12 December 2013 Pottering

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee and Fatso have been sent on an initiative test they have to get to Malta on sixpence each. Priceless.

Potter around feeling under the weather get Rationalist magazine six issues for a pound.

Scrabbletoday Mary winsjust ahead by 9 points but both of us under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Alison Davis , who has died aged 58, was a severely disabled woman who became a prominent campaigner against the legalisation of assisted suicide, a campaign which was all the more potent because for many years she had wanted to end her own life.

Alison Davis was born on January 8 1955 with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and later developed emphysema, osteoporosis and arthritis. By her thirties her spine was collapsing, trapping nerves and causing excruciating pain. Confined to a wheelchair from the age of 14, she needed full-time care.

As a young adult, Alison Davis tried to live as normal a life as possible. She read Sociology at university and married in 1975. But in 1985 her marriage failed and, unable to cope, she tried to kill herself on several occasions.

Friends found her in time, however, and she survived. “I had a settled wish to die that lasted over 10 years,” she wrote later, “and at that time doctors thought (wrongly as it turns out) that I had only a very short time to live.” If “voluntary” euthanasia had been a legal choice at the time, she said, she would have requested it.

A combination of factors had helped her to see that she had a worthwhile future, including her growing involvement in charity work, though another key factor was her gradual conversion to Roman Catholicism.

As a young woman she had stopped believing in God and had supported a woman’s “right to choose”; but her attitude changed after she read newspaper reports of the case of a baby girl who had been born in hospital with the same disabilities as hers, but who had been sedated and, in the terminology of the time, allowed to succumb to the inevitable “with dignity”. Shocked to think that she, too, might have suffered the same fate, in 1981 she wrote a letter to the Guardian attacking the “killing” of newborn disabled babies.

As a result she was contacted by the pro-life Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) which sought to convince her that killing a newborn disabled child was merely an extension of the legalised practice of aborting the unborn. From 1983 Alison Davis began working for SPUC’s new Handicap Division (later renamed No Less Human), and after two pilgrimages to Lourdes she was received into the Catholic Church in 1991.

In the years that followed she became a leading spokeswoman not only in opposition to attempts to introduce legislation allowing assisted suicide, but on such matters as abortion, genetic screening and embryonic stem cell research, which she acknowledged might potentially help people with conditions like hers, but opposed on the basis of the belief that life begins at the moment of conception.

In 1987 Alison Davis had met Colin Harte, who was working for SPUC and later wrote Changing Unjust Laws Justly; Pro-Life Solidarity with the Last and the Least (2005). He became her carer and companion, and in 1995, with his help, she set up Enable, a charity for disabled children in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It gave her a renewed purpose in life and on her birthday in 2001 the charity opened its first new home, named after her.

“Every time I go to India I think ‘I don’t know if I can do this any more.’ Then I see all my children, lined up waiting to see me, and I know that it’s all worthwhile,” she explained. “They all call me ‘mummy’.”

In 2002 Alison Davis won the Clarins Woman of the Year title for her charity work, and the following year was named Britain’s most inspirational woman in a competition organised by the Body Shop and Marie Claire magazine.

Alison Davis, born January 8 1955, died December 3 2013




John Paul (Obituaries, 11 December) should be made a saint. His name will live on in the Paul Cycle calculations of the physics involved in hip replacements. Mr Paul’s bioengineering work – that and the generosity and efficiency of our NHS – has put me back on my bike six weeks after a total hip replacement.
Paul Fisher

• Congratulations and thanks to George Monbiot for a brilliant article on materialism (Comment, 10 December). He manages to sum up the essence of the Catholic church’s social teaching and he has obviously read Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel.
Canon Paul Townsend

• Whenever I pass the vast wind turbine adjacent to the M4 at Reading, I wonder why more turbines aren’t sited along motorways (Letters, 9 December). It seems a logical place as most motorways have electric cabling alongside, are wind channels and few nimbys.
Jenny Page
Newton Poppleford, Devon

• Isabel Tipple (Letters, 11 December)shouldn’t worry. A grandmother has lots of old Barbie dolls in her attic!
Patricia Harris
Glanvilles Wootton, Dorset

• I would like to add my few words of gratitude for Colin Wilson (Obituaries, 10 December). People sometimes ask: “Is there a book that changed your life?” I can answer that with a ringing “Yes, Colin Wilson’s The Outsider”. It would be hard to say how or why. The simplest thing is to say that, as well as giving me a great reading list, he set me on a path to a greater awareness of the joy of being alive.
Philip Pendered
Tonbridge, Kent

• Only Paul Evans could bring poetry to a bluebottle (Country diary, 11 December). Thank you for cheering me up on another dismal train journey to work.
Tom Locke
Burntisland, Fife

• The Ashes (Sport, 11 December)? It’ll all be over by Christmas.
Gordon Watson
Royston, Hertfordshire



The care bill receives its second reading in the Commons next Monday. It’s an important bill that aims to bring up to date the legal framework underpinning the care system. While it needs improvement, it’s a real opportunity to address our care crisis. It is therefore disappointing that the government is using it as a vehicle to change the law after Jeremy Hunt‘s embarrassing legal failure over cuts to A&E and maternity services at Lewisham hospital. Instead of admitting defeat, ministers passed a Lords amendment to the care bill – now clause 118. It’s an attempt to sneak through a fundamental shift in the way decisions are made about hospital closures, giving new powers to special administrators to make changes to services without the inconvenience of the kind of local scrutiny and democracy that saved Lewisham. Strong cross-party opposition to this clause is building in parliament. My early day motion exposes and opposes this stealthy attempt to change the law to allow the closure of successful services that communities want and need. I hope MPs will sign it before clause 118 comes to the Commons.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green, Brighton Pavilion

Your report about targets for benefit sanctions makes disturbing reading (Whistleblower says DWP staff given targets to stop benefits, 10 December). The Department for Work and Pensions recently announced that there were 553,000 benefit sanctions between November 2012, when the new sanctions regime started, and June 2013. This is an extraordinarily high rate and compares with an average of 300,000 a year between 2001 and 2210, according to the New Policy Institute.

Sanctions have been a necessary feature of the National Insurance system since its inception, but recently they have become far too prevalent. They often deprive people of financial support for trivial reasons – eg a blind man for not going after a cleaning job, or a man who failed to sign on when he was on a DWP training programme. A survey by Greater Manchester Citizens Advice found that two-thirds of those sanctioned were left without any income. The rapid expansion of food banks is partly due to benefit sanctions.

