31 August 2013 Still Gardening
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble there is an initiative test can our heroes fly a pair of Mrs Povey’s “unmentionables” from the tower of a French topwn hall? priceless
We are both tired go and do the garden with Mr Sorenson the wheel falls off the garden vac. the garden
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets just over 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Seamus Heaney, who has died aged 74, won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, created a bestseller from a translation of Beowulf (1998) and sold more books in Britain than any other living poet; the common charge that he was too easy — “far from unfathomable”, as one critic put it — was a backhanded compliment to his democratic lyrical powers.
12:11PM BST 30 Aug 2013
Poetry, Heaney remarked, “begins in delight, and ends in self-consciousness” — a very different conception from that school of poetry which begins in misery and ends in existential doubt. The truth of Heaney’s poetry was to be found in finely-observed details — the “mass and majesty of the world” encapsulated in “the small compass of a cast-iron stove-lid”. In its Nobel citation, the Swedish Academy noted the “ethical depth” of works “which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.
Heaney wrote, of course, in English and in the rooted English poetic tradition of Milton, Wordsworth and Hopkins. His exploration of the language was relentless not only in his own poetry, but also in translations into English of such works as an old Irish version of the Sweeney legend or the 15th-century Scottish poet Robert Henryson. His acclaimed translation of Beowulf took a treasure trove of Anglo-Saxon out of the academic lecture halls and introduced it to a wider audience.
Heaney was taken to British hearts as the country’s leading poet, and his poems became a staple of the school curriculum: poems of childhood from his first collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966) at GCSE, and his more complex Bog poems from Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975) at A-level. Yet he confessed that, when he lectured at Harvard or Oxford, he was tempted to call his lectures “doing English” — almost as though he were a detached spectator and English a foreign tongue.
And so in a sense, it was. Heaney was a poet of Irish Catholic, nationalist experience, a farm boy from Derry; and English, in the mythology of Irish nationalism, is the language of imperialist oppression. It was from the tension between worlds — past and present, Irish and English, farm and academia — that he twisted his poetry. In negotiating what he called the “double reality” of Ireland and England he found an impish delight in subverting cultural nostrums and expectations. In Sweeney Astray, Gaelic pre-Plantation place names are translated into what sound like Protestant Ascendancy place names. His Beowulf has a northern accent.
There was never much doubt about where Heaney’s patriotic sympathies lay. What he called his “off-centre” cultural allegiance led him to rebuff the Laureateship, and in 1982 he objected to his inclusion in a book of British poets with the warning lines: “Be advised, my passport’s green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen”, and the emphatic ending “British, no, the name’s not right./ Yours truly, Seamus.”
Seamus Heaney: his 10 best poems
30 Aug 2013
Seamus Heaney, poet, dies aged 74
30 Aug 2013
Interview with Seamus Heaney
11 Apr 2009
30 Aug 2013
Yet his political position was, perhaps, more accurately conveyed in the pseudonym “Incertus” (“uncertain”) under which he published his earliest poems. For him the crude certainties of the Republican nationalist narrative were always subverted by the personal and his deep sense of a common humanity.
The eldest of nine children, Seamus Heaney was born on a farm at Mossbawn, Co Derry, Northern Ireland, on April 13 1939 — a time when Roman Catholics were conscious of being politically marginalised in a Unionist state. As his lifelong friend Seamus Deane observed in a profile in 2000, the very act of bestowing the Celticised Christian name on a boy in Northern Ireland was “a signal” that a family “was loyal to the Gaelic, and not the British, account of things”.
Heaney grew up on the family farm, where what counted was skill with a spade or a plough. Poetry came to him through his ears, not from the family’s paltry collection of books — sing-songs and recitations on St Patrick’s Day, the BBC Shipping Forecast, the “enforced poetry” of the Catholic litany, his mother singing Scottish ballads.
It was a life he evoked affectionately in poems such as Sunlight (a vision of his Aunt Mary baking bread), or Clearances, written after his mother Margaret’s death, in which he tenderly remembered “When all the others were away at Mass/ I was all hers as we peeled potatoes”.
Heaney went to the local school, which was attended by both Protestants and Catholics, and while there the 1947 Northern Ireland Education Act was passed, giving increased access to higher education for children of poorer families. He won a scholarship to board at St Columb’s College, a clerical-run school in Derry city, where he became head prefect and where contemporaries included the politician and fellow Nobel Prize winner John Hume, the writer Seamus Deane and the playwright Brian Friel.
At Queen’s University, Belfast, Heaney read English Literature, wrote “a little bit of poetry” and was a star student. When he gained a First he was offered the opportunity to go to Oxford. At the time it seemed a step too far for a country boy from Derry, so he took a job teaching while taking a postgraduate course at Queen’s. But the thought of Oxford had lifted his eyes to a world of new possibilities, and he began writing poetry in earnest, drawing on his own childhood experiences. The deeply moving Mid-Term Break, about the time he was called home from St Columb’s after his four-year-old brother Christopher had been killed by a car, was written at this time.
In the early 1960s his poems began to be published in the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish Times, and Heaney became a member of a set of young Belfast poets called The Group, assembled by Philip Hobsbaum, a lecturer at Queen’s who had been taught by Leavis and was an admirer of Ted Hughes. In 1964 he published a slim volume called Eleven Poems; and in 1965 he married Marie Devlin, a fellow-teacher.
Acclamation came almost instantly. His first collection, Death of a Naturalist, published by Faber and Faber in 1966, attracted astonishing reviews for a first collection and inspired the New Review to coin the term “Heaneyesque” to describe the sort of mud-caked verse that Heaney described as “stuff out of Co Derry from childhood”. Digging, the poem that opened the collection, became one of his best-known works and was a remarkable statement of his ambition. In it he celebrated his father’s and grandfather’s expertise with a spade before observing that “I’ve no spade to follow men like them./ Between my finger and thumb/ The squat pen rests./ I’ll dig with that.”
The years following the publication of Death of a Naturalist saw the outbreak of the Troubles and Heaney, who was “necessarily” involved in some of the civil rights marches, found himself in the unwelcome position of being pressurised to take up cudgels for the Republican cause. He avoided the pressure, and detractors accused him of sitting on the fence. Yet not all his poems lacked strong opinions. On the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising he had published Requiem for the Croppies — a romanticised portrait of the Irish rebels of 1798 (“shaking scythes at cannon”).
Revealingly, though, Heaney chose to read the poem (before the Troubles) to an Ulster Protestant audience — to “break the silence”, as he put it (they remained tight-lipped). After the Troubles started he never read it in public, knowing that it would be taken as IRA propaganda. The role of the poet, he argued, was that of a “dutiful contemplative, pivoting his understanding in an attempt to bear his portion of the weight of the world, knowing himself incapable of heroic virtue or redemptive effect”.
His best poetry on the issues surrounding the Troubles is imbued with a deep humanity and understanding and communicated through the particular and personal. In The Other Side, he describes a Protestant neighbour gently tapping out a tune with his stick as he waits outside for the Heaney family to finish their rosary before knocking on their door.
