10 February 2014 Wood
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. The Admiral wants his barge picked up at Cowes Priceless.
Take insulation iup stairs get printwer Ash picks up the wood
Scrabble today I win, just. and get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Kathryn Findlay , who has died of a brain tumour aged 60, was the Scots-born half of the avant-garde architectural practice Ushida Findlay and one of British architecture’s most intriguing figures.
She had an international reputation, becoming the first woman assistant professor of Architecture at the University of Tokyo; in Britain she was probably best known for realising the architectural elements of the 115 metre-high ArcelorMittal Orbit, the sculpture designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond at the London 2012 Olympic Park.
Kathryn Findlay launched herself into the architectural arena in the 1980s and ’90s with her then husband, Eisaku Ushida, with three wildly imaginative Japanese homes, called Echo Chamber, Truss Wall House and The Soft and Hairy House, notable for their playful use of fractal geometries, their sense of movement and mastery of detail.
Paul Finch, a former editor of Architects’ Journal, described Kathryn Findlay as one of only a few architects whose work merits the word “poetic”. The Truss Wall House, for example, appeared to be more living sculpture than home, an extraordinary variety of shapes and forms in reinforced concrete which get away from separately articulated floors in a way that echoes natural landscape .
Environmental considerations were also to the fore in The Soft and Hairy House, a cosier, more tactile home designed around an internal courtyard, with “hairy” greenery transferred to the roof. Kathryn Findlay described her approach as that of a worm eating an apple: carving spaces out of a solid mass, rather than making a structure and filling it. “The shape is an outcome of the spaces and movement inside,” she explained.
In 1998, while still living in Japan, Kathryn Findlay set up the firm’s UK office. Shortly afterwards her marriage broke up, and in 2001 she returned to Britain after remortgaging her house in west London to finance the practice’s start-up costs. She did not take a salary for three years, supplementing her income by teaching in Japan, which meant commuting between the two countries.
At first things seemed to be going well. Her Poolhouse, an indoor swimming pool in southern England, mixed British and Japanese technologies and was widely admired for combining glass with thatch, winning a RIBA regional award. In 2001 she beat off 20 rivals to win a RIBA competition to “reinterpret the country house” with a design for the rebuilding of Grafton Hall, a country house in Cheshire. Described, somewhat unkindly, as resembling “four giant ice cream cones arranged in a starfishlike pattern”, the glass and sandstone house promised to be the most spectacular country manor house to be built for centuries. It was designed to mimic the sun’s route across the sky and featured four “wings”, with a cinema, two pools, gym, art gallery, nanny suite and “Zen room”.
In addition Kathryn Findlay made it to the BBC’s shortlist for a new concert hall and offices in White City, and was asked to design one of the Maggie’s Centres for cancer sufferers, in Lanarkshire. A design for a stunning house in Doha for the Qatari minister of culture was shown at the 2004 Venice Biennale.
But not everything ran smoothly, and in the same year Kathryn Findlay astonished the architectural world by announcing that Ushida Findlay had gone bankrupt. It seemed that Britain simply was not ready for her futuristic vision. Grafton New Hall failed to find an off-plan buyer and the commission went instead to the neoclassical architect Robert Adam, who described the success of his design over Kathryn Findlay’s as the death knell for “experimental architecture”.
The practice had also done £50,000 of work on a £4 million RIBA competition-winning art gallery in Bury St Edmunds, which was then dropped by the council, and had spent an undisclosed amount on the Stade Maritime Landmark in Hastings, which had to be abandoned after the council discovered a covenant forbidding commercial use of the site.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was a contract to design and build a museum and two private residences in Doha, where problems with subcontractors caused delays to payment under a contract that withheld 10 per cent of design fees until completion.
Having been a rising star, Kathryn Findlay now found herself an unemployed single mother with a mortgage. She got a teaching post at Dundee University and put her two children in school nearby.
But she bounced back, and in 2009 relaunched her practice on a more businesslike footing, in collaboration with Geoff Mann, a director of RHWL architects. The following year she was appointed delivery architect to the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture, with a brief to find ways of building the practical bits — lifts, staircases, observation platforms, lavatories, water pipes, electricity lines — within the latticed form designed by Kapoor and Balmond.
The sculpture itself was variously described by critics as “like an enormous wire-mesh fence that has got hopelessly snagged round the bell of a giant french horn”, “Meccano on crack” and a “catastrophic collision between two cranes”; but thanks to Kathryn Findlay it was able to cope with 700 visitors per hour during the Olympic Games in 2012, with one critic describing her 455-step spiral staircase, weaving through Kapoor and Balmond’s tangled mass of steel, as “the most interesting architectural space in the world right now”.
The daughter of a Scottish sheep farmer, Kathryn Findlay was born on January 26 1953 at Finavon, near Forfar, Angus, and after schooling at Forfar Academy, trained as an architect at London’s Architectural Association.
Immediately after graduation in 1979 she travelled to Japan on a scholarship to work for the avant-garde architect Arata Isozaki, who would win RIBA’s gold medal in 1986. She set up practice with Eisaku Ushida in 1986 and spent 20 years practising and teaching architecture in Japan, becoming not only the first woman to hold an assistant professorship at Tokyo University, but also the first foreigner to be appointed a professor there in the 20th century.
The firm’s liquidation in 2004 meant that many major projects — including the Maggie’s Centre in Lanarkshire and the house for the Qatari minister of culture — had to be dropped. But her “starfish” design for Grafton New Hall was realised in the form of a royal villa built in the sands of the Gulf for the wife of the Emir of Qatar.
A warm, straightforward woman who hid a steely determination behind a superficial scattiness, Kathryn Findlay was well-liked by her fellow architects . She was never interested in what she called the “the bread and butter stuff”, explaining that she did not see architecture as defined by walls, but “about movement and defining routes through a landscape”.
Shortly after her death it was announced that she had won the 2014 Jane Drew Prize, an architecture award given annually by the Architects’ Journal to a person showing innovation, diversity and inclusiveness in architecture.
Kathryn Findlay is survived by her son and daughter.
Kathryn Findlay, born January 26 1953, died January 10 2014
Can we please see an end to the publication of hysterical, hypocritical and at times frankly racist protests about Russian treatment of LGBT people? Russia is not Nazi Germany and, given that an estimated 20 million Russian people died fighting nazism in the second world war, such comparisons are deeply offensive to the population of that country – whatever their sexuality. Gareth Edwards (Letters, 7 February) is the latest to draw comparison but, as far as I know, LGBT people in Russia are not barred from professional occupations, denied access to education, or expected to wear identifying stars on their clothing. Nor are they being detained in camps, whereas by 1936 the concentration camps were certainly in evidence – Sachsenhausen just outside Berlin was opened the same year.
