14 January 2014 Clear out

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to celebrate Admiral Troutbrdge’s anniversary whats happened to the silver tea service? Priceless.

MOT back later in the week, Peter Rice, ipage email

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets over400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.



Alexandra Bastedo, who has died of cancer aged 67, was a British actress and sex symbol of the 1960s and 1970s and won acclaim in her home country as the female lead of ITV’s occult detective series The Champions; but it was in Spain and South America that she had her greatest cult following, known to her fans simply as “la Bastedo”.

By 1967 Alexandra Bastedo was already familiar to continental drivers as the face of Shell’s advertising campaign, her image appearing on roadside hoardings throughout Europe. Minor roles in the spy thriller The Liquidator (1965) and in the original film of Casino Royale (1967) served to raise her profile still further, and in 1968 she was offered the part of codebreaker Sharron Macready in The Champions .

Rescued by Tibetan monks following a near-fatal plane crash, Agent Macready and her colleagues Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) are bestowed with both precognitive abilities and enhanced physical strength, transforming them, as the introductory voice-over for each episode proclaimed, into “champions of law, order and justice”.

Though critics were largely scornful of everything from the premise to the production values , there was little doubt that Alexandra Bastedo, with her beauty and youthful other-worldliness, was well cast in the role of superheroine. The Champions ran for 30 episodes, and its influence can be detected in the numerous superhero adventures that followed on American television, such as ABC’s The Six Million Dollar Man .

Just 21 years old at the time of her big break, Alexandra Bastedo initially found the media attention that The Champions proved rather daunting. “I’d led a sheltered life and was still quite naive,” she confessed in a 2011 interview. “An American Indian wrote to me saying he’d leave me his tepee in his will, and a sailor asked if I would post a pair of my high-heeled shoes.” As her international audience expanded there came further opportunities, and by the mid-1980s she was fluent in three languages, with 12 Spanish, American and South American film titles to her credit, as well as a role as compère, alongside Peter Marshall, for the Miss World and Miss United Kingdom competitions.

Among her more famous admirers were David Frost, Omar Sharif and Steve McQueen; though she entered briefly into relationships with the Frost and Sharif she was distinctly less impressed with McQueen, whom, she recalled, propositioned her with the line: “My wife doesn’t understand me.” In the case of Omar Sharif the liaison lasted only a few weeks, being curtailed by the actor’s bridge-playing habit, his unruly hours, and his incurable tendency to accept telephone numbers from other women.

The daughter of a Canadian businessman, Alexandra Bastedo was born in East Sussex on March 9 1946 and grew up in Brighton, where her childhood ambition was to become a vet. At 16, however, she entered a “teenage diplomat” competition organised by London Evening News, beating 4, 000 finalists to a role in a comedy thriller, 13 Frightened Girls! (1963) Despite subsequent offers from Hollywood agents – and interest from Alfred Hitchcock – she returned home to finish her education, before the contracts with Shell and ITV intervened to preclude her university career.

Happily married and semi-retired from acting by the close of the 1980s, Alexandra Bastedo moved to Chichester with her husband, the theatrical producer and artistic director Patrick Garland. There she returned to her initial vocation in animal welfare as president of her local branch of the RSPCA, before departing to found the Alexandra Bastedo Champions (ABC) Animal Sanctuary near Pulborough, West Sussex. By the turn of the century the ABC Sanctuary housed over 180 abandoned animals, including pigs, rabbits, ferrets, ducks, hens, geese and turkeys.

In later life she made a brief return to acting as part of her fundraising efforts on the sanctuary’s behalf, with a cameo role in Batman Begins (2005) and a memorable turn in EastEnders and as Penny Caspar-Morse, a former 1960s model known as “the Stick”, alongside Joanna Lumley in Absolutely Fabulous.

Her husband, Patrick Garland, whom she married in 1980, predeceased her in May last year.

Alexandra Bastedo, born March 9 1946, died January 12 2014




Ariel Sharon (Obituary, 13 January) was a man of his time, specifically the years of ideological ferment that followed the collapse of Keynesianism in the 1970s. Like Thatcher, he broke the mould and replaced it with one of his own models that is now left to a younger, more financially constrained, generation to clear up. Thatcher unleashed a debt bubble; Sharon gave birth to Likud and the intensification of the settlement project. Thatcher’s iterations were based on the assumption that “there is no such thing as society”; Sharon’s were based on the default that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian”. Incompetent Keynesian elites were replaced with ideologically sound alternative incompetents. Both models are now irrevocably broken and contaminate the political debate in their respective countries, leaving those behind with far reduced strategic depth.
Cathal Rabbitte
Zollikon, Switzerland

•  The apotheosis of Ariel Sharon’s career was surely when foreign journalists, myself included, diplomats and other observers entered the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps of West Beirut on 18 September 1982, to discover the slaughter of innocents, Palestinian and Lebanese families. Christian militiamen from the Lebanese forces had carried out the task. But we all knew that had not Israeli forces been holding the ring round the camps for three days of siege the killers would never have dared enter; that the Israelis must have permitted – it later turned out, organised – the incursion; and that Sharon’s lethal hand was on this operation as surely as it had been on the invasion of Lebanon he launched three months earlier.

It was no surprise: this was the leader of the Israeli army special reprisal unit 101 which had, in 1953, blown up 45 Palestinian homes in the West Bank village of Qibya with the families trapped inside them, killing 69 people, mostly women and children. No evidence was found that any Palestinian incursions into Israel had originated in Qibya.

More recently, Sharon helped rekindle the violence in occupied Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian Territories in 2000, going on to subdue the largely civilian population with weapons of war: aircraft, tanks and artillery.

