16 February 2014 Quiet day
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Someone has stolen the lead off the roof of the Admiralty, was it Pertwee? Priceless.
Better day Mary much improved potter around get sim for HTC
Scrabble today Mary wins but gets just under 400, perhaps I will win tomorrow
John Farquhar Munro, who has died aged 79, was the archetypal Highlander, and a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament for its first 12 years, eventually becoming Father of the House.
One of only a handful of native Gaelic speakers at Holyrood, JF – as he was universally known- was renowned for both his integrity and his awkwardness. His great political triumph was the abolition of tolls on the Skye Bridge; he had campaigned with his wife for their removal since the bridge was opened in 1995, and only achieved his aim in 2004 after threatening to leave his party.
Munro lived his entire life in Glen Shiel, midway between the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Great Glen. His forebears had fought in the Battle of Glenshiel in 1719, and like them he was a crofter. He was also in his time a merchant seaman, a haulage and quarrying contractor and a bus operator. Whenever possible, Munro wore full Highland dress. He was an enthusiastic shinty player in his youth, a keen sailor and fisherman, and an elder of his local church.
A passionate advocate for the Gaelic language, he co-sponsored a Bill to secure its equal status with English; to his anger, Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not adopt it. But he did secure the widespread adoption of bilingual road signs. He also pressed for land reform to break up the great Highland estates, and was disappointed by the lack of progress.
Munro’s early sympathies were with Labour. But in 1983 he pulled off a sensation by engineering the victory for the SDP in Ross, Cromarty and Skye of the 23-year-old student Charles Kennedy over the Conservative energy minister Hamish Gray. He remained Kennedy’s agent as the Liberal Democrats were formed, and in 1999 was influential in his election as party leader.
When the Scottish Parliament was re-established, Munro stood for Ross, Skye and Inverness East, defeating the singer Donnie Munro who was one of Labour’s star candidates. He twice held his seat, clocking up 500,000 miles touring his constituency in a series of battered Mercedes with the number plate JFD1D. Its interior reeked of pipe tobacco and its boot was likely to contain barbed wire or a sheep’s carcase.
John Farquhar Munro was born in Glen Shiel on August 26 1934 and educated at Plockton High School and the Sea Training College, Gloucester. At 17 he joined the Merchant Navy; he was once said to have tried to stow away on the Queen Mary to get home from America.
After a decade at sea he became a construction plant fitter, then a contracting company manager. In 1975 he started his own business.
First elected a councillor in 1966, he was convenor of Skye and Lochalsh council from 1984 to 1995, then until 1999 a member of the Highland Council. He also chaired Ross, Cromarty and Skye Liberal Democrats.
At Holyrood he put down an early marker as one of three Lib Dems to oppose the coalition formed with Labour. In 2003 the Herald named him the Parliament’s “Maverick of the Year”.
Around that time Munro fell foul of Sir David Steel, the Parliament’s presiding officer. Left isolated in one of its committees, he referred to himself as the “nigger in the woodpile”. Steel sent him a written reprimand, and when the committee next met Munro said he would never again use either word.
Munro in his final parliament broke with his party to support a referendum on independence which he did not advocate. With the 2011 election imminent, he caused surprise by declaring that the SNP leader Alex Salmond deserved a second term as First Minister. He was in fact repaying a political debt; Salmond had saved the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Munro’s old school from closure.
John Farquhar Munro married his wife Celia in 1962. She survives him with their son and daughter.
John Farquhar Munro, born August 26 1934, died January 26 2014.
The majority of Observer readers will, like me, have been delighted to read Will Hutton’s debunking of the Tory myth that “anything done in the private sector is generally fabulous” and in the public sector “abominable” (“The public sector isn’t perfect but at least it doesn’t fleece us”, Comment) but he was left with insufficient space to devote to the private sector’s obsession with bonuses. With £80bn paid out since the 2008 crisis, the idea that bonuses helped bring about the financial crash, because they encouraged investment bankers to take unnecessary risks, must have been mistaken. Silly us.
What we are always told is that banks have to pay obscene amounts of money to “stay competitive in the global market” and attract the “best” people. By that, they mean people prepared to put making profit for the bank at the top of their priorities, regardless of the welfare of customers or the requirements of the economy.
These are not the “best” people; they deserve only the imposition of a very high tax rate, a cap on their salaries, or both. “Best” people in banking do not have to be perfect, but they should show some morality in business dealings. As the CEO of Barclays said early last year, before his bank became involved in yet another scandal: “Ethics need to come before profits.”
University Challenge sexism
Perhaps the BBC would like to address the sexism apparent on University Challenge as well as on the various shows referred to in your article “BBC chief: no more comedy shows with all-male panels” (News). One imagines that no women attend any of our universities as week after week goes by without even a token woman appearing on either team. I am particularly saddened by colleges that were once solely for women putting forward all male teams.
