27 December 2013 Boxing Day
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. There is a secret mission for Troutbridge, will she survive it after her refit?
Potter around sort itunes and google
Scrabbletoday I winand gets under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Alan Brooke Turner, who has died aged 87, served in diplomatic posts in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the years of the Cold War.
The first of Brooke Turner’s postings to Moscow was from 1962 to 1965, when he served as Cultural Attaché. The Soviet capital was then a place of acute shortages; there was, for example, only one functioning petrol station, in Gorky Square, which could be used only by VIPs and diplomats. Filling his car with petrol one evening, Brooke Turner found himself opposite a young man vigorously pumping the lever to move fuel into a glass balloon above the pump to then fill his car. As they stared at one another across the courtyard, Yuri Gagarin looked wistfully at Brooke Turner and said: “Well, it worked in space.”
The role of culture in the Soviet Union was vital to the thawing of the Cold War in the 1960s, and Brooke Turner invited many of Britain’s leading actors and artists to Moscow. On one occasion he was asked by John Gielgud to visit Marlene Dietrich, who was coming to the city to appear in a show. She arrived in her dressing room dressed in a khaki coat and carrying a heavy bucket. “It’s a good job I was in the Army and I can look after myself,” she said, as she began to wash off her make-up with the cold water.
Alan Brooke Turner was born on January 4 1926 and educated at Marlborough. In 1944 — a year after his brother, Evelyn, had been killed flying a Spitfire — he joined the RAF, and watched the end of the war as a young trainee pilot based in Cumbria. The RAF then sent him to Cambridge to learn Russian under Dame Elizabeth Hill, who in 1948 would become the university’s first Professor of Slavonic Studies. Brooke Turner (who also spoke French and German) was then dispatched, in 1947, to the Berlin Air Safety Centre, where he helped to prevent air accidents over Tempelhof airport.
After leaving the RAF, Brooke Turner went up to Balliol College, Oxford, to read Latin and Greek, graduating with a double first in 1951. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1951 and was part of the UK delegation to the Nuclear Tests Conference in Geneva. In 1953 he was posted to Warsaw, where he met his wife Hazel, who was in the Polish capital working for MI6. Throughout their courtship they were “chaperoned” by the Polish secret police, who followed them when they were enjoying picnics or sightseeing. On their marriage in 1954, Hazel was obliged to resign from MI6.
A posting to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia followed, but the British mission was expelled during the Suez Crisis — after a senior colleague had memorably instructed Brooke Turner: “Do nothing, it’ll all blow over in a day or two.” After a spell in Lisbon, he was sent to Moscow.
In 1968 Brooke Turner was dispatched to study at the School of International Affairs at Harvard University, followed by a posting to Rio de Janeiro, and then several enjoyable years in Rome, where he could indulge his love of antiquity and culture.
In 1976 he became Director of Studies at the Nato Defense College in Rome. Later in life he was periodically called upon as an adviser when Nato ran elaborate theoretical war games simulating a Soviet invasion of western Europe. His role was to decide which moves would be typical of the players in the “great game”.
His second tour in Moscow (1979-82) was dominated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The thaw in Anglo-Soviet relations which had begun in the 1960s had ended, and it was a tense period for Brooke Turner and his fellow diplomats. He described once being taken to see the editor of Pravda, and on passing the fully set printing plates, asked what was in tomorrow’s edition. “I don’t know,” came the reply, “that is next week’s.”
Brooke Turner was appointed CMG in 1980, and his final posting, in 1983, was as Ambassador to Finland, a country he had first visited in 1946. There he saw glasnost unfold under Gorbachev across the border in the Soviet Union.
After his retirement in 1985, Brooke Turner became director of the Great Britain/East Europe Centre (now the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe, or BACEE). When, in 1989, the Soviet Empire collapsed BACEE brought representatives from these emerging democracies to Britain for week-long seminars on aspects of parliamentary practice and democracy.
Although very successful, these tightly scheduled programmes did not allow for shopping — which caused a rash of absenteeism by some delegates. Brooke Turner quickly realised that an afternoon in the West End demonstrated the benefits of capitalism better than a talk from an MP.
Brooke Turner finally retired in 1995, but he remained involved in Anglo-Russian life, the Diocesan Synod and in supporting cultural events near his home in Surrey.
He is survived by his wife and by their two sons and two daughters.
Alan Brooke Turner, born January 4 1926, died October 5 2013
Chris Huhne is right to criticise successive governments’ failure to tackle the growing load on younger people that results from fear of the grey vote. While illustrating the intergenerational injustice, he forgets that half of the problem (and the opportunity for its solution) lies in the even more striking inequity in the distribution of wealth within that older generation – even greater in the large cohort of baby boomers in their wake. Among those currently over 50, the top 50% have over 90% of the assets; the wealthiest 25% has five times that of the lowest 25%. Those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed free university education have four times the wealth of those who went out to work at 15 to help pay for us, not to mention our considerably better life expectancy. It is not all the old who are “short-sighted”; it is those with most of the assets.
The answer to Huhne’s conundrum is therefore in each generation picking up some of its pension and heavier health and social care costs by each of us contributing 15% of our wealth as we reach 65. As Huhne points out, most of those health and social care costs accrue in the last year or two of life, so the money only needs to be collected after we die. This would put social care on a par with health care (especially for conditions like Alzheimer’s) and would balance the equation for population bulges like the baby boomers. It would be nice to think that this rekindling of the cooperative spirit that so benefited our generation after the war would make the 15% subscription palatable, especially if bus passes were seen as part of the package.
This “insurance for old age” still leaves most of our assets (and for the top 5%, hundreds of thousands of pounds) untouched. I am sure it was only an oversight that got Chris Huhne through his piece without a mention of inheritance tax. That should remain but one advantage of assessing wealth at 65 is that it makes avoidance less easy (and hopefully less acceptable).
• I am over 65. For the first decade of my working life I paid the basic rate of income tax at 33%, decreasing over my working life to the current rate. A rough calculation tells me I have paid significantly more into the Exchequer than those will who started paying tax at today’s much lower rate. I have never complained about this. I hold the wildly unfashionable view that income tax should go up, not down. While the basic rate of income tax remains at the current level, what do we expect? If you want more out of the system, start putting more in.
