18 October 2013 Leaves
I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble They are to be inspected by the admirals will Troutbridge pass? Priceless
Sell some books, Mary to the GP, sweep the leaves see Sandy briefly
We watch Hancock its not too bad
Scrabble today well sort off the game vanishes on my ipad half way through
Enos Nkala was a henchman of Robert Mugabe who orchestrated a brutal campaign against his own Ndebele people
5:29PM BST 17 Oct 2013
Enos Nkala, who has died aged 80, helped to mastermind the suppression of the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe in the 1980s, inflicting torture and terror at the behest of his master, Robert Mugabe.
The bitter twist was that Nkala came from Matabeleland and was himself Ndebele, the minority tribe singled out by this brutal campaign. Mugabe, supremely cynical and manipulative, gave Nkala the task of ravaging his own homeland and tormenting his own people.
As home affairs minister, he shared personal responsibility for a campaign which claimed at least 8,000 lives, making it the bloodiest episode in Zimbabwe’s post-colonial history. In a rare moment of introspection shortly before his death, Nkala predicted that his crimes would consign him to “eternal hell”.
Nkala became Mugabe’s most feared enforcer after the collapse of an uneasy coalition between the ruling Zanu-PF party and Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zapu party. This was essentially a truce between Zimbabwe’s two largest tribes: Mugabe’s majority Shona people and Nkomo’s Ndebele. The deal fell apart in 1982 when Nkomo was ejected from the cabinet and accused of planning armed rebellion.
31 Oct 2012
Robert Mugabe’s cabinet choices dash hopes of reform
10 Sep 2013
08 Apr 2011
Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Owen with Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe in 1977 (PA)
This supposed plot was almost certainly an invention, but Mugabe retaliated in January 1983 by sending a special army unit to Matabeleland, the home of the Ndebele in western Zimbabwe. The Fifth Brigade’s task was to wage war on the population, eradicating Zapu and enforcing support for Mugabe by terror and violence.
Nkala became an ardent accomplice for two reasons: first, he nursed an obsessive personal hatred of Nkomo dating back to 1963, when the black nationalist movement split between Zapu and Zanu-PF; second, he clearly hoped that his loyalty would be rewarded.
The news of Nkala’s appointment as home affairs minister in 1985 was received with dread in his homeland. “There could not have been a more irresponsible person in whose hands to place the sweeping authority of the Emergency Powers Regulations,” the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace noted in a study, Breaking the Silence.
Within a week of taking office, Nkala had ordered police to raid Nkomo’s home in Bulawayo and arrest the politician’s personal staff. “We want to wipe out the Zapu leadership. You’ve only seen the warning lights. We haven’t yet reached full blast,” said Nkala. “The murderous organisation and its murderous leadership must be hit so hard that it doesn’t feel obliged to do the things it has been doing.”
Nkala’s next act was to revive the Police Internal Security Intelligence Unit (PISIU), a thuggish organisation that reported directly to him. This specialised in “disappearing” anyone targeted by the minister. On Nkala’s orders, people would be plucked from street-corners in Bulawayo or remote villages in Matabeleland and never seen again.
The PISIU became his personal intelligence agency, working in bitter competition with the established Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). Driven by Nkala’s singular vindictiveness, it became “even more ruthless and brutal than the CIO,” according to Breaking the Silence. Those who survived its clutches routinely endured torture and assault – all on the minister’s orders.
Nkala did not conceal his aims. At one rally, he told his fellow Ndebeles: “If you support Zapu or dissidents, you shall die or be sent to prison.” In a BBC interview, he said his goal was “to liquidate” Zapu.
Nkala carried out this promise on September 22 1987, issuing an order that closed all Zapu’s offices and banned the party from holding rallies. Drawing a comparison with a rebel army then laying waste to a neighbouring country, he declared: “From now on, Zapu would be viewed in the same manner as the MNR bandits in Mozambique.”
A combination of Nkala’s terror and Fifth Brigade’s military campaign achieved its purpose in December 1987 when Joshua Nkomo wearily surrendered. He signed the “unity accord” which formally dissolved Zapu and brought him into Mugabe’s government as a powerless vice-president.
The killing stopped almost overnight – and Nkala lost his usefulness almost as quickly. Whatever reward he hoped to gain from tormenting his own people at Mugabe’s behest proved illusory.
Nkala lingered on as home affairs minister, but as the full horror of what had taken place became clearer, Mugabe increasingly treated him as a marginalised embarrassment. Anxious to shift the blame for the bloodshed onto other shoulders, Mugabe found it imprudent to single out the Fifth Brigade’s commanders, for they had the option of retaliation by means of launching a military coup. Nkala, unable to hit back and entirely beholden to his master, became the defenceless repository for odium.
He was eventually exposed for joining a scam whereby ministers bought their official vehicles for a discount, before selling them for a fabulous profit. In truth, almost every member of Mugabe’s government was corrupt or compromised in some way – and only those who fell out with their leader were ever punished. Nkala was duly sacked for corruption in 1989.
Enos Mzombi Nkala was born in the Filabusi area of Matabeleland South province on August 23 1932, the son of a Methodist preacher. After attending a mission school, he worked variously as a factory labourer and newspaper-seller.
He moved to the capital, then known as Salisbury, and joined the campaign against white Rhodesian rule. Nkala would later claim that Zanu-PF was founded in his house in Highfield township.
Ian Smith’s white regime jailed the leading black nationalists in 1963 and Nkala spent the next 11 years behind bars. When he was released in 1974, Nkala did not follow Mugabe into exile, with the result that he was locked up again, only finally being freed six months before Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe in April 1980.
He had a reputation for being a violent rabble-rouser. Lord Soames, the last British Governor of Rhodesia, banned Nkala from standing in the first free election in 1980. But Mugabe, the winner of this contest, simply appointed Nkala to the Senate and made him Zimbabwe’s first black finance minister.
After his sacking from the home affairs ministry, Nkala gave the impression of being haunted by his past. Sometimes, he would blithely deny that he had done anything wrong; on other occasions, he would claim (with some truth) that he was only obeying Mugabe’s orders. Once, he talked ruefully of the “hell” that awaited him.
Ordinary Zimbabweans, anxious to forget the most painful episode in their history, preferred to ignore Nkala.
In his last years, he became a faintly pitiful figure. It took him a while to realise how he had been shamelessly used and manipulated by Mugabe. When the penny finally dropped, Nkala was brave enough to speak out against the man for whom he had committed terrible crimes with total loyalty.
During the bloodstained and shamelessly rigged presidential election of 2008, Nkala publicly called on Mugabe to go. By then, however, he was a despised and toothless figure whose words carried no weight.
Enos Nkala is survived by his wife, Thandiwe, and several children.
