9 October 2014 Jill
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Coop, Post Office, Newsagent. Jill comes to call
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Andrew Kerr – obituary
Andrew Kerr was an ex-public school dropout whose New Age idealism inspired the original 1971 ‘Glastonbury Fayre’
Andrew Kerr in 2011 Photo: GETTY
5:47PM BST 08 Oct 2014
Andrew Kerr, who has died aged 80, was an Old Radleian drop-out, New Ager and guiding spirit behind the “Glastonbury Fayre” of 1971, an event which subsequently morphed into the world’s most successful music festival.
The year before, Kerr had moved to Pilton, near Glastonbury, to indulge his fascination with the Arthurian and Druidic legends associated with Glastonbury Tor. In 1971 he rented Worthy Farm, overlooking the Vale of Avalon, whose owner, dairy farmer Michael Eavis, had put on a small pop festival in 1970 in an attempt to repay his farm’s overdraft. The festival had chalked up a substantial loss, leaving Eavis having to pay the £500 fee for his headline act, Marc Bolan, in instalments from his monthly milk cheque. However, something about the farm’s setting amid a confluence of ley lines inspired Kerr to think that he might do better.
Together with Arabella Churchill, the “wild-child” granddaughter of Sir Winston, Kerr promised to pay off Eavis’s debts if he would let them put on a “free” festival around the 1971 summer solstice. While Arabella invested £4,000 in a vast “psychic pyramid” stage built by a man who thought up the design in his sleep, Kerr set aside an area on the site as a landing pad for flying saucers and doused for ley lines to determine the most auspicious location for the stage (somewhere between Sagittarius and Capricorn).
The Glastonbury Fayre “manifesto” promised “a fair in the medieval tradition” and described the occasion as an “ecological experiment”, designed to “tap the universe” and stimulate “the Earth’s nervous system”. It spoke of spiritual reawakening, Joseph of Arimathea and his nephew Jesus, and the zodiacal significance of the Vale of Avalon.
David Bowie, Hawkwind and Traffic agreed to headline for nothing; free rice and lentils were paid for by Jean Shrimpton; news of the event spread by word of mouth — there was no advertising, no tickets, no programme. People were still turning up in August asking when it was going to happen.
Glastonbury Fayre-goers in 1971 (DAILY MIRROR)
Held over five days, the event attracted a crowd of 7,000 and was, by most standards, hopelessly chaotic. The Grateful Dead failed to show; neighbours complained about the noise and the mess; there were reports of illness caused by the failure of some festival-goers to use the earth latrines. Somerset’s television news show, Points West, sent its reporter, John Craven, who told how “straight society” was “horrified by the free love-making, fertility rites, naked dancing and drug-taking” going on.
“There was a lot of LSD about,” Michael Eavis conceded, “and people were freaking out, wandering into the village wearing only a top hat.” He also found his festival-organising colleagues “slightly unhinged”: “When I had a disagreement with them they threw a load of Tarot cards on the kitchen table. The message read: ‘No one with the name of Michael should be involved with the festival.’ And I said: ‘Hang on a minute, isn’t this my farm?’ ”
Yet the show was judged to have been a rip-roaring success, showing how, as one fayre-goer put it, “a music festival could really break through the conventional barriers that regulate behaviour and which prevent us from really being ourselves”. By the end of proceedings the police had recorded only two arrests, while, despite the mind-altering substances available, only one person, a naked druid, had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
For the next seven years those involved went their separate ways. Michael Eavis went back to milking cows; Arabella Churchill returned to London, where she ran a restaurant for squatters, later moving to Wales to farm. Kerr headed north, with his Danish partner Jytte, to Scotland where they squatted in a deserted croft, had two children and endeavoured to become self-sufficient. When, after six years, Jytte left him for another man, Kerr drifted back south and worked, variously, as a dry-stone waller, as a worker in the Divine Light Mission of Guru Maharaji, and as a crumbling-cliff-fixer and scriptwriter in Los Angeles.
Free rice and lentils: the Pyramid Stage in 1971 (Photo: PA)
What saved Glastonbury was its fans. Although no more real festivals were held until the end of the 1970s, some pilgrims still turned up to Worthy Farm in June every year, holding their own, impromptu gatherings. In 1978, Eavis helped them to construct a makeshift stage and supplied electricity; the following year, inspired to try again, he secured a bank loan and invited the organisers of the 1971 event to have another go.
In June 1979, 12,000 people paid £5 apiece to see Steve Hillage, Sky and Peter Gabriel. But the festival made a huge loss and Eavis decided to take over the running himself. He proved to be an extraordinarily good organiser, turning Glastonbury into a huge and highly profitable annual event.
Kerr remained involved with the festival, on and off, and at the 2011 event marked the 40th anniversary of the Pyramid stage with his own “Spirit of 71” stage.
Andrew Kerr promoting biodegradable tent pegs in 2008 (GETTY)
Andrew Kerr was born on November 29 1933 at Ewell, Surrey. His father was a career naval officer and a descendant of the 6th Marquis of Lothian; his mother was from a Shropshire landowning family. His childhood was spent in Oxfordshire where his parents began to farm after the Second World War.
After education at Radley College, where – undiagnosed with dyslexia, he struggled and was ridiculed as unintelligent – and National Service as a stores assistant in the Royal Navy, Kerr had a go at advertising, worked as a receptionist with the Automobile Association and as a nurseryman, before landing a job as personal assistant and researcher to Sir Winston Churchill’s son Randolph, who was writing the official multi-volume biography of his father. When he turned up at his new employer’s country house in Suffolk, he was greeted with the words: “Mr Kerr, I’m afraid I was rather drunk last night and don’t really know why you’re here.”
So began what became a genuine friendship, during which Kerr travelled all over the world with his employer, becoming great friends with his daughter Arabella, though he found less in common with his son Winston, who dismissed him as “intolerably hip” (the description gave Kerr the title for his autobiography, published in 2011). As well as helping Randolph on his biography, Kerr’s duties included helping to provide a bolt-hole for John Profumo in 1963, standing in when the cook was away, fixing the boiler and acting as Churchill’s drinking companion: “He used to drink gin before lunch, wine with the meal and then watered whisky for the rest of the day, interrupted by wine at supper.” Kerr’s preference was for vodka and tonic, supplemented by the odd spliff.
When Randolph died in 1968, Kerr worked briefly for Yorkshire Television before returning to London where he found his niche in the grey area between bohemian hippiedom and high society. He hung out with the Grateful Dead, indulged a fascination with UFOs and experimented with LSD, but was also a regular guest at luncheon parties hosted by Lady Diana Cooper. At one of these he shared his theories of how the supernatural events in the Bible were carried out by extra-terrestrials with the person next to him – Princess Margaret; “I think she must have guessed I was a bit high,” he reflected.