And here’s another thing. My husband and I haven’t complained about providing the deposits for two of our children’s first home purchases. Neither are we muttering about the holidays we forego as we save for our grandchildren’s future higher education costs. As with everything else in these benighted times of the coalition government (yes, your lot, Mr Huhne), support to the younger generation has become privatised along with the rest. Older people may be taking out of the state what they have put in over their lifetimes, but we are also giving crucial educational, social and housing help to our children and grandchildren out of our own pockets in the face of this government’s dereliction of duty. And here’s the last thing. Do you seriously expect us to believe that benefits cut from older people would be redistributed to the young? By this government? Come off it.
Chris Huhne is the latest in a growing number of misinformed politicians trying to argue that younger people are suffering under austerity because the nation is pandering to pensioners. The truth is that 60% of older people have an annual income of less than £10,500, one million suffer from fuel poverty and most live with a long-term disability or illness. Since 2010, they have also experienced lower pension increases, cuts to the winter fuel allowance, a freeze on tax allowances and reductions in social care services. Contrary to his suggestion, older people care about the younger generation. They want them to have a decent education, good jobs and somewhere affordable to live. They also share concerns about public transport, the retirement age and low wages. Yet Huhne misleads by saying that more than half of all welfare payments go to pensioners. This is only true if you include the state pension – which, of course, you only receive if you have made contributions over a lifetime at work. Let’s unite the generations against austerity rather than trying to push them apart.
General secretary, National Pensioners Convention
• In 2005, Ajay Kapur came up with the term “plutonomy” to describe a country defined by massive income and wealth inequality. The state of the economy is determined by how far those ostensibly in government “pander” (to quote Huhne’s invidious term) to the plutocracy rather than to pensioners. And the democracy which, according to thinkers of Huhne’s ilk, is skewed by the voting habits of the old, has virtually no impact on this unfair distribution of wealth. But until this wealth inequality is fixed, I shall not submit to blackmail and will continue to use my bus pass and avail myself of NHS services with a relatively clear conscience.
• Doesn’t it occur to him that many of us are desperately concerned for the plight of our children and grandchildren and the future of the planet for all our descendants? We would willingly be means tested or pay higher taxes to help them. Don’t blame us because Cameron will grovel anywhere he thinks will win votes.
Chris Huhne’s rant shows a disturbing lack of understanding of a key area of public policy. Contrasting “the old” against “the young” makes little sense when the inequalities within age groups are now just as great as those between them. He seems to suggest public spending is part of a “zero-sum” game where spending on one “generation” means less for another, despite evidence to the contrary from surveys of how welfare states actually operate. And he ignores the compelling evidence showing older people as active participants within work, families and communities – illustrating the extent of cohesion and reciprocity which exists within ageing societies.
But the equally good news is that what works in policy terms for older people is pretty good for younger people too, that is: lifelong education, quality jobs, a fairer system of taxation, housing to suit groups at different stages of their life, and of course a properly resourced NHS. The Lib Dems are currently running an inquiry into the “ageing society’. Hopefully, it will provide a more balanced approach than Mr Huhne’s article.
Professor Chris Phillipson
University of Manchester
• Chris Huhne laments the fact the young don’t vote. Many first-time voters voted Lib Dem at the last election because of their commitment not to raise tuition fees. By the time freshers’ week was over they’d broken their promise, and what’s more justified it with spurious reasons as to why their solemn pledge was not binding. If Huhne wants the young to engage politically, surely the answer to the alleged grip of the old, he should look at his own party, whose treacherous behaviour has alienated a whole generation of new voters.
So at last one of this government’s supporters has come out and said it clearly: “All you old people, go away and die!” (Someone needs to fight the selfish, short-sighted old, 23 December). Well, I have got news for you, Chris Huhne: we are not going to simply go away and die quietly. We oldies lived through the war and grew up during the tough postwar years which saw the creation of the welfare state and hope of a fairer society. We signed up to the social contract, paid our taxes and social security contributions, did our national service and now we expect the government to honour its side of the bargain. We are not going to stand idly by while Mr Huhne and supporters of this government of the rich and privileged try to slide out of that contract by putting forward specious arguments about fairness.
Mr Huhne, reportedly a millionaire and owner of seven homes, cites examples of policy areas where he claims the interests of the young are being marginalised in order to “kowtow” to the interests of a “gerontocracy”. However, the revealing thing is that if, in each example where he uses the word “old”, you substitute the word “wealthy”, his real argument becomes crystal clear. What he really cares about is not the marginalisation of the young but the interests of the rich. It is just another example of the rich and privileged pretending to be concerned about the interests of the less well-off while trying to protect their own interests and those of their wealthy friends.
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
• I read with interest Mr Huhne’s article aimed at me, one of the so-called “selfish short-sighted old”. However, only one of those adjectives apply to me and that is the one that states I am old (70+). Having a large family myself, made up of many age groups, I see first-hand how my own children will never benefit from the things I am privileged to have and how my grandchildren do not have the security of work, nor can easily buy their own homes, things that I enjoyed throughout my lifetime. I realise that this is a political decision to keep us thus protected from everything while younger generations struggle to maintain us in the manner to which we have become accustomed. And, furthermore, we are kept alive, often long past our sell-by date, taking unprecedented amounts of money from the NHS, well above any amount that we could possibly have paid in for.
Unfortunately, I am in a minority among my peers who, yes, selfishly tell themselves that they are entitled to all these things because they have paid in for them over the years. We need to hear a lot more around the issues bought up in Mr Huhne’s article and maybe eventually it will cause a few more of us to understand that we cannot carry on to the end of our days being a burden to the rest of the country.
• I was not happy when Chris Huhne began writing a column in the Guardian, but after his article I am considering cancelling our subscription. To describe my generation as “selfish and short-sighted” is a disgraceful slur. We are not all like him. Like many, I have protested via petitions, writing to my MP and marching on the very issues he writes about, not because I am selfish and short-sighted‚ but because I want the young people of this country to have the same rights as I have had: the right to buy houses at decent prices, access to a free, excellent NHS, a good education for all regardless of social background and, of course, protection of the planet for future generations.
Most of my retired friends do voluntary work and/or support their children by providing childcare, often using senior travel passes to do so. Like many I know, my winter fuel allowance has gone to charity. All this article does is provide another target. First the poor were “scroungers”‚ now the old. My husband and I have already suffered verbal abuse from someone addressing us as “parasites” because of our age.
