10April2014Wendy and Susan
I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Can Hyde-Brown pass his exam? Priceless
Mary in hospital visit her with Wendy and Susan
Scrabbletoday, I win just by three points,Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.
Sir Maurice Drake – obituary
Sir Maurice Drake was a High Court judge who presided over some of the most high-profile libel actions of his time
Sir Maurice Drake Photo: PHOTOSHOT
7:10PM BST 09 Apr 2014
Sir Maurice Drake, who has died aged 91, was the High Court’s principal libel judge from 1991 to 1995; earlier he was one of the most fluent and persuasive advocates at the Bar.
Robust and straightforward, Drake was particularly adept at handling difficult criminal cases, and often unusually candid with juries. Concluding his summing up in a murder trial at Reading Crown Court, he said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the facts are for you, the law is for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t comment on the facts.” He then told them that he thought the defendant was innocent.
Drake was normally more subtle in expressing his opinion, and he very rarely misdirected. He was careful with the detail and expert at summarising it. A passionate believer in the jury system for all the reasons connected with justice, he nevertheless made no secret of the fact that he was also attracted by its theatrical possibilities.
His most dramatic case was probably the Gillian Taylforth libel trial in 1994, which resulted from a story in the Sun describing how the actress had performed an “indecent act” on her fiancé in her Range Rover on a slip-road off the Al.
Gillian Taylforth arriving at court in 1995
Much of the evidence in the case was so fruity that some commentators were asking if it did not undermine the dignity of and respect for the legal system; the propriety of the proceedings was dented by the direct way George Carman put his case (“I suggest, if we go back to basics, that you were giving him a blow job because you had both had a merry day”). But Drake – a man of the world – seemed determined that the jury should get the whole picture.
Among the exhibits he allowed the jury to see was a six-year-old video — showing the EastEnders actress at a party cavorting with a German sausage — used by Carman to rebut her claim that she was not an exhibitionist.
More unusually, Drake permitted the court entourage to troop out to the High Court’s car park, where Miss Taylforth purported to re-enact what she claimed had been an innocent comforting gesture to her sick fiancé. Afterwards, in another vehicle, two Sun feature writers, quite unable to suppress sniggers, simulated the version of events that was ultimately believed by the jury.
Drake attracted publicity of a different nature a year later, this time for taking the unprecedented step of openly discussing the fact that he was a Freemason, and had been since 1948. It was, he said, a chance for indulging in harmless play-acting, good dinners and friendship, rather than secret deals and career advancement.
“An outsider might say it is a lot of grown men behaving like children,” he said. “I can understand that, but it is fun all the same.” He denied any conspiracy: “If I were trying to sentence somebody and they tried to signal me or whatever, I would have to restrain myself from increasing the sentence.”
Frederick Maurice Drake was born on February 15 1923 and educated at St George’s School, Harpenden. During the Second World War he served in Nos 96 and 255 squadrons of the RAF. Short-sighted, he was prevented from becoming a pilot, and trained as a navigator flying in Beaufighters; in 1944, after a number of successes against enemy aircraft, he was awarded a DFC.
On demobilisation in 1945, Drake went up to Exeter College, Oxford; he later read for the Bar and was called by Lincoln’s Inn in 1950.
He joined chambers at 4 Paper Buildings in the Inner Temple, and developed a busy common law practice, dealing with crime, tort, contract and libel, plus a lucrative sideline in licensing – his ability to charm magistrates off their seats made him much in demand by Ladbrokes and others.
Drake’s popularity among solicitors owed much to his advocacy. He was at his best when up against it. He would lean back, smile, and calmly deliver a measured and articulate argument. He had faultless timing in both civil and criminal cases and was a ruthless cross-examiner. He was also an attentive instructor to his many pupils .
Drake’s clients included Mary Whitehouse, awarded damages from Ned Sherrin for his quip that in order to be up late enough to watch Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life she must have been “on the streets”. He also acted for the Bay City Roller Les McKeown, jailed for three months after assaulting photographers at a pop concert; and Sir Oswald Mosley, who would regularly consult Drake – who did not share his client’s political sympathies – on various libel suits.
Drake also prosecuted in all three of the so-called “terror pickets” trials at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973. The defendants were the ringleaders of 300 flying pickets who had swarmed on to a Shropshire housing site in 1972 “like a hoard of Apache Indians”, according to Drake, chanting: “Kill, kill, kill, capitalist bastards. This is not a strike, it is a revolution.”
The guilty verdicts removed fears that existing laws were not strong enough to deal with terror tactics in strikes. They followed government pressure on chief constables to abandon their reluctance to act in industrial disputes because of anxiety about the political consequences.
Drake was deputy chairman of the Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions from 1966 to 1971; deputy leader of the Midland and Oxford Circuit from 1975 to 1978; and a Recorder of the Crown Court for six years from 1972. He was appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1978, assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division, and from 1979 to 1983 sat as the presiding judge on the Midland and Oxford Circuit.
The Carl Bridgewater murder trial was one of Drake’s first on the bench, and presented him with the difficulty of one of the defendant’s confessing and implicating his three co-defendants, but then declining to give evidence in court. The case later became something of a cause célèbre, and in February 1997 the men’s convictions were overturned after suggestions that the police had fabricated evidence in order to secure the all-important confession. Throughout the long campaign to overturn the verdicts, however, no criticism was made of Drake’s handling of the original trial.
Thereafter, the reputation that Drake built as one of the QBD’s most gifted and reliable trial judges rendered him a natural choice to take over the jury list when Sir Michael Davies retired in 1991.
One of the earliest high-profile libel trials at which Drake presided involved the actor Jason Donovan, awarded £200,000 in 1992 after an article in the Face magazine had alleged he was “queer” and had lied about his sexuality. Drake advised the jury that to call someone “queer” in the 1990s “may not be defamatory” and that the matter was “highly debatable”. But the additional slur that the squeaky-clean Donovan was a hypocrite tilted the verdict the plaintiff’s way.
Jason Donovan, who won £200,000 libel damages in 1992
The dozens of squealing girls who had packed Court 13 were ecstatic. “I am heterosexual,” the actor announced outside the court. A fan shouted: “There is justice! There is justice!”
Other notable protagonists who came before Drake included Teresa Gorman, awarded £150,000 (reduced to £50,000 on appeal) from her aptly named constituent Anthony Mudd, for a slur in a pamphlet around election time; Claire Latimer, the Downing Street caterer who settled her action against the satirical magazine Scallywag over an alleged affair with John Major; David Mellor’s friend Mona Bauwens, who also settled her case against The People; and Richard Branson, who won an apology from British Airways over a dirty tricks campaign.
Drake also presided over the case between Lady Foster (wife of the architect Sir Norman) and Customs officers at Heathrow, over allegations of false imprisonment and “slander by conduct” – being marched through the airport concourse in full view of the public. The jury failed to reach a verdict, the defence counsel having described the plaintiff as “insufferably grand”.
