Quiet day

15 May2014 Quiet day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate Helping save energy Priceless

Potter around

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just by a few pointsperhaps I’ll win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Harry Stopes-Roe – obituary

Harry Stopes-Roe was a Humanist, friend of Winnie the Pooh and son of the eccentric birth-control pioneer, Marie Stopes

Harry Stopes-Roe

Harry Stopes-Roe Photo: ANDREW WEST

6:14PM BST 14 May 2014

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Harry Stopes-Roe, who has died aged 90, survived a micromanaged childhood at the hands of his mother, the birth-control pioneer Dr Marie Stopes (1880-1958), to become a philosopher and an influential figure in the British and international Humanist movements.

Harry’s mother came to be regarded as one of the 20th century’s great feminist heroines, a crusader for birth control and enlightened sex education, and the author of the first modern sex manual, Married Love. Yet Marie Stopes was also a fervent anti-Semite and eugenicist who campaigned to stop poor and disabled people having children; believed that only selective breeding could save the human race; and once sent Adolf Hitler a volume of her poetry. In her private life she was controlling and capable of the most monstrous cruelty.

An only child, Harry Verdon Stopes-Roe, born on March 27 1924, was forbidden by his mother from reading books (she felt that reading encouraged second-hand opinions) and forced to wear skirts until the age of 11 because she did not believe in the “ugly and heating-in-the-wrong-places garments which most men are condemned to wear”; for the same reason he was forbidden to ride a bicycle.

She had given birth to him at the age of 44, after which she was told she could have no more children. Convinced that her new son needed a companion, she advertised for “a little boy between the ages of 20 months and 2¼ years” with a view to adoption, specifying that the child should be “absolutely healthy, intelligent and not circumcised”.

Marie Stopes with her son Harry (NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY)

She accepted Robin, an orphan brought up by impoverished aunts who took him back after two years when Marie informed them that the boy (then five years old) would benefit from a few “whippings”. Robin was followed by three other small boys, all of whom failed to make the grade in various ways: Dick, who was returned to the National Children’s Adoption Society on the grounds that he would never “bloom so as to be a credit to us”; John, who was rejected for “lack of academic ability and literary and artistic sensibility”; and Barry (renamed “Roy” by Marie), who fell out of favour for wetting his pants, making him “unfit to live in a decent household” and justifying a thrashing.

If Harry’s upbringing was eccentric, Marie Stopes’s treatment of his father, Humphrey Roe, a strapping former First World War flying ace and businessman who supported his wife’s reforming projects, was positively brutal. He had become her second husband in 1918 after her marriage to her first husband was annulled for non-consummation.

Harry described him as “tender, emotional and sensitive; strong, upstanding, handsome… an ideal man, I think” — yet Marie soon got bored and forced him to write, at her dictation, a letter freeing her from her marriage vows because, she claimed, he was unable to satisfy her. Eventually he was banished to the attic of the 18th-century mansion they shared and had to earn permission to visit family rooms by doing household chores. “I hope,” he wrote pathetically, “you will allow me to see Harry sometimes.”

Yet there were happy moments. Through his parents, young Harry — known to family and friends as “Buffkins” — became firm friends with AA Milne’s illustrator Ernest Shepard who, with his teddy bear Pooh, was often invited to special occasions. In 2000 Stopes-Roe would donate to the British Library a letter from “Pooh”, illustrated with a sketch of the bear wiping away tears of disappointment, apologising for being unable to attend his birthday party: “Dear Buffkins,” it read. “I am verry sory that I cant come to yr party but I am going away to the igsle of wite on Saturday 24nd and I am verry verry sory. Pooh.”

Marie was determined that her “exceptionally fine” son should marry “his peer in looks, inheritance and health”. When Harry rebelled and chose a bride for himself, Mary Eyre Wallis, the daughter of the “bouncing bomb” engineer Sir Barnes Wallis, his mother objected furiously on the grounds that she was short-sighted. “She has an inherited disease of the eyes which not only makes her wear hideous glasses so that it is horrid to look at her, but the awful curse will carry on and I have the horror of our line being so contaminated and little children with the misery of glasses,” she wrote. “Mary and Harry are quite callous about both the wrong to their children, the wrong to my family, and the eugenic crime.”

When Harry and Mary went ahead anyway and married in 1948, Marie refused to attend the wedding and wrote her son out of her will. After her death in 1958, the bulk of her estate went to the Eugenics Society and the Royal Society of Literature. Harry received the 13-volume Greater Oxford English Dictionary.

Yet Harry Stopes-Roe later insisted that his unorthodox upbringing had done him no harm. “What happened in my childhood was a long time ago and I am prepared to laugh at it now,” he said; and he remained a loyal defender of his mother’s reputation when the darker sides of her character became better known.

In 2008, for example, in an article in The Guardian, he argued that people who objected to the use of his mother’s image on Royal Mail stamps on the grounds that she was “a notorious eugenicist and an anti-Semite who advocated the sterilisation of poor women to promote the welfare of ‘the race’”, were out of touch with the realities of the 1920s, when such views were less controversial. Critics, he suggested, would do well to remember that his mother acted out of a sense of duty to the less fortunate.

Stopes-Roe began his career as a physicist, taking Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the subject at Imperial College, London, as a result of which he was exempted from military service during the Second World War. After graduation, however, he switched to Philosophy, taking a PhD at Cambridge University.

He then got a job as a lecturer, and later senior lecturer, in Science Studies at Birmingham University, where his interests embraced both science and philosophy, a combination that led him to reject God and embrace Humanism.

Stopes-Roe became best-known for developing the idea of “life stance” — a concept similar to the German Weltanschauung (“world view”) which he promoted as part of an attempt to establish a clear identity for Humanism. He defined it as “the style and content of an individual’s or a community’s relationship with that which is of ultimate importance; the presuppositions and commitments of this, and the consequences for living which flow from it”.

The term had originally arisen in the context of debates over the City of Birmingham’s controversial Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education (1975), the first such document to embrace a multi-faith model of religious education and the first to include the study of non-religious “stances for living”, such as Humanism. Stopes-Roe served as chairman of the British Humanist Association, representing it on such bodies as the Values Education Council UK and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales. He was appointed its vice-president in 2005.

In the late 1980s, as chairman of an International Humanist and Ethical Union working group developing a “minimum statement” on global humanism, Stopes-Roe led a successful campaign for the adoption of the “life stance” concept as a common commitment.

Stopes-Roe was an assiduous correspondent to newspaper letters pages, always concerned to debunk any suggestion that religion should have a privileged place in national life. He objected vehemently to legislation introducing a new offence of “inciting religious hatred”, on the grounds that “criticising a religious group is profoundly unlike criticising a racial group. To say that any racial group is morally inferior is always wrong: racial groups do not have moral attributes, good or bad. But it is sometimes right to criticise a religious group, if it makes claims which are morally intolerable.”

Last month he was a signatory to a letter to The Daily Telegraph objecting to David Cameron’s characterisation of Britain as a “Christian country” when “repeated surveys, polls and studies” showed that most people were neither Christian in belief nor in religious identity.

Harry Stopes-Roe is survived by his wife, Mary, a former research fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, and by their two sons and two daughters.

Harry Stopes-Roe, born March 27 1924, died May 10 2014

Guardian:

In the light of Tzipi Livni being granted diplomatic immunity for her visit to Britain (Report, 14 May) and with today being Nakba day, we want to draw attention to the recent reports into Palestinian child prisoners in Israel by the Foreign Office and Unicef which catalogue gross violations of the rights of the child and human rights.

Children In Military Custody concludes: “Israel is in breach of articles 2 (discrimination), 3 (child’s best interests), 37(b) (premature resort to detention), (c) (non-separation from adults), (d) (prompt access to lawyers), and 40 (use of shackles) of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Transportation of child prisoners into Israel is in breach of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention … Israel will also be in breach of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in article 37(a) of the UNCRC.”

Unicef’s progress report (October 2013) repeated the litany, concluding “violations are ongoing”. The Israeli authorities said they would stop the night-time arrests, but the practice continues. A Military Courts Watch progress report (March 2014) concludes: “The evidence gathered by MCW, and the evidence collected by Unicef … indicates that ill-treatment in the system still appears to be ‘widespread, systematic and institutionalised’.”

