18 September 2013 Waiting
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble They have to go and rendezvous with a refueling ship but they get lost. The impersonate a Swedish ship to get some fuel from a Swedish port. Admiralty think they have been captured by you know who.
It cold and damp and wet so I potter around.
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today Mary wins and gets just under 400. winning by just one point perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Douglas Stuart, who has died aged 94, launched The World Tonight on Radio 4 in 1970, setting its magisterial tone as the programme’s first presenter with heavyweight interviews about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the latest developments in the Cold War and Vietnam, and the unfolding Watergate scandal.
Douglas Stuart, 1949 Photo: BBC
6:22PM BST 17 Sep 2013
Measured and patrician in tone, Stuart, unlike the bluff William Hardcastle on The World At One, was comparatively unassertive and was sometimes judged excessively low-key. One of the network’s historians, Simon Elmes, noted that his late-night tones could be too laid back “even for those listeners themselves about to take up a horizontal posture”.
One of Stuart’s first and most controversial interviews was with Albert Speer, Hitler’s wartime Minister of Armaments and War Production, in which he questioned him about what made him join the Nazi party, why Hitler appealed to him and his acceptance of the concentration camps.
Stuart, a former Washington and Bonn correspondent for the BBC, exemplified the programme’s focus on international news, which was established early on when the Watergate scandal engulfed the Nixon presidency in 1972. The five hour time difference with Washington, DC, meant that the programme could bring up-to-the-minute developments at 10pm.
In September 1970, when President Nasser of Egypt died, Stuart interviewed the foreign secretary, George Brown, who agreed to contribute from a distant studio. “Unfortunately he had had too much to drink,” Stuart recalled, “and my first question was answered by a gigantic sneeze, and then silence.”
The eldest of four sons, Douglas Willoughby Stuart was born on August 18 1918 in Calcutta, where his father was an auctioneer and merchant. Educated at Harrow, where he played cricket against Eton in two successive seasons, he took an open scholarship to New College, Oxford, and in 1939 was commissioned into the 2nd Bn Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Regiment as a second lieutenant. Wounded and captured in Italy in 1943, he spent 19 months as a half-starved prisoner-of-war, latterly at Oflag 79 in Brunswick.
After liberation, Stuart worked as a sub-editor with the BBC General Overseas Service (now the World Service) at Bush House before applying to become a foreign correspondent. He arrived in Delhi in January 1949, eventually encountering India’s first prime minister, Pandit Nehru, who — recognising Stuart as a fellow Old Harrovian — invited him to sing old school songs together.
Further foreign postings followed, first to Bonn in 1951, and then Cairo, where Stuart arrived shortly before the Suez crisis of 1956, only to be expelled almost immediately. His wife, Margaret, was interned in the Semiramis Hotel alongside Kim Philby .
Two years later, when the Stuarts saw Philby again on a beach in Beirut, Margaret Stuart asked him point-blank: “Kim, tell us about the ‘third man’ business”. He proceeded to do so, an occasion that Stuart recalled in From Our Own Correspondent in 1963 after Philby had fled to Moscow and evidence had come to light conclusively proving his treachery.
Meanwhile Stuart, having been thrown out of Jordan, Syria and Iraq, based himself in Cyprus as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent (1956-58). From there he was posted to Vienna (1958-60) and finally Washington, DC (1960-67), where he was the BBC’s White House correspondent, covering the Cuban missile crisis and President Kennedy’s assassination (although he was down a mine in Pennsylvania when the shots rang out in Dallas).
He spent three obscure years (1967-70) as assistant head of programmes at BBC Scotland in Glasgow under a future director-general, Alasdair Milne, before becoming the launch presenter of The World Tonight in April 1970.
Stuart’s professorial manner disguised an incisive style of interrogation. “We agreed that The World Tonight should concentrate on reflecting the interviewee so I made my questions very short,” he recalled on the programme’s 40th anniversary in 2010. “This made the interviewee the centre of the listener’s attention, which is why I signed off as ‘Douglas Stuart reporting’.” When Richard Ingrams regularly captained one of the teams on Radio 4’s The News Quiz in the late 1970s, he was often paired with Stuart, whom he invariably introduced as Douglas Stuart-Reporting.
His memoir appeared in 1970. A heart attack forced his retirement in 1984.
Douglas Stuart married, in 1940, Margaret Holms, whom he had met at Oxford, and who survives him with their daughter and two sons.
Douglas Stuart, born August 18 1918, died July 13 2013
Now that the US is talking to Russia and may well soon be talking to Iran (Report, 16 September), perhaps we should work back to the origin of these moves. It all comes down to Ed Miliband’s refusal to support the Tories in the Commons. Without that determination, Obama would never have felt the need to consult Congress. And without that delay, there would not have been such a possibility of a major breakthrough in Iran. It is surely time to praise Ed where praise is due.
• You know all those National Rifle Association spokesmen who state that the best answer to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun, and that if every school had armed guards/teachers, no one would be hurt? Well, once upon a time there was a high-security shipyard in Washington DC (Massacre in DC: 12 killed in navy yard shootings, 17 September).
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire
• I was surprised that your “atheist churches” article (14 September) did not mention the established secular services in Conway Hall in London, nor Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists, in which he suggests that “rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they are packed with good ideas about how we might live and arrange our societies”.
• The bitter end (In praise of… nautical vocabulary, 17 September) is not just any old end to a line, but specifically the end attached to the “bits”, the strong point on the boat to which the line is attached. Going to the bitter end is thus going right to the end of the line that may often be buried deep in the cable tier, a graphic description of going as far as is possible.
• A few years ago on a backstage visit to the Gaiety Theatre in Douglas, Isle of Man, I learned the derivation of “stage crew”. In the days of sailing ships, theatres were often placed near ports and harbours in order to employ seafarers, who had the dexterity and skills to operate the complex array of ropes controlling the scenery – they literally “knew the ropes”.
Imagine that I am sitting outside a cafe in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, dressed in full crusader costume, my red pectoral cross prominently displayed, pouring whisky into my coffee. What message does this send to passersby? The message is: “I hold your customs and your values in contempt. I do not want to be like you because you are morally and culturally inferior.” Exactly the same is true of the wearing of a full-face veil: it is perceived by a large section of the non-Muslim population as unnecessary and arrogant. Such provocative behaviour, coupled with the almost daily reports of harsh, even virulent, misogyny in Pakistan, Iran or Afghanistan, is surely a public relations disaster for British Muslims.
I’m afraid it simply won’t do to say, as Maleiha Malik does (Full-face veils aren’t barbaric – but our response can be, 17 September), that “we need a debate within the Muslim communities”. What needs to happen, for the benefit of British Muslims themselves, is for the leaders of the various Muslim communities to signal a change of direction away from separatism and towards greater integration. To this end it is they, not politicians, who need to be making a fuss about full-face veils and the need to phase them out.
Bedale, North Yorkshire
• As anyone knows who has thought about what to wear at a job interview, clothes are a language. So what message do niqab-wearing women want to send? Do they want to fully participate, and the face covering is the only way they can do this? Or do they want to keep themselves separate and apart? We hear a lot from people speaking on their behalf, but not much from the women themselves. Also, how is that message received? I find it difficult, for example, to remove from the face veil all connotations of Saudi Arabian Salafism, with its long misogynist history.
• I’m a German-born Muslim and have been living England for nearly 10 years. My parents came here from Pakistan due to the freedom they saw their children would have in European countries. They came so that our chances of achieving a good life would be high because of the well-structured education system here. Many parents have escaped harsh cultural oppression so that their daughters and sons could achieve equal amounts of education. Some girls might be oppressed, and they have every right to speak out, but I suggest that politicians should find those girls first and have a solid case before they approach a topic nationally.
My love for education will go on for many more years, but I will not under any circumstances give up my religious beliefs, and one is the covering of my head and body and sometimes the face. I will not have politicians “impose” their belief on me as I have the right to dress the way I choose. I’m by no means a fanatic but an ordinary girl.
