Recovery

27 August 2014 Recovery

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A wettish day. I sort out two wine books

I bump in to Mary and she has a fall shes a little better today

Obituary:

Lady Berlin – obituary

Lady Berlin was a French amateur golfer who fled the Nazi occupation in her Bentley coupé and later won the heart of the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin

Aline de Gunzbourg by George Hoyningen-Huene, 1934, taken in Paris shortly before her marriage to André Strauss

Aline de Gunzbourg by George Hoyningen-Huene, 1934, taken in Paris shortly before her marriage to André Strauss

8:14PM BST 26 Aug 2014

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Lady Berlin, who has died aged 99 , was for more than four decades the adored and adoring wife of Sir Isaiah Berlin; she was also at different times in her life a principal shareholder and director of the Ritz Hotel in Paris and, as Aline de Gunzbourg and then Aline Strauss, a noted amateur golfer in France and England before the Second World War.

Belonging by birth and by her first marriage to the top echelon of French Jewry, she was already a widow with a young son when, in 1941, she escaped from the France of Hitler and Pétain for the safety of the United States. It was during the sea voyage to America that she was first glimpsed by Isaiah Berlin, then on his way to a British government posting in New York; but their marriage still lay 15 years ahead.

Aline Elisabeth Yvonne de Gunzbourg was born on January 4 1915 in London, the youngest of the four children of Baron Pierre de Gunzbourg and his wife Yvonne. The family lived in Paris, but at an early stage of the First World War had moved temporarily to London, fearful that the French capital would be shelled by German artillery. Aline had an English nanny and then governess, and so grew up speaking both English and French.

Her father Pierre was the son of Baron Horace de Gunzburg , the Russian-Jewish banker and philanthropist who received a barony from the Grand Duke of Hesse, whom he served as honorary consul in St Petersburg. It was Horace’s father, Evzel Gunzburg (son of the prosperous rabbi of Vitebsk), who made the family fortune, eventually founding banks in Kiev, Odessa and St Petersburg.

One of Baron Horace’s many philanthropic enterprises was the celebrated Jewish Encyclopaedia, the compilation of which offered hard-up Jewish writers and scholars the chance to earn some money. It was a work that Isaiah Berlin, as a boy in Russia, read voraciously.

Like other rich Russians of their day, Baron Horace and his parents spent part of every year in Paris, and even elected to be buried there rather than in Russia. Their surname became French in style, with the addition of an “o” after the “b”. Much of their wealth, including the family palace on Konnogvardeiskii Boulevard in the centre of St Petersburg, was lost in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.

Aline’s mother, Yvonne, was a daughter of Emile Deutsch de la Meurthe, of A Deutsch et Fils, the pioneering family-owned oil refinery and distribution business with operations across France, Spain, Russia and Austria-Hungary. Emile and his brother foresaw the opportunities for their business offered by the development of the internal combustion engine, and while promoting the French motor and aviation industries also introduced the first petrol pumps to France.

Aline grew up in Paris with her three siblings at 54 avenue d’Iéna, next door to the duc de Mouchy. An immense hôtel particulier that had been built by Emile Deutsch de la Meurthe in 1882, No 54 was later divided into four apartments. Emile occupied the first floor, the Gunzbourgs another, Yvonne’s sister Valentine Esmond and her family the third, and Baron Eugène Fould-Springer and his family the fourth.

The Gunzbourg household included two cooks; Alcide, the maitre d’hotel; and footmen, valets, lady’s maids and various other staff, as well as the nurses and governesses. The footmen wore the family’s dark green livery; the children’s prams and the family’s cars were painted in the same dark green, the cars with the Gunzbourg arms displayed on the side. A petrol pump was installed in the hôtel courtyard.

The Gunzbourgs also had a house at Garches, to the west of Paris on the edge of the St Cloud country club golf course, where, aged seven, Aline took up the game. She also played golf during family summer holidays with her Esmond cousins at North Berwick in Scotland, and by her late teens was becoming a well-known figure in the golfing world. In 1932 she was runner-up in the English girls’ championship at Stoke Poges, losing only at the 19th hole to Pauline Doran.

Two years later, in April 1934, she won the French Ladies’ Close Championship (open only to French golfers), the day after she had become engaged to be married. At St Cloud in 1937, now under her married name of Strauss, she again reached the final of this event, but was beaten 4 and 3 by her good friend Mme Renée Lacoste, the mother of the great French golfer Catherine Lacoste.

Aline had married André (“Dédé”) Strauss, son of the banker and Impressionist picture collector Jules Strauss, in Paris in October 1934. They had met through Dédé’s first cousin Antoinette, who was married to Aline’s elder brother Philippe. Following their marriage in the synagogue in the rue de la Victoire, the couple moved into an apartment on the second floor of 54 avenue d’Iéna, where their son Michel was born in September 1936.

As another war loomed, Dédé bought the 17th-century Château de Brécourt in Normandy as a country refuge for his young family. But by then he had been diagnosed with cancer and, although the disease went into remission, he succumbed to it in 1939, four months before the outbreak of war. In his memory Aline gave the Louvre a magnificent 17th-century bronze bust of King Louis XIV as a child.

With the German invasion of France in May 1940, Aline decided to head south. At the wheel of her 1937 black Bentley coupé (with a spare can of petrol in the boot) she drove from Brécourt to Biarritz in a day, but then was unable to obtain the exit visas needed to leave for Spain. In June, with the division of France into Occupied and Unoccupied (Vichy) zones, the Spanish border was closed to all. Brécourt was seized by the Germans.

When Pétain’s Vichy regime published the first of its anti-Jewish edicts in October, Aline was at Cannes with her parents and other family members. Having resolved that they must all leave for America, she managed to obtain visas from the American consulate in Nice and, with difficulty, exit visas from the Vichy authorities. She and her little boy then made their way by train to Lisbon and thence to New York, to be followed later by her parents and others.

New York was then filling up with refugees from France, among them Baron Robert de Rothschild and his daughter Cécile. Aline and Cécile played golf together on Long Island, and it was at a house there, in 1942, that Aline was introduced to Isaiah Berlin. She made more of an impression on him than he did on her: she could not follow what he said and thought him rather unprepossessing. He made no greater impression when they met again at a party in New York.

Then, in 1943, Aline met Hans Halban, a nuclear physicist who had escaped from France in 1940. Not long afterwards they were married and went to live in Montreal, where Hans was director of an atomic research laboratory. They were to have two sons, Peter and Philippe. In 1946 they moved to England, where Halban had been appointed to a post at Oxford. They settled at Headington House, and Isaiah Berlin became a regular guest and family friend.

The Halbans’ marriage was not wholly happy, and Aline liked Isaiah because he made her laugh. When Isaiah sailed for America in 1949, to go to Harvard, Aline happened again to be on the same ship, now on the way to visit her widowed mother in New York. During the voyage (two days longer than usual because the ship ran aground off Cherbourg) they became inseparable friends, but no more than that.

In 1952 Aline drove Isaiah to the summer music festival at Aix-en-Provence. The next year she visited him often in his rooms at All Souls as she helped him with a French translation of his essay The Hedgehog and the Fox. “I like her very much,” Isaiah wrote to a friend. “She is beautifully bred and altogether charming: and lives in a curiously detached way in Oxford, to which she does not belong in any sense and which she reacts to in a half sleepwalking fashion.”

Isaiah’s father, Mendel Berlin, died in December 1953, and a month or two later Isaiah asked Aline to give him a lift up to London, where he had to sort out some of his father’s affairs. During the drive up to London, Isaiah declared his feelings for Aline and touched her hand. Although Aline said nothing, she felt moved — and she remembered thinking: “Damn.” She began to see Isaiah, but then at Easter 1954, when Isaiah was staying with his mother at Nice, he received a letter from Aline breaking off relations. Hans Halban had overheard a long telephone conversation she had had with Isaiah, and was now threatening to divorce her and to take the children. Isaiah was so distressed that he took to his bed for two days.

Back in Oxford, he received a telephone call from an anguished Aline inviting him to drinks at Headington House. Halban, himself in some anguish, had decided that they should all try to remain on good terms. Soon, though, Aline and Isaiah were seeing each other again. Towards the end of 1954 Hans Halban accepted an offer from the French government to head a nuclear physics laboratory in Paris; Aline said she could not accompany him.

