New Years Day

2 January 2014 New Years Day
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Johnson has entered a competition to build a man powered flying machine. Priceless.
Set up website, and email potter around
Scrabble today Mary wins  and get just under   400,  Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Sir Michael Butler, , who has died aged 86, played a crucial role in securing for Margaret Thatcher the substantial reduction she demanded to the UK’s contribution to the European Community budget.
A Europhile who prided himself on having been the only Englishman “in on every phase” of European enlargement, Butler was posted to Brussels as Britain’s permanent representative to the EC at the start of 1980 – just after Mrs Thatcher had told fellow European leaders: “I want my money back.” Working 80 to 90 hours a week, he managed to secure for her at Fontainebleau in 1984 the rebate, most of which Britain has retained to this day.
It was by no means an easy process. The tall, bald and bespectacled Butler’s famed unflappability was tested to the full as the prime minister took out on senior ministers and civil servants her irritation at the refusal of other European leaders to see things her way.
Once she banged down her papers on the table and exclaimed: “I’ve had enough. We will leave the EEC next Tuesday.” Unfazed, Butler replied: “Even so, Prime Minister, we’ve still got to work out what we do on Monday.”
Rated by colleagues “a hugely superior machine”, Butler also laid the groundwork for Mrs Thatcher’s goal of a single European market. She acknowledged his contribution by having him appointed GCMG, one of the few ambassadors to receive the diplomatic service’s highest honour.
Yet they were miles apart in their attitudes toward Europe. Butler rated the EU a “huge and historic success”, an attitude which saw the Tory Right regard him with increasing hostility. Boris Johnson called him a “federast”.
In tandem with his diplomatic career, Butler established himself as a leading collector of 17th-century Chinese porcelain, and an authority on the subject respected in China itself. He began collecting in 1958; his first piece, a green teapot made to resemble a bamboo, cost him £15 with three other pieces thrown in. By 1985 Butler had 600 pieces from between 1620 and 1680, and he filled his embassies with dazzling displays of the best. He wrote several books on late Ming ceramics, and his interest led to his becoming deputy chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Michael Dacres Butler was born at Blandford, Dorset, on February 27 1927, the son of TD Butler and the former Beryl Lambert. Educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford, he joined the foreign service in 1950.
After serving in New York and Baghdad, he was posted in 1961 to Paris. There he orchestrated the opposition to President de Gaulle’s obstructiveness over Britain joining the EEC; French officials were deeply offended that so junior an official should presume to mount a challenge.
Butler returned to Whitehall in 1965, then three years later went to Britain’s mission in Geneva as counsellor. While there, he had the tenant of his house in Chelsea jailed for contempt of court for sub-letting after the Court of Appeal had ordered him not to.
Following a sabbatical at Harvard, he served briefly in Washington before being recalled in 1972 to head the FCO’s European Integration department as Britain entered the EC. Two years later he became assistant under-secretary in charge of EC affairs, and one of the officials who led Labour’s renegotiation of Britain’s membership prior to the referendum of 1975.
A spell in charge of economic matters followed before his appointment as UK Permanent Representative (Ukrep) in Brussels, succeeding Sir Michael Palliser.
Butler was expected to move on to a more prestigious embassy, and maybe even to head the diplomatic service. But all-night budget negotiations both prolonged his time in Brussels and took their toll, and in 1985 he retired two years early. His final act was to persuade Mrs Thatcher during the single market negotiations to accept an extension to majority voting.
He joined the board of Hambro’s Bank, serving until 1997. Butler played an important part in Hambro’s move, after the “Big Bang” in the City, to diversify into Europe, negotiating links and joint products with German, Italian and Spanish banks. He also chaired Honda’s European consultative group, the international advisory board of ICL, and a consortium which ICL formed with De la Rue and Girobank to bid for the contract to automate post offices and the payment of benefits.
Butler left Brussels convinced checks were needed on bureaucracy and arrogance in the Commission, but he also became concerned that Mrs Thatcher had stopped meeting her advisers and was letting her prejudices take over on the issue of Europe.
She was still in power when he proposed a European Monetary Fund issuing a “hard Ecu” based on the Deutschmark as a dual currency for Europe. John Major, then Chancellor, took up the idea, but before long the die was cast for the eventual adoption of the euro.
Butler incurred the wrath of Eurosceptics by insisting that all Britain would give up under a single currency was “inflation, followed by periodic devaluations”. In 1996 he joined forces with Palliser and Sir Michael Hannay to attack John Redwood for opposing the concept.
Soon after Tony Blair appointed Butler his personal envoy to countries hoping to join the EU; Butler told a curious Boris Johnson it would be “improper” to say whether he intended to vote Labour.
He saw “very little possibility” of a Labour government being able to pass the necessary legislation and sign up to the euro by the starting date of 1999. In the event, Labour made the preparations but did not join.
Butler was at various times chairman of the Senior Experts’ Group, the European Committee of British Invisibles, Business Link Dorset and Oriental Art magazine; a director of the Wellcome Foundation; a senior fellow of the Royal College of Arts; a council member of the Oriental Ceramic Society; a conciliator for the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes and a board member of Britain in Europe.
His book Europe: More than a Continent (1986) won the Adolphe Bentinck prize for important contributions to European unity.
He was appointed CMG in 1975, KCMG in 1980 and GCMG in 1984.
Michael Butler married Ann, the daughter of Lord Clyde, in 1951. They had two sons and two daughters.
Sir Michael Butler, born February 27 1927, died December 24 2013


Stephen Twigg is sadly mistaken if he thinks that having the Office for Budget Responsibility audit the spending pledges of Ed Balls will reconnect the public and politics (Letters, 31 December). Political parties need to simply state what their social and economic vision of a future Britain is, how they would achieve this, and what their spending priorities would be. Many disaffected voters are not actually interested in the intimate detail of how our society will change, more the values of those who want to make the change. In Scotland, Alex Salmond gains support for a “yes” vote not when he talks about budgets but when he offers a vision of what a future Scotland could look like.
Geoff Earl
• It is gratifying to read that Stephen Twigg appreciates that we need to “change the way we do politics”. Since 2010, while Michael Gove – the worst education secretary in living memory – was, in the words of Lynsey Hanley (Comment, 30 December), “balkanising the education system to within an inch of its life”, at the same time becoming, in the eyes of teachers and parents, a figure of ridicule and loathing, Twigg was busy establishing himself as the embodiment of the lack of any kind of hope of a Labour alternative to Tory education policy. It is a testament to the man that he now has the courage to seek to involve himself in the search for a solution to the problem that he, more than most, personifies.
Mike Hine
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
• One of the reasons why people are being turned off by the political process can be seen in your headline (EU rules lift lid on £2.7m pay deals for top staff at Goldman Sachs, 31 December). A further reason can be found in the same article, where you report that 2,714 bankers in the City received more than €1m in 2012 compared with Germany’s 212 and France’s 177.
Mike Hancock
St Austell, Cornwall