No one condones anti-gay violence but it frequently happens here too, as last years Stonewall report clearly showed. Putin’s law is clumsy and bigoted and, as has been pointed out, bears considerable similarity to the now defunct section 28 brought in by the Tory government of the 1980s. I do wonder how Messrs Fry et al would have reacted if the rest of the world had demanded boycotts of British cultural and sporting events through the 80s and 90s and likened our population to Nazis.
• Why did the Guardian feel the need to belittle Russia by focusing on the only obvious failure of the opening ceremony, the malfunctioning Olympic ring? Don’t you owe them one, after they offered sanctuary to Edward Snowden following your disclosures?
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Your critique of the “hardworking” mantra (Unthinkable, 8 February) misses the point. By implicitly conflating work with paid work, this poisonous rhetoric contributes to the demonisation of people of working age not in paid work, even if they are working hard, for example caring for children or older loved ones. It is not only the “hardworking” who “deserve” security, justice or decent incomes in a good society. Also, as increasingly people look for more balanced lives, how many of us truly believe hard work of itself defines a life well-lived?
Labour, House of Lords
• Why are you carrying a torch for Amanda Knox, even to the point of making her the cover girl for Weekend as well as nine pages inside (8 February)? The family of the victim lives in the UK but Meredith Kercher barely gets a mention. I have been a Guardian reader all my life but your fawning championship of Knox is about to lose you another print reader. No point paying to be force-fed this stuff.
• Hydrangeas are in demand here in Derbyshire, not for smoking, but well-dressing (In praise of… 7 February). Their petals keep their fresh colours for a week when pressed into wet clay to make pictures. For blue skies, nothing else will do.
• Surely the solution to coastal erosion (Report, 8 February) is there in the name of the National Trust’s coast and marine adviser, Phil Dyke.
Alistair Burt’s article deploring the Commons vote on Syria (A vote that will haunt us, 7 February) is disappointing, flawed in its argument and misleading in its conclusion. He implies that bombing Syria would have been legal, but the charter of the United Nations is perfectly clear: without security council agreement it would not. The fact that the government motion said it was legal doesn’t alter that. The Americans said it wouldn’t be war, and Burt seems to think that it would be all right if there were no “boots on the ground”. But bombing is also war.
He writes that Russia has been put into the driving seat. No, the security council is in the driving seat. And while I would not want to see Russia in the driving seat, Russia has not recently started an illegal war in the Middle East; the US and Britain have. By complaining that after the negotiated agreement to remove them “the chemical weapons are still there”, he also implies that bombing would have had a better chance of getting rid of them. That is hard to believe – and the agreement is for removal “in the first half of 2014”.
Nobody except the professionals can now remember exactly what the government motion or the opposition amendment (not very different) actually said. What they remember is that parliament, in its enigmatic fashion, spoke for the nation, which did not want war, and that the PM sensibly and adroitly made it clear he’d got the message. As a bonus something rather similar seems to have happened in Washington. As Burt correctly says, sooner or later the government is going to be confronted with another decision of this kind. He suggests we should “sort out our parameters” in advance. If by that he means that parliament should draw up some ground rules it is surely unrealistic, and pointless anyway since a future parliament would not be bound by those rules. Our “parameters” are rooted in the nature of our parliamentary democracy. Governments govern so long as they retain the confidence of the House of Commons. It is for the government to decide when they need the authority of a vote. If they get it wrong they pay the penalty.
• Alistair Burt’s article reflects everything wrong with modern Britain. A tiny executive elite knows what is in Britain’s interests. Foreign policy cannot be shared. Britain’s place in the world will be undermined should parliament or, worse, its population be asked its opinion whether we go to war. Britain fought two world wars to retain its empire. Since 1945, it has been clear that Britain has ceased to be a world power. Today this is clearer than ever before. Yet our rulers cannot come to terms with our place in the world. We are now being forced to impoverish our own people so we can retain a false power position. If we followed a Swiss or German example and keep only a military force to defend our shores, we could, with the financial surplus, support our people against poverty and develop our heritage of people who know about peace and development around the world. We could create a vision of the future to enthuse our entire population.
Roger van Zwanenberg
• Alistair Burt, supposedly in charge of the government’s Middle East policy from 2012-13, is utterly wrong. And one sentence in his article says it all: “Politicians need space and time to take unpopular action that they believe in the long run is in their nation’s interest.” That’s what Tony Blair thought, and George Bush (well, maybe), and they ended up taking us into the mess that Iraq still is, a decade or more later. And, but for Ed Miliband’s intervention, it is exactly what David Cameron (advised by Burt!) would have done last year, sanctioning intervention in Syria. And who knows what major consequences, both regionally and globally, that would have generated? Certainly not Burt, it would seem.
• Military interventions are risky and unpredictable. Sometimes they go well but sometimes go badly wrong, and the more adventures government embarks on the more chance of a seriously bad outcome. The public has become more sceptical about British military interventions and if ministers are constrained by that scepticism and the developing parliamentary convention, that is to be welcomed.
Hooray for Emma Reynolds, the shadow housing minister, for calling time on British citizens being denied access to the housing market because so many of our homes are sold to overseas rich people (Report, 8 February). My generation, in our mid 20s, have worked hard through university, have jobs in the professions, and earn decent salaries. But thanks to the policies of ministers, most of whom are rich enough to buy flats outright for their children, we are denied the right to begin buying homes of our own. Each time we think we have saved enough to buy a place we are told someone in Asia or Russia or the Gulf has offered thousands more as they speculate on the London housing market. These speculators have no intention of living here or contributing to Britain’s future as we do.
The politicians who back today’s generation of young adults and insist homes in Britain should be in use and occupied by people who work and live in Britain will win hundreds of thousands of votes.
• I am constantly surprised at the number of people I meet who own one or more properties in addition to the one they occupy, stating that it is in lieu of their pension. Few people trust the financial sector to deliver an adequate pension and, with the phasing out of adequate company pensions, and derisory interest rates, people feel safer with their savings in bricks and mortar. The wrecked private pensions market has a symbiotic relationship with the wrecked housing market. Relying on market forces to resolve this would be disastrous.
Extreme weather conditions have caused havoc in the UK, along with droughts in Australia, California and Argentina, and rapidly melting glaciers in the Arctic, Antarctica, the Andes and the Himalayas, as well as the unprecedented typhoons in the Philippines. These massive downpours sweeping across the Atlantic all match the predictions that the world’s climatologists have been making for three decades as the temperature of the world’s oceans and atmosphere continue to heat up as a result of the annual 35bn tons of CO2 we are producing from fossil fuels.
