, unlike Mr Hunt, we believe that GPs and other clinicians involved in local health and social care should be allowed to work out the solution which is right for our community rather than have something imposed from the centre.
Sir Steve Bullock
Executive Mayor, London Borough of Lewisham
Sir, Neville Peel (letter, Aug 5) seems to miss the point about judicial review. The fundamental right of UK citizens, that judges have defended, is that decisions — made by central government and local authority officials and the courts — be rational, proportionate and follow the laws and procedures laid down by Parliament. That is called the Wednesbury Principles, established in 1948 and explicitly upheld by Lord Freud the Minister for Welfare Reform during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 in the House of Lords.
A disastrous example of an occasion when the principles were disregarded was the imprisonment by magistrates, at the request of local authorities, of over 1,000 vulnerable, elderly and impoverished people who had defaulted on the community charge in the 1990s. They were released by judicial review.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Trustee, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
Sir, Like Ross Clark , I would prefer an elected politician, rather than a High Court judge, to decide what services should be provided by Lewisham Hospital. On the other hand, I would prefer a High Court judge, rather than an elected politician, to decide whether the elected politician is acting within the law.
John Camp
Great Billing, Northants

‘Society has moved on since the distant days of the 1970s. The police now caution or warn people for possession of cannabis and have done so since the 1980s’
Sir, I was disappointed by Carol Sarler’s article (“They busted us, but the police were the dopes”, Opinion, Aug 3). The debate on the legalisation of drugs is a complex one involving many bodies including the NHS, government and even those “figures of fun and idiocy” — the police.
I declare an interest here, I am a serving officer and like many of my colleagues I had to write a thesis on the pros and cons of legalising drugs, a decade ago. This is still a compulsory subject on police courses with input from various parties including drug counsellors and addicts.
Ms Sarler concentrates on how the police enforced the law on possession of cannabis back in the 1970s and clearly still takes issue with this. She states: “I still unrepentantly adhere only to laws that suit my purpose.”
The police serve the public and cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce. Society has moved on since the distant days of the 1970s. The police now caution or warn people for possession of cannabis and have done so since the 1980s with the consent of the majority of the public.
Misuse of drugs is a serious issue with no clear solution. Countries with liberal policies on drugs such as the Netherlands have recently tightened legislation. Countries with strict legislation also have a huge problem with drug misuse. Medical opinion differs as to the harm caused by drugs, including cannabis. Social workers differ as to the social issues caused by drug use.
Perhaps Ms Sarler and her friends in positions of influence should forget their experiences back in the middle of the last century and contribute to the debate on how best to deal with drugs in the 21st century.
Michael Jardine

There have been outbreaks of rubella in Eastern Europe and Japan — will our doctors recognise the symptoms and know how to treat it properly?
Sir, There are worrying reports about the re-emergence of congenital rubella because of low uptake of MMR. It had almost disappeared in countries with active immunisation programmes but now there are outbreaks in Eastern Europe and Japan.
This is worrying. Many doctors today will not recognise rubella, which is anyway difficult to diagnose, and lack the necessary skills to investigate patients appropriately. The diagnosis and management of rubella in pregnancy requires close collaboration between clinical and laboratory staff. Any breakdown in this may result in terminations or delivery of infants with congenital rubella. Finally, the monitoring of vaccination programmes for rubella is dependent on national surveillance programmes. So it is of considerable concern that the current congenital rubella surveillance programme is unfunded and its future is in jeopardy.
Professor Jangu Banatvala
Emeritus Professor of Clinical Virology, University of London

From this reader’s experiences over the past half a century, London is becoming more like New York or Paris — rude and uncaring
Sir, Britons’ growing intolerance for queueing (“We’re happy to queue, but six minutes is the limit”, Aug 3) may reflect a general distaste for conventions of many kinds.
I have visited London every year for half a century and am now somewhat disabled. The disregard for both posted notices and polite behaviour on public transport seems flagrant. During my current three-week stay on not a single occasion did I see younger passengers offering their seats to frail, elderly or pregnant fellow passengers. I wonder why there is no enforcement of the clearly posted directives calling for considerate behaviour.
All in all it leads me to believe that the renowned hallmark of British civility is no more. Rather, my new image is of a city inhabited by rude and uncaring people — almost as disheartening as New York or Paris.
John Fryer
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

