Letters

A H Halsey – obituary

A H Halsey was a socialist academic who believed that comprehensive schools were the key to an equal society

A H Halsey

A H Halsey  Photo: Graham Turner/Guardian

Professor A H Halsey, who has died aged 91, was Britain’s first Professor of Sociology and played a key part in the 1960s, as adviser to Anthony Crosland, the Labour education secretary, in the switch to comprehensive education.

Chelly Halsey, as he was always known, was one of the last relics of the Labour academic generation that came up the hard way. But, although he himself had enjoyed a grammar school education, he believed that only the abolition of selection could bring about true equality. He was unapologetic about his belief that education should be used as an instrument in pursuit of an egalitarian society.

Halsey saw himself as an ethical socialist marching in the wake of such figures as William Temple and R H Tawney. Although he rejected revolutionary Marxism, he believed that the truth of socialism would be proved by empirical research, and that laying bare the facts would inevitably move the British people to eradicate inequality. “For me personally,” he wrote, “the class system, whether in its inherited rural form of squirearchy or its urban structure of bourgeoisie and proletariat, was always anathema.” It had to be rooted out — by force if necessary — using the tools of progressive taxation and compulsory comprehensive education.

Whether or not it ever truly existed, he was incurably nostalgic about the working-class England of the pre-war era, describing himself as a “pilgrim” who believed that “the institutions invented by the Victorian and Edwardian working class — the Unions, the Cooperative Society and the Labour Party — were the route to the New Jerusalem”. In an introduction to Twentieth-Century British Social Trends (2000) he evoked some of those qualities he missed so much, approvingly quoting George Orwell: “The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners.”

To his critics he was that most dangerous of political animals, a puritan romantic — someone who by his own admission believed in the “overwhelming importance of collective as distinct from individual experience and consciousness”. For what always seemed to be missing from Halsey’s egalitarianism was an understanding of the competitive side of human nature.

In 1974 he provoked widespread ridicule when he appealed to parents to remove their children from public schools on the ground that they were contributing to the deprivation of disadvantaged children. More reasonably, he strongly disapproved of socialists who “suddenly found exceptional reasons to send their children to non-comprehensive schools” (as well as those who accepted membership of the House of Lords).

The experience of being Crosland’s adviser was not entirely happy. Crosland, in Halsey’s view, was a disappointing minister who ducked the important decisions that needed to be taken, like abolishing the public schools. As a practical politician, Crosland balked at the idea on grounds both of individual liberty and political unpopularity. Halsey, the idealist, saw no conflict between the goals of liberty and equality and did not acknowledge the political problem.

A H Halsey

Crosland also represented a strand of 1960s liberal socialism that was alien to Halsey. Indeed, it was only Crosland’s commitment to comprehensive education that enabled Halsey to overcome his distaste for the man himself — “a profligate drinker and philanderer… alcohol, cigars, women, even opera were avidly consumed”, as Halsey recalled.

In later life, Halsey bemoaned the loss of old moral values and the breakdown of the traditional ties of family and community. But like many socialists of his generation he tended to blame society’s ills on Thatcherism, rather than on the egalitarian socialism of which he had been a prominent exponent.

The second of nine children, Albert Henry Halsey was born in Kentish Town on April 13 1923 into a patriotic Christian socialist family. His memories were of a wholly manual inheritance. His father was a railway worker and his wider family comprised hordes of skilled uncles and aunts. This early upbringing shaped his whole life. “I cannot pretend to be other than puritanical in my attitudes towards work and leisure and life,” he once admitted. “The manual uncles always haunt me, investing the stint with sacred quality.” The titles of some of Halsey’s major works reflected this early background: Social Class and Educational Opportunity (1956); Educational Priority (1972); Heredity and Environment (1977); Origins and Destinations (1980); and English Ethical Socialism (1988).

