4 January 2014 Shopping

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Leslie has been automated by a computer Ill Bred Fred, which takes Troutbridge right into the center of a war zone. Between the opposing side, can Troutbridge survive? Priceless.

Bank, Peanuts, post-office Co Op, home

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets well over 400, well done Mary,Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.





Kinmont Hoitsma, who has died aged 79, was an American academic, Olympic fencer and the last boyfriend of Cecil Beaton.

Hoitsma met Beaton in 1963, when the photographer was in Hollywood creating costumes and sets for the film of My Fair Lady. It was an unhappy time for Beaton because he liked to move on swiftly from one project to the next, but on this occasion he was held in Hollywood by contract ; he fell out with the director, George Cukor, and there was a period when the two men refused to speak to one another.

One weekend in March, Beaton escaped to San Francisco, where he wound up at a bar called the Tool Box and met the handsome, 6ft 3in Kin Hoitsma . “His apartment had dried grasses on the windowsill and eight daffodils were very charming in a black pot,” Beaton noted.

An unlikely friendship formed, and soon Beaton was to be found hiking in Big Sur and camping out under the stars in the Yosemite Valley. Hoitsma was able to discuss art, but he had never heard of Chanel — or, for that matter, of Beaton. The relationship was greatly encouraged by Christopher Isherwood , and Truman Capote told Beaton he had never looked better.

On his return to Britain, Beaton invited Hoitsma to move in with him. Hoitsma arrived in London in June 1964 to study at the Slade and was given modest accommodation at 8 Pelham Place, Beaton’s London home, and the smaller spare room at Reddish House, Broadchalke.

Hoitsma met Princess Margaret and became fond of Pauline de Rothschild and Countess Brandolini. But after a year he told Beaton that he had to leave: he was yearning for the hills around San Francisco. For his part, Beaton, though devoted to Kin, was not cut out for domesticity; but he was still devastated . The two men remained friends to the end.

Kinmont Trefry Hoitsma was born in Cooperstown, New York, on April 10 1934, the son of Ralph Hoitsma, a salesman in the paper trade, in turn the son of a cattle rancher in Wyoming who had emigrated from Holland.

The family was peripatetic, moving between the East Coast and the Midwest. Kin graduated from Shaker Heights High School in Ohio, and went on to Princeton University where he studied Greek and majored in French.

In 1956 he competed in the Ivy League Fencing Championship, losing narrowly in the final match, against Columbia. He went on to the collegiate finals, and in November that year, aged 22, fenced for the United States at the Melbourne Olympics. The men’s epée team did not make it beyond the first round, though in the individual men’s epée Hoitsma reached the quarter-finals, defeating the eventual gold medallist, Carlo Pavesi.

On his way back from the Games Hoitsma stopped off in San Francisco, and liked it so much that he settled there, studying Architecture at Berkeley before taking a variety of jobs. He then took an Art History degree at San Francisco State University. It was during this period that he met Beaton.

After his return from London, Hoitsma settled back into academic life, contentedly teaching history, literature, philosophy and religion at Chabot Community College for the next 30 years. On one occasion Beaton even dropped in on one of his English Literature classes, and became absorbed watching Hoitsma dashing “from one end to the other of a blackboard – an Olympic athlete of the mind at work”. In 1967 Hoitsma published The Real Mask, a dissertation on Edward Albee’s play Tiny Alice.

Hoitsma lived on Potrero Hill, where he cultivated old-fashioned roses and was visited in 1967 by Christopher Isherwood. In later life he retired to a home in Oakland, California.

Kinmont Hoitsma, born April 10 1934, died September 30 2013



It is ironic you say crystallographers “see with greater precision than crystal-ball gazers” (In praise of …, 3 January). You mean accuracy, not precision. The difference between them is at the heart of crystallography. Accuracy describes the closeness of a measurement to the true value. Precision is the closeness of two or more measurements to each other. Crystal-ball gazers can in fact be very precise.
Dr Alex May

• Rosalind Franklin (inadvertently) and Maurice Wilkins supplied the crystallographic evidence to Crick and Watson. We should also remember Kathleen Lonsdale, professor of crystallography at UCL for many years, notable for, among many achievements, being possibly the only person to be a prison governor while being imprisoned for anti-war beliefs.
Mike Hancock
St Austell, Cornwall



Re Nosheen Iqbal’s radio review of PJ Harvey’s guest editorship of Today (G2, 3 January): is she seriously criticising the inclusion of Clive Stafford-Smith, John Pilger, Ian Cobain and the blessed Rowan Williams on account of them being men? What good men they are. And while we are at it, let’s have a radio reviewer, with hinterland, who at least acknowledges Radio 3. Female or male.
Giovanna Butterfield
Colchester, Essex

• Did the 37 people who complained to the BBC about PJ Harvey’s editorship of Today also criticise Antony Jenkins’ programme-long commercial for Barclays Bank a few days earlier? Fancy.
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

• If being greeted on arrival at Luton airport by Keith Vaz doesn’t deter migrants, what will (Report, 2 January)?
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

• If we insist on not giving benefits to our new European visitors, then let’s not tax them for the first three months either. Then see if we are better or worse off.
Tunde Cockshott

• Please, for 2014 can MPs stop inserting “hardworking” whenever referring to anyone in employment (Applications for Help to Buy home loans double within one month, 2 January). It has become a meaningless adjective.
Michael Miller

• Michael Morpurgo (A year to honour, but not glorify, the Great War’s dead, 2 January) refers to Dorothy Ellis, at 93, as the “last surviving widow of any soldier who fought in the first world war”. My father fought in the RFA, was wounded and was retraining as a pilot when the war ended. My mother, Mary Cushing, still lives in Tiverton, Devon. She is 98.
Jeremy Cushing

• This Christmas, not one single carol singer. Last year, not one single “penny for the guy”. Last year, 32 kids, some with parents, knocked on our door “trick or treating”. Is it the pagans or the US who have influenced this cultural shift?
Don Quinn
Colchester, Essex

The dockers’ strike in July 1984 (Revealed: Thatcher’s plan to use army during miners’ strike, 3 January) was indeed one of the crucial episodes in the coal dispute of 1984-5, not least in revealing the duplicitous ways in which the Thatcher governments defeated their opponents in the labour movement. The dockers’ action was provoked when the British Steel Corporation unloaded materials on the Humber. This work was normally conducted by dockers under the national dock labour scheme, which provided employment and income security, and was an element of the wider social democratic legacy of the 1940s that Thatcher and her ministers were incrementally dismantling. Thatcher’s transport secretary, Nicholas Ridley, pledged in the House of Commons that there were in fact no plans to abolish the scheme. The dockers returned to work, although some with major misgivings, and the government’s immediate economic difficulties arising from the miners’ strike were resolved. With the miners isolated and then defeated, the dock labour scheme was abolished in 1989.
Jim Phillips
University of Glasgow