Drake continued to sit on serious criminal cases when required, and sentenced a 15-year-old arsonist to six life sentences after he admitted starting a fire in a department store in which two pensioners died and 82 other shoppers were injured.
The following year, jailing a shoplifter for five years for the manslaughter of his pursuer, Drake said he would be delighted if the outcry surrounding the case resulted in higher sentences for manslaughter – at the time he was constrained by Court of Appeal guidelines.
In another case, Drake turned down the Chelsea footballer Paul Elliot’s claim for damages from the Welsh international Dean Saunders, over an allegedly “over the top” tackle that ended Elliot’s playing career. But he gave short shrift to the suggestion that players in contact sports “consent” to the risk of being seriously injured, saying they had every right to seek redress from the courts.
Drake retired in 1995, but continued to hear occasional cases and interlocutory applications; in 1996 he granted an interim injunction to prevent further publication of photographs taken of Diana, Princess of Wales, by a hidden camera while exercising at the LA Fitness Club.
Drake was variously vice-chairman of the Parole Board from 1985 to 1986, and Nominated Judge for appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal from 1985 to 1995. A keen Liberal, he was also at one time the mayor of St Albans.
He listed his recreations in Who’s Who as music, opera (he sang for the Harpenden Amateur Operatics), gardening, and sea-fishing. Although he hated clubs, he was very clubbable.
Drake was an extremely good-looking man who enjoyed the company of women. But he remained devoted to his wife May (neé Waterfall), whom he married in 1954; they had two sons and three daughters.
Sir Maurice Drake, born February 15 1923, died April 6 2014
Your editorial (Faith in the figures, 9 April) speculates on whether the changes to the national accounts methodology to be applied this autumn amount to coincidence or conspiracy. They are neither. The changes are the result of new international standards which have been discussed and agreed by experts, over many years. In the case of European Union countries such as the UK, both the substance and timing of the changes are specified in European law. The Office for National Statistics has no discretion to vary either.
Chief economic adviser, Office for National Statistics
• I see the residents of London’s Kensington Park Gardens are protected by armed police officers at each end of the street (No benefits street, G2, 8 April). I wonder how many of the aforementioned residents are actually contributing taxes to pay for policing and any other public services they enjoy.
• If you’re going to attempt musical analysis (In praise of… The Winner Takes It All, 7 April) it’s always better to actually understand the meaning of the musical terms employed. The predominant piano theme in Abba’s song comprises various descending scales of five notes, not arpeggios. Yours, pedantically.
• Annie Murray, a “saga writer”, objects to your reporter writing that the saga genre is “much maligned” (Letters, 8 April). I suspect that Snorri Sturluson would be turning in his grave at the usage of “saga” by both of them.
• Travelling with friends through Wrynose Bottom in Cumbria, I didn’t realise the unpleasant implications until one of the company read the name from the map (Letters, 9 April).
• It is possible to be smartly dressed in Matching Tye in Essex. I’m still trying to find Handkerchief somewhere close by.
Former PM Tony Blair. ‘Perhaps the difficulty lies in Blair’s tendency to be self-righteous, in his unwillingness to apologise unequivocally for anything,’ writes Bruce Ross-Smith. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Zoe Williams’s touching plea to reconfigure the legacy of the former PM (We need to talk about the legacy of Tony Blair, 9 April) only serves to reinforce the widely held view that even the “liberal” media is incapable of offering the radical analysis of our current woeful condition that the times demand. It was Blair’s first lieutenant Peter Mandelson who offered the view he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, and so the deregulation of the City continued apace while the Tory assault upon trade union rights and their ability to protect the wages of the poor went unaddressed. The eroded minimum wage has now become the standard wage for almost all those newly employed in the manual sector (many graduates) and they now have no way to protect themselves. They won’t starve, but their capacity to wrest some just reward from the obscene growth of capital returns for the powerful has been swept away.
The increased investment in public services under Blair was entirely founded upon the naive belief that deregulation of the markets and their introduction into the public sphere would lead to unending growth – no more boom and bust! It was Blair’s mantra that people did not care who provided their services, only that they received them, as though the health professional working to maximise profits for private investors was no different from a public servant. The current Labour party has inherited, and continues, this embrace of the neoliberal agenda and that is why it now seems so irrelevant to that huge section of the populace on the left now effectively disenfranchised.
Chichester, West Sussex
• As Polly Toynbee has often stressed on these pages, the achievements of Tony Blair‘s New Labour governments were considerable and durable, and Gordon Brown’s three-year administration added to those achievements. Zoe Williams is also right to say we shouldn’t judge Blair only on the basis of his military interventions (etc) and foreign policy. Perhaps the difficulty lies in Blair’s tendency to be self-righteous, in his unwillingness to apologise unequivocally for anything which happened on his watch, in his no doubt unintended habit of speaking in Pharisaical “voices”, both orally and in print. Humility is not Blair’s strong point. It is, however, a virtue.
• It is both commendable and accurate for Zoe Williams to insist that the legacy of the Blair years should not be smothered by the war-crime notions of Iraq. Unfortunately, little of great political courage or imagination was done during these years to match the expectation of many of Labour’s grassroots supporters. For these women and men, pride is taken that their party created the NHS, the Open University, national parks, affordable and shame-free social housing, the first arts minister and much more. Civilising ideas were made concrete.
Sadly, New Labour appeared to many to cave in to the hostile media on the one hand and doubtful economism on the other. That’s when “they’re all the same” took hold. The state of the nation today would suggest that a dynamic surge of political courage, imagination and creativity could restore Labour’s magnetism. Without it the future of Britain looks like a tedious shopping mall with “offers that must end” repeated ad nauseam, and with nothing beyond.
• Zoe Williams exhorts us to be fair and remember that there was more to Tony Blair than just Iraq. Well, yes: he also tried to turn Britain into an authoritarian state with identity cards, vast government detention powers and mass surveillance. Economically, he renewed the drive for privatisation and commercialisation of public services. Since leaving power he has toured around preaching war against everyone in sight, and earning multimillions from vaguely defined services to various dictators he had got to know.
On Blair’s credit side, Williams mentions the peace process in Northern Ireland, and claims that the present government wouldn’t have done it. But it would. It was caused by the IRA leadership finally accepting after 25 years that they weren’t winning, and any government in London would have welcomed it and responded in the same way.
All Williams can really say is that the national minimum wage dates to his time. But any Labour government at this time would have done it, and the only thing remarkable is how out of character this particular act was to everything else Blair did; it must have been forced on him by overwhelming party pressure. But all right: the national minimum wage. Anything else to be said for him?
Two hundred years ago slavery was socially acceptable – it was part of life. It was only when it became part of a political agenda that this changed. As you report (8 April) that film director Steve McQueen and others throw their support behind demands for planned anti-slavery laws to be toughened up, Care also demands that the focus goes beyond that of organised criminals and “victims” to the estimated 68 million domestic workers who dwell behind the closed doors of people’s homes.