Church grounds are often used by people such as street drinkers, drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless, and such groups are frequently seen by churches as nuisances to be removed (Editorial, 31 December). We at SS Mary and John Church in Oxford conducted a pilot project of presence ministry in our churchyard over the summer of 2013. In a team including Rev Sabina Alkire, Ruth Conway and Rev Adam Romanis, my job was to conduct maintenance tasks in the churchyard, while positively engaging with churchyard users. This experience taught me that behind the rowdiness, such vulnerable groups are typically warm-hearted, friendly, wise and in desperate need of love. Boundaries and professional involvement are vital, and antisocial behaviour should be challenged, but as Christians we must cultivate the utmost love for all who come to our door, because “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. Matthew 25:40.
Daniel Emlyn-Jones

Labour’s proposals for universal childcare are by no means supported by everyone on the progressive left (Labour sets its sights on free childcare for all, 30 December). Imposing universal childcare as a cultural norm will both compromise many vital early attachment relationships essential for young children, and interfere with parents’ essential parental learning process, thus merely stoking up intra-familial problems for the future, as children grow older.
These considerable resources would be far better spent requiring more flexible working, bringing down the cost of living (especially housing), investing in parenting education and community-based parent and toddler groups, and implementing family friendly allowances and tax incentives, enabling one parent to stay at home for at least their child’s first three years, if that is their preference – freeing up employment for the unemployed in the process. Shadow minister Lucy Powell is right that mass institutionalised childcare will “have a deep impact on the wellbeing of children” – but in exactly the opposite way to that which she is assuming.
Dr Richard House
Senior lecturer in early childhood studies, University of Winchester
• Labour’s pledge to make affordable childcare a priority, including 25 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds for working parents, is very welcome but there is much to be done before the vision can become a reality. Currently there is 15 hours of free childcare for all three- and four-year-olds and for disadvantaged two-year-olds, but the rate of funding goes nowhere near covering the real cost of providing quality childcare.
Before any political party can commit to extending the number of funded places it must undertake a consultation on the real cost of care and subsequently fund it adequately, otherwise childcare providers will withdraw from the market.
Denise Burke
United for All Ages and Good Care Guide
• The right service at the right time for the right child underpins effective early intervention. A recent London Councils report shows that we need a diversity of responses. The report notes the group of young people (and families) who are likely to be receptive to these services are different than those who will need adoption, fostering or children’s homes. There is an unspoken assumption that early intervention will reduce the need for these alternative, supplemental or substitute caring options. As the report observes, this is unlikely to be the case.
Early interventions work for many but not all and often this other group of young people need safety, specialism and choice provided by fostering and children’s homes. Local authorities need to find funds for early intervention and are looking for them through cutting expenditure on those services that provide subsequent interventions.
Already many young people who become looked after have to suffer five or more placement changes in a year. It is not uncommon for a young person arriving at a children’s home to have 30 or more. Early intervention also means the right service at the right time for these young people. The way to make the funds more effective for higher-level needs is by a needs-led national strategy that ensures matched and most appropriate placements. In that way we get stability.
We are not seeing leadership for this policy direction from either national or local government. The shortsightedness of this will become apparent when we have too few children’s homes.
Jonathan Stanley
Independent Children’s Homes Association

The Royal Mint’s idea of commemorating the beginning of the first world war with the iconic image of Kitchener (Report, 1 January) is a dreadful start. He symbolises colonial wars (Sudan), concentration camps (Boer war) and is the front man for the ruling elite that led so many to their deaths in the first world war.
Graham Ullathorne
• Protest by black people in Britain didn’t begin in the 1970s and wasn’t all male, as your article implies (Report, 28 December). Leaving out Claudia Jones and her work in Notting Hill from the 50s onwards is an injustice to a woman who dedicated herself to the struggle for black rights.
Sioned-Mair Richards
• What is interesting about the boom in digital media (Report, 1 January) is that it was pioneered by “pirate” organisations against the fierce resistance of the entertainment industry that now benefits from it. The fringe becomes the norm, indeed.
Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire
• Switching the date of the New Year honours list, as Zoe Williams suggests (Comment, 1 January), is a bit too modest a move. Perhaps what’s needed is a Dishonours list to accompany it. Though since some of the names would be on both lists, that might be confusing. Any suggestions for names and fitting awards?
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex
• Among the inevitable gongs for cronies, celebs and bankers, it’s nice to know that in the Ruritanian otherworld that we so cherish, the Queen still has a swan marker (worthy of an honour) and that not only can the Duchess of Cornwall not dress herself, but the person that does dress her needs an assistant (also worth an honour).
Dr Neil Denby
• I, too, got in a muddle with my Christmas online shopping (Letters, 30 December). Instead of six onions, I received six bags of onions. Onion soup, anyone?
Rosie Phillips
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