Ms Barbara Penrose
Rent controls led to house boom
Unlike David Redshaw (“Bring back rent controls”, Letters), I believe that rent controls are partly responsible for the baby-boomers becoming a generation of now vilified home owners. My parents were sitting tenants and paid a very small rent (about £1 a week) that could not even cover the maintenance costs of the property, let alone provide an income for the landlord. Hence landlords would not offer new tenancies and frequently sold to the sitting tenant (not dissimilar to right to buy). When I married in 1969, it was impossible to find somewhere to rent, particularly in London, and we knew the only way to find a place to live was to save a deposit and buy a house. So in the early 1970s we bought a house, as did most of our relatives, friends and colleagues, and have benefited tremendously (but unwittingly) from house price inflation. Until we build more houses, and demand is met by supply, it will forever be thus.
Scotland buzzing with debate
It would do Andrew Rawnsley good to come to Scotland and join some of the many Yes meetings held in almost every island, small town, village or Scottish city (“David Cameron is betting that the Scots want to be told they’re loved”, Comment, last week).
There is an exciting political buzz here which is only being reported in independence-supporting social media. Meetings everywhere are packed out. Drumchapel, Isle of Bute, Moray Coast – even Edinburgh – are having positive and creative political meetings such as haven’t been seen for decades. Scottish Greens, Socialists, business people, peace campaigners, republicans and nationalists are joining each others’ platforms to offer mutual support. Two weeks ago, Dr John Robertson, of the University of the West of Scotland, produced research indicating anti-independence media bias in the BBC and STV. Reported in the UK press? Don’t think so. Thank goodness for your Kevin McKenna!
Teaching key to climate issues
Flooding, extreme weather, worldwide water shortages – your articles on these pointedly illustrate the effects of human-caused climate change. One reason for the woeful inaction is that scientific illiteracy is endemic. However, more students will be turned off science by Michael Gove allowing unqualified teachers into classrooms, scrapping modular GCSEs, and the Building Schools for the Future programme, denying some schools specialist accommodation such as science labs.
Beige is only for sheep
I was very surprised to discover in the Observer that my friends and I apparently should have been wearing beige for the last 25 years or so (“Forget beige – meet the women who are ageing with attitude”, News,). Things must be sadly out of date in your neck of the woods. Here in Ceredigion beige is definitely for the sheep.
Yours in multi-stripe hand-knitted top and aubergine straight-cut trousers (leggings in the wash).
Ystrad Meurig, Ceredigion
I agree with your editorial (“Time for Britain and the rest of Europe to join the drugs debate”) that the call by Nick Clegg for the UK and the EU to engage in the debate about drug policy reform deserves strong cross-party support (“The lesson from Latin America: we need to rethink the drugs war”).
This is the first time that a British minister in office has said what others have believed but waited until retirement to say. (Yes, I was one of the officials who also waited.) Nick Clegg has done so on returning from Colombia, and after conversations with President Juan Manuel Santos, who was the first president in office to call for debate on the UN drugs regime – in an interview in the Observer in 2011.
Santos broke a taboo and other Latin American presidents followed. Between them, they secured agreement to a UN General Assembly special session on drugs in 2016. That presents a real opportunity for change.
The home affairs select committee studied this issue exhaustively in 2001-2002 when the prime minister, as a backbencher, was a member. It recommended that the UN should look at options to prohibition, including legalisation. The committee examined the issue again in 2012 and endorsed the 2002 recommendation. It also called for a royal commission to consider domestic legislation to report by 2015.
Meanwhile, the drugs war had engulfed Mexico and Central America as well as Afghanistan with devastating results. I believe the evidence for reform is overwhelming and, while there will be many varying views on possible new regulatory regimes, there should be wide support for British and EU backing at the UN in 2016 for flexibility in the conventions to allow for such experiment.
Sir Keith Morris
British ambassador to Colombia,
1990-1994, London SE19
I entirely agree with Nick Clegg that we need a fresh consideration of drugs policy. Over the last 18 months, I have been visiting countries around the world in writing a book on HIV and Aids. There is no question that there is a widespread international feeling that we should all take a new look at how effective our policies are. I do not claim the feeling for change is shared by every nation. Russia is a prime example of a country that is pursuing clearly unsuccessful policies, but is deaf to any call for reform. There are many other nations that fail to distinguish between the users and the traffickers, who seek to exploit the demand.
There is an opportunity for Britain to take a lead – and here I disagree with one of Mr Clegg’s comments when he said: “Politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office.” In 1986, the Conservative government took one of the most significant decisions on drugs policy in the last 25 years when we introduced a clean-needles policy to counter the problem of HIV being caused by shared needles.
That was controversial at the time but HIV infection by this route came down dramatically and has stayed down. There has been no increase in criminality and the same policy has been adopted around the world. In that case Britain did lead and perhaps ministers might like to take heart from that example.
House of Lords, London SW1
I have read and reread Nick Clegg and Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch’s Comment pieces and still cannot follow their logic. It seems that we should decriminalise marijuana, which is “no more dangerous than alcohol”, and because cocaine kills 2,000 people a year we should make access to it easier by decriminalising it at home. We are told that our consumption of dangerous drugs in the west is fuelling civil wars in South American, but not how reform will reduce the demand for the drugs that are the cause of these wars. Like so much about the debate on drug reform, these articles conflate issues. Not all legal drugs are safe. To claim regulation of currently illegal substances would necessarily improve public health flies in the face of our experiences with tobacco and alcohol, both “regulated” substances, which kill far greater numbers than cocaine.
