Bettys

30 January 2014 Betty’s

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee has to rescue a relative from Tangiers, as disguising him as a naval officer. Priceless.

Thermabloc in house with Peters help, off to Betty’s with Astrid and Michael

Scrabbletoday Iwinand get under 400, Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Ahmed Fouad Negm, who has died aged 84, was a working-class hero of Egyptian letters but paid the price for his sarcastic attacks on authority, writing much of his poetry in prison.

He rose from obscure, impoverished origins to hear his verse chanted by revolutionaries in Tahrir Square as Hosni Mubarak’s regime crumbled: “Who are we and who are they?/They are the princes and sultans/We are the convicts./They dine on pigeons and chickens./We live 10 to a room.”

Yet Negm was not partisan – after the 2011 revolution he turned his sights on the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting the Army’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi . Astonishingly, he even decided to ring a television station on August 14 last year, as hundreds of Brotherhood supporters were killed by the regime, to sing an ode of praise to the police. Then, shortly before his death, he began to turn on Egypt’s new army strongman, Gen Abdulfattah al-Sisi.

Such relentless independence of spirit won him many admirers on the street, if not in official circles, and for much of his life the state media preferred to ignore him.

Ahmed Fouad Negm was born on May 22 1929 at a village in Sharqiya on the Nile Delta, to a sprawling fellahin, or peasant, family. He was one of 17 children, and an already challenging upbringing was made worse when his father, a policeman, died . From the age of seven Ahmed was brought up by relatives and at an orphanage, failing to complete a formal education .

His early adult years were spent attempting to make a living as a shepherd, construction worker, salesman, tailor, and postman; he also fell in with a nascent guerrilla movement targeting the forces of the then British Protectorate.

Paradoxically, his break came with a three-year prison sentence (for forging documents) in the late Fifties. Gamal Abdul Nasser had seized power, expelling the King and his British advisers, and his populism and avowed socialism set Egypt on a hunt for a new kind of artistic champion.

Negm, who had met and befriended the lyrical singer Abdel Halim Hafez at his orphanage, began to find his own voice, and from his cell won a national writing competition sponsored by the newly-founded Supreme Council for the Arts. His first collection, Pictures from Life and Prison, was much praised.

His use of the bawdy, scatological Egyptian Arabic vernacular, rather than the Classical Arabic of traditional literature, both shocked and delighted his audience. At one of his many court appearances, he was asked by a judge whether his language was not “crude”? “Is it more crude than what is happening in Egypt?” Negm countered.

Throughout his life he self-consciously played up to his image as the voice of the working man, insisting on wearing the galabiya, or long robe, of the Egyptian peasant classes from which he sprang, rather than the Western clothes adopted by the fashionable artistic demi-monde which enthusiastically took him up.

Yet he quickly saw through the lofty promises of leaders like Nasser, whom he considered long on rhetoric but short on performance. In one verse he mockingly described how Nasser expressed his love for his people by gradually restricting their freedoms. And in another he challenged a doctor interviewed by state television on the view that Egypt’s poor were lucky to be able to afford only their traditional meal of stewed beans, as it was healthier than steak. “So what do you think Dr Mohsen/You less than reliable source/Let us eat meat and die/We’ll let you eat beans and live.”

Negm himself was never given air time on state television, but this may have worked to his benefit as his verses were passed around on cassettes, samizdat-style. His fearlessness in choosing his targets made him only more popular. Of Nasser’s pro-Western successor, Anwar Sadat, he wrote: “He opened his mouth wide/And said/’I need your help.’/A coward/And the son of a coward/He ate our lunch/Found that we are a generous people/And so ate our dinner.”

Negm spent a total of 18 years in jail, under both Nasser and Sadat. In the 1960s, on a spell out of prison, he forged a successful partnership with Sheikh Imam, a well-known performer on the oudh, or Arabic lute, who set much of Negm’s verse to music.

No one was spared Negm’s cudgel-like wit. On one occasion he wrote a poetic attack on Umm Kolthoum, Egypt’s best-loved popular singer and a revered celebrity in Arab society. Her dog had bitten a working-class local in Cairo’s upmarket neighbourhood of Zamalek and, as one commentator put it, criticising her was “much riskier than making fun of presidents”.

In later years, as the media were given more freedom under President Hosni Mubarak, Negm found a measure of official acceptance, though he was careful not to let this affect his work. Even though Mubarak never jailed him, he reckoned he made “Nasser look like a prophet and Sadat a very kind man”.

“I must insist/That the president is a compassionate man/Constantly busy working for his people/Busy, gathering their money/Outside, in Switzerland, saving it for us/In secret bank accounts,” began one typical offering. He also found a happy target in the President’s sons, marking the occasion of Gamal Mubarak’s wedding with a public recitation of satirical lines from a balcony in central Cairo.

Such verve drew notice abroad, and he toured other Arab countries as well as Europe. Before he died he had been to travel to the Netherlands to receive the Prince Claus Award for his work.

His personal life was as unconventional as his verse. He married at least six times, and his wives included Safinaz Kazem, a writer and critic; Azza Balbaa, a singer; and Sonia Mikio, an actress from Algeria (where he had moved for several years to escape Egyptian jails). In later years, as journalists flocked to hear his views on the various dictators he had mocked and outlasted, he held forth at length, often smoking a large cannabis joint.

Ahmed Negm is survived by three daughters, including Nawara Negm, a blogger and activist who became one of the best-known voices of the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising.

Ahmed Fouad Negm, born May 22 1929, died December 3 2013

 

 

Guardian:

In the course of showing us the “dark” side of Scandinavian life, Michael Booth writes that Finland is “burdened by taboos” about the civil war, second world war and cold war (The dark heart of Scandinavia, 28 January). Taboos? On the contrary. The same day’s edition of Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest Finnish newspaper) had two three-quarter page articles dealing with these subjects, one discussing the Finnish role in the Siege of Leningrad (they refused Nazi requests to attack the city) and one about recent research into the civil war of winter 1917-18, the terrible aftermath of Finnish independence from Lenin’s Russia. Since at least 1990, these painful subjects have been frequently discussed in Finnish media.

Booth goes on to mock Finnish pragmatism (“The Russians are attacking?Join the Nazis! The Nazis are losing? Join the Allies!”). This is a cartoon travesty of what actually happened. In the winter war of 1939-40 the USSR, then allied with Nazi Germany, attacked Finland. The Finns fought back alone, but lost large parts of Karelia. In 1941, Finland joined in the Nazi assault on the USSR to regain Karelia, but then advanced beyond the 1939 borders. At the end of the second world war, the terms of the peace between Finland and the USSR required the Finns to expel German troops in Finland through Lapland into Norway. This sad and dreary episode, when Finnish soldiers were compelled to fight their former comrades-in-arms, is, for example, the subject of Antti Tuuri’s bestselling novel of 2012, Rauta-antura (Iron-shod).

