6 March 2014 Under the Weather
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge as to test a new automated navigational system Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired.
Scrabble today I win but get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
René Ricard, who has died of cancer aged 67, was a cultural provocateur in Andy Warhol’s circle of oddballs, transsexuals and aspiring “superstars”.
Art critic, actor, poet and painter, Ricard was a Renaissance man for the cocaine age. However, he accepted that, by conventional terms, he had never worked a day in his life. “If I did,” he said in the 1970s, “it would probably ruin my career, which at the moment is something of a cross between a butterfly and a lapdog.”
Ricard’s contemplative, literary-minded nature was at odds with the more chaotic aspects of Warhol’s studio entourage at The Factory. To his famous mentor, he was “the George Sanders of the Lower East Side”. Not that Ricard was able to emulate the laconic Hollywood star: in Warhol’s 1965 film Kitchen, Ricard was seen washing dishes to the hum of a refrigerator while the director’s tragic muse, Edie Sedgwick, sneezed in the background (an attempt to cover her fudged lines). “It was a horror to watch,” stated Norman Mailer.
The following year Ricard starred in Chelsea Girls, Warhol’s split-screen portmanteau tribute to residents of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. The notorious landmark on West 23rd Street was, in reality, Ricard’s on-off home for more than four decades. In its cloistered confines he wrote poetry and art criticism, painted experimental oils and nurtured his reputation as a recluse. “Don’t call out ‘René! René!’” he remonstrated with one visiting interviewer. “I know who I am. You have to knock and say, ‘It’s Ariel’ so I know it’s you.”
Albert René Ricard (he was always known by his middle name) was born on July 23 1946 in Boston where, as a gay, gangly teenage aesthete, he later modelled for the city’s art schools. In the early 1960s he moved from Massachusetts to New York, quickly settling into life as a struggling poet, before meeting Warhol in 1964 through the artist Al Hansen.
Ricard’s time at The Factory saw him experiment with acting (including the title role in The Andy Warhol Story in 1967, a self-flagellating biopic made by its subject) along with free verse. He would sit at their “happenings” wrapped in furs. “The Factory was a cold, frightening, forbidding place,” recalled Ricard. “I mean, it was all silver. It was frigid. Andy never gave us money but he took us out to eat every night. He’d take the whole Factory to a place called Emilio’s and would be so high on amphetamine that he couldn’t eat. He’d serve himself an olive and cut it into 36 slices with the knife and fork.”
In October 1978 the Chelsea Hotel became synonymous with debauchery when Sid Vicious was arrested in Room 100 for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. In the aftermath, Ricard penned a column for the New York Times justifying a bohemian hotel life fuelled by other people’s money. “I should be paid to go out,” he postured. “You see, I’m good for business. I class up a joint.”
During the 1980s Ricard’s art criticism for Artforum and Paris Review promoted the fledgling talents of Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel. In 1981 he published a piece entitled “The Radiant Child” which introduced the work of Jean Michel-Basquiat, the black graffiti artist who would become the enfant terrible of the Manhattan art scene. Ricard’s interests were unapologetically avant garde, although some journalists claimed he eschewed objective criticism in favour of “high-octane” appreciations built on “panegyric, vituperation and gossip”.
His other art writing included a monograph on the Italian painter Francesco Clemente (a 1999 collaboration with the photographer Luca Babini) and exhibition catalogues for shows by William Rand (Bleeker Gallery, 1989) and Philip Taaffe (Gagosian Gallery, August 1999).
Life at the Chelsea was monastic; his apartment consisted of a single room and a shared bathroom (he ate out). “I don’t own anything,” he said in 2007. “I always manage to come up with the rent, knock wood. ‘Poet’ is not a salaried occupation. And anyone reading this who’s in need of a poem, we can talk.” Being a man of letters at the Chelsea was not, however, without its benefits. “He writes something and brings it downstairs,” said his neighbour Raymond Foye. “I type it up, he likes to revise. It’s a very rewarding relationship.”
Ricard published four volumes of poems: René Ricard 1979–1980; God With Revolver (1990), which included his artistic representations of the poems; Trusty Sarcophagus Co (1990); and Love Poems (1999), which collected his verse alongside drawings by Robert Hawkins. His poetry echoed the streetwise wisdom of Leonard Cohen’s songs. In The Death of Johnny Stompanato (named after the gangster killed by the daughter of his lover, Lana Turner) Ricard detailed the aftermath of a punch-drunk romance:
“So you submit to that mild form of boxing called love.
Then, happy he’s earned his keep
He picks your pocket, drives off in your blonde Lincoln
And you pass out.”
A 2003 show of paintings and drawings in New York was followed, in 2008, by an exhibition of new work at London’s Scream Gallery, staged by Julian Schnabel. “He was this invisible force behind so many artists in the Eighties,” said Schnabel of Ricard, adding: “There’s a lifetime behind his work. He’s a grown-up.” In his late work he scrawled neon shades of green, orange and blue text over his and others’ oil paintings. One canvas has the adage “Sometimes it’s OK to throw rocks at girls” scribbled over a painting of a diamond ring. Collectors of his works include the model Kate Moss and the music producer Mark Ronson.
Ricard’s eclectic artistic trajectory was, he maintained, all intended “to amuse and delight, giving my rich friends a feeling of largesse, my poor friends a sense of the high life and myself a true sense of accomplishment for having become a fixture and a rarity in this shark-infested metropolis.”
René Ricard, born July 23 1946, died February 1 2014
In a persuasive article arguing the case for a forceful western response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, even at the cost of some harm to British economic interests (Ban Russia from the City, 5 March), Malcolm Rifkind says: “The last time the alleged need to protect ethnic brethren was used as a justification for invasion and annexation in Europe was the Sudetenland, and the shame of the Munich agreement in 1938.” Can this be the same Malcolm Rifkind who was defence secretary from 1992 to 1995, at what has been termed the country’s “unfinest hour”, when the internationally recognised Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was devastated by an invasion by Serbia on precisely such a pretext of defending ethnic brethren (replicating a pattern already pioneered in its earlier assault on Croatia)? The same Rifkind who, as foreign secretary in 1995, helped prepare the infamous Dayton accords, awarding half of Bosnia’s territory to an entity – Republika Srpska – carved out by genocide and ethnically cleansed of its non-Serb population; a settlement that saddled the country with an unworkable constitution linking political rights to ethnicity?
Quintin Hoare, Branka Maga,
It comes as no surprise that the “massive renovation” of the Picasso museum in Paris should have cost twice as much and taken more than twice as long as estimated (Report, 5 March). It comes as no surprise that the architect should celebrate his own renovation as a “development” of spaces that “respects” the listed 17th-century building. Nor is it a surprise that during the building’s five-year renovation the contents – Picasso’s works – should have been shuttled around the world to raise money to pay for the escalating building work.