• If I am one of those requiring the NHS to care for me in the last years of my life, that is what I will have paid NI and tax towards all my working life (which for many pensioners started at age 14), as well as to keep it available to those too young to have paid at all yet, if they need it. This is why, when two close family members needed extended care till their deaths at early ages, that care was available without any queries about whether they had paid enough to merit it. Huhne must be aware of the parlous state and cost of care provision for elderly people, so to attack us as selfish adds insult to injury. Like many parents, I am heavily subsidising the lives of my hard-working children, even into their middle age, and the ridiculous rise in the price of my house, simply because I stayed there for 30 years, is more likely to benefit them on my death than me during my lifetime. I have consistently opposed, at the ballot box, the parties most to blame for these policies, and deplore the situation young people find themselves in. I don’t know what else I can do, but I will not apologise or accept attack, simply for having grown old.
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire
The rehabilitation of offenders is a solid virtue. But I begrudge that part of the £1.40 a day I spend on my Guardian that goes to support Chris Huhne’s surreptitious sidle back into the limelight. The attack on the welfare state by the government he was part of aims to hurt the poorest in our community, old or young. He is trying to set against one another those of us who reject his simplistic either/or approach and who are working to sustain the welfare safety net for all who need it.
• I see Chris Huhne’s still trying to load the blame on to others. Interesting to compare his belligerence with Vicky Pryce’s concerns about prisons and prisoners. Prison clearly didn’t work for him.
Rev Peter Phillips
Swansea (retired prison chaplain)
• I can think of few people less entitled to lecture others on any subject related to morality.
• Another fine article from Chris Huhne – an incisive analysis of how electoral arithmetic creates a skewing of political influence towards the older generation. If nothing else, this article should be a rallying cry for the younger generation to vote in much greater numbers.
Dr Martin Treacy
• I have every sympathy for the young these days. I have regular savings accounts for both my granddaughters in the hope that as a family we can scrape together enough to give them a university education. This despite the fact that governments, both Tory and New Labour, have manipulated the interest rates so that my savings are shrinking, while young housebuyers benefit from the lowest mortgage rates on record.
University of Essex
• So older people are responsible for most of the ills that beset the UK? None of these things could be due to the policies of the coalition government, could they? I’m surprised Huhne didn’t blame older people for the poor performance of the Ashes cricket team or England’s poor prospects in Brazil.
Andreas Whittam Smith (20 December) bemoans the decline of Christianity throughout Europe, but fails to address the cause. This is simply that Christianity has lost the intellectual argument, and now relies on tradition and emotion to keep going.
In earlier centuries, God was needed as an explanation for what we did not understand. But our scientific understanding has now grown to the extent that we no longer see the need for a deity to explain any phenomenon. It is not that science has explained everything; rather that we can now see the futility of plugging the remaining gaps in our knowledge with the supernatural.
Nor does turning to the New Testament any longer offer the honest believer any hope. Modern New Testament scholars recognise that the historical Jesus was a very different figure from the Jesus of faith. The former was a devout Jew, who never intended to found a religion outside Judaism, and who believed that God’s kingdom was about to come on Earth – a prediction that failed to come true. The latter figure is largely a construction of later followers, from St Paul onwards.
A couple I know attended their local Methodist church for many years, playing a large role in its music-making and pastoral care. Their reasons for attending that church were their desire to worship with a congregation which shared their faith and with ministers who brought a deep and thoughtful level of substance to the sermons and activities of the church. They left recently, along with many others, when a new minister arrived trying to engage with the young generation.
In the pursuit of families the sermons became bland and simple, the content of the music became poor and the long-serving volunteers were brushed aside. That church is now struggling.
Most churches can’t put on a show to rival modern entertainments, but in the pursuit of this aim there is less time for enlightening and thoughtful words. People grow into or return to the church as they experience life and feel the need to explore a different dimension to their lives. When the church fails to put flesh on the bones of the questions these people ask it becomes irrelevant.
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
Perhaps children are not going to church because they see no evidence of the existence of God or that prayers to him are answered, but plenty of evidence of people conducting their lives in a manner blatantly at variance with the doctrines they supposedly believe in.
BRITAIN’S UGLY BUILDINGS
As an architect, I have great sympathy with Alain de Botton’s comments (4 December). However nothing is likely to change fundamentally in our construction industry as a result of Sir Terry Farrell’s report, until our population begins to appreciate the benefits of living and working in a good environment. To many, good design is confused with kudos or ego – the smart car parked in the drive of a developer’s boxy house.
At the heart of our problems are the methods we use to procure many of our buildings. This is particularly true in the pubic sector. Working for a main building contractor, I see it first hand. Crucial design decisions affecting the lives of many people are frequently made by government officials with no training in design.
Today the only items on the agenda are process and bureaucracy. The end product, a piece of architecture, is totally subordinated and lost. And sadly, nobody appears to have noticed its absence.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
WHO PAYS TO KEEP THEATRES SAFE?
Of course, any period property is expensive to maintain. Alice Jones (21 December), commenting on the ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London, says: “Spending on restoration (must be) prioritised. If private investors lack the resources, then the Government must step in to assist.”
This, I think, is already done in the case of royal palaces, but I wonder if it would be wise to extend the system to all period property. Would this not represent a further transfer of resources from taxpayers to wealthy individuals and corporations?
MUSLIM STAFF AT THE CHECKOUT
Marks and Spencer have overplayed their hand in their decision to allow Muslim staff to refuse to handle pork or alcohol products; moving them into different sections does not amend the mistake.
It is unfortunate that a small number of religious people choose to interpret their doctrines as having no room for the rights of others, and that they are encouraged to do so by well-meaning but deluded liberals.
For a shop as well established as M&S to allow them is even worse. Plenty of people are required to do things during their working lives which they do not choose to do in their private lives; it is called being professional. Nobody is asking the staff to consume the products, only to touch the packaging. If people’s views are really so intolerant as not to be able to do that, then perhaps they should work elsewhere.
There are halal and kosher meat providers who are allowed to only employ people of their own faith (no double standards there!) so why not work for them if mainstream British stores are too offensive?
In the meantime people should boycott M&S until they rescind such a backward policy. Pandering to the most extreme elements does not help social inclusion.
TIME IS UP FOR PRIVATISATION
Despite their huge profits, in the face of weather chaos, Britain’s privatised utilities and public services are letting the country down once again. Already facing soaring bills, electricity customers have been literally left in the dark, while the privatised National Grid can barely cope with demand even in normal conditions. All this despite two decades of private management which promised, but plainly did not deliver, improved, cheaper energy supply.
The worst offenders are the airports and railways, where customers have been let down in the Christmas storms with a lack of coordinated information due to the fragmented structure of the industry. Time and time again, in the face of even light snowfall or heavy rainfall, the privatised public services have proved they are not up to the job.