It was a visit to the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 that inspired the idea for the Glastonbury Fayre. Appalled by the rampant profiteering, he decided to try and put pop culture to constructive purposes by staging a free festival at Stonehenge. But the plans had to be ditched after Jimi Hendrix, who had agreed to top the bill, died following an overdose of sleeping tablets. A few months later Kerr approached Michael Eavis.
In the 1980s, as well as helping out at Glastonbury, Kerr worked, variously, in special effects at Pinewood, as maître d’ in a restaurant, as a dry stone wall builder and yacht repairer and as a charter yacht skipper in the Mediterranean.
In 1992 another sudden surge of idealism saw him back in the West Country putting on the first (and only) Whole Earth Show in Dorset, promoting organic farming and sustainable technologies such as compost funerals.
Andrew Kerr is survived by his two children.
Andrew Kerr, born November 29 1933, died October 6 2014
‘Far from being a city, Letchworth was in fact a large village,’ writes David Robson. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian
In discussing the development of Ebbsfleet (A city of dreams, G2, 2 October), Patrick Barkham avoided engaging in real quantitative terms with the question of “density”. When we bandy around terms like “low-density”, what does this mean? How low is low? When is high too high? What is the optimal range of densities for new peri-urban housing?
Letchworth, planned by Parker and Unwin in 1906, was built to densities that were half those proposed in Ebenezer Howard’s original theoretical blueprint “Tomorrow” of 1898. Far from being a city, Letchworth was in fact a large village. Unwin set out his arguments in favour of lower-density development in his 1912 pamphlet “Nothing gained by overcrowding”. Later, as a co-author of the 1919 Tudor Walters report, he helped to formulate the notional limit of 30 dwellings per acre which would shape suburban housing development in Britain throughout the 20th century.
The new towns of the postwar period were also infected by Unwinism and were built to unsustainably low densities, with land being wasted in over-large plots and purposeless areas of open space. Milton Keynes, trumpeted as a city, is in fact one huge garden suburb crisscrossed by featureless motorways; it is the ultimate no-place, consuming huge swaths of land while failing to establish any sense of urbanity.
Lower densities obviously use more land, but they also increase infrastructure and energy costs, reduce the viability of public transport, and encourage greater reliance on private cars. Just as significantly, by reducing propinquity, they discourage social cohesion and fail to establish the critical mass which is a prerequisite for urban living. Our history provides us with more viable models for urban housing: the Georgian town and the Victorian suburb were both built, successfully, to densities of over 50 dwellings per hectare.
We ignore the fact that we live in the most densely populated country in Europe and that land, particularly in the south-east, is a precious commodity. If we are going to build garden cities, let the emphasis be on “city” rather than “garden”, and let’s build them to sustainable densities.
Hove, East Sussex
• Garden cities are not and never were the housing paradise. I was born in Welwyn Garden City in 1950, and although I remember it as a spacious and green environment, I also remember all too well how the population demographic was “controlled” by the way it was laid out. On the west side were all the privately owned houses, set in nice streets with driveways and garages and lovely tree-planting – still beautiful today. On the east were all the council houses with no garages or driveways, and all the factories. White- and blue-collar workers were deliberately kept separate from each other through the planning process.
One man’s “garden” was another man’s “factory chimney”. Let us not delude ourselves about how wonderful these places were, nor think that the same concept would potentially work any better today.
• Patrick Barkham quotes a Jeff Harvey as saying that Ebbsfleet is a name made up by Eurostar. As a native of Northfleet, I can remember my mother, over 60 years ago, taking us to Ebbsfleet to see my uncle, who was the head groundsman at the Blue Circle Cement sports club there.
• Congratulations to Nick Clegg for his really imaginative thinking regarding the possible location of new garden cities (Clegg pledges to build a string of new towns along the ‘brainbelt of Britain’, 6 October). We now need some joined-up thinking about how the proposed Oxford to Cambridge axis would then impact on HS2 and the siting of a future new national airport – housing, job creation and transport all being considered together. As well as radically improving the business case for HS2, we now have the beginnings of a national infrastructure plan that could benefit parts of the UK other than just London and the south-east.
• As a former Winchester city councillor with an interest in planning, I’ve always thought that the term “affordable” when applied to properties for let was meaningless and should be scrapped. Boris Johnson’s approval of flats at a monthly rent of £2,800 (Report, 3 October) comes as no surprise to those of us living in Winchester, where house prices and rents have risen dramatically in recent years, given the knock-on effect of our proximity to London. Many people have no choice these days but to rent privately, but now that even “affordable” rents can be up to 80% of commercial rents, many essential workers and young people are driven out.
While we leave provision of housing and infrastructure up to private developers, we will never solve the problem. The bottom line for developers is profit, and with the planning legislation weighted in their favour, they run rings around councils too frightened of appeals and costs to refuse applications. “Viability” is the name of the developers’ game and is increasingly and creatively used as a means to avoid building even the unaffordable “affordable” housing. I will vote for any party committed to controlling private rents and giving local authorities the power to raise funds for acquisition of prime sites for council housing. Response from Ed Miliband would be welcome.
• Unfortunately, it’s not only Boris Johnson who thinks four-figure monthly rents are “affordable”. Peabody, a charity whose founding purpose is to “ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy” in London, is also advertising homes on the key-worker estates it bought from the crown estate in 2011 at “affordable” rents that no key worker can afford. Effective campaigning by tenants prevented some 1,500 homes falling into the hands of private developers and secured a promise from Peabody’s chief executive, Steve Howlett, that he was “absolutely committed to keeping these homes affordable”. In fact a “market valuation” was immediately undertaken and rents then pegged at 60%-80% of these absurd levels, resulting in tenants seeing increases of up to 36% over three years while their wages remain static and living costs rise.
With a two-bedroom flat now costing up to £1,470 a month in rent, vacant homes are remaining empty and unlet for months while nurses, firefighters and teachers, as well as pensioners, are being quietly but inexorably priced out of their homes and boroughs. Residents’ representatives are now seeing cases of working families cutting back on essentials, or having to visit food banks, in order to pay the rents charged by this apparently philanthropic organisation. We call upon Peabody, which recently reported a £291m surplus, to scrap this ludicrous rent model and honour its commitments to us and to its founding principles. Readers can sign our petition at tinyurl.com/nb7oum5
Joannie Andrews, Julie Bragagnini, Madeleine Davis, Terry Harper
Chairs of the former crown estate residents’ associations
Surely if there is a substantive criticism to be made of the way that many charities are now run (George Osborne faces backlash after branding charities ‘anti-business’, 4 October), it is that they are run too much like businesses, from the inflated salaries and bonuses of many executives to the distasteful and counterproductive “chugging” and cold-calling. Far from being anti-business, many of them slavishly ape the worst aspects of business.
• Regarding the chancellor’s claim to members of the Institute of Directors that “plenty of charities” do not support the free market, I am a free-market capitalist, if I am anything, but even I would prefer a charity worker to manage my country or my finances rather than a company director. In my experience (57 years), one sees the wider picture, the other is inherently selfish.
