2 November 2013 Funeral
No jogging around the park today no Leslie No Pertwee no Heather, no Troutbridge for we are off early to pick up Michael and Shanti. Its at Nine am not a bad turn out old friends cares June, and of course us not a bad service well done and the off home
We watch Hancock its not too bad
No Scrabble today
Anca Petrescu was the architect who designed the People’s Palace – Nicolae Ceausescu’s monstrous monument to totalitarian kitsch
Anca Petrescu inside the People’s Palace Photo: AP
6:02PM GMT 01 Nov 2013
Anca Petrescu, who has died following a road accident aged 64, was an architect known as the “Albert Speer of Communism”, responsible for the Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu’s “Palace of the People” in Bucharest — the world’s greatest monument to totalitarian kitsch.
Ceausescu conceived the idea of building the palace in 1977, when an earthquake struck Bucharest leaving more than 1,500 dead and large areas devastated. He saw the disaster as an opportunity to build a new “civic centre”, and in the summer of 1977 two competitions were launched — one for the overall master plan; the other for the “House of the People”, as the Palace was then called, to house Ceausescu and his entourage, along with key government departments.
Anca Petrescu, a junior employee at the state design institute, had only just qualified as an architect, so at first she did not enter the competition. But because Ceausescu took so long to decide what he wanted it was still going in 1981, by which time she had finished second in one of the aborted heats and had met the dictator. “He was a good listener, a very patient man,” she recalled. “He wasn’t a vampire!”
Although Anca Petrescu failed to make the final shortlist in 1981, she refused to give in and, resigning her job, she spent three months building a scale model of her design — bombastic, ornate and smothered in gilt. She then wrote Ceausescu a letter saying that she would like to present it to him. At first she was fobbed off, but her persistence paid off, and in the end her model was presented alongside those of the other finalists.
Nicolae Ceausescu: a profile
22 Jul 2010
06 Dec 2012
18 Jun 2013
The Palace of the People, Bucharest
Legend has it that Ceausescu walked into the room and was bowled over by the glitzy interloper — but there were also rumours that he may have taken a shine to its creator. In February 1982, at the age of 32, Anca Petrescu was appointed chief architect of a project whose raison d’être, in Ceausescu’s tautological phrase, was to be “a grandiose edifice that reflects the epoch of the time”.
The construction, which began in June 1984, was a project akin to the pyramids. During the five years leading up to Ceaucescu’s execution one million Romanians, including military conscripts, political prisoners and a team of 700 architects, worked round the clock to put it up, painstakingly carving huge oak, elm and cherry doors and sculpting giant crystal chandeliers for marble rooms almost as big as athletics fields. Even nuns were forced to work, weaving acres of carpets and embroidering gold-threaded curtains. There were never fewer than 20,000 workers on site at any one time; deaths were common.
The project had a huge impact on the Romanian capital. Three historic districts in the centre of Bucharest — four square miles of the city — were demolished, along with 27 churches and synagogues. Around 40,000 people were given only two days to leave their homes, and some had no alternative but to leave behind their possessions for the bulldozers.
A reception hall inside the Palace of the People
Elsewhere, two mountains were hacked down for the one million cubic metres of white and pink Transylvanian marble required, while entire forests were destroyed for panelling, floors, furniture and doors (Ceausescu insisted that all materials used should be native to the motherland). The cascading chandeliers alone accounted for 3,500 tonnes of crystal; the largest, measuring nine metres in diameter and weighing five tonnes, had 1,000 light bulbs.
By the time the palace was completed, it could burn more electricity in three hours than all of Bucharest’s two million inhabitants consumed in 24. Between 1984 and 1989, while the Romanian people were struggling to survive with limited heating and meagre rations, the building consumed 30 per cent of Romania’s national budget.
Ceausescu took a close interest in its construction, terrifying the workforce with impromptu visits to the site and frequent changes of mind which resulted in the building featuring a mishmash of styles. Anca Petrescu recalled how, on one visit, he claimed to notice that some carved flowers decorating columns inside the building were not equal: “I never noticed that,” she recalled. “I was exhausted and the others were petrified… We all swore that it was OK.” But he ordered someone to climb a ladder and measure them, and determined that one flower was one centimetre shorter than the others. The columns had to be made all over again.
The tyrant visited the palace for the last time in November 1989, to witness the first completed room — a month before he and his hated wife Elena were executed on live television by firing squad.
The end of communism brought work to a halt as Romania’s new leaders pondered what to do with the building. Suddenly Anca Petrescu found herself being treated as a pariah, and in 1990 a group of architects led a campaign to see her stand trial for misuse of national assets; she was even accused of genocide. She denied all charges, and the cases against her fell apart. But she was ostracised from her profession, received death threats and her house was set on fire. Later that year she left for Paris (at the invitation of President Mitterrand, she claimed), where she won commissions to build hotels for Club Med.
In the early 1990s the debate over the future of the unfinished palace, now open to the public, became heated. Some wanted it demolished; others suggested it could be turned into a museum of communism, a Dracula theme park, or even the biggest casino in Europe. Meanwhile, looters set to work, removing bags of cement, marble, doors, and furniture.
Four years after Ceausescu’s execution the government decided to act. They rebaptised it the “Parliament Palace” and, in 1994, resumed work. In subsequent years an international conference centre was opened inside; the lower and upper houses of parliament moved in, along with a new museum of contemporary art, the Romanian Constitutional Court and the South-east European Law Enforcement Centre.
Although one travel book described the palace as “one of the world’s worst eyesores”, over time public aversion waned. Indeed, many Romanians began to claim that they liked the building; and even those who did not took pride in the exquisite workmanship involved.
In 2002, when the decision was taken to add a Reichstag-style glass cupola in the centre of the building, Anca Petrescu was brought back in from the cold and asked to supervise the job.
