6 October 2014 Laptop died
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the drive my Samsung laptop died
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Jean-Claude (‘Baby Doc’) Duvalier – obituary
Jean-Claude (‘Baby Doc’) Duvalier was Haiti’s ‘president for life’ whose 15 years of misrule ended in ignominious and extravagant exile
Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, president of Haiti, in 1982 Photo: AFP/GETTY
11:45AM BST 05 Oct 2014
Jean-Claude (‘Baby Doc’) Duvalier, who has died aged 63, was proclaimed Haiti’s president for life aged 19 on the death of his father, François (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier. Under pressure from the United States to moderate his corrupt and dictatorial regime, he made a show of introducing reforms, though little changed; in 1986, following anti-government demonstrations, he fled into exile in France.
Jean-Claude Duvalier was born in Port au Prince on July 3 1951, six years before his father came to power in a presidential election. François Duvalier’s leadership was hailed as a new beginning for Haiti. The ruling classes had always looked to Paris; and Duvalier, as a black descendant of slaves, seemed to offer a new sense of national identity and pride.
The honeymoon was short-lived. Recognising the popular appeal of voodoo brought by the slaves from Africa, he recruited a private army, the sinister Tontons Macoutes (Creole for “bogeymen”) to hold the population in submission through a combination of terror and magic. Protected by the Americans, who saw him as a buffer against Fidel Castro, Duvalier killed anyone who opposed him and established himself as a cult leader and president for life.
His son Jean-Claude had an early taste of Haitian political life in 1963, when there was an abortive attempt to kidnap him from his school. In reprisal, his father was reported to have ordered the execution of 100 people, including 65 army officers. Transferred to the St Louis de Gonzaque School, Jean-Claude was later sent to Europe for further education and finished off his studies at Haiti University. Though tubby and slow witted — one of his nicknames at school was “baskethead” — he miraculously passed all his examinations and even secured a diploma (the equivalent of an American junior college degree) at the age of 18.
As his father became ill with heart disease, diabetes and incipient insanity, the country was asked to endorse Jean-Claude as his heir, and in 1971 Haitians approved his selection with a vote of 2,391,916 to one. “The simple people of Haiti, the black peasants living in poverty, all needed someone to defend them,” he recalled later. “They needed a new Papa Doc. I had been chosen by Destiny for that role.” On April 22 1971, the day after his father’s death, Jean-Claude Duvalier took over as president for life.
‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier with his father, ‘Papa Doc’ (REX)
He began by naming a cabinet chosen by his father which included his mother, Simone, and his imperious older sister Marie-Denise. For the next nine years Simone Duvalier, “Guardian of the Sacred Torch of the Revolution”, was the real ruler of the country, providing her clueless son with backbone as he resisted the harassment and humiliation meted out by Marie-Denise. On several occasions his mother had to intervene to prevent him from resigning and fleeing the presidential palace.
Under her influence, a semblance of normality returned. In response to American pressure, some of Papa Doc’s former cabinet ministers were replaced and a number of political prisoners freed. Debt repayments recommenced, tourism returned and foreign aid poured in from America, Canada and France. Substantively, though, Jean-Claude’s rule did not markedly differ from his father’s. Much of the foreign aid — some estimates suggest $500 million — found its way into the Duvaliers’ private coffers. Ordinary Haitians continued to live in the most abject poverty.
Towards the end of the 1970s, Duvalier fell under the spell of the tempestuous and sophisticated Michele Bennett, and when they married in 1980 Bennett had “Maman Simone” expelled from the presidential palace. From then on the corruption that characterised the Duvaliers’ rule became an open scandal. In 1981, with the country close to bankruptcy and the IMF withholding credit, a shipment of nine million tons of “rice” — in reality powder and dust — arrived in Port-au-Prince, where it was left rotting on the quayside. The rice, ordered from Burma, had been imported by Michele Bennett’s brother Ernest, who had raked off $3 million of the $6.5 million contract.
‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier and his wife Michele on their wedding day (AP)
Discontent with the regime erupted in food riots in 1985, which were brutally suppressed by government forces and the reinvigorated Tontons Macoutes. In one weekend alone 400 people were believed to have died in the violence. Amid rumours that he had fled the country, Duvalier appeared on television promising to redress Haiti’s “unequal and shocking” distribution of wealth, and assuring Haitians that their president was still “strong, firm as a monkey’s tail”.
But by February 7 1986, amid further rioting, it was clear that the game was up. The last thing Duvalier did before his abdication was to throw a champagne party at the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince to bid farewell to friends. At 3am he fled into exile on board an American military aircraft, pausing on the way to dig up his father’s remains in an eerie voodoo ceremony and, it is alleged, remove several hundred million dollars in cash from the central bank.
In Paris, Duvalier was greeted by angry Haitian protesters and by an embarrassed French government which told him that he could stay for no more than six days. For many years the French government said Duvalier’s stay was only temporary, and it blamed Washington for landing them with him. Eventually they opted to forget about him, both the French Foreign Ministry and the Haitian embassy claiming to have no idea where he was.
At first Duvalier lived in regal style with his wife, his two children and his mother at a luxurious villa on the French Riviera, next door to Graham Greene’s. While successive Haitian governments tried without success to retrieve the looted millions, Duvalier and his family bought a chateau outside Paris and two apartments in the city, drove BMWs and Ferraris and shopped at expensive boutiques.
When, as part of an investigation into the Duvaliers’ finances, the authorities raided the Riviera villa, they caught Michele Duvalier trying to flush a notebook down the lavatory. The notebook contained details of her recent spending: $168,780 for clothes at Givenchy; $270,200 for jewellery at Boucheron; $9,752 for two children’s horse saddles at Hermes; $68,500 for a clock; and $13,000 for a week in a Paris hotel.
Duvalier, meanwhile, was to be seen in Riviera nightclubs with a succession of glamorous escorts, one of whom complained that “even though Baby Doc had arthritis and high blood pressure, he wouldn’t leave me alone… I’ve never been so tired in my life.” His penchant for passion and pornographic videos did little for his marriage, and in 1990 Michele, having spent much of the money, left him for a local businessman. When they divorced in 1991 she won custody of the children and most of the remaining cash.
Duvalier clung on at the villa, with his mother, until 1994, when he was evicted after failing to pay the rent. His mother died in 1997 and he later lived with a girlfriend in a borrowed two-room apartment in one of the grimmer suburbs of Paris. He was said to have discovered a new interest in solar panels.
Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier on his return to Haiti in 2011 (GETTY)
In January 2011, with his companion Veronique Roy, he returned to Haiti, saying that he wished to assist in the reconstruction of his country following the devastating earthquake of 2010. He lived quietly in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Since his return, attempts to bring him to justice for human rights abuses and corruption had made little progress.
A chain-smoker of Dunhill cigarettes, Duvalier died of a heart attack in Port-au-Prince. He often claimed that Haiti had been better off under his rule, and when asked what mistakes he had made, observed: “Perhaps I was too tolerant.”
Jean-Claude Duvalier, born July 3 1951, died October 4 2014
‘Never mind the Depression, Wales has never recovered from the depredations of the 80s and never will until it rebuilds a higher-skilled and higher-paid economy,’ writes Martin Barclay. Photograph: Photolibrary Wales/Alamy
Instead of exhorting Wales to “wake up” as a would-be nation-state, Simon Jenkins (Journal, 30 September) should himself wake up to the fact that Wales is not some homogenous Celtic region; nor is it especially distinctive from large parts of England. Here in north-east Wales, for example, the cultural and economic links with north-west England are much stronger than the ones we have with south Wales. From Wrexham, we can be in Manchester and Liverpool within an hour (which is why so many north Walians work there). By contrast, a journey from Wrexham to Cardiff takes at least three hours, while the road journey to Pembrokeshire is comparable, in travel time, to a flight across the Atlantic.
