29 September 2013 Meg, Lynn and Milly
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are to provide transport for the Todd-Hunters Browns but can Leslie find the right country before the gin runs out? Priceless.
Meg, Lynn and Milly come for lunch and may help with the books
We watch Dads army v good.
Scrabble today I win and get under 400. perhaps Mary might win tomorrow.
Robert Barnard, the crime writer, who has died aged 76, was revered less in his native Britain than in the United States where, as a grand caricaturist of the genre, he was acclaimed a master of the English mystery with a comic twist.
6:43PM BST 27 Sep 2013
A devotee of Agatha Christie, Barnard wrote from the urbane perspective of the golden age of British crime fiction. His novels often featured upper-class or academic victims, as in Death On The High C’s (1977) and Unruly Son (1978), or claustrophobic settings, as in A Little Local Murder (1976), set in a fictional East Anglian village called Twytching.
Before the onslaught of the Nordic noir genre led by Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, Barnard used to say that he was the world’s northernmost mystery writer. In the 1970s, he was a professor of English at the University of Tromso in Norway, 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle. One of his earliest mysteries, Death in a Cold Climate (1980), was written and set there.
A round-faced, ruddy and cheerful figure who prided himself on having a “nose for human awfulness”, Barnard wielded his pen with a comic wit admired as sharp and quietly malicious .
His first mystery, Death of an Old Goat (1974), about the brutal murder of a university professor, stemmed from his experience teaching for five years at the University of New England in Australia. The solution is not disclosed until the very last sentence.
A later suspense novel, At Death’s Door (1988), encompasses a once-great novelist in the throes of Alzheimer’s; his former mistress, a flamboyant actress; their daughter, bent on revenge on her neglectful mother by means of biography; the actress’s wimpish husband; and the novelist’s legitimate children – a neurotic, status-seeking daughter and a compassionate, commonsensical son.
Barnard said that two real-life people inspired At Death’s Door. One was Sir Rudolf Bing, one-time head of the Metropolitan Opera in New York who spent some of his declining years absent-mindedly roaming England, leaving behind piles of unpaid hotel bills: “the old man who was once in control now pretty much helpless”. The other was Anthony West, whose biography of his father, HG Wells, was — Barnard thought — an “incredible” way of getting even with his mother, the writer Rebecca West. (Dame Rebecca sued to stop publication of her son’s 1955 novel Heritage, about a son torn between two literary parents, a case that Barnard paralleled in his novel.)
Barnard created three series characters, all detectives: Peregrine Trethowan, Mike Oddie, and Oddie’s sidekick Charlie Peace, the last of these mischievously named after a notorious 19th century murderer, burglar and cracksman.
The first, Perry Trethowan, was the Scotland Yard superintendent with the streak of “dry facetiousness” that mirrored Barnard’s own. Trethowan was introduced in Barnard’s 1981 novel Sheer Torture with the arresting opening sentence: “I first heard of the death of my father when I saw his obituary in The Times.”
Against his will, the sardonic Trethowan, estranged from his artistic, eccentric family after joining the Army, is drawn into investigating the death. In a touch of vintage Barnard, the father, Leo Trethowan, a dilettante composer, is killed submitting himself to a form of Spanish Inquisition-style torture known as strappado while dressed in gauzy spangled tights.
The Skeleton in the Grass (1987), a tale of two British upper class pacifists, and an earlier, literary novel, Out of the Blackout (1985), a suspenseful account of a young man’s attempts to learn his true identity, are set in pre-war England. But for all his predilections for the vanished England of Agatha Christie and her ilk, Barnard spent much of his adult life abroad.
Robert Barnard was born on November 23 1936 at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, not far from Tolleshunt d’Arcy, the Regency village that was home to Margery Allingham, one of the great English mystery writers of the 1930s.
Educated at the Royal Grammar School, Colchester, Barnard considered himself “a horrid, snobbish little schoolboy, who went straight to mysteries, early.” Later he wrote a much-admired book, A Talent to Deceive (1980), analysing the success of Agatha Christie, “the master puzzler”.
At Balliol College, Oxford, Barnard wrote a doctoral dissertation on Dickens’s imagery, which was later published as a book. Politically active on the Left, his first job was running a bookshop for the Fabian Society. He was a campaign worker for Labour in the 1959 general election, which Macmillan’s Conservatives won.
After teaching adult education in the north of England, Barnard emigrated to Australia. When he saw an advertisement for a job teaching English in Bergen, Norway, he moved there in 1966, and on to Tromso in 1976. Financed by sales of his books, he returned to England in 1984.
Barnard also wrote a solution to The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), the book that Dickens never completed and that has tormented authors ever since. “Absolutely convincing,” Barnard believed. “But no one will publish it.”
Barnard, who settled in Leeds on his return from Norway, set A City of Strangers (1990) in a fictional Yorkshire city called Sleate; the book featured Jack Phelan, the scourge of the Belfield Grove Estate.
A scabrous father of six, contentedly unemployed for nearly 20 years, Phelan spends his days guzzling beer, insulting the neighbours, picking fights and smashing up furniture. The vicious Phelan teenagers, Kevin and June, are already hardened criminals; the younger children, with one exception, are precociously depraved. When the family descends on a local supermarket, the townsfolk scatter:
“There were five of them going the rounds of the aisles: the parents, June, Jackie, and Dale. Dale’s pushchair and the supermarket trolley made them a formidable group to encounter — practically an armoured battalion. Jack pushed the trolley aggressively, shouted instructions, got out of no one’s way, cursed old ladies who were peering at prices to save a penny or two on a packet of tea bags, and abused one of the shelf-boys who happened to be black.
“’I wouldn’t go to a Paki shop and I don’t expect to see the buggers here,’ he shouted ostensibly to his wife, really to all and sundry, and the black youth in particular, who was in fact Caribbean.’’
With this Barnard novel, one American critic hailed a convincing microcosm of the new underclass of Thatcher’s Britain: “riotous, savage, with nothing to lose’’.
Barnard’s hero Perry Trethowan returned in The Missing Bronte (1983), a reflection of Barnard’s fascination with Emily Bronte, a biography of whom he published in 2000.
Barnard published some 30 mystery titles under his own name, and as Bernard Bastable turned out three more featuring a retired Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer turned amateur sleuth.
Entertainment, he wrote in an essay in Colloquium on Crime (1986), should be the foremost function of the mystery story: “I like my crime stories to be well written, but that is a marginal pleasure compared to the pleasure of their being well plotted, fast, ingenious. I do not want the genre to attain a borderline literary respectability.”
Barnard was chairman of the Bronte Society between 1996 and 1999, and again from 2002. He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association in 2003, and published his last novel in America, A Charitable Body, last year. In the United States his books earned him six Edgar nominations.
Robert Barnard married, in 1963, Louise Tabor, a librarian he met in Australia, who survives him.