We call on Tzipi Livni, who is visiting London today, to stop these abuses immediately. And we call on David Cameron to insist that she does so. Such abuse is a gross violation of Jewish ethical principles. We invited the Board of Jewish Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council to make this call on the Israeli government, but are ashamed to say they have remained silent, so it is left to us to make this demand.
Glyn Secker, Leah Levane, Deborah Maccoby, Clare Ungerson, Rachel Lever, Marion Hersh, Colin Purkey
Jews For Justice For Palestinians

Peter Hanson’s idea, for a website where people’s views could be collected and voted on (Letters, 14 May), already exists. It is called 38 Degrees and has already had some successes in modifying government policies.
Dudley Turner
Westerham, Kent

• W Stephen Gilbert is wrong (Letters, 14 May). Muslims do not practise FGM. It is an ethnic African practice.
M Riaz Hasan
Pinner, Middlesex

• A letter says “Muslims mutilated my genitals” is not a preposterous statement. I wish to object strongly to your printing of this. The great majority of Muslims are opposed to FGM and it is carried out largely in countries with poor educational standards and archaic views on women. Would you print a statement that said “Jews mutilated my penis”? Or “Catholics forced me to have unwanted babies”?
Philip Foxe
London

• As a pro-union Scottish Highlander resident in London, I’m appalled at Bill Cooke’s suggestion (Letters, 13 May) that a Jimmy Shand tribute band could represent Scotland in the 2016 Eurovision song contest. Would not a Calum Kennedy tribute band be more appropriate? “Come along, come along, let us step it out together…”, as the kilted Calum never tired of cajoling those living north of the Highland divide.
Rab MacWilliam
London

• Following the coverage of the Belfast departure of the Giro d’Italia (Sport, 10 May) and the subsequent stages in Ireland, no further report of the race in your sports pages until . Imagine my excitement at learning that Bradley Wiggins came into his own once they reached California (Sport, 14 May).
Megan Scott
Bolton

• On Monday (12 May) you used up all your (lack of) spare cash on a sea of sky blue over five pages of the paper to celebrate Manchester City (squad cost £370m). On 14 May you could not spare even a line to report Leyton Orient’s (squad cost £0) success. But at least your crossword complier was more sensitive.
Roger Lee
Sevenoaks, Kent

Amazon pays £4.2m tax on sales worth £4.3bn (Amazon boycott urged, 10 May). “An outrage,” says Margaret Hodge, “we should shop elsewhere.” Of course it is outrageous. Equally outrageous is the government’s failure to legislate to ensure Amazon and its like pay their fair share of UK taxes. Calling for a shoppers’ boycott is trite and ineffective. Consumers will buy where they find best value. Ms Hodge should call for the chancellor to end this form of tax avoidance. Amazon’s subsequent tax contributions should then be truly amazonian. Shoppers simply shop. Parliament legislates. The public accounts committee monitors and advises parliament, not consumers. Ms Hodge should demand that legislation.
Jeff Hanna
London

• Margaret Hodge urges consumers to boycott Amazon. While Tory MP Charlie Elphicke calls its tax accounting “unfair”. Of course, they can’t be seen to be doing anything about it – that would be “anti-business”. Better to get the consumer to do their dirty work for them.
Neil Davies
Warninglid, West Sussex

• Rather than a boycott, shouldn’t UK business take a leaf out of the Amazon book? John Lewis, Tesco, PC World and all other big retailers should join Amazon by forming companies in Luxembourg that then own all of their stock and trademarks. After this, their UK store staff and warehouses merely provide sales and delivery services in the UK and get the same tax breaks as Amazon. Through the offshoring of soaring profits even bigger monopolies can be created, such as that developed by Pfizer. The problem of a much-impoverished UK Treasury may damage the brave new business model, with disintegrated roads inhibiting deliveries to increasingly sick customers failed by a cash-poor NHS. But surely Downing Street can come up with an answer?
Martin Goldman
Cambridge

• Like many other authors, especially those who attempt to self-publish, I wholeheartedly agree with Margaret Hodge’s comments on Amazon’s tax avoidance. However, it is not only its tax avoidance which is abhorrent. Many Amazon customers don’t realise the enormous profit margin it works on. Over the last two months my book, which I have self-published, has been purchased by Amazon at its usual 60% discount. This meant that for my book, which cost £7 a book to produce and market (not write!), I received, after the publishers took their 15% for storage and administration, the immense sum of £2.50.

This hefty discount only works well for print runs of hundreds of thousands when the production costs per book are much less. The profit that Amazon makes from their non-productive work as an online retailer is not only greedy, but probably unique. It’s not only time for customers to boycott the company, but also publishers as well. When a company, which doesn’t produce anything, makes such an enormous profit and then avoids paying tax on that profit, it is doubly immoral.
Anne McGarry
Manchester

• Recommend boycott of Amazon and use Wordery.com instead.
Brian Robinson
Brentwood, Essex

is International Conscientious Objectors’ Day. This year families of 65 of the 20,000 first world war COs will take part in a commemoration in Tavistock Square, London, to recall the sacrifice of these men. Motivated by political and socialist convictions as well as religious faith, many suffered repeated imprisonment and force-feeding for their anti-war convictions. Among those to be honoured are John Rodker, a poet from a Jewish immigrant family, one of the group the “Whitechapel Boys“, James Ashworth, a mill worker and socialist and member of the Boot Shoe and Slipper Union, and Tom Attlee, architect, member of the Independent Labour party and Christian pacifist.

The courage and conscience of women peacemakers such as Lucy Biddle Lewis, who went to The Hague international women’s congress in 1915, and Alice Wheeldon, a Derby pacifist, will also be included in our first world war commemorations.
Pat Gaffney
First World War Peace Forum (Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill Group, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)

Commentators will obviously fixate on Labour‘s failure to widen its appeal much beyond its core vote as the reason for Labour’s poor poll rating (Report, 13 May). Yet there is another reason and that is the collapse in its core vote. YouGov reported in January that, since 2010, Labour has lost one in four of its core voters. There may be many reasons for this, but one factor must be the negative message generated to the core vote by the Westminster party’s perception that there are few votes to be won by appealing to them with policy promises. Ed Balls‘s commitment to continue the government’s austerity programme is a message designed to reassure middle England it will be in safe hands with a Labour government. As in all the essentials, Labour will be little different from the coalition government.

While this message may have had a limited impact on the middle England vote, it has been heard by the core vote who have consequently deserted Labour. To paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, who said that since England had lost an empire it had failed to find a role in the world, Labour, since abandoning social democracy, has failed to find a role for itself within the political system and, more importantly, a message that will resonate with the electorate.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

• Ed Miliband’s latest announcement on the NHS (Miliband promises GP appointment within 48 hours, 13 May) may be welcome, but amounts to little more than Labour rearranging the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic that is the NHS. On 3 April 2012, the Guardian reported him as saying to a Labour local election launch in Birmingham: “We will repeal the free market, free-for-all principles in this bill. That is an absolute commitment.” That bill became the Health and Social Care Act 2012, but we have heard little or nothing from Labour on that overall “commitment” since then. As he went on in that same speech: “It is incredibly damaging to the whole ethos of our NHS. Frankly, doctors and nurses and people right across this country know that.” Yes, they do and we do. The NHS is beloved of all social classes. Why are we not now hearing Ed shout his “commitment” from the rooftops? Surely this alone would win Labour the next election.
Professor Gwyneth Boswell
Norwich

• Simon Jenkins (Comment, 14 May), writing about the need for clearer Labour party policies, seems to suggest there is no need for the party to continue (or perhaps begin) to challenge some of the apparent consensus that the coalition has achieved. To take just two examples: the assumption that all “hard work” is necessarily paid work, a construction that excludes and marginalises all those millions of people (many of them women) who are responsible for very demanding, unpaid work; the second is the ongoing and pervasive rhetoric about the possibly damaging impact of increased personal and corporate taxation. Since the majority of the population are only in a position to lose from current policies of low and regressive taxation – in the restriction that this places on public spending – there is surely an alternative case to be made here. In both these cases there are inevitably details of policies to be discussed, but for the purposes of political impact there is surely a place for the invocation of a bigger and fairer picture that rejects an acceptance of the apparent certainties of political debate.
Mary Evans
Canterbury, Kent

• Simon Jenkins’ latest cheerleading on behalf of free trade is couched in an ill-thought-out tirade about Labour’s current policies and Jenkins’ own nostalgia for the Blair years. Where Miliband’s stated intentions are to intervene against predatory capitalism in the form of extortionate energy prices and private rents, zero-hours contracts and hostile takeovers of successful companies, Jenkins would have him deceive as “Blair cunningly concealed his enthusiasm for Thatcherism”.

