Sweeping

30 September 2014 Sweeping

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweeping, shopping tidying

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down lamb for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.

Obituary:

Pierre Ryckmans – obituary

Pierre Ryckmans was a writer who came under attack when he exposed the brutal reality of China’s Cultural Revolution to the West

Author Pierre Ryckmans who writes under the name of Simon Leys is photographed at his Canberra home 01 April 1998

Pierre Ryckmans at his home in Canberra in 1998 Photo: AFP/Getty Images

6:45PM BST 29 Sep 2014

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Pierre Ryckmans, who has died aged 78, was one of the first writers to alert the West to what was really going on in Mao Tse-tung’s China during the so-called “Cultural Revolution” of 1966-76.

Nowadays Mao is generally regarded as a tyrant on a par with Hitler and Stalin — worse, by some measures, if “indirect deaths” (starvation due to his policies) are counted in the overall toll. Yet in the 1970s he was the darling of the European radical Left. Ryckmans called them the “100 percenters” — people who supported whatever communist China did or said 100 per cent.

Ryckmans first visited China in 1955 as a student. He subsequently worked in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong before taking up an academic post at the Australian National University in 1970. In 1997 he translated the Analects, the collection of sayings attributed to Confucius, into English.

Initially sympathetic to the communist revolution of 1949, Ryckmans became an apostate in the late 1960s when he observed (from Hong Kong) the appalling brutalities of the Cultural Revolution.

Pierre Ryckmans at home in Canberra in 1998 (AFP/GETTY)

He spent two years in Hong Kong, living a bohemian existence in a rat-infested Kowloon squat, but it was a perfect place from which to observe the terror that was gripping the Chinese mainland. While western visitors to mainland China were heavily chaperoned and shown only the sights the regime wanted them to see, he talked to former Mao supporters who had fled to Hong Kong and read between the lines of the official Chinese press.

Ryckmans soon concluded that the reality of the Cultural Revolution, which sought to eradicate Chinese cultural traditions and Western capitalist influences from the proletarian consciousness (and in which an estimated 1.5 million people lost their lives) was very different from the romantic picture propagated by many Western intellectuals.

By the time he arrived in Australia, writing under the pen name Simon Leys, Ryckmans had just finished The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution (1973, published in France as Les habits neufs du president Mao in 1971). He described the Cultural Revolution (still in progress when he wrote the book) as “Five years of upheaval, of blood and madness”, and likened Western enthusiasm for China’s lack of traffic problems as being akin to praising “an amputee because his feet aren’t dirty”.

There followed Ombres Chinoises (Chinese Shadows, published in English in 1977), written after a six-month stint in Beijing in 1972 as a cultural attaché at the Belgian Embassy, during which Ryckmans witnessed the eradication of much of the city’s architectural heritage. “The destruction of the gates of Peking is, properly speaking, a sacrilege,” he wrote, “and what makes it dramatic is not that the authorities had them pulled down but that they remain unable to understand why they pulled them down.’’

By the time the books were published, the West was enjoying a new love-in with China following Richard Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, an event which inspired a deluge of hagiographical writings about China’s “Great Helmsman”. Ryckmans’s books created a furious controversy by telling the world about wholesale massacres that those involved in cultural rapprochement would have preferred to forget.

The Maoists, especially in France, were furious. “The faithful tracked down my real identity and denounced me to the Beijing authorities,” Ryckmans recalled. As a result he was banned from entering China. When asked by a French chat show host why he had chosen to take on what seemed like the entire Parisian intellectual establishment, he replied with one word: “Chagrin” (grief).

It was just as bad in Australia where, in 1978, he became involved in a bitter debate with the country’s former ambassador to China, Stephen FitzGerald, who had described Mao as a “prophet and visionary” and challenged the “prior assumption … that there is a case to be made against China on human rights”. In response Ryckmans published a paper (included in his 1987 book The Burning Forest) in which he documented human rights abuses under Mao back to the period 1949-52, and attacked sinologists who avoided the word “totalitarian” when describing the Chinese system — a feat he compared to “describing the North Pole without ever using the word ice”.

Even after the Chinese themselves had begun to refer to the Cultural Revolution as the “Great Disaster”, Ryckmans found himself under attack. In 1988 his appointment as head of Chinese studies at Sydney University was opposed (unsuccessfully) by Australia’s former Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the university’s senate on the grounds that closer links were needed with the new China.

Pierre Ryckmans in 1998 (AFP/GETTY)

That was the year before the massacre of Tiananmen Square. In an essay written after the event, Ryckmans observed that mass killings of demonstrators all over China had offered even the most thickheaded a glimpse of the reality. To the Chinese communists, murder had always been “a basic political device’’.

But he resisted the temptation to boast about his prescience: “The idea of sitting atop a heap of dead Chinese bodies to cackle triumphantly: I told you so! I told you so! like a hen that has just laid an egg, is not particularly appealing,” he said.

A couple of weeks later he published an essay in the New York Review of Books in which he used a traditional Chinese parable to try to answer the question why so many “experts” had been so consistently wrong about China. The story concerned a man who was able to recognise instantly whether a person was a thief. “The king naturally decided to give him a position in the Ministry of Justice, but before the man could take up his appointment, the thieves of the kingdom banded together and had him assassinated. For this reason, clear-sighted people were generally considered cripples, bound to come to a bad end; this was also known proverbially in Chinese as ‘the curse of the man who can see the little fish at the bottom of the ocean’.”

Pierre Ryckmans was born on September 28 1935 in Brussels into a well-off, devout Roman Catholic family. A relative was governor of the Belgian Congo; another a monsignor.

He studied Law and Art History at Louvain University, but his life changed when he and other students were invited on a tour of China in 1955, paid for by the Chinese authorities. The trip culminated in an audience with the prime minister, Zhou Enlai, yet Ryckmans was more interested in what he saw of China’s traditional culture. As it was impossible at that time for a westerner to study such things in the People’s Republic, he settled in Taiwan, where he met his future wife, Han-fang Chan.

He later lived in Singapore and Hong Kong before moving to Australia, where he taught Chinese culture for 17 years at the Australian National University and was Professor of Chinese Studies at Sydney University from 1987 to 1993.

After Tiananmen he largely stopped writing about contemporary Chinese politics. Among his other books, The Death of Napoleon (published in English in 1992), a novel in which he imagined the deposed emperor escaping from exile on St Helena and making his way back to France, was adapted into a film starring Ian Holm and Hugh Bonneville in 2001.

In his later years Ryckmans, a tall, donnish figure who remained a Belgian citizen although he lived in Australia, wrote regularly for the New York Review of Books and for Le Figaro, seemingly relishing his role as an intellectual provocateur.

Pierre Ryckmans (AFP/GETTY)

Among other things he savaged Christopher Hitchens for his book about Mother Teresa (“Bashing an elderly nun under an obscene label does not seem to be a particularly brave or stylish thing to do”); attacked Australian universities as having degenerated into a bazaar (“If one thinks of the great teachers of humanity — the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus — one is struck by a curious paradox: today, not a single one of them would be able to obtain even the most modest teaching post in one of our universities”); and declared that “only a moron would wish to attend the Olympic Games’’.

“Life,” he observed, “is a long dialogue with imbeciles.’’

He is survived by his wife and by their daughter and three sons.

rPierre Ryckmans, born September 28 1935, died August 11 2014

Guardian:

Schoolchildren raise their hands to answer a question from the teacher. Not all classes are subject to disruptive behaviour. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments attacking headteachers for bad pupil behaviour are not conducive to finding solutions (Headteachers too soft on unruly pupils – Ofsted chief, 25 September. It echoes his highly critical comments two years ago about teachers who say they are stressed.