If the liberal-left is serious about a more federal UK, it should examine the case for devolution within, as well as for, Wales – and ask whether parts of eastern Wales would fit more naturally into regional assemblies based in western England. Or does Welsh devolution rest ultimately on emotion rather than any rational, secular case for regional governance?
• I would argue that much of the upturn of speaking Welsh in Cardiff and other “anglicised” areas of south Wales is not because of any “discrimination in favour of Welsh-speakers in government jobs”, but rather, because of, in particular, the excellent education available through Welsh-medium schools in the capital and beyond. Having worked considerably with Welsh government civil servants across a number of departments, I’ve yet to come across anyone who has seemingly attained their position through an ability to speak Welsh. Indeed, in my experience, many senior civil servants have actually hailed from outside Wales.
Equally importantly, over the last 25 years since I returned to live here, I have noticed a greater acceptance of Welsh among the majority Anglophone population and, moreover, an enhanced desire among many of them to understand and learn more of the language and its related rich culture, which has again contributed to the upturn.
Yn eiddoch yn gywir.
• The Scottish referendum has given Welsh leaders their chance for parity of representation for both England and Wales if they press for an English assembly, elected on proportional representation, with the same powers as the Welsh assembly in health, education and planning, to replace the House of Lords, leaving the House of Commons, with control over taxation, as the real upper house.
As Simon Jenkins points out, the long border with England is permeable, and parts of mid and north Wales are more closely linked to large English conurbations than they are to Cardiff. The total population of this “nearly nation” is similar to larger Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester, which each have one chief executive and one director of education, compared with 22 of each in Wales. This Tory legacy of a disastrously top-heavy system of local government means that, after the austerity cuts devolved from Westminster, there is no money left for vital services, despite council taxes being rebanded to make the top rate higher than Westminster. Wales remains dependent on an annual subvention of £15bn from the UK Treasury that makes independence a financial non-starter.
Failure to reband council taxes in England has reduced local government to implementing Tory cuts, euphemistically called “localism”, but Wales could lead the way for England through a reform of local government that elected two AMs per constituency, one to be in charge of directly elected mayors for each borough, serving a maximum of two terms so that it does not become a job for life.
The union with Wales is almost two centuries older than the union with Scotland, but an English assembly would provide the federal structure required for all the constituent parts of the UK to go forward together in harmony of equal representation.
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan
• Simon Jenkins touches on the bleak attitudes of many Welsh people towards their culture, language, English incomers and domination from England, stating that “Where the nationalist will is strong, nothing is impossible” regarding the possibility of Wales becoming an “autonomous unit”. This lack of self-belief is the crux of the current situation, where the Welsh language is so often mocked and its speakers derided and scorned, the rich cultural heritage is scoffed at or ignored and its illustrious forefathers and current ambassadors in all fields are played down as an embarrassment. English incomers are indeed often more worthy of being called Welsh than those who perceive their roots to be Welsh as they embrace the language, explore the beautiful landscapes and acknowledge and engage in the wealth of literary and cultural opportunities. The apathy and indifference of so many to the richness of this wonderful country could well be the greatest potential downfall of Wales. If we are to survive and prosper as a nation we urgently need to cast aside the self-inflicted shame and start to value ourselves as richly diverse Welshmen and women who can offer so much to ourselves and the world.
Cathey Owen Cousins
• So, according to Simon Jenkins we need to get rid of those lower-class caravans spoiling the view and get more Michelin stars in order to keep Wales safe for middle-class tourists and wealthy metropolitans wanting to buy bijou cottages in pretty little villages (if we are lucky perhaps some of them will marry our daughters!). Meanwhile we should shut up about the low-skilled, low-paid, part-time jobs in the tourist industry and stop complaining about the distribution of government cash.
Even for a professional controversialist this is low stuff. Pointing out that whole industries were deliberately destroyed (coal) and run down (steel) by fiat in Westminster, without being replaced, is not “whingeing”; it is setting out some hard economic realities. Never mind the Depression, Wales has never recovered from the depredations of the 80s and never will until it rebuilds a higher-skilled and higher-paid economy. We have no oil but UK and other governments were happy to fuel their navies with Welsh steam coal at the height of the imperial project; Welsh steel was used to make rails for the trains that carried British goods from Russia to South America; migrants from around the world flocked to work in Wales, which had the densest railway network in the world, per head of population.
As soon as these things could be got cheaper elsewhere, there was no further use for them – or for the people who worked there, leaving Wales (still) with higher rates of unemployment, industrial disease and disability than anywhere in the UK, with the possible exception of north-east England. That is why we need a proportionately higher level of expenditure on health and benefits than England; that is why the Barnett formula is unfair. This is not the “politics of grievance” – it is the politics of survival, literally for some, and this is before the cost of rebuilding a social and economic infrastructure, ravaged by Thatcherism, is taken into account.
• I am surprised Jenkins made no mention, of the “black hole” of economic imbalance created by the resident Tafia of Cardiff, and relocation of services and culture (eg BBC and S4C studios from Swansea and Llanelli) to the administrative centre. Perhaps Scotland is fortunate in that Edinburgh and Glasgow are connected by an excellent road and rail link of a mere 40 miles, and political diversity is healthily dispersed between these two vibrant centres.
• After many years of professional life in England a return to my native south Wales coincided with the birth of Welsh devolution and while there is little with Simon Jenkins’ piece with which I would take issue, it is important to see the “slumbering dragon” in an historical context. To do so is to perhaps appreciate both the psychological and economic mountain which the dragon has been obliged to climb.
The so-called Act of Union of 1536 between Wales and England openly spoke of the annexation of the former by the latter and for 500 years the clear intention of government in England has been to treat Wales in every respect as a part of England, completely ignoring crucial differences in culture and in the Welsh pattern of historical development. This is reflected in the dramatically different devolution settlements afforded to Wales and Scotland respectively. For the Scots it was a question of “if it’s not out, it’s in” with Scottish government and parliament operating from the outset in all areas except those specifically reserved to the UK government and Westminster. In Wales, we were obliged to operate on a basis of “if it’s not in, it’s out” and have been playing catch-up ever since.
I’m not sure that the reasons for such devolutionary disparity between the two mainland Celtic nations have ever been given: was it the very slender initial Welsh majority vote or an innate reluctance on the part of the colonial power to release one of its “colonies”?
When the Welsh assembly was only four years old, it received what amounted to a vote of confidence by the Richard commission, compounded in 2011 by a substantial majority who voted in favour of primary law-making powers.
I do not belong to a political party but feel that the corollary of Simon Jenkins’s essay may be conjoined with the explicit message afforded us by an outstanding Scottish referendum campaign, namely, if you want successfully devolved government – don’t elect a unionist party to govern you.
Thomastown, Rhondda Cynon Taf
• So the Welsh language is a key factor in keeping the Welsh people trapped in poverty and backwardness? It is only through fully embracing the English language with its attendant entrepreneurial spirit that they can be saved from their self-imposed chains argues the writer.
I seem to have heard this “line” somewhere before. It was in fact the analysis adopted by Victorian governments of Wales and its language in the aftermath of the Merthyr rising, Chartist insurrection, Rebecca riots etc.
