11 March 2014 Bank
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.Pertwee mistakes a a musical cigarette box for a experimental missile aiming device Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired. Bank tip Co Op
Scrabbletoday Iwins but getover400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Sir Thomas Chitty, who has died aged 88, wrote, under the name Thomas Hinde, one of the most acclaimed first novels of the 1950s — a debut that saw him hailed as a major new English writer. He also led his family on an epic 2,000-mile journey by foot and donkey in the steps of Hannibal.
Chitty had only been down from Oxford a year when Mr Nicholas was published in 1952. It was a bitter, claustrophobic portrait of a deeply dysfunctional family in stockbroker-belt suburbia. Showered with critical garlands, Chitty was compared to Graham Greene and hailed as his potential successor.
One newspaper rated him the best new English novelist of the decade. Another put Mr Nicholas in the top five novels of the Fifties and named it the first “angry” novel in the movement whose Angry Young Men — Kingsley Amis, John Osborne and others — dominated the middle years of that decade.
It was Chitty’s misfortune that his first proved to be his best. His 15 subsequent novels secured critical respect but never quite the sustained popular acclaim that many of his contemporaries felt he deserved. This was a shame because novels such as For The Good of the Company, The Village, The Day The Call Came and High displayed the same restless intelligence and acute eye for social interaction that had made Chitty’s debut such a huge success. What they lacked, though, was the original anger that fuelled Mr Nicholas, a novel which Chitty was happy to admit was autobiographical. Later he switched to non-fiction, writing several biographies and numerous books on the English countryside, towns and schools.
Thomas Willes Chitty was born on March 2 1926. The baronetcy came from his grandfather, a King’s Counsel and King George V’s Grand Remembrancer who married the poet Henry Newbolt’s sister.
Tom’s education at the ascetic preparatory school run by his father in East Anglia was a ghastly experience, which he chronicled 50 years later in the memoir Sir Henry & Sons, a work that dovetails with Mr Nicholas. Together they present a deeply unflattering portrait of his father. The only positive thing that Tom took from the experience was a certainty that nothing else could ever be as bad.
He went on to Winchester and emerged in 1944 an eccentric young man without clear ambitions. Familial enthusiasm propelled him into a manifestly inappropriate career in the Navy. There he spent two and a half years in the English Channel aboard a motor-torpedo boat commanded by the future journalist Mark Arnold-Forster. After several attempts he succeeded in resigning his commission.
At University College, Oxford, where he read Modern History from 1948, he was remembered as an oddly distinguished presence with a wild head of black hair and a battered Army greatcoat. Ironically, given later comparisons between their styles, Chitty’s first literary success was in a competition run by the New Statesman to write the first 150 words of a Graham Greene novel. Chitty won, while Greene himself admitted that 2nd, 3rd and 4th place were all taken by entries he had submitted under pseudonyms.
In the year he came down, Chitty married Susan Hopkinson. He had proposed on the Big Dipper at Battersea Park funfair – where he was working as brakeman on one of the cars and Susan was tending the park’s llamas. She was the daughter of the notoriously difficult author Antonia White, who had been certified insane at the age of 21, confined in an asylum and never fully recovered her stability of mind.
Antonia White retained an unrelenting hostility to Chitty, dismissing him as “untalented and unwashed”. “I think Mama couldn’t bear to see me establishing any independence,” Susan Chitty said later. “She eventually threw me out of our house, changing the locks and ordering me not to come back.”
Susan Chitty, also an author, frequently found herself subject to press attention during her marriage, usually for her written assaults on the memory of the mother she loathed. These were invariably met by volleys of return fire from her sister, Lyndall, who retained less hostile memories, and by Antonia White’s supporters such as the writer Germaine Greer.
The couple’s early married life was spent in modest circumstances in a Kensington flat where they lived amid innumerable cats and homemade furniture. The income from their considerable written output was supplemented by Tom’s sideline talent as a photographer.
The publication of Mr Nicholas brought renown but no great wealth, and Chitty took a job with Shell, in public relations. It was, unsurprisingly, a rather unsatisfactory partnership, which he subsequently mined for his well-received eighth novel For The Good Of the Company, published a year after he left in 1961.
He infused his books not only with his own experiences, but with his own character. This embraced contradictions, for Hinde was a left-wing Conservative, a titled man-in-the-street, and a gloomy optimist. One contemporary noted that: “His books have a unique quality of being entertaining whilst they relentlessly depress the reader. One feels that Tom Chitty would like to be as mean, as poor, as downtrodden and despairing as his characters, because he is rather ashamed of being so pleasant, so respectable, so nice to everybody.”
In 1964 Chitty was appointed Granata Arts Fellow at York University and a year later moved to America and a well-paid teaching post as resident creative writer at the University of Illinois.
The novel High, which he wrote shortly after his return from America, gives some clue to the impact the counter-culture revolution of the time had had upon him. He admitted that taking LSD was “the most enjoyable thing I’ve done in 20 years”. He tried it, he said, because his most intelligent students recommended it.
With the proceeds from his American sojourn, the Chittys were able to buy the rambling 300 year-old Bow Cottage in West Hoathly, Sussex, which they had previously rented and which would be their home for the rest of their married life. Forever thick with dust, and filled from floor to rafters with books, it was an edifice more or less literally supported by the written word. “We are desperately hard up, you know,” Susan Chitty confessed laughingly in 1997. “We live off droppings from other people’s tables.”
The Chittys maintained unorthodox views, including a deep aversion to television, and an abiding suspicion of central government which saw them become committed to the goal of self-sufficiency. This was partly a matter of principle, and partly because they anticipated an imminent and complete economic collapse, a vision that Chitty committed to print in his penultimate novel Daymare (1980).
Their splendidly practical guide to self-sufficient living, On Next To Nothing, based on their motto “Half-an-Acre and a Goat”, was published in 1976 as a counter to this eventuality. Long before it was fashionable, they were passionate enemies of pesticides, processed food and artificial additives.
A year later, in 1977, the couple and three of their four children left Britain on a 2,000-mile journey by donkey in the footsteps of Hannibal from Spain to Turkey. It took them a year and half and was not short of incident.
Among other adventures, both daughters, aged seven and three, suffered broken arms when the donkeys (named Hannibal and Hamilcar) bolted. The family was also nearly swept away in a flash flood, and drove off wolves in the Macedonian mountains. Perhaps it was no surprise that Iago, the family dog, voted with his paws and abandoned camp one night never to be seen again.
The journey produced two books, one (The Great Donkey Walk) an account of the adventure written with his wife, the other a biography of one of Chitty’s 18th-century forebears, Thomas Chitty of Dagenham and Smyrna, dealer in goat hair and carpets, based on research undertaken in Turkey.
Having abandoned fiction, Thomas Chitty produced 20 further books, including a biography of Capability Brown, several histories of public schools and several books on gardens and the countryside.
Sir Thomas Chitty was a thoroughly gentle man who, with his wife, maintained a wide circle of friends. They were generous hosts and guests to their annual summer parties enjoyed such delicacies as his own potent elderflower wine, and apparently on one occasion a home-produced goats cheese infused with cannabis.
A keen gardener, Chitty spent many years digging what was originally to have been a swimming pool in the garden, but eventually became a lake. He also spent much time landscaping and planting a large wood on land he bought behind his house. Between them the couple wrote nearly 50 books. His last novel was In Time of Plague, published in 2006.