• The Guardian is clearly making peace with those who promote the covering of women’s faces. “Three leading Muslims” in your piece (‘Is the veil the biggest issue we face in the UK?’, G2, 17 September) express a range of supportive opinion. No mention of UK Muslim women who are unhappy with this antisocial black cloak. No word of women around the world who have bravely stood up to this expression of sharia law, defying brutal codes of honour and shame. And most shocking of all, no sense of outrage about the schoolgirls and women on our streets whose faces are concealed in the name of religious extremism, lest they tempt men’s uncontrollable urges. The liberal left is prepared to trade equality and civil society for religious appeasement.
• During the current discussion on the rights of Muslim women to cover their faces in public (Lib Dem calls for debate on Islamic veil, 16 September) I have not noticed any mention that, for many of us who have become increasingly deaf over the years, it is extremely difficult to follow a conversation without seeing facial expressions, in particular to be able to lip-read. This is not a question of religion or rights, but of human communication.
• Birmingham Metropolitan College is wrong to cave in to protests against its ban on face veils on campus (Report, 14 September). Sikh men and Muslim women are entitled to wear their head coverings, which are incorporated into uniforms of the armed forces, police etc. But such headgear doesn’t cover the face.
Wearers of the niqab conceal their faces completely, which puts them at an advantage over other people. They can see the uncovered faces of others, but others cannot see who they are or, more important, read their expressions. It is intimidating to be in the company of people whose faces are completely covered. I therefore fully support the MP Peter Hollobone’s private member’s bill to ban the wearing of face coverings in public.
• Maybe the niqab should be worn by everyone giving evidence in court cases (Woman told to remove veil to give evidence, 17 September). It would prevent judge and jury from making unpreventable assumptions due to a witness’s appearance. They could then focus on the evidence and use it more objectively.
Dr Petrina Stevens
• Arguments about whether the niqab is a symbol of free choice, religion, submission or coercion are missing the point and muddying the central issue. A person’s right to dress as they choose way can be overridden by secular law in certain circumstances – the Naked Rambler has been frequently jailed, and political uniforms were banned by the Public Order Act (1936). I’m not clear why personal choice should automatically trump our way of applying justice.
Dr Richard Miller
Avi Shlaim (Comment, 12 September), like most spokesmen for the Palestinian cause, ignores the dilemma facing Israel in the peace process, which requires it to surrender concrete gains in return for a mere intention to promote a permanent settlement. In 1957, following the Suez war, Israel withdrew from the Sinai in return for international guarantees, only to face a war on that front 10 years later, the guarantees having proved worthless.
The Oslo accords required an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza so that autonomous Palestinian institutions could be established in return for recognition of Israel and a cessation of violence on the Palestinian side. The withdrawal has been achieved, settlements in Gaza have been dismantled, and autonomous institutions have been established. I leave it to Shlaim’s academic conscience to decide whether the Palestinian Authority’s failure explicitly to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, and the failure or inability to halt terrorism and the violence of the second intifada, are compatible with the accords.
King’s College, London
• The gradualism that Avi Shlaim rightly notes was critical to the architecture of the Oslo accords was at the root of their failure. The paramount need was the swift realisation of a sovereign Palestinian state, yet this imperative was held hostage to the prior resolution of all other matters, locking into the process the seeds of its own undoing. The gradualism was also a gift to both sides’ saboteurs. If talks are to have any chance of success, the parties – notably the occupying power – need to know there will be a heavy cost to failing. International actors, including the EU and the UK, should prepare a clutch of robust measures – building on the recent EU directive sharply distinguishing between Israel and occupied Palestinian territory – ready for instant implementation should talks fail, and enticing rewards should they succeed. In Israel’s case, there will almost certainly need to be a government reshuffle or elections to secure an equitable and workable agreement. The planned measures should therefore be disclosed openly in good time to impact on Israeli as well as Palestinian public opinion.
Dr Tony Klug
Larry Elliott gives a coherent summary of the post-crash economic hiatus (Lehman Brothers collapse, 14 September). I don’t do economics; I do double-entry bookkeeping. In bookkeeping terms, the world economy has more debt than there is value-added labour to repay said debt. It follows that a significant proportion of debt is going to be written off, cancelled or forgiven. The international economy is still in the process of deciding who precisely stands the loss. Creditors remain reluctant to surrender the gains accumulated during the boom. Governments are reluctant to make any decision that will upset everybody. The public simply wants to put a card in a machine and be sure some money will come out. Consequently, debt remains the can that gets kicked down the road.
Ultimately, debt will be repaid from current earnings and associated money flows. In practice, living standards will come down, prices will increase, the quality of services will be eroded, provision priced to restrict utilisation, and pension income will become increasingly problematic. Existing debt will be serviced, forgiven or devalued over an extended period and, consequently, real economic growth will be compromised. In the short term, weak governments will resort to increasing debt to disguise the fact that their economic policies are the same as those of the opposition, just looked at from the opposite direction. There seems to be no politician anywhere in the world big enough to address the fundamental issue: no one is as wealthy as they pretend.
• Phillip Inman (Inflation is no longer the Bank’s watchword, 16 September) mentions in four places the importance of wages and concludes: “Only higher wages can cure the problem and they don’t look like making an appearance any time soon.” Is this not the nub of the crisis? The share of wages in national output has declined over the past 30 years and the value of wages has also gone down as price rises have outstripped wage rises. In the absence of real wage rises, consumer demand can only increase to boost economic recovery by increasing borrowing and therefore debt levels.
If wages were to increase in the private sector, that would lead to a corresponding decrease in profits and therefore an increase in prices to restore profit levels. Real demand would fall again. If wages were to increase in the public sector, that would increase the government deficit and would lead to further cuts in services, as well as health and education provision. So if wage increases are the answer, to boost demand, how can wages be increased given the present economic crisis?
• You say “Nick Clegg and his supporters wished to prove the pain of austerity has been worth it, and to take some political credit for economic recovery” (Editorial, 17 September). This seems to assume that the “recovery” is the result of the coalition’s austerity policy, whereas my impression is that their policy actually hampered recovery. The ensuing pain was chiefly the lot of the poorest and most vulnerable; the more affluent do not appear to have suffered unduly. It seems improbable that those who really bear the suffering would find it was worth the pain.
Following the exposure of serious allegations of sexual abuse of detainees at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre (Report, 16 September), we urge the Liberal Democrats, in their emergency debate today, to oppose the justice secretary’s plans to restrict access to the courts by slashing legal aid and preventing organisations from bringing cases on behalf of others. These proposals will deny access to legal aid for foreign nationals in immigration detention and prison who experience such abuse, and will enable it to continue unchecked. Detained foreign nationals are the most vulnerable to abuse, but the least able to hold the state to account.
Celia Clarke Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees
Carol Storer Legal Aid Practitioners Group
Ian Lawrence Acting general secretary, National Association of Probation Officers
Maurice Wren Chief executive, Refugee Council
Eiri Ohtani Co-ordinator, The Detention Forum
Jerome Phelps Director, Detention Action
Nigel Lithman QC Chairman, Criminal Bar Association
Rachel Robinson Policy officer, Liberty
Akhtar Ahmed President, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association
Katie Brown & Connor Johnston Co-chairs, Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS
Michelle Stanistreet General secretary, National Union of Journalists
Suzanne Fletcher Chair, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary
Heather Jones Yarl’s Wood Befrienders
Ali McGinley Director, Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees
Steve Hynes Director, Legal Action Group
Hugh Roberts Unite the Union
Shauna Leven Director, René Cassin
Pragna Patel Director of Southall Black Sisters
Anne Dickinson Co-ordinator, Haslar Visitors Group
Nic Eadie Director, Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group
Habib Rahman Chief executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Matt Foot Justice Alliance
Liz Davies Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Nigel Caleb Director, Detention Advice
Puck de Raadt Churches Refugee Network
Vaughan Jones Chief executive, Praxis Community Projects
Emma Williams Chief executive, Student Action for Refugees
Jacqui Stevenson Head of policy, African Health Policy Network
Lisa Matthews Campaigns coordinator, National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns
Estelle du Boulay Director, Newham Monitoring Project
Niki Adams Legal Action for Women
Andrew Sperling Association of Prison Lawyers
In Gambling with engagement (6 September), you refer to “a type of warfare that has always triggered a special repugnance from countries that regard themselves as upholding moral standards”. Do you include the use of uranium weapons in this specially repugnant category? Our forces used uranium weapons extensively in Iraq, the Balkans and probably Afghanistan. After all, they are so efficient – they can blast right through the sides of tanks.
