Pruning

22June2014 Pruneing

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. I sweep the drive

ScrabbleI win, but well under 400, I barely scrape past 300, perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Lt-Col Cliff Green – obituary

Lt-Col Cliff Green was an officer who won the George Medal by clipping the wings of deadly ‘butterflies’ and filling the ‘bomb cemetery’

Lieutenant-Colonel Cliff Green

Lieutenant-Colonel Cliff Green

5:41PM BST 19 Jun 2014

Comments14 Comments

Lt-Col Cliff Green, who has died aged 96, was awarded a George Medal in 1940 for neutralising a number of unexploded bombs which fell at Gravesend, Kent, placing people and property at considerable risk.

After the start of the London Blitz, a great expansion in the number of bomb disposal companies was ordered, and many of the Royal Engineer construction companies were pressed into service.

On December 17 1940, Green, in command of a section of 718 General Construction Company RE, was ordered to Gravesend to investigate reports of four enemy unexploded bombs . He found the first two in a school playing field.

His training had been minimal and his orders were not to attempt to remove the fuzes but to surround the devices with sandbags. When these were positioned so that the blast was directed away from the school, he detonated the bombs.

The third bomb had fallen at the Bowater Paper Mills, close to the Thames. It was an incendiary device and could be worked on only at low tide. The fourth was located in a back garden. It had been dropped at low level, landed in the road, and come to rest with its nose protruding and fuze visible. On examination, Green found that the fuze was too badly damaged to be identified.

When the locking ring was removed with a hammer and cold chisel, the head of the fuze came with it. This made it impossible to neutralise with the equipment then available . Green, using a stethoscope borrowed from a local doctor, listened for the tell-tale ticking of the fuze and ordered his men to withdraw to a safe distance, taking the vehicles and stores with them.

He then set about the nerve-racking business of levering out the rest of the fuze with a hammer, chisel and a screwdriver. He wrote afterwards: “With sweaty palms and brow, and prayers on my lips, I slowly got it to move.” It turned out to be a Type 17 Long Delay. The gaine (detonator container) was then removed. Had it fired while he was working on it, he would have been killed. Ten minutes later the fuze fired.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cliff Green with one of his defused bombs

The next day Green took the bomb to the “bomb cemetery” to detonate it. He lit the fuze, having tested its burning rate, and ran all the way back to the safety point. This was strictly against regulations because there was a danger of tripping over debris and being incapacitated while still within range of the explosion. Both Green and a comrade, Sapper Carter, who had been at his side throughout the operation, were awarded George Medals.

The son of a police sergeant, Clifford Henry Green was born in London on July 6 1917 and educated at West Kensington Central School. At the outbreak of war he was working for Monk & Co of Warrington, a construction firm, supervising contracts for aerodromes.

He enlisted in the Army in 1939, and the following year was commissioned into 718 General Construction CO. He was sent to RAF Manby on what he believed was going to be an armaments course. There they were greeted by the instructor: “Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome to Bomb Disposal Course Number 1 – or, to put it differently, what goes up must come down.”

Little was known at the time about the workings of German bombs and, inevitably, the information given to Green was very sketchy. When he rejoined his company at Tunbridge Wells to take over his section, he was given a list of bombs and a map and told to go and deal with them.

On inquiring of a senior officer why it was that newly-commissioned men were selected for this work, he was told that experienced regimental officers had received long and expensive training and were not to be hazarded on jobs where the life expectancy of operators was about 10 weeks.

In 1941 Green was transferred to 3 BD Company. On the night of June 12 1943, more than 2,000 German anti-personnel bombs – called “butterflies” because of the rotating vanes which armed them in flight – fell on Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

Green and a fellow officer, Eric Wakeling, arrived at Grimsby to find the town at a standstill. The streets were full of craters; some buildings were still smoking and the devices were hanging from trees, fences, gates, telephone wires and washing lines.

The most dangerous one that Green found was a butterfly, shorn of its wings, lying in an attic between the ceiling joists. As he was kneeling down, trying to place a loop over one end of the bomb, he slipped. He said afterwards: “The bomb rolled 45 degrees and was about five inches from my face and I thought ‘This is it!’” But it did not go off. He fed the string out through a ventilator and down to the ground. A small pull was all that was needed to set it off.