There is a direct link between these ongoing and inevitably ever-worsening climatic events and the political process. The “debate” over climate science is not between two opposing scientific views, but between solid scientific discoveries and a small group of extremists at one end of the political spectrum, aided by irresponsible sections of the media, which are doing their utmost to mislead the public about the immense threats we face. It is particularly ironic that Ukip, which denies the reality of climate change, is thriving in the polls while the poor south-west suffers directly from its effects.
There is a longstanding tradition of naming extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons. Perhaps the time has come for scientists to give them more relevant titles and name them after the malicious pundits, politicians and media whose actions have prevented the world from taking the necessary steps to fight this worsening catastrophe faced by the whole of humanity.
Aidan Harrison, Rothbury, Northumberland
In The Independent of 8 February you say that I have suggested that when it comes to decisions on flood-defence spending it is a question of a choice between town and country.
I never said this and I am afraid I have been misquoted. Rules from successive governments tell us, rightly, to give the highest priority to protecting people’s lives, then to protecting homes and businesses, and then to saving as much agricultural land as possible. These priorities are sensible ones and they apply to both “town” and “country”.
Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, London SW1
Professor Salter has proposed wave-power generators (“nodding ducks”), primarily as efficient energy-generation devices. But, as a seaman, I could not help noticing the effect on sea conditions in the lee of the arrays. The calming effect on waves was remarkable, a great deal of the raw energy of the waves was extracted, leaving an area of much calmer water.
So why not have a first line of defence by means of offshore arrays of wave-power generating devices? These would diminish the power of waves approaching vulnerable areas, while generating useable power. Fixed sea defences could be correspondingly lighter and cheaper.
Weather patterns are unlikely to improve. Costs for sea defences will only increase. Martial arts emphasise the idea of using an opponent’s strengths against him. Could we not do the same?
Captain A Ian Hale, Barbon, Cumbria
The main problem of the flooding on the Somerset levels is that the senior personnel in the Environment Agency have little understanding of the unique problems of this area.
Drainage boards, made up of local farmers, have existed in this area for a century or more with the task of maintaining reens and improving field drainage. It would be far better if the Government gave the task and funding to dredge the rivers to these bodies since they have a better knowledge of the area.
With the well-known ability of farmers to drive a hard bargain, they might well hire contractors to do the job more cheaply than the £4m quoted by the Environment Agency.
Furthermore, were they to get it wrong, it is they who would suffer first. On every one of the individual moors and levels, hundreds of acres have to be flooded before the water threatens any house or road.
Tom Jeanes, Taunton, Somerset
Children deserve smoke-free cars
Legislation allowing the Government to introduce a ban on smoking in cars carrying children is a measure MPs of all parties should support.
The dangers of passive smoke to children within the enclosed confines of a car are well-established. With nearly half a million exposed to these dangers every week, arguments against legislation rest on two main pillars.
Firstly, the enforceability of this law has been questioned. However, similar laws are already enforced in countries including Canada, Australia and South Africa. There is no reason to believe UK authorities will be any less capable.
Secondly, the question of state intrusion into adult rights has been raised. However, this ignores the rights of children to breathe clean air that won’t make them ill. The duty of society to protect its most vulnerable members is a principle most people will agree on. Few are more vulnerable than a child strapped into a car, forced to breathe concentrated passive smoke.
We therefore urge our fellow MPs to support this crucial child-protection measure.
Alex Cunningham MP (Stockton North, Labour), Stephen McPartland MP(Stevenage, Conservative), Paul Burstow MP (Sutton & Cheam, Liberal Democrat)
Enforcement of the smoking ban when children are in the car is again highlighted by Thomas Williams (letters, 7 February). Making children aware of the damage to them in this situation could help in enforcement of the law. This method, a form of “parental control”, could be an effective way of reducing the health risks to young people.
Peter Erridge, East Grinstead
Selfish reactions to tube workers’ strike
I find it worrying that so many people’s attitude towards the Tube strike is “I’m inconvenienced, and therefore I’m against the Tube workers.” How about a bit of compassion for others? Few of us want all ticket offices to be shut on the underground, and so shouldn’t we support this struggle? The idea of people withdrawing their labour seems alien to many, but it’s an essential option to have when one’s livelihood is threatened. That’s why unions are so needed today; they keep profit-driven business leaders in check.
Yes, many people depend on the Tube, and yes, it’s a service; but surely we can all tolerate a bit of disruption if it helps us in the long run?
Another worrying trend is people’s attitude of “I don’t get paid enough, and my job is insecure, so why shouldn’t theirs be”? What people should say is: “Look, they’re fighting for better working conditions. Good for them, I wish I could do that.”
Clive Collins, London SW17
Having spent an unreasonable amount of time and anguish over the past few days dealing with patronising and ineffective automated systems used by utility and network suppliers, and being actively denied access to a human operative to assist me, I support the RMT’s stand against further erosion of the employment of humans to interact with fellow human customers of what should be a service, not a psychological assault course.
We moved out of London some years ago, and use the Tube insufficiently to require an Oyster card, and I’m already at a loss on occasional usage as to what options I need to request of the ticket machine. A window with a knowledgeable, trained employee is what I need at that point.
I fear the computers, and their matrix of middle-management minions who think all this stuff’s so cool, have won already. I’d have preferred this soulless mechanised future to stay in the realms of sci-fi conjecture.
Rick Biddulph, Farnham, Surrey
Isn’t it about time that we be allowed to sue unions for any disruption and inconvenience they cause to the general public? They are no longer fit for purpose.
T Sayer, Bristol
Divine intervention in cricket
The recent travails of our cricket team bring to mind a contrasting story, reminiscent also of the greater part religion used to play in life.
The tale goes that Colin Cowdrey, the renowned English batsman, returned to his hotel after scoring a century against the Aussies. He was handed a telegram which simply said: “1 Kings 18.34.” This of course is where, in the context of the famous story of Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal, the Prophet says: “Do it again”. In due course Cowdrey went back to the cricket ground and did just that – scoring a second century. He was ever after grateful for the good fortune the telegram had brought him.
Andrew McLuskey, Staines, Middlesex
To those who feel that English cricket has become an embarrassment, I would simply say: it is only men’s cricket that deserves this scorn. Try following our women’s team – we can be proud of them.