Robert Barnard, born November 23 1936, died September 19 2013
The review of Fidelio at the Coliseum by Andrew Clements (27 September), which he concedes “glosses the original rather than presenting it as truthfully as some may want”, reminds me of some productions I’ve suffered in the past. Chief among them was a production of Figaro at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, many years ago, where the set featured a small indoor swimming pool. Worse, while singing his most beautiful aria, the count rode around it on a small silver bicycle; the ensemble singing was superb. More recently a production of Faust at Nottingham Theatre Royal included the chorus thrusting their mobile phones aloft at every opportunity, and apparent American political conventions going on while the speech screens at the side of the stage made it clear they were singing about going off to war. Worst of all, with Marguerite in the cathedral praying, we were treated to a stage setting at an abortion clinic with protesters wearing baseball caps back to front parading around with placards. All you could do was close your eyes, try and suppress your irritation, and listen to the fantastic voice of Peter Auty (and the Marguerite was his equal).
I don’t go to opera that often and when I do I like to see what the composer and librettist intended, though obviously this is too boring for some of those professionals involved in production, and perhaps some of those who can afford to go frequently. I wonder what the singers feel about these weird interpretations; are they always completely on board?
• If the director has changed both the words and the music of Fidelio, as Andrew Clements’ review informs us, what right has ENO to advertise the work as Beethoven’s? It may be well known to followers of the director Calixto Bieito that the work has been mutilated, but this is not referred to by the ENO, who speak only of Bieito’s “unique vision”. Clements states that in this production “all the characters … are trapped in one kind of prison or another”. Not only the characters, it seems, but also the composer.
Conventional “retail” bank accounts run cautiously can’t ever differ widely in their returns, so why your euphoria over bank switching (Editorial, 21 September)? Is a customer base that is constantly churning really what we now need? Imagine when Northern Rock first showed weakness – surely every customer would have screamed “switch”: instant chaos. Expect lots more crazy schemes by sociopath banksters, with apparent incentives whose complexities ordinary people can’t fathom. Most of us don’t spend our time obsessing over the financial press, we just want responsibility and good service.
Dr Stephen Caunce
• I was saddened by Pass notes 3,188 (Y Farteg, G2, 26 September), which is so redolent of the Anglocentric ignorance so prevalent in the English press. In Welsh the letter F is the equivalent of the V sound in English. Only those who perceive the world from a monoglot English perspective could possibly link the English “fart” with the name of the village in question. What arrogance!
Dyserth, Sir Ddinbych
• Manchester’s tramcars, 1930s, on the door enclosing the driver, “Do not spit here”, and immediately beneath: “Use the Ship Canal” (Letters, 27 September).
• Years ago, probably in the 1950s, when notices in London buses said “No spitting. Penalty £5”, I heard of a granny helping her four-year-old grandson count up his Christmas money. It came to £4 16s 6d. With round eyes he said: “Coo! I’ve nearly got enough to spit on a bus!”
• My ex-colleague Mike Bury (Letters, 26 September) is right to say that Immanuel Kant was “highly sociable”. He was of course “a real pissant who was very rarely stable” (Bruces’ Philosophers Song).
• Where is the Guardian’s balance (Letters, 27 September)? You must have had at least one letter in support of what your leader on Thursday called “Labour’s meddlesome Lord Mandelson”.
House of Lords
Thank you for giving prominent coverage to the crass way Asda, Tesco and others have reinforced the stigma around mental illness by marketing such insensitive fancy dress costumes (Report, 27 September). Alastair Campbell’s brilliant article on the subject (Stigma is not a bit of fun, 27 September) should be compulsory reading for all healthcare professionals and politicians. Having struggled with mental-health problems since my student days in the late 60s, I fail to comprehend why so many still view the brain/mind as less important than any other part of the body. Surely that is all that makes humans superior to other creatures? Yet even supposedly well-educated people often see it as somehow shameful or weak to be treated for psychiatric illness. Would they refuse insulin for diabetes, or antibiotics for pneumonia?
Far from weakness causing my own severe psychotic breakdown in 1977, determination helped me survive it. A brilliant NHS psychiatrist restored my sanity, after inappropriate treatment in the private sector resulted in a near-fatal suicide attempt. A succession of excellent NHS consultants then gave me wonderful support for many years. Now, NHS psychiatry seems hardly to exist. I’m lucky: my outstanding GP sees me regularly, and I can pay a private counsellor, who is equally good. Sadly, few sufferers enjoy such advantages. Not only are we reverting to the Victorian concept of the “deserving” versus the “undeserving” poor; the same labels are being attached to the sick. Mental health matters more, not less, than physical, and should be viewed and funded accordingly. As Campbell so rightly concludes: “Stigmatising it takes us back to the dark ages.”
The University of Athens, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Athens Polytechnic have been forced to halt all activities as a result of Greek ministry of education proposals to suspend unilaterally 1,655 university administrative workers. The impact on teaching, research, clinical work and international collaboration is unparalleled and the threat to higher education in Greece as a result of stringently imposed EU austerity measures is a cause of great concern far beyond Greece’s shores. As academics, university workers, students and others, we call on the EU and the Greek government to protect the status and staff of Greek universities, to ensure that they remain able to engage in education and research and to recognise that these institutions are more important now than ever. They are and must remain beacons of critical thinking in a Europe whose social structures are being eroded by massive cutbacks and over which the shadow of far-right extremism looms.
Dr Kevin Adamson University of Stirling, Dr Marianne Afanassieva University of Hull, Jose Arroyo University of Warwick, Dr Cathy Bergin University of Brighton, Dr Nora Bermingham TVAS (Ireland) Ltd, Professor Andrew Bowie University of London, Dr Maud Bracke University of Glasgow, Clare Brennan University of York, Dr Daniel Bye University of Bedfordshire, Mark Campbell London Metropolitan University and UCU national executive committee, Dr Theodoros Chiotis University of Oxford, Professor Katharine Cockin University of Hull, Colin Creighton University of Hull, Professor Costas Douzinas University of London, Dr Martin Paul Eve University of Lincoln, Dr Kirsten Forkert Birmingham City University, Professor Des Freedman University of London, John Holloway Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, Dr Eleftheria Ioannidou University of Birmingham, Professor Laleh Khalili University of London, Dr Alexandra M Kokoli Middlesex University, Dr Vassiliki Kolocotroni University of Glasgow, Dr Theodore Koulouris University of Brighton, Dr Elena Loizidou University of London, Paddy Lyons University of Glasgow, Dr William McEvoy University of Sussex, Professor Luke Martell University of Sussex, Andy Medhurst University of Sussex, Dr Shamira Meghani University of Leeds, Dr Keir Milburn University of Leicester, Dr Jonathan Neale Bath Spa University, Ewan Nicholas University of London, Dr Catherine Packham University of Sussex, Dr Maia Pal University of Sussex, Dr Polly Pallister-Wilkins University of Amsterdam, Dr Dimitris Papanikolaou University of Oxford, Dr Eleni Papargyriou University of London, Professor Adam Piette University of Sheffield, Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri University of St Andrews, Dr Lucy Robinson University of Sussex, Dr Eleanor Rycroft University of Bristol, Dr Edmund Schluessel Cardiff University and NUS national executive council, Dr Despina Sinou University of Paris 13 and University of La Rochelle, Dr Olga Taxidou University of Edinburgh, Dr Peter Thompson University of Sheffield, Dr Georgina Voss Royal College of Art, Dr Aaron Winter University of Abertay Dundee
• Richard Seymour seems to suggest the violence of Golden Dawn should be dealt with by a militant response from the left (Comment, 24 September). This implies that only the left has the duty or right to stop fascism, and that fighting fire with fire is the appropriate response. Given that the fringes of the Greek extreme left have quite a record of recent violence themselves, would it not be best to urge the government to deal with Golden Dawn by using the full force of existing laws, rather than further stoke the flames simmering on the polarised streets?