At 84 metres in height, 270m long, 245m wide, and stretching 92m underground, with 13 floors, 7,000 rooms, three kilometres of passages and a total floor area of 450,000 square metres, the “People’s Palace” occupies seven times the cubic volume of the Palace of Versailles, and is the second-largest public administration building on earth after the Pentagon. But it still has problems: among other things, Ceausescu vetoed the installation of air conditioning, fearing chemical attacks through the ventilation system, while the monstrous staircases, cut to fit the dictator’s tiny feet, are notoriously difficult to walk up and down.
The daughter of a surgeon, Mira Anca Victoria Marculet Petrescu was born on March 20 1949, a year after the communists came to power in Romania. She was brought up in Sighisoara, a Transylvanian fortress town north-west of Bucharest. After graduating in 1973 from the Ion Mincu Institute of Architecture in Bucharest, she joined the state design institute.
After her return to Romania Anca Petrescu became involved in politics, and in 2004 entered parliament on the lists of Romania’s opposition nationalist Greater Romania Party. The following year she stood for election as mayor of Bucharest but won less than four per cent of the vote.
When interviewed about her role in building the People’s Palace, Anca Petrescu tended to lapse into evasive, Soviet-style doublespeak, cutting off interviewers brusquely if they enquired about her relationship with Ceausescu. When asked by one western journalist how she justified the suffering Romanians went through as a result of her work, she retorted: “That is a question originating from someone who can only understand a system based on profit as motivation.” Her favourite novels, she revealed, were the “sick works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, because they fit my soul”.
Anca Petrescu, born March 20 1949, died October 30 2013
I see Jane Austin’s sister Cassandra’s drawing of her as a feisty, determined, thoughtful and observant portrait (Comment, 1 November); her mouth expressing a steely intolerance of bullshit; in her eyes a certain exasperation with the world. It’s characterful, a real person, completely without artifice or pretension. A brave and stalwart person, who, it is easy to imagine, could have patiently engaged herself in writing those books. Tanya Gold falls into the trap she complains of, describing Cassandra’s portrayal of Jane as “a wonky cross patch, staring with mild malevolence out of the past”. Look closer, Tanya. You are perpetuating the confusion over what is and isn’t an acceptable image of women, thus contributing to the reason why we are going to have on our £10 notes, via the airbrushed watercolour of Jane, a mindless, doe-eyed, dim-witted, fearful girl who could never in a million years have had the depth of thought and feeling, the sparkling integrity, to write those books.
• Tanya Gold bemoans the prettification of Jane Austen on the English tenner as further evidence of the malign influence of deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes. But she should take note of a more enlightened approach north of the border. For years the back of Clydesdale Bank’s £10 note has been graced by a less than flattering portrait of the 19th-century Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor. She’s the only non-royal female to appear on a banknote, I gather. And a female recognised for her achievements – not her looks. I’ll send one down Tanya. But be warned, due to another form of discrimination, you may have some trouble using it in London.
There has been a surprisingly low level of comment about the takeover of the Co-op Bank by two US hedge funds, leaving the Co-op with a mere 30% stake (Co-operative Bank sale leaves ethical savers with a dilemma, 24 October). The Co-op movement has deep roots in mutualism, ethical and collective principles which are ostensibly at odds with the capitalist principles upon which the takeover is based.
Illustration by Gary Neill
This suggests that there are three options: 1) a name change for the currently named Co-operative Bank if the bank no longer operates as a mutual; 2) the possibility of switching members from the currently named Co-op Bank to a newly structured entity (perhaps based on credit unions) and residing within the Co-op structure (should that be permitted); 3) the 30% Co-op members acting alone to switch or remain in a bank that no longer is based on the principles which had drawn them to it in the first place.
We therefore call on Vince Cable, the secretary of state for business, to exercise his powers under section 76 of the Companies Act and require the Co-operative plc board to: (1) outline a plan to return the bank to democratic member-control within a fixed time frame; 2) give notice to the bank that it must change its name if it fails to return the bank to democratic member-control within a fixed time frame, so that members of the public are not misled regarding its structures, operating values and guiding principles; 3) work with the Financial Conduct Authority and Co-operative Group to ensure compliance with the Co-operative Group’s own rules.
Those people who recognise the importance of the Co-operative Bank can sign our petition, organised by the Fair Shares Association which, as above, calls on the secretary of state to exercise his powers (www.fairshares-association.com/blog.html). We also support the Save Our Bank – Co-op campaign (see http://www.saveourbank.com). We as a nation should have a variety of banking institutions and in this regard the mutualised financial institutions are a crucially important variant.
While there will be further developments on Monday, it is important to maintain pressure on those people with the power to do the right thing.
Professor Elizabeth Chell Kingston University, Rory Ridley-Duff Fairshares Association, Cliff Southcombe Social Enterprise Europe, Ian Snaith Consultant solicitor, DWF LLP, Ashley Simpson National Youth Committee
• Over the last two decades many charities and campaigning groups have moved their accounts to the Co-operative Bank and urged others to do so. A major reason for this was the bank’s ethical policy – which sets out clearly and uniquely how monies will and will not be invested. As customers, we call on those involved in setting out the bank’s future to do their utmost to set in stone the continuance of the Co-op Bank ethical policy and the underlying commitments to customer consultation, well-resourced implementation, third-party independent audit and warts-and-all reporting. The establishment of these commitments in the articles of association of a new entity would provide serious reassurance that the bank can continue to be a world leader in ethical investment.
Jenny Ricks, Head of campaigns, Action Aid, Mary Shephard, General manager, Animal Aid, Mark Farmaner, Director, Burma Campaign UK, Tim Hunt, Director, Ethical Consumer, Craig Bennett, Director of policy and campaigns, Friends of the Earth, John Sauven, Executive director, Greenpeace UK, Sally Copley, Head of UK campaigns, Oxfam, Phoebe Cullingworth, Activism & events Manager, People & Planet, Keith Tyrell, Director, Pesticide Action Network, Catherine Howorth, Chief executive officer, ShareAction, Jeanette Longfield, Co-ordinator, Sustain, Paul Monaghan , Director, Up the Ethics, John Hilary, Executive director, War On Want, Nick Dearden, Director, World Development Movement
• Now that a decision appears to have been taken on the structure of RBS (Bad-bank verdict may upstage RBS chief, 1 November) surely it’s time for a proper debate about its future. The loss of the Co-op Bank to hedge funds means that the option of retaining RBS in the public sector makes sense. It could be positioned as an ethical bank, supporting strategic industrial and business investment. That would offer real choice and people would flock to it. We might call it the People’s Bank.