He retired as a lieutenant-colonel in 1959 and worked in the construction industry until finally retiring in 1982. Settled at Warrington, Lancashire, he was a lay reader for 50 years and a scout group leader for 40.

Green married first, in 1937, Gwyneth Griffiths, who predeceased him. He married secondly, in 1958, Elfine Gardner (née Shaw), who also predeceased him. He is survived by a son and a daughter of his first marriage, another daughter having predeceased him, and by a son and a daughter of his second marriage.

Lt-Col Cliff Green, born July 6 1917, died February 4 2014

Guardian:

Philip Wood (Letters) argues that cultural anthropology should be taught in schools instead of religious education “so that children are exposed to a more critical awareness of other cultures and world views”. Without commenting on RE, I can assure him that it already is! An A-level in anthropology was designed by the Royal Anthropological Institute and has been offered by the AQA examination board since 2010. Social anthropology has also been available for some years as an option within the international baccalaureate.

The A-level embraces anthropology as a whole discipline (biological as well as social). It was developed in the belief that the subject can and should be available to secondary-age students, alongside other subjects, as a core element in a contemporary liberal education. An explicit aim of the course is to foster the globally informed citizenship, which can be seen as one of the “British values” under so much current discussion. Students are encouraged to encounter, and debate critically, themes such as the relationship between global and local processes, unity and diversity in human life, the social treatment of the body, gender, personhood, ethnic identities and stereotyping of the “other”.

Hilary Callan

Former director, Royal Anthropological Institute, London SW1

Defining British values

What a tour de force Frank Cottrell Boyce’s piece on British values was (“You can’t teach values, British or otherwise. You can only live them”, Comment). If anything, it contained all the principles (values?) most sane people wish to see in society: humour, tolerance, common sense, compassion, candour, honesty, clear-sightedness. After a week of reading and listening to the claims made by politicians and commentators, most of whom have never set foot inside a state school, faith or otherwise, about what goes on in the nation’s faith schools, this was refreshing indeed.

Margaret Riley

Blackrod, Lancashire

Inequity of austerity policy

Accepting Andrew Rawnsley’s economic analysis with regard to the deficit, which is by no means agreed by all economists, he peddles the usual Westminster/south-east view of the austerity agenda (“Labour needs to be candid about painful cuts it will have to make”, Comment). Those of us who live outside the M25 are outraged at the blatant unjust, inequitable implementation of that policy, especially with regard to local authorities. We would look for a Labour government to redress this imbalance where the Durhams of this world are not penalised for the benefit of the Surreys, where the poor are not paying for the rich, where need again becomes a criterion for redistribution. The total sum may be the same but the allocation of the burden should still be part of the debate.

EM Dixon

Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham

Arts funding outside London

Peter Bazalgette is right to point out the devastating effect that local government cuts have had on regional arts organisations (“Arts in crisis – ‘blame lies with council cuts'”, News). Poorer areas have faced larger cuts, exacerbating Britain’s cultural divide. Unfortunately further cuts are likely in the next parliament, no matter who wins the election. This means that organisations such as the Arts Council, BBC and National Lottery have an obligation to support diversity across Britain. Our recent report for the IPPR, March of the Modern Makers, found that Londoners receive three times more arts funding in total than everyone else in the country.

Absolute equity would be unwise given the national assets that are based in London for historic reasons. But the fact that the Arts Council has begun to shift funding away from London shows that the current settlement is not rational. All grant-making bodies must develop clear evidence on the right balance of funding between London and the regions, and how they will work towards it. Increasing regional funding will also help diversify the creative industries. The magnet of London for fashion, music, film, theatre and television, combined with a history in the industry of poorly paid internships and informal recruitment, is a barrier to a creative career for young people away from the capital and from less well-off backgrounds. Supporting cultural institutions in places like Manchester, Bristol and Edinburghelsewhere can help open these sectors by allowing talented young people of limited means to get their break closer to home.

Will Straw and Nigel Warner

Institute for Public Policy Research

London WC2

Living with cancer

Thank you for printing the extract from Marion Coutts’s book (New Review). My partner of 39 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer earlier this year and we are still coming to terms with it. Articles like this help us, as does the support we have received and continue to receive from friends and family across the globe via email/text/telephone calls and letters. At times like this, the world wide web is truly a safety net.