So, only the planning system (ie, local democracy) is more to blame for Britain’s housing crisis than the Campaign to Protect Rural England (“Housing is broken, how can we fix it?”, 9 February). This is flattering in its way for a small charity such as CPRE, but it is also absurd.
CPRE has been about as positive about house building as it is possible for a conservation charity to be. Even our recent charter to save our countryside has more house building as one of its three aims. Some housing must go on greenfield land, but most should go on previously built-on sites, known as brownfield, now lying derelict across England – enough for 4,000 homes in London alone. Or would you prefer even more inappropriately sited, poor-quality houses? Have you not heard about the floods?
Chief executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England, London SE1
The main fault for the lack of building lies with the builders themselves. For example, here, in Bath and North East Somerset, there are two very large brownfield sites that could accommodate well over 1,000 houses and yet no building is taking place years after they were acquired by developers. Local housing needs could easily be met without building in the green belt but the local authority has no choice but to include some in its core strategy because of these delays, and because developers refuse to build a sufficient proportion of affordable homes on brownfield sites, despite one of them being a supposed social housing provider. The only way to resolve this is for local authorities to be funded to build social housing to replace that sold off to private householders.
N J T Long
Ben Chu says that the only solution is more new homes, but how about reducing the population?
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Fracking isn’t the answer to our energy problems – even with sweeteners for local people (“Power from the people to the people”, 9 February). Shale gas is a fossil fuel, and even the fracking firm Cuadrilla has said it won’t cut household energy bills.
Instead of paying people to accept dirty companies making money on their doorstep, while risking water supplies and the environment, the Government should make it easier for everyone to benefit from renewable energy projects near to where they live. A good start would be to ensure that all larger renewable energy developments have mandatory local-share offers.
Energy campaigner, Friends of the Earth
I have no “great gardening dilemma” over whether or not to buy peat-based composts. Destroying a delicate ecosystem with unknown consequences (peat extraction releases huge amounts of CO2, too!) cannot be justified for the sake of recreational gardeners to maybe grow a slightly bigger bean.
Perhaps local flower shows could lead the way by introducing, peat-free fruit, veg and flower classes to show how easy it is to grow beautiful, nutritious, delicious plants without leaving a deeply damaged world for our great-grandchildren to inherit. I haven’t used peat for more than 30 years and no one’s ever complained that my tomatoes aren’t up to snuff!
Devon Sustainable Coppice Partnership
The Scotch Whisky Association and our members oppose minimum unit pricing of alcohol because we believe it will not do what it is supposed to (“Ditching Diageo’s drams is a Scot’s duty”, 2 February).
There are better ways of dealing with the problem. We are a founding member of the Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership, a long-term collaboration to encourage responsible consumption. We also recently launched the Scotch Whisky Action Fund, which will finance projects working to reduce alcohol-related harm in Scotland. Existing measures seem to be working: alcohol-related deaths have fallen by a third since 2003.
Moreover, we believe minimum pricing would breach European Union trade laws.
Scotch Whisky Association
Have your say
ONE cannot dispute the facts you presented on Scottish independence (“Scotland the naive needs to get real”, Editorial, and “What if Scotland does break away?”, Focus, last week), though the Scots may not find them so persuasive. Nor will they be impressed by David Cameron’s speech: it was surely unwise to suggest that the canny Scots may need the advice of English residents to make up their minds.
Just as the refusal of the Spanish prime minister to allow the Catalonians a referendum has stiffened the resolve of separatists, the pleas of English Conservatives will only raise hackles with many Scots.
The case for the status quo is well served by Alistair Darling, whose Scottish and Labour background makes him a credible advocate. But emotions may influence the outcome more than facts. It would be tragic if Scotland was lost through political gaucheness.
Patrick Campbell, Alicante, Spain
You failed to report on one of the main disadvantages to the Scots of independence: EU subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy and European Regional Development Fund.
The article also referred to Scotland’s future position in the EU despite the fact that the European Commission has stated that Scotland would not remain in the EU and would have to apply. As the accession of new states is subject to the unanimous support of existing members it is unlikely that an independent Scotland would be part of the EU at any point.
Even if the rump of the UK did not veto its EU application, Spain would, to discourage Basque and Catalonian claims for independence.
Robert Couldwell, Bognor Regis, West Sussex
A decision with such profound implications ought to be made by a majority of all those eligible to vote. But if, as in general elections, it is a simple majority of votes cast, you could have a turnout of 30% and the fate of the whole nation — all 63m of us — decided on the mandate of about 750,000.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Northwood, London
After the experience of having a Scot, Gordon Brown, as prime minister, and repeatedly hearing Alex Salmond on how much better it would be for the Scots to go it alone, perhaps England and Wales should be voting on whether we wish Scotland to be part of the UK.
