19 February 2014 Treatment
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to pick deliver Sir Willowby Todd-Hunter Brown to the right country can she do it?
Better day Mary much improved. Off for she second and full course of treatment some worries about low BP
No Scrabble today
Lady Llewellyn, who has died aged 96, was a wartime cipher officer, serving at Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and later handling the Allies’ classified signals in the build-up to D-Day.
She was born Joan (Jo) Anne Williams on Christmas Eve 1916 at the village of Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. Her father was chairman of the Cardiff Gas, Coal & Coke Co, as his father and grandfather had been before him; he was also MFH of the Glamorgan Hunt. Jo herself took no interest in riding, but at St James’s, West Malvern (where, she said, elocution and deportment were considered as important as maths and science), she was head girl and proved herself a fine tennis player, once competing at Junior Wimbledon.
In January 1939 Jo was one of the first to volunteer for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) – her service number was 84 — and in August she was called up to full-time service and commissioned.
After training as a codes and cipher officer she was posted to HQ Fighter Command at Bentley Priory. The C-in-C, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, had developed a sophisticated control and reporting organisation which relied heavily on secure communications. Jo Williams served at the HQ throughout the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940
In 1941 she was at the RAF signal station at Leighton Buzzard, staffed by more than 600 service personnel handling telephone, teleprinter and radio communications and linking the major RAF Commands at home and overseas.
On promotion to squadron officer (the female equivalent of squadron leader) in December that year, she moved to the Air Ministry cipher and coded signals department in London — the Air Ministry was responsible for providing and maintaining the classified communication facilities for the Cabinet Office and the War Room.
Following the Cairo and Tehran conferences in late 1943, Winston Churchill contracted pneumonia, and went to Marrakesh to convalesce. While there, he remained in constant touch with President Roosevelt, the British Chiefs of Staff and with Stalin; and on December 23 Jo Williams left for Marrakesh, where the temporary signals office was dealing with top-secret papers and communiqués. By January 14 1944 Churchill was fit enough to travel, and four days later Jo Williams returned to London.
By then planning for the D-Day landings was well advanced, and this generated vast amounts of classified signals with the Allied Powers and commanders-in-chief. Jo Williams was on cipher duty in London throughout the build-up to the Allied landings, during D-Day and through the advance of the armies from the Normandy bridgehead.
In September she travelled to Quebec, where Churchill and Roosevelt were meeting to discuss the final phases of the various Allied offensives in Europe, south-east Asia and the Pacific.
Jo Williams’s final wartime posting was back at Leighton Buzzard, where she remained until being released from the Service in October 1946. She was appointed OBE (military) in June 1944, having six months earlier been mentioned in despatches.
She took the Official Secrets Act with the utmost seriousness. Once she described in great detail to her son, then aged 40, a picnic which she had attended with Churchill in Marrakesh, naming each of the picnic’s nine courses. When her son said, “I’m not the slightest bit interested in what you had to eat, I want to know what Churchill said,” she replied: “I couldn’t possibly tell the likes of you that.”
Jo Williams went to work for Shell Mex Petroleum, and in 1950 married David Llewellyn, less than a week before he was elected Conservative MP for Cardiff North. He was Under-Secretary for Welsh Affairs in 1951-52. He retired from politics in 1959 and was knighted the next year. Later he wrote the “Jack Logan” column in Sporting Life.
The Llewellyns lived at Yattendon, Berkshire, where Lady Llewellyn was an active figure in village life and in the local church — gardening, hassock-making, cake-baking, knitting and smocking, flower-arranging, and supplying Meals on Wheels. She was still driving and attending fitness classes until a fortnight before her death. At the end of a busy day she would like to settle down with a glass of Veuve Cliquot or Pol Roger.
Sir David died in 1992, and his wife is survived by their two sons and one daughter.
Lady Llewellyn, born December 24 1916, died November 26 2013
David Cronin (Letters, 18 February) sees Tom Finney as a victim of the retain and transfer system in football. He considers it a form of slavery. When I signed for Fourth Division Millwall in the late 50s for £14 a week, having previously worked in industry for £8 a week, I considered it a kind of liberation. My new employer required me to train for nine hours a week compared with 44 hours of monotony packing labels for Guinness in Dublin. When Marx wrote about wage slavery I think he had Guinness in mind.
• Whatever the rights and wrongs of the opinions expressed on the letters page (False allegations of rape and the law, 17 February), at least it is good to see men standing up for each other as women have, for so long, rather than their keeping their distance from one another’s trials and tribulations of life. It may encourage them to take more interest in gender-related injustices in general.
• I get cheesed off regularly when you fail to identify everyone in a photo. And now I have to point out that the fourth person in the photo accompanying Ken Jones’s obituary (18 February), alongside Ken, Brian Wilde and Ronnie Barker, is me, playing the part of Dylan, the Huddersfield hippy. Ominously, I am the only person in the photo who’s still alive.
• Could Mark Carney and other financial luminaries avoid describing bankers’ pay and bonuses as “compensation” (Report, 17 February)? Compensation is paid to those who have suffered losses, not to those who have caused the losses.
Labour, House of Lords
• Prefacing comment with “So” or “Look” (Letters, 15 February) means “This is the answer I was briefed to give whatever question I was asked”, and can thus be safely ignored.
• In Cressbrook Dale, Derbyshire, king cups are out, bright and clear beside a millpond.
I must commend Comment editor Becky Gardiner for enabling Melissa Kite to shine a light into the strange alternative reality inhabited by contemporary conservatives (Comment, 18 February). Kite’s beyond-satire “save the 1%” plea for a more tolerant and compassionate attitude to bankers certainly added to the gaiety of countless Guardian-reading breakfast tables. Thanks to Melissa’s wise words we arose from our Fairtrade muesli with a new-found sympathy for bankers’ long daily commutes in from Hampstead and Chelsea to long hours of stressful toil (their armies of minimum-wage cleaners breezing in from Walthamstow and Newham should count their blessings), to say nothing of a new appreciation of the pro-social impulses behind bankers’ insatiable appetite for acquiring prime London residential properties – by no means, it transpires, exacerbating the capital’s acute housing crisis, but in fact a Keynesian job-creation scheme for gardeners and other domestic servants. Who knew? (Where was Melissa in 2010? She would have helped us comprehend that without the inward investment of expense-fiddling MPs the duck-house industry would be on its knees!)
More seriously, her characterisation of Ed Miliband’s very tentatively social-democratic platform as “somewhat to the left of Hugo Chavez” confirms that in David Cameron’s Conservative party, a frail veneer of urbane liberalism masks deep reservoirs of reaction, self-interest and rabid dogmatism. Kite is, of course, an intellectual featherweight, but her absurd and offensive vapourings nonetheless provide a salutary reminder, if any was needed, of just how hard Labour will have to fight to make its voice heard in the face of a relentlessly hostile rightwing media – and of how critical Labour victory next year will be to any hope of preserving sanity and decency in Britain.
Professor Barry Langford
Royal Holloway, University of London
The two illustrations of Georg Baselitz’s work, accompanying the comprehensive article by Nicholas Wroe upon the occasion of three London exhibitions featuring the work of Baselitz (15 February), raise questions which go to the heart of modern art. Many readers will think that the bright slapdash smearing of the one and the thick, clumsy lines of the other are within the range of painting technique of their own young children. Why do works of art that show no evident skill or delicacy attract praise from critics and the patronage of collectors? Is it the artist’s robust take on German politics and postwar soul-searching? Is it the negative view expressed by Baselitz on the artistic attainments of his female students, or is it part of the international art establishment’s ability to capture and tame its critics and rebels? Are the admirers of Baselitz vindicated, while the rest of us remain blind to his painterly skills? I hope the columns of the Guardian will address these matters.
