Clearing out

16 January 2014 Clearing

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee has to smuggle a relative back to England from Tangiers, as a Naval officer. But his lover wants him back, or dead. Priceless.

Start to clear out attic for insulation

Scrabbletoday I winand gets just over300, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.




Dale Mortensen, who has died aged 74, shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics, with Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides, for their work on so-called “search markets”, where buyers and sellers have difficulty finding each other, in particular the labour market.

According to classical economic theory, “goods” like labour and housing are simply “commodities” like any other in markets in which prices are set so that buyers and sellers always find each other and all resources are fully utilised. The idea of market clearance works well in the case of standardised commodities such as wheat or sugar. But anyone who has looked for employment or searched for a new house (or indeed a spouse) will know that many markets do not work like that.

The perfect job or house (or spouse) may be out there, waiting; but unless you can get to hear about it/him/her and can summon up the energy to act, then the link-up may never be made. The net result is what economists call market inefficiencies, or “frictions”, that can stall the housing market, cause unemployment to remain higher than it should – and disappoint the lonely heart. These frictions explain, for example, why unemployment and job vacancies may exist simultaneously.

Mortensen, a professor at Northwestern University, Illinois, and his co-prize-winners constructed models to explain how frictions exist, very often due to regulation and policy that prevent willing “buyers” and “sellers” coming together in a market-clearing equilibrium. They illuminated the trade-offs that governments have to consider in constructing the optimum set of policies to address the problem of unemployment.

In the 1990s Mortensen estimated that limiting benefits paid to the unemployed in America to three months, rather than the then current six, would shave 1.25 percentage points off the unemployment rate. He also observed that the comparative ease with which American employers could hire and fire had meant that, while jobs might not last as long on average in the United States as in Europe, periods of unemployment tend to be shorter. In Europe, employment protection rules had made layoffs expensive and difficult, sharply reducing the incentive to hire.

On the other hand, he observed that while flexible labour markets held great advantages in a modern economy, there were downsides to the US approach. During economic downturns, America had higher rates of unemployment than it would otherwise have had if it were more like Germany where, rather than laying off workers, employers are encouraged to share the pain by getting their workforces to work shorter hours. This was an approach which allowed companies to scale up faster in an economic upswing, helped to maintain skills and social and professional networks, and avoided the demotivating effects of unemployment. In a temporary downturn, Mortenson felt, the German model might be the better one.

Similar conflicts arise when shaping unemployment benefits. Though workers may feel less incentive to look for a job with the safety net of unemployment benefit, when times are good and jobs are plentiful unemployment benefit gives the worker more time to make a better job match. In his most influential paper, “Job Creation and Job Destruction in the Theory of Unemployment”, co-written with Christopher Pissarides, Mortensen found that the optimal job search takes between six and eight months.

The Diamond-Mortensen-Pissarides (DMP) model, as it has come to be known, is a tool which is now frequently used to estimate how unemployment benefits, interest rates, the efficiency of employment agencies and other factors can affect the labour market. The last Labour government’s New Deal for Young People, a programme of carrots and sticks to get 18 to 24 year-olds back on the job market after long spells of unemployment, was based on work using the DMP approach.

Indeed, the model has applications in any market where there are “search frictions” . For example, researchers in Denmark have used it to analyse the trade-offs which people make when negotiating the marriage market.

One recent paper has shown that young people choose to live in cities to avoid the “search frictions” of looking for a suitable partner in a rural area. To enjoy the opportunity to meet people of similar educational attainment and interests, young people are willing to pay a premium in terms of higher housing prices. Once married, the benefits from meeting more potential partners vanish and married couples often move out of the city. Attractive single people, they found, benefited most from a dense market and were therefore more likely to move to the city than their less attractive peers.

The son of a forester, Dale Thomas Mortensen was born on February 2 1939 in Enterprise, Oregon, and took a degree in Economics from Willamette University, followed by a doctorate from what is now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 1965 he joined the Economics faculty at Northwestern University, where he became a professor.

Dale Mortensen is survived by his wife, Beverly, and by their son and daughter.

Dale Mortensen, born February 2 1939, died January 9 2014





The government’s gagging bill (Report, 10 January) is a cynical and malicious piece of legislation that must be stopped at all costs. It represents an attempt to stamp out the anti-austerity voice as government cuts continue to make life a struggle for millions in Britain. Yet there is cause for optimism. While the passage of the gagging bill into law would undoubtedly suppress charities and campaigners, it could only do that for so long. Trying to stop campaign activities in the information age is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey blindfold – and without a donkey. Campaigns are fertile, mobile and bottom-up: stamping out one form of action will just see other vibrant and creative forms emerge. This coalition government is not just mean, it’s out of touch.
Jenny Jones
Green, House of Lords

• Chris Riddell thinks the white rabbit is wearing a frockcoat (My hero: Sir John Tenniel, 11 January). Really? The Chambers Dictionary says a frockcoat is “a long-skirted double-breasted coat for men”. I’d say the white rabbit is wearing a sports jacket of the kind certain gentlemen wore when they did their shooting and fishing. However, I do know people who think a sports jacket is the top half of a tracksuit.
Angela Grills
Glossop, Derbyshire

• You say the costs of learning to drive and insuring a car are “blamed” for the decline in young people learning to drive (Switch to buses and trains, 11 January). In this time of climate change, surely “blamed” should have read “thanked”?
Hazel Pennington

• Normally, Michael Rosen makes me laugh; his letters to Michael Gove are principled, often trenchant, but above all amusing. His bedroom-tax piece (A levy on grief, 15 January) moved me to tears.
Brian Boyd
East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire

• Pensioners are not “recipients of nigh-on 50% of the welfare budget” (Benefits Street and the real problems of breadline Britain, 13 January); they are in receipt of pensions for which they have paid.
Christine Gibson

• After Benefits Street, I can’t wait for the next TV series, Tax Dodgers’ Avenue.
Katy McAuley
Heywood, Lancashire



David McKie’s fine obituary of Simon Hoggart (7 January) states that, after the Guardian‘s owner bought the Observer, the new regime “contrived to lose the seasoned columnist Alan Watkins”. In fact, after I was appointed editor of the Sunday newspaper following the takeover, Mr Watkins sent me a hand-written note saying he had been approached to join the Independent on Sunday and would go unless he received a 30% pay increase. Since I was under instructions from the Guardian board to reduce editorial spending, I told him I could not give him any more money. Thereupon, he left, picking up a handsome payoff from the previous owners and telling the Evening Standard that he had gone because “the barbarians” had taken over the Observer. The contriving was his not mine, but, as in tThe Man who shot Liberty Valance, the legend gets printed.
Jonathan Fenby

• What a lovely tribute to Simon Hoggart by his daughter Amy (11 January). I shall miss his witty column in the Saturday Guardian as I also miss Araucaria’s crosswords. A sad loss.
Wendy Bell


Your story on academy trusts (Revealed: cash bonanza for academy firms, 13 January) failed to make clear that local authority-maintained schools are just as able to enter these kinds of relationships with private firms and always have been. The difference is that academies and academy trusts are far more transparent and subject to far tighter financial controls and scrutiny than local authority schools. Indeed, all this information is publicly available because we require academy trusts’ accounts to be published online and to include any transactions of the sort featured in your article. This is not the case for local authority schools.

