12 March 2014 Books
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to test a new weapon will they blow up the flag ship?Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired. Two books sold
Scrabble today I wins but get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Bob Crow, who has died aged 52, reportedly of a heart attack, was for more than a decade the uncompromisingly militant leader of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), and a target of public, media and political anger through his belief in strike action as a first step rather than a last resort.
A bull-necked London docker’s son who gathered around him a cadre of class warriors, Crow came to prominence resisting John Major’s privatisation of the railways. Denouncing it as “vandalism” intended to put money into shareholders’ pockets, he was hard put to explain the unexpected doubling in passenger numbers that followed.
Both before and after his election as the RMT’s general secretary in 2002, Crow dismissed any new government initiative towards the railways as an attack on his members that would maximise profits while putting passengers’ lives at risk. Renationalisation was his panacea, and for a time he sought to bring it about through coordinated strikes, once disrupting seven train operators out of 25 over local grievances.
Crow rated himself a “Communist-Socialist”, belonging in turn to the Communist Party, its hard-line successor based around the Morning Star, his idol Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and finally no party at all. He opposed the EU and the monarchy (wanting Tony Benn for president as a “true representative of working people”), and believed in the death penalty.
His relationship with Labour was even worse than with the Tories. Crow accused Tony Blair of having “squandered a massive landslide from an electorate hungry for change” and of pouring “billions of public pounds into private pockets and [accelerating] the growing gap between rich and poor”.
He had John Prescott, a former official of the union, expelled for failing to renationalise the railways, then resigned from the board of Transport for London after the exasperated mayor, Ken Livingstone, urged workers to cross the RMT’s latest picket line. In 2004 Labour expelled the RMT from the party.
Crow personified his union’s motto of “Agitate, Educate, Organise”, but also shared with his beloved Millwall FC the unofficial slogan: “Nobody likes us, and we don’t care”. His industrial tactics – learned from Scargill – were crude. Negotiators from other unions would look on in despair as Crow opened a meeting with Network Rail or some other employer by leading his acolytes out before the talking had begun.
Often his first step was a strike ballot, with negotiations only on the eve of disruption, if then. He once told West End retailers who warned that another Tube strike would put them out of business that they would be “casualties of war”.
Yet rail industry managers acknowledged that once Crow had driven a bargain, he kept his word. And on his watch, friction between the RMT and the other two rail unions, Aslef – whose members it had tried to poach – and the Transport Salaried Staff Association, gave way to cooperation.
Despite his public face, Crow was a man of considerable intelligence, and his strategy bore some fruit. Membership of the RMT rose consistently during his years in charge, as the headcount in other unions continued to shrink. Tube train drivers’ pay topped £50,000 a year by 2012, and wages across the industry increased faster than the average. And though the railways were not renationalised, Network Rail did bring track maintenance in-house after a couple of fatal lapses, and a government-backed company took over the East Coast rail franchise after two private operators handed back the keys.
Opening the union’s education centre at Doncaster in 2012, Crow said: “The RMT is sending a warning to both the boss class and the political class that this trade union is building for the future with plans to train up and tool up hundreds of new militant activists who will drive the RMT’s brand of industrial trade unionism deep into workplaces the length and breadth of the land.”
That militancy originated not just with Crow but with a number of others who had infiltrated the industry – and especially London Underground – during the 1980s, the far Left groups they belonged to having concluded that British industry was now too weak for there to be any point in subverting it.
Key lieutenants included Pat Sikorski, a Trotskyist university graduate and Tube guard whose attempted sacking in 1993 brought chaos to the Central Line; and Greg Tucker, secretary of the RMT’s Waterloo branch which in British Rail days had stood almost alone to block the operation of trains without guards.
Crow sought to spread his brand of activism across the entire trade union movement. He consistently backed any group of workers with a local axe to grind in the hope of heightening militancy and creating fresh opportunities for action.
Never possessing a driving licence, Crow travelled everywhere by public transport. He continued to live in his council house at Hainault, north-east London, despite enjoying a six-figure pay package and lavish union entertaining. His lifestyle occasionally made the headlines, notably earlier this year when he was photographed on a luxury winter sun cruise from Barbados to Brazil. Three days after he returned from the three-week jaunt, 10,000 of his union members walked out on strike, causing chaos for commuters in London. The RMT’s appointment of Crow’s wife to run its credit union also caused consternation; he explained that she had been the only applicant.
Robert Crow was born at Shadwell in the East End of London on June 13 1961, the son of George Crow and the former Lillian Hutton. The family moved to Hainault when he was small. He determined to be a footballer, but gave up after having “a really hard time getting into the school team” at Hainault Forest High School.
He left at 16 to join the Underground, whose Central Line depot is the main local employer. He began watering plants in the chairman’s office and making tea for maintenance workers, but by 18 was working on one of the Tube’s track gangs which have traditionally produced rugged and colourful personalities.
When Crow fell out with his foreman, he took his case to a union meeting; before long he was making his name in the National Union of Railwaymen as a compelling speaker and canny organiser of strikes. By 1990 when it merged with the National Union of Seamen, he was on the NUR’s national executive.
In 1994 Crow was elected the RMT’s assistant general secretary, and his influence grew as Jimmy Knapp, the union’s long-serving leader, wound down. It was Crow who in 1996 warned Blair against “interfering” when the Labour leader, with an election nearing, urged Tube drivers to call off a series of strikes.
When Knapp died in harness in 2001, Crow went for the leadership. On New Year’s Eve two men attacked him near his home with an iron bar; he blamed “muscle” sent, he claimed, by the employers.
Crow polled twice as many votes as both his rivals put together, and in February 2002 took office as general secretary, installing busts of Marx and Lenin in his office. He also joined the TUC general council.
He started by ordering an audit of the union’s properties. Discovering that Prescott was just about to purchase his subsidised union flat under “Right to Buy”, Crow vetoed the deal, saying the deputy prime minister could afford the market price.
The RMT halted the Underground four times in three months over drivers’ pay, ending the action only when Livingstone promised arbitration as soon as he was installed as mayor. Within two years, Livingstone had had enough of continuing disruption.
A decade later Boris Johnson, standing for re-election, put up posters warning that if Livingstone came back, so would Crow. Crow sued for libel and lost; Johnson narrowly fought off Livingstone.
In 2009 Crow stood for the European Parliament on the “No2EU” ticket, polling 17,758 votes across London. He was also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Controversial to the end, he made his last media appearance the evening before he died, telling Radio 4’s PM programme that MPs deserved a pay rise.
Millwall apart, he was interested in boxing, darts and meteorology.
Bob Crow is survived by his partner, Nicola Hoarau, a son and three daughters.
Bob Crow, born June 13 1961, died March 11 2014
The call by John Blackwell, head of the British Veterinary Association, to ban the religious slaughter of animals is, in fact, in accordance with the recommendation repeatedly made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (Top vet calls for reform of halal and kosher slaughter practices, 6 March). FAWC’s advice was first set out in 1985 and then reaffirmed in 2003: the “council considers that slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and that the government should repeal the current exemption”. However, both the Thatcher and Blair governments rejected the advice. The reasoning of the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in 2003 was that “the government is committed to respect for the rights of religious groups and accepts that an insistence on a pre-cut or immediate post-cut stun would not be compatible with the requirements of religious slaughter by Jewish and Muslim groups”.
In other words, heightened religious sensitivities, combined with the fear of Jewish and Muslim religious lobbies, have led to successive governments ignoring the advice of their scientific advisers and the pleas of animal welfare organisations. By so doing, they have provided an exemption to the law on animal cruelty, which not even advocates for fox hunting are granted.
