9 October 2013 Meg and Ben last day
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble they are called to Admarality for a secret mission. Can Troutbridge be expendable? Priceless.
I get Meg and Ben to put books on Amazon last day the come early with hot rolls
We watch Dads Glums
Scrabble today Mary wins and get under 400. perhaps I might win tomorrow.
Ulric Cross, who has died aged 96, is thought to have been the most decorated Caribbean airman of the Second World War; he went on to enjoy a distinguished career in Trinidad as a judge and diplomat.
Ulric Cross Photo: RAF MUSEUM
6:00PM BST 08 Oct 2013
Cross was working for Trinidad Railways when the war broke out, and was anxious to play his part. “The world was drowning in Fascism and America was not yet in the war,” he later recalled. “So I decided to do something about it and volunteered to fight in the RAF.”
Philip Louis Ulric Cross was born on May 1 1917 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and won a government scholarship to St Mary’s College. His first job was with the Trinidad Guardian before he spent four years working in a solicitor’s office. In 1941, after three years working for the railway, he joined the RAF and sailed for England.
Cross trained as a navigator at Cranwell before joining No 139 (Jamaica) Squadron, equipped with the Mosquito — many of the aircraft were paid for by donations made by the citizens of Jamaica. Cross was in fact then the only West Indian on the squadron, where his comrades gave him the fond nickname “The Black Hornet”.
He made a number of precision daylight attacks at low level over France and Germany before No 139 converted to night operations with Bomber Command’s Pathfinder Force. The squadron supported the main bomber force, dropping “window” electronic countermeasures to confuse German radars, before embarking on a number of “spoof” raids on other targets with the aim of drawing the Luftwaffe night fighter force away from the main target to be attacked by the heavy bombers.
On the night of August 18 1943, Cross and his pilot, Roy Crampton, took part in a diversionary raid against Berlin as the main force attacked the German rocket testing facility at Peenemunde. Over Berlin, the starboard engine of their Mosquito was hit by flak when they were flying at 30,000ft and it had to be shut down. The two men then flew their damaged aircraft 500 miles back to base on one engine, all the time steadily losing height. They landed at the first available airfield in Norfolk, where the aircraft careered across the field and came to a stop at the edge of a quarry.
November 1943 saw the start of the Battle of Berlin, and Cross made 22 sorties to the “Big City” in the high-flying Mosquito. The squadron became part of the Light Night Striking Force, identifying targets for the main bomber force with the new marking aid “Oboe”. Having completed 30 operations Cross was eligible for a rest, but he volunteered to carry on. He also declined to be rested after 50 operations, when he was awarded a DFC.
During April 1944 he attacked targets in the Ruhr, and when Bomber Command’s heavy bomber squadrons were diverted to support the D-Day offensive, Cross and his colleagues continued to mount “nuisance raids” over German cities with the aim of denying sleep to the factory workers and forcing the German military to retain thousands of men on air defence duties.
Finally, after completing 80 operations over enemy territory, Cross was rested at the end of 1944, and shortly afterwards was awarded a DSO for his “fine example of keenness and devotion to duty” and his “exceptional navigation ability”.
He was then seconded to the Colonial Office as the liaison officer for colonial forces in the RAF. He left the service as a squadron leader in 1947 to study Law at Middle Temple, and was called to the Bar in 1949.
For four years Cross was legal adviser to the Controller of Imports and Exports in Trinidad and Tobago before becoming a lecturer at the University of West Indies in Trinidad.
After four years in London working with the BBC, in 1958 he went to Africa to practise Law. In Ghana he became a Senior Crown Counsel and lecturer at the Ghana School of Law. From 1960 to 1966 he was in Cameroon as Senior Crown Counsel and Attorney General . The Cameroon government appointed him to its Order of Merit and Order of Valour.
In 1967 Cross became a High Court judge in Tanzania and chaired the Permanent Labour Tribunal. Four years later he returned to Trinidad, where he served as a judge of the High Court and, from 1979, of the Court of Appeal. His work as chairman of the Law Reform Commission of Trinidad was acknowledged by the country’s Prime Minister, who observed: “Some of his judgments changed the landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.”
In 1990 Cross became his country’s High Commissioner in London, a post he held for three years; he combined this appointment with those of Ambassador to Germany and to France.
On his return to Trinidad, Cross was active in a number of charitable causes, including the Cotton Tree Foundation to aid the deprived, and in 2011 he received his nation’s highest award, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. In the same year the local military airbase at Piarco was renamed the Ulric Cross Air Station.
The thriller writer Ken Follett based the character of the black squadron leader, Charles Ford, on Ulric Cross in his book Hornet Flight, published in 2002.
Ulric Cross’s wife, Ann, predeceased him, and he is survived by a son and two daughters.
Ulric Cross, born May 1 1917, died October 3 2013
While noting that new shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt is the author of several history books, your report (Hunt moves into frontline as other Blairites bite dust, 8 October) misses that his most well-known and highly regarded volume is a biography of Engels. If Hunt could match Michael Gove by sending a copy to every school as the education secretary did with the King James Bible, things really would be getting better.
• The first article in Shortcuts in Monday’s G2 (7 October) had a mention of anal sex, and the second a reference to “insanely anal compilers”. Shorter cuts then quoted Thom Yorke saying “the last desperate fart”, before mentioning a dog eating then excreting the remains of $500. What’s going on? Someone ought to get to the bottom of this.
• In your education cartoon, you credit Thomas H Palmer with the motto “If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again”. Presumably you got it off the web. I prefer the alternative web and always thought it was Bruce’s spider. Walter Scott told us about the way the spider had allegedly influenced Robert the Bruce in Tales of a Grandfather, first published 1828.
St Andrews, Fife
• As a new teacher at a secondary modern school in Wakefield in 1973 I asked why so many girls had a disabled symbol next to their names in the register. It was explained that they were left-handed and the sewing machines at the nearby Double Two shirt factory were not (Machine intelligence, G2, 8 September).
• What a difference a day makes (Chilly September weather stunts growth in retail sales as clothes stores suffered, 7 October; Warm weather hits September clothing sales, 8 October).
• When did the humble asterisk become an “asterix” (Letters, 8 October). Don’t aks me.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
We all want to see positive headlines regarding the property market and house prices, and it’s been long overdue (Help to Buy may harm financial stability, say MPs, 8 October). The Help to Buy scheme is finally under way and comes with a firm promise by George Osborne to get 500,000 on to the property ladder and to ensure that bricks and mortar continue to deliver real returns to homeowners. It’s a fantastic scheme and one which we, and our peers, were glad to see introduced. Bring on a housing boom and let’s get Britain moving once again.
However, to complement it, I still believe a long-overdue holiday on stamp duty for first-time buyers is needed to stimulate growth and support this vital group of potential homeowners. It will be interesting to see if this is on the agenda for the autumn statement. A stamp duty holiday would have a significant impact on the economy as a whole. It’s also vital to reintroduce a similar incentive for all transactions which could also reflect the regional differences in house prices. But all in all, this could be the start of an exciting period for the property industry.
Managing director, Bishop’s Move
• A ladder is something that one goes up: an odd cliche, then, to keep using in the context of the present “housing bubblette” (Editorial, 7 October). Having been placed upon the chancellor’s Help to Buy ladder, his dupes can only hold on tight. Even when 20% underwritten by the taxpayer, some banks still won’t help him to prop it up. And the wall that it’s resting against needs 0.5% interest base rates to stay standing. Give it a year.
• The demand by lenders for big deposits has made home ownership very difficult for people without affluent parents. Help to Buy is an effective way to help them overcome this problem. But if it also leads to a house price boom that in turn leads to higher interest rates, then it will be counterproductive. To prevent this, the boost to demand from Help to Buy needs to be offset by reducing the demand from landlords. I suggest an announcement of the phasing out of mortgage interest being allowable as an expense that reduces the tax charged on rental income.