• George Osborne trashes charities. Does this extend to the charitable status of public schools, or is he only concerned with charities that actually attempt to combat the impacts of the government’s welfare cuts? Incredible that Eton, that bastion of upper-class male supremacy, should be a charity.
• Interesting that Osborne, when he “rails against anti-business charities”, does not include those churches contributing to food banks. Surely feeding those so less fortunate than oneself as to be near starvation is “anti-business” and, presumably, to drive such poor people to crime or death is businesslike in the eyes of this myopic, amoral government.
As a Syrian citizen living abroad, it was disturbing to read your latest editorial on Islamic State (Assad cannot be part of the solution, 8 October). It confirms how your paper is so disconnected from reality. Assad’s survival secret is that he genuinely has a significant number of the population supporting him (like me). Not because we love dictatorships and corruption or personality cults, but because we are facing much worse alternatives.
People in the self-righteous west talk about getting rid of the regime, but no one is explaining to us, Syrians, what could be the replacement. Assad runs a state that still maintains basic facilities, still pays salaries, still guarantees security and order in government-controlled areas. None of this is happening in rebel-held areas where robbing, kidnapping and killing on a sectarian and ethnic basis are rife. The rebel-held part of Aleppo (eastern Aleppo), which you claim as a stronghold of the revolution, has cut off the water supply from the government-held part in the west of the city (where most people of Aleppo are). They cut electricity and attempted to cut the food supply.
There are no major military positions in western Aleppo. Yet they are bombarding the city with mortars every day to punish civilians (more than 300 dead in the past month, according to city hospitals). No one wants to report from there. My friends, my family, my dearest are living there, yet none of your editorial is about the population living inside. It’s as if they do not exist. Why? Because they live in regime areas?
We just want the killing to stop. Unfortunately, our only hope in a peaceful, unified Syria is an all-out victory of the Syrian army, or at least some kind of agreement that keeps the current regime in charge. We have no better alternative. Think of us as human beings, not as pawns in a dirty international standoff. Or better, leave us alone.
• The hearts of the Kurds are breaking and we must heed their desperate pleas. In Kobani, lightly armed Kurdish fighters are defending their people against a genocidal enemy armed with tanks, armoured cars and artillery. If the city falls, the Daesh fanatics will butcher the men and sell the women into sexual slavery. Not even the children will be safe from these thugs. Meanwhile, Turkish troops sit idle on the nearby frontier, and the authorities stop Turkish Kurds from crossing to assist their comrades. The scene is eerily reminiscent of the Warsaw uprising of 1944, in which Stalin ordered the Red Army to pause at the gates of the city to allow the Nazis to wipe out the Polish resistance fighters.
We must call upon Turkey to cease aiding and abetting Isis and to arm the Kurdish fighters. Governments must also drop the designation of the YPG Kurdish fighters as terrorists; they are secular nationalists who pose no danger to the world and who are fighting desperately to save their people and lands. Nor can we forget that they earlier saved the Yazidis from annihilation at the hands of the fanatics.
Dr John Tully
Senior lecturer in politics and history, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
• I have been deeply confused, frustrated and moved to tears by your failure to feature the mass rape of Iraqi and Syrian women on your front page (Air strikes on Isis in Syria ‘not enough’, 6 October). Thousands of women and girls are being held captive, murdered, brutally gang-raped, sold into slavery, and tortured. These are some of the worst horrors the world has seen in generations. You have featured air strikes and Kurdish forces on your front page, but what about the women?
When the dust of the desert has cleared and these women’s stories are known, we will ask: why were our cries of disgust and horror not louder?
I look forward to seeing these women’s terror given the full newspaper coverage it so desperately needs.
Deborah Orr’s otherwise commendable article (The big supermarkets sowed the seeds of their own decline, 4 October) makes no mention of the employment practices of the major supermarkets, and in particular their failure to pay the living wage to employees. While Waitrose prides itself on its ethical trading, this does not appear to extend to paying the living wage to its staff. Waitrose staff are eligible for a bonus payment and overtime which annually may amount to the living wage but is not synonymous with receiving the hourly living wage rate, and the cleaners at the John Lewis group, who are contracted out (and therefore not eligible for the bonus) have been in long-term dispute with the company over this. Nearly 120,000 people have petitioned John Lewis to pay the living wage to the cleaners at change.org.
Once again, plans to expand London’s airports are being resurrected (Party defies leader over airport U-turn, 8 October). Why is air travel being supported when lower-carbon forms of travel aren’t? It cost me the same to fly to New Zealand 20 years ago as it would today, not adjusting for inflation, and now I can barely afford to take a train anywhere, unless I plan the journey several months in advance. It is cheaper to fly to most UK cities than it is to take the train. Cheap foreign holidays and flying aren’t human rights. An unpolluted atmosphere should be.
• Am I the only person to be offended by the equation of “porn” with “wallpaper, coffee-table television” (The weekend’s TV, G2, 6 October). Or describing pretty, undemanding programmes about cats as “cat telly porn” (Watch this, G2, 7 October). Porn is exploitative, demeaning; it is not wallpaper, or pretty!
Heath Charnock, Lancashire
• Helena Newton (Letters, 8 October) may wish to know that the other half of Anuranonanist’s nom de plume translates as “one without a tail” – a member of the class Amphibia: in the vernacular, a frog or toad. My thanks to your correspondents for reminding me that Dorothy Parker allegedly kept a canary called Onan (as it spilled its seed on the ground).
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire
• From the picture of Farage on a tank (John Crace’s sketch, 8 October), are we to assume Ukip is expecting to lose the Heywood and Middleton byelection? The flag on the tank on which Farage is standing is upside down, which – as any boy scout will tell you – is a signal of distress.
• Further to your piece about who does the housework (G2, 7 October), I think Joan Rivers should have the last word: “I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes – and six months later you’ve got to do it all over again.”
In his conference speech David Cameron complained about the criticism of his NHS policy by the Labour Party. These crocodile tears do not bear scrutiny.
The commercialisation of the NHS, although started by Labour, has been taken to extremes under the Coalition. The public have made clear that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery and provided by organisations working for the public good, not private profit. The profit motive does not best serve the sick, as several failed eye operations, the collapse of out-of-hours care contracts and the employment of poorly qualified doctors with little grasp of English demonstrate.
The devolution of control to largely autonomous trusts and commissioning groups has led to priorities being set by the market and the media, which is not the same as the public good.
A very sick child required frequent attendances at the local hospital. His parents were well educated and well-to-do. The father was sufficiently articulate and assertive to attain high political office. The family was well known, so it was in everyone’s interest to move them out of the waiting area as soon as possible.