This government-imposed attitude would in time lead to the brittle pride and fierce self- loathing exhibited in Simon Jenkins’s father’s views on his home country, its culture and language.
Who exactly is forcing what down someone’s throat here? It looks like more of the same old cultural imperialism on offer. Let us rather look at the massive exploitation that capitalism inflicted on Wales – and other industrial parts of these islands – for explanations as to our current crises.
It is the City of London – and subsequently a myriad of tax havens – that reaped and still reap the benefits wrested from these lands.
• “Wake up, Wales” read your front page banner for Simon Jenkins’s excellent essay. As an Englishman who is more than happy to live in Wales, I would say in return, “Wake up, Guardian”, for it is English institutions such as yourselves that treat Wales as a “nearly nation”. You never report on Welsh politics, rarely report on Welsh news and events, and you downgrade your coverage of Welsh sport. Look at how much space you give when England plays – pages of it; and compare it with your coverage when Wales play – it is so small, you’ve got to look hard for it. You cover English rugby union in full; you give no space at all to the Guinness Pro12. It is no wonder that there is a narrative of grievance and resentment. For yourselves, you need to become a truly British and not just an English newspaper.
It is true that the railway to Cardiff is not electrified, but it is still only two hours away from London. So come, and come a little more often than even Simon Jenkins does.
Retired senior lecturer, Centre for Language and communication research, Cardiff University
So, Rio Ferdinand feels let down by Kick It Out (Report, 3 October). He would do well to consider the issue a little more carefully. First, a man of principle might compare his monthly salary with the annual income Kick It Out receives from footballing bodies. Second, he might reflect on what he and his fellow professional footballers do as individuals to promote equality (few are prepared to stand up to racism, never mind the homophobia and sexism within the game). Third, he might look a little closer to home. West Ham United, Leeds United and Manchester United have not managed to achieve even the preliminary level of the equality standard for professional football clubs. QPR achieved that last year. No doubt Rio will be working hard to make sure they progress to the intermediate level. Instead of lashing out at others, he might usefully make himself a flagship for equality in football.
Professor Jonathan Long
Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure, Leeds Beckett University
Nick Clegg addresses delegates at the Lib Dem conference. ‘As a possibly typical Labour supporter, I find the idea of hitching up with the Liberal Democrats fills me with deep revulsion,’ writes Giles Oakley. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Gaby Hinsliff is correct that it’s no good blinkering ourselves to the likelihood that no single party will command a majority after next year’s election, and that thought is needed now about credible coalition partners (Opinion, 3 October). But we should not underestimate just how difficult that will be. As a possibly typical Labour supporter, I find the idea of hitching up with the Liberal Democrats fills me with deep revulsion. It’s hard to get past their broken promises and numerous betrayals of their own finest principles in propping up the Tory-led coalition, with its self-defeating austerity measures and demonising attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, not to mention the un-mandated restructuring of the NHS.
If we are truly entering an era when no party can win a working majority, there is an alarming possibility that we’ll end up with the Lib Dems perpetually in office, backing the Tories one year and Labour the next, repeatedly abandoning whatever ideals they are supposed to represent, just to stay in power. If that happens, it will surely increase the numbers of people who despair of “Westminster” and party politics in general because they are all the same. Let’s at least have the debate about coalition partners before the election, not afterwards, as happened in with 2010’s undemocratic stitch-up.
• Gaby Hinsliff mentions Australia’s Julia Gillard and Canada’s Stephen Harper as leaders who have run minority governments. Closer to home, Alex Salmond and the SNP ran a minority government while holding under 40% of the seats in the Scottish parliament between 2007 and 2011. If David Cameron or Ed Miliband find that they have to consider minority government, I’m sure Alex Salmond would be delighted to offer his advice and guidance now he’s at a loose end.
Dr Jim MacRitchie
Managing director of John Lewis, Andy Street. ‘What would happen to a John Lewis store employee if they engaged in an ignorant rant about the French while on duty?’ asks Richard Lynch. Photograph: Rui VieiraPA
I wonder what would happen to a John Lewis store employee if, like their managing director, they engaged in an ignorant rant about the French while on duty (Je m’excuse: John Lewis boss forced to say sorry as anti-French tirade causes outrage, 4 October)? I suspect they wouldn’t have to wait long before being charged with gross misconduct and probably getting the sack. I also doubt that saying je m’excuse would do them much good in a company which demands that the actions of employees be “powered by our principles”.
GMB Union rep, London
• Shame on you for promoting cheap, climate-changing flights (Travel, 4 October) when one can get to Beziers and Girona in a day from York by train. If it costs more, instead of promoting such expensive “bed and breakfast” establishments, why not tell us about the really cheap and clean budget hotels that exist all over Europe. Many of us simply want somewhere to have a good night’s sleep and a shower before moving on or sightseeing. We are not looking for endless pampering and fancy toiletries.
Janice Gupta Gwilliam
Malton, North Yorkshire
• I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and came across “purred” (Higgins telling his daughter how he would fight Boucher), a word currently causing some mirth (Report, 1 October). From the notes I discover the meaning of this word (in northern dialect) to be “clog fighting”. David Cameron please note.
Dorridge, West Midlands
• What happens when Grace Gelder gets fed up and wants a divorce (I married myself, Family, 4 October)? She’s going to have one hell of a fight with herself.
Carole Cadwalladr is absolutely right when she points out what is basically wrong with our political establishment. It is so disappointing that working people, apart from a very few notable and worthy examples, are no longer represented by MPs from their ranks (“How passion has been purged from politics – along with ordinary people”, New Review).
Ministers and shadow ministers no longer feel they need to have any background knowledge in the departments to which they are appointed. I was a teacher and a few years ago I remember having a conversation with a student who asked who was in control of education in the country. At that time, it was Michael Gove. Her response was: “Well, he must have been a brilliant teacher to get to that level!”
Today, it seems the greater the power ministers have, the greater the ignorance they have about the department they are leading. In the DfE, not one minister has a background in education or went to a state school. Cadwalladr is also spot on about the rank-and-file person who wishes to represent constituents and is ignored in favour of media-friendly candidates who have more time, money and celebrity status to pursue their candidacy. The media are partially to blame for that.
Party politics is ruining us and the elites need curbing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A radical but simple reform, allowing the quinquennial election of a government from among political parties, the nomination of local councillors and MPs from electoral rolls and removing the power of appointment to the House of Lords from political patronage, would break the nexus of power centred on Westminster.
If a clearly unsatisfactory democracy is to be revived, effective authority must go to citizens who are outside party control. All of us have a duty to serve as jurors, drawn randomly from the electoral role of our constituency. If that duty extended to fixed-term participation in local and national government, the rot that now infects the Commons could fade.
Politically inspired legislation coming from an elected government would be debated and decided on by those whose country this is – mechanics, fishermen, lawyers, postal workers, doctors, academics, actors, musicians, farm workers, the whole grand gamut –not directed by professional politicians with PPEs and the like. No more whips. And when their term finishes, they return to their careers.
Opening up an historically sanctioned closed shop will be hard. An unpredictable, randomly politicised chamber of diverse experience would require careful management. Many will not want to take part. Long debate is needed. But consider other benefits. Regional parliamentary centres, online debating chambers, the government in London (or Birmingham or Manchester or Bristol or wherever) and the House of Commons dispersed.