Mike Haines, Cornwall
A problem shared
Dominic Lawson (“Perhaps it’s time to start minting some bawbees, Mr Salmond”, Comment, February 2) claimed that at the time of the 2008 banking crash an independent Scotland “would have been utterly bankrupted by (the) collapse” of the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, but neither is a purely Scottish institution.
The collapse of these banks would have threatened the whole British economy and not just the Scottish one, and the cost of their bailout would have had to have been shared by an independent Scottish government and Westminster.
Ian O Bayne, Glasgow
Flying the flag
The Union Jack does not denote the union of governments in 1707 but the union of the crowns in 1603, thus predating the political union by more than 100 years. The only reasons for it to be redesigned in the event of a yes vote would be if Scotland chose to become a republic or to appoint its own monarchy, and neither of those questions are on the ballot paper. The Union Jack represents the united monarchy and none of that need change.
Captain Malcolm Farrow, Petersfield, Hampshire
Divide and rule
Living, as I do, about 30 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall, I consider myself first a Northumbrian, and second British — but definitely not Scottish.
You can’t expect me to feel English when even the MP for Penrith and the Border seems to think that the wall is the dividing line between the two countries.
Vic Brown, Morpeth, Northumberland
Cameron says stick with nurse, while Salmond says go for it. Which one of them is brave, brilliant and buccaneering?
Alasdair Frew-Bell, Manchester
Filling in ditches has left floodgates open on farms
WAS there not a time when farmers maintained ditches round their fields to ensure that surface water found its way into streams and rivers (“Hold on, farmers, that’s your soil turning rivers into floods”, Comment, last week)? EU subsidies, I suspect, have encouraged them to extract the maximum from their land so these ditches have been ploughed in.
I have no wish to exacerbate the farmers’ desperate situation, but the ministry responsible, together with the farmers’ union, cannot stand back while the Environment Agency takes all the brickbats.
Anthea Watson, Copthorne Farm, Fownhope, Herefordshire
Call of nature
It was disingenuous of the independent board members of the Environment Agency (“Splashing out for UK flood defences”, Letters, last week) to omit any mention of the more than £30m the agency spent on a wildlife sanctuary, while ignoring the essential dredging needs of farmers and householders on the Somerset Levels.
Of course the priorities of the agency are set by various directives of the EU, which specifically gives precedence to wildlife interests.
Ashley Mote, Binsted, Hampshire
Reality check for Gove
THE reason Michael Gove is so disliked in schools ( I’m a primary school teacher) is not necessarily because of his policies, but their implementation (“My friend Gove may be a mule, but he’s kicking our schools into shape”, Comment, last week). The education secretary does not speak to us and does not understand what goes on in schools. The constant attacks on the profession have reduced morale to an all-time low and 50% of new teachers leave within five years. He simply doesn’t get it. He needs to spend a term in a school, undertaking 65-hour weeks.
John Poultney, Solihull, West Midlands
Two sides to the story
I must applaud Camilla Cavendish. As a rule, I have found myself on the other side of the fence in relation to opinion about Gove, his motives and methods. Such is the weight of condemnation and ridicule that he has become a sort of Spitting Image character. But a measure of good writing is that it makes you think — not just to make you nod like a Churchill insurance dog — and I no longer look at Gove with contempt.
Vincent Coster, Shaftesbury, Dorset
Coding is the future for pupils
We ran a Dragons’ Den-style competition last week for our year 7 pupils and the winners were three girls (“This mum says: Here’s looking at you, code”, News Review, last week). We recently invested in web-based app-design software and in order to engage the pupils we asked local businesses to give them a brief to work to. This project culminated in the whole class presenting the best apps to the businesses — which were very impressed.
Lin Proctor, The Charter School, London
Eleanor Mills raised the question of the growth in IT jobs and the shortage of candidates with the right skills, particularly women. Code should be taught as part of the curriculum, just as English, French and German are. I have found the skill base of university leavers is some five years out of date. It is encouraging that big companies are offering scholarships. The solution is to promote mathematics and science subjects to women from an earlier age.
Anj Matthews, SoccerHubb, Norwich
Separating greedy from wealthy
IT IS not wealth alone that offends but greed (“Sorry, Mr Balls, but your 50p tax is so 14th century”, Comment, last week). Mention is made of the technological whizz-kids — the men of “sudden gains” — and how they have improved our lot through innovation, but it is noticeable that none of the companies named (Google, Facebook and Amazon) is paying the tax morally due from its prodigious profits.
The banking sector has been vilified — quite rightly — for the levels of greed exhibited in the astonishing bonuses “earned” on top of considerable salaries. This is not mere egalitarianism being responsible for an “aesthetic disgust” — a splendid expression — but a widely felt belief that tax avoidance and often undeserved pay levels are an indicator of greed and nothing else.
Neil Davey, Ivybridge, Devon
The Danes have progressive tax rates, going up to 55% for their highest earners, and yet are often cited as the happiest society in the world. As long as the taxes are spent for the benefit of the society — on free education, reasonable childcare rates and pensions — people do not mind paying them. The government’s arguments and policies are divisive, unfair and contrary to its statement “We’re all in this together”.