Regarded as suspect at best by extreme Republicans and as a “Papist propagandist” by the Ulster Protestant press, in 1972 Heaney decided to move across the border to a cottage in Co Wicklow, where it was, perhaps, easier to remain true to a kind of nationalism which was not corrupted by sectarian bitterness and be “completely at eye-level with life”. His next two collections, Wintering Out and North, inevitably tackled the troubled history of Northern Ireland — North especially (“Men die at hand. In blasted street and home/The gelignite’s a common sound effect”). But he clearly felt oppressed by the weight of expectations on him.
Predictably, perhaps, North was attacked both as an apology for primitive tribalism and as an evasion of the requirement to “take sides”, criticisms which ignored the skilful way in which Heaney had turned shrill public confrontation into a private, internal debate about the conflicting claims of nation and art. It was not poetry’s task to solve contemporary problems, he argued, but to clear a sufficient space to think about them.
Heaney’s acceptance of a teaching post at Harvard in 1982 helped him make the move from parochial to international poet. At Harvard he found himself in the company of poets such as Brodsky and Derek Walcott and in an environment in which language was regarded as a worldwide republic without borders. He taught for 14 years at Harvard and for five at Oxford, where he held the Chair of Poetry from 1989 to 1994.
It was his time in America that led to the Beowulf project, and when he won the Nobel Prize in 1995 (this “Stockholm business”, he called it) he feared it might interrupt progress. The triumphant publication of his translation in 1999 confirmed the wisdom of the Swedish Academy’s choice, and the fact that an Irish farm boy had succeeded brilliantly in refashioning one of the jealously-guarded crown jewels of English literature stirred up all sorts of interesting issues of cultural identity and ownership.
With his crown of untidy white hair, wide face and slightly slanting eyes (he was once described by a fellow poet as resembling “a pissed Eskimo”), Heaney was an easily recognisable figure. Despite his stellar status — in addition to the Nobel, he won, among other awards, the Whitbread Prize (three times), the David Cohen prize for a lifetime’s achievement in literature, and the Forward Poetry Prize (for his final collection, Human Chain) — he retained a bluff, farmer’s son homeliness and a talent for likeable self-mockery.
In all, he published 13 collections of poetry, several volumes of essays, and (with Ted Hughes) edited The Rattle Bag and The School Bag, anthologies dedicated to poetry as carnival.
Seamus Heaney and his wife, Marie (née Devlin), had two sons and a daughter.
Seamus Heaney, born April 13 1939, died August 30 2013
On Saturday, Brazil’s Roberto Azevêdo becomes director of the World Trade Organisation at what is a critical time. It is accepted by most pundits that the international system is failing to respond to crises in finance, climate and food. Unfortunately, in the past, the WTO has succumbed to pressure to promote the narrow commercial interests of the most powerful trading nations and the largest corporations, at the expense of wider public interest and smaller economic enterprises. Azevêdo must seize this chance to bring about a sea change in the organisation and the Trade Justice Movement urges him to resist the Doha proposals which would extend the deregulation that underpinned the global economic crisis.
Azevêdo has spoken clearly on the dangers of unfettered trade liberalisation and trade-distorting subsidies. Now he must turn those words into actions. As members and supporters of the Trade Justice Movement in Britain, we will strive to ensure his words are matched with actions.
Marilyn Thompson Chair, Central American Women’s Network, Paul Valentin International director, Christian Aid, Nick Dearden Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Anna McMullen Director, Labour Behind the Label, Adam Ramsey Activism manager, People and Planet, Bente Madeira Co-founder, Reading International Solidarity Centre, Ann Garvie International president, Soroptimist International, Paul Spray Director of policy and programmes, Traidcraft, John Hilary Executive director, War on Want, Deborah Doane Director, World Development Movement
I find an inherent contradiction in Edwina Rowling’s thoughtful letter (Letters, 28 August). On the one hand, she says that adding the word “historical” to “sexual offences”, “muddies the waters and serves to make the crime sound less serious”, and on the other, that “sexual offences are sexual offences whenever they are committed”. Therein lies the contradiction. She is, however, so right to say “ask the victims”. For far too long victims had no confidence that their voice would be heard. Operation Yewtree has empowered victims to come forward after many years of suffering abuse. They are now being asked, listened to and believed.
David J Shannon
Divisional vice-president, NSPCC
• So the England’s women team have regained the Ashes (Report, Sport, 30 August). And the Guardian’s response? Less than a third of a page devoted to it, while giving the men’s game – a run-of-the-mill Twenty20 on the same day – more than twice the coverage. I wonder what the women’s team need to do to get a reasonable response from the media?
• Walter Kerr’s pithy “me no Leica” put down of I am a Camera (Letters, 30 August) was surely equalled by Ken Tynan’s damning review of Antony and Cleopatra, which he headed “The biggest asp disaster in the world”.
• I notice that the British Library’s Propaganda exhibition adverts lead with a recommendation of “engrossing” from the Guardian. However, I could find no source of this quote. Is this an ironic test by a state institution, and have I just passed?
• To be in a room where Seamus Heaney was present was to be aware of a warmth, a generosity, a giving that was extraordinary and unique; for that alone, he was remarkable. His poetry was the equal of it.
• Plockton (Letters, 29 August) also famously has a B&B called Nessun Dorma.
Interesting that the Downing Street source noted that the Tory rebels, while refusing to support David Cameron on Syria, still supported him on the “economy and on his education and welfare reforms” (MPs force Cameron to rule out British assault on Syria, 30 August). Could this be an epiphany for Ed Miliband? Sensible and logical opposition to policies which are based not on evidence, or even public opinion, might encourage foul-mouthed abuse from No 10, and cries of “disgrace” from Michael Gove, but they can be challenged, and even defeated.
Were austerity measures, which included the destruction of the welfare state, really necessary to combat the effects of the financial crash? Did the NHS need wholesale reform and privatisation? Does a state education system, which places Britain sixth in world league tables, need its assessment procedures returned to the divisiveness of the 1950s? Did the last government really cause the problems? Of course not, but who knows, when the opposition has been so feeble?
It’s a little late, but there is still time to voice objections, propose alternate policies and win in 2015. The Syrian debate has shown that distrust of the Tories and their Lib Dem associates, complicit in all things Cameron, provides Miliband with the opportunity to fill the moral vacuum, and provide Britain with a political party with principles. Whatever next?
• The Labour leader’s decision to present the prime minister’s choice to uphold the UK’s traditional roles (supporting international treaties banning the use of chemical weapons, attempting to protect the vulnerable from murder and despair) as some sort of personal failure by Cameron is unpleasant. Choosing to castrate Britain’s foreign policy capabilities and betray its most virtuous characteristics is not a bold step for the Labour leader to take.
• And the winner at coalition politics is: Ed Miliband – with hindsight not surprising since he became Labour leader by recognising his party itself was a shifting coalition, not an obedient New Labour hegemon. In terms of his direct personal influence over the two biggest policy issues during his leadership – the tabloid press and Syria – he has achieved more concrete policy change than was previously thought possible of a leader of the opposition. In both cases, too, he has opposed the two powers – Murdoch and the US – that compromised the New Labour project so very visibly. Which is why New Labour’s shamed deadbeats – Prescott, Blunkett and Mandelson, the Bennites de-nos-jours harking back to a golden era that never was – hate him so much. And why we should start recognising him for the statesman he is turning out to be.