More than 40 embassies and consultates in the UK have had their bank accounts with HSBC closed meaning that they cannot continue their work
Sir, The arbitrary action of HSBC in closing the bank accounts of more than 40 embassies and consulates in the UK requires a proper explanation.
These missions have been thrown into chaos as they cannot operate without proper bank accounts. HSBC does not seem to understand the havoc it has caused. When an embassy or consulate needs to change its bank account, it has to obtain approval from its home government. This can take longer than the time allowed by HSBC, particularly when the other banks seem reluctant to step in. So, some 40 foreign diplomatic missions cannot carry out their daily work. Is any British or foreign bank in the UK willing to take us?
Lawrence Landau
Honorary Consul, Republic of Benin Consulate London


SIR – The cost of transportation aside, I was somewhat surprised to find that the price of a kilogram of sea bass in Majorca was 5.5 euros (£4.78), whereas at my local fishmonger it was £21.50.
Whoever is benefiting from the Common Fisheries Policy, it certainly is not the British consumer.
John Barker
Prestbury, Cheshire

SIR – The news that new peers have been created, bringing the number in the House of Lords to more than 800 (report, August 2), must be a concern to those who value our democratic institutions. As the number of MPs in the House of Commons is just over 600, appointees to Parliament now considerably outnumber those elected.
With a currently popular, but unelected, head of state, and the majority nation, England, without an assembly of its own, those who value democracy need to keep a careful watch.
As Sir Winston Churchill remarked, democracy may not be perfect, but it’s the best form of government.
Jonathan C Simons
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
SIR – The simple solution to the proliferation of peers is to create honorary titles that do not entitle the holder to sit in the House of Lords and which expire on their death.
Related Articles
Who is benefiting from the EU fisheries policy?
05 Aug 2013
In terms of working peers, the total appointed in any one year must be 25 per cent lower than the incidence of death of existing peers in the previous 12 months.
This will ensure that, over time, the membership of the House of Lords is reduced to more reasonable proportions.
Ron Mason
East Grinstead, West Sussex
SIR – The Lords should consist of all Privy Counsellors no longer in the Commons. That is, all the experienced parliamentarians who have previously been appointed ministers on merit.
Just what a revising chamber needs.
Norman Baker
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – Democracy would be enhanced and the minds of the people’s representatives better concentrated if we came down to the one necessary and sufficient chamber.
Instead of the House of Lords, individual ministers should be advised by experts drawn from a particular field in ad hoc or standing departmental committees, integrated where appropriate, with current statutory consultation arrangements replacing many existing quangos. Those involved would only receive expenses.
Abolition would also set a much-needed example for the truth that real management efficiency starts at the top.
Ian Dexter
Great Brington, Northamptonshire
SIR – A quote attributed to Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, springs to mind: “When I want a peerage I shall buy one like any honest man.”
Brian Spencer
Pelynt, Cornwall
SIR – Leslie Watson (Letters, August 3) says that we “still have the House of Lords making the laws of the land”.
This is grossly unfair to the EU, which makes at least 80 per cent of them.
Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Classroom politics
SIR – Carola Binney raises a number of concerns about Pearson Edexcel’s A-level government and politics qualification (“It’s no wonder that none of my friends are teenage Tories”, Comment, August 2). These require clarification.
Miss Binney writes that the mark scheme only rewards students who use the nine bullet points which present the argument “for” a given statement on welfare reform. Had she turned the page she would have seen the seven counter-arguments.
What is more, the mark scheme clearly states that students would only be rewarded if they present a balanced argument in the exam that uses arguments from both the “for” and “against” list.
Our examiners also always reward students who include arguments that may not be explicitly on the mark scheme but are valid.
Rod Bristow
President, Pearson UK
London WC2
SIR – Sir Bernard Crick pointed out 50 years ago that, if the subject of politics were taught properly, any perceived bias on the part of the teacher would merely provoke contrary ideas on the part of the student.
Richard Kelly
Head of Politics
Manchester Grammar School
Footing the bill
SIR – Generations of people have rubbed the shoe of Sir Francis Sharp Powell, MP for Wigan, 1885 to 1910 (“Ban on touching PMs’ feet”, report, August 3). It was erected in Mesnes Park, Wigan, in 1910.
There does not seem to have been any detrimental effect to the shoe, and the toe is now a lovely gold colour. I do not know whether this has been done manually or caused by the rubbing, but it is, in my opinion, an added attraction to the statue.
Albert Edward Short
Blackpool, Lancashire