We agree that low-level disruption in class is a real problem which must be addressed to help improve education standards, but what is the government doing to support teachers dealing with a range of abilities, ballooning class sizes and longer hours? The application of consistent behaviour policy, and teachers working with parents, is key to tackling this issue, but what teachers really need is sufficient continual professional development and the support of their headteachers, who in turn need to be backed up by properly trained governors.

How helpful is it to keep telling our teachers they are not good enough? Pointing the finger of blame is not the same as providing resources to improve practices. It is time to celebrate all education staff and ensure they have sufficient ongoing training to help them do their jobs effectively.
Julian Stanley
Chief executive, Teacher Support Network Group

• It’s interesting to see that none of the educational experts quoted in response to Ofsted’s report on low-level disruption in schools has anything to say about why children may be doing this. They seem to be taking it for granted that children just naturally behave badly whenever they can.

Maybe we could look at this in a different way? I’ve observed many lessons, most of them brilliant, but I have also seen lessons where the only thing that puzzled me was why the kids were only indulging in low-level disruption, when their time was being outrageously wasted by a boring teacher and often – sad to say – tedious curricular content as well.

Some schools already successfully involve children in the evaluation of teaching. Since this has a hugely positive effect on children’s sense of self-worth and personal responsibility (and hence on behaviour), why doesn’t Ofsted encourage it on a larger scale? Doesn’t it make sense to get feedback on quality from the people best placed to provide it – ie the customers? Sorry, I meant the pupils.
Cary Bazalgette
Former head of education, British Film Institute

• Sir Michael Wilshaw has advocated an increasingly assertive stance towards low-level persistent disruptive behaviour in schools. This will undoubtedly lead to a rise in the rate of children being excluded from school.

The UK ADHD Partnership is committed to improving the future of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We know that 11% of excluded children have ADHD, which is a treatable condition. We have campaigned for children experiencing a second fixed-term exclusion to be screened for ADHD and other underlying mental health conditions.

We believe this intervention might be more effective in achieving Sir Michael Wilshaw’s aims than asking headteachers to get “out of the office and into the corridors”. Furthermore, this would provide an opportunity to benefit “disruptive children” and those who learn alongside them.
Dr Susan Young
President, UK ADHD Partnership

• What a joy to read about a head who obviously likes the young people she teaches (Once every pupil here ended up in prison. Now, without any rules, they have a future, 27 September). Claire Lillis knows that what they wear has no impact on their achievements. She knows that coercion and fear are immediately intuited by children and young people. And the results at Ian Mikardo high school bear out her faith in the 40 needy boys who attend. Ms Lillis, who is unconcerned that children know her first name (often a classified secret) has an enabling and coherent educational philosophy. Would that it were replicated – though, sadly, far too many couldn’t and wouldn’t risk this today.
Anne Reyersbach
London

• Ian Mikardo high school sounds excellent. Strong but flexible and imaginative teachers, and small classes. In some important ways, a bit like Eton. It’s all the places in between that I worry about. If you have the possibility of what the head of Ian Mikardo calls serious incidents constantly in mind, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s concerns about humming and fidgeting may indeed seem trivial. Continuous low-level disruption, though, can be peculiarly insidious and destructive. Claire Lillis wants to promote “oracy” (chatting), which I agree is vitally important, particularly in these times of long-term screen-gazing. But the ability to be silent in class when others are concentrating, and to enjoy and use silence well oneself, should never be underrated.
Louise Summers
Oxford

MF008737 HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. Photograph: Michael Freeman/ Michael Freeman/CORBIS

In addition to FDA approval for Truvada for HIV-positive patients, the World Health Organisation has recommended pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an option for gay men at risk of HIV (Can a new drug help to end 30 years of blighted lives?, 29 September). A process is under way within the NHS to consider its use, and an important research project is investigating how it might be best be provided in England. With about nine gay men a day getting diagnosed with HIV in the UK, we need to implement effectively targeted PrEP as soon as possible and demonstrate that we’re prepared to turn official words in support of prevention into action and funding.
Yusef Azad
Director of policy and campaigns, NAT (National AIDS Trust)

Young Tory activists, party conference in Birmingham. Blue T-shirts: young Tory activists at the 2014 Conservative party conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

I was in Hong Kong watching on TV as the tanks went into Tiananmen Square, having been one of the thousands evacuated from Shanghai a few weeks previously (Hong Kong at a standstill as thousands of pro-democracy protesters flood streets, 29 September). The next morning I was due to meet a group of students, most of whom had been protesting. There was a full turnout of very tired but interesting students. Afterwards their tutor said: “They are just realising they are Chinese.” Now it seems that a subsequent generation has realised what that means.
David Cockayne
Lymm, Cheshire

• Brava on your fantastic article on gender bias on Britain’s stages (23 September). We wanted to point out to Kate Mosse, who “questioned whether a … women-only prize might prove fruitful for theatre”, that the Susan Smith Blackburn prize has been proving fruitful in rewarding and promoting women playwrights since 1978. Last February Phyllida Lloyd presented the 36th annual prize to Lucy Kirkwood for Chimerica and we currently award $70,000 annually to 10 finalists working in the English-speaking theatre (winner $25,000, special commendation $10,000, and other finalists $5,000). For a full list of finalists and winners see http://www.blackburnprize.org.
Alex Kilgore
President, Susan Smith Blackburn prize

• I was amused to see the photo of young Tory activists wearing T-shirts over their shirts (Conservative party conference, 29 September). Could they have been inspired by Steve Bell’s depiction of John Major’s underpants?
Simon Baker
Bath

• So George Osborne plans to freeze working-age benefits (Report, 29 September). It would do the economy far more good if he tackled low-pay employers’ benefit dependency by scrapping working tax credits and introducing a living wage.
Kate Francis
Bristol

• I imagine Brooks Newmark resigned because he broke his own moral code, not anyone else’s (Comment, 29 September).
Bernadette Sanders
Norwich

• There’s nothing wrong with being elderly, but 64 is not elderly (Graffiti painter killed by train, 27 September).
Michael Rank (aged 64)
London

Portrait of Bertolt Brecht (detail) Detail of Rudolf Schlichter’s Portrait of Bertolt Brecht, 1926/27. The playwright spent the last years of his life in East Berlin. Photograph: Corbis

To open his article on German culture (Made in Germany, Review, 27 September), Neil MacGregor highlights a wetsuit used by someone attempting to flee East Germany. This is the equivalent of exhibiting a hood used by British troops in their maltreatment of Northern Irish and Iraqi prisoners as an icon of British culture.

He also equates the two German dictatorships by writing of the “situation under both the Nazis and the Stasi”. It needs to be stated unequivocally that the Nazis were the government of 1930s Germany, imprisoning tens of thousands of political dissidents, torturing and murdering hundreds of thousands of others in concentration camps for racial and political reasons. The regime also carried out a cultural witch-hunt, burning books and demonising “decadent” artists. The Stasi did not run the GDR, it was merely a very powerful security apparatus, but always under the control of the Socialist Unity party. It did not imprison thousands or torture its perceived enemies, even if it was often heavy-handed and unjust. MacGregor also reiterates the incredible, often used, but unsubstantiated claim that “one in three of the population were informing on their friends” to the Stasi. The GDR was a socialist state, even if centrally and bureaucratically governed, and most people lived their lives with little or no relations or connection with the state security services.