Little Easton, Essex
The magnetic levitation railway technology, which David Hurry says has been “proven in Japan and China” (Letters, 31 October) was pioneered at Birmingham airport, coincidentally on the HS2 route.
Dr Ian West
• Any party that will renationalise the railways, energy companies and water will have the greatest win in any election ever. Just have the courage.
• Our trick or treaters included a girl in a cloak and pointed hat, one in a brown animal costume, and a small boy wearing a Tony Blair mask: the lion, the witch and the warmonger.
• Can I nominate Jane Wade (Letters, 30 October) for a Guardian award for “best letter”? The beautifully written description of her encounter with a destitute young man on her way to a concert, so tellingly and imaginatively compared with another young man, the concert pianist, conveyed the utter depravity of aspects of this government’s social security programme with truly poetic concentration and insight. Please send copies to all coalition cabinet members, their aides and abetters.
• My parents, in 1944, both said “love, honour and equal pay” during their wedding (Letters, 30 October). I am still waiting for equal pay for all women.
• Here on the edge of the Peak District (Letters, 31 October), I’ve just made six pots of own-brand crabapple jelly, harvested a basketful of fine yellow quinces, and picked a supper’s worth of pot-grown courgettes and the final four fat figs (the last of at least 20). Well, this is Yorkshire.
Kirsten Cubitt Thorley
• We have heads of purple sprouting broccoli and primroses in flower. They’re both either six months early or six months late. I’ve no idea which.
Your obituary of Lou Reed (29 October) refers to Lou Reed’s sexuality, character and environment in the diction of a homophobic 1950s judge poised to pass sentence: “aberrant sexual behaviour”, “sexually ambiguous underworld”, “transgressive sex”, “electroconvulsive therapy intended to cure him of … homosexual instincts”, “lived openly for several years with a transvestite”. While sheltering behind outdated cliches and failing to consider what impact it might have had on Reed’s adolescent character to be given electroconvulsive therapy to “cure” him of homosexuality – or rather bisexuality – it betrays no awareness of how far this extraordinary singer-musician-poet’s creativity was surely shaped and spurred by his sexual nature and his affinity, when adult, with the sexually unconventional and stigmatised to whom the obituary merely alludes
Nicholas de Jongh
With the rejection of the Press Standards Board of Finance’s application for an injunction to prevent the government’s royal charter being accepted by the privy council (Report, 29 October), there is just a possibility that reality will begin to dawn in the war of words waged by the press on one side and the victims of press intrusion on the other.
To suggest that 300 years of press freedom have suddenly been consigned to the rubbish bin is pure tabloid nonsense. Again, to talk about the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (Report, 31 October) as about to dole out £1m fines to newspapers which breach a new code of conduct is pure cloud cuckoo land stuff. It just won’t happen.
Interestingly, it may be the judges who can now unlock the stand-off in the fighting between politicians and the press. The judges are independent of the executive and there is nothing to stop them making it clear that hopeless or vexatious cases brought against the press under a “free” arbitration system paid for by the press will simply not be allowed. Access to justice is wholly laudable but any attempt to abuse either a “free” arbitration system or the judicial process needs to be deterred with indemnity costs orders.
The judges draft the civil procedure rules. They could and should make it clear that they will play their part in making sure a “free” arbitration system is not abused and that it should be a mandatory precursor to expensive high court litigation. While newspapers must shoulder the cost of resolving ambiguities or inaccuracies in what they print, those bringing bad or frivolous claims must know that they will be penalised if they try to abuse a “free” arbitration system.
The high court rules committee must act now and make it clear that it will stay libel or privacy claims and send them off to fasttrack arbitration under the defamation pre-action protocol – like 28-day adjudication in the construction industry – if there are key issues in dispute, such as the “meaning” of the words complained of, which could and should be determined quickly and easily outside our hugely expensive high court system.
Managing director of Early Resolution and former legal manager at Times Newspapers Ltd
• The Guardian’s own stance on the rival royal charter proposals has been judicious, diplomatic and fair; but I very much hope that now a charter has been sealed, the Guardian will initiate or join in vigorous efforts to set up a regulator under it.
‘In even the best of independent schools, there are many teachers of maths and physics who do not hold a degree in those subjects’
Sir, Richard Cairns may well have 39 teachers in his school without formal teaching qualifications (letter, Oct 31) and, as head of an independent school, that is his prerogative. Many independent schools, however, encourage such teachers to obtain a teaching qualification while in employment, thereby increasing the supply of qualified teachers, some of whom may later wish to find employment in state schools. Such an enlightened approach is a benefit to the nation and to the teachers themselves.
Mr Cairns’s comment concerning “the great army of state teachers who are genuinely unqualified” is an unworthy swipe at schools working in circumstances more difficult than his own. In even the best of independent schools, there are many teachers of maths and physics who do not hold a degree in those subjects, but in a related discipline — and the point is that this really doesn’t matter. Most teaching takes place at GCSE level and below, and is not rocket science, so to speak. An enthusiasm for the subject being taught and an interest in how young people learn make these teachers more than adequately qualified, and a formal teaching qualification demonstrates their commitment to the profession.
Sir, The Head Master of Brighton College, relying on his experience of teaching the children of comparatively prosperous and supportive parents, does not think that teachers in publicly funded schools need to be qualified. As any of us who have been educated and then taught in schools of the kind he runs knows, teaching in such schools is one thing, teaching in schools with a high proportion of children lacking those advantages is very different. The opinions of headmasters without substantial experience of teaching in such schools on the need for the teachers in them to be trained is worth rather less than they may suppose.