Catherine Rose, Olney, Buckinghamshire
Allowing researchers access to aggregate data is very different from having one’s personal details made available to others
Sir, Dr Clare Gerada argues that everyone should agree to share their individual medical records (Thunderer, Feb 8) and every household in the country is getting a leaflet from the NHS (“Better information means better care”) inviting us to share personal details. Given the significance of the policy to which this leaflet refers, and the cost of its printing/distribution, it is unfortunate that its wording is ambiguous and contradictory. It fails to distinguish clearly between aggregate (ie anonymous) data which might be used for policy-making or research, and personal information relating to a specific individual. It refers to “strict rules” to protect privacy and says “we will never identify a particular person”. Then, however, it states that recipients of the leaflet must take steps if they do not want information to be shared. If identities are protected, how can this be reconciled with the statement that confidential information is sometimes released?
Allowing researchers access to aggregate data to identify patterns in the provision or effectiveness of health services is very different from having one’s personal details made available to others in connection with some purpose not directly linked to providing medical care.
Sir, In her plea for us to make our medical records available for analysis so that researchers can identify serious harms caused by drugs, Dr Gerada appears to oversimplify the evidence she is relying upon. The danger inherent in her approach is that researchers will assume data accumulated from our clinical records into an anonymised central database are of uniform depth and quality and will draw the wrong conclusions from their analysis thus confusing the medical problems of our times.
Formal clinical trials apply strict rules of data collection so that results can be accumulated, compared and contrasted with those from other studies. In the main, UK clinical records have no such pedigree. Over the years clinical staff have recorded whatever their patients have told them in as much or as little detail as they felt necessary. Many will have bolstered free text descriptions with undefined clinical codes as they saw fit or were obliged to add to meet local guidelines or national targets.
Dr Gerada’s vision is entirely honourable and worthwhile. To achieve it, electronic record keeping systems should be (sensibly) regulated to ensure clinical staff are helped to collect comparable sets of data from patients with similar conditions and treatments. Then medical record analysis can surely become a magnificent tool for combating natural disease, reducing the complications of complex therapies and predicting outcomes.
Dr Gordon Brooks
Specialist in Medical Informatics and Decision Support
Britain’s charities, including the Wellcome Trust, fund vital work that deserves to benefit from properly framed and policed tax reliefs
Sir, The Public Accounts Committee is right that abuse of charitable tax reliefs is damaging to the charity sector (report, Feb 5). As the UK’s largest charity, spending £750 million a year on medical research, the Wellcome Trust concurs that reliefs designed to promote philanthropy must not be exploited for tax avoidance or fraud. We support considered measures for ending abuse, but we are concerned that many anti-avoidance initiatives have not been well focused, allowing abuse to continue while having damaging consequences for legitimate charities. This has prevented large foundations and small fundraising bodies alike from receiving the benefit of reliefs that Parliament intended them to have. Amendments to company loans to participators legislation, for example, have created tax charges for some charities when the point of tax law should be that charities do not and should not pay tax.
Piecemeal reform will not tackle abuse while protecting bona fide philanthropy. The Government should commission a comprehensive review of charity tax law and enforcement to design a system that stops fraud without collateral damage to good causes.
Britain’s charities fund vital work that deserves to benefit from properly framed and policed tax reliefs: the Wellcome Trust’s support, for example, has enabled the sequencing of the human genome and the development of malaria treatments. They should not be penalised by legislation to prevent tax abuse.
John Hemming, Head of Tax
Danny Truell, Chief Investment Officer,
More than one expert in jurisprudence has noted the huge significance in the poet Geoffrey Hill’s line “To dispense, with justice; or, to dispense with justice”
Sir, You say we need not lament the decline of the comma (leader, Feb 8)? More than one expert in jurisprudence has noted the huge significance in the poet Geoffrey Hill’s line “To dispense, with justice; or, to dispense with justice” (from his sequence The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy, 1983).
The comma assures justice is done: lives are saved.
Sir, How appropriate that you should draw attention to the importance of punctuation (“Why the comma is heading towards its own full stop”, Feb 8). In the same issue appears the headline “Muslim free school ordered to close”. In this case, the correct presence or absence of a hyphen between the first two words does matter.
The Lord Chancellor’s case for these cuts has been systematically dismantled, and he should listen to the experts before it is too late
Sir, As the Lord Chancellor finalises plans to cut legal aid even further, barristers are coming to voice a unified opposition to changes which, if implemented, would have a devastating effect on the public’s access to justice and the Rule of Law.
The Bar is united in its concern that quality and diversity will be driven out to facilitate unnecessary cuts, which will end up costing more than they save. The outstanding international reputation of our legal system, which generates billions of pounds in exports each year, is also at risk of lasting damage.
The Lord Chancellor’s case for these cuts has been systematically dismantled, and he should listen to the experts before it is too late.
Nicholas Lavender, QC, Chairman of the Bar; Nigel Lithman, QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association; Timothy Fancourt, QC, Chair, Chancery Bar Association; Susan Jacklin, QC, Chair, Family Law Bar Association; Martin Westgate, QC, Constitutional and Administrative Law Bar Association; Sarah Forshaw, QC, Leader, South-Eastern Circuit; Paul Harris, former President, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association; Hannah Evans, Pupil, 23 Essex St Chambers
A United Kingdom shorn of Scotland would be less influential in the world; the same argument can be made about the UK in Europe
Sir, Our Prime Minister has wisely said that a United Kingdom shorn of Scotland would be less influential in the world. Unless he is even less logical than his Education Secretary he must appreciate that a similar argument can be put for Britain remaining part of a united Europe.
Eastbourne, E Sussex
Sir, If David Cameron understood my Scottish cousins, he would appreciate that the only circumstance under which they might vote Yes to Scottish independence would be if I pressed upon them his advice to vote No.
Solihull, West Midlands
Sir, I live in England but my father was born in Scotland, along with a long line of his forebears. I am thus eligible to represent Scotland at sport but not to vote in the referendum.
Foreign nationals living in Scotland who are eligible to vote in Scottish local and SP elections are allowed to vote on the future of Scotland.
I feel that if one is eligible to represent Scotland one should be eligible to vote in the referendum.
Iain Murray Fairley
SIR – If Dr Beeching had not closed so many railway lines in Devon, there would be alternative routes from London to Plymouth and Cornwall, avoiding the line running by the sea through Dawlish, which has now been cut off.
As the saying goes, act in haste, repent at leisure.
SIR – While we are prepared to spend nearly £50 billion on a new railway, HS2, vast swathes of farmland appear to be of lower priority. The Dutch must be incredulous at the muddle and chaos surrounding the flooding of the Somerset Levels. In the 17th century, the Dutch converted the East Anglian fenlands to food production.