Not considered in the article by Kate Adie (Don’t write first world war women out of history, 23 September) are those who travelled to The Hague in April 1915 to object to the war and to promote the radical idea that international disputes should be resolved by negotiation. As one organiser, Aletta Jacobs, said: “We feel that we can no longer endure in this 20th century of civilisation that governments should tolerate brute force as the only solution of international disputes.”
Illustration by Gary Kempston
Amid the carnage of surrounding warfare, 1,200 women from 12 countries met and elected five delegates to take their programme to end the war through mediation to European and US governments. The international team travelled back and forward across Europe and to the US during the summer of 1915, visiting 14 countries and meeting 24 influential leaders: prime ministers, foreign ministers, presidents, the king of Norway and the pope.
The women urged the political leaders to set up continuous mediation by neutral countries to end the war. Although each statesman declared himself sympathetic, not one would take the first step. However, US president Woodrow Wilson adopted many of their proposals in his “Fourteen Points” speech, which later laid the foundations for the League of Nations.
If Ms Adie includes the comments of the House of Commons about women politicians in 1917, she should also have quoted what the congresswoman Jeannette Rankin said: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.”
To ignore the women who promote peace can still be a prejudice of war correspondents. However, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom continues to promote the idea that political leaders have the responsibility to use their expertise and skills to resolve international disputes through negotiation and mediation, thereby creating political solutions rather than promoting military destruction.
• It is curious that Kate Adie argues that women “have views on war and peace”, but chooses only to highlight the role of women in the war effort. She joins the ranks of the men who dominate accounts of the war, all too often totally ignoring the work of women who tried to stop the war. No history of the role of women should ignore the International Manifesto of Women delivered by the International Woman Suffrage Alliance to the Foreign Office and all the foreign embassies in London in 1914, arguing strongly against the war that Max Hastings and many others have described as “catastrophe”. The IWSA later organised a mass meeting in London to protest against the war.
• Kate Adie is right to suggest that women should not be written out of history. Many of us have worked hard over the past 20 years to redress the balance, and consequently women’s history has a place on the university curriculum and is even addressed in many schools. The Women’s History Network encourages and promotes research into and the teaching of women’s history. It holds an annual conference and a variety of regional women’s history conferences throughout the year. Women’s history is alive and well – it just needs help raising its profile, and articles from prominent journalists like Kate Adie may just do that.
• My mother, who lost both her brothers in the war, was a doctor at the hospital at Royaumont Abbey on the western front. This hospital was unique as all the personnel were women – surgeons, doctors, nurses, orderlies, stretcher-bearers and ambulance drivers. They were all British women working for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals organisation, who did a magnificent job and gained an excellent medical reputation. This little-known story needs to be remembered.
• Kate Adie mentions the women who drove ambulances under fire, but gives inadequate attention to the extent to which nurses put their lives at risk and suffered casualties. Whether tending patients in field hospitals that could be subjected to enemy shelling or on troop ships vulnerable to submarine attack at sea, they were often in the heat of the battle. It is anomalous and unjust that their service alongside men is so rarely mentioned in accounts of the war or featured on memorials to it.
Privatisation of the gas and electricity industries has had a catastrophic effect on the wealth of ordinary people in Britain and the country as a whole. Rather than billions flowing to the Treasury for reinvestment, as was the case when the industries were publicly owned, most such profits now go abroad.
Further, thousands of people are now employed doing jobs that are literally useless to the country and the economy; one such example are those employed to persuade customers to switch from one energy company to another – a huge waste of human resources. Furthermore, true competition is not possible given that the gas and electricity industries are natural monopolies with only one set of infrastructure each. The result is higher than necessary prices.
The gas and electricity industries were effectively given away by the Thatcher government. The simple solution to the energy companies’ appalling reaction to Ed Miliband’s sensible suggestion of an energy price freeze would be to re-nationalise them.
John Stratton, Haltwhistle, Northumberland
King Canute dealt with the sycophants who said he could control the tides by commanding the incoming sea to retreat when he knew it wouldn’t. Ed Miliband lacks Canute’s wisdom. He seems genuinely to think that the cost of fossil fuels can be controlled by a government, when in fact they are commodities traded worldwide and subject to the forces of supply and demand. As the world’s population is growing and fossil fuels are a finite resource, it is reasonable to suppose that, over the long term, fuel costs will rise until supplies are exhausted.
Henry Best, Ilminster, Somerset
It would be tragic if our national debate about energy returned us to the 1970s via a showdown between state intervention and big business.
Energy is where Britain can tackle serious economic problems at the same time as tackling social problems, as well as our large and growing democratic deficit. There is a growing community-energy industry in this country where neighbours are collaborating, creating jobs and growing their social capital as well as economic power. There are social investors helping them flourish. Recent research suggests that community energy could grow to 89 times its current size if existing barriers were lowered. There is much to learn from the way other countries are developing their own community energy and renewables at a fast pace, while the UK suffers.
The energy market is a perfect illustration of why economic and social policy can and must be mutually reinforcing in 21st-century Britain.
Ed Mayo director general, Co-operatives UK Peter Hobrook chief executive, Social Enterprise UK Cliff Prior chief executive, Unltd Lord Victor Adebowale chief executive, Turning Point Steve Wyler chief executive, Locality Andrew Croft chief executive, CAN Celia Richardson director, Social Economy Alliance, London SE1
Patients suffer when profits enter the NHS
Doctors agree with the head of NHS England that key government policies are preventing hospitals from improving. (“Competition is harming patient care, NHS chief warns in parting shot”, 26 September)
Sir David Nicholson suggested the rules governing private-sector style competition in the NHS are harming efforts to improve patient care and hospitals are being held back from changes that make “perfect sense” from the point of view of patients because they do not meet new guidelines requiring competition between healthcare providers.
The BMA urges the Government to put patient care in front of the profit motive and remove the destructive influence of commercial competition in the NHS.
Dr Mark Porter , Chair, BMA Council , London WC1
So Sir David Nicholson now reveals that hospitals are being held back from making changes that made “perfect sense from the point of view of patients” because they did not meet new rules on competition between healthcare providers.
He cannot be surprised. The day after the Health and Social Care Bill was published in January 2011, I warned (as Labour’s shadow health secretary) in a speech to the Kings Fund that “forced market competition will replace collaboration for the patient at the heart of the NHS, creating barriers to cooperation and integration of services”. This is why we were able to build such a wide coalition of concern against the Bill inside and outside Parliament.
