I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate the have to present an award to the cleaners. Priceless
I go and visit Mary in hospital
Scrabbletoday, Mary wins one game, nearly gets 400, perhaps I will win tomorrow
Ivan Nagy was one of the great ‘danseurs nobles’, who was adored by Margot Fonteyn and discovered Carlos Acosta
Hungarian ballet dancer Ivan Nagy Photo: TOPFOTO
6:11PM BST 22 May 2014
Ivan Nagy, who has died aged 70, was one of the great ballet danseurs nobles, and was adored by ballerinas such as Margot Fonteyn and Natalia Makarova.
He was also artistic director of English National Ballet in the early 1990s, and despite a turbulent relationship with its board, was responsible for talent-spotting the young Carlos Acosta and launching his stellar British ballet career.
At ENB, the elegant, self-effacing Nagy was overshadowed by his coming between two more publicly assertive directors, Peter Schaufuss and Derek Deane — but all three were unceremoniously ousted from office, none of them able to cope with the mismatch between their artistic ambitions and the company’s mission to provide crowd-pleasing ballet.
Nagy inherited a large deficit run up by Schaufuss, who had driven up ENB’s creative reputation at risk to the box office. In the boardroom storms that resulted, a new chairman, Lady (Pamela) Harlech, summarily dismissed Schaufuss. Nagy, then director of Cincinnati Ballet, was expected to calm the waters .
He brought in a sugary new Nutcracker production by Ben Stevenson, which satisfied the ENB board’s demand for a reliably popular Christmas treat; but other repertoire choices reflected his American career rather than British box office taste, and did not impress either public or critics.
Frustrated by Pamela Harlech’s demand that he stick more closely to familiar classics, Nagy told the board in January 1993 that, despite making inroads on the deficit, he did not want to renew his contract in September: “I said if they want a marionette, go to a marionette shop and buy one. I’m not a marionette.” He was ordered to leave at once without completing his final summer. Five ENB directors were forced out over a dozen years; though they did not always look kindly on the organisation, they remained friendly with one another.
Ivan Nagy and Natalia Makarova in 1978 (TIME LIFE/GETTY)
Ivan Nagy was born on April 23 1943 in Debrecen, Hungary, and studied at the Budapest State Ballet Institute. Aged 17 he joined the Budapest State Opera company, and like many Eastern bloc dancers gained the chance to travel by winning a medal at the international Varna competition in Bulgaria. A judge was the Washington National Ballet director, the influential Englishman Frederic Franklin, who invited Nagy to be a guest artist. This brought him on a tour to London, where he met a London Festival Ballet dancer, Marilyn Burr, whom he would later marry.
On tour in 1966, Nagy seized the chance to seek political asylum in the United States. After brief spells at the Washington Ballet and New York City Ballet, he spent 10 years as a principal at New York’s more classical American Ballet Theatre. There he swiftly built an exceptional reputation . The leading American critic Arlene Croce wrote: “Nagy has a way of filling a role superlatively without actually doing the steps.” He was “the company’s best actor in classical roles”, as well as Natalia Makarova’s best partner, she judged, able to convey a special weightlessness to any ballerina when he lifted her.
Even after the arrival of the newly defected Soviet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov, many prima ballerinas preferred performing with the courteous Hungarian. Nagy described his own approach as “being a little in love with my partners… You have to give up some of yourself.”
When Margot Fonteyn invited him to be her partner on a seven-week Australian tour, he insisted on addressing her as “my lady”. She responded by calling him “Sir” — even though he told her that in Hungarian the word meant “pubic hair”.
The Russian star Natalia Makarova called him “my Prince Charming”, adding: “[He] patiently tolerated the whims I tend to inflict on those close to me… His gallantry was a moral support to me.”
Nagy also made a memorably romantic partnership with the luminous young American ballerina Gelsey Kirkland in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet and in Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading; in recent years the two reunited to coach top students at Kirkland’s academy in New York.
When he decided to retire from dancing aged 35, a stellar queue of prima ballerinas mourned that he was leaving the stage much too early. Nagy, however, insisted: “I’ve peaked. I could never bear to watch myself going downhill.”
After three years’ teaching and consulting, Nagy served as artistic director of Chile’s Santiago Ballet (1982-86) and Cincinnati Ballet (1986-90) before being appointed English National Ballet’s director in 1990. His first priority was to hire new leading dancers, since several ENB stars had quit with Schaufuss.
Nagy was a productive shopper for young talent at ballet competitions, hiring a roster of superb ENB artists, including not only the teenaged Acosta but also his Cuban compatriot José Manuel Carreño and the young Estonian pair Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks. While this policy at an “English National” ballet company was initially controversial, Nagy’s finds became much-loved resident stars of the British ballet scene in the 1990s and 2000s.