• I welcome confirmation that Arthur Scargill‘s 1984 analysis of the government’s plans for the mining industry has been vindicated. The initial 20 closures were the thin end of the wedge that would lead to the decimation of British coal mining. I await apologies from David Cameron (on behalf of his hero, Mrs Thatcher) and the Daily Mail, who continually called him a liar, traitor and “the enemy within”.
Tony Jones
Aberystwyth, Ceredigion


These days, the world is closely watching Ukraine. Some of the recent developments, above all the recurrent attempts of the government to use violence against peaceful demonstrators, raise a serious concern. We, representatives of the international academic community, are especially troubled by the fact that violence and harassment quite often is targeted at youth, very often journalists, university students and young faculty.

Such conduct by the Ukrainian government is destructive, both for the government itself and for the future of the country it represents.

In contrast to the government, Ukrainian society has displayed admirable civic maturity. Its determination to keep its protest within the realm of legality and its unwavering rejection of violence are a model for the defence of civil rights. Today, the Ukrainian Maidan represents Europe at its best – what many thinkers in the past and present assume to be fundamental European values.

We are calling on our governments and international organisations to support Ukrainians in their efforts to put an end to a corrupt and brutal regime and to the geopolitical vulnerability of their country. Ukraine needs a European Marshall-like plan that would ensure its transformation into a full democracy and society with guaranteed civil rights. In elaboration of a new policy towards Ukraine, we propose to draw a distinction between the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian society. While the former must be treated with a maximum of strictures, the latter deserves a maximum of support.

Let us help Ukrainians to build a new Ukraine – and then they surely will help us build a new Europe and a fairer world.

Nadia Al-Bagdadi Professor, head of department of history, Central European University, Budapest, Anne Applebaum Historian, journalist and writer, Warsaw, Andrew Arato Dorothy Hirshon professor in political and social theory, New School for Social Research, New York, Omer Bartov John P Birkelund distinguished professor of European history, Brown University, Zygmunt Bauman Professor emeritus, University of Leeds, Ulrich Beck Professor, Munich University and London School of Economics and Political Science, Seyla Benhabib Eugene Mayer professor of political science and philosophy, Yale University, Josetxo Beriain Professor, Universidad Pública de Navarra, Richard J Bernstein Vera List professor of philosophy, New School for Social Research, Rajeev Bhargava Professor and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, Giovanna Brogi Bercoff Professor, University of Milan, Boris Buden Writer and philosopher, Berlin, Craig Calhoun Director, London School of Economics and Political Science, José Casanova Professor of sociology and senior fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University, Julian Casanova Professor of history, University of Zaragoza, Dr Velvl Chernin Poet and literary scholar, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Roberto Cipriani Professor, University Roma Tre, Krzysztof Czyżewski President, Borderland Foundation, Poland, Alessandro Ferrara Professor, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Istvan Deak Seth Low professor emeritus of history, Columbia University, Rafael Díaz-Salazar Professor, Universidad Complutense Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología, Madrid, William Douglass Professor emeritus, Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno, François Dubet Professor, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Carlo Ginzburg Franklin D Murphy professor emeritus of Italian renaissance studies, University of California, Los Angeles, Jeffrey C Goldfarb Micheal E Gellert professor of sociology, New School for Social Research, Dr Semion Goldin Senior research fellow, Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry, Hebrew University, Nilüfer Göle Directrice d’études, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologiques (CADIS), Paris, Felix M Goni Professor, University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, Andrea Graziosi Professor, University of Naples Federico II, Irena Grudzinska Gross Research scholar, Princeton University, Mark von Hagen Arizona State University, Tomáš Halík Professor, Charles University Prague, Danièle Hervieu-Léger Professor, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Roald Hoffmann Frank HT Rhodes professor of humane letters emeritus, Cornell University; Noble laureate in chemistry, José Ignacio-Torreblanca columnist, El Pais, Maria Janion literary theorist, Polish Academy of Sciences, Andreas Kappeler Professor, University of Vienna, Hans G Kippenberg Wisdom professor for comparative religious studies, Jacobs University, Bremen, János Kis Professor of philosophy and political science, Central European University, Budapest, Zenon Kohut Professor, department of history and classics, University of Alberta, Ivan Krastev Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Mark Leonard Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Maria Lewicka Professor, University of Warsaw, Arien Mack Alfred J and Monette C Marrow professor of psychology, New School for Social Research, Katherine Marshall Visiting professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, David Martin Professor emeritus, London School of Economics, Elzbieta Matynia Professor of sociology and liberal studies, New School for Social Research, Andrzej Mencwel Professor emeritus, University of Warsaw, Tariq Modood Professor of sociology, politics and public policy, University of Bristol, Gabriel Motzkin Professor and executive director, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Alexander Motyl Professor, Rutgers University, Norman Naimark Robert and Florence McDonnell professor of eastern European studies, Stanford University, Claus Offe Professor, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Andrés Ortega Director, Research Department of the Spanish prime minister, Enzo Pace Professor of sociology of religion, University of Padua, Denis Pelletier, Directeur d’études, École pratique des hautes etudes, Paris, Alfonso Pérez-Agote, Professor emeritus of sociology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Serhii Plokhii Mykhailo Hrushevskyi professor of Ukrainian history, Harvard University, Antony Polonsky Albert Abramson professor of holocaust studies, Brandeis University, Jacek Purchla Professor, Jagiellonian University, Jacques Rupnik Professor, College of Europe in Bruges, Michael Sandel Anne T and Robert M Bass professor of government, Harvard University, Saskia Sassen Robert S Lynd professor of sociology, Columbia University, Richard Sennett Professor of sociology, New York University, Slawomir Sierakowski Director, Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw, Marci Shore Associate professor of history, Yale University, Aleksander Smolar President, Stefan Batory Foundation, Warsaw, Alfred C Stepan Wallace S Sayre professor of government, Columbia University, Frank Sysyn Director, Peter Jacyk Centre for Ukrainian Research, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, Charles Taylor Professor emeritus of Philosophy, McGill University, Bryan S Turner Presidential professor of sociology, The Graduate Center City University of New York, Jordi Vaquer Director, Open Society Initiative for Europe, Barcelona, Peter van der Veer Director, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Michael Walzer Professor emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, George Weigel William E Simon chair in Catholic studies, ethics and public policy center, Washington, DC, Raquel Weiss Professor, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Michel Wieviorka Professor, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Larry Wolff Director, Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, New York University, Eli Zaretsky Professor of history, New School for Social Research, Krzysztof Zamorski Professor, Jagiellonian University, Artur Żmijewski Art editor of Krytyka Polityczna, Slavoj Žižek Director, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London


Modern politics is full of well-educated and plausible people who turn up at top levels with little knowledge or understanding of their parties. And so it was with Nick Clegg‘s former director of strategy, Richard Reeves (Comment, 31 December), who says we might be OK in 2020 but who, in 2010, helped to persuade the Liberal Democrat leadership to ditch most of our existing support. First it was students and young people. Then teachers and the educational community. Then health service workers, and public sector professionals and white collar workers in general. Then a lot of the environmental, civil liberties and human rights lobbies which had seen us as their natural allies.