They agreed to a formal separation, and a fortnight later Isaiah Berlin proposed to Aline in the Oxford botanical garden. When her mother, who had met, and liked, Isaiah, heard that Aline was to marry him, she exclaimed: “Mais il est inépousable!” But once Aline’s divorce from Hans Halban had been finalised, they were married, on February 7 1956, at Hampstead Synagogue. Isaiah was knighted the next year.

Isaiah and Aline Berlin in 1955

During more than 40 years of marriage thereafter, the Berlins did everything they could together, in Oxford, where Isaiah became the founding president of Wolfson College, and further afield. With their base at Headington House, they also had a flat in London (a set of rooms in Albany) and they built a house at Paraggi, above Porto Fino on the Ligurian coast of Italy. They had a very extensive circle of friends and an active social life.

There were annual visits to New York and Jerusalem, and wherever they went as the years went by they were feted at receptions and dinners. They attended countless concerts, operas and music festivals, seldom missing a season at Glyndebourne, Salzburg or Pesaro. They attended as many of their friend Alfred Brendel’s concerts as they could. Isaiah would describe his recreations as “my wife and listening to music”.

Aline Berlin’s connection with the Ritz Hotel in Paris came about through her father’s first cousin Baron Jacques de Gunzbourg, who was one of the hotel’s founders. When Jacques’s son Nicky, the socialite, decided to dispose of the Ritz shares he had inherited, Aline’s father bought them and gave them to her. Her fellow shareholders and directors included Charles Ritz and Stavros Niarchos. Eventually the hotel was sold to Mohamed Fayed.

Sir Isaiah died in 1997. Two years later Lady Berlin travelled to Latvia, when the country’s authorities installed a commemorative plaque on Isaiah’s childhood home in Riga. As a trustee of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust she was instrumental in the continuing publication of Sir Isaiah’s work and letters, a process which gave her the greatest pleasure.

A frail, elegant figure, always immaculately dressed, Lady Berlin continued to travel, and to keep up a busy social life well into her eighties. She tended to avoid large gatherings, but would think nothing of a day-trip to Paris. Latterly, as her activities became restricted by increasing ill health, she none the less continued to receive a steady stream of devoted family members and friends.

Lady Berlin is survived by her three sons.

Lady Berlin, born January 4 1915, died August 25 2014

Guardian:

Alex Salmond

I am one of a generation of Scots who understand politics as power. What is happening right now is that people all over Scotland are talking to each other about what is in the best interests of themselves, their children and their neighbours. As Monday’s debate evidenced, ‘“ordinary” people are holding politicians to account (Salmond emerges on top in tough TV debate, 26 August). The phenomenon is nothing short of sensational and yet the Guardian sticks to the same old analysis, deploying a frame of reference about the nature of a politics that most of the public have already rejected, one way or another.

In Scotland people are realising that democracy is not an empty word, it is a state of mind – we can do this if we want to. The old elites, including those in the media, must move aside to let different voices have their say.
Ann Jamieson
Cambridge

• As expected, Alex Salmond won the stairhead rammy that passed for a second debate on points. But other referendums show that the side supporting the status quo does not need to win the debate – it just needs to show that a vote for change involves risks and uncertainties.

The first minister’s improved performance will not turn public opinion around and it looks beyond doubt that Scotland will vote against a break-up of the United Kingdom. There were just too many intractable problems – pensions, jobs, public spending, tax-base shrinkage, oil, green energy, black-outs, defence and, above all, currency.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews

• I’m sure I can’t be alone in feeling frustrated at the level of referendum debate. There is also a hint of embarrassment at the thought that the rest of the UK was watching the bickering, but the main issue was that we learned nothing new, and pre-match analysis had already told us that Darling would pick up on the currency debate again, while Salmond would go for the NHS jugular. How would an independent Scottish government respond to what is going on in Syria, and with Isis? Would it stop sending patients to private hospitals? How would it fund pensions, increased childcare, “free” personal care for the elderly, or renationalising Royal Mail? What contingency plans are in place for when businesses and banks move their headquarters south? Whether I think about it from a self-centred perspective, or from concern for my children and future generations, I am alarmed that such a momentous decision will be made on the basis of plans that are so lacking in information and transparency, and which seem, as your editorial suggests (Not so different, 26 August), to take no account of wider world matters.
Dr Sally Cheseldine
Edinburgh

• Your editorial rightly says that an independent Scotland will still face the policy dilemmas produced by global capitalism. But it might have the freedom to show more courage, and protect institutions such as the NHS, libraries etc (Losing the plot, 26 August).
John Haworth
Visiting professor in wellbeing, University of Bolton

• Helping the Better Together campaign in the Borders last week, I was told by a voter on the doorstep: “My heart says yes to independence; my head says no.” Yet surely there are as many, if not more, reasons for the heart to say no as well as the head, something the debates have not yet properly recognised. So many of us have mixed heritage and have family and friends across all parts of the UK. Those of us living just south of the border feel these emotional and kinship links particularly strongly and view with alarm the creation of an international frontier between us. Being British as well as Scottish or English is important to us – as another voter said to me: “I’m not giving up my British passport for anyone.” Perhaps, too, someone should remind Alex Salmond that our NHS was introduced by a Welsh secretary of state under a government headed by an Englishman, Clement Attlee, and by a party founded by a Scot, Keir Hardie.
Joyce Quin
Labour, House of Lords

• Suzanne Moore (Comment, 26 August) says the English response to the debate is one of envy. I am British. I was a British public servant for 26 years and I am angry.

Angry that I (and many others) am not allowed to vote on the future of my country. Angry that Salmond is creating hopes that will not take no for an answer. Angry that the yes group is claiming to protect the NHS that was founded by a British government. And angry that UK governments, over the years, have failed, by their self-preserving short-termism, to tackle the West Lothian question. This is at the core of the public perception that politics is irrelevant.

Whatever happens in September, next May we should demand parties that have a long-term view of the future of this nation – “long-term” meaning for the next generation (at least) and not just about pacifying the SNP or Ukip or whoever else is around by then.
Andrew Martin
Swindon

• Val McDermid stigmatises as “fearties” those who doubt the wisdom of Scottish independence (Comment, 22 August). This playground taunt is not uncommon in Scotland today. Its near relative is the charge that those who do not want independence have a psychological flaw – “the Scottish cringe” – allegedly induced by centuries of alleged English domination. Both are attempts to poison the wells of debate, and discredit those opposed to independence irrespective of the arguments they may offer. On the other side devotees are urged to trust all to Scotland somewhat as the religious are supposed to trust all to the Lord. Perhaps such attitudes are only to be expected when no one really has the capacity to master all the relevant information and make a fully informed judgment.
Paul Brownsey
Glasgow

• As an Englishman, my desire for the union to continue is based on my feeling British and the belief that together we can build something finer than if we split apart; but looking around the world, I am also frightened about the future. No one knows what political and economic storms may lie ahead; we should hope for the best but prepare for the worst, and I for one will feel safer if Scotland remains part of us. Giving in to fear is cowardice, but not listening to it is foolishness.
Joe Morison
London

• Sir Tom Hunter said: “Whatever the people decide we’ll just get on with it” (Report, 20 August). And the “we” Scotland’s first billionaire is referring to is really the few who own the country. “That’s democracy,” he concedes, generously. In fact it is the opposite, but he neatly exposes the irrelevance of the referendum and the sham that is democracy within capitalism.
Brian Gardner
Glasgow branch, Socialist party of Great Britain

Statue of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in El Salvador in 1980, over the Great West Door of

With reference to your editorial (Pope Francis and liberation theology: Second coming, 25 August), the decision to put in process the beatification of Oscar Romero is considered by many to be overdue. I suspect, however, that in many ways Romero would echo the sentiment of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker: “Don’t call me a saint. I do not want to be dismissed so easily.”

In 1988 during the so-called dirty war, I visited El Salvador for the first time. Back then Romero’s tomb was at the door of the incomplete cathedral in San Salvador. It was a place of pilgrimage for the “poor church for the poor” seeking inspiration, courage and comfort.

Out in the barrios, catechists and animators nurtured a new kind of Christianity founded on belief in the humanity of God, a reading of the Bible from the perspective of the poor, and a commitment to solidarity.

Returning a couple of years ago, I found that Romero’s tomb now resides in the basement of the cathedral. No longer do the crowds flock with their concerns. By and large, the animators and catechists – as well as the theology they espoused – have been marginalised and discredited.