The Israeli embassy correspondent (12 February) is disingenuous and Harriet Sherwood (Weekend, 8 February) is quite right to highlight the plight of Palestinian children under military occupation. In June 2012 the Foreign Office funded an independent delegation of UK lawyers to investigate the Israeli military court system where hundreds of Palestinian children are tried every year. Its report, Children in Military Custody, found Israel in breach of six articles of the UN convention on the rights of the child, as well as the fourth Geneva convention. These findings aresimilar to those made by Unicef in March last year.
Israel is the only country to process children through military courts. Children do not have access to a lawyer; their interrogations are not recorded; and they are routinely made to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. There is overwhelming evidence these children are maltreated and abused in a manner that Yigal Palmor, Israel’s foreign affairs spokesperson, has recently called “intolerable”.
The UK government shares his concerns, which is presumably why it is funding a return visit by the UK legal delegation this spring to check on Israel’s progress in upholding its obligations under international law. Many of these children are arrested at flashpoints created by the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, particularly settlements which are widely recognised as a block to peace. If Israel is serious about human rights, it should end its brutal occupation of Palestine and guarantee equal rights to the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Action 4 Palestinian Children
• The Israeli embassy’s Yiftah Curiel portrays a picture of a peaceful Israeli occupation of Palestine. It carefully ignores the violence by settlers and the Israeli military. During the week 28 January to 3 February, the UN reported 55 Palestinians injured by Israeli forces, 19 injuries caused by live ammunition. They further report 425 olive tree saplings destroyed by Israeli settlers on Palestinian-owned land near Ramallah – just two of many reports, which can be read at http://www.ochaopt.org.
Dr KR Dimond
The article by Timothy Garton Ash on Cameron’s student visa policy (This student visa policy is a disastrous own goal, 18 February) is both inaccurate and damaging to the reputation of the higher education sector. There are no limits on the number of genuine foreign students who may be admitted to the UK. Indeed visas issued for higher education actually increased by 9% between 2010 and 2012, with a small fall in 2013. However, there has been a serious problem with fraudulent applications as a result of the introduction of the points-based system. The National Audit Office found that, in its first year, some 50,000 students, mainly from the Indian sub-continent, may have come to work rather than to study. Clearly the system had to be tightened and the reintroduction of interviews seems to have had a salutary effect.
The other major problem, as he recognises, is overstaying. It now seems that non-EU students are returning home at only about one-third of their rate of arrival. Those who leave are, in effect, counted out, so they do not affect net migration. Home Office research suggests that about 20% of students still have valid leave to remain after five years. The problem, therefore, is the other 45% who, arriving at the rate of about 200,000 a year, make a huge difference to net migration.
This clearly has to be tackled – both in the public interest and in the longer-term interests of the higher education sector itself.
Chairman, Migrationwatch UK
• New Labour opened the immigration gates, not realising that this would undermine faith in the welfare state (The left must not turn right, 15 February). As for Conservatives, the lure of cheap labour blinded them to the economic burden of a growing underclass. Now we have David Edgar urging the left to resist the clamour to control immigration in order not to sully its commitment to social emancipation. So Edgar happily goes along with western Europe plundering Romania and Bulgaria of its expensively educated doctors. So much for international solidarity.
As for the much greater influx of cheap unskilled labour from eastern Europe, Edgar seems unaware that this constitutes an informal incomes policy in that unskilled pay is kept well below a living wage. Not being able to control migrants from within an ever-expanding EU is tantamount to importing cheap labour.
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
• David Edgar’s headmasterly tick of approval for the liberating causes of the 1960s is heartwarming, but he may be missing the point. Even the present government has embraced those gay and women’s rights that cost peanuts. Rather than confront Ukip’s bigotry by thinking of it as yet another leftier-than-thou “issue”, or of the labour movement as a cosy club in which the high-minded middle class abstractly instructs the rest (and allows another putsch like New Labour), he should stop fearing the dark consequences of direct working-class voices, get that lofty ear to the ground and think about who goes down when “social emancipation” raises some up. But as a playwright, he’ll know about empathy.
Robertsbridge, East Sussex
You state that “Atos has become the lightning rod for widespread public anger over the health test, known as the work capability assessment” (Atos may be ousted from fit-for-work contract, 18 February). After working for Atos as a medical assessor for 10 years I recently resigned, exasperated by increasingly unrealistic auditing of my reports both by Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions. This oppressive scrutiny, often requesting me to alter my opinion, was due to the excessive number of claimants (600,000 mentioned in your article) going to appeal. In my opinion the explanation for this huge number of appeals is the unrealistic criteria, set by the DWP, for a claimant being awarded employment and support allowance. Yes, it may be possible to work if you use a wheelchair, have an epileptic seizure once a fortnight, or have lost an arm, but how likely is such an applicant likely to be given a job interview? Atos is obliged to submit reports based on these DWP criteria, and it is not surprising that it has become the scapegoat.
Dr Giles Youngs
• Whether Atos or any other private sector company is doing the work capability assessment (WCA) is not the important issue. This is because it is focused upon the symptom – the poor experience of many people of the WCA as a process – of a set of more fundamental concerns. These relate to the treatment of chronically sick and disabled people in an unequal society in which they are held to be a burden and responsible for many of its economic and social problems. It is this attitude – symbolised in the aims and structure of the WCA to exclude people from being defined as sick and disabled for benefit purposes – that is the problem, rather than who is judging capability for work.
Dr Chris Grover
Senior lecturer in social policy, law school, Lancaster University
• Instead of “commissioning other private firms” such as A4E, Serco, G4S, and Capita to replace Atos, the government should scrap work capability assessments. In 2011, 10,600 people died within six weeks of having support withdrawn due to these tests. Since then corresponding figures haven’t been published.
We should be cutting bankers’ bonuses, not benefits – and Labour councils should be taking the lead. For example, they could refuse to implement the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cuts, which have affected disabled people also hit by WCAs. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will be joining protests outside Atos assessment centres across the UK on Wednesday. And we will be standing candidates in May’s elections opposed to all attacks on benefits.
TUSC national election agent
• I would feel bereft if I couldn’t afford the £16 a week it costs to have the Guardian delivered to my home. How I would feel if I couldn’t afford the extra £14-£22 a week to live in it doesn’t bear thinking about (Bedroom tax blamed for rapid surge in rent arrears, 12 February). Labour has said it will abolish the bedroom tax if it wins the next election, but presumably even more people will have been evicted by then. Is there an organisation I can make a donation to and help stop this happening? If those of us who could afford it gave a weekly amount of £14-£22 from now until May 2015 then hopefully no one else will have to be forced from their own homes.