Jenkins obviously doesn’t get it – many have had enough of privatisation, unfettered markets and outsourcing to inefficient and corrupt companies and long for a return to a more mixed economy. They also want to hear of a set of policies that would offer this. That Miliband deliberately puts clear water between not only the discredited coalition but the Blair years is beyond Jenkins’ comprehension. Neither does he understand at all the damage that neoliberalism has done to most of the population.

Ironic that the Guardian also reveals (New tax figures show boost to rich recovery, 14 May) that in the past income year, one in which top tax rates were dropped from 50%-45%, the top 1% of taxpayers increased their post-tax income to 9.8% of all income while the bottom 90% saw theirs fall to 70.4%.
Barbara Cairns
Leicester

We are dismayed at the lack of attention to global issues in public debate around the elections to the European parliament. In the first televised debate between candidates for the presidency of the European commission, there were only two brief references to international development. We hope that candidates will do better in the second debate on 15 May, and that party leaders in member states will also highlight the issue.

Apart from being the largest market in the world, and a major destination for developing country exports, the EU plays a key role in shaping global trade arrangements – for example, by insisting on human-rights clauses. It has been progressive on climate change. It plays a global role in peacekeeping, having deployed over 30 peace missions, from Aceh to Bosnia. And as the largest donor of aid in the world, the EU has a historic relationship with developing countries. Remember that every year 300,000 women die in childbirth and that nearly half of all child deaths can be attributed to malnutrition. EU programmes compare well in effectiveness and value-for-money.

All these actions benefit those outside our borders but also those within. They help secure economic growth and peace as well as reducing the pressure of forced migration. Europe will not prosper by turning inwards, but by facing outwards. The importance of our global leadership role deserves more than a passing mention in the current debates.
Margaret Jay (UK) National Aids Trust, Simon Maxwell (UK) Member, World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Poverty and Sustainable Development, Kevin Watkins (UK) Overseas Development Institute, Dirk Messner (Germany) German Development Institute, Ana Palacio (Spain), Laurence Tubiana (France) Institut du Développement Durable, Thijs Berman MEP (Netherlands), Bengt Braun (Sweden) vice-chair, Bonnier, Filip Kaczmarek MEP (Poland), Louka Katseli (Greece) politician and professor of international economics and development, University of Athens

Paddy Ryan writes: I met Bob Hoskins in Israel in 1965. Like me, he had landed up on a kibbutz on the edge of the Gaza Strip. Volunteering for work there was a way of getting food and shelter. Bob wanted not only to act, but to write: his luggage consisted of a rucksack and a typewriter. We became friends and made a number of trips around the country. His gift of the gab was phenomenal. As a result, we dined with a senior Israeli official from the ministry of transport and later with a Druze Arab family on the Lebanese border. And we slept in empty buses in a Jerusalem bus depot at the invitation of some drivers.

We travelled back to England together in March 1966, with financial help from our respective families. I introduced Bob to a former work colleague of mine, Manny Goldstein, who was an officer of Unity Theatre in north London, and he began to act, as an amateur, there a few months later. He later joined auditions for a professional company, as he described it later, on the spur of the moment, and his career was born.

Eric and Helen Bramsted write: Bob Hoskins was certainly a “tremendous Bosola” in The Duchess of Malfi at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester, in 1980. On the evening we saw him, he had sustained a leg injury, and so came on with a stick and limped across the stage throughout. This in no way detracted from his masterly performance as “court gall and villain”. He was totally convincing: we soon forgot about these additions to his role and just focused on Webster’s compelling poetic drama.

Independent:

The horror of the schoolgirls being kidnapped in Nigeria is yet another reality jolt: a reminder that we women can go about our daily lives of education, eating, working, surviving… if the men in our communities and societies allow us.

If there is a consensus between men that women should have a degree of freedom, then it is granted, but, sadly, recent history shows that if that consensus disappears, women’s freedoms are curtailed or lost altogether.

Take Afghanistan; as recently as 1995 nearly half the working population were women – employed as doctors, teachers, engineers and scientists, as well as in other professional occupations. And then the Taliban came to power.

The brutal rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 lifted the purdah on the horrific experiences of thousands of raped women. The introduction of new legislation and strong media coverage have meant that rape is more openly discussed, but what has changed?

Legislation can only be a deterrent if it is enforced. Hard to do when the police are open to bribery and turning a blind eye, and when the raped woman is put under a lot of emotional, and sometimes physical, pressure not to press charges.

We like to think that here in Britain women stand shoulder to shoulder with men, and we have achieved equality.

So we can go out drinking, be “one of the lads”, buy property and have careers, and we certainly do have more freedom than a lot of our sisters abroad.

However, we’re still blamed for the sexual violence we might experience because we weren’t dressed right, had to much to drink, didn’t say no at the right point in the evening…

In November 2013, a TUC report published for Equal Pay Day highlighted the small matter of women in full-time employment being paid 15 per cent less per hour than men. And if you are of childbearing age, you’re seen as a liability, just in case you reproduce.

When are we going to wake up? The use of women as collateral and chattel is contemptuous and shows utter disregard for us.

We need to stop thinking we’ve shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, that walking the streets at night is safe, and that young women don’t need to be feminists. We have to continue to demand that our voices are heard and our presence respected.

To change the sexist and misogynist paradigms that we toil through, we must address those that hold power.

It is up to you – boys and men – to change. You have to stop the violence and oppression.

Lily Gupta
London N5

I am not at all comfortable about people like Richard Scudamore, who thinks that even in private he can make or send sexist comments.

He should read the poster held up by a Nigerian in a photograph in The Independent  (12 May) saying: Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.

Real men don’t buy girls, under any circumstances, nor do they think it is clever or acceptable to make sexist jokes.

The Nigerian man was referring to the abhorrent abduction of the schoolgirls in his country – which the rest of the world has only justA bothered to get worked up about.

Sarianne Durie
Bampton, Oxfordshire

Without tax avoidance we would all pay less

Grace Dent (13 May) misses the point in defending Gary Barlow and his attempts to be more “tax efficient”.

There are thousands of higher-rate taxpayers who could avail themselves of the multifarious tax avoidance schemes peddled by accountants and other tax advisers.

The point is that the ethical and moral among us, who choose to live, work and/or own a property in this relatively rich and stable country, recognise that society can only flourish if all pay their fair share of tax on their earned and unearned income and capital gains. If all higher-rate taxpayers did the same, we would all pay a lot less tax.

Nick Eastwell
London SE10

I am distrustful of recent political efforts to demonise tax avoidance and I take issue with Chris Blackhurst’s rallying call (14 May) to clamp down on tax avoiders.

Tax avoidance is not illegal or immoral. Indeed, the Government actively promotes tax avoidance schemes such as ISAs which, due to the restrictions on what you can put in, when you can put it in, and the split between cash and equities, must count as “artificial or contrived arrangements” in the words of HMRC.

Surely, if the Government feels that schemes are in existence where unsanctioned aggressive tax avoidance is occurring, then they are the people ideally suited to change the law, close the loophole and declare schemes of this nature illegal.

Then tax evasion is illegal and immoral and perpetrators can be prosecuted. This is what the Government should be aiming at, rather than trying to shame a few high-profile celebrities to change their completely legal tax arrangements.

Alan Gregory
Manchester

One of the Prime Minister’s showbiz chums has come a cropper with the taxman. Perhaps he could show a little contrition by spearheading a new HMRC campaign to promote self-assessment.