Now we have academics weighing in to castigate modern farming (too much cropping; too many cows and sheep). They would also allow nature to wreak its worst, saying “there’s nothing we can do”. And so the story of neglect, muddle and bad planning goes on.
Essential priorities for the British countryside are buried under mountains of inefficient planning and bureaucracy.
K A McDougall
SIR – Buying in cheap food from abroad and ceasing to dredge the rivers have contributed to the plight of farmers and residents alike. Farmland needs to be protected. Furthermore, the inundation of foul water must be a concern for public health and animal welfare.
SIR – After four decades of working in NHS hospitals I can confirm that David Prior is right. There is often conflict between managers and clinicians and radical change is needed.
But would the competition he seeks really “drive up standards of care?” Hospitals and their staff are too busy competing against illness to worry about being a better or more profitable hospital than a neighbouring one. As Mr Prior says, services need to be shared between hospitals. How can this necessary sharing be squared with competition?
If the competition is between commercial organisations, including private health providers, then is not the first duty of such companies to serve their shareholders?
The radical change that is needed is the abandonment of the competitive market system of organising a health service. The transaction costs of the market consume about 14 per cent of the total NHS budget.
As Mr Prior says, “now is the time for radical change – to honour the values on which it [the NHS] was founded.” These values are compassion and cooperation rather than conflict.
Dr R F Gunstone
SIR – The American hospitals so admired by David Prior are all privately financed, and do not have their budgets reduced to pay for constant government-led reorganisations, wasteful failed computer schemes or Private Finance Initiatives.
The last thing the NHS needs is a Head of Care Quality who wants another major reorganisation and the diversion of more funds to competitors. The Mid-Staffordshire Trust in no way typified most NHS Trusts. What the NHS needs is much more local accountability rather than centralised targets and inspections.
Dr Richard Turner
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
SIR – Since the first day of the NHS, patients have been looked after by private NHS contractors – GPs, pharmacists, dentists and opticians. Those who are against the privatisation of the NHS should remember this.
H R Broadbent
Cudworth, South Yorkshire
Ofsted for all
SIR – In his quest for parity among state and independent schools, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, should make Ofsted the single inspection body for all schools, not just state.
True comparisons could then be made of how both sectors cope with common expectations, a constantly shifting political agenda and the rigours of inspection processes.
Pretty in pink
SIR – Jenny Willott, the Consumer Affairs Minister, says that girls should not be made to wear pink clothes. It is this sort of crass statement that brings politics into disrepute. What happened to freedom of expression in this country?
Clearly we do not want to see MPs dress up in Nazi uniforms for parties, but if little girls want to wear pink, then really I do not think it should be turned into a major political issue.
SIR – Canon Wealands Ball informs us that before the Reformation, when pews became more common in churches, the naves were used for various community activities.
But what reason would there be to revert to such an arrangement, and how many people would want it? The main sanctuary of a church is for worship and prayer: the proper place for its social activities is the church hall.
SIR – With regard to all the cases we are hearing about these days involving men “touching up” or “inappropriately handling” women: as a normal 55 -year-old woman, I have patted men on the bottom, touched their hand, squeezed their shoulders, and, if sitting next to a man, put my hand on his knee to get his attention.
Should I be arrested for indecent assault?
Deborah J Hall
SIR – While I was on a bus in Barbados recently, an elderly Bajan lady boarded and said “Good morning” as she took her seat. Almost all the other passengers, round 25 people, replied with the same salute.
Perhaps the sunshine helps.
SIR – In hospital, contemplating my lunch of grey mince and overcooked sprouts, I looked with envy at the patient in the next bed who was tucking into a plate of rolls and butter, cheese, tomato and lettuce, dates and a big rosy apple. I asked her if she was a vegetarian. She replied, “No, I just tell them I am – you get much better food!”
Cameron’s pledge on Human Rights Act
SIR – Matthew d’Ancona paints a sorry picture of the Conservative Party and its leadership.
But the Prime Minister could have avoided back-bench rebellions on human rights and immigration by fulfilling his pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a new Bill of Rights.
Personally, I see no need for the latter, since (unlike our continental neighbours) Britain has enjoyed adequate safeguards for the subjects of the Crown for many hundreds of years; but no matter – the important thing would be to end the disgraceful situation whereby our courts are constrained by the decisions of a remote institution comprised mainly of judges with no concept of the British justice system.
Why has Mr Cameron not fulfilled this promise?
SIR – David Cameron has managed to avoid headlines appearing about his row with members of his party and that is all that matters to him. It may be slowness of wit and lack of principle, as Matthew d’Ancona alleges – but whoever said they were disadvantages in politics?
John Major was honest and open about trying to get a European reforming Bill through Parliament, and his actions met with the opposition of those who disagreed. Mr Cameron has always been deliberately ambiguous about his European engagement. John Major was a principled man, but in the end, that did not help him much.
Nicholas R Johnson
An MP’s duty
SIR – Janet Daley raises the question of whether an MP’s first duty is to his party or his constituents.
An MP’s duty is to Her Majesty the Queen, who governs her subjects in accordance with the Coronation Oath. That is the essence of the best constitution the world has ever seen.
Worthing, West Sussex
SIR – Having been away for a while, I have obviously missed some new government decree on the compulsory growth of beards – designer, casual, scruff or hesitant – for all mature men over the age of 20 years.
While this may promote a macho look, it has reduced the male population to look-alike clones. It also hampers mate selection by females, as facial characteristics are hidden behind hairy fortifications. Do the ladies have a view on this?
Andrew C McWilliam
SIR – David Langfield questions why, if all the people of Europe want to stay in the EU, Ukip thinks it is right to wish Britain to leave.
It is by no means Ukip alone. There is a growing opposition to the EU across Europe, with the elections in May expected to return the most eurosceptic parliament yet.
Electorates, it seems, feel they have been railroaded into their present relationship with the EU by politicians failing to put the interests of their country first and showing weakness in the face of this centralised power.
Many must surely look to Norway and Switzerland, which have safeguarded their democracy and sovereignty and prospered outside the EU while still enjoying influence with Brussels.
It is unworkable to integrate 28 different countries with such incompatible backgrounds, sacrificing their sense of national identity and Europe’s wonderful diversity for the sake of a one-size-fits-all “utopia”. This is clumsily administered by unelected bureaucrats who have been exposed (by the EU itself) as being involved in fraud and corrupt dealings estimated to exceed £100 billion a year.
Dr Beeching’s closures don’t look so sensible now
09 Feb 2014
More competition won’t improve the NHS
09 Feb 2014
It will be the people who will undoubtedly bring about change.