Sir David’s revelation is not an unintended consequence of Coalition policy; it is the very purpose and logic of their legislation. So if he is also correct in saying that Jeremy Hunt says “patient safety must always trump any competition concerns”, then Hunt will have to do as Labour says and repeal the Bill’s provisions that expose the NHS to the full force of competition law.
Rt Hon John Healey MP, House of Commons, London SW1
Richard III doesn’t deserve this pomp
Your report on the dispute over the proposed tomb of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral (24 September) raises the question of whether his relics should be looked at with modern or medieval eyes. On either view it beggars belief that the remains of a serial killer and suspected child murderer should be enshrined so ostentatiously and that, at a time when food banks are struggling to meet demand, the Church of England should be prepared to spend many thousands of pounds on a tombstone.
Even by the standards of his age the Duke of Gloucester’s blood-stained path to the throne was beyond the norm, and the murder of King Edward V, who along with his brother Richard, Duke of York, was under the protection of his uncle in the royal apartments in the Tower, was an act of unspeakable barbarity.
The contemporary view was beyond doubt that Richard had ordered their deaths. Despite the best efforts of modern revisionists to muddy the waters, Richard had the motive, means and opportunity and the subsequent confession of Sir James Tyrell puts him squarely in the frame.
If anyone deserves a proper monument it is surely King Edward V, the rightful King of England on his father’s untimely death, now airbrushed out of history as a “prince in the Tower”.
John E Orton, Bristol
Ainslie helped the wrong side
Ben Ainslie is far from being a “British hero” (27 September). I refer of course, to the defeat of David by Goliath in the America’s Cup. The plucky Kiwis were within two minutes of a glorious triumph, when the pettyfogging jobsworths on the race committee abandoned the race, as to continue would exceed the 40-minute time limit. The furious gnashing of teeth could be heard from Auckland to San Francisco! This gave the perfidious Yanks a respite, during which they had time to tweak their boat, and appoint Ben Ainslie, knight of the realm, British Olympic god, and adopted Cornishman, as race tactician. Seduced by the mighty dollar this traitor to Queen and Commonwealth proceeded to trounce his Antipodean cousins, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat! Come on Your Maj, strip Ainslie of his knighthood, and incarcerate the ingrate in the deepest, dankest dungeon in the Tower!
Richard Guscott, Liskeard, Cornwall
PO: rural routes not at risk… yet
I am concerned about the outcome of the privatisation of the Post Office. When water, electricity and gas services were sold off the government did not retain a controlling share. As a result a large percentage of these businesses is now foreign-owned with profits and dividends from these essential, basic services going abroad.
We are told that the privatised Post Office will legally have to maintain existing services, including deliveries to rural areas. One wonders how long it will be before a future government, under pressure from new owners, agrees to rewriting the agreement?
K T Green, Chichester
Has CPS got its priorities right?
The Crown Prosecution Service responds with alacrity to the protest by Caroline Lucas against fracking, by deciding almost immediately to prosecute her. At the beginning of July an inquest jury brought in a verdict of “unlawful killing by unlawful act” in the case of the Angolan asylum seeker Jimmy Mubenga, following restraint by G4S guards during deportation. The CPS is still deliberating whether or not to prosecute the guards, having previously decided that there was no case to answer. It is surely time that the CPS reconsiders its priorities.
Diana Neslen, Ilford, Essex
Sympathy for the City is misplaced
Does a day’s sailing on a luxury yacht turn journalists supine and sympathetic? (Chris Blackhurst, 27 September.) Michael Spencer may not have been personally involved in the Libor-fixing scandal, but he heads an organisation that uses the arcane workings of abstract capitalism to generate excessive wealth. City traders are yet to be caught fixing a high-interest investment in society.
Ian McKenzie , Lincoln
World Cup crimes against humanity
The International Trade Union Confederation claims that appalling working conditions in Qatar will cause the death of over 4,000 South Asian workers before a ball is kicked in the 2022 World Cup (report, 27 September).
Despite warnings made two years ago no substantive steps have been taken to improve workers’ conditions. How long can the United Nations, Fifa, the FA and ordinary football fans ignore this crime against humanity?
Anthony Hentschel, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire
As the plethora of smudges over the ceilings and walls of my childhood home used to bear witness, there is no more efficient way to splat flies right between the eyes than to roll the wide end of a necktie around the forefinger of the firing hand, hold the narrow end between trigger-finger and thumb under tension, aim and fire.
Only squeamishness at the thought of holding the soiled and contaminated KO end prevents me from reviving this old skill.
Ben Marshall, London N11
Sir, Rail freight plays a crucial role in the UK economy, contributing almost £1 billion a year and supporting an economic output of six times that. The proportion of our freight carried by rail is predicted to double by 2030 yet the rail network already faces a capacity crunch.
Building HS2 will free up much needed capacity on the West Coast Mainline which is a vital freight artery. That is good news, not just for us as freight companies, but for consumers. It could remove up to 500,000 lorries a year from our motorways. With fuel and road costs predicted to increase the costs of running lorries by 36 per cent by 2040, additional rail capacity will ensure that food and drink continues to reach our supermarket shelves at affordable prices. It will also, crucially, allow our exports, such as automotive components, to continue to reach European markets.
That is why we are firmly in support of HS2 and why it matters for Britain.
John Smith, Managing Director, GB Railfreight
Nigel Jones, Head of Planning, DB Schenker Rail
Russell Mears, Chief Executive, Freightliner Group
Neil Mcnicholas, Managing Director, Direct Rail Services
Stephen Haynes, Managing Director, Rail Services, Colas Rail
Sir, With Sir David Higgins’s appointment to lead HS2 there is an opportunity to revisit the underlying approach. Sir David is a pragmatist and will be focused on delivering as fast as possible at as low a cost as possible. He clearly understands that the need to increase capacity is the real rationale for the project and faster journey times only a secondary benefit. KPMG produced a report recently highlighting economic benefits. Sir David needs to address the enormous cost and the damage to the countryside from the new route.
Why not build the second track alongside the current line? This would deliver the increased capacity and much of the increase in speed at less cost and with much less damage to the countryside. A parallel route would reduce the cost of acquiring land and paying compensation and for much of the route would be relatively simple to construct. A fresh approach could deliver a cheaper and more popular project.
Sir, Roger Bale (letter, Sept 27) makes the comparison of door-to-door travel times to argue against the suitability of HS2 expenditure. He ought to try driving 400 miles between houses each 30 minutes from their local airports (Inverness and Manchester). This takes nearly seven hours door to door and the same if you fly. If HS2 ever reaches the North, I know which I would prefer for this journey.
Sir, It is interesting to note that the letters backing the HS2 development are from the South. Here in the North there will be no benefit whatsoever. In any case, the so-called benefits for the area between Birmingham and Manchester will not happen for 20 years or more. It seems an awful lot of money to save 20 minutes’ travel time between Birmingham and London. It could be better used providing a decent road network and rail links for the population beyond Birmingham.
