3 October 2013 Meg and Ben
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are back from leave and Lt Murray is promoted and given command of Troutbridge. Priceless.
I get Meg and Ben to put more books on Amazon
We watch Dads army v good.
No Scrabble today I fall asleep
Anthony Hinds, who has died aged 91, was the producer and screenwriter chiefly responsible for the Hammer company’s indelible association with horror films.
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The film poster for ‘Dracula’ (1958)
6:48PM BST 03 Oct 2013
While he may not have been as prominent as the early personalities on commercial television, or the stars of rock and roll, the brand he invented — Hammer horror — had a similarly revitalising effect on 1950s popular culture.
Anthony Frank Hinds was born at Ruislip on September 19 1922, and educated at St Paul’s. His father, William Hinds, a music hall comedian who worked under the stage name Will Hammer, co-founded the original incarnation of the production company Hammer in 1934. After the war, he and his collaborator, the Spanish-born entrepreneur Enrique Carreras, handed control to their sons: James Carreras became the managing director and Anthony Hinds its creative head.
Hinds’s first credit as producer was Who Killed Van Loon?, a forgotten thriller released in 1948. More important was his adoption of the idea that the company could save money by shooting its films in large private houses rather than in tailor-made studios. This was an approach that led to Hammer settling in Down Place, a Thameside mansion they renamed Bray Studios in 1952.
By 1954 Hinds was aware that Hammer could not compete with expensive American techniques such as CinemaScope and 3D, so he gambled the company’s future on another gimmick.
It was Hinds’s idea to make a film version of the BBC television serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953). When it was complete, he submitted the picture to the British Board of Film Censors and requested an X certificate — the “adults only” classification that barred under-16s.
He may have been the first British producer to have deliberately excluded such a large element of his potential audience in this way, but in doing so he created a lucrative new constituency for Hammer’s films. The Quatermass Xperiment, as Hammer exploitatively renamed the story, was released in 1955 and became the company’s most successful release to date.
The following year Hinds oversaw production of Hammer’s first colour X certificate film. Under his guidance, The Curse of Frankenstein reclaimed a quintessential English sensibility from the monochrome horrors produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s. Hinds hand-picked a team that would create what is now widely regarded as a golden age of horror filmmaking. The Curse of Frankenstein brought together Hinds’s protégé, the screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, with director Terence Fisher, cinematographer Jack Asher, production designer Bernard Robinson and composer James Bernard.
Hinds was already operating an informal repertory company of actors at Bray, and from then on they would be led by the men he would make international stars: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Hinds reunited Cushing, Lee and the rest of the Curse of Frankenstein team for Dracula (1958), the film in which he perfected the basic formula of Hammer horror — colour, sex and death. By the end of the decade Hinds’s variations on these themes made Hammer the most successful independent production company in Britain, if not the world.
When Sangster tired of writing Gothic horrors, Hinds picked up the reins. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) was the first of 14 scripts that he wrote for Hammer under the pseudonym John Elder, although his influence extended to many more.
Hinds maintained that he adopted the pseudonym to avoid the wrath of Bray’s unions — as the producer of many of these films, he did not want to be seen as commissioning himself to write their screenplays. Anonymity, however, was clearly important to him in other ways; by 1963 he had produced 50 films, yet was reportedly still telling his next-door neighbour that he was a hairdresser.
As a screenwriter, Hinds had a firm grasp of how to establish and punctuate the shocks that audiences expected from a Hammer horror. He also displayed an astute awareness of the recent cultural shifts in society. Two of his finest screenplays, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), transformed Peter Cushing’s surgeon and Christopher Lee’s vampire into partly sympathetic characters who even help the film’s young, cool heroes take revenge on an older generation.
By the late 1960s Hinds was taking more pleasure from writing than from the daily grind of mid-budget filmmaking. He resented having to deputise for the American producer Joan Harrington on Hammer’s 1968 television series Journey to the Unknown. The strain of this, combined with an unfounded accusation of plagiarism over his script for Taste the Blood of Dracula, prompted him to resign from Hammer’s board in 1970.
Hinds was dismayed by some of the explicit films that followed in his wake. “Jim Carreras thought this was great,” he said. “He told me: ‘God, you can do anything now.’ I thought: ‘Well, I’m not sure that doing everything is what it’s all about.’”
Hinds had earned enough money to semi-retire at the age of 47, but he continued to pursue a freelance writing career as John Elder, bringing Hammer’s classic Gothic horror cycle to an end in 1972 with his script for Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. His final commission from his old employer was for an episode of the television anthology Hammer House of Horror (1980).
In his final decades Hinds seemed to dissociate himself from his illustrious career. He cut up his old scripts to use as memo pads, drove a minibus for the local “old folk”, and joined an amateur dramatic society. In 1998 he attended a Hammer convention at Bray Studios, but privately dismissed the attendees as “barking mad” and left as quietly as he arrived.
The onset of Parkinson’s Disease made him an increasingly remote figure, though he resurfaced for a final time in the BBC’s 2010 documentary series A History of Horror. Frail and visibly diminished by ill health, he nevertheless clearly recalled the transgressive ambition that revolutionised British cinema: “There’s a great danger with horror films that people will start laughing,” he said. “We thought we’d put a stop to that.”
Anthony Hinds married Jean Knowles in 1956. She and their two daughters survive him.
Anthony Hinds, born September 19 1922, died September 30 2013
Alan Sharples wrote an excellent letter about the chancellor “preaching Victorian tough love to the long-term unemployed”, but spoiled it for me by his gratuitous reference to “Rotary Club prejudices” as a partial source for George Osborne’s thinking (Letters, 2 October). The philosophy of Rotary International is embodied in the phrase “service above self” and every club seeks to be true to this, and nowhere more than in service to their local community. This means that Rotary Clubs in the UK are currently focused heavily on helping people and community organisations overcome all the consequences of the damage caused by the cuts to local services and the high level of unemployment, particularly among young people leaving school with poor qualifications.
My club is working in partnership with the charitable arm of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, Albion in the Community (AITC), in its Want to Work programme. Using the new Amex Stadium premises, AITC is able to attract youngsters who leave school (sometimes having been excluded), with little hope of finding work, on to this training programme, where they acquire new skills, meet potential employers and have job experience. A high proportion of them move into a job at the end of the training. Earlier in the year, our club sponsored two trainees, by paying the full cost of their training. They gained good jobs at the end of it. So our club, so typical of all Rotary Clubs, has made a meaningful contribution in the area of need about which Alan Sharples is rightly concerned. Our “prejudices” are all in the opposite direction to those attributed to us by him.
Community service chair of the Rotary Club of Hove
Tania Branigan (Report, 28 September) doesn’t do China’s former foreign minister Chen Yi justice in her account of the (possibly apocryphal) story which circulated widely during the Cultural Revolution. First, Mao is supposed to have called Chen Yi a “good comrade” rather than a “good cadre” – a small point, but in dealing with scripture, accuracy becomes vital.