SIR – David Langfield confuses the ruled with rulers. While politicians may well be content to live in what amounts to a bureaucratic dictatorship, the people certainly are not.
On one of the rare occasions when they were permitted to give an opinion – on the Lisbon Treaty – the Irish, French and Dutch all said no, but under what passes for democracy in the EU, they were very quickly either ignored or told to vote again and this time to give the answer their masters demanded.
Ukip is not wrong: it, and many similar groups throughout Europe, is merely giving a voice to those many despairing people who long once again to live in a democratic, sovereign nation.
E G Barrows
SIR – The people of the great nations of Europe are not wrong in wishing to remain in the EU and keep the euro. But for the majority of nation states that are net receivers of EU funding, it is in their own interests to do so.
Since they comprise the majority group, they can outvote the minority of net givers whenever it is in their interests to do so. Of the net givers, France benefits hugely from the Common Agricultural Policy, while economically powerful Germany now dominates the EU.
Britain, by contrast, has never sought to control Europe, but to trade with it; since trade unites while politics divides. Thank goodness that Ukip and some Tory MPs appreciate this essential truth.
Harry W Barstow
SIR – The EU has brought us loss of democracy, loss of sovereignty, loss of border control, over-regulation, destruction of industry, and the requirement to pay large sums to an organisation that cannot balance its books.
SIR – For many of us, self-determination is the mark of a free nation: democracy is more deeply embedded in Britain than many countries elsewhere. We need a referendum.
Geoffrey J Samuel
SIR – It is not for other nations of Europe, or any of our political parties, to determine the fate of our own truly great nation; it is for the people to decide.
Ukip wants us out but it is the people who will choose, when politicians dare to trust them.
SIR – No one knows what the people of the great nations of Europe think about the EU. All we know is what the ruling parties they elected think.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out by having an EU-wide referendum?
Doncaster, West Yorkshire
Sir, – Due to the damage caused by recent storms and the likelihood such storms will become more common in the future, could I suggest Ireland sets up a technical civil defence service along the lines of the German THW (Technisches HilfsWerk)
The THW is capable of helping out in a wide variety of natural/industrial disasters, or earthquakes. It provides technical and logistical support to government organisations in Germany, NGOs and other bodies such as the fire brigade.
For example, the THW was called upon during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They had pumps more powerful than even the US army. The THW is equipped with the best available equipment, is mainly composed of volunteers, but is also staffed by people with specific qualifications such as engineers.
Although the creation and fitting-out of such a technical civil defence service would perhaps cost several million euro; it would save money in the long-term, if it helped to mitigate the effects of climate change in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Rue du Kiem,
Sir, – What an ironic situation! Thousands of most unfortunate people throughout the country suffering from a devastating surplus of water while at the same time these self-same citizens are about to be charged to have water supplied to their homes and having meters installed.
The indifference displayed over many years by local authorities and successive governments to the continuing deteriorating state of the water pipe system with its massive leakages beggars belief. We all pay for it now. “God save Ireland”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With so much opposition to wind turbines, it seems unlikely that Ireland can now make use of the wind that’s freely available.
The people who oppose every alternative to the burning of fossil fuels are also mostly against whatever is suggested. Yet these same people want to live in the 21st century with all its conveniences. As a real alternative, has anyone thought about building a tidal generating station on the Shannon below Limerick?
At Limerick the tidal difference is the greatest in Ireland and varies between 5 metres and in excess of 6 metres. It would necessitate the building of a dam across the river. This which undoubtedly would be costly but, once built, it would operate for centuries, generating electricity on both the incoming and outgoing tides. Gates could operate to allow the small amount of shipping that now uses Limerick port and also provision could be made to allow migratory fish through. The dam would also protect Limerick against flooding caused by storms and spring tides. Would the Luddites be opposed to this? – Yours etc,
Birr, Co Offaly.
Sir, – The current Government has been clear from the outset that our plans for the health service are a two-term project. In light of this, accusations of short-term thinking (Ray Kinsella, Opinion, February 5th) are somewhat strange.
So far, our work has been to lay the building blocks towards universal health insurance. Much progress has been made in areas that need to be tackled before this can become a reality. A 33 per cent reduction in the number of patients waiting on trolleys, a 99 per cent reduction in inpatient and day case waiting lists above eight months and a 96 per cent reduction in the outpatient list are good indications our plan is working.
It is easy to blame the troika for all of our woes, but there was a time when the health budget increased by an extra billion each year and none of this progress was achieved. Problems which seriously, painfully affected patients were accepted as endemic and money was thrown at them ineffectually. I fundamentally disagree with this approach and believe radical reform is the only answer.
Commentary on the HSE service plan has missed important content: plans to abolish the HSE and establish the Healthcare Commissioning Agency; establishment of the Patient Safety Agency; the phased implementation of Money Follows the Patient to radically change the way hospitals are funded; the next steps in the transition from hospital groups to hospital trusts.
Free GP care for all children under six will be introduced later this year as the first step towards universal free GP care. One new primary care centre is opening each month. A new national children’s hospital to serve generations of Irish children will start construction in 2015. A White Paper on universal health insurance will be published shortly. We’ve published the McLoughlin report on the health insurance market and are looking to its recommendations to drive down costs and deal with affordability problems.
We have a long way to go and there will always be bumps along the road, but I never doubt that our plan will deliver a health service where everyone feels safe and that makes us all proud. – Yours, etc,
Dr JAMES REILLY,
Minister for Health,
Sir, – I feel it is a mistake for Minister Shatter to abolish the poor box (Home News, February 5th).
This is a most humane and traditional power given to the District Courts. It makes a real difference to charities working in the local community. Of course using it as a voucher system to annul speeding offences is wrong and probably the limited funds should not be for export.
We get a variety of payments county by county, as the Jack & Jill Foundation is a very local charity with children in every parish. For example, in Co Wexford offenders paid more than €16,000 in 2012 and the cohort of 16 children supported by Jack & Jill in that county were the single biggest beneficiary, receiving €3,415 during the year. Wexford Women’s Refuge, Wexford Lifeboat and Wexford St Vincent de Paul Society also benefited.
The money is well received and very well utilised by all of us. In our case, every €16 raised through the poor box funds one hour of home nursing care for desperately ill children.
If the proceeds are simply gifted to the maw of the State, charitable works will be the loser and the impact of this money will be a faint ripple in the lake of bureaucracy. – Yours, etc,
JONATHAN IRWIN, CEO,
Jack & Jill Children’s
Johnstown, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Joe Humphreys (Opinion, February 3rd) is right to draw attention to the impact of technological progress on society in general and work in particular. Advocates of technological neutrality often plead that it is how we use technology that is the issue, not the technology itself. This ignores the fact that most inventions are for a specific purpose and only become economically valuable when they are applied to that end. Hence email, as its name implies, is designed to supplant physical letters.