Globally, one in 13 female wage workers is a domestic worker. More than half have no established working hours or the legal right to a minimum salary and more than a third have no right to maternity leave. All people should be entitled to decent working conditions, and yet paid domestic workers around the world have been historically excluded from these provisions. This exclusion is a breach of their human rights and has left millions working in exploitative conditions, hidden from view and unregulated.
No one is saying we should put an end to this work. Our new report on decent work for domestic workers highlights just how vitally important it is to the economy. States need to enforce the rights of domestic workers and recognise the key role they play in the wider global economy.
Chief executive, Care International UK
• Maybe the reason why the UK’s growth will exceed the rest of Europe (Britain will lead world’s growth, says IMF, 9 April) is that we have a workforce that is very poorly paid – more or less slave labour. Was that in Cameron’s mind when he strenuously bargained away the European social contract some years ago, and is that the reason overseas companies set up operations here?
West Kirby, Wirral
Crucially, the state-run east coast mainline franchise, between London King’s Cross and Scotland, is the only line where the franchise holder, East Coast, has to compete on part of the line with non-franchised private railway companies, known as “open access”.
Research from the Centre for Policy Studies, Rail’s Second Chance: Putting Competition Back on Track, shows east coast mainline passenger journeys increased by 42% at stations that enjoy rail competition, compared with 27% for those without competition; revenue increased by 57% where competition occurs, compared to 48% for those without; and average fares increased by only 11% at those stations with competition, compared to 17% at those stations without. Those open-access companies which compete with East Coast – Grand Central and First Hull Trains – also consistently record the highest passenger satisfaction statistics of UK train companies. They receive no money from the government.
As a result of this competition more passengers have been attracted to the railway overall and, consequently, East Coast has been able to pay a year-on-year increase in its premium to government. But while there is some open-access rail competition on the east coast mainline, the west coast mainline long-distance rail franchise, operated by Virgin, still faces none.
More rail competition is in the interests of the passenger, the taxpayer, the government and the regions, particularly the north. The Labour party should support more open-access rail competition, alongside franchises, and not support a policy that risks delivering a more subsidy-hungry railway.
Research fellow, Centre for Policy Studies, and author of Rail’s Second Chance
It is shocking, but perhaps not surprising, to read of the impact of the public-private partnership between the Lesotho government and Netcare on healthcare across Lesotho (Finance deal threatens Lesotho’s hospitals, says Oxfam, 7 April). However, public-private partnership can work in an African healthcare setting, and this has been demonstrated over the last six years by the success of the Health Improvement Project Zanzibar (HIPZ) in transforming services on the island.
Since 2006, an innovative model of collaboration between HIPZ and the Zanzibar government has seen a huge improvement in care at Makunduchi and Kivunge hospitals. This partnership improves healthcare provision without commercial gain for individuals or corporations, or the accruement of debt, with an ultimate aim of long-term sustainability.
The success of this model has required a number of crucial factors: a commitment to fully understand local needs, an open-minded and pragmatic approach by the HIPZ team (recognising the importance of listening to local staff), consistent investment in local staff, and transparent monitoring of outcomes, but with the acceptance that improvement is slow and often difficult to demonstrate in the short term. This largely unknown model of collaboration demonstrates a stark contrast to that seen in Lesotho.
Dr Jon Rees, Mr Ru MacDonagh, Roma Walker, Dr Nick Campain
On behalf of the HIPZ Trustees
• Your article rightly raised concerns about healthcare costs in Lesotho. The World Bank Group is working closely with the government to identify cost-effective solutions to improve health for the people of Lesotho.
We would like to clarify a few key points. The public-private partnership health network – which serves a quarter of the population – accounted for nearly 35% of the total health budget. While this is a significant allocation of the budget, it is about the same percentage spent on the facilities under the old system. Most important, the network is delivering better results.
As the article noted, maternal and infant mortality rates have declined and the quality of care provided has improved at the new health facilities. These important achievements have driven greater-than-expected demand at the network – which includes four primary clinics and the only referral hospital open to all citizens.
We are working in several areas to help the government of Lesotho to further expand access to high-quality health services for women and children, especially those living in remote areas. We welcome the opportunity to work with all stakeholders so that everyone in Lesotho, especially the poorest, is able to access the essential health services they deserve.
Director, PPP transaction advisory services, International Finance Corporation
• The letter you published referring to the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (9 April) is misleading. We are an independent UK-registered charity and Mr Blair, as our founder and patron, carries out his work in Rwanda on a pro-bono basis. As such he is well placed to comment on the country – its progress and its challenges. AGI derives no profit from its partnership with the government of Rwanda. A quick look at our website (www.africagovernance.org) will tell you that we work with several African governments to help them drive the development that lifts their people out of poverty.
Chief executive, Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative
Your analysis (A public admission of what many are saying in private, 5 April) repeats the assertion that “ageing alone [is] estimated to add £1bn a year to the NHS‘s costs”, but then adds that “most of us use the NHS mainly in our last two years of life”. Those two years are the same whether one is in one’s 70s, 80s, 90s or beyond. There is no sudden additional burden on the NHS that can justify current handwringing and claims as to its unaffordability. Our “ageing population” is reducible to two causes: adults are living healthier lives for longer and are having fewer children. Most parents take their children to the GP more often than they take themselves, but no one complains that child health is an unsustainable burden on the taxpayer. Please can we have fewer spurious arguments against universal public provision, and less ageism? It’s bad enough being accused of hoovering up all the houses without being forced to apologise for wilfully continuing to breathe.
Dr Anne Summers (aged 70, as it happens)
The moment I heard David Cameron offer Maria Miller his warm support, I suspected her ministerial career was doomed. There is a long history of prime ministers giving colleagues the kiss of death by publicly supporting them when they are in trouble.
Andy Coulson was a victim of this. There were several examples under Blair. Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett were ministers whom he stood by as they fell from grace.
Prime ministers and their advisers just don’t get the fact that the public expect very high standards of their representatives in Parliament.
John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire
David Cameron backing Maria Miller because she was doing a good job shows (yet again) his bad judgement. All of his ministers caught out in wrongdoing have been given his full support.
It isn’t just the system that spared Miller that is in need of reform, but the whole of Westminster. The stink of corruption is wafting across the country where national assets such as the Post Office and the NHS are being looted by Tory party friends.
Julie Partridge, London, SE15
Before we fall for the story that Maria Miller has at last done the decent thing, let us note that she has resigned, she says, because her presence has become a “distraction from the vital work of the Government”. So she still lacks the recognition of having behaved badly – just as she failed to realised that to utter the words “I apologise” is not thereby to apologise. Voters take note.