It is important to note that a number of other European countries have already outlawed religious slaughter (including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Poland); those countries that take the prevention of cruelty to animals seriously ought to follow suit.
Dr Rumy Hasan
SPRU – Science & Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex
• As a vegan for more than 30 years I am fascinated by those outraged over halal/kosher slaughter. I sincerely hope they never eat animal flesh or dairy products abroad, as “humane slaughter” (an oxymoron) is not practised in so many parts of the world. Do all those in high dudgeon over this issue ever holiday in destinations like Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia, Dubai? Do they go vegan while there? My guess is most don’t. Worldwide, 60bn animals a year are intensively bred, fattened and slaughtered, and the meat industry is growing. The livestock industry is a ruthless and brutal one. Animals are a “product”, a “crop” to be “harvested”.
Of course, being squeamish Brits we kid ourselves that the 1bn animals killed in the UK each year had “nice” lives and went to the knife in a “humane” manner. It is a myth.
• The article about Jewish and Muslim animal slaughter (Our slaughter is humane, 7 March) reminded me that, as a junior technician at Liverpool University, I used to have to go to Liverpool’s main abattoir to collect newborn calf blood for research into viral diseases including smallpox, influenza and German measles (rubella). I was an animal lover and a member of the RSPCA when younger. I witnessed at very close quarters the two forms of slaughter, the captive bolt and the Jewish method described in the article. The calves I saw killed by the latter method appeared to die cleanly and almost instantly. If I had to watch animal slaughter again, I would choose to witness this method every time.
Zero-hours contracts are worse even than you stated (Report, 10 March), as those on zero-hours (and also short-hours) contracts may be unable to build a state pension. At the moment, if you are on jobseeker’s allowance, you build a state pension. For free. But if you work 30 hours a week at minimum wage, but split between, say, two 15-hour zero- or short-hours jobs, each below the lower earnings level of £5,700 pa, you cannot add the hours together to bring you into national insurance, and you end up with no state pension. Unemployed and you build it. Work 30 or 40 hours a week in several jobs and you don’t. So you are not only exploited during your working life, you may carry the effects of that into your retirement.
Labour, House of Lords
• I don’t follow football but am the aggrieved mother and grandmother of two avid Sheffield United fans. How dare you back their FA Cup opponents (In praise of… Kingston upon Hull, 11 March)? What happened to your impartiality? I’d have cancelled my subscription, but you redeemed yourselves by employing Sheffield-born Owen Jones (Comment, 10 March), who I hope will also forgive you.
• The cryptic crossword was sighted on Saturday in its natural habitat, the weather page. Could it go back there permanently? At present it is usually on the Guardian Offers page – better than when it was on Sport, but still not right. The crossword is soothing, like the shipping forecast – more so when on the same page as the weather, less so when sharing a page with advertisements or men’s legs.
Binsted, West Sussex
• As a Senior Railcard holder for many years, I received a promotional email from a rail ticketing agency encouraging me to purchase a ticket to visit my mum on Mother’s Day. Somehow I can’t locate “heaven” on the drop-down station menu. A Senior (Railcard) moment?
• I believe that at Ford family funerals you can wear any colour you like, as long as it’s black (Last surviving grandson of Henry Ford dies, 10 March).
• Hello, it’s goodbye then is it to the Gilbert O’Sullivan letters (3 March)?
I fear that Chris Huhne’s confidence in the “miracles” of technology and scale provides false reassurance that cheap batteries will revolutionise the renewable energy market (Comment, 10 March). World lithium production would need to double to convert this year’s car production to hybrid battery/combustion engines. Supplying electric cars at the scale he envisions, let alone replacement of a national grid with energy storage at a domestic level, will remain out of reach without huge gains in battery technology, usage and materials recycling. Moreover, the geological concentration of lithium within a few countries may bring geopolitical tensions similar to those arising from fossil fuels.
Yes, we are facing disruptive changes in energy supplies; but it is reckless to pretend that adjustments to the cost of lithium battery packs for high-end cars present the path to a safer global future. These kinds of reassurances need to reflect that “miracle technologies” are the hard-won fruits of investment and talent in energy storage methods and materials.
Dr Eddie Cussen
Department of pure and applied chemistry, University of Strathclyde
You report that the Women’s Library has a new home (10 March), but its removal from London Metropolitan University to the London School of Economics takes place during an intense period of softening up of higher education in readiness for privatisation.
The LSE was the sole bidder for this unique historic collection, one of the largest in Europe, and, from the outset, The LSE declared that it would remove the collection from its purpose-built home in Aldgate. Why? The LSE is part of the global elite, it makes vast surpluses year on year and could easily have set aside a relatively small sum to maintain the Women’s Library at Aldgate. More than £1bn of surplus funds are accumulated in the sector annually.
The move will inevitably mean parts of the collection being integrated into LSE collections, leaving it with fewer independent objective characteristics. As a non-STEM uni, the LSE may also use it as a corporate brand to secure dwindling public research funds. Less privileged post-1992 polys may have to give way.
The Women’s Library is not just a collection of books and artefacts of suffragette history, it is a mechanism through which sexism and oppression can be meaningfully fought in the interests of everyone. It has a long-standing historical link to London’s East End, a fact ignored by your article. Women of the East End were instrumental participants in the class struggles of the early 20th century and most were Irish immigrant labourers ejected from the main suffragette body because their working-class heritage meant they were considered too radical.
The move from Aldgate to Aldwych has removed the collection from its working-class base; I hope it also doesn’t fracture it into class-based narratives, joining it with largely middle-class and conformist strains of feminist thought. Or will the Women’s Library be imprisoned in its new “home” as a housewife confined to her house?
Unison steward, London School of Economics
Owen Jones is right to call for the Metropolitan police to be abolished (The Met’s problem isn’t bad apples, it’s the whole barrel, 10 March). This is indeed the only solution to the endemic problems of failed accountability and unacceptable practices exposed over many years. There’s a central feature of the Met he does not pick up on, however, that goes to the heart of its problems – its peculiar hybrid character. The Met is a regional/borough police service combined with an ad hoc array of national functions it “hosts” for other forces and the Association of Chief Police Officers, resulting in a vast bureaucracy characterised by astonishing levels of mismanagement and complete absence of management accountability in areas critical to public confidence.
The cultural origins of the Met’s national profile lie in the evolution of provincial English policing from modest municipal roots; but the days when small and rather amateur borough or shire forces had to “call in the Yard” when there was a murder on their patch are long behind us.
The only reform we have had in recent times is (generally ineffectual) reorganisation of civilian oversight of the Met. Yet now, with an elected mayor in place of the Metropolitan Police Authority, what do we hear to reassure the public that recent scandals will not simply be repeated in different guises in years to come?
With the emergence of the National Crime Agency as a quasi-national police force, the time is ripe for rationalising its functions vis-a-vis those of the Met, directing the latter’s future to serve the people of London and strengthening the democratic accountability of both.
Beckermonds, North Yorkshire
• Owen Jones is right that the Met needs structural reform. However, why wait for a royal commission? As I suggested at my lecture to the Centre for London in November as part of my mayoral campaign, an immediate start can be made by hiving off key national functions such as anti-terrorism and diplomatic protection, so that the organisation’s focus would be solely on London. The Met is simply overloaded and unmanageable, and breaking it up would be an excellent start of the reform process.
(Seeking selection as the Labour candidate for the London mayoral 2016 election)
• Some of the issues described by Owen Jones could also be applied variously and justifiably to other forces throughout the country; so perhaps his proposed “redesign” should apply nationally. A logical development of this would be to review whether it is either necessary or efficient to maintain 39 separate police forces in England, and a further four in Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland manage with one apiece). The operation areas of these forces are largely defined within historic county or administrative boundaries that are seldom respected by criminals. Perhaps the time has come to explore the feasibility of a single UK constabulary – preferably devoid of the obligatory quasi-militaristic passing-out parade routine.