Enos Nkala, born August 23 1932, died August 21 2013
In her piece on whether Labour should pledge an EU referendum (Comment, 16 October), Jackie Ashley says Ed Miliband shouldn’t change position. However, she, along with many other commentators, looks at it solely through the prism of present and future electoral advantage, not principle. Miliband has always said any decision on a referendum should be made on what’s best for Britain – not what’s in the interests of David Cameron’s Conservatives or any other party. All those clamouring for a referendum are framing the debate as one of electoral strategy, ignoring the impact such a blinkered outlook would have on our economy and living standards. The uncertainty several years’ wait for a referendum would induce will be disastrous for jobs and growth, as companies wait to see if we’ll be in Europe before deciding whether to invest in our country, or pull out altogether in the event of a No vote. It is these considerations that should be at the heart of the debate, not short-lived poll bounces that probably won’t last till election day anyway.
Glenis Willmott MEP
Labour leader in the European parliament
Malcolm Rifkind says the security agencies claimed not to need the proposed powers in the failed telecommunications bill because of “alternative capabilities” (Comment, 21 October). Did he or the intelligence and security committee ask what legal authority they had for those capabilities if the police needed new legislation for them? If not, why did the watchdog not bark? And if it was so uninquisitive then, why should we have any confidence in his new inquiry?
• Shakespeare recognised that God had ordained that we Jewish males were destined to be that “little bit” different (Letters, 16 October). See Hamlet: “There’s a divinity that shapes our end…”
• I think I know the man Norman Brown refers to who slept in a courgette on a French train (Letters, 17 October). When I worked for French Motorail in the 70s a man phoned and asked to book a courgette. Thinking he was referring to a type of car, I asked him the length of his courgette, after which the conversation became increasingly surreal.
• If, as he says, the government’s free schools programme had become a “dangerous free-for-all” (Report, 17 October), why does Tristram Hunt not pledge that a Labour government would end this dangerous experiment?
• While Giles Fraser (Loose cannon, 12 October) and Edward John (Letters, 17 October) explore the possible treatment and management of the human condition, I regret to inform that it remains a universally terminal affliction (bar the occasional resurrection). As the late lamented RD Laing rightly had it: “Life is a sexually transmitted disease, and the mortality rate is 100%.”
• Has the Football Association of Wales banned all reporting of our game against Belgium and its future consequences for the Wales manager and players? Can’t be a Celtic or geography thing as Scotland (same qualifying group) continue to get plenty of coverage in my edition down here.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft (Plebgate’s greatest revelation? So many of us believed the police, 16 October) praises those individuals of both right and left who campaigned so effectively to shed light on what exactly happened when Andrew Mitchell fell out with a group of police officers just over a year ago. He says he finds it hard to get over the “revelation that our police can be corrupt and mendacious”. Theresa May calls for apologies by the police and disciplinary charges against the three officers.
In 1984, 93 miners were arrested at Orgreave. Eight thousand police officers from 10 forces had been assembled. Three years later the trials of those arrested collapsed and South Yorkshire police agreed to pay £425,000 in compensation. The defending QC called this “the biggest frame-up ever”. Not a single police officer has been disciplined in the 30 years that have passed.
Campaigning for a truthful account and justice for a cabinet minister who lost his job seems effective and swift. What about justice for those, campaigning to keep their jobs, at Orgreave?
Dr John Hull
• So the government thinks an alleged cover-up by the police over the details of an incident involving one of its own (May rebukes police over reaction to plebgate, 16 October) is more worthy of rebuke than the cover-up of the deaths of 96 members of the public at Hillsborough. Funny that.
• In the years since Hillsborough and Orgreave the best that MPs have come up with is a very belated expression of regret about the behaviour of the police. It has taken heavy pressure from victims and their representatives to achieve even that.
However, as soon as one of their own falls victim to alleged misbehaviour by police, MPs’ ire knows no bounds. If only they were as diligent in supporting their constituents, instead of turning a blind eye when malpractice suits their agenda of suppressing dissent.
• Haven’t we had enough of plebgate? Whether or not Mitchell used the word pleb, this was an ignoble exchange between an ambitious, self-important politician with a short fuse and policeman sticking to his security brief. As to why many of us were inclined to disbelieve Mitchell’s vehement denials, we don’t have to cast our minds back too far to remember other vehement denials from egotistical politicians – Jonathan Aitken (the Ritz in Paris), Jeffrey Archer (perjury in a libel case), Neil Hamilton (cash for questions and the Ritz in Paris again) and more recently Chris Huhne (perverting the course of justice over speeding points). All went to extraordinary and expensive lengths to defend their reputations, and lost. I’d say there are proportionately more rotten apples in parliament than in the police.
• The Metropolitan police has forced Mr Mitchell to resign, then falsely represented what was said at a meeting and also pretended to be an independent witness to the event. Who should we believe in future when an ordinary member of the pubic protests their innocence?
• Might it be helpful to those of certain disposition (Steve Bell cartoon, 16 October) for the police to collate and publish an official list of non-arrestable expletives? Andrew Mitchell has kindly assisted with an initial contribution.
Time has evidently distorted Robin Wendt’s memory (Letters, 17 October) of the 1999 royal commission on long-term care, on which we both sat. My minority report, recommending a public-private partnership in paying for care, was almost uncannily reflected in the report of the non-partisan Dilnot committee 12 years later. The three pillars of that minority minority report – a cap on care costs for individuals, a less harsh means test for help with care, and a guarantee no one will have to sell their homes to pay for it – are the pillars of Dilnot too. They are also the features of the government’s proposals, which are going through the Lords with broad all-party support. The free-care-for-all majority report signed by Robin and his colleagues is dead and buried. Rather than seeking to resuscitate a skeleton, he could assist me in defeating the government’s last-minute bid to water down the proposals to avoid forced home sales to pay for care by excluding from them anyone with more than £23,250 in non-housing assets.
House of Lords
• Christina Patterson’s concerns about proposals to put video cameras in care homes are misplaced (Should your mum’s care workers be treated like criminals?, 16 October). In situations where abuse and accusations of abuse can arise, video cameras can protect both parties. It makes no more sense to suggest that they would mean all carers are being targeted as criminals than it would to make the same assumption about police officers videoed during interrogations, or for that matter all of us when we walk down streets where there is CCTV. There is no assumption that we are all criminals, just a recognition that some of us might be, some of us might be falsely accused, and all of us might be victims.
As for the suggestion that for care workers to experience a taste of what it is like to be the cared for is a radical innovation, the fact that that can be said is a shocking comment on current training for care workers – and in itself strengthens the case for videos in care homes.
So, we’re to have Chinese companies providing our nuclear generated electricity (Editorial, 17 October). Can the chancellor explain why it is OK to have companies owned by foreign governments – including by communist ones – controlling major chunks of the British economy (all Chinese nuclear generating companies are 100% state owned, while EDF, the principal partner in the new Hinkley Point power station, is 85% owned by the French government), while it is not OK to have companies owned by the British government participating in the economy (eg Royal Mail), except in emergency situations (eg RBS). What sort of ideologically distorted hypocrisy are we being subjected to here and what are its implications for the longer-term future of the British economy?