S Leslie

Edinburgh

Where there’s a will…

As a retired clergyman, I must have officiated at more than 1,000 weddings. At not one has anyone ever said: “I do” (“It’s never too late to say ‘I do’: why the over-65s have fallen for wedding bells”, In Focus). This is because they have all said: “I will.”

Canon Michael Blood

Birmingham

Tony Blair says he was not aware Syria had chemical weapons until they were used. Photograph: Rex

You quoted Tony Blair last week as saying: “What we now know from Syria is that Assad, without any detection from the west, was manufacturing chemical weapons. We only discovered this when he used them.” (“Angry Blair rejects ‘bizarre’ claims invasion of Iraq caused crisis”, News) He adds: “We also know, from the final weapons inspectors’ reports, that though it is true that Saddam got rid of the physical weapons, he retained the expertise and capability to manufacture them.”

I was deputy chief of defence intelligence 1994-99, head of the defence intelligence analysis staff and a member of the joint intelligence committee. I can assure Mr Blair that for at least a decade before the second Gulf war we assessed Syria as possessing chemical weapons, a recurring theme in JIC reports. The issue was not whether he had them but when and how he might use them. And ever since the first Gulf war we assessed that Saddam had a “breakout capability” to regenerate his weapons of mass destruction programmes – nothing to do with “the final weapons inspectors’ reports”.

One wonders whether Mr Blair read the intelligence assessments we provided him, is consciously trying to rewrite history to his benefit, or is suffering from some sort of prime ministerial false memory syndrome. Whatever, he should not be allowed to get away with untruths.

John NL Morrison

Canterbury

Prime minister Tony Blair rejected claims that the 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq was to blame for the current crisis in Iraq. While admitting that no weapons of mass destructions were found in Iraq, he is quoted as stating that in Syria: “Assad, without any detection from the west, was manufacturing chemical weapons. We only discovered this when he used them.” Yet a March 1995 US intelligence assessment entitled The Weapons Proliferation Threat concluded that: “Syria has had a chemical warfare programme since the mid-1980s.” This was updated in a 1997 US Department of Defence report entitled Proliferation: Threat and Response, stating that the Syrian chemical weapons programme began in the 1970s. It is not credible that Mr Blair was not aware of these and multiple other reports on Syrian chemical weapons. Mr Blair argues that “the jihadist groups are never going to leave us alone” and that “this is, in part, our struggle”. He seems to have forgotten that “we” – that is the west – helped provide the foundation roots for these jihadists by supporting the mujahedeen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The misguided crusading zeal of Mr Blair and Mr Bush was surely a factor in the current Iraq crisis.

Dr Edward Horgan

Limerick

Ireland

It seems that Tony Blair will be pilloried to the end of his days for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Certainly, it does not seem fair to blame him and George Bush for the current mess in Iraq.

We did, after all, invade Libya with the Americans and hounded Gaddafi unmercifully until he was killed by his own people. There may be differences relating to that invasion but it is, in essence, similar. I remember with what joy Tony Blair was welcomed into office in 1997. Surely we must give the man some credit.

Annette Howe

Wool

Dorset

Blair’s capacity for self-justification and denial knows no bounds. It is astonishing that he insists that the illegal invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with the present mayhem. The shadowy Sunni Iraqi leader of Isis was an early recruit to “al-Qaida in Iraq”. Under Saddam Hussein, whatever our view of his tyranny, there was no Islamist jihadist insurgency; post-invasion, it has gathered momentum and further sharpened the lethal Sunni/Shia divide. I would have thought that our foreign policy disasters throughout the Muslim world would have impelled Blair to learn the lesson of the unintended consequences of military action. It is Blair and his potty, faith-driven, apocalyptic world view that is “bizarre”. He should be in The Hague on trial for war crimes.

Philip Wood

Kidlington

Oxon

Cathy Blacklock’s mother, Cath Clayton, and daughter Carly in 1985 at the pitchfork fair, Wellington, Somerset.