The parlous state of NHS finances exacerbates the fact that its defining competition is between patients for resources. Each of the characteristics listed above enhances competitiveness to the point that such a family will trounce anyone else in the emergency department, which is why the Prime Minister’s experience, emotively described at his party conference, cannot be seen as epitomising access to the service.
As well as individuals competing, policy decisions simply adjust the competitiveness of different groups; waiting list targets made patients scheduled for elective operations more competitive than before. Patients with mental illness consequently moved down the pecking order. Patients with cancer were not competitive until the late 1990s. Those whose cancers present with ambiguous symptoms remain relatively uncompetitive in access to diagnostic tests.
As the financial state worsens, social and economic inequalities increase as the less competitive in society lose out.
Dr S Michael Crawford
Consultant Medical Oncologist, Airedale General Hospital, West Yorkshire
Senior health service managers have warned that unless NHS funding is increased, charging for bed and board may become necessary (report, 7 October). Before this should even be considered, perhaps NHS managers should start making decisions about which services they are going to fund in the first place.
The NHS spends between £4m and £12m a year on homeopathy. This is despite the fact that the principles on which it is based are scientifically implausible (that illnesses can be treated by substances that produce similar symptoms, if that substance is massively diluted until little or none of it remains), and that comprehensive reviews of all the available evidence have repeatedly shown that homeopathy simply does not work.
The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, after a comprehensive review of the evidence in 2010, recommended that the Government stop funding homeopathy. The current Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has also expressed surprise that the NHS continues to fund homeopathy. Yet the Government seems happy to continue funding a “therapy” which is no more than a placebo.
A saving of between £4m and £12m a year might seem a drop in the ocean compared to the size of the overall NHS funding gap, but every little helps.
What is the point of all these pledges? Before the election in 2010 David Cameron gave a solemn promise not to allow any major changes in the NHS while he was Prime Minister. A few days after the election his Minister of Health told us he had been planning for seven years “the biggest upheaval in the health service since its inception”.
Cameron had talked of his dead son and spoken with sincerity and passion. I believed him. Never again.
A peace deal for the Falklands
Grace Dent (7 October) believes that for the sake of peace we should hand the Falklands over to Argentina, putting the Falkland Islanders under the thumb of their enemies; would they also consider it a peaceful resolution?
The Scottish referendum has just demonstrated to the world the UK’s adherence to the right to self-determination, a fundamental principle under international law.
Grace Dent is correct in condemning Jeremy Clarkson for his war jibe and deserves praise for her goodwill gesture towards Argentina.
Detailed history of events between about 1770 and 1833 demonstrates that the islands did belong to Argentina until usurped by Britain in 1833.
As it was not the time to transfer ownership in 1982 to a military government, it is certainly not the time to do so now to the most corrupt government ever, but the islands should be handed over at the first opportunity.
Why export the Premier League?
I believe your football editor, Glenn Moore, does the game a disservice by supporting the idea of playing Premier League games abroad.
He feels football should follow the example of the American sports that have staged games in London, like the recent NFL game at Wembley, but these sports are not “global” ones, just seeking to become so. Football, on the other hand, is already the most “global” of all sports and has no need of an impetus from the Premier League to expand.
As a general principle, I see no reason why a domestic league in a global sport needs to go “global”. When does “just one game” become two, or four, or more? And how long before “franchising” is mooted as per the American model?
Prisoners won’t get the vote
Like Andrew Bruckland (letter, 7 October), I can’t get hot under the collar about the prospect of certain prisoners having the right to vote. His parting shot that this might “even increase turnouts” is unfortunately the reason why it will never happen.
The prison service is in crisis, and those who are at the sharp end, the prisoners, have little or no say about it – they do not have the vote and they can safely be ignored.
If even a handful of the inmates of prisons were entitled to vote then sitting and prospective MPs would have to listen to their new constituents. In marginal seats containing one of the new super-prisons, the “prisoner vote” might even be worth courting.
‘British values’ laid down by the UN
This year the Government is requiring schools to actively promote “British values”, defined as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.
Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that education must be directed to, inter alia, “the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin”, to respect for human rights and the principles of the UN Charter, as well as to the national values of the country in which the child is living.
It is surely therefore essential that the values are presented as standards expected across the international community.
Emeritus Fellow, Pembroke College, Oxford
Fellow in Law, Exeter College, Oxford
Remember Isis, goddess of affection
Why do we keep allowing Isis to change the way we name it? Every time it has a change of ambition, it changes its name. It is yanking our chain. Isis was a female god of affection, and fruitfulness. Surely this is a good name to have?
My local branch of Marks & Spencer is, in the first week of October, selling not only hot cross buns, but also rotating musical Christmas trees. Which is the more inappropriate?
Passport to happiness
The Passport Office has come in for a lot of flak recently, so let me record that I have today received my passport just five working days after applying. A great service!
Sir, I would like to clarify the position of the CQC with regard to your stories “Green light for relatives to spy on care homes” (Oct 6) and “We don’t want secret cameras in care homes, say residents” (Oct 7). We know that cameras have been used to expose failings but they can also compromise a person’s privacy, dignity and human rights — the last thing we would want. Views are mixed, which is why we want to help providers and the public to be well informed and more able to make decisions. We will discuss this issue in public on Wednesday and expect to publish guidance at the end of the month. Also, we are launching a new inspection regime this month, following testing and consultation.
It is most important that care is provided safely, effectively and compassionately, and that staff are trained and supported. If anyone is concerned about a service and feels unable to raise it with the provider,
I encourage them to get in touch with us.
Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, Care Quality Commission
Sir, Safeguards in care homes should not include covert CCTV. What is missing is recognition that homes should be located within communities. A theme of “community-engaged” ensures that links are maintained. One large operator with which I am familiar makes space available within homes for community groups to meet and to relate to residents. Visiting is encouraged and events involve the public. In these and other ways, introversion is avoided, caring skills are enhanced and human relationships fostered. Regulatory activity may weed out bad practices but it is well-supported local leadership that sustains high standards.
Sir, The use of covert cameras in care homes only protects the fortunate few. Those staff who are less than scrupulous will be aware when a new “clock” or other spy device appears, and transfer poor care to another unfortunate soul. The real answer to better care is better management.
Sir, Cameras may “impact on residents’ freedom” says Davina Ludlow of carehome.co.uk in your report (Oct 6), but if your relative can’t move or speak for themselves, what freedom are we talking about? As for there being “a knock-on effect on the motivation of staff”, I would have thought that at about £6.50 an hour and 12-hour shifts would be the main factor here. Though many homes charge more than £1,000 a week, I know of no TripAdvisor-style review websites, and sites that “review” care homes give recommendations only, for fear of litigation.
In my experience CQC reviews are also not fit for purpose. Negative comments are “not upheld” unless the commission sees the same activity on one of its twice-yearly visits. Spy cameras are essential.
Sir, Relatives of people in care should consider keeping a memory-jogging diary of their visits, recording facts and figures and what was said to whom and when. In this way they will build a picture of the care being delivered and systemic issues will become apparent. Our diary has been invaluable with regard to my mother’s care.