• Hidden away under all the news about floods were Ministry of Justice figures showing that a record number of 37,729 public and private sector tenants were forcibly evicted from their homes by bailiffs in 2013 in England and Wales. That cannot be explained as an unintended consequence of welfare reform. It is the intention of the coalition to force single tenants out of their public sector homes to free up spare bedrooms for tenants in temporary accommodation. It is also the intention of the coalition to force large families whose benefits come to more than £500 including housing benefit to move to cheaper accommodation. That is done by cutting the housing benefit so the rent cannot be paid, hence eviction. Private landlords have soaked up ever increasing billions of housing benefit from the taxpayer, £9.32 billion in 2013, but it is the tenants who are being punished.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Your article Locked up and out of Australia (7 February) accurately sums up the current so-called “illegal immigrant” situation in the country. But there was little mention of internal opposition to current and previous government policy.
There are many voices that the current government would like to silence on this issue, individuals, church groups and humanitarian organisations that have stood up to both Labor and the current Liberal government. Both, but particularly the latter, have played politics with this issue in a manner that is frankly disgraceful. The current government claims the aim is to target people smugglers but it deliberately ignores the genuine right of people in peril to try to help themselves and their families.
It is a singular irony that most Australians, except the original inhabitants who probably crossed a land bridge, are originally “boat people”; migrants themselves in search of a better life . It is only too easy in this context to forget historical precedents for compassion and understanding.
The Australian government wants to close down debate on this issue for shabby political reasons in a way that shames us all. My only hope is that the essential decency of most Australians will prevail.
Margaret River, Western Australia
• As an Australian citizen I am ashamed of my government’s response to asylum seekers who arrive by boat and the continuing breaches of Australia’s obligations under UN refugee conventions. I assure you that many Australians are working very hard in support of asylum seekers and their rights.
According to the Australian government’s own website,
“Historically, boat arrivals only make up a small proportion of asylum applicants – it is likely that between 96 and 99 per cent of asylum applicants arrived by air. The progressive protection visa grant rate for asylum seekers from the top country of citizenship for boat arrivals (Afghanistan) has varied between about 80 and 95 per cent since 2009; while the final protection visa grant rate for those applying for asylum from the top country of citizenship for air arrivals is usually only around 20 to 30 per cent.”
As we know, the most dangerous passage to Australia is that from Indonesia to Australia by boat. Many Australians continue to urge that the government take a more humane response. In January this year Italian authorities described how they had rescued more than 1,000 asylum seekers trying to reach Europe over a 24-hour period. Their navy helicopters spotted four overcrowded boats struggling to stay afloat and ships were sent to save them. The Australian government’s desire to “turn back the boats” to Indonesia makes a mockery of our signature to the UN refugee conventions.
The Australian government does not represent all of us who are able to ask ourselves, “What if this were me and my family?” The current response to those seeking refuge on our shores diminishes us all.
Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia
• Thanks for your front-page exposure of Australia’s cruel and inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers who approach our shores by boat.
This hardline policy has been pursued in contravention of numerous international human rights conventions to which Australia is a signatory, not least the convention on the rights of the child.
This is the work of both Labor and conservative governments, under three prime ministers (John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott) who all claim to be Christians (but endorsed, it must be said, by Julia Gillard, an avowed atheist). With the present minister, Scott Morrison – another Christian – they have cherished the fantasy of “sovereignty”, and inaccurately term asylum-seekers “illegals”. They proclaim as virtue that we must “stop the boats”.
They never say just where they want those boats to go. They also forget entirely that all non-Aboriginal Australians are the long-term beneficiaries of invasion and dispossession.
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
• That this article should appear anywhere relating to Australia is abhorrent. The broader context is a government that wishes to shroud the issues of mandatory detention in such secrecy that it is difficult to obtain, outside your pages, any information.
Lowanna, New South Wales, Australia
• So policy is that no person arrived by boat is ever to be settled in Australia. That would lead to considerable depopulation of the country, especially if applied to their descendants as well.
Lessons from wartime past
It was interesting to read about first world war history lessons in the UK (7 February). It reminded me of a visit to the Peronne war museum where I heard a British woman exclaim “Oh, it was so terrible for our boys. Look at all these British cemeteries – no French ones – we did everything!”
Isn’t it time we revised history somewhat and stopped belittling the French so much? Can’t we explain that the frontline wasn’t just in the Somme, that dead British soldiers were buried where they fell whereas most French ones (about 1.8 million) were taken home? You only have to look at the lists on war memorials all over France, even in the tiniest villages.
It’s ironic that so many Britons consider the first world war as a war between Britain and Germany and yet the battlefield was France, whose northern territories were left in ruins. By its very nature history taught in schools, wherever they are, must be limited but that does not mean it has to be biased.
• Christopher Clarke (7 February), like many other current writers, is keen to draw “many parallels between now and 1914”. However, the bowstring is extremely long, due to the radical changes in the world over the last 100 years.
Communications between nations are now constant and immediate, unlike 1914. People now travel constantly across international borders making the ability to whip up war fervour against a “foreign foe” much more difficult. And, above all, the world has endured two hideous world wars since 1914 and shows no inclination to repeat the process.
Yes, “history is telling us something” – that we have been well taught and will not be repeating the mistakes of 1914.
Dr John Reynolds
Bayswater, New Zealand
Flooding and nature
The renewed flooding in Britain’s Somerset Levels (7 February) is a further manifestation of the impact of the effects of climate change. International development agencies (including the UK’s DfID) are well aware of the disastrous consequences of the destruction of natural vegetation on sloping land and there are many projects under way worldwide to correct man-made damage. And yet we do not seem to grasp the causes of flooding in the UK.
The Levels are traversed by several rivers (including the Parrett), which drain a catchment bordered by the Mendip, Quantock and Blackdown Hills. Denuding the hills of their native woodland species and converting them to agriculture has removed their ability to capture and absorb rainfall and release the water gradually. Instead we have soils with limited infiltration and water holding capacities which result in rapid run-off once saturated. The consequence is a flooded catchment and all the anguish we are witnessing.
The healing process will take at least a generation, and the Levels will always be an invaluable wetland habitat. In the meantime, we must learn to live with the consequences of the climate change chaos that we have created. Working with nature, rather than futilely fighting her, is the only sensible route to success.
• Thank you for publishing the much-needed article on Israel’s nuclear arsenal (31 January). It reveals the hypocrisy of western nations in hiding and helping the proliferation of nuclear armaments. It also calls into question the insanity of protecting Israeli sovereignty through nuclear weapons. The question that remains is: why isn’t there a much greater effort to attain a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone with full inspections, especially now that Iran appears to be more willing?
Collingwood, Ontario, Canada
• In the light of James Ball’s article on China’s princelings storing riches in a Caribbean haven (31 January), I suggest this tax haven be renamed hereafter BNSVI (British Not So Virgin Islands). One can’t help recognising also the rather cynical sense of humour of Chinese apparatchiks who brand their most infamous jails with poetic names such as Lotus Flower Valley.
• Anyone out there willing to share a flat in London with me (Inside “Billionaires Row”, 7 February)? I’m looking for five or six independent-minded individuals (ideally thirtysomethings) to squat a house on the Bishops Avenue. Quietly rebellious types with a roll-your-sleeves-up attitude appreciated. Thank you, Guardian Weekly, for letting me know about this unique opportunity!
• The US has apparently changed (You’re giving up drinking? 31 January). In the 70s, with my students toking, inhaling and swallowing chemical unknowns, and my social cohorts downing Valium and so on, I decided to stop drinking. At parties, declining a drink invariably produced a startled silence. I’d then say, “That’s all right. I get more interesting as you’ve had more to drink.” The time it took for someone figure out what I had said proved an infallible indicator of how far gone they were.