While there is a utilitarian core to Mary Dejevsky’s delightfully provocative call for the abolition of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (No role for the FCO, 30 December) can I say how mistaken that would be?
As minister for the Middle East and North Africa during recent turbulent times, I was constantly impressed by the political relationships developed by ambassadors and their excellent teams throughout the region. These encompassed government and opposition figures, media and business, allowing insights into complex situations impossible if our presence was merely to be trade or development orientated.
I was also taken with how often our embassies were the first port of call in difficult moments. We are not the richest, nor the biggest, nor the most powerful kid on the block, but we are trusted in a way others are not. Our support in so many ways over the past few years is working for peace and helping to avoid yet more bloodshed from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.
Readers would be impressed with how our diplomats abroad, increasingly locally drawn, represent us. This should not solely be driven from No 10; the FCO under William Hague is far from being merely the sum of its embassy parties.
Alistair Burt
FCO minister 2010-2013
• Mary Dejevsky argues convincingly that the Foreign Office and embassies have outlived their traditional roles. She should go further and ask why our embassies, our prime minister and various ministries should be devoting valuable time abroad promoting so-called British business interests at taxpayers’ expense, when there are hardly any businesses remaining that are actually owned and registered in Britain, and most seem to be adept at avoiding paying taxes. In an age of transnational business, the outdated concept of nationally based “British business” and its promotion by governments needs urgent overhauling. Or perhaps we should demand a return to a genuine “British-owned” business model where companies are British-owned, located in the country and pay their due taxes?
John Green
• I served in the Tehran embassy in the period immediately before the fall of the shah (I left three weeks before he did), and greatly admired and respected my ambassador, Anthony Parsons, and grieved that he felt he had let us down by mistaken analysis of the developing crisis. I was much comforted by the comments made by David Owen when reviewing Parsons’ account of his time in Iran, The Pride and the Fall.
The role of the FCO, Owen said in that review, is “to try to put themselves in the position of the government and the rulers whose actions they have to interpret back to their own country”. Parsons had cited the defence put forward by others that the embassy had “concentrated too exclusively on commercial work during the boom years”, but dismissed this as he took responsibility on his own shoulders. But Owen concluded, “If criticisms are to be made … they should be directed at us politicians.”
If Britain is to trade successfully with other countries, it is absolutely vital that the economic, social and political circumstances in that country are reported in depth, and that politicians detach their understandable desire to boost trade with an appreciation of the risks involved. To enable its staff to do this, our embassies need to be wholly detached from consular and commercial considerations. I was horrified when David Cameron announced that embassies should focus on trade promotion .
Dejevsky is right to say that trade promotion does not need to be undertaken by embassies, and that it could and should be the responsibility of teams from the government department primarily responsible for overseas trade.  But she is utterly wrong in using that as justification for abolishing embassies.
Elizabeth Forbes
Salisbury, Wiltshire
• My committee conducted – as one of its first pieces of work in this parliament – an inquiry into “the role of the FCO in UK government”. We concluded, in spring 2011, that the FCO’s core role for the government is “the provision of foreign policy information, analysis, judgment and execution”. We heard evidence that the government’s need for informed judgment about foreign countries was increasing, not declining. And we also formed the view that maintaining a network of embassies and other posts overseas, covering political as well as commercial and cultural affairs, was an essential means for the FCO to be able to discharge its role effectively.
The FCO of course makes mistakes, and there is no guarantee that the government as a whole will act according to its judgment or that the desired foreign policy outcome will be achieved. There are serious questions about the best way to run and organise the department, especially given the tight resource constraints it faces – indeed, we have consistently raised concerns that budget cuts might jeopardise the FCO’s ability to discharge its functions effectively. The FCO itself is acutely aware of the questions that exist about its role and is engaged in important reforms. But my committee has encountered little since our 2011 report to undermine the basic conclusions we reached then.
For example, in one of our last evidence sessions before Christmas, witnesses again suggested the importance of an FCO presence overseas when they told us that government policy on Syria faces difficulties partly because the government was obliged to withdraw diplomatic staff from the country at an early stage in the crisis, and thus lacks reliable on-the-ground information.
Our 2010-11 inquiry did not consider the FCO’s main public-facing role, namely the provision of consular services. We are conducting an inquiry on this subject now and would welcome written submissions.
Richard Ottaway MP
Chair, Foreign affairs select committee


When a third-world country takes the bit between its teeth and has the guts to make extravagant self-sacrifices in order to survive, we call it a “plucky little country” – patronising, maybe, but at least a fair assessment.
When young families  in such countries quietly settle to sell the only thing they have, their labour or their brainpower, going abroad to the only markets they can find, we should admire them.
As if conscripts in a war, they have to leave their families to go to work abroad and to send what money they can to support them. Despite the sneers, they are, in fact, too proud to beg our help.
The extreme, brick-headed Conservatives lurking in the nasty party, and in Ukip, seem to have no moral relationship to the great Conservatives of the past who, love them or hate them, had a high sense of responsibility for the unfortunate, sick and disabled, the poor, old, rejected and needy, who abound these days in this obscene world of bonny, bouncing bankers. They are concerned neither about people other than their own, nor about pockets other than their own.
Kenneth J Moss, Norwich

Whether immigrants  are good for this country  or not is not the point.  It is the negation of democracy that sticks in most people’s craws.
The invasion of other cultures on the scale of the past 15-20 years will inevitably change the nature of our nation. The questions are: “Were we, the established population, asked whether we agreed to this fundamental change in our society? Were we given an adult explanation? Were we consulted?” The answer is an emphatic no.
They feed the interests of business; they don’t let the people decide the nature of the country in which they wish to live; and the politicians, who treat us with such scant regard, wonder why they are so despised.
Finlay Fraser, Cottingham,  East Riding of Yorkshire

Your headline “Talking Turkey” (21 December) once again demonstrated either the Prime Minister’s lack of understanding of the EU or his choice to ignore this understanding and play personal politics, dragging our country along with him.
I find it really hard to believe in the former, so have come to the conclusion that it is the latter. The Prime Minister recently stoked the threat  of waves of Romanian  and Bulgarian “benefit tourists” and “job thieves”, and apparently we are  now faced with further waves of Albanians, Serbs and Turks.
Conversations with Danish friends suggested that there was a similar disquiet in Denmark, and the idea of concern across many EU states has been repeatedly reported in  the media.
But instead of opening discreet but meaningful dialogue with other member states to come to a consensus on the regulation of benefit payments, the Prime Minister switches to his “fight them on the beaches” mode.
I can only believe that this fear of dialogue is because any agreement then reached would smack of integration, something which is apparently even more to be resisted than waves of fellow citizens of the EU.
Closer integration in more areas would surely better define Europe, with more common application of social and welfare policy creating standards which new entrants would have to meet, as well as putting some substance to how we view human rights within the EU.
This fear of further integration must be a source of confusion to our EU partners when they look at the make up of the UK. While Scots are all citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I have yet to meet one who, when asked, was anything other than a Scot.
And while we have common policies on finance, tax, defence and the like, Scots hold to their laws and education systems.
Surely this demonstrates the very model of an integrated society that the EU could become?
John E Wright, Newcastle upon Tyne

In the midst of this endless xenophobic barrage we might do worse than remember the 100,000 or so Scots who migrated to Poland in the 17th and early 18th centuries to seek work and escape from a miserable poverty. Just as well that Cameron was not around then. When will this nastiness end?
Peter Kampman, Edinburgh

Privatised power has cost us dear
J D Woodcock (letter, 31 December) is right to praise the engineers and technicians trudging about in foul weather to restore service to customers.
However, it’s a fair bet that they are not on the same remuneration as UK Power Networks CEO Basil Scarsella (believed to be £1.7m). This farce of profits from electricity generation and distribution, water, railway passenger and freight operations etc going overseas to benefit Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and China is a Government-conducted rip-off.
I was under the naive impression that, when I voted, I was electing a government to manage our country for the benefit of the British people. This is obviously not so.
All our nationalised utilities needed investment which the Government was not prepared to fund, as this would have increased tax.
We are all now paying far more than we were before privatisation, and not getting a better service. The state should take the utilities back into state ownership. MPs talk about hard-working families; let’s see them actually doing something to help ordinary people and British industry, which is also affected by high power costs.
David Carter
Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Your front-page headline “‘Blackout boss’ earned £1.7m” (31 December) is totally misleading: he did not earn that sum; it is merely what he is paid.
Robert J Jones, Chelmsford, Essex

