15 March 2014 Liz and Ken
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to investigate a strange ship Priceless
Cold slightly better Visit Liz and Ken they seem to be allright
Scrabbletoday Iwins but getunder400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.
Tony Benn who has died aged 88, was Labour’s most controversial late 20th-century figure, leading the Leftward drive that arguably marginalised the party for a generation.
A boyish enthusiast recognisable by his pipe, tape recorder and outsized mug of tea, he aroused greater emotions than any contemporary bar Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher. Yet he rewrote the Constitution by securing Britain’s first referendum and refusing to become the 2nd Viscount Stansgate. Labour’s longest-serving MP (almost exactly 50 years), he won 16 of 17 elections fought, served in three Cabinets and saw his son Hilary enter the Cabinet too.
Benn came from Nonconformist Liberal stock. His grandfather, John Williams Benn MP, founded the family publishing house and led the London County Council. His great-uncle, the Rev Julius Benn, was murdered with a chamber pot by his son, who on release from Broadmoor fathered the actress Margaret Rutherford.
His father, William Wedgwood Benn, a distinguished flier in both Wars, served under Ramsay MacDonald and was Attlee’s Secretary for Air. “Wedgie”, a nickname transferred to his son, was ennobled in 1941. Benn’s mother, Margaret, campaigned for Congregationalism outside the United Reformed Church; Benn considered himself a latter-day Puritan.
Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn was born on April 3 1925, the second son of three. He sat with MacDonald at Trooping the Colour and made his first (non-political) speech aged six at Sir Oswald Mosley’s house. From Westminster School he went in 1942 to New College, Oxford, to read PPE, then followed his brother Michael into the RAF; he was training in Rhodesia when Michael’s death left him heir to the title. Posted to the Middle East, he transferred to the Fleet Air Arm, but Japan surrendered before he could see action.
The young Benn joined the Labour Party in 1943. As president of the Oxford Union in 1947, he debated in America, and after graduating returned there as a Benn Brothers salesman before joining the BBC World Service as a producer.
In 1949, in Cincinnati, Benn married Caroline de Camp, an Ohio lawyer’s daughter; they had met at Oxford, and he proposed only nine days later (on a park bench which he then bought for the garden of their house in Holland Park). Attractive, radical and with a passion for comprehensive education, Caroline Benn became a bête noir for Conservatives who saw her imposing a levelling-down on her adopted country. The Benns’ children went to Holland Park comprehensive, whose governors she chaired.
In November 1950 Benn won the Bristol South-East by-election following the death of Sir Stafford Cripps, and was “baby” of the House for the final months of Attlee’s government. He helped stage Labour’s first television broadcasts, shunned the Bevanite Left (although, like Bevan, he opposed the Suez intervention from the start), and was appointed front-bench RAF spokesman. He became Shadow Transport Minister, won then lost a seat on Labour’s national executive and, unimpressed by Hugh Gaitskell’s “fight, fight and fight again” speech, reluctantly supported Harold Wilson’s leadership challenge.
On November 17 1960 Benn’s father died. The Speaker barred the new Lord Stansgate from the Commons, Buckingham Palace would not take back the Stansgate Letters Patent, and Gaitskell was initially unsympathetic. Some Tories saw an opportunity to return Lords Home and Hailsham to the Commons . The Times insisted on calling him Viscount Stansgate, while The Daily Telegraph stuck to “Anthony Wedgwood Benn”.
The Committee of Privileges ruled against Benn, and on April 13 1961 he stood at the Bar of the House to hear himself expelled. Backed by a mass petition from Bristol, he fought an electrifying by-election. Malcolm Muggeridge and Lord Lambton spoke for him; Sir Winston Churchill gave support. On May 4, Benn defeated the Conservative Malcolm St Clair, himself heir to a title, by 13,044 votes. Again the Speaker barred him, the Electoral Court rejected his arguments and St Clair took the seat in the House.
A Select Committee then recommended allowing hereditary peers to renounce their titles for life. Benn accordingly disclaimed, St Clair sportingly resigned and on August 20 1963 Benn defeated a clutch of independents. Within weeks Harold Macmillan fell ill, and Home and Hailsham charged through the opening to stand for the Commons and seek the Tory succession.
Benn’s youth, his television experience, fascination with technology and lack of ideology endeared him to Harold Wilson, and he wrote many of his leader’s speeches. Then, in October 1964, Labour regained power with a tiny majority. Benn became Postmaster General, preparing the Post Office for independence, launching the Giro and persuading the Queen to overrule officials who deemed Robert Burns unfit to appear on a stamp.
For 17 uneasy months until Wilson won a handsome victory, Benn managed his public relations. He entered the Cabinet in July 1966 when Frank Cousins resigned as Minister of Technology, and threw himself into reinvigorating British industry; Bernard Levin noted “the enthusiasm … of a newly-enrolled Boy Scout demonstrating knot-tying to indulgent parents”.
Much effort went into salvaging the strife-torn shipbuilding industry and merging Leyland with the blighted British Motor Corporation, this fiasco stemming from talks at Benn’s home in 1966. His hi-tech portfolio comprised the RB-211 jet engine, Concorde (a major Bristol employer), a beleaguered computer industry and nuclear projects that were hampered by infighting.
In the 1970 election Benn, no longer Wilson’s confidant, played a backroom role, save for a speech equating Powell’s attacks on immigration with Hitler’s gas chambers; the so-called “Belsen speech” was widely blamed for Labour’s defeat. In opposition, he shadowed Edward Heath’s government through its refusal to back “lame ducks” and the “U-turn” when it nationalised Rolls-Royce.
Benn now metamorphosed into a Left-wing populist. Previously a pro-marketeer, he advocated a referendum on Europe, upsetting both sides before campaigning for a “No” vote. He now joined the Left in the Commons tea room. The Scottish trade union activist Jimmy Reid observed that Benn had enjoyed “more conversions on the road to Damascus than a Syrian long-distance truck driver”; an exasperated Wilson scorned him for “tomfool issues, barmy ideas, a sort of ageing, perennial youth who immatures with age”. But Benn had identified a rising grassroots militancy that would paralyse the party.
As party chairman in 1971-72, Benn declared war on the Establishment. He shortened his name and deleted his public school from Who’s Who, contested the deputy leadership; backed a united Ireland; marched with striking miners; and savaged the media for misrepresenting “the workers”.
His Leftward lurch inspired Labour’s Programme 1973, which offered more nationalisation and a “fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families”. That autumn’s miners’ dispute and subsequent strike precipitated the February 1974 election – and a minority Labour government with Benn as Industry Secretary.
The next 15 months were Benn’s most controversial in government. As he strove to “regenerate” British industry, the press ridiculed “Bennery” while industrialists feared expropriation . Shares plunged as, brandishing commitments to a National Enterprise Board (NEB) and planning agreements, Benn lionised shop stewards and backed new workers’ co-operatives. Cyril Smith indicted him for doing “more to damage British industry than the combined efforts of the Luftwaffe and the U-boats”.
In August 1974 the Cabinet, with Chancellor Denis Healey to the fore, vetoed compulsory planning agreements and unlimited powers for the NEB; Benn acknowledged defeat but targeted aircraft and shipbuilding for nationalisation.
In that October’s election, Benn was Labour’s Achilles’ heel. One tabloid rented a flat opposite his home, another sent 14 reporters to ask if one of his children was in hospital; the Guardian calculated that he had consumed a medically damaging 29,000 gallons of tea. Wilson scrambled to a narrow majority, then threatened to sack Benn for opposing naval exercises with South Africa.