If only the Government hadn’t cut the top rate of tax. They’ve missed out on at least an extra million if the widely reported extent of tax avoidance by the man described as “a national treasure” is true.

David Cameron’s “cast-iron” promise over an EU referendum has just been reported on, but we’ve heard that from him before. There’s a rumour that he shrugged “Promises? Everything changes” when challenged about this. But it could have been a discussion of his favourite boy band track.

D Holland
Litcham, Norfolk

Racism is a much abused word

People will see racism who have a thirst for finding it. In The British Dream, published last year, David Goodhart wrote: “The word racist is used to describe everything from surprise at seeing a black face on a Cornish beach, through the suspicion that an Asian man with a holdall on the London Tube might be a bomber, to the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing.

“The word has become a portmanteau term of opprobrium, devalued through overuse and inaccurate use… The threshold for the use of the word racism has fallen too low in the past two decades.”

If it is racist to want to leave the European Union, if it is racist to wish for a strictly controlled rate of immigration, so be it. I shall not be deterred from voting for Ukip next week.

Edward Thomas
Eastbourne

Last week Nigel Farage argued Ukip was undergoing a “Clause IV” moment insisting: “I don’t care what you call us but from this moment on, please, do not ever call us a racist party.”

Less than a week after that, Sanya-Jeet Thandi, one of Ukip’s most prominent British Asian supporters, has quit the party, accusing it of descending into “racist populism”. No matter how much its leadership denies it, by any sane criteria Ukip is a racist party with a racist agenda which appeals to racists. No one who is considering voting for them should be in any doubt about that.

Sasha Simic
London N16

Double standard on domestic violence

I am a long-time admirer of The Independent’s support for campaigns against domestic violence and I have supported those campaigns.

However, over the years, it has been obvious that, implicit in these, has  always been an assumption that domestic violence is always perpetrated by men on women. That is not correct. Over 40 per cent of victims of domestic violence are men.

I was shocked, therefore, to see (Dilemmas, 13 May) an incitement by someone identified only as Ruth, to a woman who had written to Virginia Ironside, to attack the woman’s husband by throwing a brick at his head.

This is indicative of an appalling double standard in what is a desperately serious issue, and a denigration of all victims of domestic violence.

John Dowling
Newcastle upon Tyne

Halal is an animal cruelty issue

If you were forced to have your pet put down by cutting its throat, would you choose to have it stunned first? If there were a halal or kosher Dignitas would you choose to end your days there?

There are opportunistic people who use the halal issue to attack Muslims, but many people are genuinely concerned about animal cruelty.

Paul Stanbrook
Tiverton, Devon

A lesson from Turkish mine disaster

Detractors of health and safety provisions and “regulation” should give serious consideration to the Turkish mining disaster before spouting any future populist opinions on workplace conditions.

Iain Christie
Dersingham,  Norfolk

Times:

Sir, While I do not sympathise with Gary Barlow and other tax avoiders, should we not also be condemning the “creative” accountants who are paid to advise high-earners where to put their money (reports, May 12, 13). If Barlow and others are fined by the taxman, they should consider suing their advisors who led them into such activities.

Dr Alan Baum

Staplehurst, Kent

Sir, Gary Barlow is doing what all of us with offset mortgages are doing. They have no purpose other than avoiding tax. Venture Capital trusts anybody? What about family trusts to avoid inheritance tax? Not to mention many celebrities who avoid tax by simply not living here — some of them have knighthoods and you’re not asking for those back. Give him a break. At least he is nice to look at and writes brilliant songs.

Annabel Cartwright

Cardiff

Sir, No politician is daring to use
the E word about the scheme that Mr Barlow got embroiled in. “Aggressive avoidance” seems to be the gibberish of choice. Avoidance is legal — we all do it, with ISAs, pensions etc. We pay what we owe. When/if the line is judged as having been crossed from avoidance to evasion, then m’learned friends can hitch up their gowns and wigs and Mr Barlow can adopt the bread and water diet, not otherwise.

Return an OBE? When the duck house goes back, perhaps.

Tony Hale

Barnt Green, Worcs

Sir, I am delighted that the prime minister has clearly rebuked such overt tax avoidance. Leaving aside acceptable assurances on research and British jobs, I am surprised that he has equally unambiguously condemned Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca. The Treasury should not be allowed to prosper by Pfizer paying less tax in Britain than in other jurisdictions. Surely the government would not act in such a cynically hypocritical manner?

John Kennedy

Harpenden, Herts

Sir, HMRC is dysfunctional, unresponsive, and impossible to hold to account. It treats its captive customers with contempt and demands action from them within timescales and under evidential circumstances which it refuses to apply to itself.

The concept that this organisation will be able to raid private bank accounts in a manner which undermines centuries of established laws and liberties is enough to justify anybody seeking to put their funds beyond its extrajudicial reach, at least until a fair accounting can be made. Add to this the state’s record on wasting tax money, squeezing the earner, and raiding the prudent to subsidise the feckless, and I am sure as many people will raise a glass to Gary Barlow as will condemn him.

Victor Launert

Matlock Bath, Derbys

Sir, We may be annoyed with aggressive tax schemes that enable wealthy individuals to avoid tax thereby putting a greater burden on the rest of us but equally I’m sure all of us would like to pay the least tax possible. It seems unfair to demonise Barlow and his fellow Take That members when they only involve themselves in such schemes on the advice of their professional advisers. They are musicians not tax experts.

Gareth Tarr

Chertsey, Surrey

Dr Johnson at Cave’s the Publisher: the great man of letters eating at his desk http://www.bridgemanart.com

Published at 12:01AM, May 15 2014

It is difficult to hold the balance between precision and innovation in a language used by so many

Sir, I agree with Mr Baird (letter, May 6) that Oliver Kamm seems to have “joined the anything goes” brigade in implying that usage is the only determinant of correctness in language, and this was borne out by Mr Kamm’s review of Simon Heffer’s book (May 10). However, neither Mr Kamm nor Mr Heffer seems to take account of the fact that the purpose of language is to communicate, and if it does not do that then it is failing.

I am one of the technical editors of a respected medical journal and deal with manuscripts from all over the world. We have one main rule: if a sentence has to be read more than once to be understood, it is a bad sentence and should be redrafted.

Comprehension is aided by simple rules of grammar and spelling, and neither Mr Kamm nor Mr Heffer has right entirely on his side. George Orwell came nearest in his essay Politics and the English Language when he summed up the rules by saying that you should break all of them rather than say something downright barbarous.

Mary Evans

Scarborough, N Yorks

Sir, In his Plan of an English Dictionary , Dr Johnson tells us that speaking the language “did not descend to us in a state of uniformity and perfection, but was produced by necessity, and enlarged by accident, and is therefore composed of dissimilar parts, thrown together by negligence, by affectation, by learning, or by ignorance.” I do however agree with Ian Baird’s letter, and think some checks and balances preventing grammatical anarchy are required, perhaps with a tad more help from Oliver Kamm.

Keith Robinson

Littlewick Green, Berks

Sir, The problem with Oliver Kamm seems to be that he thinks only in terms of journalistic and creative writing. I am more concerned about the effect of his approach to language on standards of technical writing.

I have spent a lot of time in my career as a geologist reviewing and correcting technical reports. The problem of sloppy writing has become increasingly noticeable over the years. The richness of English derives partly from nuances in the meanings of words and from the exactness of its structure, when used in accordance with what Kamm calls “mere conventions”. Such they may be, but they enable us to write with precision and clarity, essential in the serious use of language to convey information and advice. To abandon well-established forms, whether rules or conventions, is to invite ambiguity and confusion.

Garth Raybould

Formby, Liverpool

Sir, There is a practical problem with English which Mr Kamm has still to address in his Pedant column. The meaning of words inevitably changes in this most vital language of ours but this leaves an uncertainty: is a word being used in with its former or its new meaning?

Consider the mindless use of the word “incredibly” which some people seem incapable of avoiding from sentence to sentence but which means nothing more than “extremely”. Instead of categorically dismissing examples like this as “not wrong” as he did in his article last week Mr Kamm should apply his considerable talent to addressing what is a difficulty with the changing meaning of words, expressions and the syntactical confusion for example caused when a word might be construed as a preposition or an adverb.