As a former senior manager of UK jobcentre services, I am sure that the present high rates are driven from the top in some way by performance management systems. Are ministers unaware of the vast literature about the demoralising effects of prolonged unemployment? Sanctions on this scale increase debt, demoralisation and despair and make people less rather than more job ready. Ian Duncan Smith should agree to the proposal from Church Action on Poverty, the Trussell Trust and the Child Poverty Action Group for a wide-ranging independent inquiry into benefit sanctions and their effects.
David Price



The portrait of Jane Austen you show (Austen auction, 11 December) is, as you indicate, not taken from the life but is a copy made some 50 years after her death. Joanna Trollope says “it is all we have”. But of course it is not all we have. A perfectly good portrait, pencil and water colour on paper, was made by Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra. It is not dated, but Deirdre Le Faye suggests it was probably made circa 1810. It can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London. It is a striking work, full of character, not flattering, and it fits the descriptions of Jane Austen made by those who knew her best, and shows a clear family resemblance. It seems quite wrong that those who made the decision about the bank note preferred to use a softened and conventionalised representation of a great writer when they might have taken a drawing from life. Or are they, like Joanna Trollope, simply unaware of the existence of the portrait in the NPG?
Claire Tomalin


The digital bill of rights called for by prominent authors and a technologist’s Hippocratic oath (Whose side are you on?, 10 December) are highly desirable. But your exposure of the threat (NSA and GCHQ target online gamers, 10 December) is a reminder that children need special protection. What about an internet age of consent, below which it is illegal for individuals, corporations or state agencies to hack, harvest or pass on for any other purposes a child’s digital identity or contact details? At the same time, a mantra as concise and widely taught as the Green Cross Code – it could perhaps be called the Snowden Code – should be agreed to keep children from endangering their own privacy and safety on the internet. In the 21st century, the combination of surveillance, corporate power and cyber crime make going online as risky to personal safety as crossing the road. We all struggle to keep up, but below a certain age special protection is necessary.
Richard Stainton
Whitstable, Kent

• The internet has rarely been out of the news this year. Writers calling for a UN digital charter, child pornography, cyber terrorism and theft, rural broadband coverage, open internet standards, privacy, spam, net neutrality etc. In the 1930s, one man, Rex Leeper, was involved in the creation the British Council and the BBC World Service. These two organisations are our greatest instruments of soft power. It’s time for UK plc to replicate Leeper and to create a world internet policy and research institute which puts the citizen at its heart.
Derek Wyatt
Labour MP 1997-2010; founder, parliamentary internet group

• I took the trouble to re-watch the session of the home affairs select committee taking evidence from your editor, Alan Rusbridger. Although my background is skewed towards being cautious of anyone accused of leaking secrets, I thought Mr Rusbridger’s evidence was a virtuoso performance. In stressing the original motives of Edward Snowden, I do not expect any criminal charges. I believe the Guardian has done its best to do the right thing.
Matthew Gordon Banks
Conservative MP for Southport 1992-97

Your report (Surge in middle-aged heavy drinkers, 9 December) suggests alcohol campaigners are justified in their calls for a minimum unit price for alcohol. Yet the heaviest drinkers are least responsive to price and minimum pricing would have little impact on the middle class who often consume more and buy more expensive alcohol. The measure would simply hit the poorest hardest – irrespective of how responsible they are. Alcohol consumption in the UK has come down by 16% since 2004 and we remain below the EU average in terms of our alcohol consumption. Yet alcohol harm remains a serious issue. This is why the industry has been working through the Responsibility Deal to improve alcohol education and health information, support locally tailored solutions and promote lower-alcohol products. It is these proven methods that will make the biggest difference and create the change in drinking culture that is needed.
Miles Beale
Chief executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association

• You report on more of the usual puritanical preaching about increased middle-aged boozing. Might I suggest a cause? I am middle-aged. I notice that almost all of my salaried contemporaries are sick of their jobs. Modern management styles, inculcated by that pernicious and useless institution the business school, are based on the target culture, efficiency savings and headcount reduction. Employees are under constant stress. Bosses with no relevant experience, and with no appreciation of its value, sweep in, wreak havoc and jump ship with their CVs carefully burnished. This happens across society, from schools to major corporations. Is it any wonder that more and more of us take to the bottle?
Chris Bamber

• Is it just a coincidence that these middle-aged drinkers were growing up in the 1980s, when the policies of greed and individualism were rife? Remind me, who was in power then?
Dr Mark Wilcox
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire



It was refreshing to hear the boos and jeers that greeted President Zuma at Nelson Mandela‘s memorial (Report, 11 December). They may or may not have been justified, but there is something refreshing about an event – even a solemn event – that was open to unruly speech of this kind. In Britain or America those greeting a head of government in this way would have been peremptorily removed from the event. Political choreography, backed up by exaggerated concerns about security, has become one of the greatest threats to free speech in western democracies, as the event-planners and the spin-masters insist on having everything go their way. So maybe we should celebrate the fact that this event for Mandela was not tightly choreographed. Certainly we should recoil from the patronising suggestion of your reporter that Mandela’s memorial ought to have been staged and orchestrated like an opening ceremony for the Olympic Games.
Professor Jeremy Waldron
All Souls College, Oxford

• One of the most striking passages in President Obama’s inspirational address at the memorial service was his pointed inclusion of the persecution of people “for who they love” on his list of evils that still need to be confronted in a post-Mandela world. This is something of a contrast with the views of the adviser to the European Union on African affairs, the British diplomat Nicholas Westcott, who was reported not long ago to be urging the EU to stop raising the issue of lesbian and gay rights in public.
Nicholas Billingham

• President Obama said in his memorial speech, he wanted to be a better person, like Mandela. What would Madiba have done about Guantánamo Bay?
Anna Ford
Brentford, Middlesex

• In these days, when it is hard to find someone who did not support the release of Mandela from jail on Robben Island, it is worth remembering that far less than 0.1% of the UK population were members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. As a former member of staff at the AAM in the 1980s I know that membership averaged about 8,500. Following the “Nelson Mandela Freedom at 70” campaign, which included the Wembley concert and the Freedom March from Glasgow to London, membership peaked at about 20,000. After Mandela’s release and even before a date was set for free elections in 1994, support fell back to about 14,000. So what better way to mark Mandela’s passing than joining one of the many organisations intent on making the world a better place. You choose – there are certainly plenty of them, but please don’t leave it to someone else and then kid yourself in the future that you were part of the struggle.
Paul Brannen
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Comparing Nelson Mandela to Jesus of Nazareth is not barking mad (Simon Jenkins, In Mandela we must beware the banality of goodness, 11 December). Religions like Christianity and Islam both evolved from Mandela-like characters who became mythologised and then sanctified after their death.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

• What a relief someone has put the death of Mandela in true perspective. Glad to know I am not the only one who thinks the media has gone barking mad.
Brian Boreham
Swanage, Dorset

• I’d like to congratulate the Guardian on providing some corrective (for instance John Harris’s article; and Steve Bell’s cartoons) to the sanctimonious platitudes about Mandela in much of the media. By contrast, the BBC seems to be determinedly courting further criticism of its narrow Englishness and the sexism of its news service since it chose to switch to its own commentators during nearly all of the speeches from the African Union, Brazil, China, India and Cuba and, in doing so, also cut out the two most important female speakers at the event. These speakers, some of whom were personally involved in the struggle against apartheid, and between them representing most of the world’s population, were replaced by a series of English men commenting on topics like the rain.
Margaret Dickinson





How disappointing that The Independent is joining the predictable outcry on the subject of MPs’ salaries. It should be stressed that there is a substantial quid pro quo built into the proposal as a result of which MPs will lose other substantial benefits which, had they continued, would always have been opaque. A salary, on the other hand, is a known quantity.