It is time to consider bringing the majority of major utilities and transport services under state control or merging them into larger units with vertically integrated command and control structures. Time is up for privatisation; it is a dogma whose abysmal record in ripping off the public while letting down the bill-payer and pocketing the spoils says it all.
Never mind the wrong kind of snow, Britain has the wrong type of profit-driven public services and it is time to pull the plug on them all.
RATTLING THE BONES OF T E LAWRENCE
It would be heartening to think that David Cameron’s enthusiasm for Lawrence of Arabia was due to his admiration for this intelligent, complex man, whose knowledge, empathy and understanding of Arab culture gave him the unique distinction of having been able to unite the Arab tribes of Mesopotamia against a common foe, the Ottoman Turks, in 1916-18.
In Cameron’s whizzy plans for the centenary of the First World War, will he be celebrating the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France managed to carve up what was Mesopotamia, thereby sowing the seeds of much of the present-day Middle Eastern conflicts?
Brothers are not always the best assessors of every aspect of each other’s character (Letters, 18 December) and Peter O’Toole’s brilliant performance as Lawrence did capture much of the essence of a man who was so upset by the British establishment’s treatment of Faisal and the Arabs that he left the Army, changed his name and “backed into the limelight”.
Lawrence himself said, “After I’m dead, they’ll rattle my bones about, in their curiosity.” He was right.
Douglas, Isle of Man
TRAPPED AT HOME AT CHRISTMAS
It is Carol Wood’s attitude (Letters, 23 December), not Gudrun Parasie’s, that is self-serving, and indeed selfish. Not a thought for people on their own and without transport who are unable to visit friends at Christmas because there is no way to reach them.
When I was young, in the 1950s and ’60s, there was limited public transport, including rail services, on Christmas Day; but not any more. We are all expected to cocoon ourselves within our so-called “families” and “stop, think and enjoy life”, as Ms Wood puts it.
Sir, Iain Duncan Smith claims that some food banks are making their “political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear” (report, Dec 23). We have run the Community Emergency Food-bank (CEF) in Oxford for the past six years and since it began it has provided food for more than 11,000 people. CEF is independent of campaigning groups.
The reasons for the rise in the number of claimants are complex, and seeking to highlight welfare reform is simplistic. In the unlikely event that the provision of welfare benefits was to be substantially increased, the need for food banks would continue unabated because no government of any stripe could create a system of relief that caters for the myriad of human dramas — prison, gambling, drugs, desertion, gaps in benefit provision, sudden job loss, and unforeseen misfortune — that afflict families. Further, the substantial publicity surrounding the rise of food banks in general has advertised the availability of the service, hence the marked increase in the number of applicants.
Sir, To accuse Fareshare of “scaremondering” is a travesty of common sense at anytime of year but especially at Christmas, when good cheer is as about as remote as food on the table for many.
As a volunteer for ReadiFood, a food bank that delivers to some 110 individuals and families per week in the Reading area, I have spent much of my free time this year, as have many other volunteers, working with Fareshare and other local agencies, trying to meet the very real challenge of feeding the needy.
The Trussell Tust, FareShare and ReadiFood are not imagining these figures — they are real, and Mr Duncan Smith should recognise this.
Sir, Religion is an abundant source of social capital (“Doing good is religion’s best recruiting tool”, Libby Purves, Opinion, Dec 23). Research from Professor Robert Putnam, the eminent sociologist, has shown that religious people are more likely to volunteer, give charity, help someone in need and “do good”. He argues furthermore that within a community there is competitive emulation, meaning that people seek to be the most virtuous person in their social grouping.
A report this year from the think-tank ResPublica shows that 79 per cent of Anglican congregations formally volunteer compared with only 49 per cent of the general public. Much of this “active citizenship” takes place locally and quietly, without fanfare, in thousands of communities across the UK.
This is of massive value, especially in austere economic times and for people reliant of foodbanks. Religion builds community and belonging, which is the wellspring of social good in so many communities around the UK.
It’s certainly true to say that engineering has been neglected by recent governments, which is why organisations like the Institution of Engineering and Technology have been working so hard to put it back on the agenda and make sure that the UK doesn’t give up on engineering. As a result, there are encouraging signs that things are starting to change. New orders for UK manufacturing in November 2013 were the strongest for almost 20 years — and job creation also accelerated. The recently published Perkins Review promises £200 million of government funding to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching in universities — and to raise the profiles of engineering careers. There is also a planned £30 million of investment to develop engineering in sectors suffering acute shortages.
Clearly, there is still a lot of lost time to make up for, but the UK hasn’t given up on engineering in favour of finance. In fact, given the pitiful performance of the finance sector in recent years, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the UK is slowly starting to recognise that engineering will play a vital and central role in our future economic growth.
President, Institution of Engineering and Technology
Sir, Hugh Thomson (Opinion, Dec 26) writes as though the “Right to Roam” Act of 2000 is an unmitigated good. Some may disagree. There was plenty of public access available before 2000, and the Act will serve to destroy some of the few wilderness areas uncontaminated by man that remain in Britain.
Genuine lovers of the countryside who are not politically motivated recognise that sometimes the best thing to do with the natural environment is to leave it alone.
Sir, Your report on improvements to the adoption recruitment system (“Parents to adopt online”, Dec 24) neglected to mention that it is not just a local authority that can recruit and approve potential adopters. There are many non-statutory adoption agencies (for example, Barnardo’s) that operate throughout the country.
The Government has funded a dedicated information service called First4Adoption which provides advice and guidance for people interested in adopting a child, including suggestions about the most appropriate adoption agencies in their area (including the non-statutory agencies) to contact.
Seaton Sluice, Northumberland
Sir, You say (“Barristers say ‘no’ and put fraud trials in jeopardy”, Dec 23) that 17 chambers have refused to provide barristers for a very complicated fraud case. What a disgraceful state of affairs. And how has this been allowed to happen? Cut after cut in legal aid, and a government and Justice Secretary who refuse to listen to genuine concerns from the legal profession. There has just been a vote of no confidence in the chief executive and president of the Law society by solicitors, and criminal barristers will be on “strike” on January 6. This from members of a profession who never normally get together to protest. What more do they have to do to underline the seriousness of their concerns that the best legal system in the world is now under threat?
Instead they should call for the scrapping of the new carbon price floor, which was introduced by the Government in April and which will force bills to rise quickly.
The carbon price floor taxes emissions from Britain’s coal-fired and gas-fired power stations, which provide over 70 per cent of UK electricity generation, starting at £16 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted this year and rising to £30 per ton in 2020.
This tax will raise more than £4 billion for the Government over the next four years but increasingly ramp up electricity bills as generators pass the costs on to consumers.