Secondly, Chen Yi was sending the Red Guards up when, in response to their screamed demands he should recite a quotation from Chairman Mao, he waved the Little Red Book and said, “turn to page 271, Chairman Mao says Chen Yi is a good comrade”. Despite their supposed familiarity with the sacred text, thousands started leafing through it only to find that the Little Red Book did not contain that many pages.
In the end, Premier Zhou Enlai confirmed that Mao had indeed called Chen Yi a good comrade, leaving the young revolutionaries somewhat deflated. Many suspect that Chen Yi in fact invented this quotation but, strangely, Mao gave it retrospective authenticity. At the disgraced foreign minister’s funeral in 1972 (which Mao attended in pyjamas with a greatcoat thrown over them having risen unexpectedly from his sickbed), he told the grieving widow that her husband had been a good and loyal comrade.
Emeritus professor, University of Leeds
I am appalled that your Guardian style guide author David Marsh advocates dispensing with elements of grammar that have been sacrosanct among the educated classes for centuries. His disregard for rules on split infinitives, the subjunctive tense or the ending a sentence with a preposition made my blood boil. Is the grammar of today’s schoolchildren, already so influenced by the need to keep their missives down to a paltry 140 characters, not bad enough, that Mr Marsh should wish to encourage such sloppiness by recommending a general dumbing-down of our beautiful language? Whatever next? Would he be so bold as to suggest we no longer use words such as referenda or formulae? Why not go the whole hog and say that there is no difference between less and fewer?
May I propose that the Guardian, which has an unfortunate history of committing a number of famous typos and clangers over the years, to the extent that it has often been lampooned by the likes of Private Eye among others, be not the most authoritative organ to bid that we rewrite our grammar books? Please stick to things at which you excel, such as current affairs and great news articles, rather than dabble in things about which you have shown yourselves to be defective.
External examiner, University of London
• I must defend the imperfect subjunctive where meaning is at stake. I have regularly been alarmed by such statements as “England may have lost the match without Rooney” when what was meant was “England might have lost the match without Rooney”. I’m sure Wayne would agree.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
• Tony Haynes’s letter (3 October) about “First (never firstly), secondly, thirdly…” reminds me of the cartoon of two elderly dons walking across the quad, one of them saying “and, ninthly…”.
I’m the managing director of a number of companies on Teesside and come from a humble working-class background, qualifying as a chartered engineer by means of part-time and sandwich courses over a 10-year period. I have been critical of people sponging from the state, but I also have sympathy for the young people who find themselves caught between a drastically reduced labour market and a government that is encouraging older people to work later in life.
The pronouncement to stop housing benefit for under-25s unless they “earn or learn” (Report, 3 October) appears to be aimed at some parallel universe where educational establishments have unlimited places for students who can afford them without living in penury for the rest of their lives or drawing down on the precious funds put away for retirement by parents and grandparents, followed by guaranteed jobs waiting for them on graduation. Or the other inhabitants of this parallel universe, who decide to earn rather than learn and can pick and choose their jobs without submitting thousands of applications all to be rejected without even a reply. It is also a parallel universe where when a young woman faced with the loss of housing benefit and loss of shelter doesn’t make a decision to get pregnant and thereby keep her housing benefit.
The policies being espoused by the government are badly thought out and unworkable. Our own universe has a finite number of jobs, a finite number of educational places and a requirement by the inhabitants to have shelter and food. The parallel universe where these are not needed only seems to exist in the minds of government planners and ministers.
• David Cameron’s announcement detailing Tory plans to remove housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance from young people is a chilling reminder of his party’s cruelty. Despite the rhetoric about “a land of opportunity”, punitive and callous policies like these will not alter the fact that more than five jobseekers are chasing every vacancy. Threatening us with homelessness and destitution will not create the 2m jobs needed to deal with mass unemployment.
The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign was set up in 2009 to take up the issue of mass youth unemployment – to help organise the “lost generation”. Since then, our unemployment figures have continued to rise. We’ve had crackpot workfare scheme after workfare scheme, but no progress has been made as a result. Our challenge to politicians is for them to stop blaming those who fall victim to an economic system in crisis and brutal austerity, and instead pledge to carry out a mass, publicly funded programme of job creation. If they fail, it’s safe to say the mass protests that have swept the world will surely come to Britain too.
Spokesperson, Youth Fight for Jobs
• Democracy is about everybody mattering equally, including in the way we manage our wealth and welfare. That means the people between 18 and 25, the age range least likely to vote, should have an equal say. These are the people who are now hearing that benefit entitlements are likely to be taken away from them. Democracy is for the frail elderly who have played their part in building the country, the managerial workers who are earning buckets, the unskilled on a minimum wage, and the yet-to-make-a-bean youngsters who need to believe it’s on their side if they are to contribute to it.
The 18-25s need help to believe it’s worth joining in a fair democratic country where their vote will make a difference to their life choices and life chances. We’ve now created a society so in thrall to material success that it feels fair to many that if you’ve made it you deserve more power, more say. That is not democracy. In a democracy, citizens are gifted their equality by virtue of birth, not by merit of success.
We are running out of ways to convince the under-25s that there’s a shred of truth in this. No wonder the ruling party can take the risk of putting their nose out of joint. They are becoming the unseen, disposable minority.
Chief executive, Citizenship Foundation
• With David Cameron’s conference pledge to threaten the under-25s and Nick Clegg’s betrayal on university fees, it might be an idea for the coalition to announce raising the voting age to 26.
Simon G Gosden
• So, no welfare safety net for anyone under the age of 25? I can only assume that the Tories are so caught up in the paranoid myth of young people in semi-feral criminal gangs living on the margins of society, that they’ve decided to come up with a policy to make it actually happen.
Well done Michele Hanson for taking up the cello in her 60s (A certain age, 30 September). She expressed her joy at discovering that recent research said it was good for her brain, enlarging the frontal cortex. People of all ages – including some in their 70s – have been joining the East London Late Starters Orchestra for the last 30 years to learn a string instrument. They will be delighted to hear Michele’s news. For many, the experience has changed their lives dramatically, opening up new social networks, giving men and women confidence in themselves and bringing passion and laughter to the painful process of growing old!
• It would indeed “be a scandal” if Peter Higgs were not awarded a Nobel prize (Profile, 3 October), but he will at least have the satisfaction of receiving the honorary freedom of Newcastle, his home town.
Labour, House of Lords
• Today I started my own action against the Daily Mail (Letters, 3 October). I went into two shops, stood quietly at the paper rack and then swiftly took a large pile of Daily Mails and carefully placed them underneath a pile of Guardians. Those Mail readers will never find them there!
Solihull, West Midlands
• Yes, I too can remember sitting among the stones at Stonehenge (Letters, 3 October). Unfortunately it was the people who kept carving their initials on them that brought that pleasure to an end.