However he does not reflect on the power relations that determine where and how technology is deployed. In a world of impotent, national trade unions, with binding international agreements that give priority of free trade over any social values, it is indeed inevitable that technology will be used to maximize profit, regardless of the loss of jobs, self-worth or social capital. It need not be so.
Recall that for 40 years after the second World War, the social democracies of Europe achieved social equity, security of employment and rapid economic growth due in no small part to the invention and considered application of advanced technologies. Think of Siemens, Bosch, Volvo, Nokia and others.
The first step towards restoring the balance between labour and capital must be to rein in the power of transnational corporations. Only then can we ensure that technological progress supports, rather than subverts, social progress. Indeed this could be a unifying cause for a new Europe. – Yours, etc,
Dr KEVIN T RYAN,
Sir, – Breda O’Brien (Opinion, February 1st) uses data from the PIRLS and TIMSS 2011 studies to support her claim that religion should retain its current number of hours in the Irish curriculum. As the researcher responsible for managing the studies in Ireland, I wish to point out inaccuracies in her description of the findings of PIRLS and TIMSS.
The article claimed Northern Ireland was the new “promised land” for education, despite spending the same amount of time on religious instruction as in the Republic. The high performance of pupils was attributed to investment in education and the superior working conditions of teachers in Northern Ireland.
It is true PIRLS and TIMSS found that primary pupils in Northern Ireland scored significantly better on the reading and mathematics tests than did their counterparts here. However, a look at the broader evidence paints a more complex picture. In the last three cycles of Pisa (assessing 15-year-olds’ reading, mathematics and science knowledge), for example, Northern Ireland’s performance has been significantly poorer than the Republic’s in most areas examined.
Even if we look only at primary level data, the North-South difference on science performance was non-existent and the gap on reading very small. Only for mathematics was there a marked gap. This largely mirrors the differences in instructional time allocated to the subjects in the two systems. In both Ireland and Northern Ireland, the amount of teaching time devoted to reading instruction was slightly more than the international average, and pupils in both jurisdictions performed extremely well on the reading test. For maths, the situation is different. Teachers in the Republic allocated slightly less than the international average time to maths instruction, whereas in Northern Ireland, they spent more time on maths instruction than all but one of the other countries in the studies. Of course, one cannot assume a perfect link between hours teaching and pupil performance – the relationship is far from clear, as noted in the article, and is complicated by the extent to which curriculum is integrated across subjects. However, it is also clear that the PIRLS and TIMSS studies offer no support to anyone opposed to the Minister’s suggestion that more time should be allocated to maths.
It is misleading to say that while our religious education instruction time is above the EU average, it is the same as in Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland officially allocates proportionally more time to the teaching of religion than any EU country, and among OECD countries, only Israel allocates a similar proportion of time. In relation to Northern Ireland, the allocated numbers of hours per week are comparable, but as their school week is longer, religion constitutes a relatively smaller proportion of instruction time. – Yours, etc,
Dr EEMER EIVERS,
Sir, – I salute Eamon McGrane (Home News, February 7th), for sharing his story. As an adopted person I relate strongly to it.
Ireland is a changed place, different from the closed, secret and shameful society that forced single mothers into giving up their children for adoption, sent women to Magdalene Laundries, locked children up in industrial schools. It is time to embrace all those women who gave birth, who brought us into the world, then gave us as a gift to another family. It is time to thank them and to apologise for how they were treated.
Opening up files and records is not a threat to their privacy – it is about providing adopted people with information that is rightfully ours. This information is about our identity and origins and is to be treasured and treated with care and respect. The inalienable right of adopted people to access their own records which has long been effectively denied by the State, does not infringe upon the rights of our birth mothers not to be contacted if that is what they wish. – Yours, etc,
Kinsale, Co Cork.
Sir, – “Homophobia hits home” read the timely headline to Donald Clarke’s film review of Dallas Buyers Club (The Ticket, February 7th) with actor Matthew McConaughey as “an obnoxious bigot (who) becomes a most unlikely good guy in this stirring true-life drama”. Clarke concludes his critique by saying the film is “in its way a political picture” and “a properly moving one”. Hopefully, everyone who vows they are not remotely homophobic and would challenge anyone who would suggest otherwise will see Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée’s first American film and embrace its truths. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We often hear that denying certain individuals access to marriage because of their sexual orientation is discrimination.
While I agree with this statement I would like to point out that the current law in Ireland does not deny access to marriage because of sexual orientation. Gender is what matters. No specific sexual orientation is required to enter into marriage. This is the case not only for individuals but also for couples.
Same-sex couples cannot get married not because of their sexual orientation but because of the gender of the two individuals involved. Two straight or bisexual men (or women) cannot get married. We might discuss if this is just or unjust, but in any case the discrimination is based on gender, not on sexual orientation, and therefore it is not in itself homophobic. Maybe genderphobic? – Yours, etc,
Chanel Road, Dublin 5.
Sir, – Mae Leonard (An Irishwoman’s Diary, February 3rd) writes of the Colleen Bawn and the books, films plays, written about her. There is a place in Africa where she has not been forgotten. It is the little village of Colleen Bawn in the Matabeleland province of Zimbabwe on the road between the South African border at Beit Bridge and Bulawayo. So the poor girl is not forgotten, even in Africa. – Yours, etc,
BRIAN P O CINNEIDE,
Sir, – TG4, according to Bernice Harrison, has continued its “inspired acquisitions policy” (Business, January 30th) by purchasing Borgen, a Danish show which TG4 is broadcasting with English subtitles.
Harrison further lauds TG4 for other broadcasts in English and dismisses any question of whether or not those shows should have been broadcast in Irish by the Irish language broadcaster with the blasé statement, “Imagine Walter White with a brogue”. Aside from the obvious cultural cringe in that statement, Harrison misses entirely the question that really needs to be asked: why is TG4, established after a campaign for a television service for Irish speakers during which people were imprisoned, so neglectful of its remit that it is willing to sideline its core audience?
Was TG4 created to undercut RTÉ and TV3 in the purchase of foreign dramas for Irish audiences? Or was it to provide a broadcasting service in Irish for Irish speakers?
If, as is claimed in the article, it would be too expensive to subtitle Borgen in Irish, where does TG4 find the money to subtitle almost every word of Irish spoken on the channel into English?