With his wife Sir Thomas Chitty had one son and three daughters.
Sir Thomas Chitty, born March 2 1926, died March 7 2014
Air travel, and the aircraft noise that accompanies it, have become an integral part of modern life, but perceptions of aircraft noise vary greatly, mainly depending on where it is experienced.
For most people, who do not live near to a major airport, air travel is exclusively defined in terms of the considerable economic or social benefits that it brings. On the other hand, for those who live near major airports, aircraft noise can be an imposition. The time has come to adopt a fresh approach, to restore trust and give people the confidence that their legitimate grievances are being addressed.
We believe that the establishment of an independent aircraft noise ombudsman, set up at arm’s length from government and the industry, could play a fundamental role in further establishing trust and confidence, thus bringing about a fair and reasonable balance between increasing demand for flights and noise control.
Building on the common ground and goodwill built up among the interested parties, the ombudsman would collaborate with all of them to report on noise in an open, transparent and intelligible manner, and to deal with noise limitation problems fairly and sustainably.
We therefore call on the government and politicians of all colours to work collaboratively with all stakeholders on designing, and thereafter the early establishment of, an independent aircraft noise ombudsman to further enhance and protect the welfare of people living near airports.
Stephen Alambritis leader, Merton council
David Amess MP Con, Southend West
Tony Arbour AM Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow
Jennette Arnold AM Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest
Bob Blackman MP Harrow East
Mark Boleat chair, policy and resources committee, City of London Corporation
David Brazier cabinet member for transport and environment, Kent county council
Robert Buckland MP Con, South Swindon
Sir Steve Bullock Mayor of Lewisham
Muhammed Butt Leader, Brent council
Jim Cunningham MP Lab, Coventry South
Tom Copley AM London-wide
Brenda Dean Lab, House of Lords
Andrew Dismore AM, Barnet and Camden
Jim Dobbin MP Lab, Heywood and Middleton
Len Duvall AM leader of Labour group, Greenwich and Lewisham
Roger Evans AM deputy chairman of the London Assembly, Havering and Redbridge
Stephen Fry chief executive, Hounslow Chamber of Commerce
Zac Goldsmith MP Con, Richmond Park
Robert Gray director, Back Heathrow
Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP Con, Saffron Walden
Gavin Hayes director, Let Britain Fly
Dr Julian Huppert MP Lib Dem, Cambridge
Darren Johnson AM chair of the London Assembly
Jenny Jones AM leader, Green Group at the London Assembly
Stephen Joseph chief executive, Campaign for Better Transport
David Lammy MP Lab, Tottenham
Mike Langan chair, Hillingdon Chamber of Commerce
Lisa Lavia managing director, Noise Abatement Society
Caroline Lucas MP Green, Brighton Pavilion
Caroline Nokes MP Con, Romsey and Southampton North
Steve O’Connell AM Croydon and Sutton
Lib Peck leader, Lambeth council
Roger Reed deputy leader, South Buckinghamshire district council
Philippa Roe leader, Westminster city council
Ben Rogers, director, Centre for London
Andrew Rosindell MP Con, Romford
Sir Bob Russell MP Lib Dem, Colchester
Dr Onkar Sahota AM Ealing and Hillingdon
Valerie Shawcross AM Lambeth and Southwark
Henry Smith MP Con, Crawley
Nicholas Soames MP Con, Mid Sussex
John Stewart chair, Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise
Jeremy Taylor chief executive, Gatwick Diamond Business
Baroness Valentine chief executive, London First
Joan Walley MP Lab Stoke-on-Trent North
Tim Yeo MP Con, South Suffolk
Professor Xin Zhang professor of aircraft engineering, University of Southampton
I am saddened and surprised at the BBC‘s announcement to close BBC3, rather than privatise it (It’s elementary: keeping Sherlock, 8 March). A good privatisation would be to sell the channel off to an overseas partnership company, with BBC Worldwide still holding a stake in the company, in the same way it holds a stake in UKTV group. The new channel could pay the BBC to use its multiplex positions on Freeview; advertising and sponsorship would add to funds and, as planned, the BBC could still make content available first online, as it plans to, via the iPlayer, with the new channel showing the big screen experience at a latter date. The channel would intermix this with overseas content.
Personally, I would ditch the fly-on-the-wall documentary type of programming, which is difficult to sell to an overseas market, and stick with comedy and quality drama, perhaps with edgy in-context current affairs.
• Like many others, I watch TV on demand via the internet and, as such, I don’t need to buy a TV licence. However, the soundtrack of our life is the BBC and has been when living here or abroad. The children are happy when I choose which educational – and therefore guilt-free for me – CBeebies programme. I iron to the Graham Norton show on a Sunday evening. Such exciting lives we lead …
We are lucky. The past few days have shown what a fundamental service journalists provide, and specifically the BBC. What is happening in Ukraine is also part of our life, and pressure is kept up to help change the fate of these people. Although I may not be able to change the mind of world leaders, I can help fund the service that does, the service that means that the people scared about their future can listen in and know that they are not forgotten.
I may not want to contribute to Jeremy Clarkson’s salary but I do selfishly want more Sherlock. So after initially stopping my TV licence, I have just re-bought it. So should everyone!
Dr Alice Byram
• How does the cost of upgrading broadband coverage to match TV coverage, with high enough speeds to screen HDTV, compare with the cost of maintaining the current over-the-air broadcast (BBC4 could go online too…, 7 March)?
• If Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, wants to save some money, we can only hope that the days of BBC junkets are coming to and end, but with the Football World Cup looming I won’t hold my breath. During the 2012 London Olympics, licence-payers footed hotel bills for dozens of BBC staff who lived within commuting distance of the Games, 100 staff covered Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and almost 100 staff went to Sochi last month.
• Could the axing of BBC3 mean a well-deserved “promotion” to BBC1 or BBC2 for the funniest comedy series on our screens? Bluestone 42 (Another view, G2, 10 March), of course. And I’m not one of the young people at whom the Beeb seems to be aiming the third channel. I’m 66, and there are a lot of fellow boomers around who love BBC3.
• The torment by trailer suffered by BBC radio listeners (Editorial, 8 March) is nothing compared with the torture endured by BBC television viewers. Even the most mundane documentary suffers from soaring strings or twanging guitars. The BBC’s stock response is that music is personal and is added to increase viewer enjoyment. The problem is that because music is personal, if it grates with the viewer, it could result in switching off.
The people who suffer the most are those with hearing difficulties. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf has campaigned over many years on behalf of its members but, if anything, the problem has only got worse. I have no problem with music carefully chosen to fit the programme content and played at modest volume but all too often I find myself taking more notice of the noise and less of the commentary. That is the time to switch off.
Ofsted’s Michael Cladingbowl asserts that “more children are attending good or outstanding schools now than at any other time, and Ofsted has played an important role in that” (Short visits for inspectors in Ofsted shakeup, 8 March). The implication that Ofsted makes schools better is absurd, insulting to staff and students, and completely unjustifiable. Where schools have improved, it is despite the negative, snapshot and data-driven judgments of inspectors, not because of them.