• Many of us have long been aware that hurling and Gaelic football are the most exciting and sporting field games (Editorial, 3 October). To see a game played with passion by young people, and commitment to the game rather than the bank balance, is refreshing and novel compared with the corruption of British football. Perhaps you could please some of us aficionados by regularly reporting GAA sports in your newspaper.
• How wonderful to see Manchester City fans applauding the Bayern Munich players after being given a masterclass in attacking football (Sport, 3 October). The beautiful game is self-evidently alive and well.
The government is deliberately misleading the public, quoting inaccurate figures to force through its proposed changes to legal aid (Report, 2 October). A Ministry of Justice spokesperson has said: “At around £2bn a year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. At a time when everyone has to tighten their belts, we can no longer close our eyes to the fact legal aid is taxpayers’ money and it is costing too much.”
This statement is deliberately planted to suggest that the legal profession has ignored pleas by governments to reduce costs, costs it has previously suggested to the public are “spiralling”. The MoJ’s own statistics bulletin from 25 June 2013 shows that not only is this statement inaccurate, it is damagingly misleading. The figures show that spending on the British criminal justice system is falling and has been for a number of years. In 2007-08, the total criminal legal aid spend was £1.12bn, which fell by £146m (13%) to £975m in 2012-13. Similarly, the figure for very high cost cases, the most complex criminal trials involving terrorism and serious crime, has almost halved over the same period, falling from £124m in 2007-08 to £67m in 2012-13.
The government’s claim that we have one of the most expensive legal systems in the world is also wholly inaccurate. We have a different criminal justice system to other countries, based on an adversarial process, as the MoJ well knows. It means our legal aid budget includes figures that in other countries are simply transferred to other budgets. Figures from the 2012 European commission report on the efficiency of justice shows that of 14 European legal systems, England and Wales actually sits 10th, based on legal spend per inhabitant. At €80.8, the legal spend for England and Wales is smaller than that of Spain, Norway, Austria and Belgium and is dwarfed by the likes of Switzerland (€167.1) and Luxembourg (€137.7).
Finally the spokesperson says: “Our proposals would have more of an impact on those earning the most from legal aid – under our proposals a criminal barrister earning £530,000 would still receive around £430,000.” These figures are wholly unrepresentative of the average earnings of the criminal bar and their selection is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. The MoJ’s own figures reveal that a barrister in this country is likely to earn less than £30,000 a year from the criminal legal aid fund and the suggestion that the proposed further cuts will affect only top earners is wrong. They are across the board. As a profession we have made many suggestions to the justice secretary as to how he can make significant savings. These have been rejected in favour of his desire to slash fees to barristers that have already been cut by 35% over the last six years.
We prosecute and defend the most serious criminal cases in the country. Surely we should be entitled to expect integrity from our MoJ as opposed to cynical attempts to mislead the public for short-term political expediency?
Alistair MacDonald QC Leader, North Eastern circuit, Gregory Bull QC Leader, Wales and Chester circuit, Mark Wall QC Leader, Midlands circuit, Andrew Langdon QC Leader, Western circuit, Rick Pratt QC Leader, Northern circuit, Sarah Forshaw QC Leader, South Eastern circuit
• Lady Hale maintains that the judiciary should be more reflective of society as a whole regarding gender and ethnic minorities (Report, 3 October). Presumably this is because different experiences, backgrounds and characters may help in producing wise judgments. If so, wouldn’t it be valuable if some judges were very poor, some lived on dangerous inner-city estates and even if some had a life of crime? This should remind us of the element of chance in court outcomes: pity those poor defendants who encounter severe judges, living in another world, lacking in appreciation of the defendants’ plight.
The Coalition policy of removing benefits from under-25s if they are not earning or learning is seriously flawed. The experience of similar TOPS and YOPS schemes in the Thatcher years showed that it was impossible to stop employers replacing existing employees with subsidised labour from the ranks of the unemployed.
It did nothing to reduce long-term unemployment then and will not do so now. The balance of power in the workplace will swing toward the employer, allowing them to reduce wages and change the working conditions of existing employees with little chance of opposition while a ready pool of cheap replacements is available.
The only people who will benefit from this scheme are those who wish to maximise profits at the expense of their workers. This government is appealing to the basest of instincts without thought for the consequences.
Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk
The Conservative Party conference has highlighted the disconnect between these politicians and the public.
The Conservatives are privatising our NHS. They are getting rid of public services, and think people should not care for others worse off than themselves. We should only care for ourselves and immediate family. If you’re poor, old, or disabled, and have no savings or family to help you, then tough! That’s the neo-liberal way, and the Conservative way.
No matter how slick their speeches are, or how passionate they appear to be, Cameron, Osborne and May belong to a government who are tearing this country apart. They’re gutting our welfare system, turning our NHS into a despicable American-style health system, and are helping to redistribute the wealth of this nation into the hands of the few.
Mr Cameron wants another term to finish the job. I say, leave now while you still have a choice!
Colin Crilly, London SW17
Democracy is for the frail elderly who have played their part in building the country, the managerial workers who are earning buckets, the unskilled on a minimum wage, and the yet-to-make-a-bean youngsters who need to believe it’s on their side if they are to contribute to it.
The 18-25s need help to believe it’s worth joining in a fair democratic country where their vote will make a difference to their life chances. We’ve now created a society so in thrall to material success that it feels fair to many that if you’ve made it you deserve more power, more say. That is not democracy. In a democracy, citizens are gifted their equality by virtue of birth, not by merit of success. We are running out of ways to convince the under 25s that there’s a shred of truth in this.
No wonder the ruling party can take the risk of putting their nose out of joint by taking benefit entitlements away from them. They are becoming the unseen, disposable minority.
Andy Thornton, Chief Executive, Citizenship Foundation, London EC1
Miliband hit by US-style smear politics
Once again the worst from America has come to Britain. The Daily Mail attack on Ed Miliband’s father is nothing more than a homegrown version of the Republican Party’s lunatic fringe and their visceral hatred of Barack Obama, with birthism and questioning his allegiance to America. One can only wonder what will next cross the Atlantic.
Sam Semoff, Liverpool
Regarding the recent exchanges between the Daily Mail and the leader of the Labour Party I note that Ed Miliband has been invited to repudiate the writings of his father. I wonder if Viscount Rothemere would care to similarly repudiate the activities of his great-grandfather, in his promulgation of Nazi ideology and the funding of the Nazi agent Stephanie von Hohenlohe.
Ralph Miliband served his country in the Second World War, as did my uncle, buried in Bayeux after losing his life during the Normandy landings. On behalf of the dead and wounded of the Second World War I would appreciate an apology for the first Viscount Rothermere’s “evil legacy”.
Richard Beckett, Birmingham
Will the Daily Mail now do a hatchet job on the sons of the Fascist blackshirts whom it tacitly supported in the 1930s?
Ed Miliband’s father was not in government, and had the right to hold whatever views he wished, as have we all.