• So it would appear that sense prevailed (only just) in the House of Commons in trying to solve a mess for which we in the west are partly to blame. Like the states of Africa in colonial times, most states in the Middle East are an artificial construct that emerged from negotiations after the first world war to allow ourselves and France to continue to have an influence on the world stage – and to help ourselves to the oil reserves which we then needed in ever-greater amounts. With the possible exception of Egypt, none were based, to the best of my knowledge, on historical tribal, racial or religious boundaries. No wonder civil wars in both areas have been a feature of the past 100 years.
On the subject of near misses, we have two things to thank the late Harold Wilson for. First, the establishment of the Open University and, second, and, in the context of recent events, more importantly, for not listening to Lyndon Johnson’s pleadings and refusing to commit British troops to Vietnam in the 1960s. It’s a pity that Tony Blair didn’t do the same in Iraq.
• Having watched the late-night result of the Commons votes, and the subsequent comment highlighting the disastrous consequences for the government, and specifically David Cameron, I was surprised to see the front page of the Guardian seemingly reporting Cameron’s triumph and savaging of Ed Miliband in the debate. In the event the opposite has occurred. Fortunately your editorial was a little better.
Miliband is thoroughly decent, intelligent man and has a vision. But he isn’t a PR man like Cameron, so to some comes across as lacking charisma. Well, we know where charisma has taken us vis-a-vis Blair and now Cameron.
I have been disappointed in the past at the attitude of some Guardian journalists towards Miliband and this seems to persist. With the rightwing bias in most of the media, Miliband has a difficult enough job as it is, so please stop helping the Tories.
• Wasn’t this the week Michael Gove was making a speech about Ed Miliband being a weak leader of his party? After the Syria vote, surely David Cameron has by far the stronger claim to such a title?
The Syrian morass has thousands of countless victims: some have been brutalised more than others, with recent heart-wrenching images of chemical attack victims. Yet many (including backbenchers and party grandees) will certainly latch on to the defeat in the House of Commons to argue that David Cameron overstated Britain’s role in the world (Report, 30 August). Yet without Labour’s shying away from making a firm stand against dictators who gas their defenseless people and apparently reneging on initial pledges of support, the parliamentary defeat would have not materialised.
Illustration: Gary Kempston
Indeed, the purpose and objective of the limited strikes articulated by Cameron in the face of opportunistic opposition displayed nothing but the qualities of true leadership, determined to assert the moral ascendancy of the UK at such testing times. This was not another Iraqi war. Nor was it even remotely akin to Miliband’s party’s belief in the “dodgy dossier”, sexed up to justify an illegal war in the servitude of oil and post-invasion commercial contracts. The national interests of the UK and the worthy reputation of its armed forces as a force for good would have been served much better had parliament voted otherwise.
Either way, it remains a moral victory for Cameron for having the courage to spearhead the international efforts to stand up to the Syrian dictator; and equally for respecting the will of parliament and the democratic process, of which we are all very proud to uphold.
Dr Lu’ayy Minwer al-Rimawi
Visiting fellow, Harvard Law School and Co-director of the MA programme in Islamic Financial Law BPP (London)
• In our personality-obsessed era it’s inevitable that the media have run headlines such as “Cameron humiliated” and your own “blow to Tory leader’s authority”. But you were two-thirds right with your leader headline “Two cheers for parliament” (Editorial, 30 August). What happened in the debates and the vote represent a significant shift in the balance of power between parliament and the executive. We are often told that the Commons is not the power it once was. Thursday may come to be seen as a glorious episode in the restoration of parliamentary democracy in this country.
And how about a third cheer for the role played by their lordships? Seven hours of high-quality speeches, on all sides overwhelmingly and devastatingly critical of the government’s plans.
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
• The United States, Britain and France recently admitted the strong presence of al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist organisations within the armed opposition in Syria. Western media correspondents also reported these terrorists to be the strongest faction fighting against the Syrian army in some areas. Before his failed attempt to take Britain into yet another disastrous war, did Cameron consider that the planned US-led attack could strengthen al-Qaida terrorists? And did the government consider the possibility that it was al-Qaida which engineered the “chemical” atrocity on the day the UN observers arrived in Damascus?
Senior lecturer, sociology, London Metropolitan University
• One wonders whether the welcome vote against military action against Syria has anything to do with the fact that MPs were brought back hastily from their holidays, gardens and constituency surgeries, and the whips had no time to threaten them with dire consequences of rebellion, or the lure of becoming the under-secretary for paper clips (as Chris Mullin so aptly put it). MPs had had direct contact with real people and could reflect their views accurately rather than from the skewed perspective of the Westminster bubble. Many MPs – including my own – used email and social media to canvass opinion directly.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, made it clear after the vote that the US would not be bound by the foreign policy of another nation. The UK should also not be bound by the foreign policy of the US unless it is clearly and demonstrably the right thing for the UK to do. Recent history makes this at least debatable.
• The defeat of David Cameron’s plan to attack Syria in parliament is an important milestone because it marks a recognition by the political class that the case made by the anti-war movement over the past 12 years is, in all essentials, correct. We didn’t stop the war in Iraq, but we did create a mass anti-war opinion in Britain, which has made itself felt in the past few days. MPs have, in their majority, refused to back a fourth military intervention by western powers since 2001. They have, for once, reflected the majority of public opinion in this country. We now have to reject all attempts at intervention in Syria and to develop a foreign policy which is based on equality and justice, and the rights of national sovereignty.
We will be demonstrating Saturday against this intervention, whether by the US alone or with other nations involved. It is the aim of the anti-war movement to ensure that the US is forced to abandon the attack on Syria now that the country with which it is supposed to enjoy a “special relationship” has carried a parliamentary vote against war.
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Lab, Chair, Stop the War Coalition
Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
• On Thursday we saw the government defeated on a major point of policy. Now we have the farce of the five-year fixed term of parliament exposed for the nonsense that it is – the government cannot command a majority in the House of Commons on a major point of principle, yet there is no talk anywhere of motions of no-confidence or of the prime minister going to Buckingham Palace to seek dissolution of parliament and a consequent general election. Is it any wonder that no one has any respect for politicians when a lame-duck prime minister clings to power?
• Could the US still use British bases in the UK or Cyprus for a raid on Damascus?
• You write in your leader: “The most important objective in the current phase of the Syrian war is to stamp out any use of chemical weapons.” No it is not. The most important objectives now, as they has been since the beginning, are a ceasefire and to convene the planned Geneva conference, with all parties invited, including especially Iran, as soon as possible. Even if some opposition groups do not attend initially, it should still go ahead in the hope that they may see some benefit once it is up and running. Humanitarian aid should be stepped up and the weapons inspectors should stay permanently, with a wider remit, to continue to monitor the situation.