Imagine if the millions spent on inspections since Ofsted was invented in the early 90s had been spent reducing class size, improving buildings and equipment, and paying teachers a rate commensurate with the high levels of skill, expertise and dedication they display every day. The forthcoming Policy Exchange report into Ofsted’s track record is to be heartily welcomed.
• That “more children are attending good or outstanding schools now than at any other time” depends on your perspective. More young people are suffering mental health problems, more young people are living unhealthy lifestyles, more teachers are dissatisfied with their lot and many employers are still saying that schools are not equipping young people with the skills they need: collaboration, creativity, communication. Until schools are allowed to focus on the needs of the whole child and Ofsted is able to look beyond raw numerical data and test scores, the jury is out on whether young people’s experience of school is improving. Perhaps we should ask them.
European Forum for Freedom in Education
• Before Ofsted, one of HM Inspectorate’s responsibilities was to evaluate the effects of government policy on the system as a whole. That responsibility needs to be exercised in the new dispensation. Only if it is can we be assured of Ofsted’s genuine independence.
Professor Colin Richards
(Former HMI) Spark Bridge, Cumbria
• Rightwing thinktanks cannot have much confidence in free schools and academies if they are questioning whether they should be subject to Ofsted inspections, the only way we can compare standards between local authority schools and this new crop of independent state schools. Will they next propose that we have a separate charity commission to cover the financial benefits to private schools as well?
South Wonston, Winchester
• DJ Taylor’s excellent article on John Carey’s autobiography (The back page, Review, 8 March) exposes the frequently overlooked fact that grammar school pupils were old-fashioned meritocrats whose success was built on other children’s failures. As one who attended Shene grammar (1958-66) I recall the markedly superior quality of sports, science and teaching we enjoyed compared with the other secondary state provision in SW14. I was fully aware of the fate that awaited my former primary school friends who failed the 11-plus. It was exactly this dreadful unfairness that motivated Tony Crosland to offer all children a more equal opportunity and proper share of educational funding.
Today, changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 come into effect that will reduce the length of time for which some individuals are required to disclose any criminal conviction to employers.
Many employers are carrying out checks unlawfully. It will soon also be a criminal offence to require a job applicant or an existing member of staff to obtain, on behalf of their employer, a copy of their police record.
Nacro, the UK’s largest crime reduction charity, works with employers to help them recruit fairly and safely. It is clear that far too few businesses – big and small – are aware of the amendments to the legislation.
Nacro successfully lobbied for changes, which will help to create a more level playing field for those who have put their criminal past behind them and wish to enter the workforce. Any organisation in need of help or advice should contact our employer advice service http://www.nacro.org.uk.
Acting chief executive, Nacro
Professor Thorne is indeed correct to say that the rainbow in Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows requires the sun to be behind the painter (Letters, 6 March), because the anti-solar point (shadow of the observer’s head) must be at the centre of the circle that passes through any part of any arc of a rainbow, as a physics undergraduate text will explain. While full or partial rainbows have nothing to do with it, for they merely indicate where raindrops were present, we agree that the shadows exhibit artistic licence.
Dr David Griffiths
• ”Don’t buy the products of apartheid. Don’t invest in apartheid” – the words of Nelson Mandela in London in April 1990. Hardly the embarrassed mutter Simon Jenkins (Helen Suzman deserves her tribute alongside Nelson Mandela, 7 March) claims to have witnessed. Jenkins’ sideswipe at those who “refused an orange” hardly does justice to the hundreds of thousands of people who joined anti-apartheid campaigns worldwide in the 1980s. Or to the activists who kept the Anti-Apartheid Movement going throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Their story is now online at: www.aamarchives.
• Nils Pratley (8 March) berates Barclays for 72 uses of the vacuous phrase “go-to” in its annual report. But even Mary Beard (Review, 8 March) describes Bernard Williams as “the Labour government’s ‘go-to guy’ on moral policy”. The standfirst on her article uses the phrase in the same way, too. “Go-to” seems to be the “go-to” phrase at the moment.
Dr Alex May
• I think that the time has come to stop publishing the widely held misapprehension that “Much of the Somerset Levels is below sea level” (Report, 7 March). Ordnance survey maps show clearly that the lowest lying land is actually 3 metres above sea level.
Dr Helen Clark
• ”Nick Clegg was forced … to make clear that he would remain leader of the Liberal Democrats until 2020″ (Report, 10 March). Don’t the other Lib Dems have some say in that? Not to mention the electors in Sheffield?
Your editorial on “The quiet death of English justice” (8 March) is timely but fails to make the link between the withdrawal of legal aid and the proposed Stephen Lawrence inquiry and other cases of institutional abuse. A culture of racism, corruption or bullying does not begin with a major event. It springs from a drip-feed process of seemingly trivial incidents – a failure to respond to a neighbour dispute because the caller is black, disproportionate use of stop and search powers, workplace bullying – that are allowed to go unchecked. These are the sort of problems that until now clients have brought to law centres, high street solicitors and similar agencies. With the legal aid cuts and the ending of financial support for advice agencies, such assistance is no longer available and the clients are without any remedy. As a result, the petty abuses will continue and the rotten culture will grow, no matter how many expensive public inquiries are set up. Proper funding of legal advice and assistance at the grass-roots level is key to preventing such abuses escalating.
Andrew Hillier QC
Volunteer, Battersea Law Centre, London
• The most devastating effects on English justice will arise from the combination of legal aid fee reductions and the new requirement for firms to provide a service across a whole county area rather than the local town. The government reckons that this will reduce the number of duty solicitor firms by two thirds. High street criminal law firms will disappear, and those seeking a lawyer will be at the mercy of a few large firms operating at a distance, bent on making a narrow profit from the reduced fee by providing the meanest service they can get away with.
The criminal justice budget has been eaten up by the costs of a few complex cases but it is those who seek justice at the more modest end of the social and legal spectrum who are being made to pay.
I am from the city of Mykolaiv, which is in the south of Ukraine, near Odessa.
I think it is important for British people to know what is going on in the south of Ukraine, as it is often presented in the media as being an area that is predominantly pro-Russian.
This is a biased and unfair misrepresentation of the situation. Yes, we’re predominantly Russian-speaking, but the vast majority of us are true patriots of our motherland Ukraine.
Russian-speaking Odessa and Mykolaiv are for a united Ukraine.
Please help spread the truth of what is really going on in our country.
I strongly believe in the professionalism of The Independent’s journalists and your impartial, unbiased reporting of events in Ukraine.
Olesia Makh, Mykolaiv, Ukraine
There are two elephants in the room when Ukraine is discussed. The first is Sebastopol. This has been Russia’s warm-water port in the Med for many, many years. It only became a part of Ukraine because of a couple of administrative errors by different Russian governments, although Russia does have an effective lease on this area.
The Russians are now justifiably nervous about its future. Putin’s losing Sebastopol could be a disaster for him and for Russia.
The second elephant is Russia’s fear of being surrounded. Cast your mind back to the Cuban missile crisis. The resolution was a deal whereby the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles from Cuba in exchange for Nato withdrawing its missiles from Turkey. Putin now fears Nato with its missiles sitting on Russia’s border.
We need to stop always dealing with Russia in an adversarial way and find a way of settling the fears on either side.
Why not divide Ukraine into two countries, East Ukraine with Sebastopol and the principally Russian-speaking part, and West Ukraine, Ukrainian-speaking and leaning towards Europe?