Ray Long

London SW16

New statutory guidance will direct schools how to help chronically ill children to thrive

Sir, Thanks to the welcome statutory guidance that comes into effect in September, we now have a historic opportunity to improve the lives of more than one million children with conditions such as asthma, type 1 diabetes, epilepsy, coeliac disease and anaphylaxis who often struggle to get the extra support they need in school.

Some schools already give good support, but in others children with medical conditions can be effectively excluded from fully participating in their education. Some children have had to move schools or be home schooled due to their parents’ concerns about their safety, while in other cases parents cannot work as they have to go into school to administer medication, which can create financial and emotional strain.

Now the job begins of making sure this change in the law and new statutory guidance translates into action over the next few months and becomes a reality for all children with medical conditions and their families.

By working together with schools, parents and local authorities we can all help to make sure that children the support they deserve in school — because it is every child’s right to reach their full potential.

Barbara Young

Chief Executive of Diabetes UK

Simon Gillespie

Chief Executive of British Heart Foundation

Kay Boycott

Chief Executive of Asthma UK

Sarah Sleet

Chief Executive of Coeliac UK

Lorraine Clifton

Chief Executive of CLIC Sargent

Carol Long

Chief Executive of Young Epilepsy

Ed Owen

Chief Executive of Cystic Fibrosis Trust

Anne Keatley-Clarke

Chief Executive of Children’s Heart Federation

Jenny Perez

Chief Executive of ERIC

Suzie Hutchinson RGN RSCN

Chief Executive of Little Hearts Matter

Lynne Regent

It is easier to give away other people’s money, especially if it is owed to the tax collectors

Sir, Your report “Philanthropists give millions to charity, but not the Revenue” (May 13) seemed to imply that certain individuals feel they can opt out of paying their full tax bills because they prefer to donate to good causes of their choice. Genuine philanthropists should always be applauded, but those whose generosity is based on what they feel they are entitled to withhold from the state pot should be derided.

The late Octav Botnar, founder of Datsun UK, reportedly gave more than £100m to Great Ormond St Hospital, but he also allegedly evaded some £250m in tax — proving once and for all that it is very easy to be philanthropic with someone else’s money.

David Hughes

Trowbridge, Wilts

To realise Ed Miliband’s pledge of a GP appointment for all within 48 hours will need more people and more money

Sir, A 48-hour access target for all to see a GP is not practical or realistic (May 12). Of course patients who need to see a GP urgently must be able to; non-urgent appointments, however, are non urgent. Given the shortages of resources and people in general practice, it is essential that patients are seen on the basis of need.

If general practice is to be more accessible we require more training for GPs, nurses and other professions involved in general practice; we have 28 per cent fewer GPs per head than Germany and 14 per cent fewer than the OECD average.

We welcome new money and a focus on primary care from politicians, but this will not be enough to enable us to offer the services for our patients that we would like to deliver if only we had the time and resource to do so.

Dr Michael Dixon, chair, NHS Alliance

Professor Sir Denis Pereira Gray, Patron of the National Association for Patient Participation

Dr John Ribchester, Whitstable Medical Practice

Dr Nick Brown, Rowden Surgery

Dr Colin Philip, The Stennack Surgery

Dr Tim Dalton

Dr Niall Leonard

Dr Paul Charlton

Is it wrong to call female teachers Miss if male teachers are addressed as Sir? What about Comrade Teacher?

Sir, Apropos “Calling teacher ‘miss’ is an insult to women” (May 14), I would have been delighted to call my teacher Miss, when a pupil at the Perse Prep in Cambridge during the 1950s. We had to call all staff Sir although the only male staff were the head and the PE instructor. I believe the reason for this strange custom was to avoid any of the mostly male staff at the upper school suffering the trauma of being called Miss by nervous first years in September.

Alan Shoote

Stowmarket, Suffolk

Sir, Under no circumstances would I want my pupils calling me by my first name. I am their teacher, not their mate.

Mrs Rita Bobbin

Weston, Herts

Sir, Even after ten years in retirement I still feel a wave of affection when someone, now an adult probably with a family of their own, greets me with “Hallo Miss”. Using first names takes away all sense of respect and can only increase class room problems, particularly in secondary schools. Pupils are not equal to their teachers.

When I worked in the British Forces Education Service we were addressed as M’am.

Pam Bucknall

Horsham, W Sussex

Sir, At Audenshaw Grammar School in the 1940s all teachers had to be addressed as Sir.

Alan Bardsley

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Telegraph:

Helen Mirren in ‘Calendar Girls’. These days, branches of the WI offer craft and feminism, knit and natter – and pose naked for calendars Photo: Rex Features

6:58AM BST 14 May 2014

Comments40 Comments

SIR – It was with dismay that I read Christopher Hope’s article about Denman, the Women’s Institute college in Oxfordshire. The college is so much more than cakes and jam. Yes, it is having to move with the times. But curiously enough, it is the old-fashioned skills that young women are actually asking for.

My daughter is a tutor there and describes how a weekend at Denman can change people’s lives: it helps recently widowed women settle into their new identities; empowers the semi-mobile; and develops in attendees new hobbies that can give them new directions, passions and focus. Each time she visits, my daughter comes away full of positive energy.

If people think learning how to make lemon curd ravioli with the charismatic former head of the cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is just jam and cake, then they should think again.

Julie Rankin
Sidlow, Surrey

SIR – Your report on the “national shame” of late cancer diagnosis points to worrying levels of variation in the investigation of cancer.

The NHS Diagnostic Atlas of Variation outlines marked discrepancies in the use of diagnostic tests for some cancers between Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) across NHS England. For example, despite clear Nice guidance on the use of the tumour marker CA125, a test used in ovarian cancer diagnosis and monitoring, an 80-fold variation in ordering between PCTs was evident. This implies significant under- and over-requesting of the test, which is damaging both to patient care and scarce NHS resources.

The right test for the right person at the right time is vital for diagnosis and treatment. The Royal College of Pathologists, along with other pathology societies, is developing new systems to support all clinicians who order tests to help ensure this happens.

Dr Bernie Croal
Vice-President The Royal College of Pathologists
London SW1

Taxing sums

SIR – If HMRC is to raid bank accounts for unpaid tax I can only hope it is more efficient than 10 years ago, when I was investigated over alleged unpaid tax of around £18 in relation to mileage expenses. After much time spent communicating with the Inland Revenue, as it was then known, I was reimbursed £22 in overpaid tax on such expenses.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

Take your tablets

SIR – My wife and I fight a constant battle to get our children away from their mobile phones to indulge in some conversation or discover the joys of reading. However, our efforts are now being undermined by the private school they attend locally.

When the 11-year-old enters the senior school this year, she will be required to have a tablet device so that all her homework can be set, done and marked in this way. Are we in danger of producing a generation of socially inept individuals without any real inquisitiveness to explore anything offline?

Robert Courteney-Harris
Stone, Staffordshire

Libyan compensation

SIR – It is good news that David Cameron has appointed Sir Kim Darroch to negotiate with Libya for compensation for victims of Gaddafi’s arms shipments to the IRA. The US secured compensation for its citizens many years ago.

It is estimated that £10 billion of Gaddafi’s wealth is frozen in the United Kingdom. Why does the Government not use this money to pay compensation?

Peter Sefton
Crumlin, Co Antrim

Harassed Harrises

SIR – On reading that a nagged husband could be driven to an early grave, my wife suggested that this fate could be avoided by doing what you are told in the first place.

Anthony Harris
Richmond, North Yorkshire

SIR – My family used to define nagging as “the constant repetition of unpalatable truth”.

Mike Harris
Rustington, West Sussex

Couple’s suicide pact

SIR – I commend Richard Madeley and Judy Finneganfor declaring their suicide pact. Neither should be subject to prosecution in the event of one putting the other out of extreme suffering on the brink of death.

Just as couples sign pre-nuptial agreements to avoid dispute in the event of divorce, so they should be able to sign agreements to euthanasia, subject to a doctor confirming the patient’s condition.