Peter Cave, London W1
I know it’s difficult for us Northerners to appreciate the complexities of living down south, but according to my route planner, the time it takes to get from the train station nearest to Maria Miller’s home in Basingstoke to Westminster is 58 minutes, while the journey from her second home in Wimbledon takes 36 minutes.
A promising career lost, and great expense for the taxpayer, all for the sake of 22 minutes. And she could have done the Independent crossword to fill the time.
Colin Burke, Manchester
When MPs, caught with their hand in the expenses till, are pursued by the media, they regularly bleat “Witch-hunt!” When will they be taken to task for using this inappropriate metaphor? Surely, there were no witches.
Art Tanner, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Would Glasgow defy referendum vote?
I would like to draw attention to the possibility of a break-up of Scotland if the referendum results in our leaving the UK.
If there is a small majority for independence in September, I wonder whether Glasgow and the west of Scotland will accept that decision? Perhaps people in the west will want to follow Northern Ireland in staying in the UK. It was recently reported that in a poll of 2,589 Glasgow University students 62 per cent voted no, and 38 per cent voted yes to the referendum question. The pro-independence website Wings over Scotland states that “Glasgow is the heart of Unionist darkness in Scotland”.
Given the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, it is perhaps inevitable that many Glaswegians see independence as an airy-fairy notion that favours hoity-toity Edinburgh more than down-to-earth, businesslike Glasgow. Independence has already been shown to be potentially bad for business in many ways: for example, shipbuilding could be threatened.
The proximity of the south-west to Northern Ireland means that Unionism resonates much more with people there than those in the east. It is therefore possible that south-west Scotland will fight for the right to remain in the United Kingdom. What will then become of an independent Scotland when an area containing half its population opts to stay in the UK?
If the referendum produces only a narrow majority one way or the other, those on the losing side may have feelings of resentment for years to come.
Alistair J Sinclair, Glasgow
Lord Robertson, the former Secretary General of Nato, has warned that Scottish independence would threaten world stability.
I’m certain that in Kiev, Kharkiv and Donetsk they talk of nothing else than the “cataclysmic” “geo-political” consequences (to use Robertson’s words) of a “yes” vote in Scotland.
Sasha Simic , London N16
‘The train don’t stop here any more’
As quaint as they might be, request stops (“Stop the train, I want to get off”, 9 April) can also be a hazard for the unwary traveller.
Many years ago, one Saturday night, I was travelling back from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon after a few tinctures with an old friend. As a regular commuter on that line, I knew that the next stop after Bath was Bradford.
I may have closed my eyes momentarily, but then the train slowed down and a young lad in the compartment got up in readiness to get off. “Next stop after Bath” I said to myself, and alighted from the train when it stopped.
As the train pulled away I failed to see the lights of the town I expected, and making my way along the platform saw the sign “Avoncliff”. I stumbled in the darkness across the viaduct and groped my way to the Cross Guns public house.
It was like a scene from a gothic novel as I pushed open the door. The few locals huddled over their pints all went silent and looked up at the windswept stranger who entered the bar. I thought an explanation was due: “I’ve just got off the train.”
The landlord looked at me in an old fashioned way. “The train don’t stop at Avoncliff,” he said. The locals joined in: “The train ain’t stopped ’ere for years.”
It had that night. I found out later that it was a request stop.
John E Orton, Bristol
BBC ‘balance’ on climate change
The letter from the BBC Trust member Alison Hastings typifies the complacent approach to climate change adopted by the BBC (8 April).
On the last three occasions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a major report, BBC News has interviewed Bob Carter, a retired geologist from Australia who belongs to the Non-IPCC, Bjorn Lomborg, a well-known sceptic, Nigel Lawson, who chairs the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and Richard Tol, an economist affiliated to GWPF.
It is true that Richard Tol contributed to the latest IPCC report, but his submission was the only academic study out of 20 claiming that climate change might be beneficial and was rejected by the IPCC as unduly complacent.
There is not a single reputable scientific journal in the world that disputes the reality of climate change, nor of man’s contribution to it. Yet the BBC seems utterly incapable of moving beyond the science to the much more urgent question of what needs to be done. It is high time that the BBC ditched its obsession with political balance and started reporting the facts.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
Free schools: my revolutionary plan
Why do papers blather on about free schools? Anyone would think they were Westiminster’s way of sidestepping the fact that state schools have been mismanaged.
I think the concept is so fantastically marvellous that I am going to set up a free hospital. I will start with maternity (on the basis that I have had three babies).
I will apply for government funding which they can siphon off from my local health authority. In anticipation of the success of this project I am already converting my leaky garden shed into a birthing pool.
Amanda Baker, Morpeth, Northumberland
No compensation for prisoners
Jim Jepps (letter, 9 April) expresses the sort of liberal viewpoint that is leading to the disintegration of civilised society. Of course it is not “just fine” for one convicted criminal to be “shanked” in prison by another convicted criminal. However, the alleged victim should not be awarded compensation; the perpetrators should be severely punished in a way which would necessitate legislation.
Those tasked with the day-to-day running of the prison service ought not to be held responsible for the actions of the criminals they are detaining.
David Mitchell, Edinburgh
Pickles at prayer
Archie Bland’s suggestion (8 April) that Eric Pickles should don a sandwich board the next time he wants to intervene in an argument about religion and secularism raises an important question. With the pickles in the sandwich will we have cheese or ham, or possibly both?
Peter Clark, Hartford
The hurdle between low-paid workers and Employment Tribunals has cut appeals by nearly 80%
Sir, Joy Drummond (letter, Apr 8) highlights the government’s pickle over tribunal fees. It has insisted that fees were not introduced to deter potential claimants but rather to recoup the costs of such litigation from those who choose to litigate.
Now that claims have fallen by 79 per cent, a figure that surely cannot just include “frivolous” cases, ministers are hinting at a review. However, if the government continues to insist that fees were introduced simply to recoup costs, there seems little point in changing things. Only if the government now concedes that it sought to remove claims that in its view should never have been brought, can a proper reassessment be made.
Richard M Fox
Chair, Employment Lawyers Association
Sir, Potential claimants to an employment tribunal must now first notify Acas. Acas has a legal obligation to seek a settlement with the employer. Its conciliators, who are not legally trained, cannot give advice on the merits of the claim to either side. Faced with the prospect of large fees, claimants will feel under heavy pressure to accept whatever can be negotiated without regard to the merits of the case.
There is another twist. The exemption scheme for those on benefits or who are on a low income does not extend to those on contribution-based jobseekers allowance, the very allowance that all those who can bring a claim for unfair dismissal will be on since they will have had to have worked for two years to qualify to bring such a claim. It is perhaps no surprise to discover that 97 per cent of claims for fee exemption are being declined.