When Chelly was still an infant, the family moved to Lyddington in Rutland, then to a council estate at Corby, Northamptonshire. There they eked out a meagre income by foraging for blackberries and mushrooms and befriending the local poachers. A defining moment of Chelly’s life came when a tramp appeared at the kitchen window and stretched out his billy-can. Chelly’s mother gave the man tea and two thick slices of bread and dripping. “God bless you, Missus,” said the tramp. “Good luck to you, mate,” his mother replied.

Halsey won a scholarship to Kettering Grammar School and stayed on in the sixth form to take the exams for the clerical grade of the Civil Service. When these were cancelled at the outbreak of war, he left school aged 16 and worked as a sanitary inspector’s apprentice at £40 a year. On his 18th birthday he volunteered for active service and entered the RAF as a pilot cadet. He trained as a fighter pilot in Rhodesia and South Africa, perfecting the “aerial handbrake turn” that, he hoped, would keep him out of the way of Japanese Kamikaze pilots. He never met the Japanese in action but nearly lost his life when, practising the manoeuvre, his plane took a nose dive, recovering only yards from the ground. By the time the war ended he was a flight sergeant in the RAF medical corps.

It was the offer of further educational opportunities to men in the Armed Forces that gave Halsey his opportunity to acquire a university education. After demob, he enrolled at the London School of Economics. It was there that he met, and in 1949 married, Margaret Littler, a fellow student.

After graduating from the LSE, he took up research work in Sociology at Liverpool University then, in 1954, became a lecturer in the subject at Birmingham. In 1956-57, he took a sabbatical year in America, working at the Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioural Sciences at Palo Alto. It was at Birmingham that he undertook the work that underpinned the Labour Party’s early commitment to comprehensive education. In his first major study, Social Class and Education (with J E Floud, 1957), he explored the relationship between social class and success at 11-plus, concluding that working-class children were disadvantaged by the selective system.

In 1962 he left Birmingham as senior lecturer to become head of Barnett House, Oxford University’s department of social and administrative studies, and a professorial fellow of Nuffield College. Sociology was rather frowned upon at the time, but Halsey fought successfully to establish it as part of the academic mainstream. He became Professor of Social and Administrative studies in 1978 and also participated in university governance, serving on Oxford’s Hebdomadal Council. He devoted two books, The British Academics (1971) and The Decline of Donnish Domination (1992), to academic affairs.

Crosland appointed him his adviser on education in 1965, but after Crosland’s departure in 1967 Halsey found himself cold-shouldered by his successors. Patrick Gordon Walker made him feel like “Charlie Chaplin in City Lights where a toff would get drunk and take Charlie home, swearing eternal comradeship, and then have him thrown out in the morning as a person unknown”. Ted Short was “not much better”. Shirley Williams ignored him completely.

Surprisingly, Halsey was called upon by Mrs Thatcher in her role as education minister in the early 1970s to advise on nursery education, though she never acted on his recommendations that more money should be poured into deprived “educational priority areas” and nursery education. In the 1980s he emerged as one of the main opponents of Mrs Thatcher’s being given an honorary degree by Oxford, arguing that the university should “stand up for education against its principal oppressor”.

In 1983 he was a major contributor to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas whose report, Faith in the City, was widely dismissed by Conservatives as little better than socialist propaganda.

Not that Halsey had much time for the other political parties at this time. While he hated the extremists in the Labour Party, he disliked the breakaway Social Democrats even more, dismissing them as “middle-class Oxbridge intellectuals” whose party allegiance “did not come from childhood experience of the daily struggle that informed the politics of my own kith and kin”.

But by one of those strange quirks of politics, after his retirement in 1990 Halsey found common cause with thinkers on the Right about the disastrous effect of permissive attitudes on social cohesion. In Families without Fatherhood, which he co-wrote, and which was published in 1992 by the normally Right-wing Institute for Economic Affairs, he drew attention to the link between crime and family breakdown, harking back to “respectable” working-class family life just before and after the war, when the heart of the family was stable marriage, which anchored men into the child-rearing process.

Later the same year he criticised the way in which women had been betrayed by feminist demands for equality. Women, he felt, were now worse off than at any time since the suffragette movement because they were combining the role of breadwinner with mother.