Snapshot: Mum and Carly at the fair

This photograph is of Mum with her granddaughter – my daughter – Carly, and was taken in 1985 in Wellington, Somerset. Carly was six, Mum 67. I belonged to a group called Wellington Pier and we organised a pitchfork fair to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Monmouth rebellion.

Mum was so pleased with her outfit, which she and I had made, especially when a Canadian woman asked to take their picture. This copy arrived in the post some weeks later and she was thrilled to think that thousands of miles away, it was in someone’s album as a reminder of their holiday. However, she was a bit miffed that her lovely white collar was a little crumpled! It was a great day, with a re-enactment of the battle by the English Civil War Society and stalls manned by local people for which we charged a guinea a pitch. Mum lived until she was 92 and this was her favourite photo to the end of her days.

Cathy Blacklock

Independent:

Times:

Telegraph:

SIR – Lakhdar Brahimi, until this year the UN special envoy to Syria, fears that the country is descending into a Somalia-style failed state run by warlords, posing a threat to the future of the Middle East.

The Commons vote last year against intervention there shattered the hopes of the Syrian revolution. President Bashar al-Assad got what he wanted from the cruel farce of UN peace talks. Refugee camps are now bombed by the Syrian army, while the Free Syrian Army has been left to fight both Isis and the Syrian army without help.

The Commons vote did far more than has been accepted to encourage Syrian army savagery and Islamist terror.

Brian Devlin
Galashiels, Selkirk

SIR – We are concerned over the use of the acronym Isis, used for the militia called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. This is likely to form an inadvertent association in the minds of hearers between Sunni jihadists and followers of the goddess Isis.

The Fellowship of Isis, a worldwide organisation with thousands of members, and other pagan followers of the goddess could be caught up in unintended fallout.

Mike Stygal
President, The Pagan Federation
London WC1

Embassy parties

SIR – Events at embassies to mark the birthday of the Queen are a long-standing tradition (“There’s a whiff of sleaze coming from William Hague’s Foreign Office”). They are an opportunity to promote Britain as a place to visit, study and do business, and to engage with British people living abroad.

Private-sector sponsorship of Queen’s Birthday parties and other FCO events by appropriate companies is an established practice dating back more than a decade, not a recent innovation. It helps us do more for the taxpayer, but not at the taxpayer’s expense. All sponsorship is rigorously assessed to ensure it meets high standards of probity and value for money.

The FCO indeed focuses on boosting economic growth in Britain by opening up overseas markets and supporting British business. Events such as Queen’s Birthday parties help to achieve this. Exports to high-growth markets like China and Brazil are at all-time highs and Britain is the top destination for foreign investment in Europe.

Sir Simon Fraser
Permanent Under-Secretary
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London SW1

Like a house on fire

SIR – Our house nearly burnt down, like Charles Metcalfe’s (Letters, 20 June). An extending mirror was facing the bathroom curtain; its magnifying side reflected the sun on to the curtain, which caught alight, fell to the floor and ignited the bathmats.

We were out, and a young American visitor was in the house and was alerted by the smoke detector. He did not know the 999 number, but doused the flames with water. The smoke damage was extensive.

Fay Pearson
Southsea, Hampshire

No jam yesterday

SIR – A tax on sugar has been suggested to control obesity. I learnt (from our Hampshire Women’s Institute newsletter) that “only after 1874, when the sugar tax was abolished, with more affordable sugar, did jam-making become popular”.

Jill Forrest
Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire

Faster, higher, stronger

SIR – Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, argues that a disproportionate number of independent school pupils represent Britain at elite sport. So do we have quotas of state pupils to represent Britain at the Olympics? Of course we don’t: rather, we aspire to bring the standard of sport in the maintained sector up to that of independent schools.

Independent schools also provide a disproportionate number of pupils to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. Why is the Office for Fair Access seeking to impose quotas? Team GB and UK plc need the best talent to compete globally. Quotas will not help: a broader talent base will.

Mark Steed
Principal, Berkhamsted School
Hertfordshire

Passport to the sky

SIR – Helen Grant, the sports minister, suggests that people take “staycations” in the wake of the passport crisis. This year we flew up from Sussex to stay in Scotland. Can she tell us how we could have done that without passports?