A system that has served so well those who have been badly treated by their employers and which has had the support of administrations of both colours for many decades has been brought low. It is indeed a scandal
Dr PS Lewis
Adviser in Employment Law, Newmarket and Rural Cambs Citizens Advice Bureaux
Sir, Charging fees to bring employment tribunal claims has certainly allowed a lot of employers to get away with shoddy treatment of their workers, but there is also a sharp fall in spurious claims by ex-employees. I have seen many examples of such claims, and their damaging effect on employers, often small businesses. Before tribunal fees were introduced, many lawyers helped ex-employees bring weak claims knowing that it would be cheaper for the employer to settle than to fight.
Now we have to strike a balance between allowing mistreated staff some redress and helping employers avoid huge legal fees and payouts to employees who don’t fancy working.
Sir, The letter from my long-lost cousin Judge/Barnwr Dafydd Hughes (Apr 3) made me wonder how many of the cases before Welsh courts arise because non-Welsh speakers (or lapsed ones like me) have difficulty in quickly interpreting the road signs in the Principality because the same fonts are used for both the English and Welsh versions of place names and warnings.
Sir, I have just spluttered over my coffee while reading the letter about the springer spaniel which satisfies the criteria for age 2 school entry. Perhaps we could borrow him to train our 2-year-old grandson who behaves like a very sweet and unruly labrador puppy. “No”, “Stop” and “Stay” would make an excellent start.
Bushey Heath, Herts
Sir, Text-speak (Apr 5) has reached forenames. An acquaintance recently came across “L-a”, pronounced “Ladasha”. What hope is there for old-fashioned ones like Albert and Mabel?
Sir, I was disappointed at your Peter Brookes cartoon (Apr 9), showing Martin McGuinness walking off the red carpet leaving a trail of red footsteps.
Although Mr McGuinness’s true activities within the IRA are still not clear, the future of Anglo-Irish relationships must involve looking forward and not dwelling on the violence of the past.
This will be extremely difficult for those who suffered directly during the Troubles from the actions of the various paramiltary and military groups. I feel this cartoon to be irresponsible and does not help the reconciliation process. It is likely to aggravate the still on-going tensions.
Sir, I take exception to comments by the former Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Hain (Apr 7). To suggest that we should not prosecute terrorists responsible for acts of savagery against police officers and the wider community amounts to a gross betrayal.
Officers in the RUC GC were the same as officers in every other police service in Great Britain — would Mr Hain countenance an amnesty for killers and bombers in his own Welsh constituency if there were a Welsh terrorist equivalent of the Provisional IRA?
No, he wouldn’t, but he persists in relegating Northern Ireland, and its people, showing no sensitivity or genuine acknowledgement of the immense contribution my officer colleagues made to the delivery of a more peaceful region.
As in every corner of the UK, those who donned the uniform to serve their country, and paid the ultimate price, deserve to be honoured and not treated as some cheap political pawns by politicians who’ve lost or mislaid their moral compass; 302 officers were murdered by terrorists — republican and loyalist — during the Troubles, and a staggering 210 deaths are unsolved. Is that a price Mr Hain is prepared for us to pay?
He and Mr Blair embarked on a grubby, secretive and massively offensive Administrative Scheme for “On-the-runs” to give political cover to Sinn Fein.
It has ended poorly, and Mr Hain should be big enough to now acknowledge that he made a dreadful mistake and apologise to the widows and dependants who still grieve the loss of their loved ones.
Chairman, Police Federation for Northern Ireland
Willows played an important role in the Somerset Levels.
Taking a punt on the willow: Peter Graham’s oil painting ‘Glad green summer’, 1997 Photo: Getty Images/The Bridgeman Art Library
6:58AM BST 09 Apr 2014
SIR – The role of willow trees in slowing the pace of drainage into rivers on the Somerset Levels was of paramount importance. But the number of willows has dropped for no apparent reason, and I have heard of no plans to restore these trees. Along with the removal of mud and debris from the rivers, slowing the flow of flood water into the rivers should be a top priority.
Angmering, West Sussex
SIR – The Conservative Party is the natural home of working people. Today’s party is the party for everybody in society, from every walk of life. We remember that Conservatives who have done the most for the poorest, from Lord Shaftesbury and Randolph Churchill to Lady Thatcher, didn’t necessarily come from working-class backgrounds. We also remember that Harold Macmillan, the Conservative who appealed most to working-class voters, was by no means working class himself. Social class doesn’t matter, but using power to help working-class people matters a lot. And that’s what Conservatives have done and are doing.
We’re proud to belong to a party that extended the franchise to working-class voters, gave the right to picket and the right to a ballot to trade unionists and was responsible for far-reaching measures to improve the conditions of the poorest.
We’re proud to belong to a party that demolished the slums, built millions of new houses, gave council-house tenants the right to buy their own home and gave millions of citizens the right to participate in a share-owning democracy.
And we’re enormously proud to belong to a party that is lifting the poorest out of tax, cutting fuel duty, increasing the minimum wage, reviving manufacturing, capping payday loans, reducing inequality to its lowest level for almost 30 years, and fighting for full employment. This is a message we must be shouting from the rooftops between now and next May.
David Amess MP (Con)
Nigel Adams MP (Con)
Andrew Bingham MP (Con)
Jackie Doyle-Price MP (Con)
Andrew Rosindell MP (Con)
Alec Shelbrooke MP (Con)
Laura Sandys MP (Con)
Paul Maynard MP (Con)
Bob Neill MP (Con)
Neil Carmichael MP (Con)
Mark Prisk MP (Con)
Robert Halfon MP (Con)
Guy Opperman MP (Con)
Mark Harper MP (Con)
09 Apr 2014
09 Apr 2014
SIR – David Cameron has appointed someone to send a letter on his behalf, by Royal Mail, to all small businesses informing them of the National Insurance rebate they will be entitled to. Why does he think this is necessary, as we had received the same information from HM Revenue & Customs by email a month ago?
Such blatant electioneering gives no credit to our intelligence, and bears the hallmark of Gordon Brown telling us how lucky we were to have our taxes paid back to us through government handouts.
SIR – When we lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, we spent many nights at the wonderful opera house and concert halls. The local audience was extremely enthusiastic and there were many shouts of “bravo” at the end of the performance.
Children were taken by their parents and presented bouquets to a large number of performers at the end. Students would buy the cheapest tickets possible, and at the last minute, before the start of the opera or concert, would rush down to the stalls to take up any empty seats.
This is a country where classical music is appreciated by the majority of citizens.
Carol A Parkin
A pie and a pint
SIR – Gordon Hughes asks what makes a “proper pub” (Letters, April 7). Visiting a pub in Yorkshire some years ago, a friend spotted a sign behind the bar: “A pint, a pie and a friendly word.”
Ordering a pie and a pint, which the landlord served with a scowl, my friend said: “What about the friendly word?” – to which the landlord replied, in his thick Yorkshire accent: “Don’t eat t’pie.”
SIR – Now that it is accepted that the need is for increased HS2 capacity rather than reduced journey time (report, April 7), alternatives to the planned route to the Midlands should be reconsidered, unconstrained by the straight stretches and minimum radius bends dictated by very high speed.