‘The premature rollout of immature and uneconomic alternative energy technologies is pouring investors’ and taxpayers’ money down the drain’
Sir, Now that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported (news, Sept 27), the wise response is not to panic but to work for the long term. The premature rollout of immature and uneconomic alternative energy technologies is pouring investors’ and taxpayers’ money down the drain: the green energy stock market index is down over 80 per cent in the past five years.
The countermeasures so far have caused much more harm to society than the climate problem they were supposed to cure. Continued research and development aimed at enhancing energy efficiency measures and maturing the lower carbon technologies, combined with moves to get profligate energy consumption to be considered as antisocial behaviour, will more likely succeed in economic, social and environmental terms. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
Professor Michael J. Kelly
University of Cambridge
Over a century ago, many British educators pioneered a style of teaching through which young people were encouraged to embrace uncertainty and think innovatively
Sir, Although they were often as overworked as their modern counterparts, Victorian children benefited from a visionary approach to education that is sorely lacking today (“The test of time: why exams were just as tough for young Victorians”, Sept 26). Over a century ago, many British educators — including Rugby head Thomas Arnold — pioneered a style of teaching through which young people were encouraged to embrace uncertainty and think innovatively about big problems. The liberal tradition, which first recognised the difficulty of achieving absolute truth on any given philosophical issue, allowed pupils to apply a critical and reflective approach to all of their work. In an age in which learning is increasingly utilitarian in scope, more must be done to ensure it survives.
Head Masterof Rugby School and Editor of Cultural Olympians: Rugby School’s Cultural Leaders
Police, firefighters, ambulance crews and coastguards should all be subject to a disciplinary code that excludes striking
Sir, The fact that firefighters have once again decided to go on strike (report, Sept 26), raises issues over their terms of service. It is important for the country that the emergency services attract and retain high-calibre individuals, and in return gives them a decent salary and long-term security of employment. What is not acceptable is a for a militant union to be able to lead the rank and file into a strike that endangers the public through the suspension of its members’ services.
The Government needs to be bolder on this issue and place all emergency services personnel on to similar terms of service as the Armed Forces.
This would mean that police, firefighters, ambulance crews and coastguards would all be subject to a disciplinary code that excludes striking. Personnel would, however, be encouraged to join staff associations that would represent their views to ministers.
Port Carlisle, Cumbria
The Supreme Court recently asserted that “adoption of a child against her parents’ wishes should only be contemplated as a last resort — when all else fails”
Sir, Your coverage of the increase in the number of adoptions from care risks implying that all children in care should be adopted (“Reforms bring huge increase in adoptions”, September 27).
It should be borne in mind that having analysed relevant child welfare considerations and international human rights norms, the Supreme Court recently asserted that “adoption of a child against her parents’ wishes should only be contemplated as a last resort — when all else fails”, and that a child’s best interests “include being brought up by her natural family”.
For its part, the Court of Appeal has expressed concern about “recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption”, a problem that can hardly be solved through haste.
Adoption might be beneficial for some children, and no doubt there are some undesirable bureaucratic hurdles damaging children for whom it really is the only option.
This drastic and near-irrevocable step is not, however, a panacea for all children whose natural parents encounter difficulties in looking after them.
Dr Brian Sloan
College Lecturer, Director of Studies and Fellow in Law, Robinson College, Cambridge
SIR – Doraine Potts (Letters, September 18) states that Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is her favourite play, and I’m delighted to find a fellow enthusiast. Though I can only claim three attendances to her five, mine were for three separate productions: first at the Haymarket, during its original run, secondly at Chichester (a mediocre effort which nevertheless failed to depress my liking for the play) and thirdly for a recent production at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Horam, East Sussex
SIR – Like Peter Fayers (Letters, September 24), I also saw and enjoyed The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus in 1990.
Loosely based on an ancient Greek satyr play, one of its themes seemed to be that ordinary people today were being deliberately excluded from cultural enlightenment, which might otherwise curb their more savage instincts.
The topic was reinforced by a poll tax riot going on nearby.
SIR – I read that the Labour Party’s plans to freeze energy prices has led to an overnight reduction of £2 billion in the market capitalisation of the publicly quoted energy suppliers (“Miliband accused of ‘economic vandalism’”, report, September 26). As people saving for their pensions are the beneficial owners of these companies, is this another example of doing things for the many and not the few?
Ian F McFadzean
SIR – Last year I received £600 for producing electricity from eight solar panels on my roof, paid for by subsidies introduced by Ed Miliband when he was energy secretary. Those subsidies are paid for by the power companies and have added an average of £110 to household bills. Mr Miliband has conveniently forgotten that he was the architect of rising energy prices.
SIR – If Labour wants to freeze power bills for 20 months, why does Caroline Flint, the shadow energy secretary, simultaneously attack the Coalition for failing to finalise the planned so-called “strike price” and “contracts-for-difference” for new nuclear power plants?
The Stoppard play that won’t stop enthralling
27 Sep 2013
The strike price would freeze power prices at double the current rate for up to 40 years to the benefit of the French state nuclear generator, Électricité de France (EDF Energy), which plans to build a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
Dr David Lowry
SIR – Any Government-imposed cap on domestic energy prices is surely a breach of the original agreement under which the energy companies supply power to households; and as such, it should be illegal, or at least render the contract voidable.
Bexhill, East Sussex
SIR – One wonders what Mr Miliband has in mind concerning energy prices after his planned 20-month freeze. As we show in our book, Government Intervention in the Brewing Industry, Labour froze the price of beer in public bars for three years from 1966. In 1969, following a lengthy investigation into the brewers’ finances, the quasi-independent National Board for Prices and Incomes sanctioned a price rise of 43 per cent.
SIR – If the Labour leader was sincere about freezing energy prices, he could go one better and propose to remove the
5 per cent VAT charge on gas and electricity. Keeping warm is a necessity – not a luxury.
An unsightly tomb
SIR – Christopher Howse (Comment, September 25) adds a note of sanity to the absurd debate on the resting place of the alleged remains of Richard III.
However, he fails to mention that the proposals for interring the remains in Leicester Cathedral entail major changes to the interior of the building. When the former parish church of St Martin was raised to cathedral rank in 1927, the chancel was handsomely refitted by the distinguished architect Sir Charles Nicholson. The proposals would wreck Nicholson’s arrangements and result in the removal of many of the fine furnishings designed by him.
The aim appears to be to transform the cathedral into little less than a shrine to Richard III – presumably with the aim of bringing in tourists. The proposed design for the king’s tomb is lumpy and obtrusive and the dignity of the east end of the building would be entirely lost.
It is surely better that King Richard be laid to rest in a side chapel in York Minster or Westminster Abbey.