Collin Rossini, Dovercourt, Essex
The Daily Mail condemns plurality of political expression at the same time as opposing any regulation of the press on the grounds of its being an attack on the freedom of speech.
Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire
At last, some clear polarisation back in British politics! The Tories clearly wrong, Labour clearly right!
John Healey, Coventry
Wind of change from Denmark
I work for a Birmingham charity addressing fuel poverty, providing advice to tenants, and although recent proposals to make switching energy companies easier are welcomed, there is a much deeper problem with our energy system.
With production and supply so tightly monopolised by a few large companies, there is little competition to reduce prices.
Through tax incentives, communities in Denmark own around 20 per cent of the country’s energy-generation assets. This has produced a world-leading wind industry which supports tens of thousands of jobs. It has also helped to stabilise energy prices, as there is less reliance on international commodity markets.
Crucially, it raises awareness about energy issues, as individuals take an interest in the system. This approach could easily be applied in the UK, with the right support.
Stuart Bowles, Birmingham
Trains pay the taxpayer
David Lindsay (letter, 2 October) is wrong to say that franchised train companies “cost the taxpayer colossal sums in subsidies and have abysmal levels of passenger satisfaction”.
Figures published by the Office of Rail Regulation on 22 August show that net payments by train companies to Government were £256m in 2012-13.
According to a survey of almost 30,000 journeys by the independent watchdog, Passenger Focus, satisfaction with rail travel is at 82 per cent, a near record high. Combined with passenger growth, there are now 500 million extra journeys a year rated “good” or “satisfactory” compared to in 1999.
Competition between train companies in bidding to run services incentivises them to expand rail usage and contain costs. This encourages a focus on providing passengers with a better service, helping passenger growth in this country to outstrip that of major state-owned European railways.
Rail franchising is producing a financial dividend which benefits passengers and taxpayers by helping to maintain investment in the network while Government support declines.
Michael Roberts, Chief Executive, Association of Train Operating Companies, London EC1
Outrage in the hospital car park
Among the many reprehensible ways of exploiting the vulnerable which are increasingly a feature of our society, I have recently encountered one of the more despicable.
We now accept that it will cost to park at a hospital but I am sure that not everyone realises the draconian charges (£100!) for an excess charge for a minor overstay (less than an hour!).
I did have cause to wonder what goes through the mind of an attendant trained to follow company policies as they issue one of these tickets. Do they consider the possibility that the driver could be a patient whose treatment has overrun or been delayed or a parent accompanying a child undergoing a stressful procedure or an individual trying to come to terms with distressing news? No! Far better to assume that it is an irresponsible individual wantonly enjoying spending more time than necessary in the hospital.
John Dillon, Birmingham
Railway to the Vatican
Andy McSmith (3 October) might be right about David Jones but he is wrong on railways. The Vatican has a railway. It is not electrified, so a recent pilgrimage train required a diesel engine to haul it across the border from Italy.
On 4 October 1962 Pope John XXIII used Vatican City station for his trip to Assisi. Sadly, Pope Francis is travelling there on the very anniversary by helicopter.
Leigh Hatts, London SE1
Most people who don’t swallow the Tory line that it was all Gordon Brown’s fault believe that a major trigger for financial meltdown was that too many people were given mortgages they couldn’t afford to repay.
The Tories’ big idea to improve our situation is to guarantee mortgages for those who can’t normally afford them.
Huw Jones, London N3
In these days of state handout carrots for just about anything, I see that Mr Cameron is proposing a married tax break to encourage couples to tie the knot. This will no doubt be paid for by doing away with bus passes and winter fuel payments for those of us who have been married for 45 years. Another well thought-out gimmick.
Ray Willey, Birmingham
Now that we have an Environment Secretary who refuses to take the threat of climate change seriously, as well as a Chancellor whose motto seems to be “Rob from the poor, give to the rich”, I’m finding it difficult to decide which is the bigger lie: “All in this together” or “Greenest government ever”. Tough call.
Mike Wright, Nuneaton, Warwickshire
Mr Cameron suggests that GPs should extend their surgery consultation hours to benefit those in full-time employment or with family commitments. Is it not logical that dentists, opticians, pharmacies, hospital out-patient departments and even barbers and hairdressers also extend their hours?
Sydney Aynsworth, retired general practitioner, Gosport, Hampshire
The potential of selective schools to strengthen the chances of bright children in and with partner schools is huge and should be exploited further
Sir, Strip out the language of threat and compulsion and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s call to arms (“Ofsted chief attacks private schools for failing to help poor”, Oct 2) was inspiring stuff: which school leader, state or private, does not want to make a better society? My school takes this obligation seriously: we want to act as an exemplar to our pupils, aware of the advantaged education they have received, to lead transformative lives in society, and what better way to inspire them than through the example of their own school working to improve the life chances of less fortunate children or the personal experience of making a difference themselves.
My rather public reaction at being included in Sir Michael’s list of schools doing worthy things which fall short of his expectations (sponsoring academies) was fury, fury at his advisers’ mistake — Highgate co-sponsors a Free Primary School and a Sixth Form Academy (the London Academy of Excellence) and is an educational partner with two academies in Brent — and fury at the enduring reluctance really to understand other patterns of partnership.
Highgate isn’t alone in seconding teachers to state schools but we have the full-time equivalent of four teachers committed to maths, physics and chemistry partnership teaching, including direct teaching, curriculum support, teacher training and enrichment classes. While it hasn’t been without its challenges (raising the money, for example), it has been unbureaucratic and its impact direct and manifest in an area of telling need.
I believe passionately in the potential of selective schools, with our concentrated capital of academically minded teachers, to strengthen the chances of bright children in and with our partner schools. I believe too that this opportunity to make the world better is a genuinely inspiring one to which more and more independent schools will rally. But, surely, the call does not need to be tinged with guilt or shame.
Head Master, Highgate School
Sir, Sir Michael Wilshaw has probably annoyed the head teachers of state schools as well as their private school counterparts. Independent schools owe their apparent success to the money they receive in fees and to the in-built advantages their pupils have rather than to the quality of their leadership and teaching. It is offensive and ridiculous to suggest that independent schools have any part to play in righting the deleterious effects of the divisive education system in this country that they cause.
Sir, Your leading article (Oct 3) is right to argue that many parents make deep sacrifices to acquire a better education for their children. Independent schools are not exclusive to the rich and powerful or “islands of privilege”, as Sir Michael Wilshaw argues. Many parents scrimp and save to ensure high-quality learning for their offspring. Further, academic scholarships and bursaries are available; there may be a need to make more available, but this is another argument.
The solution to the divide between the quality of private and state education is not to hector independent schools but to elevate the standards of state education.