• Bob Morgan (Letters, 10 March) reminds us that not all the Met’s staff were involved in the disgraceful events surrounding the death of Stephen Lawrence and its aftermath.
The problem is that recent disclosures have to be seen in the context of the behaviour of the Met’s management; it is this that has done so much to damage the organisation’s reputation, rather than the behaviour of a few rotten apples.
The failures of management in the Stockwell shooting, both before and, perhaps more importantly, afterwards, when lies were repeated endlessly at senior level, just as after the Duggan shooting, the Tomlinson killing and plebgate; the inappropriate deployment of undercover officers in nonviolent organisations, and subsequent lying, by omission and commission, about their role and behaviour; the commissioner who thought it appropriate to take thousands of pounds worth of free hospitality; the inappropriate closeness of senior management with editors and newspaper proprietors; the failure at senior level to recognise the damage done by racially dictated stop and search and racially disproportionate numbers of deaths in custody; these all add up to a police service whose “leadership” has lost its way.
Michael Griffith Jones
Gary Younge asks What is the point of Obama’s presidency? (28 February). The undeniable response would be that it is the ultimate demonstration of the pointlessness of hope in the age of patronage and the wholesale purchase of power by corporations and vested individuals.
His is the reign of ruin that hopefully heralds the end of this sham “democracy”. It is the full stop in the sentence that is political power by party. People of hope and belief have finally confronted the reality that there is no saviour in this system nor will there ever be, that this system is fundamentally stacked against the democratic desire of the people of the nation.
This is the century when an educated, aware and civil society makes the necessary evolution from representation to participation in a real democracy. It is time for the good people of our nations to take up the vote and fight against the insidious influence of unchecked power. There is a purpose greater than shopping, tweeting, status updating or pleasure purchasing in this internet and our media. That purpose is a real-time, 24/7/365 living democracy that converts your thoughts, passions and beliefs into choices.
So it is time to sack the board and replace them with direct shareholder action, a real democracy, based on the rule of law and the inalienable right to vote on every issue. The mechanism of a simple majority is a direct method for decision making; in a world of real democracy there is no “wrong” decision, just the opportunity to make a better one.
Broome, Western Australia
Women in politics
As a man, I was appalled by the disgusting treatment of women in politics and heartened by female politicians’ continuing efforts to achieve gender balance and change attitudes in human governance (Who would be a woman in politics? 28 February). For most of history, fearful males proudly justified the most atrocious behaviour toward the “weaker sex”, from witch-hunting and burning, to rape and mutilation as a means of terror and control.
Based on some of the more primitive suggestions by male politicians from Italy to Afghanistan as to how their female parliamentary colleagues deserve to be treated, it is no wonder their political systems are rife with corruption, inefficiency and stagnation. Such hate-filled remarks suggest deep-seated psychological issues that would render anyone unfit for public office.
In Australia, Julia Gillard endured endless criticism by male parliamentary colleagues, supported by vile slurs in the press. As head of a minority government in difficult economic circumstances, Gillard’s performance was no less competent than that of many recent male leaders, yet the personal vitriol directed at her was unlike anything those men have had to deal with.
Women as leaders will not always be wiser or less prone to failings, but history has given men long enough to live up to their own rhetoric of fair, just and democratic societies with only the most glacial progress to show for it. Women make up roughly half the population on this planet: do the math, man up and get used to more equal representation.
• What a great choice the Guardian made in picking Penny Wong to feature in the 28 February article about women in politics. Of the women in Australian politics she stands head and shoulders above the rest (that she slays most of the men almost goes without saying).
She is articulate and intelligent, answers questions without evasion, and is something that no more than half a dozen Australian politicians are: gracious and thoughtful. Always great value on any talk show involving politics, she’s well informed and a pleasure to listen to.
Penny Wong for PM? I wish.
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
• It is very good news for humankind and for the world of nations that Helen Clark may be the next secretary general of the United Nations (28 February). As a lifetime citizen of New Zealand, I want to say to the world that her time as prime minister of this country was a high point of governance, democracy and clarity of vision for the future.
Auckland, New Zealand
Crisis in the Crimea
Your excellent coverage of the Ukraine crisis is a reminder of, among other things, the crucial importance of warm water ports on the Black Sea and who controls them (West scrambles to contain fallout of weekend uprising, 28 February). It is these ports that give essential alternative sea access to the rest of the world in winter when the ports on the northern European shoreline freeze over.
It’s a point that will clearly not be lost on powers external to Ukraine – western Europe and the US on the one hand, and Russia on the other – as well as those forces within Ukraine contesting each other for control of the country.
The Crimea has long been a contentious prize in international conflict because of its strategic significance, so the current concentration of Russian land and sea forces there is no surprise whatever.
Adelaide, South Australia
• After months of civil unrest the Russian military has occupied the Crimea, and threatening to take over Ukraine. This has raised the ire of many leaders in the west, particularly the US president. While the words of condemnation continue, the Russian military keeps pouring troops into the troubled country.
Anyone who has been following the troubles would have to come to the conclusion that it was outside forces that were stirring up strife in Ukraine.
It is no surprise that Russia has taken the action it has. There is no way that Russia will allow Ukraine to join the EU and Nato. Putin is intent on building an Eurasian empire, and will stop at nothing to achieve that goal.
Besides, which country in the last 50 years has invaded more countries, with bombing and slaughtering, than the US?
I think it is hypocritical for the US to be posturing on the high “moral” ground when it has done far worse things.
Glen Aplin, Queensland, Australia
• The west’s spineless response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 emboldened President Vladimir Putin to take a bigger prize. Wind the calendar back 76 years. Substitute Georgia for Czechoslovakia, Ukraine for Poland and Russia for Germany. Now, what should we do this time?
Adelaide, South Australia
Aren’t homes places to live?
Are homes meant to be investment opportunities or places for people to live? Anyone reading Scandal of EU’s empty homes (28 February) would wonder whose interests Europe’s decision makers are serving.
But if one casts an eye at the west’s tax systems, one can only conclude that we have governments of the speculators, by the speculators and for the speculators. Honest work is frequently hammered by the highest tax rates, whereas those who “reap where they do not sow” are beneficiaries of tax favouritism.
Australia’s sweeping 2010 tax review recommended that properties be encouraged to be put to optimal use by a substantial federal land tax, which is almost impossible to avoid no matter how large one’s battalion of tax lawyers. Why are we not surprised that our system of lobbyocracy soon committed nearly all of these recommendations to oblivion?
Intolerance in India
Reading about the pressure from zealous Hindus and Muslims in India to proscribe literature they consider offensive (‘Alternative’ history of Hindus is pulped, 21 February), I couldn’t help calling to mind an incident in Pondicherry, in south India, just a few short years ago, in February 2007. Wandering through a prosperous part of town, I came across an English-language bookshop, and went inside. What met my eyes was a pile of freshly printed copies (in English) of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. I doubt that this would have been tolerated in most countries in the west. Given such a stirring example of free speech, it is surprising to read of the current intolerance. Or is it sauce for the goose, but not for the gander?
• Aren’t all these arguments, manoeuvres, threats by David Cameron, José Manuel Barroso and others to “persuade” Scotland not to leave the Union becoming a bit suspicious (21 February)? Scotland should raise the stakes.
• In the Guardian Weekly of 28 February, the photo caption at the lower-right of page 25 (“Times Square, New York, as seen from the top of the Chrysler building”) is incorrect. Times Square, on 42nd and Broadway, cannot be seen at such an angle from the Chrysler building, which is several avenues east, on 42nd and Lexington Avenue.