And if Ukip is so concerned with the leaking of British sovereignty to foreign powers, which this development underlines spectacularly, how about parking your obsessions with the EU for once and paying attention to who owns the British economy?
Professor of international development, University of Bristol
• The detrimental effects of the unnecessary and enormous borrowings by some companies deserve greater prominence than just the last sentence of an article about Thames Water (Ofwat to halt Thames Water 8% price rise, 17 October). It is not just the avoidance of tax but the increase in prices to pay the interest and to still provide a profit that are hurtful. It seems to me the acquisition of a UK company by private interests typically goes as follows. Using a large loan the private company or fund buys a UK company that has no substantial debt – for example a utility company or a football club – then causes the acquired company to take out a big loan, the proceeds of which are paid to the new owner as a dividend, or some such, thereby extinguishing the owner’s original debt. The transfer most likely avoids tax in any country.
The UK company now labours under a large debt, restricting its ability to borrow for genuine business purposes and requiring higher prices for its goods or services in order to pay the interest, which may be set against profit for tax purposes. Not only does the loan carry a high rate of interest but, the new owner may even have a beneficial interest in the lending organisation.
Some private owners will state they have never done all of the above and, in any case, it is all within the law. So, it is shrieking out for the law to be changed so that this series of steps is thwarted.
• George Monbiot (Comment, 14 October) is right that the proposed EU-US free trade deal (TTIP) is a “threat to the state”, but it is more of a threat to the ordinary citizen of Europe. Deftly identifying “legislative burden” with “administrative burden” and renaming both as “red tape”, the EU commission has long attempted to remove regulations and standards, seeing both as a threat to competitiveness. Creating a free trade area with the much less regulated US would require a convergence of regulatory standards in both economic areas. In preparation for this, the push is now on to accelerate deregulation as TTIP approaches. Hence Cameron’s 30 proposals “to move faster to reform the way Europe regulates” and the German government’s pressure on the EU to postpone any reductions in CO2 emissions from cars until 2024, at which time it will probably have been scrapped anyway if TTIP is already in place. This is a real threat to labour rights and to environmental, health and food safety standards in Europe.
• The government expects us to celebrate the drop in unemployment (Report, 17 October), and then we find out these new part-time jobs are in fast-food industries like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Is that really what young graduates expected to be doing after years of study and a mountain of debt? What a grim outlook for them after being promised so much by politicians. Of course, they’ll say that any job is good for a young person but would Cameron, Clegg and media commentators really be proud of their children working in KFC? Of course not, and they’ll do anything to get their kids into jobs with money and prospects. I wish someone would confront them with this when they crow over their “achievements”.
The wider implications should be heeded of the sentencing of a homeless man with paranoid schizophrenia for the stabbing to death of two Big Issue sellers (Report, 16 October). As John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, observes, the tragedy is an opportunity to reflect on the impact of cuts to mental health services. I visit mental health facilities on a weekly basis to review the detention of compulsorily detained patients. It has been increasingly apparent for months that patients are being admitted to hospitals hundreds of miles from where they live because of the lack of beds in their own locality.
This impression is now given an evidential basis by the BBC and Community Care investigations which used freedom of information requests to identify that at least 1,711 psychiatric beds have closed since April 2011, most of them in acute adult wards, older people’s wards and psychiatric intensive care units. Not only is admission to facilities far from home detrimental to the wellbeing of patients because of the disruption to their support networks, the increased complexity of setting up and monitoring their care after discharge from hospital in rare cases compromises public safety.
It is an inadequate response by the Department of Health to cite increased numbers of service users being seen in their own homes. Improvements in community care are obviously welcome, but do not obviate the need to provide appropriate hospital care for those who are acutely ill. Depositing people far from their homes is reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Ship of Fools and invokes medieval attitudes towards people who are mentally unwell.
Professor emeritus Nick Gould
Department of social and policy sciences, University of Bath
Ed Miliband’s promise to freeze energy prices was greeted with scare tactics. However, when people realise how much more they are going to have to pay, I suspect they will regard Mr Miliband as a parlour pink rather than a red-in-tooth-and-claw socialist.
SSE announced average price rises of 8.2 per cent, but I discovered yesterday they will be increasing my electricity charge by 11.5 per cent. I wonder which consumers will discover they are below the average? I doubt if it will be private customers, who are struggling to manage their household budgets on frozen or reducing incomes.
The sans-culottes are not yet marching down Whitehall, but the Government is so out of touch that the tumbrels will be crossing Horse Guards Parade before the ruling clique is aware that its plan to steal from the poor and give to the rich has finally been rumbled.
Peter Martin, Milton, Ross-shire
We won’t tackle soaring fuel bills until we tackle the root cause of the problem – the rocketing price of gas (“Tories target subsidy fund after energy firm raises prices by 10 per cent”, 11 October).
Ending our addiction to fossil fuels, slashing energy waste and developing the United Kingdom’s huge renewable energy resources would not only provide us with an affordable energy system, it would also help combat the growing threat of climate change.
Last month major financial institutions, including the Bank of America and the insurance giant Aviva, accused the Government of scaring off investment in Britain’s renewable energy sector because of its refusal to include a power-sector decarbonisation target in its Energy Bill.
Many peers in the House of Lords are known to share this view, and look increasingly likely to reverse the Government’s block on a decarbonisation target later this month.
Faced with fresh scientific warnings about the impacts of climate change and the urgent need to fix our broken energy system the Government must drop its opposition to a clean power target.
Andy Atkins, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth, London N1
In all the furore about the fixing of energy prices, no one has pointed out that one of the best ways to reduce our energy consumption and CO2 emissions would be to radically increase prices.
It would encourage us to insulate our houses, keep them cooler and make do with smaller abodes. As for Labour’s promise to fix prices – it is so woefully populist and inane as to not be worthy of comment, only despair.
Lars McBride, London SW19
Who is lying, police or politician?
You may be right that public faith in the police has been tested by “Plebgate” (leading article, 17 October), though nothing like as much as our patience has been tested. However, since public faith in politicians is far, far lower than in the police, we’re still giving the benefit of the doubt to the police.
It will take more than the claims of sleaze-ridden, bandwagon-jumping politicians to shake our belief in the police.
Paul Harper, London E15
Like most citizens – and all members of the Tory party – I tend to take the police side, which is what makes “Plebgate” such an own goal.
A constable having a bad hair day and exaggerating an incident is not such a big deal, but discrediting a senior politician and having your pals back you up makes it worse. It got much worse when three Police Federation officers misrepresented a meeting with the politician, and out of control when three chief constables whitewashed them.
Front-line police are betrayed by such deplorable leadership and “Plebgate” shows how right the decision is to open top police jobs to outsiders such as Army officers.
Dr John Cameron, St Andrews
A couple of years ago, I was stopped early one Sunday morning by two policemen in an unmarked car and accused of using my mobile phone while driving. In vain I protested that my phone had remained in a zipped jacket pocket since I had left home. I received a summons.