He also won ballet-lovers’ thanks for bringing to British stages rare visitors such as the exceptional ballerinas Trinidad Sevillano, Ludmila Semenyaka and Marcia Haydée. But his eye for dancers was superior to his eye for repertoire.
After leaving ENB, Nagy returned to Chile to run the Santiago Ballet briefly. A cosmopolitan man, at one stage he kept four homes: in Santiago, Cincinnati, Majorca and London.
He retired to Spain 15 years ago, but had recently been coaching at the Budapest Opera, where he was working when he died. He is survived by his wife and their two daughters.
Ivan Nagy, born April 23 1943, died February 22 2014
Victorian terraces in Stoke Newington, London. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
While I agree entirely with Helen Lewis on the need for everyone to have a home, I am not sure that her prescription of building on the green belt will have the desired effect (“There is a simple solution for us ‘houseless’. Build on the green belt“, Comment). In fact, quite the opposite.
She has correctly identified that young people like herself need to live near their place of work. This is not only cost effective in travel terms (and time), but meets the green agenda. Most urban areas have land ripe for redevelopment as housing right in their midst. There is also the long-running tragedy of perfectly usable, but empty, property in town centres above shops and commercial premises. Lewis decries the traditional two-storey terrace as wasteful, when studies show that this form of housing provides some of the highest residential densities.
Back at the green belt, the land-cost component of building new housing here will be eye-wateringly expensive. No, the answer to her dilemma is in the middle of towns through housebuilding by housing associations, co-operatives and self-building. Start building housing that she and her generation need and want, and not what the current crop of house builders like to think that you want. Organise for a new agenda to address the needs of a new century. It can be done.
Urban Renewal Consultancy
Helen Lewis is right that we need to build more houses if we are to stop rents and house prices rising. But we need to build homes in cities where the jobs are – and relocate public sector jobs to areas of high unemployment.
She also rightly mentions buy-to-let landlords. While we do need some private rented accommodation, the sector is now out of control. Landlords are often outbidding first-time buyers and effectively creating their own demand, because people who cannot find a home to buy normally end up having to rent.
One way to tilt the balance back towards first-time buyers would be to stop landlords’ mortgage interest counting as an expense against the tax due on the rental income.
The solution for the “houseless” is not simple at all, contrary to what Helen Lewis suggests. Granting planning consent to more homes, on the green belt or otherwise, will have very little effect on the affordability of housing – because the price of land factors in the price of nearby housing already on the market. Add interest on the developer’s loan, the developer’s profits and subtract the cost of labour and materials to build gives a ballpark figure for the land value. The landowner won’t sell for less. A developer won’t buy and start building unless house prices are increasing.
As Danny Dorling explains in his excellent book All That is Solid, one part of the problem of housing affordability is about the supply of bedrooms rather than the homes themselves. Too many of us live in homes that are too big for us, but we don’t like letting go of the space “just in case”. “Just in case” means fewer homes to buy.
The lack of security of tenure means greater demand. Make renting fairer and more secure and the attractiveness of owner-occupancy diminishes.
I really must protest at Helen Lewis’s assumption that green belts in the south are “spangled with golf courses”.
I live in a village in the Oxford “particularly tight” green belt and we are surrounded by arable and grazing farmland. The nearest golf course is within the Oxford city limits. Lewis may not be able to afford a roof, but she must need to eat, as does every other animal on the planet.
National insurance could be key to saving the NHS. Photograph: Cate Gillon/Getty Images
Your reports of my attempts to persuade Labour to adopt radical NHS reform shows how once ideas are out in the political marketplace any party can lift them (“Tories approach Labour MP to tackle NHS deficit“, News). Labour badly needs three distinctive policies on which to fight the next election. How to combat the growing financial crisis in the NHS is one. Voters care passionately about the NHS and it offers Labour the possibility of moving from a proportional to a more progressive tax base.
Taxpayers do not regard national insurance payments as tax increases. I propose that, over a parliament, an increasing amount of the total health and social care budget should come from a reformed national insurance contributory system and that these increases should be matched by income tax cuts once the mega deficit has been met.
At the start of my political career, I proposed the sale of council houses with the revenue being used to build new stock. Both the Wilson and Callaghan governments were told by civil servants that the idea was unworkable. Mrs Thatcher thought otherwise, but once she had possession she used the revenue not to increase the number of new homes but to cut taxes. Now my ideas for NHS reform are out in public. You ran a story saying that the Tories are considering a similar approach. But you can bet they won’t make the contributory base progressive. Will NHS Mk2 go the same way as the sale of council houses?