Last November a group of UK and Iraqi doctors petitioned the United Nations to investigate the alarming rise in birth defects at hospitals in Falluja, southern Iraq. “Young women in Falluja,” they write, “are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed.”
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has just published an epidemiological study, Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex Ratio in Falluja, Iraq, 2005–2009, which has found that the city is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukaemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
There is an International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. For obvious reasons the UK is not part of this. So if our morally superior hawks eventually get their way, Syrian hospitals could in future be witnessing yet more truly hideous tragedies – ones not caused by chemical weapons. We urgently need to press our government to join this coalition.
• Given the current abundance of articles in the media concerning the civil war in Syria, what I find mind-numbing is the hand-wringing outrage at the use of chemical weapons. Yes, using such material on humans is beyond appalling. However, the obscene debate seems to be about whether, in war, people should be subjected to a quick death or a slow lingering one. I find the whole discussion insane. Does this mean chemical weapons are a no-no, but bullets, bombs, hand grenades, and land mines are ethical? Where do weapons like Agent Orange and napalm fit in? Were the innocent victims of those chemicals just too stupid to get out of the way? Does anyone really think that the victims give a damn about what is and is not allowed to be used to kill and mutilate them?
The issue is war itself. As the saying goes, “It is a man’s game.” It should be evident by now that men in positions of power and dominance are far too emotionally fragile to deal with situations demanding reasoned thinking, compassion and self-control.
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
The dangers of intercession
Peter Beaumont assumes that “we” are continually faced with humanitarian crises, and that at some point “we” must intercede to prevent them (Lessons of the past cast shadow over Syria, 6 September).
It is not so simple, since the interventions of the US and its European clients are invariably a ruse for geopolitical reasons, and in the case of Syria, where he assumes that Assad ordered the atrocious chemical attack – far from proven – we know that the US, Britain and France are far less interested in humanitarian intervention than in intervention to weaken the Syrian regime and its allies in Iran and Hezbollah.
That intervention usually entails more slaughter of innocents, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Kosovo, does not enter the arguments of Beaumont, nor does he mention the hypocrisy of US interventions only when and where it suits Washington’s “national interests”.
Analogies to the second world war, where national interests were under attack, appear specious.
Morton K Brussel
Urbana, Illinois, US
Let’s work to wage peace
At least when Barack Obama sought the approval of Congress for a US attack on Syria, he dispelled the notion that Britain had lost all influence by going back to parliament (6 September). Rather than speculate on US uncertainties, Britain could now turn its rejection of war to even better purpose and get to work on waging peace.
Given the billions made in the UK by selling weapons to tyrants in the Middle East, it’s surely payback time when it comes to helping millions of refugees around Syria. But to do that requires a ceasefire, a UN able to police it, a more balanced approach to warring sides, and constructive engagement with Russia and Iran.
It also requires more critical distance in our dealings with the US and its alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and more modest co-operation with other countries in Europe and around the world.
We must live more simply
So a) Ecuadorians hope to stop oil companies from drilling in a global diversity “hotspot” (World Roundup, 30 August); b) Libyans brace for renewed conflict over control of oil (report by Chris Stephen); c) various politicians and protesters (including Caroline Lucas) battle against fracking in Sussex (report by Toby Helm); and d) the Arctic ice levels are at an all-time low.
These are serious problems, so we urgently need to ask what we are actually doing about all this. As far as I can see, we are flying, driving, freighting, air-conditioning and consuming like world champions.
Yes, we are burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow and no one is saying that this is wrong.
I’d like to ask why policies such as taxation, regulation and restriction, which could so easily reduce our fossil-fuel consumption, are not being implemented?
Indeed, I fail to grasp why motoring and flying and a host of other energy-hungry activities are so “indispensable” when alternatives such as using public transport and living, working and holidaying more locally should be perfectly acceptable on this planet of dwindling resources.
Maybe in your next edition you could invite some experts and some politicians to explain to us why living more modestly and using fossil fuels more frugally are not being considered?
Do miniature brains think?
What an interesting new development: miniature brains grown in the laboratory (6 September).
Pertinent questions that may now perhaps become answerable could be: does this laboratory brain have some form of self-consciousness? Does it think? (If so, about what?) Does it have emotions? (If so, based on what?) Is it aware of the outside world? (If so, how?) Does it take decisions? (Even if it cannot implement them.)
It may be hard to obtain the answers to these questions, since the brain has no means to communicate with us. Or does it? Perhaps fMRI techniques can give us some answers. Maybe the brain will tell us that it does not need a body to be happy. Would that then become mankind’s future?
The world would become a very peaceful place, that way: 7bn brains in a laboratory. Plus a few lab staff to take care of us.
Eric de Winter
Bhutanese happy in Australia
I enjoyed Andrew Davison’s well-written Letter from Bhutan (6 September). However, he concludes with the widely held view that “happiness is [this] small Himalayan kingdom”. Not for all! Thousands of Bhutanese, of Nepali extraction, were forced from their homes in the 90s and have spent up to 20 years in refugee camps in Nepal. Some have now been resettled in third countries like Australia, where I currently teach them English. I assure you that, for them, Australia is happiness central, not Bhutan.
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
This letter relates to Oliver Burkeman’s column titled Decisions, decisions… (6 September). “You have to pick a side,” according to Oliver Burkeman. In other words, it is impossible to have a neutral opinion regarding black-and-white issues. George W Bush employed the same logic in the US Congress in 2001, when he said: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Both statements illustrate the false dilemma or false choice fallacy, in which a situation is mistakenly (or misleadingly) construed as black and white even though there may be many shades of grey. It is simply incorrect to say that not choosing A means choosing B: one could still be weighing up A and B, hoping for C, or currently focussed on an entirely separate problem.
Tchaikovsky is not the only one who might have been “confused” about issues of sexual orientation (Shortcuts, 6 September). Would someone please explain to me (and to ex-comrade Putin) exactly what is “non-traditional” about homosexual activity? Did I miss something? Has it only just been invented?
I recall my initial astonishment, some years ago, when a mature, intelligent (and presumably heterosexual) student came up to me after class one day when I had raised the subject. She asked me, in all apparent sincerity, “Will you please tell us more about this homosexuality. We don’t have this in my country.”
Her country is ruled by a fundamentalist theocracy. Homosexuality is no more “non-traditional” than the extreme homophobic repression that would go as far as pretending, as in Russia, it is either a perverse “choice” or, as in her country, that is actually non-existent.
What dangerous and hateful nonsense this all is!
Gabriola, British Columbia, Canada
• Much of what appears through the internet is hardly private (13 September). Often, considered or not, it is the poster’s or sender’s public persona. In granting it freedom, governments may have unintentionally, but cleverly, devalued speech to the point where, like any other thing that is “free”, it becomes worthless, and consequently in no need of protection.
Palo Alto, California, US
• In her article, Kory Stamper tells us that dictionaries have ruined English by entering the hyperbolic meaning of “literally” (30 August). So, it was reassuring to find that my Canadian Oxford Dictionary decried using “literally” as an intensifier, suggesting it be “avoided in writing or in formal speech”.