Mr Booth, please revisit Finland and update your hoary preconceptions. And if you want to witness binge drinking, try downtown Leeds on a Friday night.
John Londesborough
Helsinki, Finland

•  We Finns are delighted to learn that Michael Booth is fond of us and would like us to rule the world. I can assure we harbour no such ambitions. It is true that Finland’s forests are full of mosquitos in the summer, but they are benign. It is also very cold in the winter, but we insulate our houses and walk barefoot indoors. However, some other facts in his article are not quite as spot-on, and hence I feel obliged to set the record straight. Finland’s high per capita gun ownership rate is a myth created by a miscalculated survey of unlicensed guns. The vast majority of firearms are licensed to hunters, who typically own multiple guns. Those guns are rarely used in homicides. Premeditated murders are also rare in Finland (roughly 40 per year), but homicides sadly occur out of quarrels between socially marginalised drunken adult men. Overall alcohol consumption per head in Finland is below that of the UK. Finally, the Finnish education system, which focuses on taking good care of every child, remains one of the best and most admired ones in the world.
Pekka Isosomppi
Press counsellor, Finnish embassy, London

•  It may have been said tongue in cheek, but I must correct Michael Booth on one thing – his claim that no one talks about cricket in Denmark. Several times I have encountered Copenhagen taxi drivers listening intently to Test cricket. One of them explained to me that there are several leagues and well over 30 active teams. I think you need to get to Finland (or maybe Iceland) to be sure of avoiding that topic – or don’t take a taxi…
Martin Ray
Banbury, Oxfordshire

 

 

Anthony Seldon acknowledges that “Britain has a uniquely divided education system that both reflects and in turn shapes our divided society” (The future for schools is partnership, not apartheid, 27 January). One might have thought that the master of Wellington College would be an apologist for such a divided society which the private education sector is designed to reproduce from one generation to the next. But no. He feigns to want to reduce the polarisation in the education system and society. His proposal is that “both school sectors … learn from each other, and the closer they bond, the better for all”. But no matter how closely they bond, the continuing existence of two sectors makes the reduction of polarisation impossible. The only logical solution is to remove the socially divisive separate development regime which the state/private sector division constitutes.

We will not “reverse our stagnating social mobility” by encouraging the two sectors to work more closely together. The elephant in the room here is the existence of the two sectors, the relationship between which is an engine for protecting and nurturing a privileged group. “Good societies,” says Seldon, “build bridges between divides.” No, societies which want to end the injustice of privilege work to remove the divides rather than leave them in place. Seldon argues that “divisions are broken down as both sides learn how much they have in common”. No, divisions are perpetuated by the continued existence of two sides. Seldon argues that “the potential benefits of bonding state and independent schools in perpetuity are transformative”. No, transformation of a polarised education system and society are precisely what you won’t get as long as the two sectors remain. Seldon has the gall to claim that those who argue against greater bonding between the two sectors are guilty of promoting apartheid. No. An apartheid regime is imposed by a dominant group as a way of defending and legitimising its dominance. You would not have accused black South Africans who refused to collaborate with apartheid of creating that apartheid. Calls for greater collaboration between the two sides in Britain’s apartheid education system are designed to divert attention away from the gross inequities and injustices the system ensures.
Dr David Webster
Crewe, Cheshire

• Anthony Seldon’s attack on John Harris’s excellent piece about private schools is misplaced. Why must private schools be seen as the model to which state-funded schools should aspire? Despite their lavish resource base, at a level unmatched anywhere in state education, the OECD has found that, once you account for the pupils’ different socioeconomic background, private schools are easily outperformed by our publicly funded schools. Over recent decades, our system has been increasingly distorted by futile and pointless attempts to make state schools look more like private schools. The way forward instead should be to provide a strong and consistent infrastructure of support as in the highly successful programmes known as the London Challenge and the Greater Manchester Challenge.
Ron Glatter
Emeritus professor of educational administration and management, the Open University

•  Rather than uneasy couplings between private and state schools, the most productive partnerships would be between nearby state schools, which can easily share good practice and resources and understand each other’s situations. However, Michael’s Gove’s chaotic, anti-education, anti-teacher and anti-children policies of fragmenting state education into a free-for-all, where any ideological or religious group with an axe to grind can set up a free school with unqualified staff, or else schools are handed over to profit-driven companies whose core business is selling carpets, for example, wrecks collaboration and drives up competitiveness, thus increasing educational apartheid. If private schools genuinely want to work with state schools for the best reasons, perhaps they should review their voting patterns for 2015 to ensure that more policies like Gove’s never see the light of day.
Max Fishel
Bromley, Kent

•  If Anthony Seldon really believes his private-school sector can help state education, he could make a start by doing something practical. Giving private places to the difficult, often-excluded pupils that the state sector has to deal with all the time would actually be of some practical use and would operate as an interesting test case to see how effective private education would be in helping kids who are not keen on learning.
Alistair Richardson
Stirling

• Your editorial on social mobility in schools (28 January) painted a bleak picture of educational opportunity in Britain today. However, it would be wrong to suggest schools of all stripes are engaged in some sort of conspiracy to widen social divisions. Within the boarding sector, for instance, efforts have been made to find places for children from some of the most deprived parts of the UK. The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation – of which my school is a member – aims to offer fully funded places to hundreds of disadvantaged pupils over the next decade. In doing so, it will specifically avoid “cherry-picking” students, working with partner organisations to find children with the potential to inspire aspiration within their communities. The only plot we in the boarding sector are complicit in is to break down class barriers.
Patrick Derham
Head master of Rugby school

• Demos is right to call the pupil premium “a good policy, in theory” (Pupil premium failing to help poor children prosper, 28 January). Their new research adds to the overwhelming evidence from Ofsted that, in practice, the premium is failing to meet its purpose of raising the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils. But this will not change as long as schools are allocated this funding regardless of whether they actually succeed in raising attainment or improving long-term outcomes for pupils on free school meals. Currently schools are being rewarded for failing pupils.

This is why we’re calling on government to pay a portion of the premium by results, not all upfront. Schools should receive their final payment for eligible pupils 18 months after they leave school, on condition that the child is in education, employment or training at that point. This would build accountability into the premium, and focus schools’ attention on the pupils who need most support, and for whom the policy was designed. Payment-by-results is a key principle of public-service funding and can turn a good idea in theory into improved outcomes in practice. The attainment gap isn’t closing – we need to act fast to ensure the opportunity offered by the pupil premium isn’t wasted.
Jenny North
Director of policy and strategy at Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation

 

I am writing to express concern regarding your interview with Anastasia Taylor-Lind about her photo of a wedding in Nagorno-Karabakh (My best shot, G2, 24 January). Arts, including photography, can potentially play an important role in bringing communities together, but people who use the arts need to be objective, unbiased and aim to highlight the plight of all people affected by conflicts. When reading the article, it is sad to see how visiting and reporting about Nagorno-Karabakh can play into the PR efforts of the separatist regime that exists there. Ms Taylor-Lind should, rather, visit Azerbaijan to witness the plight of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons who were forced to flee their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh. I am afraid reporting on someone’s happiness that exists at the expense of someone else’s misfortune does not help the efforts to bring peace and stability to the region.

May I also stress that all unauthorised visits to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan are illegal. Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognised part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and as such foreigners aiming to visit Nagorno-Karabakh should do so through relevant Azerbaijani authorities. All visitors going to Nagorno-Karabakh without authorisation from the Republic of Azerbaijan are banned from visiting Azerbaijan and will find it difficult to receive proper consular assistance from the UK diplomatic missions in the region.
Fakhraddin Gurbanov
Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the UK

 

As the Guardian reported (Thousands due bedroom tax refunds after blunder by DWP, 10 January), many tenants have been charged the bedroom tax while exempt under regulation 217. Although the DWP places the total number of affected tenants at 6,000-7,000, most experts feel the total will be far higher. In Cardiff and Caerphilly alone (just two out of 455 local authorities), around 500 affected tenants have been identified. By most estimates, between 40,000-60,000 tenants – some of the most financially vulnerable members of our community – have been made to pay a charge for which they were never liable. Many of these will have surrendered valuable rights on written advice. A significant minority will have forfeited their tenancies or been evicted.