SIR – Following a successful trial, the European Rail Traffic Management System will enable trains to run far closer together than currently, allowing extra services on the busiest lines (telegraph.co.uk, September 23). The Great Western main line out of Paddington and the Thameslink route through Kings Cross/St Pancras should have the system installed by 2019, cutting operating costs by up to 40 per cent. Surely, this will fatally undermine the business case for HS2, which rests on the lack of capacity.
Instead we could fund a toll-free A14, and the missing East-West rail link between Bedford and Cambridge.
Chairman, Hitchin Rail User Group
A load of old cobbles
SIR – I, too, was horrified to read (Letters, September 25) that the wonderful old cobbles in York were being ripped up and replaced by modern flagstones – and I’m a wheelchair user.
Any uneven surface is uncomfortable in a wheelchair. Cobbles are the worst, but to consider taking up a whole square is ridiculous. All that is needed is a metre-wide strip of smooth surface at one side, not across the centre.
Wilsden, West Yorkshire
SIR – Peter Saunders (Letters, September 25) seems to have no concept or experience of living with limited mobility.
We should be celebrating good access for those with disabilities so that they, too, can enjoy York.
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Dinner for One
SIR – When I visited Germany several years ago, my hosts were delighted to show me a piece on YouTube entitled Dinner for One, featuring a drunk Englishman played by Freddie Frinton. It is a very popular sketch across much of Europe and Scandinavia, especially on New Year’s Eve.
My hosts, however, were a little disappointed when I explained that Freddie Frinton was in fact a teetotaller who had taken his stage name from Frinton-on-Sea, which until quite recently was the only town in Britain without a pub.
West Bergholt, Essex
Remembering the Navy
SIR – It is understandable that much of the commemorative effort for the centenary of the First World War will focus on the Western Front, where so much blood was shed. However, something needs to be done to ensure the losses suffered by the Royal Navy are also properly remembered.
Ninety-nine years ago, the German submarine U9 sank three obsolescent armoured cruisers (HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy) in the North Sea with the loss of some 1,500 personnel. On November 1 1914, off Coronel in Chile, a German cruiser squadron under Admiral Graf von Spee sank HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth with the loss of all on board, including my grandfather.
Many of the crews of these ships were recalled reservists or pensioners, and many officer cadets and midshipmen were very young. It would be appropriate to ensure that their sacrifice is not forgotten, even if it is limited to locating the wrecks and casting poppy wreaths on the sea.
Michael R Field
SIR – While “biodiversity offsetting” – the practice of replacing lost habitat elsewhere – is better than nothing, it cannot and should not be viewed as an equivalent to the original site (report, September 25).
Each habitat is unique in its exact set of environmental conditions, and has often developed over the course of decades or even centuries into the community of species we see there today. Furthermore, species exist as a number of fragmented sub-populations. Migration of individuals between them can be essential for their persistence. Further fragmentation would likely have consequences beyond the boundaries of the development. Evidence suggests that in many cases targeted species never establish in their new “home”.
SIR – I was saddened to read of the death of my friend Nick Robinson (Obituaries, September 24). However, I would like to clarify that we were actually expelled from the Winchester College fishing club for fishing with bread using handlines, and were caught because we chose to do so in one of the best pools immediately outside the gamekeeper’s house!
Not our finest hour.
What can oil and gas really buy for Scotland?
SIR – Dr J M Morrison (Letters, September 23) states that most of the estimated £1.5 trillion worth of the UK’s recoverable offshore oil and gas lies in Scottish waters, and that an international financier would therefore be more willing to lend to Scotland, with its £100 billion debt, than to the rest of the UK, with a £900 billion debt.
Scotland’s debt may look very small compared with the estimated value of oil and gas reserves. However, what is relevant is not the £1.5 trillion value, but the amount that can be guaranteed to remain after the costs of recovery and a realistic return for the operators and investors are taken into account. It is this figure that should be calculated and compared with Scotland’s debt.
The nationalists have overstated what can be funded by oil revenues.
B C Monaghan
SIR – Since a British Government would never force Scotland either to leave or remain in the Union against the wishes of the majority of the Scottish people (as with Gibraltar or the Falklands), extending the Scottish referendum to the rest of the UK would be pointless. However, it should be made clear by all political parties that the UK would not enter into a monetary union with an independent Scotland without the consent of the people in a referendum.
SIR – What will we call ourselves in a year’s time if Scotland votes for independence?
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but not Scotland? Or The United Kingdom of Wales, Northern Ireland and England? (I’m Welsh).
Sir, – I wish to take issue with the academics who wrote a letter in relation to the Seanad referendum (September 27th).
In very eloquent language they argue for “tackling major issues affecting our society” by “more executive accountability”, strengthening “the level of vocational expertise”, intensifying “political participation by citizens in deliberative democratic processes”, etc.
All of these grandiose objectives are to be achieved by “giving all citizens the right to elect our senators”.
Far from “bringing new expertise into the parliamentary system” as argued by these learned academics, all that is doing is electing another Dáil.
That would do one of two things. It would reinforce the present power structure, making for less executive accountability. Or it would set up another power structure with the capacity to gridlock decision-making and cause even further frustration to citizens already annoyed with the inability of the democratic processes to deal with everyday problems.
I, therefore, do not think that the proposals by the learned academics will do anything to tackle the major issues affecting our society in a bankrupt country. – Yours, etc,
Sutton, Dublin 13.
Sir, – We’ve too many politicians; “it” has no real power; and we’re spending money we don’t have as we face into a hard budget. That sums up the Yes side in the Seanad abolition campaign.
It’s worth noting more than 500 amendments to legislation suggested by the current Seanad were accepted by this Government to date. Who will suggest these amendments if the Seanad is abolished?
Eamon Ryan, as a Minister, regularly put Bills into the Seanad first, believing it was a good place to listen to different drafting suggestions. How often over the years has flawed legislation moved from the Dáil to Seanad Éireann where through discussion and debate substantially improved legislation was enacted?
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is on record as saying in relation to the Credit Union and Co-operation with Overseas Regulators Act that “a wide range of issues were raised by members in both Houses in the course of the debate and many non-Government suggestions were taken on board which were ultimately made by way of Government amendments”. This was also the case in the property tax legislation where “the spirit” of a proposal by Senator Jillian van Turnhout was accepted.
As for savings, monies in reality will be diverted to the Dáil and its committees.
Over the decades our democracy has been enhanced through voices raised in Seanad Éireann and we are being asked to silence these voices, independent voices that have contributed to national issues and have not been subject to the parish pump politics that many of our Dáil representatives engage in.
I believe retention and reform of Seanad Éireann rather than abolishing the upper house to be in the best interests of the people. – Yours, etc,
Áth Buí, Co na Mí.
A chara, – A group of 27 university academics write to The Irish Times (September 27th) advocating a No vote in the Seanad referendum. That’s the same Seanad which gives university graduates a vote. Now there’s a shock. – Is mise,
Churchtown, Dublin 14.
Sir, – On a visit to Ireland to stay with relatives I was able to read the Independent Guide to the Seanad and Court of Appeal Referendums published by the Referendum Commission.