Heroin-related deaths have actually been falling in this country in recent years, while those related to methadone have shown a marked increase
Sir, David Aaronovitch (Opinion, Oct 3) makes a superficially attractive case for the legalisation of recreational drugs, including heroin and morphine. Unfortunately, he has misread the data. Heroin-related deaths have actually been falling in this country in recent years, while those related to methadone and legally available prescription opiates have shown a marked increase. In fact, most high-profile deaths from overdose in recent years, from Michael Jackson to Heath Ledger, have involved legally available prescription drugs.
Furthermore, the regulatory system for recreational drugs which Mr Aaronovitch advocates already exists. Viagra was initially available only as a prescription-only medicine. After a number of years, when its safety had been properly assessed, it was made available from behind the pharmacy counter. For other recreational drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants, the opposite situation applies; doctors have been using them for many years in carefully controlled circumstances but we know they are not safe enough to be made generally available.
Dr Nigel Keegan
The credit for the reduction in grade inflation at GSCE and A level may have been attributed to the wrong department
Sir, Your leading article “Carry On Learning” (Oct 1) credited the Secretary of State for Education with taking action to end grade inflation in GCSEs and A levels. In fact, though, this is the result of the steady and determined work of the regulator, Ofqual, since it was founded in 2009.
‘“Marxist defends Marxist” is hardly an endorsement of free speech — especially when you recall how self-proclaimed Trotskyites persecuted conservative academics in the 1980s’
Sir, Your claim (Oct 3) that Ralph Miliband was not opposed to freedom of speech because he once wrote to The Times defending Robin Blackburn has little credibility. Mr Blackburn was then a prominent member of the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG) and was on the editorial board of its revolutionary publication Red Mole.
“Marxist defends Marxist” is hardly an endorsement of free speech — especially when you recall how self-proclaimed Trotskyites persecuted conservative academics in the 1980s, driving them from university campuses for daring to question prevailing right-on orthodoxies.
Exercise can reduce cholesterol concentrations, but the reduction achieved by the use of statins is far in excess of that achieved by the use of exercise
Sir, Researchers at LSE claim that exercise is just as good as the prescription of statin drugs for the prevention of heart disease (report, Oct 2). We dispute this superficial view. Exercise can reduce cholesterol concentrations, but the reduction achieved by the use of statins is far in excess of that achieved by the use of exercise programmes. Furthermore, maximum reductions in cholesterol, achieved with high-dose statins, are associated with the largest reduction in risk, especially in patients at risk of recurrent heart disease.
We do not dispute that exercise is beneficial and improves the survival of patients with heart disease, but this must be seen in the context of the proper prescription of a healthy lifestyle in conjunction with drugs that have an evidence base in prevention.
Dr Robert Cramb
Chairman, HEART UK
SIR – Was it a good summer? The answer must be yes, as we have been picking ripe figs from the small tree that is growing in our back garden.
Monty Don, the gardener and broadcaster, has said that figs carry two, sometimes three crops of fruit at once, with two harvests in warm conditions, although in Britain only one will ripen a year as they need plenty of sunshine.
Perhaps this year, after our sunny summer, we will get another crop.
SIR – At the time of the 1945 general election, the Conservative slogan was “Help him finish the job”, but the electorate rejected Winston Churchill. A similar appeal is now being employed by David Cameron. Let us hope that he will be allowed to do so.
On the basis of his speech in Manchester, setting out what has been achieved and what is in the pipeline, he certainly deserves to be given the chance.
SIR – While I support the Help to Buy scheme, can I implore the various participants in dealing with the scheme not to slip back into the situation where properties were sometimes “overvalued” for mortgage purposes, and where staff were set targets for mortgage lending. Most importantly, banks and building societies need to ensure that those people applying for mortgages have a reasonable prospect of meeting the future costs.
Unless discipline is applied to the management of the scheme, we shall find ourselves in the same position we were in only a few years ago.
A healthy crop of figs after such a sunny summer
03 Oct 2013
Rodmell, East Sussex
SIR – Roger Gentry (Letters, October 2) demonstrates a lack of appreciation of the importance of the supply of houses. If stamp duty is abolished and the supply of houses stays the same, the price of houses simply rises to soak up the extra money available.
SIR – It would be more beneficial to the nation if, instead of the annual charades known as Party conferences, politicians simply went back to work and impressed the public with what they actually do, rather than with what they say they will do.
SIR – Clouding the debate on fuel bills is the fact that we don’t know how much we’re paying for energy, and how much for “green” taxes and subsidies. A half-way house would be to show decarbonisation costs separately on all fuel bills. Even better would be to have them charged to government, and paid for out of taxes. We could then have transparency on the true cost of decarbonisation, and an honest debate as to its value.
SIR – As a veteran home bread-baker, I take issue with David Cameron’s claim that loading his bread-maker “takes (only) 30 seconds” (report, October 1) – a process where precision with the weight of the ingredients is key to a well-risen loaf. I hope that he, and the Chancellor, are more accurate regarding their predictions about the promised economic recovery.
SIR – Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is quite correct in defending his father – any son would do the same (“Daily Mail has smeared my father with lies, says Miliband”, report, October 2).
However, it is also quite legitimate to draw attention to his father’s socialism when Mr Miliband tells us he draws inspiration from it – particularly given that Ralph Miliband stayed true to communism despite the overwhelming evidence of its brutality, totalitarian governance and efforts for world domination.
SIR – I entirely agree with Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (report, October 1), that parents are being “made to feel like social lepers” for wanting to educate their children privately.
We decided to have our three sons privately educated when each reached the age of 10. We could hardly be regarded as affluent and it was far from easy, but with the help of part-scholarships and my wife working full-time, we managed to see them through to the end of A-levels.
We went without expensive holidays, new cars, costly meals out, moving to a better house and boozy nights at the pub. But we still received snide comments about the children’s “posh” school (in fact it was rather like the grammar school that I attended) – usually from people who spent at least as much as we were paying for fees, on things that we had given up. We chose to spend money on our children’s education, and have never regretted it.
West Wickham, Kent
SIR – While working with some of Britain’s leading independent schools in establishing their international operations, I have seen them demonstrate that not only is British education a world-beater, but that there is a significant demand for it, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.
Notably, those who aspire to send their children to such schools are not “made to feel like social lepers”.
Stephen L Sidkin
Chair International Schools Group
Care for the elderly
SIR – I agree with Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, that the elderly are not getting good enough care from the NHS (report, September 28).
However, cajoling already overstretched GPs to work even harder is unlikely to be effective. In order to improve the care of the elderly, as distinct from producing soundbites for the party conference season, two things need to happen. We need a dedicated health visiting service, concentrating on detecting and supporting vulnerable elderly individuals, and an increase in the number of district nurses, so that better care can be given to them in their own homes rather than in hospital.
Dr Tim Cantor
Plague of parakeets
SIR – The parakeets in Coulsdon may have gone because they have eaten whatever it was that attracted them there (Letters, October 2). Here in East Kent, each September a flock of around 25 arrive in my neighbour’s garden to eat the seeds off two or three large beech trees. This seems to last for a noisy week or two, and when austerity sets in they move elsewhere.