Maspeth, New York, US
I am delighted to see Nick Clegg standing up for the EU last weekend, in the face of an increasingly vocal Eurosceptic political faction.
He made a very important point: the European elections are the most important in years; they effectively act as a mini-referendum, and we have two choices – in or out, that is, the Liberal Democrats or Ukip
Our EU membership generates jobs for this country. In an increasingly globalised world, we need to stand tall with our European cousins, to protect ourselves from security threats, and protection of the environment is a huge issue which can only be tackled at the supranational level.
I was also pleased to see the Liberal Democrat leader saying his party were not offering unbridled support to the EU. They recognise that, just like all institutions, the EU needs reform to ensure it moves with the times and continues to work effectively. The Liberals have always been reformers.
The Liberal Democrats want to steer the European Union into a direction which most benefits Britain, which can only be done from within, with hard-working British MEPs continually negotiating and settling policy. It cannot be done by those who take a huge salary with the intention of achieving nothing. I refer to those who want us to leave the EU.
Richard Grant , Ringwood, Hampshire
It is clear that if the electorate dislikes or is suspicious of the EU, then the May elections are the time to act.
Such voters cannot possibly vote Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green. A vote for any of these parties would actually lend unwitting support to the EU. To a greater or lesser extent, all are Europhile parties which simply cannot be trusted with regard to the imperialistic, federalist agenda of Brussels.
Non-voting should never be an option for anyone – like it or no – in EU elections at least; we have to vote Ukip. There really is no viable alternative.
Les Arnott, Sheffield
It is a measure of senior Tory inhibition about the EU that the Camerons did not automatically think of availing themselves of the benefits of the European Single Market and its inbuilt mobility of labour when hiring a nanny (“No 10 forced to check how PM’s nanny gained British citizenship”, 8 March).
David Cameron is on a hiding to nothing trying to persuade key EU friends such as Angela Merkel that he is, deep down, a good European when he and his wife consider the obvious solution to the nanny problem a Nepalese one.
David Head, Navenby, Lincolnshire
Fearless union leader will be sorely missed
Winston Churchill was never one to shy away from controversy – or from a good turn of phrase. “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life”.
This quotation well applies to the huge role in British public life played by Bob Crow. The leader of the RMT Union was undoubtedly a divisive figure, but it is precisely that fearlessness in standing up for what he believed in that will be sorely missed.
Although Bob Crow’s reputation was a divisive one, we should also see his passing as a time for us all to remember what the unions have achieved for every single one of us, no matter what our political colour.
Weekends; the eight-hour working day; paid vacations; lunch breaks; ending child labour – the list goes on. Without people like Bob Crow and the unions they represent these basic human rights would never have become the laws that we take for granted today.
Matt Hawkins, London Green Party, London SE23
As a trade unionist and a socialist I was shocked to learn of the death of the RMT’s General Secretary, Bob Crow.He was hated by the transport bosses and their media lickspittles, but he was loved by his members and his class. Where other trade union leaders talked a good fight but sold out the struggle more often than not, Bob Crow walked the walk as well as talking the talk.
He delivered for his members and would not compromise in defence of their terms and conditions. He never sold out.
The best tribute the RMT can pay him is to smash Transport for London’s plans to close all ticket offices on the Tube and 900 jobs with them.
Rest in Peace, Bob Crow, and thank you for reminding us what a real trade union leader is and does.
Sasha Simic, USDAW Shop Steward, C133 branch (PC), London N16
No hiding the horrors of war
There is an issue you do not seem to be aware of in your editorial of 10 March, which deals with whether the full horrors of war should be shown on our television screens.
It is this: any British citizen who supports a war in which the country is directly involved (such as those against Afghanistan and Iraq) must be held personally responsible for all the deaths and injuries, however horrific, which British armed forces (or those of countries directly allied with Britain) have perpetrated against civilians whether by “accident” or design. Only an opposition to the war communicated to the authorities can acquit a citizen of this responsibility.
It then becomes essential to bring home to supporters of the war, whether they like it or not, just what they have consented to. If, say children are dismembered or burnt alive (as they invariably are in modern war) then there should be no holding back on what is shown on TV or elsewhere.
Since children cannot be held responsible for what their seniors do, the transmissions should be at a time which aims to protect them.
Malcolm Pittock, Bolton, Greater Manchester
Save us from a slow, grim death
I fully agree with John E Orton’s comments (Letter, 11 March) on the subject of Alzheimer’s and assisted suicide. Like him, I witnessed the terrible spectacle of an elderly family member, who was physically and mentally infirm, slowly dying.
Pneumonia and infections, all of which might have brought a dignified end to her life, were pointlessly treated with antibiotics for many weeks until she became a demented skeleton on a hospital bed.
She could make no decisions, and we were powerless to intervene.
This experience has prompted me to make an advance decision, in consultation with my doctor, who wishes that more people would do so. I hope that this will mean that I and my family will never be in such a situation.
Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire
An unjust tax on family homes
In his insightful article on the mooted, absurdly named, impractical and unjust “mansion tax”, John Walsh (6 March) addresses a number of points that the Labour Party has refused to address in my attempts to communicate with it on the subject.
Thousands of families who have bought homes in London over the past 30 years or more will find themselves subject to an extortionate wealth tax on the market value of an asset which bears no resemblance to the original purchase price and generates no income.
Consequently, thousands of homes will have to be sold by those families who do not have and who may never have had sufficient income to pay such a tax.
Expand and increase council tax bands, impose progressive rates of tax on higher income, even impose a wealth tax on the genuinely asset-rich, but do not force thousands of ordinary families to sell their long-owned family homes to pay an unjust tax.
Nick Eastwell, London SE10
Daylight across the Continent
Peter Kellett (letter, 10 March) misses the point. It is not our longitude that determines which time zone we should be in but rather (as a northern country) our latitude.
Most of France and all of Spain are south of the UK, and Madrid, in the same longitude as Exeter, has 80 minutes more daylight in midwinter, giving them much greater flexibility in arranging their time zone. No amount of clock-fiddling will change this inescapable geographical fact.
Christopher Anton, Birmingham
Let them eat meat
I deplore Ben Williamson’s suggestion that we should tax milk, eggs and meat on health grounds (letter, 7 March).
At a time when real incomes are falling and food prices are rising faster than inflation, such a tax would make it even harder for those on low incomes to eat healthily and enjoyably. The parallel with cigarettes is false; these foods are not unhealthy as part of a balanced diet,
Julian Gardiner, Elstree, Hertfordshire
Sir, If Caribbean nations were to sue the UK for the harm done by the slave trade (report, Mar 10) it would bring untold wealth to the lawyers employed in such litigation. Cases could go on for years; countries would be bankrupted; generations of claimants would remain unsatisfied — Jarndyce v Jarndyce would seem like a model of swift justice.
For it is not just the Caribbean countries that would sue: the descendants of US slaves could sue the descendants of their former American slave-owners, while African countries would point out that virtually every nation in the world, including some in Africa itself, had exploited their peoples.
And what about Britain’s own claims? It could be argued that the descendants of the Vikings had a case to answer for all that raping and pillaging, which would be interesting since you report (Mar 10) that a million British men (and presumably as many women) are of Viking descent.
Sir, I have not found a single race, nation or culture which has not practised slavery in one of its many forms. Against this background, Britain’s leading role in its abolition — at home and wherever the Royal Navy had reach — stands out as the enlightened, trailblazing exception, and surely an act of atonement more significant than meaningless apologies; something of which we ought to be unashamedly proud.
