29 August 2013 Cold
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble its the Padre’s birthday day and what to get him for a present? Bedroom slippers? Too sexy. A pipe? He has given up smoking. A book he has it already. priceless
We are both tired go and do some shopping and root through Joan’s bin for Sandy’s soy sauce no luck.
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets just under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Barbara Mertz, the Egyptologist and bestselling author who has died aged 85, wrote more than 70 archaeological mysteries and supernatural thrillers under her pen names Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels; she will probably be best remembered for her fictional creation Amelia Peabody, a daring Victorian lady archaeologist.
Barbara Mertz Photo: AP
6:47PM BST 28 Aug 2013
Barbara Louise Gross was born on September 29 1927 at Astoria, Illinois, the daughter of a printer and a teacher. She grew up in Oak Park, Chicago, went to the high school that Ernest Hemingway had attended, and was later granted a scholarship to study ancient Egypt at the University of Chicago, where she earned her doctorate in 1952.
She said that it was a visit to the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago at the age of 13 that set her on the path of archaeology. “I saw two naked mummies lying in the entrance hall – poor little ladies. It was love at first sight. I fell in love with Egypt and Egyptology.”
In 1950 she married Richard Mertz, who had been on the same university course. When she had finished her doctorate they moved to Washington, where as a woman it proved impossible to find a job in academia. “Even with all these universities in town and my new PhD, I couldn’t find a job in my field. I was a good typist — but to get a job as a secretary I couldn’t admit I had a PhD, to keep from being ‘overqualified’.”
Her husband’s government job saw them posted to Rome and Munich. In Germany, as a housewife and mother of two young children, she began to write. Her first three novels were, she said, “terrible” and were rejected by publishers.
But she went on to have two non-fiction works about Egypt published under her real name. One of these Red Land, Black Land, was about daily life in ancient Egypt, and includes a telling passage: “In the humbler households, women were kept busy grinding grain, baking bread, and brewing beer, weaving and making clothes. However, nobody expected them to fix electrical appliances, unstop a drain, discuss politics, drive a car, mix a good dry martini, or be an expert on dietetics, child psychology, interior decoration, and bridge, or educational theory. Although they may not have known it, they were well-off.”
Barbara and Richard Mertz divorced in 1970, four years after the publication of her first novel, The Master of Blacktower, the first of 29 novels which appeared under the alias Barbara Michaels.
The first Amelia Peabody book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, appeared in 1975 under the pseudonym Elizabeth Peters, a combination of Barbara Mertz’s children’s names. In it the English heroine, deciding that, at 32, she is doomed to spinsterhood, sets off for Egypt, planning to spend her inheritance on her passion for archaeological exploration.
With a belt of tools about her waist and her trademark parasol, Amelia Peabody fights her way out of villains’ clutches and solves mysteries by cloaking her detective skills in a veil of ineptness: “I do not scruple to employ mendacity and a fictitious appearance of female incompetence when the occasion demands it.”
She meets Radcliffe Emerson, another archaeologist, and their romance ends in marriage and the birth of a son, Ramses. The three of them become a dynasty of archaeologists, with the novels spanning from 1884 to 1923 (the last of the series was published in 2010).
Elements of Conan Doyle, Tintin and Agatha Christie abound. Barbara Mertz credited her protagonist with inspiring her to greater boldness, but said that she also wanted to kick her sometimes: “She barges right in; she falls for every trap every villain sets for her. She thinks of herself as hard-boiled and logical. She is sentimental.” Yet Amelia Peabody won many fans, including Paul Theroux who noted: “Between Amelia Peabody and Indiana Jones, it’s Amelia – in wit and daring – by a landslide.”
Barbara Mertz won many fiction prizes including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster at the Edgar awards in 1998. She once said that she was the only member of her class at Chicago to have made any money from archaeology. She could have made more; but she turned down approaches from Hollywood producers, saying that two of her early stories had been butchered by television scriptwriters.
For 33 years to the end of her life she lived in an 1820s stone farmhouse in Maryland. In one room was displayed a dressmaker’s dummy wearing a bright red bloomer suit of the same design that Amelia Peabody Emerson wears on digs in the desert.
In her sixties and early seventies Barbara Mertz visited Egypt almost every year, finding Egyptians “the nicest and most cordial people in the world”. She had many cats and was an obsessive gardener, tending every inch of her 10-acre plot and installing a statue, pool and columns modelled on those at Hadrian’s Villa (“As time went on, my plans got more and more grandiose”).
She said of her alter egos: “Peters supplies me with a comfortable living. Michaels buys me lily ponds and gazebos.”
But having two pseudonyms was also, she said, “a nuisance” that often led to confusion over plane tickets and hotel reservations on book tours.
She kept it secret that for the last decade of her life she had cancer, writing on her website “I love my work, and I hope to go on doing it till I drop at the age of 99”. In the final update she merely noted that she was enjoying “lots of chocolate and not nearly enough gin”.
Barbara Mertz is survived by her children.
Barbara Mertz, born September 29 1927, died August 8 2013
Reading your editorial on public clocks (Unthinkable? A clock tsar, 24 August) reminded me that in the 1940s and 50s, the bus I travelled on in Brighton – first to school, then to work – passed the Arthur Cox Manufacturing Chemist building in Lewes Road. Every passenger on the top deck ducked their heads to look at the clock on the front of the building. The building is long gone but the Sainsbury’s supermarket now on the site has a clock in a similar position. If you ever travel on that bus, you will know if any passenger is an old established resident of the area by the way their heads still duck and turn when the bus reaches that point. I am glad to say it still shows the correct time.
Ringmer, East Sussex
• The clock on the (now privately owned) building at Plockton station on the Kyle line from Inverness has two fingers painted on the dial with the inscription “Where time stands still”.
Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (Just another photograph, 27 August) reminded me poignantly of my brother Felix, especially as her article appeared on what would have been his birthday. He died last year, having been supported by carers for most of his adult life. Cosslett got it right: as with her brother, many of Felix’s carers not only looked after him devotedly, but were his good friends. When the carers had been supplied centrally they were of varying quality and duration. What made the difference to Felix’s life was the independent living fund (ILF), which enabled him to choose his own carers, people who would be a good fit. It’s perhaps not surprising that they were his friends as well as carers, and his last years were happier and more fulfilled than many before as a consequence. Is the ILF available to the Cossletts and others like them?