Not surprisingly, he displayed a profound scepticism for the Islington radicals of New Labour. In a passage in his autobiography (No Discouragement, 1996), he recalled an exchange with Tony Blair over dinner in 1995. They were getting on reasonably well until Blair suddenly asked who the second most interesting character in the New Testament was and gave as his own answer Pontius Pilate.

To Halsey this was “a characteristic politician’s choice”, and he did not disguise his disapproval. His own selection, perhaps equally predictably, fell on the Good Samaritan as “a member of a despised minority engaged in direct action”. Clearly not wanting to get into deep waters, Blair immediately backtracked, remarking that, naturally, the last person he would try to emulate in power would be Pilate.

In 1977 Halsey was the BBC’s choice as its Reith lecturer. In retirement, he enjoyed gardening and woodwork, but he also continued writing. His later books included A History of Sociology in Britain (2004), followed by Changing Childhood, a history of the Halsey family, in 2009, and Essays on the Evolution of Oxford and Nuffield College in 2012.

His wife Margaret died in 2004; he is survived by their three sons and two daughters.

Professor A H Halsey, born, April 13 1923, died October 14 2014

 

Severe loneliness blights the lives of nearly two million people aged 50 and over in Britain.  Photo
Severe loneliness blights the lives of nearly 2 million people aged 50 and over in Britain. Photograph: Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis

George Monbiot (Life in the age of loneliness, 15 October) does not refer to the role that our planning system has played, at least as an accomplice, in creating the loneliest “society” in Europe. During the next few years hundreds of thousands of new homes will be built, mostly following a model that could reasonably be described as “pandering to privacy”. In 1968 an American sociologist, Philip Slater, suggested that: “The longing for privacy is generated by the drastic conditions that a longing for privacy produces.” We seem to be in this vicious cycle where our individualism makes it increasingly difficult to provide mutual support and affection. Private housing is being designed to be not only privately owned but anti-social in its occupation. Planners should be engaged in the provision of co-housing where care and companionship are the norm.
Daniel Scharf
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

• Reading George Monbiot, I was surprised at the unwarranted and unexplained attack on TV. The WaveLength charity has supplied TVs and radios to lonely and isolated people living in poverty since 1939. We know TVs and radios ameliorate loneliness through the “social surrogacy hypothesis”, an effect studied by researchers at the universities of Haifa, Buffalo and Miami.

Monbiot is absolutely correct that loneliness is a scourge of our time and a leading contributor to poor mental and physical health. However, his depiction of TV as a “hedonic treadmill”, ranged on the side of selfish aspiration, jars with our experience of TV as one of very few supports left to isolated people – as well as the most accessible form of culture.

TVs and radios give WaveLength’s users something to talk about with family, friends and carers, as well as providing friendly faces and voices when they’re at their lowest. In day centres, homelessness hostels and women’s refuges, TVs become focal points for residents to meet.

Some of our users’ loneliness stems from the societal factors Monbiot describes: families dispersed to follow work, irregular public transport, erosion of pubs and cinemas. But others – living with illnesses or disabilities, struggling with addiction or escaping domestic violence – are less able to cope with regular socialising. TVs and radios give them comfort and a sense of structure when getting outside is difficult. No one would deny the painful effects of loneliness. But WaveLength’s 75 years in operation shows that isolated people have always appreciated media technology’s ability to keep their windows to the world open.
Tim Leech
Chief executive, WaveLength

• I was immensely moved by the article (Family, 11 October) about the upcoming film Radiator in which Tom Browne reflects on how he found himself trying to change his elderly parents’ lives. It rings so true with my experiences. I recall one day when I went to see my mum some time after my 95-year-old dad had died. He had survived a stroke for 10 years and in that time never left the house, and they bumped along, refusing help. I knew mum and dad always liked Wimbledon, so I turned up with scones and strawberries and made a lovely cup of tea and spread it before us. My mum watched the tennis for about five minutes, picked up the remote and put Emmerdale on. For 10 years, the soaps had rescued her from her mundane life and given her something to look forward to. I actually argued with her about turning it over. I should have taken my scone and tea and a radio and listened to the tennis in the sun in our lovely back garden in the house we had lived in for 60 years. It would have been great. I spoilt it for both of us. How I agree with Tom; we should give our parents what they enjoy and want, not what we think they “need”.
Debbie Cameron
Manchester