We all admire the engineers who come out in all weather to restore power. But we have no time for the directors and senior managers of the energy companies whose greed beggars belief.
We have far fewer engineers than we used to, as many have been sacked to boost profitability. The fact that they were there to ensure everyone has the power they need is regarded as an unnecessary expense; if a few customers are without power for a week or so, then so be it! The only priority is achieving higher bonuses and dividends.
Energy prices increase year on year well above inflation; all customers expect in return is that proper staffing levels are maintained to provide a decent service. If bonuses were conditional upon maintaining power supplies rather than profitability, we would all get the level of service we are paying for.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

How to silence infantile MPs
Donald Macintyre is right to ask: “Is it time to bring rowdy MPs into line?” (28 December). But Ed Miliband has the remedy to hand. He says he would like to change the “bunch of kids who shout at each other”. All he has to do is tell his side to be silent when a member of the other parties is holding forth, then respond firmly but politely.
The public will soon identify the public-school antics of the other side as puerile and pathetic, and I can guarantee that we will soon be able to hear what our representatives actually think in orderly debates.
I observed this way of dealing with self-indulgent rowdiness in a nursery school and have never come across a more effective way of dealing with infantile behaviour than publicly identifying it as such.
Colin Burke, Manchester

We need to take our consciences to work
Sally Bland says it is  “professional” to do things at work that you would not choose to do in your private life (letter, 27 December).
The implication that a professional person should leave their moral judgement at the door when they enter the workplace is worrying. Perhaps it explains why every month sees a large organisation fined for appalling abuses without any expectation that those involved should be held accountable, as they were just following orders? No doubt, many involved knew things were wrong, but they also knew they would be worse off if they tried to do something about it. Do we not need to have more people who act in accordance with their conscience rather than denigrate them for lacking “professionalism”?
Nick Bion, Reading

Syria: a victory  to remember
During our festive season and our reflections on 2013, I have observed no mention of one of the greatest achievements of last year: that great day for British democracy as France, the UK and the US were posturing to bomb Syria when our Parliament “nipped it in the bud”.
So, no repeat of our disastrous and tragic follies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, over the festive season, I read that we are sending billions in aid to Syria. This success really is something to celebrate.
Andy Turney, Dorchester, Dorset

Mira Bar Hillel claims that the percentage of Christians in Israel has fallen since 1948.  Clearly, immigration since Israel’s independence has boosted the percentage of Jews in relation to other faiths. Yet such a focus on percentages distorts the fact that Israel today is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is actually growing, due to freedom of worship in the region’s only stable democracy. At a time when Christians sadly are fleeing many parts of the Middle East (450,000 have fled Syria, and 900,000 have fled Iraq), their numbers continue to grow in Israel, where the Christian population has more than quadrupled from 34,000 at the time of Israel’s independence, to 158,000 today. There are many positive lessons that the region could learn from Israel’s treatment of its Christian community, and we hope this will be possible in the future.
Kind regards,
Yiftah Curiel
Embassy of Israe


Sir, To make a case for God (pace Philip Collins, “Will Welby ever make the case for God”, Dec 27) is surely impossible. He or She is beyond proof or definition. Belief in God is a matter of choice, based largely on one’s cultural background and inner perception. For some of us modern Christians (if not our churches) the real problem is Jesus. His human existence is undeniable, example admirable, and achievement extraordinary. But any requirement to believe in his divinity and the supernatural events of his life and death challenges credulity and distracts us from the ultimately more important search for God, which we share with Jesus.
Brian Wilson
Cleeve, Bristol
Sir, Philip Collins calls on the Church to argue the case for Christian belief, but surely there are also unspoken questions for atheists to answer. If God is taken out of the equation, they need to explain the fact that the universe exists at all (without resort to improbable ideas of “multiverses”) and, perhaps more importantly, why, in that case, what we are or do matters?
The Rev Paul Dowling
Châteauroux, France
Sir, Many years ago a wise man told me a story. It is called The Parable of the Gardener.
There were two people travelling in a desert place; they were tired, hungry, thirsty and conscious of the danger of death.
As they struggled on they came upon a valley with fresh water, fruits and flowers and every good thing. Truly a land flowing with milk and honey. Rejoicing they gave thanks for their deliverance.
The first said: “Behold the wonders wrought by the untrammelled hand of nature.” But the second rebuked him saying: “We must go and give thanks to the gardener.”
The evidence available to both of the travellers was the same but their understanding was different. We do not seem to have got any further.
Professor Bohumil S. Drasar
London N12
Sir, Dr Willshaw (letter, Dec 30) calls for greater honesty in the Church with regard to the difficulties of faith and belief. The challenge for the Church is to put in place something that does not compromise its own tradition and yet meets the needs of a massive, new constituency which rejects the concept of God and/or creedal religion but, at the same time, is serious about the business of living. The Church has a lot to offer in the area of “spirituality”; it needs to be willing and able to share it with people who reject its theology. Perhaps there is a place for a “God-lite service” which incorporates the elements which people still do connect with: music, poetry, food, story-telling, reflection and drama.
Richard Southam
Hepworth, W Yorks
Sir, Falling numbers in the Church of England is not a failure of the message of Christmas (Philip Collins, Dec 27). Neither is faith in a remote God the gift of Christmas (letters, Dec 30). Christmas is about God coming to us. The usually descanted verse of O Come all ye Faithful is not the last word, Mr Collins. C of E tradition is to sing the real last verse only from Christmas Day, “Yea Lord we Greet Thee, Born this Happy Morning”. As was said in Bath Abbey recently, “Don’t listen to something I am not saying.”
Peter Baker
St Albans, Herts

Sir, The principal cause of flooding in Britain (letters, Jan 1) is the inability of watercourses to carry away the rainfall from a heavy storm over their catchment areas. Water can drain into a watercourse only if the level of the surface is kept low enough.
A century of neglect to maintain them properly has allowed them to silt up so that they quickly fill from upstream and water levels in the surrounding land areas are bound to rise and lead to flooding. As in this winter, this will occur even when storms are not particularly heavy, but follow in series over any length of time.
The answer is to institute a permanent, regular schedule of dredging to maintain flow areas of sufficient capacity to maintain lower surface levels. British engineers have plenty of originality to devise novel waterborne machines for this purpose, and are we not looking for new work for our dockyards?
Professor B.J. Brinkworth
Waterlooville, Hants

Sir, Many lessons might be drawn from all the rhetoric about a possible influx of East Europeans. One might be that we need them (“British firms seek 60,000 Romanians to fill jobs gap”, Jan 1). Another, perhaps, is that we could consider ourselves fortunate to live in a country to which so many wish to come and which for all its difficulties is still seen in the wider world as a land of opportunity.
R. F. Taylor
Cheltenham, Glos