What comes as a truly horrible surprise is that all of Picasso’s 5,000 works have been “cleaned, restored and reframed” for the opening. It beggars belief that some urgent “conservation” necessity should have struck all of these modern works at the same time. We can only conclude that Picasso’s art has been cosmetically spruced-up to match the new decor. The consequence is that all of these works have been severed at the same historical moment and to the same prevailing taste from their previous and likely varying states of conservation or non-conservation. When individual works in a collection are restored and returned to view it is possible to compare them fairly and critically with previously restored and non-restored works. The administrators of this museum have removed that possibility of appraisal at a stroke. We must hope that proper records – including high-quality, directly comparative photographs – were made during the treatment of each work, and that these will be made available to interested parties.
Director, ArtWatch UK
• Professor Thornes is surely wrong when he states that the rainbow depicted by Constable requires the sun to be behind the observer and is therefore wrong (Report, 5 March). This situation applies only to a full rainbow, whereas Constable’s rainbow is a partial one. The error appears to be based upon the shadow in the left foreground. It is this shadow that is wrong, not the rainbow.
Dr Allan Dodds
Now that the police have brought to court a person accused of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock at Broadwater Farm (Report, 5 March), I’m sure we can now be confident that they will similarly spend time doing the same to the police officer who murdered Blair Peach at Southall.
• Aditya Chakrabortty’s article on university vice-chancellors’ salaries (G2, 4 March) reminded me that heads of universities and colleges in Scotland are called principals, and the collective noun for them is said to be “A lack of”.
Dr Athol Murray
• While mindfulness gains popularity and we hear of its increasing use in schools (Weekend, 1 March), I want to bring your attention to the long held practice of Quakers, where we gather in silence to calm the mind and focus the attention. While other schools start bringing this mindful practice in to their extended curriculum, Sidcot School in Somerset celebrates the fact that they have provided breathing space for staff and students for over 300 years.
Director, Centre for peace and global studies, Sidcot School
• On 3 September 2003, you published the following article: “Asteroid 2003 QQ47, a lump of rock the size of Ben Nevis, could hit Earth at a speed of about 13 miles a second on 21 March 2014, to cause the kind of destruction expected in thermonuclear war, experts warned yesterday.” Any chance of an update as my standing orders are due out on the 19th?
• So the “protein man” of Oxford Street was (at least half) right – protein is bad for you (Meat-rich diet may be as harmful as smoking, 5 March) – albeit that the link with lust is still to be proved…
• I assume the Big Jobs party (Letters, 4 March) will be presenting their motions to the House Of Commons? They can’t be more noxious than the current ones.
The government is searching for measures to use against Russia (Putin and Obama’s war of words, 5 March). How about this one: reverse the pusillanimous failure to follow the recommendations of a coroner and hold a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko (Coroner ‘cannot cite Russia’ in Litvinenko case, 20 December 2013). This would have the added attractions of providing a measure of justice for Litvinenko’s widow and ensuring, albeit belatedly, that the dead man’s human rights were acknowledged.
• What matters is not the posturing of Putin or Obama or the lesser lights of Hague and Merkel, but the welfare of the peoples of the Ukraine. What is needed is co-operation not confrontation in the establishment of a constitution that safeguards the different groups, preventing any one group dominating others and affording each a degree of autonomy.
• The situation in Ukraine is completely different to Georgia (What next?, 3 March). As a Russian turned British, I have no love for Putin, but I believe I understand his motives. Putin fears that Russians living in Ukraine will be severely maltreated and he is determined to stop that. If the new Ukraine government respects humanitarian principles he will leave it in peace. If it turns into a bunch of thugs, he will make life very difficult.
The misunderstanding of Putin in the west only makes it more likely that someone will do something stupid.
• Britain is wittering above its weight again because the Ukrainians have lost a piece of real estate they shouldn’t have had in the first place. Time to strike a deal. How about Russia pays $12bn for the Crimea? Ukraine could use the money. And we could all do with our leaders calming down and accepting reality. Or are we going to send all these Russian kids home from our private schools?
• Fifty years ago when there was a stand-off between Russia and the west, the threat was nuclear annihilation. Today it is their expulsion from the World Cup. I presume this is progress.
Lewes, East Sussex
• Given the Nato sabre-rattling over Ukraine, one wonders if this historically excellent organisation has not lost its way. I am now too old to be listed on the British Army reserve of officers, but I certainly would not wish to be mobilised to fight the Russians on the Crimea. It did not work all that well the last time.
Godfrey Bloom MEP
Independent, Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire
• Given Susan Bailey’s strictures against the Guardian’s continued use of the Russian spelling for the Ukrainian capital (Letters, 5 March). Will she now demand immediate action by Marks & Spencer with regard to the chicken section of their chilled cabinets?
Of the diplomatic approaches Ian Traynor (Report, 3 March) notes in his assessment of Ukraine crisis scenarios, the “contact groups” surely offers the only way forward. Blustering about political and economic costs only helps feed the Kremlin’s long-held belief – one widespread in Moscow’s political class – that the west is always out to do Russia down. Threats of sanctions against Moscow and promises of help to Kiev reinforce Putin’s conviction that what drives the crisis is a plot by the US, Britain and some east European members of the EU, to bring Ukraine firmly into the western fold. Viewed from the Kremlin, even dislocated improvisation tends to look like well-planned conspiracy. It all looks even more malign from the perspective of the hard-line Russian nationalists whom the conservative Putin sees as prospective Ukip-like challengers.
The “contact groups” strategy would be far more fruitful, both in the immediate crisis context and in the mid-term. The EU and Russia should bring together representatives of the major political groupings in Ukraine and mediate talks to map out a road to greater devolution, something the recent congress of eastern regions called for. To get to any kind of agreement will require a lot of leverage from the mediators, but the process itself seems to offer the best way to a political rather than coercive resolution of the crisis.
We should now also look at ways of engaging Russia diplomatically at the European level to talk about a new European security process, with a view to building a new Atlantic to the Urals security framework. Western diplomats sigh at the mention of such grand schemes. Moscow’s proposals for a pan-European security treaty have gathered dust on foreign ministry shelves for the last five years. But even if the diplomats are rightly sceptical about such schemes resulting rapidly in any useful new architecture, they underestimate the benefits of the process itself. More than half a century ago, after long resistance to Moscow’s proposals for a pan-European security conference, the Helsinki process came into being. To many at the time, Helsinki seemed a frustrating waste of effort yet the process made an enormous contribution to the erosion and ending of the cold war.
Long-term engagement would not be primarily for the benefit of Russia or the major western powers. It would be most to the advantage of Ukraine and other countries of the euphemistically named “shared neighbourhood”. I still remember the picture of Ukraine’s international position drawn some years ago by a senior official in Kiev. Ukraine, he said, was supposed to be a bridge linking Europe and Russia yet hovered falteringly just above, and occasionally dipped below, the turbulent waters it was meant to span.
