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Bobby Womack – obituary
Bobby Womack was the ‘Soul survivor’ of an astonishingly lurid lifestyle who fused passionate gospel and dulcet crooning
Bobby Womack in concert in Stockholm in early 2013 Photo: REX FEATURES
5:56PM BST 29 Jun 2014
Bobby Womack, who has died aged 70, was a rhythm and blues guitarist and songwriter and, despite a life that was luridly eventful even by the grand guignol standards of the milieu, the last great surviving exponent of the “testifying” style of soul singing.
“Testifying”, rooted in gospel music, came to the fore in the 1960s through the impassioned performances of such singers as Otis Redding, James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Womack’s own voice ran the gamut from a smooth, beseeching baritone to an urgent, gravelly growl, often rising to a piercing, full-throated scream that vividly suggested a man in the grip of powerful emotions beyond his control.
His songs, punctuated by moralising soliloquies on the subject of love and betrayal, saw him cast in the figure of “The “Preacher” – a role which had been his childhood ambition when performing on the gospel circuit, “because all the preachers had everything in the neighbourhood, they had all the money and the Cadillacs and they got the best part of the chicken”.
But Womack was not a preacher. Instead his life was laced with drug addiction, gunplay, financial exploitation and chaotic personal relationships. Nonetheless, he managed to outlive all his contemporaries, and as a result billed himself “the Soul Survivor”. As one song, Only Survivor, put it: “They call me a living legend/But I’m just a soldier who’s been left behind.”
Bobby Womack was born on born March 4 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, the third of five sons of a steelworker, Friendly, and his wife Naomi. Friendly was also a sometime gospel singer, but channelled his musical ambitions into his sons, organising Bobby and his four brothers, Harry, Cecil, Friendly Jnr and Curtis, into a group, The Womack Brothers, which performed on the local gospel circuit.
It was there that Womack met the two men to whom he would later attribute his singing style: Sam Cooke, then the lead singer of the Soul Stirrers, and Archie Brownlee, from the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. From the former, Womack took a dulcet, seductive crooning; from the latter the “testifying” screeches and yelps. A child musical prodigy, Bobby got first hand experience of Brownlee’s style at the age of 13, playing guitar for him.
An early publicity photo for Bobby Womack
“I modelled my screams on Archie,” he once recalled, “but I never could get them as clear as he did, because he’d mellow it in gin. He’d lie down on stage to sing because the drink had eaten the lining of his stomach so much. They’d kneel down there and put a microphone up close. He always said he wanted to die right there, wailing his head off, and he did, singing Leave Me In The Hands Of The Lord.”
Womack would look back on his short period with the Blind Boys with great affection. “I would take them to their hotel rooms, dress them, take their clothes and get ’em cleaned, and they’d let me get a little nooky on the side when their girlfriends would go for it.”
At the same time The Womack Brothers were also spotted by Sam Cooke, who was shortly to abandon gospel for the more lucrative pastures of secular Rhythm and Blues. In 1962 he sent for the Womacks from Los Angeles and, encouraging them to follow his example, signed them to his SAR label, renaming them The Valentinos.
“The Valentinos” circa 1962 (Top, left to right) Bobby Womack, Friendly Jr. and Curtis. (Bottom, left to right) Cecil and Harry
The group’s first single, Lookin’ For A Love (1963), sold a million copies, and provided an early lesson in music business practice. “We didn’t know that we were supposed to get paid,” Womack would later recall. “We was just honoured to be with Sam Cooke’s company, an’ we didn’t get no royalties. He said, ‘Well, that car you bought was your royalties. You stayed in a hotel; you know what that cost me? We took care of you guys, paid for the session. You may be gettin’ screwed, but I’ll screw you with grease. James Brown, he’d screw you with sand.’”
Cooke provided a further lesson with the release of the group’s fourth single, a Womack composition entitled It’s All Over Now. Cooke – who had a piece of the song’s publishing – gave the song to The Rolling Stones, whose version went to the top of the British charts. “I was still screaming and hollering right up until I got my first royalty cheque from the song,” Womack recalled. “Man, the amount of money rolling in shut me right up.”
Bobby Womack with (back, left to right) Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman and (front, left to right) Ronnie Wood and Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones in the early 1970s
Cooke took Womack under his wing, employing him as a guitarist in his touring group and treating him as his protégé. It was a relationship that would come to a violent end with Cooke’s untimely death in 1964, shot dead by the manageress of a motel where he had been enjoying a tryst with a prostitute.
Womack’s efforts at comforting Cooke’s widow, Barbara, resulted in them marrying three months after the singer’s death, angering Cooke’s friends who felt that Womack was exploiting a grieving widow. Womack insisted that the match had started at her instigation, and it was Barbara who put up the money to pay for Womack’s first solo recordings for the Chess label. But the marriage was to end catastrophically when she discovered he was having an affair with her teenage daughter, Linda, obliging Womack to beat a hasty retreat from the family home at the end of the barrel of a gun. Linda, in turn, would go on to marry Womack’s younger brother, Cecil, thus leaving Womack in the possibly unique position of having been the same woman’s stepfather, lover, and brother-in-law in short order. Cecil and Linda would later enjoy success as Womack and Womack with the singles Love Wars and Teardrops.
Bobby and Regina Womack at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1989
With his early solo recordings having passed without notice, Bobby Womack concentrated on songwriting and session work. As a member of the house band at the famed American Sound Studio in Memphis he played on recordings by a host of artists including Joe Tex, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, who recorded no fewer than 17 Womack songs in three years.
In 1968 he resurrected his singing career with the R&B hit What Is This. More hits followed with judicious covers of such songs as Fly Me To The Moon, Sweet Caroline and California Dreaming, and Womack’s own, rootsier compositions. The albums Communication, Understanding, Facts of Life and Lookin’ For A Love Again, established him in the vanguard of soul music and provided a run of hit singles including A Woman’s Gotta Have It, Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out and the million-selling Harry Hippie, a song written by Jim Ford but which Womack adapted as a tribute to his younger brother.
Across 110th Street was a highly-lauded soundtrack album for one of the classic “blaxploitation” movies of the time (and later for the Quentin Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown). And Womack also recorded a country album, BW Goes C&W. (His record company balked at his original suggestion for the title, “Step Aside Charlie Pride And Give Another N—-r A Chance”. Womack was also obliged to withdraw his interpretation of Gene Autrey’s song I’m Back In The Saddle Again, which he had retitled “I’m Black In The Saddle Again”, after Autrey threatened a lawsuit.)
But by the mid-70s Womack’s albums were showing signs of creative fatigue from his increasingly erratic lifestyle. He had become close friends with Sly Stone, playing on Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On, and proving an enthusiastic participant in Stone’s infamous drug-binges. And he was further undermined by a series of family tragedies.
Bobby Womack Partying at the Parrot Club in New York with Sly of Sly and the Family Stone
In 1974 his younger brother Harry was murdered by a jealous girlfriend while he was staying at Bobby Womack’s house. The girl, happening upon some women’s clothes in the closet of the room where Harry was sleeping, assumed he was carrying on an affair and stabbed him in the neck with a steak knife. The clothes belonged to a girlfriend of Bobby.