Brightling, East Sussex
• We are not all equally good about caring for or about others, but it is part of how we live. Without this attribute societies would fall apart. Why, then, do we not have the imagination to understand that caring for a vulnerable person – as an unpaid or paid carer – should be highly valued and properly supported? We constantly hear about the issues Cosslett raises, but where is the action to address them? Governments must find ways of resolving these issues; endlessly kicking them into the long grass has to stop.
• As a full-time carer and partner of someone with mental health issues, I found Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article deeply moving. In my view it’s not cleaning up the faeces and urine that is the problem, it’s the dreadful sense of isolation and the feeling that, as Ms Cosslett says, carers are not valued. I am lucky. I am one of the people she identifies as being able to play the system, but I worry – as social care budgets are decimated in the name of so-called economic efficency – about how much longer I can go on.
Name and address supplied
Thank you for your leader (19 August) on the government’s handling of the fracking issue. George Osborne has decided, in advance of any proper discussion, that hydraulic fracturing companies should be favoured with generous tax concessions. Local communities will be offered compensation as inducement to accept negative impacts of fracking as though they will be temporary local inconveniences. Meanwhile, planning authorities have been banned from considering alternatives to oil and gas if they receive an application for a fracking mine. Is this the way to run a democracy?
David Cameron has said fracking in Britain will be safe because of our superior regulation. Really? The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Health and Safety Executive have been cut to the bone. The EA does not yet have guidance in place for commercial hydraulic fracturing. Regulation cannot guarantee safety, only minimise risk. With at least 1,000 wellheads, there will be accidents.
A recent climate change committee report finds that droughts could be hitting food production in England in the 2020s. Urgently needed legislation for new water abstraction rules is not planned until after 2015. It seems unlikely that Cuadrilla would be proceeding without the assurance of a reliable water supply. Are they to be allowed to buy water while the rest of us are under restrictions?
• Your editorial on energy policy provided some welcome balance, informed by evidence, to the current public debate over shale gas. Whether or not the UK extracts and uses the shale gas resources which lie beneath our feet, we know that we will continue to be dependent on fossil fuels of one kind or another for several decades at least, however rapidly we transition to a low-carbon energy system. The carbon emissions from our use of these fossil fuels must be abated if we are to have a chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. The only realistic prospect for achieving this is to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at commercial scale as a matter of urgency, and to ensure its widespread and rapid implementation in the UK and globally.
President, The Geological Society
• John Vidal (Fracks and figures, G2, 20 August) asks the question “Could [fracking] increase UK energy security?” The answer is academic. If shale gas is extracted in commercial quantities it will be sold to the highest bidder. If that means pumping it across the Channel to Europe – the way our North Sea gas went – then that’s what will happen. Cuadrilla is not in business to do UK consumers a favour, or to rescue the UK government from its energy policy shambles.
• Geologists are concerned about a danger not mentioned in your piece in G2. That is the high risk that deep saline aquifers may rupture and contaminate fresh-water aquifers on which our drinking water in the chalk down lands largely depend and from which springs rise.
Areas of the UK already under water stress are those where the government seeks to encourage housebuilding. Their policies simply don’t add up.
Reports of the England cricketers urinating on the Oval in celebration (In praise of… taking the piss, 28 August) reminded me of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and its menacing question “Who watered the wicket in Melbourne?” The translator for one German production clearly had problems with this esoteric reference to the 1955 accusations of cheating in the Ashes and came up with “who pissed on the city gates of Melbourne?” Pinter will certainly be having a good chuckle.
• Michael Gove’s picketing participation in a 1980s strike (Diary, 28 August) is interesting. His support for David Cameron, a leader who lamely appeases his rabid right, is continual. But his Lynton Crosby-style attack on Ed Miliband means that we have an education secretary taking inspiration from the propaganda chief. That’s worrying.
Labour, House of Lords
• Don’t panic! Retain self belief. / Though supporters are giving him grief / Ed’s a resolute chap / And when Gove says he’s crap / He breathes a deep sigh of relief.
Much Wenlock, Shropshire
• When I was interviewed, 20 years ago, for a post as a sixth-form careers adviser (Young people left to sink or swim, 27 August), one of the questions was how I would reconcile hope with realism. It is a question which remains fundamental to careers advice, and to which it is difficult to get an answer online.
• I have used 35mm film canisters (Letters, 27 August) for over 25 years for storing acrylic paint that I have pre-mixed for my paintings. However, they are becoming very difficult to get hold of nowadays, so if any of your readers want to send them to me, I would appreciate it.
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
• What happened to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”? Three photos of German politicians’ posters being put up (Political pasting, 28 August) and the brush was on their nose. Oh so tempting, but perhaps best not realised.
There is no danger from the current use of chemical weapons that is not exceeded many times over by the danger of violent intervention in Syria (Attack on Syria just days away as Commons recalled for vote, 28 August). There are too many unintended and unknown consequences that may arise, and few of those are benign – and none will serve the cause of peace. The use of such chemical weapons as were used last week is a crime and, in the fullness of time, justice can be done for that crime. A violent response, without UN sanction, is as evil in its own way and carries so much uncertainty of outcome as to be profoundly irresponsible. The UK parliament has a unique opportunity tomorrow to learn from recent history and put a stop to this action now. Stop wringing hands and seek other ways to political solutions, help for refugees, and eventual justice. Do not unleash any form of western hell into Syria, whatever the provocation.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,” said Martin Luther King, 50 years ago. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.”
• I hope Ed Miliband understands that if he backs the PM’s ill-conceived plans to join America in attacking Syria, he will lose the support of thousands of (moderate, not far-left) people who have normally voted Labour but are already wondering whether they can support a party which seems to offer little alternative to the hugely divisive policies of the current government. His support for such a mindless policy would be the last straw. If Bashar al-Assad did launch the chemical weapons attack on his own people within hours of the arrival of UN inspectors, he is either unhinged or couldn’t care less. It is hard to see how missile strikes which, we’re assured, will be “only punitive” and not designed to facilitate regime change (ask Russia and China to believe that after Libya) will do other than make him dig in and press on with the vicious subduing of his own people with even stronger support from his allies and a Middle East in even more of a mess.
Some of us long for a government which is not America’s “poodle” and which recognises that trying to ensure that a high proportion of its citizens do not live in poverty is more important than grandstanding on the world stage (a la William Hague) with a complete lack of awareness of how absurd the UK looks pretending that it is a “big player”. Some understanding of where many of his supporters are at would be welcome from Mr Miliband.