That part of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act which introduced the “spare room subsidy” has, whether through careless drafting or legislative indifference, prompted chaos and confusion. Given that the minister never sought to define what constitutes a bedroom, local authorities have been forced to depend upon a steady stream of guidance and (sometimes) threatening bulletins. Meanwhile, as communities organise, a growing flood of appeals succeed, leaving housing benefit departments ever more bewildered. The poorest continue to suffer on incomes that sometimes dip beneath the UN poverty threshold. Many Welsh tenants and their supporters will be joining a national day of action against the bedroom tax with a Cardiff march and rally on Saturday 5 April.

This latest attempt by the DWP to downplay such a massive error demonstrates not only how misconceived the “spare room subsidy” is, but also the futility of seeking to conceal its wider social harms. Rather than amending regulation 217, we urge the minister to recommend the bedroom tax now be repealed.
Jamie Insole, Adam Johannes Cardiff and South Wales Against the Bedroom Tax, Most Rev Barry Morgan Archbishop of Wales, Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Chris Bryant MP, Leanne Wood AM Leader, Plaid Cymru, Mick Antoniw AM, Bethan Jenkins AM, Lynne Neagle AM, Joe Halewood, Juliet Edgar Reclaim, Steve Clarke Welsh Tenants, Joe Puzey Shelter Cymru

 

 

Ian Waller’s experience of impersonal treatment when recording his mother’s death (Letters, 29 January) was the complete opposite to mine when attending the Liverpool registrar of births, deaths and marriages to advise of my father’s demise in the 70s. The building had three different entrances from the street, one for each function, but with a central counter which serviced the three sectioned-off areas. I mistakenly entered the “births” section to be greeted by a smiling lady who cheerfully asked for the baby’s name. When she realised my mistake she directed me to the correct entrance around the corner. When I entered there, the same lady was waiting for me behind the counter, this time with a suitably sombre face, and solemnly asked me for the details.
Colin Burke
Manchester

• Reading Alfred Hickling’s review of Hobson’s Choice (29 January), a play about a northern cobbler, which “celebrates the enduring nature of quality craftsmanship”, my eye was caught by the Guardian offer that was advertised alongside it – for handmade “classic collection” shoes. Coincidence or cute editorial manoeuvre?
Valerie Pedlar
Southport

• Valérie Trierweiler says she will continue to work for the charity Action Contre la Faim (‘Call it what you will’ – Trierweiler faces media, 28 January). Would “Action Contre l’homme” not be a more appropriate cause for her to espouse?
Margaret Harrison
King’s Lynn, Norfolk

• I was delighted to read (Letters, 28 January) of a sighting of the rare Shropshire kangaroo. Any tips to assist such sightings in London gardens?
Gina Beck
London

• Photos to authenticate claims on the letters page about flora and fauna should arrive in a 35mm film canister (Letters, passim).
Dr Alex May
Manchester

• Could we have no more egg-based humorous letters, please (Letters, 29 January)? One was enoeuf.
John Jepson
Driffield, East Yorkshire

 

Independent:

 

Lib Dems declare war on the rich” (front page headline, 28 January)? I don’t think so

Let’s put the £2bn which would be raised by the “mansion tax” against the billions that Royal Bank of Scotland has received from the taxpayer and uses to fund its payment of bonuses. Let’s compute how much certain people are being paid in order that they might benefit from tax relief on a million-pound pension contribution.

“War” would be an 80 per cent tax rate, a huge hike in death duties and a flat refusal to countenance any form of bonus payment in any business in which the taxpayer had a stake. But then “Lib Dems Tip-Toe Up On The Rich, Pull A Very Stern Face and Run Away Again” isn’t much of a headline, is it?

Alan Wilkinson, Durham

 

A Lib Dem “war on the rich”? After five years as part of a government which systematically wages war on the poor, it would at least make a change.

Mike Wright, Nuneaton, Warwickshire

 

Britain and Europe: decision time

In 2015 we may well have a referendum with a simple in/out option over the UK’s membership of the EU. It is generally assumed that if it goes to the “out” option, the UK would still want to enjoy the benefits of membership of the outer-ring of countries that enjoy a free trade relationship with the EU.  Norway and Switzerland spring to mind.

I understand that both Norway and Switzerland have had to accept many if not all of the “Brussels restrictions” on their local laws and practices. Some examples include the Working Time Drective, health and safety regulations in work and adherence to the authority of the European Court of Human Rights, so despised by the Tories and Ukip.

Obviously, members of this “outer circle” get no votes in Brussels, but conversely, as long as they adhere to the EU’s rules they can still trade and don’t have to pay a “membership fee”.

With the exception of the monies paid to the EU, would the strictures applied to the UK, so ranted about by the Eurosceptics, be much different?

Tim Brook, Bristol

 

It is time the other EU member states told the UK to stop whingeing  and leave.

I say this with much regret. I am a committed European and have worked for Europe all my life, but after hearing George Osborne’s recent speech I have to conclude that the gap is too wide to bridge.

The telling phrase is “The EU was sold to our country [as a European Economic Community]”. Nobody ever tried to sell the UK anything. It signed up voluntarily. But ever since it did, commentators have implied some kind of devious plot to trick the UK into becoming “European” against its will. Since the will is clearly not there, the UK should bow out.

It will be a relief to be free of all the silly scare stories about influxes of Romanians – 30 since the New Year – and the demise of the euro, which seems to be out-performing the pound at the moment. We will be spared the embarrassment of British politicians and MEPs offending their foreign counterparts – always in English, never in a foreign language. It will be fun watching the Brits queue for visas at Calais. And all those of us living abroad may have to go back “home”, placing extra burdens on the NHS – or whatever it will be called.

The tragedy is that if the UK had played an active and positive role right from the beginning, it might have helped create a union more to its liking. Instead, it has spent the last 40 years sniping from the sidelines. Everyone lost patience long ago. They should stop being so accommodating.

Dave Skinner, Tervuren, Belgium

 

Past and future of flooded Somerset

Once upon a time, though less than a thousand  years ago, the Somerset Levels were in their “natural” state.

That is, they were swampland, frequently flooded not only by rain but by seawater from the Bristol Channel, with people living just on “islands” (such as Muchelney), pasturing their animals on the low land in the summer if and when it dried out. Indeed, “Somerset” is thought to mean “Land of the summer people”.

Then mediaeval monks and, later on, others, thought it would be a good idea to drain this land, first to provide canals for transport and then to be able to grow things on it. This was done piecemeal, and over the centuries no one could decide the best way to carry out the  work, or who should pay for it. Many, many reports were written on the subject, and most  were shelved under the force of inertia.

Only under the pressure of the needs of defence in the Second World War was the last major work done, in 1940, when the artificial Huntspill River was created, providing a straight and wide drain to the sea. (Michael Williams’ 1970 Draining of the Somerset Levels – still in print – is a fascinating account of all this, and includes some valuable commentary on the situation these days.)

Once again we have delays, disagreements,  and squabbles over who should pay for drainage work on the Somerset Moors and Levels, to give them their proper name. Nothing new there.

And it’s only a question of time before sea level rising will mean that nature will win and put them back to their “natural” state.

I do hope that someone with the common sense of Cnut is drawing up a medium-term plan to ensure that the inevitable suffering there is to come may be minimised. But sadly politicians don’t think medium-term.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury,  Somerset

 

Baffled by  butterflies

I am generally comfortable with Guy Keleny’s pedantry and his column is often one of my first reads. However, his final piece on 25 January does itself warrant correction.