It is obvious that MPs are underpaid in relation to almost every profession. One could provide endless examples such as teachers, doctors, local government officials, many of whom earn a great deal more than an MP. It is no good saying, on the one hand, that we must accept that, for example, bankers have to be given massive remuneration in order to keep them in the UK and at the same time argue that MPs should be paid on a very much lower scale on the grounds that they should undertake the job as a privilege.

The proposed annual salary, if implemented, would amount to a mere 10 per cent of the pension of a recently disgraced banker! Ridiculous, therefore, to jump on this latest bandwagon.

David Hindmarsh, Cambridge


One of the reasons given for the proposed increase in MPs’ pay is that it has fallen behind in comparison with other professions. There might or might not be some truth in this; it is difficult to find reliable data. However, MPs have not fallen behind the cost of living. In 1964, MPs received £3,250 a year; adjusted for inflation this is equivalent to £56,000 today. In 1980, they were paid £11,750; equivalent to £43,000 today.  And in 1996, they got £34,000; equivalent to £54,000 now.

So, their current rate of £66,390 looks pretty good in historical terms. Where they have fallen behind, a little, is in comparison to 2006, when they were paid £59,686 a year; this is equivalent to £72,817 now. But the reason for their relative prosperity in 2006 is that between 1996 and 2006 MPs awarded themselves pay increases totalling 75 per cent; over the same period inflation was 30 per cent. So Ipsa is being selective in choosing a base for calculating a fair rate for MPs’ pay.

I suspect that many MPs, in addition to being aware that they are currently about as popular as herpes, and that a stonking pay increase will make them even less popular, are hoping to get the whole package thrown out. This might be because they have calculated that the reductions in allowances for meals, taxis and resettlement, and changes to pensions in the Ipsa package, will mean they will be worse off than they are now, even with the extra £7,000.

Perhaps the fairest way to calculate MPs’ pay is to tie it to the minimum wage. Currently the minimum wage on a 40-hour week gives £13,125. Five times that should be enough for what is essentially an unskilled job requiring no qualifications.

Steve Garrett, East Lydford, Somerset


I have great sympathy for the MPs and their feeling of powerlessness in being unable to refuse the pay rise which has been decided on their behalf.

For years my pay rises of less than 2 per cent have been imposed on me despite all my hard work and strongest objections. Now we are all in it together, I welcome MPs into the real world of pay negotiations.

Alan Priim, Kirkburton,  West Yorkshire


Europe needs an immigration policy

Now we know you can buy your way into the UK by purchasing a passport from the Maltese government (report, 11 December).

We also know that the route into the UK for Moldovans is an easily acquired Romanian passport. Ditto for Bosnian Croats, via Zagreb. Then there is the amnesty granted by the Spanish government to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the first step towards Spanish citizenship and the right to reside anywhere in the EU.

It’s time to choose how to regulate immigration. Either opt out of the EU accord on the free movement of peoples or seek an EU-wide policy on non-EU immigrants and amnesties.

Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset


After my MP (a Conservative) said he was against more immigration from the EU and was in favour of a referendum, I wrote to him asking whether the Government had any reliable figures about the number of UK citizens living in other EU countries.

I asked what would happen if the UK should leave the EU: would all these people get a job back home, and would they be included in the referendum?

I got a rather vague reply from some government department which gave me the impression that they didn’t really know how many, or perhaps they just didn’t want us to know the answer. Too many Brits living in the EU? Neither was it clear whether UK citizens living in the EU would have any say in a future referendum.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle


Mandela: when violence is justified

Eric Oliver’s letter accusing Nelson Mandela of terrorism (11 December) does at least have an interesting issue at its heart: when is political violence justified ?

Many years ago, Dennis Healey was faced with this question from journalists on a visit to South Africa. How could he justify talking to the ANC, if he rejected the IRA? The reply was typically brief and to the point: “Because the IRA represent a minority of the population and they have the vote. The ANC represent the majority of the population and they are deprived of the vote.”

What actions, if any, does Mr Oliver think the ANC could and should have adopted in the 1960s and 1970s? And would he consider those who tried to murder Hitler in 1944 to be similarly beyond the pale?

Ned Holt, Reading


As a child, I knew  i was different …

Susan Boyle has been diagnosed with Asperger’s. I am particularly interested because, when I first saw her surprise the panel on The X Factor, I thought: “Oh, she has Asperger’s.”

It takes one to know one. When I was a child I knew I was different but didn’t understand how or why. I was very awkward, and as a teacher said to me once, “You are off-key”.

It was not until after my father’s death that I chatted with our GP and we agreed that he had classic symptoms of autism. No two autistic people are the same. Some are very clever, but others have all sorts of behavioural and other problems. I am one of the lucky ones like Susan where it has all turned out OK in the end.

Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff


Posing with a freshly shot African lion

Catrina Stewart (11 December) questions why the TV presenter Michelle Bachman was so severely criticised for posing with the body of a lion she had just shot.

While there are arguments about the management of the lion populations, I think she was so severely criticised because she seems to have taken pleasure and pride in killing such a substantial and much-admired creature. What is there to be proud of? The lion presumably did not stand a chance of surviving this encounter; she, I presume,  was not in danger. So she can aim and shoot a modern rifle – so what?

Bob Morgan, Thatcham, West Berkshire


Nigella and the cult of celebrity

Why is it that journalists are so seduced by celebrity? So Nigella Lawson is “an extraordinary woman” (Letter from the Editor, 7 December). Really?

Miss Lawson was famous from birth because of her father. She is good at her job and is very beautiful. She has also suffered great tragedy in her life. This is similar to many thousands of other people, most of whom are less privileged and less wealthy.

In the face of adversity Miss Lawson has not shown heroic qualities. It’s good to show compassion for her but can you cut the silly adulation? Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary person. Likewise Aung San Suu Kyi and Doreen Lawrence. Nigella Lawson is a famous person. You should know the difference.