Sir Peter Newsam
Pickering, N Yorks
Sir, In an age which values research and expects universities to convey the knowledge gained to their students, why should intending teachers be deprived of advances in knowledge about such things as children’s behaviour, cognition, creativity, learning and learning difficulties, problem solving, etc? I would have some respect for Mr Cairns and his colleagues if I thought that they were conversant with that body of knowledge and had judged it objectively.
The English continually fail to learn from the past. They lost out in the second half of the Industrial Revolution because they valued “sitting by Nellie” as the preferred means of learning. In contrast, the continentals, especially Germany, developed their education and training systems and leapt ahead. The standards of teaching cannot be raised if governments persist in the de-professionalisation of teaching. There are many other constraints that prevent good teaching, notably overloaded curriculums and badly designed assessment and examination procedures.
In Ireland, where teacher training is compulsory, many adults who had been teaching without qualifications elsewhere, including England, found the training to be of benefit.
Professor of Teacher Education (1977-1996),
University of Dublin, Trinity College
More changes are needed to ensure an effective complaints system within the NHS, and this reader gives some practical suggestions
Sir, It is good that Ann Clwyd and Tricia Hart have taken a hard look at the failing complaints system (report, Oct 29), but I fear that, in spite of the reports from Robert Francis and Don Berwick, we shall need stronger action to achieve change in the culture in the NHS.
I proposed to the working party that the raising of concerns (a better term than complaints) by all NHS staff should be discussed within annual appraisals, and appraisers should bring these concerns to the attention of management.
There should be a doctor elected from the medical staff co-opted on to the Trust Board responsible for overseeing concerns, plus two patients with the same remit.
Patients should be asked by nursing or other staff when leaving a ward or clinic whether they have any concerns, which would be collated by the ward/clinic nursing sister. Any concerns would initially be handled by the responsible named consultant and the ward/clinic sister face to face with the complainant or in writing, and then when it is necessary they should be responsible for following any escalation of the concern through the Trust management system. Whenever possible the consultant should sign off the reply to the concern, and not the chief executive.
Professional groups within hospitals, such as the committees of doctors or nurses, should discuss concerns and suggestions of their group and take them to management.
More attention should be given to the views and experience of trainee doctors, who are “the eyes and ears of the hospital”. The professional bodies (Royal Colleges, etc) should provide confidential support for whistleblowers who fail to get satisfaction.
These measures would be a start in encouraging an open exchange of concerns and suggestions throughout hospitals and eliminating bullying.
Sir Richard Thompson
President, Royal College of Physicians
The press’s own substantially Leveson-compliant, independent organisation for self-regulation will be up and running long before the government equivalent
Sir, “A recognition body that nobody recognises. A system of voluntary regulation without volunteers.” Your leading article of Oct 31 aptly summed up the messy pizza cooked up by politicians and the Hacked Off lobbyists to regulate the British press.
We’ll never know what the Queen thought of the Royal Charter she was obliged to ratify by the Privy Council. But Her Majesty could be forgiven for privately wondering why she’d been cast in the starring role of an off-Westminster farce with Buck House turned into the Palace Theatre. With most of Britain’s national and local press at the Appeal Court arguing that 300 years of press freedom was being undermined, this was a Royal Charter like no other. Royal Charters (or Letters Patent) are all about the royal imprimatur being granted to organisations which voluntarily seek it, not imposed on a steadfastly opposed key player.
If the following morning the Queen listened to the BBC radio programme on which Hacked Off’s Dr Evan Harris, the Culture Secretary Maria Miller and I variously appeared, she would have been entitled to feel somewhat confused. Harris declared that newspapers could “unsign” from the regulatory system laid out in the Royal Charter. Miller insisted that it was “entirely voluntary” for the press while returning to the sinister old line that the Royal Charter was “the best way to resist full statutory regulation”.
She now admits it will probably take a year to set up the body responsible for overseeing the new press regulator created by the Royal Charter, begging the question of who would volunteer for the role of overseeing a “voluntary” body to which the newspaper and magazine industry en masse was refusing to “volunteer”. Long before then the press’s own substantially Leveson-compliant, Independent Press Standards Organisation plan for self-regulation will be up and running. The public — simultaneously favourable to tougher press regulation but hostile to politicians’ fingers all over it — are likely to be satisfied.
Former editor of the Sunday Mirror
Sir, Without the support of the press many government failings and public health scandals would never be exposed. For example, in the case of pesticides, rural residents whose health has been put at risk from pesticide spraying near homes, schools and playgrounds have been failed at every turn by the State, parts of the judiciary, even certain NGOs. The only sector prepared to help expose this scandal is the media, predominantly the print press.
There have been many victims of establishment cover-ups, corruption and collusion who have only had their voices heard because we have a free press. There is much that can be said in favour of a strong independent media that exposes disgraceful injustices, and is able to shine a light in places which, no doubt the State, along with many politicians, would prefer remained in darkness.
UK Pesticides Campaign
Runcton, West Sussex
The Falkland Islands have been under British governance from 1765. Argentina did not come into existence until 1816
Sir, Alicia Castro, Argentina’s Ambassador, stated that “the Malvinas’ inhabitants are British, but the territory in which they live is not” (letter, Oct 31). That is a lie.
Having been first landed on by the English in 1690, when the Falkland Islands were so named, they have been under British governance from 1765. Argentina did not come into existence until 1816, when it claimed its independence from Spain.
In 1982 the Galtieri junta attempted to take by force land that has never belonged to Argentina, and been inhabited for generations by English-speaking people of British descent.
Anthony H. Ratcliffe
‘The largely incompetent trustees of the British Museum fell under the influence of Joe Duveen, the world’s most unscrupulous and successful art dealer’
Sir, The Elgin Marbles could have done with a safe refuge such as the Museum of the Acropolis, commended by Oliver Kamm (Notebook, Oct 29) during the inter-war period. The largely incompetent trustees of the British Museum fell under the influence of Joe Duveen, the world’s most unscrupulous and successful art dealer, who in effect bought his position by lavish benefactions which included a large sum to rehouse the Marbles. He insisted that they “should be thoroughly cleaned — so thoroughly that he would dip them into acid”, as the chairman of the trustees, Lord Crawford, recorded in his diary on May 8, 1931. A terrible disaster was only narrowly averted.