Chemical weapons are indeed horrendous, but the vast majority of the many millions of deaths in armed conflicts since 1945, like the current one in Syria, have been from “conventional” weapons, some of which are equally lethal and indiscriminate. Meanwhile, the merchants of death will continue their business at the Defence & Security Equipment International arms fair at the ExCeL Centre next week. Scrapping the government’s support for this and similar events, together with ending the UK’s own involvement in the killing trade (ie Egypt) would be the best contribution to preventing further Syrias.
Former co-chair, World Disarmament Campaign
• The parliamentary vote makes me ashamed to be British. Ashamed because the country that I love and have lived in for more than 60 years has seen fit to abandon the vast majority of Syrian people to the wiles of a callous dictator. Ashamed because we will not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other countries and accept our responsibility as a democratic nation. Ashamed because even at this late hour we will not even attempt to deter the Assad regime from gassing children with chemical warfare.
It seems that parliament is more interested in political jockeying for the 2015 elections than making any attempt to help Assad’s victims, not least the two million refugees living in a vast camp in Jordan.
Newhaven, East Sussex
• Cameron’s defeat has robbed him of the temporary political capital enjoyed by previous prime ministers who seized the chances offered by the Falklands, the Gulf and Iraq. Ironically, in the long term he has boosted his chances of winning the next general election and avoided falling out with the Chinese and Russians.
Former US president Dwight D Eisenhower warned his own citizens in 1961 of the biggest threat to world peace: the US military-industrial complex. This nexus of businessmen, bribed politicians and arms manufacturers are the real power behind US involvement in other countries’ conflicts. So Cameron has miscalculated the British public’s appetite for jingoistic enterprises, but those dissident Tory MPs who voted with Labour have just done him a big favour.
Walton on Naze, Essex
• Might there be a much wider significance to the decision by parliament over Syria? If, to the very strong reaction to the monitoring of UK private email by US intelligence organisations, one adds Vodafone’s decision to sell Verizon, the spat with the US over the BP oil spill and the failure of other large organisations such as Tesco to establish themselves in the US – might this be a realisation that our future lies with Europe, not with the US?
Dr Simon Harris
• The UK may well heave a sigh of relief at the Commons vote against military involvement in Syria, but the problems of resolving disputes remains, and will do, until the UN finds an adequate structure of diplomacy and involvement that expresses and reflects the views of all countries of the world. The security council is a cold war relic, and is unfit for these complex times. National governments do not hold all the cards these days – they are hampered by swathes of powerful political groups, many of them violent. Many people feel they are not being heard. The global politic needs to recognise this and find processes that bring to the table the loved and the unloved in the many intractable problems the world faces today.
• After serious scrutiny, examination and reflection on Syria, Westminster MPs decided to vote against taking direct military action – if the SNP win next year’s Scottish referendum, the elected representatives of Scotland will not have this realistic option of carefully deciding whether a brutal dictator should face consequences of direct military action.
How would a separate Scotland influence the international community in these circumstances? No doubt our politicians as well as the vast majority of Scots would condemn the moral outrage of using chemical weapons. However, what we do know is that Scotland would be an insignificant and a relatively irrelevant nation when it comes to influencing and if need be, threatening, brutal leaders like Bashar al-Assad. The past few days surely taught us that Scotland carries more weight, influence and international authority being part of the United Kingdom.
Robert Samuel McGregor
• Was it the very same education secretary who berated teachers for not doing enough in the classroom to instil “respect for other human beings” and teach pupils “the right values” who was Thursday night seen screaming abuse in the chamber of the House of Commons at those who voted against the government?
Simon G Gosden
• Winston Churchill said that the third world war would start in the Middle East. We must do everything possible to prevent this whether it might happen by accident or by design. I speak as the youngest of five brothers who all saw active service in the second world war and my father before me in the first.
The world should provide humanitarian aid to those who are suffering in the Syrian disaster and elsewhere. It may sometimes seem inhuman in current circumstances, but perhaps countries should be allowed to solve their individual problems in their own way. This does not preclude adhering to international law and acting according to UN-considered decisions.
I do not think David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat in the Commons on Thursday. Rather he showed statesmanship in letting the House of Commons decide if we should follow America into a third conflict, and MPs, listening to their constituents, decided against it, bearing in mind the results of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It was a great day for British democracy, when the Commons showed MPs are not merely fodder to be whipped into voting at their leaders’ command. That is what leads to low voting turnout and low party memberships.
As a result of our MPs’ actions the American Congress is now too asking to be consulted. If Obama feels compelled to go ahead with air strikes for fear of appearing indecisive, and France wants to appear a bigger player on the world scene than it is by supporting him, so be it. Britain is an independent nation with a mind of its own.
Valerie Crews, Beckenham, Kent
I sing praises to our Prime Minister, our MPs and our parliamentary democracy. Mr Cameron, appalled by the atrocities in Syria, believed that we should join the Americans in bombing Syria.
He asked for Parliament’s blessing; 40 per cent voted in favour and 60 per cent voted against or abstained. Mr Cameron, in true statesmanlike manner, accepted this judgement and we are now not going to be embroiled in this civil war.
I also wish to give thanks to Mr Cameron for his misjudgement in bringing this matter to the vote before the UN inspectors had completed their report. If the inspectors did find conclusive evidence of Assad’s complicity my judgement is that the Parliamentary vote would then likely have gone marginally in favour of military action.
Andy Turney, Dorchester
What’s all this talk about “humiliation”?
The reputation of Parliament, hardly currently high, much strengthened. Hurrah! The leadership competence of the Leader of the Opposition much enhanced. Hurrah! The exemplary respect of the Prime Minister for Parliament and clearly demonstrated. Hurrah! A good day for Parliament and people.
Oh, and we shall not be taking part in killing any Syrians.
Diane Brace, London N1
I feel an enormous sense of relief after the Commons vote on Syria.
For a generation past, Mr Cameron and his predecessors have strutted around telling others what to do and putting people’s backs up in countries near and far.
In the 1960s and 1970s Britain adapted to the end of empire with good grace, recognising that our future lay as a responsible partner in the European project. Then the posturing began, with Margaret Thatcher’s rhetoric about “putting the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain”.
So we have retained a bloated military establishment and sense of the country’s importance, alongside an economy that splutters and stagnates.
What a boon it will be if Thursday’s vote signals a new realism, accepting our place as a country with substantial influence but a fragile economy, whose role lies in quiet and constructive co-operation with our European neighbours and others, rather than maintaining this ugly, holier-than-thou attitude.
Tom Lines, Brighton
The parliamentary vote against the government’s motion on the principle of military intervention in Syria makes me ashamed to be British.
Ashamed because the country that I love has seen fit to abandon the vast majority of Syrian people to the wiles of a callous dictator. Ashamed because we will not stand shoulder to shoulder with other countries and accept our responsibility as a democratic nation.
Those who will surely complain at the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees when Assad takes his revenge will get short shrift from me. What do you expect those so remorselessly persecuted to do, remain there and be slaughtered?
Henry Page, Newhaven, East Sussex
On Syria, what would David Miliband have done? He would have supported Cameron and the USA unquestioningly. Can we now accept that the right brother won, and the right brother lost ?
Bill Cooke, Manchester
Why is it acceptable to have nuclear weapons but not chemical weapons?
Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon
“Bacon-and-egg eating surrender monkeys”?
Colin Burke, Manchester
Make us vote, say the young
I think the voting age should be left at 18 and many young people agree (leading article, 27 August). As a governor of a high school and a borough councillor who is a “corporate parent” I have contact with several.
However I disagree with your view that compulsory voting at 18 will not work. Citizenship is part of the school curriculum. It would be a natural progression to insist that young people vote and put into practice what they have learnt. We are assured that there will be a box to tick if the voter supports “None of the above” There will be a captive audience as, after 2015, all young people must be in education or training till 18.
The young people I have spoken to say “Why not – it would mean I have to vote at least once and I might find it less intimidating. I might like it!” Any encouragement is to be welcomed.
Celia Jordan, Warrington
Might I make one suggestion as to how the recommendation of the Institute for Public Policy Research, that a “None of the above” option should be included on ballot papers, might be vastly improved? If that “candidate” were to get the largest share of the vote, then all the others should forfeit their deposits and a new election should take place in which they would be barred from standing.
Martin D Stern, Salford, Greater Manchester
We have compulsory voting , here in Australia, and it makes politicians lazy on contacting and communicating with the voters, because they know we have to turn up and have our names crossed off the roll.
Don’t go down our path; it will only make the political classes even more remote than they are now.
Robert Pallister, Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia
That historic speech in 1963
Martin Luther King’s Washington speech is often called “electrifying” but as one who was actually there 50 years ago I have to say the first 15 minutes were pretty tedious. It was not until he finally went “off-script” and worked the crowd with the rhetoric of his “I have a dream” riff that those around me at the mirror lake started to respond.
I was then a 20-year-old kid on a sports scholarship who came to hear Peter Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan rather than speeches from trade unionists and black firebrands.
Given President Kennedy’s caution, it was not clear where civil rights were headed and Lyndon Johnson was never given the credit he deserved for driving the legislation. Today black people occupy positions in the US government and services that are unimaginable in Europe, but such an outcome was not obvious on that sultry day in 1963.
Dr John Cameron, St Andrews
A child of the great outdoors
It was interesting to read of David Bond’s Project Wild Thing (letter, 30 August). It echoes my sentiments; we need to get children outside. I would however like to report that all is not lost. At one of my Edinburgh Book Festival events a 10-year-old boy not only knew that primrose leaves turn vinegar yellow but also the Latin name for the rare Scottish primrose found on Orkney (Primula scotia), which shouldn’t be foraged.
I worry that opportunities for children to appreciate “wildness” and absorb knowledge of our countryside will become a class issue, in much the same way that British children are often divided by parental food choices.
Fiona Bird, Askernish, Isle of South Uist
Glorification of bullfighting
In Evgeny Lebedev’s article (Magazine, 24 August), his acceptance of the primitive “sport” of bullfighting (described as a “match”) seems to be based on faulty reasoning: that because he has “eaten and hunted too many animals and seen the reality of our own food industry too clearly”, any attempt to bring to an end the pitiless, endless, relentless cruelty of our species to other creatures must be derided and dismissed as “sentimentality”.
Mr Lebedev sticks in a bit of balance here and there amid the glorification and admiration, but it is not convincing; this article does nothing to enhance the civilised reputation of The Independent.
Julie Harrison, Hertford
I have worked in hospital catering for 18 years, and I can say that most clinicians and staff do eat the same food as the patients (letter, 30 August). So if there are issues, perhaps people assume that is the best it will ever be. Most caterers want to provide quality service. Sadly there has been a culture of cuts, despite the benefits of good food to patients.
D J Cook, Southampton
I’m glad there was a bias towards publishing letters from McCluskeys of Middlesex in the 30 August edition of your paper: Andrew from Staines and Jim from Twickenham. This can only mean it’s the turn of the McKenzies of Lincolnshire next. I’ll alert them.
Ian McKenzie, Lincoln
MPs cite Iraq as justification for their actions, but is it right to intervene in Syria because international law has been violated?
Sir, The Commons vote not to join in military action against Syria was not a humiliation for the Prime Minister (reports, Aug 30). David Cameron showed statesmanship in letting the House decide, and MPs listening to their constituents who did not wish to get involved in a third US-led military conflict voted against such action. It was a victory for democracy and the re-emergence of Britain as an independent nation.
Sir, To urge caution is prudent. To walk away from an atrocity on our doorstep is moral turpitude. Cameron has not managed this well but, in playing politics, Labour has regressed to 1930s appeasement. Parliament should be ashamed.
Solihull, W Midlands
Sir, Mr Cameron has not lost face. He has shown tremendous compassion to those afflicted in Syria, loyalty to our US allies and importantly, has not lost sight of Parliament and the need to put such a vital vote before it. This is democracy in action. Unlike Blair’s, Cameron’s statesmanship shines at a time when level heads are needed. None of us has forgotten where the hubris and vanity of the Blair years took us, and the parliamentary vote yesterday reflects the voice of the people.
Sue Conway Winchester Sir, Disbelievers in the horror of the Assad regime should consider Churchill’s struggle to convince Parliament and others of Hitler’s intentions. The current vacillation over how to act shows a “weak Britain” to the rest of the world.
Cleveland, Queensland, Australia
Sir, The Prime Minister is being criticised for rushing headlong into a vote which was lost, much to the embarrassment of himself and his Government. However, he is also due some praise. In fighting the corner of this contentious cause in Parliament, he has put the democratic process squarely ahead of his own interests. He has returned to Parliament the prerogative to make decisions on taking military action; something which he promised to do in opposition. Mr Cameron has done a great service to British democracy.
Sir, The Commons’ rejection of the principle of military intervention in Syria marks a low point in what we stand for as a nation. To rule out the principle of intervention outright is shameful. MPs cite the debacle of Iraq as justification for their actions, but this overlooks the crucial question: is it right to intervene in Syria because international law has been violated, or is it not? If it is, then all consideration of Iraq is irrelevant (save lessons of procedure). Britain has been reduced to a reactive nation of the risk-averse, and we shall watch on as a Franco-American coalition fights the good fight. I am embarrassed to be British.
Sir, Any dispassionate survey of our special relationship with the US since the end of the Second World War shows that suggestions that the Commons vote on August 29 has brought about a basic shift in our international stance are oversimplified and overblown.
To the extent that it leads to a better understanding, in this country and abroad, of the realities of our 21st-century international involvement, and of the responsibilities we incur as a consequence of it, the vote can be of great service.
Sir Peter Marshall (Private Secretary to the British Ambassador to the US, 1953-56) London W11 Sir, The Prime Minister has not been humiliated. The hypocritical reversal of support by the Leader of the Opposition does not diminish Mr Cameron.
The news of the latest atrocity in the form of a napalm attack shows what the Syrians who oppose Assad can expect. Labour has provided succour for further such obscenities.