Instead he told us just to sit firmly in the political centre, hardly a secure position from which to promote principled politics when the whole spectrum itself is steadily shifting to the right. He told us to target a newly invented group of voters called “alarm clock Britain” and everything would be well. Well it is not. The “alarm clock” nonsense may be forgotten but the alarm bells are ringing loud. The Liberal Democrats have a choice. We can promote the progressive centre-left capital L Liberalism that we have stood for since the 1950s and still do, which many Liberal Democrat ministers have been working for. Or we can seek the shifting sands of the mythical centre ground, standing for nothing and just hoping for some electoral wizardry to hang on to the seats we hold.
Tony Greaves
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

• Richard Reeves writes of the Lib Dems at the 2015 election “pouring their energy and troops” into target seats. There are fundamental problems with this strategy. Party membership has plummeted to a fraction of that at the last election. There will not be enough troops to pour into anywhere. It is likely, furthermore, that many of the tens of thousands who have resigned from the party in recent years are from the social/liberal wing of the party. The same individuals who, from my experience as Liberal/Lib Dem West Country organiser and press officer from 1985-1992, made up much of the Lib Dems’ renowned team of highly motivated activists. And then there is the question of financial resources from a depleted membership base. I fear that outcomes will demonstrate that it was not a sensible move for Clegg to “yank” the Lib Dems to the centre ground to jostle for votes with the Tories and Ukip.
Les Farris
South Petherton, Somerset

• If Richard Reeves is right and the Liberal Democrat party leadership believe that their main asset for the 2015 election lies in “steadiness and consistency, rather than for rhetoric and radicalism” then we can only marvel at their disconnection from reality. Nick Clegg is deputy leader of a government that is embarked on a highly ideological set of policies which includes an attempt to return to the employment practices and health system of the early 20th century and the education and welfare systems of the early 19th century.

Meanwhile, they are actively engaged in reducing the standard of living of the British people, via austerity policies sold to us on the basis of reducing debt (in an age in which the government interest rate is several times lower than inflation), but are actually intended to make us more attractive to exploitation by international capital. What do Mr Reeves and Mr Clegg define as radicalism, if not this?
Toby Moore

• Baroness Williams (Letters, 3 January) states that “above all, the NHS needs a consensus based on the determination that it should remain a public service”. The Liberal Democrats in the coalition government had the power and the opportunity to kill the health and welfare bill. They, and the Liberal peers, notably Baroness Williams, chose to support the Conservative bill. Creeping privatisation of the NHS has been the inevitable outcome. It was sad to discover a hero with feet of clay, but disastrous that the hero should have been instrumental in the destruction of our health service.
Joyce Brand
Ludlow, Shropshire




Your article “Farage calls on Britain to admit Syrian war refugees” (30 December) raised the issue that we have flatly refused to take in a single family fleeing Syria.

In seeking to hold the Coalition to account on this crucial matter, I have secured a debate and will be asking the Government to take action in conjunction with other EU member states to establish a European-wide evacuation and resettlement programme for those fleeing the conflict.

I hope colleagues from all parties (and none) will take up this opportunity (on 9 January) and contribute constructively to the debate. The UK can and must lead the EU in living out the true meaning of its creed and offer a safe haven for refugees fleeing such a dreadful war.

While I am proud that the Government has given financial assistance to NGOs working in Syria, and to Syria’s neighbours who have taken on the burden of accepting so many seeking refuge, more must be done. We cannot fail the people of Syria.

Rev Lord Roberts  of Llandudno, President, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, House of Lords, London SW1

Andy Turney (letter, 2 January) seems to believe that the West’s lack of intervention in Syria in 2013 is something to be celebrated. I’m not sure it’s time to reach for the bubbly just yet.

Not only is Assad continuing to butcher his own people, he has dragged his feet on the issue of chemical weapons and is getting even further into bed with Vladimir Putin.

The death toll in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, has just passed 130,000. There is a worrying trend at present for overlooking the deaths of innocents in far-off lands if those deaths have nothing to do with the West. Only if we are in some way involved do those killings appear to count in the minds of some.

There are plenty who are shrill when Western governments contemplate ways of trying to prevent bloodshed, but if the West steers clear of the killing fields you’ll hear a deafening silence as bodies pile up.

The deaths of all innocent people count at all times. I’ll leave the champagne  on ice.

Phil Edwards, Godalming, Surrey

I wonder how many of your readers would take issue with your leader “Let them in – Britain has a moral duty to help Syria’s refugees” (26 December). Although alluded to in your news coverage, nowhere in your editorial is Britain’s contribution of £500m of aid to Syria acknowledged.

The opposition, ready as usual to criticise the Government’s reluctance to accept Syrian refugees,  seems ready to forget – when convenient – that charity should begin at home, and more than ready to turn a blind eye to our overburdened infrastructure and social services.

Common sense is often misconstrued as being mean-spirited or nothing more than a hurdle to be overcome.

Attempting to find a metaphor for what too often is labelled racism – but is nothing more than a sensible solution to overload – one could consider Samuel Plimsoll’s controversial line upon seagoing vessels which was adopted as a warning that they were dangerously overloaded.

Common sense did prevail in that case. When will we, as a nation, be ready to recognise it in limiting the number of entrants to our shores until our resources have recovered from unregulated immigration and are once more fit for purpose?

Peter Troy, Headington, Oxford

Congratulations on your editorial calling on Britain to join the US, France and Germany in taking its share of Syrian refugees. The Green Party joins you in that call.

Among the more than two million Syrians who have fled their country, about 800,000 are in Lebanon, 500,000 each in Jordan and Turkey, and about 8,000 across the entire EU.