David Maughan, York
Off the record
We have noted the increasing concern of GPs in regard to handing over patient records to the NHS. If my GP hands my records to the NHS database it will be a breach of the confidence I have placed in him for many years. If he does not, he will be in breach of the law. Of course people can opt out — and this time opting out must be done twice. As the NHS assures us that the data will be anonymised, why don’t GPs do this first? Would it matter if there was suddenly a plague of people called Mickey Mouse, or Minnie Mouse?
Paul Morris, The Data Protection Society, Manchester
K-9 or canine?
I told my daughter she could soon have a robot to clean her flat (“Dyson plans robots for all”, News, last week). Her response? “I’d rather have a cocker spaniel.” So much for machines taking over.
Vernon Muller, Chelmsford, Essex
Putting the hours in
As a teacher, I found the idea that MPs would be given a “graduate qualification” after eventually being able to teach for an hour a week for 20 weeks laughable (“Political animals to meet their match in the classroom”, News, last week). Don’t let anybody pretend that teaching for an hour a week in any way resembles professional teaching today. Let them teach for 20 hours a week and see how long they last.
Timothy Reeves, Sir Joseph Williamson’s, Mathematical School, Rochester, Kent
Get off my land
Two months ago Camilla Long attacked Strictly Come Dancing (“A handful of hot hormones”, News, December 22, 2013). Now AA Gill has sunk his fangs into Countryfile (“One’s a fake, but hats off to the old master”, Culture, last week). He may believe that there is no life worth living outside London, but 6m viewers a week disagree. We enjoy the enthusiastic presenters, the spectacular photography and the variety of information.
Peta Bainbridge, Brentwood, Essex
Corrections and clarifications
In the articles “Lost in space” and “Will Richard Branson’s space tourists ever blast off?” (News Review and News, January 26) we stated that Elon Musk, the PayPal billionaire, had sent up a manned rocket that had orbited the Earth. This is incorrect and we apologise for the error.
Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to email@example.com or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)
Agyness Deyn, model, 31; Christopher Eccleston, actor, 50; Cathy Freeman, athlete, 41; Amanda Holden, TV presenter, 43; Michael Holding, cricketer, 60; Ice-T, rapper, 56; Ian Lavender, actor, 68; John McEnroe, tennis player, 55; Valentino Rossi, motorcycle racer, 35
1923 Tutankhamun’s burial chamber opened by archeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings; 1959 Fidel Castro sworn in as prime minister of Cuba after overthrow of Fulgencio Batista; 1985 MoD assistant secretary Clive Ponting resigns over the Belgrano affair
SIR – Belgian legislators have brought in euthanasia for children, and despite “widespread public acceptance of euthanasia”, the new law is proving “controversial”.
Perhaps the Belgians are beginning to see they have been lulled into acceptance with false promises. Euthanasia was introduced in Belgium, as in Holland, in 2002 with pledges that it would affect a few difficult cases. Now, every year, thousands of vulnerable individuals who feel “in the way” are disposed of with the briskness usually applied to sweeping up rubbish.
Campaigners for the new law “argued that it would apply only to a tiny number of children, no greater than 15 a year”. No doubt when this figure is far exceeded, they will argue that it is simply addressing a previously hidden problem.
We in Britain should take note. How long before those offering care to the vulnerable as the alternative to being killed are castigated for failing to uphold standards of neutrality?
Woodford Green, Essex
SIR – The appointment of Sir Stuart Rose as an adviser to the NHS shows yet again that politicians see patients as commodities. After Sainsbury’s (soap powder) we will now have Marks & Spencer (underpants).
The NHS needs to be run by those who understand health care, not shopping.
David Nunn FRCS
SIR – Sympathy for Lord Smith, following the unfair intervention by Eric Pickles, quickly eroded when the Chairman of the Environment Agency blamed householders for choosing to live in flood-risk areas.
A good proportion of houses on flood plains are there as a result of the planning system, involving a process where the Environment Agency is fully consulted on all such developments. The public have a right to expect the planning process to deliver safe and secure places to live.
Chairman, Landscape Institute’s Policy Committee
SIR – Building on the flood plain has obviously been a significant factor in the floods. Given that this development has been permitted by careless local planning authorities (despite their being in possession of rigorous planning controls), does the Prime Minister realise how many more such problems will be created by the relaxation of development control (especially where no Local Development Plan has been approved), which the Government is now implementing?
Days at the BBC when DJs made passes
15 Feb 2014
Professor Graham Ashworth
Past president, Royal Town Planning Institute
SIR – The task of rebuilding infrastructure and flood defences must be an opportunity to invest in British manufacturing, create real jobs and put long-term solutions in place.
Gustard Wood, Hertfordshire
SIR – The country bailed out the banks when they were in deep water. Perhaps it is timely for the banks to bail out the country while it is flooded. Their latest bonuses would be a good starting-point.
Dr Ross Adley
Cowling, North Yorkshire
SIR – Last Saturday evening a tree fell in our garden, taking with it our electric power line and plunging us into blackness.