The rules academies must abide by are clear: no individual or organisation with a governing relationship to an academy can make a profit; any goods or services delivered by these parties to these academies must be done so transparently and at no more than cost; and proportionate and fair procurement processes must always be followed. As charities, academies are required to adhere to accounting standards. These require the full disclosure of related party transactions and auditors check those disclosures.

Far from being complacent, this government has gone even further, making sure that academy governors, directors and trustees cannot hold profitable contracts with their own academies – something that does not automatically apply to governors in local authority schools.
Peter Lauener
Chief executive, Education Funding Agency

•  Is that the sound of pigeons coming home to roost? Michael Gove’s mad school reforms are providing open season for opportunists keen to make a fast buck out of state education. Since schools were floated free from democratically elected local education authorities, a number of individual headteachers and governors have been involved in scandals involving public money and cronyism. Now we see this opportunism on a much larger scale, with taxpayers’ money being used to line the pockets of commercial organisations.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire


Councils struggling, in the face of government cuts, to deal with floods made worse by climate change, will be delighted to hear of sweeteners for fracking, causing more, er, climate change (Cameron dangles cash incentive for councils in push to expand fracking, 14 January).
Professor Andrew Dobson
Keele University

• “Fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down,” George Osborne proclaims (Anti-fracking protests fail to halt interest in shale gas, 13 January). It is true that the glut of gas produced by fracking in the US has reduced prices – but so low that it has become unprofitable in most areas to drill new fracking wells, which suffer very high costs per drilling operation. Gas production from all but the Marcellus field has fallen and rigs have been transferred to more profitable oil rather than gas production. If fracking proceeds here in the UK, it will only be worthwhile if energy bills stay high. A fall in the price of gas would make fracking unsustainable.

What nobody in the UK seems to be aware of is that the average fracking well has a very short production life. After three or four years, flows of oil or gas from a well dwindle to a dribble. Osborne will find that the lifetime of the gas-producing areas he imagines will be pumping out all that cheap energy will in fact be less than a decade. By the end of the short gas boom he dreams of, half the English countryside will be a pin cushion of rusting rigs and we will be back to importing gas from abroad.
Michael Ghirelli
Hillesden, Buckinghamshire

• Andrew Austin of frackers IGas is quoted: “If you use [shale gas] locally, you’re supporting decarbonising, you’re displacing coal and you’re supporting renewables.” I appreciate that shale gas produces slightly less CO2 per watt generated than does coal, but that hardly qualifies as “decarbonising”. “Renewable”? Is Austin seriously suggesting that the Earth is laying down hydrocarbons faster than we are extracting them?
Rob Tresidder
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

• Given the success of Norway in creating its sovereign wealth fund from the revenue from its oil and gas fields (G2, 14 January), is there any remote chance our government could do something similar with the revenues from fracking?
David Lund
Winscombe, Somerset

• Barbara Keeley is right to assert that 100% business-rates relief for fracking “muddies the water” (Report, 14 January). So does fracking.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• The unease about fracking might be reduced if operators were made financially liable for any consequential damage, as was the case with coal extraction. The divided opinions might then become a matter for markets to resolve by agreeing rates for liability insurance.
Mike Brown
Newcastle upon Tyne

• You reported that fracking in America generated 280bn US gallons of toxic waste water last year – enough to flood all of Washington DC beneath a 22ft-deep toxic lagoon. Do you think the coalition government knows this? Do you think it cares?
Alec Murdoch

Congratulations on giving George Monbiot a full page to address one of the most important issues of our time (Drowning in money: the pig-headed policies that make flooding inevitable, 14 January). Just when the country is beset with problems of flooding, and fears that they will become more frequent and more intense in the future, an ecological approach to water management is long overdue. Utilising the way that nature moderates rainwater runoff into watercourses, and the natural way those watercourses then carry the water to the sea, is the effective way to avoid flooding when there is “too much rain” and avoid droughts when there is “too little rain”.

What’s needed is enlightened policy to address flooding at source rather than the current dislocated policies that cause and exacerbate the problem. And we should also address why we allow rainwater runoff to overload our urban sewerage systems – which is why Thames Water says we need a multibillion-pound supersewer – rather than soaking away naturally.
John Stone
Thames Ditton, Surrey

• George Monbiot is right; Owen Paterson is wrong. But he is wrong because he is busily executing the policies of the European parliament. UK elections to that are due in May. Surely the important thing to do is to get all our MEPs enthused upon correcting the situation. European farmers form a powerful body, and it will not be realistic to try to annul the CAP. Efforts should be directed towards paying farmers, including UK ones, to carry out sensible, and not disastrous, land strategies.
Bill Millar
Didcot, Oxfordshire

• George Monbiot failed to mention one increasingly important factor – the building of windfarms in upland areas. Wind turbines need to be anchored and, to do this, holes need to be dug and filled with concrete. Similarly, hard standings for construction equipment and access roads need to be built. Trees which obstruct wind flow have to be removed. All of these reduce the land’s natural ability to absorb water and increase runoff. Here in mid-Wales, in the uplands where the rivers Severn and Wye and their tributaries rise, there are many existing windfarms and proposals for many more. There is a public inquiry running into five such windfarms with proposals for 165 turbines, with a maximum height of 137 metres, and there are plans for others following in their wake. It is possible that there may eventually be 800 wind turbines in the area.