• One of the impacts of older people being referred to as a burden (Society Guardian, 15 October) is that older people themselves start to internalise ageist views which can lead to the loneliness and depression described by George Monbiot. Ageism is rife in society, and this may be compounding problems of depression, isolation and anxiety. Many older patients I see say things like “I’m past my sell by date”, “I’m too old to be helped” and “It’s too late to change”, leading them to give up doing things they could still do, and to be pessimistic about life as an old person.

Yet we know that those who stay involved and active live longer and happier lives. Treating all these older people with drugs or therapy is not the right solution. We need as a society to re-evaluate what age offers and to encourage healthy ageing across the life cycle. We have started a campaign in our area called “Proud to be Grey”, challenging ageist beliefs and encouraging people to carry on doing whatever they enjoy throughout their lives. Initially this has been a poster campaign across all council, mental health and GP settings, featuring local residents with three statements about things they enjoy about growing old. These have ranged from roles such as being a grandparent to activities they enjoy.
Dr CI Allen
Consultant clinical psychologist, Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

• There would rightly be an outcry if any other group, such as women or an ethnic minority, was described as a burden. Age UK says that a third of pensioners do voluntary work. A further third of them do unpaid child-minding of their grandchildren so that their parents can work. Many of the over-60s look after their own elderly parents who are in their 80s. Older people are net contributors to society. Research carried out for the charity WRVS reveals people of 65 and over are also net contributors to the economy. Taking into account older people’s tax payments, caring responsibilities and volunteering, people aged 65 and over contribute £40bn more to the economy than they receive in state pensions, welfare and health services. By 2030 older people’s net contribution is projected to increase to some £75bn.
Ann Wills
Ruislip, Middlesex

• Loneliness among our elderly population is rife (Number of severely lonely men over 50 set to rise to 1m in 15 years, 13 October). The report by Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre-UK highlights the shocking extent of the problem – and how it’s set to get worse. Many people are unaware of the impact of loneliness on physical and mental health, and more needs to be done to widen awareness and address the problem. We’re supporting some truly inspirational charities that are addressing this issue locally, such as the Dorcas Befriending Project in London and Men In Sheds in Milton Keynes, and matching the first £10 of all donations made through Localgiving.com in our “Grow Your Tenner” fundraising campaign, just launched by the new minister for civil society, Rob Wilson.
Stephen Mallinson
Chief executive, Localgiving.com

David Cameron on a bike, 2005. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
David Cameron on a bike, 2005. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

If the taxi driver quoted in John Crace’s sketch (I’m David Farage, 17 October) is correct that Rochester is “the arsehole of Kent”, what does this make the politicians passing through?
Edward Rees QC
Doughty Street Chambers, London

• Re “The juvenile thrills of a puff in the park” (G2, 16 October): I presume the tigers in Trafalgar Square referred to are the ones under Napoleon’s Column.
Sally Howel
London

• Does the bronze of David Cameron on a bike (Secretive club hosts Tory fundraiser in aid of marginal seats, 17 October) come with a bronze of a limo carrying his papers?
Martin Berman
Glasgow

Tomorrow afternoon a memorial service will be held for David Haines, one of the three Britons kidnapped by Isis in Syria. David and Alan Henning travelled to Syria to help their fellow man by delivering vital humanitarian support to those who needed it most. Their desire to help was not driven by their religion, race or politics, but by their humanity. David and Alan were never more alive than when helping to alleviate the suffering of others. They gave their lives to this cause and we are incredibly proud of them.