While achieving cost reductions and greater public approval, a more direct route north out of the capital’s suburbs would mitigate damage to the environment and economy of north-west London, particularly during the eight-to-10-year construction period.
Those who invoke the can-do approach of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Robert Stephenson should remember that those engineering giants had an almost clean slate to work on, with minimal existing infrastructure and barely half the population density of today.
East Grinstead, West Sussex
SIR – Sending children to school aged two will not give them a better start to their education. The solution lies in our excellent parent and toddler groups. These already operate in most of our towns, cities and villages, and they are generally run by enthusiastic volunteers.
The best groups already encourage parents to engage with their children in craft activities and songs. Why not use this excellent resource to educate parents in how to help their children develop.
SIR – Caroline Chaffe asks for advice on the best way to fold fitted sheets. Easy. Lay the sheet on the bed, right side downwards. Fold the four elasticated sides inwards until you have an oblong, then bring top to tail and continue folding until you have a neat parcel.
Don’t give up using fitted sheets – the flat sheets never stay in place.
SIR – Nobody will see the fitted sheet in the linen cupboard, nor on the bed if it has been made properly. It is better to relax and enjoy the time saved from the tyranny of hospital corners.
St Neots, Cambridgeshire
The politics behind man-made global warming
SIR – Charles Moore tells us that “the game is up for climate change believers”. Certainly, the game ought to be up; but there are far too many vested interests at stake for it to be so.
The biggest problem is the credibility of all those leading politicians who swallowed the whole “man-made global warming” nonsense, hook, line and sinker, and who now lack the guts to admit that they may have been wrong. So long as these politicians remain in positions of power, they will carry on with the pretence, oblivious to the harm they are doing to both the most needy of their fellow citizens and the competitiveness of their countries’ industry and commerce.
SIR – In 2008, Lord Lawson published his monograph An Appeal to Reason — A Cool Look at Global Warming. It contained an impressive analysis of the (then) science and economics and offered an approach for policy makers. The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report plays down the need for expensive “mitigation” (for example, wind turbines) and embraces resilience and adaptation. This strategy mirrors Lord Lawson’s 2008 analysis.
Dr Tony Parker
Ringmer, East Sussex
SIR – We have had steady warming since the second half of the 19th century. If this was man-made, there would have been marked acceleration in the second half of the 20th century but there was none. In fact, the warming has stalled.
There have been warm periods before: in the Middle Ages, Roman and Minoan times.
Billingham, County Durham
SIR – Charles Moore is right. For the past four billion years, the climate on Earth has been determined by the influence of the sun, which has varied in predictable and unpredictable ways, and continues to do so.
Politicians once understood that voters can easily detect the aroma of immorality, but today’s MPs want to get re-elected at any cost. They think we are too stupid to differentiate between inappropriate behaviour and procedural errors.
SIR – I find it impossible to reconcile David Cameron’s dogged support for Maria Miller with his failure to back Andrew Mitchell.
One has apologised, albeit grudgingly, for serious errors involving taxpayers’ money, while the other has yet to be found guilty of anything other than possibly being discourteous to two policemen. It makes no sense.
SIR – While it is admirable to defend one’s chums, Mr Cameron’s stance risks undermining all of George Osborne’s good work on the economy. It is time for Mrs Miller to fall on her sword, and also repay the full amount.
W J Auger
Hopton Wafers, Shropshire
SIR – The Prime Minister may well consider it wise to sack Mrs Miller before she resigns. Otherwise he may have to resign himself so that the Conservatives at least have a slim chance of success at the next election.
SIR – The Prime Minister and MPs of all parties have just woken up to a fact that voters have long known: MPs cannot be trusted to stand in judgment on their fellows, particularly when it involves expenses.
As it is difficult to see who would be responsible for appointing completely independent members to a standards committee, it is time voters were given the right to recall their MP, as promised by all three party leaders. Wrongdoers would be judged by their electorate. That would be very democratic and fair.
SIR – While Maria Miller’s wrongdoing has rightly hit the headlines, the shocking expenses being claimed by MEPs should surely be given more prominence since British taxpayers’ money is also involved.
Such unaccountable largesse serves to illustrate that the only way the EU survives is by keeping everyone involved onside by encouraging greed, thus discouraging criticism. The case against Mrs Miller would almost certainly not have come to public attention had she been an MEP.
Sir, – I echo Vincent Hearne’s sentiments (Letters, April 9th). I moved here from my birthplace in England aged 19. Since then, I have studied and qualified here, work for the Irish health service and have married an Irish man with whom I have two small children.
I am proud of my heritage, love the country I was born in, but also love the country I have called home for 15 years. The relief I felt when Queen Elizabeth visited here with such evident success in 2011 took me by surprise. Similarly yesterday I felt unexpected pride watching our President represent us so well at Windsor.
I may well be seen as a “plastic Paddy” or a “blow-in” for the rest of my days on this island, but that’s OK. Teasing and humour show how our relationship, once volatile, has matured into a mellow easy-going friendship. There are many English people working and living in Ireland, and yesterday our leaders set us a great example of how the diaspora should continue to feel at home on each other’s soil. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Reflecting on the state of Anglo-Irish relations in the context of President Higgins’ s State visit to Britain, military historian Tom Burke told a remarkable story on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday (April 9th).
He pointed out that a brother of one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation (Eamonn Ceannt), was killed while fighting in the British army at the Battle of Arras in April 1917. Also that a brother of Michael Malone, one of the leaders of the Volunteers at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, where 28 British soldiers – and indeed Malone himself – were killed during the Easter Week fighting, had died while serving in the British army in May 1915.
Is there a more revealing and poignant example of the intricate warp and weft of Anglo-Irish relations that is being painstakingly mended by events like this State visit, and that made by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011? Yours, etc,
Sir, – The present improved state of relations between Britain and Ireland, so well exemplified in the reciprocal visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Higgins and the presence of Martin McGuinness at the Windsor Castle banquet, suggests that the mass of people on these islands do not live lives of quiet desperation but, rather, lives of desperation for quiet.
To protect and continue this still fragile progress towards political and social quiet the approaching commemoration of 1916 should avoid becoming a glorification of violent revolution and become instead a commemoration of the sacrifice of the lives of both combatants and non-participating civilians and of the economic hardship suffered by all the people of Ireland during and after the succession of conflicts that began with 1916 and continued up to recent times.
It would be a tragic error if an upsurge of patriotic sentiment should result in new support among the young for the small but dangerous minority who still believe that the Armalite is an essential accompaniment to or substitute for the ballot box. Yours, etc,
Sir, – How good it is to be alive at this point in history when our President can make a hugely successful visit to our great neighbour and witness the genuine warmth of feeling that now exists between our two countries. But surely a huge opportunity to underline the depth of the mutual appreciation we now have was missed by the failure to make a promise to grant each other 12 points at every future Eurovision Song Contest. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Amidst the clamour and self-congratulation of the various media outlets and diplomats on the occasion of the President’s visit to London and the subsequent “normalisation” of relations between Britain and Ireland, I can’t help noticing the rather large elephant in the room that is the continued British occupation of the northeastern corner of Ireland.