Much will be made of the “man of peace” who withdrew the Israeli settlers and army from Gaza in 2005, but this only aimed at freezing any hopes of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, left Gaza a besieged and even more vulnerable and impoverished entity than it had been before, and cleared the way for Israel to concentrate on acquiring and populating the lands it has always coveted, those between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan.
Tim Llewellyn
Former BBC Middle East correspondent

• Your obituary writer’s comment that Sharon felt at peace only on his farm in the Negev overlooks the fact that until 1948 this land belonged to the Abuelaish family, one member of which, Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, wrote a book in 2011, described by the Guardian as “an impresssive statement of triumph over adversity”. Its title, I Shall Not Hate, is testimony to a lifetime devoted to reconciliation, which stands in stark contrast to the philosophy of the man who removed him from his family property.
Roger Symon


NHS policy is healthcare on the basis of need. So, in what way can the elderly possibly “take up a disproportionate percentage of the NHS budget” (We’re all in this together, 10 January)? Linking proportionality, age and healthcare indicates a view that the old get more than they deserve – rather than what they require and are entitled to – at the expense of younger people. Such a position does nothing for solidarity between the generations.
Dr Pauline Wilson
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

• Your article on personal health budgets (Society, 8 January) fails to mention how the Dutch, who pioneered such schemes, have scaled them back radically in the light of experience, including exploitation of individuals with budgets. However, the real concern is that, in time, the government will extend them to create a voucher system, whereby each person is given a fixed budget to spend with a purchasing organisation (in effect, an insurer), with direct payment needed outside what this budget can buy.
Professor Martin McKee
European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition

• Your recent articles about personal health budgets and the “overwhelming” cost of caring for people with long-term chronic diseases (Reports, 4 January) highlight two issues: first, medicines are not the best treatment for many diseases and, second, how can we make individual tailormade solutions equitable.

The example of Stephen and his family in the personal budgets piece beautifully illustrates the first point. In Brighton, we have recently founded a new type of integrated NHS GP health centre, part charity funded. We offer alternative therapies and groups such as acupuncture, singing, massage and nutrition, an approach that has been effective for many patients. We have, however, come under vitriolic criticism for our approach, and I hope that articles like this will help to support a broader attitude to health and the relief of sickness.
Dr Laura Marshall-Andrews
GP partner, Brighton health and wellbeing centre



As a serving headteacher of a comprehensive school, I am in awe at Tristram Hunt‘s relentless drive to hold to account the current secretary of state for education (Labour: teachers must have skills or face the sack, 11 January). Licensed teachers – excellent! So they will have to show they meet the right standards so we can be “just like lawyers” (by which I assume he means “proper professionals”). Presumably, up to now we headteachers have been relaxing in the warm bath of mediocrity, happily flirting with the rubber duck of “unionised restrictive practices” and nonchalantly watching the soap suds of “standards” ebb away on their relentless “race to the bottom”.

Or perhaps this Gospel-according-to-Gove could itself be tackled? Tackling poor teaching – yes, we do that, Mr Hunt. Assessing colleagues regularly to ensure that bad teachers cannot find refuge in this noble profession? Er, yes, rather more, in fact, than most other education systems in the world where there really are “restrictive practices”. A Royal College of teaching? Hopefully more than a gold-encrusted rehash of the General Teaching Council (may it rest in peace).

After several years of easy caricatures of schools and teachers, I wonder whether Her Majesty’s loyal opposition could offer the country a little bit of a new script on education without worrying about Daily Mail readers?
Simon Uttley
Headmaster, Saint John Bosco College, London

• Surely relicensing could be extended to Ofsted inspectors whose judgments on teaching skills often have significant consequences. They, too, could be asked to demonstrate the skills they so often find absent in schools. For example, they could be asked to deliver lessons to a middle-ability year 9 group in “a school in need of improvement”. They could be given two days’ warning. It need not necessarily take place on a Friday afternoon or in the week before Christmas.
Jack Schofield

• As well as being a shrewd political move, Tristram Hunt’s proposal to license teachers is a welcome development although, as ever, the devil will be in the detail. This will be particularly so in relation to the standards by which teachers are to be assessed. Many of the current ones can be interpreted in a variety of ways and, if adopted unchanged by Hunt, could result in a welter of litigation in employment tribunals.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• It should be taken for granted that teachers, along with any other workers, should keep up to date. The objectionable thing here is the spin – it’s all about getting rid of poor teachers, not a positive message of continuing professional development. And having initiated the destruction of the support networks called good local education authorities, Labour is not in a good place to start handing out pearls of trite wisdom.

The key problem is that English education is elitist and exclusive by design. It has failure built in to its genes. Its success is judged by measures which simply don’t fit the majority of its students.

It is fundamental reform that is needed, creating a system that allows the skills and talents of all our young people to develop and be recognised, not tinkering about with structures or making grandiose statements about commonsense issues.
Roy Boffy
Former senior adviser for further education, Dudley LEA

• Even Michael Gove eventually rejected the idea of licensing teachers on the grounds that it would add to an already overburdened administrative system in schools. Only a privately educated Labour spokesperson for education could succeed in providing teachers with one reason for agreeing with the worst education secretary in modern times! Presumably Hunt has accepted hook, line and sinker the coalition propaganda about state education, promulgated yet again in another TV series (TV review, 10 January), which clearly is set to ignore the best aspects of comprehensive schooling, and focus instead on trainee teachers’ failure to discipline challenging behaviour effectively. Exciting television viewing, perhaps, but hardly a reliable source of evidence for a trained historian?
Bernie Evans



The very first things that were learnt from Blackadder in 1983 (Pay attention now, Mr Gove, 7 January) were that Richard II did not have a hunchback or a withered arm, nor did he murder his young nephews. The first two have since been proved beyond any doubt since discovery of his skeleton in 2012; the third still awaits firm evidence – firmer, that is, than the flimsy “evidence” so far offered for the original accusation. So delighted were we Ricardians with this mainstream myth-busting that the streets of Middleham during the 500th anniversary celebrations of Richard’s coronation cleared as we all watched the following episodes.
Carol Fellingham Webb

• I was an original member of Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War company, so Professor David Midgley (Letters, 8 January) may like to know that Oh What a Lovely War in 1964 played East and West Berlin and then Dresden. It received enthusiastic reviews.
Murray Melvin
Theatre Royal Stratford

• Colin Newlands thinks the French are daft for calling a potato an “apple of the earth” (Letters, 11 January), so I wonder what he would make of the Faroese, who call a potato an “epli” (literally, “apple”) and an apple a “súrepli” – etymologically, a sour apple, but to the Faroese a sour potato.
Harry D. Watson

• The lamb in your picture of the pope (11 January) looks suspiciously like a very young goat kid. It has hair rather than wool, and the horn bud is clearly visible by its left ear above the eye.
Dr Philippa Edwin
Craven Arms, Shropshire

• Interesting to see that David Cameron’s barber was awarded an MBE in the honours list. Could he also make Rebekah Brook’s horse Raisa (the one lent to her by the police) a consul?
Richard Knights