Carole Cadwalladr’s article on the relationship between “real working-class people” and the Labour party suffered from a serious lack of objectivity as well as the danger of taking “vox pop” as gospel. The Orpington Labour party was attacked for allegedly manipulating the procedures for the selection of its parliamentary candidate to favour the successful applicant. The integrity of the selection committee was called into question without the chance of reply. I can confirm that all the normal procedures and practices were followed, with an external observer overseeing the operation. Had the Orpington Labour party been contacted we could also have corrected several basic errors of fact.
The definition of “real working class’”(itself never easy) was left blowing about in the wind, dependent entirely upon unchecked self-assertion.
Chair, Orpington Labour party
The problem with David Cameron’s pledge to hunt down the “ruthless, senseless and barbaric” killers of Alan Henning and the other Western hostages is that one of the main reasons for the situation we find ourselves in with the Islamic State is that this is exactly how they see us – ruthless, senseless and barbaric killers who rain down destruction from the skies without a qualm.
What, really, is the difference between the public execution of a hostage and the indiscriminate annihilation of nameless, faceless targets at the centre of a grainy computer screen, blown to smithereens without trial from the safety of a drone operator’s den?
Though we do not see the effect of such attacks on the ground, the consequences are just as painful, especially when the busload of terrorists turn out to be guests on the way to a wedding party. We are told that the targets are “terrorists”, but that is no consolation for the families of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No war can ever be clean, but there is something peculiarly distasteful, even racist, about the disjunct between the way “strikes” on targets in Syria and Iraq are shown almost as if they were video games, and the outrage that erupts when one of our “own” is shown being killed.
None of this detracts one jot from the horror of the actions that are being taken by IS, but if we are ever to find a solution to this “generational struggle” we have to stop radicalising more young kids with acts that may be invisible to us, but seem equally barbaric to them.
If “apocalypse Islam” founds itself on a gut-reaction against westernisation, then it is a cruelly self-deluding notion. Financed by an oil industry based on western inventiveness, it uses the latest western technology to fight its wars, explode its bombs and disseminate its cause on the world media. The exceptions are beheading and the slave trading of women – no western technology is needed for those.
A lesson from Finland
The letter about education from Sue Cowley and others (4 October) reminded me of my experiences on a recent day spent in Helsinki.
I was struck by how many children aged between three and 10 years we saw out on excursions with their teachers. Wearing hi-vis jackets, they were wandering down streets, playing in parks and riding on trams.
Two little girls on a tram, aged about seven or eight, were leaning over the back of their seats, talking to a Finnish lady. When she got off, they started talking to us. When I said: “We are English and don’t speak your language,” they had a short fit of the giggles, then started to talk to us in English. It was impressive enough that they were able to talk in a second language, but their confidence and their social skills, developed at such a young age, were truly amazing.
The Finns provide nursery and pre-school education as a right, give teachers substantial autonomy in how they teach, provide effective individual tutoring to help children who are falling behind, keep classes to no more than 20, refrain from teaching reading until the child is seven, and believe that the most important skill a child can develop is understanding how to learn. The Finns regularly come at or near the top of international educational achievement tables.
Is it too much to ask that our educational masters show at least a minimum ability to learn from others and, in the process, give childhood back to our children?
Headley Thatcham, Berkshire
Why I should pay more to cut the deficit
I entirely agree with Andreas Whittam Smith’s views (2 October). I very much hope the Tories win the next election, or at least are the largest party. I think they have the best economic policies, but why do they continue to make the worst-off in our society shoulder most of the further reductions in the budget deficit?
I am a self-made retired businessman paying higher rate tax (HRT) and I suggest people in my fortunate financial position should share in reducing the deficit for a short period for everyone’s longer-term benefit. For the next two years, why not temporarily reintroduce 50 per cent and 60 per cent tax bands and suspend the winter fuel allowance for HRT payers?
I think politicians have a moral right to ask us to do so, and the political advantage gained should be an election winner.
The cost of reducing population growth
Two letters on population today (1 October), full of half-truths. No one is “preaching to the poor” or “telling” poor families what to do: nor is anyone advocating “control”.
But look at these facts. Two hundred and twenty million women have no access to modern contraception (UN). Over 40 per cent of all pregnancies are unintentional: the consequence is that there are 42 million abortions annually, of which 20 million are unsafe: 68,000 die as a result. Two hundred thousand women a year die as the result of a pregnancy they did not want. Is that a satisfactory situation?
As for some people opting for big families as insurance or labour, you cannot say someone has chosen a big family if they have no facilities to make an alternative choice.
The reduction of fertility is certainly possible, and has been achieved in a number of countries using entirely non-coercive methods: however, other countries are too poor to put such schemes in place, and their populations are growing quicker than they can provide services for them.
And yet the amount of international funding for family planning is pitifully small – equivalent to about a tenth of Goldman Sachs’s bonus budget.
The great tax disc website crash
So farewell then tax disc, hello website crash.
UK government agency computer failures are an enduring traditional feature of British life, as predictable as the rain: the Passport Office, the UKBA, the UKRC, the NHS – and now the DVLA. The Brits do not, it appears, do information technology very well.
The conversion from the paper disc to the online system would have been expensive and its maintenance will also be expensive. We could save this expense quite easily. Why not scrap vehicle taxation altogether and increase the tax on fuel?
The vehicle tax is regressive – a driver who drives one mile a year pays the same as the driver who drives 100,000 miles a year. Isn’t it more sensible that those who cause the most pollution and damage to the roads should pay the most? There is a very efficient fuel tax collection mechanism already in place – when the Chancellor raises the rate in his Budget, the tax is applied almost before he sits down.
The French do it this way. But then they are better at logical thinking than the British, who prefer the sort of ramshackle lash-up we saw last week.
Lipa City, Philippines
Time running out in ebola fight
The Independent is to be commended for reporting daily on the Ebola epidemic, when there have been other international crises competing for space. Charlie Cooper’s analysis (“Should we be worried?”, 3 October) is confirmed by this charity’s partners in Sierra Leone.
In our namesake township of Waterloo, with a population of about 40,000, the number of deaths mushroomed from two to 130 in just four weeks, a much higher rate of increase than that reported by WHO. Today we have provided water and basic food supplies for the 400 quarantined people in the town, but our small community charity cannot sustain this activity indefinitely.
The international response must include targeted food aid, and an ongoing health education campaign to reduce disease transmission, as well as the radical strengthening of the health services in this Commonwealth country, already one of the poorest in the world. Time is rapidly running out.
Dr Fred Nye
Chair, The Waterloo Partnership UK
Elementary facts about Holmes
I was interested in Tim Walker’s piece on the recently found film of William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes (3 October), but he credits Gillette with too much. The use of a syringe and of a magnifying glass, and the violin-playing, all come from Doyle himself; the deerstalker was introduced by Sidney Paget in his illustrations for “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” (October 1891); and even the word “elementary” occurs in “The Crooked Man” (Strand magazine July 1893):
“‘Excellent!’ I cried.
“‘Elementary,’ said he.”
The Conservative party’s plan to enact a British bill of rights is proving controversial
Sir, Leaving the European Convention on Human Rights would make it even harder for the UK to justify retaining its permanent seat on the UN Security Council (Oct 3).
All UN members pledge themselves to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights”. Telling Strasbourg that either we pick and choose which judgments we like, or we leave, would undermine the rule of law and the protection which international law gives individuals.
Leaving such a major human rights treaty, because we do not like its court’s decisions, would weaken the authority of the UK to criticise (and take) UN Security Council action on grave human rights violations that threaten international peace and security.
Geraldine Van Bueren, QC
Professor of international human rights law, Queen Mary University of London
Sir, The Lord Chancellor’s proposal to replace the Human Rights Act with a new British bill of rights should be carefully considered, particularly in the light of the Scottish independence referendum.