Frank Field MP
House of Commons
Helping children to cope
NHS England notes that social and emotional learning programmes for children produce a saving of £84 for each £1 spent (“Child mental health care in meltdown – NHS study“, News). We have just celebrated delivering our Zippy’s Friends programme to one million children worldwide, including 30,000 in England. This programme helps children at Key Stage 1 to develop coping and social skills and evaluations in different countries and cultures have proved its effectiveness.
If children can learn how to cope with difficulties when they are young, they will be better able to cope with problems and crises in adolescence and adult life. It has taken us 10 years to reach our first million children and we hope to help the next million in half the time. But that will require recognition from governments and education authorities that prevention is better – and cheaper – than cure.
Director, Partnership for Children
Kingston upon Thames
Fossil fuels key to warming
Slowing down climate warming remains a good idea and we must act now (“No longer a far-off threat, climate change is upon us and we must act). But we need a clearer focus. Curbing CO2 emissions is good, but curbing production of fossil fuels is better, and will lead directly to the curbing of emissions. We need to keep the oil in the ground. This means challenging and requiring the fossil fuel corporations and businesses to produce and implement their own fossil fuel reduction plans, to be accompanied by FFRPs throughout the supply chain, including airlines, energy companies, high finance, the motor industry, households and individuals.
It’s a hard ask, and we may not want to do it, but the climate and Antarctica are challenging us to act now.
How we work at Yarl’s Wood
Your article “Serco, the Observer, and a hunt for the truth about Yarl’s Wood“, (News) presented an unbalanced picture of life inside the immigration removal centre at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, which we operate on behalf of the Home Office. Our managers and staff there do important work in sensitive and difficult circumstances, and we are very proud of their professionalism, integrity and humanity.
The wellbeing of those in our care at Yarl’s Wood is always our top priority. Specifically, we view sexual contact of any kind between officers and residents as unacceptable. There are two reporting systems (both independent of Serco) which residents can use to raise concerns. Complaints are thoroughly investigated and, if substantiated, disciplinary action is taken. The allegation in 2011 by the former resident referred to as “Sana” in your article was investigated no fewer than four times by different bodies, including Bedfordshire police.
As well as day-to-day oversight by Home Office officials based at the centre, there is regular inspection by HM chief inspector of prisons, and complaints can be investigated by the prisons and probation ombudsman. There is also an independent monitoring board with the role of ensuring that proper standards of care and decency are maintained. Its members have an office in the centre and can talk to any resident or member of staff, in private if necessary.
Your article concedes that conditions have improved profoundly over recent years. We accept that there remains further room for improvement, and we are committed to working with the Home Office and other interested parties to achieve that.
Dr Bob McGuiness
Acting chief executive
Serco UK Central Government
While a co-ordinated response to Boko Haram extremists is imperative (“Only together can we defeat Boko Haram”, 18 May), more must be done inside Nigeria to address poverty and inequality. That includes the undervaluation of education, particularly for girls.
Eight hundred classrooms and 200 schools in Borno and Yobe states, in the north of the country, have been destroyed by Boko Haram since 2013; and, since February last year, more than 15,000 children have stopped attending class in Borno state alone. It is dispiriting that the government’s response to these horrendous attacks on schools has been to allow them to stay closed.
Nigeria is home to more than 10 million of the 57 million children out of school globally, and this number is rising. The majority of these children in Nigeria are girls and most are in northern Nigeria. Of those who do enrol, fewer than two-thirds complete primary school and even fewer begin, let alone complete, secondary school.
ActionAid has seen successes in our work in the region with girls, boys, teachers, parents, community and religious leaders to make the case for girls’ education. But what is needed is adequate investment. The Nigerian government invests less in education than almost any other country in Africa. We must not only bring the abducted girls home. We must invest in and keep their schools open for them.
Dr Hussaini Adbu
ActionAid Nigeria Country Director
Paul Vallely did not “trivialise the question of halal meat” (Letters, 18 May). He simply pointed out that no type of animal slaughter is “humane”. The most “humane” slaughter involves terrible fear, suffering, and distress. This is not to mention all of the suffering the animal endured beforehand from birth. Going vegan is the only way to stop all that unnecessary animal torture.
In last week’s Money advice, there was an answer to DT’s letter about her mother’s taking in a lodger and the potential tax liability. The answer didn’t sound like particularly good news.
Lo and behold, in another article, the first way to earn extra cash from your property was to rent a room because you can earn up to £4,250 tax free – surely the reassuring answer to DT’s question, together with some other pertinent advice about the effect on insurance and council tax.
Perhaps moneyagonyaunt.com should consult Kamal Khurana!