•  Appropriate currency units for an independent Scotland (Notes andqueries, 9 January)? Surely the poond, comprising 1,745 bawbees.
Colin Shone
Menai Bridge,Anglesey




Your report that Archbishop Vincent Nichols is soon to become a cardinal gave the impression that his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholics came to an end with the last of the Soho Masses a year ago (Archbishop of Westminster named in pope’s first batch of new cardinals, 13 January). This is not the case. The LGBT Catholic community meets twice monthly, less than a mile from Soho in the Jesuit Church in Farm Street, Mayfair. We are integrating successfully into parish life there. As a sign of his support for our mission of providing pastoral care, the archbishop attended our council meeting before Christmas. By doing so, he follows his predecessors, Cardinal Basil Hume and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, leaders whose approach to the place of the LGBT community in the life of the church was consistently more nuanced and conciliatory than the often fierce language of “disorder” that emanated from Rome.
Mark Dowd
Chair, LGBT Catholics Westminster



We have been deeply upset and angered by the coverage of the Syrian conflict brought into our living rooms by the world’s media. The scale and gravity of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region is difficult to comprehend.

The government’s response so far has given us cause for great pride; the aid the UK has given to the region has been unquestionably generous. But it is not enough.

Along with the Refugee Council, we are asking David Cameron for two things: first, to reunite war-torn families by making it possible for Syrians trapped in the region, but with family and friends in the UK, to be assisted to enter the country; second, as a matter of urgency, to answer the call by UNHCR, the refugee agency, to support the countries bordering Syria by establishing a substantial and co-ordinated resettlement programme in the UK to help the most vulnerable.

International consensus is growing that we need to do more to help people fleeing the violence inside Syria to reach safety. UNHCR has called for western countries to take 30,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, and so far 18 countries have responded by pledging resettlement places for Syrian refugees. We’re ashamed that Britain isn’t one of them.

Now is the time to play our part in delivering a global solution so that those who are most vulnerable can find safety outside the region.

On behalf of those Syrians in the UK desperately anxious about the safety of their loved ones, we are asking David Cameron to help, as a father, as a humanitarian and as a world leader.
Emma Thompson Refugee Council patron, Dame Vivienne Westwood, Juliet Stevenson, Grayson Perry, Michael Palin, Colin and Livia Firth




Although Paul Goggins was not convinced by the detail of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013, he supported civil partnerships legislation and voted consistently for progressive LGBT rights legislation.

When he foresaw religiously controversial aspects arising, he was always prompt to seek advice, and find ways through, which would enable him and other Catholic MPs to vote in favour. He applied his principles of social justice to this area of political policy, finding no conflict between his support for LGBT people and his Catholic faith. Indeed, he said once that he gave such support because of, and not in spite of, his theological and social justice beliefs.



Anyone who cares about river flooding should be concerned about the Environment Agency’s reported plan (13 January), to cut back even further on lock-keepers and other staff with direct local knowledge of our rivers.

For 20 years we have lived next to a lock on the Thames and in times of floods have repeatedly seen the close co-ordination between lock-keepers working the weirs along their reach, helping each other to manhandle malfunctioning gates and calling in the boat crews to remove trees and boats blocking flow. It’s sobering to see the benefits of extensive dredging or clearing of channels quickly undone by a simple boat or tree blocking a weir.

It is hard to understand how the further reduction of experience, local knowledge and close personal relations will improve flood control.  Neither a regional lock-keeper responsible for several locks nor a firm contracted to manage several sites – both ideas under consideration – will have the knowledge or, crucially, the commitment to “their” reach and community to do what it takes, even if the road conditions allow them to make their rounds.

According to the data kindly provided by the EA’s website, in both the 2007 and January 2014 floods, the local staff took emergency steps which resulted in the quick lowering of the river at and below Oxford.

The EA may be able to automate some of what a lock-keeper does on a sunny day but not what he and his mates do in the middle of a rainy night to temporarily rectify some remote manager’s cock-up.

No matter how much the EA runs down its river staff, a country with so many rivers is going to need a range of river-specific skills. The EA, in conjunction with river users and related businesses, instead ought to be ensuring that training, apprenticeships and qualifications are available so that these skills are preserved. A period of global warming is hardly the time to run down river-related staff, or to disregard the experience of the few who remain.

Andrew Shacknove

Katrina Robinson


I write to express my deep concern about the mismanagement of the Somerset Levels by the Environment Agency. This has resulted in the worst floods that the region has experienced in living memory.

We were told last winter that it was a once-in-a-hundred-years event. So why are we experiencing a sombre sense of déjà vu? For two years running valuable agricultural land is unusable, homes and businesses are flooded, a large proportion of the road network is impassable and the community here are feeling increasingly beleaguered, abandoned and frustrated.

 The crux of the problem is the River Parrett. This river, along with the Tone, Axe and Brue, takes all of the water from Somerset out to sea. Since the disbandment of the National Rivers Authority there has been little or no work maintaining this essential infrastructure.

The answer to this problem is clear: admit fault, dredge the river and consult with local farmers and landowners who have the knowledge and experience to help. We did not have this problem when the rivers were dredged.

R Horsington Graham

Westonzoyland, Somerset

Rivers “burst their banks” for the sake of alliteration (letter, 10 January). What I don’t understand is why we “burst into tears”. Tears come out of watery eyes. Is it possible to burst “into” anything?

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Secrets of the Presidental allure

Why does Yasmin Alibhai-Brown make herself appear so shallow in posing the question, “How does a man who has so few obvious physical attributes become such an object of passionate desire?”, to François Hollande?

She sees a “dull, bespectacled, balding bloke”. But why does she not acknowledge that France’s President may also be intelligent, kind and caring, and that this may be why he is apparently attractive to women. Does he have to be a “demon lover”, or use “new face products”? Surely the professionally brilliant women in his life would see through such a façade in an instant.

Publish a similar article with reversed gender stereotypes, and await the inevitable, and justified, storm of protest!

Roger Blassberg

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Sweeteners for fracking

The effort being put into promoting fracking is yet another example of how the Government can be so easily bamboozled into believing that sourcing energy from fossil fuels is the simple answer to their prayers in aid of keeping the lights on.

The reality is that fracking will lay waste to vast tracts of land and if energy is extracted successfully not only will it not lower our fuel bills by one penny, it will greatly increase our carbon emissions in the longer term.