The true saints are those who continue to strive, against the odds, for the foundation of civil society marked by biblical accompaniment, human rights, historical memory and the martyrs.

If there is to be any kind of “second coming” as a result of the decision to beatify Oscar Romero, it is the “poor church of the poor” that will need to be rehabilitated, together with the methodology and spirit that once offered the hope of true liberation.
Rt Rev Peter B Price
Gillingham, Dorset

• Liberation theology cannot be picked up from South America and planted in the UK. But its method of doing theology – from the perspective of the poor, studying the facts and being shocked by their circumstances – can be. Leonardo Boff, silenced by the Vatican in 1992, wrote: “The central question is how to exercise faith in the midst of social oppression. How should the ecclesiastical community interact with the political community?”

The short answer to Boff’s question (posed in an essay, The Originality of Liberation Theology, in The Future Of Liberation Theology: Essays In Honour of Gustavo Gutiérrez, published in 1989) is with and for poor people who suffer innocently. That is done out of the love inspired by the innocent suffering of our founder, who joined them on a cross.

Our first-world churches are complicit with extreme free-market politics and do not reflect, in the light of our faith, on the oppression done in the name of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Our ineffectiveness can be measured by the increasing oppression of the poorest citizens in the UK.

We desperately need bishops and archbishops who will interact with the political community and the public in the manner of Oscar Romero. He famously said: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist. When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.” Romero was assassinated on 24 March 1980, the eve of the enthronement of Robert Runcie as archbishop of Canterbury.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

The issue of the work detainees do in immigration removal centres is more complex than your article suggests (Immigration detainees ‘are being used as cheap labour’, 23 August). The opportunity for detainees and prisoners to take part in work and other purposeful activity in any form of detention is widely recognised as essential to their mental and emotional wellbeing and an important means of reducing the likelihood of self-harm. The right of detainees to take part in work is recognised in relevant international human rights standards. We have not identified any detainee in the UK immigration centres we inspect who has been forced to take part in work; we have found many who want to work but are unable to do so. This is sometimes because there are not the jobs available and sometimes because the Home Office has placed an arbitrary ban on those they judge to be not cooperating with the immigration process from having a job in detention. It would not be in the interests of detainees if the work that was already available for those who wished to do it was reduced. What is required is better-quality and better-paid work available for all detainees on a voluntary basis.
Nick Hardwick
Chief inspector of prisons

Paul Mason’s criteria for the perfect city (The 10 things a perfect city needs, 25 August) sound rather like the Monocle quality of life survey he dismisses. We give marks for cities with great bike paths and tram networks, prefer those where independent coffee shops outnumber Starbucks and where a gay couple can walk hand in hand without a problem. In our top cities education and healthcare are free, high streets are filled with local entrepreneurs and startups, great architecture is preserved and the nightlife is eclectic. If Mason hurries to his nearest newsagent (another thing we mark) he should still be able to pick up a copy of our July/August issue which has the latest survey.
Steve Bloomfield
Foreign editor, Monocle

• Richard Attenborough wasn’t “a lifelong Labour man”, as Peter Bradshaw says (25 August). In the 1980s he was in the SDP. In the 1987 election he drove me round Cambridge in his Rolls-Royce in support of Shirley Williams.
Mark Bostridge
London

• Your report (‘A pint, bitte’ – inept spies undid Nazi invasion, 23 August) omits the story of the two German spies who come ashore in Kent, dressed in suits and bowler hats, and head for the nearest pub. “Two martinis please,” says one. “Dry?” asks the barman. “Nein, zwei!” comes the reply.
Joe Locker
Surbiton, Surrey

• Surely the statement “Beaconsfield’s increase in house prices is because of its local ‘good school’” (Report, 26 August) should be the other way round: “Beaconsfield’s local school is good because pupils come from homes worth £…”
Margaret Davis
London

• Our headmaster asked who’d stolen the hook. “Which hook, sir?” a boy asked. “The hook to hang the bucket we keep the sand for putting fires out with in on,” he said (Letters, 23 August).
Steve Till
Upper Farringdon, Hampshire

• In the birthdays listed on 26 August, you omitted the Duke of Gloucester’s job. I think we should be told.
Orlando Goodden
Frome, Somerset

us flags as bombs cartoon

Arms are the real problem

How could anyone suggest, as Timothy Garton Ash does, that only by working with the US can the problems of the Middle East be solved (8 August)? The US is mainly the cause of the problems; everywhere it interferes, it leaves bedlam behind. Iraq was livable before the invasion; now there is chaos. Of course, the US administration may have had good intentions but the American companies that it employs – Halliburton, Blackwater, KBR – are only in there for the money.

Part of the problem is that three major recipients of aid from the US are Israel, Egypt and Colombia, and much of that assistance is in the form of arms, so as a result innocent people are being killed and nothing is being done. We know the story in Gaza, but in Egypt the democratically elected government was overthrown with the aid of US arms, and in Colombia it’s the same story as rightwing paramilitaries enforce a reign of terror on defenceless victims and it is condoned by the present government, which is supported by the US and Britain.

So what’s the solution? No more arms. Let the money be put into something much more useful and long-lasting: infrastructure, education, hospitals, long-term employment projects and general development and wellbeing.
Gemma Hensey
Westport, Ireland

• I am intrigued by Timothy Garton Ash’s statement “not moral, because Europeans, of all people, should never be silent while war crimes are being committed”. As he doesn’t supply any reason for the comment, I’m left to wonder whether he means that Europeans have higher moral standards than others, or that Europeans have committed so many egregiously immoral war crimes.
Deborah Yaffe
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

We must solve inequality

Perhaps it’s time to update Karl Marx: rather than simply “the opiate of the masses”, religion has today taken on the additional role of an aphrodisiac for those consumed by the lust for power. As Jonathan Freedland reminds us in your lead story of 15 August, today’s jihadi frequently has an educated background, possibly a Harvard MBA, together with the backing of the global superpowers, the primary source of his weaponry as well as his grudges.

As always, the underlying issue in most if not all such conflicts is inequality. However sincere Barack Obama and the few enlightened world leaders may be in their attempts to tackle this problem, they are hamstrung by the short-term goals of the real power-brokers: the arms manufacturers and their military supporters, the financiers and the oil barons as well as the multinationals, whose profitability is based on feeding their willing market with fear, envy and greed, all in the name of globalisation.

Their specious credo is that only by encouraging developing countries to emulate the level of unsustainable consumption and waste enjoyed by the developed world can global equity be achieved, as George Monbiot points out in the same issue of Guardian Weekly. I fear that only the imminent collapse of the global house of cards will allow the restoration of sanity and sustainability so desperately sought by us “deviants”, to use Monbiot’s terminology. Be proud of your deviancy, but first be very, very afraid.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia

Neoliberalism is a con

George Monbiot is right: neoliberalism is a self-serving con (15 August). In New Zealand, too, we’re beginning to see the light with the publication of four books in the last year outlining the damage that this self-serving doctrine has wreaked on our once egalitarian society.

We might have been the first to set up a welfare system after the Great Depression, but we were also among the first to adopt the so-called free market neoliberal policies trumpeted by Reagan and Thatcher. This we did to extremes that astonished even the authors of those policies.

Thirty years later, after subsequent rightwing governments restricted workers’ rights, cut welfare benefits and bolstered the private sector at the expense of the public, the features of this disaster are clear. More than 200,000 of New Zealand children live in such poverty that many often go to school hungry. Free bottles of milk are now given out at morning tea in most schools. We are the seventh most unequal country in the OECD. Inequality is associated with crime: we have the second-highest rate of imprisonment in the OECD.

Fortunately a groundswell of revolt has emerged among thinking people who have contributed searching analyses of where and how this failed mantra went wrong. The most recent of these books is Beyond the Free Market: Rebuilding a Just Society in New Zealand. In its foreword, former high court judge Sir Edmund Thomas declares that the neoliberal revolution was an appalling mistake.
Pat Baskett
Auckland, New Zealand

Myths of privatisation

I commend Ha-Joon Chang for pointing out, in Privatised UK is far from perfect (8 August), some of the examples that give the lie to the myth that government enterprises are inherently less efficient than those run by private enterprise.