C Thompson, Batcombe, Somerset


Casualties of the  ‘war on motorists’

Sean O’Grady, commenting on the abolition of the tax disc (6 December), refers to a “war on the motorist”. Is that the same war that has seen every recent fuel duty increase cancelled, cyclists harassed, speeding ignored and no action taken against cars parked on pavements? I dread to think how bad motorists’ behaviour will be when peace breaks out.

Rob Edwards, Harrogate


Do I have to start working again?

The Government, announcing a later pension age, declares that “people should spend on average no more than one third of their adult lives in retirement”. On calculating my own position, I find that I have already exceeded my permitted years by two. Will the Government please advise on my response to this alarming information?

David A Butler, Kennington, Oxfordshire




Sir, As a victim of Equitable Life, I prefer, if possible, to have nothing to do with the financial services industry. However, I have no option in the management of a self-invested pension fund or, when forced by legislation, to buy an annuity age 75, unless I can demonstrate other annual income to the tune of £20,000. Despite the complex actuarial calculations and excessive fees, should I die a week after taking out the annuity, the money evaporates because it stays with the provider. The reason for this control is that tax relief has been allowed on pension contributions.

I appreciate that we do not want people taking out their pension fund, blowing it and then having to rely on the State, but there must be a better way, which should be the subject of a thorough review of the whole regime. The government is effectively complicit in creating a system where people are forced to place their hard-earned cash in the hands of those, often with little or no expertise, who line their pockets while offering a lousy service.

Graham Warren

Collingbourne Kingston, Wilts

Sir, You say that the market does not work well for the majority of consumers who are losing millions of pounds in annuity payments (Dec 10). However, the debate must go beyond merely weighing up whether such payments should be low or lower still. On the policyholder’s death the insurance company takes what is left and thus has a vested interest in ensuring that the annuity rates are as low as possible. Why the need for annuities at all?

People pay into pension funds for decades only to be offered a paltry amount out of their own savings by the insurance companies when they retire. Why cannot pensioners be trusted to make their own decisions about their own money without having to receive handouts from insurance companies which simply squabble among themselves about whose rates are the poorest. Let us open the debate and consider alternative forms of income available for the investors from what is essentially their own money.

A. M. Levy

Woodford Green, Essex

Sir, It is surely no surprise that people are drawing down their savings (Philip Collins, Dec 6). Mugs like me who saved all our working lives, in my case in the hope that I would cushion myself against what I knew would be meagre occupational pensions, are being trashed. With gross savings rates significantly below inflation, the purchasing power of savings is systematically eroded. The next-to-nothing interest now on offer buys very little, so it is a question of funding spending by using capital rather than interest income. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I felt leading politicians gave any sign of caring about our plight.

Elizabeth Balsom

London SW15

Sir, In your leading article “Lean State (Dec 10) you fall into the usual trap, saying “half of all State spending by 2015 would go on welfare, especially pensions and the NHS.” UK state pensions are not welfare, but reimbursement of national insurance payments made over many years by individuals and their employers.

The sooner this mistaken definition of welfare spending is corrected the sooner we will be able to have a sensible debate on the subject.

John Belton

Marlow, Bucks




Proton beam radiotherapy can minimise collateral tissue damage — an important consideration in treating childhood cancers — but at present, the costs are so high

Sir, Further to Mr Franklin’s letter (Dec 9) on the radiotherapeutic cure of cancers, modern radiotherapy in the UK uses computer-generated image-guided and modulated X-ray beams which are highly conformal, meaning that the deposition of radiation dose closely matches the tumour position and shape. Accuracy and precision have never been better.

Mr Franklin is correct that there are often side-effects caused by collateral damage to normal tissues. Proton beam radiotherapy can minimise that collateral damage — an important consideration in treating childhood cancers — but at present, the costs of cyclotron-based proton beams are so high that three big US medical insurers have withdrawn cover for prostate cancer therapy.

Currently there are 43 proton beam facilities treating patients globally (only 11 in Europe), and the costs of one European establishment are threatening to cripple that Government’s healthcare budget.

A collaborative venture between physicists at Cern who have worked on the Large Hadron Collider and a small British company, Advanced Oncotherapy (AVO), with which we are both associated, has created linac-based accelerator technology to generate proton beams for clinical radiotherapy treatment at about a quarter of the cost of existing technology. The National Audit Office is scrutinising proposals for two cyclotron-based units in the UK.

Dr Piers N. Plowman

St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street

Professor Christopher Nutting

The Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research, London


In the name of social cohesion and engineering sanity, the next decade must see no more coal plant closures until replacement base load capacity is in place

Sir, If and when the UK next experiences large-scale rolling electricity brown-outs, last seen in the 1970s, the public inquisition on any consequential economic and social disruption must look first at the Climate Change Committee which has taken a single-issue look at the future, and has done much to bring such a situation about by persistently privileging concern for the environment above both the affordability and the security of supply of electricity since 2008 (report, Dec 11).

In the name of social cohesion and engineering sanity, the next decade must see a precise reversal of priorities, with no more coal plant closures until replacement base load capacity is in place.

Michael J. Kelly

Prince Philip Professor of Technology,

University of Cambridge


The concept of a baby boom generation has no basis in demography. It originated in the US. It should be returned there

Sir, John Walsh (Dec 11), who was born in the early 1950s, claims to be a baby boomer. He is not.

The postwar baby boom was short-lived. Live births in the UK exceeded 900,000 per annum between 1946 and 1948 but fluctuated around 800,000 in 1950-56. More live births were recorded in every year between 1900 and 1914 (and in 1920 and 1921) than in any year between 1948 and 1963. The concept of a baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, is a meaningless generalisation that has no basis in demography. It originated in the US. It should be returned there.

Professor David Clark

Ashow, Warks



Thousands of people, young and old, who are keen to play sport cannot do so because there are so few places left to do so

Sir, You say there is nothing much the state can do to make people take exercise or go to the gym (“Healthy minds”, Dec 10), but thousands of people, young and old, who are keen to play sport cannot do so because there are so few playing fields.

Over the past 20 years nearly one third of our playing fields have been sold for development. Those that remain, around 20,000, are mostly owned by their local authorities, and as there is no longer a statutory requirement for councils to maintain playing fields or sports facilities, many pitches are falling into disrepair.

The government is talking of major infrastructure projects. If these were to include playing fields (such as drainage works, construction of artificial turf pitches and multi-use games areas, changing room renovation and even restoring obsolete sites) there would be colossal savings in the NHS in terms of physical and mental health acute care costs.

We would also find that communities were brought closer together and young people given a real chance in life by joining sports teams rather than gangs.

Angus Irvine

Playing Fields Legacy Fund

Alex Welsh

London Playing Fields Foundation




SIR – We have, so far, received 26 cards. Of those, only five depict the nativity scene. The rest, although some are very pretty, bear no reference to the birth of Jesus. Are we trying to take Christ out of Christmas?