Sir, The notion of using hidden cameras is riddled with flaws. Creating a Big Brother-culture will make homes increasingly defensive and may lead to higher costs. The negative perception of care homes is unfair: 99 per cent provide good quality care.
Managing director, Care Home Insurance Services
Sir, Your report “Care homes lock up thousands of old people”, (Oct 4) conjures up an image of residents sedated and in straitjackets. In my Dad’s case a deprivation of liberty order protects him and others. At nearly 90, he couldn’t see the danger of obstacles such as pedestrians, kerbs and traffic. Now he has to have an escort, and this ensures his safety and continuing quality of life.
Sir, Confronting Isis, preparing for ebola, keeping the lights on. We face complex threats. Then in Weather Eye (Oct 7) I read that, “all the high arctic is experiencing some of the highest rates of climate warming on Earth” and I hear a fuse burning quietly a long way off.
Sir, Lord Jones’s observation (You’re next, troubleshooter tells BBC”, Oct 8) that the BBC could halve production time by being more efficient, reminds me of a building project I undertook at an airport. When it was complete, I told the BAA that its procedures meant the project had cost twice what it should. BAA responded that this was good: it had budgeted on three times.
Sir, A Dutch report says that cars produce harmful emissions at six times those claimed (“Speed limit cut to reduce pollution”, Oct 8). This is irrelevant in the case of the proposed 60mph limit on the new A556 road in Cheshire; a car can be efficient at 60mph or 70mph. Many well-driven cars will be more efficient at 70mph.
Sir, I wonder whether a driver of a battery-electric vehicle with zero tailpipe emissions would escape prosecution for driving at 70mph on this stretch of new road?
Malvern Hills Electric Automobile Association
Sir, I read Mike Atherton’s article with interest (“Kevin Pietersen’s latest version of truth tries to deadhead Andy Flower again”, Oct 6). Mr Atherton was, as always, balanced, but to me KP is one of those people who believe they are always a victim. Such self-pity makes megabucks nowadays — but I won’t be adding to that.
Sir, What an unexpected pleasure it was, while attempting the crossword (Oct 8), to be able to doodle all over Kevin Pietersen.
Sir, I was interested to read that the world wide web is celebrating 25 years since its invention (Law, Oct 7). In the short film Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham (vimeo.com/67995288, password: Baim88), Mr Savalas says: “The library, which houses Europe’s largest collection of Shakespeare, has online computer searching service with access to 100 databanks from Italy all the way to California.” Is this the first description on film of the web? The film was shot in 1979.
The Baim Collection
Around 200 soldiers from The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards take part in a Homecoming Parade in Glasgow, Scotland Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
6:56AM BST 08 Oct 2014
SIR – At last a senior general, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, has made it clear that this country needs to revise the policy of regimental attrition that has been in place for the past 50 years.
It is manifestly obvious from a study of military excursions since the last war that, ultimately, it is not high technology but rather boots on the ground that have determined the outcome. In the Sixties our Army was undeniably too large. It is now equally undeniably too small.
There is a second issue, and that is the sociological dimension. We would do better to have more regard for the traditional bulwarks of our society and seek to strengthen them.
Reviving some of the county regiments in particular would clearly meet a military imperative while also bolstering local and regional pride.
SIR – So far, attempts to balance the significant reduction in regular forces by a modest increase in reserves have failed.
Thus it is timely to consider the reintroduction of national service. Such a programme, although potentially controversial, could be introduced gradually with the aim of producing a pool of manpower at immediate readiness for home defence and internal security.
SIR – Long-term defence funding can easily be achieved by abandoning Trident, whose only purpose is to provide Britain with the status of being a nuclear power.
We must decide whether we want to fund a meaningful force for stability and the defence of our global interests or an outdated pretension which is of benefit only to vainglorious politicians.
Dr Brian Studd
John Cantlie and James Foley Photo: Getty Images
6:57AM BST 08 Oct 2014
SIR – The issue of paying ransoms has been raised again in the light of atrocities carried out by Isil.
While it is absolutely right for the Government not to pay ransoms for government servants, an entirely different position exists for those who are asked to serve in dangerous parts of the world on behalf of their companies. The commercial world is based on trade and employees cannot be expected to put their lives at risk unless they have some assurance that their company will stand behind them if they encounter trouble.
Freelance individuals are in a different category – they presumably have added up the risks and have accepted them.
SIR – The Isil kidnappers express pride in their extreme views.
If they are so proud of what they are doing why don’t they show their faces? Their failure to do so gives the lie to their claims and confirms their cowardly stance.
SIR – To see the managers of Chelsea and Arsenal square up during the Premier League match on Sunday brought professional football to its nadir. If managers cannot demonstrate a level-headed and professional approach to their sport, how can referees have any chance of curbing undisciplined and yobbish behaviour among the players themselves?
Both managers should be banned for at least three months from any involvement in football, and also prohibited from making any public statements for the remainder of the season.
Fuel for discontent
SIR – Terry Boreham (Letters, October 7) complains that he has only seen a fall of 5p per litre in the pump price of petrol when oil prices have fallen by 20 per cent.
He should count himself lucky – my two local petrol stations have reduced their pump prices by just one penny.
Fingers of Babel
SIR – J H K Reeves (Letters, October 6) draws attention to the practice of counting in base 12, using the thumb to tick off the phalanges of the other four fingers.
The ancient Babylonians – the world’s first astronomers – used to count in this way. This is why there are 12 hours in a day (plus another 12 at night), and why each hour is divided into 60 minutes.
SIR – There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.
SIR – Last week I found a bag of dog mess in my back garden (Letters, October 6) at a distance of 100ft from the roadside. The same type of bag and mess appeared yesterday on my front drive.
I am concerned that the responsible person’s throwing arm may have suffered an injury.
East Grinstead, West Sussex
6:58AM BST 08 Oct 2014
SIR – The news that the Government wants workers to defer retirement will not be welcomed by school-leavers and graduates.
Ministers fail to understand the basic fact that until someone retires a vacancy in the workforce does not become available. Taxable income is delayed and the housing market stagnates – except for the increase in demand for social housing – as young people cannot afford to buy homes until they are in their late thirties or early forties.
There is probably a stronger argument for lowering the retirement age.
SIR – I am in my mid-fifties and this proposal would lead to my retiring at around 74 years of age.
I can imagine my wife having to phone my employer to say: “He can’t come to work today, he’s dead.”
In the bleak midwinter
SIR – Is the Government going to reveal how it plans to keep the lights on this Christmas, despite taking four major power plants off the grid for repair?
SIR – I called British Gas on Monday morning, and, to my surprise, was greeted with the following recorded message: “Our offices are now closed for Christmas and we reopen on December 27.”
Forever a dull moment
SIR – I have kept details of every litre of fuel bought, together with the mileage covered, for all 13 cars I have owned since 1978.