SIR – Next week, the European Parliament is due to vote on new rules for tobacco products. One part of the proposal, which has strong support from Labour MEPs, is to regulate electronic cigarettes as medicinal products, a move which could significantly restrict their availability.
We, along with many public health experts, believe that this would be a grave mistake. E-cigarettes are used by an estimated 1.3 million people in Britain and are widely recognised as being infinitely less harmful than tobacco. They have the potential to reduce the negative health impact of smoking massively for individuals and their families.
That is why we are pushing for electronic cigarettes to be as widely available for adults as tobacco is, and are calling on our MEP colleagues and constituents for their support so that this part of the tobacco products proposal can be overturned.
E-cigarettes should of course be regulated so that they comply with relevant safety and quality requirements, but making them more difficult to obtain than conventional cigarettes would be a huge step in the wrong direction.
Chris Davies MEP (Lib Dem)
Rebecca Taylor MEP (Lib Dem)
Phil Bennion MEP (Lib Dem)
Sarah Ludford MEP (Lib Dem)
Edward McMillan-Scott MEP (Lib Dem)
Bill Newton Dunn MEP (Lib Dem)
Sir Graham Watson MEP (Lib Dem)
SIR – My early-morning commuter train has been rescheduled four minutes earlier, to give it a chance of arriving on time during “leaf fall”. But it still arrives in London four minutes late as usual, so taking eight minutes longer than the originally timetabled 38 minutes.
Is this just a way for Southeastern to increase my journey time by 20 per cent without penalty?
SIR – While dining in a busy hotel restaurant, my husband observed that about 80 per cent of the diners left their chairs where they were when they got up to leave. The rest took the trouble to tuck them back under the table.
Are these people naturally more polite or have they been taught to do this?
Spain has been antagonistic towards Gibraltar
SIR – Clive Tyrell (Letters, October 1) supports the way that Spain has behaved towards Gibraltar. I would like to continue with his analogy.
Imagine you live on an island miles from a dispute between two neighbours, and have never experienced the dispute at first hand. Imagine that you believe everything said by the noisier of the two neighbours, a neighbour who has a long history of bullying the small chap next door. Imagine that you do not check whether the chap next door pays his council tax, you believe everything the bully says.
If one side is said to have dumped boxes, has the noisy neighbour also dumped exactly the same boxes all around his own garden? He even claims to own the garden of the house next door – indeed, he is keen to move into the next door house as well.
It is a defining characteristic of the British that we tend to support the underdog against the bully. Perhaps Mr Tyrell’s British characteristics have changed since he moved to Spain?
SIR – Gibraltar, over the years, has given work to tens of thousands of Spaniards, supported thousands of families and pays pensions to retired workers. Spain cannot support these families as it has such a huge number of unemployed.
When the frontier was closed in 1968 many of the Spanish breadwinners, who worked in Gibraltar, had to leave their families and go to France or Germany to find work. Spanish governments do not worry about what happens to their people.
It is Spain that has always caused problems with the frontier, by causing long delaying tactics or even closure. Gibraltar, on the other hand, has always gone out of its way to welcome people. Remember that the people of Gibraltar are British.
SIR – In his analogy, Clive Tyrell overlooks the fact that he has been sneaking into his neighbour’s garden and stealing from his vegetable patch for many years.
St Neots, Cambridgeshire
Sir, – Arthur Beesley writes that 1,000 respondents were asked in an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey what were the top three spending areas that they would cut if they were in government and were preparing Budget 2014 (Front page, October 2nd).
Apparently, 18 per cent of those surveyed said that they would cut university staff pay; 17 per cent would cut public sector pensions and 9 per cent medical payments to GPs and pharmacists.
Would it not be more clear-cut and meaningful to say that 82, 83 and 91 per cent of those surveyed were not in favour of cutting any of those spending areas? – Yours, etc,
Tinahely, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – With polls clearly indicating that the majority of the population wants a smaller budget adjustment, should the Dáil banish the Fine Gael austerity junkies to the opposition benches?
There is still time to put a new taoiseach, government and budget in place before year-end. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was surprised and shocked to read Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was contemplating the return of the 13.5 per cent VAT rate for the hospitality and restaurant trade (Home News, September 27th). This would be sheer madness in the current economic climate. For the first time in five years the industry was showing signs of growth, following years of massive decline (24 per cent in visitor numbers, 30 per cent in tourism revenue since 2008). Tourism has the capacity to play an important role in the regeneration of the domestic economy. Since the reduction of the VAT in 2011 it has created over 15,000 jobs in accommodation and food services. There is no quicker way to increase employment than through the hospitality sector, thanks to its labour intensive nature and regional economic impact. Little or no capital investment is required as the product already exists.
Like most other businesses, firms in the tourism sector have aggressively tacked their cost bases in order to remain viable. Hotels and restaurants have achieved significant reductions and passed these on to customers, but some problem areas remain. Many State-controlled or -influenced costs in particular have not come down; local authority rates and energy costs (up 50 per cent since 2005) remain a substantial burden, food costs have also increased substantially over the past year, up 6 per cent in 2013 alone. An increase in VAT will have a dramatic effect on our competitiveness with most of our major European competitors having lower VAT rates than Ireland.
My fear is that any further increase in costs or VAT will drive the hospitality industry towards a low-cost model. The only element of cost that we seem to be able to control is labour, you can see more and more establishments purchasing ready-made foods to reduce this labour cost. Currently at Kelly’s Resort Hotel we employ 197. Since there is no appetite in the market to increase room rates our only option will be to reduce our labour force by 12 to 14 persons if the VAT rate is to increase to 13.5 per cent. This is shameful in a country screaming 14 per cent unemployment.
The retention of the 9 per cent VAT rate is essential to attract foreign tourists but also to restore domestic demand. Total tourism and travel expenditure by Irish residents overseas was €4.4 billion in 2012, which is nearly €1 billion more than tourism and travel earnings from overseas travellers to Ireland. A strong domestic tourism market is a vital element in the recovery of the industry; we have to remain competitive in the domestic market to stop this outflow of Irish money to our competitors. – Yours, etc,
Kelly’s Resort Hotel & Spa,
Sir, – With the exception of the construction industry, few sectors of Irish industry have been as negatively affected by the domestic and international downturn as the hospitality sector. In this week’s newspapers a further eight hotels appeared for sale in receivership.
Within 20 miles of Ballynahinch Castle, four long-established hotels have permanently closed. This results in the loss of much-needed jobs, reduced offers for our visitors and neglected buildings. These hotels closed before any measure was taken to support the industry. The VAT rate reduction on accommodation and food to 9 per cent has given many hoteliers a real chance of survival.
While many have struggled to meet their financial commitments, the reduction in VAT rates has given them the chance to breathe and consider ways to strengthen their businesses. The industry has not awarded itself pay increases and bonuses, it has instead sought to expand its offer and has created more jobs.