Four years later Womack’s first child by his second marriage, Truth, died at the age of four months after suffocating in bed. Another son, Vincent, by Barbara Cooke, committed suicide at the age of 21.
Enveloped in what he would later describe as “the paranoia years”, Womack himself had taken to carrying a gun. Lying in bed one day he saw the handle on the bedroom door slowly turn. He reached for his gun and emptied it into the door. The door swung open to reveal his son Bobby Truth, “not yet in long trousers” standing there. The bullets had gone over his head. But the boy did not escape such an upbringing entirely without cost. Following his father’s troubled path, Bobby Truth would later be sentenced to 28 years imprisonment for second-degree murder.
In 1981 Womack returned triumphantly to form with the album The Poet, which couched the titanic passion of his voice in elegant arrangements. The album restored Womack to the R&B charts, but he saw none of the royalties, leading to a protracted, and fruitless, court case. “I owed money to everybody,” he would later recall. “The only reason they couldn’t sell my house is because I wouldn’t move; and the only reason I wouldn’t move is because I didn’t have a Master Charge to pay the truck. Things were bad.” He would later admit that it was only the timely intervention of his wife that prevented him from shooting firstly the record-company boss who owed him money, and then himself.
However, a follow-up album in 1984, The Poet II, featuring a guest appearance by Patti LaBelle, restored his fortunes.
Over the next 20 years Womack continued to record and tour, but with diminishing returns, until yet another surprising resurrection in 2010, when he was invited to perform with Damon Albarn’s loose aggregate of musicians, Gorillaz, singing live with the band and on two albums, Plastic Beach and The Fall. In 2012, Albarn produced Womack’s album The Bravest Man in the Universe. A 28th album, entitled The Best is Yet to Come, is to be released posthumously.
Bobby Womack married twice and leaves four children.
Bobby Womack, born March 4 1944 died June 27 2014
I don’t agree with Peter Luff (Letters, 30 June). David Cameron’s principled stand makes it more likely he will be listened to and properly understood as he negotiates the reforms of the EU the British people want to see and which Europe so urgently needs. The other member states now know that when he says no, he means no. But I still look forward to campaigning alongside my namesake for continued British membership of the EU in the referendum after that negotiation concludes successfully.
Sir Peter Luff MP
Con, Mid Worcestershire
• I was surprised that in your article on funerals (How to die for less than £1,000, 28 June) there was no mention of donating your body for medical research. My mother died last year at 98 and had decided she would prefer this option to burial or cremation. I notified the London Anatomy Office at King’s College which arranged for her body to be collected from the hospital. There was no cost involved apart from a voluntary contribution. Last month we were invited to their annual service of a thanksgiving at Southwark cathedral for the friends and relations of all donors from the past year.
• There are several versions of the “fax it up” story (Letters, 28 June), which suggests it’s probably an urban myth. My favourite concerns a visit to Scarborough by Prince Charles, who arrived wearing a fox-fur hat. He explained that when he’d told his mother that he was going to Scarborough, she had responded “Wear the fox hat?” – so he did.
Steven Burkeman (@stevenburkeman)
• Prince Charles’s secret lobbying of ministers (Report, 30 June) begs the question: who is lobbying him? And how?
Dr Alex May
• Caroline Aherne’s nurse asking her if she wanted to wash her own “fairy” (Letters, 30 October) reminded me of my great-grandmother’s instructions for a strip wash: you wash down as far as possible, you wash up as far as possible, then you wash possible.
• Ally Fogg (25 June) suggests that the stereotype of older men preferring younger women is a thing of the past. Has he checked the Guardian Soulmates page recently?
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire
Yet again, the choice of a civil partnership will not be extended to opposite-sex couples (Civil partnerships can be converted into marriages, 27 June). During the debate on gay marriage you published a letter from my partner and myself calling for parliament to make this option available. We explained we had felt reluctantly obliged to marry after a long-standing cohabitation because of discriminatory pension rules, subsequently changed. Sadly, opposite-sex civil partnerships became the victim of disgraceful parliamentary manoeuvring, put forward as a delaying tactic by MPs opposed to gay marriage. There are no well-funded campaigning organisations agitating for this change. It is not a central issue for LGBT groups and it is opposed by the socially conservative and largely religious pro-marriage lobby. We wrote to our (Labour) MP, who failed to respond, even when reminded. Had he done so, we might have been aware of – and responded to – the consultation which has now resulted in a three-to-one majority against opposite-sex civil partnerships. However, the tenor of the consultation can be inferred from the fact that over a third of the self-selecting respondents were over 65, two-thirds were or had been married, and only a relatively slim majority were in favour of retaining civil partnerships in any form. What should have been the last step in equalising choices in personal relationships has ended up perpetuating another form of discrimination.
I don’t recall ever having a sex offender tell me that they abuse their victims because they have “uncomfortable feelings (they) want to get rid of”, as Oliver James claims for Jimmy Savile (Comment, 28 June), but I do recall innumerable times being told “I find control over another human being pleasurable”. As evidence for his claim regarding uncomfortable feelings, James cites the unpredictability of the assaults. I think a simpler explanation might be that a predator is more successful when they catch their prey unawares; it is a deliberate and tactical move to insure success.
Savile did not show affection for his victims, but that’s quite simply because the gratification came from his domination. The only form of sustained love Savile knew and cared about was the adoration of his besotted public. He had no time for understanding emotion as most of us understand it. Unfortunately, pseudo-medicalised jargon which blames mothers and society creates an aura of expertise that at best ridicules us as mental health professionals, but more worryingly diminishes the responsibility which the Saviles of this world should fully bear for their actions in the eyes of naive juries. The moment that message of responsibility is clearly and unequivocally communicated to privileged sociopaths like Savile, there is a chance that they’ll think twice before touching the genitalia of an underaged teenager or anybody incapable of voicing their objection. Whether Oliver James likes it or not evil does exist in this world and it is naive to assume otherwise.
Dr Stephane Duckett
• Here we go again, “I blame his mother”. Oliver James claims childhood abuse causes schizophrenia. Four of my friends have sons suffering from schizophrenia and my friends are very good parents and their children have not suffered any of the four types of abuse as defined by the NSPCC. Mr James says Jimmy Saville was “disturbing”. Not to his victims; they were severely traumatised. I believe we should be teaching children to cope with bullies such as Jimmy Saville, and also not to admire so-called celebrities or accept without question the views of “experts” such as Oliver James. I’m off now to enmesh with one of my sons and his family.
Name and address supplied
I welcome the news that Nestlé has become the first leading manufacturer to commit to paying all employees, including contract and agency workers, a living wage (Nestlé agrees to pay all employees living wage, 30 June). Business secretary Vince Cable greeted the announcement with warm words, saying that he encouraged “all businesses to pay their staff above the minimum wage when it is affordable and not at the expense of jobs”. But while any news of employers paying a living wage is welcome – especially in London – the government must do more.
At the current rate of take-up by employers in London, it will take hundreds of years for all Londoners to receive a living wage. Those people who continue to argue for a voluntary approach to introducing the living wage are in denial. Both nationally and in London, the number of people paid less than the living wage is rising. There is a strong business case for introducing the living wage – and the moral case that people should be able to live on what they earn is unequivocal. And while welcome examples like this from Nestlé are still the exception to the norm, expect no let-up in campaigns for a living wage to be made statutory.