Helen Hill Updike
New York City, US
• I sympathise with Stephen Poole (Do you get lost easily? 7 February). I love maps. If I have an old Ordnance Survey, I’d find the latest one to check the difference (Luton without the M1, Paris without Disneyland!). And I dread having to buy a new car which will tell me where to go, because if I get lost, I just unfold a map.
L’Isle Jourdain, France
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Anthony Hilton (15 February) claims there is no way of preventing an independent Scotland from keeping the pound as its currency, and to some extent he is right. If an independent Scotland shadowed the pound sterling, there is no reason why they should not do so and no reason why the UK would want to prevent it, even if that was possible.
But that is not what Alex Salmond wants, which is to continue using the pound sterling and to have a large say in the management of the currency.
His current line is to blackmail the UK into ceding control of the pound by threatening to refuse to take a fair share of the national debt. If push comes to shove the UK will retain the ultimate sanction: a veto on Scotland’s membership of the EU. That in itself is worth staying in the EU for.
Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire
Salmond wants a divorce, but he’s just going to live next door, so he’ll keep the key to the back door, so he can pop in for a cup of sugar when he needs it.
Martin London, Henllan, Denbighshire
For a nation to be fully sovereign it must have its own currency and manage its own economy. It was because we British were not ready to accept the idea of merging our sovereignty to this degree that we did not join the euro.
The Eurozone struggled during the recent financial crisis because a single currency was shared by several economies not all of which were sufficiently in step and it was the smaller, weaker economies that suffered most, though the danger threatened all.
We British have a sentimental and traditional attachment to sterling, and, now, so do the Scots, it seems, especially in the wake of the recent financial upheavals. So the Scottish Nationalists have reassured their people that they can retain sterling.
But they have failed to acknowledge the extent to which this would surrender their supposed sovereignty. Having won the appearance of independence they would be surrendering the reality of sovereignty, and even if they think it reasonable from their point of view to enter into a currency union with Britain (and a shared economic policy) there is no reason to expect that, in the light of the Eurozone’s experiences, we would be of the same opinion.
Donald MacCallum, Milton Keynes
Steve Richards (18 February) is right to say that English politicians should be careful not to upset Scottish voters.
The debate, and the reporting of it, are entirely different north and south of the border. While Scots may be divided on the question of independence, they are united in their reluctance to be dictated to or patronised by English politicians.
Robert Stewart, Wilmslow, Cheshire
Young men back from a foreign civil war
The current concerns over Britons returning from the Syrian conflict are eerily reminiscent of the concerns of the 1930s. Then it was about those volunteers returning from the Spanish civil war who had fought against fascism.
Then, as now, western governments were fearful that their citizens would be radicalised by a foreign ideology. Then it was communism: now it is radical Islam. In 1938 returning volunteers were investigated, sometimes imprisoned, and in some countries, such as the USA, remained under suspicion for years.
Is it not at least possible that among the young men going out to Syria there might be a Laurie Lee or a George Orwell, and that in 75 years’ time our fears will look as unfounded as the fears of 1938?
But then, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And in Mr Gove’s new world this sort of history will not even be taught.
Worthing, West Sussex
Challenges of the big Sellafield clean-up
In his “Westminster Outlook” column (14 February), Mark Leftly finds it hard to accept the costs of cleaning up the nuclear legacy at Sellafield, on the basis that it is “after all, only a 6 sq km site”.
This statement reveals a failure to understand the unprecedented engineering challenges at Europe’s most complex nuclear facility, exacerbated by the congested and interconnected aspects of the site.
Sellafield is home to the largest inventory of nuclear waste and other materials in the world, safely managed via a combination of site services and more than 1,000 buildings compressed into this small area. Sellafield has to host its early research reactor, the Calder Hall Magnox station, two reprocessing plants, and many other large and complex facilities. The only site with similar challenges is Hanford, in the US, which is spread over 1,500 sq km.
The congested nature of Sellafield increases the challenge of highly complex, bespoke engineering projects, in some cases immediately adjacent to some of the most hazardous nuclear waste facilities in the world. Meticulous planning and faultless execution are required to get the job done safely.
This does not provide an excuse when performance in the decommissioning programme at Sellafield falls short of our expectations, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has spelt out in very clear terms the areas in which we require improvement from our contractor Nuclear Management Partners. However, it is important in order accurately to judge the progress being made to first accurately lay out the challenges and limitations to working on this site.
Communications Director, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, London SW1
Johansson’s deal with SodaStream
SodaStream syphons are manufactured in Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement built for Israelis only on Palestinian land. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law: Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the occupying power from exporting its own population into occupied territory.
SodaStream pays no taxes to the Palestinian Authority, and, as settlements expand, so Palestinian houses are demolished and land confiscated. Deprived of their land and their homes, Palestinians are forced to seek employment where they can. What price coloured fizzy water? Scarlett Johansson will have done herself no favours, except of course financially.
Yes, let’s celebrate the Jewish film makers of Hollywood (Perry Dror, letter, 15 February). Let us also support the boycott of settlement goods called for not only by Oxfam but also by Jewish Voice for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and many more.
Patricia Cockrell, Lewes, Sussex
Violence in Venezuela
The violence witnessed in Venezuela in recent days follows the launching of a campaign by extremist elements of Venezuela’s opposition for the “ousting” of the democratically elected government. It is notable that other sections of the opposition, including its recent Presidential candidate, have distanced themselves from this (“A Venezuelan Spring?”, 14 February).
The tragic killing of three Venezuelans, including supporters and opponents of the government, has worrying echoes of what has occurred before in Venezuela, notably the coup d’etat of 2002. Then hidden snipers fired on crowds of people in order to create social conflict and the conditions to justify a military coup. President Maduro’s announcement that the same pistol was used in the first two of the recent killings is thus deeply worrying.
Alvaro Sanchez, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of Venezuela, London SW7
This is football, not wrestling
There is a simple solution to the problem of footballers restraining opponents (letter, 18 February): a one-match ban for all offenders caught on screen but not seen by the referee. Such a blitz would soon eliminate the practice, as no hand or arm hold can be deemed unintentional.
Peter Lack. London N10
How sad to read in the same day of Sir Tom Finney’s death and exemplary career and Wayne Rooney’s £300,000 per week. When, where and how did we let it go so wrong?
Stephen Westacott, Great Witley, Worcestershire
Error of an ignoramus
Guy Keleny, commenting on the word “ignoramus”, is unjust to today’s lexicographers (Errors & Omissions, 15 February). I have looked at a range of recent dictionaries from Concise size upwards (Oxford, Collins, Chambers, and others), and they all include information about the origin of the word in legal Latin. Some of them also suggest a possible derivation of the modern sense from a character called Ignoramus in a play of the same name (1615) by George Ruggle, which ridiculed the supposed ignorance of lawyers.
Robert Allen, Edinburgh
Sir, I listen to the statements from the SNP with increasing dismay. As a Welshman who believes that being part of the UK is a good thing, I can’t see why Scotland would want to leave. There are few upsides, and the downsides of being a tiny state on the fringes of Europe are huge. No one will care about it, whereas the UK is important.
The key point is that the SNP is asking Scots to vote on leaving the UK, not the other way round. A “yes” vote would, in my view, be a pity, but Scots have that option in the referendum. If, however, it leaves, then Scotland is no longer a part of the UK and will lose everything that goes with it. Neither has it ever been a “member of the EU”— only the UK has. The pound is the currency of the UK, not an asset; the Bank of England is the central bank and lender of last resort for the UK, and Scottish bank notes have been underwritten by it; HMRC collects taxes for the UK which the government of the UK deploys etc. These types of things will no longer pertain after a country leaves the UK and whatever the SNP says will not change this.