Joan Parrott
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – If Raymond Whittle is annoyed at the family photos on Christmas cards, I find the insertion of a family letter with a Christmas card equally irritating.

I do not need to know that Uncle Birtwhistle has completed his matchstick creation, nor that Amelia won third prize in a dancing competition.

Is it too much to ask that I just receive Christmas greetings and best wishes for the New Year?

Elisabeth Armstrong-Rosser
Whitby, North Yorkshire



SIR – GPs are the last generalists; we have to sift through multifactorial patient histories, and cancer is not always easy to detect. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The conculsion that GPs are slow to spot cancer highlights the dangers of tick-box-style referrals; patients are individuals and do not fit into boxes.

With the ludicrous, inflexible referral systems now in place, it is harder than ever to practise good medicine.

Once GPs acted on gut instinct, writing detailed, urgent letters to consultants they knew personally, even telephoning them with acute concerns. We could care for our patients without constant interference.

Sadly, what was once a caring profession is now only judged by points on protocols and is becoming a box-ticking job.

Dr Kate Mash
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – In July, my partner was admitted to an NHS hospital for an emergency operation to remove what turned out to be a cancerous tumour on her appendix that had most probably been developing for at least five years.

Over that time she moved house a few times and visited at least four different GPs, reporting symptoms of abdominal pain and vomiting. She was also admitted to four different NHS hospitals with the same symptoms following 999 calls.

Her eventual arrival at accident and emergency came about after a visit to her osteopath, who raised serious concerns.

When the NHS was founded, society was less mobile; family doctors often knew their patients personally for a considerable number of years. But GPs today cannot get to know their patients well enough to judge changes in their wellbeing accurately.

Phil Button
Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

The right way to rights

SIR – Professor Michael Oakeshott, the philosopher, argued that abstract theories and principles cannot be abridged well into practice, as we do not have the practical know-how to do so; instead, a practice that has come about by being carried out is more reliable than any theoretical abstraction.

The authors of the letter arguing that the Human Rights Act is necessary to protect fundamental British liberties fail to recognise that common law, ancient constitutional conventions and the practical wisdom of time gone by are what protect our liberties, not some recently designed document simply stating that we have such rights.

Any country can ratify a document enshrining a set of a rights, but having it in law does not mean that rights will be protected. What matters is practice, not theory.

James A Paton
Billericay, Essex

Like father, like son

SIR – I was christened Sidney Arthur 80 years ago. When I registered the death of my father, the registrar noted that my father and I had identical Christian names. He was a similar age to me, and also had his father’s names and so did the undertaker, who was also born in the Thirties.

Was this fashionable then, or did our parents have little imagination?

Sid Brittin
Staines-upon-Thames, Middlesex

SIR – I have been collecting names from the Telegraph birth column since 1954.

I can assure John Symons that there have been three boys named Nelson in that time.

Hilary Bourne
Salisbury, Wiltshire

MPs’ salaries

SIR – I would have no objection if Members of Parliament received an annual salary of £250,000 provided that their numbers were reduced to a more realistic level, say a maximum of 250, and that the perks of the job were removed. This would bring an end to the subsidised meals, drinks and travel. Second homes would not be necessary if, like students, parliamentary halls of residence could be provided. The only residence required would be in the MP’s constituency, so there would be no need for mortgage assistance.

Graham W Swift
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

SIR – As most of our laws now come from the EU, surely our MPs should have a pay cut.

Dave Parker
Lanner, Cornwall

Qualified teacher

SIR – The headmaster of Brighton College believes that teachers should have at least an upper-second degree in their subject before they are allowed to teach.

While academic qualifications are important, the ability to communicate with children and inspire them to learn is not directly related to one’s degree result.

I took a lower-second in history. I am now headmaster of one of the first primary schools in Kent to be judged “outstanding for leadership” under the new Ofsted framework. A sweeping rule on degree classification would have kept me out of the classroom.

Tobin Wallace-Sims
Canterbury, Kent

Just not cricket

SIR – In the light of England’s capitulation in the two Ashes test matches so far, we can expect the inevitable search for the guilty to begin.

There can be no better place to start than with our cricket administrators. What were they thinking of when they agreed to give our hitherto winning squad three months off and two beer matches (one rained off) with which to prepare for the greatest challenge in cricket, defending the Ashes against a wounded Australian team on their own turf?

The blame for the players’ lack of form rests squarely with the tour planners who have let us all down. They should apologise and take the pressure off the players.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth
London SW1

Junior barristers should start on a low income

SIR – Marie-Claire Amuah’s valiant plea for “hard-working mothers of three” who would be deprived of legal aid if their household income exceeded £37,500, will, I fear, cut little ice with either the public or her profession.

If, as a junior barrister, she earns no more than £80 a day, it seems unlikely that anyone on £30,000 a year would not be able to afford her services for short cases in a magistrates’ court. Perhaps her concern is motivated less by the hypothetical mother-of-three than by her own lowly income. This is known as starting at the bottom, and it is designed to encourage only the cream to rise to the top.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – The letter from the junior barrister is yet another plea from within the legal profession to protect legal aid. I can’t help thinking that if the legal profession had not made money for years from legal aid on frivolous court cases for prisoners, multiple appeals against deportation decisions and, most of all, the endless challenges under the banner of human rights, then the public might have more support for its arguments.

Roger Gentry
Sutton-at-Hone, Kent

SIR – Marie-Claire Amuah began her pupillage owing “only” £24,000. I had no debt at all when I was called to the bar after acquiring a Bachelor of Law degree and a Master of Laws. The reason? I worked while studying.

Perhaps we should emulate the Americans: working through college is much more common there than it is here.

J R McErlean
Elstow, Bedfordshire


SIR – Pension schemes (“Brokers are ‘burgling’ pensioners”, report, December 10) must have the stability to pay out to people who join a scheme at the age of 20 and die at 110. For private sector pensions, this stability was destroyed by public sector employees: Gordon Brown, who reduced tax benefits on pensions; the Inland Revenue, which unwisely gave companies tax holidays; and the compliance bodies, which failed to control the insurance companies.

The public sector pensions of all of the above are underwritten by the taxpayer. Not for them the worries of rip-off fees for financial advisers, stock market risks, wide variations in annuity rates or insurance company bankruptcy. The system is unjust. Is the answer to have all pension schemes underwritten by the taxpayer or none at all? Or should taxpayer liability be limited to funding pensions paying out

less than national average earnings?

John Allison
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – Last month, I sought to turn my pension pot with HSBC into an annuity. In order to find the best monthly return, I asked the bank to freeze my pot by turning it into cash. I would then have a precise sum that I could test across all providers.