This would create a buffer zone between Europe and Russia and a good possibility of peace.
John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire
Alzheimer’s and assisted suicide
Your leader welcoming the news of an early diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s (10 March) fails to mention one aspect of this dreadful disease which could be of great importance to those who have a positive test – the possibility of assisted suicide once the actual symptoms of dementia appear.
Having witnessed my mother’s slow and pitiful passing following four years of dementia, and having seen the inexorable progress of the disease on the residents in the care home where she spent her last years, I am quite certain that, should I ever develop the condition, then I would want to die with dignity while I still could.
The chances of my being able to do so are virtually nil at present, even if Lord Falconer’s “assisted dying” Bill passes into law; this would only apply to those who are terminally ill with six months to live.
Even if you were to seek to travel to a Dignitas clinic, my understanding is that you still need to have psychiatric counselling and would have to be of “sound mind” – if you wait until you have the first symptoms of dementia, then no one is going to sign you off.
Another problem is that in the early stages of dementia some people can still lead reasonably happy lives with support from relatives, and that period will vary from person to person.
With an early diagnosis, it surely should be possible for someone who has a 90 per cent chance of developing Alzheimer’s to make a living will which will provide for their assisted suicide once the disease has reached a certain clinical stage.
If Lord Falconer’s Bill is passed and works satisfactorily, perhaps the time might then be right to look at assisted suicide for Alzheimer’s sufferers.
John E Orton, Portishead, North Somerset
Road death target should be zero
In a scathing report on Network Rail’s handling of deaths in level-crossing accidents, the Transport Select Committee said that a target of zero fatalities by 2020 should be aimed for.
But has anybody considered a target of zero fatalities on our roads?
Sweden has one: in the Vision Zero Initiative. It believes that with the right education, engineering and enforcement, road crashes need not be fatal.
In stark contrast to an average 10 people a year being killed at level crossings since 2004, an average of five people a day (20,000 since 2004) are killed on our roads. Why no scathing report? How many dangerous drivers have we?
While Network Rail has closed almost 800 level crossings since 2010, with plans for 500 more by 2019, killer drivers regularly walk free. It was said that Network Rail showed “callous disregard” for the bereaved. Haven’t our courts done much the same in giving killer drivers their licence back – a licence to kill?
With sky-high rail fares and petrol prices, many are forced to travel by bicycle, but with high-speed driving, cycling can be seriously life-threatening.
On average, 150 cyclists a year have been killed since 2004. A survey of 18,000 drivers shows 93 per cent don’t see cyclists. If they’re so blind, why not ban them?
It seems ironic that records show driver error to be responsible for 93 per cent of cycling casualties. Doesn’t this show the driving test and traffic law enforcement to be grossly inadequate?
While Network Rail has been strongly criticised for saying victims had been “trespassing” or “misusing the railway”, more than a few drivers believe cyclists shouldn’t be on the road because they don’t pay “road tax”.
It’s odds-on that over 90 per cent of cyclists would say drivers pass them too close and too fast. Don’t too many drivers gamble (safe from detection, and protected by airbags) with excessive speed?
Why aren’t roads as safe as railways? With cars as fast as express trains, why aren’t car drivers as safe as train drivers?
Allan Ramsay, Radcliffe, Greater Manchester
The announcement of an additional £140m for road repairs is welcome, but it’s not the recent bad weather that’s responsible for the damage – it’s decades of cost-cutting and neglect.
When I was a child, it was said that the British drive on the left of the road, now we drive on what’s left of the road.
Julian Self, Wolverton, Milton Keynes
Let there be light mornings
In response to Peter Kellett (letter, 10 March), in a line edited from my original letter I did say it was my personal preference for light mornings as opposed to evenings.
I was never one for kicking a ball about after school, preferring to read a book and, by the time of the British Standard Time experiment, listening to Radio 3 – I was that type of schoolboy.
Still, my memory is that it was already dark by the time I got home from school in the north of England, even with the extra hour in the evening.
Paul Dormer, Guildford
After the yes vote, we shall not need to concern ourselves with David Bracey’s Scottish crofters (letter, 5 March). The Scots will be able to set their clocks as they wish – on Glasgow Mean Time?
Richard Harvey, Frating, Essex
Octopus has brains as well as arms
Commenting on a fight between an octopus and a sea lion (“When two species go to war – the 12 most amazing animal battles”, 8 March), your boxing correspondent Steve Bunce said: “The octopus has the reach but does it have the brains to avoid being dinner?” The answer is yes. As the most intelligent invertebrate, the octopus has brainpower comparable to that of a dog.
The problem it had in this encounter is that, despite having eight arms, the octopus doesn’t have a knockout punch against a creature many times larger.
Christopher Hirst, Beckenham, Kent
Use lie detectors on the police
Following further indications of police corruption in the Stephen Lawrence affair and many others, isn’t it now unavoidable that lie detectors be introduced to ascertain the honesty of police officers of all ranks?
Mark Rostron, Woking, Surrey
Blame burglars not the booze
You report that “drink is implicated in one in three burglaries” (“Labour pours cold water on plan to curb drinkers”, 9 March).
I often enjoy a drink – or two – and have not to date burgled anyone.
Burglaries are caused by burglars.
Jonathan Bennett, London NW10
A fairly quick job to do
“Clegg: ‘Rivals are airbrushing our role in recovery” (10 March). I don’t see this requiring much paint.
Eddie Dougall, Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk
It is time for a rethink of how the BBC should be funded in order to fulfil its independent public service role
Sir, You report (Mar 8) that enforcement of the television licence fee, which funds the BBC, is to be decriminalised if an all-party campaign by some MPs is successful; the large number of prosecutions clogging magistrates’ courts being the reason.
On the same page you report the potential demise of the DVD due to digital streaming to a multitude of connected devices in British homes helped by faster broadband speeds.
As the world of technology expands, the ability to view content on tablets, mobile phones, televisions and the like enlarges proportionately if not exponentially.
Is it not time for a complete rethink of how the BBC should be funded in order to fulfil its independent public service role as a much loved British institution?
A simple purchase tax on all screens sold, of no matter what size, could easily be a substitution for the licence fee if properly ring-fenced for BBC use. Savings would be made in the present collection system. There would be no more harassment of the public. The magistrates’ courts could get on with their more relevant tasks and the BBC would benefit from a secure source of funding.
Sir, Weekend media reports that BBC3 is to become an online service via the BBC iPlayer and that the TV licence fee is to be replaced by a more expensive BBC subscription service, presumably linked to the internet, only demonstrates how out of touch the BBC is with its audience.
In this village less than 40 miles from London, and in many other areas, the broadband speed is simply too slow to for the iPlayer to be watched as there is constant buffering. BT says that it is not “commercially viable” to upgrade our local telephone exchange.
Access to DAB radio is not much better as Radio 4 is not available although the BBC World Service can be received.