Although ministers will argue that green energy sources are being researched and promoted, the emphasis being placed on fossil fuel sources, and of late fracking in particular, far outweighs everything else and has stultified any potential strategic initiatives on how the long-term energy needs of the country might be met.

Peter Coghlan

Broadstone, Dorset

The Government now wants to sweet-talk local communities into allowing fracking in their areas. The extent of each well is said to be just two hectares. No mention is made of the access roads.

The Wall Street analyst Deborah Rodgers says that in 2012 Texas received $3.6bn in revenue from on- and off-shore operations, but is expected to need $4bn to repair road damage caused by on-shore extraction alone. Arkansas has received since 2009 $182m and needs $450m to be spent on roads. Pennsylvania in 2012 received $1.3bn and is estimated to need $7bn for repairs. These are knowns which the Government does not want us to know.

Canon Christopher Hall

Deddington, Oxfordshire

It is the blandness of the Government’s fracking bribes to communities that staggers me most. Offering communities the right to keep 100 per cent of the business rates paid by licensed exploiters, in exchange for the pillaging of people’s lives and landscapes, lacks any moral compass.

Our addiction to fossil fuels has to be broken, not nurtured. It damages the present and scars the future, in ways our children will pay heavily for.

Alan Simpson


Child benefit for EU migrants

In the light of the proposals to restrict the right of EU migrants to send child benefit to their home countries, I am reminded of what happened in Germany in the 1970s.

As the recession bit, the government there wished to encourage its non-EU labour migrants, mainly from Turkey, Yugoslavia and southern Europe, to return home. A policy was introduced to pay child benefit only for the children of migrants living with them in Germany.

One consequence was that many migrants  brought their families over to join them.

Professor John Salt

Migration Research Unit

Department of Geography

University College London

Healthy demand for physiotherapists

Nigel Farage’s entertaining account of his physiotherapy (13 January) unfortunately included a misleading statement about the employment prospects for new members of the profession.

For a brief time in the last decade there was a shortage of jobs, but with rising patient demand from an ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long-term conditions, this was urgently addressed. Following extensive campaigning by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the employment record for new graduates is now very good.

In recent years the employment opportunities for physiotherapists have continued to expand in the NHS and in the private and voluntary sectors. This reflects – as Mr Farage’s piece showed – that physiotherapists are playing a key role in getting people back to work and in many cases, preventing the need for any sickness absence in the first place.

We wish him well in his recovery.

Phil Gray

Chief Executive

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

London WC1

Stay awake at the  back of the class

Thank you for Peter Gray’s excellent piece (13 January) arguing that children need less school, less homework, and more time for unstructured play, in order to grow up psychologically healthy and creative.

For headteachers worried that such an approach would ruin their test scores and prejudice their position in the league tables, the solution is reported elsewhere in the same edition: give every child a double espresso at the end of each lesson. It will boost their memory for what they have learned (and keep them awake in the next lesson).

Nigel Halliday

Liss, Hampshir






The idea that all teachers should have fixed-term renewable licences is attractive but raises big questions

Sir, The reason the General Teaching Council for England struck off so few teachers for incompetence was not because the “educational establishment” was protecting its own (“Labour will tell teachers to improve or face sack”, Jan 11). More than 90 per cent of referrals to GTCE were for misconduct, not incompetence.

This was because if it launched competence procedures against teachers, school managements would embark on a tortuous and time-consuming process and also lay themselves open to awkward questions about their fairness.

The idea that all teachers should have fixed-term renewable licences is attractive but raises big questions. At what cost in bureaucracy, time and money would more than 100,000 teachers be road-tested each year by Tristram Hunt’s proposed Royal College of Teaching? By what criteria would it be shown beyond doubt that a teacher was irredeemably “poor”, let alone “bad”? Your leader writer’s notion that teacher unions are “unlikely to be best pleased” by licensing is naive. Protecting individuals is their raison d’être.

Andy Connell

(former member, GTCE)


Sir, The Shadow Education Secretary’s proposal that teachers should be subject to regular assessment is attractive but the detail raises many questions. It is suggested that classroom assessment should at least partly be carried out by colleagues from other schools. I have sober memories of the time when CSE examination coursework was moderated in this way. The treatment of a school’s submission often depended significantly on the rigour or otherwise of the other school.

Assessments every five years may weed out the appalling teachers, but these are few. The main problem is the barely satisfactory teacher. There are many of these, and extra training will make little difference in most cases. If they are all struck off, there will be a staffing crisis.

Douglas Kedge

Sonning Common, Oxon

Sir, There has been a sad decline in many areas of the teaching profession. Though there are many good teachers in our classrooms, there has been a lowering of standards as regards language and shabby dress. You teach by example not only academically. A lot of improvement is needed if the teaching profession is to be respected

Marjorie Cunningham

Frocester, Glos

Sir, Mr Hunt adds that teachers should have the same professional standing as lawyers and doctors. I am sure that a large cohort of the teaching profession would seriously consider this package if teachers’ salaries were commensurate with these other professions.

Andrew Morris

(President, Music Masters’ and Mistresses’ Association, 1996-97)


Sir, Your headline “Labour will tell teachers to improve or face sack” expresses a noble aim which is probably unattainable. Where will the high-quality candidates be found to replace all these sacked teachers? Can we realistically expect to find a supply of enthusiastic, dedicated, academically well-qualified people to fill all half a million teaching posts in England and Wales ?

David Cooper-Smith

Bletchley, Bucks



Of 75 speakers in the House of Lords Emergency Debate on August 29, more than 10 to 1 argued against military action in Syria

Sir, Since there tends to be little coverage in the press (even in your newspaper) of debates on Syria in the House of Lords, as opposed to coverage of the subject in the House of Commons (eg, the letter in your pages Jan 13), it may be worth pointing out to your readers that, of 75 speakers in the House of Lords Emergency Debate on August 29, more than 10 to 1 argued against military action in Syria.

In a more recent House of Lords debate on humanitarian aid on Jan 9, I have argued that our priority now, and that of the European Union, should be to give every support to the Secretary General of the United Nations and to Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi at the forthcoming Geneva Conference to work for a ceasefire between the warring parties to enable at least some of the Syrian refugees to return safely to their homes.

Lord Wright of Richmond

House of Lords


The UK uses a system in which metadata is “held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes”

Sir, David Davis, MP in his article on “state snooping” (Jan 13) is misinformed when he suggests that “British citizens have a much poorer standard of privacy than Americans”.