House of Lords
SIR – Train companies and Network Rail ran amended timetables on Monday to ensure the safety of passengers and staff. The severity of the storm indicates this was the right decision; more than 400 trees fell on to tracks. Operators will be giving full refunds to passengers who could not travel.
Network Rail separately compensates operators for the impact of disruption on long-term revenue. It is wrong to suggest that this money is meant to be “passed on” to passengers. This system, overseen by the rail regulator, ensures the millions paid to government by train companies are not jeopardised by events beyond their control.
Director, General Rail Delivery Group
SIR – “Trackside growth” provides an invaluable habitat for wildlife that is being driven out by our burgeoning human population. I hope Network Rail does not resort to the destruction of these havens by over-reaction to the rare chance of a hurricane.
SIR – Ian Robertson asks how well our wind turbines performed during the storm. From 6pm on Sunday to 4am on Monday their output fell from 5 gigawatts (GW) to about 1.5 GW, presumably as they were turned off. During the week, wind turbine output fluctuated between 0.5 GW and 5 GW. This large variation is the real problem with wind power.
G H Williams
SIR – David Kynaston seems ill-informed about independent schools’ contribution to social mobility. Far from being full of Tim Nice-But-Dims, many are in the vanguard of widening educational opportunity.
My school’s access scheme, the Arnold Foundation, has admitted dozens of underprivileged pupils in the past decade, being praised by the National Foundation for Educational Research for lifting educational ambition in deprived parts of Britain. With other members of the sector, we are expanding this work through the Springboard bursary foundation.
Head Master, Rugby School
SIR – Northern Ireland never relinquished grammar schools and has the highest social mobility in the British Isles.
Brian J Singleton
It was safest to cancel trains before the storm
01 Nov 2013
SIR – David Kynaston is right to argue that the grammar school did not serve poorer pupils as well as it might. Its demise is surely a red herring when it comes to assessing the cause of a stalling of social mobility in the United Kingdom.
A more likely factor is its replacement: comprehensive schools. Middle-class parents like me were more than happy to move house in return for places at the better ones. This process, over decades, has left us with one class of state schools serving the disadvantaged poor, and one serving the better off. Ask any estate agent.
Dr Andy Dyson
SIR – Lack of social mobility is due to the chronic under-performance of state schools that politicians have allowed to be run for the benefit of the teachers, not the pupils, for generations.
The debate about unqualified teachers is part of this failure: a triumph of flawed social engineering over true results. David Kynaston is a fine historian but he needs to spend more time with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who will reverse the rot in the state system, and allow the many who are nice but neither indolent nor dim to become upwardly mobile.
Donhead St Mary, Dorset
SIR – I read with incredulity the letter from Toni Fazaeli of the Institute for Learning and others. The qualified teachers that they trained have presided over a disastrous decline in the basic skills of primary-school leavers over 60 years. Michael Gove is now trying to reverse this.
Despite smaller classes and better resources, they have done much worse in imparting basic skills than the largely unqualified teachers of earlier generations. No lack of personal commitment by our teachers is responsible; it is the wrong-headed training they have received.
SIR – Waste no time pitying barristers at the criminal bar. That their fees are about to be reduced by a further 15-20 per cent (having already suffered in real terms a 35 per cent cut since 2007) is not something for which many will feel inclined to shed tears. They are generally able people who will find something else to do.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has made a no-doubt astute political calculation that pleas from barristers as to their own plight, as opposed to that of their clients, will always fall on deaf ears. The ministry hopes to justify the cuts by relying on public misconceptions about what criminal barristers earn and broadcasting the gross fees of a select few at the very top of the profession. In fact, Mr Grayling knows full well that net earnings of the vast majority of the state-funded criminal bar are about £35-£40 an hour – lower than most doctors.
Criminal justice in the Crown Court is still delivered mainly by the independent self-employed bar. Employed Crown Prosecution Service and defence solicitor advocates have made inroads. But it is still independent barristers, by and large, who provide the service many take for granted. Most important cases (all are important for those, including victims, directly involved) are still handled by the bar.
This brings to the criminal justice system the ethos of fairness and excellence of the chambers system, where senior people give their time freely to junior barristers who are taught that independence counts and winning is not all.
The new cuts are so savage that the chambers system will not survive. Barristers will do other things or become employees of one side or the other. Once the chambers system is gone, replacing it with something as fine – and unashamedly British – will be impossible.
Mr Grayling, who is also our Lord Chancellor, does not appreciate the value of what he is so casually about to destroy.
So do not weep for barristers. But feel unease at the irreparable harm about to be done to a system which for a very long time has produced independent, free-spirited men and women whose quality ensured that the standard of British criminal justice was something to be proud of.
Andrew Langdon QC
Leader of the Western Circuit
Rick Pratt QC
Leader of the Northern Circuit
Alistair MacDonald QC
Leader of the North Eastern Circuit
Gregory Bull QC
Leader of the Wales and Chester Circuit
Mark Wall QC
Leader of the Midlands Circuit
Sarah Forshaw QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit
SIR – Goodbye freedom of the press.
Next, freedom of speech? Coming soon, freedom itself?
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Stuck in a jam
SIR – Britain is being forced to accept pointless legislation from the EU, reducing the sugar in jam and marmalade (report, October 31). Sugar is an essential setting and preserving aid when making jam.
This directive serves only to bring us
“in-line” with European manufacturers who, unlike Britain’s commercial and domestic jam-makers, produce jam lacking in taste and with limited shelf life.
If this legislation goes through, people should, as I do, make jam themselves. They will not be disappointed.
SIR – As a former detective with the Regional Crime Squad in the Seventies, I often went “undercover” with women: wives and girlfriends of suspected offenders mainly.