While translated into English in last week’s reports as tragedy, the word in Italian used by Pope Francis to describe the horrific loss of life in the Mediterranean was vergogna (More than 100 dead in boat tragedy at ‘gates of Europe’, 4 October). A more meaningful translation would be “shame”. This is not a mere detail. Tragedy implies that this slaughter is an event that we observe; shame means we are complicit and should assume responsibility.
To focus just on the people-smugglers misses the point. Of course, theirs is an evil trade profiting from human misery, but people-smuggling is the symptom and not the cause of migration. Tougher border controls, higher fences and more expensive surveillance systems won’t deal with the causes either. They will make things worse by driving more people into the perilous embrace of the smugglers. The causes of migration are overwhelmingly poverty, inequality and conflict. This is a humanitarian crisis that demands a humanitarian and European response. To paraphrase a currently popular soundbite: we are Europe, surely we can do better than this.
Professor Andrew Geddes
Department of politics, University of Sheffield
• Hugh Muir (Lessons of Lampedusa, 5 October) is right that we need to understand why people are so desperate as to undertake journeys such as the one that ended tragically last week. Eritrea, from which the majority of people on that boat seem to have come, is only ever in the news when disasters like this happen. The country has been under a dictatorship for more than 20 years. Opponents of the regime are routinely “disappeared”, tortured and executed. Men and women are subject to indefinite military service, lasting up to 20 years. There are now no universities, only training camps and re-education “colleges”. In these circumstances it is not surprising that thousands cross the borders every week, and are living in poverty in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Until the EU and the UN put effective pressure on Eritrea to change, and institute a systematic process for relocating Eritrean refugees from already impoverished countries to the west, tragedies like this will inevitably continue.
Tzeggai Yohannes Deres
Chair, Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change
• Jack Shenker’s analysis (People or borders first?, 4 October) looks behind the tragedy near Lampedusa. Of course, as he states, the traffickers are criminally responsible. However, migrants, driven by poverty, see their intended destination countries as being wealthy. Why are these countries, including the UK, wealthy? One reason is in their history of colonialism, exploiting the resources of countries by force. Left behind, when independence was granted, was a perceived link to a country that had become rich by theft. The exploitation behind the recent sinking only can be eradicated by addressing the root cause through a just settlement of colonial debts.
Jonathan Freedland’s article (Antisemitism does not always come doing a Nazi salute, 5 October) rightly pointed out how Jewish people and other ethnic and religious groups are discriminated against and criticised in many subtle ways. It is always deplorable. Whether or not the Daily Mail intended to be antisemitic we shall probably never know, but I wholeheartedly condemn that newspaper for its story about Ralph Miliband and its insensitivity towards his family.
What Freedland and many other commentators refuse to accept, however, is that criticism of Israel and Zionists who support that country is not antisemitism. It is anti-Israeli government, pure and simple. When I refer to Israel and the Israel lobby I mean just that. For me it has nothing to do with Jewish people in general. We are drawing attention to Israel’s disregard of international law and its apartheid system at home, causing huge suffering to the Palestinians and danger to the wider Middle East.
Freedland does no favours to Jewish people worldwide to look for antisemitism where none exists. Many of them deplore the policies of the Israeli government as much as I do. To accuse people of antisemitism in these circumstances does a disservice to Jewish people and protects Israel from the condemnation it deserves.
House of Lords
• Jonathan Freedland comments perceptively on the Daily Mail’s attack on the late Ralph Miliband. A wider perspective is offered by David Nirenberg’s magisterial study, Anti-Judaism. Nirenberg demonstrates the role that Judaism, as distinct from the activities or even presence of actual Jews, has played, and continues to play, in enabling Christian and Islamic societies to make sense of, and attempt to resolve, problems within their own cultures.
Historically, such problems tended to be religious, but in more recent times they are likely to relate to issues of economic and social power. Thus linking a generalised, malign representation of Judaism to either the control of economic resources (Jew bankers etc) or to a critique of economic power structures (communist/Jewish conspiracies) becomes a useful – indeed indispensable – tool for established elites, some of which may, indeed, include individual Jews. In this context it is interesting, for example, to reflect on the activities of Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, etc who were active during the period that Miliband and others were publicly developing and refining critiques of capitalist power structures. The Cambridge four (or five), undiscovered largely due to their impeccable establishment credentials, could indeed betray the country they hated for decades.
• After such a successful Labour conference, no one can be surprised that the Daily Mail sought to discredit the Labour leader through association with a distorted version of his late father’s Marxist politics. But this slur could have taken many forms. By falsely portraying Ralph Miliband as an eternal outsider who “hated Britain” and left an “evil legacy”, doubt could be cast on whether his son is sufficiently “one of us” to become prime minister. To completely disassociate this portrayal from the long heritage of characterising Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans” in thrall to either international socialism or international capitalism would be like failing to make the link between those who cast doubt on President Barack Obama’s birthplace with centuries of rampant racism.
• It was brave of Jonathan Freedland to write about antisemitism and I share much of his analysis. But, as one occasionally accused of just that because of my trenchant criticism, in and out of parliament, of Israel’s policies and conduct in the West Bank and Gaza, may I mention three issues which, had he addressed them, would have afforded his article even more balance? First, the very many Jews (here and in Israel) who despair of what Israel is doing in Palestine and dare to say so publicly are apt to be blasted as “self-hating”. Second, in my own experience, the charge of antisemitism is more often than not deployed to shut one up – aimed, if you like, at the person and not the issues. For one brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust, such would-be censors know that the word carries uniquely vile connotations. Third, what Israel continues doing in the West Bank and Gaza is losing it sympathy far and wide, and in the medium- to long-term threatening its very existence. It also provides a cover for real antisemitism.
House of Lords
• Your correspondent Josephine Bacon (Letters, 2 October) imputes to me hostility to Israel because I am critical and fearful of policies it pursues. Far from it: most of my immediate family are Israelis and my grandfather more than a century ago was an early protagonist for the Jewish state and a colleague of Theodor Herzl. My stance is simply that, until it comes to terms with and tackles the root cause of Arab and Muslim antipathy, the expropriation and colonisation of large swaths of Palestinian lands and its denial of justice to Palestinians, Israel will always be regarded as a pariah state and its long-term survival will never be assured. My desire and the object of my critique is to see an Israel in a secure peace and friendship with its neighbours and that will never be achieved in a perpetually militarised Middle East always on the brink of annihilation.
• I agree with Jonathan Freedland’s analysis of the insidious antisemitic subtext in the Daily Mail’s attack on the Milibands. The newspaper did, however, employ my German-Jewish grandfather, Frederic Manasseh, in the days when antisemitism was overt rather than latent. He reported the siege of Sidney Street for the paper in 1911, a media sensation when Latvian anarchists held a bloody standoff with police. Winston Churchill, then home secretary, was at the scene. “Who are you?” he asked my grandfather. My grandfather replied: “Daily Mail.” Churchill responded: “I envy you.” Not a response one would expect to hear, even from Michael Gove.
Bashyr Aziz (Letters, 7 October) dismisses the exchanges between Sinead O’Connor and Miley Cyrus as “a feud between two obscure singers”. As a teenage girl growing up in 1980s Ireland, I found Sinéad’s courage in speaking out about the Catholic church’s silence on sexual abuse or state hypocrisy in relation to abortion were an inspiration in speaking truth to power. At a time of tradition and taboo, she stood her ground and spoke out on behalf of others. She has also been brave in her openness in talking about mental health.
It seems to me that the exchanges between her and Miley are as relevant a subject of reportage as any other issue in contemporary culture. It is surely of interest to contrast the way in which Sinéad could speak and be heard on issues of importance in public life (though she was vilified for this), whereas Miley seems to be engulfed by the pornification of popular culture. Sinéad O’Connor gave me heart as a teenager, whereas Miley Cyrus looks destined to be an unfortunate cautionary tale.