Those who are particularly vulnerable need more than the basic protection these regional countries are able to offer, and the UK, as one of the world’s richest countries, with a long and honourable history of providing asylum, has a responsibility to be again a place of refuge.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, London NW1

NHS should be free when needed most

One in three doctors is in favour of charging for A&E services (“Charge £10 to keep timewasters away from A&E, say GPs”, 3 January). This is a response to increasing attendances at A&E and is one of the Government’s own design, having made it more and more difficult to get services from the local GP surgery or health centre.

If these A&E charges were ever enacted, it would end the principle that the NHS provides services free at the point of delivery. It will also increase still further the administrative burden on our overstretched health sector, which would have to judge whether a visit was necessary and issue the refunds to those “deserving” cases.

We currently all pay for the health of our citizens, proportionate to what we can afford, through general taxation. If we were to move to a society where people pay for the services that we use (or even deserve), should we be charging more tax for mountain climbers and skateboarders and less for childless couples? Should smokers and drinkers be penalised?

As a childless, non-smoking couple who do not participate in adventure sports, we could look forward to tax rebates, but we are daft enough to believe in the old-fashioned principle that we should pay our fair share towards the health of all of our citizens and that these services should be provided free when they are needed most.

Peter and Susan Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

There are those who want people to be charged for going to A&E. But what about those like me who neither keep spare cash nor have a credit card? We also live alone, so can’t necessarily borrow the money from someone.

Will we have to show a bank book or statement saying how much money we have before being seen to? If so, this is another step towards dismantling our NHS, as well as penalising the poorest.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby

Another way to measure our progress

Eighty years ago today, a report was presented to the US Senate which, by common consent, marks the birth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The brainchild of US economist Simon Kuznets, GDP was designed to provide information about economic activity during the Depression.

It has since assumed an almost unassailable authority as the de facto measure of a country’s progress. However, as the world faces new economic and social challenges, we must all ask ourselves what more should be done do to measure progress.

Last year, the Social Progress Index (SPI) was launched – an attempt to provide a more complete picture of nations’ social progress, designed to complement GDP and help governments frame global, national and local responses to address societies’ challenges. Unlike GDP, which measures the market value of goods and services, the SPI quantifies social output, assessing factors such as political freedoms, availability of quality healthcare, and measurements of citizens’ personal safety.

Today we celebrate Kuznets’ achievement, but we hope that, in another 80 years, generations will look back to the start of the 21st century as the time when nations recognised the value of measuring social progress on a par with economic progress.

Michael Green, Executive Director of the Social Progress Imperative, London SW1

A halo for Julian Assange?

In his assessment of the P J Harvey edition of Today, Ian Burrell writes (3 January) that he “didn’t feel BBC editorial values were compromised”. Yet the programme contained a Thought for the Day from Julian Assange, who is the subject of a European arrest warrant. Assange used his slot to quote liberally from the Bible, creating something of a halo for himself. I can’t see how his inclusion in the programme and his shameless use of  his slot to sanctify himself does anything other than reflect badly on BBC editorial values.

David Head, Navenby, Lincolnshire

I concur with Ian Burrell’s view that P J Harvey’s editorship of Today was “radical and refreshing”. There is a great need for uncensored, thoughtful news coverage which is not hedged about by dissimulation and toeing the party line.

More from left-leaning academicians and journalists such as John Pilger would present a more balanced, more believable and generally more thought-provoking programme, such as Harvey’s surely was.

Donna Thomson, Alsager, Cheshire

Britain’s face of welcome

If being greeted on arrival at Luton Airport by Keith Vaz doesn’t deter migrants, what will?

Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon






Sir, Professor Brinkworth (letter Jan 2) is quite right in his assertion that the principal cause of flooding in Britain is the inability of watercourses to carry away storm water. However, before mustering the originality of the British engineering industry to devise waterborne machines for this purpose, it is worth reflecting on some of the contributing factors which are hampering this drainage in the first place. In our Broadland village in the 1950s and well into the 1960s I recall the lengthsman frequenting our country lanes keeping drainage-ways, culverts and ditches clear. Local Drainage Boards, made up mainly of farmers and landowners with local knowledge, ensured that main ditches and dykes were similarly maintained. Storm water at least had a chance of finding its way efficiently to the nearest river before causing a disaster.

Oliver Chastney


Sir, I agree with Professor Brinkworth that some flooding is caused by poor river maintenance. I was a member of the Great Ouse Local Flood Defence Committee for over ten years, and we were constantly urging the Environment Agency to spend more on dredging rivers. This is costly, however, and, with the constraints imposed by wildlife habitat protection, often difficult. This important area of flood defence should be reappraised.

Richard Brown

Clenchwarton, Norfolk

Sir, I do not agree with Professor Brinkworth about dredging. The restrictions to flow in most British rivers are bridges, weirs and other man-made structures. Dredging makes no difference to flow, only to capacity. But no matter how much capacity you create by dredging, heavy rain will soon fill it. The only way to manage flooding is to do exactly that: manage flooding. For decades we have tried the opposite, to eliminate flooding according to the logic expressed by Professor Brinkworth. It doesn’t work. Worse, it turns our rivers into ugly ditches and makes the problem far worse into the bargain.

We should instead look for ways to slow water down, to harness the value of wetland. Taming nature through understanding is possible. Conquering her through ignorance is not.

Charles Rangeley-Wilson

(president, the Wild Trout Trust)

Thornham, Norfolk

Sir, Clearing waterways to improve the dispersion of rainwater more rapidly was a self-help remedy tried in the tributaries of River Ray after the floods here in January 2007. Although we suffered considerably less during the storms of the following July, the clearance had disastrous consequences downstream.

The flow of water down the cleared waterways was so fast that too much arrived in Oxford all at once, resulting in extensive flooding. Furthermore, with our District Council planning upwards of 10,000 houses in the Bicester catchment area of the River Ray, the problems for villages southeast of Bicester and for Oxford are likely to be exacerbated several fold over the next few years.

David A. Jones

Chesterton, Oxon


The Science Museum’s store at the former RAF Wroughton site has for some years now been closed to the public

Sir, Your report (Jan 2) on the Science Museum’s proposal to build a solar farm on the former RAF Wroughton site reminded me that I am still awaiting a place in their visitor queue. Wroughton has for some years now been closed to the public.

The site is used as the Science Museum’s “Big Object” store. It holds some 26,000 objects in three aircraft hangars. As an aviation enthusiast, I am interested to see the 18 aircraft stored there, including the only Lockheed Constellation in the UK.