Compulsory Irish is the favourite bugbear of the tiny but vocal minority who attack Irish any chance they get. TG4’s stance shows us that in almost every aspect of Irish life, from Gaeltacht people’s dealing with the civil service to the choice of language on “Irish” television, the problem is, in fact, compulsory English. – Yours, etc,
Cluain Dolcáin, BÁC 22.
Sir, – “It is important to say . . .” – Yours, etc,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Homophobia? – Yours, etc,
Marley Grange, Dublin 16.
Sir, – “That’s under active consideration” – meaning we’ve done absolutely nothing about that and we’ve no intention of ever doing anything about it. – Yours, etc,
JOHN G HEARNE,
* David Quinn is obviously a brilliant scholar and a learned theologian. He, together with the others teaching in the Iona Institute, are to be commended for standing up staunchly for the fundamentals of the Christian faith. His recent article, ‘Authority is at the heart of divisions between Christians’ (‘The Irish Catholic’), is sound, as far as it goes, but it is not the whole story. He needs to get out more.
Also in this section
Lonely maybe, not gay
Vatican must now put children’s welfare first
Ireland’s calling out for a new rugby anthem
That is classroom theology, how it has played out in history tells a very different story. Not that the church magisterium did not teach Revelation soundly, and with authority, but that Rome betrayed Christ by adulterating authority with power, political power, brutal aggression, and every type of immoral behaviour known to mankind, thereby betraying the specific and repeated warnings of Christ to His apostles not to “lord it over others like the great ones of this world”.
The Vatican, too, has much to answer for with abuse, bullying, careerism and political intrigue, all at the heart of the church.
These are the facts and we better face up to the whole sorry mess our beloved church now finds itself in.
Pope Francis is good for the church, not because he has charismatic appeal, but because he is tackling the abuses.
In passing, I mention again the peculiarity that Mr Quinn seldom brings Christ or Pope Francis into the picture. Also, he tells us who is on the left and who on the right – obviously he sees himself in the middle, the pillar and the ground of truth.
Mr Quinn is only partly right in saying that authority is at the heart of divisions between Christians. Surely the abuse of power by Rome had some part to play in these terrible scandals.
One other point: not ‘sensus fidelium’ but ‘sensus fidei’ is the correct term.
Mr Quinn should know better than make little of this time-hallowed concept. The point of it is that the speaker speaks with authority but must have listeners, who give him feedback, a two-way interplay. After all, the church is ‘ecclesia docens et discerns’.
ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
AN ANTHEM FOR ALL
* Regarding agreement on a suitable compromise anthem as a means of sparing us the embarrassment of the red-carpet cabaret before rugby internationals, whereby the Northern lads sulk and the southern boys try to keep their faces straight, may I propose that God Save the Fields of Athenry might be acceptable to all?
KILLINEY, CO DUBLIN
* Richard Gallagher’s letter (February 7) suggesting the IRFU replace the appalling dirge ‘Ireland’s Call’ with the Shannon and Munster anthem “There is an Isle” has some merit. But I have a better suggestion.
Our all-Ireland rugby team should stand for ‘Amhran na bhFiann’ and ‘God Save the Queen’. Since the foundation of the State in 1922 we, down south, expect our Ulster players to stand and respect the anthem of the Irish Republic before international matches. And since 1922 they have honourably done so.
Should we not now in the spirit of inclusiveness return that respect and honour their anthem and traditions? It would indicate to the world that at long last we as a nation really have matured.
After all the concept is not so strange. Prior to New Zealand internationals, their anthem, ‘God Defend New Zealand’, is sung in English and Maori to respect both traditions in that country. Even the Haka is performed by both Anglo and Maori players after the anthem.
BLACK HILLS, SKERRIES, CO DUBLIN
THANKS A LOT, WARREN
* I would like to thank Warren Gatland on behalf of the Irish rugby- watching public for the excellent motivational job he did in preparing Ireland for victory at the weekend.
Had he not dropped Brian O’Driscoll so disrespectfully, the men in the green shirts might not have seen red, and achieved the levels of intensity necessary to slay the dragon.
ARGUING OVER EVIDENCE
* In David Quinn’s opinion piece on February 7 last he writes there is no ‘evidence’ that teaching of religion in schools is having a negative impact on educational standards.
If Mr Quinn now wishes to base arguments on evidence, perhaps he would put forward any evidence that supports the existence of God?
PORTLAOISE, CO LAOIS
* We often hear that denying certain individuals access to marriage because of their sexual orientation is discrimination. While I agree with this statement I would like to point out that the law in Ireland does not deny access to marriage because of sexual orientation.
Gender is what matters. No specific sexual orientation is required to enter into marriage. This is the case not only for individuals but also for couples.
Same-sex couples cannot get married not because of their sexual orientation but because of the gender of the two individuals involved. Two straight or bisexual men (or women) cannot get married.
We might discuss if this is just or unjust but in any case the discrimination is based on gender, not on sexual orientation, and therefore it is not in itself homophobic. Maybe genderphobic?
DR ANGELO BOTTONE
CHANEL ROAD, DUBLIN 5
SETTING RECORD STRAIGHT
* I would like to set the record straight on some points raised by Charlie Weston’s article on January 27 last headed ‘Debt deals may exclude loans from credit unions’.
Mr Weston wrote that “thousands of financially stricken people may be unable to get credit union loans included in debt deals”.
He also wrote that credit union loans of amounts greater than €20,000 cannot be included in debt- settlement deals where a life policy is in effect, as they would have to be treated as “secured loans”.
This may be causing considerable anxiety to people who are already stressed by financial worries, and I want to reassure them and to clarify the position.
All credit union loans can be included in debt deals under the new personal insolvency rules. Credit union borrowers will have a range of options available to help them in reaching the most fair and sustainable deal with their creditors.
Firstly, the vast majority of credit union loans are unsecured loans. That is, the borrower has not been asked to sign over a personal life assurance policy or other property to the credit union for the loan.
Unsecured loans can be included in any of the different options for debt deals under the new Personal Insolvency Act, which are all designed to include unsecured loans. That includes the Debt Relief Notice, Debt Settlement Arrangement, and Personal Insolvency Arrangement options mentioned in the article.
Secondly, it seems that in a small number of cases, credit unions may have asked borrowers to sign over a personal life insurance policy as security for a loan, typically where more than €20,000 was being borrowed.
If a credit union loan is validly ‘secured’ in this way, it can still be included in a debt deal under the new law, using the Personal Insolvency Arrangement option which is designed to deal with secured debts.
Many borrowers would be looking at this option anyway, since it is suited to those with mortgage arrears.
ALAN SHATTER TD
MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, EQUALITY AND DEFENCE