Sir, You report that Andrew Bridgen, MP, has described the current funding arrangement for the BBC as “a poll tax”. A more accurate description would be a postcode tax. While the relevant law states that a TV licence is required if one or more of certain defined activities is or are carried out, it does not establish a presumption that any such activity is being carried out, but it is on that basis that collection of the TV licence fee is enforced. There are innumerable other licensable activities, yet in no other case is enforcement based on a presumption that the relevant activity is being carried out and that a licence is therefore required. The occupant of any property for which the licensing authority does not have a record of a licence is faced with a barrage of offensive letters threatening investigation, visits and prosecution, in terms that demonstrate contempt for both the public and the judicial system. There should be no place for such a practice in a country governed by the rule of law, a principle of which is the presumption of innocence. What the BBC says, in essence, is: Pay us £145 per annum, or satisfy us that you do not need to do so, or face unlawful harassment. This is not a matter that needs to be put out to consultation or debated endlessly: it should be terminated forthwith.
Tantobie, Co Durham
Sir, We should like to repeat our concern about the nature of public exam reform, and the speed proposed for it. With regard to content, it is a retrograde step to abandon AS level which has many advantages, as our leading universities all maintain.
With regard to timetable, the introduction of some new exams has been delayed a year: others have not been delayed. Many specifications, even for the earlier tranche of new exams, remain unclear. At GCSE, for example, the new “Big Maths” is said to involve anything up to double the content of the current exam. Teaching for it will therefore need to begin in year 9: starting this September. The syllabus is not yet written.
Other subjects will presumably be downgraded in terms of curricular time to allow for this change. This will involve potential redundancies in schools; and additionally it is estimated that up to 2,000 new maths teachers will need to be recruited. We are not confident that such a pool of talent exists. That there are to be no pilots of any of these new examinations and grading structures raises further concern for the pupils whose futures will be affected by the qualifications they gain.
We call upon the Secretary of State to listen to the concerns of teaching professionals. All new exams should be delayed until the same start date, enabling simplicity and clarity, and preventing the errors which will undoubtedly ensue if regard is not paid to due diligence.
Timothy Hands, Chairman, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference; Alice Phillips, President, the Girls’ Schools Association; Richard Palmer, Chairman, the Society of Heads
‘I do believe that it is vital for public trust and confidence that the police co-operate fully with those investigations’
Sir, Your report “Scotland Yard keeps quiet about thousands of crimes” (Mar 10), quotes me as saying, “I can’t answer that” in response to a question on how the experience of cases at the IPCC had affected my level of trust in the police. I went on to say that the reason I couldn’t answer was because “We see the worst of policing. We see cases where things either have gone wrong or are said to have gone wrong. We are not in a place to make an overall judgment about policing. It would be quite wrong to make a judgment on the basis of things that seem to have gone wrong.”
But, as I said in the interview, I do believe that it is vital for public trust and confidence that the police co-operate fully with those investigations to get to the truth of what has happened.
Dame Anne Owers
Chair, Independent Police Complaints Commission
Sir, Your enthusiastic preview (Mar 8), of the Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery highlights the Venetian inquisitor’s interest in a Last Supper painting, and — as often — makes the Inquisition appear frivolous.
The Inquistion tribunal questioned Veronese because the excessive details (including jesters and parrots), contravened the Council of Trent’s recent instructions that such paintings should keep closely to biblical texts.
For Inquisition specialists the key concern, but one the inquisitor would not voice directly, was almost certainly the German-looking soldier drinking wine; was this a coded message advocating communion in two kinds for the laity. After Trent, the wine was not to be offered to the laity (except in certain German areas, at the Emperor’s request). If Veronese so intended, he was open to Inquisition sanction.
Though he acted the simpleton, we should recognise that his patrons and friends included humanists and scholars, some not averse to certain Lutheran ideas.
Professor Christopher Black
University of Glasgow
Sir, I flew into Heathrow airport on Saturday from India where I had been through Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi airports. They were all excellent and world-class airports. Heathrow, on the other hand, was a shambles. There was a huge queue at EU\UK passport counters. This is because there are now more UK passport holders than ever before. Then came the baggage retrieval (always slow at Heathrow) and hopeless given a couple of planeloads to deal with. It took more than two hours to get out of the airport. One felt one had come back to a Third World country.
Manorama Mathai Moss
Sir, Daniel Finkelstein (Notebook, Mar 8) is right. “Attorneys-General” is ridiculous pedantry, up with which he should not put. Would his correspondents expect senior officers in the army to be referred to as “Lieutenants General” or “Majors General”? Or their Warrant Officers as “Sergeants Major”?
SIR – Mark Hudson’s warning about the death of the West End gets to the heart of an argument I have been making ever since Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, was my West End councillor colleague.
If we do not protect London’s unique neighbourhoods, and turn our traditional streetscape into an airport-style shopping mall, why should anyone visit us rather than stay at home in Singapore, say?
In Soho, locals are so disturbed by the homogenisation created by rising land prices that they recently rode to the defence of red light activities rather than welcome in bulldozers to sanitise the place.
Please, Nick: it is time to stop thinking in terms of pounds-per-square-foot and start preserving the premises that house the skills that will always bring money and life to London.
Cllr Glenys Roberts
SIR – Not only has care been chronically underfunded, but there is a £135 million shortfall in new money being given to councils to implement the Care Bill, which enters its final stages in Parliament this week. Better Care Fund money earmarked for joint work between health and social care will instead be spent on introducing carers’ assessments, implementing safeguarding boards, and setting new eligibility criteria. Therefore, the legislation could end up being funded from money otherwise used for acute services.
In the period of the current Parliament, local government’s core funding will fall by 40 per cent, so councils have to cut £20 billion in spending. As a result, councils have had to reduce adult social care budgets by £2.68 billion. Although local authorities have limited the impact on the essential care services that people rely on, these services will inevitably suffer.
We urge the Government to support a joint amendment that will give the Care and Support Reform Programme Board – comprised of local government, the care sector and the Department of Health – the opportunity to say whether the money being made available is the right amount to implement the provisions of this Bill.
Cllr Katie Hall
Chairman, Local Government Association’s Community and Wellbeing Board
Chairman, Care and Support Alliance
Dr Jo Farrar
Lead on health and social care, Solace
SIR – It was with great amusement that I read that Yulia Tymoshenko sent her daughter to Rugby so that she could see “what a free and democratic society was like”. I wonder what the children of ordinary Europeans attending ordinary schools would think of that idea. If the people of Ukraine expect to live like children attending Rugby, they have a sad disappointment awaiting them.
My great-grandfather was the patron of Taras Shevchenko, the writer who is considered the father of the Ukrainian language. I wonder what Shevchenko would think of the way in which the Ukrainian language is being used at the moment as a weapon to boost nationalism.
Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire
SIR – You report that a couple gave up their aircraft seats to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (March 7). When my aunt was married in 1939, the family reserved seats at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, for the evening after the wedding. My grandfather was surprised to receive a telephone call from the Castle the day before, asking whether he and the others would mind giving up their seats in the front row of the dress circle, as the King and Queen and their party wished to see the play.
My grandfather agreed to surrender his seats, but on the condition that his family could sit immediately behind the royal party. We still have the photo from the local paper showing our family members just behind the Royal family.
Seal of disapproval
SIR – Has anyone ever successfully resealed a food packet that boasts a resealable tab?
Wistow, North Yorkshire
Rights and dementia
SIR – Being diagnosed with dementia does not necessarily mean a person lacks capacity to make a will, sign a contract, sell property or make other decisions.