John Cottrell
Addlestone, Surrey

SIR – Having lost my in-laws last weekend in a car accident, I beg to differ with Judy’s view that “It’s so bloody final.” As a Christian, I believe the opposite. Belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus means death is not final. In fact, it is only the beginning.

Helen Price
Loose, Kent

Dogs on beaches

SIR – The Burmans answered their own question as to why dogs should be banned from beaches and other public spaces: there are many “irresponsible dog owners” who are unwilling or unable to control their dogs.

The distasteful evidence is everywhere. In the interests of the majority, and particularly the health of children, it is only sensible that all dogs should be banned from beaches and parks.

Peter Froggatt
Dorking, Surrey

Euro negotiations

SIR – Ian Prideaux points out that exit from the European Uniondoes not necessarily mean exit from the Eurovision song contest.

I for one would gladly accept participation in Eurovision as the price to be rid of EU membership – nay, I would even watch the show as a quid pro quo.

Bill Collier
Earby, Lancashire

Men o’ war

SIR – After watching the many BBC programmes covering the anniversary of the start of the First World War, would I be correct in my understanding that no male British combatants were involved in that war?

Paul Davies
East Sutton, Kent

Label meat properly to respect everyone’s beliefs

SIR – In all the discussions over the labelling of meat products, little mention has been made of the fact that Sikhs are forbidden by their faith to eat halal. They rely on appropriate labelling to inform their choice.

The issue is not whether halal is better or worse; simply that everyone has a right to choose what they wish to eat. The current system, in which people clearly do not know what they are buying, does not allow this free choice.

Proper labelling will enable this to happen without compromising anyone’s beliefs.

Satjit Singh
Northwood, Middlesex

SIR – I was delighted to learn that influential members of Muslim and Jewish faith groups are united in their support for comprehensive labelling on meat to show how it has been killed.

What they fail to acknowledge is that, according to veterinary experts such as the president of the British Veterinary Association (Letters, May 10), slitting the throats of large mammals without first stunning them compromises their welfare.

Rob Farrer
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – Most halal meat is derived from stunned animals. A man must carry out the final deed. Secularists and Christians often think that using mechanical devices to kill an animal is a superior practice. It is not.

The halal meat most people eat is slaughtered in essentially the same way as secular meat. The only difference is that the man slaughtering the animal says a prayer – effectively thanking his maker for his bounty and seeking forgiveness for taking a life. Is that really offensive?

Bruce Brown
Buckland Brewer, Devon

SIR – Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is talking about the possibility of Ofsted, the state inspectorate in England, inspecting English independent schools.

In Wales, Estyn (the office of HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales) has been inspecting independent schools for years.

While independent schools do vary in quality, should vast amounts of public money be spent in England on inspecting top public schools only for most of them to be awarded “Excellent”?

At least when an independent school is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), the schools have to pay for it themselves.

Elaine Thomas
Head, The Grange Prep School
Monmouth

SIR – Nick Gibb MP’s dislike for so-called progressive methods of teaching is well known. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that he paints a distorted picture of the Ofsted workforce and demonstrates a poor understanding of what happens during an inspection.

I agree that traditional teaching has a role to play in raising school standards, so it’s wrong of him to suggest that we routinely penalise those who employ these methods. As Sir Michael Wilshaw has made abundantly clear, Ofsted has no preferred style of teaching.

While we want to see schools close the attainment gap between poorer and more affluent pupils, it is not true that a school would be marked down if it was driving up results for all pupils.

Mr Gibb also suggests that Ofsted is the enemy of innovation. Far from stifling creativity, inspectors have been critical of those schools that have failed to take advantage of their new freedoms to improve teaching and outcomes for pupils.

It should come as no surprise that those free schools that have been criticised by Ofsted are the ones that are failing to get the basic things right: marking books, planning lessons and managing pupils’ behaviour.

Michael Cladingbowl
National Director for Schools, Ofsted
London WC2

SIR – As a former social care inspector for Ofsted, I am not impressed by Michael Gove’s statement that Ofsted should have direct responsibility for all schools in England. Ofsted did actually have responsibility for inspecting care standards in the independent sector from 2007. However in 2010, when this Government took office, it transferred the inspection of care standards in independent schools from Ofsted to the ISI.

Now, it seems, Mr Gove wants to hand the inspection of these schools back to Ofsted, in more glorified form. He is clearly using inspection as an electoral gimmick. I would suggest the inspection of these schools is safer with the ISI.

Debra Maria Flint
Clevedon, Somerset

Irish Times:

Sir, – I read with considerable interest the recent opinion piece by UCD adjunct professor of meteorology Ray Bates (“Warning of ‘over-alarmist’ stance on climate risk”, Opinion & Analysis, May 13th).

I very much appreciate any efforts by The Irish Times to afford a platform for public debate on Irish policy response to the unprecedented challenge of human-made climate change. It is a debate which is long overdue.

Of course, I must respectfully demur from Prof Bates’s idiosyncratic – not to say bizarre – downplaying of the stark warnings contained in recent reports from the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Contrary to Prof Bates, I would say the thing that is most obviously absent from current Irish policy debates is the appropriate level of absolutely rational “alarm”.

Nonetheless, on one specific point, Prof Bates does raise a very legitimate policy concern, having particular resonance for Ireland: that is, if we constrain Irish agricultural production – in order to meet our overall emissions reduction commitments – is there not a real danger that other, less emission-efficient, producers will simply take over this production, leading in fact to increased total emissions, on a global basis?

This problem of so-called emissions reduction “leakage” (which is not at all unique to the agricultural sector) is a genuine one. As is well known, such problems can only be fully addressed through effective international agreements, and I take it therefore that Prof Bates is (tacitly?) advocating for strong Irish diplomatic effort in pursuing such agreements (for example, by offering the “bold pledges” requested of heads of government by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in advance of the special UN climate summit next September in New York). I would very much welcome that.

But we should be clear on the consequences – prioritising, as we must, those agricultural practices having maximum nutritional output relative to greenhouse gas emissions will necessarily favour a major shift in global dietary mix away from beef and dairy toward increased cereal and vegetable consumption. This will obviously have profound implications for the strategic future development of Irish agriculture.

Prof Bates is to be commended for raising this crucial issue. – Yours, etc,

Prof BARRY McMULLIN,

Executive Dean,

Faculty of Engineering

and Computing,

Dublin City University.

Sir, – It has to count for something when a law lecturer at NUI Galway declares that the Constitution of Ireland is itself the basis for a range of egregious abuses of human rights in our national school system (“Treatment of non-Catholics urgent human rights issue”, Education, May 13th).

Eoin Daly mentions divestment of schools in the context of dealing with the situation. I would go further. I would abolish the so-called patronage system in primary schools altogether, and bring all national schools under the direct control of the Department of Education. They are, after all, funded by all the people through the auspices of the same department.

The patronage system is totally unsuitable for the modern world. Just as religious zealots on a solo run can make a mockery of the efforts of some church people to have inclusion where a religious body has the management of a school, so there is nothing to prevent a teacher with what is to him or her a pressing ideological issue of a more secular nature from indoctrinating young, unformed minds in any school that has a patron other than the State itself. This is because right now there are no standards that would protect our children from any ideology until such time as they are in a position to make judgments themselves on the matters concerned.

One way or the other it is indefensible that the Constitution is being abused in the manner described to deprive one section of the community of its human rights. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS McKENNA,

Farrenboley Park,

Windy Arbour, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Tom Cooper (May 14th) wants to know what Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have in common with Pearse and Connolly. Well the former have a democratic mandate, having been elected several times, and they were never guilty of leading a ragtag mob of self-selected vandals who put back the Irish unity more than a century. So Mr Cooper is correct, they have little in common. – Yours, etc,

JOHN K ROGERS,

Rathowen,

Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Let’s try and celebrate the country we now have, compared to 1921 or, indeed, 1916 – clean, relatively prosperous and contented, happier than most Europeans, vibrant, young, free of clerical thought-control. 1916 is another country, as relevant to today as Napoleon was to the men of 1916. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. We have moved on, so let’s stop looking in the rear mirror and concentrate on the road ahead. – Yours, etc,

IAN d’ALTON,

Rathasker Heights,

Naas,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – I refer to Diarmaid Ferriter’s article (“Ordinary lives best define our revolutionary decade”, Opinion & Analysis, May 9th) in which he discusses the problematic history of commemorating Ireland’s revolutionary decade since the founding of the State.