On Page 6 it states: “The Constitution provides that Bills may be referred to the people for a referendum if a majority of members of the Seanad and not less than one third of the members of the Dáil ask the President not to sign a Bill because it contains a proposal of such national importance that the decision to have such a law should be made by the people. The President may agree or disagree with this request.”
It goes on to state that if the referendum is passed “this possibility of the reference of Bills to the people by the President will be removed from the Constitution”.
This seems to be a sufficiently good reason to vote against abolition of the Seanad. Its removal will increase the power of the Taoiseach over the legislature and further limit the power of the people to hold him or her to account. Ireland is in danger of becoming an “elected dictatorship”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Rather than rushing into abolishing the Seanad, the Government could have kept its firm pledge to put a cap of €92,000 on the massive pay (up to €168,000) of the numerous unelected ministerial advisers it has appointed and retained. All these themselves earn far more than Senators and no doubt wield great power, particularly as many are plucked from the printed and spoken media and PR. Presumably, if the Seanad is abolished it will be an opportunity for the numbers of unelected and powerful advisers to multiply. There will be additional appointed unelected committees, boards, quangos, executives who will be highly paid. Where is the greater democracy, not even to mention the promised “savings” ?
How is it possible to treat the serious issue of Seanad abolition as anything but a populist measure after so much hypocrisy over election pledges in the past two years? We have yet to hear any convincing and reasoned argument for abolition. All we get are sound-bites and spin.
It is a power-grab by the Dáil which will serve the purposes of future governments to act without fear of further scrutiny by the Seanad, which, admittedly, needs to be reformed. This could be easily be done. But we are not being given that choice.
As far as this referendum is concerned there is an important maxim to be followed: “If in doubt, don’t do it.” – Yours, etc,
Sunday’s Well Road,
Sir, – I confess to admiring the considerable intellect and abilities of John Waters but his views (Opinion, September 27th) on the possible abolition of the Seanad are incorrect.
The proposal is not a “radical attempt to reduce permanently the democratic powers of citizens” as he suggests, but a long-awaited opportunity to cleanse our country of this political waiting room/knackers’ yard that with a few notable exceptions has been the resting place of the rejected, the dispossessed and the irrelevant. The Seanad is a costly and immaterial piece of political decoration that should be abolished. – Yours, etc,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – So, we have learnt that the actual saving to be made by abolishing the Seanad might be only half the €20 million claimed by the Government. In the light of this, the total vote in favour of abolishing the Seanad could also be halved given the huge importance attributed by Government to their estimate of potential savings.
The realisable annual saving amounts to less than 10 per cent of the cost of running Leinster House and to an almost invisible 0.02 per cent of total annual State expenditure. Holding a referendum to secure these minor savings is hardly significant in the current scheme of things, so I assume that there are other more pressing reasons which may not have been fully disclosed to the electorate. – Yours, etc,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Sir, – If Fine Gael believes the dubious logic of one of its referendum posters, why doesn’t it take the next step and produce a new poster: Save €50 million; No politicians; Abolish Dáil Éireann; Vote Confused.com
– Yours, etc,
GARETH LL JONES,
Templeogue, Dublin 6W.
Sir, – I agree with your Editorial “A church more open to all” (September 21st) where you highlight his attitude to church governance: “I do not want token consultations, but real consultations.” So when his “outsider” advisory group meets next month Pope Francis should consider expanding this group of eight cardinals to 16 by adding eight women.
Or are women to continue to be excluded from all church governance until a “theology of women” has been developed? I can think of numerous well qualified women who would be a breath of fresh air in the Vatican! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As a member of the ASTI, I am proud of the stand taken by the members of our union. We have given more than our share in the current crisis, while large corporations pay derisory amounts of tax. Enough is enough. The cutbacks have had profound effects on schools.
In my own school we have 1,200 students. Having lost many of our posts of responsibility, we operate a large science department with no subject co-ordinator. We share out the work between the teachers. I would like to thank the Minister for Education for encouraging subject departments to be run as socialist collectives. – Yours, etc,
Croydon Park Avenue,
Sir, – Article 13.9 of the 1937 Constitution does not forbid a President from voicing his opinion – as distinct from “exercising powers”. As he represents all the people, President Higgins was certainly in tune with the majority view that the political class has made a hames of the economy over the past five years (Business, September 20th).
Even those of us who would disagree with him over neo-liberalism as the cause would still agree that for the wealth pyramid to work, those at the bottom layer need to earn and spend, yet the Government is still shrinking the economy. The American neo-liberal bankers took a salary of $1 until they had turned around their banks with public money, but that sort of commitment is not found here.
One way or another the State employs those in the civil service, the semi-states, a news service, the universities, the banks and Nama. I welcome the President’s ability to say: “it could have been done better” when nobody else will. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Harry Williamson (September 23rd) wonders if we have overlooked the millennial commemoration of Brian Boru’s death on Good Friday 1014. Here are a few suggestions towards putting that right. 1. Brian’s Day . . . Diageo-sponsored celebration of National Drowning Our Sorrows Day (responsibly, of course). 2. The Dubs vs The Danes – The Rematch! (under New Compromise Rules – no last-minute cynical beheading). 3. 1013 – The Extra Time Controversy National Forum chaired by Diarmaid Ferriter. 4.Revisioning Clontarf – Score or Miss? Fintan O’Toole’s controversial book with startling Hawkeye revelations. 5. Good Friday – Bad Friday? Theme for the Sinn Féin Gathering.
It’s a start. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Of course hospital A & E staff will not ignore anyone who presents (Magazine, September 21st). All are equal. And we need to have equal but separate facilities for dealing with patients who drink themselves to the point of needing medical intervention. We don’t need extra staff; just a triage system that does not permit an old woman to wait more than 10 hours while drunk after drunk gets expert attention from our emergency staff.
It’s simple. Stream the drunks to their very own equal but separate corner, or room, in A & E. Monitor them to make sure they’re not in immediate danger. Treat every single sober, waiting patient. Then treat those who have deliberately drunk themselves into belligerence or incoherence. No extra expense. No extra staff. Security personnel could pay special attention on their walk through A & E.
An added upside is that, if they have to wait 10 hours, they may very well have slept off the effects of their binge and just stagger home.– Yours, etc,
PATRICIA R MOYNIHAN,
A chara, – Fionola Meredith has done the nation a huge service by writing about the problem of partition causing small numbers of people to study in universities either side of the Border (Opinion, September 26th). She is indeed correct in highlighting the disaster that is the division of Ireland. Her article is another reminder of why Ireland should be united.
I am in full agreement with her about the benefit of choosing to study across the Border. Having completed my degree in the University of Limerick in 2004, I moved to Belfast in January 2005 to do a postgraduate management course. It was my most enjoyable learning experience. All bar three of us in the class hailed from Ulster. Despite knowing no-one when I moved there, I was made very welcome by my classmates and within two weeks they had elected me a class representative. Belfast is like a second home to me and I have very fond memories of being there.