Please enrol me in the Dull Men’s Club.
SIR – I take great exception to the Dull Men’s Club’s encouragement to “celebrate the ordinary” by listing 125 eccentric events in its calendar.
As an organiser of backward running races, I can categorically state that snail racing, stone skimming or even worm charming are the antithesis of dullness.
World-class: dancers of the English National Ballet rehearse at St Paul’s Cathedral in London Photo: Alamy
6:59AM BST 08 Oct 2014
SIR – Tamara Rojo, the dancer and artistic director of the English National Ballet, has expressed concern about the size of the funding allotted to her company by the Arts Council.
In view of the taxpayers’ involvement, I was amazed that she made no reference in the interview to nurturing home-grown talent, but was rather more keen on scouring the rest of the world for dancers. Indeed a recent check on the composition of the company reveals that only 13 of the 71 dancers of the company are English, and that all the principal dancers for the next season will be from other countries.
Given the Government’s annual deficit of £100 billion, necessitating massive spending cuts, I question why the taxpayer is funding an organisation that is, in effect, a ballet employment agency to the world.
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, has accused the Conservatives of being “obsessed” with spending cuts Photo: PA
7:00AM BST 08 Oct 2014
SIR – Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, accuses the Conservatives of being “obsessed” with spending cuts. While we continue to plunge ever deeper into debt, tinkering with spending hardly counts as obsession.
What Mr Cable and his party are obsessed with is borrowing and spending. Never do we hear of any serious attempt to reduce waste and get better value for money. The losses on certain government IT projects alone are a disgrace.
This Liberal Democrat tail wagging the Conservative dog is an insult to democracy and the British people. David Cameron made a terrible mistake in forming a coalition with Nick Clegg in 2010.
Jim W Barrack
SIR – What family, individual or corporation isn’t concerned about “budget discipline”?
South Warnborough, Hampshire
SIR – I had high hopes for Mr Cable when he took office within the Coalition Government.
How disappointed I am that he has shown little grasp of the tasks in hand and has spent more time plotting against his own leader than he has furthering the cause of business in this country. Now he is hunting cheap popularity by tearing into his so-called partners and trying to portray himself as a champion of the poor.
The last government handed over a bankrupted state living well beyond its means with a bloated welfare budget that could not be sustained. Sad though it is, cuts to welfare and other services have to be applied if we are to get solvent again. Tax increases will also form part of the recovery plan, as more borrowing would be madness.
Mr Cable should retreat into the long grass now before the moment of truth arrives at the next election.
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall
SIR – Had Mr Clegg not had a fit of pique after his proposed reform of the House of Lords was dropped by Mr Cameron and had voted to bring constituency boundaries up to date, the result of the 2015 general election would be sure to better represent the democratic rights of the people.
SIR – The Liberal Democrats should realise that “everyone else is wrong” is not a political philosophy; it is a clear sign of immaturity.
Just ask any teacher who has to deal with disruptive teenagers.
SIR – I noticed a slogan projected on to the wall at the Lib Dem conference: “Liberal Democrats – winning here.” Surely it should have read “whining”.
New Alyth, Perthshire
Sir, – First of all let me declare my interest – none. I bought my home at the top of the market, I am very happy with it and plan to exit advised by an undertaker, not an estate agent!
Despite my purchase history, I regard myself as reasonably intelligent, but am baffled as to the quality of thinking behind the recent Central Bank proposals. As I understand it, if I wanted to buy a €300,000 house I would need a €60,000 deposit, ignoring practicalities such as furniture. My mortgage payment would be €1,300 per month over 25 years. Assuming my rent is €650 a month – and I can save the difference versus my €1,300 mortgage – it would take me eight years to save the deposit.
The only option to buy would seem to be gifts from relatives. Is this a plot to ensure affordable housing for the existing elite, keeping down those with just hard work on their side? We need to have practical, imaginative solutions that work in the long term.
I appreciate it is easier to criticise than propose, but really, is this the best we can come up with? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – “Wanted” – buy to let landlords. “Not wanted” – first-time buyers, young people, non-middle class, non-upper class, non-single people. Who are the new rules going to serve? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Central Bank of Ireland’s new proposed 20 per cent deposit requirement for all new mortgage lending will disproportionately penalise young first-time buyers. Many seasoned economic commentators have described this tightening of the rules as a return to “prudence”. Their memories are longer than mine; when I was looking for my first house more than 20 years ago, many first-time buyers availed of 90 per cent mortgages – mortgages that are now in most cases paid off. It seems the return these commentators are looking to is back to the 1970s or earlier. I, for one, don’t want to go back to that Ireland.
Most Irish people aspire to home ownership, indeed home ownership is almost essential in our society as long-term decent rental alternatives are practically unavailable for most families. A young family starting off and hoping to buy a modest home worth €150,000 will now require a deposit of €30,000. That is €30,000 without a chair to sit on, or any other furnishings. Saving €100 weekly, a young family or couple would require almost six years to save that sum. These same young couples and families have to contend with high unemployment and low incomes. Modest comfort and security for young couples and families are becoming unattainable goals.
Older generations can’t just pull the ladder of opportunity and social mobility up after us. We need to extend opportunity and the chance of home ownership to the new generation, austerity or not. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – There is only one driver of residential property prices and that is how much someone will pay for the property. There are only two purchasers of residential properties – owner-occupiers and investors. Owner-occupiers will only ever pay what they are confident they can afford and crucially they will normally buy something they expect to stay in for years. The current proposed controls are aimed towards them. The huge growth in property prices over the last 12 months is driven by investors. Property is an asset which should attract a lower risk than something like a new business or shares because you are left with “bricks and mortar” and an income stream. Yields or your return/interest rate should be about 3-4 per cent above prevailing interest rates – a little above the bank rate to compensate for you potentially losing your capital (the price dropping compared to not losing your deposit in a bank) and lower than your return in a company (where you might make 10 per cent above the prevailing rate as you could lose everything). These principles are completely absent in the Irish property market because of our obsession with property and greed.
If you want to temper the property market, you need the Central Bank to make a rule that a bank must be happy that a mortgage is affordable at 3 per cent above current rates and allow for a 10 per cent drop in borrowers’ income for owner occupiers; apply a 90 per cent capital gains tax on residential property sales where the property is sold within four years of purchase if it is not your principal home, ie you are an investor; and ban interest-only mortgages for residential property. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Following the reaction to the Central Bank’s proposed limits on mortgage lending, I despair for our nation.
Having spent six years howling about the irresponsibility of banks and the regulator, and vilifying the individuals concerned, we are now howling about the injustice of the proposed prudential regulations, demanding that banks should be allowed lend more, and claiming the governor of the Central Bank is disconnected from the plight of the people.