As I recall, it was some eight years ago that I first inquired about visitor arrangements. I was advised that there was no public access. I would need to arrange a private group of 50 visitors and the fee would be £300. I mentally added my request to the “too difficult” list and got on with life.

I wish the Science Museum well with its plans for a solar farm at Wroughton. Once it is running, perhaps management could use some of the energy cost savings to fund more accessible public access to the site.

Andy Burrows

Chesham, Bucks



Let the issue of Romanians and Bulgarians coming here to work be discussed in a way that does not them because of their nationality

Sir, Political and media discussion about the feared mass influx of Romanians and Bulgarians has been frequently offensive and sometimes bordering on racist. There is no denying that Romanians are begging in many cities, and not only in the UK. Nor have I any doubt that some Romanians may commit offences here, from pickpocketing to human trafficking. They may even be using the NHS — well, good luck to them, if they can get an appointment.

In the meantime, let those who fear infection from the East think about how much this country benefits, in so many ways, from the immigrants, and not just the Polish plumbers. There would be hardly any dentists in large parts of Wales were it not for those we have poached — fully trained at no cost to the UK — from the East.

Let them remember, also, that Britain voted in favour of accession to the EU by Romania and Bulgaria. But most of all, let the issue be discussed in a way that does not demonise people because of their nationality.

Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz



A reader received a total of 60 items from 40 charitable organisations in the past three months – is this a record of success?

Sir, A wet New Year’s Day was a chance to inspect the charity appeals which hit my doormat in the last three months of 2013. A total of 40 organisations had sent a total of 60 items. Some came from charities I did not know; some from those to which I already donate. The “free gifts”, as well as the pens and Christmas cards, included a pair of gloves and an alarm clock. The recycling bin has received much paper. Presumably Royal Mail has benefited too. I redirected my winter heating allowance to a charity which approached me by email.

As a business model is this a record of success?

Ann Franklin







SIR – I was interested to read that the Duke of Cambridge is to go to Cambridge University to study sustainability leadership to prepare him for the management of some of the Royal family’s land holdings.

I was one of the last to study Agriculture at Cambridge before the faculty was absorbed by Biological Sciences in the early Seventies.

After graduating, I went abroad to teach sustainable agriculture to Mayan Indians in Mexico. However, it wasn’t until I got my hands dirty doing some practical growing of crops that I was of any value to these people.

If Prince William is to be successful, a year’s practical work on one of the royal holdings would be of more value than a few months at Cambridge.

Rev Robert Short


SIR – Gavin Grant’s riposte to Sir Barney White-Spunner’s justified attack on today’s RSPCA, of which Mr Grant is chief executive, is both spurious and littered with weasel words.

The focus of the RSPCA, and its forerunner, the SPCA, was entirely upon cruelty to domestic animals (especially horses) and on ensuring that livestock was humanely slaughtered. It is nonsense for Mr Grant to suggest that the RSPCA is doing what it “was formed to do more than 100 years ago”; the protection of vermin played no part whatsoever in the RSPCA’s purpose until recent political infiltration.

Sir Barney made the reasonable complaint that the RSPCA is a political wolf in a charitable sheep’s clothing, and that it now appears to be focused on animal rights and prosecutions rather than on animal welfare.

Mr Grant’s claims – unsupported by statistics – of a growing RSPCA membership sound like wishful thinking. The Charity Commission should look very closely at this now political organisation.

Gregory Shenkman
London W8

Back of a napkin

SIR – On a larger scale than Bosnia, Lady Lugard, wife of Sir Frederick, the British administrator, drew the map of present-day Nigeria on a tablecloth. This led to the enforced and totally unsuitable amalgamation of tribal and ethnic groups. Be careful what you draw.

Robbie Book
London N20

SIR – Given the evidence garnered from napkins, would it be sensible from now on to schedule important political meetings in cafes and restaurants?

Rosemary Morton Jack
Oddington, Oxfordshire

SIR – Have you ever tried writing on a napkin? On paper ones it’s impossible, while writing on a fabric napkin in a restaurant is vandalism and, if taken away, theft. Fag packets are much better.

Arnold Kingston
Edenbridge, Kent

Tolerating fraud

SIR – I recently reported to the police fraud phone line that a cheque I had sent through the post had been intercepted, that the payee had been changed, and that my account had been robbed.

I was told that unless my bank refused to reimburse me, the police would not accept a crime report from me because I would not have suffered any financial loss.

It is good to hear that Damian Green says he will bring greater transparency to the way crimes are dealt with. But the real need is for more honesty in recording all crime.

John Spencer-Silver
London SW11

Afternoon slump

SIR – I am a runner. When out training in the morning, I have always greeted the people I pass with a “Good morning”. In the evening, it’s “Good evening”, and 98 per cent of people reply with the same greeting. But I have found that if I am on an afternoon run and say “Good afternoon”, very few people even reply.

This all changed about four years ago when I adopted different tactics. Now when I pass someone on my afternoon runs, I say, “How do?”, and always get a response.

Ray Powell
Shefford, Bedfordshire

Syrian visas

SIR – The Government’s refusal to grant asylum to Syrian refugees is not the real scandal. Instead it is its apparent guidance to embassies not to give visas to Syrian people, regardless of the fairness of their application to enter Britain.

My Syrian parents were refused a visa to visit us in our home in Manchester. The case for them to be given a family visitor visa could not be any stronger. My wife and I are British citizens. I am a surgical registrar. My parents, who are Christians, live in Homs, Syria. They still live in their home and are independent. My father is a medical doctor who works for the Red Crescent organisation in Homs. My mother is a dentist. We provided the embassy with documents to confirm the financial and employment status of my parents, ourselves and my parents-in-law, who are dairy farmers in north Somerset.

My parents have visited us six times before and have never stayed beyond their declared period of visit (two weeks). We have not sponsored the visit of anyone else.

We saw my parents last in November 2011 when they visited us in Manchester.

My parents have never seen my daughter, who is now 20 months old. It is unsafe for us to visit them in Syria. The only way for us to see them is for them to come here.

However, the entry clearance officer unfairly and inhumanly refused to grant them a visa or the right of appeal against the decision. This is against the principles of civilised society and the rights of British citizens to see their families.

Zaher Toumi

Over and out

SIR – I would like to thank the BBC and guest editor P J Harvey for yesterday’s Today programme.

The first day back at work after Christmas is generally a struggle. This year, it was a positive joy to get out of the house.