We are writing this letter because we will not allow the actions of a few people to undermine the unity of people of all faiths in our society. How we react to this threat is also about all of us. Together we have the power to defeat the most hateful acts. Acts of unity from us all will in turn make us stronger and those who wish to divide us weaker. David and Alan’s killers want to hurt all of us and stop us from believing in the very things which took them into conflict zones – charity and human kindness. We condemn those who seek to drive us apart and spread hatred by attempting to place blame on Muslims or on the Islamic faith for the actions of these terrorists.

We have been overwhelmed by the messages of support we have received from the British public and others around the world. We call on all communities of all faiths in the coming weeks and months to find a single act of unity – one simple gesture, one act, one moment – that draws people together, as we saw in Manchester last week and as we are coming together in Perth today. We urge churches, mosques and synagogues to open their doors and welcome people of all faiths and none. All these simple acts of unity will, in their thousands, come together to unite us and celebrate the lives of David and Alan. This is what David and Alan truly stood for.
Michael Haines and Barbara Henning

Jocelyn Stevens
Jocelyn Stevens in 1991, the year before he moved to English Heritage. Photograph: Jane Bown

Far from being “buried by archaeologists”, Sir Jocelyn Stevens embraced us and shared our passion for heritage. Committed to quality, and irascible when it suited him, Jocelyn brought a welcome breadth of vision and experience to English Heritage. Most of us responded enthusiastically – though some were scorched by his insistence that only the best would do. He recognised the power of archaeology to change perceptions of the past and influence the ways in which we would live together in the future. The new Stonehenge visitor centre and the restoration of the monument to its landscape would not have occurred without his persistent advocacy. He was a firm friend to archaeology and his support was crucial as it evolved from a preserve of the few into the wider world.

 

I am outraged that Nicola Sturgeon, who is aged 44, has the effrontery to say that she expects to see Scotland leave the UK in her lifetime.

Scotland has spoken: it wishes to stay in the United Kingdom and, as Alex Salmond has commented, this is a once-in-a-generation debate.

She should not act as a spoilt child because she did not get her own way. And next time, if there is one, can we please take into consideration important facts which were overlooked in the recent referendum. Scotland merged with England and Wales in 1603. No one dissented, so it became in law one single country, and remains so. This fact is evidenced by our having one British Parliament at Westminster.

Thus if Scotland now wishes to break away, the decision should be taken by all the people of the UK or, at any rate, by all the people of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland).

If it were otherwise, the people of Kent could declare their intention of seeking independence and demand a referendum to be decided solely by the inhabitants of Kent.

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds; Kent has a lot in common with Scotland on this issue. Whereas the greater part of England was settled by the Angles and Saxons in the 5th century onwards, Kent was settled by the Jutes who came from a different part of northern Europe. Kent was an independent Jutish kingdom from the 5th to nearly the 9th century, during which time there were some 20 kings of Kent.

Furthermore, Kent had a separate law of inheritance called gavelkind which was not abolished until 1925.

But a current claim for Kentish independence would be put to Parliament or, less likely, put to a general referendum involving the whole country.

Why the latter? Because the people of Kent have historically acquiesced in living in the one political entity which we now call the United Kingdom. Ditto Scotland.

David Ashton
Shipbourne, Kent

 

I can foresee a battle royal developing between the SNP and Westminster, whereby the spurious expectations of the SNP to get everything they ask for will not be granted by Westminster, and the howls of discontent from the SNP will fire up the independence issue yet again. There are many in Scotland who think that we need to get on with life, and there are many matters of government that have been ignored while we were strangled in a very divisive referendum over the past two years.

The independence issue is done and dusted, so let’s get on with building a better Scotland for all.

Dennis Forbes Grattan
Bucksburn, Aberdeen

 

Alan Johnson is labour’s only hope

I was surprised that there was little response to the suggestion that Alan Johnson should step forward to take the reins of the Labour Party.

I am not a member or a supporter of Labour or any of the current crop of UK political parties. Alan Johnson is, however, my local MP in Hull West and Hessle and represents his constituency very well. Are Labour Party members so deluded as to not be able to see that Ed Miliband is leading them to defeat in May 2015?