One swallow does not a summer make and as Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was at pains to stress, despite the recent positive reports of exiting recession, the economy is by no means robust. Similarly the modest recovery in the tourism sector is fragile and many businesses are still in a precarious position. In order to allow the positive effects of the 9 per cent VAT rate to take proper hold and bear lasting results, it should for the foreseeable future remain unchanged. Having implemented a strategy with proven results, it would be foolish of the Minister to now abandon it. – Yours, etc,
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel &
Connemara, Co Galway.
A chara, – I was dumbfounded when I read Kate Holmquist’s striking assertion that “Friendship – female friendship in particular – has many benefits” (Life, October 1st).
As a man with many strong and close friendships with other men, I didn’t realise that my friendships were subordinate to friendships between women – what have I been missing?
More than 395 men died by suicide in 2010. This comment by Kate Holmquist, in a national newspaper, does not help these men to seek help and speak out. Friendship prevents loneliness, offers companionship, boosts happiness, improves self-worth and helps one cope with traumas. Surely, these benefits are achievable for both sexes? – Is mise,
GARETH T CLIFFORD,
Sir, – Non-consultant hospital doctors will next week engage in industrial action due to the continued failure of the HSE to resolve the issue of excessive working hours which endanger the health of both patients and doctors in this country. A maximum shift length of 24 hours for NCHDs is the goal; the fact this is a compromise, and indeed a far longer maximum shift than that mandated by European law, should serve as an illustration of our current dire conditions.
In the decade since shorter shifts were demanded by law, doctors in this country have heard repeated assurances from the powers-that-be that every effort was being made to reduce our hours and make hospitals safer. Nothing has changed, except that many of our colleagues and classmates have emigrated in search of a working environment that allows them to provide the kind of care they envisage for their patients. There has never been any accountability or sanction for any hospital director or HSE administrator who allowed these illegal hours to happen on their watch. With great power comes absolutely no responsibility.
Barry O’Brien (director of human resources for the HSE), speaking on national radio, misrepresented the current position regarding the need for sanctions against hospitals who fail to comply with maximum shift lengths. He stated that NCHDs are seeking triple-time payments for hours in excess of 24 hours. This is not true. It is possible that this is the first industrial action in history seeking to reduce pay; through working fewer hours we will all take a pay cut and gladly so. If the HSE can implement what it promises it can, as it has promised before, then there will be no sanctions. In the meantime, it should refrain from misleading the public any further as to the nature of this dispute, as it is the public which ultimately loses from being cared for by doctors whose skills are hindered by exhaustion. – Yours, etc,
Dr IRWIN GILL,
Sir, – Joan Burton, Minister for “Social Protection” (welcome to the Orwellian reality of Ireland), is on a basic salary of over €3,260 a week, taken from the public purse. This does not include the perks, expenses and other public money that finds its way into her pocket.
This same woman has slashed the qualifying monthly rental limits for social welfare rent allowance to €375 for Limerick city – where average monthly rents in the private sector are well over €400 and the average private rent is €450. She has likewise slashed rent allowance limits across the country by differing amounts.
I am 63 years old and used to work as a senior journalist, but now I have a serious vision impairment due to the loss of the use of my one good eye as a result of an assault . Sight in my remaining “good” eye is poor as a result of an injury experienced when I was seven. I live alone in a small privately rented town house in Limerick city centre. I have lived in the property for two years and have made it my home. It is well suited to me given my present disability.
Despite the fact I am still attending regular post-operative hospital care due to having had major surgery to my damaged eye, I am told that as my rent is above the limits by €20 a month my rent allowance is to be discontinued after another month, regardless of whether I have found any alternative accommodation or not by that time.
My landlord had already reduced the rent to comply with the earlier rental allowance limits of €395 a month and cannot reduce it further as he would incur financial loss as a result.
This, then, is Ireland’s Department of “Social Protection” at work. – Yours, etc,
Catherine Street, Limerick.
Sir, – I wish I could say Lynn Cronin’s experience in trying to lodge the money collected at her coffee morning in aid of Our Lady’s Hospice and care services was a once-off (September 27th).
Unfortunately, operational changes by many banks to streamline their services mean many people have difficulty lodging their donations to charities. We hear about this daily and are very concerned at how these changes will seriously impact on charities raising vital funds.
For Irish charities, and the people reliant on their work, this move by banks away from accepting coins and cheques signals a very worrying development.
Fundraising Ireland research carried out over the Christmas appeal period 2012 shows nearly 60 per cent of Irish people still donate, mostly cash, on the street or through face-to-face fundraising. Campaigns such as Trócaire’s Lenten Campaign and the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day raise millions of euro in cash every year. Do we do away with these vital sources of income?
While we appreciate banks have to rationalise their services, we ask them to consider the enormous impact these changes have on charities, community and voluntary organisations.
Charities rely heavily on the goodwill of donors and supporters. If barriers are put in their way when they want to lodge the money they have spent time and effort collecting, they could eventually give up collecting. During these challenging times when the demand for social and charitable services are at their peak, this is a scenario that Ireland can’t afford. – Yours, etc,
CEO, Fundraising Ireland,
Sir, – I have great respect for Dean Robert MacCarthy and for his opinions (September 23rd), but I feel the issue of Protestant fee-paying schools is more complex than it may appear at first sight.
Given that much of the Irish educational establishment is denominationally controlled, I am sure a spot check of the theological bent of the pupils in any one of such institutions, irrespective of denomination, would find divil a few practising Christians of any persuasion, especially in the cities.
There will, of course, be a percentage of the progeny of those who are assiduous in the various practices of their respective faiths. Nonetheless, such schools have an overarching philosophy based on a value system that can (mostly) be a positive force in creating a society in which fairness and justice are valued and promoted.
In a day and age where darkening the door of church, chapel or meeting-house is becoming rarer and rarer, such schools remain something to be cherished. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is no surprise to hear that Peter Mathews has left Fine Gael (Breaking News, October 3rd). They always seemed like an odd fit.
Mr Mathews brought a fresh perspective to scores of issues, many of them in divergence with party policy.
His forthright views on the banking crisis were instructive, while his conscientious position on abortion legislation comes to mind.
At times, badgered by the career politicians in Fine Gael, he stood firmly by what he believed in, all the time remaining affable and calm in the political bear pit.
Whispering in the corridors will have already begun – who will be next to leave? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was saddened to hear that the church bells of St Bartholomew’s church on Clyde Road are to be silenced due to a noise complaint (Front page, September 21st). I can understand Dublin City Council is compelled to act on such complaints, but this is not music from an acid house rave or drunken party; and a sense of civic mindedness is required.
Would the city authorities silence Big Ben or the peal of Notre Dame following a noise complaint? These bells have rung out for 130 years – since long before the complainant heard them or perhaps moved in next to them. These pleasant noises are what makes up the fabric of a city; and part of our soul will be lost if they are silenced. What next, a time switch on birds to quell the dawn chorus? – Yours, etc,
Sir, The recent Comptroller and Auditor General report raises concerns that gardaí were unable to take appropriate action against the drivers of company cars because penalty points cannot be attached to companies (Breaking News, September 30th). What a cop-out.