Mike Hawes
Blackham, East Sussex

Magna Carta Day

SIR – Your leading article on core British values suggested that the Government should declare June 15 2015, Magna Carta Day, a national holiday.

Eleanor Laing MP proposed this in an early day motion last year. With the will, it might become the permanent replacement of the spring bank holiday and be called Magna Carta Day for ever more.

Sir Robert Worcester
Allington, Kent

Wrong mood music

SIR – Travelling from Indonesia to Singapore over choppy seas, an engine on our ageing ferry gave out and we started to list. Our fears were not assuaged when piped music started blaring. The song? The Final Countdown.

Saralie Pincini
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

SIR – Awaiting chemotherapy in the local hospital last week, my fellow patients and I noticed that the music in the background was Things Can Only Get Better. At least it will no longer remind me of Tony Blair.

Hilary Bagshaw
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Risks from cemented total hip replacements

SIR – We agree with Sir Liam Donaldson’s concerns on cement usage in partial hip replacements, but, as patient groups suggest, this may be the tip of the iceberg.

In 2012 we published long-term mortality comparisons between total hip replacements implanted with cement and those without. There were significant differences favouring the cementless group. More alarming was the finding that the penalty for performing a cemented total hip replacement instead of a metal-on-metal hip resurfacing was an extra death for every 23 patients at six years.

Our conclusions were confirmed independently in 2013 by a more detailed paper from Oxford.

It is now time to determine whether these studies reflect reality or are compromised by the quality of data available.

Ronan Treacy
Derek McMinn

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeons
Birmingham

SIR – Acrylic cement has been used in hip replacement surgery for more than 50 years. The method was introduced by Professor Sir John Charnley at the Wrightington Hospital in November 1962, and remains the gold standard for hip replacement. The occasional problem in the elderly, usually with a fractured neck of the femur, was identified early, addressed and the information published.

B M Wroblewski FRCS
The John Charnley Research Institute
Wigan, Lancashire

The frost of a winter morning picks out the hedges and trees on the road to Oborne, Dorset  Photo: David Noton Photography / Alamy

6:59AM BST 21 Jun 2014

Comments63 Comments

SIR – I don’t think Michael Cole’s proposal (Letters, June 18) to force landowners to grow trees in hedges, on which raptors could perch to ravage our hedgerow and farmland birds, is a particularly good idea.

Raptors already have all the assistance they need from protection laws, breeding schemes and people quick to attribute the decline in wildlife to farming methods.

John Williams
Great Casterton, Rutland

SIR – Instead of yielding to the opinions of the Woodland Trust, Parliament should study the effect that the Scottish Assembly’s target of 25 per cent woodland cover has had. Important habitats such as heaths, moors and even blanket bogs have been sacrificed. Many rare invertebrates and plants are now at risk.

Chris Land
Matlock, Derbyshire

SIR – The planting of trees in hedgerows would provide shelter to farm animals, which so often lack shade or shelter from the worst of the weather.

Gill Ellin
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

167 Comments

SIR – You correctly urge stamp duty reform, which, you note, brings in £5.6 billion to the Exchequer.

Taking this as the target, it cannot be beyond clever Treasury people to calculate an alternative way to reach this figure. One could simply allow a tax-free bottom-end amount (£150,000?), then impose a rate of say, 0.5 per cent on the next £50,000 and continue upwards in £50,000 bands adding 0.5 per cent each time. Above £500,000 the increments could be more, and over £1 million more again.

Thus, the higher the purchase price the higher the stamp-duty rate. This would benefit the bottom of the housing market, with desired knock-on effects.

John Tilsiter
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – As we agonise over house-price inflation and young families who cannot afford to buy a house, isn’t it time that we taxed the sellers who benefit from price inflation, rather than the struggling buyers? Remove stamp duty and replace it with capital gains tax on all property.

Dr Kenneth Gordon
Itchen Abbas, Hampshire

SIR – If the Government wishes to prick the housing bubble, it should announce a three-month holiday on capital gains tax for (non-principal) residential property. The resultant stampede to sell should do the trick.

Malcolm Morgan
London NW8

SIR – Lord Saatchi’s call to abolish corporation tax for small businesses and remove capital gains tax for investors in small firms is an interesting contribution to the debate on taxation and entrepreneurship.