Labour group economy spokesperson, London assembly
• Good to see Ed Balls currying favour with the business community (Labour offers olive branch to business, 30 June). Now how about restricting these pledges to businesses that pay a living wage to every one of their employees, do not use zero-hours contracts, and pay their full share of taxation? That should narrow the numbers down a bit. Or have he and Ed Miliband forgotten whose side they are supposed to be on?
While it represents progress that the recommended daily allowance for sugar is to be lowered (Guideline on sugar “should be cut by half”, 27 June), it nonetheless defies logic. Sugar is tasty, mildly addictive and a slow-acting metabolic poison. The more we eat, the greater its effects. While it may have a limited role in cooking and preserving food, the logical recommendation from government should be to have no added sugar at all. – that would give a clear instruction with none of the mixed messages so beloved by our pretty diabolical food processing industry.
As a GP dealing daily with diet-related problems, I have been advising patients to stop adding sugar to hot drinks or other foods, to stop soft drinks altogether and to have biscuits or confectionary only on special occasions. As a result they have lost an average of 7% of their body weight without any special diet being involved. This weight reduction will result in a significant reduction in morbidity, misery and expense for the NHS. Such reductions in sugar intake, applied nationally, would significantly reduce the incidence of and complications from diabetes.
Added sugar has as much of a place in our diet as smoke does in the air we breathe. It should be taxed heavily enough to at least pay for some budgetary problems is it causing the NHS. This would cut consumption and the misery causes for people whose excess consumption leads to them becoming patients.
Dr Colin Bannon
• As a signatory to the Action on Sugar campaign, the British Dental Association supports a tax on sugar to curb childhood obesity, and we would add, tooth decay. Sugar is the leading cause of obesity and tooth decay, both of which are preventable. It is the main reason why unacceptably high numbers of children are admitted to hospital every year to have a general anaesthetic: last year alone over 25,000 young people in England had a general anaesthetic in order to remove rotten teeth.
While other healthcare professionals may find diet a sensitive subject to raise with patients, dental professionals are uniquely placed to broach this subject via conversations about risk factors for developing oral disease. That’s not the only way that dentists contribute to the fight against obesity. The BDA, via its long-running Make a Meal of It campaign, has also been engaging the dental profession and public in the fight against sugar consumption. The impact of sugar on tooth decay must not be lost in this important debate about childhood obesity.
Dr Graham Stokes
Chair, health and science committee, British Dental Association
• The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition draft report on carbohydrates and health is a comprehensive and thorough review. As the report recognises, obesity is a complex issue. The overwhelming scientific evidence points to the over-consumption of total calories across all food groups, rather than a single ingredient, together with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles as the primary causes of obesity. Given the importance of total calories we are surprised to see that the committee has come to a draft recommendation to halve the consumption of free sugars on a population-wide level to around 5%. At the same time the committee has also made a draft recommendation for individuals that free sugars should be no more than 10% of total calorie intake. This runs the risk of confusing consumers even further and sets a level that will be very difficult for most people to meet. For example, this would be the equivalent of consuming the sugars found in a small glass of orange juice and a 125 gram yoghurt.
We believe the job to be done is to help consumers understand the importance of balancing energy in and energy out and to help people to make their own informed and healthy choices. We all need to work together to help tackle the obesity epidemic and we are committed to playing our part.
Managing director, British Sugar
• Simon Capewell’s certainty that the problem of obesity lies solely with “big food” and sugar does not accord with the evidence (End this sugar rush, 26 June). It is a gross oversimplification to suggest one product or ingredient is to blame. It creates a dangerous illusion that simply by reducing sugar intake, one can eradicate obesity. What is needed from government, industry, campaigners, academics and the general public is a commitment to tackle the problem from all sides – sugar yes, but also fat, balanced diets and exercise.
For our part, we have led the way in reformulation and product innovation. This has provided a dramatically increased range of low- and no-calorie options, empowering consumers to make their own choices about what is right for them. Major companies in the industry are also increasing advertising spend on low- and no-calorie drinks by 49% this year, and sales of these products have increased by 5% over the last two years.
Obesity is an urgent problem caused by many factors, and will need many solutions to solve it. Over-simplification may satisfy Simon Capewell’s agenda but it jeopardises the likelihood of collective action to address the problem.
Director general, British Soft Drinks Association
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani: ‘no sectarian.’ Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images
Philippe Sands QC is right to describe the delay in publication of the Chilcot report on the Iraq war as disgraceful (Report, 27 June). But while he may be right that it is futile to speculate as to the “exact” connection between the situation today and decisions taken in 2003, the broad consequences of the refusal to plan for the peace are clear.
Clare Short and her permanent secretary at the Department for International Development, Suma Chakrabarti, explained in evidence to the inquiry the ban imposed by No 10 on advance planning with NGOs and the UN. Short said we went in “on a wing and a prayer”. Detailed plans were prepared in both Washington and London, but binned on orders from Washington because the authors of the war believed that the invaders would simply be greeted as liberators. Follies such as the failure to prevent looting and the decision to send the Iraqi army home without removing its weapons are well known.
The ban on communication continued. I was told in 2004 by an officer on leave from Iraq that he had had to take decisions on matters completely outside his competence, such as pay rates for newly recruited Iraqi policemen. I asked why he had not consulted DfID; he answered that the military were not allowed to consult a civil authority. It is a reasonable assumption that the men and munitions that went missing after the invasion are part of the explanation for the appearance earlier this month of the competent and well-equipped fighting force which astonished us all by capturing Iraq’s second city of Mosul and claiming to establish an Islamic republic in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
• I would like to respond to Mona Mahmood and Mark Tran (Isis onslaught in Iraq claims terrible toll of victims on both sides of divide, 27 June). First, while the killing of any Sunnis is abhorrent, the authors describe the Shia militias in ways that suggest an equivalence with Isis insurgents – and this is neither right in scope nor content. Isis fighters are a threat to all Iraqis of all faiths. Their recent attacks against Christian civilians, the men murdered in Tikrit and their continual threats to Shias and moderate Sunnis attest to this. Framing this as tit-for-tat sectarianism is wrong. These are not equivalent forces and they most certainly do not have equivalent motives in Iraq.
Second, it is a gross misrepresentation of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s recent statement to claim he has “summoned” these Shia militias. He called for all Iraqi citizens, regardless of their sectarian affiliation, to fight the Isis forces, but he has emphasised his wish for all those who wish to fight to do so through the Iraqi army. Iraq does not need unsubstantiated claims that may stoke further sectarian tensions.
Centre for Academic Shia Studies, London
• Laurie Lee and his Spanish civil war comrades would be turning in their graves to see themselves compared to Isis (Letters, 27 June). Either Carole Satyamurti knows nothing of Isis’s massacres, beheadings and crucifixions, or she dishonours the memory of the brigadistas by implying that they too did such things and sought to imprison women and impose theocratic tyranny. Does she not understand that the Spanish civil war volunteers fought against the far right and a religious state? And that the immediate threat posed by a handful of British Isis volunteers (and their apologists) is to the people of Syria and Iraq?
The deluge of reporting over the results of the phone-hacking trial has reintroduced us to the terrible behaviour and lack of respect for privacy which characterised much of Fleet Street.