MacGregor also writes about Meissen in the same distorted vein: “so the factory set up by August the Strong received commissions to make official portraits of the leaders of the communist East German state”. The factory’s main role in the GDR continued to be to produce traditional first-class Dresden porcelain; it did indeed make small ceramic medallions, but mostly commemorating German cultural figures like Goethe, Lessing and Schiller, and extremely few of communist figures.
John Green
London

• Two of the iconic cultural figures mentioned in Neil MacGregor’s article, Ernst Barlach and Käthe Kollwitz, were celebrated and promoted in the GDR (East Germany), although the former was a committed Christian and the latter a pacifist. I hope the new exhibition in the British Museum and the BBC series accompanying it will not simply ignore the contribution made to German culture by the GDR, as is usually done. After all, two of the greatest theatre men of the 20th century, Bertolt Brecht and the Austrian opera director Walter Felsenstein, worked and produced some of their best works there and were supported and heavily subsidised by the government. And Heiner Müller, one of Germany’s best modern dramatists, was a GDR citizen. The country’s orchestras, under conductors like Kurt Masur, were world-famous for the excellence of their music-making; the renowned tenor Peter Schreier and baritone Olaf Bär also learned their handiwork there. This welcome exhibition should be an opportunity to reassess German culture, but without the distorting lenses of the cold war.
Bruni de la Motte
Aberystwyth

• Neil MacGregor chose a great symbol of postwar Germany, women clearing up the rubble after the war (Trümmerfrauen). As he says, the particular rubble of Dresden was caused by British and US bombing, killing civilians and the city’s phenomenal cultural heritage. Later the Soviet army arrived in a devastated Dresden and, writes MacGregor “removed the entire art collection”. Plunderers and thieves?

In fact all the treasures the Soviet soldiers had found hidden in cellars and water-logged tunnels, often badly packed and damaged, were returned to Dresden in 1956, restored to their former glory by masters in the Soviet Union – including the priceless Sistine Madonna. That should be remembered too.
Georgia Kalla
London

George Osborne at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, 29 September George Osborne delivers his speech at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, 29 September 2014. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Tories have enjoyed attacking Ed Miliband over his failure to mention the deficit in his conference speech (Report, 25 September), but more importantly they fail to mention what is happening to the deficit on their watch. The whole point of Osborne’s austerity was supposedly to reduce the budget deficit. But the data shows it’s actually rising. Last month he had to borrow £11.6bn, £700m more than a year ago, and, despite being forecast to borrow 12% less this year, he’s so far had to borrow 6% more.

When the bankers’ crash erupted in 2008-09, the deficit peaked at £159bn and Alistair Darling stimulated the economy with two expansionary budgets. The deficit fell £38bn in two years. Then Osborne’s austerity kicked in and the rate of deficit reduction halved in the next two years to £99bn last year. This year it seems likely that the deficit will increase to around £105bn. Why? Because if Osborne shrinks the economy – and average wages are already 9% down in real terms since the crash, and still falling – then tax receipts will shrink as well, and if they shrink faster than government expenditure is cut, the deficit will rise, which is exactly what is now happening.

This torpedoes several government claims. That austerity is working; it isn’t, it’s proving counterproductive. That the drop in unemployment is feeding growth and government revenues; it isn’t, the OBR forecast that tax receipts would rise 6.5% this year, but they’ve dropped by 0.8%. And that the government is on track with its (fantasied) “long-term economic plan”. It isn’t, when the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimates that growth is already starting to slow (with third-quarter growth down to 0.6%), manufacturing orders have nosedived, the trade gap is widening to an all-time record, business investment is still flat, and public finances – the heart of the Osborne experiment on the British economy – are now badly deteriorating.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton

Teacher and pupil reading book ‘Avid readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.’ Photograph: Image Source / Alamy/Alamy

Your report (Rise in school literacy attributed to phonics, 26 September) provides evidence only that intensive and “systematic” phonics instructions will produce higher scores on tests of phonics. In the “phonics check”, children were asked only to pronounce words presented in a list.

There is substantial research showing that heavy phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to tests in which children have to understand what they read.

Real reading ability is the result of actual reading, especially of books that readers find interesting. Avid readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.
Stephen Krashen
Professor emeritus, University of Southern California 

• Secure phonic knowledge is only part of the story in successful reading, as all Reading Recovery teachers will tell you. The complex activity of reading does involve decoding letters to make words, but more importantly entails translating those words into a message that has meaning. Children who have difficulties often read as if each word is a separate challenge; they need to be taught to look carefully, listen to themselves – in fact, to monitor their own reading. They are then prepared to stop and correct any errors that do not make sense or sound wrong.

The government’s obsession with phonics may have raised the number of children who can decode individual words. But has it translated into successful readers who read with meaning and enjoyment and are not just “barking at print”?
Anne Ayres
Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire

• Remarkable – more teaching phonics results in better phonics test scores. The comment from Dr David Waugh that “results generally improve once teachers know and understand tests and are able to teach children how to pass them” (Success exemplifies benefits of consistent policies, 26 September) was a bit of a giveaway. We need better evidence before claiming a rise in literacy.
Simon Oxley
Cheadle Hulme

John Starbuck (Letters, 27 September) is too generous to Jack Straw’s stance on niqab wearers. Like Jack, I am a partially deaf MP. Like Jack, I use the phone a lot. Like Jack, I cannot lip-read people on the phone, nor see their expression or demeanor. Neither of us says we won’t deal with people on the phone. It’s inescapable that Jack’s problem is with the niqab, not his capacity to interact effectively with someone whose face he can’t see.
Andrew Stunell MP
Lib Dem, Hazel Grove

• You report (Sport, 26 September) that Real Madrid pays all Cristiano Ronaldo’s tax on the income it gives him. Should this be known as Ronaldo’s paradox? As soon as the club pays his tax, it has handed him new income, requiring further tax. And so on, ad infinitum.
Peter Burke
Bembridge, Isle of Wight

• Whether Britain is responsible for paying unemployment benefit to EU citizens who worked here and are now out of work in their home countries seems somewhat irrelevant (Report, 27 September). If they don’t attend the job centre every two weeks and comply with the erratic and punitive demands of their “adviser”, then they will be sanctioned. Problem solved.
Gwyn Fields
Sheffield

• Once Mr Wilshaw has all pupils sitting straight and silent in class (Report, 26 September), will he issue brain-scanning caps to ensure they’re all concentrating on what the teacher is saying, rather than day-dreaming about what they plan to do when released from prison back to real life?
Averil Lewin
Ely, Cambridgeshire

• Doncaster racecourse last weekend was like young Tory gatherings in the 60s (Report, 27 September). Kangol beret caps and Tootal cravats, and possibly some Watneys Red Barrel around.
Chas Brewster
Boston, Lincolnshire

Independent:

The decision of the Labour Party to introduce a mansion tax (“Tory donors are likely to pay millions under Labour’s mansion tax”, 29 September) ignores the need to correct the injustices of the council tax.

This tax was always understood to be hitting the poorest tenants hardest. Now calculations undertaken for us by the New Policy Institute (NPI) show that it is worse than we thought. During the period surveyed, council tax (Band D) rose by 154 per cent and the average house price in the UK rose by 305 per cent.

Home owners were enriched by a chaotic housing market, but at least they paid their own council tax. Tenants gained nothing; as landlords’ wealth trebled, they made the tenants pay their council tax as well as ever-increasing rents. The injustice worsened in April 2013 when benefit recipients could be required to pay up to 30 per cent of council tax by local authorities. Over the past 10 years of council tax the single adult jobseeker’s allowance increased by 31 per cent, the RPI by 38 per cent, the cost of food by 46 per cent and of domestic fuel by 154 per cent.

Those of us who would like to see the council tax, business rates and stamp duty abolished and replaced with a land value tax, of about 1.0 per cent, note with interest that the average Band D council tax as a proportion of average house prices fell from 0.92 per cent in 1993 to 0.58 per cent in 2013.

Homeowners, landlords and property speculators; you have had your cushy innings of rising house prices and lower taxation. It is now time to love your neighbours by giving way to the benefit-claiming tenants of the UK, in work and unemployment, who are continually impoverished – both relatively and absolutely –  by governmental ineptitude over the past 30 years, and by accepting a progressive land-value tax in the interests of economic and social justice.

Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
London N17

I thought this Government was going to be hard on tax avoidance and restrict tax-avoidance schemes, but yesterday George Osborne has introduced a new loophole that will enable the rich to avoid further tax. Set up a pension scheme to meet your needs as a pensioner, bung some more money into another pension scheme, of course with tax relief on the contributions. Then leave it until you die when your grandchildren will receive these tax-free contributions grossed up. Nice one George!

AB Crews
Beckenham,  Kent

The palaver over a mansion tax is an all-too-convenient distraction for our mainstream parties (report, 26 September). Meanwhile council tax is crying out for reform. It is far too regressive. The answer, of course, is more bands (better still a set percentage of the value of the property) and a long overdue revaluation. It’s been  23 years since properties were valued.

More bands and a revaluation merely redistributes the council tax burden with, in all likelihood, there being more winners than losers. What’s not to like?

Time for courage from our political class.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

The NHS is miles ahead of its rivals

T Sayer (Letters, 25 September) considers the NHS to be “not fit for purpose”. In June of this year The Independent reported the results of a comparison between the healthcare systems of New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Britain and the US.

The comparison, carried out by a US-based foundation, ranked Britain first overall, despite having the second-lowest healthcare costs of all 11 countries included. Britain was first in 9 of 11 characteristics considered, and failed to make the top three only in “healthy lives” which can scarcely be laid at the door of the NHS.

Before we consider discarding the world’s best system, we should be damn sure we have a better alternative.

Ken Campbell
Kettering

After a career of building up community mental-health services in Kent in the 1980s and 90s I recently experienced the impact of NHS cuts on the mental-health services offered to a close family friend. After an initial, serious mental-health crisis and eventual recovery through the services of a crisis intervention team, there was a lack of skilled ongoing support to the patient and his family. This resulted in a repeat crisis 12 months later and admission to an in-patient bed for three months.

This is not just bad mental-health practice; it is economic nonsense. Any “savings” made by mental-health cuts must be set against real costs they give rise to – in this case the cost of a repeat crisis, three months’ inpatient service, lack of employment, and intense family stress.

It is easy to cut services but not easy to build up a workforce of appropriately skilled and committed staff in the mental-health field.

Barbara Tower
Warlingham, Surrey

Congratulations to The Independent for featuring on your front page Harry Leslie Smith, with his eloquent warning on the UK’s possible return to the dark days before the NHS (24 September).

Sally Parrott
Cranleigh, Surrey

Royal society is a club for older white men

The president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, has launched an investigation after the scientific body awarded just two University Research Fellowships to women and 41 to men (report, 25 September). Better than an investigation would be a solution. If the Royal Society were to award grants to each gender in the same proportion as applications from each gender, then there could never be any bias: unless of course you believe one gender to be less able than the other.

Further, since it has been suggested that women in science on average have less self-confidence than their male peers, removing the term “outstanding” from the Royal Society’s grant descriptions (“For outstanding scientists in the UK”) might serve to increase the proportion of female applicants.

These simple acts might prevent the Royal Society from being described as “a club of mostly older white men that every year picks more similar members to join their club” by the eminent American professor Jonathan Eisen.

Dr Louise Allcock
Galway, Ireland

An “Englander” –  and proud of it

It is never long before any expression of the wish to leave the EU and to bring immigration largely to a stop invokes the charge of “Little Englander” (Editorial, 29 September). It is a patronising charge intended to discomfort and embarrass the recipient. I am neither a little nor a big Englander, merely an Englander who wishes to be allowed to continue to live his life immersed in his own culture, with all its foibles and its faults as well as its joys, and not immersed in a melting pot of other people’s cultures, no matter how beneficial that is perceived to be for his own culture.

Edward Thomas
Eastbourne

Tesco’s aggression against rural towns

Chris Blackhurst (27 September) notes that Tesco “for years… maintained an aggressive, cold, superior stance where the media, City, politicians and suppliers are concerned” but omits communities. What about Tesco’s constant and unforgiving, unfeeling, planning applications, over many years, for new stores in the rural market towns of this country, often against significant local opposition?

Chris Lynch
Halesworth, Suffolk

Ordinary customers of Tesco and others like myself inexperienced in the ways of big business must have rubbed their eyes after reading, in your Business section report (27 September), about “payments Tesco demands from its suppliers” with further references to “revenues from suppliers” and “supplier income”. Money flowing in this direction will come as news to many.

Alan Bunting
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

 

What’s Yasmin’s plan for the middle east?

I don’t honestly know whether the bombing of Iraq and Syria will defeat Isis, but something clearly must be done. What I do know is I am fed up with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (29 September) et al saying it won’t work and is wrong without stating what they would do. Perhaps The Independent could take the lead and insist that half of any article critical of the bombings be given over to the author’s alternative plan?

Steve Brewer
Leeds

The Ryder cup calls out for reform

Following the US’s third Ryder Cup defeat in succession and their eighth loss in the past 10 tournaments, isn’t it about time that they were replaced by a Rest of the World team capable of standing up to the prowess of the mighty Europeans (just as Team Europe replaced Great Britain and Ireland in 1979 when the latter were unable to challenge the Americans)?

Patrick Walsh
Eastbourne

Times:

Far from Britain having a lazy and parochial opinion of the past, it has learnt to take the long view

Sir, I am surprised at John Jungclaussen’s view that Britain’s view of the past is “lazy and parochial” (“Germany has moved on. Why haven’t you?” Opinion, Sept 27). My constituency is home to the German war cemetery on Cannock Chase, which young people from Germany and Britain have worked together for 50 years to maintain. We certainly appreciate that the Great War was a catastrophe for all, just as much for Germans who lie in that cemetery as for those of all other nationalities in cemeteries around the globe.

If Mr Jungclaussen had listened to Friday’s debate about Iraq in the Commons, he would have understood the sense of unease about Britain’s role in both the recent past (2003) and the more distant past (the Sykes-Picot “line in the sand”). There was little that was “selective and one-dimensional”.

Mr Jungclaussen says his British friends are in a “permanent state of astonishment” at Angela Merkel’s achievements. They are obviously too young to have known about Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt or Helmut Kohl, all of whom I recall as being widely respected within the UK. Mrs Merkel is simply the latest in a line of impressive German chancellors.

In July I was privileged to sing in a performance of Mendelssohn’s great Lobgesang with the choirs of the UK and German parliaments. It marked two anniversaries — the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and 300 years since the Hanover dynasty ascended to the British throne. If that initiative is an indication that, as Mr Jungclaussen charges, “the British [are] too lazy to take the long view of history”, I fear that he will never be persuaded.

Jeremy Lefroy
MP for Stafford, House of Commons

Sir, It is not so surprising that the British admire Angela Merkel. She is an academic scientist who has had a proper job, is a linguist and a statesman. Sadly, not many of our politicians have even one of these attributes.
Barry Mellor
London N7

Sir, Very little has been said or written about the tercentenary of “the arrival of the German Georges on the British throne”, to which John Jungclaussen referred. The centenary of the First World War has inspired many books; not one has appeared to mark the Hanoverian succession 300 years on. It was not even mentioned in the brief history of Anglo-German relations that you published on September 23. This neglect is extremely regrettable.

The arrival of George I, a soldier- statesman respected across the Continent, put an end to the longest and most destructive period of party political strife in British history. The Whigs triumphed in the general election of 1715, creating an era of political stability marked by a surge of wealth and prosperity. The defeat of the Tories also paved the way for a reduction in the power and pretensions of its close ally, the Church of England, which had been responsible for years of religious intolerance.