It is my understanding that penalty points are put on a driver’s licence. Am I missing something?
If drivers break speed limits they should suffer the consequences.
Loopholes, if they exist, should be closed. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was somewhat annoyed by your continuing indulgence of Denis O’Brien (Letters, September 27th) in his feud (regarding a perceived slight – otherwise known as the truth to simple country folk like myself) with a certain notable journalist.
Mr O’Brien has his own newspaper; it seems that in your attempt to be impartial the opposite has occurred, to the detriment of your readers’ enjoyment. After all, it is The Irish Times I purchase out of choice, not the journal in which Mr O’Brien has invested so much. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I think Patricia R Moynihan’s idea (September 28th) is inspired. Any chance that drinks companies might fund separate emergency departments for drunks as they look for fresh sponsorship ideas? – Yours, etc,
ROSE MARY LOGUE,
* There has been a lot of discussion as to the value of the Seanad, but very little about its own symbolic status. The origins of an institution often have a lot to say about the status and role of the institution.
Also in this section
Noonan doesn’t ‘get’ the pain of emigration
We need a TV debate on Seanad referendum
Charges of a not so light brigade
The formation of the Seanad can be seen as the first stage of a lack of self-confidence in the Irish public sphere as, given that Ireland is a very small country, there would not seem to be a need for a bicameral political structure.
In fact, it was another example of a slavish mimicry of the departed colonial power. Britain had a House of Commons and a House of Lords, so Ireland deemed it necessary to have a Dail and Seanad.
Britain’s upper chamber was the prerogative of an inherited aristocracy, so Ireland created a chamber for its own political and academic aristocracy. The Seanad, very much a poor man’s House of Lords, stands as an indictment to the lack of vision of the founders of the State.
Little enough changed after the War of Independence. To cite Brendan Behan, “the Free State didn’t change anything more than the badges on the warders’ caps” in Mountjoy.
I would suggest that the oft-quoted point that the plan to dissolve the Seanad is a “power-grab” by Enda Kenny is specious. The two cataclysmic events in recent Irish history were the bank bailout and the wind-down of Anglo Irish Bank.
One of these was carried out by the Fianna Fail/Green government and the other by the current Government. Both actions affected the Irish people in horrific ways, bringing about austerity, misery and the completely unjust socialising of private debt.
On both occasions, the Seanad, that so-called democratic brake on power, was eloquently silent. There were no checks and balances, no debates, no critiques.
There was not even an attempt to delay any of this legislation in order to have a full debate on these actions.
The Taoiseach has no need to conduct a “power-grab” as the Seanad has little power and has staunchly refused to exercise the little power which it has.
Dr Eugene O’Brien
University of Limerick, Limerick
THE &EURO;20M QUESTION
* It is incredible that billions of euro in unsecured bank debt can be tied to the Irish taxpayer in one late night sitting of the Dail, while it takes a referendum and lengthy campaign to ‘save’ €20m. Something is rotten.
Patrick’s Place, Cork
* Exactly how honest and trustworthy has the Yes campaign been? During the term of this Government, the Seanad has brought forward 529 amendments to Bills which came to it from the Dail. This was because they were incomplete, erroneous or otherwise defective. In some cases this was because 63pc of the Bills processed by the Dail were guillotined, i.e. discussion of them by the Dail had been closed down arbitrarily by the Government before it was complete.
Not once during the campaign did the Yes side, led by the Government and Richard Bruton, ever address this issue – let alone attempt to deny or demolish it. Instead, they focused on the fact that only once, in 1964 (and that more or less accidentally), did the Seanad actually delay a Bill. That event is, in practical terms, irrelevant but it provided a convenient slagging point.
The single most important fact about the Seanad is that, even in its current unreformed state, it has been there, not just during this Government’s term but during the previous government’s term, to clean up or tidy legislation.
This entirely blows out of the water the argument that the Seanad is “useless”, “toothless” and provides no useful even essential function. Yet the Government has refused to answer this fact.
Tralee, Co Kerry
ALL FOR ONE AND . . .
* Over the past number of weeks, Gaelic games, across the genders, has shown the world that it is the quintessential embodiment of sport. The hurling, camogie and football played on the hallowed turf of Croke Park was, at times, breathtaking.
The behaviour, fitness and skills of the players, all amateurs, were astonishing, astounding, awesome, amazing etc. Take your pick.
The fans showed their rivalry only by brandishing the colours of their respective teams. No barbed wire necessary here, maybe a barbed remark now and again, but nothing more.
Yeah, bar one fly in the ointment, the GAA has again shown that its games have simply no parallel.
The insect in the application that I speak of is the pre-match preliminaries at major matches. Prior to these occasions, we are reminded about the importance of “the panel”. Of how all 30 players have trained since last November and how the “fringe players” have made training sessions meaningful and their very presence kept the more prominent players on their toes.
One to 15 was a phrase bandied around in bookies shops, when referring to an impossibly backed horse. Twenty-six is as important as six. Beautiful sentiments indeed. What a pity they are not matched by actions.
Okay, each player gets to take to the field on match day. Good God, they even get to kick the ball to each other for a bit. But when the President arrives, all changes and only the privileged few, i.e. the first 15, get to meet our First Citizen. And, if that doesn’t stick in the rest of the panel’s craw, I’d bet being excluded from marching after The Artane Band really gives them that “surplus to requirement feeling”.
So come on GAA, you have almost the perfect package so a few tweaks wouldn’t cost much, save for an extra bob or two for a few yards of red carpet, but they would enhance the experience for those unlucky enough not to make the first 15.
Tenure, Co Louth
* Please allow me to take issue with the Gerard O’Regan column.
I am 21. I am a languages and business/economics graduate working full-time and studying part-time on a post-grad programme. There are times of the year when I work seven days a week for very little money.
I have never complained about any of this but I and immediate relatives and co-workers of mine – who pay more than our fair share of tax – damn well know how to live frugally.
No institution will lend me anything for my post-grad fees either, so I reject being told I have a moral responsibility to be a good little boy and say nothing while reading how the people that destroyed this country make off with more than a few schillings for their loyalty to the European and Irish banking and technocrat elites.
I grew up in frugal circumstances and I live now in a town where the local population has been living frugally for decades. Most people when I was growing up bought a house and a car and maybe went on a foreign holiday. I don’t understand how that makes these people responsible for the illegal debts of Irish and European shysters and only pretentious elitist writers could blame the whole of our population for this.
Angela Merkel leads an economy whose products are undervalued and which has no minimum wage. The rest of Europe is being preyed on by this insidious ideology of hers that is really imperialist in its outlook.
There can be no recovery for us unless we leave the euro as it gives the German economy an unfair advantage over the whole of Europe.
Shop Street, Drogheda