Senior research fellow in Russian and East European Studies, University of Oxford
• After the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Irish leader Garret FitzGerald wrote a letter suggesting that his country’s policy on British security concerns might have had a lesson for the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. This is a voice from the past worth revisiting as Europe’s Ukraine crisis is unfolding with potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole continent. While acknowledging that all sovereign states are equal, FitzGerald suggested it is wise for small states geographically situated besides larger ones to ensure their foreign policies do not pose any threats to their neighbours. He contrasted the Georgian independence leaders with his predecessor, Irish leader Éamon de Valera who offered as early as 1920 explicit assurances to Britain about the foreign policy of a future independent Irish state. Ireland’s commitment to British security allowed the latter to preserve their relationship despite the bitterness following the partition of Ireland. Later on, the two governments used their relations within Europe and bilateral ties, including a civic forum set by FitzGerald, to promote a peace settlement.
The late Irish politician’s words resonate well both with the Caucasus in 2008 and Ukraine today. Commenting on Saakashvili, he argued that “by allowing emotion rather than reason, nationalism rather than statecraft, to govern his actions, the Georgian leader has … unwittingly set back his country’s cause – probably for many years in the future”. Ukraine nationalists have also offered multiple opportunities for Putin to play the ethnic card across Russia and to this end, the west has inadvertently unleashed a wave of nationalism in Ukraine masked under the false promise of an expanded Europe. Ukraine deserves and should receive western support, but history teaches that external allies might prove even more dangerous in the absence of local statesmanship and wisdom.
Dr Neophytos Loizides
Senior lecturer in international conflict analysis, University of Kent
• Events in Ukraine are overly driven by political elites. The government could: forge ahead with “ask the people” initiatives and keep ahead of the game; propose to the elected parliament of the Crimean autonomous republic that it suspend all unconstitutional activity and stick with the Ukrainian government until the elections in May; promise that if secessionist parties obtain a majority of the seats, the national government will allow a referendum to be held in Crimea on the possibility of secession, or greater autonomy within Ukraine and some form of association pact with Russia. If the people vote to leave, this should be allowed via a constitutional amendment of article 2. With the promise of elections on secession, the Russians should have no need to invade.
The people’s blood and suffering and wasted resources would be saved everywhere. Of course the cost to Ukraine is losing Crimea, but in the 21st century it is not legitimate to hang on to a territory only for national prestige, when the majority of its people are ethnic Russian and also want to leave. Turchynov and Yatsenyuk, swallow your pride for the sake of peace and faster inclusion in Europe.
Dr Monica Threlfall
Reader in European politics, London Metropolitan University
• With coups in Egypt and now Ukraine, we’ve perhaps become inured to the insouciant manner with which our media and politicians accept the overthrow of democratically elected governments when it suits their interests. William Hague and John Kerry, however, are breaking new ground in threatening Russia if it refuses to recognise Ukrainian politicians who’ve transitioned from opposition to government without an electoral mandate. They must give their own electorates clarity on the issue: just when can an elected leadership be replaced by an unelected one? When would it be OK to overturn the results of their elections in the course of violent demonstrations in Parliament Square or on the White House lawn?
The current agony in Ukraine highlights the incompetence of the EU’s “diplomacy”, and in particular the over-promoted Baroness Ashton and her absurd office.
The ludicrously premature entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU raised unwise and impossible expectations in western Ukraine. But to ignore the failures and corruption of Ukraine’s leadership since the Orange Revolution, the special status of Crimea and the mindsets of the ex-KGB rulers of Russia, and to expect Ukraine to move almost seamlessly out of the Russian sphere of influence and towards “Europe” overnight, without even any EU financial aid, displayed a worrying level of ignorance and naivety.
Sensible negotiations for gradually increasing ties with the EU should have kept Russian interests in the loop, including some benefits to Russia such as a renewed pledge that Ukraine would not join Nato, as we promised Gorbachev. But currently the strident rhetoric of the western democracies seems bent on exceeding even our Syrian own-goals, and as long as we follow the Blair/Brown policy of significant dependence on Russian oil and gas, Putin will reign supreme.
John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife
US Secretary of State John Kerry has criticised the Russian movement of troops into the Crimean region of Ukraine, as breaching international law.
Is he representing the same United States government that daily sends drones over Pakistan, against the will of Pakistan’s government, to kill Pakistan nationals with remotely fired missiles; that has had occupying troops in Afghanistan for over a decade; that had occupying troops in Iraq for a decade; that assisted France and the UK with military logistics to invade Libya to remove President Gadaffi’s regime; that still retains military bases in Germany and Japan 60 years after the end of the Second World War; and is covertly assisting opposition forces in Syria to depose its government?
I only ask.
Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is of Scottish descent, like William Gladstone, Arthur Balfour, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay Macdonald, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister supports Scotland, part of the UK for 300 years, having a referendum on secession without consulting the rest of the UK.
Will Mr Cameron support the people of the autonomous republic of Crimea, only part of Ukraine since 1954, in their wish for a referendum on secession without interference from the rest of Ukraine? Similarly, if other parts of eastern and or southern Ukraine wish to secede without reference to the wishes of Kiev, will Mr Cameron support them?
At least with the Crimea and parts of eastern and southern Ukraine there is a common language and culture not shared with Kiev. This is in contrast to Britain where there is a common language and the Scots have dominated the political life of the nation for well over 100 years.
Robert Milligan, Dover
What does ‘creative writing’ create?
It’s fair enough to debate the value of creative writing courses (“Creative courses a waste of time, says Kureishi”, 4 March). However, my experience at Bath Spa University is not like that of Hanif Kureishi
The students on our creative writing MA are talented and focused. Our courses have close links with the publishing industry and many graduates find agents and publishing deals. Only last month, one of our graduates who now lectures at the University won the Costa Book of the Year Award.
Quite apart from the commercial aspect, creative writing students are being encouraged to tell stories that matter to them, sometimes stories they have long wanted to tell – and that means no one is wasting their time.
Maggie Gee, Professor of Creative Writing, Bath Spa University
I challenge the supporters of “creative writing” courses to name one celebrated classic author who studied “creative writing”. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and all the rest just did it.
Closer to our time, the likes of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Frederick Forsyth and H E Bates learned their craft on the job as journalists.
No really talented writer needs to undertake a course in their craft. A society desperately short of scientists and engineers should leave writing to the “naturals” and concentrate on encouraging people to take up subjects that will give them a greater chance of success.
Robert Duncan Martin, Upper Harbledown, Kent
How child sex laws were tightened
Having lived through the late 1970s and carried out further research with a view to writing a book, it is clear to me that in trying to slur Harriet Harman, the Daily Mail is being misleading (“The great British paedophilia infiltration campaign”, 27 February).
If you go back to the beginning of 1978, you will find that child pornography was legal and even having sex with children was not considered a serious matter as long as they consented. Early that year, brothers aged 67 and 69 were found guilty of having sex with girls aged 12 to 15, but they were only fined and given a suspended prison sentence.