It was clear to me at the time that in many cases they enjoyed our secret liaisons, and that sex would have been available had I sought it. However, I believed (without having to be told) that undercover sex was taboo and I would never have dreamt of indulging in something that could have cost me my job (so I thought) if I was discovered.
And now, many years later, I learn that undercover sex might have been OK. Had I taken advantage, it would surely have led to more arrests. If only somebody had told me.
SIR – Undercover police are to be banned from having intimate relations with those they are investigating. Now the unlikely suggestion by Jenny Jones, a Green member of the London Assembly, is to legislate them out of existence.
One suspects that our security services may be a little more reluctant to surrender the honey trap than the Met. And in the spirit of the level playing field, who would tell Russia’s FSB (veteran honey-trappers par excellence) to keep espionage out of the bedroom?
Ring of truth
SIR – Gold is a “noble metal” and does not react with dilute hydrochloric acid. So a gold ring would not produce gold chloride if held to the eye. Copper does react with dilute hydrochloric acid, and copper salts have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Hence the former practice of making hospital door-handles of copper or brass.
However, it is theoretically possible that a low-purity gold ring, containing a large proportion of copper, zinc or silver, might show some degree of reaction.
Dr Chris Alabaster
SIR – Many years ago I suffered from sties and the gold ring remedy just did not work for me.
Mind you, neither did brushing a sty with a cat’s tail (another old wives’ remedy). I don’t think our cat was too happy about it, either.
J E Dixon
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
No return to Liverpool Care Pathway barbarism
SIR – It is astonishing to read that medical staff now claim that “patients are dying in agony” because halting the Liverpool Care Pathway leaves them too frightened to discuss end-of-life treatment. The way that the pathway was working meant that, too often, neither patients nor their relatives were given any information about it, or even asked whether they wanted to be put on it.
It was not that relatives simply did not understand why their loved ones could not have the drink they begged for, since when those relatives gave them water, they often recovered. It is to be devoutly hoped that we never return to such barbaric practices.
SIR – If all good things were scrapped simply because some people handled them badly, we should be in a sorry state. The care of my late wife in Derby, when put on the pathway, was handled sensitively. It was a great comfort to her and to us, her family, in her last 48 hours.
Rev John D Bland
Sir, – Could there be any more stark contrast between the success of the Web Summit and the failure of our capital city’s water supply over the past few days?
On one hand we have a hugely successful event, bringing key decision-makers and investors to Ireland to look at our burgeoning internet and digital industry, investing, creating employment and wealth. On the other hand we have a water supply system that fails to meet the basic needs of the population.
Imagine a group of investors, after meeting young Irish entrepreneurs at the summit and considering investing in their young company. They arrive in town for a meal to mull over the deal to find a restaurant unable to brew coffee, flush toilets and function normally because of a water shortage. What a wonderful advertisement that is for Ireland.
Clearly reform of our public services needs fresh impetus! – Yours, etc,
Naas, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Might the creation of a national infrastructure authority, into which the National Roads Authority could be subsumed, be an appropriate response to the present and projected water supply problems in Dublin? Such an authority would handle project planning for all major infrastructure projects in the State, including those connected with the supply of energy and water; and the processing of waste, as well as interconnections with other states. – Yours, etc,
Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Is the Government’s water policy a washout?
Sir, – Ballymore useless water treatment plant? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We are told water is turned back on at 7am but it may take two hours to get to some people.
Then we are assured that if the fire brigade needs water in a location where there is none that it will be turned on for them. Could this also take up to two hours to get to them? – Yours, etc,
Goatstown, Dublin 14.
Sir, – At a time when a great deal of attention is focused on the water supply problems of our capital city and environs, a case in the High Court (Home News, October 22nd) draws attention to another significant environmental challenge facing Dublin – the proposal to extend the Ringsend treatment plant and build a 9km tunnel to discharge treated effluent into Dublin Bay.
The bay is, of course, a treasured amenity used by thousands of people on a daily basis. Moreover, Ireland rightly aspires to being a “green” location – for tourism, for clean industries and the like. Dublin Bay is a magnificent gateway to this island for visitors by air and, especially, by sea.
Surely, discharging sewage in the vicinity of an area designated as a Special Area of Conservation is wrong on every level? In the 21st century, we can do better than the traditional “Irish solution to an Irish problem”. – Yours, etc,
Prof MARIA SLOWEY,
A chara, – We’ve had a week of mind-blowing high-tech in Dublin.
The authorities want to pipe 600 million litres of water per day from the Shannon.
Is there not one low-tech entrepreneur out there who will show me how to pipe some of the 35,000 litres of rainwater that falls on my roof each year into the house for those tasks which do not need treated water? – Is mise,
Sir, – You assert there is “scant evidence of a significant reduction in the State’s pharmaceutical bill that the bailout programme prescribed” (Editorial, October 31st). I can understand how this perception prevails, but it misrepresents the efforts made by the research-based pharmaceutical industry (represented by the IPHA) to play its part in reducing the healthcare bill. Furthermore, it should be noted that medicines account for only 12.5 per cent of the total healthcare bill.
From 2008 to 2013 the number of medical cards issued to patients rose by a staggering 520,000, and these additional card-holders would have been prescribed about 15 million items of medicine over the period. Following a series of price reductions by the research-based pharmaceutical industry, the cost to the State per item was reduced by more than 20 per cent, generating savings for the Exchequer in the GMS scheme alone of circa €266 million. The total savings to the Exchequer across all community-based schemes over the same period was in the region of €554 million.
Currently, the prices of original brand medicines (both on- and off-patent) supplied by members of the IPHA are now at or below the European average. Significant further savings are on the way in the off-patent sector via the new system of reference pricing and generic substitution that is being rolled out.
Put simply, the significant savings made in the State’s pharmaceutical bill have been masked by the huge growth in the numbers of medicines dispensed to patients. However, it should be acknowledged that through the provision of deep cuts in the price of medicines, the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland has played its part in assisting the Government in its efforts to bring us through these very difficult times. – Yours, etc,
Healthcare Association Ltd,
Sir, – Paul Cullen’s analysis (Home News, October 31st) of the current HSE medical card PR campaign and Muiris Houston’s article (Opinion, October 30th) on the same topic are very welcome.