However, there is one group of people who must bear some responsibility for what happened but who appear to have been airbrushed out of the debate. I am of course talking about the millions of people who read the vacuous drivel that passes for news in the tabloids and gossip magazines.
Some weeks ago, I stood in a shop at a motorway service station and counted the number of celebrity gossip magazines which filled the shelves in the prime position, just beside the entrance.
I got to 20 and stopped in a kind of despair. These magazines and their companions, the tabloid newspapers, must be filled somehow to keep up with the apparently insatiable desire for more and more news about people in the public eye.
It is only natural, then, that the limits of what is and is not permissible in the search for this news are likely to be expanded.
If the demand for this nonsense was not there, there would be no gap to fill and there would have been no phone-hacking. So, perhaps one way of stopping these terrible events being repeated is to become a less cruel and a more caring society, and the first step in that is to stop buying these magazines and newspapers; in other words, to let people in the public eye have a private life.
John Dowling, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Irrespective of the verdict, the length of the hacking trial indicates serious failings in the judicial system. For the trial to take over six months is an unreasonable use of public facilities.
Perhaps there should be a body independent of the legal system which puts limits on the time cases may take.
David Warrick, Cranbrook, Kent
Market success for university research
The recent success of Imperial College in realising £10m cash in exchange for a 10 per cent share holding in Imperial Innovations shows the continued market interest in the commercialisation of university research (report, 24 June).
However, the availability of investment funds for promising university spin-outs will not on its own deliver the economic impact that the UK might expect from its world-class research base.
For commercialisation to thrive it is vital that the UK invests appropriately in the entire pipeline of development, from early-phase frontier research through to technology development and thereafter commercialisation.
However, there is evidence that the UK is failing to do so. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2012 Britain invested 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product in research and development, the lowest percentage in Europe, and some way from the 3 per cent achieved in the US in the 1950s.
There is plenty of evidence that commercialisation of university research can deliver returns, but only if it is approached as a long-term investment. But the good news is that investment in university research not only fuels innovation but also sustains and underpins our world-class higher education sector, which in turn delivers a more immediate economic return.
According to a recent report from Universities UK, the higher education sector delivers some £73bn to GDP, £10bn in exports and more than 750,000 jobs.
Although funding and investment are essential ingredients for continued academic and economic success from UK higher education, money alone will not suffice. We must imbue a much greater sense of ambition in our university communities, so that we can not only create the successful companies of the future, but we have the confidence to grow them so that they can provide employment and tax revenues for future generations of UK citizens.
Professor Stephen Caddick, Vice Provost, University College London
Under arrest in Tajikistan
Today (1 July) William Hague will meet the visiting Tajikistani Foreign Minister, Sirojiddin Aslov, who has come to Britain to request economic and political support to bolster his country’s security forces and develop some ambitious hydroelectricity generation and export programmes.
At the same time, a University of Exeter-employed researcher, Alexander Sodiqov, has been arrested on baseless charges of espionage and treason while conducting scholarly research as part of a UK research consortium. His family and supporters have been denied access to him since his detention a fortnight ago, and there is growing concern for his safety in a country with dismal human rights records. Amnesty International has recognised him as a prisoner of conscience.
It would be unconscionable for the UK to be bolstering Tajik security services whilst they deny basic freedoms of speech and association to their citizens in this way. When William Hague meets Mr Aslov today he must insist that Alexander Sodiqov be freed.
Dr Nick Megoran, Lecturer in Political Geography, Newcastle University
Cameron enigma over Europe
I am puzzled by David Cameron’s stance on Europe. What, in detail, does he think? Is his present behaviour just a smokescreen? Why couldn’t he avoid blundering into the dismal isolation he finds himself in?
If Tony Blair were Prime Minister at this time we would be given a fully contextualised account of what he thought Europe was or should be. Even if he was hiding his true view, at least the rhetoric might have been engaging.
Cameron wants to “reform” the EU. How? What does he want? He is, I suppose, against a “federal” Europe. Why?
There seems to be little that is articulate and intelligent in politics these days, or that gives the electorate any credit for being capable of informed, critical judgements.
Eric Harber, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Where are the politicians of today’s generation who would speak up for our membership of the EU, apart from in the Liberal Democrats, who might be regarded as a busted flush?
The only people I have heard setting out the case in a fluent and convincing way recently are Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Ken Clarke, all of whom are yesterday’s men. The Labour Party’s silence on this issue is as unforgivable as it is deafening.
David Cameron’s ham-fisted attempts to stop Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment were frankly embarrassing, and underline that he is not the man to bring about reform of the EU.
Were Labour to seize upon this own goal and set out a coherent pro-European strategy, rather than running scared of the right-wing press, they might be able to garner some support and prevent the impending disaster of our leaving the EU from unfolding. Without this, and the intervention of some credible heavy-weights, we are heading straight for the cloud-cuckoo land so beloved of Nigel Farage.
Ian Richards, Birmingham
You report (27 June) an EU diplomat as saying that Jean-Claude Juncker’s alcohol consumption “has been raised by a number of EU leaders”. If I’d been in his position dealing with Mr Cameron over the past month, mine would have been too.
Philip Goldenberg, Woking, Surrey
An alarming letter from the revenue
I expect many people were dismayed to read that 3.5 million people were undercharged by HMRC for tax and could expect letters in the post. Like many we thought ,“Oh dear, we hope we are not one of them”.
Luck however was not with us, and this morning my husband received four pages from HMRC to tell him he owed the huge amount of £1.81. The temptation to write to them to ask how much it cost to produce the letter was, with some difficulty, overcome.
Sally Bundock, Eastcote, Middlesex
Standing up for ‘standee’
Like Max Double (letter, 28 June), I was puzzled by “standee”, but discovered that it has been in use since at least the middle of the 19th century. Jenny Macmillan’s account (letter, 27 June), entirely logical though it is, does not match usage. Consider that a bargee is someone who operates a barge, not someone who is barged.
Martin Smith, Oxford
I was sorry to see the absence from Tom Vallance’s excellent obituary of Eli Wallach (26 June) of any mention of Le Cerveau, Gerard Oury’s 1969 multilingual comic epic. Wallach acquits himself wonderfully alongside David Niven, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Bourvil.
Conrad Cork, Leicester
Children, families and teachers all suffer from the inflexibility of our institutions
Sir, Our daughter’s primary school was happy for her to have two days off school at the beginning of term one year so we could enjoy a family holiday in the US. The head teacher thought the trip would offer as much educational value as two days at school (“Father goes to court over fine”, June 30). She also encouraged us to accept an offer from a casting director for our daughter, then aged 5, to appear in a West End musical, saying it was the chance of a lifetime. We have much to thank her for — our daughter is now an actress with her sights on Hollywood.
Sir, Hauling before the court a caring committed parent who had the temerity to challenge the decision of a head teacher and opted instead to take his children on an extra six days’ holiday to attend a family function exposes the legal process up to ridicule. Was the holiday detrimental to the educational needs of the children, and was their social development compromised? I suspect that the experience actually enhanced their character.
I wish the parents well in this principled stand.
Sir, You report that an executive is refusing to pay a £120 fine issued by the local council after he took his family to California for a memorial service. His children — aged 11, 8 and 5 — attend a primary school in Chelmsford, Essex.