The building of just one of the windfarms subject to the public inquiry will involve the felling of 1,742 hectares of forest. All will involve the stripping of ancient peat bog, which traps water and carbon, and its replacement with concrete (each wind turbine needs foundations the size of an Olympic swimming pool). The building of concrete foundations for the pylons to take the meagre amount of electricity generated to the national grid will exacerbate the problems. Without doubt, this is being driven by government policy – and not just land management policy. Windfarm developers would not be interested in concreting our uplands without the prospect of subsidies for their electricity generation.
David Ward
Meifod, Powys

• George Monbiot needs to pause to think, and read a bit more widely. There is no evidence that the small-scale Pontbren results showing the influence of farming and land use practices on flooding can be replicated at a large catchment scale. Pour water on to a small plot and it may sink in; 100mm of rain over the whole of the Severn catchment will saturate it and mostly run off downstream (to Tewkesbury and Gloucester). Restoring rivers to their previous wild state may help those downstream of the effort, but can exacerbate flood risk upstream, and, anyway, only influences the smaller events. Flooding may be inevitable, and is a serious concern, but let’s analyse it more intelligently.
Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell
Pro-vice-chancellor, Middlesex University

• George Monbiot makes a good case for preventing rivers filling so quickly, and slowing their progress to built-up areas. Once water reaches the lower levels of the river Parrett in Somerset, however, it becomes a special case as it flows along a built-up duct, with overspill levels down its path. It is not a natural river and the science of the construction of the moors and pumping stations rely on the river emptying into the sea, not remaining trapped in its duct, unable to move. It is a man-made system which has worked well for 50 years and needs to maintained. We now have a situation of overspill sitting in houses where it’s impossible to pump it back into the river as it is too full and can’t empty. Surely Mr Monbiot would allow the last 10 miles of our river to be dredged? This water does actually need to escape to the sea.
Roderic Baillie-Grohman
Thorney, Somerset

• Owen Paterson might like to reflect on the 5,000-year-old story of the Prince of Chong. Commissioned by Emperor Yao to resolve the Great Flood that ravaged his territory, the prince built dams, dykes and embankments to control and contain the water within the rivers. Despite the utter failure of this approach, the prince blindly persisted, eventually earning himself banishment and – some accounts say – execution. It was his son, Yu the Great, who succeeded in taming the flood by dredging rivers and cutting channels to allow the excess waters to flood agricultural land and spare the cities.
Peter Deadman
Hove, East Sussex

• Government reintroduction of the European beaver would recruit a useful ally. Beavers are well known for their ecological role in flood mitigation, through their generally benign dam-building activities.
Patrick Stirling-Aird
Dunblane, Perthshire

• Challenges associated with fracking and flooding point to two interesting elements in the political geography of things environmental. One, they appear to be of particular concern when they arise in the south-east of England. Two, their resolution requires degrees of collaboration and joined-up thinking, and a key role for government working in the collective interest, that border on the impossible.
Joe Morris
Emeritus professor, Cranfield University










In your article “Race hate – a crime the police will not solve” (13 January), Fiyaz Mughal asks what police and crime commissioner or chief constable would want to see an increase in reported hate crime.

The answer is that here, in the West Midlands, we want to see hate crime reporting increase, and we have made this a priority. This effort to increase hate crime reporting has been a consistent feature of our plans. We’re sure many police and crime commissioners and chief constables feel the same way, exactly as Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said.

We have introduced new protocols for more accurate hate crime recording and supported the development of third-party reporting centres where victims can come forward without having to visit a police station, as well as an online hate crime reporting website called True Vision.

Improved training for contact and visitor-handling staff is in place that includes involvement from disability and transgender reference groups. This will be rolled out across the force so that staff are better able to identify vulnerable community members, recognise when a hate crime has taken place, ensure an effective investigation, and seek enhanced sentencing where appropriate, working with the Crown Prosecution Service.

We are also working with the seven local authorities in our area, and developing hate crime reference groups. We acknowledge that hate crimes are under-reported and want to give our communities the confidence to know that they can come forward, that they will be heard, and that they will get a thorough and effective response.

West Midlands Police is committed to encouraging the increased reporting of any type of hate crime, including that which is racially or religiously motivated. As a result, we are seeing increases in reported hate crime and we want to see this continue so we can get a proper understanding of the true level of hate crime – and with this knowledge take the right steps to drive it down.

Bob Jones, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Chris Sims, Chief Constable, West Midlands Police

As well as the under-reporting of race hate crimes, of equal concern is the apparent willingness of the police and some local authorities to “overlook” inconvenient increases in such crimes.

In Hammersmith and Fulham the local Refugee Forum has raised regularly the issue that race and religious hate crime has been on the increase (up 27.5 per cent at one point last year according to the Metropolitan Police’s own statistics).

These figures emerged when the local authority and the police were publicly congratulating themselves on a decrease in burglaries, car thefts and street crime. They left out mention of significant increases in religious and race hate crimes.

Despite letters from us and articles in the local press pointing out the discrepancy, neither the council nor the police have yet responded with an explanation or clarification, or to take up an offer to work with the refugee and migrant community to tackle this worrying issue.

Phillip Cooper, Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum, London SW6

Time for our leaders to get fit

At the start of the year, people look in the mirror and resolve to get fit. Might one hope that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have carried out a similar evaluation and will strive to become “fit for purpose” in 2014? I think it highly unlikely.

One can too easily imagine that when they examine themselves in the “mirror” of  Westminster, they rather like the image that is reflected back, distorted as it is by the accretion of power, privilege and patronage.

Stuart Fretwell, Portland, Dorset

Hollande’s diversions good for France

Better for President Hollande to be allowed his diversions – instead of screwing the French economy full-time.

Dr John Doherty, Vienna

François Hollande has conducted his affairs (excuse the pun) in a deplorable way, but it seems par for the course for him. His running of France is surely questionable, though – how does he have the time?

Judi Martin, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire

The British should be allowed to do things their own way, without being dictated to by the Europeans. The French should not be allowed to do things their own way, and British hacks should dictate their social mores.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France 

Fracking bribe jeopardises fair planning process

The Prime Minister’s promise of a substantial financial reward for planning authorities that grant permission to fracking applications is deplorable, regardless of one’s views on fracking itself. It is nothing less than a bribe.

Councillors who sit on local planning committees often have to take unpopular decisions and rarely manage to please everybody. We can only function effectively if we are seen to judge each application solely on its planning merits, fairly and openly, and without threat or inducement.

The Prime Minister’s proposal would corrupt the whole planning process and fatally undermine public confidence in the capacity of planning authorities to reach an unbiased conclusion at any level.

My council – which has had its funding reduced by half in the past few years – will shortly debate a motion to condemn this attempt to bribe it and demand its immediate withdrawal. I am proposing this as leader of my council’s Liberal Democrat group and it is seconded by a senior Conservative colleague on our planning committee.

It is our response to national politicians of all parties who seem to regard us as “useful idiots”.

Councillor David Milsted, North Dorset District Council, Gillingham, Dorset

Your article “Fracking industry watchdog has only six full-time staff” (14 January) reports concerns regarding the Environment Agency’s capacity for regulating a future shale gas industry.