Britain needs to encourage more new companies. The Government’s cutting of corporation tax rates to 20 per cent by 2015 is giving momentum to smaller businesses and encouraging multi-nationals to invest here, which is brilliant for Britain.

I support a move towards lower business taxes over time, but I’m not sure this is the way to do it. To help smaller companies, start by capping and then reducing business rates. These are charged on all companies, profitable or not, which is hard on start-up firms.

Nor am I convinced that a massive distinction between companies with small profits and others is correct. If we are not careful all businesses will be divided into separate companies with small profits.

Ian Baxter
Chairman, Baxter Freight
Langar, Nottinghamshire

SIR – On the day the Bank of England hinted at an imminent increase in interest rates, NatWest wrote to me to say that the rate on my cash ISA is shortly to be reduced by 0.5 per cent. And the banks wonder why they are so hated.

Gary Spring
Southgate, West Glamorgan

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – So now at last we have an agreed bank inquiry committee. Well at least Enda is happy at having control over matters. The others? Not so happy I think. They can rant and rave all they want but can’t change anything.

Over the next few weeks and months or even years there will be certain people grilled over what was said or not said. When it was said and where it was said. People who were in high places will be called back to answer for their actions. The newspapers will have a field day with quotes and photos of those appearing at the inquiry.

And when it is all over, when those who were in power have been shown up for what they did to this country, what will be the consequences? Will there be any proof of what they did? Will the bankers, regulators and politicians still get to retain their fat-cat retirement lump sums and pensions? Will they be allowed to sit comfortably as directors of companies to which they were appointed? Could anyone in their right mind believe that those responsible will suffer for their actions?

In fact it is all a farce, a game to be played out in public. A hoax controlled by the Government trying its best to show that it can do something when in fact it can do nothing.

The real shame of it all of course is that the opposition is willing to take part in this shambolic act. Having seen one politician who could no longer stomach the circus, the whole of the opposition should have resigned as well and left it all to Enda’s crew. But they could not; they were unwilling to walk away. They want to rant and rave with the best of them despite having no control of the situation.

Of course with the new Labour leader also to be elected the bank inquiry might not happen if Labour pulls out of Government and a new election is called.

Not so long ago promises were made in Europe regarding the banking situation. Certain politicians came home and proclaimed that we would not be allowed to suffer alone; we would be helped if we were good little Europeans. Fools we were to believe such lies, and bigger fools those who led us into believing that help was at hand.

So another circus has come to town with a prize crew at the helm. It is high time to take up fishing again; at least the river bank is still there.

Michael O Meara, Killarney, Co Kerry

We need to reject racism

Madam – The horrific experience of Happy Agamah (‘They banged on my door and shouted ‘nigger”’ – Sunday Independent June 15, 2014) has in the most powerful way illustrated the urgent need for Irish society to reject racism.

It is unacceptable that in our country people are being forced to lie awake at night fearing a brick, a burning mattress or a petrol bomb being thrown through their window, or even worse into the bedroom of one of their children.

In 2013 the Immigrant Council of Ireland through its email service reported an 85 per cent increase in cases to 144, of which over half led to a garda investigation. It is a trend which has continued into 2014.

It is time to show Mr Agamah and all other victims of racism and discrimination that such actions are rejected here.

We are seeking the introduction of a new national action plan to ensure there is a multi-agency response to these crimes and a full review of our 30-year-old incitement to hatred legislation to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

A statutory reporting system, similar to the 24-hour hotline recently introduced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, should also be introduced.

Ireland needs to ratify European conventions on cyber-crime to ensure that those behind online hate cannot take shelter by using internet servers which are beyond the reach of the gardai.

The dangers of complacency have been illustrated for all to see by recent high-profile events in Northern Ireland and the rise of the politics of the extreme right in other parts of Europe.

Political leadership is needed now to ensure Ireland never goes down that path.

Denise Charlton, Chief Executive, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Dublin 2

House of cards

Madam – The Government’s U-turn over the withdrawal of discretionary cards from people who clearly and in many cases desperately needed that vital service makes one wonder about the true calibre of those who govern us. Health Minister James Reilly‘s reference in his apology for the debacle to the “unforeseen consequences” of centralisation must be cold comfort to those who, as he also asserted, will not be reimbursed for the medical bills they had to pay when their cards were taken from them.