He, correctly, states that the panel advising President Obama has recommended that US Government storage of bulk telephony metadata should be ended. He fails to point out that the panel recommends that there should be “a transition to a system in which such metadata is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes”. That is, precisely, the system that exists in the United Kingdom today.

Mr Davis is, however, correct in saying that we must not be complacent about the balance between security and privacy in this internet age. That is why the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has begun an unprecedented and detailed enquiry into just these matters as they affect the UK.

We have invited written submissions and will, in due course, take oral evidence from the public as well as the intelligence agencies. We hope Mr Davis will contribute his views.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Chairman, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

There may be a large volume of evidence for the dangers of smoking, but some observers bemoan the lack of scientific accuracy

Sir, Further to your report “Hockney draws support for smokers” (Jan 11) I am not a “pro-smoking campaigner”. I campaign for scientific accuracy — and that is the problem with anti-smoking efforts. Most of their “facts” are no such thing. There is no hard scientific evidence for the lethality of second-hand smoke, and smokers seem to cost society less in lifetime health expense than non-smokers. Smoking is risky, but anti-smoking is more religion than science.

John Staddon


Sir, I admire David Hockney’s art but am distressed by his logic. He should consider Godwin’s Law, which states that a person who thinks he has made a point by linking his opponent with Hitler has lost the argument.

In noting that Hitler was a “great anti-smoker” Hockney has given us a perfect example of Godwin’s Law. Evidence, tons and tons of it, has shown that smoking is a danger to health. Hitler’s views are irrelevant.

Jean Elliott

Upminster, Essex


Many names on these monuments are illegible, so that relations would find it difficult to identify the name they were seeking

Sir, It is right that many war grave headstones are to be replaced after years of exposure to the elements (report, Jan 13). I wonder if, at the same time, it might be possible to renovate some of the inscriptions on larger monuments commemorating those with no known grave? When visiting the Somme memorial at Thiepval some years ago, I was saddened to see that many names had become illegible, particularly those high up, so that relations would have found it difficult or impossible to identify the name they were seeking.

Pam Stockwell

South Croydon, Surrey


It seems that no matter what you buy these days, the seller will find a new way of imposing an extra fee – and a new word for it too

Sir, I have just come across a new weasel word. On a form to renew my membership of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, for £180, I encountered “fulfilment charge £5”. This was to cover the sending of my membership card with “other enclosures”.

Michael H. Perkins

Hockley Heath, W Midlands





SIR – We are concerned about Channel 4’s Benefits Street series. It purports to reveal “the reality of a life on benefits”, but ignores the reality that the vast majority of people who need support from benefits do so because they are either working but receiving a low wage, have an illness or disability, or have lost their job.

The Who Benefits? campaign – a coalition of more than 100 charities and community groups – is calling on Channel 4, as a public service broadcaster, to review how this damaging and grossly unbalanced programme came to be shown.

By focusing on an unrepresentative minority, Channel 4 is reinforcing harmful stereotypes where the most extreme examples are presented as the norm. Such portrayals skew the public debate about benefits and cause distress for many of the millions of people who need this support.

In their race to win ratings, broadcasters must not lose sight of their duty to deliver quality, responsible programming.

Matthew Reed
Chief Executive, The Children’s Society

Leslie Morphy
Chief Executive, Crisis

Fiona Weir
Chief Executive, Gingerbread

Paul Farmer
Chief Executive, Mind

Commissar Hunt’s plan to license teachers

SIR – In hard-line communist countries (such as Romania), people needed a licence for almost any task, from painting the front door to putting fuel into a car. No one checked their ability, just that they had read the state regulations.

Now Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary (report, January 11), seems to think that if teachers can tick a number of (procedures over substance) boxes, drawn up by politicians, our children will be better educated.

Brian Christley
Abergele. Conwy

SIR – Socrates thought it would be valuable if pupils knew what “goodness” was. Admitting to ignorance of the answer, he spent time trying to find out from the class. But he left pupils more baffled at the end of the lesson than at the start. Though he did not deploy resources – no handouts, reading lists or visual aids (if occasionally drawing in the sand) – he did rely on labour-intensive small-group discussion. But at least he refused to be paid.

Just the sort of nuisance Mr Hunt’s licensing scheme will finally do away with.

Jeannie Cohen

Peter Jones
Friends of Classics
London NW6

SIR – As head teacher of a comprehensive school, I am in awe at the latest offering from Tristram Hunt. Presumably, up to now we head teachers have relaxed in the warm bath of mediocrity, flirting with the rubber duck of “unionised restrictive practices” and nonchalantly watching the soap suds of “standards” ebb away on a relentless “race to the bottom”.

Tackling poor teaching — yes we do that, Mr Hunt. Assessing colleagues to ensure that bad teachers cannot find refuge in this noble profession? Yes, rather more than most educational systems in the world, which do have “restrictive practices”.

After years of easy caricatures of teachers, I wonder whether the Loyal Opposition could offer a new script.

Simon Uttley
Headmaster, Saint John Bosco College
London SW19



SIR – George Osborne and Nick Boles will go down in history as the destroyers of beautiful England. Forced planning for housing on irreplaceable countryside (even Areas of Outstanding Beauty and National Parks) and the joining up of urban sprawl all over the Green Belts show that the Government doesn’t listen to the people.

It seems to me, as a retired architect, that the only ones to be heard are developers with nothing but personal profit in mind. What is being built is badly designed, with hopelessly minimal space, and a disgrace to the country that built the fine terraces and squares of London.

Can nothing be done to save this country? The Conservatives are destroying what they promised to preserve. Labour and Lib-Dems have just the same attitude.

I have been a true blue all my life, but not any more! The only hope is to pray that the developers go bankrupt so the horrors never get built, but then we will all be penniless.

Jennifer Habib
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – I despair! How on earth are the Conservatives ever to rid themselves of the Nasty Party sobriquet?

No sooner did Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, warn about the impact of current planning policies on the countryside, than “sources close to David Cameron” suggested he retract his criticisms or quit – presumably from his post on the No10 policy board.

Promotion would be more appropriate. Thousands of Tory supporters are, at this very moment, cheering Mr Zahawi for raising the one issue likely to damage Conservative electoral prospects more than immigration or even Europe.

Communities are plagued by developers gaining planning permission for speculative developments, not to benefit the community but to profit the landowner and builder. “Presumption in favour of development” is a loophole in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that allows unfettered development in a way not envisaged under the localism agenda.