It is not too late to make amends. Having arrived at Greenwich on September 18, 1714 , the new monarch was crowned on October 20 in a frugal ceremony at Westminster Abbey that cost £5,000.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

Sir, It always amuses me to read the latest article claiming that Germany has moved on and Britain should follow suit. The latest proponent, John Jungclaussen, was right to suggest that “the collective memory of a nation is inevitably coloured by emotion”. As his compatriot Maurice Halbwachs demonstrated, collective memory is also more often the product of the re-interpretation of past events within the social frameworks of the present than the restoration of any intrinsic meaning these events might hold within themselves. In short, they tell us as much about ourselves as those we remember. We see that again here. Note the sensitivity about the causes of the First World War — a conflict precipitated by German aggression but carefully reframed into a “global war of unparalleled scale” — the collective sense of “achievement” at the fall of the Wall, which is shared by one half of Germany (the former West Germany) but not so much the other (the former East Germany), or the age-old German insecurities over Russian aggression.

All of which suggests that the war Jungclaussen is fighting is not the one he thinks it is; the “annoying, slightly ignorant friend” might be someone altogether more familiar to Jungclaussen than he would otherwise wish.
Daniel James
London SE1

Sir, How lucky for the “lazy, ignorant and annoying” British that whenever we fail to see the world in a proper historical perspective there is always a German Besserwisser to set us straight. The headline to Mr. Jungclaussen’s article states “Germany has moved on”. Evidently, not in every respect.
Alan Sked
Professor of International History, LSE

Sir, Having been married to a German lady for many years I read with interest the feature in Times2 (Sept 29) about becoming a German — until, that is, I saw the picture caption. The “Oktoberfest” has nothing to do with the month of the year (it actually starts in September) but is to do with the place on which it is held. This is the “Oktoberwiese”, which translates as the October Pasture — relating to its origins when the Fest was held on a field.
Alan W West
Burntwood, Staffs

Sir, Neil MacGregor says that 100 years ago “We’d all have read German at school or university . . . we would know about Germany — and all that stopped after 1945” (Sept 23). When I went to grammar school in 1946, German was on the first year’s timetable, and was enjoyed by the class. Music lessons were even more enjoyable, as we all sang Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot and other German lieder at the piano, which gave me an abiding love of Schubert, lieder, and German culture and history. I recently made a pilgrimage to Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig to lay sunflowers on his grave in gratitude for a lifetime’s pleasure, which had its beginnings in that postwar classroom.
William Stacey
Malvern, Worcs

The Barbican gave way to the protesters over Exhibit B. What does this mean for the future?

Sir, Sir Nicholas Kenyon’s reply (Sept 29) to criticism of the Barbican’s cancellation of the superb Exhibit B tells us that if protesters resort to violence they will prevail. From here it is a short route to mob rule — no, it is mob rule. What is the Metropolitan Police’s response? We read of no arrests, just as there were no arrests in Edinburgh when a violent rabble similarly suppressed a play.

Who is fighting freedom of expression’s corner?

Simon Callow

London N1

Forget the much-hyped mansion tax, it’s council tax banding that is crying out for reform

Sir, The palaver over a mansion tax is an all too convenient distraction for our mainstream parties (“A Bad Tax”, Sept 27). Meanwhile, council tax is crying out for reform. The answer is more bands (or better still, a set percentage of the value of the property) and a long overdue revaluation (the last was in 1991).

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

If you are actually eating your meal rather than using your phone, you are in a minority, it would seem

Sir, My wife and I recently enjoyed a week in Majorca where we dined in a series of restaurants. For my amusement, I conducted an informal survey during the week and discovered that seven out of ten couples used their phones while at least one of them was still eating (“iPhone madness is driving me round the bend”, Opinion, Sept 27).

Bernard Kingston

Biddenden, Kent

Is George Osborne’s latest proposal, to scrap ‘punitive’ levies on pensions, fair or unfair?

Sir, Inheritance tax is unfair, its critics argue. It gives rise to double taxation: earnings and interest are taxed, saved, and then taxed again on death.

I wonder if such people will trumpet the unfairness of George Osborne’s latest proposals (Sept 29) whereby those fortunate enough to have spare earnings can place them untaxed into certain untaxed pension plans — and then, on death, pass them untaxed to beneficiaries — whereas those who need all their earnings just to get by with daily living will have no such tax benefits.

Peter Cave

London W1

The success of independent schools ‘is much more attributable to their culture and organisation than to money’

Sir, Richard Harman (Thunderer, Sept 29) is surely right to call for greater appreciation of the success of independent schools, which is much more attributable to their culture and organisation than to money as such.

While Sir Michael Wilshaw generally appears to be doing a good job at Ofsted, he is wrong on academy sponsorship. There is no reason to require independent schools’ charitable efforts to be channelled in one specific direction. We should resist the steady “nationalisation” of the functions of private bodies such as schools, universities, charities and other elements of civil society. We should also bear in mind that every parent who privately schools their children — and it is they who would ultimately pay for compulsory academy sponsorship — is saving taxpayers thousands of pounds that can be put to other uses, including the state schools which should be Ofsted’s concern.

JR Shackleton

Professor of Economics,

University of Buckingham

Telegraph:

Around 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest outside hospital every year Photo: Alamy

6:57AM BST 29 Sep 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – A senior doctor has encouraged paramedics to treat patients in cardiac arrest at the scene rather than attempt to rush them into emergency rooms (report, September 24).

It is sadly the case that many people do not even survive long enough for paramedics to intervene; around 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest outside hospital every year. The skills that may mean the difference between life and death can be acquired in a couple of hours by attending a Heartstart course.

This initiative of the British Heart Foundation teaches emergency life-saving skills, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the correct use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

The British Heart Foundation website (www.bhf.org.uk) gives details of Heartstart and includes a map showing where the schemes are available.

Jill Channing
Guildford, Surrey

Royal etiquette

SIR – My putative ancestor Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, once got his ears boxed by Queen Elizabeth I.

I hope this provides a suitable precedent when David Cameron apologises to our present Queen for his recent “purring” gaffe.

Tony Devereux
Theydon Bois, Essex

SIR – I am surely not alone in thinking that the curtsy is about the ugliest manner with which a lady might show respect to the Queen.

In the days of crinoline and ankle-length dresses it had a certain elegance; but with the current fashion of knee-length dresses, such grace is quite impossible. Even Zara Phillips greeting her grandmother – and Zara would probably be more accomplished than most – gave the appearance of an incipient collapse at the finishing line after a rather gruelling marathon.

J M Reid
Reading, Berkshire

Ta ta for now

SIR – I recently received an unsolicited phone call from the Royal Mint, and in signing off, the caller said, “Laters”.

Where do such meaningless phrases come from, and why is it that so many people embrace them so readily?

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Votes for 16-year-olds

SIR – Proposals from centre-Left parties to lower the voting age to 16 are motivated by self-interest.

One argument put forward by proponents is that lowering the voting age will encourage young people to take more of an interest in political matters. Yet there is nothing to indicate this from general election voting patterns, which consistently show that the younger age groups are less likely to vote than others. Although this was not the case for the referendum on Scottish independence, participation was exceptionally high across all age groups.

Under British law, 16- and 17-year-olds are not mature enough to face adult prosecution in the courts. Why then should they be deemed mature enough to choose our next government?

George Paterson
London W5

Protest at the Barbican

SIR – Bonnie Greer is completely right when she says how regrettable it is that protesters prevented audiences from engaging with the important issues about race and history raised by the installation Exhibit B.

However, she would be wrong to think the Barbican caved in to the mob. We had engaged with the protesters, met with their leaders, understood their concerns, taken part in an independent public discussion and agreed their right to protest peacefully. When the protest turned violent at the opening performances, it was impossible to guarantee the safety of our performers, staff and audience.

Bonnie Greer was not denied the chance to see this show by the Barbican; she was denied it by those who went beyond the limits of reasonable protest.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon
Managing Director, Barbican Centre
London EC2

MPs in residence

SIR – If the old War Office building in Whitehall is to be converted into attractive flats (report, September 23), would it not be more sensible for it to remain in Crown ownership rather than being sold to a developer, and for the flats to be offered to MPs from outside London as their Westminster base?

This would be convenient for them, and would greatly reduce their expenses.