Steven Broomfield
Fair Oak, Hampshire

Too many I love yous

SIR – I was one of seven children in a poor family and I never heard either parent say “I love you”. But we knew they loved us. They showed their love through caring and kind actions. Saying “I love you” is rarely meaningful; it trips off the tongue after a call or conversation.

Joan Eastham
Forton, Lancashire

Wearing a helmet encourages reckless skiing

SIR – None of the specialist ski insurance companies treats helmet-wearers and non-wearers differently.

Although helmets offer some head protection, people who wear them are far more likely to be involved in accidents. The most compelling explanation is that they feel they are protected and therefore take more risks: in some ski areas, up to 80 per cent of skiers now wear helmets, but the number of serious head injuries has remained static.

In the sad case of Michael Schumacher’s injury, the question that should be asked is not: did the helmet save his life? But: if he had not been wearing a helmet, would he have risked skiing in a rocky, off-piste area?

Peter Iden

Briançon, Hautes-Alpes, France

SIR – I agree with your writer Beverley Turner that Michael Schumacher has set a good example by wearing a helmet while skiing. But why does she single out cyclists who don’t wear helmets for criticism? Schumacher wears a helmet while motor racing; so, by extension, the use of the helmet should at least be considered by all motorists. About half of all serious brain injuries are caused in motor accidents.

Would it not be more responsible for all motorists – and their passengers – to follow the example of professional motor racers and wear helmets?

Mike Norris

SIR – Most traffic threats to cyclists arise from the rear. If properly used, a mirror might well avert an accident, whereas a helmet at best mitigates its consequences. I don’t think a helmet would do much to protect me if I ended up under a lorry.

Many cyclists’ lives would be saved if they used mirrors.

Ian Wilson
Hinton, Gloucestershire


SIR – Your report “Ghost towns left behind by Bulgarians seeking work” illustrates a failure of European Union social policy with regard to that country since 2007.

Equally, the influx of migrants to Britain over the past 15 years can be viewed as a symptom of social policy failure here, as immigrants have tended to take jobs British citizens are either unable or unwilling to undertake.

W T Green
Bozeat, Northamptonshire

SIR – May I congratulate the Government on its covert plan to restrict Romanian and Bulgarian immigration? If being met by Keith Vaz doesn’t get them on the first plane home, nothing will.

Mark Hudson
Smarden, Kent

SIR – I am available if Keith Vaz would like to take me to Costa for a coffee and pastry. I have much to discuss, not least MPs’ expenses and immigration. It might make a refreshing change for Mr Vaz to venture into the world of tax-paying British citizens rather than staging cheap publicity stunts.

Tim Rann
Mirfield, West Yorkshire

SIR – Britain was right to champion EU enlargement , because such an enlargement was necessitated by the geopolitical shift following the collapse of communism in 1989. But did the beneficiaries of enlargement – Poland, Bulgaria and Romania – accede for the right reasons? For example, would they have joined the EU if the free movement of labour was not on the agenda? Likewise, would Turkey, Serbia, Albania and Ukraine still be keen to join if the clause pertaining to free movement of labour was permanently removed from the treaty?

A majority of Britons supports EU enlargement with the free movement of goods, but not with the free movement of labour, for the true extent of the latter, as Britain’s experience with the Polish influx amply demonstrates, cannot accurately be predicted or planned for.

Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

SIR – I run an employment agency in Cambridgeshire, supplying predominantly unskilled, manual workers to the food industry. As with all agencies in this sector, a small number of our workers are British, but the majority are EU migrants. Because people buy more food at Christmas, it is a very busy time and our staff have been working hard, often over weekends and on bank holidays.

Now that the Christmas rush is over, there are fewer jobs available. Will those without work be seeking to claim benefits? After 14 years of working in this sector, I know the answer for the vast majority is no; they will look for new work.

Lionel Sheffield



Irish Times:



A chara, – Your report “Emotions high at Dublin Airport as emigrants fly out” (Alison Healy, Home News, January 3rd January) made for good preparatory reading before we headed to the airport with our daughter who was returning to Wellington in New Zealand after a Christmas break.

Having listened to our Government, with the assistance of a somewhat compliant media, spout much guff over the last while concerning the success of The Gathering and the country’s exit from the bank bailout, your report highlighted the current situation for many families.

There are now two Irelands. There is Establishment Ireland where The Gathering, the exit from the bank bailout, Nama, ongoing high salaries and pensions, property taxes, water charges and severe health and social welfare cuts are hailed and generally reported as positive successes for the long-term benefit of all. While there is also Hidden Ireland, where emigration, massive personal debt, unemployment, severe poverty and homelessness – all with resultant stress, health and even suicidal issues are played down and receive minimal government or media comment.

It is time for people to be made aware of and recognise the scale of Hidden Ireland. For that to happen we need a media that does not simply portray and highlight Government soundbites and press releases as fact. Your report from Dublin Airport was a much-needed and welcome antidote to last year’s constant positive Gathering hype.

If there is a single New Year resolution appropriate for 2014 it is that Hidden Ireland is now given as much attention as Establishment Ireland. Only then will we be able to begin to make any inroads into resolving our current situation for the equal benefit of all. – Is mise,


Whitehall Road,




A chara, – Fintan O’Toole suggests many of us lean on Plan B and emigrate to fulfil our goals. He says we’re “brilliant” at fecking off (“What makes us world champions at fecking off”, Opinion, December 31st). It was never my intention to “feck off” and I have every hope of returning when opportunity allows it.

Young people today are torn between choosing the dole or emigration. Wouldn’t we better service our country if we gained experience wherever we could and brought it home once we’ve built up sufficient expertise to be valued on Irish soil?

I agree, the Government needs to take action to prevent emigration from being the only answer to Irish ambition. However, emigration is not a wilful demonstration against the State. Plenty of countries wave farewell to their youth and Ireland is no different.

What would really serve the State is if we stopped slating ourselves and realised we’re not in an exclusive position. Every nation has its struggles and historical baggage. In fact, emigration is one of the best ways to discover this. It invokes a strong national identity because suddenly we realise other developed countries are failing too.

People are people wherever you go and they all have similar complaints. Emigration is not to be sneered at. It offers the young a chance to kick-start their careers and I believe many will come home to inject that skill into the economy in the future. – Yours, etc,


Woodford New Road,

London, England.


Sir, – For some years now the people of Cork have had to put up with severe flooding and the ruination of their homes and livelihoods.

Initially we were all told this was due to abnormal weather, yet the abnormal has now become the normal and the State has not effectively dealt with this issue. When is it going to do so? – Yours, etc,


Monastery Walk,


Dublin 22.