• It is outrageous the Syria vote will be whipped. If ever there was an issue where MPs should be allowed to vote according to their conscience, this surely is it.
• Seumas Milne’s repeated prescription of inaction by the west on Syria must be a source of comfort to the Assad regime (Comment, 28 August). Had more been done to arm the rebels a year or more ago, that most venal and brutal regime would likely have been toppled by now, tens of thousands of lives spared, the ravaging of the country mitigated, and the influence of Islamist fanatics minimised. Irrespective of who carried out the gas attack in Damascus, the catalogue of atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces and militia thugs in support of a regime which has institutionalised torture is sufficient reason for limited military strikes to limit the use of air power against the rebels.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
• Many of us who strongly oppose military intervention in Syria do so not only because of the complexity of the multiple conflicts being played out there and the potential for further and disastrous destabilisation of that region, but also because the benefits of such intervention to the Syrian people are highly doubtful. This does not mean that nothing can or should be done.
Where is the public discussion about taking Bashar al-Assad, if he is indeed guilty of using chemical weapons against his own people, to the international criminal court in The Hague? Instead of military intervention, our efforts should be devoted to other actions such as political and economic sanctions against the regime and its assets, alongside concerted and sustained diplomatic efforts (both publicly and behind the scenes) to pressure key players such as Russia and China to use their influence to try to reach a political solution to the Syrian situation. How about the international community seriously supporting – financially and with all possible practical expertise – those neighbouring countries that are currently bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis? Why, rather than “reluctantly agreeing” with the pointless and damaging military intervention proposed, isn’t Labour arguing the case for active and sustained political work towards a solution?
• Assad is a tyrant who poses a local threat to Syrian people. However, his government provides some protection to religious minorities, women and secularists, and poses little threat to Britain. The Islamist-dominated forces attacking Assad reject democracy as well as equal rights for religious minorities, women and secularists – and, because they support the idea of a caliphate, pose a serious threat to other nations, including Britain. On this basis, why does our government support jihadis and risk the lives of Syrian and British innocents?
• Harold Macmillan, asked about some ghastly happening in Africa, reportedly said: “We had our Tudor times.” In the next few years there will be religious, civil and national wars in the Middle East. Our role is obvious: work with the UN for political solutions, feed the hungry, treat the sick, assist the refugees. Not raise a gun.
• I don’t see Belgium, Italy, Canada, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Poland et al recalling their legislatures to consider involving themselves in a Middle East war. So why are we? If America wants to be the policeman of the world, so be it. If it and Russia want to stage a proxy war in Arabia, so be it. If Cameron wants to say serious things in carefully modulated tones in order to show his concern, so be it. If Miliband wants to follow suit, so be it. But why on earth should we be actively involved, or even considering any sort of involvement? Why us?
• John Kerry called the gas used in the attack in Damascus “the world’s most heinous weapon”. There is a need for some perspective. On 6 August 1945 the United States government dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and killed about 50,000 children, women and men instantly. Another 50,000 died lingering deaths from the radiation and burns. Not content with that, they dropped another bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing anther 30,000 children, women and men instantly, with another 30,000 dying slowly afterwards. These actions were clearly crimes against humanity. We are still waiting for the US to be tried for these war crimes.
Let us not also not forget that the UK government has 160 even more powerful bombs on the Trident submarines that it is prepared to use in our name if our country’s security is threatened. And just so we are clear about our moral stance, the threat to use weapons of mass destruction is also against international law.
• We have been persuaded by our politicians that the wars in the Middle East are in defence of “freedom” and “democracy”. They are not. They are sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shias, a conflict that has been going on for about 1,300 years. We should know about sectarian wars from the Catholic against Protestant wars that have raged for the past few centuries – they tend be the most vicious, in which no holds are barred. This should be obvious from the support from the most authoritarian regime, Saudi Arabia, to the Syrian rebels supposedly fighting for “democracy”. Wrong – they get the support because they are Sunnis, fighting the hated Syrian Shias, who are supported by none other than Shia Iran.
This is not our quarrel – we should step aside and stay out, giving only humanitarian help to both sides. Getting involved in a religious war that does not concern us and that neither side will win is indescribably stupid. Furthermore, supporting one side against the other, as David Cameron wishes, will only encourage terrorist attacks against us. Did we learn nothing from Iraq?
Port Solent, Hampshire
• Just to get a bit of balance on the excessive coverage of the children who were perhaps killed by a chemical attack by either Assad’s forces or the rebels. On 15 January 2009, Israel attacked Gaza and 210 to 300 children were killed in the raids; 700 adults were also killed. The list of names was published by al-Jazeera on 15 January 2009. Children have been killed throughout the Middle East, but the west only focuses on certain cases that help its political interests.
• Mr Cameron disingenuously claims that the actions in Syria represent the first use of chemical weapons in the 21st century (although there is evidence that Israel may have used white phosphorus – during Operation Cast Lead – in 2009, and that the US may have used chemical weapons in Iraq in 2004). But we are entitled to reflect on who used Agent Orange in Vietnam? And, slightly later in the 20th century, who colluded with the use of chemical weapons by Iraq against both Iran and its own Kurdish population in the 1980s? The information is available from recently declassified CIA documents.
A 1997 international treaty bans the production, stockpiling or use of any chemical weapons. So we are also entitled to ask whether the US, Britain or any of their allies retain stocks of such weapons themselves. And if so, why?
All war is ugly: civil war particularly so. Rather than arming the protagonists to the eyeballs, shouldn’t our ostensibly responsible governments engage in negotiating ceasefires, which will no doubt be messy but can reduce, and, with patience, ultimately end the bloodshed?
• Should the UN inspectors be able to identify the make and origin of chemical weapons used in Syria, and if it should transpire that these weapons originated abroad, would parliament be recalled to authorise appropriate action, including the use of military force, to capture and bring to justice government officials and ministers of the supplying nations responsible for authorising exports?
• Cameron, Clegg and Miliband all say any military action against Syria will conform to international law. Yet the United Nations forbids armed attack on other states. The 1970 UN Declaration on Principles of International Law declares: “Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues.”
What part of this do they not understand? The militarists cite the “responsibility to protect”. But this is not a licence for any bombastic state to attack another. As other letter writers have pointed out, this responsibility must be exercised through the UN security council. They are not going to get UN approval, yet the “manifest destiny” regime and its puppet state have decided to attack anyway. The region is a powder keg with the US on one side and the Russians on the other. The reckless abandon of our leaders once again risks a third world war, regardless of the opposition of citizens.