My lawyer pointed out the difficulty and expense of a defence based on my word against that of two policemen. I had just been made redundant and was in no state to attend court to contest the allegation. The result was a fine and three points on a licence unblemished for almost 30 years.
We now know all too well that some politicians lie. However, we should not rush to assume they invariably do so and that the police, most of whom like most politicians are honest, invariably tell the truth.
Name and address supplied
Oxford’s case for higher fees
Clive Tiney’s comments about Professor Hamilton’s speech are misleading (Letters, 16 October). Oxford uses nearly half of its additional fee income to recruit and support less advantaged students. Our package of needs-targeted fee reductions, bursaries and other support is more generous than that of any other major UK University.
We are committed to our historic mission of ensuring that the most able students can study with us whatever their circumstances. Philanthropists from the Middle Ages to the present day have enabled us to offer scholarships.
As the Vice-Chancellor pointed out, the financial crisis has meant that necessary savings in public expenditure have resulted in a shift in support for higher education from the taxpayer to the student, through reductions in government grant and increases in fees. It would be unwise to base our plans on the expectation that this trend will reverse in the near future.
What has been exposed by this shift, however, is that artificially capping the fee so much below our costs of teaching produces anomalies. It can be argued that a fee cap is regressive, preventing us from focusing our resources as well as we might on those who most need our support. If the Government were to decide to liberalise the market in university fees, I am confident that even more students who need our support would be able to afford to study at Oxford.
W S James, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resource Allocation), University of Oxford
Keep misogyny out of sex
Nigel Scott makes a valid point in saying that we should not seek to control the sexual practices of consenting adults (letter, 16 October), but he fails to demolish Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s central argument, which is that too many women are complicit in misogyny.
I put this down mainly to lack of education, so that ignorant young women just want to be pretty and famous, and do not understand that objectification leads to contempt for women and is connected to violence against them.
However I do not believe that women have “completely capitulated to the forces of darkness” if they watch or play out a bit of submission fantasy in an affectionate relationship. The notion of submitting sexually is exciting to many men and women, both straight and gay, which seems to me to suggest that it is, for most of them, no more than a strange but compelling fantasy.
I am much more concerned about young boys and girls watching this stuff on the internet and then assuming that this is real, normal and how women are treated and should be treated.
Julie Harrison, Hertford
Great War with no Germans
It is disappointing that the BBC’s extensive output of commemorative First World War programmes will not include any commissioned from German sources (report, 14 October). This is a petty and short-sighted omission.
Germany gave us the outstanding novel on the Great War, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and not even the celebrated American film adaptation of that book can match the bleakness and impact of Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s film Westfront 1918. So it has to be hoped that the BBC will at least include these works as evidence of earlier German depiction of the war, even if the corporation believes that today’s Germans have nothing interesting to say about it.
David Head, Navenby, Lincolnshire
Hurrying past the poor
David Cameron is like one of those polite people you pass in the street who ask, “How are you?” but quickly pass by before you have time to reply.
One morning soon, as he hurries along past rough sleepers waking up in shop doorways, queues waiting for the food banks to open, and people coming out of all-hours’ money lenders, he really ought to stop and listen to what they have to say.
Geoff Naylor, Winchester
Airport cache not for us
The Order of Malta wishes to state in the strongest possible terms that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the claims made in your newspaper of Thursday 3 October that our organisation had tried to claim a €20bn cache currently held in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
The Order of Malta is a worldwide charitable organisation with projects running in 120 countries. Our sole aim is to care for the poor and the sick with total impartiality and neutrality.
Richard Fitzalan Howard, President, The British Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, London NW8
I am not opposed to GM in principle (Letters, 16 October), but amongst all the arguments for and against, there are two overwhelming issues that must be dealt with before GM crops are grown in the UK. There must be proof that the consumption of GM food is not harmful to humans in the long run – not yet possible. And GM producers must ensure 100 per cent that there is no cross-pollination with natural crops – impossible. Case closed.
Eric Fitch, Hereford
I’ve been saying “coronated” (letters, 14, 17 October) since I was a small child, not long after Princess Elizabeth got coronated. It’s so obvious, I’m surprised it hasn’t been OEDificated yet.
Anne Waddingham, Tonbridge, Kent
The current silliness in the US government surely clarifies the foolishness of giving the House of Lords the status of an elected body.
Tony Lake, Hertford
This was a deliberate attempt to damage a minister by members of a police force supposedly divorced from politics
Sir, Police legitimacy represents the cornerstone of any democratic society and a prerequisite for effective accountability. The ongoing criminal investigation, together with recent revelations concerning the “Plebgate” debacle, have the capacity to detract from the legitimacy and trust which British society invests in the police service. The Home Secretary (report, Oct 16) and others, mainly politicians, correctly vent their concern about how this situation continues to evolve. “Plebgate”
runs much deeper than a spat between police officers and a politician. Through lack of proper independent investigation and oversight, it developed into a stand-off between the police service and the political elite which, if left unchecked, will drive a wedge through the heart of police legitimacy and integrity.
Police accountability in England and Wales, notwithstanding the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), lacks total independence and a robustness, which engenders wider public confidence and support for the police. This represents a particularly incompatible approach, attributable more to resource availability and workload capacity of the IPCC. By contrast, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) is responsible for all complaints against the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), no matter how trivial they may seem, in addition to other issues of public interest referred by the Chief Constable subsequently.
Until such time as police decisions and actions are investigated wholly independent of the police, and the powers of the IPCC strengthened commensurate with those exercised by the PONI, public confidence in the legitimacy and integrity of the police will be the ultimate casualty.
Dr Clifford Best
(Ret’d Superintendent, PSNI)
Omagh, Co Tyrone
Sir, I disagree with David Aaronovitch’s assertion (Opinion, Oct 17) that “the Mitchell affair is probably the least important of a slew of cases in recent years involving police untruthfulness”. It seems to me that this was a deliberate attempt to damage a democratically elected minister by members of a police force supposed to be completely divorced from politics.
The “Plebgate” T-shirts and the grubby efforts of senior officers to protect their own do little to contradict this view, and to some represent a crucial moment in destroying the credibility of the forces of law and order as being impartial, and thus above the world of party politics. There are too many examples elsewhere in the world of the executive organs of state power thinking that they have a particular right to enforce their own idea of what is needed by the nation, or, worse still, by their own particular interests. That this view could be in any way acceptable here I find most terrifying of all.
Sir, Your excellent front-page cartoon (Oct 16) has a police officer saying, “I investigated myself thoroughly, sir, and found me totally innocent”.
I am not sure what the difference is between this and the newspapers’ proposals for press regulation.
Providing accommodation that allows people to both work and live in the countryside will create new employment opportunities
Sir, The Government’s consultation on proposals to deregulate the planning system, allowing the change of use of redundant farm buildings for residential use (report, Oct 16), will create critically needed rural housing.
Providing accommodation that allows people to both work and live in the countryside will create new employment opportunities, stimulating the rural economy.
A more vibrant and sustainable rural economy will provide environmental benefits, assisting the delivery of enhanced landscape and biodiversity. Heritage will also be protected through the modernisation, and continued use of, traditional farm buildings.