The current Human Rights Act applies to the whole United Kingdom. It cannot be amended or repealed by the Scottish parliament. This could cause problems if, as would seem likely, the Scottish parliament decided to “opt back” into the Human Rights Act in Scotland. Paradoxically, the new bill of rights would have two options. First, it could remove the power to “opt back” from the Scottish parliament — this would be politically unacceptable given promises made during the referendum, in my view. Alternatively, the new bill could create a new two-tier system of Convention rights for UK citizens. This might well lead to a scrabble, as citizens outside Scotland would find ever more ingenious ways to bring claims in Scottish courts. Similar issues would arise in Wales and Northern Ireland, no doubt.
Thomas More Chambers, London WC2
Sir, The Conservatives’ proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a bill of rights is of deep concern. When the bill of rights was proposed in 2011, the Law Society questioned its necessity and emphasised the need to promote the existing Act, not replace it. The society stands by its initial response.
The Human Rights Act ensures that the rights included in the European Convention on Human Rights are enshrined in UK law. The convention was established following the Second World War to protect the rights of the people, over the powers of governments. Human rights should never be used as a political tool.
Andrew Caplen President, the Law Society
Sir, What Chris Grayling’s threat to remove the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights amounts to is the strengthening of the powers of the state, the weakening of the powers of the judiciary and consequently a more secretive and malign state more inclined to act in its own interests than that of the citizen. Those who believe in a free press and accountable government should fight the Grayling proposals with all their energy.
Martin Roche Canterbury
Sir, I have a clear recall of receiving firm instruction to judges that there must be no criticism of the human rights legislation sent to us in the 1990s by the Lord Chancellor’s Department at the time of the debate and its subsequent introduction into the criminal system. Nor can the part played in its imposition by Lord Irvine of Lairg and his disciples in Doughty Street, together with the influence of a small band of judges in the Administrative Court, be underemphasised.
It is refreshing, therefore, to note that the misgivings recently expressed by the president of the Supreme Court, and the former Lord Chief Justice, are now being taken up by David Cameron and Chris Grayling, and that hopefully the rights of society as a whole, together with the true wishes of the British electorate, will be restored to the precedence which they deserve.
His Honour Barrington Black
Sir, Young men and women are reported to be running away to join the caliphate (“Girl, 15, ran away ‘to join Isis fighters’ ”, Oct 1). We hurry to label them as jihadists and fear their return to the UK as potential terrorists. Yet young men, and sometimes women, have run away and joined an army or a movement throughout history. They went to fight in the Spanish civil war, join the Foreign Legion, and in India became Maoist rebels. We need to treat the runaways as a social problem which we have to solve. To cast them all as terrorists is to fail to understand that they are idealists. If we cannot share their idealism, let us at least learn how to find out what it was that led them to choose Islamism rather than other ideals. The Home Office should initiate serious research.
House of Lords
Sir, The Muslim Council of Britain would like to make clear that we have opposed — and continue to oppose — extremism (“Ministers urged to work with Muslim ‘extremist’ groups”, Sept 22). We are a democratic, broad-based body, with affiliates belonging to most traditions of Islam: Sunni and Shia, Sufi and Salafi. We are all concerned about the extremism that is blighting our communities.
Muslim Council of Britain
Sir, Helen Rumbelow is a little unfair in confusing the dedication of dental professionals with the zealotry of moral crusaders (Notebook, Oct 3).
Under-resourced and over-regulated, our dentists are walking a tightrope, trying to provide the best care for their patients while trying to hold back the sometimes debilitating (but nearly always preventable) disease that is tooth decay. Now we discover that one in eight three-year-olds has decayed, missing or filled teeth. The dentist chair is no pulpit, but it offers one of the precious few opportunities to emphasise the key messages that simply are not being delivered elsewhere. But yes, that script does need changing. Dentists would welcome a new relationship with a focus on prevention — something which the current dental contract does not fully allow.
British Dental Association
Sir, The British may know their onions but they definitely don’t know their mushrooms. I have lived here for 40 years but have only ever read about the negative side of mushroom collecting, never the pleasure these jewels of nature bring (“Mushroom poisoning cases soar as clueless foodies answer call of wild”, News, Oct 3). For 26 years I prepared wild mushrooms and truffles in my Neal Street restaurant, which was the mecca of this delicacy.
Britain needs its schools, nature trusts, television companies and other establishments to bring clarity and expertise to the subject. Fungi, by their very nature, are one of the most important elements in the ecological chain — without them life literally would be impossible.
Why cannot Britain educate its population — as the rest of the world does — so that they can enjoy “the quiet hunt”, as Mikhail Gorbachev calls it?
Sir, Richard Monkhouse of the Magistrates’ Association says: “On diversity, I don’t think we have a problem” (Law, Oct 2). He rightly points out that magistrates are more diverse than other parts of the system (such as senior judges) — but they should be representatives of the people and are not. They are less representative today than in 1989. Eighty-five per cent are over 50, and some areas have no magistrates under 40. Ethnic representation is way behind the population. Our research found that sitting magistrates were particularly concerned that working-class JPs were few and far between.
The system relies on public trust in judgment by peers. If magistrates become less representative, that trust may be undermined.
Director, Transform Justice
Air pollution in China kills some 250, 000 people a year Photo: AFP/Getty Images
6:56AM BST 05 Oct 2014
SIR – Christopher Booker says we are wrong to worry about climate change (“Dreary climate summit was surely their saddest fiasco yet”, Opinion, September 28). However, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that we should be worried, and that we need urgent effective action if we are to prevent disaster.
Of course, Mr Booker is right that the latest climate change summit will fail. Calls for big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions always fail, because they require changes to people’s lifestyles, which governments know are politically unacceptable.
Instead we need to remove greenhouse gases, rather than trying and failing to stop them being emitted. They can be removed as they are produced – carbon capture and storage – or taken out of the atmosphere later – carbon scrubbing or planting more trees.
SIR – Leonardo DiCaprio displays an odd set of values.
In last week’s Sunday Telegraph we saw him lecturing world leaders at the UN General Assembly on climate change, while five pages later we learnt that he had put his name down for a joyride into space – a trip which will surely consume a vast amount of energy.
Keep Kids Company
SIR – The major children’s charity Kids Company – run by the inspiring Camila Batmanghelidjh – is apparently in danger of folding by the end of this year due to a lack of government funding.
This charity supports 36,000 vulnerable children in London, Bristol and Liverpool. So far it has survived on the generosity of donors such as JK Rowling and Coldplay, as well as modest sums from the general public (myself included).
If it folds it will be a terrible stain on the Government’s record in this area and nothing less than a scandal.
The upside of e-voting
SIR – Contrary to David Mannering’s suggestion that postal voting be restricted (Letters, September 28), the Government should actually extend the principle by allowing people to vote electronically.
E-voting would yield bigger turnouts, allow people to follow the debate through to its final days, encourage young people to engage in politics and produce more accurate counts. Other countries do it: why can’t we?
King Richard displayed a great ability for thoughtful governance as Lord of the North
Mark Rylance as Shakespeare’s ‘bottled spider’ Richard III: yet the monarch’s reputation seems unwarranted Photo: Geraint Lewis/Rex
6:59AM BST 05 Oct 2014
SIR – I fear Karin Proudfoot (Letters, September 28) has indeed “missed something” when she dismisses Richard III’s abilities as king.