To my surprise, I was told – later confirmed in writing – that this was not possible. Had the bank complied with my request, it would have been sitting on a decent sum of cash for several weeks without paying interest. Perhaps it is making more money by sustaining an anti-competitive system that leaves the public in the “confusion and bewilderment” to which you refer.

Peter Pallot
London W6

SIR – Those of us who do not have a personal pension are also subject to theft. The Governor of the Bank of England has shown a cavalier attitude to those depending on their savings for income. The Bank has stolen our interest and some of our capital. Perhaps the best we can look forward to is a period of serious deflation, as is happening in southern Europe.

A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey

SIR – It does not stop at pensions. Fund managers buy and sell shares held by the fund to gain “commissions” from brokers rather than trying to improve investment performance. And it is not just RBS that has treated its business borrowers in immoral ways as a matter of practice.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

SIR – Some years ago, when I was considering the purchase of an annuity, I calculated that the annuity providers were effectively creaming off around 20 per cent of the capital before the funds were put to work, and that I was much better off investing the funds myself.

John KelliePyrford, Surrey



Irish Times:

Sir, – I am horrified that there has been an increase of 50 per cent since April in the number of homeless in Dublin (Home News, December 8th). The tragedy in the Phoenix Park illustrates the sad consequences.

The problem could be alleviated if the same solution were adopted that Albert Reynolds, when he was taoiseach, and I, when I was secretary-general of his department, together with the Defence Forces chief of staff found when a couple, sleeping rough, froze to death. We organised for the Army to collect people sleeping rough and bring them to premises in Grangegorman which were heated, had toilets and showers and where they were fed from Army field kitchens. This provision lasted two years.

The Army regarded it as good training for soldiers going overseas, where they often engage in community social action. A great merit was that no extra expenditure was necessary.

It’s a disgrace that we allow people to sleep rough when the situation can be easily remedied. – Yours, etc,


Old Bridge Road,


Dublin 16.



Sir, – For once, I find myself in agreement with Breda O’Brien (Opinion, November 30th). Introducing a new Junior Cycle programme at a time of low morale among teachers and a lack of resources for training is sheer folly.

To choose a core subject like English to begin this “experiment” on young children entering the secondary school system next September is inexcusable. There has been no consultation with parents who are key stakeholders on this issue.

In my view, the only conceivable reason to push through this mismanaged “reform” next year is to satisfy the legacy wishes of a politician coming to the end of his career. Teachers and parents should unite to shout “stop”. – Yours, etc,


Claremont Road,



Sir, – As former senior staff members from the 1960s through the 1990s, we are saddened by the revelations of financial irregularities in the CRC, an organisation which we have always respected and loved. We are disturbed by the ongoing media analysis and opprobrium heaped on the organisation. We worked with Lady Valerie Goulding, who imbued the organisation with her can-do spirit and the spirit of volunteerism which staff and volunteers shared. She created an ethos which attracted high-calibre staff.

Together, medical, therapy, educational and support staff developed what is the modern CRC, the specialist services of which are available on a national basis.

What has been exposed in this debate is the culture of double standards which has existed not only in CRC but in a wide range of other agencies and government departments.

The original logo of the CRC was the phoenix, which in Greek mythology was a long-lived bird which cyclically regenerated itself.

Now is the opportunity for the organisation, in the spirit of its founder and its original logo, to regenerate itself and to establish a new era of transparency, openness and accountability.

It is now time to move on, to restructure and regroup, and focus on its mission of providing the highest level of care to children and adults with physical disabilities. It is our fervent wish and hope that the CRC will be stronger facing into the future and continue to be relevant to its service users. – Yours, etc,


Corr Castle, Sutton,

Dublin 13 & KAY KEATING,


Sir, – Several points raised in your Editorial on the outcomes of the OECD’s 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa 2012) (December 10th) need clarification.

The Editorial states Ireland ranked 20th overall and 10th among European countries across the three domains assessed in Pisa 2012. This is incorrect. Ireland had an overall ranking of seventh on reading literacy (second in Europe) and 15th on science (seventh in Europe). The performance of students in Ireland on mathematics is presented as if it applied to all three domains assessed by Pisa.

The Editorial is also incorrect in stating there has been no improvement in performance since Pisa 2000. Performance on science is significantly and substantively higher in 2012 than previously. While performance on reading and mathematics has not increased significantly since 2000, the demographic profile among students in Ireland has changed and the economy has worsened. Hence, to maintain historic performance levels in spite of these changes seems like a good starting point as we move forward.

The Editorial states that a revised science syllabus was introduced in response to Ireland’s performance in Pisa 2009. In fact, the revised syllabus was introduced in 2003, and was examined for the first time in 2006. It is likely that this revised syllabus, coupled with a new science syllabus at primary level, contributed to the improvements in science performance observed in Pisa 2012.

Admittedly, performance on mathematics in Ireland, although now significantly above the OECD average, could be better. However, just 15 per cent of Irish 15-year-olds had studied the revised mathematics syllabus (Project Maths) at the time they sat the Pisa 2012 tests. If implemented as intended, Project Maths could impact positively on the performance of students in Ireland in future Pisa cycles.

The Editorial calls for reforms in the selection and education of teachers, without acknowledging the work that has been done in this area since 2009, including the deepening lengthening of teacher education for all teachers, and the provision of extensive induction courses for beginning teachers. It is important that future changes in Irish education, while much needed, are based on accurate information and informed comment. In this context, we refer readers to the Irish national report on Pisa 2012 at http://www.erc.ie. – Yours, etc,



Educational Research

Centre, St Patrick’s College,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.



Sir, – How deeply ironic that US President Obama was permitted to speak at the commemorative ceremony for Nelson Mandela, a man who spent 27 years behind bars on so-called treason charges.

Obama is currently presiding over the continuing detention of men in Guantánamo Bay and their ongoing torture via force-feeding of those protesting at their wholly illegal imprisonment and treatment.

He is also presiding over an unprecedented murder campaign with his drone programme in Asia and Africa in pursuit of his illegal so-called “ war on terror”.

The fact he was joined at this ceremony by a legion of corrupt, murderous dictators and hypocrites does not in any way lend legitimacy to his presence or his speech (which was self-serving and at odds with his behaviour and policies) as he is the only world leader who sets himself and his country up as “leader of the free world” and upholder of democracy.

What is equally disappointing is the uncritical reaction of the media, which, in acres of newsprint and hours of coverage failed to bring this contradiction to the attention of the public. – Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, – To understand why Nelson Mandela has become a demi-god and Gerry Adams is still demonised (Patrick Doyle, December 9th) one need look no further than Gerry Adams’s crass remarks last week. – Yours, etc,


Suir Road,

Kilmainham, Dublin 8.

Sir, – We are informed that the Taoiseach made a spelling mistake in the book of condolences for Nelson Mandela. At least he did not record a “selfie ” of himself playing the spoons and doing a reel on the back of his chair, at the memorial service.