Hurst Green, Lancashire
Despite his fine account of recent disputes between the US and South American countries, Mark Weisbrot is altogether more sanguine about the possibility of good relations between the US and South America than any rational person ought to be (US ought to take the hint from Brazil’s snub, 27 September).
Since the Spanish-American war and the birth of American imperialism, the US has always treated South Americans with contempt and brutality. Obama’s support for US “vulture capitalists” vis-à-vis Argentina is not some aberration: it is a reversion to the norm. Think United Fruit. It is remarkably easy to uncover examples of vicious US behaviour towards South America. Think Arbenz, think Allende, think Goulart. Though I am certainly biased, I cannot think of one US policy that has been unequivocally to the benefit of South Americans.
Though he was speaking in particular about Asia, what George Kennan said in his notorious Memo PPS23 (written 28 February 1948, declassified 17 June 1974) applies equally to South America: “We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population … Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction … We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism … We should cease to talk about vague … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratisation. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
The controversial Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is to be congratulated for popularising Darwinism, but in attempting to replace religion with science he may be barking up the wrong tree (‘I don’t think I am strident or aggressive’, 27 September). Humans throughout history seem to have felt there are forces beyond their rational grasp, and thus a need to express their awe through prayer and ritual directed at imaginary powers.
It’s true that such feelings have often been exploited by leaders, not always in wholesome ways. The challenge is to find out ways to moderate these feelings to benefit all, rather than attempt to use evolution, or science in general, to replace them. In any case, science may not be the best substitute for this, as it too has its limitations.
Science cannot, for example, yet formulate, let alone satisfactorily answer, questions such as how the first energies came from “nothing”, or into what “realm” the universe is expanding; the “model-dependent realisms” offered in explanation, with often little prospect of empirical testing, could also be construed as just belief systems based on extreme fantasy and imagination rather than on observable fact.
• One wonders if there is anyone out there who has copped as much flak as Richard Dawkins for refusing to accept the existence of God. As a scientist, Dawkins’s reputation rests on evidence that proves his claim, and not on guesswork or wishful thinking. If Dawkins were the result of creation rather than evolution, then his creator would have been aware that anyone blessed with such a fine mind was likely to set out in search of the truth – no matter what field he chose to study.
Those who take a dim view of Dawkins must be envious of his intellectual prowess, through which he can put across his case much more cogently than his opponents can theirs.
Burradoo, NSW, Australia
Action can be overrated
I perfectly agree with Oliver Burkeman and his analysis of the “proliferation of pointlessness” in modern society (27 September). We have valued too much financial growth and the very idea of action, whatever it may be, over thought. We always say: “This is easier said than done”, but when things are badly said, they are also badly done. We hear the philosopher being told: “We’ve spoken enough, it’s time to act!”
But it’s a trap. Action people –there are hundreds that fly over my head every two minutes (I’m writing from the outskirts of an airport) – make a deafening din. One day, we will have to draw up the balance sheet of their actions. Maybe we will discover that they participate in self-sustaining activities, of a perfectly nonsensical entropy, of too spontaneous initiatives the ends of which weren’t at first set down, analysed and decided.
We must have faith to believe that entropy leads to equilibrium when we see chaos almost everywhere. Action people follow an inertia of which they know almost nothing and it’s probably time now to bring thinking back into favour.
And where are you from?
Growing up in an international environment as a third-culture kid (Where am I from? 13 September), I identified with Heather Long, fed up of people trying to pin her down. Spending over half my childhood in Switzerland away from my parents’ cultures (English and Dutch), I learned to build relationships with every culture, yet didn’t have full ownership of any.
Where I am from doesn’t seem to matter. Friendships with people from around the world are exciting. Friends from Sweden, Ecuador, Australia and India allow me to capture and appreciate different traditions and ideas. I don’t become stuck in the neighbourhood bubble. In this wired society, it doesn’t matter where you are from. We must embrace the opportunities that other cultures offer.
The problem of Greece
Certainly the debt-driven internal social tensions in Greece are alarming, as Helena Smith indicates (27 September). Equally disturbing is the international tension hinted at but not developed in her fine report on the subject. In particular, it is her report of bellicose talk within Greece aimed at the troika of creditor nations that rings alarm bells.
Things could really hot up internationally in Europe if an anti-troika mood were to become widespread in Greece and other European countries where similar dire economic conditions and popular hardship prevail.
The point is that if the internal unity of the debtor nations holds, the desperation described for Greece by Smith may be directed outwards at the creditor nations with disintegrative consequences for the EU as a whole.
Civil war in Greece is, then, only one possible worst-case scenario arising from the European debt crisis.
Of course these debtor countries are too weak to assert their interests internationally by themselves. That’s why it will be interesting to see what sort of international alignments and alliances these countries develop throughout the rest of this century as they seek to sort out their economic problems within the wider turbulent context of international power plays.
Adelaide, South Australia
Sharing the smugness
Time for some healthy sneering, I think. I have been a committed reader of Guardian Weekly since living in rural Uganda for some years in the 90s so I have on many occasions read the gentle sneers made at organised religion, or the smug and overt sneers included regularly in Notes & Queries. Well, it is more, somehow, grown up and broad-minded isn’t it to look down on all those folk who, perhaps, haven’t read enough, or seen enough of the world to know better.
Now, for once, I too can enjoy the smugness of the condescenders thanks to Sunday Assembly preaches to the growing global congregation of the godless (27 September). Meeting (on a Sunday, to boot) to sing a few jolly songs and hear a feel-good speaker – is that the best you can do? How long before they start taking up a collection? How long before they start worrying over falling attendances? How hopeless. How thin.
So sneer all you like, liberal-minded elite. I now know what the competition looks like!
Referendums are not dumb
If Mats Persson’s believes that a 49-51% referendum result would be a “worst possible outcome” (Sweden’s referendum and the UK, 20 September), what does he make of an electoral system that routinely converts pluralities into majorities? Persson tells us that he used to be sceptical of referendums, but he does not say how he feels about such votes now.
Even a cursory glance at Switzerland, the undisputed home of government by referendum, will confirm that the people are capable of making unwise – not to say dumb – decisions. However, when measured as a percentage of their total, dumb decisions made by elected assemblies of politicians most likely outnumber dumb decisions made through referendums. Switzerland’s political, social and economic stability may not be due to the country’s reliance on referendums, but neither can it be suggested that the referendum has harmed its development.
Terrace, British Columbia, Canada
• I almost choked on Alan Mitcham’s assertion (Reply, 20 September): “Yes, we are burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow and no one is saying that this is wrong.”
No one? Really? Saying that this is wrong seems like at least half the content of the letters page, in many issues. If there ever has been an issue of the GW that didn’t get the boot into fossil fuels, the omission must surely have been accidental.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
• Your headline The city risking the wrath of Wall Street (27 September) perhaps says more about the world than it means to. A very naive reader might wonder why a whole city would be afraid of one street. The reality of course, is that it is Wall Street that most of us hold responsible for the financial crisis that the article alludes to. So why is Wall Street not afraid of the wrath of the rest of us?
As a resident of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was frustrated to read Dan Snow’s 5 October article, “The Democratic Republic of Congo: Where hell is just a local call away”, with his documentary showing on television tonight (9 October).
Congo, the Congolese people and the Congolese economy have suffered from over 20 years of war. The realities that Mr Snow describes cannot be denied. However, it is time to change the narrative surrounding both the DRC and Africa more broadly. The mainstream media portrays the country, and the continent, in sensationalist terms. Congo is described by Mr Snow as “hell”.
Readers of your newspaper may be surprised to learn that, in fact, Congo is not “hell”. Despite the conflict, life continues – even here in Goma. Congolese businesses are flourishing, the economy is growing, and external investment is pouring in. Civil society is both active and engaged. Universities and schools are developing and professionalising. The DRC recently gained a BBB credit rating from Moody’s, with 8 per cent growth forecast in the next year.