Alan Brien
Storrington, West Sussex

SIR – Mr Zahawi could not be more right when he says that planning regulations are causing pain across the country. Our community of 72 dwellings in an ancient village on the edge of the Mendip Hills is desperate to prevent the inappropriate development of 19 houses, an increase of more than 25 per cent, by Gillian, Lady Rees-Mogg, the mother of our MP, Jacob.

Nick Boles comment that “people will feel that beautiful new housing is a friend” is absurd in the extreme. He obviously can’t get out much, certainly not into rural Somerset.

Graham Sage
Hinton Blewett

SIR – Mr Zahawi is perfectly correct in his concerns. The NPPF is being used as a blunt tool to overcome all objections with the ill defined term “sustainable”.

Here in County Durham we have a site outside the village limits, subject to flooding, with no natural access, no employment and no secondary school but described as “sustainable” for 400 houses under the NPPF.

The maintenance cost of the site will exceed any income from council tax.

Michael J Meadowcroft
Langley Park, Co Durham

SIR – Should Mr Zahawi be forced to retract or resign, I shall consider joining the ABC (Anyone But Cameron) Club.

John Plummer
Ampthill, Bedfordshire

SIR – It is disappointing to read that the Government has put the brakes on ideas for the construction of new garden cities in England. Building attractive new communities with a broad mix of housing and back-up services is precisely what Inna Ali and I urged in Simplified Planning, our report for the Centre for Policy Studies.

We recommended that a procedure of tender should be adopted whereby all development proposals would be judged, first on their quality and acceptability, and then, in a second stage, a short list of the best could be drawn up and their backers invited to submit competitive bids for permission to develop land.

Enough procrastination: it’s time to get on with building some new garden cities offering housing people want to live in. Doing nothing will simply drive up the cost of housing and prolong the agony for many young families who cannot find an affordable or pleasant place to live.

Keith Boyfield
London SW1



Irish Times:


Sir, – Seventy years ago Jean Giraudoux wrote, “Water, gentlemen, is the only substance from which the earth can conceal nothing. It sucks out its innermost secrets . . .” And, in the case of Irish Water, it refuses to divulge those secrets. – Yours, etc,


Lacken, Blessington,

Co Wicklow.

A chara, – The shambles of the €50 million consultancy fees paid out by Irish Water, and the lack of transparency with regard to the details, reminds one of the transfer of waste collection services in Dublin to private business, and the lack of detail that was given to the paying public on that occasion also. – Yours, etc,


Lismore Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – The floodgates are now open on Irish Water and the consultancy fees paid to date. Might this give new meaning to the term “Watergate”? – Yours, etc,


Innisfallen Parade, Dublin 7.

Sir, – No transparency at Irish Water! An Irish problem to an Irish solution? – Yours, etc,


Llewellyn Grove,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – Irish Water urgently needs to act to counter the negative publicity that has surrounded the company in recent weeks. I suggest they hire a top PR consultancy firm to handle the matter. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,

Booterstown, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Whatever the merits of Irish Water pouring large sums of the public’s money into consultancy firms (who knows, Irish Water may learn something), I am mystified by the knee-jerk mindset of every Irish semi-State body or quango to insist it plonk its corporate headquarters in the most over-crowded centre of the most over-populated location in the country.

Regardless of office rental rates, traffic, travel and parking considerations, nothing would suit Irish Water but Talbot Street (one assumes there was nothing more suitable available in the less unfashionable arrondissements on the southside). Why this obsession with Dublin and its crammed city centre? Presumably, all Irish Water needs as a perfectly suitable headquarters is a location with good telecommunications and internet connections, both of which are readily available in every county in the State. It’s not as if this body needs a prominent storefront to attract its customers: they are going to be driven, willingly or otherwise, into Irish Water’s waiting arms.

Years ago, Fianna Fáil made a dog’s dinner of decentralisation by trying to uproot long-settled families and scattering them to the four corners. Here we have a new organisation that could be easily located in any one of the country’s towns or cities and could recruit its employees either locally or from a pool who knew in advance they were going to work in that location.

But no. Dublin it must be. And the centre of Dublin at that. Cork, Westport or Galway may be perfectly suitable for international corporations such as Pfizer, Allergen and Boston Scientific, but when it comes to any Irish semi-State organisations the default setting is D1 or D2. I would like someone from Irish Water to explain why. – Yours, etc,



Knocknacarra, Galway.

Sir, – So, apart from spending €50 million on consultants, the Irish Water management feel relaxed enough about spending public money to provide a gym for themselves (Home News, January 11th). Nice to see they have their priorities right in carving out office space and fitting out a gym at a time when vicious cuts are made in public services to the old, the sick and the needy. No doubt they paid a consultant to advise on the gym.

The other issue here is that local gym owners are now in competition with another gym actually funded by their own taxes. There are plenty of gyms in the centre of Dublin and fees are at an all-time low because gym-owners are under pressure. It’s ridiculous that public money should be used for this purpose.

Finally, the gym issue should make people wonder what else they are lavishing public money on. – Yours, etc,


Herbert Lane,

Dublin 2.

Sir, –   I would like to offer my consultancy services to the new Irish Water, for a reduced fee of €5 million. It goes like this:   The ESB has a meter in my house, a meter reader calls, reads the meter, brings it back to the office staff who send me a bill.   Bord Gáis has a meter in my house – a new pilot electronic one – the meter-reader stands outside my house, presses his handheld electronic reader and gets the reading. He returns it to the office staff who send me a bill.

The new Irish Water needs to install a meter in my house (or outside it), hire a meter-reader who will return the reading to his office staff, who should send me a bill.   I still think that my fee of €5 million is too high – for the blindingly obvious task. – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,

Rathfarnham Dublin 16.

A chara, – Money down the drain. – Is mise,


The Waterfront,

Loughrea, Co Galway.

Sir, – Might I offer some free consultancy to Irish Water?

It appears Irish Water is to start operations with almost 4,800 staff, 4,300 from the local authorities plus new hires of 500. All to service 1.6 million homes.

Perhaps they should reconsider. Scottish Water, with 2.4 million homes, gets by with 3,400 employees.

Does the management of Irish Water need a consultant to work out that something is wrong? Irish Water is proposing to start life with almost 50 per cent too many employees!