No government is perfect. Politicians are human, they make mistakes – and then have to put things right as best they can. But the mind boggles at the levels of ineptitude involved in putting thousands of families through such an ordeal.

These were innocent human beings already struggling to cope, with the support of their families, with lifelong incurable illnesses or severe disabilities. And bureaucrats come along and foist this additional burden of financial strain and mental anguish on them.

The carers and the people whose lives they help to make worth living, often in the most challenging circumstances, are the ones who emerge with credit from the discretionary medical card scandal.

The Government is fortunate that a general election is not due until 2016 (barring unforeseen consequences, as Dr Reilly might call them).

John Fitzgerald, Kilkenny

It’s always women left holding baby

Madam – Regarding the 796 babies in the ‘mother and baby’ home in Tuam, who was primarily responsible for the welfare, health, protection and safety of these girls, young women and babies?

Where were the men responsible for these girls/ women, being pregnant? They were primarily responsible. A man, a real man, would stand by and protect the girl/woman. And he would be a father, a real father, to the child he fathered. He would provide for both. And care for both. And where were the grandfathers of these little babies? What kind of a father or grandfather would abandon his son or daughter, or grandchild?

But nothing has changed. Males are still responsible for girls/women being pregnant. And they still take no responsibility. They walk away, free as a bird.

They had their bit of fun, and don’t feel an iota of responsibility for the result of their bit of fun. Not an iota of concern for the resulting baby or its mother. Let the taxpayer pay for all that.

The male of the human species could and should take a lesson from nature. He should learn from the birds, and the bees, and the four-legged animals. They only produce what they can care for, and rear.

Margaret Walshe, Dublin

There’s no excuse for Tuam tragedy

Madam – One line of thinking I have seen repeated since the dreadful Tuam ‘mother and baby’ home story broke is that the public must consider the tragedy in the context of the country’s economic and social profile at the time. Well, I say this: no particular time in our history should be an excuse for what happened here.

All our shameful history needs to be brought out into the open – corporal punishment in our schools, the dreadful industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, clerical sex abuse, and now this latest news on the remains of 796 babies who died at a religious-run and State-funded home for unmarried mothers in Tuam from 1925 to 1961. We must accept that as a society we have no excuses whatsoever.

Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co Donegal

Believing in real SF, not fairy tale

Madam – I take great exception to Eilis O’Hanlon’s piece – ‘SF children fall for fairy tales of North’ (Sunday Independent June 15, 2014). She suggests that the thousands of people (including me) who supported Sinn Fein in last month’s local elections are all blinded by some fantasist hero-worship of Gerry Adams and have fallen for a fairy tale.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fairy tale. In the most part they teach the difference between right and wrong. But don’t think for one minute, Ms O’Hanlon, that I voted for Sinn Fein because of my said fondness for fairy tales. I voted for Sinn Fein, not because I hero worship Gerry Adams, but because I believe SF is evolving and is the only party that is progressive. It has a real determination to make Ireland a fairer place.

This new breed of supporter and SF councillors Ms O’Hanlon refers to are, in my eyes, making the Sinn Fein of 2014 a dynamic political party. Yes, it does have its past, but it has a bright future and is not afraid to stand up for the underdog!

I would consider myself well read, worldly and well educated, And I would be fairly confident that I can make choices in my life that will have a positive impact on me and my family. So for me on May 23 there was no one else I could vote for. Yes, the work will be dirty, cleaning up the mess Fianna Fail left us in and holding this current Government to account for the cuts and austerity inflicted upon the citizens of this country.

If there ever was a fairy tale written about the last decade in Ireland, I can assure you that Fianna Fail, Labour and Fine Gael would be the baddies!

Emma Deane, Carlow

Shinners’ brass neck unbelievable

Madam – Can you believe the brass neck of Sinn Fein spokespeople who jumped on the bandwagon in relation to the Tuam mother and baby home scandal? These are the people who are happy to turn a blind eye to the activities of the “brave volunteers” who tortured women and children in more recent times, and up to 2005 were still kneecapping children as young as 12 years of age or breaking their bones with bats.