It is time the Western narrative on “Africa” – as backward, stuck in a crisis, and in need of our help – changed. Despite the challenges, Africa is also a continent of opportunity and exploding development. Congo is no exception.
Tom O’Bryan, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
Help for bright children from poor families
You approve of government support for assisted places at private schools for “bright children from poorer backgrounds” (leading article, 4 October). But why only the brightest? Why not the less able? They are as deserving of support, arguably, more so.
Of course, that isn’t going to happen. The truth is that our multi-tier system is a hideous, divisive mess. Unless the authorities finally accept that, as the evidence shows, a properly run comprehensive system produces the best outcomes, we will make no progress.
Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury
Government-assisted places may be long dead, but assisted places in independent schools are not. Many independent schools continue to invest heavily to ensure that their schools are accessible to all pupils of ability: King Edward’s School has over 100 pupils here for free.
Of course, there is the argument that such a scheme creams off the best from state schools, but we continue to believe that bringing able pupils together does give them the best chance of fulfilling their potential. As one of this school’s pupils wrote as he left last year to read maths at Cambridge: “Without this school, I would not have the opportunity to be exposed to people who are genuinely interested in what they want to study, as well as teachers who actively encourage students to pursue their academic interests. It is because of this environment that I am able to discover what I want to study and to do so at the university of my dreams.”
It’s a shame that government policy does not make such an education more widely available; once, 85 per cent of this school’s pupils were here for free.
John Claughton, Chief Master, King Edward’s School, Birmingham
The chairman elect of The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference asserts that it is illogical to see buying a house, car or holiday as acceptable, but paying to educate a child privately as not (“Headmaster rails against stigma of private school education”, 1 October). That’s fine if education is nothing more than a commodity; but isn’t there something missing here?
Isn’t education also about encouraging young people to become good citizens in a society of shared values, not just consumers out to get all the advantages on the ladder to the top?
Anthony Blane, Nottingham
If the teachers in the 11-16 comprehensive school my son attended shared Martin Murray’s view (letter, 5 October) that “anyone who has taught in a comp” would know that the “dominating ethos” would prevent motivated pupils from flourishing, they were remarkably successful in disguising it.
The ethos they created was one of aspiration, opportunity, encouragement and support. The GCSE results would have been a credit to any school, and the most able pupils went on to obtain excellent A-level results at the local sixth form college before going on to university.
In my experience motivated pupils, working-class or otherwise, can and do do well in comprehensive schools.
John Till, Regional Officer, North and Mid Wales, Voice, the union for education professionals, Shrewsbury
Magical cure that costs nothing
If 37,000 deaths and 295,000 diabetic cases, along with 5,000 cases of bowel cancer, could be prevented by a “breakthrough” pill, potion or medical procedure that would make front-page news – and rightly so (and no doubt cost the NHS a fortune).
But because the answer to stopping all this death and misery is walking just 2.5 hours a week and a bit of gentle exercise, something we have to do for ourselves rather than popping a pill, this story is a 200-word piece at the bottom of page 19 (7 October).
Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent
Last April, your health correspondent reported that halving your salt intake would prevent death, and now we read that walking 2.5 hours per week (remember, that’s 2.5, not 2.4 or 2.6) could prevent 37,000 deaths (remember, that’s 37,000, not 36,000 or 38,000).
So when you decide to get your stopwatch out and walk for 2.5 hours next week, remember to take your tomato sandwiches with you, but don’t add salt!
Dr Nick Maurice
Wind farms in the wrong places
Stuart Bowles in his letter, headed “Wind of change from Denmark” (4 October), highlights what a disastrous policy we have in this country when the siting of wind farms is left to the energy companies, whose only real interest is making even more profit.
Hundreds of thousands of people in a rural areas have witnessed the dirty tricks used to gain planning permission, and complete contempt for local residents’ wishes.
If the Government were to cut the obscene subsidies energy companies receive for building wind turbines, I am convinced few applications would be submitted, as many would not be profitable, because of inappropriate siting.
Successive governments are at fault, although the Lib Dems’ solid backing on this even at local council level probably makes them the worst offenders, as in their dash to highlight their green credentials they have allowed energy companies to litter rural landscapes with inappropriate sitings of these goliath machines.
Michael W Cook
No reasoning with the nasty party
Andy Thornton and Colin Crilly (letters, 4 October) both protest and despair at the unjust and destructive policies of our government.
Nothing new has happened: events are following their natural course. We have allowed our government to fall into the hands of a right-wing party, and they are just doing what all right-wing parties do – paying lip-service to democratic ideals while working deviously and often witlessly on behalf of the elites.
There in no point in complaining or trying to reason with them. Working on behalf of the elites is their rôle, and that is what they will do until they are removed. The sooner that is, the less they will destroy of the fabric of our lives.
Dennis Leachman, Reading
I note that Theresa May is “sending a very clear message to judges” because she doesn’t like the way they interpret human rights law. This follows her threat to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (thus putting us on a par with Belarus, the “last dictatorship in Europe”, as the only countries not to be party to it), and her decision to send anti-illegal-immigrant vans into areas with high ethnic minority populations.
Is this the same Theresa May who in 2002 warned the Conservatives about being the “nasty” party?
Michael Bennie, Newton Abbot, Devon
The science of climate
Mike Park (letter, 8 October), cynically attacks the scientific organisations supporting the recent IPCC report because their raison d’être depends on the existence of global warming.
Presumably then, if a panel of philologists, butchers, independent financial advisers, dancers, poets, vicars and gamekeepers came up with the same answer as the IPCC report, this might convince him.
Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire
I was dismayed by the tone of the letter from Mike Park. It is not for me to defend those accused of bias or worse; I am sure they are capable of doing so for themselves, or perhaps ignoring the cheap slurs.
I would suggest to your discerning readers that a report cannot be dismissed as a conspiracy when it arises from discussion between 800 scientists around the world considering over 9,000 scientific papers.
Any scientist who allows preconceived ideas or self-interest to bias, let alone falsify, their conclusions can be certain that invalid results will soon be discovered and would force retraction and consequent professional disgrace.
Scientists are the true sceptics and will not accept any results that cannot be independently reproduced and critically verified.
Roger Knight, Swansea
Prohibition causes crime
Peter Hitchens is a poor student of human history (letter, 1 October). When all drugs were legal in the US, prior to 1913, and Bayer heroin sold for about the same price as Bayer aspirin, the term “drug-related crime” did not exist in the English language.
Prohibition has given us the crime, death and destroyed lives as a side-effect of a misguided effort to control what people put into their own bodies.
Santa Cruz, California, USA
If my fellow Windsorian Stan Labovitch (letter, 8 October) believes that the majority of people of his white, middle-class “milieu” don’t want re-nationalisation of energy companies, I can assure him that he is wrong and should probably get out and socialise a bit more to gain a balanced opinion based on the views of the majority.
While homecare is one very important strand of care offered, specialist housing has an important role
Sir, The Leonard Cheshire report (Oct 7) is stark reading. We would expect our loved ones to be given appropriate time and adequate care, not a rushed service that leaves individuals questioning what tasks to prioritise in terms of supporting their own wellbeing.
I support the charity’s call to make care visits at least 30 minutes. In addition we call on local authorities to wake up to the fact that provision of specialist housing for older people is woefully inadequate. Planning departments must face the fact that the population of over-85s is set to double in the next 20 years.
While homecare is one very important strand of care offered to the elderly and people with disabilities, specialist housing has an important role in relation to an individual’s health and wellbeing. Retirement communities combine specialist housing, care and community on one site, providing elderly people with care and security as and when they need it at their own front door. We believe that independent housing with 24/7 care delivered in a community setting presents the best solution for many older people in the UK. Staff living onsite will not have their time stretched and can be used more effectively to support individual needs, while also tackling the social isolation that many older people experience.