SIR – It is a revelation that so many of our leaders believe touching the foot of a statue will bring good luck. I have an idea that would serve a double purpose – install a wishing well just outside the door to the chamber.
This will mean that the members can give a little back and good luck will be theirs. Maybe the money so raised could be used to repair the damage to the statues caused by their superstition.
Patrick White
London SW19
Disability benefits
SIR – Thousands of disabled people will be trapped in their homes and at risk of losing their jobs, missing medical appointments and falling out of education, if the new “20 metre” rule for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) disability benefit continues to be implemented.
The rule is replacing the qualifying distance of 50 metres. It means that if disabled people can walk more than just 20 metres – even using aids such as sticks – they could lose £34 a week or access to a Motability car, wheelchair or scooter.
Those that struggle to walk 50 metres often have the same extra costs as those that can walk 20 metres. The 50-metre measure has been used for 35 years and no solid evidence has been provided to support a change.
The mobility needs of these people will not disappear, but will be pushed to other areas of spending, such as social care and unemployment benefits.
Today the consultation closes on this issue. We’re joining more than 9,000 people and over 80 charities, health-care organisations and local authorities in calling on the Government to reinstate the 50-metre qualifying distance.
Claire Nurden
Co-Chair, Disability Benefits Consortium
London NW2
Intelligence gathering
SIR – While few will be surprised at the news that America paid Britain $100  million for the right to access the telephone calls and emails of its citizens (report, August 2), one has to question whether the British economy is in such a parlous state that the Government felt it could justify selling the cherished human right to privacy of its population to a foreign power for a few bags of silver.
Gerald Payman
Mount Albert, Auckland, New Zealand
SIR – Perhaps GCHQ’s Cyber Security Operations Centre (“Britain under cyber attack, warns GCHQ”, report, August 3) should employ the Biblical phrase “An eye for an eye” and retaliate by penetrating Chinese and Russian government, military and commercial targets.
One hopes that our Government is training a whole regiment of cyber warriors to defend our telecommunications networks and to hit back strongly at others who attempt to carry out espionage threats to our interests.
Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset
British sporting success
SIR – This summer’s achievements on the pitches of England, the lawns of SW19, the roads of France and elsewhere have proved that the sporting success of 2012 was no fluke.
We should now look to establish a UK sporting hall of fame to record and recognise the commitment, dedication and ability of these fine sportsmen and women.
John Allan-Smith
New York, NY, USA
The big picture
SIR – Claire McCombie (Letters, August 3) writes that other people’s holiday snaps are boring. After buying a contraption to digitise our old slides, I quickly found that even I thought they were boring.
Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey
SIR – If my wife and I fancy having a photo together we find that “let’s have a we” produces a laugh and a willing volunteer.
Sid Brittin
Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey
The triumphs and pitfalls of men in red trousers
SIR – It was not the Light Brigade that wore red trousers; it was the 11th Hussars (Letters, August 3). They were one of five regiments involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade. They were known as the “cherry pickers” because of their red trousers and because they hid in cherry trees to avoid detection by the French in the Peninsular War.
They were also known as “cherry bums” by their one-time commanding officer, Lord Cardigan, who commanded the brigade at the Charge.
Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset
SIR – I read in Barbara Tuchman’s masterful book, The Guns of August, that the former French minister of war, Adolphe Messimy, had tried to change the uniform of the French army in the lead-up to the First World War. This involved the red trousers worn by French soldiers for many years – after all, the British had changed to khaki after the Boer War and the Germans had changed to field grey.
At a parliamentary hearing in 1912, however, one of Messimy’s predecessors, Eugène Étienne, cried: “Eliminate the red trousers? Never! The pantalon rouge c’est la France!” So the French soldiers marched to battle in 1914 in bright red trousers.
“That blind and imbecile attachment to the most visible of all colours,” Messimy wrote afterward, “was to have cruel consequences.”
Frans Lohman
Louth, Lincolnshire
SIR – All the members of the American Youth Orchestra that recently played at the Proms wore red trousers.
And very smart they looked, too.
Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – Red, or pink, trousers are not exclusively for the summer season. I have an excellent pair of high quality red moleskin trousers from Pakeman Catto & Carter that I look forward to wearing during the autumn and winter months.
Martin Atkinson
Bewdley, Worcestershire
SIR – Men are only imitating cockerels, which in breeding condition have red on their legs.
Michael D L Roberts
Crediton, Devon

Irish Times:

Sir, – It is important for readers to be aware that those approved for Fair Deal have a right to choose the nursing home in which they wish to live – public, private or voluntary – and the scheme does not distinguish in this regard, rightly supporting the wishes of the person. Paul Cullen’s article (Front page, July 29th) has highlighted an impending crisis, whereby people will be required to wait 17 weeks for Fair Deal approval that will enable them avail of the specialist care provided by nursing homes.
It is welcome that The Irish Times is bringing very serious issues concerning nursing home care to public attention.
We reiterate our call for the Government to face up to the impending crisis and outstanding issues by bringing key stakeholders around the table through a forum on long-term residential care to plan appropriately for future demands for this specialist care.
We cannot allow the prediction referred to in Paul Cullen’s article to arise: a 17-week wait for Fair Deal approval, with 2,000 people awaiting the necessary support of the scheme. His further article, “Pressure on after shift in Fair Deal priorities” (Home News, July 29th) helps to highlight very serious health implications for those unable to access this specialist care in a timely manner.
The crisis is impending. It will lead to great distress and suffering for older persons and their relatives. As a matter of urgency, the Department of Health must bring key stakeholders together to address the impending crisis. Decisive and urgent action is required by the department now. – Yours, etc,
Nursing Homes Ireland,,

Sir, – I was absolutely devastated that family members could treat an elderly member of their family so cruelly (“Family link to 83 per cent of elder abuse”, Home News, July 26th). The elderly must be respected and deserve to be surrounded by love and protection.
I looked after my beloved mother for 12 years, and my husband and children supported me. To me it was a privilege. She brought up four children, mostly on her own due to being a widow. The elderly should be treated with love and respect. I still miss my beloved mother and I would have her back tomorrow for one more kiss or hug. She was 91 years of age and died in June 2012.
I am not saying it is easy to look after the elderly – you are on call 24 hours a day. But I loved her and she died in my arms – I was the lucky one. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Paddy Woodworth (Opinion, August 2nd) is right to call our peatlands a tragedy of the commons. However, it is a tragedy peopled not just by so-called “domestic” turf-cutters and contractors but also by large operators and international companies such as Bord na Móna, Klasmann-Deilmann, Bulrush, Westland, Harte and Clover, albeit that these latter are not cutting on designated raised bogs.
As long ago as 1987, the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants commented, “The need to safeguard as many midland (raised) bogs as possible before they are lost forever to peat extraction is the most urgent issue in Irish nature conservation.” Yet extraction has continued apace without planning controls and without an impact of the environmental damage through the licensing system.
The latest figures reveal that we lost 38 per cent of active raised bog between 1995 and 2013. In March this year Bord na Móna admitted it has only 40 more years of peat left in its bogs.
These are shocking figures. Tomorrow’s Ireland will judge us very harshly if we do not act urgently to tackle peat extraction. As Paddy Woodworth rightly notes, community involvement in restoration will be key. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – It was with great sadness, but unfortunately not surprise, that we read the details of further deaths by suicide within the Traveller community here in the Mid West. (Front page, July 31st).
Our thoughts are with the families of these two young people and we grieve with them as they must begin to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, the unrealised potential and the absence in daily lives. We are distressed to bear witness to the heartbreak and confusion that is left behind.
Suicide is a unifying force that connects the people of Ireland; it is blind to ethnicity, gender or faith. Whether you are rich or poor, whether you live in the town or the countryside, it can reach everyone.
We appeal to anybody who is struggling, or needs to talk, or has a problem, to reach out, to find somebody to talk to – before you take that very permanent solution to whatever it is – and take advantage of all of the help that is there. For Travellers, we remind them of the support that is there in the Traveller Primary Health Care Programmes throughout the country as well as the Traveller Counselling Service. – Yours, etc,

A chara, – Irish Water is planning to spend €539 million on installing water meters. This is a waste of money. At best it will struggle to produce savings in excess of €10 million per annum.
UK experience shows that water meters save approximately 10 per cent of domestic consumption. Domestic consumption is about a third of total consumption, the rest being leaks, commercial, industrial and agricultural. So 10 per cent of domestic consumption becomes 3.3 per cent of total production. We spend €1.1 billion on water services, €750 million of this is on waste water treatment, unaffected by meters. That leaves 3.3 per cent of €350 million, which is €11.5 million and this is a gross overestimate as much of the cost of potable water production is unrelated to quantity, such as staff wages, maintenance of the network and so on. As Mr Wynne’s unfunded group water scheme (July 31st) demonstrates, there are much more sensible ways to spent €539 million. – Is mise,