Sir, The statistical massaging from Ofgem in your report “Average power bill to fall by £153 — but yours won’t” (Jan 1) is becoming silly. We are now being asked to believe that the average annual domestic dual fuel bill will have gone down from £1,621 to £1,437 to £1,284 between 2011 and now. It is true that most of us have been forced to ration our energy consumption, but the huge increases in charges would suggest that our bills are still rising, not falling.
Would it not be simpler for Ofgem to require each of the Big Six to provide annual figures for the total number of their domestic consumers, these consumers’ total consumption, and the total price they paid? That would give us the means to calculate average figures for consumption and expenditure on the same basis each year. To cope with regional variations, each company should be asked to give area figures too.
Separate figures should be given for electricity and for gas. Many of us are off the gas grid and this makes Ofgem’s figures for a so-called “average dual fuel” customer irrelevant. I am worried that this fixation with statistical manipulation may mislead government policy attempts to alleviate what is a very serious problem for many households.
Richard Ardern

Sir, Alex O’Connell’s list of the most dramatic theatrical spats (times2, Dec 31) leaves out the best of all. This took place in 1821 when Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852) played Iago to the great Edmund Kean’s Othello at Drury Lane. Booth was considered Kean’s only serious rival, so this was a grudge match, winner takes all. The public and reviewers agreed that Kean had won, which led the disgusted Booth to emigrate to America, along with his mistress Mary Ann Holmes. Unfortunately this meant that their ninth son, John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865), also an actor, was in place to assassinate President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, Washington on April 14, 1865. And all because of a histrionic spat between luvvies.
Ralph Lloyd-Jones


SIR – The reason a blue tit was inspecting Roger Tame’s nesting box is that the bird was looking for overwintering insects.
Roy Gillard
Broughton, Cambridgeshire
SIR – A female blue tit has been roosting at night in our nest box for several weeks now, as documented by the webcam inside. Her partner remains outside, on duty.
This is normal practice and, particularly in cold weather, there are records of birds sharing their box with others at night.
Hilary Stone
Epsom, Surrey
SIR – Blue tits start prospecting for their nest site in January. They will choose their site and defend it until they start nest-building in March and April. They time the laying of their eggs so that they hatch just as the caterpillars on which they feed their nestlings are hatching.
Mike Haberfield
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

SIR – At last, the Government is going to restrict access to the NHS.
In more than 30 years working as a doctor, I have never seen any attempt to count or audit how much money is spent treating non-British residents every year, but I am certain that the figure is far higher than most people realise.
Sadly, by charging only for some services, like accident and emergency, the Government is continuing to skirt around the problem. One patient treated in intensive care can easily cost £100,000; even relatively straightforward treatment can cost the taxpayer a lot of money.
Perhaps all users of the NHS could receive a statement each month to improve awareness of costs.
Tony Narula FRCS
London W2
SIR – Many are concerned by the number of migrants using our NHS facilities.
Maybe this is payback for accepting from those same countries thousands of doctors and nurses who have been trained at the expense of others but work for the NHS.
Malcolm Benson
Beckenham, Kent
SIR – Have none of the MPs and doctors who protest against charging patients ever been abroad and needed to pay for medical treatment?
Maurice Healy
Halstead, Essex
SIR – I am a student at the Queen’s College, Oxford, and am the proud owner of both a duffel coat and a scarf in my college colours.
The reason I have not been wearing either during this holiday is that this winter it has done nothing but rain, rendering all that wool completely useless.
I suspect that, like me, most students are finding a cagoule more useful at present.
Daisy Gibbs
Windermere, Cumbria
SIR – There are still some students, myself included, who do wear the colours of the university. However, the scarves are overpriced at about £40 – a large sum for students living on a budget.
If the price were reduced, perhaps more students would wear university scarves.
George Howard
Canterbury, Kent
SIR – I have just given my granddaughter a university scarf for Christmas. She was delighted.
Mary Robinson
Herne Bay, Kent
February hangover
SIR – As one who has completed a “Dry January” for the past four years, I would like to give Allison Pearson a word of warning: don’t over-celebrate finishing the month.
The potential to feel terrible on February 2 is very real.
Tim Palmer
Poole, Dorset
Information retention
SIR – I have just found a list of mnemonics that I compiled many years ago.
Three that I particularly remember are: one for remembering trigonometric functions, Some People Have (sine = perpendicular / hypotenuse); Curly Black Hair (cosine = base / hypotenuse); and To Push Back (tan = perpendicular / base).
David Hartridge
Where hunting fails
SIR – Riders and hounds cause great disturbance to wildlife while they charge around. A hunt meets frequently where I live, and I have witnessed the deliberate working of a pack of hounds through a mile or two of dense reed bed in order to flush out foxes. Not only does this disturb reed bed inhabitants, but it also ignores the fact that these same reed beds have status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area.
Fox controls do not need the traditional mass of riders and hounds charging about all day in order to be effective. What are the totals of foxes killed during most of these hunts – one? Two? A team in a vehicle at night with high-powered rifles and spotlights would be far more efficient.
Derek Faulkner
Minster, Kent
SIR – Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, says that the charity’s purpose is “stopping animal abuse without fear or favour”. But while it spends millions on fighting foxhunting, it has not one word to say about fishing.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Northwood, Hertfordshire
Colossus of computing
SIR – The first stored-program computer was built by Prof Frederic Williams and his team at Manchester University. Their Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), aka “Baby”, first ran on June 21 1948.
As with many computing machines of the period, Colossus didn’t have an electronic memory. The SSEM was built specifically to demonstrate the concept of electronic memory using cathode ray tubes as the store, which it did. It was developed to become the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first commercially available computer.
Tim Banks
Knutsford, Cheshire
If I ruled the world
SIR – Day in, day out, British politicians and European Union bureaucrats say and propose ridiculous things.
A day or so later, Daily Telegraph letter-writers puncture the nonsensical and add the commonsense checks that normal mortals, with their feet planted firmly on the ground, would have applied before opening their mouths or pressing “send”.
Could a band of Telegraph letter-writers run this country in 2014?
Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire
Females at the forefront of Britain’s railways
SIR – Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, has deemed the Thomas the Tank Engine stories sexist . She argues that the dominance of male characters discourages girls from considering a career in the rail industry.
She should visit the Bluebell Railway, where steam trains can be run by all-women footplate crews – for example, driver Liz Groome and fireman Ruth Lee.
Or at the other end of the industry, see what a good job Elaine Holt, the then chairman of East Coast Trains, did on Britain’s premier railway line.
Benedict le Vay
London SW19
SIR – That the shadow transport secretary should reveal her colours over the Rev W Awdry’s children’s favourite probably comes as little surprise to those who love the wonderful differences between the genders.
My attempts to interest my granddaughters in trains has failed, despite the fact that locally we have the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railway, HS1, Eurostar and the run-of-the-mill Southeastern.
Girls go for pink and stereotypical girly toys. Boys, meanwhile, despite the enormous influence of their mothers and female teachers, still go for parking articulated toy lorries, construction and, yes, toy trains.
About 5 per cent of genes differ between male and female. Come on Mary Creagh, give your politically correct mission a break.
Peter Sander
Hythe, Kent
SIR – Congratulations are due to all honoured in the New Year list, but it is a matter of regret that so few scientists are included.
Many who might have been honoured have already been elected Fellows of the Royal Society, and no greater honour exists. They themselves do not seek recognition, but their treatment sends out the wrong message to young people.
More than ever, the country needs to attract the best brains to discover, invent, and develop new ideas. It should be made clear how much we appreciate the endeavours of our scientists. The honours system is the best way to do this.
Major Colin Robins
Bowdon, Cheshire
Related Articles
Strictly for the birds: tracking a blue tit in winter
01 Jan 2014
SIR – The reintroduction in 2012 of the British Empire Medal (BEM) by David Cameron has again resulted in a goodly tranche of awards to civilians in the New Year’s honours list. I note that the medal has still not been reintroduced for the military.
Sir John Major’s idea of a classless society, and his concomitant scrapping of the BEM, has served only to ensure that non-commissioned ranks of the Armed Forces have virtually ceased to feature in the bi-annual honours lists. Of 47 awards to members of the Army in the New Year list, 39 were to commissioned officers, four to Warrant Officers Class 1 (who were always eligible for the MBE), and only four to other ranks – a number which, in Mr Cameron’s own words, is disproportionately low.
The Army is anything but a classless organisation, and awards are made on a strict rank basis. It seems that the system still cannot bring itself to give officers’ awards to other ranks and, having no other option, gives them nothing.
Nick O’Brien
Andover, Hampshire
SIR – It was a surprise to see the Order of Merit included in the honours list. These honours in the personal gift of the Queen have previously been announced after the death of a member left a vacancy in their group of 24.
The OM sometimes seemed to be a valedictory accolade for the eminently meritorious. Ted Hughes’s membership lasted three months in 1998, and was beaten by Cardinal Hume’s two weeks the following year. But members are getting younger. If the appointment of such spritely world-shakers as Neil MacGregor, Tim Berners-Lee and now Simon Rattle continues, the OM could, in effect, become closed for decades. In an age of aspiration, it is a discouraging prospect.
Timothy O’Sullivan
Icklesham, East Sussex
SIR – I am not alone in thinking that the New Year’s honours list is a farce.
I am sure that the first political party to state in its manifesto that it intended to abolish the system would win the election hands down.
Judy Woolley