The UK shale gas industry is, at the moment, very small: only consisting of one well that has been fractured to extract shale gas, plus several new exploratory activities.

Existing UK regulation contains the necessary elements to manage the risks associated with these small-scale activities. However, if, as David Cameron has promised, the Government is “going all out for shale”, then it must address how the risks  might scale up and how to manage them.

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that it is possible to manage the health, safety and environmental risks associated with shale gas exploration in the UK, as long as best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.

The UK’s regulators should determine their requirements to regulate a shale gas industry should it develop nationwide. The Government accepted all our recommendations and must prepare to scale up the resources needed for proper regulation if the industry is to grow.

Professor Robert Mair, Chair of the joint Royal Academy of Engineering/Royal Society report ‘Shale Gas Extraction in the UK’, London SW1

It’s wonderful news that David Cameron should declare his Government is “going all out for shale”. I assume his enthusiasm will be illustrated by his welcoming the drilling rigs to West Oxfordshire with open arms. How refreshing it will be to see the usual “not in my backyard” syndrome replaced by a “use my back garden” approach.

One assumes that all his Cabinet colleagues will lead from the front by having drilling equipment on their properties. With such a positive display of community spirit, it is no wonder that our parliamentary system is the envy of the world.

Dr David Bartlett, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

We face blatant bribery of local authorities to accept fracking projects. But probably of more immediate concern to householders in areas awarded fracking permission is the attitude of the insurers. It is known that insurers dislike the risks of possible subsidence, such as already found in locations previously used for coal mining.

What a godsend this will be for them to hike up their premiums for otherwise secure properties, based simply on the possibility of an eventual settling of the land levels as the fracking methods alter the underlying geology.

Never mind. More insurance profits mean (in theory) more taxes for the Treasury. Who could object to that? Not the Etonians who have so successfully immigrated into our political interests.

Malcolm MacIntyre-Read, Much Wenlock, Shropshire

I wonder how many of those investors who will benefit financially from fracking  in our small island, might own a highly desirable property in France, where fracking is banned?

I McIlraith, Cumbernauld,  North Lanarkshire





Sir, The Prime Minister’s promise of a financial reward for planning authorities that permit fracking is deplorable, regardless of one’s views on fracking (“Lancashire demands bigger cut of fracking profits”, Jan 14). It is nothing less than a bribe, as surely as if (say) Tesco offered the promise of 1 per cent of its annual sales in return for permission for a superstore.

Councillors who sit on planning committees often take unpopular decisions and rarely manage to please everybody. We can function effectively only if we are seen to judge each application solely on its planning merits, fairly and openly, and without threat or inducement to reach a decision. The Prime Minister’s proposal would corrupt the planning process and fatally undermine public confidence in the capacity of planning authorities to reach an unbiased conclusion.

Cllr David Milsted

North Dorset District Council

Sir, It is understandable that councils are wary about government inducements to allow fracking. In the US each well fracked requires about 6 million gallons of water, which has to be tankered in, and produces 3 million gallons of waste which has to be tankered out. The cost of improving and repairing roads is considerable. For example Arkansas has received $182 million in revenues from shale gas extraction since 2009 but needs to spend an extra $450 million to repair its roads. Pennsylvania had $1.3 billion in revenue in 2012 but has a road repair bill of $7 billion. Such costs outweigh government sweeteners.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Stoke Poges, Bucks

Sir, The fracking industry has arisen from human ingenuity and our luck in having the natural resource present beneath a large part of the UK. Since the industry requires no artificial subsidies and will, apparently, produce thousands of jobs as well as tens of thousands more in support roles, it also represents the best opportunity to rebalance the economy and remedy the damage of the past 30 years at no cost to the government.

Since the country’s finances will immediately benefit from increased employment taxation and lower unemployment and welfare benefits, it makes no sense for the Treasury to take 62 per cent of revenues in taxation unless George Osborne wishes to kill off the best opportunity to re-engineer the British economy before it is born.

Nick Winstone-Cooper

Laleston, South Wales

Sir, Far from being a “naked attempt by the Government to bribe hard-pressed councils”, as Greenpeace claims (Jan 13), the decision that local authorities will be allowed to keep all of the business rates raised from sites drilling for shale gas is a triumph for localism, for energy security and for evidence-based science.

Dr John Hayward

Barton, Cambs

Sir, So Lancashire is demanding a bigger share of the profits from the shale gas industry. The 1 per cent on offer is no better than the derisory 50p a tonne paid by opencast coal miners as a community bribe for years of noise, pollution and disruption. This often amounts to little more than providing a children’s play area and a few road improvements to allow them to move their lorries. Scant recompense for local residents compared to the profits of the companies and their shareholders.

A 10 per cent share of revenues for local communities is needed for all forms of fossil fuel extraction.

John Gregory

Hilltop Action Group

Old Tupton, Derbyshire



Students are best placed to judge the performance of their teachers so give them the power to do so

Sir, Those best placed to determine a teacher’s performance (letters, Jan 14) are not other teachers, governors or parents. They are the students.

In universities students complete a questionnaire about the performance of lecturers. The questionnaire is anonymous, administered by another staff member and processed centrally. The lecturer is sent summary statistics which can be used when applying for promotions. There is no reason why the same could not be introduced in schools, perhaps for
A level or GCSE classes.

While some may be alarmed at the prospect of students having this power, I have found that they take it seriously and I have always valued knowing how my students perceive my teaching performance.

While there will always be mavericks who relish the opportunity to stick the boot in, the fact that it is administered to the entire class means that, over time, a clearer picture can be obtained than from websites like Rate My Teachers which tend to attract only the disgruntled.

Professor Roger Anderson

University of Ulster


MPs who signed the “Time Running Out” letter are seeking a non-violent solution in Syria

Sir, You imply (“We have to help Syria rebels, MPs tell Cameron”, Jan 13) that those MPs who signed the “Time Running Out” letter all want to arm the Syrian rebels. In fact they called for strengthening the hands of those attending the Geneva II conference.

This would help the agreeing of ceasefires and the ending of sieges. It also means finding non-violent political solutions to the present impasse. Such is the most likely path towards “a democratic, secular and tolerant future for Syria”.

It would also be good if the religious leaders inside Syria would unite to give a lead to the politicians.

Lord Hylton

House of Lords


The day I that was taken into care turned out to be the luckiest day of my long life

Sir, Sir Martin Narey is right (Jan 13) that the birth parents are often not best suited to care for a child.