Sir, – In her reflections on homeless policy, Mary Tully (January 2nd) makes a number of poorly informed comments about Focus Ireland which require a response.

Given the public concern about the financial transparency of charities, the most serious criticism Ms Tully makes is that, along with other organisations in the sector, our website “will show opaque if any disclosures of . . . (taxpayers’) funding”. In fact, a simple search of our website gives access to detailed audited accounts for 2012 and the previous 10 years. The website clearly sets out (in numbers and graphs) the sources of our funding and the fact that 90 cent of every euro of the finances we receive are spent on services. The quality and clarity of our financial reporting has been recognised by several awards from the accountancy profession. Focus Ireland takes very seriously our obligation to publicly account for all our finances – whether received from the taxpayer, donors or from our tenants. We do not expect credit for this level of disclosure; it should be the accepted norm of all bodies receiving public funds, but it is unfair to ignore the information which is freely available.

Ms Tully also states that she is “troubled” by the fact that while Focus Ireland (in partnership with Dublin Simon) is part-funded to provide an outreach and placement service for rough sleepers in Dublin, the number of people who are sleeping rough has been rising. Given her former role as principal officer responsible for homelessness policy, it is troubling that Ms Tully does not appear to understand the nature of the services she commissioned on behalf of the taxpayer, or the nature of the challenge we face in tackling homelessness.

The joint Rough Sleeping team is highly effective in making contact with people who are rough sleeping and supporting them into accommodation. However, they can only offer people emergency accommodation when the wider homeless service has beds available. The economic crisis, and some of the Government policy responses to it, have resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers of people becoming homeless, and there is a regular shortage of emergency beds available for the rough sleeping team. The only assistance we can then offer is a sleeping bag, access to day services and support in trying to stay safe.

These problems are the result of the historic and current failures in national housing and welfare policies – and many other failures beside – and it makes no sense to ask that the people struggling to deal with these heart-breaking problems on the frontline be “called to account”.

People who face homelessness – and the voluntary organisations which serve them – rely on the Government and its officials to pursue policies which reduce the risk of homelessness occurring and assist them to find new homes quickly if they do become homeless.

The recent report of Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan’s Homeless Oversight Group correctly identified these issues – prevention and the need for access to affordable, decent housing. This report and its reception give us renewed confidence that the team now responsible for homeless policy in the Department of the Environment has fully grasped the fact that homelessness is both a complex and a solvable problem, requiring informed co-operation between the State and charitable sectors. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

Focus Ireland,

High Street,



Sir, – John Waters writes, “Journalism has become a branch of the entertainment industry” (Opinion, January 3rd). He questions the veracity of much that is written in newspapers and suggests news is increasingly becoming a story-telling exercise to keep “bums on seats” .

One such “story”, where truth is turned into fiction, is where the media present Pope Francis as a “people’s pope” – a sympathetic, caring and democratic-minded Pope, compared to his excessively cerebral and conservative predecessor.

This is “pure fantasy”, Waters writes, as this Pope has announced no doctrinal initiatives, nor does he seem likely to do so.

I can only congratulate John Waters on how well he reads this Pope. He is head and shoulders above most journalists. But while he correctly points to the “pure fantasy” of the media in turning truth into an entertaining “story”, he must be praised for his own storytelling ability.

He writes that “the Pope exists to convey an understanding of God to mankind, not the other way around”, making it clear that there can be no such thing as a “people’s Pope”.

So one man has a better understanding of God than all humanity?

What a story! – Yours, etc,


Whitechurch Road,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – The Higher Education Authority (HEA) welcomes Prof Pat O’Connor’s letter (January 2nd) regarding gender profiles of senior academic posts in the context of our recent publication of an initial Performance Evaluation Framework for Higher Education.

We acknowledge our legislative obligation (and that of all higher education institutions) to promote equality, including gender equality, in all our activities. Our publication of initial performance profile templates is part of a broader programme of work to enhance the reliability and relevance of the evidence-base for policy and practice in Irish higher education. Through this report, the HEA has sought direct feedback from the higher education community and from others on how the institutional profiles can be further developed. Prof O’Connor’s feedback is valuable in that context.

While we have very comprehensive, reliable and regular information on students by gender, the HEA acknowledges the quality and comprehensiveness of our information on staff in the higher education system is currently inadequate. We are also keen to improve our data on the use of technology in higher education, on the early labour market experiences of graduates from Irish higher education and on students’ and graduates’ perspectives on the quality of teaching and learning.

These and other areas will be prioritised as part of a concerted effort to further improve the relevance and the quality of the evidence upon which policy and practice is refined and developed. We are confident that we will be in a position to include metrics on gender equality among staff in further iterations of the institutional profiles. – Yours, etc,


Head of Policy &



Sir, – Anthony Leavy (December 30th) wonders why people were reluctant to “blow the whistle on the reckless abandon” of the Celtic Tiger boom years.

Indeed anyone who did attempt to point out that the boom was unsustainable was promptly accused of being unpatriotic by failing to “put on the green jersey” and told in withering fashion to “stop talking down the economy”. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Road,

Killiney, Co Dublin.



Sir, – That the quenelle is anti-Semitic is beyond dispute (Liam Cooke, January 3rd). In France it has become part of a social media craze in which people find ever-more offensive places to insult Jews by doing a quenelle.

There is even a photograph of someone doing a quenelle outside the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, where Mohammed Merah murdered three Jewish children and a Jewish teacher in March 2012

If the people in these photographs did a Nazi salute at any of these sites they would risk instant arrest and prosecution.

The quenelle is a way of getting around the law, while still getting the same thrill of breaking the taboo against anti-Semitism. The quenelle as an insult was invented by the avowedly anti-Semitic French comic Dieudonné Mbala Mbala.

Anelka has excused his quenelle by saying that it was “just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné”; but this is no excuse, it just confirms the offence, as he knows what his friend stands for.

What is most amazing and disturbing is that three French international soccer star players have now associated themselves with the reverse Nazi salute in an era of multi-culturalism from which they have benefited. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – On what basis does Martin McCarthy (January 3rd) condemn the new library and cultural centre, as a white elephant? His harking back to the baths, and the wonderful Victorian ambience of Dún Laoghaire, exposes a mindset all too prevalent in Dun Laoghaire. Keep the old at any cost. One has only to look at the campaigns, waged over many years, to keep the old and prevent the new, to see the sad decline of Dún Laoghaire as a commercial centre.

Perhaps the spokesmen for the many organisations in Dún Laoghaire, should spend time praising the town, instead of the constantly negative barrage regarding parking, the council, the litter, etc.