Within three hours, Western Power operatives had arrived and rectified matters, climbing ladders to a considerable height in rain, storm-force winds and darkness, and connecting high voltage cables, all with unfazed cheerfulness.
There are many unsung heroes in the present dreadful weather conditions.
SIR – We have heard almost daily that January 2014 was the wettest ever. This is not a meaningful statistic. Historically, January is a relatively dry month.
According to the Met Office, in the 30 years since 1981 there have been seven months with higher average rainfall than this January. In the Octobers over this period, the average rainfall has been 48 per cent more than this January.
Saffron Walden, Essex
SIR – Are television news channels in a race to provide the wettest commentaries on the flooding crisis? Having given up on the BBC, I listened in disbelief on Channel 4 as the presenter interviewed a group of people who had received no help in taking their dog for a pee, and, despite previous flooding experiences, had not been given boxes to put their possessions in.
SIR – While waiting on Thursday night for power to return to our home in North Wales, it was, amid the howl of the wind, extremely soothing to read by candlelight and the glow of a wood-burning stove, on which a kettle whistled up boiling water for a cup of tea.
It was an experience perhaps to be repeated under calmer circumstances.
SIR – I was a professional dancer in the Seventies, appearing on Top of the Pops for a year.
It was the fashion to wear a dress so short that any slight movement meant one’s underwear could be seen. I would wear knickers over my tights that matched my dress, as it was expected that the cameramen would try to get shots of these while we dancers gyrated on a platform.
We dressed provocatively to get noticed. I can remember that if the DJ or one of the production team didn’t make a pass or pinch my bottom there was a feeling that I was not attractive. I did not find it offensive – I am of the era when you were flattered if a builder whistled at you.
I am in no way endorsing inappropriate behaviour, but for the “carnival princess” who accused Dave Lee Travis of assaulting her to say she has suffered “40 years of hell” is hard to believe.
I was fortunate that during my year at TOTP I did not encounter Jimmy Savile.
The scale of flooding is not just a misfortune for which no one is to blame
15 Feb 2014
I do still have my album signed by Tony Blackburn, which was presented to me for winning Best Dancer. I was invited to the BBC bar, where even Morecambe and Wise flirted.
SIR – Readers may have been surprised that Dave Lee Travis had to sell his home to pay his legal fees (report, February 14). That is because in criminal trials costs do not “follow the event”.
Is it fair that a person prosecuted by the state but not convicted after trial is effectively forced to pay for the privilege? Let’s hope that none of us find ourselves in such an invidious position.
Blackfriars Chambers, London EC4
British jihadi atrocities
SIR – Concerns about the activities of young men from Britain who have travelled to Syria are not limited to suicide bombings.
Recent “jihadi torture” videos implicating fighters from Britain in human rights abuses in Syria are a chilling reminder that extremist groups such as Isis have a record of committing the most appalling abuses.
We’ve documented the existence of secret Isis prisons where detainees as young as 13 have been viciously flogged for petty theft or for supposed “crimes against Islam”. Numerous detainees accused of being members of rival armed groups have also been paraded through bogus trials and then summarily killed.
The full facts concerning the involvement of Syria’s fighters from Britain still need to be established, but the British authorities must ensure that every effort is made to bring to justice those who have committed war crimes in Syria.
Director, Amnesty International UK
SIR – If Scotland feels left out of the sterling area, Alex Salmond could consider monetary union with Armenia. Its currency is the dram, which should suit nicely.
SIR – I note that the cruise liner Queen Victoria was forced to lower the British flag while docked in Buenos Aires. We give Argentina £27 million a year in aid. Why?
Lost chances to net the best pension
SIR – I cashed in my pension pot in 1996 in exchange for an annuity, having decided to avoid draw-down. I was fully aware of the need to shop around and chose Standard Life, which offered the best option.
I was surprised my pension company could not match the offer from SL so the company lost out on receiving my fund when I die.
I am amazed that eight out of 10 accept their pension company’s only offer (report, February 14), as nearly every week in the financial pages we are urged to find out what other insurance companies will offer. Ignorance is not bliss.
SIR – You have highlighted the need to exercise the option of shopping around for the best annuity. The Financial Conduct Authority is to carry out an inquiry to try to protect pensioners from being “robbed” in this way.
Another crime being perpetrated is the extortionate commission payments – often up to 6 per cent of the sum invested – paid by the annuity company to independent financial advisers merely for filling in a form. This again has a detrimental effect on the returns made on the “income” paid to the pensioner.
Andrew J Coombe
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Madam – Homophobia means fear of homosexuality. I must confess that I had a bit of that fear in the past. Back in the Eighties, when I took to studying Oscar Wilde’s book The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was very worried, as I turned the pages, about coming across traces of homoeroticism, especially by an Irish author.
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In the Nineties, when I first heard of the ‘Gay Olympics’, I was baffled and slightly disgusted.
I don’t think I had ill-will but I definitely had a fear of homosexuals. It is important, I think, to distinguish between fear and hatred. Maybe there should be another special Latin word coined to cover hatred of the gay community which would also encompass acts of violence towards them. Who knows, I might have gone on to feel such hatred if I had taken to heart church teaching that homosexual acts could be a serious and deliberate sin.