As someone leaving an entity, it is not within their gift to decide what is and isn’t to be kept, that is for negotiation and, unless you have a strong hand, you have little or no bargaining power.
I do not believe that the SNP speaks for the majority of Scots, not even the 16-year-old children who are, bizarrely, allowed to vote, but not to drive or drink, and that it has run a campaign of serious disinformation where facts which are “inconvenient” are ignored, distorted, or portrayed as bullying, hectoring and harassment.
Sir, George Osborne’s comments on the impossibility of Scottish retention of sterling in the event of independence have nothing to do with political vindictiveness but are simply a statement of the obvious. Mr Salmond is disingenuous in suggesting it could ever be otherwise.
You cannot have monetary union without political union, otherwise one country is implicitly liable for the financial policies of another country without limit and without recourse. The euro is a classic example of the problem.
Harrogate, N Yorks
Sir, The SNP is resorting to the tactic of portraying any contrary opinion as an outrageous attack on the liberties of the Scots. These manufactured “border incidents” are a practice of unscrupulous leaders who wish to inflame the passions of both sides and push the issue onto a war footing. No one should fall for it. Scots, English, Welsh, Irish, European, in fact all supporters of the Union, must not get drawn into these attempts to Balkanise the debate.
Sir, You raise the possibility of Scotland issuing its own currency (leader, Feb 17). The precedents are not encouraging. The pound Scots (or “pund Scots”) was introduced by King David I in the 12th century. By the time of James III the pound sterling stood at four pounds Scots.
In 1707 the pound Scots was replaced by the £ sterling at a rate of 12 to one. No wonder the “Yes” campaign is so anxious to join a sterling zone with England.
(Scottish Conservative & Unionist MP, 1979-87), Drumdarrach, Moray
‘While commitments made in a manifesto must be affordable — like ours were in 2010 — the central message is what ultimately matters’
Sir, At a time when political leadership and vision are in short supply, to present a manifesto devoid of either, as you report some Liberal Democrats as planning (“Lib Dems axe pledges for coalition deal”, Feb 18) would be an act of folly.
Thankfully, the democratic nature of the Liberal Democrats means that our elected Federal Policy Committee has the final say over what goes in the manifesto.
It is in the event of a balanced Parliament that compromises shall be made — not before. While commitments made in a manifesto must be affordable — like ours were in 2010 — the central message is what ultimately matters. For Liberal Democrats, who seek a fairer, more sustainable future, what we want is to fundamentally change the way British politics works — not to become a pale imitation of the two old parties.
Prateek Buch, Gareth Epps, Helen Flynn, Evan Harris, Lucy Care, Mark Pack, Tony Greaves, Kelly-Marie Blundell
Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee
Naomi Smith, Mary Reid, Mathew Hulbert, Paula Keaveney, Michael Steed,
Linda Jack, Gordon Lishman
Social Liberal Forum
To start tinkering with the basic NHS tenet of ‘care for all’ is the first step on a slippery slope leading to ‘societal disaster’
Sir, I was underwhelmed to read this morning that the National Health Service might refuse me drugs due to my age, apparently because I am now judged too old to work and thus “worth nothing” to society (report, Feb 17). Why not apply this “societal” criterion to those still in employment according to the value of their profession to the common good? Candidates might be politicians, health service managers, journalists.
More seriously, where and when does this stop?
To start tinkering with the basic NHS tenet of “care for all” on “societal” rather than purely health considerations is the first step on a slippery slope leading to societal disaster or much, much worse.
The rate of injury in sport played at school level cannot be as high as the 20 per cent chance that has been quoted recently
Sir, “A young person playing a full season of rugby had a 20 per cent chance of getting injured, typically suffering concussion or a fracture” (Professor Allyson Pollock, Feb 18). Surely this is a mistake — quite apart from the fact that this statement implies that this risk was for each season.
I was involved in schools rugby for 35 years, in a school with some 15+ teams, and I refereed for 30 of those years. While refereeing, often several times a week, I came across not a single example of concussion or fracture.
I can barely remember anybody even suffering a bruise sufficiently serious that the boy in question had to leave the pitch — maybe five times in a season at most. In all teams, over 35 years, I think I can remember maybe five fractures and maybe 20 cases of concussion.
Mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil and other type of engineers do routinely share expertise and work together in successful teams
Sir, The letters from Drs Broughton and Duncan imply a contest between civil and the other engineering disciplines, but in fact mechanicals, chemicals, electricals, civils and others exchange their specialist expertise without difficulty.
The difference between engineers and bureaucrats is that engineers can understand quantitative concepts and, given the opportunity, reach rational conclusions.
Sir, Dr Duncan asks what a civil engineer could bring to the party. The answer is a large truckload of practical common sense. And if he or she were also a military engineer, it would be green.
Major Ian Ferguson
Royal Engineers, retired
Upper Quinton, Warks
SIR – Even in the depths of winter, the sight and sound of goldfinches visiting gardens will bring warmth into the heart of any wildlife lover. They are beautiful birds, with long, pointed beaks for extracting seeds. Outside the breeding season, when goldfinches roam in flocks in search of food, groups of 100 birds are common. They have beautiful songs, for which they have historically been kept caged.
Although they eat insects, goldfinches are partial to niger seeds: small, black, oil-rich seeds from the ramtil plant, native to Ethiopia. They are crammed with oils that are essential for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Because niger seeds are so fine, they should be fed from niger seed feeders and seed trays to avoid waste.
SIR – I am appalled that Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is making political capital out of our bad weather by stating that there is a security problem for the country from climate change.
Meteorologists confirm that the cause of our recent stormy weather is the unusual alignment of the high-altitude jet stream, it being further south than is usual, and its source being in the Pacific. Surely he should be looking to China, India and the other emerging industrial nations in Asia to reduce their emissions rather than reducing the minuscule contribution from our energy producers.
Money spent subsidising unreliable green projects would be far better spent combating coastal erosion and protecting low-lying food-producing farmland from flooding.
Will Scottish independence affect the rest of the UK’s EU membership?
18 Feb 2014
How to attract tuneful visitors to your garden
18 Feb 2014
SIR – The French look at the responsibility for flooding from an entirely different angle from us. The mayor of the coastal town of Faute-sur-Mer in the Vendée and four others are to go on trial for manslaughter over the deaths of 29 people in the Xynthia storm floods in 2010. They are accused of causing the deaths by allowing housing to be built on land liable to flood.
St Aubin-le-Cloud, Poitou-Charentes, France
SIR – If farmers are to take some blame for the severity of the floods, then so too must consumers. We expect farmers to produce more food from less land. We have also allowed the countryside to be turned into a public playground where food production and husbandry of the landscape are secondary considerations to public amenity and property development.
The pressure to intensify and industrialise agriculture and exhaust the landscape is consumer-driven. We are reaping what we have sown.
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Political power play
SIR – Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, now wishes to cosy up to Ed Miliband as his way to the continuous power he appears to lust after. Mr Clegg is counting his chickens a little early, as recent by-elections indicate he might lose so many MPs as to become irrelevant.
Hats on or hats off
SIR – Peter Buckroyd questions whether the BBC and ITV have policies for reporters wearing hats.