Around this time Cyril Townsend, Tory MP for Bexleyheath, was pushing a private member’s Bill through the House of Commons that made taking indecent photographs or films of children under 16 illegal, with fines of up to £10,000 and a prison sentence of up to three years.
Mr Townsend received no support from the Home Office, who were unhelpful and raised a number of objections. His Bill seemed destined to fail, but around this time the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) was getting maximum publicity and it became clear the general public found its proposals abhorrent. Voters then pressed their MPs to do something to stop PIE and it was this pressure that led to child pornography becoming illegal. In a strange way we should thank PIE, as it managed to achieve the exact opposite of what it campaigned to achieve.
As Harriet Harman was not involved with PIE, nor ever campaigned on their behalf, she has no reason to apologise for anything.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
GMT and a trick of the light
David Bracey (letter, 5 March) says that moving the start of British Summer Time to February would give us an extra hour of daylight. It would make no difference to the number of hours of daylight; he means that it would give us lighter evenings.
I was going to school in the North of England during the experiment with British Standard Time in the 1960s, when our clocks were an hour ahead of GMT all year. I recall many mornings where it was still dark for the first lesson of the day.
Using the date of the equinoxes is not the full story. Twenty-four hours is only an average length for the solar day, the time between two successive occurrences of the Sun crossing the meridian. As the Earth is tilted on its axis and its orbit is not exactly circular, solar noon does not occur at exactly 12:00 every day. Although the winter solstice is the shortest day (in terms of hours of daylight) the evenings have by then been getting lighter for over a week. To get evenings in spring as light as in autumn would require putting the clocks forward in January.
Paul Dormer, Guildford
Listen to the prostitutes
What muddled thinking we have from our legislators on prostitution (“MPs urge Scandinavian-style laws on prostitution”, 3 March). The only intelligent contribution came from “Gemma”, the one prostitute interviewed for your report.
There are criminal acts that become entangled with prostitution but they are not an unavoidable part of it. Sex as a commercial transaction need not be exploitative, and it’s patronising to the women to suggest that it always is.
Not all prostitutes are women, and not all punters are men. And how can you possibly have a commodity that is legal to sell and illegal to purchase?
Listen to the prostitutes themselves. They alone seem to understand the problems and what needs to be done to improve things.
Ian Craine, London N15
Of course they are snooping on you
The GCHG spokeswoman’s statement that they are not commenting on anything (letter, 5 March) is merely confirming the obvious.
In a few years there will be no privacy for any form of electronic communication. Technology will outstrip all political attempts at control. If it is possible, someone will do it. The Government will always plead anti-terrorism or commercial considerations to justify the listening or watching.
Meanwhile, be careful what you say or show. If Big Brother is not watching you, someone else is, on his behalf.
Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Sir, While the UK may be part of a leading group of nations which are taking policy action on climate change (“Britain ahead of the curve on green targets”, Mar 3), this does not support claims by manufacturers that they risk forcing jobs overseas by making energy too expensive.
The article draws on new research published by the London School of Economics which finds that the UK is a global leader on climate change policy action.
However, the article does not cite one of the key findings of the study — that “medium industrial energy users in the UK pay lower green taxes on their electricity bills than the European Union average”. It demonstrates that these taxes account for around 8 per cent of total electricity costs in the UK, compared to 23 per cent on average in the EU.
This must be taken into account as the Government reviews its carbon commitments. In truth, the UK’s leadership on climate change enjoys widespread support from business. The CBI has stated that the green economy provides over 900,000 jobs and contributes a £5 billion trade surplus.
Aldersgate Group, London, SW1
Sir, It’s all very well “Britain being a global leader on climate change targets”, but while Britain attempts to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2025, those of China and India are increasing massively. Our CO2 production rate is 6 per cent of China’s, but China’s rate is growing at 9 per cent per annum. China plans 450 new coal-fired power stations which will be burning 1.2 billion extra tonnes of coal per annum.
It may be said that the UK should do what it can to reduce emissions — our carbon “production” (indeed, this is enshrined in law) — but what matters is not our production but our consumption. It doesn’t make “green” sense to cut our carbon production while importing billions worth of goods from China which increases our carbon consumption (goods produced using “dirty” coal energy).
According to Dieter Helm in The Carbon Crunch , UK carbon production fell by 15 per cent from 1990 to 2005 but carbon consumption went up by 19 per cent, and that situation continues today.
Poland’s recent prosperity means that it can no longer dodge the question of assets seized from Jews during the war
Sir, While Poland’s leaders play a more central role in European affairs (“Warsaw aiming to be at heart of Europe”, Mar 1), they might reflect that they have unfinished business back home.
In the decade since it joined the EU, Poland has shown its ability to be a responsible and dynamic partner in Europe and on the world stage and, unlike its neighbours, Poland survived the worst of the economic downturn relatively unscathed — “GDP is up by 20 per cent since 2008”.
But alongside harbouring European political ambitions, the Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski would do well to address the moral wrong that continues to deny victims and their heirs the right to recover properties that were stolen by the occupying Nazis, nationalised under Communism and which today belong to democratic Poland or its citizens.
Ninety per cent of Poland’s prewar Jewish community perished in the Holocaust with estimates of the value of their property, and those of survivors, today totalling some $60 billion; properties belonging to non-Jewish Poles far exceed this amount.
Poland has persistently failed to introduce private property legislation, acts of law all other major former Communist countries have enacted. Indeed, despite previous promises to introduce a suitable law, Mr Tusk and Mr Sikorski now refuse to consider any legislation.
While negotiating its accession to the EU, Poland gave an undertaking to make restitution a priority but this commitment was dropped on the grounds of economic hardship, something no longer hindering its government.
Poland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Protocol One of which states that: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.”
The British government repeatedly has urged Poland to fulfil its obligation to return confiscated property to victims, a position most recently reaffirmed in the House of Lords on Thursday (Feb 27).
Poland’s leaders may well have the credentials to steer Europe in the coming years, but before leaving their posts they can create a meaningful and lasting legacy by demonstrating Poland’s willingness to address an historic injustice.
Association of Jewish Refugees
Volunteers are bridging gaps in the A&E system but the service needs to be properly reformed
Sir, The British Red Cross shares Healthwatch England’s concern over pressures on A&E (Mar 4). We also wholeheartedly agree that to tackle the problem at its roots we need to provide better alternatives, including stronger social support networks.
Elderly patients in particular often go to A&E as a first port of call, when there isn’t a significant clinical need but they feel unwell which is compounded by their isolation. We know that A&E units sometimes admit these patients to the wards because staff are concerned about the patient’s vulnerability. This situation is avoidable if the right support networks are in place.
Our staff and volunteers support A&E units across the country by preventing admission to the wards. We help patients who would otherwise be admitted because of social need to safely return home or arrange care elsewhere. This sometimes includes follow-up visits to patients’ homes. Ultimately, however, these services are bridging gaps in a system which needs to be reformed so that people do not turn to hospitals due to a lack of support at home in the first place.