Butterflies are neither born nor hatched. Schoolboy biology should have informed him that butterflies emerge from pupae, not eggs; they undergo metamorphosis when changing from their larval form. Their full life cycle is therefore egg, larva, pupa, imago.

Jonathan Colley, Rugby

 

Nothing silly about these Tories

Bang goes another myth. Here was I under the impression that serious Tories lacked a sense of humour, and then I read this in your article (28 January) about the goings on in Thirsk and Malton: “A prominent local told the Yorkshire Post that their MP is a ‘silly girl’ – when the constituency needs someone like Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage.”

Ray Black, Harrogate,  North Yorkshire

 

Protest against annoying jargon

I was delighted to see the photograph (29 January) of a woman displaying a religious picture at a demonstration in Kiev. A caption might combine two of the most used and most annoying words – it is “literally iconic”.

Pauline Grayson, Manchester

 

Dangerous bonfire of regulations

David Cameron trumpets his abolition of 800 or so supposedly unnecessary regulations in business and industry. If they are as useless as he makes out, it seems worthwhile to ask why they existed in the  first place.

Two so far identified are the removal of the need to obtain a poisons licence for oven cleaners and of the licence for food handling for childminders. Evidently Eton failed to teach Mr Cameron much science. Any mixture of cleaners applied to a heat source, such as an oven, carries the risk of producing highly noxious gases such as chlorine. It’s ironic that this danger should arise, effectively with official permission, in the centenary year of the first World War, in which chlorine gas claimed many lives.

Removing the need for childminders to obtain a food-handling licence ignores the troublingly frequent incidence in recent times of outbreaks of serious digestive illnesses such as E. coli. These outbreaks have occurred unduly often in nurseries and kindergartens.

A more short-sighted rush to deregulate is difficult to envisage. Health and safety concerns are completely overlooked. On this principle, perhaps it is just as well that one of Mr Cameron’s predecessors,  Mrs Thatcher, closed the mining industry. The Davy lamp might just as readily have been cast aside as a useless encumbrance to profit. Who else is to be sacrificed to this sort of ideology?

Michael Igoe, Esh Winning, Co Durham

 

Hedgerow Regulations, which reports say David Cameron will scrap, are what stop fields being turned into American-style prairies. The fewer than 20 pages of regulations can hardly be called red tape. If the scrapping goes ahead, Cameron’s lasting reputation will be as the prime minister who destroyed the British landscape with prairies and wind farms.

Dr Philip Sullivan, Frolesworth, Leicestershire

 

 

Times:

 

 

Sir, As a resident of the Somerset moors, I listen with dismay to the experts’ opinions on the merits or otherwise of dredging. Those of us who live here believe two main factors have contributed to the increasingly severe flooding over the past 20 years: first, the construction of flood-protected estates on what were upstream flood meadows; and second, the cessation of dredging and drain maintenance since the early 1990s.

In 1993 it took four to five days of heavy, prolonged rain before the River Tone spilled on to the moor. Recently this has reduced to little more than 24 hours. Last summer it was apparent that the banks of both Tone and Parret are so badly silted as to reduce their width by at least half. One assumes the same is true of the beds. Dredging will not eradicate flooding but it must surely reduce the severity and speed with which it happens.

The poorly planned “pilot dredging” operations delayed until late autumn 2013 and reportedly stopped to protect the workers, demonstrated a sad lack of urgency and common sense at management level. We now understand that the solution should include dredging and action upstream. By replacing the lost flood meadows? We need protection not from seasonal floods but from bureaucrats and politicians.

Michael Orwin

Stoke St Gregory, Somerset

Sir, Farmers blaming the Environment Agency for recent floods in the Somerset Levels must themselves take some responsibility for this environmental disaster. Agricultural practices in the UK have caused serious soil erosion. Growing of crops and animal production on unsuitable land, overstocking, inappropriate timing of agricultural practices, degradation of river banks by livestock, and lack of riparian buffers and winter ground cover have caused soil erosion and siltation of waterways. Farmers could do more to implement good practice to safeguard precious soil and mitigate future flooding.

Dr Daniel Bebber

Department of Biosciences, Exeter

Sir, In the past 20 years or so it has been policy to maintain the water table at a higher level, after lobbying by environmentalists. Drainage has been actively limited by control of sluices and passively limited by allowing the build-up of silt. The result is that the capacity of the peaty soil to absorb water has been reduced, hence the flooding.

The environmentalists were perhaps correct in asserting that drainage had gone too far, but we have to make up our minds whether wildlife takes precedence over farmland, people and property.

John Ogborne

Wells

Sir, Floodplains are only for short-term storage, and it is essential that the watercourses draining them should be at full carrying capacity, so frequent dredging is necessary.

I have watched the deterioration of the Lower Derwent Valley SSSI, farmed by my family for over a century, because of a lack of understanding by Natural England staff of problems with waterlogging.

Would it not be more sensible to give the function of water level management to the Association of Drainage Authorities? It has the expertise and a network of local organisations, the Internal Drainage Boards.

joan burnett

East Cottingwith, York

 

Sir, It is a fallacy to compare the effects of the Abortion Act of 50 years ago with what might happen should assisted dying be legalised (letter, Jan 27). The latter is directed to helping mentally competent, terminally ill people who want to able to control the time and circumstance of their death should their suffering or indignity become intolerable during the last few days or weeks of life.

These individuals, unlike the foetus about to be aborted, are going to die shortly anyway. And although, unlike abortion, the number of assisted deaths would be few, this is what the vast majority of the public favours.

Nor should it be confused with assisted suicide or euthanasia, where the person may be severely disabled but not terminally ill and for which legalisation is not being sought.

The Falconer Bill now before the House of Lords has more stringent eligibility criteria and safeguards than the Death with Dignity Act which has been in place in Oregon for 16 years and where there has been no evidence that vulnerable patients have been put at risk. It is time for a similar law to bring comfort to the terminally ill in England.

Sir Terence English, FRCS

Oxford

 

Sir, That the MoD is considering a review of the D-Notice system can be construed either as the sinister first step on the road to official censorship of the media concerning national security matters, or as history repeating itself. The system has seen frequent external and internal reviews (1962, 1967, 1980, 1982, 1993, 1998), invariably when officials and/or politicians felt that arrangements were inadequately protective of their interests (labelled, with only partial justification, as “national security”).

All the reviews have concluded that the voluntary and advisory D-Notice system, although imperfect in several respects, is preferable for both sides, official and media, to the alternative, which is a censorship system (which the UK has had only once, partially, during the Second World War). The suggestion that corralling the media might be achieved by an “enhanced administrative relationship” (very Orwellian) with the MoD Press Office, an organisation with a historically troubled relationship with the media, is scarcely credible.

On this occasion (the Snowden leaks), as previously with Wikileaks, the public cannot know the full damage caused, and is aware only of UK and allied official and political embarrassment about the extent of intelligence gathering, and about the poor security practices which allow “whistleblowers” such apparent ease of access and of extraction. Snowden’s most serious crime is not what he has revealed about the use of electronic surveillance and targeting, of which there has been for some years plenty of material available in the public domain to intelligent terrorists, but in his taking detailed endangering data into very insecure places.

One can only guess why in this case The Guardian did not seek advice about detail from the D-Notice Secretary before publishing: fear of an injunction, or of being scooped by another newspaper? No longer being in the habit of discussing sensitive information, as once informally and reluctantly it used to do?

The international nature and speed of the internet has been a consideration since the beginning of this millennium, and it is all the more reason for retaining the availability of independent advice from a body on which the media are widely represented, and which also has the equal role of arguing with officials that, in the public interest, many matters should be published.

Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson

(D-Notice Secretary 1999-2004; author of Secrecy and the Media, the Official History of the D-Notice System)

London SW11

 

Sir, As a resident of the Somerset moors, I listen with dismay to the experts’ opinions on the merits or otherwise of dredging. Those of us who live here believe two main factors have contributed to the increasingly severe flooding over the past 20 years: first, the construction of flood-protected estates on what were upstream flood meadows; and second, the cessation of dredging and drain maintenance since the early 1990s.

In 1993 it took four to five days of heavy, prolonged rain before the River Tone spilled on to the moor. Recently this has reduced to little more than 24 hours. Last summer it was apparent that the banks of both Tone and Parret are so badly silted as to reduce their width by at least half. One assumes the same is true of the beds. Dredging will not eradicate flooding but it must surely reduce the severity and speed with which it happens.

The poorly planned “pilot dredging” operations delayed until late autumn 2013 and reportedly stopped to protect the workers, demonstrated a sad lack of urgency and common sense at management level. We now understand that the solution should include dredging and action upstream. By replacing the lost flood meadows? We need protection not from seasonal floods but from bureaucrats and politicians.

Michael Orwin

Stoke St Gregory, Somerset

Sir, Farmers blaming the Environment Agency for recent floods in the Somerset Levels must themselves take some responsibility for this environmental disaster. Agricultural practices in the UK have caused serious soil erosion. Growing of crops and animal production on unsuitable land, overstocking, inappropriate timing of agricultural practices, degradation of river banks by livestock, and lack of riparian buffers and winter ground cover have caused soil erosion and siltation of waterways. Farmers could do more to implement good practice to safeguard precious soil and mitigate future flooding.

Dr Daniel Bebber

Department of Biosciences, Exeter

Sir, In the past 20 years or so it has been policy to maintain the water table at a higher level, after lobbying by environmentalists. Drainage has been actively limited by control of sluices and passively limited by allowing the build-up of silt. The result is that the capacity of the peaty soil to absorb water has been reduced, hence the flooding.

The environmentalists were perhaps correct in asserting that drainage had gone too far, but we have to make up our minds whether wildlife takes precedence over farmland, people and property.

John Ogborne

Wells

Sir, Floodplains are only for short-term storage, and it is essential that the watercourses draining them should be at full carrying capacity, so frequent dredging is necessary.

I have watched the deterioration of the Lower Derwent Valley SSSI, farmed by my family for over a century, because of a lack of understanding by Natural England staff of problems with waterlogging.

Would it not be more sensible to give the function of water level management to the Association of Drainage Authorities? It has the expertise and a network of local organisations, the Internal Drainage Boards.

joan burnett

East Cottingwith, York

 

Sir, Further to Derek Taylor’s letter (Jan 29) mentioning the clue that reduced the qualifying contestants to an acceptable level in the first Times National Crossword competition in 1970. I remember ploughing through the book of Lamentations to no avail. The clue, I think, was “They hang on trees in Lamentations”. The word “amenta”, hidden in the clue, is the plural of “amentum”, Latin for catkin.

Edward Coales

Wortham, Suffolk

 

 

Telegraph:

SIR – The Bishop of Taunton and the diocese’s archdeacons have declared their opposition to the Church Commissioners’ decision to house the Bishop of Bath and Wells in a family home rather than the medieval palace. Instead, the commissioners have bought the Old Rectory in Croscombe for more than they sold it for seven years ago.

Sir Tony Baldry MP, a Church Commissioner, was invited to Wells on Saturday to explain the decision. Unfortunately, he was unable to answer this question: if a great deal of money was spent renovating the palace 12 years ago, and it was re-wired only four years ago, why is it unsuitable? Dick Ackworth, Archdeacon Emeritus, said that, on his retirement in 2007, the commissioners sold the house in Croscombe because it was not suitable for his successor. If it was unsuitable then, how can it be suitable for the new bishop?

Church Commissioners are answerable only to Parliament; they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. They have behaved in an arrogant way in making this arbitrary decision without consulting people who know about the local situation.

Rosie Inge
Wells, Somerset

SIR – Peter Price, the previous bishop of Bath and Wells, worked successfully on his vision of putting the palace at the heart of community and cultural life.

To keep a place alive requires a resident; a museum is the antithesis of this.

Dorothea Bradley
Taunton, Somerset

 

SIR – The vibrancy of creativity and entrepreneurialism in building the strength of small and medium-sized enterprises is essential to our economic vitality. It must be encouraged by incentives for investment and a supportive capital gains tax regime.

These measures have brought success for Britain, even against a backcloth of income tax rates of 50 per cent, and sometimes even more. And they will continue to do so.

An increase in the top rate of tax from 45 per cent to 50 per cent would, of itself, neither be anti-business nor would it damage our economic recovery.

There will be political arguments about this proposal, but perhaps it would help to create greater cohesiveness in our society.

Sir Victor Blank
London W1

Reforming Ofsted

SIR – Ofsted was set up by John Major’s government in 1992 to “standardise and improve the quality of education in our schools”. Even Ofsted admits that this aim has not been achieved, despite a cost of over £200 million a year.

In my experience of secondary school teaching in England and Wales, Ofsted has been responsible for more teachers and head teachers leaving the profession than any other single cause. Viable schools have been destroyed and the education of many children badly affected. Of course there should be school inspections, but the impersonal, dictatorial, unsympathetic and, frankly, unprofessional way Ofsted carries out the process is counter-productive, as demonstrated by the abysmal performance of far too many schools.

When two think tanks called for Ofsted to be reformed or abolished, its leader, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was spitting blood rather than responding, in an educated fashion, with examples of the successes of Ofsted, and demonstrating its worth to our schools. I believe that such a reaction speaks volumes about the Ofsted ethos.

Brian Farmer
Chelmsford, Essex

Young music lovers

SIR – I am somewhat puzzled by the apparent rancour of Radio 3 listeners regarding Classic FM.

The other evening, I collected my six-year-old granddaughter from school and, by chance, had left Classic FM on the car radio. Thinking it might not be to her taste, I had it at a low volume but, after about a mile, she asked me to turn it up. We had Debussy and Beethoven for the rest of the journey.

Later, when I asked her about it, she said the music was “calm and soothing”. Apart from my surprise at her mature choice of words, that was a good endorsement of the accessibility of Classic FM’s music to a younger audience, who will have the chance to grow up into Radio 3 “fogeys”.

Stuart Ashton
Whitley Bay, Northumberland

Perch purchase

SIR – The village shop in Kilmington, East Devon, has just taught me a new word. Two types of eggs were on display – either “free range” or “perchery”. Perchery? Apparently this is a new egg production system whereby hens are allowed to move about a barn without any restrictions.

Two wins: any move away from battery cages is welcome, and my village shop is now increasing my vocabulary.

Brian Vaughton
Whitford, Devon

Parish magazines

SIR – The decline of the oldest parish magazine, at Haworth, West Yorkshire, surprised me. Here, at St Mary’s, we have a very successful parish magazine that includes regular features such as “Rector’s Ramble”, news from surrounding parishes, children’s pages and, of course, the church diary and rotas.

In one article, a parishioner tapped a rich vein of memories on discovering her father’s diary, dated 1930. She described life on the farm in the days before electricity and mains water. Another took us through the harsh winter of 1947. This year, we will hear from people whose antecedents survived or died in the First World War.

Computers are a wonderful resource, but not everybody has one, and the parish magazine is a valuable way of keeping in touch with those who can no longer get out and about. Long may it survive.