If Irish society were likened to a table, then homosexuality would be one of the supporting legs of the table. By attempting to remove it we put extra stress on the other legs holding up society even though we might pretend that the table of society was stable and better off that way.
It says in the Gospel of St Mark that God made people male and female and married couples become one body. This has been taken to mean that only men and women can marry, but isn’t everyone made a bit male and a bit female?
For why do women sometimes grow moustaches and why do men have nipples? Men and women may have several differences but they each have one heart, through which flows the same blood, and by which they should be allowed to pick the true love of their lives to marry.
ATTACKS ON WHOLE CHURCH SO UNFAIR
Madam – I wish to express my concern about Brendan O’Connor’s article (Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014).
I am an Irish citizen and a practising Catholic who has worked with Irish missionaries in Africa. The church, as described by Mr O’Connor, bears no resemblance to the church and the people with whom I have worked closely for years. His article seems to me to be incredibly offensive to the many Irish Catholics and missionary groups who minister to so many with love and commitment.
No doubt there have been many abuses in Church history as there are in the history of all institutions, even the family. That does not warrant the terrible attacks on the whole Church by some persons in the media. It is very unfair.
While sexual abuse is terrible and inexcusable, in other areas of life there has always been excessive harshness and a punishment culture in operation all over the world. Think of the lot of African-American slaves and the world depicted by Charles Dickens – as well as our own experiences. We do not excuse this but we cannot judge the past by the enlightenment that we have, through struggles, arrived at now. Phrases such as “this rogue state, this parasite that fed off us, conducted torture and slavery in this country” sound vindictive and are totally out of order and unacceptable. As a concerned person who has the best interest of all people at heart, I see some of the journalists and media personnel of today as the new abusers.
St Anthony’s Education Centre,
Boksburg, South Africa
Brendan O’Connor writes: The term ‘torture and slavery’ were not my words but were taken from the UN report.
O’CONNOR’S FIRE AND BRIMSTONE
Madam – Brendan O’Connor must be very proud of himself! From his lofty perch on the editorial staff of the Sunday Independent, the same Brendan sees fit to lambast with fire and brimstone every aspect of the international Vatican state and particularly the Catholic Church in Ireland.
His action was all the more conniving since it was in writing a centre-page analysis (Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014) of a UN report on the Rights of Children that he used his commission to also express his own distorted views and hatred of the entire institution. Admittedly, the UN report referred to many of the past scandals, from clerical sex abuse to the Magdalene Laundries.
However, in Ireland’s position, percentage-wise and allowing for lack of education, poverty and deprivation at that time, I’m sure the UN found other countries far worse, and, it wouldn’t be fair to tar all with the same brush. But this didn’t do Brendan. He went on to write regarding the Holy See and its administration: “These guys are up there with China or the worst of Africa in terms of their human rights record. Instead of shunning the rogue state, we have invited it into the very heart of our countries and into the heart of our families. If the Holy See was an actual country, we would be sending in the tanks.”
O’Connor desperately avoided any mention of praise for the wonderful work of nuns, priests and brothers for their unselfish contribution to the health, education and the welfare of the needy at that time, when nobody else cared. The Catholic Church today is a cleansed, completely revolutionised institution. We were very lucky in having good popes, past and present. A newly rehashed team of cardinals, with their bishops and hard-working clergy, are tuned in, as never before, in progressing the Word of the Lord.
Thurles, Co Tipperary
ORDER DOES NOT ORGANISE PARADE
Madam – Regarding Fionnan Sheahan’s article ‘Ancient Order of Bigots’ (Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014), although I found the article top heavy with generalisations and personal opinions, a factual error contained within the article should be brought to your attention and properly corrected. The article stated that “the parade is organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians … ” The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America has not been involved in organising the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York city for almost 20 years. The parade is organised by the St Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee.
The parade was founded to honour St Patrick, a Catholic saint, who is not only patron saint of Ireland, but also of New York city. Because of the parade’s deep Catholic roots historically, it would only seem obvious that any one individual attempting to march as a group with an anti-Catholic message would not be allowed to participate. This privilege has been upheld by the American federal courts and even supported at the time by the American Civil Liberties Union.
James F McKay III,
Ancient Order of Hibernians,
New Orleans, USA
DEBT INITIATIVE STILL ONGOING
Madam –I refer to the article in last Sunday’s paper where James Fitzsimons misquoted data relating to an initiative we have with AIB to help distressed mortgage holders. He also gave inaccurate detail as to how the project was working.
Neither AIB nor the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation has contacted any customer directly. The figures released reflect progress for the first 55 days and the pilot is ongoing. Mr Fitzsimons’ article implied that the pilot was over and deals were done for a particular type of customer. 1,100 AIB and EBS customers contacted us, deals have been and will continue to be done and numbers have increased since figures were released. It’s vital borrowers engage with their lender.