Benn topped the poll for the NEC, as he would for several years, from January 1975 chairing its Home Policy Committee, which became his power base. Then Margaret Thatcher became Tory leader, opening the way for what Benn — who never underestimated her — described as a “real choice”.
That March the Cabinet voted 16-7 for staying in Europe on terms renegotiated by Wilson and James Callaghan, although a special party conference demanded withdrawal. Wilson accepted Benn’s referendum to avert a split; on June 5 1975 Britain voted 2-1 to stay in, and four days later Wilson moved Benn to Energy. He protested, but the challenge of North Sea oil was too big to refuse. Benn launched the British National Oil Corporation against the oil majors’ resistance and involved the miners in policymaking.
After Wilson resigned Benn polled 37 votes for the leadership, but on April 5 1976 Jim Callaghan defeated Michael Foot to move into Downing Street. Benn’s relations with Callaghan were based on a desire to coexist punctuated by threats of the sack. The Prime Minister restored him to the Cabinet economic committee during the IMF crisis in the hope of keeping the party in step.
Benn blocked Labour action against the Militant Tendency, telling Callaghan that Trotskyists were “youngsters who can be won over”. He dismissed Foot as an “extinct volcano”, and after Caroline Benn gave him a copy of the Communist Manifesto, wrote: “Without having read any Communist text, I had come to Marx’s view.”
Threatened with dismissal for opposing the Lib-Lab Pact, Benn reopened the argument over Europe. Up to mid-1978 he still carried weight in Cabinet; then his affability gave way to a driven stridency. He exasperated Callaghan, who was struggling without a majority, by advocating accountability for the security services; Freedom of Information; the cancellation of Harrier sales to China; the rejection of the European Monetary System; and the abolition of the House of Lords. It was as if he felt that time running out, his impatience heightened by grief after his daughter-in-law, Rosalind, died of cancer, aged only 26.
Callaghan’s refusal to call an election in September 1978 angered Benn. Meanwhile, the TUC rebuffed ministers’ appeal for a pay norm, triggering the “Winter of Discontent”. When tanker drivers went on strike, Benn headed off a State of Emergency, settling at a level that triggered strikes by council, NHS and railway workers.
Then, on March 28 1979, Callaghan’s government lost a no-confidence motion by a single vote. Benn put forward one election manifesto and Callaghan another , and when Labour lost, Benn wrote (despite the sight of Mrs Thatcher in Downing Street): “This is probably the beginning of the most creative period of my life.”
He returned to the back benches to “democratise” the party by way of an electoral college, reselection of MPs, and NEC control over the manifesto, setting the stage for the most bitter and disastrous passage in Labour’s history since 1931. Left-wing activists pushed reselection through Labour’s 1979 conference, pillorying its MPs as traitors, and the 1980 conference, at which Benn addressed 17 fringe meetings, backed his calls to quit Europe, abolish the Lords and form an electoral college.
Benn now joined his wife as a nuclear disarmer. Won over by EP Thompson to a nuclear-free zone in Europe, he came out in 1980 against US bases. He got his policy document Peace, Jobs, Freedom through a special party conference; all that was lacking was a leadership that would implement it.
When Callaghan retired, Labour MPs defied the Bennites by electing his successor. Benn reluctantly backed Foot, who in November 1980 defeated Healey. Few envied him: Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers were close to forming the SDP, Benn’s supporters were rampant in the constituencies and only deepening recession gave hope of a return to power.
A special conference in January 1981 adopted a college giving the unions half the vote, with MPs and constituencies having 25 per cent each. Benn hailed “a historic day”; he joined the Tribune Group (having once shunned it as too Left-wing), demanded a “loyalty oath” from the social democrats and supplanted Rodgers when he quit the Shadow Cabinet; but Foot denied him a portfolio.
At 3.30am on April 2, Benn challenged Healey for the deputy leadership, and a six-month struggle ensued for the soul of the party. Benn upped the stakes by urging that the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands be invited to the Commons, claiming that Britain’s presence in Ulster was a “test-bed” for repression at home; he also rebelled on defence.
In June, Benn was admitted to hospital suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome; but by September 27 , when the college met in Brighton, his supporters scented victory. Healey won the first ballot by 44.54 per cent to Benn’s 33.64, with John Silkin third. Then, amid high drama, Healey shaded Benn by 50.46 to 49.54. Nine MPs who backed Healey — more than his majority — then defected. Benn reckoned the outcome “far more successful than I could possibly have dreamed”, but the Right began a fightback and he was voted off the Shadow Cabinet. He then forced Foot to back-pedal on supporting the Falklands task force, enabling Mrs Thatcher to take full credit for victory.
At Labour’s 1982 conference moderates recaptured the NEC, ousting Benn from his Home Policy chair – after he had pushed through a manifesto branded by Gerald Kaufman “the longest suicide note in history”: it advocated withdrawal from Europe, the renunciation of nuclear weapons and more nationalisation. Benn and 35 Tribune MPs formed a rival Campaign Group, and he became its president in 1987.
He now lost his seat after 33 years, as Bristol South-East disappeared in boundary changes. Declining a move to safe Livingston, he lost the Bristol South nomination in 1983 to his old adversary Michael Cocks; he was selected for Bristol East, but was defeated by 1,789 votes.
Benn was out of Parliament at the worst possible time: Labour’s rout sparked a will to unite, and he was ineligible for the leadership when Foot retired. But when Eric Varley accepted a peerage, Benn took his seat at Chesterfield and in March 1984 won his fourth by-election by 6,264 votes. During the campaign, Healey remarked: “Healey and Benn are like Torvill and Dean. I can’t get the bugger off my back.”
Scargill now brought his miners out against pit closures without a ballot, and Benn campaigned fervently for the strikers, marginalising himself further. In 1987 he enjoyed one more parliamentary triumph: persuading backbench Tories their rights were in danger when the Speker prevented MPs seeing a banned BBC documentary about the secret Zircon military satellite.
Benn challenged Kinnock in 1988, being trounced in the electoral college, and could not stop him from abandoning unilateralism. Neither could he prevent John Smith from securing one member, one vote, or Tony Blair from scrapping Clause Four. In 1993, after 31 years, he was voted off the NEC. Following the Labour landslide of 1997, other Left-wingers made the running at Westminster, and Benn retired at the 2001 election, scorning New Labour by saying he could now concentrate on politics.
Despite being diagnosed with leukaemia in 1990, Benn filled halls on a speaking tour, became a visiting professor at LSE, and met Saddam Hussein, becoming president of the Stop the War Coalition after Saddam’s overthrow by US and British forces. At Labour’s 2005 conference he collapsed, and had to be fitted with a pacemaker.
Benn wrote a dozen volumes of polemic, notably Arguments for Socialism (1979, with Chris Mullin). But his masterpiece was his Diaries, published from 1987. The entries — dictated nightly over nearly seven decades — lack Crossman’s insecurity, and unlike Barbara Castle’s were not written for posterity. Their strength lies in their candour; the tone of Days of Hope, covering the war and Benn’s arrival in Parliament, contrasts with the strident End of an Era, recounting his bid for power and eclipse, or the tongue-in-cheek Free at Last. The final volume, A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine, appeared in 2013. Throughout Benn emerges as an endearing family man, unleashing forces whose impact he ignored on behalf of a working class he came to revere but never understood.