The farcical publicity drive underway from the HSE, to inform and reassure people about the current “discretionary” medical card fiasco, is fooling no-one. Reassurances about “eligibility” are being tossed around as if eligibility is not something upon which a deliberate decision is made, by civil servants on our behalf.
Means-tested income is one basis for eligibility, but so is need. Parents’ and carers’ heartfelt efforts on behalf of their children and family members with serious enduring conditions and health needs are being swept aside as “political” manoeuvring. How distasteful!
The only political thuggery is keeping the masses who have children without serious medical conditions apparently happy by offering their children free GP care, while at the same time taking away medical cards from those who need them most. Universal access to primary care for all is a policy I support, but not as a meaningless token while slashing services with the other hand.
The universal five-and-under GP access was dressed up on Budget night as representing that we “cherish all our children equally”.
This smug nonsense hides the fact children have different needs. They require different levels of support and resources. This “capabilities approach” to human development, from economist Amartya Sen, and philosopher Martha Nussbaum is internationally recognised and used to enhance and measure human development, including within the UN Development Programme.
Real opportunities for all require different sets of resources for some, and it is a shame that those left to fight day-in, day-out for services for their loved ones are patronised and undermined. As an Irish citizen I am ashamed to stand over and participate in this. – Yours, etc,
Elm Mount Road,
Sir, – Joe Coy writes that he will not tolerate any geographical reference to describe the state that lies predominantly to the south of Northern Ireland, including the term “Southern Ireland” (October 29th). He insists that the 26 counties will instead be simply referred to as “Ireland”.
This monopoly on the use of Ireland is both ugly and divisive. It tries to reduce Ireland and an Irish identity to an adherence to a state that is made up of only one part of the country. The former unionist leader, Terence O’Neill, was always offended by the idea that he did not live in Ireland. He saw state and country as not enjoying absolute equivalence. One could be loyal to the United Kingdom and still be a proud Irishman. Ironically it is the attitude of people like Mr Coy, who evidently dislikes Ireland’s political division, that digs a trench across this island, making it easier for some in Northern Ireland today to deny any trace of a common Irish identity with those living south of the border.
Perhaps it is better to use “Southern Ireland” than continuing to make the preposterous claims that a 26-county state constitutes “Ireland”. The country is far greater than that. – Yours, etc,
The Centre for the Study of
St Andrews University,
Sir, – We are back to the perennial difficulty that gets an airing in your columns: the respective names of the two jurisdictions that between them rule what can unequivocally and without contradiction be called Ireland.
I agree with Joe Coy (October 29th) that there is no country called “Southern Ireland”. I automatically think of Cork and Kerry whenever I hear these words being voiced. Neither are there countries called “The North”, “The South”, or “The Republic”. Yet in everyday conversation these terms are commonly used and understood as referring to either of the two political regimes that hold sway over us.
To add to the confusion, both our postage stamps and our money declare our name as being Éire. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – While Colm Kelly’s response (November 1st) to Paul O’Neill (October 31st) regarding the status of the two states in Ireland is no doubt accurate from a technical point of view, it does demonstrate a rather disappointing attitude regarding what “Ireland” actually is. He seems indifferent and lacking in knowledge that northern nationalists would refer to Ireland to include all 32 counties, which of course in our complex history should not come as a surprise to him or anyone.
While he quotes articles within the Irish Constitution, it is also worthy of note that in sporting terms the 26-county soccer team is referred to as the Republic of Ireland and the six-county team as Northern Ireland. In rugby terms the team comprising all 32 counties is simply referred to as Ireland, perhaps a term I would suggest everyone is comfortable with.
I also noted that in his reference to “our state” as Ireland he too displays an equally confusing version of geography as the last time I looked Cambridge, where Mr Kelly resides, was in England, United Kingdom! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – There has been an awful lot written about “Polyester Protestants” in your Letters page of late. Spare a thought for other groups who haven’t had a look in: Bombazine Buddhists, Calico Catholics, Jaconet Jews, Muslin Muslims and Nylon Non-believers, to name a few. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Dr Desmond Fennell (October 31st) faults the multi-party system as an impediment to democracy. Political parties are the natural outcome of like-minded individuals combining their efforts to achieve a shared goal. The obvious faults in our political system, which Dr Fennell points out, are more the results of manipulations generated by successive leadership cohorts which dominated the parties, rather than any inherent flaw in political associations. Greater levels of participation by the general public in the political process and greater control of the process at grassroots levels, are steps which can help ameliorate the existing flaws.
Candidates for local and national offices should be selected by members of cumanns in secret ballot, primary-style elections; officials at party headquarters should be barred from interfering/influencing this nomination process. At local and national levels the party-whip rule and the guillotine procedure should be banned. Elected members of a political party will agree with the party’s general views the vast majority of times; when an elected member feels the need to disagree it should be remembered the individual was elected to represent the people and not the organisation. The guillotine procedure is an affront to the principle of freedom of speech. Use of the procedure implicates its practitioners as those who prefer to control rather than confer.
Democracy is the form, and political parties the function, of representing the aspirations of the people. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With all the talk and worry about binge drinking, I wonder why Tesco has included gin and vodka in its Every Day range. Strange! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Hill walking is increasingly being promoted for natives and tourists alike. So why can’t we make life a little bit easier and safer for the hill walker by discreetly marking the tops of our mountains and hills, with a stake and sign denoting the name and height of the mountain?