Britain’s carbon taxes are now four times higher than those in the rest of Europe; this makes Britain increasingly uncompetitive and is leading to some manufacturers relocating due to rising costs. Britain should enjoy the same carbon taxes as the rest of Europe so to enjoy a level playing field amongst our nearest economic competitors and help keep energy costs down.
Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies
SIR – Everyone agrees that energy bills are unpalatably high in these difficult economic times. The policy prescriptions of both Labour (freezing prices) and the Coalition (encouraging more suppliers by excusing them from environmental and social costs) assume insufficient competition and excess profits. Yet, despite best efforts, no evidence has ever been found for this.
Again, contrary to loudly trumpeted preconceptions, the energy market is more transparent than any other competitive market, with the regulator publishing annually the accounts of the Big Six separately for their generation and retail businesses.
Isn’t it time we started instead to look at explanations where there is hard evidence and debate what can be done about those? This would be a lot less popular than blaming the energy companies, for any solution will upset some interest group. But it would be more productive.
SIR – The Palace of Westminster needs major renovation, requiring both Houses to relocate to temporary accommodation for several years. Wouldn’t it be better to relocate Parliament away from London permanently, where it could stimulate the local economy and, hopefully, reduce the trend for everything to move to London?
Several other countries separate their commercial and political capitals: Washington and New York; Rome and Milan/Turin; Beijing and Shanghai; Madrid and Barcelona. As a newly built seat of government, Astana in Kazakhstan has been a success.
The Palace of Westminster could be redeveloped as a cultural centre or hotel to maximise its income potential. A modern parliament building would be far more suitable for its purpose.
SIR – Like many disabled people, I am grateful for the parking privileges given by the Government’s Blue Badge scheme, without which my life would be much more restricted. It is also sensible for the Department of Transport to have decided to tighten up on the issuing, renewal and general misuse of these badges.
Unfortunately the new measures taken are a serious blow to the genuinely disabled. The service has been privatised this year, and many of us must now attend a panel for medical assessment. But the service is too overwhelmed to cope.
I have been a disabled badge-holder for seven years, and I returned my application for renewal as soon as it was sent me. It has been with the local office for nearly six weeks, and I have not yet even received an appointment for the assessment panel.
The badge expired yesterday, but I am told to expect a “considerable” delay before there is even a possibility of a new one being issued. Meanwhile, I shall apparently be fined if caught using an out-of-date badge in a restricted area, and prosecuted if I refuse to pay the fine.
The Department for Transport already has a simple solution to a similar problem. Those who must renew a driving licence every three years for medical reasons are allowed to continue driving on an expired licence, providing the application for renewal has been received by the DVLA. To extend this humane and sensible flexibility to the Blue Badge scheme would surely be better than to risk criminalising large numbers of the disabled.
Dr Michael Harriss
Secateurs and a stick
SIR – I use both footpaths and bridleways. Of course, every effort should be made to ensure that existing rights of way should be kept, but we walkers, riders and cyclists can do far more in self-help.
A pair of secateurs and a strong stick are to me useful in keeping the paths I use in a passable state. The more the paths are used the more they are clear of vegetation.
Some of the paths complained about by the few are barely used. In these times of financial constraints on councils we should not expect so much. Personally I would rather the pothole on the road was filled than the bramble cleared back.
As for direction signs, they are often vandalised and pulled down as fast as they are put up, at vast expense. It would be better to educate the general public in the art of reading an Ordnance Survey map .
Long Stratton, Norfolk
SIR – A few years ago my husband and I visited my ex-husband in New York. I had not seen him for 20 years, but we had kept in touch.
We met in his flat and I noticed, draped over the sofa, a familiar object. It was a Fairisle jumper I had knitted him when we first met. He was so impressed he kept it on display. I was thrilled, remembering the time and effort it took.
I have never knitted anything like it since.
SIR – Having visited Australia and been exposed to plastic currency notes, I can honestly say that they are very nasty.
They do not feel like proper money, and do not fold properly. Sure, they wash easily, but so what?
Osborne for deputy PM
SIR – If Britain is to survive and thrive in the global race we need a radical restructuring at the top level of government. Whitehall must be leaner, and very much more focused on delivery. This comes down to real responsibility covering needs, inputs and outputs.
So, the Chancellor should formally be given deputy prime ministerial clout. Appoint one further deputy prime minister, a new foreign and domestic security “supremo” – one person with overall responsibility for foreign, defence and domestic security. In other words: make one person responsible to the PM and the nation for hard and soft power security.
There should be no more bad connections between foreign and domestic goals and approaches. No more passing the parcel of culpability between departments. No more excuses for a woeful lack of agility because some parts of the team are sticking to out-dated scripts and prejudices.
One person truly in charge across the key departments could refresh Whitehall’s “Comprehensive Approach” – which has lost steam. Such a person could produce a much-needed top-level national strategy, and get the National Security Council to advance beyond being a talking shop.
We should not underestimate the obstacles that must be overcome of “my turf”, “my space”, and “my career”. Yet massive improvements and efficiencies are there to be grasped.
In the Sixties we had separate single military service ministries (the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry), between them employing more people and taking a larger share of public expenditure than today’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development. The radicals – the proponents of a unified Ministry of Defence – won, in the face of immense Luddite opposition. And the radicals can do so again.
Brigadier Nigel Hall (rtd)
General Tim Cross (rtd)
The sound of winter
SIR – The sound that makes me acknowledge the arrival of winter (Letters, December 23) is that of the lorry gritting the road. There is no sign of it yet. Despite this, I did fall off my bicycle, due to frost on the roads. No harm done.
I hope, though, that the orange flashing light of a large vehicle will be seen in the vicinity soon. I’ll then go into hibernation.
The legendary origins of the Stone of Scone
SIR – Christina Jury’s letter (December 18) suggesting that the Stone of Scone could be a fake ignores the legend that it did not originate in Iona but was taken there from Dalriada (present-day Ulster) and, long before that, was removed from the Hill of Tara just outside Dublin, where it was used as part of the ceremony to crown the High Kings of Ireland.
Perhaps we should be looking at the geology of that part of Ireland before we discount the stone’s origins.
Hove, West Sussex
SIR – There is a legend that the Stone of Scone comes from the Temple at Jerusalem and was taken to Ireland by a daughter of the royal line of David after all the men in that royal line were slaughtered by the Romans in AD70.
The princess married into the royal line of the Irish, whose kings were then crowned on the stone. Later, through intermarriage, the stone was taken to Scotland and so then down to England.