• It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that a prime minister possessed of a popularity deficit must acquire a war. However, it must be dressed up as “just”, ie it must have the agreement of the UN or the Arab League. That way, when the law of unforeseen consequences kicks in, and it all goes wrong, there is a handy cloak of invisibility available. Otherwise, not.
There has really been only one subject concentrating the minds of our readers today — Syria. Here is a selection of the correspondence received
Sir, I was surprised that you gave so much space to Tony Blair’s views on Syria (Aug 27). It is like having an arsonist advise on how to put out a fire he lit. The invasion of Iraq, initiated by Bush and supported so zealously by Blair, triggered the unravelling of the status quo in the Middle East, resulting in so much misery and death.
The West’s false promises to the Afghans in 2001 and the twisted facts that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003 created much of the intense anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world that caused the Arab Spring. Since then, Islamic extremists have exploited the instability to hijack the democratic agenda.
Instead of repeating the same sanctimonious rubbish, Blair should reverse his argument and wring his own hands. Certainly, he should tell the long-suffering people of the Middle East just how he is going to atone for his actions. Winston Churchill, after the disaster of Gallipoli in 1915, volunteered for duty in the trenches where he sought to redeem his honour through death or sacrifice and service to his country.
General Sir Michael Rose
Sir, Many of us have been agonising as to whether military intervention could ever be morally justified or have any chance of alleviating the terrible trauma besetting the Syrian people. Now that Tony Blair has come out in favour the answer is clear. Mr Blair has been wrong on every issue affecting the Middle East for decades. Anything he advocates must be both wrong in principle and counterproductive in practice. It would also exacerbate the instability of all the adjoining nations and undermine all possibility of constructive dialogue. I trust that the Commons will resist his call for yet more violence.
Budleigh Salterton, Devon
Sir, Ayn Rand said that “evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us”.
A nation that violates the individual rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights. Just as an individual’s right of free action does not include the “right” to commit crimes (that is, to violate the rights of others), so the right of a nation to determine its own form of government does not include the right to initiate brute force or deny individual liberty. Truly evil men are a small minority; it is appeasement that unleashes them on to mankind.
D. S. A. Murray
Sir, It must be frustrating to watch events in Syria, but I hope Parliament will think carefully about history and choose not to act militarily.
Shia /Sunni divisions have not so far involved outright war only because the Shias were so heavily defeated, but the balance is changing. Our invasion of Iraq strengthened Iran. The Shia majority empathises with Shia Iran, and Iran and Lebanon will not stand by as Shias are defeated in Syria. Conflict across the region may last for decades. What has all the expenditure and loss of life achieved after 12 years in Afghanistan? Surely our money is better spent helping the refugees than contributing to the violence.
Sir, Mr Blair is not alone. For more than 200 years almost all attempts by European and, more recently, US statesmen to tame the explosive forces in the Middle East have failed. Indeed it could be argued that they have made things worse and that today’s appalling situation has more to do with Versailles and with post-Suez Western influence than with the natural stresses within Islam.
It is to be hoped that all our current leaders will hesitate to take up principled positions. There is a huge gulf between disapproval and strong moral condemnation and the right to make a decisive intervention.
Stoughton, W Sussex
Sir, The desire of the US, the UK and France to demonstrate, by military action, their disapproval of the use of chemical weapons in Syria is typical of the tendency to address the urgent at the expense of the important. Of course such use is appalling and someone must be held to account by the international court, but retaliation will only make the chaos across the Middle East even more perilous. Also, a Western response will undoubtedly trigger counter-action which in turn will require a further response — and so on up the escalatory ladder.
The urgent issue must take second place to the more important strategic considerations, which are also far from straightforward. A starting point is to turn away from hard power and stiffen our resolve in soft power. Leadership and courage are needed, and we must rely on concentrated diplomatic effort for a solution.
Major-General Anthony Stone
Chipping Campden, Glos
Sir, The Islamic state that al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies in Syria would create if they won the civil war would be worse than anything seen in Egypt. There would be no toleration of the two million or more Christians (two of whose archbishops are still held captive by the Islamists), no toleration of the half million or so Druze, and certainly no toleration of the two million or more Alawites, as there was in the first ten years of al Assad’s presidency.
Al-Qaeda and its Islamic allies must be amused that their aim of creating an Islamic state in Syria may be furthered by their deadliest enemies in the West. If anyone is to be attacked by US or UK forces, it must be the extremists whose rebellion in the past 2½ years has led to the destruction of more than 100,000 lives.
Edward Nugee, QC
Sir, I take issue with Paddy Ashdown’s Opinion article (Aug 26) about what the “civilised” part of the world should do, now that it seems likely that Assad has used chemical weapons.
If we care enough that Syrians are being killed indiscriminately by their own government, we should act. In fact if we cared enough we would have already done it. What possible difference does it make whether Assad kills them by bombing, shelling, starvation or chemicals? Dead is dead and the Syrian government is plainly guilty of war crimes against its own people. The fact that we do nothing except wait for “evidence” of the use of chemicals shows simply that we do not care and everyone who is bound up in the niceties of the UN and its procedures is complicit in the ongoing tragedy.
Sutton Coldfield, W Midlands
Sir, As the role of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is to scrutinise the Foreign Office and to hold its ministers to account, I was disturbed by what its chairman, the Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, told you (Aug 27). Namely, that if a UN Security Council resolution in support of a military strike on Syria cannot be secured, the US and UK should be prepared to carry out a military strike, which he describes as “illegal but legitimate”.
I hope Mr Ottaway is called by the Speaker for the Commons’ debate on Syria, so that he can explain this view.
Dr David Lowry
Sir, It seems that the current generation of politicians increasingly seeks to use force as a weapon of first response, knowing that it can be discharged remotely at little immediate threat to those who deploy it. Before embarking on such a course, it is vital to seek to understand the enemy and his likely response and even more importantly, to be clear about the ultimate objective. I am sure that David Cameron doesn’t need reminding of the unintended consequences of Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have ended in failure because their long-term objectives were unclear.
As Clausewitz wrote, war is a trinity of primordial violence, hatred and enmity. Once unleashed it knows no boundaries. When dealing with a tinderbox like the Middle East our politicians must think through every unintended consequence before launching an attack on Syria.