Nora Jackson
Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

Differing democracies

SIR – It appears that a council needs the backing of 75 per cent of rate-payers who live in a street if the council wishes to change the name of that street. Yet Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, will be able to break up the union of our countries if he just receives a simple majority of votes cast.

William Birch
Galashiels, Selkirkshire

War? What war?

SIR – In the centenary year, when most organisations connected with the First World War are looking to commemorate the start of the conflict, the Imperial War Museum is closed until July.

Clive Pett
London SW13

Modernising the expensive Ministry of Defence

SIR – In the Eighties and Nineties, I worked on many procurement studies for the Ministry of Defence; there was a huge amount of avoidable waste and delay. Military equipment always costed much more than civilian equivalents, took much longer to arrive, and often arrived unfit for purpose. Nothing seems to have changed.

Recent major failures in procurement projects show just how unsuited the MoD is to its principal role: supporting and improving our Armed Forces. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust the MoD to buy me a Santa suit for Christmas: it’d probably arrive in time for Easter, cost five times too much, and be the wrong size and colour.

The MoD is not just ineffective; it’s an expensive dinosaur that gets in the way of efficient defence management. Currently it’s about 10 per cent the size of the whole of the Armed Forces. That’s a lot of overhead for little or no benefit.

The real problem is cultural: the MoD is insular and resistant to change. British defence procurement needs major surgery, not sticking-plaster.

Perhaps we should consider replacing the MoD, essentially a 19th-century institution, with something modern.

Mark Evans
Llanddeusant, Carmarthenshire

SIR – There would be value in seeing some unvarnished figures for the cost to the taxpayer of the MoD civilian staff, together with its associated agencies.

When Cyril Northcote Parkinson published his prophetic Laws in 1958, his attack on expanding bureaucracies was based on the expansion of admiralty civil servants as the naval ships and manpower reduced over time. I am sure that Parkinson’s law is still operating.

Cdr Alan York RN (rtd)
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

SIR – As a farmer on the edge of the Somerset Levels, I pay a yearly contribution to my local drainage board to help with the draining of my farmland. Some of this money goes to the Environment Agency to aid in the maintenance of the bigger rivers downstream from me.

For around 20 years, the agency has decided not to continue the maintenance of these bigger channels and to divert its attention to conservation. It has therefore caused a considerable amount of the current flooding problems. I fully support conservation work, however the agency appears to value it above people’s lives and livelihoods. It is about time the pendulum swung back towards the proper control of water on the Levels, and away from expensive nature reserves.

My grassland has now been underwater for more than three weeks. It is starting to rot, and must be replaced at great cost. Could I have a rebate from the Environment Agency to aid my recovery from the flooding?

Richard Yandle
Martock, Somerset

SIR – Why is it going to take six weeks to come up with a plan to rescue the Somerset Levels? The problem is not new. Flooding has been getting worse since Christmas, and Cobra has met twice this year already to discuss the problem. Added to this, the Government did nothing about the same level of floods occurring a year ago.

A physical response should be forthcoming within a couple of weeks. Flood victims do not want to wait a further six weeks before a long-term plan is produced.

D J Glossop
Drimpton, Dorset

SIR – Surely, the people whose families have worked on the Somerset Levels for generations know more about the ways to manage their watery environment than the Environment Agency, which seems to be populated by people with degrees in environmental science and no common sense? Does it really take six weeks to decide to dredge the rivers?

Elizabeth Cornwell
Warkworth, Northumberland

SIR – The Environment Agency should ask the Dutch what to do.

Most of Holland is below sea level and the Dutch are the world leaders in water management in tidal waters.

David Gray
Corfe Mullen, Dorset

SIR – This Government thinks finding £4.5 million to dredge the area’s rivers will be difficult. However, the Government has found £600 million to send to Syria; while I am not denying Syria’s needs, charity should, for once, begin at home. British families and businesses need help now.

Robert Green
Farnham, Surrey

SIR – Our friends in Muchelney now own a boat that enables them to get food to their livestock. Central government hasn’t a clue what life is like here. David Cameron should come and see us and, unlike other important visitors, he should remember to wear his Wellington boots.

Sarah Allen
Bridgwater, Somerset

 

 

 

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – The landmark judgment in the case of Louise O’Keeffe reflects similar rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that gives recognition to children’s rights. In the 1980s a series of cases were adjudicated in Strasbourg concerning corporal punishment in British schools under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The same legal provision has now been applied successfully to include the sexual abuse of children. Although the O’Keeffe case dates back to the 1970s, it sends an important message to the Government today about its duty of care and the legal, as well as moral obligation, to not only protect minors against abuse but to put in place adequate safeguards and effective remedies.

The ruling also signals a cultural shift in Ireland concerning the status of children. Added to the findings in the Murphy, Ryan and Cloynes inquiries into clerical abuse, there is now clear validation that children have a right to be taught in a safe environment and that their physical integrity must be respected by teachers. This is in keeping with developments elsewhere, such as Scandinavia, which has been particularly vigorous in promoting child welfare and challenging inappropriate adult authority. The implications of this judicial review are that as a signatory to the European Convention, the Irish State and particularly the Department of Education, will similarly need to “raise its game” to ensure that existing and future generations of children are protected within the educational system. – Yours, etc,

MARIE

PARKER -JENKINS,

Professor of Education,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – I had a disturbing dream last night. It went something like this: The Taoiseach, in something of a sequel to his July 2012 Dáil speech following the Cloyne report, lashed out at the insensitive and overly legalistic statement of Catholic church spokesperson Bishop Ruairí Quinn following the European court ruling which found the Catholic Church in Ireland to be ultimately responsible for the sexual abuse suffered by Ms O’Keeffe while a primary school pupil. Asked if the church would apologise to Ms O’Keeffe, Bishop Quinn stated that while he sympathised with Ms O’Keeffe and her family he would have to study the ruling and take further legal advice before he could offer an apology. Thankfully it was only a dream! – Yours, etc,

Fr MARTIN DELANEY,

Rathdowney, Co Laois.

Sir, – Tuesday was one of those rare and great days when justice was done. In spite of bullying and intimidation again by the State, Louise O’Keeffe triumphed (Home News, January 29th). Thank God for Europe! – Yours, etc,

 

DAVID O’SULLIVAN,

Greenane,

Kenmare,

Co Kerry.

Sir, – A few years ago my wife and I happened to be in a park in Paris. I noticed a group of young children in the care of a couple of young teachers. They were all on their lunch-break. There was an obvious friendship, kindness and warmth between teachers and children. Being a mere man, I felt obliged to try to suppress the tears that were coming from joy at what I was seeing and from regret at what I was remembering.

I was remembering my own days at school when the fist, the cane and the strap were the principal teaching aids deployed. I was remembering a world of fear, helplessness and discouragement that degraded all concerned, including the teachers. I remember how during religious knowledge classes we were told what terrible sinners we were and what was in store for us if we did not sit up straight and do as we were told. I remember how the chance sight of a teacher during a weekend cast a shadow over the remaining hours of freedom to which every human is born.

Unlike Louise O’Keeffe, I was not sexually abused. But the brutal and uncontrolled exercise of power that constituted the relationship between teacher and pupil was in itself abusive in the same way that the relationship between master and slave is abusive.

And, as the saying goes, the dogs in the streets knew all about it. As if that ever makes much difference to those in charge of the leads.