Another myth that needs exposure is that right-leaning governments make better financial managers than those less so inclined. When a rightwing government privatises – ie sells off – assets, the proceeds of the sale are accounted as revenue, thereby increasing that government’s surplus or reducing its deficit. Similarly, when a nationalising government purchases an enterprise, the transaction is treated as a cost, making privatisers appear to be better managers than nationalisers. In neither case has the effect of the transaction upon the national balance sheet been accounted for.

When a political party claims that private enterprise is more efficient than public ownership, it is really just admitting that it finds public ownership too difficult, and indeed it is almost axiomatic that it should find it so – running public utilities and other national enterprises involves not only budgetary outcomes but also the effectiveness of the service provided, to say nothing of the longer-term stability of the society it serves. This is a far more complex matter than the running of a business, in which the bottom line is all that matters.

Political parties of almost all colours have recently increased privatisation; in many cases this is a symptom of their incompetence.
David Barker
Bunbury, Western Australia

Swimming in the nude

To Daniel Start’s question, what can one do to avoid offence when swimming without clothes (8 August), I would reply – take a holiday in Germany. Especially in the former East, the culture of swimming and sunbathing in the buff remains strong, and there is nothing like the sense of prudish outrage that regularly seems to accompany sporadic displays of naked flesh in Britain and many other parts of the world.

Never a fan of nudism myself, since moving here three years ago I have developed the habit of naked swimming after morning runs. My favourite swimming lake is in the middle of the city and even in the early morning there is usually quite a lot of naked traffic. On sunny days dozens of naturists populate the lawns while foreign tourists walk by and everybody else just goes about their business.

Stephen Gough, the naked rambler, may be interested to hear that in some areas of Germany, for instance in the Harz mountains, naked hiking is actively encouraged to promote tourism, and even outside those areas his antics would be unlikely to be met with much interest from the authorities. For anyone eager to throw off his textiles – this is the place to be!
Stephan Quentin
Potsdam, Germany

Law in Hong Kong

Anson Chan may wish to consider international law in her fight for democracy in Hong Kong (22 August). Since the Hong Kong basic legal agreement is signed by Britain, China and Hong Kong, British law must surely come in. If that is not the case, then British accession to various UN treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights opens another way for international law to operate. In 1997 the Chinese government informed the UN that “the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force beginning from 1 July 1997”.

Some even think these covenants make nuclear weapons and even guns illegal. That is, that citizens have the right to peaceful enjoyment of their environment and not to be blasted to smithereens.
Paul Knobel
Auckland, New Zealand

Briefly

• I might have enjoyed Rupert Myers’s article on running (15 August) if I had been able to make it past his errors. Pheidippides ran to Sparta before the battle of Marathon seeking help. After the battle he ran to Athens to report the victory. It is this second journey that is honoured by the name and race. He certainly didn’t practise “relentless, tiresome bragging about the achievement” because “as any fule kno”, having reported the victory, he died.
Andrew Lacey
Mold, UK

Please send lett

Independent:

Throughout the Scottish independence debate, the Better Together campaign has been too much based on threats and negativity, letting itself down as a result. Now, however, I’m surprised by how the pro-independence side has been let down by the SNP’s leader, through lack of dignity and answers.

In the latest TV clash between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Darling seemed to handle himself well enough, but Salmond never seemed to have any real facts, figures or answers to key questions, turning instead to a personal and nasty attack on the person in front of him.

He was incredibly rude, continuing to talk over and interrupt his opponent – something which must be embarrassing for many Yes voters.

Whatever the result of Scotland’s referendum, it will likely now lead to even greater enmity and division that will not be easily overcome.

Emilie Lamplough
Trowbridge, Wiltshire

As an English outsider doggedly sitting through the TV debate on Scottish independence, my overwhelming feeling  was that neither protagonist presented an attractive option for the rest of  the UK.

Mr Salmond concentrated on cobbling together a ludicrous (certainly for Scotland) currency union and a costly (at least to the rest of the UK) defence policy, while Mr Darling painted a picture of Scotland dependent on potential financial bailouts from the rest of the UK.

Not a great future, whichever side prevails.

David Bracey
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Gordon Brown says that the NHS is safer in the UK than in an independent Scotland. This is either the height of arrogance or a belief that the public have no memory.

The idea of funding hospital building using PFI (private finance initiative) was introduced at the end of the Thatcher period and picked up by Brown, who drove the plan very hard, so that it became the norm in England.

The private companies would finance and build new hospitals and lease them back to the NHS. It was claimed that this funding method passed the financial risk from the Government on to the private sector – which was rubbish.

To get the banks and private companies to lend the money, the Treasury had to agree to underwrite the risks of the projects.  PFI is thus a risk-free bonanza for the private sector.

Contracts were for 30-60 years at rates varying from 5.3 to 7.9 per cent per annum. PFI repayments increased by nearly £200m from £459m in 2009/10 to £628.7m in 2011/12. In one PFI contract, by 2011 the taxpayer owed £121.4bn to pay for an infrastructure valued at £52.9bn.

At the end of the lease, the building becomes the property of the private company, with the NHS owning nothing.

Chief executives of PFI-funded facilities had to show how the annual debt charges would be met from the operating budgets, ie the budget that normally pays for staff and supplies. Since rental had to be paid out of NHS funds, this reduced the funds available for treating patients. The Blair/Brown Government therefore produced a cut in NHS funding.

Alistair Darling was part of the Blair/Brown Cabinet and succeeded Gordon Brown as Chancellor. Can we trust either Brown or Darling with financial matters?

Dr E L Lloyd
Edinburgh

In the second debate between Salmond and Darling, Salmond emphasised that Scots at home would be well looked after in their old age. Has  he taken into consideration the cost of care and pensions for the many thousands of expat Scots who will wish to return home on retirement?

Will his five million fellow countrymen be prepared to pay for their care single-handed? It  could be very expensive  for the Scottish taxpayer.

Alastair Stewart
Little Baddow, Essex

The best question of the night came from the audience: “If we are better together, why are we not better just now?”

Robert Stewart
Wilmslow, Cheshire

 

Isis illustrates futility of trident

I unequivocally condemn the brutal murders of Lee Rigby and James Foley, but I dare welcome the birth of Islamic State (Isis) – only to emphasise the folly of the claim that we need the Trident nuclear weapons system as the ultimate guarantee of our security.

Armed only with its twisted interpretation  of the Koran and conventional weapons, Isis has sent shockwaves through the nuclear-armed and Nato-allied British Government.

Supported by Labour, Theresa May has announced that she is to introduce an “anti-social behaviour order” that will strip extremists with dual nationality of their citizenship. Boris Johnson wants anyone returning from an unauthorised trip to Syria or Iraq to be presumed guilty of terrorism.

David Davis has gone further and called for anyone suspected of terrorism activities to be stripped of their citizenship.

None of these drastic measures will protect Britain from violence by home-grown or home-based Islamist fundamentalists. On the contrary, they are likely to go underground to launch a devastating attack, as they did on 7/7.

As someone who spent two years working with Ealing borough police as a volunteer stop-and-search adviser, I can say that the British people are hopelessly exposed to an existential threat from home-grown terrorism thanks to the savage cuts in public spending, which have seen a massive reduction in police numbers.

Police officers who have remained in post are demoralised because their overtime allowances have also been reduced or cut. These cuts are taking  place while we are  planning to replace  Trident at an estimated  cost of £100bn.

Unless we are planning to nuke these home-grown terrorists on our streets, or in Iraq and Syria, the Government and all the main parties must seriously consider whether to go ahead with the plan to replace Trident, or spend that money recruiting, training and equipping more police and intelligence personnel.

Sam Akaki
London W3

 

Given that Isis, Hezbollah and Hamas are one in their openly avowed intent to eradicate the Little Satan (Israel) followed by the Great Satan (the US/the West), one can appreciate that “robust and concerted action by the Western allies” is urged by your editorial (22 August). Furthermore, “there must be no bargaining with fanatics”, simply “eradication”.

Yet, The Independent has condemned Israel for its “disproportionate” reaction to rocket attacks. If Isis reaches the shores of the Mediterranean, one wonders how “proportionate” the West’s reaction will be? Not very, if your editorial is anything to go by.

Gillian Cook
Woodingdean, East Sussex

 

The United Nations must be the obvious route to tackling Isis. It can’t be right that the West, the UK, the US or Nato takes the lead, as the problem has largely been created by the West, and can only be made worse by further meddling.