I was taken into care at 6 and after four years in children’s homes and with foster parents I was fortunate to be fostered with a family that changed my life. At 16 I returned to my mother and saw the life I would have lived if I had not been removed. As soon as I was able I joined the Armed Forces in order to escape.

When I look back over 70 years I consider the day I was taken into care to be the luckiest day of my life.

John Trott

Barwell, Leics


Godwin’s law asserts that eventually in every online discussion someone will make a comparison to Hitler

Sir, Jean Elliott writes that by noting that Hitler was a “great anti-smoker” Hockney gave an example of Godwin’s Law’ (letter, Jan 13). In fact Godwin’s law asserts that eventually in every online discussion, regardless of the topic, someone will make a comparison to Hitler. It is actually an example of “Reductio ad Hitlerum”, a term coined in 1951 by Leo Strauss who maintained that a view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to be have been shared by Hitler.

Kay Bagon

Radlett, Herts



Canny pensioners are unlikely to pay for over-the-counter medication which is free on prescription

Sir, I don’t think the government will get very far in persuading people to take minor ailments to their local pharmacy rather than their GP (Jan 15). Many GP appointments are taken up by children and the over-60s, neither of whom pay prescription charges. While a visit to the GP remains free, you will not persuade our canny pensioners to pay for over-the-counter medication which they can get free from the doctor.

Susan Kelly

London W5




SIR – Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, is not the only person to feel guilt about his creation. The dilemma of the arms manufacturer is illustrated in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, where the dividing line between good and evil is a perennial anxiety.

Sir Bernard Lovell, the great physicist and astronomer, was much troubled that the radar systems he invented brought death and destruction to the people of Germany. He found great comfort in the knowledge that they saved more lives than they destroyed, and hastened the end of the war. The device he created to detect U-boats in 1943 had a major impact on the Allied victory and helped to ensure the safe passage of troops from America in time for D-Day.

John Bromley-Davenport
Malpas, Cheshire


SIR – David Cameron is offering money to councils that agree to fracking wells in their wards.

Applications will need to cover a range of issues such as environmental impact and traffic implications. How can a council be expected to make a decision based on planning policies if it has a financial interest in the outcome?

Selby Martin
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

SIR – If fracking does produce lower energy prices, I hope anti-fracking councils will accept a surcharge on their bills.

For them to benefit from an industry that they have forced to locate elsewhere would be hypocritical and unjust.

Don Jackson
Tadcaster, West Yorkshire

SIR – Allowing local councils to benefit from fracking will not persuade anyone to accept exploration on their doorstep.

Instead, households should receive an annual untaxed income direct from the fracking companies. This way, new householders benefit for as long as they are inconvenienced. It could also become a selling point for those wishing to move.

Fracking money should be kept away from all forms of government and paid straight to those who are affected.

Hugo Brown
Stoke Lyne, Oxfordshire

SIR – I wonder if the promised bonanza on shale gas will be of the same benefit to the British public as North Sea oil? We were led to believe that natural gas and petrol would become plentiful and cheap.

John Dorricott
Barton on Sea, Hampshire

SIR – Leaving aside the red herrings of earthquakes and water contamination, a fracking operation to produce as much gas as, say, Morecambe Bay offshore field (around 7 per cent of British demand), and based upon current published delivery rates from the US, will require more than 400 wells spread over thousands of acres.

Each wellhead will have glycol injection facilities and there will be miles of surface-laid gathering pipes and treatment facilities as large as medium-sized oil refineries. Where is it all going to fit?

Vernon T Evenson
Didcot, Oxfordshire

SIR – Why do we need a French oil company, Total, to carry out fracking in Britain? As with EDF Energy, which operates British nuclear power stations, the profits will return to France.

David May
Dronfield Woodhouse, Derbyshire

SIR – The Gainsborough Trough is an interesting location for David Cameron to show his support for fracking (report, January 14). Wasn’t there a significant earthquake there just a few years ago?

Jenny Furness
Doncaster, West Yorkshire

SIR – William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, implies that the proposals by the 95 Conservative MPs to veto EU laws are not realistic, while Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, suggests that they are not workable.

What is unrealistic and unworkable, not to mention undemocratic, is to have laws imposed upon British voters which they do not want, passed by majority vote behind closed doors. These include laws to regulate the City of London, which will stop British businesses from generating employment, economic growth and the taxes flowing from them for the provision of public services.

We should be governed by our own laws, enforceable by our own judges and passed at Westminster by the elected representatives of the British people.

Bill Cash MP (Con)
London SW1

Related Articles

Danger on the ward

SIR – After the preventable death of a 57-year-old woman at Basildon Hospital where a single doctor was left alone to care for 130 patients, the Essex Coroner called for a ban on junior doctors working unsupervised at night.

She did not point out the underlying cause of this dangerous situation, replicated throughout Britain, which is the implementation of the European Working Time Directive and the present junior doctors’ contract of employment. Where there used to be teams of doctors available on call, there is now a single very stretched individual working exhausting shifts.

The only solution is to restore continuity of care to patients by bringing back on-call teams of doctors, even if those doctors spend a few more hours in the hospital working in a less intense and safer manner.

John Black
President, Royal College of Surgeons, 2008-2011
Great Malvern, Worcestershire

Rural blight

SIR – Weobley was The Daily Telegraph National Village of the Year in 1999. Under the former Herefordshire Development Plan we were to expect 60 new properties in the village by 2031. Development under this plan was very carefully controlled by rules governing green belt conservation and design compatibility.

But since the recent removal of those rules, plans are under consideration for building 63 new homes in our beautiful village next year, very closely packed together, and apparently with the full consent of our local planning department.

R E Best
Weobley, Herefordshire

Choosy trains

SIR – Luca Cordero di Montezemolo’s NTV high-speed trains were not prohibited from stopping at Roma Termini station. RFI, the company in charge of the infrastructure, informed NTV about available tracks at Roma Termini, but NTV preferred Roma Tiburtina and Roma Ostiense stations.

Federico Fabretti
Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane

Late for the diary

SIR – Your report on “household clutter” (January 13) was quite timely. I had just found, at the bottom of a drawer, an unopened handkerchief and diary set, dated 1988.

Phillip Crossland
Driffield, East Yorkshire

Child benefit restriction

SIR – It is deplorable for Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, to denigrate Iain Duncan Smith’s proposal to limit benefit payments to two offspring as “Chinese”.

“Chinese” implies banning. Mr Duncan Smith is merely proposing that state funding should be restricted to two children. Thereafter any further offspring are a personal choice that the state should not have to subsidise.

It’s a shame that a leading politician cannot see the difference.

Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire

Romance that lasts

SIR – I am delighted that Richard Dorment should dub the artist John Craxton “Britain’s Last Romantic”. There have been so few Last Romantics lately, I was beginning to fear that we might really have seen the last of them.

W B Yeats was apparently the very first Last Romantic. But by 1948, according to the title of his official biography, Sir John Martin-Harvey was the Last Romantic. Then followed, according to the titles of their own biographies, Max Eastman (1978) and Queen Marie of Romania (1985). Next there was the 1985 television film Vladimir Horowitz: the Last Romantic and novels called The Last Romantics by Ruth Harris (1980) and Caroline Seebohm (1986).

The Barbican Gallery held a “Last Romantics” exhibition in 1989. In 1992 the BBC showed a film about the Cambridge dons F R Leavis and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, claiming they were the Last Romantics. A 1995 biography declared the novelist Henry Williamson to be the Last Romantic. A 2007 film about a frustrated composer was called Last of the Romantics.

There is also a pop group called The Last Romantics. I don’t doubt there will be some more Last Romantics along soon.

Graham Chainey
Brighton, East Sussex

Memorable passwords

SIR – Useful passwords can be created by choosing the initial characters of memorable quotations, with nouns in upper case. Thus, “To be or not to be, that is the question” becomes 2bon2btitQ. Provided the quotation is not too obvious, you can write down your passwords as Shakespeare, Keats, Betjeman and so on.

Adrian Williams

Too many graduates to fill jobs that need a degree

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, asserts that many graduates have been “forced” to take work that used to be done by people who hadn’t gone to university. Surely, this is because the majority of so-called graduate jobs do not actually require a degree to do them.

The previous government’s target of getting 50 per cent of young people into university was flawed, as nowhere near that number of jobs require a degree-level education. The sea of new graduates means that many employers advertise as graduate jobs things that used to be done by school-leavers with A-levels; and jobs that once required GCSEs or O-levels now require A-levels.

Mr Miliband’s point that many graduates who start in low-paid work never move up the ladder is not surprising if the graduate has a degree, say, in “Abuse Studies with Dance” from Manchester Metropolitan.

David Pearson
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – The increasing importance of internships to graduate employment prospects shows just how valuable the contribution of business can be in helping young people acquire the skills and knowledge required to succeed in the professional world.

Universities should be exploring ways to encourage business to be part of the higher education world, and businesses should see this as part of their wider role in society – something that benefits them and something that makes a contribution to the development of young people on whom the future depends.

Many businesses are keen to contribute, but flexibility is needed so that education and training can be managed alongside business demands. Any opportunities must be fairly shared among students, not just snapped up by the more privileged.

Roxanne Stockwell
Principal, Pearson College
London WC2




Irish Times:



Sir, – I was greatly relieved to learn that Phil Hogan does not micro-manage Irish Water (Home News, January 15th). – Yours, etc,


Grange Park,

Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – It would appear that Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s definition of “micro” in terms of project management is under €200 million. It would be interesting to know at what level a project becomes “macro” and attracting of his attention. – Yours, etc,


Ballyvaughan Co Clare.

Sir, – Labels on bottled water proudly declare “0 calories”. As every schoolboy/girl knows, a calorie is a unit of measurement for energy. Why is it that the Energy Regulator is involved in setting a rate for what is currently being called a “scarce resource”? Water is available in vast quantities year round in this country yet, though vital to sustain life, our clowns in Leinster House seem determined to trick the citizens into believing it’s an energy and a scarce one too!

Hands up anyone who’s surprised at the latest round of “let’s fool the people again”! Please, a Thaoisigh, stop this juggernaut of Irish Water immediately before it runs away with us all; give the local authorities the money instead and make them get on with their job of providing the basic necessity for life to our impoverished people. Even juggernauts are capable of executing a U-turn. – Yours, etc,


Braemor Grove,

Churchtown, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Thank you, Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, January 14th) for making it all clear. The Irish miracle is turning water into, not wine, but gravy. I am tempted to invoke Jesus! – Yours, etc,


Leinster Road West,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – The water meter will be for the greater part redundant once I start collecting the rain water from the roof. With last year’s average rainfall of more than 1200mm it would be unsustainable for this quango Irish Water to exist – if everyone joined the club. – Yours, etc,


Four Mile House,


Sir, – In view of recent events, could we request that board members of Irish Water are formally prohibited from topping up their tanks? Thanks. – Yours, etc,


Georgian Village,

Castleknock, Dublin 15.

Sir, – The Minister knew the “ballpark” figures but was not aware of the minutiae. €50 million is some minutiae. Oh and poor Fergus O’ Dowd only heard   about the €50 million on the radio. Are they both in need of a consultant? – Yours, etc,


Croydon Park Avenue,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – It seems to be a tradition that each political party in government bequeaths us a bloated, unfit for purpose, money-guzzling quango, stuffed with insiders. Fianna Fáil gave us Fás; the PDs lumbered us with the HSE; and now Fine Gael has contributed An Bórd Uisce – or whatever it’s called – which rather appropriately has begun to soak up the taxpayers’ money even before it came into existence. – Yours, etc,


Kilcolman Court,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – The high set-up costs of the so-called “Irish Water”, and the lack of State oversight, are just signs of things to come, if we continue on this route.

This process was initiated as a commitment in the EU-IMF bailout programme. Why did the troika insist on water charges in Ireland? This was not to save water or to save money for the Irish citizens, but to lead to a sell-off to the highest bidder.


Water is an increasingly competitive global business, with a few major players (in particular those based in France, Germany and England). The IMF, ECB and EC were acting in the interests of this “industry”; the IMF has pursued similar water sell-offs around the world.

The start of the process is to condition people into the idea that we should pay for our water through a separate agency. How many TDs have told us recently that “people elsewhere in the EU pay for their water”, while ignoring the fact that we already pay for our water through our taxes?

Also, those European companies where water is already privatised, do not present a good argument for a move away from State control of this national asset. For example, in Britain, privatisation has led to little improvement in infrastructure and no significant decrease in water wastage, but with considerably increased costs for the citizens.

We are now spending a vast amount of our money to sell off our own resource. The same money would be better used to upgrade our infrastructure, for all our benefit. It is time to say stop. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – It appears there’s a drip-drip approach to revelations concerning the workings of Irish Water. – Yours, etc,


St Mary’s Terrace,


Sir, – Regarding Phil Hogan’s recent statements: first, micro-managing is getting involved in day-to-day company decisions. Studying and understanding company accounts, investments and major expenditure is not micro-managing but what a responsible majority shareholder does.