Mental capacity is defined by the Mental Capacity Act, and if a person satisfies the requirements then, despite having had a diagnosis of dementia, they can carry out many tasks. As a solicitor specialising in advising the elderly, it is my job to talk such matters through with elderly clients diagnosed with dementia. It may take a little longer to discuss such decisions with these people, but they can and do put their affairs in order by, at the least, preparing a lasting power of attorney so that the person they want can deal with their affairs.
SIR – The Government’s drive for early dementia diagnosis will have two enormous benefits for sufferers.
First, they will be able to have access to the latest treatments, advice and care.
Second, and vitally, before they have lost capacity, they will have an opportunity to “put their affairs in order”.
The myth that dementia sufferers automatically lose their rights over their affairs by having the diagnosis is wrong and endangers the future care of individuals diagnosed with any disease which could affect capacity.
The price of music
SIR – I’d like to think that organ music and lessons are free Sadly, they’re not. The many hours spent practising this complicated art in order to reach the required standard for church service playing mean that other – paid – jobs may have to be sacrificed.
SIR – The slow but definite migration of pens in Cornwall indicates that spring is on its way. Pens migrate from the table beside my armchair next to the fire (where they are used to complete the Telegraph crossword) to the table beside my cane chair in the conservatory (where they are used to complete the Telegraph crossword).
Last week: fireside 8, conservatory 2.
This week: fireside 3, conservatory 7.
Wake up and smell the Londoner’s coffee
SIR – Brendan Palmer wonders why commuters in London walk to the office with steaming cups of coffee and asks whether Southerners cannot manage a proper breakfast. The simple answer is: if we have had breakfast, it is likely to have been two to three hours earlier, and we’re now in need of a top-up.
SIR – I once stayed overnight in Chelsea with my stepson and his partner. As we were all going to be departing in different directions and at different times in the morning – and thus, I assumed, would all be catering for ourselves – I asked them to point me in the direction of the coffee. I was told: “Turn left out of the flat, and right at the end of the road, and you’ll find Starbucks next to the Tube station.”
SIR – Just as perplexing as the “comfort coffee” carried on our city streets are the plastic bottles of water that have long been a de rigeur accessory. Fear of dehydration seems to have become a pathological obsession, fostered by Transport for London, among others. Its widely publicised warnings about the risks of travelling on the Tube without water to hand must have proved a boon to bottled mineral water companies.
SIR – It’s not just the coffee-carrying commuters who amaze me, but the young women who apply full make-up (including eyeliner) on the crowded and jerkily-moving Underground cars during rush hour. Why don’t they get up 20 minutes earlier and so maintain the mystery?
SIR – I served in the Metropolitan Police from 1980 to 2012, for most of the time as a sergeant. If wrongdoing is uncovered in the latest allegations involving Metropolitan Police officers in the case of Stephen Lawrence, then those individuals should be held to account. However, implying that the whole force is out of control or corrupt is wrong and is immensely hurtful to the vast majority of honest, dedicated officers.
While not condoning the extremely poor behaviour of individual officers, in many other cases such deceitfulness is an unintended consequence of putting pressure on officers to reach unrealistic performance targets and a discipline process that does not encourage officers to admit to mistakes made in good faith for fear of Draconian penalties to follow.
A succession of recent commissioners has failed to address issues of honesty and integrity. It is a great pity that, on behalf of the majority of fine officers who deserve better, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is not up to the job of providing clear leadership for the force.
SIR – In the mid-Eighties I established the undercover policing unit (SO10) at Scotland Yard that provided officers to senior investigators to gain evidence in cases of serious crime. Undercover policing is one of the most powerful investigative tools the police service possesses. Though the SO10 officers, of all branches of the service, are among the most highly commended by commissioners and judges alike, the officers’ achievements are most often unreported for obvious reasons.
It appears that an undercover SDS officer may have been employed inappropriately and without a proper framework of conduct. This is reprehensible, but this was not and is not representative of the work of all undercover officers.
The Met should welcome the inquiry announced by the Home Secretary and hope that, as well as revealing shortcomings and any misconduct, both by undercover officers and the officers who controlled them, the terms of reference of the inquiry are broad enough to allow the police service to demonstrate to the public the immense contribution undercover policing makes to combating serious and organised crime.
Scotland Yard has suffered a body blow and is reeling, but incompetence and corruption are not, and have never been, endemic in the Met.
Roy A C Ramm
SIR – In the Thirties there was established at Hendon a police college to train officers for senior appointments. Had this been developed to establish a complete officer level, as Sandhurst does for the Army, perhaps many of the scandals of recent years would not have occurred.
Sir, – I would like to applaud both Rosita Boland for her article entitled “Changes to adoption law have shattered my hopes of becoming a parent” and Cian Traynor for his article entitled “Adoption feels further away than ever” (Weekend Review, March 8th).
I am lucky to have completed an adoption as an Irish parent last year but it took over seven years, changing my country of choice three times, an enormous volume of paperwork, assessments, emotional and physical stress, patience and determination, most of which I experienced after I received my original declaration of eligibility and suitability to adopt and not during my initial assessment, which is the part of the process that most people would expect to be the toughest.
These two articles describe the current intercountry adoption process in Ireland very well without any exaggerations, and while I believe thorough assessment is necessary, nobody in the world should have to go through the ridiculous steps that are in place after assessment in Ireland to adopt a child. Prospective adoptive parents put so much effort and preparation into becoming good parents and giving children wonderful lives with opportunities they may otherwise not have, but the incompetence of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and their lack of progress in completing agreements with sending countries is preventing these opportunities for so many children in need of loving families.
We urgently need to have agreements put in place with more sending countries and more reasonable mediation agency fees. I hope that the two articles shock someone enough to do something about the process here in Ireland and put it higher up the agenda. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I read Ms Boland’s article with shock and dismay. I am an Irish citizen living in Brooklyn, New York. My children and I are fortunate to live in a community where many families have been founded and grown through adoption. The adoption approval process in New York is an arduous one. All those involved know it will be so and are accepting of it. The difference, however, is the knowledge that each case will be treated with respect, fairness and timeliness.
Regardless of outcome, each participant has at least the hope there will be a positive conclusion for both prospective parent and child.
I am saddened and frustrated that my fellow citizens and friends in Ireland are not afforded such a process. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I would like to respond to Rosita Boland and Cian Traynor’s articles. The decision to even try and adopt is long, off-putting and arduous. It turns you inside out. Once you make that decision and start the adoption process, all other attempts at parenthood are put on hold. Technically you cannot foster a child or be engaged in fertility treatment while you are trying to adopt.
Once you are in the process, your whole life, and understandably so, is put on hold and under scrutiny. It is difficult to change your relationship status and you hope that your medical and financial situation stays the same. This situation lasts many years and in the meantime we are all getting older.
The Irish adoption process is all consuming and takes over your life. How sad then to think that it has been really a waste of time, life purpose, energy and State resources.
Saddest of all is that children remain in orphanages while this terrible mess remains unresolved. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – May I congratulate Rosita Boland on her very brave exposure of the current status of intercountry adoption in Ireland? Her personal story is a reflection of the situation hundreds of Irish people find themselves in. In fact the numbers are greater, as the families in the process without declarations yet and those who wish to start the process but who are too disheartened to, are not counted. They still are part of the big picture.
The Hague Convention was essentially a mechanism to protect children but in reality it has served to all but stop intercountry adoption in Ireland. The post-Hague declaration figures are horrifyingly stark and speak for themselves. The Adoption Authority’s assertion that its success is not measured by the number of adoptions it processes is of cold comfort to the hundreds of thousands of children languishing in orphanages around the world.