Associated Retirement Community Operators
Sir, As a carer for the past 15 years, I work for an excellent private agency — which I believe charges less than our local council — but we do not now make 15-minute calls. If one is efficient and well trained, it is possible to achieve quite a lot in 15 minutes and be friendly. I have often taken an elderly person to the lavatory, given her/him medication and made a cup of tea and a sandwich in that time. Doing these jobs, does not preclude conversation. However, it is not possible to help someone out of bed (they may well be arthritic and stiff), do a shower, help the client to dress and prepare breakfast and give medication in this time. It can take up to an hour in some cases.
What the carer is paid is so much less than the client has to pay. Agencies and councils must cover their costs, so mileage is also added to their administrative fees. I have felt sad when on occasion a call has been cut simply because the client cannot afford it. Caring for people at home is the most rewarding job in the world. Most carers do it happily and willingly, despite the work being physically hard and often emotional.
The simple answer is more money, and I believe that it can only come from increased taxation.
Inkpen Common, Berks
Sir, In the course of my work I have visited very many elderly and exceedingly disabled people and I can assure Mr Padgham of the “UK Homecare Association” (report, Oct 7) that in my local authority some ten years ago, these people were lucky if they had 15 minutes of a carers’ time — about five minutes was more likely. Whenever I questioned this with the carers I was told that it was not their decision but their employers who put them under such time pressures that they had to rush through their day.
Overpriced housing means that thousands of young people are unable to get on the housing ladder – rates are not the problem
Sir, You are wrong to describe a rate of interest of 6 per cent as unaffordable (report, Oct 7). It is the value of the property in the example, over eight times earnings of the putative buyer, that is unaffordable. For 35 out of the past 40 years, 6 per cent would be regarded as a low mortgage rate.
Overpriced housing means that thousands of young people are unable to get on the housing ladder. Instead they must rent from the very people who contribute to excess prices in the first place: the buy-to-let landlords who can obtain mortgage rates of around 4 per cent on a £250,000 loan with a 90 per cent loan to value. To add insult to injury, the buy-to-let landlord only pays tax on the rental income after deduction of interest charges; the absence of similar tax concessions for owner-occupiers results in an iniquitous market in which landlords grow ever wealthier.
There is a cross-party consensus that we face a property crisis but no party seems to have a clue how to solve it. The Tories are committed to inflating an asset price bubble to create the illusion of economic recovery and boost the feelgood factor, and Labour believes wrongly that it can control the market by diktat. Meanwhile base rates can only increase and before long young people will look longingly back at cheap rates of 6 per cent. Politicians should develop policies to fix the supply side of the market as well as measures to reduce demand such as taxing landlords on a higher proportion of their rental income.
We are now entering the critical period when the boards of water companies must consider the prices they charge to customers
Sir, Rising utility prices and the consequences for customers have been of concern to Ofwat for some time, particularly as average household incomes have fallen.
We are now entering the critical period when the boards of water companies must consider the prices they propose to charge customers over the next five years. It will be essential that they behave responsibly.
We have called on companies to share any gains they have made with their customers. There is scope for them to offer reductions in prices to their customers and invest for the future. If they don’t offer reductions, water company boards will have to explain why prices need to stay at current levels or even be increased.
If the water companies don’t provide adequate scrutiny we, as the sector regulator, will be forced to step in.
Chief Regulation Officer, Ofwat
Perhaps the Government should admit that we need investment in power plants rather than expanding airports unnecessarily
Sir, The National Grid warns us that we risk blackouts because of a lack of investment in new power plants (report, Oct 8). Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Airports Commision, says that Heathrow and Gatwick may both be allowed to build runways to meet demand (Business, Oct 8). Perhaps the Government should admit that we need investment in power plants more than runways. Or is there a plan to ensure that we can easily fly away during power cuts?
Nutley, E Sussex
There is something almost allegorical about the image of someone resting their hand on a Bible out of reluctant obligation
Sir, I read with interest that the Magistrates’ Association is to discuss concerns that many people do not take the Bible oath seriously (report, Oct 7) — or, as one Bristol magistrate has put it, that too many people now shrug their shoulders or say “whatever” and feel no meaningful connection with it.
There is something almost allegorical about the image of someone resting their hand on a Bible out of reluctant obligation and shrugging an unthinking “whatever”. For much of our society this is the only way they have.ever.encountered Scripture: as a closed book, associated with authoritarian overtones, and with little or no sense of its contents.
.It is no coincidence that at the same time Ofsted says that “very few children [are] being taught in school to get to grips with religion”. For years now, teachers have lacked adequate training and confidence to tackle the Bible robustly. Where children are getting any engagement with Scripture at all, it is tentative and tepid.
.We could choose to give this up as a lost cause. Or we could talk about people such as Martin Luther King and William Wilberforce who were inspired to great social good by the Bible. We could point out its influence on our literature, laws, music, art and architecture. We could point to the millions of people who find inspiration, comfort, challenge and hope in its words. I strongly contend that an open Bible out of court is better than a closed one in it.
SIR – Your report (October 3) about rival ice cream jingles reminded me of my time as an ice cream seller.
In the Sixties, when I was at Salisbury Theological College, I had a holiday job selling ice creams all round Salisbury Plain. I was told that if I entered a housing estate and another van was selling ice creams, I should keep one road ahead of him and not sound my jingle.
That way people would know that a van had arrived, but they would see me first.
Canon Rodney Matthews
SIR – Chris Packham, presenter of the BBC’s Autumnwatch, encourages people to feed the friendly urban foxes (report, October 7). These comments show that he has little understanding of the serious health hazards associated with foxes.
Leaving food out for foxes will encourage the rat population to increase. Both are disease carriers. Fox faeces left in parks and people’s gardens can cause eye problems and blindness, especially if children come into contact with them. Foxes are wild creatures, not semi-domesticated animals which can be wormed or deloused on a regular basis. Would he or others feel the same way if 20,000 wild urban dogs were allowed to roam the streets of London unhindered?
As the human population in Britain grows, along with increases in housing, culling has to take place to prevent starvation and disease from killing off our wildlife. Control is of the essence.
Chichester, West Sussex
SIR – Before declaring reports of foxes invading people’s homes “improbable”,
Stealth tactics used by ice cream van rivals
08 Oct 2013
Mr Packham might have checked with the producers of the BBC’s Animal Hospital, although it is sadly no longer on the air.
They reported call-outs to the RSPCA to several houses. They could have covered more, as only the most unusual cases were shown. They even showed a fox running around in Selfridges.
SIR – For foxes to enter houses is not as “improbable” as Mr Packham believes. A fox entered my neighbour’s house, went upstairs, ate the back of some leather shoes, and left a deposit on her carpet. A fox also entered my house and made off with a shoe, but my alert son chased it, and it dropped the shoe.
Will we be feeding foxes? I don’t think so. We don’t leave the door open either.
SIR – When visiting my sister in north London last year, I was in the process of loading my luggage into the car for an early morning departure. I left the front door ajar and when I returned to the house I found a large fox in the living room. And it was not particularly friendly.
I used a copy of The Daily Telegraph to shoo it out of the house.
SIR – I am not at all worried about foxes entering our house, nor about being attacked by one. I do, however, resent the fact that they continually dig up our lawn, defecate all over the garden and leave stinking nests where they have settled in flower beds.
A vast majority of the foxes in our area look full of mange, and are extremely sick. The kindest answer would be shooting them, not feeding them.
SIR – You say, rightly, that “a country that cannot control its borders cannot control its destiny” (leading article, October 7). Sadly, it is difficult to see what the forthcoming Immigration Bill will achieve, other than providing politicians with the opportunity to claim that they are doing something about the issue.