We should of course offer assistance to less wealthy nations and peoples, especially those linked to us by a shared history, but in the same spirit of altruism which put us at the forefront of abolitionism, not because they seek morally to blackmail us into doing so. Better to reject such attempts out of hand and put our blood and treasure into suppressing the slavery which still exists in parts of the world today.
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire
Sir, I was surprised by your remarks about illiteracy in the Caribbean. In 1949 I went from a school in England to St Mary’s College in St Lucia. The pupils at this school, almost all St Lucians, were far ahead of the standard I had reached in England. It took me two years to catch up. By the 1960s this particular school had produced two Nobel prize-winners. In the 1960s I returned to the West Indies. It was the proud boast of Barbados that its literacy rate, at 98 per cent, was higher than that of the UK. The suggestion that slavery 200 years ago still has an adverse effect on literacy in the Caribbean is ludicrous.
Sir, What sort of justice makes descendants liable for the crimes, or alleged crimes, of their ancestors? Mine were Danish yeomen farmers who had no involvement with slavery or the slave trade; my mother’s ancestors worked out their lives in the Durham coalpits and were likewise guiltless of the sufferings of the slaves.
Britain’s involvement in this form of commerce, a commerce which it successfully brought to an end, lasted less than three centuries while the Arab slave trade is as least as old as the arrival of Islam on the African continent, if not older, and persists to this day. Would the time and efforts of those seeking compensation from British taxpayers not be better spent in putting an end to slavery as it exists in the modern world?
Sir, Most British people abhor slavery and what happened in the sugar plantations. However, if Caribbean governments sue us for slavery, will the descendants of poor mill workers for instance (who existed in near slavery conditions) be able to sue the descendants of wealthy mill owners?
A privileged small section of our society was responsible for the abomination of slavery. Somehow, a fair way of apportioning blame should be found to atone for this terrible legacy, but where does it end? Depressingly there have been atrocities all through history.
The root cause of the problem with the Met is the working-class structure of British police forces
Sir, Your letters and Melanie Phillips’ article (“Corruption: the cancer that’s killing the Met”, Mar 10) suggest that many of your readers have a low opinion of the Metropolitan Police. As a former policeman, turned barrister, academic and employment judge, I share some of those views based on personal experience and many years associated with the wider legal process. However, it is easy to criticise without really understanding the reasons for the unprofessional conduct or making constructive suggestions to improve the quality and standing of police officers.
The root cause of the problem is the structure of police forces in the UK. They are overwhelmingly working-class organisations based on a defensive culture inculcated from the day an officer joins. Everyone starts at the bottom where the majority remain. The belief is that policing can only be taught on the job. No other organisation is so structured. The results are inevitable: the majority of those who come from the better educated leave in due course, and those that stay absorb the “canteen culture”. At no stage is a separate professional objective cadre with its fair share of bright talented graduates created. A few do get accelerated promotion. However,the numbers are small and I would argue that the damage is already done. You can take the officer out of the canteen, but not necessarily the canteen out of the officer.
I am not arguing that recruitment at a higher level means that there should be no mixing with the lower ranks or training on the beat.The Armed Forces and all large commercial organisations manage to give their officer/managerial class equivalent experience and indeed regard it as essential.
Unless or until the whole training and attitude of police officers is changed we will continue to have some corruption, widespread gilding the lily in evidence, primitive attitudes towards those who disagree with them and a general disdain towards the public.
Should such reforms, or something similar, not be implemented, and quickly, I would suggest that the perjorative epithet ‘plebs’ might be used with a degree of justification. Now there’s an irony.
(Met Police 1966-73; Employment Judge 1989-2011) Norwich
Thirty years ago we thought we had conquered tuberculosis — how wrong we were. There are now more cases in the world than ever
Sir, Matt Ridley (Opinion, Mar 10) is right that TB rates worldwide have been falling for nearly a decade, but the rate of fall is less than 2 per cent a year, roughly the same as in Victorian times. The decline in death rate is to be applauded but 1.3 million deaths from a curable disease, mainly in children and young adults, is still far too high.
He is also right to point to the problem of drug-resistant disease which is getting slowly bigger. Thirty years ago we stopped research into cures and vaccines for TB believing it to be a conquered disease. How wrong we were. By 2004 there were more cases in the world than ever before. We would do well to keep up our guard, finding new drugs and vaccines, until TB is eliminated.
Professor Peter D. O. Davies
TB Alert, Liverpool
For the first five years children need continuity, not a constant succession of nannies, however affectionate
Sir, What a depressing article about nannies (Times2, Mar 11). Much research shows that broken attachments in childhood lead to emotional difficulties in adults. Children need consistent and loving carers and when a strong attachment to someone is abruptly broken, their whole world is broken too. If this is repeated over and over during their formative years, eventually they will become numb or even deadened to other people’s emotions. How sad that Rachel Johnson and others are oblivious to the terrible damage they are inflicting on their children by employing nannies for short periods.
Parents need to give much more thought and care to who is looking after their children and for how long. During the first five years children need the same loving people around them and not a constantly changing stream of people.
A retiring doctor pleads for the NHS to be freed from political interference for the length of at least one parliament
Sir, I have just retired after 28 years as a GP in a delightful Norfolk village. I leave the NHS with much regret because I am increasingly unable to provide my patients with the service they deserve mainly because of interference from governments and the introduction of time-consuming and pointless “reforms”. Of course primary care does need some regulation, but can I issue a plea for politicians to establish a cross-party working group and a moratorium on new reforms for (say) five years. This group should start by listening to patients and healthcare professionals on where the NHS should spend its money to achieve a health service that is once again truly world class.
There are serious problems with the NHS, and until it is isolated from party politics for at least one parliament, I fear none of the main areas of concern will be addressed.
Dr John Harris-Hall
Boris Johnson offers a cyclist’s contribution to the HS2 debate — but he forgot about a great 19th-century route
Sir, Boris Johnson need not reinvent the wheel with a new cycle route beside the proposed H2S route (Mar 11). A more scenic route from London to Birmingham already exists — the Grand Union Canal. A cheap towpath upgrade is all that is required.
Dr Steve Rothery
SIR – Group Captain Terry Holloway is quite wrong to regard the wearing of a wing collar with a dinner jacket as a “modern habit”.
When dinner jackets began to be worn widely as a less formal variant of evening dress in the Thirties, they were worn with the same stiff-fronted shirt and wing collar as men sported with tails.
I suspect that what he (rightly) deplores is the habit of wearing cheap evening shirts with an ersatz wing collar attached, which in fact is nothing of the kind.
They are truly dire.
Richard Parkes QC
SIR – Philip Johnston’s article on the country’s preoccupation with gambling refers to the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ statement in 2007 about the consequences of the deregulation of gambling. In this, he quotes my comment at the time that the proposed changes were a “recipe for disaster”.
So it is turning out to be, as Nathalie Thomas’s article (Business, March 6) on fixed-odds betting terminals confirms. Bookmakers have attempted to deal with the adverse publicity around this form of casino gaming in their high-street betting shops by “rolling out a new voluntary code” that allows customers to set limits for the amount of time and money they spend.
This is based on the fallacious notion that gambling behaviour is always rational. Even in betting which involves some skill, this is often not the case. In gaming, where the outcome is wholly dependent on random processes, it easily becomes irrational and impulsive.
Those who have set limits and maintain their initial intention to stick to them do not need the proposed messages, whereas those whose gambling has become impulsive will not heed them.
Dr Emanuel Moran
The law on assisted suicide must be changed to protect vulnerable people
11 Mar 2014
Calling the police
SIR – Philip Williams finds the charges for 101 calls to the police unacceptable. If he found out his local police force’s non-geographical number with an internet search he could call it for free as part of a standard phone package.