The overcrowding on commuter trains will not be relieved by HS2, yet a survey reveals that the West Coast Main Line is only half full
Sir, Your welcome leading article questioning the case for HS2 says “it will not be long before the West Coast Main Line, which runs from London to Edinburgh through Birmingham and Manchester, will be full”.
In fact the Government’s own figures show that almost half the seats on peak-time trains on this line are empty. On West Coast Main Line trains leaving Euston on weekdays between 4pm and 7pm in 2011, just 52.5 per cent of seats were occupied. The 2008 figure was 54.2 per cent, so loading actually declined between 2008 and 2011. The Government repeatedly refused freedom of information requests to disclose these figures but was finally forced to do so during judicial review proceedings in the High Court in December 2012.
Meanwhile, many commuter services into cities are overcrowded, with an estimated 100,000 London commuters standing every single day. HS2 will do nothing to solve this problem, which in any case requires action now and not in 20 years’ time.
Michael gove believes that all sorts of values should be instilled by teachers in schools but often seems to forget the role of parents
Sir, Mr Gove (“Cyberbullies need to learn respect”, Aug 28) believes that schools need to teach children “respect for other human beings”.
I can assure him that respect is high on the agenda at my school, but the pupils are not under our care for 24 hours a day. Surely parents must take some responsibility as well?
Caroline De Belder
Ryde, Isle of Wight
Flexible employment practices are good for business and the economy, and when used wisely can also be of benefit to the employees themselves
Sir, The adoption of “zero hours contracts” by large companies may be exploitative, particularly for low-paid staff, but such flexible employment practices are positive for business and the economy.
This country has a huge untapped resource of people who do not work but are willing to, and self-employed who would welcome additional work.
Most new, and many established, companies have skills gaps that could be filled by these people — most roles do not require permanent employees.
This wasted resource pool includes highly skilled professionals. They may be professional parents who have taken a career break, self-employed interim managers and consultants with spare capacity or semi-retired people. Many will work flexibly — allowing businesses to request their services when needed — giving them the ability to accommodate other work or family commitments.
There is a time and a place for most music, but perhaps advertisers of television shows need to be a bit more selective in their choices
Sir, Am I alone in thinking that the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah is inappropriate to advertise The Great British Bake Off?
SIR – The debate on the cost of flood insurance (report, August 26) should move away from imposing a charge on house owners outside flood areas, and concentrate on forcing insurance companies into better repairs after a flood.
At present, insurers will not improve a house after flood repairs but merely repair it to its original standard; they may well have to repair the same house again at increased cost after the next flood.
Insurance companies must be made to repair skirting boards with durable plastic replacements; lay concrete or tiled floors downstairs; relocate power sockets higher up walls above the flood line; provide moveable or stainless steel kitchen units and provide tanked sacrificial areas such as basements or garages for flood water.
House owners who live in areas which have not been flooded before should have recourse to law against incompetent developers or planning authorities, who sought or permitted development in flood-risk areas without suitable precautions for properties. Any civil court case action in these cases should favour the plaintiff with compensation and costs.
County Emergency Planning Officer
Oxfordshire, 1992 to 2008
SIR – In 2003, I was a member of the team searching in vain for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. David Blair makes a telling statement (Comment, August 27) that “this terrible [chemical] weapon was brought from the arsenal at a moment when the war had actually swung in Assad’s favour”. Richard Spencer’s report from Damascus (August 27) states that “experts… are puzzled by which chemical was used”, ruling out both mustard gas and sarin; presumably the weapons President Bashar al-Assad is known to hold.
There are probably elements within the rebel coalition who would be prepared to sacrifice citizens to achieve their objectives. I have no wish to defend Assad, but I do hope that the same sort of cynical lies and false intelligence that led American and British forces to destroy the government, army, law enforcement and infrastructure of Iraq, will not be the agent for similar precipitate, drastic action in Syria. Accurate intelligence is vital.
If Western governments do not have better knowledge than the press suggests as to who has actually crossed Obama’s “red line”, we should all be worried about the likely consequences of intervention.
Sqn Ldr Tom Mitcham (Retd)
Rustington, West Sussex
Insurers should improve flood-damaged homes
28 Aug 2013
SIR – If “overwhelming evidence” implicating Assad’s forces does indeed exist then it is imperative that it is made public before military strikes are launched against the regime.
Sir Neville Trotter
Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland
SIR – I fail to understand why it takes an alleged chemical attack to persuade Western powers to consider military intervention. Agreed, the use of such weapons is a terrible thing but does not the killing and maiming of innocent civilians by high explosive ordnance equally merit a firm response from those nations that consider themselves to be the arbiters of fair play in civil wars?
Eastbourne, East Sussex
SIR – We allowed Syria to buy and stock these chemical weapons. Now they have been used we think that we should intervene; but our intervention is far too late and will not improve the lot of Syrians or our own security. We will create more reasons for extremists to justify their barbarism. Under no circumstances should our military power be used again without the consent of the British people.
Black Bourton, Oxfordshire
SIR – How much longer do we wait for David Cameron to get the go-ahead from President Obama to act against Syria?
Every hour of prevarication means more dead civilians, including women and children. Does the fault lie with Mr Cameron or our reluctance to act unless allowed to by America?
SIR – The Government appears absolutely certain that the Syrian regime is behind the chemical attacks. It can only be on the basis of intelligence. Sadly though, as Iraq taught us, our intelligence sources are well capable of deceiving us.
SIR – British military involvement will only make a bad situation worse. Factions in the region will continue to kill one another by any means, drawing us into greater involvement – in support of who exactly?
Add to this a proxy war with Russia and Iran, drawing in Israel and provoking a wider conflict, and an increase in domestic terrorism and the loss of British lives, and our intervention becomes increasingly difficult to justify. Diplomacy and containment must be preferable.
Gp Capt Ron Powell RAF (Retd)
Barry Island, Glamorgan
SIR – Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya; Syria? When, if ever, will they learn?
Subtitles vs dubbing
SIR – David Blunkett misses two points in his argument about discrimination against the elderly, and those with impaired vision, by the use of subtitles (report, August 27).
First, despite the British having a bad reputation regarding their knowledge of foreign languages, there are some who do understand and speak foreign languages, and these people prefer to watch films in their original language. These viewers have the knack of ignoring subtitles by looking above them, while occasionally using them as an adjunct to following a plot.