Towards the end of the article, he writes “Commemoration of 1916 might be better served by a concentration on ordinary lives as they were lived and lost in 1916 due to a variety of different allegiances”.

The Letters of 1916 project is doing just this (letters1916.ie). Its goal is to collect letters written from November 1st, 1915, to October 31st, 1916, by anyone, anywhere, written for any reason, as long as they concern Ireland. Thus far we have many letters, as one would expect, relating to the Easter Rising and the Great War. But we also have collections of love letters, official documents, letters about the arts and culture, as well as business.

We collect letters from cultural institutions, as well as individuals. The project will be in a position to deliver on Prof Ferriter’s call for a commemoration of ordinary lives with the help of the public – both in uploading letters held in private collections to our database, as well as by transcribing already uploaded letters.

Be part of the research process by helping us to build this exciting new resource that focuses on the lives of ordinary people during extraordinary times. – Yours, etc,

Prof SUSAN

SCHREIBMAN,

Professor of

Digital Humanities,

Director of An Foras Feasa,

Iontas Building,

National University

of Ireland,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – It may well be Sean O’Conaill’s opinion (“Is the Association of Catholic Priests slipping back into clericalism?”, Rite and Reason, May 13th, 2014) that the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has faltered in recent times. But it is just that, an opinion. As are the contributions of priests and others to our website. But it is unrealistic to expect the ACP to adjudicate and comment on every opinion expressed on our website and explain to those who view it whether it accords (or does not accord) with the policies of the ACP.

The ACP has argued for and is committed to the highest standards of child protection. Any suggestion ­– based on little more than a failure to respond formally to Mr O’Conaill’s question – that there is a diminution in that policy is unfair and not in accord with the opinion of our 1,000-plus members and the policy of our association. – Yours, etc,

Fr BRENDAN HOBAN,

Association of

Catholic Priests,

Moygownagh,

Ballina,

Co Mayo.

Sir, – Sean O’Conaill dismisses retired judge Fergal Sweeney’s assessment of the Murphy report as “minimisation” and Fr Pádraig McCarthy’s Unheard Story as “jaundiced”. He thus repeats the allegation that “Irish bishops had begun insuring their church’s financial assets against liability for clerical child sex abuse in 1987 – eight years before they began taking steps to protect the children themselves”, ignoring Fr McCarthy’s correction: “the derisory premium and insured sum in such a serious matter are an indication that neither the archbishop nor the insurance company, with all its business experience, had any realistic understanding of how serious the whole issue would be”. Mr O’Conaill does not even attempt to consider the case argued by Mr Sweeney, that the Murphy report proceeded on a hostile presupposition which prevented it from seeing that Dublin’s bishops did take cases of child abuse with the utmost seriousness.

Reacting to a suggestion that the Murphy report might be “deconstructed” (or critically assessed), Mr O’Conaill calls for a “decisive rejection of that troubling option”, as if the Murphy report were sacred scripture. Mr O’Conaill confronts the Association of Catholic Priests with “a challenge to clarify its policy on the boundaries to be advised for clergy in relation to young adults”. This sounds a bit like “how do you propose to stop beating your wife?” It is based on Mr O’Conaill’s annoyance that so many people remember Fr Michael Cleary as a compassionate man and in many ways a good priest, despite (or even because of) his common-law marriage with Phyllis Hamilton. Mr O’Conaill’s scathing commentary about this relationship on the ACP website showed scant human sympathy for any of those involved. – Yours, etc,

Rev JOSEPH S O’LEARY,

Sophia University,

Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.

Sir, – I note with favour Caitriona Lawlor’s letter (May 13th) in favour of Alan Shatter, who as minister for justice courageously ordered a review of the tragic case of Harry Gleeson, who was hanged in 1941 for the murder of his neighbour, Mary McCarthy.

My late father was a business partner of Gleeson’s and he attended the trial as a character witness for Harry, an experience from which he never fully recovered. – Yours, etc,

BERNADETTE GORMAN,

Castlewood Park,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Catriona Lawlor rightly gives credit to former minister for justice Alan Shatter for accepting the case for a review of the conviction of Harry Gleeson for the murder of Mary McCarthy in 1940. I am putting the finishing touches to a book which will show Gleeson’s innocence.

May I appeal to Irish Times readers who may have old photographs of the people involved to contact me as these are proving hard to find. I should also like to know about any old documents people may have in case they shed further light on this distressing case in which an innocent man was sent to the gallows in 1941.

I can be contacted by email at fagan.kieran@gmail.com or by post at the address below. – Yours, etc,

KIERAN FAGAN,

31 Seafield Court,

Killiney,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a Christian mother in late-term pregnancy, was sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery by the public order court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum, Sudan, on May 11th. Mrs Ibrahim was raised as an Orthodox Christian by her mother; but because she has a Muslim father she was charged with apostasy. Because Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims, her marriage to a Christian man is not considered valid, and she was therefore also charged with adultery. The court has told her she has until today to convert to Islam.

Mrs Ibrahim’s conviction is based on Sharia law; however, the interim constitution in Sudan only references Sharia law as a source of law and not as the basis of the constitution. In fact, the interim constitution still provides for the right to freedom of religion or belief. This renders her sentence not only a blatant violation of her fundamental human rights but also illegal under the laws of her country. I would ask the people of Ireland to do all in their power to bring pressure on the government of Sudan to rectify this grave injustice. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Honorary Secretary,

Church of Ireland

Council for Mission,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Jennifer O’Connell’s observations about Dublin having a lot of growing up to do are true, sadly (“Dublin is a city lacking in maturity”, Life, May 14th).

The squalor in public places is not due just to official neglect. The attitude and behaviour of citizens are as important.

There are bright spots, though. Volunteers cleaning the Grand Canal in Dublin on the first Saturday morning every month throughout the year enhance that wonderful amenity. And on Tuesday evening this week, the Dodder Sea Scouts (average age about 12, it seemed) were hard at work fishing out litter from the canal, under adult supervision, giving an example to all passing by. – Yours, etc,

RODERICK BOURKE,

Upper Leeson St,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Further to “Traffic easing to transform Dublin” (Environment, May 13th), it is not just the bronze rails of Dublin’s Millennium Bridge that are scarred by graffiti. Most of our capital’s streets are suffering from meaningless “tags” daubed on walls, poles, etc, which must be off-putting for tourists. Surely a dedicated graffiti removal unit funded by Dublin City Council and Dublin tourism groups could help tackle the crisis? Perhaps dedicated walls throughout the city would help attract the best of the artists’ work. – Yours, etc,

JOSEPH RYAN,

Upper Churchtown Road,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Brendan Butler’s disappointment (May 14th) over the apparent change of mind of Pope Francis regarding matters of discipline and governance brought a fit of laughter, which I thank him for!

It seems that Mr Butler and others who share his views of Pope Francis seem to think that just because he is a Jesuit and from Latin America that he is all but Che Guevara in a mitre, which is a simplistic understanding of the set-up of the current pontificate. – Yours, etc,

Fr JOHN McCALLION,

Mountjoy Road,

Coalisland,

Co Tyrone.

Thu, May 15, 2014, 01:04

First published: Thu, May 15, 2014, 01:04

Sir, – Ruth Coppinger (“Turn elections into referendum on unfair taxes and austerity”, Opinion & Analysis, May 14th) ignores the fact that the reason we have cuts in public expenditure and new taxes, which affect everyone’s standard of living, is that the Government is spending billions more than it is getting in taxes.

Her solution is to reverse all the adjustments made since we became bankrupt and take in less in taxation. Her solution is to tax the multinational corporations and the “super-rich”. How many jobs would go in this country if our corporation tax regime was torn up? How many “super-rich” do we have?

The present anti-austerity bandwagon, of which Ms Coppinger is a prominent spokesperson, is hypocritical.