Irish Times:

Sir, – Only in Ireland could the continuing mass emigration of our youngest and brightest be spun as a good news story. Under the heading “Emigration to fall as economy improves, says ESRI” (Home News, December 27th) your report confirms an ESRI estimate of 78,000 people who will leave the country in the year to April 2014. As this figure represents a drop of 14 per cent on the previous year’s exodus of 89,000, it is trumpeted as “the lowest net migration figure since 2008-09.”
It might be appropriate to put these latest figures into an historical context. Of the last 10 decades of our so-called independence, eight have been marked by mass unemployment and mass emigration, a pattern that continues as strongly today as it did when my father was forced to leave these shores in the 1950s and before him his eldest sister in the 1920s. I had to repeat my father’s journey to England in the 1980s.
Now I look at my children and wonder where they will they end up in the decades ahead as this State faces into decades of repaying the debts of private bankers.
This is the shameful legacy of unbroken conservative rule in our country, a rule that our electorate still seems determined to cling to despite all the evidence of its failure. The carnival of reaction continues. – Yours, etc,
Inis Cluain,
Castleconnell, Co Limerick.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole in his column (Opinion, December 17th) correctly highlighted three key bailout truths which can only now be told. I have an interest in the second of these truths – that of the plan to “burn the senior bondholders in Anglo-Irish Bank”.
Since 2000 I have been board chairman of an investment fund based in the IFSC. All the investors are EU residents and investment management is delegated to a European fund manager. During the crisis period of 2007-2011 the fund held senior bonds issued by Anglo-Irish Bank and two Icelandic banks attracted by the above-average yields. They were small holdings and represented little over 1 per cent of the fund’s total assets. So a total write-off would have been embarrassing for the investment managers but not serious for the thousands of investors who would be protected by the normal risk-spreading policies.
Because of the explicit guarantee granted by the Irish government in September 2010 the Anglo-Irish bond held a price of around 90 cents whereas the Icelandic bonds fell rapidly to prices of 25 cents and 6 cents respectively, reflecting that country’s decision not to guarantee bondholders.
In due course the Anglo-Irish bond matured on March 2nd, 2011 and was repaid in full. The Icelandic bonds continue to be priced at their distressed prices.
It is now clear that the fund’s investors owe a debt of gratitude not only to Irish taxpayers but also to Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank who demanded that no bank bondholders should be burned. That decision has cost this country some €7 billion in respect of Anglo-Irish and Irish Nationwide alone, enough to complete the children’s hospital, the LUAS extension and a multitude of other needed projects.
Michael Noonan, thanks for trying to recoup these monies but you and Brian Lenihan were dealing with a Eurocrat with other things on his mind. – Yours, etc,
Waltham Terrace,