Secondly, dubbing is usually of very poor quality. The French are particularly enamoured with dubbed foreign films, and as a consequence suffer from low-grade versions of the original. I am both a linguist and a pensioner, and do not agree with there being a bias towards “trendy” under-40s in the television industry.
Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland
SIR – Three cheers for David Blunkett for drawing attention to the television chiefs’ bias towards youth. However, he failed to mention the complete absence of subtitles in television streamed over the internet.
Thanks to such services as BBC iPlayer and Sky On Demand, television can be enjoyed at any time. However, as someone with a severe hearing problem, I cannot watch television satisfactorily without subtitles, so all the streamed services are of no use to me.
Dr A E Hanwell
Burst of butterflies
SIR – Butterflies are said to be in decline, but this is not the case in my garden.
I regularly count more than 20 butterflies flying between the flowers, including walls browns, tortoiseshells and cabbage whites. Also, the nasturtium leaves are covered in caterpillars, which bodes well for next year.
Peacehaven, East Sussex
SIR – Steve Webb, the pensions minister, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP, must be daft (“Pray consider: would God be a Lib Dem or a Somerset Tory”, report, August 26). Everybody knows that God lives in His own county up north. The only question is whether He lives in the East or North Riding.
Selling NHS data
SIR – Max Pemberton (Health, August 26) is wrong on two counts to suggest that the NHS will sell confidential patient data to the highest bidder.
First, we will never distribute patients’ confidential data without their express permission – to do so would of course breach not only the Data Protection Act (DPA) but also the fundamental principles of the NHS. Secondly, we want to make anonymised data available free of charge to accredited analysts.
The NHS has made anonymised hospital data available to approved analysts for many years, resulting in thousands of research studies that have led to improvements in patient care. Before being granted access to the data, analysts must sign a contractual agreement and pass a series of stringent data security tests. They are legally prohibited by the DPA from attempting to re-identify any patients.
It would be deeply irresponsible for the NHS not to make the same use of the information that GPs already collect, which is why we are now extending the scheme. The more analysts scrutinising these data, the better.
Chief Data Officer, NHS England
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Badger cull alternative
SIR – During my tenure as field manager on the seven-year randomised badger cull trial fiasco, only 14 per cent of all the badgers culled were found to be infected (report, August 27).
This was in an area less than half the size of the current cull areas. The “kill all or nothing” policy is outdated, cruel and totally unnecessary. The use of polymerase chain reaction technology to remove only the infected badgers, combined with the vaccination of healthy badgers, is the only way bovine tuberculosis will be overcome.
SIR – Boris Johnson (Comment, August 26) was wrong about only one thing in his plea for equal status for the citizens of our former colonies with those from the EU. It is not Australians that “we British are more deeply connected with than… any other country on Earth”, it is New Zealanders; which is why we dislike the Wallabies and love the All Blacks.
Smart meters may end up costing the consumer
SIR – Philip Johnston (“Smart meters: good idea or a lot of hot air”, Comment, August 27) raises an important issue that will affect all of us who use electricity.
The smart meter is supposed to raise our awareness of the cost of our electricity, which should then result in us cutting back on our electricity usage. However, the Office of National Statistics recently announced that over the five-year period to 2011, consumers cut back their home usage by 24.7 per cent. So the job has been done by an ordinary meter.
Escalating prices have been reflected by the ordinary meter into our bills. Consumers have recognised this and have switched off. So the cost of the smart meters is a waste of money. However, our MPs will not recognise this as they were lobbied hard by the smart meter industry to push this programme through.
Germany has avoided such a costly programme, why can’t Britain?
SIR – The installation of smart meters will provide the information that allows suppliers to set tariffs that reflect lower costs of energy at certain times.
Unfortunately, they won’t be able to create tariff structures around this because of Ofgem’s crusade to reduce the number of tariffs on offer. So the customer will end up paying for the infrastructure, but not benefit from the potential savings.
Sir, – As a non-television viewer, I was intrigued to hear that I am, according to Pat Rabbitte, a “caveman” (Breaking News, August 27th). I sincerely hope that Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will heed Mr Rabbitte’s determination of my status and reclassify my dwelling as “cave” accordingly. This, I believe, will exempt me from property tax.
I shall continue to follow with interest the debate on whether the property tax register will be used to collect the broadcasting charge. – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN KEARNS,
Terenure, Dublin 6W.
Sir, – I was appalled by the use of the word “cavemen” to describe the section of our community that does not wish to be part of his “media world”. While Pat Rabbitte may withdraw the word used, I fear it unfortunately reflects his growing detachment from what constitutes a society. – Yours, etc,
Portmarnock, Co Dublin.
Sir, – How wonderful to be defined as a cave woman by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte. To add to the hilarity, he doubts my existence.
I would like to take this opportunity to inform Mr Rabbitte that there are quite a few of my acquaintances and friends who neither own a television nor look at programmes on other gadgets. Most of us lead more interesting lives than being passive audiences for television. – Yours, etc,
John’s Hill, Waterford.
Sir, – Having spent the past 58 years in awe of Pat Rabbitte’s sophisticated wit and eloquence, it comes as a shattering experience to discover that I am actually a caveman. As a practising chartered accountant I have been called many things down the years, but this beats all.
There I am, every winter, snugly nestled into my cosy rural abode reading Dickens,Thackeray, Proust, et al, seemingly safe in the knowledge of my gentle, quiet erudition. But no. Erudite I am not. I do not have a television. I do not watch a television. I am a caveman. I have a cavewife. I, sorry, we have begotten four cavechildren. Yet a further generation of cavepeople for the Minister to expostulate about.
I apologise to the Minister, and promise to purchase and watch the said device without delay (or nunc statim as we cavemen say).
I intend to pay for it in dinosaur skins. – Yours, etc,
Carrick on Suir,
Sir, – I would like to inform the Minister for Communications that I do not live in a cave and I do not own a television. Nor do I watch television via a tablet or computer or anything else.
Why? Well, as far as I can see, our public service broadcaster RTE beams out a seemingly endless stream of cookery, antiques, gardening, quiz and reality programmes, soaps, imports and reruns. RTÉ Radio is no better, with very little content but plenty of inane talk shows and clone-like DJs. The Minister’s argument that a universal tax would support public service broadcasting rings a bit hollow. What public service is being rendered with this stuff?