The legend goes on to say that there will never be a King David in the British Isles until the return of Jesus. Interestingly, although David was only his calling name, Edward VIII abdicated the throne before he was crowned.
SIR – I enjoyed reading Christopher Howse’s piece on the Stone of Destiny (Comment, December 14), but, as a Scots exile of long standing, I was struck by its strongly English perspective.
It appeared to be of no consequence that the English Church, in all its guises, was quite happy to cling on to stolen property, and not permit even Edward III to return it to its rightful owners. So well done to Sir John Major for giving it back.
The recent storm surge floods came within half a mile of our home, and the only reliable information was on local radio: Lincolnshire has only FM.
Ignorance in these circumstances was not bliss.
The digital switchover has been a masterpiece of poor planning.
M J Sharp
- Parliament should move out of London for good
26 Dec 2013
SIR – While digital television has improved the audio and visual quality of television, this is not the case for radio.
Ofcom stopped a digital marketing agency claiming DAB was of “CD quality”. Clearly it isn’t. Most broadcasts are currently below the audio quality of a good FM stereo broadcast.
Even now, many advertisements for DAB refer to “digital quality” – a meaningless statement. As for DAB reception, it varies according to area, and in a moving vehicle, signal break-up is still a big problem.
SIR – The box for my radio lists many DAB radio stations that no longer exist. This year, further regional DAB signals have been shut down: here in Manchester I can no longer listen to LBC on my DAB radio.
Dr Alex May
SIR – I returned my DAB radio to the retailer when I found that it used batteries at a far faster rate than my analogue radio. In this energy-aware world, I cannot see why DAB is being promoted so strongly.
SIR – My wife listens to Radio 4 in the kitchen, and at dawn via a bedroom clock radio. In the past I have bought DAB radios for both rooms, but they would not hold a station unless they were put right next to a window, which was not practicable. They were promptly returned and replaced with new analogue models.
People may learn to love DAB radios, as the BBC suggest, but only when they are made to work as well as their predecessors.
Doncaster, West Yorkshire
SIR – To set his clocks accurately after the FM radio pips are switched off, Adrian Waller (Letters, December 18) should buy a radio-controlled alarm clock for as little as £5. These receive Britain’s national time signal, which is transmitted from Anthorn, 13 miles west of Carlisle, by the National Physical Laboratory. This uses caesium atomic clocks to provide continuously accurate time to the second, and covers the whole of the United Kingdom and most of northern and western Europe.
Sir, – Having announced that the HSE is about to cull 75,000 medical cards in the coming year, it has been of interest to observe its modus operandi.
In October the HSE wrote to an 84-year-old lady who lives alone and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She had a medical card valid until 2016 and the HSE wished her to update her circumstances. Upon not receiving a reply it cancelled her card forthwith. This vulnerable lady has no capacity to deal with such requests. If the HSE had sent a registered letter to the patient it would have been dealt with appropriately by a family member. However, not only did the HSE cancel her card, but it never informed her. It operates with Gestapo tactics.
All this happens on the watch of Minister for Health James Reilly, authorised by him. Probity means being morally and ethically above reproach. It is another word used out of context by the Minister. He should stick to his vintage cars and leave the caring of people to the people who care. – Yours, etc,
BRENDAN CROWLEY GP,
Sir, – Your supplement, After the Bailout (December 13th), gave us insights into the thinking and views of the many contributors on the bailout. For the majority of the citizens of this country the exiting of the bailout meant nothing but continuance of survival in a barren society where families suffer food poverty and suicides occur at a rate of two per day.
Your Front page headline (December 14th) tells us that EU leaders were told to stay away on exit day. It was stated that a visit would be inappropriate: which I read to infer that the four who deign to rule our country needed to show that they were in charge without their masters in attendance.
Edna Kenny’s address to the nation, published in full in your Monday edition (December 16th), was that of a puppet ruler to an oppressed people. A people ruled by compliant non-leaders at the behest of our European masters and taxed beyond reason “to show investors, and markets and our international partners that we were serious about our economic problems” with no regard for social, economic and health well-being of the citizens.
We have many commentators who direct their attention at the wrongs within our systems and institutions and offer possible solutions within the present boundaries and structures. The 10 per cent are comfortable within these structures because they are not discommoded and fear change.
Our Constitution is not fit for purpose; nor are our institutions, political system or electoral system. We need to question all aspects of our society and transform our lives on this island as one people.
A starting point would be for the citizens to be engaged, identify the changes that need to occur and set about creating change beneficial to all. “What can I do?” is the usual refrain, with a shrug of the shoulders.
It is a duty and responsibility of every citizen to use their vote at election time, otherwise we will continue to hand the power to govern to rulers who rule by fear and continue to oppress while garnering excessive rewards of office for themselves and their friends. –Yours, etc,
Sir, – Surely the main issue is not the supposed avarice of those directing charitable institutions but rather the total reliance of service users on these semi-private organisations in the first place? Why is the care of the most vulnerable in our society outsourced to bodies outside the direct control of the State?
We may pride ourselves as a nation on our generosity with our time and money to the many wonderful voluntary organisations that play such an important role in keeping our society afloat. But surely this is not the most efficient way to organise a modern society? Is it not perverse that hospitals are forced to fundraise for essential equipment and that schools rely on the not so “voluntary” contribution for basic running costs? Is it not reprehensible that the lobbying capacity of a certain charity has as much, if not more, of a bearing on the allocation of funds as the public need?
I am sympathetic to those who are sceptical when it comes to extending the remit of our troubled health services, but if we are ever to construct an integrated social and healthcare system, the State needs to take on full responsibility for the care of its citizens. Direct provision, which underpins the successful system in France for example, is not only more efficient and transparent but it also represents a rights-based approach to welfare that contrast sharply with the increasingly outdated “voluntarist” model in operation here.
We will need to abandon the feel-good factor of charity donation in favour of the less palatable option of higher taxes to ensure provision for all. We as taxpayers need to be willing to pay the price so that we as citizens can build a fairer and better system of provision. – Is mise,
A chara, – Alan Shatter is concerned that paramilitary groups seek to usurp the name Óglaigh na hÉireann (Home News, December 17th). The misappropriation is facilitated by default.
How many times has Mr Shatter referred to the “Irish Defence Forces” as Óglaigh na hÉireann? How many times do Army personnel refer to themselves as members of Óglaigh na hÉireann?
The Minister could transform the situation by making the name Óglaigh na hÉireann as well-known as An Garda Síochána. – Is mise,
PEADAR Mac MAGHNAIS,
Bothar Bhinn Eadair,
Baile Atha Cliath 5.