I’m more than happy to prove further consultancy services, but somehow I feel my offer will not be taken up. – Yours, etc,


Upper Newcastle,


Sir, – The Government should have introduced an “air-breathing” tax instead of a water usage charge. There would be no need for meters, no need for consultants and no way of avoiding breathing air! – Yours, etc,




Dublin 16.

Sir, – Has the Government washed its hands of the taxpayers’ €50 million? – Yours, etc,


Fremont Drive,

Melburn Estate,

Bishopstown, Cork.

A chara, – Runaway train for some, gravy train for others. Nothing has changed! – Yours, etc,



Letterkenny, Co Donegal.

Sir, – It was the will of the troika that we should pay for our water, a commodity we have in abundance. Will they now insist that the Greeks pay for their sunshine which they have in abundance? – Yours, etc,


Quarry Road, Cabra,

Dublin 7.


Sir, – The importance of the digitisation of Ireland’s Memorial Records of the first World War is somewhat overstated (Home News, January 11th).

The volumes of names have been available for many years on Ancestry’s genealogy website, and on CD from Trinity College’s Eneclann. It can therefore hardly be described as a “new archive” as your article states.

Another issue is the fact that the original 1923 project’s methodology included the assumption that all men in Irish regiments were Irishmen. In reality, especially as the war went on, a huge percentage of “Irish” regiments were made up of non-Irish soldiers. A cursory examination of the “Place of Birth” information in the records will confirm this.

If this is an indication of the level of Government engagement in the commemoration of the Irish dead of the Great War, I am deeply saddened.

This exercise is a cut-and-paste copy of an already flawed set of documents, dressed up and wheeled out to provide a photo opportunity for politicians who have no real interest in investing any money or resources into compiling a properly accurate memorial list of Irishmen who never came home.

Our dead of the Great War deserve better than this. – Yours, etc,


The Drive,

Grange Manor,

Lucan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Anyone who reads the gospels will see that Jesus Christ loved sinners (Matthew 9:13), spent his time eating and interacting with them (Mark 2:15) and gave his life on their behalf (Romans 5:8).

He commended a man who called himself a sinner (Luke 18:13-14) and instructed his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them (Matthew 5:44)

So why do Mary McAleese, and others, have a problem with something Jesus clearly said and did and with the word “sinner” being used?

Perhaps it is because they do not understand how, by having faith, a person is forgiven, can break free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-4), win their struggle with sin (Acts 13:38-39) and have a new life (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Perhaps it’s frustration born out of a lack of hope and a lack of answers. – Yours, etc,


Bullock Park,Carlow.

A chara, – Fionola Meredith’s article had me laughing into my chai latte. I hadn’t realised it was open season on other people’s spiritual practices. Spiritual practices are meaningful to practitioners and often baffling and amusing to the outsider.

I would posit cleansing my toxic soul with a dose of Deepak is as effective as sitting in a dark, little box and cleaning my soul by “confessing” to a man who has had a holy spirit invoked into him. What is modern-day Christianity to many practitioners but a pinch of Buddhism here (“Be nice to others!”), some mysticism there (the concept of the Trinity is a bit mystical) and the odd archangel. Let he who is without sin . . . – Is mise,


Harold’s Cross Road,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Fionola Meredith (Opinion, January 13th) notes that December 25th is the birthday of Jesus Christ. If we look at the evidence that’s highly unlikely. Mary and Joseph came to register for a Roman census, which didn’t take place in winter, and the shepherds were guarding their flocks in the fields at night, which would not happen in winter either. Since Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy with John the Baptist when Christ was conceived and Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah, which was mid-June of that year, we can date Christ’s likely date of birth as late September. Pull that zip over your chakras. – Yours, etc,


Vevay Road,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Ross Maguire (Opinion, January 11th) correctly highlights Irish difficulties in appreciating the value of failure. Yet while it is certainly true that we have a legacy that breeds conservatism and risk aversion, it is equally true that recent events have prompted worthy scepticism of excessive carefree behaviour.

Where Maguire’s argument falls short is in failing to distinguish between what might be called destructive failure and constructive failure.

Destructive failure is founded upon greed, arrogance, and recklessness of the Celtic tiger ilk. By contrast, constructive failure is a legitimate failure associated with authentic and well-intentioned efforts at value creation. Whereas destructive failures are value dissipating and deserve the full wrath of traditional criticism, constructive failures merit greater recognition and encouragement as the foundations for future success. Ultimately, the true challenge is not simply to appreciate failure, but to learn from it. – Yours, etc,


Business School,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – How disheartening it is, as a teacher of 37 years, to see the power of the Teaching Council to discipline under-performing teachers being editorially commented on (January 7th), while the actual performance of teachers in substantially raising literacy and numeracy levels in DEIS schools, as recently measured by the Educational Research Centre, was editorially ignored. – Yours, etc,


Scoil Íosagáin,




A chara, – Prompted by spiralling costs at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), Nick Armstrong (January 11th) questions the rationale for investing in nuclear fusion. It should be remembered that we live in an epoch where electromagnetic forces, governing all of chemistry, are much weaker than the more mysterious nuclear force, binding nuclei together.

So, by rejigging the nuclei rather than the electrons in atoms, one stands to get more energy out. Ultimately, nuclear fusion is a smarter way to produce energy; it necessitates less interference by us, ie fewer artificial reactions, and will hopefully lead long-term to a smaller environmental footprint. – Is mise,


CN Yang Institute for

Theoretical Physics,

State University of New

York, Stony Brook,

Sir, – If anyone else attempts the physical impossibility of “reverting” to me (an unpleasant outcome for both), I will make sure that “in pulverem revertentur”! – Yours, etc,


Donamon, Co Roscommon.

Sir, – Not exactly a phrase, I concede, but has anyone noticed that in the “recent past”, almost everyone interviewed by the media, starts every sentence with “I suppose”. I find it extremely irritating. – Yours, etc,


Rowan Park Avenue,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Sale time used to be but twice a year. Please, no more “When these half price . . . are gone their definitely gone”. – Yours, etc,


Cedar Park,

The Donahies, Dublin 13.

Sir, – “Various different”. – Yours, etc,


Rail Park,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir , – “Personally, this is a humbling moment for me” – as used by newly appointed cardinals, bishops, Oscar starlets, and the like. “Bring it on!” might be more honest. Also, “Yours faithfully” – as used by crawlers who want their silly letters to appear. – Yours, etc,


Wightman Road,

London, England.