Mr Rabbitte should address the real problem rather than making untrue generalisations about his fellow citizens. If licence-dodging is the problem then he should do something about that rather than making me pay for rubbish that he couldn’t pay me to watch. Or else he should try some lateral thinking and privatise the lot. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I write as a newly outed caveman. I have not had a television for 10 years or so, and do not miss it in the slightest. With the utmost troglodytic respect, Minister, if I am a Cro-Magnon, you, sir, are a Neanderthal. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If there are any technologically-challenged cavemen in Ireland, would they be of the species Homo Analogus? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I have a number of friends, some of whom do not have a television. They are certainly not liars, and I have yet to meet a caveman with a PhD, an MA or who has qualified as a medical doctor or an architect. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – This caveman has never owned or hired a TV, considering its content to be beneath his dignity. He has, however, a quite extensive library and has for many years pursued a satisfying though modest literary career. Some caveman! The boot is on the other foot, Mr Rabbitte. – Yours, etc,
HENRY van RAAT,
Sir, – In this house, we are all avid consumers of media in diverse forms, channels and devices. No cavemen (or cave-women) here. Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte (Home News, August 27th) can feel vindicated by this and many other households.
However, the old TV license was discretionary – you could choose not to have a TV. The licence collectors had sweeping powers to ensure that your statement to this effect was true, by inspecting your house for the offending “rabbit ears”. But if you made a conscious choice to abstain, you were not bound to pay the license.
Today, there are those who make an equally conscious decision to abstain from all transmitted media. Indeed, there are times when many of us have felt like joining them. It is unjust that these people should have to pay this new tax.
The coarse term “cavemen” adds insult to their injury. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Would it not be better to close down RTÉ (behold the Greeks), or is this body of strategic national importance? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Haven’t we seen this before? An Irish politician making decisions based on his erroneous beliefs, ignoring real statistics and insulting people whom he is paid to serve!
Last time, it was “go and kill yourself”. This time, it’s “cavemen”.
If the Irish people have learnt anything from the past five years, they will force the resignation of the Minister for Communications. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – When the Minister for Communications addresses the anomalies in mobile phone companies’ maze of tariffs, I will be more than happy to pay the new broadcasting charge in respect of my cave. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Pat Rabbitte’s recent reference to “cavemen”, while attempting to justify yet another ill-conceived, draconian tax about to be foisted on the public, was undoubtedly inspired by watching too many reruns of The Flintstones. – Yours, etc,
EDWARD D RAFFERTY,
Sir, – Your report (Home News, August 24th) about religious groups facing planning warnings about worshipping in warehouses makes for very interesting reading. The Mayor of Fingal would seem to prefer warehouses with the wind blowing through them, weeds growing around them and anti-social activity in such empty buildings. If areas are zoned “general employment” or “high technology” why can’t they also be zoned for places of worship?
It is encouraging to see worship taking place in vacant buildings. They are at least as suitable as the churches and cathedrals built without any concern for local architecture. This applies whether built long ago or recently. – Yours, etc,
Mullingar, Co Westmeath.
Sir, – My son, Séamus, has a diagnosis of autism with moderate to severe learning disability and is non-verbal. As he reached 18 this year his schooling ceased in June. I had envisaged there would be a five-day adult service for him in September as has been the case for all school-leavers with disabilities over the years. However, there is insufficient funding in place to provide a service for him and the 76 other school-leavers with disabilities in the West.
Funding for disability services has been severely cut over the past five years and it appears immoral to me that the State would choose to cut services to the most vulnerable in society (many of whom literally do not have a voice) while refusing to consider other options to achieve budgetary savings. I don’t accept my son should be denied an adult day service because of economic mismanagement: the choice before the State is not an economic one, but rather a moral one.
My son does not have the same range of options as “regular” school leavers (a choice of colleges and courses, the option to emigrate, etc). Being non-verbal, he has learned to communicate using the Picture Exchange Communication System and LÁMH sign language. Before this he found it extremely difficult to communicate his needs and engaged in very distressing, challenging, and often self-injurious, behaviour. It is essential that he receives a full- time adult day service in September to include all the therapies and supports as recommended by the professionals in his “assessment of needs”.
He needs these supports to ensure his skills are maintained and to allow him to develop his undoubted potential and thereby secure and hopefully improve his quality of life. If he does not, he will regress, which will lead to a return to challenging behaviour – an agonising and depressing thought. What’s more, the funding spent on my son over the years will have been a total waste, leading to even higher costs for the State in the long term.
Parents are disillusioned. Our children do not suddenly stop learning when they reach 18! We call on our elected representatives in Galway, as well as those in Opposition, to formally demand that the Government fund the necessary resources for school leavers with disabilities, which was historically in place through demographic funding. – Yours, etc,
(Parent, school-leaver with
MacBride Avenue, Galway.
Sir, – Both Andrew McGowan’s and Nicholas Coules’s rather over-the-top replies (August 27th) to Stephen Collins’s article (Opinion, August 24th) call for a more balanced and measured response. Any unbiased reading of the history of the RIC and DMP presents two incontrovertible facts: 1. Those who served in the ranks were largely representative of virtually every town and village in Ireland. 2. The organisation contained the same mix of characters and types that has been in police forces all over the world since their inception. The officer class of the RIC and the DMP was quite separate from other ranks, deliberately so, and sectarianism at the top level played a major role in the mistrust and divisions that followed.
It is clear the RIC was armed, unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom, following the rise of the Fenian Brotherhood after 1858. Of course one should condemn utterly the RIC for supporting the land owners in the terrible evictions of the 19th century and for the DMP being responsible for the deaths of two union protesters in the 1913 Lockout in Dublin, but the sweeping statements in the letters suggesting that all members of the two forces were bad is sheer nonsense. Evidence is abundantly available that there was grudging respect for the RIC and the DMP in largely maintaining law and order throughout the country.
With the rise of nationalism in the early 1900s, the RIC became more marginalised, especially in rural communities. Between 1901 and 1920 the number of constables in the RIC had fallen from 11,000 to 9,500, this before 600 resigned due to intimidation and the fall-out from the War of Independence. This drop in numbers led directly to the establishment of the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries by the British government and to the reign of terror that followed. To attempt to link the bulk of the RIC and DMP directly to the actions of those mercenaries by a selective and emotive juggling of history is a bit rich.
Stephen Collins’s mild proposal deserves serious consideration, not least because the alternative would be the perpetuation of a dialogue of the deaf. – Yours etc.