A chara, – Pádraig Ó hUiginn’s letter (December 12th) prompted me to write. I am a former principal officer of much more recent vintage (retired February 2012). I had responsibility with others for Department of Environment housing division’s policy and funding for homeless services. Our objective was to ensure delivery of effective, person-centred services in order to prevent, intervene, stabilise and return each client/family to independent housing and supports appropriate to their needs in the shortest possible timeframe.
So, what does the State provide via the tax and ratepayer and what charity organisations got the money? Recent Parliamentary Question replies to Deputy Terence Flanagan of November 26th, 2013 (Dáil Debates Nos 489 & 657) confirm my former department provided revenue funding of €46.5 million to county and city councils in 2012 towards the operational costs of adult and family homeless accommodation and related services; councils’ own resources provided a further €4.5m (circa 10 per cent); while HSE social inclusion taxpayer funding provided a further €33 million to bodies working in the area of health and social care services to tackle adult, child and family homelessness during 2012; making €84 million public funding in total in 2012, not including the Department of  Social Protection income and rent supplement to individual/family homeless services users.
So, what organisations got the money? A Parliamentary Question reply to Deputy Sandra McLellan on October 23rd, 2013 (Dáil Debates No 63) indicated   revenue funding by Department of Environment and county/city councils to voluntary sector providers in 2012 totalled €26.11 million and included amounts over €1m to individual charities, as follows: Simon Communities Ireland – €5m, Focus Ireland – €3.93m, Crosscare – €2.63m, St. Vincent de Paul – €2.49m; DePaul Trust – €2.2m; Novas – €1.92m; Salvation Army €1.82m; Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) – €1.53m; with seven other charities receiving amounts ranging down from €939,000 to €253,000. This is in addition to similar amounts or more provided by HSE to the same organisations. Big business indeed for these charity service providers, but a search of their respective websites, with the honourable exceptions of Arlington Novas & PMVT, will show opaque if any disclosure of this (taxpayers’) funding! So where is the media hue and cry on behalf of the taxpayer/donor?
The “Rough Sleeper” report (Home News, December 4th) refers to 139 people sleeping rough in Dublin on November 12th, an increase of 45 in just six months, being described by Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan as unacceptable and troubling. What troubles me is that the Dublin Simon Community and Focus Ireland are tasked and funded by the public purse to provide an outreach and placement service for rough sleepers in Dublin from early morning to late night. Why are they not called to account for their performance? The Simon Communities of Ireland have one national office head and eight regional office heads/CEOs – who in the media has sought information on their salaries?
In my recent experience, dedicated housing Ministers Michael Finneran, Willie Penrose and Jan O’Sullivan – with their senior Ministers and department officials – have worked tirelessly to protect budgets and deliver housing-led policy solutions for homeless people and families, while some institutional charity service providers have subjected Ministers to, in my view, unfair criticism.
Despite my overall reservations about the management and finances at the top of the larger homeless organisations, I think staff and volunteers working to improve the plight of homeless people day and night, such as the soup run, the detox and mental health workers, deserve enormous credit and thanks for their efforts with people who are the most marginalised and lost in our society.
I would also have high regard for the approach of individual charities, for example, the Iveagh Trust and Threshold placement and tenancy services in securing independent living for homeless people referred to their services.
So, let’s see more people going “home” in 2014 and less protocols, bureaucracy and institutionalisation all round. –   Is mise,
Stradbrook Road,

Sir, – For years the health services North and South of the Border have been justifying cutbacks in medical services over the shortage of medical professionals in areas such as emergency medicine.
It has long since become obvious that: 1. The universities are not doing their job in delivering medical professionals. 2. The medical profession in Ireland must lose control over training and numbers being trained because of their manifest failure in this and other areas over many years.
The two governments need to act to solve this problem once and for all. Why not allow hospitals or trusts to sponsor students in areas of skills shortage in exchange for commitment to work for an agreed number of years in an areas of skills shortage?
Restrictive practices have to be addressed urgently here as in other professions – why does the medical profession feel it has immunity? We must normalise the labour market in the medical profession.
St Patrick’s Avenue,

Sir, – Noel Whelan (Opinion,December 28th) rightly highlights Lucinda Creighton’s political contribution to date and her unnecessary loss to the current Government because the Taoiseach took such a “hard man stance” on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, buoyed up by opinion polls following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.
While Whelan considers Creighton, a politician of conscience but out of touch with the views of the majority on the issue; he fails like others in the media to consider the actual arguments Creighton made, specifically that the Bill was flawed by not including time limits and so failed to consider the human rights of the unborn. Ironically, this is the same issue that is now being debated in the UK and US regarding a review of abortion legislation that is perceived as too liberal, neglecting the rights of near-viable and viable unborn. – Yours, etc,
Ballyroan Park,
Sir, – The publication by the Higher Educational Authority of a Performance Evaluation Framework for Higher Education (December 28th) purports to facilitate a new approach to strategic planning in such organisations and the attainment of national objectives.
The omission of any reference to the gender profile of those in senior academic and senior management positions is surprising, since it is now widely accepted that diversity is associated with innovation.
The EU has been concerned about the under-representation of women in senior academic and management positions in higher education, and sees it as reflecting systemic and organisational issues. The OECD (2012) sees gender equality initiatives as contributing to economic growth.
In Ireland over four-fifths of senior academics and of those in senior management positions in publicly funded universities are men. Yet the Higher Educational Authority does not see the gender profile of those in these positions as meriting monitoring. Is this an example of turkeys unwillingness to vote for Christmas? – Yours, etc,
Prof of Sociology and Social
Department of Sociology,

Sir, – I saw no mention in your various round-ups of 2013 about how the direct provision system of dealing with asylum-seekers in Ireland will, in time, become the defining characteristic of our country.
I’m sure in years to come there will be plenty of remorse and hand-wringing and perhaps even an apology in the Dáil, but this wrong is occurring right now, on our watch. Meanwhile, those responsible lobby hypocritically for an amnesty for Irish economic migrants in other countries. Can we not just learn from past mistakes instead of repeating them all the time? – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Reading about the unexpected demand for condoms which became available on prescription following the enactment of the the Health (Family Planning) Act 1979 (1983 State papers, Home News, December 27th) brought back memories of my teenage years – not that most of us teenagers required condoms back then!
In particular, I remember having above my bed in boarding school, a poster of Charlie Haughey and a number of other prominent political and religious figures, including the then archbishop of Dublin. The poster showed all these leading male figures to be clearly with child. The caption from memory was “If they could get pregnant, would we have this bill?”
A telling poster, and one I wish I still had a copy of, to remind me of where we were then and whether our journey since has led us for better, or for worse. – Yours, etc,
St Lawrence Road,

Sir, – Anthony Leavy (December 30th) asks why enough people did not “blow the whistle on the reckless abandon” of the Celtic Tiger boom. Surely, it’s because a culture is almost always stronger than any individual within it. – Yours, etc,
Berkshire Drive,
Sterling Heights,

Sir, – The Taoiseach is quite right to respect the will of the people in the recent referendum.
The people voted to keep the Seanad as it is constituted, not to change it. There was no option for change. – Yours, etc,
Foxhill Park,
Dublin 13.