Furthermore, we Canucks can rest on our laurels since ” hyperbole” is defined as “an exaggerated statement not to be taken literally”.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
Reading Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s article (16 September), I discovered some surprising things I didn’t realise about myself.
Apparently, in supporting elementary values of liberty and tolerance at my college, BMET, I had become an “unwitting ally” of “the guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists”. I must also apologise for hoping that authority might listen to the views of those it has power over – or as Alibhai-Brown put it, “intimidating” the college.
Who knew I could so easily become the dupe of a conspiracy of “brainwashed”, “vacuous women” who are “well funded by sources in Saudi Arabia” to “spread conservative Islamic worship across Europe”?
But apparently I have, along with the whole of the National Union of Students, Shabana Mahmoud (the local MP), Waseem Zaffar (chairman of the city council’s social cohesion committee) and even Nick Clegg.
It is a marvel how such blatant illiberalism can couch itself in the language of liberty.
Sam Gurney, Birmingham Metropolitan College
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown serves her Muslim faith well in condemning the niqab. By any measure it offends against normal human interaction.
Recently on a bus journey with my wife we noted a seat occupied by a woman thus veiled with only her eyes showing. A mother and young child in a push chair boarded, with the child placed directly in front of the woman.
The child attempted to engage with the woman, thinking it was a game of peek-a-boo, clearly expecting some sort of response. No response was forthcoming. We shall never forget the child’s expressions moving from the spontaneity of joy, to puzzlement, to sadness, and then hurt.
That such seeds are planted does nothing for Islam, or the harmony of our community.
Roy Spilsbury, Penmaenmawr, Conwy
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in her well argued piece is, one fears, preaching to the converted. I suspect that, like me, most British citizens find the sight of black-enveloped women both scary and morally offensive,
If the argument of human rights is proffered, the human right of any British citizen to see the faces of their fellows should trump any other religious or cultural soi-disant right?
Penny Reid, Wantage, Oxfordshire
The Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne has called for a national debate on banning the Muslim veil in public places including schools.
I had no idea we had already solved the problems of the sexual objectification of women, the commodification of their identities, false body image resulting in anorexia, bulimia and plastic surgery addictions, plus the sexualisation of childhood as exampled in culturally grotesque dance and beauty pageants for toddlers.
Despite presiding over cultural practices that have forced yet another generation of feminists into being, our elites feel no shame in imposing their values on to the practices of other ethnicities and societies.
Gavin Lewis, Manchester
In all the discussion on niqabs and burkas no one has mentioned the fact that covering up completely out of doors in a country where sunshine is rationed is a health hazard. Women who choose to dress in this fashion are in great danger of developing a severe loss of vitamin D, essential for bone formation, and put their health at risk.
I expect had the Prophet (PBUH) lived here he would have mentioned the fact. In these cloudy islands, for the common good, both these items of clothing should be banned by law.
Jennifer Bell, Cadeleigh, Devon
Does Talat Ahmed of the Muslim Council not have any sense of history? We have considered it “un-British” for people to appear masked in public since long before the days of Dick Turpin and his like.
Christopher Anton, Birmingham
Scant evidence on badger TB
Your report “Badger cull in focus after shooting” (16 September) is not the first to state that “badgers can pass bovine TB to cattle”, when the real question is not, “Can they?”, but “Do they?” The only evidence ever produced by government scientists clearly shows how the probability of cross-infection from badgers to cattle is extremely low.
This conclusion was reached following a crude experiment by the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1970s, when a group of 13 badgers were taken from an infected badger population and confined for four years in a covered, concrete yard approximately one third the size of a football penalty area. In that period five calves were also housed in the yard to determine if and when they would become infected. There was no direct sunlight “disinfection” in the yard and the badgers slept in the calves’ food troughs.
Despite this bizarre and totally unnatural situation it was only after periods greater than six months that any of the calves became positive to the tuberculin test. Four other calves were placed in the yard for periods of one to four weeks, but none became infected. Until there is evidence that badgers can infect cattle in the real countryside, the evidence is purely circumstantial – not sufficient for the “capital punishment”.
John Bryant, Wildlife consultant for Protect Our Wild Animals, Tonbridge, Kent
Mark Steel (“Take your time on Hillsborough. No Really”, 13 September) questions the IPCC’s independence by stating it is run by former police chief Jon Stoddart. Unequivocally wrong. Mr Stoddart is in charge of a separate criminal investigation, examining the causes of the deaths of the 96 supporters. The IPCC is conducting an independent investigation into the aftermath of the disaster and the claims of a cover-up.
This investigation is headed by myself as deputy chair of the IPCC. I have spoken at length about my commitment to overseeing this investigation and it is an enormous task that has both moved and humbled me.
Mr Steel questions the time being taken by our “rolling programme of interviews”. Interviews are being done on a daily basis. We aim to complete a significant number of the over 200 officers whose statements were amended, by October. Mr Steel claims handwritten statements of 90 fans were changed. Again this is wrong. Our published investigation update is clear that the figure of 90 relates to pocket notebooks of police officers which had been recovered by the IPCC.
Hillsborough is a hugely important and sensitive investigation. It deserves factually accurate and fair reporting.
Deborah Glass, Deputy Chair, Independent Police Complaints Commission, Warrington
News from the Great War front
A naval equivalent to The Wipers Times (Television review, 12 September) was The Natal Newsletter. Produced weekly on board the cruiser HMS Natal from 1913 to 1915, its content was cheerfully satirical, with humorous verse and football results; in the family unit of a ship, there could be nothing to frighten the horses.
The Editor was “Bun Tyng” (Yeoman of Signals), assisted by “Queenie” Norris. Window-gazing in Cheapside, while on leave, they had seen a duplicator, and scraped together enough to buy it.
The paper was favourably reviewed in The Star, The Scotsman and several provincial titles, and had an average circulation of 400, rising to 800 for the Christmas edition which proved to be its last.
On 30 December 1915, while anchored in Invergordon in the Cromarty Firth, the Natal was devastated by an explosion, probably due to unstable cordite, and sank within minutes; 421 people, including civilians watching a film-show on board, lost their lives.
Bun Tyng (my father, R C Wilson) was among the 400 who survived the disaster; Queenie Norris, sadly, was not.
Diana Oxford, New Malden, Surrey
Lib Dems and the price of power
The problem with Bob Morgan’s analysis (“Lib Dems were right”, Letters 17 September) is that the price of making “some Lib Dem policies real” is the implementation of a series of divisive and destructive Tory policies, including the commercialisation of the NHS, increasing tuition fees, demolition of social care services and the privatisation of the Post Office. Is this the price we have to pay for a tax on plastic bags? In this context, his letter sounds like a plea for power at any cost.
Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk
How to swat a fly
Regarding Tony Wood’s advice on how to swat a fly, (letter, 17 September) I have a simpler method. I once worked in a laboratory that was infested with flies in the summer and I had read that flies jump backwards on take-off. I took a flexible steel ruler and bent it back, then released it, aiming just behind the fly. It worked, but there is one problem. Since then I’ve read that flies don’t jump backwards on take-off. Perhaps someone out there knows the answer and can explain why my method worked.
John Naylor, Ascot
Trevor Walshaw’s description of modern politicians as “flash political Woosters” is an unforgivable slur (Letters, 17 September). Bertie Wooster may have the “brains of a peahen” but he is very kindhearted, well-meaning and decent. He strongly disapproves of bandying a woman’s name, and he “has never hunted”. The man is head and shoulders above our current crop of odious, shallow, patrician, shifty self-servers.
Penny Little, Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
Wild West laws
A small number of innocent people being shot is seen as a small price to pay for the right to bear arms. Most American films feature death and destruction; we have to face the fact that they are a bunch of cowboys and they will never change.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
An armed police officer has successfully challenged his dismissal for having sex on duty, on the grounds that he had his gun on him whilst engaging in the act. Could it be said that it was indeed a gun in his pocket, and he was pleased to see her?
Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire
‘People communicate not only through what they say, and how they respond to questions, but how they say it and how they are seen to say it’
Sir, Nowhere in Islam’s transcendent text is there any compulsion for women to conceal their faces. Indeed, this pre-Islamic practice is non-Qur’anic and un-Muslim. It is an archaic aristocratic custom originating in ancient Persia that spread to Byzantium and was adopted by misogynistic Muslim society. For Muslims to claim that the niqab/burka is Islamic is not only deceitful but disingenuous. At best it is an outmoded cultural convention and a primitive tribal habit. Many ill-informed Muslims have, however, been conditioned to conflate culture with religion and befuddle liberal Britain that this is a principle of religious freedom and human rights when it is neither. In fact it is illegal for masked women to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca or to perform their daily prayers. If women are prevented from hiding their identity at Islam’s holiest shrine, why do they need to do so in the UK?
For theological, political, security, social and health reasons, the UK must join France and Belgium in outlawing all public anonymity. Anything less would be tantamount to sexist discrimination against British men, who are not permitted to conceal their identity in public.
Imam Dr T. Hargey
Director, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford
Sir, The ruling (Sept 17) that a Muslim woman must remove her niqab, thereby exposing her face, in court is regrettable. There is certainly a genuine interest in ensuring that the right person, whether witness or accused, applicant or defendant, is in the court. My initial reaction was that the woman in question should be required to face (literally) the judge and the jury. People communicate not only through what they say, and how they respond to questions, but how they say it and how they are seen to say it. That important value is not absolute; as long as the person concerned can be identified then it is appropriate that the court should make some allowance for her religious beliefs.
The situation would be different where concealment of the face makes the performance of a function impossible or significantly less effective (such as teaching). It has long been recognised, though, that full identification of the participants in court proceedings may be limited because of competing interests, such as protection of a witness from retribution by the accused. Justice will not be denied, or devalued, because someone wants to conceal her face.
Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz
Department of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University
Sir, Your leader (“Veiled Insult”, Sept 14) admirably makes the case for allowing traditional British values of “tolerance and common sense” to prevail, in time, over the wearing of the niqab.
Unfortunately it seems unlikely that those values will triumph on this issue within the lifetime of anyone now living. Hence the
need for another British custom: a full and open debate to establish where the boundaries of tolerance should lie.
‘Mr Obama is the kind of politician that comes around every one or two generations: competent, highly intelligent and more concerned with policy than popularity’
Sir, It seems short-sighted to lay America’s global and domestic demise at the feet of President Obama (Tim Montgomerie, Opinion, Sept 16). Historically speaking, Mr Obama is one of the most blocked presidents, with Senate Republicans trying to block his every move. This stretches as far as the Senate blocking attempts to confirm former Bush Cabinet members holding important foreign and domestic security posts. The reason given is Mr Obama’s unwillingness to buy votes during the “fiscal cliff” and his desire to govern as Commander in Chief and not as some impotent figurehead.
Mr Obama is the kind of politician that comes around every one or two generations: competent, highly intelligent and more concerned with policy than popularity. Given that British politics may soon have to choose between George Osborne and Boris Johnson, it makes one realise that politicians such as Obama are the kind that we need but, most certainly, do not deserve.
Benjamin A. Burleigh
Hove, E Sussex
Sir, Contrary to Tim Montgomerie’s assessment of President Obama, I cannot help but think there is a case for outright applause. If Russia and China, however gradually and circuitously, come to take on more of the responsibility they should carry for a world of humane values, it will be to some extent due to a forcefulness in America’s position. Russia’s concurrence with a ban on chemical weapons may yet come to be seen as a first step in the right direction, in a situation that was becoming increasingly polarised.
Brighton, E Sussex
We have an ageing clergy and not that many coming in to the seminaries to replace them – the matter needs addressing urgently
Sir, Diarmaid MacCulloch highlights an important sea change (“Does anyone know of any impediment?”, Opinion, Sept 14). At last there is recognition in the Vatican that there is a problem. We have an ageing clergy and not that many coming in to the seminaries to replace them. In the UK the issue has been highlighted by the acceptance of the Ordinariate, and so in effect we already have a married clergy. What message does that send to those ordained through the Roman Catholic seminary route? And what does it say to those who had to set aside their priesthood through falling in love with a woman?
Of course it won’t be an easy matter to make such a change. It is a long time since the Council of the Lateran in 1139 standardised the varying practices from the first millennium and laid the groundwork for our present discipline within the Western Latin Church. However, let us at least begin to examine the issue realistically and tease out the pros and cons.
(Secretary, Movement for Married Clergy UK) Little Haywood, Staffs
Tax credits were an attempt to lift children out of poverty, regardless of the marital status of the people bringing them up
Sir, Harry Benson (Thunderer, Sept 16) suggests that a couple can gain £6,000 a year in tax credits by divorcing and living apart, and calls this a “marriage penalty”. He suggests that 240,000 unmarried couples are claiming the benefit illegally while living together, and regards this as an indication that a £2,000 annual benefit for married parents with their first baby would be somehow better.
What he calls a “marriage penalty” is surely rather an “honesty penalty”, and not a flaw in the tax credits system. Tax credits were an attempt to lift children out of poverty, regardless of the marital status of the people bringing them up. He is quite right that the proposed £150 “marriage incentive” is laughable, but to regard the tax credits system as penalising marriage is equally ridiculous. It’s supposed to be about the children, not the parents.
‘The concept of an objective morality applying to the whole world is surely one which we no longer believe in’
Sir, Philip Pullman (report, Sept 16) complains about the “moral squalor” of downloading someone’s published work. I am puzzled about the use of the word “moral”. We, most of us, try to behave decently towards our neighbours, mainly because life is more pleasant for us if we do so, but the concept of an objective morality applying to the whole world is surely one which we no longer believe in. Our trade arrangements with the Third World, not to mention our political and military relations with that wider world, are surely subject to our own advantage far more than to any altruistic motive.
David M. Wood-Robinson
SIR – I don’t much care about who owns the Royal Mail; I do care, however, about our historic post boxes.
Even more so than red phone boxes, red post boxes, with their relevant royal cyphers, are a reminder of our history. I don’t want to be part of the generation that ends that. Whatever we do with the company, would the Government please ensure that the post boxes survive?
SIR – As a former postman with 34 years’ service, I read Charles Moore’s article about Royal Mail with interest (Comment, September 14). Mr Moore mentioned London at the beginning of the 20th century receiving 12 deliveries a day in some districts. The reason that there is only one delivery today is due to efficiency.
I remember going out on my second delivery of the day with letters you could count on the fingers of one hand, and the odd packet or two, compared with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 items on the first delivery. It was a waste of manpower and resources.
Mr Moore also said that he often receives first-class letters that have taken five or six days to arrive. I can’t recall ever having received first-class mail as late as that.
It is not the unions that have “trashed” the service; every change ever made has been by management. The Royal Mail, as it stands today, is the result of their decisions.
SIR – Nick Clegg wants the Liberal Democrats to be a party of coalition in the future (“Condescending Lord Clegg, the invincible loser of British politics”, Comment, September 16).
This, of course, can only happen if there is a hung parliament. Mr Clegg’s problem is that going to the polls with such a mandate will require him to say which of the two main parties he proposes to side with. Unfortunately, just to say that he will offer his support to whichever major party has the most seats will be seen for what it is, an attempt to share power at any cost. But on the other hand, to name a party in advance will not please those Liberal Democrats who would favour a coalition with the other party.
The logical solution for his voters will be to desert the party and vote for their preferred coalition partner instead, thus leaving the Liberal Democrat Party where it deserves to be – extinct.
Pickering, North Yorkshire
SIR – What do the Lib Dems actually stand for? Are they are just a protest party for wishful thinkers and idealists who cannot be bothered to face up to hard choices? At least you know where you are with Labour and the Conservatives.