Had Richard not been betrayed at Bosworth, England would have enjoyed the thoughtful, firm and – for the times – enlightened rule of a monarch who had already demonstrated a great ability for just governance during his tenure as Lord of the North.
Garforth, West Yorkshire
SIR – Karin Proudfoot’s view of King Richard is at odds with that of Lord Campbell, Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice in the 19th century, who wrote, “We have no difficulty in pronouncing Richard’s Parliament the most meritorious national assembly for protecting the liberty of the subject … since the reign of Henry III.”
Under Richard, jurors were required to be holders of freehold or copyhold land of a certain value. This measure ensured they were less open to bribery or intimidation and led to fairer trials. Rules on bail were extended to include those not yet indicted: previously innocent suspects could be deprived of goods, property and tools, leaving them destitute.
The hated practice of benevolences – whereby the monarch could “ask” for money gifts – was ended. Custom duty on books from Europe was abolished, and with them came further education.
Richard’s Council of the North enabled northern problems to be addressed locally without recourse to London: an idea that is still being fought for to this day. These are just some examples of Richard’s support of the common man.
M J Dickinson
Bradford, West Yorkshire
The resignation of Mark Reckless has threatened the British people’s opportunity to vote to leave the EU
7:00AM BST 05 Oct 2014
SIR – The theatrical resignation of Mark Reckless, the Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood, has threatened the British people’s only opportunity to vote to leave the EU, which he believes is in the best interests of the British people.
He has therefore put his ego ahead of his country. Members of the public respect politicians who put the national interest first, which is what the Prime Minister has done over Scotland.
I therefore predict a Conservative majority Government in 2015.
SIR – Many former Conservative party members, myself included, long ago transferred allegiance to the UK Independence Party as the one party fighting to restore British sovereignty.
Tory party membership under David Cameron has fallen from half a million to around 100,000 and continues to shrink.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
SIR – I gather that Sir Bill Cash MP’s son, William Cash Jnr., has followed Mark Reckless in defecting to Ukip.
To paraphrase Wilde, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to smile.
R A McWhirter
SIR – In 2010 you reported that Mr Reckless was too drunk to vote on the Budget.
Legless and Reckless: he is the perfect candidate for Ukip.
South Warnborough, Hampshire
SIR – The defections are bad for David Cameron but rather worse for the defectors.
Nigel Farage, to whom they are defecting, is even less convincing than Alex Salmond, who is now gone.
Bembridge, Isle of Wight
SIR – David Cameron has accused those who defected to Ukip of lying to voters and told them: “We are coming for you”.
He may find that the electorate feels much the same way about him by next May.
SIR – David Cameron showed his intolerance in his rant against defectors.
At least these MPs have demonstrated that they believe in something – which is more than Mr Cameron does.
SIR – The unfortunate Brooks Newmark, the MP for Braintree, is in the unusual position of having been driven from a ministerial position over a sex scandal where there was no sex.
Mr Newmark’s actions were foolish, but all that he is guilty of is human weakness. Surely in the 21st century we should not judge a public figure by his legitimate private conduct.
Though not a criminal, he is still being persecuted: not for his actions, but for his thoughts.
East Goscote, Leicestershire
SIR – As one of Mr Newmark’s constituents, I am intrigued to know why he did not stop to consider why an “attractive twenty-something blonde” would want any picture of a balding, middle-aged father of five, let alone the one he sent.
The fact that he did not smell a rat is surely an even greater lapse of judgment. Vanity, thy name is a millionaire male politician.
SIR – Of course Brooks Newmark had to resign: he wears paisley pyjamas.
SIR – The Conservatives must realise that Nigel Farage’s interests are best served by a Labour victory at the next general election.
A win for the Conservatives and the subsequent 2017 In/Out referendum would remove Ukip’s reason for existing. The people will have spoken, and Mr Farage’s self-aggrandisement will be at an end.
Sir, – Your editorial “Fairness for farmers” (September 26th) recommends a “fair [price] return” and collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure we maximise the long-term potential of the agriculture sector.
Meat Industry Ireland members support your call for collaboration across the sector. The beef sector in particular, from farm through to processing and export, remains one of the most important indigenous industries in the national economy, supporting in excess of 70,000 beef farmers, 10,000 processing jobs and export earnings in excess of €2.1 billion.
You also refer to a need for a “more equitable relationship and a fair [price] return” between producers and processors. It is often implied that the processing sector enjoys an unfair return. Data published by the Central Statistics Office consistently confirms that the meat processing sector is an extremely low-margin business.
Nevertheless Irish meat processors have invested significantly in modern processing facilities to ensure high levels of efficiencies which allow them to compete on a global basis. Efficiency is a critical factor at all levels of the supply chain.
Our members collaborate directly with their farmer suppliers on a regular basis and with other sector stakeholders through initiatives such as the Better farm programme and through the provision of funding towards meat research, animal health and breeding projects. This collaborative effort needs to be further enhanced through initiatives such as the Beef Roundtable Forum recently established by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, where all stakeholders have the opportunity, at regular intervals, to discuss many items such as beef consumption, market developments, on-farm efficiencies, breeding programmes, margin support measures, etc.
While producers are understandably concerned by the 12 per cent reduction in prices in 2014, beef prices have increased by 40 per cent in the period 2009 to 2013. The weakening in prices this year is due to an increase in production and a fall in EU consumption which is forecast to recover in 2015.
An independent report (the Dowling report) into the beef sector was commissioned earlier this year and was published in June. The report contained many recommendations which warrant active consideration by all parties and all aspects of the report need to be addressed with equal prominence. Meat Industry Ireland, on behalf of the beef processing sector, has issued a comprehensive response to the Dowling report, specifically in relation to the recommendations that required processing industry input. These include a commitment to further improving communications with producers through provision of additional information and clarity on remittance documents; further flexibility with regard to the issue of heavy carcase weights; increased use of supply contracts to provide guarantees to producers who finish animals over the winter period; protocols on the notification to producers with regard to the specifications required by the marketplace; margin and profitability at farm level are critical but very clearly are not solely determined by price. High prices do not necessarily deliver high margins. This is clearly evident from the low producer profitability figures for 2013, which coincided with a record high level of prices for cattle. Therefore the other recommendations in the Dowling report on breeding, on-farm production efficiencies and animal health programmes must also be tackled. – Yours, etc,
Meat Industry Ireland,
Ibec, Dublin 2.
Sir, – Arthur Beesley ought to be commended for tackling the thorny issue of debt dynamics facing Ireland over the medium term (“Long march to debt reduction has only begun”, Business Opinion, September 26th)
Small open economies must manage their economies prudently through the entire cycle by integrating fiscal, financial and economic policy in a holistic and tailored manner.
EU institutional frameworks need to be fit for crisis management duties by having at their disposal an extensive array of ready-made instruments to mitigate systemic risks adequately.
Both of these policy responses are indispensable in warding off future large-scale crises.
Thus, while it is welcome to see the independent fiscal council making recommendations for better policy outcomes, the final responsibility lies in the good governance of policymakers at central government level, as well as their counterparts in the EU, based on long-term strategic planning.
A final observation on the large stock of debt that Ireland owns. It is likely even still that the gross outstanding amounts of public debt may have to be rescheduled further in the near term, as it is simply implausible that the country will grow at sufficiently high growth rates to lower the debt/GDP ratio in accordance with EU edicts.
As a further note, the most important statistic is not the ratio itself, yet the total stock of debt – a point which Minister for Finance Michael Noonan et al are no doubt aware of and making appropriate scenario tests to best manage this decidedly sub-optimum economic fact. A rather inconvenient truth indeed! – Yours, etc,
Glasnevin Avenue, Dublin 11.