Sir, – John F Jordan (December 27th) is perfectly entitled to stimulate debate regarding health professional fees, but the figures he uses should be both reliable and quoted in context.
Comparing GP fees in Ireland to Belgium he attributes a cost of €60 to attending GP here. However, the well-respected 2010 National Consumer Agency report on GP fees found the average “standard” fee was €51. “Standard” fees are usually maximum fees, and these report do not take into account average fees which include reduced charges, or in some cases no charges, for children, those in financial difficulty, multiple family members together, review consultations and telephone consultations.
Also, possibly 20 per cent of the clinical consultations in general practice in Ireland are performed by practice nurses, and these would not attract a “standard” charge. Therefore the true average consultation fee in Ireland would be far lower than €51.
Belgian GPs often work alone without any administration or nursing support, which is very similar to how Irish general practice operated in the 1970s. Belgian patients are refunded much of the fee of €32 through their health insurance, therefore they will be charged the full fee for each consultation. Patients will not have the opportunity to be tended to by a nurse or even an administrator, explaining the higher GP consultation rates in Belgium compared to Ireland.
The evidence promoting healthcare change should be both reliable and convincing before new policy is enacted. The problem with the current debate in Ireland is that it is often lacking in both balance and reliable data. – Yours, etc,
Cromwellsfort Road,

Sir, – The re-publishing of 40 of the year’s letters (Opinion, December 27th) exercises Edith Wynne (Letters, December 28th) more than somewhat. She states that 80 per cent of the letters were from men and that “that tells its own story”. It tells a number of stories if one could be bothered searching for them – what particularly convoluted point is she trying to make? – Yours, etc,
Glendasan Drive,
Harbour View,

Sir, – The support by Karen O’Leary of the National Consumer Agency (Home News, December 28th) for below-cost selling and vegetable price wars is so compelling that I would like to recommend the Government pay less for the vegetables sitting on many of the quangos it promised to abolish.
In Ms O’Leary’s own words “lower prices are good for the consumer” and in line with her views why not begin with her agency. – Yours, etc,
Bullock Park, Carlow.

Irish Independent:

Elaborating on the recent nonsensical comments by Jose Manuel Barroso, A Leavy (Letters, December 31) overlooks some basic facts. Nobody is seriously suggesting that “all in the garden would be rosy” if we didn’t repay the reckless bondholders that invested in equally reckless banks. However, the burden being shouldered by Irish citizens would be considerably more bearable had these huge financial institutions been forced to shoulder their own fair share.
Also in this section
Letters: A game that will go down in history
Tribute to a man’s courage and foresight
Haughey did not invent ‘cute hoorism’
When you make a reckless investment that subsequently goes bad, then you lose that investment. That is one of the basic tenets of capitalism. Except, of course, if you happen to have been a major European bank that invested recklessly in Irish basketcase banks, in which case the Irish citizen will ensure you don’t lose a cent of your bad bet. Even the IMF recognises the need for Ireland to recoup some of the cost of saving the banking system. It is only our ‘friends’ in Europe that are determined to see Ireland repay every last cent of the bank recapitalisation debt.
Despite the now-annual cuts in public services and increases in stealth taxes being endured by the Irish people, Mr Barroso could not help but lay the blame for all of Europe’s woes at the feet of Ireland and we have a steady trickle of Irish citizens willing to pat Mr Barroso on the back and bemoan our own lack of gratitude. Perhaps they have an ideological attachment to the EU project.
We do indeed have to take our own share of responsibility: government policies during the boom certainly fostered the culture of risk and greed that led us to our current austere state. Those same policies were encouraged and even driven by our current government parties while they were in opposition.
The failure of our own politicians, of every hue, however, should not allow large investment banks to avoid responsibility for their own failed investments. Yet that is the ‘bailout’ that has been imposed on us. It is time we realised that our “friends” in the EU are not concerned about fairness or the best interests of Irish citizens.
* In response to my letter criticising EC President Jose Manuel Barroso’s recent scathing attack on Ireland, A Leavy (Letters, December 31) accused me of revisionism. Indeed, if it’s the general consensus that our current economic predicament is our fault entirely, then I am, without doubt, advocating a revisionist view.
Mr Leavy refers to pre-bailout Irish banks as if they were arms of the State. They were not. Would he suggest that we take on the debt burden of every insolvent business in the country, even those, like Anglo and Irish Nationwide, that cease to exist after their debts are paid in full? I would think not.
We did need a bailout to help balance our annual budget as we sought to rein our deficit in. But this could have been done with the assistance of the IMF alone, an institution in favour of the bondholders taking a hit. If this had happened, then the burden on the taxpayer would have been a great deal less. Instead our partners in the EU and ECB decided that the Irish people should take full responsibility for all bank debt. I am often bemused when I hear people say that the EU and ECB have our best interests at heart, and find it somewhat akin to Stockholm syndrome.
* So junior minister Brian Hayes feels that public servants should receive bonuses for jobs well done.
Why not pay full salary to those public servants who achieve or exceed goals and penalise those who do not?
* I read with incredulity Brian Hayes’s comments in relation to remuneration in the public sector.
In a throwback to Celtic Tiger years, when bonuses were thrown out like confetti to departments heads, secretaries, all high-ranking public servants, he now intends to enhance middle-ranking servants — that is, teachers, nurses, guards etc — and pay for those who deliver “exceptional service”.
In a recent internal review carried out by department bosses regarding staff performance, predictably results were 99pc “exceeding performance” with less than 1pc being judged as “needing improvement”.
Based on this analysis, virtually all civil servants would qualify for such bonuses.
Why on earth’s name would he choose to further enhance the most protected workers in Ireland who have guaranteed jobs for life or hugely inflated voluntary severance packages, and enjoy massive pensions.
In sharp contrast, such terms and conditions are unheard of for the vast majority of workers in the private sector, where so many people are trying to survive on wages of €300 to €400 per week; then, there are our pensioners, who may have saved through their personal pension schemes throughout their working lives only to find that the Government has hacked away much of the funds through levies. This insanity needs to be halted now.
The solution is quite clear — if the public sector worker does his/her job well, they should get paid. In the event they do not meet the required standard, they should receive a pay cut or be dismissed, as is the case in the private sector.
* Referring to Monday’s letter from Tom May on “1014 must equal 1916” and the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf, I would like to say I fully agree with his sentiment.
In the broader historical context, I feel that 1014 millennium commemorations will be a useful lead into the centenary commemorations over the next few years. To have people engage with a less emotive and further distant topic of the Battle of Clontarf can help condition people to see how our history is far more complex than often portrayed.
Many groups are planning events around the country including Clontarf, Swords, Dublin, Killaloe, Cashel and Armagh and we are still hopeful that support will come at this late stage from the Government.
In Clontarf, community groups are working closely with Dublin City Council to deliver a programme of events to commemorate the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf.
Details of the programme are now available on our community website — Our first event of 2014 will be an evening lecture in the Clasac, Clontarf, on January 13, with events each month leading to a culmination of events during Easter 2014.
* Jools Holland saw out the old year with customary style and aplomp
I hope I can shake it off as easily; but it may take more than a few soulful tunes, masterful though they were, to shed the blues that descended in 2013. I am looking forward to a bright shining new year. We all need to rise out of the collective despond that has shrouded the country. Right through Christmas, I was struck by the look of pained anxiety on the faces of shoppers in the capital. We need to remember that each of us has unique control over our individual happiness index. I plan on resetting mine to glass half full mode. There is no point in waiting for anyone else to get the party started.
T G Gavin
Irish Independent


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