Professor Andrew Porteous
Having clarity of objectives, and recognising that ambitious political commitments can be difficult to deliver, is what is necessary
Sir, To say that failure is tolerated in the Civil Service (leading article, Aug 29) is unfair to civil servants. The Civil Service is now at its smallest since 1945. There have been big cuts in staff, pay and budgets since 2010, and these will continue for the foreseeable future. It is also easy to blame civil servants for being risk-averse. It is their job to speak truth unto power. Most politicians, however — and especially ministers — have absolute faith in their own ideas.
Running government is complicated, and flagship projects can run into difficulty, in the private and the public sector. Having clarity of objectives, and recognising at the outset that ambitious political commitments can be difficult to deliver, is what is necessary. The blame culture and briefing against individuals will not encourage risk-taking — quite the opposite.
Of course, the Civil Service needs to continue to reform, as does every major organisation. However, the Civil Service also needs recognition of the value that it already brings; fair reward, as pay levels for the more senior grades are woefully behind any market comparison; and the resources necessary to match the commitments of government.
General Secretary, FDA
A question posed by a journalist to the Archbishop of Canterbury shows that it is not the Church which is obsessed with sex, but the press
Sir, I was present at the opening of the new headquarters of the Evangelical Alliance, at which Archbishop Welby spoke. He spoke about the ability of the Christian message to change lives and communities for the better and the power of prayer. Several great stories concerning fostering, overcoming racism and a long-term ex-prisoner becoming a new person through reading the Bible were told.
He only mentioned the gay issue when during a Q&A session a journalist from The Guardian immediately raised the question. The Archbishop sighed and replied, “I had hoped not to mention that issue today.” This, and your report (Aug 29) of the event, is further evidence to me that it is not the Church which is obsessed with sex, but the press.
Dr Derek Tidball
A reader recalls a useful précis-writing exercise in English lessons long ago — some of today’s more florid writers could take a hint
Sir, My recollection (letter, Aug 30) of English lessons some 70 years ago was having to précis leading articles in The Times. Ever since, I found when writing a report that if the conclusion filled one page I tried to reduce it to one paragraph or, better, one sentence.
Sir, You said (TMS, Diary, Aug 30) that I attributed the phrase “posh funeral” — to describe the House of Lords dress code — to a book of regulations. In fact, the phrase came from a helpful peer who obviously looked at my very well-worn casual clothes and didn’t want me to be caught out.
Dressing “posh funeral” will not be easy for an ex-hippy, egalitarian radical like me, but I’ll do my best.
Green Party Group, London Assembly
SIR – Your report “PM recalls Parliament on Twitter” (August 28) states that Ipsa “confirmed that MPs can still claim their £300 a day allowance”. This is wrong on two counts. First, Ipsa did not offer any such confirmation because, second, there is no daily allowance for MPs.
Ipsa brought the old failed regime of allowances to an end and introduced a robust and transparent system. We reimburse only valid expenses that are needed to help MPs carry out their parliamentary duties and which are within the rules and budgets.
Sir Ian Kennedy
Western intervention to punish Syria could push the whole region into the abyss of warfare
30 Aug 2013
SIR – Jamie Oliver is right: we have developed some poor attitudes to food in this country (Comment, August 28). Our eating habits do not compare favourably with Italy’s or Spain’s. I would add Portugal to the list of societies that value their diet.
Portugal has some of the lowest wages in Europe – way below our benefit packages – and utilities are expensive, with a crippling 23 per cent of VAT added to them. Many mothers work to supplement family incomes, but they still get to the market by rising early, or going in their lunch break. Soup made from fresh vegetables is a standard in every Portuguese home.
SIR – Many people in Britain were outraged by the Cyprus government’s proposal to skim off nearly 10 per cent from savings accounts as contribution to an EU bailout.
Yet the Governor of the Bank of England happily announces that he will go on using savers as the “hit” group to protect borrowers and spenders, who benefit from record low interest rates (report, August 29).
What’s the difference between Cyprus and Mark Carney’s policy?
Newton Abbot, Devon
Guides’ oath precedent
SIR – In her excellent book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, Anne Applebaum highlights the post-war Polish Communists’ tactic of making “a few subtle changes to the scouting oath, which now referred to the scout serving ‘Democratic Poland’ and left out ‘service to God’.” It should be noted that this grey, authoritarian world did not last very long.
Horsham, West Sussex
Better keep quiet
SIR – Lynne M Collins (Letters, August 29) wonders if offenders in new “quiet zones” on planes will be sent to the naughty seat. I would prefer them to stand outside.
We need accuracy, not smart meters, to reduce bills
SIR – British Gas fails to point out the limitations of smart meters (Comment, August 27). These will not improve the accuracy of gas bills where billing errors can, at the extremes, result in overcharging or undercharging of 10 per cent.
For some unknown reason, the Government’s specification does not provide for adjustments for variations in temperature or pressure. If these were included in the specification, it would vastly improve accuracy for minimal cost.
Why has Ofgem not challenged this or at least drawn it to the public’s attention?
Former Director, Gas Consumers Council
SIR – Most cars have smart meters that show the consumption of fuel in mpg. How many motorists read this and adjust their driving in order to reduce consumption?
Peter de Snoo
Visiting students at Oxford do meet standards
SIR – Your report about Oxford “risking its reputation” by taking in short-term foreign students (August 26) makes reference to the Washington International Studies Council (WISC).
WISC does not admit “associate students”. We very carefully always refer to these short-time overseas students as “associate members” of one of three Oxford colleges, as Oxford University has recommended. We make it very clear that these students are not academically supervised by the Oxford colleges and are not students of either the colleges or of Oxford University. They come to us with the approval of (usually) the US home college, which must agree in advance whether to consider their work for possible credit transfer for their own US degrees.
The Oxford colleges we work with do set minimum standards for these “associates”. (Twenty per cent come as visiting students of Oxford University and are admitted with the university’s approval — usually a minimum grade point average of 3.7 out of 4.0 is required). Christ Church sets a minimum standard of 3.6 and, in my experience, it does enforce it strictly.
Speaking for WISC, I recently turned down $600,000 a year that a US college was paying when I discovered that most of its students (one third of our total) were not capable of higher education work, despite their inflated grades.
If WISC were driven by “commercial” motives, I would have continued to accept these fees even though students were wasting their time and money.
President, Washington International Studies Council
SIR – The three-year-old conflict in Syria now constitutes total war – a fight to the finish. Syria’s major towns and cities lie in ruins. Upwards of 100,000 people have perished. Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled across the borders to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
If this cataclysmic situation is not enough to bring the various factions to the negotiating table, then nothing else will.
There are two possible outcomes. One is that the Assad regime survives – which could provide stability and the possibility of future reconciliation among the peoples of Syria.
The other is that the Assad regime falls and Syria remains in a state of civil war as the various Islamist factions fight for control. This scenario could well result in a regional war, as Lebanon, Hizbollah, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Israel are drawn into the conflict.
Western intervention to “punish” the Assad regime looks likely to plunge the region into this abyss.
MPs’ are not claiming allowances
30 Aug 2013
SIR – If the UN Security Council fails to agree on possible action on Syria, the UN General Assembly can immediately consider (by meeting in “emergency special session”) the best solution under the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, adopted in 1950.
An emergency session can be called (within 24 hours) either by a majority (procedural) vote in the Security Council (the “veto” cannot be used to block this) or by the request of a majority of member states directly to the Secretary-General.