Benn’s wife died in 2000, and he is survived by his four children. His eldest son, Stephen Michael Wedgwood Benn, born on August 21 1951, succeeds as the 3rd Viscount Stansgate. A former member of Ilea, Stephen Benn is director of Parliamentary affairs for the Society of Biology; his wife, Nita Clarke, worked for Blair in Downing Street; their son Daniel, born in 1991, becomes heir to the Viscountcy. Tony Benn’s second son, Hilary, is Shadow Communities Secretary, his daughter, Melissa, is a radical feminist author, and his youngest son, Joshua, an IT professional.
Tony Benn, born April 3 1925, died March 14 2014
I see Simon Jenkins supports the promotion of Manchester as a rival second city to London (Comment, 13 March). He rightly calls for much more investment, for relocation of Whitehall departments and for a major promotion of cultural, media and educational activity. So when can we expect to hear that the Guardian is moving back to its original home?
• Malcolm Stewart says John Lewis has won the moral high ground in the high street because the chairman takes the same 17% bonus as his staff (Letters, 13 March). In fact, the bonus is paid only to partners. The non-partner cleaners, despite protesting, are paid only the minimum wage by outside contractors. If John Lewis really wants to achieve the moral high ground, it should demand contractors pay the London living wage. Such a move would also put pressure on other retailers to follow suit.
• The crossword is where it should be, at the bottom righthand corner of the back page (Letters, 14 March). And the new position of the weather forecast is good. Please don’t move it back. I feel no guilt using a page of adverts as a scribble pad when solving a crossword, whereas I used to worry about defacing the far more interesting weather section.
• Godmanchester station (Letters, 14 March) closed in 1959. Paradise station in Norway is also closed. Hell remains.
• And I was surprised to discover a station called Aha in the Black Forest, close to Freiberg.
• What is surprising about Euan Sutherland (The Co-op: unco-operative, 12 March) is that this top flight businessman – who thought he was worth an annual salary that would take a shop full of his subordinates a lifetime to earn – didn’t know that working in a co-operative involved co-operation. What do they do on MBAs these days?
It is as though a member of the family has died, an uncle or an elderly cousin, someone who did not come to visit that often but whose presence echoed around our community. His sad death leaves us with a feeling of personal loss.
Tony Benn had been like a member of my family ever since he contested the Bristol South East byelection in 1961 and won, although he was by then Viscount Stansgate. [He originally won the seat in 1950, but when his father, Earl Stansgate, died in 1960, he was disbarred from the Commons]. The seat was awarded to Malcolm St Clair, the Conservative and heir to a peerage.
Benn’s next appearance in the family was after the Peerage Act of 1963. The honourable St Clair fulfilled an election promise he made when Bristol South East was “given” to him: that the day Benn became a commoner he would resign the seat, acknowledging the wishes of the Bristol electorate. Benn renounced his peerage 20 minutes after the Peerage Act became law. I always thought that St Clair’s behaviour was one of the most honourable acts I had ever heard of from an MP. I helped fight the byelection that put Benn back into the Commons. I thought that would be the last I saw or heard of of him. Just how wrong can you be.
He had a rare breed of idealism and common sense that he made his own. His words were examined and dissected and invariably the same answer came out … Bugger me, he’s absolutely right – that’s what needs doing. He became a regular member of our household. He still appears many times at breakfast, dinner, tea and coffee stops sitting in the garden, countless times at pub lunches and dinner parties and still appears at Ramblers walks. The marvellous thing is … he will not stop doing all of that, just because he died.
Newton Abbot, Devon
Maev Kennedy (Report, 10 March) talks about the Women’s Library having lost its building as if it were a hankie it absentmindedly dropped in the street. In reality, it was forcibly ejected by LSE holding a gun to its head. LSE’s message was: “Move into our library in Aldwych or we will withdraw our offer to run you.” While campaigners obviously hope that it will not have to move again, we campaigned vigorously for LSE to continue running the Women’s Library in its existing building.
Our fears about cost effectiveness, loss of expertise and openness if it were forced to move are already coming true. LSE has had to spend much more on building works than anticipated and, once finished, they will in no way match the previous purpose-built, prize-winning facilities.
As for LSE celebrating the Women’s Library’s “opening” by acknowledging its history and connection to the feminist movement, among those not invited to celebrate are nine out of 10 members of the recently formed Feminist and Women’s Libraries and Archives Network, staff who worked at the library for more than 10 years, former academics from London Met who dedicated many hours to support the library, donors of substantial collection materials and other feminist scholars and activists who have supported it in many ways over the years.
• When London Metropolitan University announced it could no longer sustain the Women’s Library collection, LSE was not “the sole bidder” to house the collection; it was one of a number of organisations that expressed an interest, and was delighted to have been picked as the new home.
The proposition that maintaining the previous premises would have cost “a relatively small sum” is also false – the previous site would have required at least £500,000 per annum to maintain. One of LSE’s greatest assets is that we are a campus university, located in the centre of London, and throughout the transfer we have been open about keeping all of the library’s collections together in a single location.
I would also challenge the view that the collection has been removed from its “working-class base”. LSE Library has longer opening hours than the Women’s Library at Aldgate, and the Women’s Library reading room will be accessible to the public throughout the year.
LSE is undoubtedly different to previous locations for this collection – we host a vibrant and immensely popular public lecture series alongside our world-renowned taught courses. These differences will be explored to their fullest potential as we bring out the best in this unique collection for a wider audience than ever before.
Director, LSE Library
• Paul Whitehouse’s letter (12 March) on The Women’s Library contains many inaccuracies. LSE was not “the sole bidder”; others included the Bodleian Library and Manchester city council, the latter being a frontrunner until government cuts to local authority funding compelled a withdrawal. “A relatively small sum” to maintain the library at its Aldgate site would have been in the region of £500,000 a year; it makes operational sense for libraries to keep all their staff and collections under one roof – as the British Library, which now houses collections as disparate as the Sound Archive and the India Office Library, has demonstrated.
It is absolutely correct to stress that TWL arises out of the political movement for women’s rights; it is also true that LSE was founded by feminists such as Charlotte and Bernard Shaw. Feminists – suffragist and suffragette – were as active in London’s Holborn as they were in the East End and, indeed, all over Britain. And given that LSE has invested large sums in creating a dedicated reading room for TWL and will be opening an exhibition space for its museum artefacts, it is a little premature to state that it will be left “with fewer independent objective characteristics”.
The facilities at Aldgate were not much of a resource for local people; a comparison of the opening hours reveals it is absurd to suggest that TWL will be “imprisoned” in its new home.
Of course all of us who have championed TWL are disappointed to have lost the purpose-built premises which made so many initiatives and conversations possible; but the women’s movement is in rude health and exists independently of bricks and mortar, and presents us with more important things to fight for than Paul Whitehouse offers us.
Dr Anne Summers
Chair, Friends of the Women’s Library,
Research fellow, history, Birkbeck College
Tim Berners-Lee‘s call for “a global constitution – a bill of rights” to protect users of the world wide web is both timely and necessary (Report, 12 March). Until recently, he has (rightly) remained largely silent about the web’s evolution, its content and applications. However, increased levels of surveillance of citizens by US and British spy agencies, their undermining of security and encryption tools, together with growing government and corporate influence on the web’s character and content, have prompted his proposal. Hopefully, an “open neutral internet” with a “common statement of principles … supported by public institutions, governments and corporations” will no longer tolerate the existence of harmful websites and forums which prey upon vulnerable individuals. Berners-Lee expresses concern that “our rights are being infringed more and more on every side and the danger is we get used to it”. Time then to “take the web back into our own hands” and ensure that it is safe, sound, and fit for purpose.