Sir, – For the information of John T Kavanagh (August 28th) and others of his opinion, it was our Holy Father Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI who, as cardinal prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, began to treat most seriously and properly the issue of sexual abuse by clergy. The Holy Father personally oversaw the dismissal from the clerical state of numerous offenders, including those who were never accused in a court of law but who were, nevertheless, “guilty as sin”. – Yours, etc,
Glen Road, Belfast.
Sir, – Allow me spare Fr McGillicuddy and other readers the trouble of correcting John Kavanagh’s unwitting if glaring statistical error in his observations as regards communicating with God (August 28th).
Mistakenly he recounts that 37.5 per cent of students, reportedly, don’t believe in God when, in truth and on a positive note, of course, they do. Mhuise sure if only the stats read as per Mr Kavanagh’s take, the good Father wouldn’t have had to get on “the hot-line to His office” in the first place. – Yours, etc,
Sutton, Dublin 13.
The men of 1916 were executed for attempting to free their country from England.
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The 1920s were spent killing each other in the Civil War and shortly thereafter the Irish political landscape was mapped out – and it’s a landscape which has lasted to the present day.
In the 1930s the main political parties were busy sorting themselves out, forming alliances, marking out their territory and blaming each other for everything that went before. Unemployment was high and children starved and died in the tenements.
In the 1940s we missed the greatest chance to modernise our country and economy by staying neutral in World War II, and thus were left behind following the Allies’ victory and rebuilding programme. Our leader expressed his condolences on Hitler’s death.
Bishop McQuaid ruled like a tyrant and spied into every aspect of people’s lives. The government submitted legislation to him for approval.
Politicians sheltered in the oil-heated Leinster House, while poor people froze to death in the winter of 1947. There was no political will to modernise and no vision.
In the 1950s we had the “maidens dancing at the crossroads” mentality continuing. The Catholic Church abused our children, assisted by the State and judiciary, who sent innocent children to these institutions.
We had the Magdalene Launderies, Letterfrack, Dangain and, of course, Artane.
In the 1960s clerical abuse of children, women and the vulnerable continued.
In the 1970s the country was in recession and poverty was the norm for the majority. The tenements were still inhabited by the poor, who died due to lack of proper health care. The elite, however, were slowly building their fortunes. The IRA was bombing and killing people in Northern Ireland.
In the 1980s we had a severe recession (again). Political corruption was beginning to come to the surface after many years.
Various scandals emerged in which politicians and businessmen were exposed as being less than honest in their various dealings – this went right up to the Taoiseach.
In the 1990s we had the false economy created by the politicians and banks, with mainly young people conned into large debt. The church was beginning to be identified with child abuse.
In the Noughties, we had a recession (yet again).
In 2008 the economy imploded. Those who caused this retired promptly with huge pensions, both politicians and bankers. Mortgage holders were left to carry the can.
So I ask the question. What exactly will we be celebrating in 2016?
Ratoath, Co Meath
Merger of FF and FG
Bill O’Herlihy and Mary O’Rourke were born about 15 years after the slaying of Michael Collins and the ravages of the brutal Civil War, both of which must inevitably influence their perception of the political landscape, ambition and sense of idealism.
But their advocacy that a coalition between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would lead to unimpeded progress because the tussle for power between these parties had been removed is delusionary, naive and ignores the profound lessons of recent history.
Their scenario would breed political complacency, ignore the need for the country to be internationally competitive and expose us to the devastating consequences of a weak and fragmented opposition, as well as weak government, deprived of discipline and rigour.
The most important lesson of recent history is that our downfall to chronic dependency on the goodwill of strangers has been a derivative of a culture of political complacency whereby there was no effective challenge, no timely expert insights, no alternative options or detailed analysis of the practices, regulation and policies which ruined our country over the preceding decade.
History can potentially inspire political reform and progress. But the historical references that are now most relevant concern the rehabilitation of the country from the demise of the excesses of the Celtic Tiger, not the war of almost a century ago and the associated sentiment from which the current generation of voters seem quite emotionally and intellectually detached.
Glenageary, Co Dublin
Virgins and nice girls
I got slightly annoyed by a recent reference to “virgins . . . nice girls” because I can’t remember who it was that said, “Virginity is no more a virtue than malnutrition”. (Editor’s note: the exact quote is from Alex Comfort, who said that “chastity is no more a virtue than malnutrition”.)
Blessington, Co Wicklow
Abolishing the Seanad
With a recent poll suggesting 33pc of voters favour reforming the Seanad, the question must be asked: can it be reformed? The obvious place to start is with the university panels. At the moment only NUI and Trinity College graduates can vote for candidates on the university panels (six seats). This excludes all other third-level institutions. Should all graduates have a vote in the future and, if so, should it be restricted to graduates who have successfully completed a degree programme? Why should students who successfully complete a diploma programme or PLC be excluded? Should Irish citizens who studied abroad have voting rights? In other words, the solution might not be that easy.
Another area in need of reform is the nominating bodies, which control which candidates can enter the Seanad race to fill the remaining 43 seats (11 seats are filled by the Taoiseach). Which of these nominating bodies should be dropped and which new bodies should be allowed to nominate so as to accurately reflect current demographics and societal needs?
There are many other areas of reform needed. However, in the absence of any meaningful examples of such reform from those opposing the abolition of the Seanad, I’ll be voting for abolition.
Cllr Fergal Browne
Public service pay
While Shane Coleman is right to criticise cuts to services for young people with disabilities, he’s wrong to blame public service increments for the problem (Irish Independent August 26, 2013).
The latest figures show that, before the Haddington Road Agreement, increments cost €100m a year (not €250m) before tax is deducted and returned to the Exchequer. This is less than 0.007pc of the pay bill.
The Haddington Road deal is further reducing the cost of increments. Those who earn over €100,000 a year will receive no increments at all, while those earning between €65,000 and €100,000 will forego an increment. This is on top of a third substantial pay cut for the people concerned. People who earn under €65,000 will also have increments deferred.
In any case, increments are paid to a minority of public servants. For instance, only a third of civil servants receive them. The percentage is falling because the recruitment embargo, which has cut public service staffing by over 30,000, means a growing proportion of public servants are at the top of their pay scales.
Trade unions have been at the forefront of campaigns to restore and increase educational special needs supports and other services to young people with disabilities.
It is wrong to suggest that freezing increments, which would raise less than €50m a year after tax, is the answer, particularly when all public servants have already experienced two pay cuts and many have suffered three.
General Secretary, IMPACT, Dublin 1