SIR – I recently asked Suffolk Constabulary about the cost of 101 calls. They replied that the 15p cost goes to the telephone companies. The police and Government receive no money from calls.
Dr David Rose
A singular snack
SIR – Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is keen to improve the nation’s grammar. Last week, I tried to order a ham and cheese panino. After a moment’s silence, I was told that they only sold paninis (sic). When I said that this was impossible, I discovered that grammatical accuracy does not win you friends.
Missing Malaysian jet
SIR – Is it not possible, with modern technology, to stream the data for a commercial airliner’s black box via a satellite to a ground station? This would mean that investigators would easily be able to access information.
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – Passport checks need to be improved. Every passport should be barcoded – then every passport number invalidated by the issue of a replacement could easily be added to the database. Everyone using an invalid passport would then be easily recognised when they present it.
SIR – Surely the time has come for the BBC licence fee to be abolished (leading article, March 10). The BBC is no longer a public service but a self-serving body.
Let it sink or swim on its own merits, rather than allowing it to rely on taxpayers’ money.
SIR – I note with interest that after chopping BBC Three, the BBC proposes to cut the niche BBC Four channel. I suggest that they prune out all of the BBC local radio stations instead. The only time people listen to them is at the hairdresser’s.
Feeling the flamenco
SIR – I agree with Bernadette McNulty that flamenco is best seen in intimate surroundings.
Once, in a small bar off the tourist trail in Spain, we witnessed the amazing transformation of the townspeople as they spontaneously took to the floor after a performance of flamenco dancing and music by locals. Men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes took on a proud elegance as they too responded to the guitars.
Walking back to our hotel, my husband, who had never danced in his life, emboldened by the wine, gave an impromptu burst of flamenco in the street – to the applause of several young men who happened to be passing.
Sealed with success
SIR – Andrew Sturmey asks about successfully resealing food bags that boast resealable tabs.
An elastic band works every time.
SIR – I do not share Mr Sturmey’s difficulties with resealable packages.
I am, however, consistently defeated by corner pull-tabs which fail to open the packaging. Typically, the tab comes off, and the pack remains sealed. For this reason, I carry a penknife.
SIR – Resealable tags? What are clothes pegs for?
SIR – I wrap my resealable food packet in cling film.
How processed foods are as dangerous as sugar
SIR – Much has been written about the dangers of sugar recently. But sugar intake is only half the story. Fifty per cent of our diet ought to be carbohydrates to give us the energy we require. However, these must be slow-release or they will produce too much sugar too rapidly, which will be stored as fat, unless used up just as rapidly.
Processed flour is a rapid-release carbohydrate and is found in bread, biscuits, cakes, pastry, pasta and in most processed foods. When sugar is added to a diet containing processed foods, sugar levels can become dangerous over time. Many people are unaware of the dangers of consuming so much processed food and to focus on fats or sugar alone is misleading.
Tipton St John, Exeter
SIR – I have a sneaking feeling that this campaign against sugar is the work of the synthetic sweetener industries.
In a hospital waiting room last week, I started a conversation about sweetener with the lady next to me. Surprisingly she knew all about it. Although she didn’t use the word addicted, she did admit she used to drink two to three litres of diet cola a day. She had cut it down to one can a day and had lost about one and a half stone.
But noticeable loss of weight doesn’t always happen when people remove sweetener from their diets. Control of obesity is much more complicated than lowering one’s sugar or calorie intake.
SIR – Hew Goldingham proposes a tax on sugar. But VAT is already levied on chocolate, sweets, carbonated drinks and other “non-food” items.
Christopher R Waite
SIR – Listening to the doom and gloom “experts”, I am reminded of what Kingsley Amis once said: “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare”.
SIR – Those who support and those who oppose a change in the law on assisted dying share a desire to protect potentially vulnerable people. The difference lies in whether the law as it stands, which in effect condones amateur compassionate assistance, offers sufficient protection to vulnerable people.
As peers pointed out during the House of Lords debate on the Director of Public Prosecution’s guidelines on assisted suicide, it is difficult to see how an investigation after someone has died, and where the main witness is dead, can be more stringent than a law with up-front safeguards. Checks must be in place to confirm the diagnosis, prognosis and mental competence of the dying patient. Safeguards are also needed to ensure that the patient is aware of all options at the end of their life, including palliative care.
Whether it is a choice we would want for ourselves, or whether we agree with other people’s choices, the fact remains that this is a choice that some dying people will make. The responsibility of Parliament is to make sure that this process is as safe and transparent as possible. This can only be achieved through a change in the law.
Baroness Jay of Paddington (Lab)
SIR – A free vote in Parliament on assisted suicide is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. The people most in need of a change in the law are not the terminally ill but those who, although still mentally capable of making an informed judgment and expressing it clearly, have had their quality of life profoundly compromised by conditions leading to paralysis or an inability to talk, swallow or breathe without difficulty.
These patients who deem their lives to be intolerable are dependent on others to accommodate their wish to end them in a painless, effective and dignified manner, in surroundings of their choosing.
The protests by members of Care not Killing are disingenuous. For many medical conditions, there is no cure and no relief for the symptoms in question. Sometimes even the best palliative care is ineffective in relieving pain. What right do they have to prolong these people’s suffering to accommodate their own personal beliefs?
With proper regulation, those who express unequivocally and consistently a wish to die should be allowed to have their wishes granted humanely.
A M S Hutton-Wilson
SIR – If politicians make laws that require my profession to get involved in actively killing those in their most vulnerable years, I will resign.
The answer is to invest in excellent palliative care, and all the arguments for assisted suicide will melt away.
Dr Donal Collins
Sir, – Reading Rosita Boland’s brave and moving account of how Ireland’s continued failure to put in place bilateral agreements with Hague Convention-compliant countries has put her own hopes to adopt in serious jeopardy has struck a very deep chord (“Changes to adoption law shattered my hopes of becoming a parent”, Weekend Review, March 8th). Because the system has ground to a virtual standstill since the change in the law, my husband and I are facing the prospect that we will have to leave Ireland if we ever want a family.
This is not an issue about whether those with a sense of entitlement want to flout a law put in place to protect children – this situation means that couples who could provide a loving and stable home for children who desperately need one are unable to do so. Because of the complicated attitude to adoption in this country – linked so strongly in the public mind to various adoption scandals over the years – domestic adoption in Ireland is a rarity. There are thousands of children stuck in orphanages around the world who need and deserve a loving home. No parent would wish to uproot a child from the land they know but for prospective Irish adoptive parents this is what they must do.
We have had many reservations about the adoptive process here since we entered the system six years ago. We learned at our introductory meeting that things would move at a snail’s pace because no additional social workers had been hired in 10 years, despite more couples wishing to adopt. We were dismayed at the costs involved, something that smacked of buying and selling children rather than facilitating what should only be considered as a humanitarian act. We sincerely hoped that the ratification of the Hague Convention would make things better, firstly for the children, but also for us as prospective parents.
In fact, the situation has only become worse. It is impossible to see it as anything other than another example of the Government’s blindness to those who fall outside an extremely narrow definition of family. It is a heartbreaking fact that only the wealthy can afford to remedy their childlessness here if a traditional biological route is not an option.
We do not view parenthood as a right but we know that we can provide a loving and stable home to a child. All we want is the opportunity to be parents, and sadly that opportunity is not open to us in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
and MICHAEL STAMP,
Stoneybatter, Dublin 7.