Preserve red post boxes for posterity’s sake
17 Sep 2013
The Lib Dems’ ideas are not thought through. Wind farms will never provide for our energy needs and will leave us vulnerable and reliant on imports, as well as despoiling the countryside. Mansion taxes are like a pre-death inheritance tax, forcing the elderly to move because they do not have the liquid assets to pay them.
If Presidents Obama and Putin can put their differences aside to work together on Syria, surely the two major parties can join together to outwit the little group that is enjoying holding the balance of power?
SIR – How illogical for Nick Clegg to call himself a democrat when he refuses to allow democratic changes to constituency boundaries.
Is it guilt about his own privileged background that is making him want to introduce a mansion tax? Does he not realise that some ordinary people acquire assets through a lifetime of hard work and good fortune? An accountant should explain to him the difference between asset value and cash flow.
SIR – Voters should be given a direct vote on who governs Britain, in addition to their existing vote for their local MP.
The London electorate have a direct vote for the London Mayor as well as for their local Assembly Members. Conservative Party members have a direct vote for their party leader. Our current system may have been necessary during the stagecoach era of democracy but is now an undemocratic anachronism.
Bexhill, East Sussex
SIR – Having been a lecturer in adult education, I know how important it is to see the full face of the students (“Minister: we must debate the future of the veil”, report, September 16).
This is because the teacher can tell so much by reading the face as to what the student is understanding (or not). This, of course, is equally so in life. It is important to see the person that one is talking to.
B F Hunt
SIR – The problem of the niqab has nothing to do with Islam, and nothing to do with prejudice.
The overriding principle is that in our society “going masked” is offensive, whether in court or on the streets; and that is widely applicable. It can form the basis of a general legal definition with few exceptions. The expressive quality of the human face is fundamental to interactions within our culture.
SIR – Perhaps a positive approach by the authorities would be to say that women are welcome to wear the hijab, but not the niqab.
As a compromise, this would satisfy both the security requirement to see the face, and the Muslim cultural requirement for women to wear a headdress.
Heathfield, East Sussex
SIR – How are those who depend on hearing aids and lip reading to communicate with someone whose face is covered? Many people, even those who are only a little hard of hearing, rely partly on lip reading and facial expression.
SIR – When my sons were below school age they loved watching council workmen repairing the Pennine roads around us (Letters, September 16). Their bedtime story was about a gang of road menders called Hannibal, Hasdrubal, Xerxes and Scipio Africanus – stalwarts of the Carthage and District Council.
Curiously, both boys went on to read Classics at university.
SIR – I can still feel the sensation of love and security on having a bedtime story. My father created “Percy the Ponkimo” for my older brother, and he’s still in the family repertoire two generations later.
My daughters still have favourite bedtime story books on their shelves and also The Book of a Thousand Poems, which was particularly loved by my youngest.
Such traditions are not only good for children but also calming and affirming for the adults who provide them.
You and you
SIR – There is no need to reclaim thee and thou to clarify the singular or plural for “you” (Letters, September 14).
Yous – the plural of “you” – exists in Scottish dialect and in areas to which the Irish significantly emigrated (such as Australia, parts of North America, including Boston, Philadelphia and Lanark, Ontario as well as South Auckland, New Zealand). It also has widespread use in Liverpudlian Scouse.
In Liverpool, emphasis can also be applied, as in yous lot.
Flawed Abortion Act
SIR – The criteria for legal abortions, as set out in the Abortion Act 1967, are wide and vague enough to provide any defence lawyer with ample legal arguments if any doctor was to be prosecuted for performing or offering an abortion based on the sex of the unborn child (Letters, September 14).
Section 1(1)(a) of the Act allows abortion if continuing with a pregnancy would pose a “risk” to the mental or physical health of a woman. Since any such “risk” is by definition entirely hypothetical, and since every pregnancy carries an element of risk, the Act in reality permits abortion on demand for any unwanted pregnancy, regardless of the reason.
Section 1(2) of the Act allows a doctor to take account of a woman’s “environment”. That can include a cultural “environment” in which female children are less desirable. The professional guidance issued by the BMA expressly acknowledges that sex-selective abortion may be legal under the Act, a fact that seems to have been overlooked by most commentators.
Sex-selective abortions are morally repellent, however they are no more morally repellent than any other type of abortion allowed under the seriously flawed Abortion Act.
Barrister, New Bailey Chambers
Put out more flags
SIR – If Scotland breaks away from the United Kingdom, how many Union Flags will have to be replaced worldwide when the saltire has to be removed? Perhaps the Scottish Arts Council could get to work and design and finance a new flag for us.
SIR – Last week, on entering the London Underground on a chilly Monday, the Tannoy advised us all to carry some water due to the hot weather. This was followed by an announcement warning us to be careful not to slip on the wet pavements on leaving the station. On the escalator, we were treated to a blizzard of posters from the Mayor advising us not to rush. Finally, we were told to look after our belongings.
All these strictures were offered in English. How many non-English speakers lost their suitcases, fell off an escalator or fainted due to dehydration, I wonder?
Is it really necessary to ban plastic bags?
SIR – At little or no extra cost, plastic bags can be made oxo-biodegradable so they biodegrade in the same way as a leaf.
Plastic is made from a by-product of oil, which is extracted to make fuels. The same amount of oil would be extracted if plastic did not exist. So why the witch-hunt?
SIR – No wonder supermarkets provide plastic bags free of charge; they are prime advertising opportunities for the supermarket’s brand.
SIR – Perhaps we should note the experience of Seattle. Shoplifting increased when plastic bags were banned (report, March 2). Thieves found it easy to conceal stolen items in their own bags.
SIR – Gillian Snoxall (Letters, September 16) suffers from the widely held misconception that “Britain” and “England” are synonymous.
Britain introduced a levy on plastic bags in 2011 – in Wales.
Sir, – I refer to the article “Court of Appeal needed to clear backlog of cases” (Opinion & Analysis, September 11th) by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
I feel that the present courts system is well able to tackle the business of administration of justice in Ireland. In the early 1990s, the same debate about delays in the Supreme Court was often aired in the media. The then chief justice, Mr Justice Keane, tackled a four-year backlog by instituting a regime of robust case management and a hard-nosed approach to dormant appeals (anecdotally up to a third of all appeals are strategic, and end up being withdrawn or struck out eventually). He successfully brought the waiting time down to nine months.
The efficiency of the Supreme Court could be more effectively dealt with by changing the way the courts do business; for example, by letting the District Court deal with all personal injuries claims under €50,000, and the Circuit Court deal with all other such claims with no limit (with the exception of medical injuries, which would continue to be dealt with by the High Court). Appeals would then stop at the High Court, thus greatly reducing the business of the Supreme Court. The same could apply to all applications for injunctions, family law and judicial review cases.
In this day and age, should we require a High Court judge, followed by the Supreme Court on appeal, to consider and adjudicate as to whether the composite material in a toilet seat caused it to crack and result in some litigant suffering catastrophic injuries to a left index finger, or whether a prisoner on remand should be prescribed Panadol as opposed to a generic paracetamol? I really don’t think so.
Such an approach would result in cheaper costs to litigants and make access to the courts more affordable to those not entitled to legal aid or not considered by practitioners for processing under a no-fault, no-fee regime.
On the other hand, the suggestion would result in less income for practitioners operating under the fee structure of the District and Circuit Court, which is why such a proposal will never be considered, let alone implemented, by any Minister for Justice, including the present incumbent.
At present, cases dealt with by the High Court can have one further outing, on appeal to the Supreme Court. Under the mooted Court of Appeal a further appeal to the Supreme Court is proposed, albeit in limited circumstances. It is certainly within the ability of even the most junior advocate to argue on a point of public importance on even the most audacious grounds, as can be seen from time to time in your newspaper, resulting in a third, and costly, outing to the Supreme Court. I don’t think that the ordinary taxpayer can afford the cost of the mooted Court of Appeal. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As always in the case of a referendum, some lawyer enters the fray throwing cold water on the proposal (“Shatter arguments for Court of Appeal ‘incoherent’, says law lecturer”, Home News, September 16th). These always seem to be accompanied by high-sounding words such as “incoherent and incomprehensible”, as used by Seth Barrett Tillman of NUI Maynooth.