As a long-time resident of the town, I welcome the new library and centre as an addition to the modern amenities of Dún Laoghaire. – Yours, etc,



Corrig Avenue,


Sir, – It is wrong to suggest the Taoiseach is acting in accordance with the wishes of those who voted no to Seanad abolition (Thomas J Clark, January 2nd). Those who opposed Seanad abolition, including Democracy Matters and Fianna Fáil, made reform a central part of their opposition platform.

How can a Taoiseach who identified many of the flaws of the Seanad during the campaign now preside over that same flawed institution? Just as in the 2011 general election, the people didn’t vote for the status quo, they voted for change. – Yours, etc,


The Grove,

Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath.


Sir, – It is wrong to suggest the Taoiseach is acting in accordance with the wishes of those who voted no to Seanad abolition (Thomas J Clark, January 2nd). Those who opposed Seanad abolition, including Democracy Matters and Fianna Fáil, made reform a central part of their opposition platform.

How can a Taoiseach who identified many of the flaws of the Seanad during the campaign now preside over that same flawed institution? Just as in the 2011 general election, the people didn’t vote for the status quo, they voted for change. – Yours, etc,


The Grove,

Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath.

Sir, – The frequent letters from John FitzGerald of Callan about the horrors of fox-hunting have become increasingly boring.

However, his most recent one (December 30th) caught my eye because it would seem that the attire of this age-old sport has changed somewhat.

He writes of “shining black jackets” and “well-polished gleaming jodhpurs”! Have the fashion houses of London, Paris, Rome and New York got together to invent new fabrics with which to dress our intrepid hunters? – Yours, etc,






Irish Independent:


* Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has said “penalty points have been hugely successful” and “the new Road Traffic Bill will make a big difference to safety on the roads”.

Also in this section

Letters: Stop discrimination against Travellers

Letters: Our EU ‘friends’ not worried about fairness

Letters: A game that will go down in history

An examination of this success shows that since the Road Safety Authority (RSA) was established in 2006, 30pc of deaths were of people aged under 24, a million speeding penalty points were issued, and 1,971 road users died.

In 2009, An Garda Siochana set up a hi-tech unit to discover the cause of accidents and a special Government task force was also set up in response to rising road deaths in 2013.

Both these units have yet to report their findings, while the RSA has repeated the same message, “Safer Roads: only you can get us there.”

New speed detectors to stop drivers ‘slowing’ for cameras will be introduced by Mr Varadkar, but digital speedometers, cruise control and alcolysers in cars do not appear to be included.

In 2011, the RSA claimed the speed limits throughout the country were incorrect, but this is the responsibility of local councillors.

The South Australian Centre for Economic Studies questions the motivation and financial implications behind South Australia‘s speed camera policy, which issues 50pc of speeding tickets to drivers caught travelling less than 5mph over the speed limit.

In 2011, a Garda chief said that, “some speed vans are operating in areas that are not accident black spots”, so drivers receive penalty points on roads with incorrect speed limits.

In 2011, the local authorities were ordered by the Department of Transport to take down high speed-limit signs on dangerous stretches of road, but this cannot happen as councillors have full responsibility.

The order to review the speed limits and the location of the signs displaying them is contained in a circular sent to every city and county manager by the Department of Transport.




* It is time for the Government to regulate insurance premiums. At the consumer level, health insurance, home insurance, and motor insurance have all increased by double digits each year.

Insurance in the commercial sector has also risen, adding to the cost of goods and services that consumers purchase.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was this: “The Irish insurance industry said it had been anticipating premium hikes of around 10pc but they could soar to as much as 30pc because of the level of storm-related claims” (Irish Independent, December 31).

Insurance premiums are fundamentally calculated on the basis of the probability of claims from a broad pool of policy holders and these risks are further spread across the international insurance community through reinsurance and other instruments.

How, then, can it be that a spell of stormy weather over a two-week period, which has been (in global terms) geographically isolated, result in an increase in premiums? In fact, every time there is a spell of bad weather (think of the “deep freeze” a few years ago) we see an increase in the cost of premiums.

I have significant concerns when the insurance industry apparently fails to take into account the chance of “bad things happening” and use such bad things as an excuse to hike premiums.

Premiums will naturally increase with cost increases, and insurers are entitled to a profit incentive.

But it seems to me that the Financial Regulator shows a far greater concern towards protecting the investors in insurance companies than the customers.




* I was surprised to see so many foreign tourists in Dublin over Christmas. No doubt Transport Minister Leo Varadkar‘s ‘Gathering’ had lured them here, although none of them seemed to have a clue about any ‘Gathering’ — they’d just come for the Guinness and the decorations.

It was a pity then that a lot of shops and public places were not open to welcome the extra few euro these tourists wanted to spend.

Instead, many believe it’s still Dev’s Ireland, where the priest would read your name from the pulpit if you opened over Christmas time.

Most of the ‘New Irish’ businesses were open for our visitors, while the ‘Real Irish’ drank and ate themselves so legless they won’t be able to face work until Monday, January 6, the Epiphany.

It’s about time Ireland Inc realised that Christmas/St Stephen’s Day is just a two-day holiday, and New Year’s Day is just one day — not a 16-day ‘holiday’ of laziness.




* The Road Safety Authority is promising a consultation process to consider allowing driverless cars to be tested on our roads (Irish Independent, December 3).

First, we built housing estates that nobody lives in, now we have the possibility of cars driving around with nobody at the wheel. What next?




* Strolling around Dublin on Thursday, January 2, I was surprised on ‘putting my head around the door’ of four different pubs to be informed that they would not be doing food, even the humble sandwich, until Monday, January 6.

As I eventually settled for a sandwichless pint, I pondered from the pub viewpoint, was it a case of not using one’s loaf to make some fairly handy dough, given how hard it can be to make a crust in these times?




* For some years now the people of Cork have had to put up with severe flooding. Initially, we were told that this was due to abnormal weather, but the abnormal is now the norm and the State has not dealt with it.

When is it going to do so? It seems not too difficult with the engineering ingenuity we have, so that people in Cork and elsewhere can live at this time of year without fear.




* Simon O’Connor and John Bellew make a valid case for defaulting on our bank debts instead of having Irish taxpayers paying them, but they fail to say what the consequences of default might have been for our citizens (Letters, January 2).

Similarly, they make a good case for blaming the big bad foreigner for what happened to this country.

But if our financial decision-makers are so innocent, why is it that the decision-makers in most eurozone countries did not cause their countries to go broke?



Irish Independent



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