We must call for the UN to convene a session of the Security Council to create a consensus, with the help of Russia and China, and especially involving the key regional players, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

Martin Pasteiner
London W9 

GM’s opponents propagate myths

I read Peter Popham’s article on Vandana Shiva with interest (“GM food and the heir to Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy”, 21 August). I was pleased to note that it pointed out that Ms Shiva’s “demonising” of technologies such as GM “is doing her impoverished compatriots no favours”.

As the article notes, such technologies “could potentially improve the lives of millions”. But they are being prevented from doing so by dogmatic promotion of museum agriculture and calculated myths around the safety of agricultural technologies. The reference to so-called “terminator technology”, rendering a seed sterile, is one such myth promoted by anti-GM activists. The agricultural industry has never developed seeds or crop varieties with such a trait, nor is there any intention of doing so.

I look forward to the continued evidence-based approach your paper provides on this much-maligned technology.

Dr Julian Little
Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council
London WC1

 

A ‘no experience necessary’ job?

The ongoing tussle over the appointment of the clerk of the Commons (“Parliamentary clerk ‘doesn’t need experience’”, 25 August) is difficult to comprehend. More difficult to understand, however – now that John Bercow is arguing that no previous parliamentary experience is necessary – is why the position commands a salary of £200,000.

Gordon Watt
Reading

Times:

Bad-tempered TV arguments do not provide critical Scots with the decisive data

Sir, I am a young Scot, and I am tired of this Yes/No stuff as both sides play headline-grabbing politics. I care for Scotland’s future and I am annoyed when important long-term issues are dismissed with a quick meaningless statement. I want solid facts to decide on, rather than promises and personalities.

Gordon Mackie

Glasgow

Sir, Alistair Darling’s lacklustre performance underlines the need for the No campaign to deploy Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy and George Galloway against Alex Salmond. These three have passion and are not afraid to talk positively about Britishness and shared values. They also engage with the effect that breaking up the UK would have on Europe and the world. Darling never seems to get beyond the pound and oil. The Yes campaign has been allowed to occupy the moral high ground for too long — we need some fiery preachy types rather than an accountant to challenge it.

The Rev Dr Ian Bradley

St Andrews, Fife

Sir, In the recent TV clash Alistair Darling seemed to handle himself well enough but Mr Salmond never seems to have any real facts, figures or answers to key questions. His rudeness, continuing to talk over his opponent, must be embarrassing for many Yes voters.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wilts

Sir, I am surprised that there has been so little reference in the No campaign to the family ties within the UK. I am English and living in England, but I am married to a Scot. My children are half Scottish and my grandchildren a quarter Scottish. There must be millions of people on both sides of the border who are dismayed at the prospect of the other side becoming foreign.

Tim Capon

Motcombe, Dorset

Sir, Westminster and our political leaders seem to be doing nothing to actively preserve our union. In September it could be ended without any say from its members (including those of Scottish ancestry) outside Scotland.

Philip Beddows

Munslow, Shropshire

Sir, Last night we saw a spectacle more suited to a bar-room shouting match than a serious debate on the future of our two countries. The most concerning aspect of the evening was the lack of any academic rigour around the arguments on both sides which often seemed to descend into cheap point-scoring by both participants amid a proliferation of numbers and statistics completely unverifiable by the average viewer.

Dennis Lock

Watford, Herts

Sir, The potential ramifications of a Yes vote in the referendum are far too serious to be influenced by this sorry spectacle, where mere posturing took the place of substance.

Politicians of all parties are doing us a huge disservice in the run-up to the referendum. Is there no person of substance, in Scotland, prepared to spell out, in simple terms, the real dangers of full independence? The SNP and its supporters must understand that there is no pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.

Bravery overshadows any technical priority disputes about Victoria Cross winners

Sir, Maurice French (letter, Aug 25) and you (report, Aug 25) are both right. Francis Grenfell, my great-uncle, was technically the first VC. The award was not officially made until it was published in the London Gazette, or gazetted. Francis’s award was the first to be gazetted. However, the occasion which gave rise to the award took place the day after Dease’s.

Bravery, however, does not need such distinctions.

Michael Grenfell

Westcot, Oxon

Gladstone’s foreign policy may contain a lesson for us today in dealing with Islamic extremists

Sir, Paul Marshall (Aug 25) overlooks the glaring calamity of Gladstone’s “moral foreign policy” — its failure to prevent the establishment of a militant fundamentalist Islamic state that ruled a million square miles of Africa for 13 years. The Sudanese Mahadiya was made possible by Gladstone’s not intervening in 1884 in support of General Gordon, only sending the famous Khartoum Relief Expedition, which was too little too late. The Mahadiya was then left alone by the British for more than a decade, fighting a series of savage jihads against all neighbouring states including Christian Ethiopia and even the Belgian Congo. It was only when the French threatened to establish themselves on the Nile in the late 1890s that Kitchener finally went in to eradicate Sudan’s Islamic theocracy using massively disproportionate military force at Omdurman, known to Africans as the Battle of Karari.

There may well be a topically relevant lesson from history somewhere in there.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones

Nottingham

The death of Lord Attenborough throws open the question of the city’s most famous scions

Sir, Oliver Kamm tells us that David Attenborough is now unrivalled as the most distinguished living Leicesterian (Aug 26). Leaving aside that Sir David was born in London, is Gary Lineker no longer with us?

Frank Greaney

Formby, Liverpool

Memories from the son of the man who painted the Sistine ceiling for The Agony and the Ecstasy

Sir, You said that the Sistine chapel ceiling in a Worthing church is the only full size copy in the world (Aug 23), and a very fine achievement it is too. However, if you cast your mind back to the film The Agony and The Ecstasy, starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, you will see the ceiling being painted by my father, Ferdinand Bellan, one of the greatest film scenic artists. I think that reproduction was sold to a private buyer as a complete work of art, to be re-assembled elsewhere.

Peter Bellan

St Davids

Telegraph:

Bad neighbours: the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building looms over 19th-century Eastcheap, London  Photo: ALAMY

6:58AM BST 26 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – In your recent discussion of the sort of houses we want built, John Cuthbert wrote a letter (July 28) that said: “Planning applications should be determined solely with regard to town planning policy… What the neighbours think is irrelevant.”

With apparatchiks in town halls, and the tragically mediocre buildings born of their planning-policy-informed decisions sprawled across our landscape, no wonder people feel the urge to become Nimbys. Nimbyism often has an honourable Betjemanesque affection for the old, the quiet and the beautiful at its heart. Planning policy needs to be altered, to protect and promote such beauty.

If I were his “invariably uninformed” neighbour, Mr Cuthbert could dismiss me, a rural architect, as a “baa-baa” (motto: “Beauty above all”). It would be an honour.

Juliet Blaxland
Southwold, Suffolk

Sir Richard Attenborough Photo: EPA

6:59AM BST 26 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Having served with many regimental sergeant majors and been terrified by some, I believe Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of an RSM in Guns at Batasi will remain unsurpassed.

Since he won the Bafta Best Actor award for the role, my belief may not be unique.

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

SIR – In the Seventies, BBC Television still broadcast a five-minute appeal every month for a selected charity. I was the producer of these when one of his charities nominated Richard Attenborough to be the presenter of its appeal.

As was customary, I booked a table for lunch at a restaurant for us to plan the filming, feeling not a little nervous about directing such an eminent film director. I need not have worried. He was kindness and helpfulness itself from start to finish, and what remains in my mind is that, perhaps guessing that my budget would be very tight, he was the only one out of all the celebrities I worked with who insisted that he, and not the BBC, paid for our lunch.

Patricia Owtram
London W4

SIR – Lord Attenborough, who in 1982 produced his Oscar-winning film Gandhi, was so biased towards the Left in politics that he showed more than one round of fire at Amritsar, and tried to convince his viewers we lost India entirely because of Gandhi.

The Indians remain forever grateful for what we gave them: cricket, railways, democracy, the rule of law and a knowledge of English to communicate between communities with different languages.

Lord Sudeley
London NW1

Husband on hand

SIR – An inquiry to a friend, asking how she was coping with her husband’s retirement (Letters, August 25), drew the reply: “Frightful, I’ve got twice the husband, on half the money.”