President, Country Land and Business Association
Many people hope that if there is a “yes” vote the relationship between Scotland and England will change from a surly one to that of allies
Sir, Roger Boyes’s article on Slovakia (Opinion, Oct 16) providing an excellent example to Scotland in the event of a “yes” vote in next year’s referendum was a considered and thoughtful piece, unlike the doom-laden predictions which seem to be in the ascendant. He only once falls into the fallacy that it is driven by anti-English sentiment when he says such a move to independence is “all for the sake of freedom from the English”. Quite the opposite. I fervently hope, as do many like me, that if there is a “yes” vote the relationship between Scotland and England will change from the present rather surly one (on both sides) to that of best of allies and friends, each in charge of their own destinies.
Commercial soft fruit growers are committed to the most environmentally friendly methods of controlling pests and diseases available
Sir, The report showing increased use of pesticides and fungicides in the soft fruit industry (“Health fears over rise in pesticides on fruit”, Scottish edition, Oct 14) should not be taken as an indication of excessive use of pesticides. As you said, the survey covered only 32 per cent of the crops grown in Scotland. Nearly half the holdings surveyed were small producers with less than five hectares, so the results were biased towards small producers who tend not to use protective covers. As you said, Scotland had one of its wettest years in 2012 so these results are showing an exceptional inflation versus 2010.
Pesticide usage in the UK is heavily regulated. Commercial soft fruit growers are committed to the most environmentally friendly methods of controlling pests and diseases available. The survey also found a 200 per cent rise in the use of biological controls from 2010 to 2012, and it found that growers are increasingly using substances such as baking powder and sulphur to minimise their use of agrochemicals.
Chairman of British Summer Fruits
Surely it is only fair to patients to work towards a national standard for top-up charges in order to avoid postcode lotteries
Sir, Your front-page article on the proposals for top-up charges (Oct 16) quotes Dr Michael Dixon, president of NHS Clinical Commissioners, as favouring local entrepreneurial solutions rather than standardisation throughout the country.
After working for 40 years in the NHS, I am convinced that top-up charges will be necessary to sustain the basic ethos of our health system. However, it is surely more fair to patients to work towards a national standard for such charges in order to avoid postcode lotteries.
I was surprised to hear a conflicting opinion from such a senior figure.
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire
In the short term, the share price of Royal Mail owes much to the small allocations to institutions who are having to build up their holdings
Sir, It is clear that Ryan Bourne and Toby Fenwick (letters, Oct 17), like many commentators, have little idea of how markets work. They suggest the price set for the Royal Mail issue has “cost the Exchequer” £700 million. This presupposes that the whole issue could have been placed successfully at today’s price.
This is highly unlikely (where’s the profit?) but also ignores the likelihood that, in the short term at least, the share price owes much to the small allocations to institutions who are having to build up their holdings by market purchases.
SIR – You published an excellent photograph of Malmesbury, Wiltshire.This market town, the oldest borough in England, has an amazing history: King Athelstan; the Abbey; Elmer, the Flying Monk; William of Malmesbury; Thomas Hobbes, and so much more. It is my birthplace, and I, my sisters and my children are proud to be associated with this important town.
SIR – I have backed the police all my life and rarely felt the need to question their integrity, but the decision by the chief constables not to pursue those officers who gave evidence against Andrew Mitchell is extremely worrying.
There should be nothing more important for the police than their integrity. How are ordinary members of the public meant to trust in the police when there is a perception that they are able to bring down a Government minister in this way?
They must follow the advice of the Independent Police Complaints Commission for their own sake.
Charles Costa Duarte
Malmesbury: a market town steeped in history
17 Oct 2013
SIR – I am proud to have served in the Metropolitan Police from 1980 to 2012 with dedicated, loyal, honest and principled officers. The Plebgate affair highlights some of the things that are wrong with the modern police. If I had taken offence every time I had been sworn at or verbally abused, I am sure that I would not have lasted 32 years. Notwithstanding the fact that the officers at the gates of Downing Street chose not to ignore what had happened, the actions of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner illustrate the poor leadership adversely affecting policing.
Had the commissioner ordered a prompt and effective investigation, the facts would have been quickly established and swift and appropriate action could have been taken. The inaction of senior officers has allowed this situation to fester and the reputation of the best police in the world to be questioned.
SIR – Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is wrong to involve herself in police discipline issues. As Home Secretary she is the ultimate source of appeal for any officers convicted of disciplinary offences.
How can she be seen to discharge this duty independently if she has already nailed her colours to the mast?
SIR – An MP is rude to police officers doing their duty. He apologises. End of story, or so it should be. Any differences between the words he actually used, the words he later thought he had used, the words the officers thought he had used, and the words they later said he had used are completely irrelevant. A disgraceful amount of valuable police time has been wasted on investigating this irrelevance.
Horsham, West Sussex
SIR – The BBC’s Nick Robinson asks: “Who do you believe – the police or the politicians?” In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, “A fascinating question!”
SIR – It is surprising to see Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, no less, arguing for Britain to remain subject to the European Court of Human Rights. It is well known that the ECHR often protects the guilty, preventing British courts from dealing with them as they see fit. But is he not also aware that the Convention on Human Rights has no place for our traditional, British, practical, legal safeguards against arbitrary imprisonment and wrongful convictions?
The convention makes no provision for trial by jury, habeas corpus, or right to silence. It makes no provision against trials in absentia, double jeopardy, hearsay evidence, or prejudicial media reporting before a verdict. There is nothing to stop previous convictions from being read aloud and used to establish guilt, or any need for judges’ impartiality to be assured by requiring them to have had experience as defenders as well as prosecutors. Is Mr Grieve going to “roll up his sleeves” and try to change all that?
And does his insistence on our staying “fully engaged” with the EU also mean he is in favour of carrying on with the iniquitous European Arrest Warrant, whereby innocents in Britain can be arrested on no evidence, and sent to jurisdictions where no evidence is needed to keep them in prison for many months, before being eventually released without charge, with their lives ruined? Is this his idea of preserving the “ethical wellbeing of the United Kingdom”?
SIR – The headline “Blame bad parents for Britain’s ills” took me straight back to an education lecture at the City of Worcester Training College in 1954. We were told that “there are no problem children, only problem parents”.
I remembered this during my 30 years as a teacher and it proved to be perfectly true. Can we stop blaming the young?
Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire
SIR – Bad parenting may well contribute to Britain’s ills. However, we should also take into account the education system’s failure to instil discipline or teach the difference between right and wrong, police who are unwilling to prosecute and courts that impose inadequate penalties.
SIR – Alan Yentob justifies the BBC’s payment of huge salaries to its “talent” by saying they are less than commercial competitors would pay. Why does the BBC feel the need to compete? It has its revenue, irrespective of who presents its programmes and it does not have to generate advertising income.