As an alternative, all concerned could wait for the next regular session of the General Assembly which starts on September 17, 2013.
Surely it would be better for a majority of the 193 UN member states to decide what should now be done rather than just a limited coalition of the United States with France and Britain?
UN Medical Director, 1982-1989
SIR – With all that’s at stake, I don’t understand the phrase “ministers agreed the Assad regime was responsible”. Assad’s regime was either responsible, or it was not responsible. Agreement by ministers does not make it so, either way. Proof does.
SIR – Ed Miliband and Labour have shown opposition to British military intervention in Syria. This sanctimonious party is playing party politics with people’s lives and seeking votes from the anti-war lobby. The legacy of Iraq should not overshadow everything.
SIR – MPs are to be congratulated for forcing David Cameron to delay a military attack on Syria. They are obviously well aware that the days are long gone of Britain sending gunboats up the Irrawaddy.
SIR – I don’t understand British foreign policy. Assad is a tyrant who poses a threat to the 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.
Why does our Government support jihadis and risk the lives of Syrian and British innocents?
Brighton, East Sussex
SIR – I was against armed intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which, respectively, proved disastrous and only partially effective. The heavy loss of military and civilian lives was not justified.
The situation in Syria, however, is completely different. We must act with our allies to punish those responsible for gassing civilians, subject to the identity of the perpetrators being determined, and the action being carefully targeted, to minimise civilian casualties.
SIR – The last time an RAF crew in an RAF aircraft was shot down in air-to-air combat was on November 6, 1956 – by a Syrian air force pilot in the same squadron as President Assad’s father.
Downing Street might have forgotten this. The Syrian regime most certainly won’t.
Andrew Brookes RAF (retd)
SIR – We often hear politicians say (to justify military intervention in the Middle East): “Doing nothing is simply not an option.”
In the case of Iraq, a consensus agrees that it would have been better if the United States and Britain had not intervened.
SIR – The Roman Valerius Maximus (first century AD) tells how an old woman prayed every day for the survival of the vicious tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius. Dionysius heard about her and demanded to know why.
She replied: “When I was a young girl, we used to have a severe tyrant, and wanted rid of him. But when he was killed, a much fiercer tyrant took over. Again, I thought it essential that his tyranny end. But now we have you, and you are even more oppressive than the others. So I keep offering my own life on behalf of your safety, because if you were removed, an even worse man would take your place.”
Valerius adds: “Dionysius was too ashamed to punish her witty audacity.”
Friends of Classics
Newcastle on Tyne
A chara, – I found it very difficult to read Stephanie Meehan’s heartbreaking letter (which everyone must read), to our Taoiseach Enda Kenny about the loss of her partner to suicide due to the ongoing shameful Priory Hall situation (Home News, August 30th).
It would be sad, yet unsurprising to think that Mr Kenny would only act now because her letter has gone viral, but why has this Government continued to do nothing to help her and her fellow ex-residents? If we abolish the Seanad we could give the €20 million annual savings to the Priory Hall ex-residents until each of them secured a new debt-free home. Or why not use these savings to hire the under-worked construction companies to build something spectacular on the Priory Hall site?
We are supposed to be a compassionate nation, so I would urge, even beg our Government to use the resources available to it to help these people today, before another ex-resident of Priory Hall loses their partner they love to suicide. – Is mise,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
Sir, – Dublin City Manager Philip Maguire (August 27th) gives an excellent explanation of the mechanics of the rate valuation system and to some extent a good defence of how local authorities can justify increases in rate charges for business.
Unfortunately a couple of hard business realities are not considered in the present valuation and charge formula, without which both social injustice and economic decline are guaranteed.
First, despite years of austerity – and for reasons better known only to themselves – our local and national decision-makers simply fail to understand that Ireland is bankrupt. We are in an IMF bailout programme. When taxes and rates are increased there will inevitably be business closures and job losses. There is no slack left in the public’s pockets or in local business profitability. All and any future rate increases will lead directly to closures and job losses.
The second serious misun- derstanding is that the present application of rates policies is punishing hard work and entrepreneurship as it rewards inertia and waste. In her informative article “Owners of vacant sites contribute nothing to local authorities’’ (Home News, August 5th), Olivia Kelly raises the lid on the crux of the problem. And as many vacant sites and indeed vacant residential and commercial properties are in the ownership of local authorities or the State /Nama, present myopic thinking, indolence and waste will inevitably prevail.
The property market is so much more than just bricks and mortar for sale or rent. Market price and accessibility determine enterprise survival and indeed civic and social equity (or the lack of). Property is a finite quantity consisting of every inch of land – with or without built structures. When a site, office space, dwelling house or factory is vacant and not generating an income stream, it is not contributing its full potential to the exchequer, and it is promoting scarcity by putting upward pressure on all other rent or purchasing prices presenting in the market place.
A simple solution would involve publishing the average rental cost of any square metre of a site or office/dwelling in any given local area. Apply penal progressive taxation the longer any property is vacant, right up to the annual rental parity for similar property yields. Such a policy would: 1. Remove idle property speculation. 2. Increase commercial activity in all towns and cities. 3.Allow entrepreneurs and established business to start up and expand. 4. Eventually lead to a reduction of rates as the burden would be shared by many more viable enterprise. 5. Bring commercial reality to the rental/lease market and indeed sanity to rent reviews. 6. Most importantly, it would put life back into the centre of our towns and cities where empty properties are depressing both the spirit and cultural life.
Without debating the above, Ireland will always be dependent on the IMF and as a people we will remain squeezed by the Famine mentality and oppressive landlord entitlements. This week I had a last “usual cuppa” at my favourite cafe. On Sunday this establishment closes after being in business for the past 30 years. Lease price increase demanded and end of story. With the tragedy of several job losses, its closure takes the heart out of its locality.
When will the stupidity end? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Seamus Heaney was a man who built bridges, brought communities together, and whose poetic lyricism spanned so many topics. Surely it would be fitting to name the new bridge over the Liffey, the Seamus Heaney Bridge? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Our Laureate, the late Seamus Heaney spoke to and of us all:
“I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, /Yapping always. But today/ It is my father who keeps stumbling/ Behind me, and will not go away.” (Follower)
His generous and personal legacy will be with us forever. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – “I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing . . .” Dear God, how the darkness echoes now. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is a truism that governments act first and foremost in their own country’s best interests. However, in ruling out any possible – even limited – military intervention aimed at reducing the capacity of a foreign power to continue deploying chemical weapons of mass destruction, the British parliament has taken not only one step backward but it has sickeningly gone miles further (Front page, August 30th).