Alan Campbell Graham
London SW17

Of proud descent

SIR – David Cleave (Letters, August 22) found his mother’s name in a Telegraph crossword. My surname appears in every Telegraph crossword.

Julian Down
Wilsford, Wiltshire

Not a clerk to be found

SIR – Surely Carol Mills should not get a work visa for Parliament’s top job of Clerk of the House of Commons if there are other qualified British citizens for the job.

Mary-Lou Kellaway
Cookham Dean, Berkshire

SIR – Though I harbour no ill will towards Ms Mills, it is difficult not to be jealous of her. I would certainly be delighted to be appointed to a new job at a salary of £200,000 and then have its responsibilities halved.

Another triumph for Mr Speaker!

Andrew Mackenzie
Glasgow

SIR – As experience is not required for the post, can anyone apply?

Alan Sabatini
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – If Carol Mills will do half the job, the taxpayer will now have to pay for two instead of one.

Ramji Abinashi
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Fry-up pie

SIR – For heaven’s sake, can we be freed from such doom-laden opinions as those of the easily shocked Professor Lean (a clue in the name?), who wants to ban the fry-up pie from a hospital canteen?

If you’re stuck in bed, you are probably not going to want to eat heavily anyway. And what about the notion that having a hearty breakfast is actually good for weight control because it removes the need to snack during the day?

Colin Jamieson
Horncastle, Lincolnshire

SIR – Surely a fry-up pie, crammed with bacon, sausage, black pudding and beans, with an egg on top, would rate highly on most people’s favourite meals list.

At only £1.50, I would not be surprised if many fry-up aficionados were intending to wend their way to the hospital in Dundee to avail themselves of such a bargain.

Dr Roy Stanley
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Wet day of your choice

SIR – On the annoying problem of wet and miserable bank holidays, how about if they were cancelled except for the religious ones of Christmas Day and Good Friday? The remainder could be taken at the discretion of working people when they wanted.

This would stop the disruption caused by rubbish collections being changed, postal collections and deliveries being cancelled and the general confusion of a shorter working week.

Ann Ankers
Bwlchgwyn, Denbighshire

Biker on one knee

SIR – I had to shout my proposal twice before my wife accepted (Letters, August 25). We were crossing Hammersmith Broadway on a motorbike at the time.

We celebrate our diamond anniversary in 2016, as she frequently reminds me. Unfortunately I am now hard of hearing.

Quentin de la Bedoyere
London SW19

SIR – My university room-mate proposed by mail. He soon received a favourable, if somewhat formal, reply from his intended’s father, a farmer in the South West. “Dear Terrence, Regarding your inquiry…”.

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Britain is incapable of keeping jihadists out

SIR – There is a sort of weary despair every time we hear of new laws the Government announces to control the return or citizenship of British-born “jihadists”.

However draconian these plans sound, it is obvious from our leaky borders that we do not have the ability to control anyone’s entry. How, overnight, is this situation to be miraculously improved?

Ginny Martin
Bishops Waltham, Hampshire

SIR – While I welcome the Tory calls for jihadists to lose their passports, credit where it’s due, please. Surely Nigel Farage was the first to raise the idea.

R A McWhirter
Zurich, Switzerland

SIR – The revelation that Britain’s borders are dangerously porous comes as little surprise to those of us who have some knowledge of the issue. As a former senior officer in the UK Immigration Service I am well aware of the substantial changes to border control that over recent years have had a wholly negative effect.

The merging of Customs and Immigration in 2008 resulted in many managers with no experience being placed in positions of responsibility. This, along with limited detention accommodation to hold foreign prisoners awaiting deportation (used more than ever was intended) are only two of the major problems.

Home Office statements about robust action are made in inverse proportion to the actual state of control.

Mike Stanley
Hale, Cheshire

SIR – Will Boris Johnson (“Britons who go to Syria ‘are guilty until proven innocent’, says Boris Johnson”) still go ahead with events to celebrate the anniversary of Magna Carta?

John Gresham
Liverpool

Evidence that the Scottish debate has given way to intimidation

Roadside signs in support of the Better Together campaign have been defaced

Sally Page said posters were being attacked at night only hours after they had been put in place

A defaced poster displaying the ‘No Thanks’ slogan Photo: William Page

7:00AM BST 26 Aug 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – I am persuaded to write, having just driven from Perth to Dundee. Rightly, there are prominent signs for both Yes and No campaigns. It is worrying that, whereas not one Yes notice is damaged, the majority of those supporting Better Together have sadly been vandalised.

This indicates to me that some supporters of the Yes campaign either do not have confidence in their policies or that those responsible really have decided that, with less than three weeks to go, intimidation is the only way that they can win.

Mike Beale
Bridge of Earn, Perthshire

SIR – The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which are not part of the United Kingdom, are able to use the pound as their currency, so why is Scotland not allowed the same privilege?

I speak as an Englishman who is ashamed of my country’s bullying tactics.

Kevin Cottrell
Buckland, Oxfordshire

SIR – The Scottish share of the UK national debt would be nothing like as small as the £143 billion that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests (Business, August 25). It ignores the public sector pension liability of £1,000 billion, the old age pensions liability of another £1,000 billion and several trillion more besides.

At least with independence the Scots might know what their debts really are.

Brian Gilbert
Hampton, Middlesex

SIR – I have seen little reference to the defence of the (new) Scottish realm apart from clearing the Royal Navy out of Faslane.

Since 1949 the Western nations have enjoyed the shield of the “collective security” policy of the Nato nations. Will the new Scotland be committing its forces to Nato? The Scottish regiments, maybe, but what about the Scottish navy and the Scottish air force? I am reminded of the French exit from Nato’s integrated military structure in the Sixties, when it chose to enjoy the protection of collective security without having to pay the full subscription.

Robert Price
Malton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Current BBC weather forecasts completely ignore the existence of the Irish Republic. If Scotland votes to leave the Union, will the BBC stop broadcasting weather forecasts for Scotland?

Eric Clark
Woburn Sands, Buckinghamshire

SIR – There appear to be three questions that nobody is bringing up.

1 In the event of a Yes vote, will there ever be another referendum?

2 In the event of a No vote, when will the next referendum take place?

3 Do all British citizens living in Scotland on a given date lose their British citizenship?

Robert Pugh
Carmarthen

Irish Times:

Sir, – May I remind Fintan O’Toole (“Why Ireland never faced up to the issue of abortion”, Opinion & Analysis, August 26th) that while many of the organisations supporting the pro-life agenda are Roman Catholic, there are many non-Catholics with coinciding views who are just as passionate? If I mention that I am a pro-life Protestant (Christian), would that throw Mr O’Toole into statistical confusion? Could he cope knowing that someone who has no connection or affiliation to the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion?

He may be disappointed that Ireland is the “only country in the democratic world to have a constitutional ban on abortion” but for most people, I suggest, this fact is a cause for relief, not dismay. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In their letter of August 28th, a large number of academics argue that “it is time that this generation had its referendum” and that “that referendum must transform the law on access to abortion care”.

We support their case for repealing the eighth amendment (and the other subsequent amendments that sought to mop up the mess left by it). We also share their objection to a set of laws that fails to account for the moral principle that women ought to have control over their own bodies.

But we are wary of repeating the error of inserting detail into the Constitution on this broad question. No matter what the wording, the constitutionalising of matters such as access to abortion care places judges in the position of having to interpret vague text in the light of particular circumstances, unavoidably influenced to at least some extent by their own predilections and preferences.

Just as before, constitutional wording and judicial decree would come to shape and even stifle subsequent public debate on the matter, often excluding reasonable policy choices.

Too often the Constitution has been used by political actors as a shield behind which to hide from making decisions on difficult issues.

A constitution is mainly a mechanism for establishing the essential political institutions. It can also serve to entrench broad principles of equality and liberty, as well as general rights and freedoms. It is up to citizens and their representatives to make the best of those principles and rights through ordinary politics. More constitutional provisions might merely impose this generation’s beliefs on subsequent generations. – Yours, etc,

Dr TOM HICKEY,

Dr EOIN O’MALLEY,

School of Law

and Government,

Dublin City University,

Glasnevin,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – John Bruton (“Home rule and an Ireland without the bloodshed”, Opinion & Analysis, August 25th) restates his view that John Redmond and his party were a constitutional and non-violent movement that managed to achieve home rule by parliamentary means.