Graham Norton and the like are a small part of the BBC’s output but a large part of its costs. The BBC would better fulfil its public-sector broadcasting remit if it didn’t try to compete with other channels, and concentrated on quality broadcasting.
A virtuous bowlful
SIR – Isn’t Diana Hall, with her whiskey, cream and sugar, missing the point? Porridge, like a cold shower and under-cooked vegetables, is supposed to be good for you, and therefore not something to be enjoyed.
Andrew M Courtney
Hampton Wick, Middlesex
SIR – Mary Riddell is right to say that we need a big increase in house building. But why does she assume that red tape, planning regulation and “shire sensibilities” are stopping us building the houses we need, or that new towns are the answer?
Planning regulation provides plenty of sites for new housing, but the big house-builders, as their annual reports make clear, are more interested in increasing their land banks and profit margins than in building houses on the scale needed. Taylor Wimpey continues to prioritise both short- and long-term margin performance ahead of volume growth. Persimmon and Redrow give priority to building their land banks. Releasing more greenfield land will not lead to more houses being built: the same number will be built, but in the countryside rather than in towns.
There is plenty of suitable brownfield land available, including sites in London and the South East. Let’s build on that first. This will protect our precious countryside and give an economic boost to urban areas crying out for investment.
Campaign to Protect Rural England
SIR – I am surprised that your report on research into the Liverpool Pathway includes the words “there was no improvement in survival time”. The Liverpool Pathway is not about extending survival, it is rather about enabling what time a dying patient has left to be spent as comfortably and peacefully as possible.
My wife was carefully consulted, as were we, her family, and intervention was stopped except insofar as to keep her comfortable.
It will be a sad day if the Liverpool Pathway programme is ended.
Revd John D Bland
SIR – I saw a television report on Tuesday that featured Boris Johnson and George Osborne at a function in China. The Union flag behind them was upside down. Do they know that this is a signal of distress?
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Hunting Act has put a stop to cruel hare coursing
SIR – Philip Johnston states that “the Hunting Act has failed on every level, not least on animal welfare”. However, the Act abolished the sadistic practice of hare coursing, where trapped wild hares were released in an enclosed space to be run down then ripped to pieces by trained hunting dogs, in the name of sport and gambling.
If the ban on hunting was the price to be paid for the abolition of hare coursing, then I, for one, am more than happy to retain the ban.
SIR – Those opposed to the relaxation of the flushing exemption in the Hunting Act are perpetuating needless cruelty. A full pack of hounds should be allowed to flush out foxes to be shot, as this will result in a healthier and fitter fox population.
However, the truly humane and natural way to manage a fox population is by traditional hunting with hounds, which can only be achieved with a full repeal of the illiberal and cruel Hunting Act.
SIR – Philip Johnston’s commonsense words are a joy to read. There has been a massive increase in cruelty to foxes as a result of the Act, and opponents of horse-riding need to be made aware of this.
Foxhunting is about the challenge of cross-country riding, a healthy human recreation. Foxes need to be given the chance to outwit the hounds, not be hammered with lead shot and snares.
SIR – I do agree with Philip Johnston’s statement that the 2004 Hunting Act is a “classic piece of British fudge”, but rather than repeal the Act, I think it should be strengthened. In a civilised society there should be no place for blood sports.
SIR – The hunting ban is not “one of the most contentious pieces of legislation of modern times”. Polling consistently shows that 70 to 75 per cent of the public, in both town and country, are in favour of the ban.
Sir, – I am a lone parent of an eight-year-old daughter. I was once a designer. The Budget basically said to me: Stay at home and live off social welfare as we don’t care about you and your daughter’s future.
Single parents who, due to our system, are better off staying on social welfare and in turn don’t have any chance of getting out and working and contributing to the public purse, are painted in a very ugly light because of the system. Not only that, what kind of example are single parents setting for their children?
Have they no right to go out and work and make something of themselves and instil that in their children? According to the Government, they don’t.
And now it brings in an outrageous change in payments to single parents who have joint custody. Is it trying to put more pressure on already pressured families? It looks like it. There is no thought for the children in this Budget.
Disgusting behaviour! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Given recent Government concern about the (alleged) annual cost of running the Seanad, I expected to see action in the Budget. Surely the ideal time to cut the Senators’ tax free “turning up” money (officially their travel and accommodation allowance)?
But no. In its wisdom, the Government decides to save by abolishing the telephone allowance paid to the elderly.
Well I suppose it thought that if the Senators lost their “turning up money” then logically TDs would have to lose theirs.
It’s a lot to lose. For example TDs in Band I (they live 25km to 59km from the Dáil) get €25,295 pa tax free to cover their “travel’ expenses to work and within their constituency on top of their €87,258 salary. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Anthony Leavy (October 17th) attempts to make the tenuous connection between the public’s recent decision to retain the Seanad and this week’s Budget, which took money from pensioners and raised the cost of medicine for the sick. That is a disingenuous attempt to defend the indefensible.
The generally accepted saving from scrapping the Seanad would have been far less than the €20 million that was spuriously put forward by the Government in its campaign, probably around €6 million, and none of it would have been realised until 2016. To suggest it is hypocritical for the public to complain about the unfairness inherent in the Budget because we have voted to retain the Seanad is ludicrous.
The decisions to raise prescription charges, remove the telephone allowance from pensioners and slash jobseekers’ allowance for the young cannot be blamed on the Celtic tiger or the democratic decision to retain the Seanad. They are decisions being taken by a Government that is ideologically drawn towards business – as demonstrated by the raft of “pro-business” tax breaks that accompanied the cuts and charges for the old and sick – and is less concerned with governing for the citizens. – Is mise,
Sir, – In the Budget, Michael Noonan renewed the Capital Gains Tax scam, whereby, provided a speculator/investor purchases before 2015, and does not sell that property on for seven years, that speculator/ investor pays no capital gains tax, creating a revenue loss for the Exchequer.
Ireland’s economic collapse was exacerbated by over-reliance on a housing market driven mad by speculation, driven in large part by stimulus in the form of unnecessary tax breaks.
The same now appears to be happening again in certain areas of Dublin. A shortage of houses for sale is claimed. This is not true. Family buyers requiring a mortgage are outnumbered approximately two to one by “cash” buyers. These “cash” buyers are being drawn into the market by the above scheme and outbidding families seeking to buy a home.
The net effect of this is to artificially push up demand and therefore prices. High house prices are detrimental to the economic recovery and societal health of the country. They drive up the cost of mortgages and rents and ultimately wages, as workers struggle to pay the higher cost, making Ireland less competitive on the world market.
This unnecessary tax break should be scrapped in the Finance Bill, as it does not stimulate jobs growth or add to the economy. In fact, due to the restriction on selling for seven years, it is artificially creating a shortage of houses for working families seeking to purchase a home
A cynic might also suggest that it is being paid for by pensioners who are losing their phone line rental allowance and also in many cases, medical cards. – Yours, etc
Royal Oak Road,
Sir, – I would take issue with the heading on Miriam Lord’s article: “Budget . . . fails to outrage” (Budget 2014, October 16th).