As a candidate, I was pleased to read you saying that “if there are local elections in your area, they are important, too” (Leading article, 18 May). Well, in that case, why did your polls of voting intentions on page seven not include one relating to these municipal elections, rather than asking a question referring to the general election that isn’t taking place until next year?
As you note, Nigel Farage and Ukip have succeeded both in arousing interest in the European elections and in reminding us who should not be voted for either now or in next year’s general election – themselves.
The media has a role to play here so it was unfortunate that you chose to “big up” the Ukip poll ratings on your front page rather than remind people that there are alternatives, and ones that collectively have far more support than Farage and co.
It costs money to run the country. Inheritance tax contributes to it (Letters, 18 May). If you abolish inheritance tax, from where is the shortfall to be found?
Argentinosaurus actually weighed 80 tons (“We’re going to need a bigger Jurassic Park”, 18 May).
Conall O’Hara (age 6)
China and Singapore are cited as countries to emulate but they have flawed systems
Singapore is no place to look for a model of democracy
WHILE John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge identify the malaise of modern democracy, I disagree with their advocacy of the Singaporean ideal (“We need a revolution”, News Review, last week). Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, and his successor son, however velvet gloved, are simply the other side of the coin from the hereditary dictatorships of Syria or North Korea. Presidents for life, of whatever degree of benignity or malevolence, are antithetical to democracy.
The main problem is the adversarial bipartisan nature of those democracies based on the Westminster or US model. No matter who becomes leader, the government’s duty is to rule equitably on behalf of all, not just those who supported whoever happens to be the incumbent.
Roy Hollingworth, Wetherby, West Yorkshire
The article cites China and Singapore as role models of socioeconomic progress. China is based on a communitarian political culture. Its economy is mercantilist and its currency is modulated to stimulate exports. There is no freedom of expression and in some cases not even the freedom to practise one’s religion.
Despite its expanded middle and affluent classes, China still has a very low per capita GDP. Singapore’s meritocratic culture has provided enormous economic benefit but everything is strictly regulated and disciplined by the state. The West spends a fortune on social welfare, but it has the greatest gift of democracy in the form of liberty.
Dr Sam Banik, London N10
I worked in Singapore for five years, and my eldest daughter was allowed to be born there, but only on condition that we waived all rights to her having Singapore national status. Fortunately we are British and my daughter did not end up stateless like some. There were rumours that dissidents were held in an underground jail but it didn’t seem a good idea to inquire further. None of these things was problematic to me then or now.
I would vote for a programme that had a prospect of working, provided there was basic support to prevent the unfit and incapable from finishing up on the streets. The manifestos of the main political parties are never going to evolve into systems that will improve things and I think the newer parties show signs of serious psychological disorder.
Malcolm Roderick, Dundee
SUBSIDY HEALTH WARNING
The cost of the NHS will cripple the UK if it were to expand at the rate it has been accustomed, as will the cost of the various entitlements and benefits. It will be very difficult to pull the teat of subsidy away from those currently sucking on it, but there is more appetite for austerity than some might think. We either have a sensible and timely discussion on the subject, or try to fix the holes in a blind panic.
Justin Rudd, London SW20
Scots paying through the nose for a ‘no’ vote
I AGREE with Dominic Lawson (“Keep it to yourself, but Scotland’s shy ‘no’ voters will win the day”, Comment, last week), and as a Scotsman settled in England I’m certain there will not be a vote in favour of independence, merely a pile of cash wasted in the process and a few more devolved powers.
I had not realised before reading the article, however, that it is the English living in Scotland who may sway the vote in favour of the status quo. Despite being Scottish and having lived there for the first 28 years of my 38, I am allowed no say in the matter, whereas my sister’s boyfriend — who was born in Bath and recently moved to Fife — will get a say.
I find this a delicious irony.
Gordon Mackay, Bath, Avon
I am a proud 71-year-old Scotsman who will be voting for the Better Together option. Like many of my countrymen, we don’t go around shouting our beliefs from the hilltops as we don’t want the hassle we would undoubtedly receive from our fellow Scots who passionately believe in independence.
This doesn’t mean we are afraid to voice our opinions but that we don’t think anything we say will influence the dyed-in-the-wool separatists whose opinion we respect but don’t agree with.
Jim Goodall, Glasgow
I believe the vote will be very close, which will benefit no one, as the Scottish National party (SNP) will simply take it as a mandate to give it another go. Should Scotland vote for independence, I believe the UK would be a far less interesting and vibrant place. More articles such as Lawson’s are required to give hope to those in the Better Together campaign.