Oliver Barratt
Crosthwaite, Cumbria

In-flight irritants

SIR – Reading that airline passengers will soon be able to use their mobile phones throughout flights, my first reaction was relief that I do not have to fly any more.

The thought of someone next to me saying “Oh I’m on a plane to Abu Dhabi, I’m just about to eat a sandwich” is horrifying. At least on a bus or train you can move to another seat.

Charles Hopkins
London W10

A long line of tradition

SIR – Robert Parker (Letters, September 26), in lamenting the demise of the glass milk bottle, asks whether there are any great British traditions left.

There is a simple answer to that question: the ability to queue peacefully.

Ian Dorey
Guernsey

SIR – One seems eternal: nostalgia.

Sally Lawton
Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Paying tribute to the sacrifices of the war dead

SIR – Carol Harrington’s suggestion that the Tower of London poppies be left for visitors to admire for a few months after November 11 (Letters, September 27) prompts me to ask your readers whether there is an etiquette on the removal of wreaths and similar tributes.

For 10 years I walked daily from Charing Cross to Westminster, past memorials to the RAF, Royal Tank Regiment, Gurkhas and many others. Each year I saw wreaths become sodden and faded as the weeks passed; inked dedications blur to illegibility; real flowers fall apart, and plastic ones become spattered with dust and dirt.

Would it not be more fitting to arrange for such tributes to be removed after a fixed period by those who laid them?

Victor Launert
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

SIR – In all the coverage of the outbreak of the First World War, I have seen scarcely any reference to the remarkable record of the highly professional old British Army – the Old Contemptibles of the Kaiser’s dismissive phrase.

To summon the Reserve and get the British Expeditionary Force to Belgium and into battle within almost three weeks of the declaration of war was an astonishing achievement. For the British, the story of what followed is the inspiring if sometimes hair-raising story of Mons, Le Cateau, the retreat to and subsequent Battle of the Marne, and then 1st Ypres. The story deserves to be celebrated – especially in this particular year.

To declare my personal interest, my maternal grandfather was a reservist with the 1st Hampshires, which came into the line at Le Cateau on August 24. He served through the subsequent campaigns and was killed at 2nd Ypres in the summer of 1915. His name is on the Menin Gate.

William Packer
London SW9

Strictly civil: a couple tie the knot in the town hall of Cahors, south-western France  Photo: REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images

6:59AM BST 29 Sep 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – You report that sham same-sex marriages were on offer just weeks after the law was changed.

The Government knows perfectly well that the marriage laws of this country, already the most lax in Europe, are now abused far more widely than admitted: yet politicians continue to make the marriage visa and all the rights and privileges it bestows ever easier to obtain.

Rather than continuing to tinker at the edges of this problem, it is time for policy-makers to introduce universal civil marriage.

This would enable marriages here to be controlled by fully trained officials who would make the legal record and issue the legal documentation. Couples would then be free to add any marriage ceremony, religious or secular, of their choosing.

John Ribbins
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Sir John Chilcot: the inquiry cost £1.5 million in the last financial year, but is yet to publish its findings Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 29 Sep 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – When the Iraq inquiry was set up, Sir John Chilcot explained: “We will … be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learnt.”

Never have the conclusions of that inquiry been more needed. And yet, other than reporting that the inquiry cost £1.5 million in the last financial year – including £196,000 for “IT and telecommunications” – there has been no update since May.

It may be too much to expect the Prime Minister to learn from history, but it would be helpful to many if the inquiry’s deliberations could be concluded and its report published without further procrastination.

Adrian Scrope
Hungerford, Berkshire

SIR – It seems our ruling elite has not learnt the lesson of the Second Gulf War.

To say that Isil poses a threat to world peace is absurd. They are barely a Third World state, with little military power and even less industrial might. They are not another Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Western intervention will just make things worse. A few thousand Islamic extremists are no match for 36 million Iraqis if they choose to stand up to them.

Mike Banyard
Charlton Adam, Somerset

SIR – The emotional argument for going to war to defeat Isil was aired and accepted by Parliament. The few lone dissenters had strong arguments, but they were ignored.

The theory of winning a ground campaign by air power has severe limitations. It has been done before by the RAF in Iraq during the Thirties, but then there was a strong ground element working in tandem. There has been no suggestion that the Iraqi ground forces are up to such a task.

Here was the opportunity for an Arab coalition to fight their own battle, albeit with Western guidance behind the scenes. Instead we will make the same mistakes again, with the same consequences for our homeland security.

Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France

SIR – How sad it is that our only response to the Isil threat is what will undoubtedly be a futile bombing campaign. The inevitable killing of civilians seems a strange way to defeat terrorists.

Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – The Western media, together with David Cameron, are stating that we are now at war with Isil.

A state of war has a precise meaning under international law. In particular, it can only be declared on another nation state. To connect the term with a terrorist organisation is to accord Isil a status that it craves but absolutely does not merit.

Roger Smith

Irish Times:

Sir, – I am both saddened and encouraged to see Ireland finally exploring the concept of living wages (Carl O’Brien, “The living wage”, Weekend Review, September 27th). As a recently returned emigrant from Vancouver, Canada, where I was a living wage campaign organiser for the last five years, I have seen at first hand the negative consequences that increased low-wage poverty has on all members of society, not just the low paid.

We all lose out due to less money circulating in our local businesses, increased child poverty and homelessness, requiring more costly state supports and eroded community and civic bonds as more people work multiple jobs. This ultimately threatens our future prosperity; as the OECD has concluded, “failure to tackle poverty and exclusion . . . is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on countries’ capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come”.

However, while working on the living wage campaign I was encouraged by the many local and international business I engaged with in Vancouver that recognised the value of paying a living wage and were willing to pay it to all their staff, including contracted service staff.

The US federal government and many local authorities in the UK are also coming up with innovative ways to ensure that no worker receives poverty pay on taxpayer-funded projects contracted to the private sector. There is no reason why the same can’t happen in Ireland. This makes sound economic sense; in 2009 Goldman Sachs reported that increasing the income of people with lower wages has a proportionately larger stimulating effect on the economy than increasing the income of those with high incomes. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL McCARTHY,

Moygaddy,

Maynooth,

Co Meath.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“Death by a thousand cuts – the terrible way we treat our national library and national museum”, September 27th) has highlighted the pernicious impact of unprecedented fiscal retrenchment on many of Ireland’s most important national museums.

A partial solution to this problem could surely be addressed by replicating admission charges levied by similar state-owned museums and galleries throughout most of Europe. With continued free access for students, pensioners, and the unemployed, the introduction of an annual “national museum rebate” for domiciled taxpayers should ensure that the bulk of this new charge falls on overseas visitors rather than Irish residents, and remains compatible with EU law.

While similar admission charges for Dublin tourists to that paid by Irish visitors in Paris, Berlin and Rome will not fully account for Government cutbacks, at the very least it should more than finance the National Library’s absent water sprinkler facility, as identified by Mr O’Toole. – Yours, etc,

MARK WILLIS,

Sanderstrasse, Berlin.

Sir, – Already depressed by Fintan O’Toole’s account of neglect of the National Library of Ireland and the other national cultural institutions in the Weekend Review, I turned to the Magazine in search of light relief and was shocked to see a photo, apparently taken in a library, showing a woman clad in high stiletto heels, balancing on twin stacks of books while dangling another book by its front cover (“Fashion – Fantasy meets finery”). Use of a cultural resource to boost a person’s profile in this manner can mean only one thing – this model is standing for the Seanad. – Yours, etc,

KEN HANNIGAN,

Dunganstown

Co Wicklow.

Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 01:09

First published: Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 01:09

Sir, – This debacle may prove to be a significant watershed in Irish politics. I am heartened to note that individual Fine Gael TDs had the gumption to stand up and question their leader’s judgment in this sorry matter.