That the passing of this great man turned into a puerile cynical and grandiose epithet competition among the great and the good, is also a sad endorsement of the fact that very little has changed, despite his sacrifice, for the poor of the world. The saying goes, “eaten bread is soon forgotten”, and what better place to demonstrate this characteristic than on the world stage. – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,

Firhouse, Dublin 24.



A chara, – Gearoidín O’Dwyer is disappointed by Senator Quinn’s attempt “to criminalise workers who wish to defend their pay and conditions” (December 10th).

While workers may have a right to defend themselves, society also has a right to defend itself against those who threaten to cut off its heat, light and electricity in the dead of winter; and I would be disappointed if our elected representatives did not act to do so. – Is mise,


Sir, – It is surely ironic that the release on December 10th of the further audits by the National Board for Safeguarding Children established by the Catholic Church (Home News, December 11th) should coincide with World Human Rights Day. While the Vatican in 1990 with great alacrity signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, being the fourth chronologically to do so of the 193 signatory states, it was merely symbolically, but not altogether successfully, trying to bolt the door well after the horse had gone. – Yours, etc,


LLM (Human Rights),

Roselawn Road,


Sir, – Michael Sanfey (Opinion, December 10th) is wrong to describe Machiavelli as an “evil” genius and to suggest that in The Prince he was advising rulers to act “evilly”. He was telling would-be rulers and rulers in 16th-century Italy how they must behave and act if they wished to acquire and hold power securely. His observation of Italian politics in that century gave him his insight. He was a gifted political scientist. – Yours, etc,


Sydney Parade Avenue,

Dublin 4.



Sir, – The “group of already advantaged workers” referred to in your ill-informed Editorial (December 11th) have suffered two very significant cuts to their pay in the last few years and some have suffered three cuts.

It may well be that up to 30 per cent of employees of The Irish Times are underperformers, but it is a sweeping generalisation to suggest that up to 30 per cent of workers in either the public or private sector perform their jobs in an unacceptable fashion.

Promotion in the civil service is exclusively on merit, with staff being assessed by a range of assessment methods judged suited to this purpose by the Public Appointments Service. Whatever complaint one may have about promotion systems in use in the civil service it cannot be on the basis that they are conducted on the basis of “Buggins’ Turn”, as the Editorial suggests.

You assert the cost of incremental progression is €40m per annum. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is on the record as saying the cost in 2013 is less than half that figure and, is in fact, €16.5m. In 2013 just 36 per cent of civil servants received increments and 76 per cent of employees who receive increments in each year earn annual salaries of less than €50,000. – Yours, etc,


Public Service Executive


Merrion Square, Dublin 2.


Sir, – The “group of already advantaged workers” referred to in your ill-informed Editorial (December 11th) have suffered two very significant cuts to their pay in the last few years and some have suffered three cuts.

It may well be that up to 30 per cent of employees of The Irish Times are underperformers, but it is a sweeping generalisation to suggest that up to 30 per cent of workers in either the public or private sector perform their jobs in an unacceptable fashion.

Promotion in the civil service is exclusively on merit, with staff being assessed by a range of assessment methods judged suited to this purpose by the Public Appointments Service. Whatever complaint one may have about promotion systems in use in the civil service it cannot be on the basis that they are conducted on the basis of “Buggins’ Turn”, as the Editorial suggests.

You assert the cost of incremental progression is €40m per annum. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is on the record as saying the cost in 2013 is less than half that figure and, is in fact, €16.5m. In 2013 just 36 per cent of civil servants received increments and 76 per cent of employees who receive increments in each year earn annual salaries of less than €50,000. – Yours, etc,


Public Service Executive




Sir, – Eamonn McCann “Space for everyone in the history of the Negev – except the Bedouin” (Opinion, December 5th) launched a diatribe against Israel, based on inaccuracy and falsehood. As a Bedouin (and an Israeli diplomat), I think I understand the issue somewhat better than Mr McCann.

We, Bedouins, originally are a tribal, shepherding and nomadic people, with unique family ties and set of values, who began a process of modernisation 100 years ago, before Israel was established. Today, there are two main Bedouin communities in Israel: the first, comprising approximately 200,000 people, live in the Negev desert, southern Israel. The second, around 45,000, live in the Galilee, Northern Israel. While the northern community is considered more organised, educated and settled, and better integrated into Israeli modern society, the Negev community is still going through tough transition from being a conservative one, where getting along with the building of modern Israel is a main challenge, a process that takes a long way.

Since Israel was established 65 years ago, various Israeli governments have attempted to help the Bedouins adopt a modern lifestyle, providing free education, infrastructure, medical care and more. But the combination of lack of development (industry and infrastructure) in the Negev by government authorities, and the community’s tribal structure (and high birth rate), has led over the years to the need for an urgent (socio-economic) development plan, in order to regulate the settlement of the Bedouin community. To be successful, this requires a full dialogue between the community leadership and the government. Was this done perfectly? No. Is it equal to those in Jewish towns? Probably not. But in the given circumstances, I think it’s the best that can be achieved.

The main complaint of the community isn’t land ownership (Bedouins’ nomadic lifestyle didn’t allow land ownership!), but rather the issue of the settlement process of about 90,000 Bedouins who live in “unrecognised” villages.The government is offering to establish regulated villages for 60,000, in their current locations, and the rest, 30,000, will need to relocate to the nearby organised new villages, with access to better infrastructure and municipal services. This is not to “cleanse the Bedouin from the Negev”; as Mr McCann says. Mr McCann also refers to Israeli people in general – not just those in the West Bank – as “settlers” which implies the complete illegitimacy of the Israeli state altogether.

Lastly, on a personal note, until I was eight years old, the Bedouins in my Galilee community lived in tents. Now, most Bedouins are living in concrete homes, attending college, holding positions in government, and more. – Yours, etc,


Counsellor for Civil Society

Affairs, Embassy of Israel,

Palace Green, London,



Sir, – I commend Stephen Collins for his brave article asking the citizens of the Republic to examine their consciences in the light of the Smithwick tribunal (Opinion, December 7th). While individual Garda members may have acted wrongly in relation to the Breen and Buchanan murders, the force  was always pretty well respected by unionists during the Troubles as doing the best they could in extremely difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, as Collins highlights in a remarkable and courageous observation, elements in the political and legal spheres acted wrongly too and thus “facilitated the continuation of murder”.

It was their behaviour, rather than any specific incidents by  individual Garda, which I feel led in part to the Troubles going on for far too long. – Yours, etc,


Tandragee Street,



Sir, – It is clearly time to stop the monitoring and to add carriages (“Overcrowding prompts more safety inspections on trains”, (Home News, December 11th) .