Second, regulators have to authorise all expenditure which the regulated companies pass on to their customers. Given that the regulator must be already familiar with Irish Water’s accounts, asking the regulator to examine the expenditure is not a meaningful action by Mr Hogan but buck-passing and procrastinating.

Third, in a radio interview, the only concrete explanation offered by John Tierney for the €50 million spent on consultancy was the need for a customer system and an asset management system. These IT tools are used by utilities all over the developed world since the 1980s or 1990s. Vendors sell their products off the shelf after some customisation to adapt them to the customer’s concrete requirements. The need for any great amount of advance consultancy for this purpose needs a lot more explanation than has been given.

The new practice of privatising companies, heretofore considered natural monopolies, has led to a whole army of regulators and consultants, the result of which has been to push up prices, reduce services, create a new caste of very well paid managers and eliminate political responsibility because ministers can point to regulators as the decision-makers.

Paraphrasing the musical signature of the Dad’s Army series, whom do you think you’re kidding Mr Hogan? – Yours, etc,


Sandycove Road,

Sandycove, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Why don’t Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore declare Phil Hogan to be a member of Fianna Fáil so that they, as usual, can say it’s all its fault? – Yours, etc,


Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.

Sir, – In relation to Irish Water, Minister of the Environment Phil Hogan states quite correctly that one can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs. But one does not have to shell out €50 million to do so successfully. – Yours, etc,



Killerig, Carlow.



Sir, – Prof Sheila Greene (January 15th) raises a common objection to the idea that mental experience arises solely from the activity of the brain. That is that such a theory ignores the “complex interactions of the brain with the body, the material world and the socio-cultural world of relationships and meanings”.

Of course it does no such thing – on the contrary, it absolutely embraces the complexity of embodied agents acting and interacting in a dynamic environment.

All that information is necessarily processed by the brain – how else could we know we are having a social interaction? Where else would our memories of past experiences be stored?

At any point, the current play of such interactions is represented in the current state of activity of the brain and interpreted in the context of the history of all such experiences, written in changes to brain circuits accumulated over a lifetime. – Yours, etc,


Associate Professor of

Genetics and

Sir, – You refer to the recent killing in Castleknock as a “chess murder”, and quote, without comment, a “passerby” as saying that chess is “a very intense game” that “brings out the worst in people”, as if she was somehow an expert on the subject (Home News, January 13th).

No one knows what triggered this horrific event, but it is certain that it could not have been playing chess. Chess is played by millions of people around the world every day, in a friendly and peaceful way. Anybody who isn’t sure of the simple rules (simpler than, say, golf) can look them up on the internet in two seconds, without the need to lose their temper, let alone kill.

Studies have consistently shown that playing chess has a calming effect, and also teaches patience and enhances self-esteem. It has therefore been used beneficially in many countries, including Ireland, in prisons and young offenders’ institutions as a means of rehabilitation. If more people played chess there would be a lot less violence in the world. – Yours, etc,




The Irish Chess Union

C/o Oughterard,


Sir, – I wish to comment on the issue of the proposed Eirgrid overhead power lines and pylons. I am a founding member of Child, which was established in 1998 to help obtain the best possible treatment for children with leukaemia.

In 2005 a study carried out by the UK National Radiological Protection Board showed that children born close to high voltage overhead power lines, have an increased risk of developing leukaemia. – Yours, etc,



Ashford, Co Wicklow.



Sir, – Ariel Sharon was not the bloodthirsty tyrant suggested (Denis Staunton, Opinion, January 13th). He was the personification of ancient Israel. He might well have stepped straight out of the pages of the Book of Judges, a warrior hero raised up to defend Israel and deliver peace to the land. – Yours, etc,


Wasdale Park,


Sir, – Laurence Cleary vents a tirade against the international Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign in particular (January 11th). He asserts that boycotts of Israel do nothing to achieve a “lasting Middle Eastern settlement”, yet fails to mention anything about a just peace. This is important because the current Israeli government, according to its economy minister Naftali Bennett, will “never accept an agreement based on the 1967 lines”, hence seems to regard military occupation as a “lasting settlement” in itself. This is a view reinforced by the words of Moshe Ya’alon, former chief of staff of the military and current defence minister who in 2012 said, “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a problem with no solution . . . we can live like this for another 100 years”.

Indeed, it appears that at present one of the only things having any effect on this outlook is the BDS campaign – with Israeli politicians including finance minister Yair Lapid, justice minister Tzipi Livni and Jewish Home party chairperson Ayelet Shaked all warning in recent weeks of the growing international movement that aims to help secure Palestinian rights and freedom.

Mr Cleary questions “whether a boycott of Israel is an expression of support for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”. It is more than this: it is a response to a call for BDS from more than 200 Palestinian civil society groups issued in 2005. As such, it is an entirely separate issue from “a campaign to support Palestinian goods”, the latter being tactic which on its own will do nothing to end Israeli military occupation and apartheid.

Finally, Mr Cleary asserts, “Israeli universities are the most liberal aspect of Israel society”. Even if true, this is not saying much; the same Haifa University Mr Cleary attended for two months recently awarded the Israeli embassy in Ireland a prize for its online propaganda activities. This embassy’s undiplomatic defamation of human rights activists, be they Palestinian, international or even Israeli, has made headlines the world over. In November 2012, when Israel was bombing Gaza, killing over 160 people (including 30 children), the authorities at Haifa banned all protests from campus and declared their support for the Israeli military, but not before allowing a pro-war rally, which was attended by the university president, to take place and at which could be heard chants of “Death to the Arabs.” Liberal indeed. – Yours, etc,



Ireland-Palestine Solidarity


Capel Street,


Sir, – I wish to withdraw my previous arguments against preservation of the 1916 buildings on Moore Street (Letters, January 6th). Having reviewed the plans put forward by the save 16 Moore Street campaign and given the matter further consideration, I find myself persuaded of the rightness of their cause.

Hopefully some compromise can be reached whereby the planned museum can proceed in tandem with the very necessary and long delayed commercial development and renewal of the surrounding area. – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Street,

Phibsboro, Dublin 7.


Sir, – May I remind Fionola Meredith (“New age rubbish posing as an accessible alternative to old-school religion”, Opinion, January 13th) that there has not yet been a new age inquisition, or a new age crusade; new age spirituality has never burned people at the stake in the name of God, and it does not peddle guilt and shame to its practitioners.

Furthermore, it treats men and women as equals and has never posed a threat to the safety of children. For the many people who have who have lost faith and interest in “old-time religion”, it provides a spiritual path which harms no one and provides a sense of connection with spirit and the companionship of like-minded souls.