How many local authorities in south-west London will be imposing fines on parents for allowing their children time off to act as ball boys and ball girls during Wimbledon fortnight? It’s a great opportunity for those councils to earn some extra money in these cash-strapped times.
Sir, Independent schools regularly let parents withdraw their children from school to take family holidays. They also have shorter terms than the state sector but this does not seem to have a negative impact on pupils’ results — suggesting that attainment depends on other things.
State schools are under extreme pressure to produce Ofsted-friendly data and while this way of thinking persists, children and families and what is best for them will not enter the equation. My daughter’s state school allowed one single parent two weeks’ term-time holiday the year after the death of the other parent so the family could spend some time together. Judging from your report, we need a definition of what constitutes “exceptional circumstances”.
With regards to flexible working and family-friendly policies, schools are noted for their rigidity. Often it is the children of teachers that suffer the most (many teachers struggle to gain permission to attend their own child’s assembly/sports day/ Christmas concert, etc.) Should a family holiday, when parents are used to working flexibly, be dictated by state school’s rigid, inflexible way of working? It should be accepted that weddings, funerals and family events do not always fit neatly into term time. What rights do staff, pupils and parents have and can the government ride roughshod over these? I am pleased that this case is going to court. I await the outcome to see if the nanny state will be reined in.
Brighouse, W Yorks
Sir, Too many children are being killed or injured on our streets — in 2013 32 children were killed and 1,608 seriously injured while walking or cycling on our roads. In addition, the Department for Transport estimates that three times as many children are injured as are reported by police. Nearly half of all child deaths in 2011 were road deaths, and one in 56 children has been injured in a road incident in the past three years.
We believe that every child has the right to walk, cycle or scoot to school safely. To make this possible the government must pay for walking and cycling initiatives; introduce a 20mph speed limit for all urban areas, and transform walking and cycling routes.
Saving young lives should be sufficient, but there is also a huge economic benefit. Child casualties cost £515 million per year, £200 million on the school journey alone. Not only that, creating a safer outdoor travel environment can help to tackle our physical inactivity crisis.
Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive, Brake, the road safety charity
Dr Simon Festing, Chief Executive, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers
Amy Aeron-Thomas, Executive Director, RoadPeace
Dr Hilary Cass, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health
Sallie Barker, Interim Chief Executive, Sport and Recreation Alliance
Malcolm Shepherd, Chief Executive, Sustrans
Philip Darnton OBE, Chair, The Association of Bikeability Schemes
Benedict Southworth, Chief Executive, The Ramblers
Tom Mullarkey MBE, Chief Executive, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Professor John R Ashton CBE, President, Faculty of Public Health
Sir, The Assisted Dying Bill, which has its second reading in the Lords on July 18, reflects the majority view of the Supreme Court that Parliament should address this issue (letter, June 30). It also meets the requirement of the president of the Supreme Court that people choosing an assisted death will be better protected by upfront safeguards to establish that they are making an informed and settled decision. This is preferable to an investigation after someone has died, which is the case now. When an Assisted Dying Bill was last debated in 2006 it was cut short, against the convention of the House, by a wrecking amendment at second reading. Of course, the House of Lords can’t compel the Commons to act. But, it can at least ensure that the Upper Chamber has played its part in proper Parliamentary consideration of this important issue. That’s what the Supreme Court expects. That’s what the public expects. That’s what Parliament is for.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton
House of Lords
Sir, GPs do not miss cancer through wilful negligence or incompetence (June 30). Each GP sees about 50 presentations of potential cancer symptoms every day. The only way to be certain of never missing a diagnosis would be to refer every one of these for a consultant opinion or further investigation. A CT scan for every headache. A colonoscopy for every tummy ache. A chest X-ray for every cough. A biopsy for every mole or swollen lymph node. This would not be a measure of a “good” GP. The NHS would collapse within days and patients would be harmed by over investigation (radiation-induced cancers, unnecessary surgery etc). GPs use their clinical acumen, time and simple investigations to make a judgment about appropriate referral. Inevitably a few early cancer presentations will be missed — it is tragic, of course, for individual patients when this happens, and we feel dreadful too — but these are a tiny percentage of the decisions made every day. It is a reflection of the real problem that cancer is not a single disease with a simple diagnostic presentation, and not a reflection of poor GP quality. It is impossible to have an accurate cancer diagnosis in every single case within the current system and bounds of knowledge.
Dr Sarah Murray
Sir, The UK fresh fruit crop does not pose a public health risk as your headline “Dirty water threatens summer strawberry crop” (June 30) implies. The report you cite was based on out-of-date references relating to a specific issue with frozen berries from developing countries, imported into other parts of Europe in 2012. The issues are not in the UK. The UK soft fruit industry has scrupulous food safety and hygiene systems; and as pointed out by The Food Standards Agency, there have been no such outbreaks in Britain.
British Summer Fruits
Members of the Royal College of Nursing voted to reject the motion that would introduce charging for NHS services Photo: Alamy
6:58AM BST 30 Jun 2014
SIR – Margaret Robinson is right to highlight the serious consequences of introducing charging for NHS services, such as GP appointments.
When the Royal College of Nursing debated the issue at our annual congress this month, an overwhelming 92 per cent of our members voted to reject the motion, and reaffirmed the college’s commitment to maintaining an NHS free at the point of use. During the debate, members raised their concerns about the effects that such a proposal would have on vulnerable people and access to timely and appropriate healthcare.
Nursing is a large and varied profession, with more than 400,000 RCN members working for the NHS and the independent sector. Nurses felt that it was important to discuss this issue, at a time when the NHS is faced with making significant savings and with growing demand. We will continue to raise these important issues as health funding is shrouded in uncertainty. In the run-up to the general election, the public need to know where the parties stand. We need clear direction from our politicians so that the NHS can plan for the future.
Dr Peter Carter
Chief Executive and General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing
Boost for savers
SIR – Professor Michael White points out that “even an increase of 0.25 per cent makes a difference to those on the margins”.
All savers, and especially those living on their savings, will agree wholeheartedly with this statement. The increase in disposable income for us, when savings rates are at all-time lows, will be considerable, and very welcome.
Fish on wheels
SIR – As a railway fireman in the Fifties, I worked on trains between Manchester Central and Wigan Central. It was usual to take on water for the return trip, and we got the water from a nearby canal.
Consequently, every engine had its colony of sticklebacks which went to and fro quite happily for weeks. I didn’t see any crocodiles, though.
Big in Brussels
SIR – Famous Belgians (Letters, June 28) include: Eddy Merckx (the cyclist); Audrey Hepburn; Georges Simenon (the writer); Jean-Claude Van Damme; René Magritte (the surrealist artist); Gerardus Mercator (the father of modern map-making); Adolphe Sax (inventor of the saxophone); King Leopold II (infamous for exploiting the Congo Free State); and, of course, Hercule Poirot and Tintin.
SIR – Richard Hardman asks if anyone can name three famous Luxembourgeois. I can manage one: Josy Bartel, the 1952 Olympic 1500 metres champion, who did not get through to the final of the following Games.
Does that presage the fate of Juncker?