Malcolm Mclean, East Molesey, Surrey
CAUSE AND EFFECT
If the SNP is worried it may lose the referendum because of the potential ‘no’ votes of English people living in Scotland, why did it not allow Scottish people living in England to have their say? Such a huge change to the British constitution in the event of a ‘yes’ vote would affect people from both sides of the border, not just those living in Scotland.
Ann Chandley, Edinburgh
Give radiotherapy the cancer funds it needs
YOUR campaign to improve access to innovative radiotherapy is vital and could be addressed by broadening the £200m annual Cancer Drugs Fund. Despite a highly effective £25m, one-off investment in 2012-13, supporting a growth in delivery of the most advanced forms of radiotherapy across England, there is no regular investment for radiotherapy equivalent to the Cancer Drugs Fund.
This stark contrast in funding for new developments is worthy of public debate to ensure innovative radiotherapy techniques continue to be exploited.
The King’s Fund 2011 report How to Improve Cancer Survival: Explaining England’s Relatively Poor Rates states: “It is more important to improve access to surgery and radiotherapy than access to cancer drugs … this suggests that the contribution of the Cancer Drugs Fund to improving overall outcomes will be very limited.” Nevertheless, the Cancer Drugs Fund continues to have strong political support and has been extended to 2016.
This fund should be increased by about £50m a year to provide improved access to innovative radiotherapy techniques and the effective training of the workforce.
This would produce a significant boost to the most cost-effective cancer treatment available for patients.
Professor Andrew Jones, President, the British Institute of Radiology
Wealthy rising on the backs of poorer off
YOUR article “Rich double their wealth in five years” (News, last week) quotes Philip Beresford as saying, “The richest have had an astonishing year … their success brings more jobs and more wealth for the country.”
This assertion taken to its logical extreme suggests that the country would benefit even more if those few people become even more fabulously wealthy while the rest of us get poorer, living in some sort of feudal state, subsisting on scraps and paying taxes so the rich can grab the latest Sunseeker yachts.
I have no desire to be rich, being content just to work for the benefit of society. I also have no problem with people becoming wealthy by their own endeavours, but Britain seems to be principally aligned to make the rich even richer at everyone else’s expense.
Alan Heaton, Teddington, London
Your editorial “Don’t beat the rich: just join them” tells us the Rich List celebrates success “and we need tens of thousands to emulate them”. While I agree with your comment, which praises our wealth creators and risk takers, it is strange that you should promote the list with your fat-cat theme. Success in America is applauded — here it is viewed with envy and scorn. Your vulgar illustration of one of our greatest entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson, says it all.
Graeme Warner, Manchester
Congratulations on your Rich List’s splendid cats and faces.
Gerry Garner, Ravensden, Bedfordshire
Misha Glenny (“The beautiful game finds an ugly backdrop in Brazil”, Comment, last week) argued that Brazil must seek to rechannel the wealth of the richest to the middle class. It is not the middle class who need greater income and resources, but the poor. Even on this point, however, Brazil is rightly hailed as a pioneer of poverty-eradication schemes such as the lauded cash- transfer programme Bolsa Familia. There is more work to be done, but Brazil does not need to devise a plan for social mobility. It already has an effective one.
Daniel Rey, Wantage, Oxfordshire
Eleanor Mills does a good job of promoting Belfast but it is curious that she does not realise Dublin is not part of the UK (“After the bombs comes the buzz of Belfast”, News Review, last week). She states that she has been to “Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and to all our country’s other great cities”. As a citizen of the Republic of Ireland I am disconcerted to discover that our capital is in fact one of the “great cities” of the UK.
Catherine Forde, Carrignavar, Co Cork
THE X-RAY FACTOR
Jeremy Clarke wrote a brilliantly amusing piece (“Fundamental truths”, Style, May 18) on how he came to wear nappies after treatment for prostate cancer. When I was similarly treated 10 years ago we were not informed of the probability of bowel damage by the repeated hard x-ray zapping. However, as a nuclear research physicist, I was aware that bowel damage would be likely to occur and knew that such damage was improbable with either brachytherapy or cryotherapy. Unfortunately, although the hospital offered me brachytherapy, it wanted £6,000 to carry out the treatment. I was therefore forced to undergo the hard x-ray treatment and have suffered for 10 years with colon and rectum instability.
Dr Michael Madden, Warrington, Cheshire
Corrections and clarifications
An article about Rude Health (“Our organic muesli failed at Tesco but scored with Nigella”, How I Made It, Business, May 11) was inaccurate in its description of the founding of the company. Rude Health was co-founded by Kate Freestone and David Vines as well as Nick Barnard, the subject of the profile, and his wife Camilla. It was also Kate Freestone whose recipe for muesli formed the basis for the company’s successful product Ultimate Muesli. We apologise for these inaccuracies and any embarrassment caused.