Not only is the IMHO/AIB initiative a success but it shows the value of a trusted third party acting for the borrower
Director, Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation
Hollow words from Sinn Fein
Madam – I noted in comments by Mary Lou McDonald and Martin McGuinness at the Sinn Fein meeting last week that they both used the word ‘conflict’ instead of their usual ‘war’ when describing the killings during the IRA’s campaign.
With elections looming, they appear to be trying to convince people that they now wish to clean the slate of past atrocities carried out by republicans.
Maybe now is the time for honesty and perhaps they can explain who Sinn Fein/IRA were at ‘war’ or in ‘conflict’ with when they killed Jerry McCabe?
With both garda knocked out (one fatally) and no effort made to steal from the post van, they could hardly call it a robbery. It could be called a “deliberate operation to kill gardai”.
Sinn Fein/IRA will never wash the blood from their hands of the killing of gardai. That is why they refuse to explain who they were at war with when they killed Garda McCabe.
Otherwise, their hollow apologies for killing gardai will sound as empty as tossing a pebble into a barrel.
Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
PAYING DEARLY FOR TRUST IN LEADERS
Madam –Jody Corcoran’s statement that “lack of trust in politicians is good for democracy” should be repeated many times in the Irish media (‘Democracy and the Beliefs of a Nation’, Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014). That politicians, who are elected to represent us, should not be taken for granted, but have to be held to account for their actions, is a basic principle of any democracy.
The fact that this country was bankrupted by decisions made during the boom is proof of that. The possible downside of these decisions, made by this country’s most powerful citizens, was not adequately explained.
Ordinary people are paying heavily for having too much trust in the people in control of the political and financial institutions during the Tiger.
Sutton, Dublin 13
VOTING FOR MEN’S LABOUR PAINS
Madam – I am all for equality and fairness but regarding this debate on same-sex marriage, two grown men playing mammy and daddy to a child is a bridge too far for me, and not what the good Lord intended! He created us male and female for this.
However since Eamon Gilmore likes playing God he might try getting doctors to find a way for men to have babies.
We women could rest from our ‘labours’. Imagine the votes for Eamon.
EDDIE SHOULD WALK THE WALK
Madam – It was a strange feeling to find myself in agreement with most of Eddie Hobbs’s article (Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014). We have clashed before on social media. Therefore I was shocked to largely agree with his manifesto outlined last week. He is right on the need for a proper debate on the pensions issue and the need for a more business-friendly environment, though it would be decent of him if he admitted that no entrepreneur achieved anything without help from the State in some form and in a lot of cases, the taxpayer is now picking up the tab for bad loans. He is right too about politicians and regulators sauntering off Scot-free without any real financial loss, leaving the rest of us with bank debt we never created.
But he doesn’t offer any real solutions. You won’t get political change unless we have new parties who will avoid the centre. The obvious question for Eddie is: why he doesn’t run himself? Having written a few polemics under my own name, I have realised that the afterglow from such an exercise only lasts for a few days. Then it hits you that life or the establishment (whether union or State leadership) goes back to the default position of giving in. If he really wanted change, he would run for office. Shane Ross has made a difference, I don’t agree with a lot of his politics but he has done more than simply write articles. I’m putting it up to you, Eddie.
Barry Hazel, (ASTI CEC),
Bray, Co Wicklow
MAKE THE MOST OF LIFE’S GIFTS
Madam – Do you know, people soon won’t open or shut umbrellas without drink being involved. On The Saturday Night Show, Mick O’Dwyer told Brendan O’Connor he never tasted drink and he had a great life and was well liked. Also the lovely opera singer from Kildare sang beautifully, such a treat. It was uplifting to hear her speak of her faith and how it helped her cope with illness. They both used their God-given talents to the full and made – and are making – the best use they can of the short ‘slip-slide’ through what’s called life.
Cootehill, Co Cavan
ROG ROLE MODEL
Madam – While reading your Letters Page (Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014), I was drawn to the letter from William Barrett of Surrey, UK, regarding an article on Ronan O’Gara written by Barry Egan in the previous week’s paper.
Mr Barrett says ‘it would seem appropriate for his country to be proud of what he symbolises’, and then goes on to state that ‘paradoxically, it ought to be a tad more circumspect with regard to whether he symbolises his country’. He then outlines his reason for this statement and, of course, it is ‘the image of this paragon with both hands deeply embedded in his trouser pockets in the presence of an elderly woman head of state carrying out her official duties as a guest of his government’. If Mr Barrett read O’Gara’s recent autobiography Unguarded he would know the full story behind this ‘image’ and not be taken in by an ‘image’ that only tells part of the story.
O’Gara has given Munster and Ireland years of pleasure by his ability on the pitch and is an admirable role model for the young people of our country.
OUR DEBT LAWS NO MATCH FOR UK
Madam – Once again your newspaper has shown its anti-teacher/public service bias with the front-page headline ‘Teachers and nurses take leave or go bust’ (Sunday Independent, February 9, 2014).
Surely the real story is, why would a person put their life on hold, leave Ireland and their family to sort out their financial affairs in the UK rather than use the Irish system? Bankruptcy laws in Ireland, although improved, bear poor comparison with the UK. The other two forms of debt resolution have proven less than practical and could also do with an overhaul.