Pudsey, West Yorkshire
SIR – Asking someone to recall three famous Luxembourgeois is a bit of a stretch. For such a country, two will be more than sufficient.
Church Minshull, Cheshire
History of law
SIR – In his article “Unfinished Business” Charles Moore says that Wafic Said “had to struggle against the Oxford idea that business was not a fit subject for academic study – although for centuries the university had taken quite a different attitude to occupations such as law and medicine”.
Faculties of civil law and canon law were established in the medieval university (Henry VIII prohibited the teaching of canon law). But despite the fact that judges developed English common law from medieval times, not until 1758 was the Vinerian Chair in English Law established. William Blackstone, its first holder, was the first professor at the university to teach common law.
Only in 1870 did Oxford offer a degree in English law, the BA in jurisprudence, which continues today. The fact that the honour school was named jurisprudence suggests that the course was seen as comprising academic rather than practitioners’ law.
From medieval times, aspiring lawyers trained for practice with established practitioners. Whatever type of law was taught at Oxford, the syllabus comprised, then as now, “topics chosen primarily for their intellectual interest, rather than for the frequency with which they arise in practice” (Oxford Law Faculty).
The university has never provided courses in law specifically to train legal practitioners – professional training has always been considered “not a fit subject for academic study”.
Baby an Bord
SIR – I remember “Baby on Board” signs in Germany (as “Baby an Bord”) back in the late Sixties, as will many servicemen of my generation. The yellow lozenges were suspended from a small plastic suction sticker. The disciplined Germans only displayed them when a small child was actually in the car.
There’s a snail in my…
SIR – I was dining alfresco in Bavaria recently when a large snail fell on my head from an overhanging tree branch. The snail narrowly missed my glass of beer and appeared unfazed by the accident. It then slithered off, apparently unhurt.
The dangers of relying on technology in schools
SIR – Elizabeth Truss, the minister for education and childcare, says teachers are spending inordinate amounts of time preparing lessons. Let’s not forget the ways in which technology takes time from teachers.
To promote the use of mobile devices in classrooms up and down the country, we now have “directors of e-learning”, and “blended learning” to encourage us to think that technology is not taking over our lives.
I was momentarily beguiled by a presentation on iBooks Author at my school last week until I realised just how long it would take me to prepare lessons, how much it would be lining the pockets of the IT moguls, and just how little anyone in education seems to care about the amount of time our children spend in front of a screen these days.
SIR – Elizabeth Truss is right: teaching is and must remain an attractive occupation.
However, when our research reveals that two-thirds of teachers feel undervalued, it is unclear how the minister intends to keep teaching attractive for talented and committed professionals.
It is not just a question of pay: value runs much deeper in the teaching profession. Our research shows, and teachers who ring our helpline confirm, that they are anxious over workload, job security and the pace of change in the education sector.
We need to transform the public attitude towards teachers and build a positive school culture where teachers can be both safe and ambitious.
Otherwise, Mrs Truss’s assertion that there has “never been a better time to be a teacher” will remain wishful thinking.
Teacher Support Network
SIR – I sympathise with Ron Kirby, who is concerned about yet another new word entering our language, but our language is constantly changing and will continue to do so. For example, no one leaves any more; they exit. Equally, no one talks about things “in the future”; it is all about going forward.
Abbots Morton, Worcestershire
SIR – We are often told by Europhiles that the reason Britain must stay in the European Union is that, if we left, we would have no influence; the naming of Jean-Claude Junckeras President of the European Commission shows we have none anyway. We might just as well leave at the earliest opportunity and pocket the £50 million-plus-per-day it costs us to be ignored.
SIR – The EU operates in the same way as Fifa. Everyone knows both organisations are mismanaged by second-rate people, but the members don’t want to rock the boat in case they miss out on the perks.
SIR – Britain needs independence from the EU if it is to become a major partner with China. The EU’s aggressive confrontations with Russia are hardly the road along which Britain should be travelling.
The EU resulted from a Cold War situation that has now ended. It has become a bureaucracy increasingly devoid of purpose. A new global Briatin is our future. The EU belongs to the past.
Aldwick, West Sussex
SIR – Be bold, Mr Cameron, and call an immediate In/Out referendum. Let the people of Britain choose – not politicians.
SIR – Fraser Nelson praises the Prime Minister for his “courage” in “taking on Europe”. That may be how it looks to a Westminster insider. However, to many of us in the real world, David Cameron looks like a man who has been forced into confrontation with an institution whose shortcomings are, in his view, outweighed vastly by the benefits of membership. In other words, it looks less like an act of courage and more like naked political posturing.
Mr Cameron knows that the prospects of meaningful reform of the EU are remote, and that it mattered not which of the federalist candidates became President of the Commission. Mr Juncker was merely a useful hate figure to present to people back home.
The Prime Minister’s strategy is to try to bamboozle enough voters to win the 2015 election, after which he will “negotiate” with his EU partners, obtain a few meaningless concessions which he (and his spin doctors) will present as a victory, and campaign for a vote to stay in. That’s not courage – it’s cynical politics.
SIR – With the Hungarians failing to qualify for the World Cup and England knocked out, who should we now support?
Sir, – I doubt that anyone in Britain knew that Jean-Claude Juncker was the wrong man for the job of European Commission president until British prime minister David Cameron started his one-man crusade against him. Now Mr Cameron is looking for the EU’s help in stopping the British public voting to leave the EU. Is this the diplomatic way of asking for assistance in picking up his toys and putting them back in the pram? – Yours, etc,
Booterstown, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I would have thought that the appointment of the arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker should give Ireland pause for thought over its role within an increasingly German-dominated EU. Without espousing the “in or out” hysteria that is daily spewed out in the British press, isn’t it time for a considered examination of where the German-driven EU train is leading us? – Yours, etc,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – European voters have the power via the ballot box to choose their European Commission president. The process of having lead candidates, who are selected by their parties and campaign across Europe before the elections, has deepened the debate about European issues. This has meant the EU has become closer to its citizens, more transparent and more democratic. – Yours, etc,
Avenue de l’Armée,
A chara, – Using Barry Walsh’s “entirely reasonable interpretation of the recorded words and actions of Jesus” (June 28th), it would not be just women who should be excluded from ordination, but any man who was not a circumcised Jew. There was no gentile among the 12. Too painful to contemplate? – Is mise,
An Charraig Dhubh,
Co Bhaile Átha Cliath.
Sir, – When we remember that it took the thick end of some 1,800 years to unpack the concept of human slavery, the retaining of that concept bitterly fought under the banners of tradition and scripture, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that many Christians are still trying to work out the full implications of accepting that both female and male were made “in God’s image”.
There are thousands upon thousands of us women priests exercising ministry worldwide in different Christian denominations, our vocations having been discerned and accepted by other (male) priests and male and female laity.
Can we please just be left to get on with our work of God’s kingdom without having to constantly put up with what, from our perspective, is noisy splashing in the shallow end of the theological paddling pool? – Yours, etc,
St Mary’s Rectory,
Nenagh, Co Tipperary.
Sir, – In the First Epistle to the Corinthians (14:34-35) Saint Paul teaches that “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church”.
Some may argue against female priests, based on the incongruity of a woman preaching such passages of the New Testament from the pulpit.