For anyone from the 26 counties’ area who is thinking of studying in the North, I would say “Go for it!” A very warm welcome, new friends and much fun awaits you. – Is mise,
SEANÁN Ó COISTÍN,
Sir, – The civil court of appeal is about 40 years overdue. It is ridiculous that a court with the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court should have to decide some important constitutional issue that affects every citizen, one day; while the next it has to consider if the award to Mrs Brown for her slip and fall is adequate.
The delay in establishing this court is due to the Constitution containing specific directions as to the courts as opposed to giving the Oireachtas general powers to establish whatever courts are required for the administration of justice.
This delay highlights the inconvenience and dangers of having specifics in the Constitution. Recent examples of this are divorce and abortion. We were denied the civil right of divorce until 1996 as a result of a specific ban in the Constitution. A 1983 amendment to the Constitution which was supposed to copper-fasten the illegality of abortion actually resulted in the legalisation of same. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The announcement that Twitter will employ an extra 100 individuals in Dublin is great (Business, September 25th).
What a shame it did not stretch to 40 per cent more, as it could then have announced that its growth would lead to an extra 140 (real) characters here. – Yours, etc,
RTE Director-General Noel Curran claims the current annual €160 licence fee is “too low”, is below the European average and that it is “much higher” in most other European countries – the grown-up equivalent of ‘all the other kids have them, so why can’t I?’
Also in this section
This is Ireland, so nothing is anybody’s fault
Let’s stick to the €3.1bn budget adjustment
Taxes and charges driving our family away
So the time has come to put this particular myth to bed once and for all. Out of 38 countries in continental Europe (including Russia) 14 have no TV licence, while data is not available for two states. Of the remaining 22, some countries have much higher licence fees – for example, Germany at €215, Switzerland at €385, and Denmark at €303. But many countries have much lower fees – for example, the Czech Republic at €65, Italy at €113, Poland at €52, and Albania at just €5. Averaging out all the licence-fee paying countries, we see that the fee is €145.
If we include the countries where no licence fee is paid, we see the European average is just €89 per annum. So, no, the Irish licence fee is not “quite low” compared to the European average. If RTE want more money to produce more boring talk shows and reality cookery programmes, no doubt they will get it.
If the communications minister decides to introduce a universal broadcasting charge to make up the shortfall in those who evade the licence, no doubt the final result will defy logic and not be cheaper than at present.
Fine, just shake us little leprechauns hard until we reveal the whereabouts of our crocks of gold, and have done with it. But please stop insulting our intelligence by thinking we don’t know what happens beyond our borders.
Carrigaline, Co Cork
PUTTING THE WIND UP…
* Our family is living with the prospect of a wind turbine being placed 500 metres from our home. This, according to the founder of renewable energy firm Mainstream, Eddie O’Connor is a reasonable distance. This may be true if they were still only 80 metres tall.
However, they are now 150 to 186 metres tall. So how can this be reasonable? Politicians seem to be the only ones distancing themselves from this topic.
At this stage I would be delighted to be in negative equity; if these things go ahead, I would be in zero equity. How is this fair? My children will have zero inheritance.
My only recourse will be to stop paying my mortgage, as politicians and bankers only seem to emerge from their slumber when people threaten to withhold their mortgages.
By the way Phil Hogan, will my property tax be zero on my unsellable house? I can tell you now Mr Hogan, you can whistle for that.
IT’S A MAD, MAD WORLD
* It just seems to get madder and madder doesn’t it.
Regarding the latest twist in the Anglo saga, surely the relevant questions are pretty straightforward:
Was the Anglo ‘arse picking’ exercise part of a deliberate deception designed to hoodwink the Central Bank? Did this contribute significantly towards massive additional debt having to be foisted on the taxpayer?
Did this deliberately deceptive strategy materially contribute to the subsequent imposition of widespread austerity driven and potentially dangerous income cuts and additional taxes?
Can it be shown that any Irish citizens were actually harmed in any way as a result of such deceptive tactics?
We already know that austerity has forced thousands to leave private health insurance. This will inevitably cause additional casualties as a result of overloading an already struggling public health system.
Among the many already affected will also be some particularly vulnerable ill and elderly, some of whom will probably suffer from the loss of their fuel allowance.
This will be one obvious and inescapable result of taking the new property tax, water tax and all the other cuts and taxes from single, small fixed incomes.
Increasing numbers of citizens are coming to the end of their physical, financial and, in some cases, mental tethers.
But if yet another lengthy investigation is simply going to result in a long, drawn-out gold rush for a privileged few then perhaps the biting of yet another bitter bullet might be the best course of action. Pragmatism can be very painful, but we already owe too much.
Gorey, Co Wexford
* If Patrick Honohan thinks that the strategic mortgage defaulter idea is bogus, why didn’t he say this before now?
It is not acceptable for him to be purely reactive (to questions by the Finance Committee). He must be proactive.
* The Irish people were resigned to the fact that nobody would ever be prosecuted for the financial chaos that was brought upon our country and left it where it is now. But we do expect the mistakes to be used as some precedent to make sure this egregiousness never has to be addressed again.
Then I read in your newspaper yesterday about the Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan yet again bemoaning how the banks in Ireland are a lawless bunch. And then Mr Honohan admitted he has not listened to a full set of the Anglo Tapes, which are there as a guidebook on how not to run an institution.
Recently, I spoke to a colleague in the financial industry who had never heard of the Enron scandal. This to me was shocking. The world should never forget how Enron corrupted corporate America.And it should be remembered that it was one reporter – Bethany McLean – who refused to believe Enron’s shiny success story. Mr Honohan, at least have the decency to try to learn from the past.
Sandyford, Dublin 18
HITTING TROIKA TARGETS
* There seems to be unending discussion about the amount of ‘savings’ to be achieved in the upcoming Budget, with a key figure of €3.1bn being used.
What seems to be ignored is the budget deficit to GDP ratio. The 2014 deficit target set by the troika is 5.1pc of GDP. This is the important figure, not €3.1bn, €2.5bn or whatever figure in-between. If we meet, or better this target then we have met the target set by the troika. End of story.
Liskillen, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
POINT OF PRINCIPLE
* Lucinda Creighton voted against Enda Kenny because his proposal was not part of the Fine Gael election manifesto. She now wants us to vote against a proposal that was part of the manifesto. Am I very cynical to think that this cherry-picking of what policies she will support has cash as its root cause. Maybe not, after all her recent stand was based on principles. Cynical old me.
Navan, Co Meath
OUT IN THE COLD
* Those who sit near the big table feel the warmth of the ruler’s fire. He may scold them, but banish them? Never. NAMA was set up to hot-house and protect the wealthy. They even paid some debtors €200,000 a year.
Meanwhile, a family in Cork have the bailiffs at the door. They are going to be evicted. They owe money but nothing like the debt the builders, bookies and auctioneers along with politicians left us with.
Local gardai gather like the old RIC, while the brains in garda HQ cannot figure out how to charge a single thief who looted the nation.
The little blonde guy who exited Croke Park last Sunday like a fly from a fire might look at the plight of those people whose only sin was to lose their job and fall into house arrears. Something needs to be done.