But maybe the universe that informs the clear-eyed decision of the European Court of Human Rights is grounded in the same world that I encountered on that afternoon in the Parc Monceau. It is certainly a very long way from the world colonised by the occupants of the opposing fine buildings of Marlborough Street who have so arranged matters that neither can claim to be responsible for the infliction of so much suffering and waste. And to think that it was all done in the name of education. – Yours, etc,

PETER KENNY,

Hillside Drive,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Might the decision in favour of Louise O’Keeffe suggest that, while the Irish High and Supreme Courts dispense law, the European Court of Human Rights dispenses justice?

Does it also call into question the constitutional wisdom of granting permanent immunity from legal challenge to any piece of legislation which has previously been referred to the Supreme Court by the President? – Yours, etc,

PETER MOLLOY,

Haddington Park,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin.

 

 

Sir, – It is with a great sense of sadness that I have learned of the death of Seán Flynn, Education Editor of this newspaper (Breaking News, January 29th).

Seán’s interest in education went far beyond what was required of him as a journalist. His interest in change and pursuit of new ideas kept him at the cutting edge of education news. Tuesday’s Irish Times was always compulsive reading. His passing will bring sadness to everyone involved in Irish education.

On behalf of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, I offer our deepest sympathy to his family, colleagues and friends. – Yours, etc,

SEAN COTTRELL,

Executive Director,

Irish Primary Principals’

Network,

Glanmire, Glounthaune,

 

Sir, – Here on a plate is a ready-made finished project, tried, tested and staffed and urgently needed to help our stressed health system.

The cost to keep Mount Carmel hospital operating is a pittance compared with the endless millions wasted on countless projects and consultancies with no end product.

What are we waiting for? – Yours, etc,

TED O’KEEFFE,

Sandford Road,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

 

 

Sir, – Apart from the fallacy that religious indoctrination enhances literacy and numeracy, Dr Daniel O’Connell (January 29th) must be aware that there are parents who would not have their children in a religious class even if it were to guarantee them a PhD.

At the same time as he made his suggestion that religion should give way to basic literacy and numeracy teaching, the Minister for Education also disclosed that the divestment of schools by religious patrons is simply not happening, despite all the talks and consultations that have taken place. This means that there are still many parents who are in the invidious position of either marking their children as being apart from their peers by extracting them from religious instruction proper, or putting up with them being indoctrinated. This is to say nothing of the injustice that is the integrated curriculum, where religious dogma is presented, unquestioningly, in all other subjects throughout the school day, or the widespread religious iconography in the schools.

It is open to suggestion that those who insist on religious instruction at the expense of basic literacy and numeracy are afraid of the better informed and more rational adults that would result from teachers accepting the Minister’s suggestion. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS McKENNA,

Farrenboley Park,

Windy Arbour,

 

Sir, – From an operational perspective, it is envisaged that local authorities will be engaged as agents of Irish Water up until January 2015 when this arrangement will end on a phased basis.

I had personal experience as a road maintenance engineer, of a similar changeover in the UK of water supply from local area water boards (similar to local authority control) in the early 1990s to a dozen water utility companies which have a monopoly in each area of the UK they serve.

Following the passing of the legislation for this changeover in control of water supply, responsibility for the design and completion of the final reinstatement of pavement surfacing works following water utility excavations was transferred from the local authority control to the water utility organisations.

Before the passing of the legislation, local authorities designed, supervised and completed these final reinstatement of pavement surfacing works. These works were mostly contracted to the medium and large road surfacing companies.

These works were usually completed to a very high standard.

The cost of these works were reimbursed to the local authorities by the local area water board organisations.

The local authorities were always in control of their road surfaces.

Following the changeover in 1991, there has been a serious deterioration in the standard of workmanship of final reinstatement works, which have been carried out by the water utility companies, which has led to a huge backlog and huge expense in trying to remedy the serious decline in the standard of highway road surfaces in the UK.

Reactive maintenance is so much more expensive than planned maintenance.

The former government-owned water utility companies have now become public limited companies, more responsible to their shareholders than to the public.

Local authorities in the UK have lost complete control of the standard of workmanship for the final reinstatement of the road pavement surfaces on “their” roads.

Before this happens in Ireland, possibly without any debate, surely there should be some discussion with all the stakeholders. (The County and City Managers’ Association (CCMA), NRA, Department of Transport, etc) before the same very costly mistake is made in Ireland as happened in the UK 20 years ago.

RORY O’CONNOR,

Broadwell Drive,

 

A chara, – Is it unfair to question the sincerity of the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be against “unfair” discrimination against homosexuals?

In both 2010 and 2012, the Holy See opposed a United Nations resolution which stated that people should not be subject to summary executions or extrajudicial killings based on their “sexual orientation and gender identity”. While Vatican officials claimed to disapprove of violence against homosexuals, its representative Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said: “Such situations cannot be resolved by defining new categories, laws or policies that posit rights and privileges to special groups in society.”

The pretence the Catholic Church maintains that its teachings and actions do not perpetuate hatred and “unfair” discrimination against homosexuals is evidence of a duplicity that calls into question the entire moral foundation of the church hierarchy. – Is mise,

MARTIN G PADGETT,

(Former director of

communications,

Canadian Human Rights

Commission),

Charles Street East,

 

Sir, – The cross-Border funding scheme for deaf and disabled artists has recently been withdrawn. This budget was essential for my participation and professional development, as a disabled theatre-maker. Its withdrawal is of great concern to the deaf and disabled artistic community. This scheme should be reinstated.

The budget for the scheme was not large, at £526, 274, since the year 2000. Individual artists received £5,000 maximum, and were only eligible to apply every two or three years. While acknowledging the difficult context of the overall cuts in the arts sector, the withdrawal of the scheme does not seem to achieve much in terms of balancing budgets.

Mainstream opportunities in the arts aren’t always open to deaf and disabled artists. Venues don’t always have resources that are needed. This scheme enabled rehearsed readings, private mentoring, showcasing of our work and participation in residencies and other opportunities to network and meet key stakeholders within the artistic community in Ireland.

There was no consultation with deaf and disabled artists about the withdrawal of this funding. That would have helped explain the rationale for axing the fund, in the context of the overall 11 per cent cuts within the arts sector.

Deaf and disabled artists in the arts sector are often relegated to a “special” category, inferring our work does not have artistic “merit”. Cultural diversity and the deaf and disabled aesthetic adds to the richness of all areas of art and is reflective of the outsider’s experience. Therefore, the need to protect and safeguard targeted funding schemes, or to find some other avenues for supporting deaf and disabled artists, is essential.

Yes, we do want the choice of availing of mainstream funding; but allocated funding supported us in redressing the balance of exclusion and the barriers that have been built historically. Unfortunately, those barriers are deeply rooted in all areas of Irish society. By removing this funding scheme, the barriers are being reinforced.

We, as a community, don’t know what the current plans are. Lack of consultation isolates us further. Without this scheme, our work will not be made and our narratives will not be accounted for, in the context of artistic and cultural aesthetics. Actors, dancers, choreographers, directors, writers, visual artists, producers and technicians all gained from this scheme. Furthermore, the wider artistic community, in all its genres, benefited from co-working with deaf and disabled artists.

Over the years, this money has helped me to make my work. It allowed me to employ people to type up my plays. It was helpful in that I could use it to buy tickets to see other work. I used the money to have informal rehearsed readings of my plays.

Given the nature and importance of the scheme, it is hoped that the Arts Council might find alternative funding sources to support deaf and disabled artists and cover the specific additional costs to making our artistic work.

With disappointment and regret. – Yours, etc,

ROSALEEN McDONAGH,

Longboat Quay North,

Docklands, Dublin 2.

 

Sir, – Just a footnote to Diane Bartz’s informative commemorative piece on Pete Seeger (World News, January 29th).