British Red Cross
Surrey’s new non-overseas batsman is South African … and Irish … and whatever English cricket says he is
Sir, I read (sport, Mar 4) that Graeme Smith, the retiring South African cricket captain, will rejoin Surrey this season, but also that “he can now play for Surrey as a non-overseas player, having been granted Irish citizenship this year by marriage”.
Is it any surprise that English cricket is in such a mess if its administration can come up with such a ruling?
It is high time that the UK had the courage to follow other countries in reforming the rules governing sex work
Sir, I’m delighted that Parliament’s all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade is looking at solutions to prostitution which reduce demand. It’s high time that Britain addressed the inequality that takes place when men buy women’s bodies for sex.
The notion that prostitution is the “oldest profession” leads some to believe we can do little more than regulate it better — that we should follow the Netherlands and decriminalise it. But this leads to increased prostitution levels, normalising the inequalities which sustain the sex industry.
Rather than blanket legalisation we need the more nuanced approach already practised in Sweden. Recent changes in France and Ireland, as well as my report on the subject, accepted by the European Parliament last week, suggest the wind is blowing in this direction. Britain must be ambitious enough to follow suit.
MEP for London
‘In Wales, in an attempt to make you feel you are next in line for their attention, a salesman will be “with you now”’
Sir, In addition to Mr Shamash’s “somewhen” (letter, Mar 5) and the West Country tradesman’s “with you directly”, here in Wales, in their attempt to make you feel you really are next in line for their attention, a salesman will be “with you now”.
It is a good idea, however, to look for a chair, if they suggest that they will be “with you now, in a minute”.
St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire
SIR – Admiral Lord Nelson is, by now, probably rather used to looking down from his column to see which bands have taken over Trafalgar Square. No longer just a focus for celebration – protest sometimes – it’s often now a music venue promoted by City Hall.
The Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens, by Tower Hill Underground station, is a monument to thousands of merchant seamen who have no grave but the sea. In 2011, Tower Hamlets council gave party licences for functions in the gardens until objections made them see sense. It’s obscene that anyone should think a war memorial a suitable spot for parking one’s glass.
Now, Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, the centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich and a World Heritage Site, is to be an outdoor concert venue in August. What state the place will be in after four nights and 16,000 people is hard to imagine, though the mess that Hyde Park is in after big events offers a clue.
It is often said that the British are “sea blind”. Our civic leaders are deaf, too, it seems, to ancient mariners, dead and alive. Those involved with these plans probably don’t even see these memorials and heritage sites as revered parts of our national story, but as open spaces ideal for loud noise, alcohol and partying – what others might call desecration.
Lt-Cdr Lester May RN (retd)
SIR – John Bingham and I were indeed close friends and colleagues. I had, and shall always have, unqualified admiration for his intelligence skills and achievements. He was a most honourable, patriotic and gifted man, and we had wonderful times together.
And surely there can be few better tributes to a friend and colleague than to create – if only from some of his parts – a fictional character, George Smiley, who has given pleasure and food for thought to an admiring public.
But Bingham was of one generation, and I of another. Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies.
John Bingham may indeed have detested this notion. I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence.
David Cornwell (John le Carré)
Of course John le Carré took liberties – he’s a novelist
05 Mar 2014
Hunger too important to become political issue, says Bishop of Durham
05 Mar 2014
MS nurse provision
SIR – While we have about 275 part-time and full-time MS nurses, we need at least 300 to meet the needs of more than 100,000 people with multiple sclerosis. MS nurses improve care and co-ordination of health and social services, resulting in reduced hospital admissions.
In Surrey, more than £1 million was spent on emergency admissions for people with MS in 2009-10. The most common causes should not require hospital treatment if properly managed. Elsewhere, £96,000 was spent treating urinary tract infections. This could have been prevented with fast-track treatment. Today, the House of Lords will be debating the status of MS nurse provision. I urge peers to call on the Government to ensure that every person with MS has access to a specialist nurse.
Chief Executive, MS Society
Church choral music
SIR – Correspondents who wish to hear the music of Tallis, Byrd and Bach should attend mass at the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory in Warwick Street, London W1.
Hunger this Lent
SIR – The fact that more people are going hungry raises acute moral, social and political questions. Hunger is a terrible reality faced by people, mainly families, who find their cupboards empty. The Trussell Trust reports that there were more than 500,000 visits to its food banks from April to December 2013. This figure has increased from 350,000 in 2012 and one third of the recipients were children.
We as a society have allowed this to happen. This is why, together with leaders from other churches, Anglican bishops have invited everyone to consider how each of us might respond in sympathy and solidarity with those who are going hungry. This includes fasting, a long-standing tradition, particularly associated with Lent.
Combating hunger is a challenge not just for the Government but for all political parties. Though political, hunger is too important to be led down a party political cul de sac. It is, therefore, excellent news that an all-party parliamentary group, chaired by Frank Field MP and the Bishop of Truro, is to look into food banks and food poverty. I hope it will be able to report with clarity and speed.
But in the meantime none of us should sit back and wait for its report. The need is urgent now. All of us can support those who face such hunger; we can stand with them through this Lent by fasting or other means. Hunger in our midst is a moral issue. Our response to hunger is a question of what society we want to be; one in which families are left with bare cupboards and depend on charity; or one in which, in Old and New Testament tradition, “they do not hunger or thirst”.
The Right Rev Paul Butler
Bishop of Durham
Bishop Auckland, Co Durham
SIR – Peter Brant, head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, says that children must be taught to act and think like the middle classes. He is surely missing the point. The whole idea of social mobility is that people from all backgrounds and accents mix together so as to widen their experience and understanding.
We all seem to want to be middle class with posh accents. I am a proud, working-class man, with a strong regional accent that has not hindered me.
SIR – It is not only some working-class children who need to learn good manners. I work in a boys’ senior independent school, and am frequently appalled by the table manners on display, so much so that I’ve considered offering an after-school activity called social grace.
This would not be a rigorous course of jumping through the hoops of etiquette but a little bit of polish, including the removal of hands from pockets, and the correct way to write a letter and address an envelope.
Felicity Foulis Brown
SIR – Even allowing for the huge fees paid to leading Hollywood actors, the £42 million paid to Sandra Bullock for her appearance in the film Gravity seems a disproportionate reward for her contribution.
Admittedly, it can’t have been a comfortable experience being locked in a box, simulating the loneliness of an astronaut adrift in space, but if Alfonso Cuarón, the director, is planning a sequel, I am prepared to undertake the arduous discomfort for a fraction of £42 million.
Spawn, not flowers, heralds spring in Scotland
SIR – We may not have many daffodils yet on the west coast of Scotland but here on the Morvern peninsula, I saw frogspawn last week in a pool by the old drove road in the Black Glen 500ft above sea level. This is unprecedented.