This ignores the extent to which violence, or the threat of violence, formed part of Irish political life before 1916. Redmond’s party was quite prepared to use force against its rivals and did so regularly, using the sectarian Ancient Order of Hibernians to intimidate opponents.

But crucially Mr Bruton also fails to grasp how Redmond hugely oversold his “achievement” to the party’s supporters in Ireland. In March 1912 Redmond’s deputy, John Dillon, told 100,000 people in Dublin’s O’Connell Street that  “we have undone, and are undoing the work of three centuries of confiscation and persecution . . . the holy soil of Ireland is passing back rapidly into the possession of the children of our race . . . and the work of Oliver Cromwell is nearly undone”.

Do these words conjure up a vision of an Irish parliament with limited powers remaining firmly within the British imperial framework? For many nationalists home rule meant not devolution but the “virtual undoing of the conquest”.

They were often encouraged in this belief by the rhetoric used by the Irish Party’s MPs. The Limerick MP William Lundon explained in 1907 that home rule would not mean “a little parliament in Dublin that would pay homage to the big one, but a sovereign and independent one and if he had his own way he would break the remaining links that bound the two countries . . . he was trained in another school [and] he was not a parliamentarian when he walked with his rifle on his shoulder on the night of the 5th of March [the Fenian rising of 1867].”

Such rhetoric was not unusual given that up to 25 per cent of the party’s MPs in the early 1900s were former Fenians. Indeed Redmond himself had spent much of the 1890s campaigning for republican prisoners, arguing that “they are our kith and kin. They are men who sacrificed everything that was most dear to them in an effort to benefit Ireland. What do we care whether their effort was a wise one or not, whether a mistaken one or not?”

Indeed when Tom Clarke was released in 1897 he personally thanked Redmond for his efforts on his behalf. The home rulers were a “slightly constitutional” party and they oversold the promise of home rule to such an extent that rather than satisfying nationalist aspirations it was likely to prove a huge disappointment. Any discussion of the party’s record needs to take these facts into account. – Yours, etc,

Dr BRIAN HANLEY,

Dunmanus Road,

Cabra,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – The decision by Bank of Ireland to block financial transfers to Cuba (“Bank of Ireland stops transfers to Cuba due to US embargo”, August 25th) is a clear example of the extraterritorial nature of the United States blockade of Cuba.

Ireland, together with its partners in the EU, opposes the blockade, which has been overwhelmingly condemned in 22 consecutive votes in the UN general assembly.

Under new legislation, the Single Euro Payment Area (Sepa) means that banks with tie-ins to financial institutions in the US are vulnerable to hefty financial penalties if they facilitate transfers to Cuba. The US is extending its blockade over the European Union and using Sepa to further isolate and weaken the Cuban economy.

The US blockade is an anachronistic and illegal piece of cold war legislation which should be withdrawn by Washington as part of a wider normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba. Ireland and its EU partners should resist the financial bullying by the US on this issue and think twice about endorsing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will result in even closer harmonisation of financial relations between Brussels and Washington. – Yours, etc,

STEPHEN McCLOSKEY,

Director,

Centre for Global Education,

University Street, Belfast.

Sir, – Henry McLave (August 23rd) has suggested that “engineers, councillors and shopkeepers will ride roughshod” to support the upgrading of the Barrow towpath.

As a retired engineer, living beside and overlooking the Barrow towpath, may I say as gently as possible that I fully support the planned development of a hard-surfaced track.

The linking of towns and villages along the river by a safe, level, traffic-free cycle route would open the area wonderfully for tourism, especially family groups. It would also open the possibility of young people who live near the river being able to cycle in a traffic-free environment to secondary schools in their local towns.

The level towpaths would also be very wheelchair friendly.

We have watched otters play in the floodlights and come up on the tarmac paths in Leighlinbridge. We have watched kingfishers fishing from the recently rebuilt quays. To raise fears that irreparable damage would be done to the local wildlife by putting down a stone track beside the Barrow may be an effective emotive argument, but does not stand up to any real scrutiny.

I walk a few kilometres along this path on most days of the year. In autumn, winter and spring, one rarely meets other people. I suspect this may be partly due for the need for good waterproof walking boots to counter the long grass and slippery paths. A smooth stone path, as proposed, would be much more usable all year round without special footwear.

The Barrow is a magnificent resource and the concept of developing its recreational and tourist potential in a sensitive and inclusive manner is to be applauded. – Yours, etc,

TERRY

GILLESPIE, C Eng, MIE

Fisherman’s Lock,

Leighlinbridge,

Co Carlow.

Sir, – Patsy McGarry (“Belgium gave Irish men reason to enlist and fight”, Rite & Reason, August 26th) says that Germany in the first World War was “unequivocally barbaric and the aggressor” and even compares the behaviour of the German army with that of the Islamic State in Iraq today. He ignores that in the two decades before 1914 Germany was systematically encircled by a huge coalition of France, Russia and Britain. France wanted revenge for its defeat by Bismarck in 1870; Russia as usual was greedy for more territory; and a stagnating Britain was animated by jealousy of the young German nation’s extraordinary economic success.

Yes, Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914 in a pre-emptive strike against the Allies, but that was purely because of the necessities of military strategy – France had to be outflanked because of its fortified borders, and the German government pledged that Belgian territorial sovereignty would not be violated after the war if Belgium did not resist.

Mr McGarry is correct in saying that atrocities were committed by German soldiers against Belgian civilians, but those war crimes were mostly carried out by part-time reservist troops and were not typical of the German army as a whole.

What happened in Belgium in August 1914 pales in comparison to violence against civilians carried out by other powers: the Austro-Hungarian army’s slaughter of Serbian civilians, the Russian army’s pogroms against Jews in Austrian Galicia, not to mention the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915. Moreover, the British blockade of Germany throughout the war killed hundreds of thousands of German civilians through slow starvation and consequent susceptibility to illness and the flu pandemic of 1918-19. Germany was not the “monster” of the first World War. – Yours, etc,

FRANK GILES,

Ballsbridge,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Stephen Collins’s opinion piece (“Judging the performance of our political leaders”, Opinion & Analysis, August 22nd) regarding the late Albert Reynolds’s political legacy focuses on the latter’s contribution to laying “the foundations” of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

This point has been reiterated far and wide by the political class and media in recent days. Indeed, no one can argue that Reynolds did not take huge risks in his dealings with the British government, and in particular in his personal discussions with republican and loyalist terrorists. However, it is ahistorical to say that Reynolds laid the “foundations” for the early stage of the peace process – this honour belongs to the controversial Charles J Haughey. It was Haughey, while taoiseach in the late 1980s, who initiated secret discussions with Gerry Adams, using John Hume as a go between.

Haughey did not make these discussions public as he was afraid of reaction from within Fianna Fáil and the public at large. Nonetheless, the fact remains that is was Haughey not Reynolds who first took the tentative steps towards laying the foundations of the peace process in Northern Ireland. – Yours, etc,

Dr STEPHEN KELLY,

Department of History

and Politics,

Liverpool Hope University,

England.

Sir, – In response to Sean Connolly’s letter (August 23rd), in which he throws doubt on whether Charles Frederick Ball, former assistant keeper at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, was prompted to enlist after being sent a white feather, might I state that I have it from a reliable source that this is true.

According to Seamus O’Brien, head gardener at Kilmacurragh Gardens, the story of how Ball received the white feather was told to Donal Synott, the then director of the “Bots”, by Sir Frederick Moore’s son, Maj Gen Frederick Moore, who knew Ball. During a visit that he made to the National Botanic Gardens many years after Ball’s death, Moore identified the particular room that had been Ball’s office before recounting to Donal Synott the story of how the white feather had arrived at “poor Charlie Ball’s” desk.

Readers might also be interested to know that by a cruel twist of fate, the despicable white feather campaign of the first World War, where the feather was given as a symbol of cowardice, was initiated by an Irishman, Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald, in August 1914 – just a month before CF Ball enlisted in the 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Could I also add that in mentioning the story of the white feather in my piece on the Irish National War Memorial Gardens (“Garden of tranquility”, Magazine, August 16th), my intention wasn’t in any way to besmirch the reputation of CF Ball, a man who was hugely liked and admired, and who acquitted himself bravely on the battlefield, but to highlight the awfulness of the war that led to his death. – Yours, etc,

FIONNUALA FALLON,

Manor Kilbride,

Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Dr Cora Stack (August 25th) questions the quality of maths textbooks provided at primary level.