Sir, – Stephen Collins (Opinion, December 21st) jumps to a number of conclusions about the need for political reform in this country.
He considers the rejection of the Seanad referendum “a serious dent in the reform project” when it demonstrated the electorate has a more nuanced understanding of political reform than it is given credit for. He points to the “limited remit of the Constitutional Convention” without acknowledging it arose from the same problem behind the Seanad referendum; a top-down approach to reform rather than a bottom-up approach that could have engaged society.
He may certainly argue that reforming political institutions will not solve all of the political culture’s problems, but the tone of his article seems to suggest that neither should be reformed.
Collins underestimates how much impact institutions can have on human behaviour.
I can point to at least three ways our dysfunctional political system contributed to the financial crisis; a lack of parliamentary scrutiny over the executive, a lack of transparency for the civil service and a lack of direct citizen participation in key government decisions.
Addressing these systemic flaws is part of the work of changing our political culture. The reform project is therefore far from over. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Every now and again, you hear a report of a robbery: a knock at the door, the house-holder opens, the robbers rush in. You know the rest.
Why are people so naive? It could be the devil, or Dr Paisley, and yet people open their doors without knowing. Closed circuit TV cameras are not expensive – any handyman can install them. Why not do it? – Yours, etc,
Sir – Despite Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney’s reassurance, marine fishing opportunities worth €250 million (Home News, December 18th) are anything but “steady”. The value of seafish landings peaked at €352 million in 2001. Allowing for inflation, that figure has halved in the meantime. The value of our marine produce is currently much the same as it was in 1973 when Ireland entered the EEC, before fleet expansion all but obliterated our whitefish fisheries. We now enjoy an enormous fleet which has less and less to harvest.
Sadly, the Minister was, on this as on previous occasions, unwilling to act in accordance with scientific advice and we can anticipate further reductions in the value of this industry as well as the volume of landings in the years ahead. – Yours, etc,
Drumree, Co Meath.
Sir, – In the discussion of whether museums should adopt a more pragmatic stance on selling their art collections (Arts, December 5th), the absence of any reference to the ethical circumstances surrounding donated artworks was worrying. Museums that show reluctance to sell their collections are described as “coy”, because this may partly be to admit that a mistake was made in buying them.
But a great many museums do not rely on buying or selling for the quality of their collections. They rely on the spirit of philanthropy or patriotism that motivates often wealthy owners to donate objects or collections to public institutions on the understanding that they will not be alienated through sale. This involves no small matter of trust between donors and museums, a principle underpinned by the ethical presumption against sale.
Many museums, and particularly non-art museums, depend primarily on donation to build the quality of their collections. A more casual approach to the sale of objects would undoubtedly undermine the trust on which these philanthropic transactions depend. The presumption against sale in the International Council of Museum’s Code of Ethics is primarily directed at safeguarding that trust. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your Editorial (December 19th) raises interesting questions about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. The professions in Ireland have expressed legitimate concerns about the fact that modifications to business structures and legal practices must take place only after careful consideration of the effects these would have on the interests of citizens, the independence of the professions and the creation of conflicts of interest.
The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe has repeatedly expressed concerns about the way in which reforms (such as the introduction of alternative business structures) are proposed to be introduced. At minimum, a proper, independent assessment should be carried out to ensure that any proposals will reduce costs, ensure greater competition, and preserve the independence of legal professionals. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am amazed that in the debate on the cost of health insurance there is a disjuncture between it and medical fees and charges. These fees and charges represent by far the highest element of premium costs, exceeding both Government taxes and levies and the profits of insurance companies. But it is the premiums that are constantly criticised without any reference to fees and charges which seem to be implicitly accepted by all.
There was an effort to cut back on fees in the public sector in conjunction with Croke Park. There was no similar effort with private fees. Salaries and wages of most people have been cut, but when you go to a GP or specialist you still have to pay around €60 and €150 respectively.
Even if they had been cut back in line with Croke Park, private costs would still be too high either objectively or compared to other countries. I have extensive experience of both the Irish and Belgian systems and here are three standard examples: 1. Visit to GP: €32 in Belgium as opposed to €60 here (187 per cent). 2. Visit to consultant: €65 as opposed to €150 (250 per cent). 3. Simple dermatological excision: €140 as opposed to €700 (500 per cent). Differences of this order are indefensible.
I have queried the level of fees with medical practitioners and they raised the usual arguments about overheads and in particular the costs and rules of professional indemnity insurance. I pushed one specialist on these details many years ago. In his frustration he asked what I expected him to charge in the light of the earnings of lawyers and accountants. I had no answer to that.
I previously drew this matter to the attention of politicians, the media and the Irish Patients’ Association with the suggestion that pending a review of fees people should unilaterally reduce their premium payments in line with public service cuts. That was perhaps too radical.
While the troika was here the Government had the perfect cover for taking direct action on fees in the largely self-regulated professions. That they did not do so shows the perceived strength of the professions at political level. This is further reflected by fact that we seldom if ever see any sustained argument on this matter from the opposition parties in spite of their protests on the costs of health insurance.
Ironically, the highlighted words on the attractive home page of the Health Insurance Authority are “Go Compare”. It is high time that the Minister or the authority took this advice and compared fees and charges with comparable EU states. This is not a complicated matter. In all jurisdictions either the insurers or the state will have fixed maximums which they consider justified for fees and charges on the whole range of procedures (exactly as is done here). – Yours, etc,
JOHN F JORDAN,
Sir, – Vladimir Putin is no angel, but then angels are rather rare among leaders of powerful nations. Politicians in the West and Western media in general have by now developed an almost Cold War attitude to Russia and to Putin in particular. The Irish Times is no exception, in this regard. Your Front page and your article inside (World News, December 23rd) both refer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky as having been a political prisoner.
Under the chaotic reign of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s a group of individuals, including Khodorkovsky, emerged as oligarchs in the course of grabbing control of huge state assets, including oil companies, for knock down prices. .Overnight they became unbelievably wealthy. They were not noted for being too scrupulous in the nefarious methods they used in acquiring such vast assets. What is rarely if ever mentioned by anyone in the West is that the European Court of Human Rights has concluded, on more than one occasion, in relation to Khodorkovsky and others of his ilk, that they could not be designated as political prisoners and stated that they were in prison for the crimes they had committed.