Sir, – May I reply to the letter of Felix Larkin (September 30th) concerning an earlier letter of my own in regard to the “just rebellion theory” and the 1916 Rising? I agree with Felix Larkin that Prof FX Martin was a “distinguished historian” and I also agree that Prof Martin accurately summarised the principles of the “just rebellion theory”. However, he has failed to address the main point of my argument: namely, that the first principle of the theory – “the government must be a tyranny, that is without a legitimate title to rule the country” – applies to the civil order inside a sovereign state and not to a sovereign state which is ruled by another country. Ireland’s situation came into this latter category – in scholastic terminology it was ruled by “an alien usurper” – and other principles and conditions were applicable in that case. Summarising the scholastic views on “an alien usurper”, Alfred O’Rahilly wrote, in October 1920, that “the subsequent relationship of usurper and nation is essentially a state of war . . . and in these circumstances each individual is free to commit acts of war on the unjust invader of his country”. He also maintained, in September 1916, that it was justifiable to take such actions against an alien usurper, even if there was no reasonable hope of success.
He based his argument on the example of the martyrs of the early church stating that “to condemn an uprising merely on the grounds of consequent loss of life and property, would betray a singular blindness to the spiritual realities of life”. O’Rahilly remarked that “if a conflict is otherwise justified, it does not become morally wrong simply because it is likely to end in a technical defeat” and he quoted the poet Milton: ‘The greatest gift the hero leaves his race Is to have been a hero. Say we fail! We feed the high tradition of the world, And leave our spirits in our children’s breasts.”
Clearly there will be no unanimity on the “just rebellion theory” but it may be possible to agree that the examples of Redmond and Pearse, in their diverse ways, helped to reveal the true character of British rule in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Dr BRIAN P MURPHY, OSB
Murroe, Co Limerick.
Sir, – Ireland has a considerable history of water fluoridation. It is 50 years since fluoridation of the water supplies began in this country. Time for the considerable advantages in terms of improvements in oral health to be demonstrated and, in parallel, time during which there has been no documented medical side-effects of water fluoridation.
In the time since water fluoridation was introduced here in Ireland, the population has benefited from improved oral health services, greater access to fluoridated toothpastes and better nutrition.
As a consequence, a decision was made, after scientific review, to reduce the level of fluorides in the water supply as in other countries.
This is in recognition of these other sources of fluoride and to minimise the side-effect (flecking of teeth) seen when small children eat fluoridated toothpaste while living in fluoride areas.
The benefits of fluoridation are not inconsiderable in terms of all costs. While the population, both adults and children, have benefited from the consequent improvements in oral health that fluoride confers, the benefit to the health service in terms of a reduction in costs of the burden of dental disease and its management, not to say the considerable benefits to families in quality of life as a result of days free of dental pain and no loss of days at work or school in dealing with dental abscesses, are considerable.
Dental disease is one of the commonest, preventable diseases yet the country invests significant amounts of money in dealing with the consequences of that disease. Fluoridation has been proven to have significantly benefited the population thus allowing scarce health service resources to be directed towards acute life-threatening conditions.
No other health-promoting measure has been exposed to such scrutiny and been given an ongoing, clean bill of health. As a measure, water fluoridation has been recognised by the US Cancer Society, as well as the Royal College of Physicians, both here in Ireland and the UK, as being both safe and effective as well as without side effects over decades of vigilance.
We note that the most recently published expert peer-reviewed analysis by the Royal Society of New Zealand finds “there are no adverse effects of any significance arising from fluoridation at the levels used in New Zealand” (ie levels higher than in Ireland). “In particular, no effects on brain development, cancer risk or metabolic risk have been substantiated”. The American Dental Association “unreservedly endorses the fluoridation of community water supplies as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay.”
As parents as well as oral healthcare professionals, we acknowledge these endorsements and continue to advocate one of the few truly cost-effective public health measures this country has known, for the good of all, children and adults. – Yours, etc,
Prof JUNE NUNN,
School of Dental Science,
Trinity College Dublin;
Prof MARTIN KINIRONS,
School of Dental Science,
Cork University Dental
School and Hospital;
Dr JOHN WALSH,
Faculty of Dentistry,
of Surgeons in Ireland;
Dr PETER GANNON,
Irish Dental Association.
Sir, – Gerard Manners (September 27th) is quite right to highlight the activities of the Dublin Pipers Club (founded in 1900), and of one of the activists involved, his relative Pat Nally. Nally seems indeed to have had a selfless devotion to Irish music and, for instance, was the one who brought to the attention of Dublin pipers to the phenomenal Martin Reilly, whose piping caused a sensation when he was brought to Dublin to play for the feis ceoil in 1900.
However Mr Manners’s letter does not give the full story. For a start the Dublin body was not the first pipers club to be established in Ireland. That honour belongs to the Cork pipers, who got together in 1899. Nor was that 1900 Dublin Pipers Club very long-lived, as it had ceased to exist before the outbreak of the first World War. A tentative restart in 1919 was cut short by the repressive measures of the Black and Tans, which singled out Irish cultural activities for special attention.
The Irish Union Pipers Club was established in Dublin’s Thomas Street in 1921, but this effort was, again, frustrated by the military realities of the Civil War. In 1940 Leo Rowsome, the mainstay of uilleann piping for most of the 20th century, decided to try again and established Cumann na bPíobairí Uilleann, which became well known through its Saturday night sessions at its Thomas Street premises. In 1951 that club took the initiative that led to the foundation of the all-Ireland traditional music body Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and subsequently functioned as a branch of that organisation.
Seventeen years later, however, pipers were still concerned that the unique Irish bagpipe seemed destined to follow the Irish harp into oblivion, and, at a general meeting of pipers in Bettystown, Co Louth, in 1968, decided to establish a new organisation for pipers – Na Píobairí Uilleann (NPU). Comhaltas had had a hand in convening the 1968 gathering, but probably did not anticipate that the pipers would go on to establish their own independent association.
Leo Rowsome, the moving force behind several of the previous organisational initiatives, was at Bettystown and was an enthusiastic supporter of the establishment of the new body, and he and Seamus Ennis were acclaimed as the first patrons.
So, in defence of Frank McNally’s account (An Irishman’s Diary, September 24th) of the progress of that odd species – piperus hibernicus – it can be fairly claimed that NPU is the legitimate descendant of the previous organisations, but also, and more significantly, the most successful.
We have been established since 1979 in a Georgian house in Henrietta Street (a ruin when we occupied it but now completely restored). We have have promoted the appreciation of Irish piping to such an extent that there are now an estimated 6,000-plus players of the instrument worldwide, from Tokyo to Havana to Kuala Lumpur. A great deal of the credit for these developments must go the Arts Council, which has been supporting us since the 1980s. – Yours, etc,
Na Píobairí Uilleann,
Henrietta Street, Dublin 1.
Sir, – The income gap between those at the bottom of the pay scale and those at the top continues to grow, and it is apparent to all that current systems of wealth redistribution and work incentivisation are failing badly.
Increasing the minimum wage across the board in a small, open economy seems counterproductive. The argument is that if you increase the wages of those at the bottom, you will increase their spending power. Logic dictates that any improvement will be temporary and in the long term damaging to employment prospects. If employers improve the rates of the lowest-paid workers by X, then presumably they must also increase the salaries of workers up the scale by a similar amount to preserve relativity. With the wage bill thus increased, employers must seek to regain competitiveness by either raising prices or cutting costs, and perhaps staff levels. Meanwhile vendors of high-demand items, like rental properties, will be able to charge more. The resultant inflation will quickly cancel out the wages increase, but the effect of making Irish goods and services more expensive internationally will linger, at best restricting growth or at worst resulting in business failures and increased unemployment.