Is it too much to hope that more TDs would summon up the courage to put moral principle before blind loyalty to party? – Yours, etc,

GEAROID KILGALLEN,

Crosthwaite Park South,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I read that Enda Kenny has taking responsibility for this “having evolved to what people imagine it is” (“Kenny apologises over McNulty debacle”, Front Page, September 27th). I would love him to enlighten us as to precisely what we are imagining?

Does Mr Kenny think this entire nation floated down on the last cloud? The very least he could do, as Taoiseach, is to afford its people a modicum of respect and courtesy.

As for his party colleagues supporting him and complimenting him on his “honesty” and “putting his hands up”, I know exactly which party I will not be voting for at the next election. No doubt there are many like me who foolishly believed that the Fine Gael party offered us a way forward and would step out of the shadowy world of dirty politics. I should have known better! – Yours, etc,

DEE DELANY,

St Assam’s Avenue,

Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – The best little country in the world in which to do penance. – Yours, etc,

NORMAN DAVIES,

Belton Terrace,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Arthur Beesley reports that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has decided to continue with the levy on private pension funds, which had been due to expire this year “Levy on private pensions set to exceed €2 billion”, Business and Technology, September 25th).

Even by the standards of politicians, this is an act of blatant cynicism. Mr Noonan and his Government colleagues are relying on the calculation that the lobby against this levy is not large and vociferous. We have heard less about it than about the comparatively minor matter of the water charges.

At the same time, thousands of people have been affected by the levy. On a personal note, my pension went down by nearly €800 last year because of the levy. I can live with this, but I shouldn’t have to, having paid into this pension for over 40 years. And it is likely that thousands – a silent minority – have been affected around the country. Is there any guarantee that the Minister will not establish the levy as a permanent fixture? Like the pernicious universal social charge?

I do, incidentally, recall a senior member of the present Government asserting in tones of lofty morality that they would never take money from people’s savings.

Has the Attorney General ever been asked to rule on the legality of this levy? – Yours, etc,

RONAN FARREN,

Avondale Road,

Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter (“‘What if’ history can lead to distortion of past by current political prejudices”, Opinion & Analysis, September 27th) depicts John Bruton’s celebration of John Redmond as an example of “counterfactual history” gone awry.

He reads it an example of conservatives, “driven by a contemporary agenda”, seeking to “rewrite history according to their present-day political purposes and prejudices” and to “lament the passing of the great old order, an order sabotaged by liberals and leftist rabbles”.

In an attempt to minimise the role of parliamentary nationalists, Prof Ferriter makes much of the fact that many of them were returned unopposed to parliament in the 1910 election in which universal franchise had not been extended. But in the celebrated 1918 election with a greatly enlarged franchise, when Sinn Féin replaced the parliamentary nationalists as the dominant political force in Ireland, many of the victors were also returned unopposed and the lack of opposition was in no small part a consequence of intimidation.

Perhaps a clearer picture of the wishes of the Irish people was the polling in June 1922 for the third Dáil when, even in spite of an abortive attempt to control the outcome with a proportionate distribution of places to the rival factions of the incumbent Sinn Féiners, the cause of the peace settlement, that is, the Treaty, showed decisively Ireland’s adherence since to constitutionalism, even if some followed a “slightly constitutional” path. It should bear out Mr Bruton’s celebration of Redmond as a more authentic example of the Irish political disposition than the “minority of a minority” that staged the 1916 uprising. – Yours, etc,

JOHN P McCARTHY, PhD

Professor Emeritus

of History,

Fordham University,

New York.

Sir, – I fail to understand why Dr Brian P Murphy (September 27th) feels that “just rebellion” theory is not applicable to Ireland in 1916. Another distinguished priest-historian thought otherwise.

In a Thomas Davis lecture delivered in 1966, Prof FX Martin of UCD wrote as follows: “Many have wrestled with the problem of formulating a justification for the Easter Rising, but they have not found it an easy task . . . The traditional conditions required for lawful revolt seem at first sight, and even at second, to be absent in 1916. Firstly, the government must be a tyranny, that is without a legitimate title to rule the country. And there are four further conditions – the impossibility of removing the tyranny except by armed force, a proportion between the evil caused and that to be removed by the revolt, serious probability of success, and finally the approval of the community as a whole”.

It is a matter for legitimate debate whether even one of these conditions was met in 1916, and John Bruton is therefore fully justified in raising the issue. – Yours, etc,

FELIX M LARKIN,

Vale View Lawn,

Cabinteely,

Dublin 18.

Sir, – Desmond Fitzgerald (September 29th) lectures us on the mess we have made of our sovereignty, economically and socially, since we liberated ourselves, bloodily, from British rule. Seemingly, we would have been set free without a single nosebleed if we had waited a while! He is right of, course. This land flowed with milk and honey during the centuries when we nursed at the ample breasts of Mother Blighty. A million people did not die and another million did not emigrate during the mythical Great Famine. The peasants lived comfortably, illiteracy was unheard of and there was plenty of hot soup for secessionists. What fools we were to give it all up! – Yours, etc,

SHEILA GRIFFIN,

Blennerville,

Tralee, Co Kerry.

Sir, – In her article “Revised children and family proposals fail to tackle tangled web of family life” (Opinion & Analysis, September 27th), Breda O’Brien is simply incorrect in her assertion that the revised general scheme of the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 appears to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark 2009 case of McD v L. The revised general scheme fully adheres to that ruling because, under its provisions, a same-sex civil partner will not have greater rights than a biological father where her civil partner self-inseminates at home with sperm from a known donor and ultimately gives birth to a child.

This was the case in McD v L and like the biological father in that case, known donors will continue to be able to apply for guardianship and access rights in relation to a child conceived in this manner because the assisted reproduction provisions only enable same-sex civil partners to be treated as the parents of the child where the child was conceived “in a hospital or clinic which provides fertility services”. – Yours, etc,

Dr BRIAN TOBIN,

Lecturer in Law,

School of Law, NUI Galway.

Sir, – I may be wrong. I must be wrong, with so many audience members standing cheering at the end, but unlike them and your reviewer Peter Crawley (“The most dangerous Hamlet ever?”, September 29th), I hated every one of the 165 minutes (no interval) of Schaubühne’s Hamlet at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin.

For me the production was tacky, tasteless, self-indulgent and, worst of all, tedious in the extreme. One particularly horrible moment was when Hamlet picked on an old guy in the audience and harangued him until he stood up. “You don’t still believe in the fourth wall, do you?”, the actor jeered. He then proceeded to mock him for wearing a bag over his shoulder. “What is that? Is it a man bag?” And on and on.

If the idea was to show Hamlet as a total shit, then Schaubühne succeeded admirably; but oh, the poor poetry, murdered along with everything else. – Yours, etc,

SUSAN KNIGHT,

Croydon Green,

A chara, – If Ireland is to become a smoke-free society, there are some simple solutions we need to begin with.

Organisations spend a lot of time and money developing strong relationships with their customers. Therefore, it is such a pity that the first and last interaction many customers have when visiting offices in Ireland is to have to inhale second-hand carcinogenic smoke from their employees who have gathered at or near the entrances to their main buildings.

Whether it’s retail premises, governmental offices, embassies, or major banking and insurance firms, the problem is the same. Companies are often trying to be market leaders and set good standards, and so a prime example would be to stop this poor practice, which will seem so obvious when it’s gone. It’s an easy one to fix. – Is mise,

CLIVE WILLIAMS,

Blood Stoney Road,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Reflecting on Breda O’Brien’s piece on the miracle of Lourdes (“Lourdes pilgrimage a miracle of service and selflessness”, Opinion & Analysis, September 20th), I too have just returned from there, with the Kerry diocesan pilgrimage. The highlights for me were the diligence, kindness and maturity of the students and young adults alike.

While there I could not help but wonder why only men – single and celibate men, the youngest of whom was 50 – are the only people considered competent to say Mass, lead the rosary, bless the sick (and the trinkets bought in vast quantities) and hear confessions. And to a mainly female congregation, I might add.