Roll on the next crisis. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The indications are that the priority of the Government in the upcoming budget is to reduce the amount of tax being paid by people on higher incomes. And this is despite the fact that one must earn more than 2½ times the maximum state pension before one starts to pay 41 per cent tax on the remainder of one’s income. I’m sure that the majority of our citizens would gladly pay that higher rate of tax, if only they earned enough to do so.
Some highly paid influential people, tax experts, business advocates, politicians and media personalities have been openly criticising the tax system to the extent that it has nearly become a mantra; one regularly hears things like, “you must earn €200 to pay a €100 bill”. Because of their high incomes, all of these people are subject to the higher rate of tax, and thus have a vested interest in reducing it.
If the Government does reduce taxes as indicated, it will be seen that the regressive taxes, ie the water and property charges on the poorest in our society, are being used to subsidise the wealthier by reducing their income tax bill. It appears that groupthink has again affected our leaders in relation to the direction the country is taking. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of inviting readers to speculate on how to spend an extra €160 million (“What would you do with €160 million if you were the Minister?”, October 7th), you asked them to think of ideas that would spend an existing €160 million better? You are feeding a false assumption that there is no problem that cannot be solved without some extra money. Money has come to be equated with concern. Our representatives’ only way of expressing that they care about an issue then becomes a commitment to spend extra resources on it.
We should know by now that pushing money into systems that are so poorly designed that they don’t work isn’t money that is going to deliver anything for the people the money is supposed to help or the problems it is intended to solve. There are many things the State is doing that others could do better, and there are many things the State does badly that it could do better. Let’s have that debate instead. – Yours, etc,
Dr EOIN O’MALLEY,
School of Law
Dublin City University.
Sir, – I wonder will this Government deliver a budget that will be positively remembered in six months or will it have the courage to deliver a budget that will be positively remembered in 10 years? I don’t believe it can do both and alas I expect the former. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – For those on the contributory invalidity pension who have been forced to retire early due to ill health, the payment of PRSI is a tax. There is no benefit, immediate or later, from paying as their invalidity pension becomes the old age pension when they reach retirement age.
PRSI is charged on any income invalidity pensioners have in addition to their contributory pension. Most invalidity pensioners would not have any other income but a minority do, often interest on money inherited from a family member. The additional income is badly needed to top up the invalidity pension (€193.50 per week) to make their life bearable. My wheelchair-using friend uses her non-pension income to pay for carers which the HSE cannot supply due to budget cuts. She is now subject to a minimum “PRSI” contribution of €500 a year on her other income. This amount would pay for 50 hours of care.
This is not PRSI but a tax on the sick. It should end.
The bizarre thing is that if she was healthy and had two part-time jobs paying €350 per week in both, she would pay no PRSI, despite having a gross income of €700 a week. This relates to a concession whereby those earning less than €352 per week pay no PRSI but get credited with Class A0 contributions. This exemption does not reflect the fact that many people have more than one part-time job. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The news that a nurse in Madrid has contracted Ebola is very disturbing. Despite an isolation unit, full protective equipment and all the facilities of a modern hospital, the virus still managed to spread from patient to nurse.
This appalling event demonstrates once again the dangerous approach being adopted by the HSE for suspected Ebola cases. Patients who may have contracted this deadly infection are essentially being urged to attend their general practitioner, despite the fact that no practice can provide the type of strict isolation and decontamination equipment that was used unsuccessfully in Madrid.
Those responsible for this policy should consider that, if a suspected Ebola case does attend a GP surgery, the risk to practice staff and other patients is far from insignificant. Furthermore, besides dialling 999, there is nothing useful whatsoever that a GP can do if the diagnosis is confirmed.
While I recognise that HSE administrators instinctively love nothing more than to dump inappropriate, unnecessary, unresourced and futile work on to general practice, in this instance such a mindset may well put lives in danger.
A far better, safer approach would be for the authorities to set up a dedicated telephone hotline which could be advertised on national radio and television. Patients who fear they may have contracted Ebola could contact this number whereupon a properly equipped team could attend them directly in their homes, and arrange transfer, thus minimising the risk of spread.
In Ireland we traditionally wait until disaster strikes before belatedly doing the right thing. Let us hope this does not happen with the Ebola virus. – Yours, etc,
Dr RUAIRI HANLEY,
Sir, – Can we expect some irreverence in the upcoming soccer match against Gibraltar since it appears from your picture in Wednesday’s edition that Tommy Tiernan is in charge? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Roy Keane has often spoken of the need for professionalism, focus on the job in hand, absolute dedication and attention to detail. How precisely does the decision to launch his book this week, while the national team is preparing for two qualifiers, square with this uber-professionalism?
I gather that Mr Keane receives some modest remuneration from the FAI for his work with the team so I take it that, as a man of absolute and impeccable integrity, he will reimburse the FAI for the time spent on personal media business which necessitates him being away from his job with the team?
A further possible explanation is that, given Mr Keane’s managerial and coaching career to date, he has decided that staying away from the team would best serve their interests. If that turns out to bear fruit over the next week, he has my undying gratitude and admiration. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – When Roy and Mick had their difference of opinion all those years ago, your letters page had many offerings defending the Corkman. Needless to say they mostly emanated from his own part of the country. As we read of his similar difficulties with Alex Ferguson, I am wondering if those same people will jump to his defence again. I doubt it very much. Those “red-tinted glasses” have become clear over the intervening years. – Yours, etc,
PAT BURKE WALSH,
Sir, – It is reassuring to read that planners will resist calls to reduce the size of new apartments in Dublin (“Council sees no reason to change standards”, October 4th).
When similar pressure was being exerted in London in recent years, the Royal Institute of British Architects argued that in a rush to build quickly and cheaply, we risk storing up unnecessary problems for the future. They highlight the impact of a lack of space for basic lifestyle needs, like not being able to fit standard furniture, inadequate storage space or not having enough space to have quiet time in private.
Any assumption that couples will be able to “trade up” as their family grows is not supportable in the Irish context, where, unlike in other EU countries, managing housing inflation has never been a public policy objective. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – There is little point in a group of dentists commending the involuntary mass-medication of citizens as if their teeth were the only things that matter (October 6th). There is a superior interest, that of human rights – the right not to be involuntarily medicated. The benefits of fluoridated water on human teeth are disputed, as shown by decisions of other countries not to mass-medicate their population. Your dental experts assert that there have been no documented medical side-effects of water fluoridation. I am sure others better versed than I will disagree.
There is unanimity, however, that the purpose of fluoridation is medicinal and that our Medicines Board has never put the stuff to trials to confirm or otherwise that there are benefits or side-effects. Clearly, for the toothless, there appear to be no benefits. One would have thought that if this topic had not been overlain with powerful promotional propaganda for more than 60 years, the stuff would have been tested like any other proposed medicine? – Yours, etc,
Leixlip, Co Kildare.