It is the case in Ireland that practically any case of significance has to be taken in the High Court. It is also accepted that decisions should be generally appealable.
Currently, outside of criminal law, the only place for an appeal to go is the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. I suspect for serious business jurisdictions, this is a feature unique to Ireland. It seems inevitable that this will lead to severe congestion in the Supreme Court.
While there is some merit to some of the points made about efficiency, the only way to take routine appeals out of the Supreme Court is to establish a Court of Appeal, as is proposed. If we aspire to be a jurisdiction where people want to do business, we need to sort out this logjam.
The words “incoherent and incomprehensible” more accurately describe the reaction of a client when you explain to them the current mess that this amendment is trying to deal with. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The people, we hope, are represented by the Dáil. So who would be represented by a reformed Seanad? Those same people? But it makes no sense for the same set of people to elect two separate chambers. Should the Seanad be there to represent the elite? But which elite? The political, the academic or the artistic? Or the economic? And who decides on membership of that elite? The Government? God forbid.
In federal countries, the second house represents the states, whose interests diverge from those of the central government on many issues. Non-federal countries don’t have second chambers. What would they need them for? (Except, of course, for a Britain still clinging to the vestiges of its class system.)
The Seanad is an artefact of post-colonialism, an attempt by the young State to emulate the British system. In the context of a small, non-federal, democratically governed republic, it just doesn’t make sense to have a second house. – Yours, etc,
Dr GERARD MONTAGUE,
Sir, – I would like to thank the organisers of the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross who have done a great service to the democratic process in this country these last few days. How did they achieve this? Well, being people of immense common sense and unerring wisdom, they included a debate on political reform in their excellent programme of events. We were thus treated to the only debate between those parties intent on abolition and those who support retention and reform. What did I take from the debate? First, we are privileged to have people of integrity and intelligence such as Senator Katherine Zappone as members of our Oireachtas. Second, the Taoiseach is wise to avoid debating the issue with Micheál Martin, as the latter would run rings around his populist arguments.
This country would be better served by a reformed Seanad. People who share this view are not presented with any option by the Government to retain and reform. Thank you to the Kennedy Summer School for allowing that neglected voice to be heard. – Yours, etc,
Mohill, Co Leitrim.
Sir, – The Referendum Commission guide to the October 4th referendums adopts a useful format under the heading “If the Referendum Is Passed”. There should, however, be an additional section after page 8 as follows: “If the referendum is passed, existing Seanad voters resident in Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone and overseas will have no future vote in elections to the Oireachtas.” Its omission is notable and raises the question of whether this has been considered. – Yours, etc,
Senator SEAN BARRETT,
Leinster House, Dublin 2 .
Sir, – I assume this fellow Senator Windows, whose radio ads inspire Bernard Farrell (September 17th), is in favour of House improvement, not abolition. – Yours, etc,
Mount Argus Court,
Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W.
Sir, – It seems to me that, unlike those residing in the second chamber, “Senator Windows” appears to have a useful function. He prevents a lot of cold air coming in, whereas the Seanad has a lot of hot air going out. – Yours, etc,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Hugh Linehan (Opinion & Analysis, September 14th) raises the serious issue of how the new insolvency legislation will fall short in restructuring business failure, while serving the “entitlements” of a professional class, and leaving the PAYE sector to pay for the privilege.
As presently structured, the Insolvency Service is set to inflict several new rounds of hardship on every man, woman and child in the coming years.
First, for those on very low income or social welfare it is welcome that Debt Relief Notices will mean an exit from credit card debt of less than €20,000. However, with the stark and crazy omission of registered and unregistered moneylenders from the legislation, the unintended consequence is likely to condemn many to a lifetime of poverty.
Second, bank repossessions are costly. After the required visit to the High Court, the legal costs of repossession average €60,000 per case.
With a tsunami of such cases pending, this legislation and the Insolvency Service of Ireland simply outsource the process to the accountancy profession, with the debtor picking up the tab. As only debtors on higher earnings (€50,000-plus) can be presently considered as “prospective clients”, the State will inevitably have to subsidise the service.
Third, most if not all applicants seeking the assistance of the insolvency service will have a mix of secured debt (mortgage/personal guaranteed loans) and unsecured loans, which will be mostly from credit unions. UK experience of writedown of unsecured debt is in the range of 60 per cent to 70 per cent. The secured debt is deemed excluded from writedown unless the banks play ball. In all but name, this is another bank bailout facilitated by the State.
Fourth, regardless of any lack of due diligence or whether any debts were out of control prior to mortgage approval, the practitioners have no powers to ask questions about reckless lending or unprofessional conduct; they have no authority to make recommendations about whether a proportion of the bank’s secure debt should be discounted, nor request the insolvency service to investigate discovered questionable practices.
At one swift stroke the reckless practices are forever swept under the carpet – an Irish approach to prudent financial practices!
After six to seven years of insolvency arrangements, few entrepreneurs will be back in action. While they may again be solvent, the grind and time taken will exclude many from the energetic world of business.
Inadvertently or otherwise, this legislation is yet another bank bailout courtesy of – or to the detriment of – the PAYE sector and local communities. As unsecured write-offs gather pace, more credit unions will be wound down.
In their place will be a small coalition of banks unwilling to lend to small business or to the neediest, but no shortage of moneylenders more than willing. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It takes years to build a reputation but it can be lost in moments and that is why the recent sweeping generalised comments of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin regarding the Catholic press in Ireland are unworthy of an archbishop respected for his intellectual rigour and ability to think beyond the conventional view (“Archbishop in attack on ‘tabloidism’ in Catholic press”, Home News, September 14th). He complains about a lack of professionalism in the Catholic press but cites no examples. There are no sources or references to back up his comments about tabloidism.
The paper I manage and formerly edited, the Irish Catholic, has been printing since 1888, and has five full-time journalists on the staff, all members of the National Union of Journalists.
As an independent newspaper, we have consistently published insightful and often exclusive stories on a wide spectrum of issues, whether on clerical child abuse and cover-ups or the flouting of labour laws by prominent bishops.
For his part Archbishop Martin has consistently refused to give a full interview to the Irish Catholic for over eight years now. Any keen observer will know that shyness is not a difficulty for the archbishop. So why is Archbishop Martin willing to criticise the Catholic press from afar but unwilling to submit himself to an interview that would put to him questions on his stewardship of the Dublin diocese? And I can assure you that these are pressing questions with a strong public interest.
Perhaps readers will also pause and ask themselves why does an archbishop in 2013 turn the full force of his crozier on all the Catholic press in Ireland, without distinction or care for the reputations of the laity who are employed and who have made their careers and reputations in it.
There is a considerable whiff of the late Archbishop John Charles McQuaid about such high-handed episcopal condemnations. Perhaps we are getting something right when those in authority want to demean and diminish our work.
The very first edition of the Irish Catholic in 1888 took on the Vatican for its interference in Irish nationalism. As a paper we continue to hold those who govern our church to account while also reporting in a fair and balanced way the daily issues that affect Christian life in Ireland and indeed abroad. – Yours, etc,
Publisher, Irish Catholic
Head of the Religious
Sir, – Full credit to Derek Scally on his excellent critique of Irish economic punditry (“How clueless Irish pundits misrepresented Germany”, Opinion & Analysis, September 16th).
Furthermore, on the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which accelerated the collapse of an already terminal Irish economy, it is worth considering a couple of counterfactuals.
Should a more prudently managed Irish economy have successfully weathered the financial and euro zone crises, what would have been our collective reaction to Greek, Portuguese and Spanish bailout requests?