It is of no comfort either to the people holding valid declarations of suitability, after years of costly rigorous assessment, with no real prospect of affecting an intercountry adoption, as things stand. The inertia from the authority and Government is ruining people’s lives in Ireland and children’s lives in orphanages. The only resolution is to effect bilateral agreements with the sending countries, as soon as possible, to meet the needs of these children without families. – Yours, etc,
Dunboyne, Co Meath.
Sir, – I would like to commend you on publishing Rosita Boland’s article. There are many sides to the Irish adoption story. In my case my partner and I had tried unsuccessfully to conceive for 10 years – 10 years of hope, frustration and disappointment. Yes, of course there was the option of the adoption route. But we decided not to adopt. Why? As your article clearly shows, the Irish adoption process takes many years. It would have been too difficult to put ourselves through all those years of paperwork, interviews and waiting. There are thousands of people like us. The Irish adoption process deters loving people becoming parents to children in need of their love. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – As an adoptive parent I would like to thank Rosita Boland for finally highlighting the failure of the new Adoption Act. I would like to bring to your attention the Adoption Authority of Ireland’s mission statement: “We will work to achieve excellence in adoption and adoption related services, with the best interest of children as our primary concern”. As highlighted in the article, some 3½ years after the Hague Convention, there have been a total of 11 post-Hague adoptions, with 537 declarations of eligibility and suitability to adopt outstanding. In reality this means that a total of 537 children around the world needlessly remain in institutional care. The figures speak for themselves, and there is little to suggest anything excellent or in a child’s best interest having been achieved. It is time for the Adoption Authority to reflect on its achievements to date. “Not fit for purpose” springs to my mind. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I had to write to share with you how utterly startling the figures are in relation to post-Hague Convention intercountry adoptions, as essentially they have stopped, and yet the assessments continue and declarations of eligibility and suitability continue to be issued to unsuspecting and ever-hopeful prospective adoptive parents. What is the Adoption Authority of Ireland going to do about this? In fact, what have they been doing at all? Certainly not supporting these people going through the process and certainly not acting in the best interests of children who continue to need loving homes.
The Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald must start walking the walk and light a fire under the authority and get proper arrangements between appropriate countries reopened. The current state of play, in which virtually no adoptions are taking place, is utterly unacceptable and simply wrong. – Yours, etc,
ELLEN Mac NALLY,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6.
Sir, – In a truly heartfelt and compelling article Rosita Boland has brought to light how little is being done by the Adoption Authority of Ireland to facilitate intercountry adoptions in Ireland. The authority’s view that “The success of the authority’s work is not measured by the number of adoptions which it processes but rather by the quality and propriety of those adoptions” seems to show a complete absence of any desire to increase the number of adoptions taking place, despite so many people already holding their post-Hague declarations of eligibility. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It took 17 years for Ireland to ratify the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption. Another three years have passed since it became law. And instead of having a fully working system we have an adoption process that has simply broken down. Why? We need less of the rhetoric from the Minister for Children and the Adoption Authority of Ireland and more action. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Dr Siún O’Flynn of the medical faculty of University College Cork, speaking of the Australian HPAT test used in selection for Irish medical courses, tells us that it is important “that every candidate gets an equal chance”(“Medical entry test under investigation”, Front Page, March 10th).
The Australian company MedEntry charges Irish young people €595 for a two-day course on the “strategies necessary to solve the problems in HPAT”.
Is it the opinion of Irish universities that young people who cannot afford fees such as those charged by MedEntry get an equal chance of selection for medicine? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The medical schools unanimously opposed the introduction of the Health Professions Admission (HPAT). I attended the meeting with the “expert group”. We were told that the then minister wanted the HPAT introduced, irrespective of our views, and if we did not comply then the funding to our schools would be cut. It is clear that one can be coached for an aptitude test, hence the establishment of grind schools in Dublin and elsewhere. As these schools are expensive they act as a further stimulus to excluding students from deprived backgrounds from entering medical school.
May I also stress that the number of medical students is not controlled by the medical profession. The number of medical students in Ireland is strictly controlled by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). In my experience all doctors have pressurised the Government and HEA to increase the numbers of medical students.
Sadly, having helped to enact the Fottrell report and increase the number of medical students in Ireland, we are now in a situation where over 30 per cent of hospital doctors have not received their undergraduate training in an Irish medical school and doctors continue to emigrate at an alarming rate. – Yours, etc,
SHAUN R McCANN, FTCD
and Academic Medicine,
St James’s Hospital
and Trinity College Dublin,
Sir, – I wish to respond to Frank McDonald’s article “So much for devolution as regional hubs see power and financial clout evaporate”, News Agenda, March 3rd). The Local Government Reform Act 2014 introduces the most radical change to the structure of local government in over a century. The number of local authorities is reducing from 114 to 31 at this year’s local elections and the number of councillors from over 1,600 to 949. This involves the merger of city/county councils in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford, the dissolution of the 80 town councils, and an overall reduction of over 190 statutory local bodies. The resources that have been absorbed in operating these structures and their associated processes will, in future, be more directly and effectively deployed in improving frontline local services and working to enhance the quality of life in local communities. Far from evaporating, finances will be freed up.
From the title to the end of the article there is a focus on cities and towns which is not reflective of the broad range of the reforms that are actually proposed and which will ensure a more democratic representation of citizens and communities across the country and not just in urban areas. To that end, I would like to point out that while the current system of town councils accounts for 46 per cent of all councillors, it only represents 14 per cent of the population and deals with only 7 per cent of local government activity. Under the new system of municipal districts, all areas – rural and urban – will be equally represented at municipal district and county levels, effectively ending the distortion in representation caused by dual franchise, outdated town boundaries and the anomaly of some small centres having town councils while larger centres do not. This is a reform for a modern Ireland that will ensure that decision-making is devolved to the citizens and communities that it will affect.
Contrary to the assertion in the article, municipal districts will be much more than just ineffectual committees with members deciding a range of issues on a fully devolved basis including local area plans, local bylaws, local charges and programmes of works such as roads, housing and amenities. In fact, the reform programme, and the Local Government Reform Act 2014 in particular, significantly enhance the functions of local authorities at all levels.
For the first time in decades real powers are being devolved to local government, including in the areas of local economic development through the establishment of local enterprise offices, community development and in the ability of authorities to generate their own revenue.
In terms of the latter I note that rather than centralising control of the purse strings the rules for the local property tax will actually allow local government discretion of up to 30 per cent on the level of tax to be charged as local service needs demand and all proceeds from the tax go to funding local government.
By any measure of local government reform, this represents a significant enhancement of local democracy, councillors’ powers and an improvement in the financial independence of local government. – Yours, etc,
PHIL HOGAN TD,
Minister for the
and Local Government,
Sir, – I strongly protest your newspaper’s grossly unpatriotic act last Friday by front-paging this corporate tax matter when Dublin was hosting so many European People’s Party leaders, many of whom would have strong views on this vexed and often misinterpreted issue of our corporation tax incentives for both domestic and foreign-owned corporates here (“Apple paid $36 million tax on $7.11 billion profits at Irish unit”, March 7th).