Not only has it voted not to act in Britain’s “own best interests”, but at the same time it has given a huge green light to any regime anywhere that they can now deploy such abominable indiscriminate weapons with impunity should they so wish. It is a day of shame for one small but powerful democratic institution but it will turn out to be an unimaginably tragic one for all of humanity, for “never have so few” condemned so many future victims to so much death and suffering. Their washing of their hands of it all has only made them so much dirtier. – Yours, etc,
Mill Green, Stonham Aspal,
Sir, – I don’t want to take anything away from Brian Cowen’s apparent contrition (Front page, August 30th). However, it does seem clearer now that there was very much a Plan B in the mindset of Fianna Fáil during its recent period in office. And, just like its tenure in the 1980s , the B stood for Banjaxed (as in, keep going until . . .)! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – There appears not to have been one word of apology to people who don’t have televisions, smart phones, etc, for the unpleasant swipe by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte earlier in the week. Not even a simple retraction.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion, therefore, that the whole thing was a deliberate ploy to flush out the strength of opposition to the proposed Public Service Broadcasting Bill. How cynical and disrespectful, especially from a Labour politician and in this centenary year of all years. It seems to me that only the French have succeeded in making public representatives wary of their electorate – and that was over 200 years ago. But we don’t do that any more. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With so many cavewomen and cavemen coming forward to proclaim themselves in the columns of your newspaper, the Government must now be worried about its plans to abolish the Second Chamber? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – How gratifying that The Irish Times thought it important enough to publish no fewer than 14 letters from the cave folk. Those doughty folk who have such contempt for that device of Satan, the television. Folk who will resist to the death the invasion of their homes by any other electronic media. How dare the Minister suggest they pay a licence for things they wouldn’t dream of using! How nice to think of their cosy homes, full of the laughter of happy children as they sit round the turf fires playing Snap in the long winter nights.
One might only wonder how all 14 managed to hear the comments of the Minister, and would the Editor care to let us know how many of the letters were hand-written? – Yours, etc,
DONAL Mac POLIN,
The suggestion that the Annals of Inisfallen should be ‘returned’ to Killarney is nothing more than an ill-informed gimmick. Firstly, the annals were commenced at Emly, added to at Tomgraney, Lismore and Killaloe and only subsequently ended up in a west Munster monastery – probably, but not certainly, Inisfallen. Should the manuscript be broken up, with sections sent to each of the five places?
Also in this section
Labour needs to take a look at 2013, not 1913
What ever happened to the spirit of 1916?
Education needs a ‘Teacher’s Intent’
Secondly, your Leader comment (Irish Independent, August 28) that the manuscript is out of place in Oxford could not be more mistaken. Oxford is its home, where it sits on the shelf beside the Book of Glendalough and several hundred other Irish manuscripts. Thomas Hyde (d.1703), the first librarian of the Bodleian, spoke highly of the scholarship of Tuileagna O Maoil Chonaire, when he consulted the Irish manuscripts already there in the 1670s. Irish scholars have always been welcome at Oxford.
Thirdly, if it were not for the curatorship and care given by generations of Bodleian librarians, who looked after and protected the manuscript, it would not have survived at all. Indeed, if there was a sense of honour on this side of the water, we would be making an annual donation to the Bodleian Library in recognition of how, over many centuries, and in trying times, it preserved the heritage of the Irish people and made it known internationally.
Personally, I think the ‘monks of Inisfallen’ would be delighted to know their work is treasured in one of the great research libraries of the world, rubbing shoulders with the Douce Apocalypse and the Caedmon Manuscript. Apart from the printed facsimile (1933), the Bodleian has recently digitised the entire manuscript and put it online in high resolution where it can be consulted by anyone free of charge.
Maynooth, Co Kildare
Broken labour market
We read again how our welfare system, under Social Protection Minister Joan Burton of the Labour Party, is broken as our already hard-pressed households will end up with less money in their pockets if they take up more work. Such welfare traps are clearly problematic, as I should imagine most struggling households would prefer to have more money than a part-time job combined with welfare payments currently provides.
We must also recognise that people at the top end of the labour market have a strong disincentive to increase their value in the labour market: the total marginal rate that Revenue takes from jobs earning over €100,000 is 60pc (41pc PAYE, 9pc PRSI, and 10pc USC) and it’s worse if you’re self-employed. Richard Bruton pointed this out earlier in the year.
Why work hard to carve out new business if your reward for such work is the loss of 60pc of your income?
Our labour market is broken because of a combination of high unemployment, the need to maintain social cohesion and our current mechanisms (welfare and high taxation) for this maintenance.
It seems to me that if you were a party with eroding support and your stalwart defence of the status quo had failed to stop the erosion, you maybe should try something different.
Ennis, Co Clare
You can’t beat books
I was alarmed by the headline ‘Pupils throw the book at traditional learning’ (Irish Independent, August 28).
At a time when Ruairi Quinn states that there is a literacy and numeracy crisis; when Ireland’s OECD global literacy ranking has slipped to just average; when research studies show pupils who study via books retain far more than those who study via screens, is it wise that schools should be allowed to ditch the books in favour of iPads?
O’Doherty’s cheap jibes
Ian O’Doherty’s article on Chelsea Manning (Irish Independent, August 26) was very offensive to many people in the trans community, both in tone and content. Such comments only serve to further marginalise an already marginalised minority and encourage more abuse.
Church in the Lockout
Martina Devlin provides a historical critique of the role played by the Catholic Church in the 1913 Lockout (‘How the church put itself before needs of starving children in 1913′, Irish Independent, August 26).
She states: “Clerical interference prevented strikers’ children from being removed from the slums – most were condemned to remain in sub-human conditions in a city with one of Europe’s highest infant mortality rates.”
The article contains a number of historical inaccuracies – including referring to the state (this was 1913 – there was no Irish State) misrepresentation of a WB Yeats poem, ‘September 1913’, and assertions that are not historically grounded.
I refer Ms Devlin to a report by Save the Children entitled ‘Misguided Kindness: Making The Right Decisions For Children In Emergencies’, which was published in 2010. The report states in reference to emergency situations: “Placing boys and girls who actually still have families into orphanages or evacuating them overseas can be harmful to their immediate and long-term psychological wellbeing. In emergencies, efforts should instead focus on reuniting children with their relatives and supporting them within family-type settings within their own communities.”
Ms Devlin firstly dismisses the value that the Catholic family and people placed on their Catholic faith in 1913. She assumes it is in the child’s best interest to be sent far away, to unknown families, into a social setting in which they would be alien. If it was the church that shuffled the children off to families overseas, then no doubt Ms Devlin would have had another axe to grind. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Kiltimagh, Co Mayo
No gra for the oysters
Reading about next month’s national celebration of the bivalve (‘Weekend’, August 24) reminded me of Dean Swift’s perceptive observation: “He was a brave man, who first ate an oyster.”
Roll on September – I think!
Kilmainham, Dublin 8
Pat Rabbitte doesn’t believe there are any cavemen in this country who don’t “consume” broadcasts.
And yet, in my opinion, we have a Neanderthal trying to extend the cost of the TV licence to those without a television!
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte calls people who do not watch television “cavemen” (Irish Independent, August 27).
I know quite a few people who do not watch television and would be highly insulted by this description. Such a comment from Mr Rabbitte shows the closeted life he inhabits, far removed from the daily lives of some of the poorest members of our society. I think an apology is in order.
Wake up to the siesta
One wonders if the assertion by David McWilliams that taking a daytime nap does not indicate laziness might come as a wake-up call to many.
Beaumont, Dublin 9