Leaving aside the impact that the new 41 per cent DIRT tax (almost 45 per cent once the PRSI element is included) will have on the meagre income supplements pensioners and others derive from their hard-won savings, a glance at the tables on pages 8-9 of Budget 2014 supplement shows that the two groups with the highest incomes suffer no after-tax loss of income, while pensioners, single-income families and low income earners will all suffer such a loss.
Outrage indeed! – Yours, etc,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – I hope that the “socialist” “partner” in our Government is proud to have collaborated in a Budget that has punished the Irish people from the cradle to the grave.
Then again, I suppose we should be grateful that they and their partners in power haven’t yet found a method to punish us from conception to the after life. – Yours, etc,
FINNIAN E MATHEWS,
The Park, Skerries,
Sir, – According to your Seanad report (Home News, October 17th), Deputy Deirdre Clune (Fine Gael) states regarding the medical card system that reports indicated GPs were being paid for people not using their cards.
As a GP in the General Medical Service for more than 30 years, I am puzzled about this comment. How does Deputy Clune or anyone else know whether a patient has used his or her card in any particular year? There is no reporting mechanism to the HSE to indicate whether or not a patient has attended his or her GP practice. Is Ms Clune suggesting that someone who has a medical card on the basis of the current income rules and does not need to visit a GP is to be punished for being in good health?
I think this comment displays a very poor understanding of the medical card system and is symptomatic of widespread ignorance on the matter.
Perhaps Deputy Clune is referring to people whose circumstances have changed and no longer qualify for a medical card. The auditing of this is the role of the HSE and not the responsibility of individual GPs.
Finally, the public should be aware that GPs are paid a single fee for each patient per year, irrespective of the number of visits to the GP and currently we are paid between €72 and €75 per child under-five years per year! Good value? – Yours, etc,
Dr GARRETT HAYES,
Lucan Court Medical
Centre, Esker Hill,
Lucan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – My mother will be spinning in her grave at the news of the bereavement grant being buried with her. – Yours, etc,
Moate, Co Westmeath.
Sir, – At the maximum of €300 per annum, per item prescription charges may cost a chronically ill, disabled or elderly medical card holder the same amount as a Toyota Yaris driver’s motor tax. This is inexplicable and quite vicious. It’s extraordinary that in the same budget, Michael Noonan added 10 cent to the price of a packet of cigarettes and €1 to the price of an inhaler for medical-card holders. – Yours, etc,
An Cheathrú Rua,
Co na Gaillimhe.
Sir, – The State’s decade-long failure to implement the European Working Time Directive of 2003 is inexcusable. However, laying the totality of blame on the HSE does not explain how junior doctors have been equally slow to demand action. Most European countries implemented the law some time ago and legal challenges to authorities failing to comply have been universally successful. Though most have been resentful of unsafe working hours for years, the current movement only started in late 2012. So why are we only demanding safe practice now? Why did so few speak out for so long?
One reason of many is that junior doctors were afraid to. Some consultants remain openly critical of change and reluctant to concede that the volume or nature of today’s overnight work is different to that of previous generations. Questioning senior opinion is still feared and often considered foolish or a sign of weakness. Though variable by specialty and institution, intimidation remains common. Over 10 years, cries for help to the IMO usually resulted in hushed, sympathetic inertia rather than vocal public support. This is unique among health professions. A sense of abandonment might explain why less than half of junior doctors were even members until the recent groundswell of vocal opinion finally forced senior IMO members’ hands to action.
From politics to the priesthood and from banking to the bar, the question recurs as to why we Irish consistently fail to speak out. Cultures of silence persist. Though we recognised our rosters as unsafe, most of us focused primarily on getting through the work. Good doctors struggled and patients suffered preventable clinical errors. I, for one, did not speak up enough for them.
2013’s junior doctors deserve great praise for speaking out. I just hope that their collective example serves not only as a means to an end, but also to foster a new cultural beginning. – Yours, etc,
Dr RONAN SUGRUE,
MRCPI, Specialist Registrar
in Cardiology, Fulbright
Sir, – Congratulations on your article by Dave McKechnie (Opinion, October 17th) on the new Irish team interim manager, Noel King. Am I the only one who believes that King deserves an apology from RTÉ for the disgraceful treatment he suffered at the hands of the panel after the two recent international matches?
The comments were a disgrace to Irish football and to a man who has given great service to the domestic game over a lifetime in football. King was in the job for less than three weeks during which he had to prepare a squad of players, which he had never worked with before, for the daunting task of playing Germany away from home.
The result in the end was disappointing given the chances we had and the unfortunate deflected first goal. People may not have agreed with his tactics but the result was far better than the massive home defeat under Giovanni Trapattoni.
The panel’s comments were very unfair, insulting and disrespectful to a man who had, by all accounts, put a huge amount of effort into preparing the team. The culmination of their insulting comments was Eamon Dunphy’s comment about Noel being “tactically illiterate”. This coming from a man who has no track record in football management. How long more do we have to listen to his condescending comments about John Giles and Liam Brady being great players. Yes we all know they were great players, but this does not mean they are always right with their comments. Eamon Dunphy’s constant mantra that “we are football people” is wearing a bit thin. The thousands of supporters, people who are involved in League of Ireland football and junior/school football are also “football people”. He does not have a monopoly on this status. King is the epitomy of a “football person” and deserves respect. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In agreeing to implement one of the principal recommendations of Mr Justice Quirke’s Magdalene report that all lump sum payments to survivors of the Magdalene laundries be exempt from tax, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, in the course of Budget 2014, has made a virtue of doing what is right and moral (Breaking News, October 15th).
A more accurate reflection of the Government’s moral compass is the persistent refusal to include the Protestant victims of the Bethany Home in Dublin in the Residential Institutional Redress Act, 2002. It is absurd and indefensible that abused children of Bethany are less cherished by the State than children of similar institutions.
In Bethany, Protestant victims were denied compassion, dignity, affection, love and a sense of being cherished. They are still being denied this by the State. Shame on us all. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am very glad to note in the Budget speech that the Garda Vetting Unit is to get extra staff (Breaking News, October 15th).
In America it takes approximately 10 minutes for a gun purchaser to obtain a security background check clearance before they purchase a gun or assault weapon in a store.
In this country it takes a nurse or home carer 14 weeks to get Garda clearance before they can commence their care employment. It’s about time the Department of Justice acted on this anomaly. – Yours, etc,
JONATHON ROTH (Dr),
Sir, – Under Joan Burton’s new schemes regarding the use of Garda checkpoints to detect welfare fraud, (Home News, October 17th), exactly what are gardaí going to ask people going into industrial estates? Where do you work? None of your business officer. Are you on the dole? That is also none of your business officer. Now unless you have a question to ask me in relation to a crime you have reason to suspect me of having committed and turning up in an industrial estate is not reason enough to suspect me of dole fraud, I will be on my way. Good day to you.