Sir, – We should absolutely ban the absolute overuse of “absolute”. And that’s the absolute end of this absolutely ridiculous conversation. – Yours, etc,



Rathowen, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – “Phrases we could live without” is a phrase we could live without. Please do not start a long litany of such phrases in your Letters page as some of these letters could be seen as a cheap shot at getting published. Oops, is that irony raising its smiling head!? Shame on me. – Yours, etc,



Letterkenny, Co Donegal.




Sir, – In relation to the appalling killing of Tom O’Gorman (Home News, January 13th), I commend your decision not to disclose the more graphic elements of this tragic event.

It is a sad indictment of the society in which we live that other Irish publications failed to follow suit. – Yours, etc,


Cormac Terrace,


Dublin 6W.


Sir, – Now that young Limerick scientists have shown that horsemeat on the whole is healthier than beef (Home News, January 10th), should we be thanking those who surreptitiously put horsemeat into the food chain for improving the national diet? – Yours, etc,


Brook Road,




A chara, – No surprise that the first erroneous black card (Sport, January 10th) was given to a Mr White, who also got a yellow, leaving the referee red-faced, the Louth manager feeling blue and the rest of us tickled pink. – Is mise,


Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.




Irish Independent:


One hundred years ago this month, Henry Ford created the consumer society. He had already started to put humanity on wheels and to perfect assembly-line production but his decision to pay Ford workers $5 per day changed the world of economics forever.

Also in this section

Letters: Building managers and water charges

Life is sheer hell at 80

Letters: Broaden debate on suicide

Prior to his revolutionary decision, automotive workers were paid less than $2.50 per day but were still probably the best paid of any industry in the US.

His decision was met with consternation and incredulity in commercial circles; it was thought his impulsive lunacy would destroy industry and the only hope was that he would become bankrupt before the silly idea caught on.

Exactly the opposite happened and his inspired decision turned him into the richest man in industry and created the world of full and plenty we now enjoy.

He turned his workers into customers; workers could aspire to living standards that, until that time, had been the exclusive privilege of the wealthy.

Henry Ford had a pathological dislike and mistrust of accountants, economists and stock speculators. On return from a world trip, he discovered his son Edsel had constructed a building in his absence to accommodate accountants needed by the company to keep its financial affairs in order.

The very next day, Henry began demolition of the accountancy block, and from then until he retired, “bean counters” in Ford dressed as assembly workers, and rushed on to assembly lines whenever Mr Ford walked through the works.

We desperately need a Henry Ford in 2014 to demolish the “bean counter” edifice, which is undoing the consumer society that he created.

Ford’s “assembly line” has achieved perfection; all his ambitions have been spectacularly achieved. Such production power no longer needs or can facilitate “growth”, which is the “holy grail” of the economic hierarchy.

In his absence, “bean counters” have taken over the planet and are undoing the consumer society he initiated.




* As I drive past the Church of Christ the King and the Presbyterian Church opposite each other on the Scroggy Road, Limavady, on a regular basis, my mind never fails to recall the courage of the Reverend David Armstrong, who walked across that road on a Christmas morning to wish Catholics a Holy Christmas and got run out of town for doing so.

In many ways, history hasn’t moved on from there, and no amount of selective interviews about the past will address the need to say ‘sorry’ for what was done to fan the flames and prevent genuine reconciliation and lasting peace among our people, Catholic and Protestant.

Rev Armstrong’s call for Dr Paisley to apologise for his role in the past is perfectly understandable given the personal suffering of his family, but it is also understandable because an opportunity was lost to reconcile our communities then, but is still as relevant today as it was in the past.

As one who has had the privilege of getting to know Rev Armstrong and his family, my hope for the future rests with people like him who know from their personal experience that there is no alternative to addressing the wrongs of the past and being prepared to say sorry for the dreadful words and deeds that contributed to the conflict.

There have been so many talks over the years designed to move the political process forward, but the absence of the word ‘sorry’ is sadly missing and, until people have the courage to use it, it seems that there will simply be more talks about talks.




* There is nothing that does more for one’s political credibility than regular declarations of the intention to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The difficulty here is that we can identify cases of crime but the causes of crime systematically elude us.

There is a growing acknowledgement that crime is mainly fuelled by the continued existence of social exclusion.

There is a real tension between criminal justice and social justice. We seem to be trapped in the assumption that poverty is the price we must pay for economic progress.

One of the defining features of our time is the influence of the press on how we think, particularly about crime. Morally, the press has a right to print what it ought to print and we have the right to think what we ought to think.

Sadly, however, there are aspects of the press that leave much to be desired. One tactic used by the tabloids is the amplification of outrage, stirring up some very basic instincts.

This happens most vividly when reporting crimes of violence. The perpetrator becomes a ‘beast’ who is not sent to prison but ‘caged’.

As long as we see the criminal as some kind of aberrant beast and not one of us, we will be less and less inclined to deal with the causes of crime.




* According to the Irish Independent (January 13), the latest report commissioned by the Government directed at entrepreneurs ‘to create jobs and attract business’ has been devised by ‘experts’ and is ‘radical’.

It apparently recommends that taxes be slashed and a plethora of other welfare inducements be introduced that are intended, inter alia, ‘to keep wealthy Irish in the country’, in addition to the abundantly generous incentives already available.

The fundamental issue with Irish entrepreneurs, with some notable exceptions, is that they have a large appetite for grants, subsidies and tax breaks, but little capacity to deliver on promises, and they account for only 8pc of the nation’s exports of goods and services.

Public policy is pockmarked by verbosity, plans, policies, press releases and speculation. The core of a strategy published in May 1999, for example, forecast that locally controlled Irish businesses would double their sales over 10 years, from €25bn in 1999 to €51bn in 2009.

This strategy was never fulfilled, despite the State paying over €4bn in grants to local businesses since 1999.

Why should the 2014 report not be treated as just another exercise in sophism that will lead to nothing of fundamental and far-reaching significance?

Have we not reached an era of delivery and self-sufficiency by entrepreneurs, rather than the milestone of one more committee report regurgitating the same themes and issues and demanding more inducements, as if these were a magic potion that actually worked in practice?




l Billy Keane raises some questions regarding exactly what becomes of the ‘waste’ as toilets are flushed in planes (January 13).

Perhaps those who proclaim: “It’s piddling rain” have the answer?



Irish Independent



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