• With increasing threats and vulnerabilities emerging daily, there is an urgent need to develop a pipeline of qualified and experienced cyber security professionals to safeguard our systems and infrastructure. Research by the IET has highlighted that a significant lack of skilled workers is hampering the UK’s fight against cyber-crime. The measures recently announced by the government will help to fill the shortage of skills in this important area – and put us in a stronger position to combat cyber-crime. The challenge now is to make sure businesses are aware of these initiatives and start to view securing cyber security as a priority.
Institution of Engineering and Technology
Your three-page review of the six-volumes of the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard (Review, 8 March) made no mention of Don Bartlett, the translator who has painstakingly made it possible for your readers to have access to the text, and for your reviewer to write about it, with comments about content and style which he might consider nuancing by thinking through the implications of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural transfer. There are plenty of sources to refer to. You should make the public aware that access to foreign text, in everyday news, in literature, in the sciences and in all the other disciplines that this country has depended on for its own advancement, does not happen by magic. No translation, then no foreign literature, news, or anything from other languages and cultures. Some might think it for the better; most I hope would think it for the worse.
University of East Anglia
As one of the people involved in the estimates of women in England and Wales affected by female genital mutilation and the numbers of girls at risk which are being used in the current campaign, I agree with Nadifa Mohamed (Comment, 10 March) that these are now out of date. They were based on the 2001 census and surveys done in FGM-practising countries in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. This is why we have been commissioned to produce new estimates, based on data from the 2011 census and more recent surveys. This work is now under way, with the aim of providing information to make appropriate maternity and gynaecology care available to affected women and child protection services, where needed, for their daughters.
Taken as a whole, the surveys show that in some countries, such as Kenya, the practice has declined, while in others it has not and that in countries where it is most prevalent, lower proportions of women and girls think it should stop. They also show wide differences between geographical areas and social groupings within countries, with more-educated women being much less likely to have been affected. These differences are likely to affect the extent to which the practice is abandoned when women migrate and underline the need to avoid stereotyping individuals. For example, Nadifa Mohamed’s Somali family and other Somali families she knows have abandoned the practice, while community groups tell us that others have not done so.
We have no reliable data for England and Wales. There is no code for FGM in the international classification of diseases, so it is not recorded in national data collection systems, although the Department of Health is now trying to change this. It is reasonable, although not ideal, to use data from migrant women’s countries of origin to estimate the prevalence of FGM among them, but applying these assumptions to their daughters is problematic. This means that, as in our previous report, any estimates we produce will have to be very tentative. We hope they will prompt in-depth research which will involve migrant communities directly and inform the eradication of FGM in this country.
City University London
• The one action which would curtail this barbaric practice is compulsory examination of children. The public’s growing horror over FGM would surely overtake concerns about civil liberties. In France, where examination is mandatory, there have been over 100 successful prosecutions. In this country, nil, yet FGM has been illegal here since 1985.
House of Lords
Tony Benn was a great, kind and principled person, his ethical stance only strengthening in later life as he became a vegetarian.
His words echoed far beyond Westminster as he courageously stood up for the poor, the downtrodden and all those in need, hoping to build a better, fairer and truly compassionate society.
His ideas live on.
Susan Jacobs, Sean Prebble, Winchester
Tony Benn was one of those rare politicians who genuinely do make history, when he renounced his peerage in 1963. His diaries are an important historical record, unparalleled in post-1945 British politics.
Part of his legacy should be to inspire politicians to have the same sense of the importance and context of history as he had. Too few do.
Dr Keith Flett , London Socialist Historians Group, London N1
What a pity that Tony Benn never became Prime Minister instead of Tony Blair.
Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Great war soldiers who said ‘No’
You report a bid to build a seemingly profit-driven memorial to First World War soldiers who embarked for the Western Front from the Kentish seaside town of Folkestone (11 March). Perhaps the sponsors should balance their project with a memorial to one of the few cases of mass disobedience in the Allied Armies that happened in the same town in January 1919.
Then, 2000 soldiers who had seen years in the trenches were ordered to embark for service abroad at Folkestone. They refused. Instead they marched to Folkestone Town Hall. There they were promised a rapid programme of demobilisation.
Next day, however, new orders arrived summoning a certain number to embark. Again they refused. This time they marched on the harbour. The flood of incoming troops swelled their ranks, and a Soldiers’ Union was formed. New demands were now added to the demand for demobilisation. Food in the local Shorncliffe barracks was a disgrace, sanitation was abominable.
They elected a committee to advance demands including rapid demobilisation; shorter working hours; an end to training; no compulsory church parade; no drafts for Russia; control over messing arrangements; and no victimisation. And they won. The mix of British and Canadian troops were hastily sent home.
They stood out against renewed slaughter, and, for that, deserve recognition.
David Walsh, Skelton, Cleveland
We should be saving all our efforts to commemorate the ending of the First World War instead of its outbreak. Commemoration of the outbreak should be confined to historical commentary on the reasons why such a tragedy occurred.
Chris Elshaw, Headley Down, Hampshire
Cameron ignores Israeli abuses
It’s not unusual for a British prime minister to express unswerving support for the state of Israel, but this should not come at the expense of overlooking serious human right issues. David Cameron’s effusive speech to the Knesset referred to the foundation of Israel in “international law”, yet the less rosy truth is that Israeli soldiers regularly act unlawfully in shooting unarmed protesters in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
Last year alone, 22 Palestinian civilians, mostly teenagers or people in their early 20s, were killed by Israel’s forces in the West Bank, with several of the victims shot in the back. In the past three years, an astonishing 8,000 Palestinian civilians, including 1,500 children, have also been seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, many from rubber-coated metal bullets or reckless use of tear gas.
Mr Cameron said nothing about any of this in public, and I fear he said nothing in private either.
Israel has very real security concerns – as the latest barrage of rockets fired from Gaza underlines. But Mr Cameron’s rock-solid commitment to Israel shouldn’t mean ignoring the concrete reality of human rights abuses being committed by Israel’s forces.
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2
Birmingham beats London
“Accuse me of London-centrism,” says Mary Dejevsky, lamenting the move, 20 years ago, of Crufts to Birmingham. Indeed she is London-centred and very self-centred too, wanting the rest of the UK to travel more miles to get to London.
I was born in London and have spent all my life in the South-east, and I love the Birmingham venue. In the centre of the country and easily reached by motorway, train or plane, it is accessible to everyone. The National Exhibition Centre has huge car parks and regular free buses from car parks to the event entrance and is a well run-venue with good loos (always important).
There is serious breed judging, entertainment with a view to educating the public on responsible dog ownership, and hundreds of stalls for canine shopping. Mary Dejevsky obviously watches Crufts on TV from her sofa, as she complains “Now it’s an entertainment event”. Televised Crufts has to spend time on the entertainment side or no one would watch. Mary Dejevsky should take a trip up the motorway to the NEC next year and see what she is missing.
Jan Cook, South Nutfield, Surrey
What women want from cars
I turned eagerly to David Williams’ report on the Geneva Motor Show (13 March) in the long hunt for the model I need, but closed the paper a sadder, wiser woman.
It left me with the startlingly sexist conclusion that Mr Williams was inspired only by the motorised toys that men like to impress each other with. The multi-tasking woman’s approach to car selection is, I suspect, very different, with all-round practicality a priority and showing-off coming way down the list.