One journey from Pearse Station in either direction at 6pm on any weekday will clearly illustrate to the observer the hellish and demeaning conditions which commuters must endure. In my quest as a long-term commuter I have brought my plight to the highest posts in the land and I have been hopped from Billie to Jack on the merry-go-round of unaccountability.

This same merry-go-round was again in plain sight in the Dáil this week with the promise of more . . . monitoring. Seriously! – Yours, etc,


Convent Road,




Sir, – When is a selfie not a selfie (Life, December 11th)? The prime minister of Denmark is certainly taking a selfie. Barack Obama also has one hand on the camera, but is not pressing the button. David Cameron also has one hand on the Danish prime minister: does that count? – Yours, etc,


Strawberry Beds,

Sir, – Still no sign of a Christmas missive in your Letters page from S Claus to the children of Ireland. Could his letter been mislaid on its long journey from the North Pole to the GPO (Ard-Oifig an Phoist)? If so, to An Post I say this: get it sorted! – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Co Dublin.



Sir, – Nelson Mandela was very impressed with the Irish people who travelled to South Africa and volunteered with the Niall Mellon housing project. He recognised the sacrifice these people made in travelling thousands of miles to help people they didn’t know. At Tuesday’s memorial service, attended by 90 world leaders, President Obama spoke about Mandela’s understanding of the ties that bind the human spirit; “His recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us”. These characteristics of empathy and willingness to give have traditionally been strong points in us Irish.

In the World Giving Index 2012 Ireland was named the most charitable country in Europe for the second year running and the second most charitable in the world, after Australia. Nelson Mandela recognised these traits in Irish people; and something that was central to his own philosophy – the vital thread each of us plays in the tapestry of another person’s life. Or, as John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,/ Entire of itself,/ Every man is a piece of the continent,/A part of the main . . .” Nelson Mandela has left many legacies. Surely this must be one of his greatest. – Yours, etc,


Lower Salthill,




Irish Independent:


* I recently heard in one of the many tributes that have been paid to Nelson Mandela that he was very impressed with the Irish people who travelled to South Africa and volunteered with the Niall Mellon Housing Project. He recognised the sacrifice these people made in travelling thousands of miles to help people they didn’t know.

Also in this section

Letters: Bidding anything but a fond adieu to troika

Ireland badly needs its own Mandela

Leaving the poor out in the cold

At yesterday’s special memorial service in Soweto attended by 90 world leaders, US President Barack Obama spoke about Mandela‘s understanding of the ties that bind the human spirit, “his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye, that there is a oneness to humanity, that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us”.

These characteristics of empathy and willingness to give have traditionally been strong points in us Irish. In the World Giving Index 2012, Ireland was named the most charitable country in Europe for the second year running and the second most charitable in the world after Australia.

Nelson Mandela recognised these traits in Irish people, something that was very central to his own philosophy, that is the vital thread each of us plays in the tapestry of another person’s life.

Or as John Donne said in the poem I learned many years ago at school: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main . . .”

Nelson Mandela has left many legacies. Surely this must be one of his greatest,




* Only when all our citizens have equal access to all our healthcare facilities and all our educational establishments, only when we have no ghettoes of rich and poor, can we truly celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life.




* Why do quite a number of English-language journalists think it is so smart and witty of them to show their ignorance of what it involves to be an Irish speaker? It is not a hobby, it is not something I wish to practise twice a week for the craic, but it is every bit as intrinsic to my being as the colour of my skin.

In this wonderfully diverse world of ours, a world where people are commended for defending their rights, are these totally unenlightened comments by Ian O’Doherty (Irish Independent, December 9) acceptable?




* Aisling O’Connor (Irish Independent, December 9) displays all the characteristics of a cultural revolutionary. She, with many others, seems uninformed of the good that Christianity has done in the world. Despite its failings, it has been and is a force for good.

But she also seems, to my mind, to rejoice at the decline of western civilisation just as the members of the Frankfurt School would have her do. This communist group realised that the West could be undermined by undermining the institutions of education, law, media and politics.

Ms O’Connor’s comments describing religion as merely oppressive are in tune with this movement’s aims.

So her comments are either those of a cultural revolutionary or what communists would refer to as a “useful fool”.



* It seems that Aisling O’Connor has yet to fully appreciate that the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom she quotes, is Primate of the Church of England and is not, as a consequence, in communion with the See of Peter, aka the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, with which she appears to associate him.




* Three words designed to cause chaos in some house at 6am on Christmas morning: “Batteries not included”.




* How ironic that less than two weeks after the Spanish government announced plans to crack down on protests through the imposition of massive fines, we now have pro-EU protests in Ukraine.

The prospect of fines up to €600,000 for unauthorised protests in Spain was no doubt precipitated by the increased frequency of strikes and protests against the measures implemented by the Spanish government, and endorsed by the EU.

Yet now that the democratically elected government of Ukraine has decided to step back from a treaty with the EU, and pro-EU protests and strikes have erupted, the EU is encouraging the Ukrainian government to engage with the protesters. Where is the conciliatory stance when it comes to the anti-austerity protests in Spain, Greece, etc?

This two-faced approach to the right to protest — and the validity of such protests — demonstrates the double standards and lack of fairness that lie at the heart of the European Union. Strikes and protests, it would appear, are fine, just so long as the people are protesting on behalf of the EU. However, those that oppose the austerity being foisted upon them are subject to swingeing fines and the tender mercies of the riot police.




* The Government blinked first and averted an ESB strike, but I do not take this as good news. The threat of strike action can be dressed up any way Brendan Ogle and his union likes but let us be honest about it, it was a threat that amounted to the blackmail of a nation. Mr Ogle was well aware that he held all the cards going into negotiations. The fact that an ESB strike would have the greatest effect on struggling businesses and vulnerable old people repulsed most decent-minded people. Mr Ogle and his union may have won the day, but I would suggest that they not hold their heads too high.




* The need to reduce CO2 is accepted by the majority of climate scientists and must be addressed decisively by our leaders. The discussion on wind farms and pylons is in danger of narrowing to a debate about location of this infrastructure with an assumption that these developments are effective and necessary.

There is compelling evidence that wind energy is incapable of delivering meaningful CO2 reductions and that it, along with the associated grid development, could be hugely expensive and very damaging to our environment, economy and society.

Any decisions or actions the Government takes must be supported by evidence. The view that wind is a major part of the solution must be robustly challenged to discourage our politicians from taking the easy option of supporting something that is populist but ineffective, instead of making hard decisions on energy inefficiency and waste reduction.

Few, if any, politicians have questioned EirGrid’s need to spend €3.2bn on the grid or even the linkages between wind power and the grid. The continued failure to ask these questions and Government’s unwavering support for wind energy without even a rudimentary cost benefit analysis is alarming.



Irish Independent



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