And can you believe the free run they are given on the airwaves to peddle their guff, and the absence of outrage by some commentators who are ready to jump on the clergy?

Pat O’Mahony, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Time for Gaybo to hit the road

Madam – Thank goodness Gay Byrne is promising to stop preaching at us.

We never asked him to become the traffic cop he claims to be.

Accidents on the roads just happen (which is why they are called accidents), and it has nothing to do with his perceived lack of police on monitoring duty, which appears to be his current bugbear.

For so long people like this have had too much say in this old country.

They behave with the same arrogance as mother church of long ago, with too much respect shown to them by a cowed nation, waiting to be told what to think and do next.

Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork

Halt the sham of banking inquiry

Madam – I want to comment on Stephen Donnelly’s article (Sunday Independent, June 15, 2014) in which he states why he has resigned from the Government-controlled banking inquiry and is willing to speak truth to power in Ireland. This inquiry if properly framed, way above party political interests, has the potential to get to the truth and to name the proportion of the €65bn debt legacy that is Ireland’s and the proportion that belongs to saving the European project and the common currency.

A Government-controlled inquiry makes no sense in this regard and interferes with the democratic process.

Whether the Oireachtas Banking Committee of Inquiry has nine or 11 members is not as important as who controls the terms of reference of the committee, who writes the final report and who benefits from the findings.

Committees are never innocent neutral groups and their agendas are often stage-managed by a controlling elite who know how to bend the rules to their will and engage in acts of political fabrication and sabotage. Committee proceedings can readily present an image of openness, transparency and democracy while hiding their real purposes. They can be used as an instrument of micro-management that has nothing to do with truth-seeking and democratic engagement.

Since being elected, this Government has not missed an opportunity to play politics with the banking debt legacy and to regularly remind people that this fiasco was the fault of Fianna Fail.

No other factors, including the role Europe played in this, have ever been considered. I argue that this Government has far too much political capital to gain from a Government-framed banking inquiry that will simply confirm that they were right all along and we will not get near the truth of how this happened and where the chips fall in terms of Ireland/Europe culpability.

I hope for the sake of the country that this sham of a banking inquiry is dropped in favour of an independent inquiry where the Government is neither directly nor indirectly involved in the proceedings. This inquiry, if properly framed, has the potential to be a game-changer for Ireland as an independent nation and as a member of the EU.

Geraldine Mooney Simmie, Faculty of Education and Health Sciences, University of Limerick

Dunne foes from baron to barren

Madam – If one more person refers to Sean Dunne as the ‘Baron of Ballsbridge’, I’ll scream.

So he buys a patch of land for a ludicrously inflated price – and borrows the money to do this. Then he can’t repay the loan, so the taxpayer has to pick up his tab. And then, he then goes bankrupt and walks away.

I see nothing noble in that.

Barren, of Ballsbridge, would be a more appropriate moniker.

Alison Fergusson, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

Spring in step on way to utopia

Madam – So Dick Spring is looking forward to living in Utopia (if Sinn Fein gets into government). I would have thought that Mr Spring, with his six-figure taxpayer-funded pension and his part-time well-remunerated position at AIB, is already in Utopia.

Peadar O Maolain, An Uaimh, Co An Mhi

Voting against double-jobbing

Madam – Over the course of the last number of elections and referendums, one thing in particular annoys me.

When I go to cast my vote, the officer at the polling station is none other than the principal of the school which is used as a polling station.

I’m sure that there are many people who would jump at the chance of having this day’s employment, from unemployed to people on reduced working hours to senior citizens who have seen their standard of living reduced by various cuts.

It bugs me that taxpayers are already paying this lady for the day as school principal without paying her on the double for working at the elections.

Surely if the Government is serious about reform it could start with these situations. Granted the polling station staff work a long day, but the amount they are paid borders on the ridiculous.

Surely there has to be a more cost-effective way of doing the job. Many of the count staff are from the local councils. Granted they are experienced at doing the job. But could they not cover the count on the basis of time in lieu instead of the sums currently paid? The savings could be put to better use.

Name and address with Editor

Sunday Independent

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