What nation, other than perhaps Vichy France, would resume full normalised relations with a foreign power while it continues to deny that nation’s inhabitants the right to determine their own future? Yours, etc,
London N8 7EX
A chara, – B’fhéidir go bhfuil an ceart ag Alan Titley (Bileog, 9 Aibreán) go bhfuil clais dhothrasnaithe idir poblacht agus ríocht nach féidir a léim ach ní raibh an chuma sin ar na himeachtaí i gCaisleán Windsor agus na maithe agus na móruaisle ón dá thír ag suí chun boird le chéile.
Is léir gur breá leis na Sasanaigh an mustar is mórdháil agus go bhfuil na hÉireannaigh anois ag sodar ina ndiaidh. Caithfidh mé a admháil gur bhain mé an-spórt as an scléip ar fad. Ní fhéadfaí é seo a shamhlú cúpla bliain ó shin! Cruthaíonn sé arís gurb í an pholaitíocht ealaín na féidearthachta agus gurb iad na Briotanaigh na seanmháistrí san ealaín sin. Is mise,
SÉAN Mag LEANNÁIN
Co Chill Mhantáin
Sir, – How long will it be after the presidential party returns home before the revisionists and their fellow travellers start clamouring for us to rejoin the British Commonwealth and wear the poppy each November? Yours, etc,
Sir, What a moving sight it was to see those two old arch-enemies having dinner together: the Provo Martin McGuinness and the Stickie Eamon Gilmore. To think that less than a generation ago they were at one another’s throats. Sweet. Yours, etc,
Ceannt Fort ,
Sir, – Your Education Correspondent (April 9th) could not have been more ineptly informed about the provost’s response to the discussions on Trinity’s name and coat of arms.
The discussions were initiated by the provost and board on Friday last at an open college meeting. Your paper reported accurately that I spoke in favour of retaining and standardising the coat of arms and the name, Trinity College Dublin, in our documents. Where appropriate we can substitute the frequently used abbreviations, Trinity, or Trinity College or TCD.
Trinity is the essence of our name, as meaningful for us as Imperial, or Harvard, or Cambridge, or Karolinska, or MIT or ETH or Caltech, is for those institutions. The fact that few of your readers have heard of ETH or Caltech (my second alma mater) does not matter to the great Swiss Institute of Technology or to the magical California Institute of Technology. Those who need to know do know, and they know why they know.
I was at the scholars’ dinner on Monday where I heard the best provost’s speech of that annual occasion for more than a decade, for which the provost received warm and prolonged applause. Those of us who were among the strongest critics of the mooted changes stood the longest and applauded most sincerely. In a fine address, after thanking David Berman for his memorial discourse on the philosopher AA Luce, welcoming the scholars of the decade (two from 1944), and congratulating the new scholars and fellows, he spoke at length on the name and coat of arms, saying to us all that he and the board would take stock of the points raised in the discussions. His language was Trinity language and, while I await further developments, I do not expect the board to make changes that will detract in any way from the value and meaning of our coat of arms and our name. I heard no heckling at the dinner – there may have been some banter at the back of the hall but one happy scholar does not make a summer.
We are the University of Dublin and while this legal fact may be valuable in certain circumstances, our task is to enhance the awareness and reputation of Trinity. That reputation depends on many factors, but most of all on our 420-year record, our graduates and on our current staff and students.
More than half of the 14 new fellows are not Irish. Many of our new scholars do not have recognisably Irish names. These academics and their successors, some among the new scholars, are the future of Trinity, and would not have come to Trinity Light. I hope Irish people will be pleased that Trinity ranks overall 30th in the world in the Times Higher Education Top 100 Most International Universities (2014) and overall 61st in the World in Research Influence (Citations) among the Top 200 Universities. A large question is whether the Government will realise and foster the global status and long-term potential of Trinity.
Professor of Genetics,
Sir, – As one of the many thousands of Irish people who worked in the British National Health Service I was pleased to read (April 4th) that President Higgins would pay tribute to the contribution made by our fellow nationals to this institution. My mother, aunt and sister worked in Britain as nurses, and my my wife and I as doctors – for over 75 years in total. Certainly the NHS itself has not recognised the contribution of the Irish to keeping afloat what is often an imperfect but nevertheless admirable healthcare system.
The service is certainly the object of regular criticism from patients and staff, but outside observers would be foolish to believe that the British would be willing to give it up for a mixed private/public health service, with all the inherent inefficiencies and conflicts of interests that that involves. The NHS retains the affection and stirs the pride of the nation, as was seen in Danny Boyle’s contribution to the opening of the Olympics in London in 2012.
The experiences of the two world wars produced in Britain a deep desire that things should never be the same again and that housing, education and health to what was called the common man should become priorities. William Beveridge, an economist, whose work led to the foundation of the NHS, urged that when the traditional landmarks of society were being abolished “now is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field”.
Many of the landmarks of Irish society have been abolished in recent times and we have an opportunity to use our experience to also advance in the areas of housing, education and healthcare. Those of us who have worked in a society that allows the patient to see the doctor when he or she is ill know it is more moral than one where the sick patient asks permission to “leave the money in next week”.
This is an example of a relationship that must be redefined by universal values that include good healthcare that is available when citizens believe themselves to be in need. Yours, etc,
TOM O’DOWD MD,
Professor of General
Trinity College Dublin
Sir, – Shane O’Doherty (Letters April 4th) belittles cyclists and people like me who commute by public transport on the basis that he, as a car driver, contributes more to the national economy than we do.
The tobacco industry could apply an equally plausible argument, or the arms industry, but that would be to ignore the common good, the health and welfare of our society and, indeed, our appalling legacy of a ruined planet in the name of a spurious concept Mr O’Doherty refers to as “the economy”.
As Colm Moore (Letters, April 7th) points out, typically 75-per-cent-empty cars make up 80 per cent of traffic but carry less than 40 per cent of passengers. Mr O’Doherty lists the plethora of expenses involved in owning a car. Here are some more thoughts he can ponder: as a typical car owner today, he will devote three to four of his 16 waking hours to his car. For his time, he will travel less than 10,000 miles a year and propel himself at an average speed of less than 8 miles an hour — about the same as a bicycle. And he will have to work up to a day and a half each week just to keep his means of transport on the road. Go figure. Yours, etc,
Sir, – In response to Shane O’Doherty’s recent campaign (letters, April 3rd and April 8th) to open up bus lanes, it’s a simple formula – regular buses lead to more passengers, lead to fewer cars, lead to less congestion. This is a well-founded scenario with plenty of evidence globally to support it.