Joan Burton has been hobnobbing with the Blueshirts for too long and seems to be under the impression that just because a Garda asks you a question you are obliged by law to answer. That is not the case and people would do well to ignore this attempt at introducing yet more elements of a police state. Unfortunately, I will not have the pleasure of telling a Garda where to go on this issue. – Yours, etc,
GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH,
Calle 12D, Bogotá, Colombia.
Sir, –Regarding Alison Healy’s article on the potential of potatoes to fight hunger, John Weakliam, chief executive of Vita, stated that the potato had never featured prominently in the debate on hunger (Home News, October 16th). Mr Weakliam would do well to contact the International Potato Center, CIP, founded in 1971 as part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). One of the target areas for potato production is South Saharan Africa, with scientists based in Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, and Benin. – Yours, etc,
Dr MICHAEL J
Sir, – The arrogance of John Waters’s opinion on Colm Tóibín’s book (The Testament of Mary) should not go answered (Opinion, October 11th). The book is a work of fiction and the author knows as much about Mary as the rest of us – what the gospels have told us.
People are free to accept or not accept the story. Those who attempt to debase or debunk it, ignore the truth contained in the story and offer no alternative to faith. The idea that we should explain our belief on foot of such a book is preposterous. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I propose the Government designate Monday, December 16th a one-off national holiday, Independence Day, in recognition of our acquiescence over these past few years. – Yours, etc,
* Let me get this right. The country is apparently bankrupt and needs to balance its books and one final push should do it. Fine. Certainly there are plenty of pensioners who can well afford to pay all their own bills, just like there are plenty of young and middle-aged people who can well afford their mortgages and GP fees.
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Pensioners pay all the same income tax and levies as anyone else and have the same bills to pay, so why is the threshold for cutting off the medical card for those over 70 based on their gross income instead of their net income?
Also, why is the ‘free’ (which is in fact paid by for by all taxpayers whether or not they have children under five, so it’s not free) GP care being made universal instead of being aimed at those who genuinely need it? Are the public sector, who bleat so much about how hard they work, not capable of devising a system that targets ‘free’ GP care to those who genuinely need it?
If the country is bankrupt, why is there no problem finding the money for elite private schools, which cost about €95m, and automatic increments to the public sector, which cost about €200m? If parents want to send their children to private schools, then why should that be subsidised, and what justification is there for a public sector employee to get an automatic increment when their private sector equivalent could only dream of such a perk? That would be €295m saved straight away.
How can the country afford to pay various pension tax reliefs, which, according to the Social Ireland 2013 Budget submission, cost a staggering €3bn? These are reliefs paid for from the taxes of people who don’t themselves have pensions and which goes to benefit people who not only gain a private pension but do not forgo as entitlement to a state pension as a result. If even two-thirds of that bill was cut, that would be a saving of €2bn. Just think how many lives could be transformed if that money could be redirected toward new job creation.
This all belies the myth that the country costs too much to run and can’t afford certain things. It can. But politicians always choose the path of least resistance. I don’t suppose Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan have themselves been touched by the recession in any way, as their expense claims make sure of that. So they attack those they feel are least able to fight back. Well, let’s hope the grey lobby rises up again to remind the political class that there’s a limit, and a basic decency people have a right to expect in their old age.
Canary Wharf, London
LET’S END PARTY SYSTEM
* In the ongoing search for a reform of Irish democracy, a key element which has not been questioned is the multi-party system. It injures democracy in three ways. It allows party managers to dictate the voting decisions of TDs and, in cases of disobedience, to limit the offenders’ contributions to the Dail. In general elections, parties, interested only in winning Dail seats, induce the electors to choose representatives on grounds of party affiliation rather than personal qualities.
At the same time, in Ireland, as indeed in other European countries, the parties have lost the role and utility which they originally possessed by representing ideological differences that were substantially present in the electorate. All the parties now claim to hold in varying degrees more or less the same values and to be pursuing more or less the same objectives.
Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. Getting rid of them would not require a referendum; it could be done by enacting a law.
Imagine parties replaced by the entire adult population of the Republic, acting as a single ‘party’ to elect the Dail as it already elects the President. The Dail, as now, would elect the Taoiseach, who would appoint the Government. That, combined with devolution of substantial powers and functions to local authorities, would constitute a clean break and, for our democracy, an invigorating fresh start.
Dr Desmond Fennell
Sydney Parade Ave, Dublin 4
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CHECK
* While the introduction of free GP care for the under-fives is welcome – the Government could have made a considerable step towards better health for all the citizens of Ireland by introducing an annual universal free health check for all. Such a measure would have huge health benefits in the early discovery of preventable illnesses while also saving the Exchequer considerable money.
It seems odd that we require NCTs for cars and licences for TVs and dogs – and yet no tangible compulsion or assistance to maintain better health by Government really exists.
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing & Midwifery, Trinity College
DEATH: OPT-OUT OPTION?
* At times you have to feel sorry for politicians being compelled to blather on in defence of policies. Often you know what they mean but it comes out in an obtuse fashion.
Poor Brendan Howlin was being pushed by Sean O’Rourke on the question of funeral expenses. He resorted to “Thank God this is something which does not visit us too often”.
It used to be that the only certainties in life were death and taxes. Is the Minister hinting, as a possible silver lining to his Budget that the former may in fact be avoidable?
John F Jordan
Flower Grove, Killiney, Dublin
STINKER OF A BUDGET
* I am flabbergasted at many of the cuts; they are literally stinkers. Two-thirds of the most punitive ones were targeted at lower to middle income, the ones struggling and most vulnerable – mothers with babies, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly. It was a Budget promoting inequality, looking after the banks and the wealthy who were rich on Budget morning, richer still that evening.
The ridiculous €100 weekly for 20-to-25-year-olds to “encourage them go into jobs” was laughable. What jobs and where? Do they mean Britain, Canada, the US or Australia?
Thurles, Co Tipperary
AGE BRINGS WISDOM
* What a marvellous letter from Anthony Woods, entitled “Ageing is Liberating” (Tuesday, 15 Oct).
Many of us in our golden years can really relate to the wise and wonderful words he has written.
I am in my early 60s and, reading between the lines, would imagine Anthony to be a good few years ahead of me, which makes his words even more relevant and full of great wisdom for the rest of us.
Congratulations, Anthony, and thank you.
Glenties, Co Donegal
TOO MANY POLITICIANS
* Without going into many details, once again this year’s Budget will savage the most vulnerable.
If all the do-gooders and I-am-alright-Jacks of this blessed island had voted in favour of the abolition of the Senate, perhaps the Government would have made the necessary savings to spare further pain to those who have little or nothing.
Does the Republic of Ireland, with a population of Rome and Milan put together, need 226 political representatives between TDs and senators? Here there is one well-paid political representative per 18,000 inhabitants, in comparison with Belgium (1/37,000), England (1/40,000), Denmark (1/42,000), Portugal (1/47,000), France (1/58,000), Italy (1/62,000), Spain (1/76,000) and so on. . .
Concetto La Malfa