I was the manager at Woodford Aerodrome, Cheshire, in January 2010 when the lowest temperature of minus 18C was recorded. Both the BBC and ITV conducted interviews with me in a foot of snow at the aerodrome when the temperature was still minus 15C. The BBC asked me to remove my thick tweed baseball cap, but ITV let me keep it on.
Following transmission of the interview, I got many messages from friends asking: “Where did you get that hat?”
SIR – Answering a simple query about a possible shift from one holding to another, my fund provider insists on referring to my “switch journey”. Shall I equip myself with crampons or, perhaps, camels?
Richard H Turner
SIR – Archbishop VIncent Nichols, in discussing immigration, says: “It would appear that no political party is prepared to speak in moderate terms about its beneficial effects. Fear is being fed for political gain.”
He can’t have seen the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill in the Lords on February 10, where speakers from all three major political parties spoke forcefully about the beneficial effects of immigration. The only speakers notable by their absence from the debate were the two Ukip peers.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester (Lib Dem)
Paper medical records
SIR – At a time of increasing concerns about the security of electronic medical records, it is worth highlighting the only comprehensive medical record in daily use throughout Britain that is truly “person-centred”: the pregnancy health record, which is printed on paper.
With the permission of the holder, it can be easily read, checked for accuracy, corrected and updated whenever required by virtually everyone providing care. In more than 30 years, despite having been used by millions, I have only twice known one to have been lost or stolen.
In practice, it is probably more secure than any hackable alternative, but it is handicapped by a major problem – there is little money to be made from designing better paper.
Rupert Fawdry FRCS FRCOG
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
In whose interest?
SIR – Apparently the Governor of the Bank of England has said that interest rates will not rise until we all benefit from the recovery (report, February 17). However, many pensioners, who used to rely on interest on their savings to supplement their state pensions, will not benefit until rates rise.
Malcolm F Symonds
All white now
SIR – It is apparently only the British that have this peculiar love affair with coloured loo paper. In most other countries, including the design-obsessed United States, it comes in only one colour – white.
Dr Wynne Weston-Davies
DBS checks are being abused by employers
SIR – Despite the Coalition’s pledge to scale back the use of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), it is clear that many organisations, including the Church of England, continue to abuse it in the misguided belief not only that it provides them with security against abusers, but that they have a right to do so.
The DBS website makes it clear that employers are legally responsible for ensuring that any application they make about the criminal record of an individual is eligible under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975, and the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations and its subsequent amendments. Sadly, many employers, often advised by public bodies, pay little attention to their responsibilities under these regulations, and simply use the DBS as a surrogate referencing service regardless of the rights of the individual.
What the website does not make clear is what the legal sanctions are for those who abuse these regulations, given that such action is arguably a criminal offence under the Police Act 1997.
Unlike the Criminal Records Bureau (as was), the DBS does run an application eligibility inquiry service whereby an individual may ask the DBS to investigate the eligibility of the employer’s request for a check. All job applicants who are asked to submit to a check should use this if they are in doubt.
It is, however, still unclear whether the DBS would stop an employer’s application if it were found to be ineligible, or simply advise them not to proceed, and whether the DBS would then instigate any action if the employer did still proceed.
It is also in doubt whether the employer would hold the job offer open to the individual, or simply offer it to another who was not prepared to challenge their request for a check. Until the law gains some teeth in this matter, I fear the overuse and abuse will continue unabated.
Hayling Island, Hampshire
SIR – José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, says it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.
That’s not the only problem. The rest of what was the United Kingdom would itself be a new country – not the one that originally applied to join the EU. It would, therefore, no longer be a member. Perhaps that is what Mr Barroso is worried about.
SIR – Why are some Scots so keen to renounce their membership of the UK but throw any independence away by becoming full members of the EU?
How to attract tuneful visitors to your garden
18 Feb 2014
Blaming the floods on climate change is irresponsible
18 Feb 2014
Colin H Bond
SIR – Lucky Scotland – the EU is not going to let them join.
B M Cross
Bovey Tracey, Devon
SIR – Now that the serious discussion on Scotland’s future relationships with sterling and the European Union has begun, what proposed arrangements are there for an independent Scotland’s membership of the United Nations, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the World Trade Organisation?
SIR – Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, is absolutely right about bluff, bluster and bullying. It is clear to me that he is doing all three.
Does he really think that the rest of the United Kingdom will stand behind the banks of an independent country? Or set its interest rates to suit that country?
He should look at Greece, Spain and Italy to see what happens to countries that have their currencies tied to a much larger foreign entity.
SIR – Andrew Marshall writes that Ireland successfully used sterling until it joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in the Seventies. But that is not the whole story.
Up until 1979, the Irish punt was at parity with the pound, and both currencies were freely used. However, in March that year, because of the ERM, parity was broken and the punt began rapidly to fall. The Irish did not have enough separate coinage, so sterling coins were used in parity with the punt. Those living near the border soon learnt to accumulate 50p pieces and exchange them in the North for pounds that were worth 10 per cent more.
We remember it well. We were selling an Irish house to come back to Britain, and every other week, the fall of a penny in the punt took £300 off the value of our property. By the time the punt became the euro, its value had fallen to about £0.89.
Alex Salmond, beware.
Dr A V Parke
Sir, – The first line of Rehab’s statement (Home News, February 18th) is: “its mission is to promote equality and fight disadvantage”. Is the aim then to bring everyone’s salary to €272,400 a year or is this an Animal Farm type of equality where “some are more equal than others”? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I refer to your Front page report (February 18th) and the unrelenting reportage in the media on the salary of the Rehab CEO, Angela Kerins.
It strikes me that there is an underlying implication in the media and the public mind that the Rehab CEO’s salary is not justified no matter what; mirrored with a popular belief that any six-figure salary or salary greater than the Taoiseach’s is reprehensible in this day and age.
I believe this public perception is a result of five years of recession, failed personal expectations and a growing Irish tendency towards begrudgery, especially among ourselves. This perception is being willingly fuelled by the Public Accounts Committee, which claims to act for public transparency but in reality is trying to lead the charge in public indignation.
Are we becoming a witch-hunt nation that is anti-everything we don’t have? Are we as a nation going to blindly chase our begrudgeries to the bottom of the indignation pile? It certainly seems that way whenever I open a paper or turn on the radio. – Yours, etc,
JONATHON ROTH (Dr),
Sir, – Many people will, I expect, follow John McGeorge’s lead (February 18th) in ceasing to make contributions to charities which fail to disclose the salaries of their managers. Debate is likely to continue indefinitely on whether some of these salaries are unjustifiably high. In an ideal world well-qualified and well- meaning individuals would take on these jobs for little or no salary as their contribution to society. In 2014 Ireland such people are rare, but they do exist.
However, is it not more important for the charities to inform us how the recipients of the high salaries came to be appointed in the first place? Were these posts openly advertised? How were the post-holders selected? Have their salaries subsequently been generously increased by boards, and (if so) on what basis?
I am happy to contribute to a charity whose managers receive high salaries where this reflects the complexity of the charity’s activities. In return I expect the board of the charity to be totally open about how it recruits managers and the basis on which their salaries are determined. – Yours, etc,
Goleen, Co Cork.
Sir, – If I were to donate €20 per month to Rehab (as I did), it would take me over 1,000 years to donate one year’s salary for the CEO.