I am all for freedom of information and freedom of the press but with those rights come responsibilities, and I would put it to you that to put these matters on the front page at the end of last week was both irresponsible and gravely unpatriotic in an economic context.
This matter could have just as easily been dealt with in the following day’s edition, insofar as you still considered it a matter meriting such prominent coverage, but to highlight it last Friday was disgraceful and cannot be seen as having been remotely in the national interest. It was not a time-sensitive news item that you had scooped ahead of everyone else. – Yours, etc,
JOHN B DILLON,
Sir, – It was great to see Bono addressing the European People’s Party congress (“St Bono wows EU leaders”, Home News, March 8th). Perhaps we could follow this up by getting Jedward to address the next congress. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I’m sick of the snide asides and downright derisory comments when Bono speaks on topics important to this country. On March 7th he packed the Convention Centre and, with passion and power, he outlined the sacrifices and the endurance of the Irish in this awful austerity programme. And they hung on his every word.
Bono sees a wrong and tries to right it.
Stop with the denigration, already. He’s our greatest ambassador.
Leave him alone and let him get on with it. – Yours, etc,
PATRICIA R MOYNIHAN,
Sir, – I loved all the “Dear World, Love Ireland” letters (Weekend Review, March 8th). But please tell Fintan O’Toole that his last “minus” should have been his first “plus”. We are “the best little country in the world”! I am a 71-year-old mother of six and a grandmother of 21, with hundreds of cousins, nieces, nephews – and the “grand” version of all of those – and whenever I get the opportunity, I tell them all how wonderful I believe they are. That is not just flattery, it is a fact. We are a wonderful people! And we must continue to believe it. – Yours, etc,
* A key principle in any organisation, including the churches, is to find out what is wrong with what you are doing before others do. Organisations thrive on honest, transparent evaluation on the assumption that the truth will set us free.
Also in this section
We all tend to conspire to allow our whispered discontent and suspicion that all is not right with church or state to fizzle out in a general haze of unease. Instead of harvesting these secret murmurings of disillusion, we collude in silencing them.
I have just returned from six weeks in Myanmar after first paying a visit to the protest encampment in Bangkok where we have the courageous expression of opposition to the culture of corruption that has taken root in Thailand, offering an inspiring model of when and how to exercise our voice.
What I find sad is that opportunities to reinvigorate our commitment to the world around us are often wasted by turning our faces heavenwards while ignoring the realities of everyday life – realities towards which Pope Francis urges us to direct our attention. The Pope has recently reiterated his desire to see an increasing focus on life at the parish level, urging priests to immerse themselves in the lives of those they serve.
The abuse scandal was not so much the cause of discontent in the Irish church but the trigger for the escape of years of repressed anger at the failure to engage the intelligence of our people.
The role of the bishops had become completely dysfunctional and will be difficult to redeem. They have been managers but not leaders.
Thankfully, we have gone beyond the day when we allow religion to morph into various forms of benign dictatorship from which many turn away with angry declarations of disbelief in God or in the church’s capacity to inspire us. The fire of militant atheism is easier to ignite than to extinguish.
The separation of religion from reason eliminates rational debate and promotes idolatrous worship of scientific reasoning, restricting the infinite range of human intelligence and imagination.
EDITH ROAD, OXFORD
MAKE A CHANGE IN EUROPE
* For all the talk about whether Bono’s speech to the European People Party’s (EPP) delegate conference in Dublin last week was patronising or inspiring, or why a group of people who are meant to be serious political activists couldn’t stop themselves wilting in the presence of a singer, the Irish media missed the real purpose of the conference and its outcome.
The purpose of the conference was to choose the EPP candidate for President of the new European Commission that will take office later this year and set the agenda for the EU for the next five years or more – an agenda that should involve tackling chronic EU youth unemployment, falling health standards and the gaping lack of democratic legitimacy, transparency and accountability at every level of the EU decision-making process.
So did the EPP pick a dynamic, youngish person, perhaps a woman, with real-life experience outside the political bubble who offers new policies and a new mentality to that of those who have been at the heart of EU decision-making over the last decade?
No, of course not. The EPP picked Jean Claude Juncker (60), a man who was prime minister of Luxembourg for 20 years until he had to resign in December 2013 after losing a general election. He was also the president of the Eurogroup, the gathering of eurozone finance ministers.
In other words, he is the man who headed the group of politicians who oversaw the application of the policy of ‘light touch’ regulation all across the eurozone’s financial sector, and which was involved in agreeing the policy that saw the ECB force an Irish government to choose between accepting all private sector banking debt in return for access to funding when we were excluded from the markets, or no access to lending and having to balance our budget at the stroke of pen.
It is only a matter of weeks before all EU citizens have the opportunity to cast their vote for who they want to have a part in running the EU. The new EU Parliament has the power to elect the President of the Commission based on the candidate proposed by the European Council, taking into account the result of the EU Parliament elections. So the type of MEPs elected does make a difference to the formation of the new Commission.
CANARY WHARF, LONDON
* I would like to admit my admiration for the sincerity of Sean Smith in his letter (Saturday, March 8) re: “I can’t believe in God”. He obviously would wish to have the comfort of believing in a God who is Love. I suggest reading a book by Dr Eben Alexander, ‘Proof of Heaven’.
SHAKE OFF BAD HABITS
* Your cautionary editorial commentary on the many risks of rushing headlong towards rekindling another “phoney building boom” is well constructed and warrants full attention by all relevant players to the fray (Irish Independent, February 24). It’s absolutely vital to establish ethically sound, prudent planning, to say nothing of basic quality construction regulation enforcement.
The erstwhile indulgence of profit-mongering developers remains a travesty of trust and we are still suffering the ramifications thereof.
The fact that many building workers are now filling the dole queues is indeed debilitating, but perhaps it’s an ideal opportunity to fully and truly upskill that labour force.
What about the formal trade apprenticeships, which were de-rigeur many years ago? Let’s build up again from the sureties of ethically sound, morally decent foundations of trust and honesty, leaving the ‘bad old’ habits of yesteryear in oblivion.
LISMORE, CO WATERFORD
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
* I’d like to add to the comments of Martina Devlin and your anonymous correspondent (Letters, March 7).
Just because we’re old, does that make us senile, febrile, dumb? Far from it! Life is a sponge and as we progress, we learn; learn what to retain, learn what to discard, to our advantage. But in today’s world, our accumulated and collective knowledge is not wanted.
I spent most of my working life in the movie industry, 50-plus years. At the age of 17, I started at Pinewood Studios as a clapper-loader, rose through the ranks and ended up in Los Angeles as a producer/director. When my wife and I moved to Ireland in 2006, I contacted an institution thinking that my movie-making experience might be able to contribute something .
Some three months later, I received a terse reply, revealing that subsequently I would be contacted by a member of staff to advise of any position that might be open to me. Needless to say, seven years later, that letter of ‘contact’ is yet to arrive.
FOUR MILE HOUSE, ROSCOMMON
SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE
* I listened, enthralled, to some French and German politicians on Marian Finucane’s show on March 9, as they debated with her in flawless English.
Can you imagine any of our vaunted representatives being invited on to a French or German chat show, and trying to converse in anything other than a laughable version of ‘Pidgin English’?
No? I couldn’t either.
SAN PAWL IL-BAHER, MALTA