Do please ask your motoring correspondents to look over the fence occasionally.
Yvonne Ruge, London N20
Can I be Scottish too, please?
Just a thought, but as the BBC is increasingly London-centric and London itself is eccentric, is there any chance, when the Scots vote for independence, that the England boundary could shrink to London and the Home Counties and the rest of us could become Scottish? It would be an honour to do so and rid myself of the arrogant stupidity that being English now means. Och aye.
Steve Cragg, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire
GM crops are not the solution
Arguments for introducing GM crops in Africa, and for the greater involvement of global agribusiness on the continent more broadly, rest on the idea that Africa needs to produce more food. But in the 20 years to 2011, the numbers of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 40 per cent, despite the fact that food production rose by 10 per cent per person over the same period. People are undernourished because of lack of access to food, not lack of production.
The UK and other G8 governments are pushing African countries to open their agriculture to increased involvement of global seed companies, including the introduction of GM crops. But there is a real risk of increased costs for the small-scale farmers who feed the majority of the continent’s population, as an ever smaller number of multinational seed companies control both prices and the seed varieties available.
Supporting African agriculture and tackling hunger require policies to help small-scale food producers regain control and feed local populations, not initiatives that will further disempower them by handing control to multinational companies.
Nick Dearden, Director, World Development Movement, London SW9
Here we go again. “There is no compelling evidence,” we are told, that GM crops are dangerous. The fact that there is no compelling evidence that something is not safe does not mean that it is safe. Even when there is compelling evidence we are given the same message by government and some of the scientific community.
Even after Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima we are told that there is no compelling evidence that nuclear power stations are not safe.
Before the Iraq war there was, presumably, no compelling evidence that it would result in the death of tens of thousands of innocent people and the ruination of a country.
There is no compelling evidence that using drones to terrorise villagers in Afghanistan and Pakistan creates terrorists.
As many already know, the way to ensure an adequate food supply is to cut down on meat production, stop the growing of biofuels and develop sustainable energy.
Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex
Without the licence fee television would become much more expensive — without being any better
Sir, Hugo Rifkind says that the BBC licence fee is too high at £145.50 per household (Mar 11). Compared to pay-TV packages it is massively cheaper. Of course, you do not have to buy pay-TV, but that is because there are lots of free-to-air choices, including the BBC. However, a diminished BBC would greatly increase the power of the pay-TV operators with their revenues from advertising and subscription. It is likely that other free-to-air broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, would have to start charging subscriptions to remain competitive.
Therefore, it is likely that the cost of watching television would increase. It is a matter of speculation by how much, but I would suggest that all households would be paying a lot more than £145.50 per year.
Sir, I have long felt that the BBC licence fee should be automatically added to one’s local council rates, as happens in France (non-TV owners may opt out), similarly to one’s car tax being collected by the insurance company, as in Switzerland. After all, companies and employers commonly collect other forms of taxation (eg NI, VAT) on the government’s behalf. Just think of the savings.
Sir, Keith Howard (letter, Mar 13) reminds us that second-property owners have to pay two licences to the BBC. He does not mention that the second licence is charged even if live BBC is not watched at either location.
Sir, Keith Howard objects to paying for a television licence for his second home. Does he feel that he should have two water supplies for one bill? Should emergency services attend both properties for one payment of income tax?
No tax is perfect, but if ever there was a candidate for a fair and painless tax levied only on those who can easily afford to pay, then it is a charge on those who own more of our tiny island than they occupy, especially within commuting distance of our overcrowded capital where our children can afford nowhere to live.
Sir, What we get today is instant access to the world at the touch of a button. We have been watching the Olympic Games in Russia. We watch other countries’ broadcasts. Our news service is second to none and the envy of the world. What more do people want?
I have no connection to any of the broadcasting companies, but I am very grateful to them because without them I — and thousands of others — would not have got a degree through distance learning.
Sir, I feel sorry Louise Salway and the loss of her home and possessions (“After the floods, a legacy of despair”, Mar 13). My road was flooded at Christmas. The damage is less than on the Levels, but families have had to move out and lives have been disrupted. To add insult to injury, our group of houses was identified as being at medium flood risk in 2009; our council installed flood air brick covers and issued us with door flood guards, free of charge.
The council now tells us that despite the fact we flooded and despite the fact this is a new subsidy, we are not eligible for the government’s £5,000 repair and renew grant because the money has in effect already been spent. That is a local issue, but our experience has implications nationally, because the same products which failed us are being recommended as part of the new grant scheme.
Jeremy Hunt, our MP, Waverley Council and the EA have been made aware but have ignored this challenge so I fear for those being given a false sense of security.
Sir, I was appalled by your report that UCAS earned more than £12 million last year by selling the contact details of teenagers and their parents to advertisers of products including mobile phones and energy drinks (“British students go Dutch to avoid paying high tuition fees”, Mar 13).
Surely this is a breach of the Data Protection Act, and if not it is morally indefensible. Notwithstanding the austere times, we should be able to trust our statutory authorities to behave with propriety.
Anthony H. Ratcliffe
Sir, I enjoyed “Passports the big prize in criminal world” (Mar 13). In the post that day I had received a very obviously passport-sized envelope with “Her Majesty’s Passport Office” proudly stamped at the top, and “THIS IS NOT A CIRCULAR — Important Documents enclosed” along the bottom, just in case I might inadvertently bin it.
To make absolutely certain that I — or anyone else who might find the information helpful — knew what the envelope contained, it said on the back: “If incorrectly delivered anywhere in the world outside the UK, please contact your nearest British Diplomatic Mission”.
Since “a FOG (fraudulently obtained genuine) passport is probably the most highly prized document for a serious criminal or a terrorist”, could this be a weak link in the security mechanisms?
Sir, I was appalled by your report that UCAS earned more than £12 million last year by selling the contact details of teenagers and their parents to advertisers of products including mobile phones and energy drinks (“British students go Dutch to avoid paying high tuition fees”, Mar 13).
Surely this is a breach of the Data Protection Act, and if not it is morally indefensible. Notwithstanding the austere times, we should be able to trust our statutory authorities to behave with propriety.
Anthony H. Ratcliffe
Sir, I disagree with Tim Montgomerie (“Assisted dying will turn into a lethal weapon”, Mar 13) — the majority of the public back assisted dying for people who are terminally ill and mentally competent, rather than euthanasia for all. The public support a right to die well for terminally ill people like my mother. She ended her days in Switzerland in March 2012, earlier than she wanted to die, in order to avoid a potentially torturous death from Huntington’s disease. This is a genetic condition, so I may have to face the same decision myself if this law doesn’t change.
A law very similar to that which Lord Falconer is taking to Parliament this summer has been safely allowing dying patients the choice of a dignified death at home at a time of their choosing for more than 15 years in Oregon, with no sign of loopholes or “convoys of hearses”.
I wonder if people who are flippant about this issue are so because they have had the good fortune to never have to face these issues in reality. My family and I have not enjoyed such good fortune. Far from it: we are experiencing many people’s greatest fears right now — a society where people are forced to die abroad earlier than they would want to, attempt suicide alone or suffer intolerably and against their wishes at the end of life, when there is a workable alternative.
Leamington Spa, Warks
SIR – Why is it that so many of our town markets seem to be in such a muddle? The setting of many is delightful, but their layout spoils what should be an enjoyable experience. An attractive cheese stall or baker’s is often located next to a clothing or book stall. Fresh fish is for sale next to plants, flowers or even pet food.