SIR – I know spring has arrived because I have just received from HM Revenue and Customs my income tax coding notice for the year 2014-15.
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – Here in west Dorset, I have just picked my first bunch of rhubarb and there are two globe artichokes forming on very bushy plants.
My two Burmese cats are sunbathing on the “Champagne Terrace”, where we have already quaffed wine aperitifs before lunch.
SIR – I will know that spring has truly arrived when the French air traffic controllers go on strike.
Lower Ufford, Suffolk
SIR – In 1968, while I was serving with the 1st British Corps in Germany, it became clear that divisions from the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany were moving towards the Czechoslovak frontiers.
I asked my commander whether steps should be taken to enhance the state of readiness by recalling personnel on leave or ensuring the tanks were ready for battle. He replied that no orders to that effect had been received through the Nato chain of command and that the regiment should continue to carry on with normal peacetime training. So as we watched the dramatic events of the invasion of Czechosolvakia, no specific action was taken.
Despite differences from the situation in Ukraine, and the longer distances, I can’t help wondering if commanders of units in the Nato Rapid Reaction Corps, the headquarters of which is based in this country, are now asking similar questions and receiving a similar response.
Lt Gen Sir Richard Vickers
SIR – As a former ambassador to Moscow, Sir Andrew Wood is perfectly placed to recognise the potency of nationalism as an emotional, if not quite rational, Russian need.
Frequently derided by the Western liberal elite, the concept of nationhood – with its powerful resonance of birthright, heritage, history, language and culture – is being tenaciously expressed across the globe from Palestine to Kashmir; from Kosovo to Quebec; and now in the Crimea.
In formulating a coherent strategy for dealing with Russia, failure by Western governments to acknowledge the impact of these forces of nationalism will lead to significant miscalculation with potentially serious consequences.
Lt Col William Pender (retd)
SIR – We’ve seen the effects of protest in the Arab Spring, where leaders were displaced by interim rulers backed by the mob. President Vladimir Putin cannot allow the events in Ukraine to go unchallenged because his presidency, and perhaps the survival of the Russian Federation, depends on him showing leadership.
There is a powerful and vocal opposition in his country, which feels that it has no outlet with the democratic process; its only recourse could be mass protest, especially if it is shown to be effective elsewhere.
SIR – Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum was to speak softly and carry a big stick. Now we see Barack Obama, David Cameron and William Hague speaking loudly and carrying feather dusters. Perhaps this is the true legacy of the nuclear age.
SIR – Why did the BBC send Huw Edwards to Ukraine to say so little?
M F G Matthewman
Sir, – As far as I am aware no lives have been taken by Russian troops in Ukraine, yet Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has carpeted the Russian ambassador over the “breach of international law” and failing to “respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” (Home News, March 5th).
Yet during President Obama’s term of office, US drones have killed dozens of people (including innocent bystanders) in attacks in Pakistan which breach international law and violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I don’t recall the US ambassador being carpeted.
Double standards again? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Arthur Denny (March 5th) makes one mistaken assumption, one unproven accusation and uses facts selectively. The cold war ended a generation ago and Nato has changed its functions and is not aimed at encircling Russia. The new government has shown no interest in joining Nato in its day-to-day struggle to maintain the country’s independence. He ignores the vote in the parliament that voted to replace Viktor Yanukovych. Hardly a coup d’etat. He makes no mention of the 67 violent deaths inflicted by the security forces under the authority of Mr Yanukovych, or the dubious imprisonment of Yulia Timoshenko, his electoral rival. In addition, Amnesty International reports for 2012/2013 outline accounts of police brutality that met little or no sanction.
President Putin makes great play of protecting the rights of the Russian speakers in Ukraine to justify moving troops to occupy barracks and public buildings and airports. There are areas of the Russian Federation that would like to secede, areas that have Muslim populations. Imagine Russia’s reaction if troops from other Muslim countries attempted to occupy airports there to protect non-Russian speakers in those areas. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was called for the first time for jury service last week in the Circuit Court in Portlaoise.
I joined a large crowd of people filing into a courtroom. The names of 449 people were read out and the names of those present, well over 400, were put in a box.
The 400 people and the box then moved to another courtroom. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the 449 people had been called for just one jury panel for one day.
Then we were all given details of the case and 20 names were taken at random from the box.
Some of those called were given exemptions and that left two women and 10 men to be sworn in for jury service. The remaining 380 of us were told we could go. We had been an hour in the courthouse.
I wondered as I left does this happen every day in courts throughout the land?
Is it necessary or usual to call this number of people in order to find 12 for one jury?
As 400 people had turned up it’s possible that over 500 people had been written to initially. Think of the expense attached to that in court staff time, postage, stationery, printing, etc. Those of us who agreed to attend for jury service had been written to twice.
Surely this money could be better spent on rehabilitation programmes for prisoners.
I was mindful in the courtroom that most of those present would not have been called at all but for the case taken by Mary Anderson and Mairin de Burca in 1975 when they challenged the constitutionality of the Juries Act 1927 and won. Up to then only property owners (mostly men) could serve on a jury.
As I am retired it was easy for me to attend but many of the others there would have had to change work times, make other arrangements for pre-school children and elderly in their care, etc. I realise, of course, that if only retired people served on juries they would not be representative of society, but calling so many citizens puzzles me. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The proposed new GP contract, which runs to 40 pages, is a thoroughly unpleasant document. Although I have had a contract with the HSE for over 20 years, as a GP , “an independent contractor ”, the HSE has not as yet deigned to send me a copy of it.
It has furnished copies to representative groups, even though it maintains that it would be anti-competitive for these bodies to represent and negotiate for me.
I have been posted copies of it by colleagues, and am struck by its venomous tone. Throughout, they do not refer once to doctors, but to “service providers”. The litany of directives is of biblical proportions, including the classic “Thou shalt not take the name of the HSE in vain ”.
The demands include preventive medicine strategies that have not even been attempted by the existing dedicated and fully staffed Department of Public Health (probably because they have not been shown to be of any use), the running of diabetic clinics without any of the staff that would be provided in a hospital, the obligation to be a member of primary care teams that do not exist, and in buildings that have not been built.
I did not spend 10 years training to be a service provider. I do not intend to spend my senior years in medicine weighing and measuring wriggling toddlers.
General practice has been functioning at a very high standard in recent decades. And people, our patients, are overall very pleased with it.
But the thrust of this document is such that I fear the HSE will not be satisfied until it has torn it all apart. – Yours, etc,
Dr VALERIE COLLINS,
A chara, – Fintan O’Toole’s economic analysis is usually impressive for someone with no formal background in the subject; however Tuesday’s column was sadly lacking (“US proves EU disciples of austerity wrong”, Opinion & Analysis, March 4th).