Sir, – As an Irishman living in Madrid I have been advised that the time required to renew my Irish passport is from eight to 10 weeks. This is compared to four days for my French counterparts living in Spain and one day for the local Spaniards. How does this situation tie in exactly with the Gathering which we ex-pats are constantly barraged about if we can’t even get ourselves home not to mind our families and friends?
I have also been informed in this very same week of the possible delay of up to six months in the coroner’s office with regard to the issuing of a death certificate for my recently deceased mother.
Would it be therefore fair to say that in light of these experiences and the recent sweltering weather that Ireland has truly become a fully fledged banana state? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I have close on 40 years work in industry and do not have a vote for Senate elections , yet my graduate daughter with little or no employment experience does! This confirms the true type of republic we have . – Yours, etc,

A chara, – The backbenchers from all parties at the MacGill Summer School who resent being told to shut-up and “do what their told” (Home News, July 31st) can easily leave their parties and become Independents. They can’t have it both ways. – Is mise,
Gleann-na Smol,
Sir, – One of the aspects of proposed Seanad reform that has received little attention is the opportunity to provide representation in the Oireachtas for citizens living outside the State.
Some years ago, on a visit to New York, Enda Kenny articulated the benefits that would accrue from having representation from the Irish diaspora in Seanad Éireann. In addition, we have seen the value brought by the likes of Gordon Wilson and Maurice Hayes articulating a Northern perspective within the Oireachtas. As post Belfast Agreement politics develops in the North, the addressing of all-island issues, such as energy, agriculture, water, tourism and external investment would benefit greatly from dedicated Northern voices within a reformed Seanad Éireann. The benefits of such reform in engaging our global and northern citizens will go unexplored if we rush headlong into abolition. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Eamonn McCann’s incisive, informative piece (Opinion, August 1st) should be read by everyone who is interested in the real politics at work in Stormont. Finally I understand Paisley’s apparent volte face. – Yours, etc,
Rockbrook, Dublin 16.
Sir, – Eamonn McCann doesn’t go far enough when he says that under the Belfast Agreement “In the North today it is gays and women who must wait”(Opinion, August 1st). Labour is still waiting here as well.
Our right to vote for candidates of the Labour Party that hopes to govern us and set our taxes after the 2015 Westminster general election has been ruthlessly suppressed by the party ever since the North came into being. This severely curtails our democratic rights.
The suppression of Labour Party electoral politics has produced almost a century of communal headcount politics that generated the Troubles and resulted in the Belfast Agreement based on communal identity.
Everyone is waiting for the right to vote Labour and the emergence of non-communal politics. This is the best way to ensure women and gays their rights – and a future for us all. – Yours, etc,
Secretary, Northern Ireland

Irish Independent:

* I would like to write a few words in defence of the nuns who are being castigated and vilified. If everything that happened 50 and 60 years ago was judged by today’s standards, almost every person over 50 would have a reason for putting somebody behind bars or extracting money from them.
Also in this section
If walls could talk
Parents have to take responsibility
‘Poster Boys’ to get Frankfurt reward
I could sue my father for making me milk cows at 7am at the age of seven. I could claim I was subjected to child labour when I was made to scrub floors, feed calves and pick potatoes. I could claim I was traumatised at the age of nine or 10 after being thrown up on young horses when they were being trained to the saddle. I didn’t get paid. I didn’t think it was unusual and it wasn’t unusual. Many people I know would have had the same experience. I was probably afraid of my father, but I also loved him. We were slapped, as were many people back then, and there was very little open affection shown.
Some women in the Magdalene laundries were not able to cope mentally with a harsh regime. If a girl became pregnant, her family didn’t want her, the father of the child didn’t want her and everybody was ashamed of her.
Women who became nuns in that era were subjected to a very hard regime themselves. They opted not to have children.
They believed they were devoting themselves to a life of prayer for those who had sinned. The nuns probably thought of the girls they took in as soiled goods, people who needed to repent and pray to become holier and learn the error of their ways. Everybody else thought the same, including the State, and nobody else was prepared to do anything about it.
The media have an important role to play, but they should not be allowed to play judge and jury.
I would be much more critical of the State than of the nuns.
It is the State’s job to see that the country is looking after its citizens.
E W Burke
Dun Laoghaire
Co Dublin
* Martina Devlin (Irish Independent, August 1) writes that “women are under-represented as contributors to news and current affairs shows” on radio. This is not borne out by analysis. ‘Morning Ireland’, the most listened to radio programme, ‘Drivetime’, ‘Late Debate’, ‘The Marian Finucane Show and ‘Saturday with Claire Byrne’ are presented, fully or largely, by women. The conclusion of Ms Devlin’s argument is that the currently vacant mid-morning week-day slot on Radio 1 should be filled by a woman because “a looming gap occurs on weekdays between ‘Morning Ireland’ and ‘Drivetime’ when female voices are almost entirely silenced”.
It is true that, at present, there are no female presenters on air between 9am and 4.30pm on Radio 1. But half that period is taken up by music shows. The reality is that women are more numerous than men as presenters of agenda-setting current affairs programmes on the flagship radio station. RTE should choose Pat Kenny’s successor based on merit, not in an attempt to correct a non-existent gender imbalance.
Andrew O’Donovan
Sandycove, Co Dublin
* Reading Charlie Weston’s report on the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners’ contribution at the MacGill Summer School, it seems Ms Feehily believes we have got it all wrong. There’s even a hint of a bit of a sulk in her complaint that her organisation is being portrayed as worse than Vlad the Impaler.
Ireland was a very different place when we last paid property tax (rates). It was a caring country where people’s circumstances were taken into account when assessing “ability to pay” and where newlyweds enjoyed a 10-year remission of rates to help them get into the swing of things. Later, when such things as bin charges were introduced, relief was available to the aged and the infirm.
The new style of tax collection is to start by telling us what will happen if we don’t come across – ability to pay or not – with the only consideration being by way of a deferral which becomes due when you die.
If you don’t own your place of residence, you’re probably okay.
The head of the property tax section, Ms Dempsey, denies they were getting heavy-handed by threatening to deduct the taxes from wages and pensions, but that sounds very like a principle from the Vlad school. Speaking of which, I wouldn’t accuse Phil Hogan of being such, but he does a good impression of Vlad’s little brother.
RJ Hanly
Screen, Co Wexford
* It was always believed in a democracy that one is entitled not to follow what is considered bad law.
The Revenue Commissioners are now an arbitrary arm of the Government that will not allow anyone to not pay the household tax. They will take the money from wages, dole, pensions and the like.
This is an outrageous abuse of the rights of the citizen. If one decides not to pay this tax, then they should have the right to be prosecuted and have their day in court to explain their stance.
Robert Sullivan
Bantry, Co Cork
* Eureka! Why not abolish both the Seanad and the Dail and decamp to Glenties where the high and mighty from all sides gather to dispense wisdom and blow hot air?
Great that our political, judicial and civil service elite have so many holidays that they can ‘donate’ part of them to talk shops. We hear more from some of them up in Glenties than we do from their day jobs.
The rest of us juggle the bills, hope our child gets another job, or better, hope they get the redundancy owed from the last firm along with relevant paperwork needed to draw the dole.
In the meantime, the hills of Donegal are filled with hot air balloons. Now, let’s see: civil service mileage allowances, kilometres from Dublin to Glenties, breakfast, dinner and tea as well. Good. Another talk shop in Kenmare. How many miles to Kenmare via Dublin . . .
John Cuffe
Blacksod, Mayo
* I am writing in response to an article about Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s response to historians’ criticisms. This is the latest in a long line of disrespectful comments from Mr Quinn.
He shows a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the basic grasp of history provided for at Junior Cert level. He has been consistently dismissive of teachers’ concerns. He says history can be “picked up” through other subjects. Yet in many ways the history curriculum is core to the development of well-rounded and engaged students, not to mention citizens. Studying history provides a necessary context for modern politics and allows young people – future voters – not only to see the far-reaching implications of their political choices, it helps to inform those choices.
The history classroom is also, along with English, key to a young person’s learning to read critically. In history, students learn how to read something for bias, to recognise the tools used in propaganda and to understand the varying reliability of different sources. These are immeasurably important skills to have in the world.
The history of our country and of the world is ours. By taking it out of classrooms, the minister is leaving the debate and complexity of history in the hands of stuffy academics.
History is much more than, as Mr Quinn’s new Junior Cert proposes, valuing heritage, because history is made up of bad, bloody and complicated parts too, and they are just as important.
Ciara Moloney
Irish Independent


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