Surely it makes more sense – for reasons of aesthetics, hygiene, and ease of shopping – for the food market to be located in a designated area and for the other stalls to be grouped according to their respective wares.
Lt Col Paul French (retd)
SIR – I was prescribed statins after I had two stents inserted. A week later, I suffered from extreme vertigo and was unable to walk. I stopped taking them and the symptoms disappeared over a period of days. Then I was prescribed a different statin, which had exactly the same result.
How can it be that a large number of people were given these and nobody experienced any side-effects?
A similar problem occurred when I was prescribed Tamoxifen after a cancer operation. This affected my heart and I had extreme fatigue and sweating attacks.
Drug manufacturers wish their products to work without side-effects, but this is not always the case.
SIR – Raising the National Insurance threshold could allow some employers to offer more hours to people in the workforce claiming Universal Credit, and thus increase the income of low-paid workers while reducing benefit payments.
The move could also enable employers to make better use of part-time and flexible workers, which would be a significant factor in improving opportunities to work.
Doing the maths
SIR – We have used Sixth Term Examination Papers (Step) for more than 25 years as a key part of conditional offers for mathematics because our research has found that they are a better predictor of success in the Mathematical Tripos than A-levels alone.
Step is based on material that requires no further knowledge beyond the common core of A-level mathematics, as taught in schools of all types. The questions test qualities that are crucial to success on mathematical courses at Cambridge, like insight, originality, and the ability to use standard techniques in unusual ways. Extensive resources are available online to help candidates prepare. Monitoring shows our admissions decisions are fair: students from different educational backgrounds perform equally well at Cambridge.
Dr Mike Sewell
Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges
Everything must go
SIR – The books filling the shelves of the Long Room in the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, make a fine sight. I hope that the Old Library has not been committing the sin of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland by selling off bequeathed books at auction. I recently bought an RCSI copy of An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama, in Tibet by Captain Samuel Turner.
SIR – I was four in 1944 when my mother received a letter from my father, serving in North Africa, saying he was sending a case of bananas. A few weeks later, a small wooden box arrived. Inside were what looked like shrivelled black fingers. They tasted much as they appeared. I have never looked a banana in the face since. Hitler has a lot to answer for.
Russia: foe or friend?
SIR – The Prime Minister gave a rousing speech on the importance of international law in relation to Ukraine and the forthcoming Crimean referendum, with threats of sanctions against Russia if it does not comply.
But Russia is hardly going to respect our high-flown wishes after our blatant support for regime-change in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia – all in the name of democracy, but technically in breach of international law. Before taking the moral high ground in our diplomacy, the West should take a look at its own actions.
Russia is culturally European, and it could be in our best interest to understand her position, with the long-term aim of making her our friend, not our enemy.
Iwerne Minster, Dorset
UK exit checks
SIR – Normal checks at airports cover 100 per cent of all passports. It is data from the Advance Passenger Information system that is received from only 90 per cent of international flights.
Immigration checks on passengers leaving Britain ceased in 1998. Labour’s immigration minister, Mike O’Brien, described them as “an expensive fiction”. As a former immigration officer, I know they were a useful tool, not least for security (as demonstrated by concerns over the Malaysia Airlines flight). They also acted as a disincentive to overstaying a visa.
The Coalition Agreement included a commitment to reintroduce exit checks by the end of this parliament in 2015.
Hassocks, West Sussex
Explosive opening …
The late Iain Banks opened The Crow Road with those words; the rest of the book did not disappoint.
… impossible opening
SIR – Andrew Sturmey asks if anyone has successfully resealed a resealable food packet. Has anyone ever opened a paper packet of Tate & Lyle sugar without spilling any grains?
The story of England’s only footballing VC
SIR – I was interested to read that the game’s fraternity is about to make a pilgrimage to the Western Front later this month to pay homage to those footballers who died in the Great War.
One grave to be visited is that of Second Lieutenant Donald Bell of my regiment (pictured here), the only professional English footballer to win the Victoria Cross and the first to volunteer. He lies in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Gordon Dump cemetery, close to where he won his VC attacking Horseshoe Trench on July 5 1916, and close to the village of Contalmaison, in the Somme, northern France, where he was killed five days later carrying out a similar act of gallantry.
The Green Howards have erected a beautiful memorial in the village, generously funded by the Professional Footballers’ Association, among others. The Green Howards Regimental Museum has commissioned a bronze statuette of Donald Bell in the act of winning his VC.
During the First World War, some 65,000 men joined the regiment. By the end of the war, 7,500 had died and 24,000 had been wounded, typical of the sacrifice of so many county infantry regiments. Twelve VCs were awarded, eight posthumously; four were awarded during the Battle of the Somme – coincidentally, two recipients were from Harrogate Grammar School, one being Donald Bell, the other Archie White.
Brigadier John Powell (retd)
Late Colonel, The Green Howards
SIR – Pace Peter Oborne, David Cameron’s promise of an in-out referendum on EU membership in 2017, once the terms of a new relationship have been negotiated, is hardly more credible than Ed Miliband’s pledge to give us a referendum should the EU demand that further powers be transferred to Brussels.
The Tories should be asked: “If Brussels and our EU partners are unwilling to adjust our terms of membership by 2017, will we still be given a vote on membership? Can we trust Mr Cameron to deliver a referendum at all?”
Equally, Labour should be asked: “What about all the powers that have already been given away? Why wait for the threat of more sovereignty being lost, before asking the British people for our view?”
Either way, democracy is not well served by either the Conservatives or Labour.
V Hugh R Waine
SIR – The UK Independence Party wants us, above all, to leave Europe. By putting up candidates at the general election it will take votes away from the Tories, leaving Labour as outright winners, or in coalition with the Lib Dems. So no referendum, no opportunity to leave Europe.
Thus, to achieve the basic reason for its existence, Ukip should stand down all its candidates, and give the only serious party offering an independence referendum, the Tories, a chance to get back into power.
J Brian Thomas
SIR – Has enough time now elapsed since Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, told David Cameron that there was no question of renegotiating the EU treaties for him to formulate a policy to replace the one of renegotiating the EU treaties?
SIR – John Humphrys’s welcome admission of BBC pro-EU bias raises more questions that it resolves. He says that the BBC is “out of that now” and “we have changed”. But increased coverage of Ukip does not deliver “accuracy and impartiality”, as the BBC Agreement requires.
To stage debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage does not begin to address the issue of what relationship the United Kingdom should have with our EU partners and how this should be achieved.
Coverage of the stark in-out question does not “inform” the public, in accordance with the BBC Charter, of the facts and arguments about what alternative constitutional or trading relations with our EU partners might be developed.
Most of the Conservative Party favours trade and political co-operation with the EU but does not want to live under the single EU government that is emerging for the eurozone. Most of the public agrees.
The BBC must rise to the challenge of representing the mainstream of the debate.
Bernard Jenkin MP (Con)
Sir, – Recent events have pointed up significant weaknesses in the operation of An Garda Síochána and the way in which the Garda accounts for the execution of its duties.
We welcome the announcement by Government that the Oireachtas Committee on Justice will examine ways in which the operation and remit of the Garda Ombudsman Commission can be strengthened.
It is important that this review should be comprehensive. The commission plays an important role in examining complaints of wrongdoing against gardaí and is vital that it is, and is seen to be, independent, effective and authoritative.