Women, single or married, and married men, given the proper training, would be equal to the job, in my opinion. That would be the real miracle for me. – Yours, etc,

BREDA O’ FARRELL,

Killarney, Co Kerry.

Sir, – Budget 2015 presents a crucial opportunity to support a real and sustainable recovery – but only if the right choices are made. As the first post-austerity budget, there is much clamouring about which area deserves some respite. Business interests have been loud and clear about what they want – tax cuts for higher incomes. Yet Social Justice Ireland research indicates a decrease in the top tax rate would benefit higher earners only. What would we be saying about our values as a society if we ignored the plight of those catastrophically neglected during the recession and now left behind by the first green shoots of recovery?

One in 10 children in Ireland lives on a low income and without access to basic necessities, according to the latest figures.

Barnardos and the Society of St Vincent de Paul work directly with families who have borne the brunt of the cuts imposed during the recession. They have seen their benefits whittled down, while access to essential services such as healthcare and education has been reduced due to funding cutbacks.

This is the real impact of seven years of austerity measures and efforts to reverse this frankly shaming statistic must be at the forefront of any so-called recovery. Budget 2015 decisions must aim to reverse the damage done to too many families and instead seek to build a long-term, sustainable recovery for the whole of society. – Yours, etc,

FERGUS FINLAY,

Barnardos,

Christchurch Square,

Dublin 8;

JOHN-MARK

McCAFFERTY,

Society of St Vincent de Paul,

Sean MacDermott Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Those who object to religious teaching in schools are surely ignoring the power of inoculation. It worked a treat with our two. – Yours, etc,

M ROSS-MacDONALD,

Crinkill,

Birr,

Co Offaly.

Sir, – I cannot have been the only pupil who looked forward to religion classes as one of the few beacons in a day filled with the crushing tedium of maths and science classes. Crusading atheists, spare a thought for the children! – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA O’RIORDAN,

Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

Budget 2015 presents a crucial opportunity to support a real and sustainable recovery – but only if the right choices are made.

As it’s the first post-austerity Budget, there is much clamouring about which area deserves some respite. Business interests have been loud and clear about what they want: tax cuts for higher incomes.

Yet Social Justice Ireland research indicates a decrease in the top tax rate would benefit higher earners only.

What would we be saying about our values as a society if we ignore the plight of those catastrophically neglected during the recession and now left behind by the first green shoots of recovery?

One in 10 children in Ireland live on a low income and without access to basic necessities, according to the latest figures.

Barnardos and the Society of St Vincent de Paul work directly with families who have borne the brunt of the cuts imposed during the recession. They have seen their benefits whittled down, while access to essential services like healthcare and education has been reduced due to funding cutbacks.

This is the real impact of seven years of austerity measures and efforts to reverse this frankly shameful statistic must be at the forefront of any so-called ‘recovery Budget’.

Budget 2015 decisions must aim to reverse the damage done to too many families and instead seek to build a long-term, sustainable recovery for the whole of society.

Fergus Finlay, Barnardos, Christchurch Square, Dublin 8. John-Mark McCafferty, Society of St Vincent de Paul, Sean MacDermott Street, Dublin 1

The familiar whiff of cronyism

It seems that the old, familiar whiff of political cronyism has caught up with us again.

The Taoiseach’s rather clumsy attempt to fit a ‘friendly’ into a Seanad seat, with all the sophistication of an ageing, past-it prizefighter, should be seen as a proverbial mine-canary, keeling over at the mouth of Irish democracy. But it won’t be. Instead, too many will shrug their shoulders with an “ah sure, aren’t they all the same?”

Too often, we view such ‘stroking’ as a perk of political office. Worse still, I fear, too many political representatives view ‘getting one past’ onlookers as a show of political machismo, or even through that peculiar Irish lens of ‘cute-hoorism’.

However, the stroke the Taoiseach has perpetrated, in pressing a newly appointed cabinet minister into doing his bidding, on the way to placing another patsy into parliament, should be seen as the very kind of behaviour that has tainted Irish public life since the foundation of the State.

The greatest malaise of all doesn’t come in the form of dramatic actions, but rather, to coin a phrase, through a thousand crony actions, which will eventually combine and give us our next, predictable, generational economic collapse.

Declan Doyle, Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny

 

Climate change is a genuine threat

Ian O’Doherty in his piece ‘Selling myths and taxes to a frightened world’ (Irish Independent, September 26) once again concedes that climate change is a reality but equivocates as to its cause.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2014 report concludes that human activity is extremely likely to have adversely affected our climate on a planetary scale.

The hundreds of geophysicists that compiled this report are not zealots or fundamentalists in the religious sense of the word. They couch their arguments in unemotive, clinical, scientific terms, endeavouring to peer into our meteorological future, not our souls.

These scientists genuinely strive to predict trends and establish facts. They do not peddle ‘myths’ or casually alarm the global public.

Why should we be so sceptical of the same scientific establishment that has created the wonderful, high-tech civilization we enjoy? An establishment we normally profess such confidence in.

If we ignore its warnings or deny its findings we are conniving in an ecological catastrophe.

We will be complicit in a moral crime against posterity through apathy and the consequent inertia that O’Doherty’s cynical attitude entails.

On the issue of climate change and how we must address it, I am unashamedly a zealot, a fanatic, a proselytizer. In the face of an existential threat to humanity, I feel it would be inhuman to be otherwise.

Kieran Rogers, Dundalk, Co Louth

 

Doomsday headlines

Back in June you ran a headline: ‘Half of the emperor penguins could be wiped out by the end of the century due to melting sea ice.’

But nowhere in your paper do you mention that on September 19 this year, the five-day average ice extent in the Antarctic surpassed 20 million square kilometres (7.72 million square miles) for the first time in the 33-year satellite record. No doubt if the sea ice was decreasing, we would hear all about it in doomsday banner headlines.

I’m not for or against either side of the climate change debate but just looking for balanced reporting in an area where wrong decisions could have catastrophic effects on our own and the global economy.

Fintan Ryan, Borris, Co Carlow

 

Darwinism is just a theory

The increasing debate concerning creation vs evolution has been heating up worldwide. I find this wonderful, as Darwin only presented a “theory” and Intelligent Design is hard to fathom.

When faithfully following Darwin’s line of thought, Darwin’s modern-day disciples contradict his own theoretical reasonings!

Man has always been one of the most populous ‘animals’ in the world, and, is said to have migrated out of Africa and around the world. Where, then, is the trail of skeletal/fossil remains of the many “missing links” in all the various stages of transition, from ape to man?

When you consider the vast tracts of land sadly being cleared today, and areas being re-developed, and all the incredible modern detection and analytical technologies available, why haven’t all the “missing links” been discovered in great quantities?

The truth is that neither Darwinism nor Intelligent Design can be scientifically proven.

Howard Hutchins, Victoria, Australia

 

Hyperbole and trouser mishaps

The Taoiseach should know that when you are caught with your pants down the last thing you should do is to hold your hand up.

If you do it too often, people will inevitably notice that your pants are still down.

He should also try to avoid the hyperbole that can arise from using the word “outstanding”.

There are thousands of people in the country with similar backgrounds to the unfortunate Mr McNulty.

At best, the word is “appropriate”, not “outstanding”.

John F Jordan, Killiney, Co Dublin

 

The taxpayer must pay – again

In response to Simon O’Connor’s letter (Irish Independent, September 29) regarding the lack of care for the water infrastructure here over the past many years, I would like to remind everyone that the general public bear no blame for this.

Taxes were paid but the decision to ignore water services and many other urgent needs was made by successive governments, who preferred to spend on items which boosted their own profiles and pockets.

Yet again, the taxpaying public is being made to pay for their folly.

Avril Hedderman,  Stillorgan, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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