Back in 1964 he gave a great concert to a crowded and enthusiastic Francis Xavier Hall audience in Dublin in late May/early June in 1964. His vibrant protest repertoire struck a chord with most of those present and, in my view, set some of the seeds for the 1960s student protest movement in general and the emerging anti-Vietnam war movement in particular.

It was a privilege to have been present on that occasion. – Yours, etc,

HARRY McCAULEY,

Maynooth Park,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

 

 

Sir, – Valued Customer. We appreciate your call. All our operators are busy (=a sole operator, feet up, having a coffee). Thank you for your patience. – Yours, etc,

PADDY TERRY,

Rosemount Crescent,

Clonskeagh, Dublin 14 .

Sir, – “As and from” – should be “As from” – frequently appearing in your august columns, alas! “Mitigate against” – meaningless. “Militate against” is what is meant. – Yours, etc,

DAVID GRANT,

Mount Pleasant, Waterford.

Sir, – How about “those of us who”, often used by those of us who don’t belong, subscribe, suffer, enjoy or support, as a way of trying to appear as if we do belong, subscribe, suffer, enjoy or support, or are affected! – Yours, etc,

PAT QUINN,

Emmet Road, Dublin 8.

Sir, – “A small open economy”. – Yours, etc,

PN CORISH,

Oaklands Drive,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, – “Irish Rail would like to apologise for…” and ”….have a pleasant and comfortable journey”. Unlikely, as I stand wedged between a bicycle and a toilet door. – Yours, etc,

FRANK NEENAN,

Tullow Road, Carlow.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

* The single most serious illness infecting the body politic in Ireland, or elsewhere, is the philosophy – if one can call it that – which says “why bother voting, we can’t change anything”.

Also in this section

Letters: Quinn needs to educate himself on faiths

Letters: A reform platform that ignores mental health

Letters: Increased GP workload will hurt patients

Rubbish! As a certain Mr Obama would say ‘yes we can!’ and no better time than now.

Meaning? Junior minister Brian Hayes, and he is no worse than all the others, has just announced that he is to seek the Fine Gael nomination to stand for the European Parliament.

Bear in mind that as recently as 2011 he asked the electorate to give him a five-year contract to represent them in Dail Eireann.

Now he has the unmitigated gall, in my opinion, to ask them to facilitate him in walking out on that contract, not for their sake but for his own or his party’s sake.

The thing is, he is dead right. If they are fool enough to oblige, as so many voters have been over and over again, it’s hard to blame him. Rest assured, there will be many more like him.

So, is there nothing they can do? Can they not change anything? Of course they can. Adopt a simple policy. Make it clear that, irrespective of loyalty to a party or to the individual, you will not vote for sitting members of the Oireachtas who stand for the European Parliament or vice versa. No more playing ‘musical chairs’ with our seats.

BRENDAN CASSERLY

ABBEYBRIDGE, WATERFALL, NEAR CORK

DOING THE STATE A SERVICE

* It took a brave person in Louise O’Keeffe to finally succeed in holding the State to account for abuse that took place in one of our schools. I can only imagine the long and frustrating battles she went through in both High and Supreme Courts before eventually finding justice in the European Court of Human Rights.

When it comes to funding for the most vulnerable in our society or accepting accountability for those in its care, the State’s typical reaction is to abdicate responsibility, and it will do so by exhausting every legal option at its disposal.

Sadly, budgetary considerations for the Government take precedence over moral justice. Don’t be surprised if the Department of Education‘s response to this judgment amounts to little more than mealy-mouthed platitudes. Thanks to Louise O’Keeffe, the State can no longer shirk its responsibilities to school children under its care by hiding behind legal technicalities.

JOHN BELLEW

PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH

A VERY COSTLY MISTAKE?

* From an operational perspective, it is envisaged that local authorities will be engaged as agents of Irish Water up until January 2015 when this arrangement will end on a phased basis. I had personal experience as a road maintenance engineer, of a similar changeover in the UK of water supply from local area water boards (similar to local authority control) in the early 1990s to a dozen water utility companies that have a monopoly in each area of the UK they serve.

Following the passing of the legislation for this changeover in control of water supply, responsibility for the design and completion of the final reinstatement of pavement surfacing works, following water utility excavations, was transferred from the local authority control to the water utility organisations.

Before the passing of the legislation, local authorities designed, supervised and completed these final reinstatement of pavement surfacing works. These works were mostly contracted to the medium and large road-surfacing companies.

These works were usually completed to a very high standard.

The cost of these works was reimbursed to the local authorities by the local area water board organisations. The local authorities were always in control of their road surfaces. Following the changeover in 1991, there has been a serious deterioration in the standard of workmanship of final reinstatement works, which have been carried out by the water utility companies, which has led to a huge backlog and huge expense in trying to remedy the serious decline in the standard of highway road surfaces in the UK.

Reactive maintenance is so much more expensive than planned maintenance. The former government-owned water utility companies have now become public limited companies, more responsible to their shareholders than to the public. Local authorities in the UK have lost complete control of the standard of workmanship for the final reinstatement of the road pavement surfaces on “their” roads.

Before this happens in Ireland, possibly without any debate, surely there should be some discussion with all the stakeholders. (The County and City Managers’ Association, The National Roads Authority, Department of Transport, etc) before the same very costly mistake is made in Ireland as to happened in the UK 20 years ago.

RORY O’CONNOR

LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND

A STATE’S PRIORITIES?

* I note with a degree of wry amusement that we have got our priorities right as usual.

In 2012, our Government, very wisely, closed the embassy to the Vatican. It may be a sovereign state but it is 0.7sqm in size, it has 800 citizens and the Irish Embassy to Italy is within a stone’s throw of it.

I could understand if the State were re-opening an embassy in a country where the sales of our goods might increase or where there is an increase in activity. Unfortunately, it is the very epitome of money being wasted – in that it is acknowledged that the number of Roman Catholics in this State is falling day by day.

I hardly think that re-opening that embassy is necessary when there is somebody who can attend to whatever minor matters might arise living within the same city where the Vatican is located.

I note, by contrast, that the State did not see fit to indemnify the estate of Marie Fleming in regard to the costs she incurred in endeavouring to litigate a matter of grave concern in regard to the status and rights of an individual. Given the revolting sums of money that have been thrown away in this State in recent years, from e-voting machines to pension top-ups, I would have thought that was small beer indeed.

JULIAN DEALE

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

HI-VIZ CYCLISTS

* I must disagree with columnist Ian O Doherty’s comment that cyclists being forced to wear hi-viz vests and helmets may be correct but is part of the nanny state. I despair at the number of cyclists I see on dark streets with no lights, dark clothing and no helmets. To suggest that it should be an individual choice implies that individuals, families and society do not bear the cost of serious accidents and deaths.

As a cyclist for more than 50 years, I resent the number of cyclists who have taken to the pavements on busy pedestrian streets and to cycling the wrong way on one-way streets, often on the pavement. While I am encouraged by the fact that there have been some prosecutions, I would welcome a few weeks of a garda blitz on cyclists. Maybe stopping errant cyclists and warning them in the first instance would be a start.

Maybe it is time to have a media debate on the best way to share the roads between motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and public transport. It is not a nanny state to want to protect our citizens.

And if minimal enforcement can save lives, as with seatbelts and the breathalyser, so be it. But, let’s enforce some legislation before too many cyclists get the idea that there are no rules of the road and the number of cyclists killed on the roads reaches the alarming numbers recently reported for London.

TOM MCCONALOGUE

DUBLIN 4

 

 

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