If GPs are to be held responsible for ensuring that patients are entitled to free treatment, and employers for ensuring that applicants are entitled to work, it is up to the Government to ensure that our borders are secure and that legal immigrants are provided with proof of entitlement.
One of the major problems is our membership of “an EU with open borders”. If the Bill does not include a provision for checking the validity of all those coming here through legal channels, including EU citizens, it will be no more effective than a bit of sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Similarly, the Bill must include clauses to ensure that our courts do not allow the European Convention on Human Rights to override our elected Government’s attempts to deport those illegal immigrants, and other undesirable elements, who are caught.
In the unlikely event that such provisions are incorporated into the Bill, there will be no need for Adam Afriye, the Tory MP, to try to force an EU referendum in 2014.
Help to Buy
SIR – I had to smile when I read the headline “First-time buyers ‘deserve same chance as parents’” (report, October 7) and the ensuing comments by George Osborne in defence of his taxpayer-backed Help to Buy scheme.
When we purchased our first house in the early Seventies, mortgages were rationed; we waited for 12 months for funds to be made available by our building society (funded by its savers).
We were also required to make a full 10 per cent cash deposit, hold a savings account with our building society for a year, and were only permitted to borrow the equivalent of two and a half times the main wage earner’s salary. Inflation ranged into the high teens throughout much of the decade. A golden age in which to buy a house it most certainly was not.
Hotel Wi-Fi charges
SIR – Alex Polizzi, the hotelier (Travel, September 28), says that the question she is asked more frequently than any other is: “Why are hotel guests charged for Wi-Fi?”
Many travellers nowadays regard Wi-Fi as an absolute necessity, like hot water and towels. The fact that a hotel claims to have signed an inflexible contract for it is neither here nor there.
If it had signed an onerous contract for hot water, would it charge separately for that?
SIR – When reading about Annie Lennox and Miley Cyrus (report, October 7), I think back to when I used to go to see Ella Fitzgerald perform.
Matronly in appearance, she hardly moved, didn’t have scantily clad dancers, flashing lights or lasers, and was backed simply by a stationary trio or quartet.
Yet she still kept her audience enthralled. Why do present-day singers need all these distractions – because they cannot sing?
Muslim terror response
SIR – Allison Pearson (“After Kenya, no more turning the other cheek to those who hate us”, Comment, September 26) asked where the Muslim condemnation of the Westgate attack in Nairobi was. Soon after the attack, the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims condemned al-Shabaab and their actions as un-Islamic, and a week later joined in multi-faith prayers for the victims and their families. Somali clerics did the same. In early September, after an earlier attack on a restaurant in Mogadishu, 160 Somali religious scholars had issued a fatwa against al-Shabaab, saying that the organisation had no basis in Islam.
Two of the first people to arrive on the scene at Westgate were Kenyan-Somali Muslims, one leading the Red Cross and the other rescuing trapped hostages. The Somali community in Nairobi has provided assistance to soldiers and volunteers throughout.
In other countries and circumstances, Muslim leaders may have shied away from condemnation of atrocities for fear of reprisals. But in this instance, the contribution of Kenyan and Somali Muslims, at great risk to their own lives in many cases, ought to be recognised.
SIR – What a dismal analysis from tobacco control and public health “experts” (Letters, October 5). Medicines regulation for e-cigarettes is in no way permissive. It is costly, lengthy, cumbersome, and will drive many current distributors out of the market, leading to a limited number and choice of products.
The end result will be to favour a few big players, mostly tobacco companies entering this market. The rise of e-cigarettes has been a remarkable example of consumer-led public health – with no help from experts and at no cost to the taxpayer. One wonders how many of the signatories read the medicine licensing documentation on this before signing the letter?
Professor Gerry Stimson
SIR – There’s no doubt that a good bowlful of porridge sets you up for the day (report, October 4). Porridge can be soaked overnight in water or milk, microwaved, or cooked on the hob. Sultanas and honey are excellent, but so is a chopped-up banana.
A bewildering ritual of chairs and prayers
SIR – Ginny Hudson’s letter (October 7) about having to tuck in her chair at convent school reminds me of my own experience.
Starting school as a five-year-old in the mid-Fifties was bewildering enough, but the most bewildering event happened at the end of every day. The teacher would say (without any pauses): “Chairs on tables hands together and eyes closed”, followed by a prayer. It took a very long time to realise that the chair bit was to do with the cleaner, and not to do with God.
SIR – Making her regal progress from breakfast, my wife invariably leaves her chair at a rakish angle, well away from the table. I have considered leaving it there just to see how long it stays. Unfortunately I find I need to tuck it under in order to clear the table and load the dishwasher.
SIR – In the cadet mess hall at Dartmouth in the late Forties there was no question
of tucking one’s chair in, for we sat in rows on long backless benches.
Cadet lore had it that the mess stewards were instructed to aim their serving trolleys at any protruding back, thus training future naval officers not to lounge at the mess table.
Captain Alistair Macdonald RN
Eastbourne, East Sussex
SIR – The lack of ferrules on the feet of chair legs plus hard floors make it difficult to tuck in chairs without causing a rumpus.
SIR – Tucking in the chair is usually accompanied by a neatly folded napkin. Isn’t it a polite way of saying, I don’t want to come again?
SIR – Chair etiquette spills over into hostelry etiquette here in the Shires, where you simply can’t leave a pub without returning your glass to the bar.
Sir, – Before Micheál Martin adopts “smug” as his default setting, he should realise that the rejection of Amendment 32 was not a triumph for him. I voted No partly because the next Fianna Fáil government – and someday, God help us, there will be one – must have a second chamber to balance the power it will wield. I hope that by then we have a fully reformed, democratically elected Seanad to keep them honest.
Meanwhile, there’s the chance that the Seanad, even in its present form, can keep Enda Kenny’s lot from losing the run of themselves. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – All 60 Seanadóirí should be required to attend from 9am until 3pm daily. The Seanad should have all its windows and exits sealed and the hot air generated within should be bottled and used to heat Dáil Éireann. This would be both good for the environment and result in a saving for the exchequer. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Now that the Seanad is to be retained, it needs to be made effective by reforming its electoral system, with a view to allowing citizens to influence panels reflecting areas of expert knowledge. The panels as set up in 1938 need to be adapted to current requirements. The current restricted electorate, based on an incomplete university graduate sector, and local government councillors, is anomalous, unsuitable, unrepresentative of citizens.
For example, education, industry, agriculture, commerce, finance, science, technology, environment, local government, religion all have organisations capable of nominating potential senators having expertise relevant to legislation. Citizens should be entitled to vote on perhaps three panels, whichever concerns them most, at election-time – which should coincide with a general election.
Candidates on each panel should receive a preference-ranking vote from each voting citizen. The number elected per panel should reflect the number of citizens who select each panel. This might vary, depending on the strength of public concern about issues within each topic.
I look forward to seeing something along these lines emerging in the discussions about reform. – Yours, etc,
ROY H W JOHNSTON,
Rathmines Park, Dublin 6.
Sir, – When I went to my local polling station, did I expect to be presented with two different coloured voting slips? No! Had I been advised through the media of this colour proposal and their representations? No! Was there on either voting slip even the simplest of logos such as a bewigged lawyer and curved seating chamber and harp to differentiate the voting slips? No! Did I require any further convincing as to my intention to vote No? No! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was somewhat astonished to read of the low turnout of voters in the referendum on the abolition of the Senate. This result must surely mark a low point in the existence of our political institutions, as it reveals to us that more than 60 per cent of voters couldn’t care less if we have a Senate or not. It also exposes the fact that our rulers, that class of self-interested, overpaid, protected and self-important individuals, have lost the plot completely. They are totally out of touch with reality, or with the concerns and struggles of the ordinary people of Ireland as they strive daily to keep their lives together in the face of disasters brought upon them due to past and present ill-considered actions of our illustrious politicians. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Now that we have successfully retained the Seanad, perhaps we can now turn our attention to another pillar of democracy that is under threat. The abolition of town councils is on the departmental agenda for the past 40 years and at last the mandarins have found a Minister ready to do their bidding.