Sir, – We must congratulate the person responsible for “corporate communications” at Irish Water, who on Morning Ireland surprised us all by stating that no individual at Irish Water will ever receive a bonus. However, she confirmed that they will be entitled to receive a “performance-related payment”. We were told that the parameters for the performance-related payments had not yet been worked out. Normally performance parameters are agreed in advance rather than after the event. Anything is possible at Irish Water! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Gina Menzies is quoted as praising Pope Francis for relinquishing “monarchical trappings and pomp” (Patsy McGarry, “The world has fallen in love with Pope Francis, but we should be cautious”, October 6th). The Vatican gave up its last claims to the papal states with the Lateran treaty in 1929; the Noble Guard and the sedia gestatoria disappeared in the 1960s; the last pontifical coronation was Paul VI’s and that pope sold the papal crown; and Benedict XVI removed the crown from the papal coat of arms.
Benedict XVI, she assures us, closed down all theological dialogue. What does she think his meeting with Hans Küng in 2006 was about? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In support of his claim that the “just rebellion” theory is not applicable to Ireland in 1916, Dr Brian P Murphy (October 6th) takes me to task for ignoring his argument that the theory does not apply where a sovereign state is ruled by another. But in 1916 Ireland was not an internationally recognised sovereign state whose sovereignty had been violated – unlike, for example, Belgium in 1914. – Yours, etc,
FELIX M LARKIN ,
Cabinteely, Dublin 18.
Enda Kenny appears to completely misunderstand the growing resistance to the water charges which his Government is attempting to impose.
He stated yet again that water is a “precious resource that must be paid for” while at the same time emphasising that the State spends €1.2bn a year on water.
Who, I wonder, does Mr Kenny think is paying that €1.2bn? It is the citizens of this State who pay for water services through our taxes, as is right and proper.
Yet this Government has established a mechanism whereby people will pay for their water a second time.
Mr Kenny is right when he says that water is a “precious resource” but it is so much more than that.
Water is an absolute essential for life. It is not like electricity or gas, despite the weak arguments to the contrary by those in favour of water charges.
Drinking less water, or using less water for personal or domestic hygiene, have far greater health implications than simply switching off the TV to save electricity or throwing on a jumper to save on gas.
Water is not the same as other utilities and should not be treated the same.
The other line often trotted out in favour of water charges is conservation.
However, as far as I know, if the Irish people do start ‘conserving’ water, Irish Water is allowed to up the unit rate to compensate for the lower usage. This flies in the face of any suggestion that conservation of a “precious resource” is a factor. This is simply a thinly veiled revenue-raising exercise. It is also the first step in the potential privatisation of our water supply, which is an appalling vista.
The Irish people understand what is happening in regard to our water, perhaps it’s time we had a Government that understands the people.
Crumlin, Dublin 12
Don’t stigmatise Africa over Ebola
The media has a solemn obligation to inform the public, explore uncharted territory and cover challenging topics in a global context.
In its coverage of the Ebola outbreak, the media should tread carefully by not stigmatising and stereotyping the African continent.
The stigmatisation of West Africa as the epicentre of the contagion is bound to have devastating consequences on health, education, economy, environment and social cohesion. No region has ever managed to prevent such outbreaks.
The Black Death, the Spanish influenza, the avian flu, BSE, foot and mouth disease, SARS are just some in a long list of transmissible viruses that wreaked havoc and paralysed societies and economies across the five continents.
Stereotyping and fear limits the chances of nipping the disease in the bud. People are afraid to travel to West Africa; visits, conferences and business trips have been cancelled.
As Dr Margaret Chan admitted, WHO is facing major challenges in recruiting sufficient numbers of foreign medical staff. Because a facility treating 70 patients requires 250 healthcare workers, in countries where basic infection control facilities are virtually non-existent, the gravity of the situation is clear. And as we live in multicultural societies, this will have an impact on the social fabric in the West.
We have been here before with the ostracising of ethnic communities, tarnishing them with the accusation of terrorism and portraying them as aggressive and backward.
Economic growth is an essential ingredient for a healthy society, and vice versa. Our humanity will not allow us to sink into the abyss of danger and uncertainty.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2, UK
It’s all about Roy
The Republic of Ireland soccer team are just about to play two very important matches that could very well determine the future of the FAI for the next 10 years or so. And, guess what, interest in these two matches is running a very poor second to the national obsession with Roy Keane – and that is what it is.
Keane, for some reason, was appointed as assistant manager and since that moment life in Irish international football has been all about Roy and very little else.
He was the captain of the biggest football club on the planet, the world was at his feet – and he was destined for immortality.
But he still wasn’t happy, so he set about his next project, which was to prepare an exit from Manchester United – and once again he was successful, but this time he realised that he had made a terrible mistake.
My view is that his exit from Man Utd is the reason that he is going around like a headless chicken!
Screen, Co Wexford
Stop the water fiasco
Former minister Fergus O ‘Dowd suggests that Irish Water is a disaster . . . a stopcock-up?
Beaumont, Dublin 9
Pension levy versus people power
Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by the pension levy. The funds confiscated from their pension are gone and will not be reimbursed. It is time to ensure (1) that this disgraceful government action is ended and (2) that the people who promulgated it are punished so that they, or any future government, will never again attempt theft of this nature.
The number of people affected make an immensely powerful voting lobby. I have recently written to the two Fine Gael TDs in my constituency informing them that myself, my wife and two affected family members have made an irrevocable decision not to vote for any Fine Gael candidate in the next election over this measure.
The arrogance and ignorance of the protected political and civil service cabal will, I believe, have massive consequences for the government parties and, in particular, for Fine Gael, whose Finance Minister is the chief promulgator of this falsely labelled “temporary” levy.
I would urge all those people affected by the levy to do two things. Firstly, contact your pension adviser or provider and ask them to quantify the extent of the reduction in your pension. This is a simple actuarial exercise which they can quickly provide.
Secondly, without delay, write or email your local government TD and inform them that they will be held directly accountable and punished in the next general election on this red-line issue.
This is the only weapon you have – it is a powerful one, use it!
Blackrock, Co Dublin
It has been said recently that on no major issue has the Government behaved quite so dishonourably as on the pensions issue. This is surely correct.
The Government prides itself on the “tough” but necessary decisions it is making for the good of the country. No doubt the levy is part of that story – and how tough it was not to keep the promise to terminate it. Tackling the public service unions next year on their demands for more pay will be a stroll after this.
Since most employers have decided to pass on the full cost of the levy (as prompted by the 2011 government legislation), the upshot of each extension of the levy is a further cut in pensions – for life. Pensioners and pension scheme members, be very afraid.
The €2.3bn bite taken from pension funds, far from being a source of government embarrassment, or a reason for ceasing such plunder, is now becoming the very reason for continuing with it.
The legacy of Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who is riding high at the moment, might yet be his role in wrecking the private pensions system. Is there no way to stop him?
Has any thought been given to the legality or constitutionality of what is going on here?
Churchtown, Dublin 14