Sir, – I am writing to you regarding Rosita Boland’s article on adoption, which I found shocking but not surprising. I have a number of close friends in the process and they have been so for several years. To me it seems incredible that the Adoption Authority of Ireland seems to lack any urgency. I have witnessed the stress, upset, highs and lows of the prospective adoptive parents as they board the “rollercoaster of the adoption process”, which I can tell you, and as your reporter described in her article, is not for the faint-hearted.
What the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Minister for Children seem to have lost sight of is the human tragedy that they are letting happen on their watch. Here we have prospective adoptive parents who want nothing more than to provide a lovely and caring environment for a child to grow up in, and where they can reach their full potential. It breaks my heart to think of the thousands of children who have missed out on this start in life already because of the lack of progress. What will become of them, who will hold them, love them, cherish them, and nurse them, where are they now, the lost children that we will never see, who have been denied this opportunity because of a lack of urgency in relation to this matter?
I urge the Minister to make this her number one priority and I thank your reporter for highlighting this tragedy. – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – I must differ from Fr Con McGillicuddy when he asks us to recall that “there was a lack of statutory specialised training in bygone years for childcare” (March 10th).
It was the practice of the Christian Brothers at Artane to receive organised visits from social science students from University College Dublin in the 1960s. Thus they certainly were aware of the specialised training in social work provided in UCD. I know because I attended one such visit.
In 1969 residential childcare centres and congregations from Ireland and Northern Ireland sent their staff, both religious and lay, to study on special residential childcare courses in London and I was pleased to be one of their lecturers for several years. In 1974 a new specialised course for residential childcare workers was opened under the auspices of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee at Cathal Brugha Street. I had the good fortune to provide lectures in sociology to them. Education for childcare workers has been available for the last 50 years.
If Fr McGillicuddy wishes to argue that there was no training for childcare workers in the 1940s and 1950s, I might be inclined to agree with him. However, common decency and humanity in the treatment of little children requires no specialised training; it emanates from love and compassion. – Yours, etc,
Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.
A chara, – Might I endorse Fr McGillicudy’s comments? On a recent visit to southeast Asia, I saw at first hand some of the many schools, colleges, hospitals and other precious facilities provided and staffed over the years by Irish missionaries. Although now usually run by civil or other authorities, the valued works of our missionaries are much appreciated locally. It’s time that we did the same. – Is mise,
Gleann na Smál,
An Charraig Dhubh,
Sir, – It is most unfortunate that a failure by the Department of Health and the HSE to plan for adequate long-term provision should be described as a “demographic time bomb” (“Time to start planning for our demographic time bomb”, Health and Family, March 11th).
Given that we increasingly recognise collective ageing into later life as one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century, bringing a demographic dividend at human, cultural and economic levels, there is no place in public discourse for such negative terminology.
In addition, there is increasing evidence that levels of disability among the oldest old are gradually falling, providing some attenuation of the expected burden of severe disability, and we have seen the introduction of improvements in community care such as the homecare packages.
However, Tadhg Daly is right that present and future generations will regard with dismay the failure of successive Ministers and senior officials in the Department of Health and the HSE to remedy a deficit, widely recognised for many decades, in nursing home places, particularly in urban areas. In addition, the long-advertised failure to upgrade outdated public nursing homes means that many will no longer be compliant with Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) regulations, further aggravating the shortage.
Over the last few decades we have poured hundreds of millions of euro into new hospital developments – the call by Nursing Home Ireland for urgent action should prompt a speedy diversion of such capital spending towards nursing home renewal and development, as well as ready access to funding for nursing home care for those who need it. – Yours, etc,
Prof DESMOND O’NEILL,
Professor in Medical
Centre for Ageing,
Sir, – Recent opinions expressed in the media and in political circles in relation to the leaked recording of the discussions between the Garda confidential recipient and Sgt Maurice McCabe should prompt a public debate on the matter of confidentiality.
It was stated that it was in the public interest to make known the content of “statutorily confidential meetings” between a whistleblower and the confidential recipient. Another opinion expressed was that it would have been remiss of the whistleblower not to take precautions to protect himself by recording the confidential conversation with the confidential recipient.
Based on these opinions the following questions are pertinent, which should be addressed by those holding the above publicly stated views. When might statutory confidentiality be subordinate to the public good? Who decides the public good? What should be the status of Cabinet confidentiality? Where stands the confidentiality between a journalist and a source? – Yours, etc,
Marble Hall Gardens,
Sir, – The recent announcement by the Revenue Commissioners that they intend to pursue those who may have understated the value of their property for local property tax purposes should alert people to a fundamental problem with wealth taxes and one of the reasons why such taxes are not more common.
Any tax based on wealth where that wealth is not absolute (eg, cash in the bank or certain types of bond), but based on market values, means that taxpayers are subject to the vagaries of that market. This is a particular problem where the asset in question does not generate any income.
A taxpayer whose circumstances, including their income, does not change much over a number of years can find himself or herself subject to increasing levels of taxation simply because the market thinks that their house (or that painting that they bought for a few hundred euro from an unknown artist 10 years ago) is now much more valuable than it used to be.
In the light of growing evidence of a scarcity-induced Dublin property boom in the offing, homeowners in the capital should probably gird their loins and start saving now. – Yours, etc,
FRANK E BANNISTER,
Sir, – In addition to the ridiculous notion that a written test done at 18 years can measure your future ability to communicate and empathise with a patient at the toughest time in their life, the concerns regarding a private coaching company apparently predicting HPAT questions (“Medical entry test under investigation”, Front Page, March 10th) further expose the flawed thinking behind the test, ie that one can test potential solely and not rote learning, or “examsmanship”.
One can be coached to do better at any type of test and it would seem that, while the company in question did not have access to the paper in advance, it certainly has the formula for constructing and answering HPAT questions down to a fine art, which they will share with students fortunate enough to have €595 to hand.
The Leaving Cert-based entry system had its flaws, with private grind schools teaching to a predictable exam. However, at least each school was following the same curriculum – and even if it was not a level playing field at least all the students were playing the same game. In that sense, the HPAT is a new ball game – the rules of which are only available at a price.
How many State schools have the time and resources to cater for the handful of students wishing to take HPAT each year and prepare them for this exam in addition to their Leaving Cert? I have not seen statistics looking at the change in backgrounds of those entering medicine pre- and post-HPAT. However, would anyone doubt that even the perceived advantage of these expensive courses puts talented students of lower-income households at a further disadvantage compared to the pre-HPAT days, when working one’s backside off at the prescribed curriculum paid off, without having to pay €595 for the magic formula to this misguided test? – Yours, etc,
Dr NEIL BARRETT,
for Medical Research,
A chara, – The Minister for the Environment and Local Government Phil Hogan (March 11th) presents the Local Government Act 2014 as a significant reform of local democracy and councillors’ powers, and part of his programme of devolving power to local authorities.
Leaving aside the fact that the biggest undermining in recent times of local government was by the same Minister through the transfer of the managing of water services to an unaccountable quango, Irish Water, the new Act does very little to enhance local government powers.
Almost all of the Act, (as with most of the Minister’s letter), deals with the abolition of town councils and changes to local government structures. These moves confer no additional powers on local authorities and will result in no savings.
If the Minister wished to be really radical, he would have given complete control of the “local” property tax to local authorities. Instead, he will continue to control the purse strings by deciding on local government funding levels centrally and permitting councils to debate if they can make a minimal variation.