These and many other misogynist New Testament scriptures suggest to me that the problem does not relate to women in the Christian priesthood, but rather Christianity’s understanding of womanhood. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I agree with Una Mullally that it’s time for some action on excessive drinking in Ireland (“Time for action on our booze epidemic”, Opinion & Analysis, June 30th).
However, buy-in from the community at large is the essential starting place. There will be no chance of achieving broad consensus by using statistics that torpedo credibility. No young person in Ireland, and few older people, will accept binge drinking as anything over three pints of beer (six units) in a session and the resultant absurd statistical extrapolations.
The answer, as always, will lie in a broad spectrum of measures in education, sporting facilities and social justice – all requiring investment and sacrifice by the community at large. And trusted and credible data as a foundation. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Carl O’Brien writes that that, “When companion passes are taken into account, there are more than 1.1 million customers with free travel eligibility” (“Transport firms issue threat over free travel scheme”, Front Page, June 30th).
That’s a lot of votes. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I believe the free travel scheme to be of enormous social, psychological and economic benefit to citizens. It should, however, be administered effectively. A photo-ID card should be used to eliminate fraud. On clients reaching 66, social welfare services should send out application forms only. At present, non-photo cards are sent out automatically. I know many people who have never used their free travel passes. Make application forms and renewal payments available online. Charge for the card annually – a modest figure to cover administration costs, say €30. If transport providers are having financial problems, then restrict travel to non-peak times. End the issuing of companion passes, unless the card-holder is disabled.
I think these simple steps would eliminate the unbalanced elements of the scheme. Meanwhile, I am trying to improve my cycling.– Yours, etc,
George’s Street Upper,
A chara, – The recent dispute at a certain waste collection company brings into sharp focus the dangers of privatising services that are essential to citizens of the State (“Taoiseach to contact employment rights body about row at Greyhound”, June 26th). It is certainly fair to say that since waste collection services have been privatised, the quality of service has plummeted in some areas, the cost to the consumer has increased everywhere and now it appears that the wages of staff are being slashed, yet I suspect shareholders are still reaping profits.
In that light, this Government’s apparent crusade to privatise the transport network of this country is extremely worrying. I wonder if it is a case of putting ideology ahead of reality and pragmatism?
There are certain sectors of a society that simply cannot be left to the whims of the market, that should not be expected to yield profit, that the State simply has to provide for its citizens. Foremost among these are healthcare, public sanitation and transport.
The Government’s intention to put the bus service for the entirety of Waterford out to tender can only lead to disaster for that service. Should private transport operators be granted these routes it will simply go one way. We have seen already what has happened to waste collection.
To put it bluntly, private companies exist for one reason and one reason only – to create a profit. There is nothing inherently wrong in businesses striving for profit; however, there are simply some parts of our society that should not be left to their tender mercies.
A privately operated transport service will lead to diminished services, increased fares and lower wages for staff, because the shareholders of these companies will simply not forego their profit margin in the name of public transport. Nor should the State simply abdicate its responsibility to provide a functioning transport system nationwide. – Is mise,
Crumlin, Dublin 12.
Sir, – I agree absolutely with the sentiments expressed by your correspondent EF Fanning (June 28th). Having been born in Dublin in the 1940s, I know exactly what it’s like to be “isolated in a sectarian statelet”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – When EF Fanning wrote of a sectarian state and about a large number of people being selfishly abandoned, I thought perhaps he had in mind the millions failed by the Irish State, the so-called “surplus population” whose remittances kept thousands of families afloat in the dark decades. Or perhaps he was going to go on to mention the thousands subjected to cold internal exile in our austere institutions?
It is long past time that we decided on a national jigsaw whose pieces, even approximately, accorded with reality.
Scotland eschewed violence. What a pity Ireland didn’t. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I am writing to respond to your editorial “Big Four, big fees from Central Bank” (June 24th). The editorial included the following two assertions: “the banking crisis – to which the Big Four accounting firms have, in particular, made a significant contribution”, and “the role of the Big Four in the banking collapse has yet to be adequately investigated, and properly explained”. The former statement appears to be based on a misconception of what is involved in a financial statements audit, while the latter ignores the work undertaken by Prof Peter Nyberg and the House of Lords select committee.
Audits of company financial statements are carried out in compliance with legal requirements specified in the Companies Acts. Their purpose is to enable the auditor to express an opinion on the financial statements prepared by the company, notably on the truth and fairness of the financial position reported. This opinion must be formed on the basis of the best evidence available at the time. The audit is not intended to provide assurance on the business model being operated by the company, nor on future strategies or risk appetites. So the audit is not some form of “catch-all assurance” on an entity’s operational health or viability. The role of auditors has been investigated here, and in the UK, by Prof Nyberg and the House of Lords Select committee respectively. Prof Nyberg concluded that auditors had, by and large, complied with their legal responsibilities, though he challenged current orthodoxy on the role and scope of audit and whether it remains fit for purpose.
This is the challenge that the auditing profession must now meet head on, and Chartered Accountants Ireland is playing an active and constructive role in responding to this challenge. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Rory O’Callaghan (June 28th) seems to resent the fact that Edward Carson (born and bred in Dublin) appears alongside John Redmond on a recently released An Post commemorative stamp. He now awaits “with bated breath” the day the Royal Mail issues a stamp depicting James Connolly (born and bred in Edinburgh). Yet the concluding paragraph of Mr O’Callaghan’s missive begins with the sentence: “In Ireland we appear to have some difficulty honouring and commemorating our own heroes and martyrs”. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Rory O’Callaghan mentions that “in Ireland we appear to have some difficulty honouring and commemorating our own heroes and martyrs”. Almost 170 years ago Gavan Duffy included in his elegy in the Nation on the death in September 1845 of Thomas Davis: “The warriors of England have statues and triumphal pillars erected to their honour in our public places; but our heroes have no trophies, no monumental piles, no marble records of their worth. It would seem as if we had no valour, no genius, no patriotism to offer, or that we had too many wrongs to remember to be reminded of benefits to the nation by one of our own countrymen”.
Mr O’Callaghan won’t be alone as he waits with bated breath for the Royal Mail stamp featuring James Connolly. – Is mise,
SEAMUS Ó DUNLAING,
Sir, – I really enjoyed Áine Ryan’s piece about our beautiful Atlantic coastline (An Irishwoman’s Diary, June 19th). As a young archaeologist working then for the Office of Public Works, I excavated the majestic Iron Age promontory fort at Dunbeg for three months in the summer of 1977. Incredibly, we only lost one day’s work to weather in all that time. These promontory forts are still somewhat of an enigma.
Back then, I was also worried about coastal erosion and how it would impact on the site, but even if the State had invested large sums to protect it, the ever-mighty sea would still have eventually eroded the land around the edges of the fort. The sad fact now is that the most recent erosion has almost completely destroyed much of the northern dry-stone side wall of the complex entrance-way into its interior. But at least we have plans and archaeological data relating to this fine site. – Yours, etc,
Prof TERRY BARRY,
Department of History,
Trinity College Dublin,
Sir, – If AIB had been as assiduous in its pursuit of CJ Haughey as it was in its pursuit of Sir Anthony O’Reilly, how different our history would be. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to “Ignominious end to career of Ireland’s first business superstar” (Business, June 27th), there is no ignominy whatsoever in O’Reilly’s current situation and there is no reason to believe that his career has ended.