That Putin was responsible for putting an end to the chaos that had existed made an enemy of him in the eyes of those who had profited mightily and so they were glad to describe themselves as political prisoners. In fact Khodorkovsky and others like him had never shown any interest in politics. Whatever one might say about Putin it in undeniable that the economic situation in Russia is far healthier than it was under the previous regime. In his favour he was largely responsible bringing about the current promising negotiations between Iran and the West and preventing the threatened American missile attacks on Syria. – Yours, etc,
Bishopscourt Road, Cork.
Sir, – How come top-ups are from the top down and not from the bottom up? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The lachrymogenic tidings of the retirement of your “Words We Use” columnist Diarmaid Ó Muirithe (Home News, December 23rd), has left me discombobulated.
Mr Ó Muirithe, your expert on verbomania and quidditative terms, was no philologaster but provided a xenoglossia which steered us from cacology. I trust his magniloquence will be rewarded with a loud fanfaronade as he leaves The Irish Times. – Yours, etc,
* “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hope that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”
Also in this section
But this year Saint Nicholas, or Santa, required a little more hope than usual in the way of help to meet Christmas wish lists.
The Saint Vincent De Paul, Crosscare, Legion of Mary and those other shining souls who gave of their time and energies to think of others less fortunate deserve all of our thanks. Can I include the nurses, the doctors and the carers too?
We also should think of all those who work for Childline, the Samaritans and Simon.
I hope this year there will be fewer people sleeping in the doorways and lanes of our cities.
I hope no one else will freeze to death, as has been the case over the last few years.
I also pray that the rest of us will realise that we are very fortunate to have somewhere warm and dry to sleep and enough to eat. All of these are blessings that we can share with others.
Didn’t Gandhi once write that we must not look upon a beggar as an obstacle to generosity?
Finally, I hope we can all take care of each other a little better. A society is not one singular entity, it is a series of smaller communities looking out for each other.
Maybe we can look out for each other a little better, by trying a little harder this year and by treasuring the gifts we have.
The family, the friends, the blue sky and the song of birds and the gradual stretch in the evenings.
I hope we can all keep on keeping on together.
KILLINEY, CO DUBLIN
A TURKEY’S REVENGE
* We had the usual debate — goose or turkey, turkey or goose? To make for a peaceful house and as an act of penance for my unseasonal ill humour, not only did I agree to opt for turkey, but I volunteered to cook the shagging thing into the bargain.
This took me on to the internet for a suitable recipe. I came upon the following gem:
Step 1: Find yourself a turkey
Step 2: Take a drink of whiskey
Step 3: Put turkey in the oven
Step 4: Take another two drinks of whiskey
Step 5: Set the degree at 375 ovens
Step 6: Take three more whiskeys of drink
Step 7: Turn oven the on
Step 8: Take four whisks of drinky
Step 9: Turk the bastey
Step 10: Whiskey another bottle get
Step 11: Stick a turkey in the thermometer
Step 12: Glass pour of whiskey
Step 13: Turk the carvey
Step 19: Tet the sable and pour yourself a glass of turkey.
AINE E FULLAM
JESUS IS NOT TO BE FEARED
* Whether believers or not, everyone living in western countries should respect and honour Our Lord’s birth date. Western society evolved through the Roman Empire and was built on Judeo/Christian principles.
I’m neither embarrassed nor ashamed to say I’m a believer.
Jesus’ life — He really did exist! — on Earth was one of love, healing and forgiveness. Sure, terrible things have been done by terrible people in Jesus’ name. However, these things were neither done nor condoned by Christ Himself.
So why do so many ‘clever people’ and ‘cultural elites’ so fear The Man, always turning His other cheek?
Perhaps it is that they have more hang-ups than an Imelda Marcos wardrobe?
In that spirit of great tolerance and affection, I wish you all a very merry and holy Christmas.
IT’S TIME TO CALL A HALT
* The survey of over 40 charities in Ireland recently showed us that most of the CEOs are paid around €100,000. May I ask what in God’s name do they do to justify earning nearly €2,000 a week? This is an absolute disgrace and very hard for the generous people of this country to stomach.
I, for one will, in the new year, be stopping a direct debit going to one particular charity. We tolerate too much of this in this country.
GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL
HANDS OFF OUR TRACKERS
* I write in relation to Stephen Kinsella’s column ‘Tracker mortgages are damaging the economy’ (Irish Independent, December 24).
Mr Kinsella urges the abolition of tracker mortgages, arguing that this will remove their drain on our banks and so improve credit facilities.
The tracker mortgage that we have enables us to maintain our payments on a house that is now worth less than half of what we paid for it, from wages that are constantly being reduced.
Each week, I pay a day’s wages in tax. On top of this, the USC repays the debts incurred by former banking chiefs, who have been responsible for the plight we now face.
Mr Kinsella would do well to consider the common working people, whose taxes keep us all in gainful employment.
ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
’12 DRINKS’ MUST STOP
* This new Christmas activity — Twelve Drinks in Twelve Pubs — is a total nuisance, an exercise in gross misbehaviour and a disguise for underage drinking.
Fifty people, no less, arrived without notice to a pub in town on the Sunday before Christmas, causing chaos and disruption. If it continues city pubs will lose business.
As for the individuals concerned, their parents will be mopping up this morning and a few of the drinkers will awaken in A&E units.
The most experienced of drinkers could not do this, yet teenagers are indulging. It has to stop.
MILLBROOK ROAD, DUBLIN
LONGEST DAY OF THE YEAR
* How is it that the 21st of December is the shortest day of the year, but the 24th always feels like the longest?
PARDON OSCAR WILDE
* A posthumous pardon for Alan Turing is all well and good, but if that is any yardstick, the British establishment should collectively prostrate themselves and beg forgiveness for the even greater damage they did to an equally brilliant man.
They sentenced him to the harshest of prison regimes in an effort to break his spirit. And some say they succeeded.
Even Pussy Riot were treated lightly compared to the great Oscar Wilde.
CHILD REWRITES NATIVITY
* I enjoyed Clodagh Finn’s recollections about family Christmas, especially her memory of one little person’s version of ‘Away In A Manger’, including the line: “The little Malteaser lay down his sweet head.”
I remember our daughter drawing a nativity scene in junior school. Her teacher was puzzled.
There were Joseph, Mary and Three Wise Match-stick men, the Baby Jesus was also included but pride of place was given to a Humpty Dumpty-type character.
“Who is that?” asked a bemused teacher. “That’s Round John,” answered the child, surprised at her teacher’s ignorance.
“Yes”, replied the little girl, before explaining: “Round John, Virgin Mother and Child.”
Here’s to a silent night.
N O BRIEN
BRAY, CO WICKLOW