Fionola Meredith’s notion that spirituality must be hard work is strange in any age. As for intellectual rigor, the response of the church to many valid questions has always been “It’s a mystery!”. If working with angels, crystals, fairies, energy or anything else provides peace of mind and comfort to those who practise it Meredith is hardly in a position to call it “rubbish”. And the angels have often found me a parking place! – Yours, etc,



Blessington, Co Wicklow.


Sir, – Fr Patrick McCafferty (January 15th) states, “The church unequivocally proclaims the message of the Gospel ” and goes on to quote twice from Romans in support of his argument concerning homosexuality and church teaching. As he is no doubt aware, Romans is not, in fact, a gospel. Why is it that the opponents of gay rights generally quote St Paul rather than Jesus? Could it be because Jesus never actually condemned homosexuality, and indeed healed the centurion’s sick pais (male servant/lover)? – Yours, etc,


Red Lane,

Blessington, Co Wicklow.


Sir, – I know another phrase we could lose, so I do. – Yours, etc,



Kinsale, Co Cork.

Sir, – Could people please stop “taking to Twitter”? Likewise, “Facebook” is not a verb, and the concept of something “going viral”  shouldn’t be greeted with enthusiasm. – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,

Eganville, Ontario, Canada.




Irish Independent:


*The meek shall finally inherit the earth. Maybe?

Also in this section

So how do we pay these new bills, Mr Noonan?

Let’s adopt Ford’s attitude to ‘bean counters’

Letters: Building managers and water charges

Let me tell you if I was a dog my tail would be wagging so fast that I could take off.

The reason for my unbounded joy is the news that Jean Claude Trichet has said that the bank guarantee was the right thing to do. Both leaders of the IMF mission to Ireland have come out and said it was wrong. The people of Ireland voted for our current Government when they said it was wrong. So only the ECB claims it was the correct thing to do.

Perhaps Mr Trichet has spent too long in the circles of European banking to understand our laws or, perhaps more importantly, our very fibre. To put it simply for him or any of his many servants that peruse these pages: in Ireland if three men meet on the street and one insists that they all attend a hostelry for the purpose of raising a glass to Diageo, then the man that invites the other two in is left with the bill. And even if he doesn’t have the money on him, the bar-owner will allow him to put it on the tab.

I now look forward expectantly to Mr Trichet graciously finally accepting the tab on behalf of the ECB

As an ardent opponent of the current political system, but not the people, I would like to congratulate all members of the House past and present for sticking to our Irish guns and for not being rude even while a Frenchman tried to run up a tab on us.

Apologies for losing faith — I’m beginning to feel like Doubting Thomas when he was presented with the undeniable truth of a deep wound.

I am also looking forward to the scars of austerity finally disappearing.

Congratulations to all the citizens of Ireland for keeping a cool head when all about them, myself included, were losing theirs.

Will it not be great to get back that which should never have been stolen in the first place: our country, our freedom.




* Irish households will have a standing charge levied upon them for water charges, whether they use a drop of water or not. Should households attempt to conserve water or minimise usage then Irish Water will apparently have the power to increase the cost of water. Should households overuse water during a long dry period, Irish Water will again have the power to increase charges.

This ridiculous situation exposes the fallacy that water charges would be introduced to encourage the conservation of a scarce resource. I suspect Irish Water is nothing but a vehicle to facilitate the future privatisation of water provision in this country.




* Despite all the advertisements about the dangers of smoking, there appears to be as many people as ever indulging in the unhealthy habit.

I recently did a little bit of simple arithmetic and came to the conclusion that smoking 20 cigarettes a day costs around €3,000 a year. Some people obviously spend more on the weed. It is sometimes said that former puffers can be the worst when it comes to criticising smokers but, speaking as one who is over 30 years off them, I find the practice quite disgusting.

I know it can be difficult to give them up and this person holds amusing memories of throwing a packet in the river while out walking the dog in an attempt to kick the habit only to return to the town and purchase 20 more.

This is not meant as a political address, but a lot of people are indebted to Micheal Martin for the initiative of nearly a decade ago.




* Seanad reform might not be the sexiest topic but its abolition would be shortsighted.

However, I find it difficult to understand why advocates of Seanad abolition do not want to strengthen, reconfigure or reform it.

We need to stop focusing on the past; mindlessly focusing on what the Seanad HAS been and start considering what the Seanad COULD be.

The time to act and introduce reforming legislation is now — undeniably the Seanad is broke but it is far from beyond repair.

The Zappone-Quinn Bill provides a workable and tenable draft Seanad Reform Bill, which only requires minor tweaks to radically reform the Seanad.

With the passing of this Bill, the current Seanad will be transformed from an exclusive, anachronistic and unrepresentative House into a dynamic, cost-effective, gender-equal, functional and modern Lower House.

Seanad Reform will enhance the prospects of people with particularly valued expertise being able to make a contribution to the work of Seanad Eireann.




lThe black cards will not faze the blackguards. Nobody talks about changing attitudes. GAA football is saturated with a shameful nasty, niggling, bad-tempered culture. Why are these childish bully-boy antics tolerated without question? One example out of many — throwing the ball away. Answer: move the ball forward for every misdemeanour. We have too many rules but no manners.




* Let’s face it . . .

All those Jews, Christians, Satanists and Muslims can’t all be right; let’s see if we cannot solve the problem once and for all by using a tried and tested algorithm — eeny, meeny, miny, moe etc.

The same simple formula can also be used to sort out the chaff from the wheat in other instances too, including our political parties.




* With such widespread and continuous exposure of the population, even small risks to health from the proposed pylons may have a large impact on the population. Children are particularly vulnerable as their nervous and other physiological systems are still developing and they have a longer lifetime exposure. It is therefore of paramount importance that the risks to health are accurately known. It is clear that they are not. There are many methodological problems inherent in identifying adverse health effects from this type of radiation. In particular, there are great difficulties in assessing exposure, and individuals are not generally aware of the levels to which they are exposed. Two straightforward precautionary measures may be proposed.

Firstly, that data on exposure to non-ionizing radiation be included on all new entrants in the National Cancer Register. And a decision on the proposed pylons should be deferred until we know the risks. There is an onus on public health professionals to take the lead.




* It is reported that a Dublin City council committee is to discuss the possibility of renaming the Millennium Spire after Nelson Mandela. Considering they wouldn’t or couldn’t name a new Liffey bridge in honour of the late and much deserving Tony Gregory because he wasn’t dead long enough — this is just another futile exercise in political correctness. If they really want to honour Mr Mandela and the citizens of Dublin, they should have this ugly and useless eyesore removed as soon as possible.



Irish Independent





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