Would that I should live so long. – Yours, etc,
Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The recently divulged salary of €240,000 (a year) paid to Angela Kerins, chief executive of Rehab – is subject to various concerns in your paper . In contrast, the report (Sport, February 17th) that Wayne Rooney –footballer –is likely to secure a deal which could be worth at least €366,000 [a week] appears in a more positive light. Enough said! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A letter (Cadhla Ní Frithile, February 17th) stated that homeless people must produce receipts for two nights’ hostel accommodation in order to get welfare payments. This is not correct .
There is no requirement on homeless people to produce receipts for hostel accommodation in order to get a payment from the Department of Social Protection.
The Department’s Homeless Persons Unit provides payments under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme and offers advice on social welfare entitlements to homeless women and families at 41 Castle Street, Dublin 2 and to homeless men at Oisin House, 212-213 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 or by calling 1800 724 724.
A person who is homeless, rough sleeping or at risk of homelessness should contact the Central Placement Service directly at 6-9 Conyngham Road Parkgate Hall, Dublin 8 in the Dublin City Council area or if a person has a local connection to the other Dublin local authority areas, he/she can contact the Homeless Assessment and Placement Service in the Housing Department in Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council or Dún Laoghaire- Rathdown County Council.
These are specialised services that provide information and advice and an initial contact assessment to place a person in temporary accommodation and will also assign a housing officer, who will work with the person to put in place more long-term accommodation options.
A 24-hour homeless helpline is also available on 1800 707 707 to assist people during out of hours. – Yours, etc,
Department of Social
Áras Mhic Dhiarmada,
Sir, – Prof Ferdinand von Prondzynski (February 15th) is unduly dismissive of Vincent Browne’s assertion that a more social democratic model would have been far better for this country if it had been embraced back in the 1960s when Fine Gael flirted with the idea (Opinion, February 12th).
He states that, like Browne, he would like to see a more just society yet he offers no views on an alternative. Does he really believe that, like many of our own neo-liberal apologists, our deeply dysfunctional economic model is the only game in town? Prof von Prondzynski also seems to confuse the social democratic economic model that was promulgated by Declan Costello in the 1960s and that Vincent Browne would like to see established, with a strictly communist model that, according to him, would result in a North Korean style tyranny “with human rights abuses and general poverty”. As an exercise in scaremongering, his remarks really take some beating.
Could I suggest the professor take a trip to any of the social democratic economies like Sweden, Norway, Finland or Denmark?
Instead of tyranny, poverty and human rights abuses, he will find wealthy, sustainable and progressive societies rooted in justice, fairness and equality. While nobody can claim that these countries are without their own problems, none of these “planned” and regulated economies are currently experiencing a lost decade that the “Anglo-Saxon” countries like ourselves are experiencing. None of these countries are experiencing the misery of unemployment and immigration and none of them have such marked levels of inequality that seem to be the hallmarks of the “neo-liberal” model. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I refer to your report (Breaking News, February 13th), concerning the Oireachtas Health Committee hearings on tobacco and the proposal of plain packaging for cigarettes for sale in Ireland. Your report states: “Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Murphy told The Irish Times the views contained in it represent those of the Law Society as a whole, and its 10,000 members, and have been endorsed by the society as a whole, rather than the committee.”
As a member of the Law Society of Ireland, I should say I was not personally consulted about or canvassed for my view on this important topic.
I am strongly opposed to the advertising and marketing of tobacco products in Ireland. I personally disclaim any support for the actions and views of the Law Society on this vital public and personal health topic.
I regret to find that my profession is associated with such a position. – Yours, etc,
Charlotte Quay Docks,
A chara, – I congratulate Rónán Ó Domhnaill on his nomination to the post of Language Commissioner (Pól Ó Muirí, February 11th). But I do not envy him.
Although the language and the Gaeltacht are cultural and economic resources which can, and do, benefit all on this island, and belong to all, both are under threat.
The Gaeltacht is a rural area, and contact with the State is pervasive and frequently intrusive. The outgoing commissioner has documented and demonstrated that, despite the rhetoric, the State has long imposed compulsory English on the Gaeltacht for those who must avail of its services to live.
The Official Languages Act was intended to stem that erosion. However, it has been undermined by a niggardly implementation or by being ignored.
The Act has been under review for two years now – and is likely to be further weakened when amended. Indeed, the Government has already announced the dismantling of the language commissioner’s independence by subsuming the office into that of the Ombudsman – one of the offices subject to oversight by the commissioner, and an important one at that as it deals with the public.
As I believe the Gaeltacht and the language are important to the future of this country and State, and are part of all our heritage which deserves to be invested in to the benefit of all, I took part in Lá na Gaeilge on Saturday to urge the Government to reconsider and invest in rather than further erode the Gaeltacht.
I was heartened to find myself in a crowd of thousands, which I see as encouragement for the incoming language commissioner in his task of vindicating the rights of Irish speakers, by ensuring that government departments meet their legislative commitments generously and sensibly. I hope too that the Government will also take heed, and implement its promises in the 20-year strategy in a sensible and effective manner. – Is mise, le meas
AONGHUS Ó hALMHAIN,
Páirc na Seilbhe,
Baile an Chinnéidigh,
Sir, – Ten years ago and more there was great concern among my colleagues in DIT that courses were being “dumbed down” – I think it is fair to say a very widely heard concern in higher education. A major cause of this concern is the political drive to have 50 per cent of school-leavers enter higher education, in itself laudable, but a policy which has not been thought through.
Statistics show 95 per cent of social classes A,B,C1 enter higher education and around five per cent of the rest. This means that the entire intelligence range is represented in colleges from the higher social groups and most importantly that a large number of highly able people never go on to college from the lower groups.
We need to ensure that we have a range of institutions ranging from elite universities to colleges focused on more vocational and skill-based courses and get away from the idea that only universities have any real value.
Education should be a “drawing out” of the abilities of each individual: as such we need a range of institutions with different ethos and purpose but each valued, as each student must be valued for the person they are and what they can be helped to be.
Our governments over the decades have failed the nation in the terrible loss of talent present in those areas of our society which have never been helped to find their way through school education into higher education in one of its forms.
Dr PATRICK DAVEY,
Sir, – Liam Clarke (February 18th) queries the prevalence of €50 notes in ATMs. The answer, of course, is to be found in the fact that using higher denomination notes lowers the cost of servicing ATMs for banks. The National Payments Plan – A Strategic Direction for Payments, April 2013, prepared under the aegis of the Central Bank of Ireland at the request of the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan recommends the increased dispensing of €10 notes in ATMs to be introduced on a phased basis up to Q3 2014.
It is interesting to note that a Central Bank survey quoted in the plan found that, while 86 per cent of cash transactions were valued at under €50 and 40 per cent were valued under €20; 98 per cent of notes dispensed were in denominations of €50 or €20. – Yours, etc,
Broadale, Douglas, Cork.
A chara, – I would like to thank The Irish Times for its candid, truthful and ultimately accurate portrayal of the unique city of Waterford, my home town (News Agenda, February 17th). Your sources were honest and gave me sincere hope that the best is yet to come for Port Láirge.
Our beautiful city never truly benefited from the Celtic Tiger – when it roared in other parts, it whimpered in the capital of the south east. The unemployment rate, a depressing 19 per cent, is seen in the empty pubs, boarded up shop fronts and increase in petty theft.