A picture of Lord Thomas of Macclesfield in the article “What would they do next — hang me?” (News, last week) wrongly identified him as Lord Thomas, the lord chief justice. We apologise for the error.
Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (email@example.com or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)
Julian Clary, comedian, 55; Eve Ensler, playwright, 61; Anne Heche, actress, 45; Sir Ian McKellen, actor, 75; Cillian Murphy, actor, 38; Mike Myers, actor, 51; Frank Oz, puppeteer, 70; Anthea Turner, broadcaster, 54; Paul Weller, singer, 56; Jonny Wilkinson, rugby player, 35; Irwin Winkler, director and producer, 83
1659 Richard Cromwell resigns as lord protector of England; 1895 Oscar Wilde is convicted of gross indecency; 1935 Jesse Owens breaks three world records and equals a fourth in 45 minutes; 1967 Celtic become the first British team to win the European Cup; 1982 HMS Coventry is sunk during the Falklands War
Peacocks and leopards: 12th-century mosaic in the Palazzo dei Normanni, in Palermo, Sicily Photo: http://www.bridgemanart.com
6:58AM BST 24 May 2014
SIR – We are rather enjoying visits from the White Colne peacocks since they made a first, enchanting appearance on Twelfth Night.
They brought joy and colour to dark winter days. Our Jack Russells are less keen.
White Colne, Essex
SIR – The peacocks of White Colne can be permanently removed by building a wind farm in the village. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been quite happy to back a wind farm near me, which will knock our bird-life out of the sky.
E C Coleman
Bishop Norton, Lincolnshire
Published 25 May 2014 02:30 AM
Madam – Reading nearly every day about the ongoing Pistorius case, my mind was cast back to another rude-sounding name, which in itself was funny. In 1991, my young wife was diagnosed with cancer (and only given three months to live).
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We were given the present of a trip to Lourdes by a benefactor. It was our first pilgrimage and, of course, we knew no French.
I went down to the Grotto on my own on arriving at our hotel. I needed to get to the toilets badly when I arrived at the Lourdes demesne, but was too embarrassed to ask for toilets as I did not know the word for same. On arriving at a sign that said Piscines, I thought I am on the pig’s back now, but when I saw the queue I was totally dismayed, as there were literally hundreds queuing, women on one side and men on the other.
A kind-hearted Irishman understood my plight and explained that we were at the baths (Piscines). He also directed me to the toilets, and I would know in future that Hommes and Femmes were what I was looking for.
My wife lived three years instead of three months, (thanks no doubt to Our Lady’s intervention), she made three trips with me in total and I brought back pilgrimages of my own for the next 10 years to this beautiful place. However, that first trip will always stick in my memory, as there was sadness interlaced with comedy, and on subsequent trips, I was able to direct other pilgrims to Femmes and Hommes locations, and also Piscines.
Murt Hunt, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo
GOVERNMENT CARES LITTLE FOR PEOPLE
Madam – At last, the election battles are over and hard-earned seats on the new councils decided.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan can proudly gaze across the blue skies from the balconies of Leinster House, feeling like a true Alexander Selkirk: “I am monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute. From the centre all round to the sea, I am Lord of the foul and the brute.”
Exercising one’s vote this time round, with local and European combined, was a challenging task that must have blogged many minds.
The abolition of town councils and county councils are typical of the policies of this Government. They are in keeping with the social bottlenecks already created throughout the country with the closing of post offices, garda stations and banks, not to mention the hardships inflicted by water and property taxes.
The whole exercise is a conniving effort, disguised as an economy-saving measure, to distance the people of Ireland still further from the seat of governance and further complicate communications with Dublin.
This election put candidates through savage and challenging canvasses across the country, the new municipal districts spanning huge tracts of countryside.
With a diminished number of councillors, there is going to be less than ever contact with voters. It is certainly not ‘putting people first’ – so often quoted by Mr Hogan as his recipe for effective local government.
Before the local election, there was 35,000 population per council; this has now increased to 130,000 for new council.
In France, there is 1,600 per council and in Germany there is 4,500 per council.
For a small country like ours, it shows how little our Government cares.
James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary
ADAMS’ SICK COMMENTS
Madam – While members of An Garda Siochana are duty bound to report any maladministration of justice within the force to the highest level, I would have grave misgivings when they bring their stories to members of Dail Eireann from an organisation whose terrorist wing murdered 12 members of An Garda Siochana.
Their leader in the Dail, Mr Adams, with McGuinness, Doherty and others, used every device, including the threat that the terrorists would resume the campaign that they had been operating for the previous 30 years, to have the few that had been incarcerated for these crimes released, or to have their sentences greatly reduced. This included the cowardly killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, who was brutally slain while protecting the incomes of senior citizens at Adare, Co Limerick, in 1996.