Rather than dispensing with bus lanes, a better tack might be pressing Dublin Bus to supply passenger numbers on certain routes in order to justify the level of investment that is required to keep them running. The more serious issue here – and I must admit ignorance – is whether or not Dublin Bus is able to provide a service at an affordable price for those who cannot afford to run a car to and from work. Mass transit systems, given their value to infrastructure, are worth investing in.
Perhaps it’s time to reopen the debate on competition on routes versus investment by the State. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Irish humanists are offended by the use of the Bible in swearing-in ceremonies, (Siobhán Walls, April 9th). It is understandable that they feel left out, just as religious people feel left out when atheists declare themselves to be the holders of superior special insight into the truth behind the meaning of existence. The only honest thing to swear by is a question mark. Yours , etc,
Sir, – Sean Doocey (April 9th) believes that “modern society” might be better served if gardaí honoured the Constitution instead of the Bible. If Mr Doocey’s quest is to locate a neutral document, his choice seems misplaced.
After all, the preamble of the Constitution begins “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority …” and proceeds to acknowledge “our obligations to our Divine Lord Jesus Christ”. Strange but true. Yours, etc,
DR SEAN ALEXANDER
Letters to the Editor – Published 10 April 2014 02:30 AM
* Michael Noonan’s statement that fears of a new housing bubble are ‘wildly exaggerated’ must not go unchallenged.
Also in this section
Where has he been for the last seven years?
His comments indicate people like him, who have been completely unaffected by the mess his political class created, or the cuts they heaped on the rest of society – the bulk of which have been imposed since 2011 – have learned absolutely nothing and are reverting to type.
Mr Noonan is in his 70s, so he’ll well remember how much his first house cost and how much he was earning at that time.
Then one of his officials needs to tell him how much the average house now costs and how much the average salary is; then add on childcare and travel costs and Mr Noonan will find that, even with two incomes, the figures do not add up. Price inflation is still unsustainable when it exceeds four, five, six times the available salary.
Of course, the reason Mr Noonan prefers to wallow in denial, like those in the Fianna Fail-led government before him, is because if he has to face the reality that property is still overpriced in Ireland, it means that he’ll have to face up to the personal debt timebomb he has been avoiding so carefully since he took office in March 2011.
Ireland is a small country and it is simply astounding that after all this time, there is no agreement between the banking industry and consumer advocate groups on a formula to give debt-laden people a financial review to determine if their debt level is sustainable.
But until then we have Mr Noonan continuing the Ahern, Cowen and Lenihan head-in-the-sand school of economic thought.
A family home should not cost more than three to four times the combined income of those applying for the mortgage and instead of mortgage terms expanding into third and fourth decades, the price of a property in Ireland is still too high.
So what if you aren’t getting enough interest on your savings? Aren’t you lucky you have spare money to save?
So what if you have negative equity?
There are worse things than a hypothetical financial loss.
The real issue Mr Noonan has failed to address is if a person has a sustainable debt burden.
Two people can have the same amount of debt but if their income is vastly different, someone is carrying a heavier debt burden.
This is the elephant in the room this Government refuses to address, but it is preventing the domestic economy recovering.
And we need it to recover so Ireland can build on credible sustainable economic growth, instead of pinning all our hopes on a few US high-tech firms.
CANARY WHARF, LONDON
VISIT IGNORED CHURCH
* As an Irishman working happily in England for over 40 years as a Catholic priest I am astonished that the state visit of the President of Ireland does not include any acknowledgement of any current Catholic institution.
I have the greatest admiration that the state visit should include Westminster Abbey and Coventry Cathedral but surely an engagement to Westminster Cathedral could have been included.
Many of our finest Catholic churches were built by Irish navvies and by the pennies of the poor. There is something seriously amiss with the Anglo-Irish diplomatic service or with Aras an Uachtarain. I strongly suspect it is the latter.
FR TOM GRUFFERTY
THE ROYAL SPELL
* RTE’s correspondents covering the visit by President Higgins to the UK seemed to have been very taken by the occasion, their obsequiousness was in abundance. I don’t know how many times I heard how the British are the best at pomp and splendour.
I have seen the French, Italians, Germans, Russians and even the Vatican at the pomp and splendour business and they are also very very good and sometimes better. That’s republics for you!
THINK OF OUR EMIGRANTS
* It smacks of bread and circuses. An Irish president visits the queen. Our national lack of confidence kicks in.
He brings a virtual cabinet, a Labour minister rides in a horse and coach and RTE give over the station to the visit. BBC gives the visit 15 seconds. One might have thought we reached Mars such is the drooling and mirror reflecting.
It might shock us to know that the last High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, visited London. Long before we championed women at the top table, Achill’s Grainne Ui Mhaille visited the court of another Elizabeth and both conversed in Latin.
Between 1957/1965 , my spell in Eachleam national school, Blacksod, Mayo, virtually every child who graduated sixth class took the Mail Boat to Holyhead or the Clyde. Once there, they ‘tattie howked’ (picked potatoes) or laboured on sites.
In this week of faux congratulations of a state visit to a country 40 minutes away by Government jet, lets not forget the poor emigrant who traversed that journey by boat but never came back.
They did this state a greater service often with cash-filled letters home.
GET REAL RUAIRI
* So Ruairi Quinn thinks that students are finished courses by St Patrick’s Day and spend the rest of the year revising. This minister hasn’t a clue what happens in the classroom.
How can he make statements like this and be allowed to get away with it. As a maths teacher at all levels, I can assure you that I will be teaching new topics in maths right up to the day the students leave with little or no time for revision. Mr Quinn has been told repeatedly that there is way too much content in the new Project Maths courses and has refused to listen.
I and most other maths teachers have to take our students for extra classes, at lunchtime or outside school hours, just to get through the course. When will this minister listen to the people “at the coal face”?
NAME AND ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
MAKE ‘NEVER AGAIN’ LAW
* Maybe a few tragic facts and figures taken in isolation from Eamon Meehan’s and Mike Pflanz’s articles re. ‘Twenty years on, from Rwanda‘ (April 7) might bring home the reality of two words ‘Never again’.
For example: “Over the course of 100 days in Rwanda, close to one million people, mostly Tutsi, were murdered – on a scale and at a speed not seen since World War II.”
Jean de Dieu Burakari, a survivor of the eastern Rwanda Rukara church genocide said: “They came every day in the afternoon and killed people.
“I was there for nine days. Bodies were rotting and bursting all around me. I hid beneath a bench at the back and I survived only by God’s grace.”
These terrible atrocities were meticulously planned under the watching eyes of the world, which made a decision not to act.
To make ‘never again’ really meaningful, the heads of the world’s major powers should sign an international agreement guaranteeing the observance of these two words, endorsed with the signature of the leaders of the world churches, with a commitment to continue praying.
THURLES, CO TIPPERARY