What cannot be taken away from the Viking city, however, is our good looks, which haven’t faded in 1,100 years. It is clear that great work is being done by those with Waterford’s future in mind. Just like our hurling team on occasion, Waterford may be down but it is not out. – Is mise,
Stillorgan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Neil Francis’s apology over his clumsy comments on homosexuals in sport seemed genuine and should be accepted (Sport, February 18th). However, it’s disappointing that none of the media picked up on the finer details of the same apology. Francis said, “I realise that I was in a field of landmines and I stood on one or two.”
Exactly why is the issue of gay men in sport a “field of landmines?” Making this a touchy issue only serves to exacerbate the problem of homophobia that may (and probably does) exist in sport. Likewise, how does ballet come into the argument at all?
People like Neil Francis should be able to express whatever opinions they want, but categorising homosexuals in this way is analogous to your newspaper printing an article espousing stereotypes on Irish people. You don’t need to be told about the outrage that would incur. Homosexuals deserve no better treatment by the media than anyone else. They do deserve equal treatment, however. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In 1966 a Church of Ireland divinity student read a paper on homosexuality to the Trinity College Dublin Theological Society. The guest speaker was Dr McCracken, a well-known Dublin psychiatrist. I remember clearly two things that Dr McCracken said: that nobody has a choice as to whether they are heterosexual or homosexual and the prop forward in the front row of a rugby scrum may be homosexual. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I think it would be a good idea to rebrand your paper: “The Rugby Times”.
Your write of little else nowadays. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – To answer Greg Scanlon’s question (February 18th), it’s not a record. Wednesday October 26th 2011 saw two pithy letters from this writer on the Race for the Áras and the Amendment to the Constitution. There have been others as well, I suspect.
The ability to get two published on the same day is less about inequality and more about happenstance, in my opinion. I have a theory about how to work this chance to one’s advantage, which I am keeping to myself, as the success of this theory, if shared, would render it useless. – Yours, etc,
* Ministers going abroad for St Patrick’s Day are, of course, an easy target and while the usual mantra about the return on the cost of the flights and five-star hotels is trotted out to justify the exodus, it is reasonable to ask where is the evidence for this claimed return on this investment.
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Lyric’s meagre Irish playlist
It is also fair to ask why the same level of scrutiny over the cost of ministerial travel isn’t applied to those from local government who go on these trips at the taxpayers’ expense too.
It is a nonsense to argue that a business makes a decision to invest in Ireland on the basis of whether or not a minister attends the local St Patrick’s Day event. Business investments are made on the basis of cold, hard financial facts and even the warm glow of fuzzy Irishness and memories of those great St Patrick’s Day traditions of getting drunk and fighting won’t seal the deal if the numbers don’t add up.
But it would be nice if the Government had the honesty to publish the full itinerary and cost of all those travelling in advance, rather than reverting to its default position of fighting tooth and nail against every request for this information. It may come as a surprise, but seeing the partner of the Taoiseach of the day in Washington doesn’t fill me with pride, it makes me wonder who paid for their air fare.
The risk of these trips in these austere times is that they remind people of the double standards of the political class because in the long list of bills presented to the taxpayer, a choice is made to spend €100,000-plus sending ministers and councillors all over the world, and that choice means the money their trips cost is money that isn’t going toward providing services for the most vulnerable in society.
I’m sure there are plenty of homes all over the country who would love to be able to pick and choose to spend their income on a lovely trip overseas but who have to instead go without a holiday and use their limited resources to keep a roof over their heads.
An interesting experiment would be to just send the Taoiseach to Washington next year and send no one else anywhere and see what difference it makes to investment.
CANARY WHARF, LONDON
* Wonderful news for the 400,000 unemployed. Our government ministers are on the Paddy’s Day march. Twenty-seven of them will be going to the far corners of the Earth, and will be bringing back jobs from all these exotic places.
My heart leaps for joy knowing this is for the common good, and I feel overwhelmed with pride at such dedication to national duty.
Godspeed you intrepid job hunters, and please have one on me. After all I am paying for it. And consider it my political obligation to support such a worthy cause in the national interest.
ENNIS, CO CLARE
EXISTING, BUT NOT LIVING
* Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore’s heartfelt speech at the Labour Party conference reflects the harsh and extreme reality endured by many Irish households. But the time for emotive language and patriotism has long since passed.
We as a nation find ourselves counting coins and raiding every possible stowaway. How can we afford diesel, milk, bread, ham and butter?
Chances are you don’t know me or some of the problems my family face on a regular basis. I put on a brave front or a false smile, but inside I’m hurting. I’m angry, but do not hate, sorry, but blessed and grateful. I have the clothes on my back, a roof over my head, and enough food to get me through the day.
Mr Gilmore praised the resilience of hard-pressed families and distressed borrowers, saying that their sacrifices have edged Ireland closer to recovery.
“For six long years, our country and our people have been to hell and back. Since 2008, we have been through the worst economic crisis in our history,” he said.
There are only so many cuts, taxes, and charges that ordinary people are willing and able to take.
The issue of blame is something of a political football. Fianna Fail will downplay and ridicule the Coalition at every opportunity. Fine Gael and Labour will hit back, claiming that the country wouldn’t be in this mess had the previous cohort done their job. Yet, we see little or no action taken against those who brought the country to its knees.
However, his most poignant point came in regard to living standards and the future.
“Too many of our people are still just getting by from day to day, and from week to week,” he said. “Existing, rather than living. Too many people are worried about what next week and next month will bring, and about the future of their children.
“These are the people for whom we have to make the recovery real.”
Is it greed to want to live, not merely exist?
DAITHI O CEALLAIGH
BORRIS-IN-OSSORY, CO LAOIS
* ‘Time to skip vote and legislate on gay marriage now’ was the title of an article by Independent Senator Katherine Zappone in yesterday’s Irish Independent.
It was as far as I got, or will ever get, to completing the article. Indeed, it is as far as any Irish person needs to get as well. The notion that a parliamentarian of this country could ‘skip’ a referendum on a subject that has such far-reaching and constitutionally changing potential is nigh bordering on the . . . (Publishable words escape me.)
ATTYMON, ATHENRY, CO GALWAY
* If I can summarise Miriam Donohoe’s (Irish Independent, February 17) reasons for advising parents not to take an active interest in and not to proactively encourage their child’s athletic development:
* You’ll meet complete lunatics on the sideline.
* Placing pressure on children to ‘win’ will not help their personal development.
* Games should only be for children, alone.
* Children are overprotected by parents.
* Children whose parents pro-actively support and encourage them do not have an advantage over other children.
* Competitive games are not enjoyable.
Here’s my list of why you should do exactly the opposite:
* You’ll have the opportunity to show the minority of lunatics how to behave like a true child supporter, on the sideline.
* Think of how dangerous children’s matches would be without any parents present.
* Think of how few children’s matches could ever be played without the help of parents to coach, organise and guide your child’s athletic development.
* Observe the joy on a child’s face when he/she has scored/saved a winning goal in a competitive match.
* Children crave the love and attention of their parents.
DUNDRUM, DUBLIN 16
* Over recent weeks we have seen various candidates from all parties and none indicate their intentions to seek election on May 23 to the European Parliament.
Given the lamentations from the corporate and state sector deploring our poor record in acquiring foreign languages, it would be interesting to hear how many of these candidates would be capable of conducting business at any level in languages other than Irish or English.
ADDRESS WITH EDITOR