If you have a strong stomach, read the reports from the so-called Sinn Fein Ard Fheis of 1999.
I wonder was Adams including those 12 brave Irishmen who were murdered while serving the people of this country when he made his sick remarks during the past week about the brave men and women of An Garda Siochana.
Christy Callanan, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary
AUSTERITY IS NOT THE ONLY OPTION AVAILABLE
Dear Madam – In his article (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014) Dan O’Brien argues that out of the three countries (Iceland, Ireland and Cyprus) that experienced severe financial shocks from 2008, which placed the very sovereignty of those states at risk, only we in Ireland can with hindsight conclude that our Government made the right decision to transfer all banking sector debt to the taxpayer.
This implies that there was, or is, no alternative to the policies of austerity when this is patently not true.
All three countries were faced with the same financial crisis but each made a different choice. Ireland completely bailed out its banking sector, Iceland refused to, while Cyprus tried and failed to take a middle route.
It is worth pointing out that when the Icelandic government was faced with the same crisis as Ireland, its government initially intended to follow the Irish example and bail out its banking sector, too. But the people of Iceland took to the streets – unlike the Irish public, to whom the bailout was presented as a fait accompli –and their president referred the bailout to its supreme court, which in turn referred it to a referendum, which the Icelandic people voted against.
And guess what happened the next day? The banking system imploded but the sky didn’t fall in, ATMs kept working and people got their pensions and salaries. Inflation rose and there was a recession with a major economic adjustment, but the damage to Icelandic society was nothing like the damage done to Irish society.
For reasons that even the current Fine Gael/Labour Government – usually so quick to provide any evidence that blackens the last government – refuses to explain, all banking debt was transferred to the Irish taxpayer. The Irish Cabinet couldn’t even raise themselves from their beds for the most important decision ever made by an Irish government, and our then president just signed the bill without batting an eyelid.
If only our political class had been of the calibre of Iceland’s, just imagine the mess that could have been avoided.
Icelandic banks defaulted on $85bn. Its government ring-fenced domestic banks and implemented capital controls, which we were told was not possible in the euro area but which has been done for Cyprus, and it created new state-run banks. Its government then agreed that amounts above 110 per cent of home values would be written off on mortgages, with the result that debt equivalent to 13 per cent of Iceland’s GDP was forgiven, resulting in a far lower debt burden on citizens. The market took it on the chin.
Iceland’s economy will grow 2.4 per cent this year, according to the OECD, and 2.9 per cent next year. The OECD thinks the euro area will grow 0.2 per cent for the same period. Also, the cost of insuring against an Icelandic debt default is the same now as it is for Belgium, and Iceland’s application to join the EU is on hold and unlikely to proceed any further with a vote due to be held about whether to withdraw its application. The portion of the Consumer Price Index in Iceland made up of housing is only 3 per cent less now than it was in 2008. Fitch Rating has increased Iceland’s debt rating to investment grade with a stable outlook. Even the IMF has officially confirmed that targeted debt-reduction policies can work.
The Icelandic government managed to rewrite its constitution, have a banking inquiry, comprehensively reform its regulatory governance structures and complete the trial of both its former prime minister, and the head of the worst affected bank, who in December 2013 was sentenced to five years in jail.
Yet our system of governance is so inept we can’t even set up a committee to look into the banking crisis, never mind get to the bottom of why it went wrong and who is responsible.
Due to a complete and total failure of governance at every level of the Irish public sector, from the top down, due to our historical culture of cronyism and corruption, fostered in large part by the culture of deference to authority instilled in generations of Irish people by the ethos of the Catholic Church (Iceland is a Protestant country) and which is also generally explained on the grounds of how small we are, so that being impartial is difficult (yet Iceland manages it), the people of Ireland have possibly lost about 20 years of economic development – and for what?
The evidence indicates that all of the decision-making systems, and the people who make the decisions, that were in place before this crisis remain in place – as most recently brought home by the revelation, following the resignation of Mr Shatter, that although this Government is in office over three years, no department’s governance structure has been subject to an external review.
Mr O’Brien is wrong to conclude that Ireland made the right choice to agree to borrow tens of billions to be handed over to the banks or that there wasn’t, or isn’t, an alternative, even now, to the policies of austerity.
Any country that, like Ireland, can pay over €7bn a year in interest on its debt, as well as forgoing €6bn a year in lost revenue due to myriad tax reliefs, paid for from the taxes of people who themselves rarely get to benefit from such reliefs, has options and can afford to make better choices.
Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London
LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE
Madam – Thank you for your great coverage on the Sinn Fein/IRA propaganda machine. I agree with Fionnan Sheahan (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014) that it is indeed a cult, and that Mr Adams is its leader and should be seen for that. When we read of the public rise in support for Sinn Fein, because of the rage over water charges, etc, do we not see the bigger picture?
How we can watch, and listen to, Mr Adams? He is getting away with murder. Wake up, Ireland before it’s too late. Don’t let the genie out of the bottle.
Una Heaton, North Circular Road, Limerick
TAKE AN HONEST LOOK IN MIRROR
Madam – Reading the Sunday Independent (May 18, 2014), I would like to point out to some of your reporters who are well paid that it is very easy to criticise others – and in particular Sinn Fein – without offering an alternative.
It is very obvious that these reporters are not suffering the austerity that thousands of families are enduring all over the country. Also consider the OAPs, the poor, the unemployed – the new poor, who are being turned into criminals by the parties you support and indeed I once supported.
Can you leave your comfort zone and look beyond your noses with some semblance of compassion for the poverty all around you.
So, before you criticise or accuse parties who show a light at the end of the tunnel, take a good, honest look at yourselves. Then you may suggest an alternative party that can show a similar light.
Frank Shortt, Mungret, Co Limerick
LET CHILDREN LIVE THEIR CHILDHOODS
Madam – A distressing article by Niamh Horan caught my eye last weekend: ‘An ugly world when a little girl suffers for the sake of beauty’ (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014).
The scene that Niamh came on in a pharmacy, was of a young girl of about seven, tears pouring down her face, as her mother insisted she have her ears pierced. I am very pleased Niamh wrote an article on what she witnessed. This was very wrong, both by her mother and the pharmacy staff, who should have refused when they saw the child in distress.
We should let young children live their childhood; it’s their right. Remember we passed a Children’s Referendum in 2012 which said: “The views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight.” This should apply to all our everyday dealings with children, not just in a court of law.
Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co Donegal
STRANGE SITUATION OF THESE STUDENTS
Madam – It’s shameful that the English language schools have failed in their duty of care to the young people who had enrolled with them, and whose money, they accepted.
But it’s puzzling how these students were capable of finding part-time work, 20 hours a week. And work that financed their living expenses, their tuition, and their flights to and from their countries of origin. While our own people (English-speaking and therefore with no language barrier) are unable to get any employment.
And they have to live on unemployment benefits.
Margaret Walshe, Dublin 15
ANOTHER BROKEN ELECTION PROMISE
Madam – I was flabbergasted to hear that former Justice Minister Alan Shatter was entitled to €70k severance pay, while he still sits as a TD. His decision to accept or waive this payment is entirely a matter for his conscience. However, I take umbrage with Fine Gael, whose 2011 election manifesto included a commitment to abolish severance pay to ministers.
This begs the question, why has it taken the Government three years to draft and sign a 14-page Act? Perhaps I am being cynical, but I believe when legislation is needed to extract more money from citizens it is usually done with greater alacrity.
John Bellew, Dunleer, Co Louth
WEED OF FLOWER?
Madam – I read Ayla Mahon’s nice letter in praise and defence of dandelions (Sunday Independent, May 18, 2014).
I agree with her that dandelions are attractive to look at with their bright yellow flowers, which attract bees in spring. Other wild flowers, such as celandines and marsh marigolds, come out and flower even earlier in spring than the dandelion. They also have bright yellow flowers, which make them easily seen by bees and other insects. In fact, very many of the spring and early summer wild flowers are yellow, eg buttercups. Is it not interesting that many of the high-visibility jackets worn by cyclists, gardai, council workers, etc, are the same colour as dandelion flowers?
Dandelions were, indeed, used in cookery and as medicines by our ancestors; they are still being used to some degree in cookery, as are other wildflowers, including the unattractive nettle! Are nettles weeds?
Practically all plants can be regarded as weeds. It depends on circumstances. A weed can be defined as a plant that is growing where it is not wanted.
For example, somebody has a beautiful lawn containing only lawn grasses. If a dandelion appears in that lawn, it is a weed. If there are dandelions growing in hedgerows along a country road, they are not weeds but wildflowers.
O Lane, Clonmel
AND THEN GOD CREATED GOBDAWS
Madam – When God created the world in six days, you would think he would have taken another week and created jobs.
He created politicians who turned out to be gobdaws, who have been “creating jobs” ever since and can’t be stopped.
Then along comes technology – which is quicker, smarter and cheaper and makes jobs disappear with no end in sight.
So it’s over to the gobdaws again. Anyone any ideas?
John Arthur, Dublin 16