But the role of GSOC is limited, quite properly, to examining complaints of wrongdoing. We need to do more than look at the operation of GSOC. We need to have a much broader debate about the accountability of the Garda.
Of course, just such a debate has already occurred in Northern Ireland and there is much that we can learn from their experience. As long ago as 1999, Chris Patten, and his colleagues, argued that accountability of the police force to the community is essential not only because it confers legitimacy on a force in which the public invests a great deal of power, but also in order to ensure effective policing.
Patten recommended the establishment of a policing board with significant powers. The Northern Ireland Policing Board sets priorities and targets for the police; it monitors the performance of the police: it holds senior police officers, including the chief constable to account. Much of its work is carried out in public.
By contrast, the Garda Commissioner is accountable only to the Minister for Justice (acting through the secretary general of the Department of Justice). In practice much of this exercise in accountability takes place in private.
Political control of the police is always a delicate issue in democracies. In many countries it is considered wise, if not essential, that the police should be responsible to some body other than just the Minister or the Department of Justice. This acts as a guard against abuse but it also provides an element of transparency and openness which serves the interest of the police and the public.
It is time for us to debate these issues seriously. The establishment of a Garda authority must form part of that debate. Our current system of Garda oversight isn’t working. The gardaí and the public deserve better. – Yours, etc,
ROBERT DOWDS TD,
ANNE FERRIS TD,
SEAN KENNY TD,
GERALD NASH TD,
DEREK NOLAN TD,
Senator IVANA BACIK,
Senator SUSAN O’KEEFE,
Sir, – The International Adoption Association (IAA) welcomes and applauds Rosita Boland on her honest and accurate portrayal of the adoption community in Ireland (“Changes to adoption law shattered my hopes of becoming a parent”, Weekend Review, March 8th).
The IAA fully supports Ireland’s implementation of the Hague Convention and all the protection it affords to children and we recognise that adoption is a service for children and not for prospective adoptive parents.
We understand that Ireland is in a transitional period since the enactment and we support the Adoption Authority of Ireland’s (AAI) practice of ensuring ethical and transparent adoptions. The IAA recognises that there is a dramatic reduction in the number of intercountry adoptions worldwide, with many contributing factors, such as economic growth in sending countries and an increase in domestic adoption.
However, this does not change the fact that 11 post-Hague adoptions into Ireland over a three-year period is still unacceptable. The international social services have reported that there is an improvement on the ground in many sending countries but the truth remains that there are hundreds of thousands of children languishing in institutions worldwide that deserve the opportunity to become part of a family. How is this in the best interests of the child?
Figures released in a Hague-commissioned report indicate that the figure for international adoptions in 2004 was 45,000. By 2011 the figure was 22,000. Country comparisons show the following: Spain saw a 48 per cent reduction from 2004 to 2010; France saw only a 14 per cent reduction in same period; Canada had no reduction from 2004 to 2010; and Italy saw a 21 per cent increase.
In Ireland, intercountry adoption has not fallen, it has collapsed.
The IAA calls upon the Adoption Authority of Ireland, along with all policymakers, to engage urgently with countries where children are available for international adoption; to enter into bilateral agreements with non-Hague countries, as permitted under section 40 of the Adoption Act 2010; and to progress the opportunity for change that is in the best interests of the children. – Yours, etc,
Terenure, Dublin 6W.
Sir, – It is shocking that prospective parents can be part of an opaque system for six years and more. The Adoption Authority of Ireland seems to be no more accountable than its predecessors.
What really concerns me is that while families scrape together a small fortune to adopt children from overseas, far too many Irish children, who have been abused by their birth parents, and who are never going back to them, are denied a second change of a loving family of their own. These children remain in State care, until they are 18 and are then abandoned to fend for themselves. Far too many end up in our prisons and as service users of mental health programmes.
In the UK, adoptive families are assessed within eight months, and if approved to adopt, most are matched with their child or children within nine months. No money changes hands. Children removed from abusive families have the chance of a second, new family to love them, rather than a series of moves from one foster home to the next. – Yours, etc,
St Philip’s Avenue,
East Sussex, England.
Sir, – Adoption is not an adult right, it is about finding homes for children in extreme circumstances, whose immediate families, close relatives or wider community or fellow citizens cannot care for them.
Under the Hague Convention, adoption is seen as a measure of last resort. If there are fewer children internationally “requiring adoption”, the world should be celebrating because it means these children have a chance to be raised by their natural families. Instead, more often than not, a fall in adoption figures is treated as bad news for prospective adopters, as opposed to good news for the children affected.
The Adoption Rights Alliance supports the Adoption Authority of Ireland’s contention that its work should not be “measured by the number of adoptions which it processes, but rather by the quality and propriety of those adoptions”.
Adoption and infertility should not be treated as related issues. Adoption should always be about finding the best home possible for each child, regardless of fertility, gender, sexuality, marital status or religion; as opposed to the current system which adjudicates what adults are more deserving by (among other things) what fertility choices they have made.
Historically, Ireland’s adoption system put the needs and wants of adults before those of children, resulting in a disturbing culture of entitlement, which is bolstered by a lack of courage on the part of many of our politicians and public figures who bow to calls for the “reopening” of corrupt countries from which we used to adopt. The problems that go ignored while adults’ needs are at the forefront include the serious issue of corruption and the deeply concerning matter of adoptions breaking down and those children ending up in care or homeless, as has been reported to our organisation. We have reported this issue to the Minister for Children, the Adoption Authority of Ireland and others, all to no avail. – Yours, etc,
Adoption Rights Alliance,
The Mill House,
Malahide, Co Dublin.
Sir, – With reference to Rosita Boland’s moving article, during the 1960s and 1970s successive Irish governments did not cover themselves in glory when dealing with adoption in Ireland, preferring to leave the church to play a role that rightfully belonged to the State. Are we saying now that adoption in this country is at a standstill because of bureaucratic apathy? Is this Ireland’s new adoption scandal? – Yours, etc,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Further to “No evidence to suggest under-reporting of suicide, committee hears”, Oireachtas Report, March 14th), a high burden of proof, beyond all reasonable doubt, is required by a coroner before recording each case of a death by suicide. A total of 507 such suicide cases were recorded in the 2012 CSO report. A further 82 cases were recorded under open or undetermined verdicts, many of these being possible or probable suicide deaths, but not “beyond all reasonable doubt”, and therefore not included in our reported suicide rate. Rather than naively assume the position of “no evidence of under-reporting”, it is unlikely we will detect or uncover any such evidence of under-reporting if we do not look in detail for it. – Yours, etc,
Prof KEVIN MALONE,
School of Medicine
and Medical Science,
University College Dublin,
Elm Park, Dublin 4.
Sir, – There is a saying in the Scottish labour movement, “no gods and precious few heroes”. Tony Benn aspired to be neither; his style was always effortlessly courteous and considered, even – perhaps particularly – with people who did not agree with him.
That style was deployed to lead a movement that lacked the coherence and discipline of its opponents.
It is therefore worth noting that Tony Benn has died on exactly the 30th anniversary of the start of the miners strike in Britain in 1984. Since then, almost all the collieries have closed.
The City of London has triumphed, destroying the British financial system in the process, while leaving ordinary people to pick up the bill as bonuses are still paid to the people who created the mess. Wages in Britain have declined faster than at any time in over a century and the gap between top and bottom has opened up exponentially.
Tony Benn was on the losing side – it is worth bearing in mind just what was lost before he is subjected to the appalling condescension of the victors. – Yours, etc,
McNally (“38 reasons we should hate the French (or at least dislike them mildly)”, An Irishman’s Diary, March 14th), was intended to stoke up the Irish squad more than the French team for today’s rugby clash.