As a former member of a progressive town council for 20 years, I can vouch for the local democratic input into the decision-making process. In a town council there is no place to hide, as all important decisions taken by the members are done by roll-call vote.
Over the next few months there will be much mention of duplication of services, value for money and other meaningless phrases. Ignore them. The stark reality is that urban government is far more effective and economic than the larger county body.
If local government reform is the objective, then the model of a district council based on the large town plus its natural economic and social hinterland would be the only way to go. However, that is not what is envisaged and we have to ask, why not?
I am sure some readers will recall the “principle of subsidiarity” which was a great buzz phrase a number of years ago. Where is it now?
The past few days have shown that the people value democracy, and I feel it behoves us all to guard against its diminution in any way. If local democracy ebbs away it will be like our language – we will only miss it when its gone. – Yours, etc,
Midleton, Co Cork.
Sir, – I voted No in order to preserve an integral part of our inclusive democratic institutions, as I’m sure many others did.
I strongly object to a “protest against the Government” spin being applied to thoughtful, informed and determined voters who recognised the historical imperative.
I would also like to thank Paddy Power, who gave me a five to one win for my bet on a No outcome. – Yours, etc,
Plaza Frederico Moyua,
Sir, – It appears the No side now wants our Taoiseach to initiate Seanad reform. This is interesting given its portrayal of Enda Kenny as a power-grabbing dictator. Surely it is not safe to entrust the task of reform to such a person? – Yours, etc,
MARGARET LEE AHANE,
Sir, – The arguments presented by the Government for the abolition of the Senate were a more cogent case for the reform of the Dáil: 1. Reduce the Dáil by 60-plus; 2. Would save more than €20 million; 3. The Dáil did nothing in the face of the bank guarantee.
The Government further undermined its case in arguing 4. That €20 million would be saved – a statement that was blatantly false; 5. That the Senate was never reformed – surely the responsibility of the government, since the Senate itself could not initiate reform; and, most damaging of all, the refusal of Enda Kenny not to engage in public debate nor any formal discussion. He compounded this by trying to defend this refusal. – Yours, etc,
Hanover Square, Dublin 8.
Sir, – I have to confess to a rather undemocratic feeling of superiority over your columnists Fintan O’Toole and Breda O’Brien.
When voting on the proposal to abolish the Senate, I decided against taking the option exercised by O’Toole and O’Brien, ie, voting No and writing the word “Reform” across the ballot paper. Instead, I contented myself with a simple No vote, even though I felt at the time that the proposed abolition of the upper house would be carried nationally by a significant majority.
The casting of a vote represents the most practical expression of the democratic process in action. I found it difficult to see how that process would have been advanced if I had followed your two columnists in effectively spoiling my vote.
Perhaps the lessons we should draw from this referendum are the importance of trusting in the power of the individual voter and the even greater importance of refusing to allow opinion polls dictate how we exercise our franchise at the ballot box. – Yours, etc,
St Lawrence’s Road,
Clontarf, Dublin 3.
Sir, – The result of the Seanad vote is: Dublin 2, Mayo 0. Enda Kenny? End a story. Collapse of Chairman Mayo. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is time to return to the classical definition of a Seanad. It should consist of mature men and women whose life experiences in business, education, politics, education and religion are worth sharing with the citizens of this country for the benefit of all. Most importantly, they should be of independent means and give their services on a pro bono basis. – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.
Sir, – The Men Overboard articles (Weekend Review, October 5th & Life, October 7th) cast a spotlight on the crisis faced by many men arising from unemployment; and the impact of the attendant evils of worthlessness, an inability to cope and the lack of a role in life are quite shocking. That problems existed has been known for many years and acknowledged in a kind of desultory way whenever such issues as male suicide arose; but the customary exhortations dispensed glibly to men to get regular health checks and to talk out their anxiety and emotional problems with friends or with professional help are no longer sufficient.
Much more focused attention and serious effort is required from the State and the health services. One of the men interviewed put it starkly: “My biggest gripe is that the State doesn’t understand and no one is listening to the male point of view”. There are existing bodies catering for the special needs of women, children and the aged but not for men. It was felt they were fine, the top of the pile, but this is not so. Is it not time to set up a National Council for Men? – Yours, etc,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – “European Commission President José Manuel Barroso is due to visit Lampedusa tomorrow to discuss joint action on the refugee crisis following calls from Italian politicians for more help from the European Union” Breaking News, October 8th).
Given the “Bleak, overcrowded and unhygienic” conditions, reported by Carl O’Brien in our direct provision system (Front page, October 8th), we will hardly be expecting the land that gave the English language the term “coffin ships” to recognise this as anything resembling Ireland’s call to take anything other than a gombeen’s place, with its customary Nelsonian eye, “among the nations of the world”.
Decade of commemorations? – Yours, etc,
Wed, Oct 9, 2013, 01:05
First published: Wed, Oct 9, 2013, 01:05
Sir, – Dr Orla Hardiman has been quoted as saying that the HSE was using delaying tactics and elongating the appeals process for motor neuron disease patients applying for medical cards. Medical cards for motor neuron disease patients are not just to cover GP costs, but allow them access to ancillary primary healthcare services which is much more important.
However, Laverne McGuinness (Letters, July 23rd) stated, “The HSE’s overarching goal is to ensure that medical cards are issued to people who need them most”
Which statement is the more believable?
My own patient’s experience is that after her diagnosis she applied for a discretionary medical card with a letter of support from Dr Hardiman. She found out from the HSE website that she was initially refused on the maximum time limit of 15 working days after application. However, she could not appeal that refusal until she received correspondence from the relevant office.
I directly contacted the primary care reimbursement service myself on her behalf and was advised that she was refused a medical card on discretionary grounds as the office protocol was to refuse all such applications until the patient had exhausted the process of first applying for a medical card on financial grounds and being refused there before she could apply on medical grounds. The office did advise me that she could apply for an emergency card which would last six months.
After my intervention a discretionary, not an emergency, medical card was granted, which she received at the same time that she posted in all her financial details.
Four and a half months after she was granted her medical card, she has been informed that it is going to be rescinded. She has to start the whole process of applying for a medical card on financial grounds again with fresh income and expenses data which has not changed since she sent it in to the same office a few months earlier.
Is this how we should be treating the most deserving recipients’ of healthcare in our society? – Yours, etc,
Dr WILLIAM BEHAN,
Walkinstown, Dublin 12.
Sir, – I was pleased to read Seamus Hosey’s celebration of the life and work of Deirdre O’Connell (An Irishman’s Diary, October 7th),
I must, however, correct his assertion that she “mounted ambitious productions with no State funding or financial help”. When I became the Arts Council’s drama officer in 1985, I noted with satisfaction that her invaluable work in the Focus Theatre and in the Stanislavski Studio had been supported by the Arts Council for at least a decade previously.
It was always a delight to receive from Deirdre her handwritten grant applications, in which she meticulously set out the achievements of the previous year, in the Focus Theatre and the Stanislavski Studio, as well as her ambitions for the coming year.
When, during the 1990s, the Arts Council was able to increase the funding level to the Focus, the members urged that some of the increased funding be applied to supplement Deirdre’s income. The twinkle in her eye when I conveyed that to her left me in no doubt that the costume budget, or the design budget would also benefit.