It gives the impression that there is an alternative to austerity.

There is none. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY LEAVY,

Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Ruth Coppinger (“Turn elections into referendum on unfair taxes and austerity”, Opinion & Analysis, May 14th) ignores the fact that the reason we have cuts in public expenditure and new taxes, which affect everyone’s standard of living, is that the Government is spending billions more than it is getting in taxes.

Her solution is to reverse all the adjustments made since we became bankrupt and take in less in taxation. Her solution is to tax the multinational corporations and the “super-rich”. How many jobs would go in this country if our corporation tax regime was torn up? How many “super-rich” do we have?

The present anti-austerity bandwagon, of which Ms Coppinger is a prominent spokesperson, is hypocritical.

It gives the impression that there is an alternative to austerity.

There is none. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY LEAVY,

Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – For years I have read in your newspaper the frequent accounts of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers being ordered to be deported from Ireland.

Equally frequently I have read of our elected leaders making ongoing representations to the authorities of the US for an amnesty to be granted to undocumented, illegal Irish immigrants in that country. A clear case of hypocrisy and double standards, surely? – Yours, etc,

GERARD CLARKE,

Castlebrook,

Dundrum, Dublin 16.

Sir, – I read Roddy L’Estrange’s wonderful column “Against the Odds” every week and got a great thrill to see our shop get a mention (“Giro hits Clontarf and Vinny takes a ride to remember”, Sports, May 14th). Our banner got a great reaction and we had good fun on Sunday.

As a 55-year-old man living in Clontarf, I enjoy Vinny’s words of wisdom and empathise with him during his travails. I grew up in Raheny, so get added enjoyment through recognising local landmarks.

Thanks for the mention, and keep up the great writing. – Yours, etc,

RONNIE CARAHER,

Clontarf Wines,

Clontarf Road,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – To every cow its calf, to every house . . . its postcode? – Yours, etc,

VAL NOLAN,

Ardagh, Co Limerick.

Irish Independent:

Letters: There is actually more comfort in things that are provable

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‘The argument will always be about a God of the gaps’

Published 15 May 2014 02:30 AM

God’s existence is neither verified nor disproved by the good or bad done in his honour. Guilt or innocence by association in this way only ever obfuscates the issue. In fact, the good and bad done in God’s name are by-products solely of the beliefs associated with man-made institutions.

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And while God, the unknowable, abstract, conceptual notion of a deity, cannot be judged by the good or bad done in his name, religions most certainly can be. Religion is not abstract. It has teachings, makes claims, and promotes actions, to which there are real-world consequences.

These actions, whether you consider them sacred or not, can and must be judged by the standard of our 21st-Century moral and ethical values – values that have, of course, been propagated from the pulpits, but are no more derived from any of the world’s religions than is neuroscience or philately.

There is an incongruity between religion and God when it comes to existence.

Although it seems ludicrous to suggest, they are separate questions, to be dealt with separately. It is probably because of this that people think of God as the unknowable, enigmatic solution to the indignities, suffering and downright (philosophical) absurdity of the human equation. Is it rational? Certainly not, but if God brings hope in the face of suffering, consolation in the face of loss, and meaning to an otherwise indifferent universe, then great.

The caveat, however, is that even in the face of all this – the ‘comfort and mystery’ etc – reasoned arguments, empirical evidence, and systems of rigorous thought utilised as tools in the quest for objective truth can be and are far more fulfilling, precisely because they are provable: they are literally as real as it gets. In this model of living, no supernatural entities are needed to understand things like suffering.

At its most fundamental level, the argument for God will always be about a God of the gaps – forever residing just beyond the ever-moving frontier of history. As long as human beings are uncomfortable with not having all the answers, God will always be invoked – if not the God of Christianity, Judaism or Islam, then future gods invented by our descendants. Because no matter how many gaps there are or will be, religion will make sure that when God is removed from a gap he now inhabits, there is another primed and ready for tenancy.

The catch here is that this isn’t a weakness in science, but a weakness in an argument for God.

BRIAN MURPHY

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

 

LET’S ALLOW CHILDREN TO FIND GOD

Whether people believe in the existence of a god or not, there is one thing that is real about God – and that is the concept of him. It is a concept that every human being has to confront in his or her lifetime.

It is also a concept that needs many years of reflection – but unfortunately different versions of the concept of God are imposed on children in a hurried manner, just as soon as they are born. This has the effect of both devaluing children as thinking human beings, and also making God a stranger – usually a strange old man living far away in a distant heaven.

No-one, no matter who he or she is, whether a great religious teacher or a great atheist, should impose their concept of God or lack of God on young children. Children should have some choice to consider God at an age when they can think for themselves.

SEAN O’BRIEN

CLONLIFFE ROAD, DUBLIN 3

 

IF ANYTHING, BIG BANG IS PROOF

It never ceases to amaze me that atheists spend all their time rubbishing other people’s beliefs. The truth is, religion, no matter what form you believe in, is based on nothing more than faith – and all the scientific counter-evidence is just condescending claptrap.

Atheists can neither tell us what caused the Big Bang, nor what was there before it. If God made the universe, how else would he have done it? Only with a big bang out of nothing, from which every single thing – not only this microscopic earth, but mind-boggling trillions of planets and suns – came from.

I think it was Rob Sadlier who said that the children who died in Auschwitz are testament to the non-existence of God. I would like to quote Steve Collins at his slain son’s funeral in Limerick, when he said, “I talked to God and God said, ‘Why are you so sad?’ I said, ‘My son was killed,’ and God said, ‘So was mine.’ I said, ‘But, God, your son lives.’ And God said, ‘So does yours.'”

MICHAEL BURKE

SIXMILEBRIDGE, CO CLARE

IT’S FAIR ENOUGH TO PAY FOR WATER

I am following with interest the debate regarding the introduction of water charges – and I find it interesting that there is no mention of the many thousands of households already paying for domestic water.

I am a subscriber to a group water scheme supplied from a county council source, and for 35 years I and many others have paid for domestic water and I’m happy to do so.

We all need a good supply of water, and if consumers do not wish to subscribe for their consumption, who do they expect will pay to install and maintain a supply to their homes?

I predict that when water charges are in place, consumption will drop considerably, as people begin to cut back on the squandering of this most valuable resource.

FRANCIS MCNICHOLAS

KILTIMAGH, CO MAYO

 

WELL DONE, WHISTLEBLOWERS

It is an age of information – and disinformation. It is an age of deceit. And Ireland, being divided loosely into cliques of inscrutable loyalties, makes it an age of insider privilege, influence, and naked menace. Thank goodness for whistleblowers.

RICHARD DOWLING

CO LAOIS

 

THE REASON WE DIDN’T EAT FISH

Thomas Whelan (Letters, May 14) said that Irish people in the 19th Century did not eat fish because “the local landlord had to be paid first before anybody could launch from the shore”. There was also another reason. The main fishing boat in Ireland was the curragh, a small boat constructed of wicker and animal hide. These boats were unsuitable for deep-sea fishing and were extremely dangerous, particularly off the volatile west coast. Yet these boats were the best a native could hope to acquire, if they could at all. There was another problem in that the vast majority of fishermen couldn’t afford salt in the quantities needed to preserve their catch. Even for the inhabitants of Claddagh, who were out-and-out fishermen, the destitution caused by the famine reached such a point that many out of desperation sold their fishing nets.

JOHN BELLEW

PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH

 

TAKING GOOD ADVICE ON AFRICA

Africa‘s smallholder farmers have a vital role to play in that continent’s economic growth and development. It is heartening, therefore, that this week’s report from the Africa Progress Panel (APP) should focus on the role of small-scale farmers.

The 2014 report reinforces the belief that Self Help Africa has held for 30 years – that rural farming communities are vital if hunger and poverty are to be eradicated.

The APP, which includes our own Bob Geldof among its membership, is a hugely influential body. We must hope that international governments and decision-makers heed their recommendations and provide the necessary support, so that Africa’s enormous potential can be unlocked, and its people can look forward to a future free from hunger and dependence.

RAY JORDAN

CEO, SELF HELP AFRICA

Irish Independent

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