It is done in other jurisdictions and in no way defaces the mountaintop. I recently wandered in a south-westerly direction off Scarr, Co Wicklow, instead of in a north westerly direction towards Kanturk, by not realising I had reached the top of Scarr, as it was enveloped in dense fog. I have done the Tour of Mont Blanc, walked in the Tyrolean Alps and the English Lake District and have found all mountain-tops and paths well marked and signposted, I never felt the markers were an intrusion on the landscape. And of course I never got lost! There are some great markers on our way-marked ways. Why can’t we continue the practice on our mountain tops? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I wholeheartedly support Mary O’Rourke’s plea to Ruairí Quinn (Education, October 29th) to keep history as a core subject at Junior Cert level. I think it should also be a core subject at Leaving Cert level.
How can we understand the state of the world today if we don’t know about the events and processes which brought us here? Indeed, if we learn about the events, failures and successes of the past we not only more fully understand the world we live in, but we are in a better position to plan the future. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Has Dublin City Council checked for bugged water? Perhaps our mobile phones have not been tapped, but the water services have! – Yours, etc,
In most matters of tribulation, a point is inevitably reached when you end up saying enough is enough.
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The latest announcement by Revenue about the payment of the controversial property tax reached this point for me, and it showed clearly that this Government’s brass neck has not dulled.
Revenue’s statement that those opting to pay this tax for 2014 by either cheque or debit card can expect to have the money deducted instantly after the November 27 deadline left even a hardened cynic like me aghast.
Not only have they swooped upon the property-owning populace – who will receive absolutely nothing in return for this cash grab – but they have the gall to demand that the money be given to them ahead of the year in question.
But please remember, none of this is their fault. It’s those nasty banks yet again.
Revenue’s website has the temerity to blame the fact that the money will be instantly deducted more than five weeks before the year of the tax itself on “the nature of the banking and credit card systems”!
Obviously, the simple expedient of allotting a deadline in January or February 2014 just did not occur to them.
Never mind that this course of action will be monumentally unpopular and massively unfair (the Government has long since abandoned any such considerations with regard to these matters) but have our leaders even half-considered the gross economic stupidity of sucking millions of euro out of a half-dead economy at precisely the time of year when the hard-pressed citizen might be prepared to part with at least some of their dwindling cash?
Stillorgan, Co Dublin
THE BIG TURN OFF
* The State spent €100m on the Ballymore Eustace water plant when it had the money to burn.
Now that the country is bankrupt, there is not an earthly chance that we can do the necessary repairs to address our water needs.
I dread to think what the infrastructure around the country will look like about 10 years from now. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that parts of the country will resemble scenes from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic thriller ‘The Road’.
Sean Mc Phillips
College Point, New York
ROAD TAX INJUSTICE
* Those reading your Motoring section’s review of the new S-Class Mercedes (Irish Independent, October 30) will either be salivating with anticipation at getting one or seething with rage at the injustice of the road tax regime.
Isn’t there some irony that in a bankrupt country, a person who can afford a €100,000 car will only pay some €200 or less in road tax, whereas the vast majority of the downtrodden, taxed-into-oblivion masses pay over €700 for an old, two-litre family car?
Of course, the mantra is trotted out again and again that the older cars are contributing more to climate change than the newer models. The dogs in the street know that the politicians don’t lose sleep over global warming but the excuse is a nice little earner for the Exchequer.
History will record these times as a period of great unfairness and injustice by the Government towards its people.
Clonbur, Co Galway
* “Innovative and interesting” – that’s the phrase that best describes Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s decision to engage Willie Walsh, current head of International Airlines Group (IAG), British Airways and Iberia’s parent company, as chairman of the advisory committee of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) (Irish Independent October 29).
It is a real breath of fresh air when one realises that this vast wealth of knowledge and experience is being tapped free of charge. The former Aer Lingus boss had a salary of £1.08m (€1.3m) from his day job last year, but won’t earn a cent from the NTMA.
Come to think of it, hasn’t the boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary – another world leader – been advising the Government where to “get on and get off” for years, and has charged them nothing for it?
It would be another real coup for Mr Noonan if he succeeded in roping him into the NTMA on an official basis, similar to Mr Walsh’s role. Mr O’Leary’s vast experience would be a mighty asset.
Incidentally, I would like to compliment Mr Noonan on his foresight in selecting Mr Walsh and in realising that those of “sky-high ambitions” are undoubtedly a cloud above the rest of the posse.
Thurles, Co Tipperary
GROWTH THEORY OBSOLETE
* I refer to an article by David McWilliams (Irish Independent, October 30).
I always get depressed when some economic expert writes, “it is just like the 1980s”. The time we live in is unlike any other in history.
The great economic ambitions of past centuries have been spectacularly achieved – the world can produce everything in great abundance and as a consequence “growth” is no longer necessary or possible.
But an endless frenzy to promote growth continues and as long as it does, economics will lurch from boom to bust, with each collapse leaving greater debt and human casualties in its wake. The economics of “growth” have been replaced by the economics of sufficiency or “enough”.
The economics of work have been replaced by the economics of “automation”, which, without policies to create more jobs from less work, will lead to unsustainable unemployment.
That is why the 21st Century is totally unlike any other period in history.
It is a remarkable time with great potential, but we will realise this potential only if we can adapt an out-of-date, ineffective economic philosophy to manage an entirely new and wonderful technological age, unlike anything ever experienced before.
WE’VE GOT IT COVERED
* The fluid situation regarding water supplies at the moment reminds me of the advice given to consumers in Britain during a long, hot summer by Ken Dodd: “When having a bath, just fill the water to a depth of six inches . . . that should cover it.”
Beaumont, Dublin 9
TV VIOLENCE PEAKS
* Your letters page on October 31 showed an interesting and contrasting view on the quality of the programmes on radio and television these days.
Using phrases such as “enthralled”, “top-notch drama” and “excellent narrative”, Aaron McCormack asked whether we have “reached the pinnacle of television”.
Gary Cummins, on the other hand, came to the conclusion that we are “being insulted with the general lack of quality in the programmes being screened” to the extent that they are “an affront to people’s intelligence”.
The fact that such programmes mirror a decadent and violent society raises questions as to the effect these shows have on the mentality of the the millions who watch them each week.
It also raises questions as to how displaying arrogance and contempt for fellow human beings week after week could be declared the pinnacle of television.