In sum, the Minister’s policies are rather like asking somebody whether they wish to swallow his bitter tax pill with a pint as opposed to a half litre of water (now supplied by the Minister’s quango). – Is mise,
Cllr MALCOLM BYRNE,
Wexford County Council,
Sir, – I read about the 60,000 target for clampers with a fair amount of annoyance (“Council sets 60,000 target for clampers”, Front Page, March 7th). Dublin City Council says it wants motorists to “park legally” and punishes disproportionately those who do not – or who are unavoidably delayed, sometimes even outside hospitals. Has the council considered that fear of clampers – as well as cheaper rates – may be driving motorists towards private car parks, thus decreasing its regular revenue? In some Dublin streets there are often quite a lot of empty parking spaces. Has the council considered the possibility that the level of illegal parking might simply require fewer clampers? – Yours, etc,
Del Val Avenue,
Sir, – I recently arrived home to find my water brown and black with sediment.
A call to Dublin City Council led to the explanation that there had been a major problem at Marrowbone Lane and water supplies were being redirected throughout many parts of the city. The advice was to leave the water running until it ran clear. All well and good until you remember that shortly the water supply will be privatised (in all but name) and we shall be metered. Then, if we are advised to leave taps running, we will be the ones to pay for system failures.
Is this yet another example of a lack of joined-up-thinking from our current incompetent Coalition? – Yours, etc,
Kilmainham, Dublin 8.
Sir, – In light of John B Dillon’s comments regarding The Irish Times ’s “unpatriotic act” (March 10th) of revealing Apple’s tax arrangements from 2004 to 2008, I would like to offer my congratulations on your scoop. If only it had been reported in 2004 we might have had an extra €854 million in the exchequer when the global financial crisis of 2008 hit. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Frank Flannery (“Flannery may be compelled to attend PAC”, Front Page, March 10th) has now resigned from a number of positions within Fine Gael and the Rehab Group. My question is, why now? Surely the Taoiseach was aware of the various positions that Mr Flannery held and the “odd bit of lobbying” that he did. Did the Taoiseach not question this before and why did he not do something about it? – Yours, etc,
Clondalkin, Dublin 22.
Sir, – Last Saturday I saw my first short-trousered adult male this year. Is this a record? – Yours, etc,
In the run-up to St Patrick’s Day, an event that sees global recognition of Ireland’s own particular shade of green, why is it acceptable that our great and powerful leader can show to the world what is, in my opinion, a contemptuous shade of bias towards the LGBT community? This is an evocatively dismal example of ignoring an issue and hoping it will go away, all for the sake of the long-held tradition of travelling to the big country for the parade.
Also in this section
Learning when to exercise our voice
Letters: Outsiders must stop meddling in Ukraine
Letters: Adams could be IRA whistleblower
As Enda Kenny struts his stuff, representing our country, brandishing a slip of shamrock resembling lost hope from his lapel, the fact that he is happy to participate in the New York parade implies he is not a true representative of all the people of this island.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio has confirmed he will be boycotting the event over the issue, the first mayor in 20 years to do this. The newly elected mayor showed his support to the LGBT community, and to the watching world by standing alongside our very own Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill) as they marched in the long-running ‘St Pat’s For All’ parade in Queens last week.
The organisers of the New York St Patrick’s Day parade do not allow gay participants to carry banners, or use anything to identify themselves as gay.
In an interview with Irish Central in New York, Panti alluded to the fact that the Irish St Patrick’s Day parade has been inclusive for over 10 years, and that the option to march among the people of New York and not state your identity was not something to be accepted: “For us, the parade is just an excuse to have a party outdoors regardless of the weather. All parades are gay. If it isn’t a gay parade it’s just an organised march in traffic lanes.”
The message we send out is a simple one: yes, we have gay members of our community; we have gay politicians; we have gay senators, doctors, teachers, artists, builders, bakers, actors, nurses, writers and sports stars, but we will not be supporting their rights if it means the shamrock has to be sent in the post.
This message obliterates all that this island has to offer, from every member regardless of creed, colour or sexual orientation.
SOLUTION IN UKRAINE
I’m not a fan of Henry Kissinger but I have to agree with most of his article in the ‘Washington Post’ on March 5 on Ukraine. Mr Kissinger’s arguments include: “If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other – it should function as a bridge between them . . . Ukraine should not join NATO.”
Mr Kissinger’s solutions to the Ukrainian crisis need closer analysis: “It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But . . . Russia would recognise Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.”
However, the rules of the existing world order were already broken by the West and cannot easily be put back together again, as the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya can testify. Vladimir Putin seems to have learned some lessons from the NATO intervention in Kosovo.
Mr Kissinger’s good solution is probably a few weeks too late. The delicate sovereign egg of Ukrainian sovereignty has been knocked off the wall, in an East/West tug of war that could lead to civil war in Ukraine and another Cold War in Europe. The effective annexation of Crimea is likely to become de facto.
The real crisis will come either if the West refuses to accept this reality, or if Russia seeks to annex further parts of Ukraine. Peaceful resolution of this crisis under the auspices of the UN and/or the OSCE would be the correct way to go, but the UN is deadlocked and sidelined on the issues and the OSCE may be leaning too much westward. The costs will be borne by the people of Ukraine.
VIOLENCE AND VICTIMS
I read Mary Kenny’s article (Irish Independent, March 10) with complete and utter disgust. I will keep my reply short. The content of Ms Kenny’s article can be summed up in three main points.
1) Poor judgment on the victim’s part. “No state can or should protect individuals against their own poor judgment in personal relationships.”
2) The victims should have known better. “Before you commit, enquire.”
3) It’s the victim’s own fault. “Adult women have some responsibility for their own free choice of partners.”
Well, Ms Kenny, I challenge you to pay a visit to one of the Women’s Refuges. Do so and you will come away enlightened and you will retract the above comments.
ENGAGING WITH UNIONS
The recent Fine Gael Ard Fheis adopted the following motion: “That Fine Gael call on the Minister for Education and Skills to reverse his decision to phase out the externally assessed Junior Certificate and engage with education partners to implement reform while not undermining the credibility of the Junior Cycle.”
Now that the senior party in Government lacks faith in Mr Quinn’s proposals, is it time to reconsider their position and engage in real and meaningful dialogue with the unions?
MICHAEL BARRY (ASTI, CEC),
LEGENDS OF RUGBY
We have been inundated over the last few days with tributes from all quarters to the rugby career of Brian O’Driscoll, which is now coming to a close.
O’Driscoll is well deserving of those tributes. His record as a rugby player speaks for itself, and while I think that calling him the greatest ever Irish rugby player is a bit over the top, the list of the injuries that O’Driscoll suffered playing for Ireland entitles him to the utmost respect.
Perhaps his most famous game for Ireland was against France on March 19, 2000, in Paris when he scored three tries, which helped enormously in the 27-25 victory.
What is always forgotten is that David Humphreys scored the winning penalty in the 78th minute.
O’Driscoll would have been on the losing side if Humphreys had missed. Yet Humphreys rarely gets credit for a great kick under even greater pressure.
Getting older need not be a frightening experience. Now you have the experience of making mistakes, learning from them, and moving on.
With age comes the slowing-down process. Again, not a bad thing, as most people seem to be like headless chickens, running around at 100 miles per hour, and going nowhere. Now you think before you act, and having thought whatever it is through.
Nature takes on a brand new perspective as you realise, in spite of all the power-mad freaks on this earth, it is still a wonderful place to be part of. The dawn chorus of our feathered friends, as they sing their love song to the morning dew. The rising newborn sun each morning telling us we live another day. The flowers opening their buds to embrace mother nature.
Dear friends old and new. The beautiful memories of those who have been called to the other side. Never forgotten, and we keep them alive in our hearts and our minds. We all come in with nothing. And all, rich and poor, depart with nothing. To where? Who knows? Just another journey, as we pass through on our karmic learning curve.
We are pure energy, balls of light, and our poor old bodies merely a vehicle to protect the inner sanctum of our Holy Grails.