Let us not forget that Tony O’Reilly has been the most generous of Irish benefactors in a vast number of deserving areas, every one of which was directed to contribute to the development of our country. Many of these were in the higher education domain where he provided extensive funding, not only for buildings on our university campuses but more importantly, for a great number of our most brilliant but needy scholars, giving them funding to pursue higher degrees open to all university disciplines, which they otherwise would not have been able to do, with the mission that they would return to Ireland and contribute to the development of our country, which indeed they have done. No one, yes no one, has been more generous, or innovative in their generosity for the greater good of our small island than Tony O’Reilly. – Yours, etc,
University College Dublin,
Sir, – In 1986 the Richmond Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery applied to the Ireland Foundation for a research grant to study malignant brain tumours at the Richmond Hospital. The application was unsuccessful. The following year Tony O’Reilly, a patron of the Ireland Foundation, invited me and the chairman of the institute to meet him in his private office in Fitzwilton in Dublin. He expressed admiration for our research, noting our disappointment regarding the grant application. As we left his office he reached for his cheque book and wrote a personal cheque for $10,000 for our research. I have not met Sir Anthony since but I will forever remember his gesture on that day. – Yours, etc,
Beaumont Private Clinic,
Sir, – Clare Herbert (“We’re separated by an ocean, but emotionally we’re right alongside each other”, Generation Emigration, June 28th), describing her ongoing engagement with Ireland while living abroad, writes, “Spending time way from home has allowed me to see [Ireland] more clearly, both our national strengths – the capacity to work hard and build relationships – and our weaknesses . . . The longer I spend outside Ireland, the more convinced I become that our global connections will be the foundation for the country’s success in the future.”
When will we give our emigrants the vote? – Yours, etc,
Saval Park Gardens,
Recent comments on the stress generated by the demands to succeed at the Leaving Certificate raise significant questions about the point and purpose of schooling.
Our education system is fuelled by the unchallenged assertion that at the heart of human thinking is a single faculty called ‘intelligence’, which is variably distributed across the population; the function of education is to identify those who have it and discard those who don’t. Thus, failure is manufactured in order to highlight success.
An extensive industry has been built around the myth of intelligence as an inherited faculty. It has been deemed to make good economic sense to direct education resources to the detection, selection and nurturing at an early age of those revealed to be in possession of this competence.
It is still assumed that the presence of intelligence could be detected through conducting certain kinds of test. The notorious 11+ examination in England purports to identify those who would profit from a thoroughly academic education provided by grammar schools.
Despite the discrediting of intelligence tests that test only the ability to do the test, the education system still rests on test-based selection.
For instance, the international comparison of schools’ performance is mainly based on so-called Higher Order Thinking Skills, known as HOTS.
On a recent visit to Malaysia, I found anxiety expressed that the school examinations were not embracing HOTS, with the result that the country was falling behind in the international league tables.
The provision of a liberal education is undermined by schools being burdened by the latest government wheeze, bypassing the professional judgment of teachers, overloading the curriculum and getting in the way of releasing the creativity of the students.
Sadly, success in the Leaving Certificate examination amounts to the capacity to go through certain, more or less arbitrary hoops under stress.
EDITH ROAD, OXFORD, OX1 4QB
STILL WAITING FOR REFORM
According to the report on civil service accountability and performance, a position of Head of the Civil Service is to be created by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to act as guardian of the ethos and values of the system.
The Head would report to a board of experts, including the now obligatory member recruited from outside the State, who would be expected to provide the civil service with ‘an outside perspective’.
Yes minister, but is this a tacit admission that the existing regimes within the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform do not have the credibility and legitimacy to lead and deliver fundamental change?
This report does not describe a single concrete example of reform successfully accomplished by either the civil service or a major semi-state agency in the history of the State, yet root-and-branch modernising change has been on the programme of every government since 1994.
The last major reform initiative, the decentralisation of the public sector outside Dublin, conjured alongside the now abandoned national spatial strategy, cost well over €300m, not the €20m promised.
The civil service operates on the basis of constructive ambiguity. How could it be otherwise if a cabinet minister never issues a letter of direction to the secretary-general of a government department and both are surrounded by political advisers and ministers-of-state who have ambiguous roles, who behave like the rarified potentates of a utopian mythical realm and are not subject to any real scrutiny?
To an outsider, government departments are well-fortified, impregnable baronies that brook no interference in their internal affairs, or entertain suggestions to modernise or change that are imposed externally.
GLENAGEARY, CO DUBLIN
SECOND JOBBING AT RTE
Where have I been that I didn’t hear that unemployment has finally reached zero? Why am I missing out on all this second-job stuff?
If the employment situation is such that someone who is (a) already on a damned good screw (and fair play to him) and certainly not in need of an extra income; (b) not a current affairs expert – as I am sure even he would admit; (c) not at all the best choice as replacement for the admittedly hard to replace Marian Finucane, isn’t putting Brendan O’Carroll in her chair giving out a pretty pathetic message on the part of RTE?
There is surely a wide enough choice of very able broadcasters and journalists who can be called upon to present a show of this kind with humour, insight, perceptive vision (and not quite the mega income) in the absence of Marian.
GWYNETH UI GHAORA
ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
FACTS OF GUILDFORD FOUR CASE
Gerry Conlon was one of four people arrested, tortured and falsely imprisoned for carrying out bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich in England in 1974. His father Giuseppe was also arrested while visiting his son in prison and wrongly convicted of involvement in bomb making. He died in prison.
The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six and others were all victims of miscarriages of justice, which saw the British police service, judiciary and political establishment conniving in imprisoning citizens they knew to be innocent of any wrongdoing.
Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Carole Richardson and Paddy Armstrong spent 15 years in English prisons under horrendous conditions.
A public campaign in support of their release eventually succeeded in achieving that in 1989.
Contrary to Eamon Delaney’s claim (Irish Independent, June 24) that the IRA members known as the Balcombe Street unit “half claimed that they were also responsible for the Guildford bombings”, the facts are as follows.
In December 1975, four IRA volunteers who became known as the Balcombe Street unit were arrested. Within 24 hours they had told senior British police officers that they, not the four people recently convicted – later known as the Guildford Four – were involved in the bombings.
At the Guildford Four’s appeal hearing in October 1977, IRA volunteers Eddie Butler, Harry Duggan, Joe O’Connell – members of the Balcombe Street unit – and Brendan Dowd, who had been arrested separately, testified in court.
Butler, Duggan, O’Connell and Dowd testified that they were responsible for the Woolwich bombing. Dowd also accepted responsibility for the Guildford bomb attack. All said that the four persons convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings had played no part in the attacks.
Respected British Labour MP Chris Mullen, who campaigned for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, said of the men’s testimony: “All said that the four persons convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings had played no part. So detailed was the Balcombe Street unit’s account that it was not possible to pretend that they had not been involved.”
Despite this, the Appeal Court upheld the convictions of the Guildford Four.
Mr Delaney ignores these facts in his efforts to use the tragic death of Mr Conlon to try and score cheap political points against Sinn Fein.
GERRY ADAMS TD
SINN FEIN PRESIDENT
KILDARE STREET, DUBLIN 2