Would Irish taxpayers have happily opened the national cheque book, or might we in fact have behaved in a similar vein to current euro zone creditor countries, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland? Food for thought. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Tony Bates beautifully described an encounter with a fox (“A Zen teacher in my own back garden”, HEALTHplus, September 10th). I love and respect animals but by the end of the article I felt uncomfortable. It might seem kind to feed foxes but I feel it prolongs the very hard life they have as urban foxes. He is enabling her to have more cubs, who will have to scrounge a miserable living relying on the kindness or carelessness of strangers either feeding them or leaving rubbish about.
These foxes are often starving and unhealthy, which is bad for them but they can also transmit diseases to domestic animals. People in reduced financial circumstances can face difficulties in paying vet bills for a beloved pet.
Practically too, what will Tony’s fox do when he goes on holidays or has to be away for a prolonged period of time? I am not an expert in this field – I just like animals. It might be better to give a home to an unwanted dog and let the foxes retreat to the countryside. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Rev Patrick G Burke’s response to Fr Tony Flannery’s silencing by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith misses the point (September 17th). The CDF’s actions in limiting his priesthood remain in place and still affect him. Fr Flannery is choosing to speak out despite the restriction, to bring the truth of the bullying and aggressive behaviour of the CDF into the light for all to see.
I commend and support Fr Flannery for speaking out, and for his refusal to bow to bullying and emotional blackmail. Speaking against injustice, however it is manifested, is a prophetic act. At least it was the last time I looked. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Trawling through all the problems and horrors of our little world as I moved steadily through the pages of The Irish Times, it was just wonderful to find that on page 13 there was a piece of writing that opened up another world, full of colour and images, of times past and present (“The woman who put me off golf for life”, September 17th).
There was no illustration to go with Michael Harding’s delightful little piece and it didn’t need one. He painted a wonderful picture with words alone. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Last weekend, while driving on a local back road, I came across a car parked on the verge, with a driver requesting me to stop. The car was a new model, costing well over €100,000. It was fitted with all the most modern technology, gadgetry, communication systems and computerisation.
However, it had run out of petrol.
A parable for our times, perhaps. – Yours, etc,
* There is insufficient moral consensus in Ireland to ground consideration of the country’s future.
Also in this section
A question of leadership
Questions for SF
Were flats not checked?
The clash of antagonistic wills, evident in the abortion debate and in current discussion of what to do in Syria or with our economy, often parades as rational debate, leaving us with little more than intensified divisions.
The latest Anglo Tapes further confirm that the management of our banks degenerated into incoherence.
The continuing drift away from the church is perhaps the most telling change. However, this is not indicative of a new paganism but a justifiable expression of dissatisfaction with a form of religion that had become radically focused on itself. Even the priests express unease at the church’s sometimes neurotic fear of the slightest shift from fidelity to its programme.
For years, in religion and politics, we walked blindly into the future, drifting into a seductive state of comfort and complacency, responding with stinging aggression to those perceived as undermining this assuring world. We persisted in feeding the minimal demands of lazy minds. The Celtic Tiger blunted our sensibilities; all around us people’s lives were corrupted by frantic mass acquisitiveness, as banks recklessly funded themselves with debt.
Ireland, echoing Seamus Heaney’s comment on the North, was “a battened-down spirit that wanted to walk taller”. Alas, it fell flat on its face, materially and spiritually.
Our new Pope has made it clear that he wants to shift our focus from the trappings of power and control in religion and politics, encouraging a form of Christianity that is modest, thoughtful and inclusive. This takes us a long way from the view that unbridled capitalism is the only secure means of salvation.
It also reminds us that economic growth without justice is not an aspiration that befits us as humans.
Oxford, OX1 4QB
* Deputy Regina Doherty, who plays Robin to Richard Bruton’s Batman in Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein’s combined campaign against Seanad Eireann, has described the Seanad as “toothless, elitist, undemocratic”. Others say it is: “an affront to democracy”; “a waste of money; “a hotbed of cronyism”; “a nursery for Dail wannabes’; “a rest-home for failed and defeated TDs”; “unable to do anything”; “a non-contributor to legislation”.
Among those whose youthful, and not so youthful, delinquencies, included using Seanad Eireann either as a ‘leg-up’ into national politics, or as a means of keeping their political aspirations alive – but are now deeply contrite, are: Ministers Richard Bruton, Frances Fitzgerald, Jimmy Deenihan and a whole clatter of junior ministers such as Alex White, Brian Hayes, Paschal Donohoe. Not to speak of wannabe ministers such as Pearse Doherty
At the core of Christian, and even post-Christian, charity or love is forgiveness. But central to the concept of true repentance and penitence is restitution as an ‘earnest’ of remorse. Therefore, it would seem morally consistent that all those in the categories indicated above should:
* Write to the appropriate Oireachtas officials and confirm that when it comes, in the fullness of time, to the calculation of their Oireachtas and ministerial pensions, their period of service in the Seanad should not be included.
* Return to the taxpayer whatever monies, emoluments, payments in kind, secretarial and office allowances etc, they received on foot of their membership of the said mad, sad, bad Seanad.
* Confess publicly – preferably on the Sacred Plinth of Leinster House – garbed in appropriate sack cloth and ashes.
Lest it should be said that only those without sin should hurl stones, pebbles, mud or venom, I hereby proclaim that not only did I serve as a member of Fine Gael in bygone days of yore for no less than 25 years, but was elected on the main panels to Seanad Eireann – and thought I was doing the State some service. (Sadly my two terms were almost instantaneous in their brevity and I did not qualify for an Oireachtas ‘pinsean’.)
And now I shall return to my daily watch for the airborne pigs who participated in the recent FlightFest. Try to detect them out of the flocks of young wild geese bred and fed for export by this Government and its predecessors.
Tralee, Co Kerry
HOPE IS INTEGRAL
* With regard to recent articles in the Irish Independent (September 10), ‘Time we opened all our minds to removing mental health stigma’, and ‘Almost half believe seeking help for depression is sign of failure’, Paul Gilligan, CEO of St Patrick’s Hospital, makes two very important points.
He says that “at the heart of most stigma and prejudice is fear and misunderstanding. Fear of facing up to the reality of our own psychological vulnerability often drives our stigma about mental health”.
Too often in life we like to put things in boxes and find simplistic solutions for things. But life is not simple and is often a struggle, and we have great ways of coping and wearing masks. Unfortunately for some people, the conflict between the outer persona and internal distress can be too much. All of us need to be prepared to open up a little more and expose our vulnerabilities. We can help change a culture of hiding our problems.
He also says: “There was a need to promote mental health education in Irish schools and workplaces to ensure that everyone knew that recovery was possible and that those needing help did not wait to get that help.” Integral to this ethos is hope. Without hope, recovery is not possible in my view.
CUT THE DEADWOOD
* For the life of me, I cannot recall a single time where the senators of this country have actually done anything for the betterment of Ireland.
They sit in their cosy little offices, and now and again a senator appears and waffles away for a time, and I’d like to add that the subject they usually waffle about is always something they know they can do nothing about. So let’s call a spade a spade – they are overpaid, completely toothless, and if the bank deal is anything to go by, they would definitely be your last choice for a watchdog, I mean to say, where the hell were they?
All we need to do now is cut the deadwood and put the considerable savings into something useful, such as health, or indeed anything that benefits the Irish people.
A GENTLE NUDGE?
* Will Syria’s application to join the Chemical Weapons Convention inspire the remaining dilatory nations to sign the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or should US President Barack Obama nudge the laggards with cruise missiles?
Dr John Doherty
Vienna 1040, Austria
DEFER LADIES’ FINAL
* The decision to replay the All-Ireland final on Saturday 28 holds no logic. The GAA has shown no regard for the thousands of fans who have to travel, and for many people who work on a Saturday. A provision for a draw should always apply for the biggest event on the association’s calendar.
Why not defer the ladies’ football final to the following Sunday? I’m sure all sides would be happy with this.
Midleton, Co Cork