Many parents of primary-age schoolchildren assume that the work in the textbook represents all of the work covered by the teacher on a particular maths topic.

In primary classrooms today, the textbook is just one of many teaching resources used by the teacher in the daily maths class. Primary teachers strive to implement a “hands-on” approach to teaching maths, and make use of maths equipment, oral maths games, interactive whiteboard activities, iPad apps and board games when teaching a new maths concept. The textbook is used at the end of the class as a way of reinforcing the learning that has taken place, and for further practice at home.

In my experience, topics such as length, weight, time, capacity and money are best taught without recourse to textbooks at all.

I am returning to school this week to teach a class of 33 senior infants. Instead of a revised maths curriculum or better textbooks, I believe that smaller classes and more learning support time for those who need it are required to ensure more effective maths teaching at primary level. – Yours, etc,

LOUISE MANGAN,

Moylagh,

Oldcastle,

Co Meath.

Sir, – Throughout the Scottish independence debate the No side has consistently taunted the would-be independents with: “How dare you assume you may go on using the British currency?”

Has everyone forgotten that although Ireland wrested her independence from Britain by bitter force of arms, we continued to use sterling for the next half century – even through the economic war with Britain? And cheques drawn on Irish banks were cleared in London? And Irish banknotes, though often refused by shopkeepers, were exchangeable at par in British banks? And even when we introduced the punt, our coinage still continued to work in British vending machines, despite a discount of about 10 per cent?

Maybe other readers can supply reasons for this strange silence. I cannot. – Yours, etc,

M ROSS-MACDONALD

Crinkill,

Birr,

Co Offaly.

Sir, – I read with huge interest Rosita Boland’s “Ireland’s over-60s remember” article (Weekend, August 23rd). I realise some of the stories were sad but it was great to read of people’s lives, knowing that they had survived through lots of ups and downs, disappointments and, in some cases, tragedy. As I approach a similar age, I wonder how many children of exiles might have similar stories.Thank you again for a great read. – Yours, etc,

MARIAN COLYER,

Aylesbury,

Buckinghamshire.

Sir, – Monday’s front-page photograph of the Rose of Tralee and the Down Syndrome Ireland ambassador is a commendable promotion of inclusiveness in our society. One hopes that Richard Dawkins submits to further education on this issue. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL GANNON,

Thomas Square,

Kilkenny.

Irish Independent:

My earliest recollection of Albert Reynolds goes back to the ‘ballroom of romance’ days, when the young entrepreneur with the scattered oily hair and twinkle in the eye, ran a chain of dance halls.

As his career progressed in the entertainment business, manufacturing and, finally, politics, I was in discussion one day with a friend and unthinkingly referred to him as having all the attributes of a “wizard”.

How true it proved to be. He was a person of extraordinary powers – a genius, a magician and a conjurer. Mr Reynolds was a new breed of politician, having initially made a fortune in business.

Even then, at age 45, he had fitted in three seedling years with Longford Co Council, familiarising himself with the tricks of the trade before finally entering Leinster House as a TD.

He was like a shining star, a figure of honesty and integrity, unpolluted by the ways of 
politics.

Thankfully, he remained so until he died, having held ministerial posts, served as Taoiseach and made a noble bid for the Presidency. Mr Reynolds was a man of tenacity with a gambling spirit that was instrumental in bringing about peace between North and South, which we all enjoy today.

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary


Farewell to a man of peace

I have a vivid recollection of a meeting of the Fianna Fail National Executive on December 2, 1993, when I was a young member of the executive.

Albert Reynolds was Taoiseach and President of Fianna Fail at the time. He was chairing the monthly National Executive meeting in his usual business-like and brisk manner, when a senior civil servant sent word that he was needed on the telephone. It was unusual that the leader of the party would be called out of the meeting to take a call. But I didn’t take much notice of it, and the meeting progressed under the chairmanship of the late Brian Lenihan.

Then, about 15 minutes later, Mr Reynolds re-appeared and was back chairing the meeting. He seemed in great form after his telephone call, and – almost as if talking to himself, or talking to nobody in particular – he said to all at the meeting: “That was Major on the line.” (I thought to myself: “Is he talking about Prime Minister John Major?”)

Next, he said: “He is coming over tomorrow for Anglo Irish Talks.” (I said to myself: “Yes, he is talking about John Major,” as the British delegation were due in Dublin Castle the following day to discuss Anglo Irish issues).

After those few words, the meeting resumed to its normal business and Mr Reynolds kept any further thoughts on the Anglo Irish meeting to himself. Of course, it was some time before we got a flavour of the interaction that took place between the Irish and British delegations at the meeting the following day, Friday, December 3, 1993. But we do know now that the meeting was an important step to securing the Downing Street Declaration and the subsequent ceasefires in August 1994.

I have often reflected on Mr Reynolds’s demeanour and mood that night. His body language reflected a man full of confidence, his voice was determined, he was focused and there was a glow of giddiness and excitement about him. He meant business. Mr Reynolds was a man with a mission that night.

Gearoid Lohan, Clane, Co Kildare

Was it my imagination or did I blink during the RTE live coverage of Albert Reynolds’s funeral and realise that no prominent member of the unionist/loyalist community came to Dublin to pay their respects?

What’s more, nobody in the print or broadcast media seems to have picked up on this or understood its relevance. One would have thought that unionists, who were key players at the time, might have at least made an appearance just to acknowledge that Mr Reynolds got the IRA to call a halt in August 1994, something no other political leader had achieved since 1969.

You might have thought that somebody would have acknowledged that there is relative “normality” in Northern Ireland these days, thanks, in the main, to one man? But no. The old saying is true that eaten bread is soon forgotten. What was once thought to be unimaginable is now, it appears, being taken for granted.

What’s more, there was practically no mention in the media of the fact that the National Treasury Management Agency was the brainchild of Mr Reynolds, itself something that was met with initial resistance in the Department of Finance. Things may be bad now, but only for the NTMA, they could be 50 times worse.

Ken Murray, Duleek, Co Meath

Albert Reynolds received a state funeral because he deserved it. Because it can truly be said that this man, ‘unlike the other one’, had done the State some service.

Paddy O’Brien, Balbriggan, Co Dublin

If the life, times and the death of Albert Reynolds shows one Irish trait at its best, it is that one never speaks well of the living – wait until they are dead. He was indeed a great man.

Aidan Hampson, Artane, Co Dublin

Blame Mayo/Kerry for replay

James Woods and Gerald Morgan (Irish Independent, Letters, August 26) take issue with the fact that the All-Ireland semi-final replay will be played in Limerick and not in Croke Park.

There are a few points to bear in mind. First, Kerry and Mayo each have themselves to blame for failing to win the All-Ireland semi-final when they each had the chance to do so. The point of a semi-final in football is to win the game, not to whinge about where any possible “replay” might be held.

Secondly, there were 30,000 empty seats on Sunday; for an All-Ireland semi-final, this would probably have been unheard of only a few years ago. Until the county teams can get their act together and get their supporters to travel to Croke Park to fill it (if such supporters even exist), the GAA cannot be blamed for trying to make up for the lack of regular ticket sales with other initiatives, such as an American football game.

Thirdly, it is worth noting that holding an American football match in Croke Park every year or so means a great deal to many members of the Irish-American diaspora, who relish the opportunity to travel to Ireland for it. We should welcome them, not insult them.

John B Reid, Monkstown, Co Dublin

Wake up to suffering

It is 100 years since World War I, but still the world is full of suffering. Why? Dysfunctional thinking? Living in our heads? Being controlled by our thinking? Can we change? Wake up? Become the present and come back to the here and now? Imagine if every human being could be still for a minute and become truly present and aware, we would stop creating suffering for that minute, irrespective of our views on religion, politics, land, human rights, etc. Before we change the world, we must change ourselves first. By waking up.

Ted Cronin, Tralee, Co Kerry

Anomaly in law not our making

In her article on the Rose of Tralee Festival (Irish Independent, August 25), Martina Devlin is a little harsh on Irish legislators. The bizarre fact that homosexuality was a crime while the law was silent on lesbianism was not the result of Irish legislation. The anomaly was contained in British laws, which still applied here after independence.

John F Jordan, Brussels, Belgium

Irish Independent

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