Deirdre was one of that cohort of indomitable, visionary women who have graced the Irish theatre with their dreams, their determination, their leadership and their guidance, from Lady Gregory down to the present day, for the benefit of practitioners and audiences alike. Let us applaud them! – Yours, etc,
(Drama Officer 1985-2000)
St Augustine’s Park,
Blackrock, Co Dublin
Sir, – The rise or fall of an institution in one or other set of university rankings (often contradicted by another set) provides good copy and hyperbolic headlines (Home News, October 4th) . But for those of us on the ground, a few places up or down has no bearing on our day to day reality. We still have large student numbers, relatively small numbers of staff (declining year on year), inadequate resources, chronic underinvestment and a growing but serious morale problem.
None of these can be masked by temporary jumps up the higher education pop charts, any more than a slide implies any diminution in the standards of the teaching and research that we strive to produce. – Yours, etc,
Prof DANIELLE CLARKE,
School of English,
Drama and Film,
University College Dublin,
Sir, – The killing of cat by a jeering youth with a sub-machine gun in the opening episode of the new Love/Hate TV series has understandably shocked animal lovers nationwide (Home News, October 8th). I believe this heartfelt revulsion is somewhat misplaced. I found the scene objectionable too, but I would place it in the context of a drama that focuses on gangland thugs who, in real life, would be far too busy peddling drugs and killing each other to be bothered about shooting cats.
What concerns me a lot more is that we are into the opening weeks of a new hare coursing season and that animals are being horribly ill-treated for fun by gangs of so-called sportspeople – people who enjoy watching hares being hounded within the confines of a park or wired enclosure. There will be no guards to trouble them as this barbarism is perfectly legal in Ireland.
Soon the driven pheasant shoots will commence. Ladies and gentlemen of leisure will walk almost shoulder to shoulder along pre-arranged venues, blasting away at semi-tame birds that in many instances will obligingly waddle up to them to be shot. The field sport aficionados will sip brandy, whiskey or liqueurs as the beautiful creatures fall from the sky or are picked off at point blank range, their proud crests and multicoloured plumage reduced to mutilated, bleeding clumps of feathers.
Despite the terror and the cruelty they unleash, both the driven shooters and the hare coursers claim to care deeply for the creatures they prey upon.
A love/hate relationship if ever there was one. – Yours, etc,
(Campaign for the Abolition
of Cruel Sports),
Sir, – If you remove the two decimal points it will reveal that Michael Noonan is playing a game of “25” not “31”! – Yours, etc,
Listowel, Co Kerry.
08 October 2013
* Now that Ireland has decided to retain the Seanad, albeit by a slim majority, it is time not just to re-arrange the furniture in the chamber but to reconfigure the way democracy operates in Ireland. What we have managed to establish and sustain is a self-serving political elite.
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Dear Leader is the invisible man
Big langer indeed
In a representative democracy, one needs to have a robust system of accountability with the same rigour that is exercised by the British House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, particularly in the way that the chair, Margaret Hodge, confronts those who seek to waffle their way out of their responsibility for unprofessional conduct.
The Seanad, while purporting to be a critical counterpoint to the deliberations of the Dail, is perceived by many as a poorly attended, expensive talking shop, acting as a toothless addition to the political elite, presiding over the abandonment of fairness as a social ideal and the erosion of trust in Government. This provides grounds for radical reform but not for abolition.
Of course, we need a corrective to unfettered conduct in the Dail, but this is best achieved by strengthening the democratic voice of the electorate. Ireland is far too small for Government to operate at such a distance from the minds of its people.
If the governance of Ireland was attuned to the will of those it purports to serve, the Seanad would never have colluded in the self-conferred privileges, outlandish pensions and salaries that were harvested by those who brought Ireland to its knees.
The recipients are laughing all the way to the golf courses.
There is a strong seam of political illiteracy in Ireland, with the consequence that voting does not represent the deeper structure of the thoughtfulness of our people.
Political philosophy should be a compulsory element in the school curriculum so that we create a more critical electorate, raising the profile of exercising one’s voice, not just one’s vote.
Our voices are silenced until the onset of elections when our prejudices and self-interest are unscrupulously exploited.
Edith Road, Oxford
RETAINING THE SEANAD
* “A victorious but angry Trinity College senator Sean Barrett said Taoiseach Enda Kenny spent €20m on an ego trip,” a newspaper reported.
As well he might be angry. The children and adolescents of this republic of ours who have mental health illnesses continue to suffer, with chronic underfunding persisting and waiting lists growing. And we talk about suicide prevention!
The most effective way of decreasing the incidence of suicide is to provide the resources to treat psychiatric illnesses such as depression. How €20m (now spent – and for what?) might have helped.
Could we have a referendum on establishing a “court of appeal” for these children? This way they might actually get the services they are entitled to.
Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist,
Tinneranny, New Ross, Co Kilkenny
* The narrow referendum win by the ‘No’ campaign was clearly a protest vote against the government parties, because there is quite simply no justification to retain the Seanad.
Midleton, Co Cork
* Is it possible that ‘Dear Leader’ may feel that it is better to be thought a fool by keeping one’s mouth shut rather than removing any doubt by opening it?
* Has the Wallop Poll taken over from the Gallup Poll?
* The headlines in the Sunday papers in unison chorused “Humiliation for the Taoiseach” and “Defeat for the Government”. I do not agree. The only people humiliated in this farce parading as democracy are the people of Ireland.
Mr Kenny will continue as head of Government along with his Fine Gael and Labour compatriots. They will continue to receive grossly inflated wage packets and unaccounted expenses.
The greatest “humiliation” is the fact that 60pc of the electorate did not bother to exercise their franchise and the 40pc who did voted to retain an unelected, unrepresentative and, therefore, undemocratic upper house that will continue to provide a platform for unelectable failed politicians and the remnants of “Auld Decency”, the reminders of our colonial past. But then, didn’t the poor old Paddy or Patricia always need an establishment figure to tip his or her forelock to?
The electorate probably thinks that there will be reform of the upper house. I would say that the chances of that could be likened to the proverbial snowflake in hell.
No, things are fine just the way they are and in 10 years’ time they will remain so.
After all, the “ordinary people” were given the chance to reform the political system and it would seem that the largest percentage of them could not even be bothered to spend two minutes voting.
Ennis, Co Clare
* Whether or not the Taoiseach himself should have engaged in a referendum debate/”personality contest” is one thing. At least when he didn’t, Fine Gael’s Director of Elections, Richard Bruton, was deployed instead.
However, Fine Gael was only one half of the Government that was proposing those referendums. How come Labour had no representative in any of the televised debates I saw?
How come what should have been the other half of the Government ‘Yes’ side was represented wholly by Sinn Fein and Mary Lou McDonald, who were so quick to mobilise and distance themselves from the Government once more, before ever a vote had been tallied?
Surely, with Labour imploding in the polls (though we’ve been shown how accurate they are), they should be grabbing any reasonable publicity with both hands.
* “HSE gags surgeon after cholesterol drug claims” (Irish Independent, October 5). The aim of research is to find the truth, and not to silence the voices that raise legitimate concerns about drug safety or benefit.
Statin drugs do offer clinical benefits to a small group of patients who have had a stroke or heart attack; but the significance of these benefits is greatly diminished when calculated in absolute rather than relative terms, which are the routine modes of presentation to doctors and to the public.
The critics of Dr Sultan have an obligation to provide scientific evidence for their objections to his statements, and to quote clinical trial outcomes in absolute and not relative terms.
They also need to explain why lower, rather than higher, cholesterol levels are predictors of increased mortality in many clinical trials, and why some studies show more than a 50pc survival in heart failure when patient total cholesterol levels are higher, rather than lower.
They must also explain why patients with lower cholesterol levels have up to three times’ greater risk for mortality than those with higher cholesterol levels, and why the well respected Framingham Study reported an 11pc increase in cardio-vascular mortality for every 1pc mg/dl decline in cholesterol levels.
The shameful gagging by the HSE of a voice in the wilderness is not in the best interests of science.
Dr Neville Wilson
Medical Director, The Leinster Clinic, Maynooth, Co Kildare