I can only presume that he doesn’t hope or plan to holiday in Frankreich anytime soon. However, in that his list did not extend to the “fowl” practice of press-ganging cockerels into attending international rugby matches, there may be some hope for an entente cordiale . – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If the Minister for Education goes ahead with his plan to abolish the national, externally assessed Junior Cert examination, will another educational chief inspector be needed in 10 years to point out that Ruairí Quinn’s proposed system of school-based, teacher-assessed exams will lead to consistent and widespread breaches of policy, no meaningful evidence of consistent quality management, no training and no clear policy guidelines? Surely it is better to have an exam system based on what you know rather than one based on who you know. Teachers have good reason to be fearful both for themselves and for their students. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If you print this letter, I will undoubtedly be told to “lighten up”, as I was when I objected to the substitution of “Crimbo” for Christmas. I am only marginally less irritated by the use of “Paddy’s Day” for St Patrick’s Day. – Yours, etc,
St Helen’s Road,
A chara, – Regarding the (I hope tongue-in-cheek) claims emanating from the US embassy in Dublin that Americans “invented” St Patrick’s Day (Home News, March 13th), I think our cousins in the next parish west will find that while they may lay claim to some of the more extravagant trappings associated with modern secular celebrations of the day, the day itself predates the founding of their nation by many centuries. – Is mise,
Rev PATRICK G BURKE,
A chara, – As a dual user of both electronic cigarettes and tobacco, John Mallon (March 13th) now has two things to give up instead of one. – Is mise,
LOMAN Ó LOINGSIGH ,
Kiltipper Road, Dublin 24.
Sir, – Our two greatest Brians – Boru and O’Driscoll. And both of them Clontarf men. – Yours, etc,
Mount Argus Court,
Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W.
* St Patrick’s Day parades will be in many countries and cities. The small Caribbean island of Montserrat is said to be the only country outside of Ireland to have the day as a public holiday. The first St Patrick’s Day observance was held in Boston in 1737 by well-to-do Irish immigrants of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. They attended a religious service and a special dinner. They didn’t hold the next one until 1794.
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New York, meanwhile, had its first celebration in 1766 by Irish soldiers in the British army in the American colony, and in 1780 during the American War of Independence, General George Washington gave permission to his army, which had men of Irish descent camped in Morristown, New Jersey, to celebrate the holiday “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence”. Morristown still celebrates St Patrick’s Day.
New York is the largest parade in the world, with two million spectators watching a parade of 150,000 marchers on the 1.5-mile route along 5th Avenue, which takes five hours and is led by the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York). When asked, as is tradition, by the commissioner of the parade are they ready, the reply is “The 69th are always ready!”.
Holyoke, Massachusetts, have their parade usually on the Sunday nearest St Patrick’s Day with 25,000 marchers and 300,000 spectators. They hold a 10k road race and other events and give the annual John F Kennedy National Award to an Irish-American who has distinguished himself or herself in their profession.
The award was given to JFK as its first recipient in 1958. He was a member of the House of Representatives for three terms before being elected senator.
Butte, Montana, with their population of 40,000 host their parade to 30,000 spectators and at one stage in the 1870s had the biggest Irish-American population of any city in the US with its mines attracting huge numbers of Irish immigrants, and in Butte’s early years Gaelic was spoken by these new immigrants. Many again later went there from Allihies in west Cork after their own mines closed.
It may not be well-known over here that March, since 1991, has been announced yearly as Irish-American Heritage Month in the US. For a man who came to Ireland in the 5th Century, Patrick had a big impact on our future identity and how it is celebrated and embraced worldwide. The irony is the experts are divided as to Patrick’s birthplace. Scotland, Wales or even France – before it was known as France.
COLLEGE ROAD, CORK
* If we allow same-sex couples to marry, why, some people ask, might we not extend such a right to polygamists? What a red herring. The expected referendum next year will not be about the rights of polygamists.
We will be voting on changing the legal definition of marriage from a contract between a man and a woman to a contract between a man and another man or a woman and another woman – the only difference being the sex of one of the parties, not the number of parties. A crucial difference. If opponents of same-sex marriage argue that such a change is comparable to granting marriage rights to more than two people, it just goes to show how much they are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Some 76pc of people in Ireland are not in favour of allowing polygamists to legally marry in Ireland. On this issue, there is no gulf between the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of the people and the law of the land.
There is much evidence to support the proposition that the optimum environment for raising a child is that of loving parents in a committed, low-conflict relationship. I have never heard of a screed of evidence which extends the definition of parents in this context to more than two. Polygamous relationships (assuming one husband and more than one wife) is hardly an arrangement that lends itself to promoting equality and dignity for women.
Polygamy would result in an increase in the amount of unmarried men, which would not be a good thing for society. Male parental involvement would also diminish as men would be free to add to their list of wives.
It would also foster competition among wives, increasing insecurity, jealousy and unhappiness. Not to mention the legal and financial Pandora’s Box that would open up in relation to dealing with the likes of separations, divorces, maintenance and succession rights.
Dragging polygamy into the same-sex marriage debate is nothing more than tilting at windmills.
RATHFARNHAM, DUBLIN 16
* Having just watched leader’s questions, I am disgusted by the manner in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to concede that the garda whistleblowers deserved an apology for their treatment at the hands of Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Commissioner Martin Callinan. He refused to even acknowledge that the whistleblowers had been slighted at all.
We have heard a lot of talk from the Government about reform, accountability and new politics. But central to any new politics should be integrity.
There is mounting evidence and reports that exonerate the garda whistleblowers. The description of their behaviour as “disgusting” and the claim that they “didn’t cooperate” with garda investigations no longer hold water.
We deserve better than politicians who put party politics first.
* When traffic tickets are issued, there should be no interference or cancellation of tickets allowed. Let us allow judges to judge on the guilt or innocence of the driver who was issued a ticket.
MILL STREET, WESTPORT, CO MAYO
SMOKING AT THE WHEEL
* In 2011, it was suggested that smoking in a car with children could be outlawed, owing to the dangers of second-hand smoke. This does not go far enough in my view, and doesn’t encompass the other dangers of smoking while driving.
If you text and take or make a call on a mobile phone, you will be penalised with penalty points on your license. Why? Well, it is dangerous to have your eyes distracted from the road, and also for having your hands away from the wheel.
With that in mind, picture a smoker on a motorway, or perhaps more dangerously, on a hazardous country road. They lean to pick up their packet of cigarettes, fooster with the plastic and lid, pull one out and light it up, while travelling at speeds of over 80kph. They then hold it to their mouth, take a drag, flail their arm toward the window, tip it out, take a drag, tip it out.
This action is as dangerous as talking on the phone, never mind just the long-term hazard of second-hand smoke for passengers.
When laws surrounding this issue arise, penalties should be introduced for the act of smoking, and not just for the health risk.
EDENDERRY, CO OFFALY
HOW TO SAVE CAPITALISM
* Newly found ability to produce everything in abundance with decreasing dependence on human labour could destroy us.
We must generate more jobs from less work or capitalism and society will crumble; shorter hours, longer holidays, earlier retirement.
Everybody’s dream is the only plausible solution for 21st Century economic problems. The choice is simple: more people working less or less people working more. Yet no politician, economist or journalist/broadcaster will discuss it.
TUBBERCURRY, CO SLIGO