It is always difficult to judge whether macroeconomic measures such as fiscal stimuli were justified, but what one should not do is judge on the outcome. To see why, consider the fact that the US consistently missed its own employment recovery targets for the first two years after the fiscal stimulus was implemented, targets which had been set by the architects of the stimulus. This could lead one to argue that the stimulus was a bad way to increase employment, but could also be seen as an argument that the stimulus was not big enough. Given that we cannot rewind time and test the economy again under a different stimulus package, there is no way of knowing for sure which is the case (although one can make reasoned arguments either way). What it does mean is that the wisdom of macroeconomic policy decisions should be judged on the information that was available at the time, and not by subsequent information.
One of the lessons of the crisis has been the role of central banking policy in keeping government bond yields under control. Paul Krugman expressed concern under George W Bush that the deficits the Bush administration was running would prove disastrous for the American economy. He has since admitted he has learned from the crisis that a central bank which is always willing to print money to buy government debt has the ability to keep yields on government bonds under control, even with debt and deficits ballooning. Such central banking policy is illegal in the euro zone, and so comparing the macroeconomic effects of high deficits and debts in Europe versus America is a case of apples and oranges.
Finally, the Reinhart-Rogoff paper that Mr O’Toole references did indeed contain an analytical error, but this error made a negligible difference to the result with which so many on the left have taken issue. It is disappointing that this fact has not been publicly acknowledged. One can legitimately argue about the methodology that Reinhart and Rogoff used, and it has been shown that a different methodology leads to quite a different result. However both both methodologies can be considered valid. The analytical error, while unacceptable, made little difference when the original Reinhart-Rogoff methodology is employed. – Is mise,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I read with sadness Catherine McCann’s article (“Sisters who ran Magdalene laundries are being treated unjustly”, Opinion & Analysis, March 3rd) and her misplaced sympathy for her erstwhile colleagues. Does she believe, in her heart of hearts, that the Magdalene laundries were operated in a fair, benevolent fashion? Does she sincerely think that the women who were incarcerated there were treated with kindness, were allowed to develop their self-respect, were properly educated by the nuns, were well fed, received appropriate medical treatment when required, and were paid a decent wage for the long, hard hours which they endured in the laundry?
I would point out to her that there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Over 100 survivors of Magdalene laundries, who live in this country, are telling a very different story.
They speak of brutality, of hard work for which they were never paid, of massive unkindness and lack of respect for them as human beings, of deprivation, of having their own children forcibly removed from their care, of abuse which was psychological, physical and sexual in nature.
They speak of being described as “penitents” for committing an act which was far less evil than the acts perpetrated against them by the Roman Catholic Church.
In the case of my great-aunt Esther Harrington (70 years in the Good Shepherd, Cork), who had family who wanted to claim her but were threatened out of it by a local Catholic priest, what would Ms McCann say to that? My grandmother thought she was well respected in the Roman Catholic Church but apparently she was not, because when she wanted to help her sister-in-law she was told she would be condemned from the pulpit and that she would lose her sweetshop, that my grandfather would lose his coal round and the family would be left destitute should she persist in trying to remove Esther from the laundry. Esther was a talented seamstress so obviously she was worth a lot of money to the nuns, which is why they wanted to keep her.
It’s worth noting that Esther passed away in 1987 in the convent, at the age of 83. The good nuns conveniently forgot to put her name on the headstone of the mass grave where she is buried. This was done only last year. What a way to treat someone who had been forced to give her life to an order of nuns.
These orders are not being treated unfairly by the media, but they are being put under scrutiny, their deeds and attitudes are being made public and the public does not like what it sees.
The nuns are being subjected to having to face the truth about their behaviour for the first time and they can’t handle it. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – On reading Conor Pope’s article on the state of Irish Rail’s service and the comments from disgruntled customers (“Customers rail against service on Irish trains”, Pricewatch, March 3rd), one can only assume that many of the remaining rail services are destined for closure.
The mainline services between Dublin and Cork, Limerick and Belfast will probably survive the next series of closures, but the future of the only line that does not serve Dublin, the Rosslare to Limerick Junction, and Limerick Junction to Galway via Ennis, is already in jeopardy following the closure of the Rosslare to Waterford link in 2010, and the very poor timetable between Waterford and Limerick Junction currently in force.
Rather than running trains at times not always suitable to the majority of customers, Irish Rail needs to provide a better timetable that coincides with ferry crossings, commuter links and the needs of schools and colleges.
And in the case of the Rosslare to Limerick Junction link, to provide a through service that actually connects with other services on the mainlines to Waterford, Cork, Tralee and Limerick.
The Rosslare to Dublin service does not meet ferry arrivals, and as a commuter service is always overcrowded – so much so that commuters actually get off the train at Greystones to transfer to the empty Dart trains in order to get a seat for the last part of the journey.
The current three-carriage trains do not have the capacity to take commuters from Wexford to Dublin, and are usually full by the time they reach Arklow, and at this point the train should be increased to six carriages, and commuters advised which half of the train they should board for various stations.
A split train can provide double the capacity without having to change the times when it enters the Dart corridor; failing that, the train should run between Rosslare and Greystones only, requiring people to transfer to the Dart service to complete their journey.
Other services from Dublin serving Sligo, Westport, Galway and Waterford will probably be downgraded and ultimately closed, as the timetables will be cut to a handful of services, thus making travel by road the only viable option. – Yours, etc,
ROBIN D HEATHER,
Sir, – Oliver Connolly was working on behalf of the State when he dealt with Sgt Maurice McCabe. How does this not make him accountable for his actions? – Yours, etc,
Baldoyle, Dublin 13.
A chara, – Paul Waldron (March 5th), commenting on the home renovations incentive scheme, says that getting a final invoice or receipt from a builder can be difficult.
Actually, getting a receipt for payment of the local property tax (LPT) by cheque from the Revenue Commissioners is much more difficult. I requested a receipt when submitting my payment on January 1st. Five weeks later I received a letter from Revenue saying, in bold font, “Please note that Revenue is not issuing receipts for payment of LPT.”
Surely a taxpayer has a right to a receipt, especially when the date of the tax payment is normally significant and late payment can lead to interest and surcharges? – Is mise,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6.
Sir, – Paddy Power is running ads offering bets on whether Oscar Pistorius “will walk” after his current trial (Breaking News, March 5th). This is very distasteful as a young woman was shot four times and has died. Paddy Power has offered excuses claiming that it’s a novelty bet, that it’s a bit of fun, that it’s the story people will be talking about all year and that it’s an international story covered by the media. Will the fate of Michael Schumacher feature in its next publicity stunt? Perhaps it might offer odds on the outcome in Ukraine or the next gangland shooting in Ireland?
I doubt it would consider those “novelty bets” a bit of fun. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Has the word “actress” become so politically incorrect that it is no longer appropriate to be used to describe female thespians in The Irish Times ?