An economy is a complex eco-system in which apparently simple actions have subtle and non-obvious consequences. Surely there must be a cleverer way to help the working poor? – Yours, etc,
Phibsboro, Dublin 7.
Sir, – My two daughters attended their routine dental check-up at their local HSE health clinic three weeks ago without any problems highlighted and I naturally assumed all was fine. However, we have just returned from their annual check-up here in Belgium (as we spend our summers here) and were appalled (and quite frankly embarrassed) to learn they require a half dozen fillings on their permanent teeth! My Belgian dentist was equally appalled on learning that HSE policy was not to fill cavities if there is no pain. One does not need to be a specialist paediatric dentist to know a decayed tooth will soon infect a neighbouring one, and go on to infect another, and so on.
If the HSE wants to run its dental service on a shoestring budget (even as I question the utility of such a service if it is not treating children’s teeth properly) dentists have a duty of care to at least advise parents or guardians that treatment elsewhere should be sought where problems exist. I would strongly recommend to parents to get their kids’ teeth checked privately or to go abroad, as I paid the same dental fees as a Belgian citizen (€7 per filling) under the E111 health scheme which entitles all EU citizens to avail of similar medical services in that country and which is not strictly limited to medical emergencies. – Yours, etc,
Knocklyon, Dublin 16.
Sir, – I read with interest Seán Moran’s article “Cody ungracious to insist on having a final say in the aftermath of latest triumph” (October 1st).
He describes a disinclination to accept rules and their enforcement and effective contempt for objectivity.
This is a great insight into Irish society. You could take out the reference to Gaelic games, and the article could be applied to Irish society and published on your front page. – Yours, etc,
Following the decapitation of yet another innocent captive, how can the world rely on useless bombing to smoke out a most barbaric sect who are so blatantly getting their way?
We live in a world where corrupt capitalism is ruining the lives of millions. But weak democracies are also bowing down to the heinous crimes perpetrated by the Islamic State (Isil) terrorist group.
For much, much less than that world wars were started. In relatively recent years the military might of the USA, Britain and NATO has been deployed to settle matters in war-plagued territories, in some cases without any “real” motivation. Yet a proper effective reaction to the most inhuman actions ever witnessed seems to be non-existent. What, for example, are the UN doing about it?
One is tempted to think that Isil are getting their sweet revenge after what the Crusaders did in their Islamic countries centuries ago. If so, isn’t this a call for 21st century Crusaders for very, very good reasons?
And, if it takes boots on the ground and not futile bombing, so be it. What are the major powers and the rest of the world’s civilized countries, appalled by these revolting, primitive deeds, waiting for?
Concetto La Malfa, Dublin 4
Universities treating staff badly
The latest Times Higher Education league table finds that most Irish universities have dropped down the league table. One of the causes for this downgrading is perhaps being missed.
There are increasing levels of employee apartheid in many Irish universities. An elite group of staff and senior permanent academics enjoy remuneration and conditions much better than those of part-time, temporary, and hourly-paid staff.
What probably began as a genuine effort to use post-graduate researchers as classroom assistants and tutors – thereby giving them important experience – has been expanded over the past decade. Now, complete modules and undergraduate courses are being taught by temporary, hourly-paid employees. Many of these have PhDs, but are being denied opportunities to gain the permanent employment that their qualifications would justify.
In addition, they are expected to work many hours unpaid work for each paid lecture hour, including several hours of lecture preparation, student guidance, set and correct exams and assessments, attend meetings and other tasks.
Younger academics, in particular, are being exploited, because they feel they have to suffer in silence so as to not endanger their chances of getting permanent status.
When it comes to the treatment of junior and temporary employees, most Irish universities are engaged in a race to the bottom. They are winning that race, at the expense of unjust exploitation of their employees, and decreasing standards of third-level education for their students.
Dr Edward Horgan, Castletroy, Co Limerick
The future of feminism?
My four-year-old granddaughter told me today that she hates all men and boys, which I accepted as a sort of visceral, generic feminism which will be modified as she becomes more discerning.
Later, she told me that she only likes pink things, so I’m wondering if fifth-wave feminism will be pink.
Tom Farrell, Swords, Co Dublin
The basics of confession
Enda Kenny would be unusual nowadays if he had not lapsed from at least some details of the religious practice of his younger years, but surely he remembers the essential components of confession?
His confessor strained to hear him mutter: “Bless me, Paddy, for I have sinned” and was immediately deafened by the proclamation of his now firm purpose of amendment, but that is not enough.
The bit in the middle is indispensable. Canon law requires Paddy to sit through a full and explicit recital of what, exactly, has been done by the penitent, for whom the appropriate posture is not to “put his hand up”, but to kneel down.
Moreover, for a penitent to expect forgiveness he must himself be forgiving – he has to give up giving out about the sins of his predecessors. The man who went up to the temple to pray piously about how he did not sin like those other men was not the one who went back to his house justified.
Frank Farrell, Stillorgan, Co Dublin
Parents and education
“We the leaders of all teachers’ and lecturers’ unions in Ireland and Britain” pose three questions to your readers (Letters, Irish Independent, October 3). “If you had a child or a loved one in school, college or university wouldn’t you prefer them to be taught by qualified, well motivated, well-resourced and societally-appreciated teachers and lecturers?… Can you think of a better way to bring about progressive social change than by the provision of top-quality publicly-funded education?”
Yes, I can! Parents or guardians getting deeply involved in their children’s education and not leaving it up to classroom teachers or administrators or politicians or union leaders to shape their future.
Vincent J Lavery, Dalkey, Co Dublin
New skills can aid relationships
Your report (“Irish people now waiting even longer before they say ‘I do'”, Irish Independent, September 1) illustrates a heartening desire for commitment among couples, but separation and divorce is also a sad reality for many families.
From my experience as a counsellor, many relationships break down unnecessarily because couples do not possess the basic skills to negotiate predictable life challenges, such as the birth of a new baby, redundancy, illness, bereavement, or changes in interests and personality with age.
Our superficial cultural values promise happiness on the basis of appearance, wealth and status, offering little in terms of insight or wisdom about the real-life ups and downs that require maturity, skill and self-awareness to handle successfully.
In fairytales, the story always ends when marriage begins: after overcoming obstacles to meeting, the couple finally come together and inevitably live “happily ever after”.
This myth of a guaranteed future of uninterrupted bliss once we “find the right person” is constantly reinforced by Hollywood. This fictional world gives people no preparation for the humility, compassion, effort and ability to compromise involved in actually making relationships work in the face of all kinds of change, both positive and negative.
Luckily, the skills required are well researched and eminently learnable. I have seen many couples, on the verge of breaking up, rescue their relationship and move forward with renewed commitment and understanding.
I would encourage any couple experiencing difficulties to consider seeing a qualified counsellor before making that final, usually irrevocable, decision to separate.
Maeve Halpin, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Defence Forces deserve better
News that members of the Defence Forces are sleeping in their cars for want of petrol money and borrowing uniforms for ceremonial occasions is disturbing . Our troops, both those currently risking their lives on the Golan Heights and those at home defending the Republic have been betrayed by government.
The day our Defence Forces carry the can for failed banks and under-pressure property investors is the day an Taoiseach must consider his position.
Cadhla Ni Frithile, Clonard, Wexford