It was most confusing to read in a recent article that the French president had a tryst with an “actor”. In an article on the Bafta awards, your correspondent reported that “actor” Jennifer Lawrence had won the “Best Supporting Actress Award”. I further note that you did not change the Oscar for “Best Actress” to “Best Female Actor”. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Rather than continuing the unedifying spat on your pages between the pro- and anti-Gaeilge lobbies on the merits and demerits of the Irish language, may I suggest we defer to words of wisdom from our much-missed Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney: “Not to learn Irish is to miss the opportunity of understanding what life in this country has meant and could mean in a better future. It is to cut oneself off from ways of being at home. If we regard self-understanding, mutual understanding, imaginative enhancement, cultural diversity and a tolerant political atmosphere as desirable attainments, we should remember that a knowledge of the Irish language is an essential element in their realisation.” – Is mise,
CONALL Ó MÓRÁIN,
Baile Átha Claith 14.
While welcoming the major conservation initiative to save the curlew and restore habitats essential to its survival, we should not lose sight of other species that are endangered or threatened.
Also in this section
NATO partly responsible for Ukraine crisis
We can’t deny anyone the right to express love
Get us deal, Enda – and you’ll get second term
It would be sad indeed if the haunting cry of the curlew, a feature of rural life from time immemorial and celebrated in Irish literature, song and folklore, were to become a mere memory kept alive only in books and ballads.
It has been quietly slipping away, with about 80pc of the curlew population lost to us since the 1970s.
But this evocative bird is not alone. Though not threatened to the same degree as the curlew, the Irish hare is listed by conservationists as vulnerable to extinction. Like the curlew, the hare is a precious and evocative part of our wildlife heritage. It is a living link to the Ice Age of 10,000 years ago, one of nature’s great survivors.
Unfortunately, increasing urbanisation and the effects of modern agriculture, especially the vast monocultural grass and cereal tracts in the countryside and the mass cutting of hedges, have eroded its habitat, leading to what to the hare might as well be a desert. Compounding this is the grotesque practice of hare coursing.
Contrived chasing and disturbance of hares induces a form of stress that can kill them. Dr Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, has stated: “When a mammal like a hare is chased by a predator like a dog it will show physiological changes associated with extreme fear.”
Such extreme responses, he adds, can result in reduced life expectancy and risk of cardiovascular breakdown. The number of hares killed outright or injured in coursing annually is only a tiny part of the horror story.
It is the long-term impact on the animals captured and subjected to this traumatic and unnatural ordeal that represents the greater coursing-related threat to the hare.
This unique mammal, which under legislation may be netted and used as bait by coursing clubs, should be designated a completely protected species.
The hare belongs to all of us. It is not the preserve of a heartless minority that sees it as a mere plaything for their “sport”.
JOHN FITZGERALD, CAMPAIGN FOR THE ABOLITION OF CRUEL SPORTS, CO KILKENNY
GILMORE AND RUSSIA
So Russia has moved troops into Crimea. Eamon Gilmore has bemoaned the fact that international law is being broken. A few salient facts may be in order for Mr Gilmore at this juncture.
Firstly, during their Ard Fheis at the weekend his partners in government decided, despite what it says in the Constitution, to discuss the illegal notion of joining Nato.
Secondly, Russia has stated that it is protecting Russians in Crimea. How is Mr Putin any different to George Bush ploughing into Iraq, where the number of American citizens was far below 60pc.
We know that America has been working behind the scenes to instal a pro-American government during the Kiev protests.
I could go on about how America has been the most aggressive military force since World War II but instead I will ask – if the peacemakers are blessed, then what are warmongers?
DERMOT RYAN ATHENRY, CO GALWAY
TOAST TO DAVY FITZ
Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald is to be applauded for his efforts in instilling the Clare panel with self-confidence and self-esteem (Irish Independent, March 5). Toastmasters International runs a very successful youth leadership programme in secondary schools throughout Ireland. The ability to believe in and assert themselves is the greatest gift we can give the next generation.
CHRISTINA HESSION, NAAS, CO KILDARE
MEDICAL CARD SPIN
Many GPs are unhappy with reporting on fees payable to their practices under the medical card scheme. In particular, we find simple statements, frequently initiated by the HSE spin doctors and uncritically repeated by journalists, are unhelpful.
Recently, it was reported that “top-earning GPs gross over €300,000 annually”. Balanced reportage would include that most GPs are not “top earning” and that capitation fees are properly subjected to income tax.
The rough rule of thumb is one-third for Revenue, one-third for expenses, one third for the GP. Further, while James Reilly is quoted as saying that “research reveals that 1,000 medical card patients are worth €250,000 to a GP”, he is more aware than most that the average list size is rather less than this, and there are few of us now who feel capable of safely caring for a medical card list of anywhere near 1,000 patients.
For your paper and the minister to imply the average GP pockets anything like €300,000 really is foolish. By all means consider spin doctors, but don’t ignore the experience of real doctors.
DR BRENDAN O’SHEA, PRO KILDARE FACULTY IRISH COLLEGE OF GENERAL PRACTITIONERS
MYSTERY OF LIFE
Life is a mystery. The paramount question is – why? Why is there not nothing? Human beings cannot help trying to find the answer to this great enigma of existence. The fact that there is something demands a cause; that is the way the human mind works. We do not know the answer, but we keep on trying; the best I can manage is to call the cause ‘God’.
Whether you accept or reject this reasoning is entirely up to you. The Christian position is, God exists, and He is Love, who offers all humans love, to enable us to love Him, and oneself and one another. Each person is free to accept or reject God’s offer. That is the best we can manage, to make sense of the great mystery.
Some atheists say they just do not have faith. None of us have faith to start with, as something innate to us. But we all have a conscience and a choice. Faith is a free gift, to be accepted or rejected by free will.
SEAN MCELGUNN, ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
FAREWELL, CU CHULAINN
Calls home to mammy are a part of ex-pat DNA; the news in full. “Ack that Brian and Amy would sicken your…” was my last update. Millions across waters will watch at all hours to see himself playing at home for the last time. I wonder if shouts of Cu Chulainn around the Aviva and broadcast across the globe would give us all the opportunity to say slan go foill Cu Chulainn. The calls home flying in. “Could you hear them there in Auckland/Chicago/NY/Sydney/etc? Wasn’t it only magic”.
CONOR GERAGHTY, EDINBURGH
LOTS OF PAIN, ZERO GAIN
In a recent government survey it has been established that the Live Register has fallen by 60,000. What they fail to tell us is that 60,000 of our young people have emigrated during that period. I would say that the net gain is zero.
EAMONN GALLAGHER, DUNDALK
GAY MARRIAGE DEBATE
Crediting Philip O’Neill’s mother with compassion (Letters, March 4), wouldn’t her “Mhuise, what harm are they doing?” be applied equally to three people, of whatever gender (or, indeed mixture thereof), who “experience sincere love for one another”? Surely there is “no good reason for denying them the right to the public ritual expression of that love”? In short, would it not be the “gratuitous assertion” of “a flimsy moral edifice” to deny them marriage equality on no other basis than that there were more than two of them?
FRANK FARRELL, STILLORGAN, CO DUBLIN