Ed may be a perfectly nice guy with a fine set of policies – but, crucially, he is an inept leader and, even more crucially, is not viewed by the British electorate as a future leader of this country. With him at the helm the Labour Party will suffer another “Kinnock moment”.

So step forward, Alan Johnson… even if you just call yourself a caretaker leader. This would be a bad election for Labour to lose; with the economy on the up and a possible fight against Boris in 2020, Labour could find itself on the back foot and out of power for years.

Martin Newman
Hull

 

Freud has at least started a debate

Lord Freud made a foolish blunder when he suggested that the disabled should be paid below the minimum wage, but those who rush to judgement should recall that another Government multi-millionaire minister, Jeremy Hunt, did some similar thinking out loud a year ago, when he suggested that the British had a tendency to neglect their elderly relatives, unlike the Chinese.

He seemed particularly taken with Beijing’s law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Aged which placed a legal obligation on children to make regular parental visits.

Mr Hunt’s ostensible concern for the elderly was, in truth, a ploy to persuade us all to take on duties which governments like his would prefer to avoid, since a minimal-intervention state has better things to do with its money than spend it on old people. According to the doctrine favoured by the present administration, families should look after their own.

The Health Minister’s not-so-coded message was that individuals in the UK should take the pressure off public spending by stumping up for the care of their ailing parents.

Lord Freud has at least opened the issue up. We are told that employment is on the rise, which sounds like good news. On the other hand, we are also told that more than a third of the newly self-employed don’t earn enough to pay tax.

While it would clearly be an outrage to expect anyone to work for as little as £2 per hour, even if they did happen to be less productive than their workmates, it would also not be beyond the wit even of this Government to devise a scheme similar to one which operated around 40 years ago when small businesses received a premium from the state if they employed a person registered as disabled.

Instead of heaping abuse on Lord Freud, perhaps his colleagues could ask him to look into it.

David J Black
Edinburgh

 

As your editorial (17 October) says, Freud must go. He has not only been thoroughly offensive, but he has spearheaded what disabled people have come to see as our persecution.

But your paper and most commentators, including Nick Clegg (“Freud raised important issue, says Clegg”, also 17 October), have all been sucked into believing that only work gives a person any value whatsoever. This ethos is unlikely to be shared by many other cultures, but in saying: “We are human beings, not economic units”, I feel completely out of step.

Of course, it isn’t new; mothers and those caring for relatives at home have long struggled to make society aware of their massive value. But this new drum beat, of forcing absolutely everyone into some sort of paid job, however poor the pay or demeaning the work, is a frightening manifestation of capitalism at its worst.

Merry Cross
Earley, Reading

 

Chimpanzees’ rights would be good for us

Congratulations on your editorial asking for fundamental rights to be granted to chimpanzees (9 October). As a superior species, human beings have treated the animals who share this planet with us with appalling cruelty and indifference.

By granting animals some fundamental rights and by focusing on compassion in all our dealings with animals, we will take a huge leap forward in our civilisation. Over thousands of years we as a species have corrected many wrongs that we committed on ourselves. Our cruelty towards animals in hunting, live exports, factory farming and countless other ways is a blot on our species which we need to address urgently.

Nitin Mehta
Croydon

 

How extravagance redistributes wealth

Commenting on the extravagant wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (13 October) says spending £8m “is not good – not for them, not for anyone”.

Surely the opposite is true. It does no one any good for wealthy people to stash their cash and live like paupers. Only by spending lavishly do they redistribute their wealth to the rest of us. George and Amal’s wedding, spread over four days in Venice, must have provided employment for countless people, and no doubt contributed to keeping the city afloat.

Julie Hynds
Harrogate

 

Richard III was hardly the worst of kings

Given Dr Sean Lang’s hackneyed condemnation of Richard III (letter, 16 October), I am thankful that I am not one of his students.

With nothing to gain and everything to lose under the new Tudor regime, so far from regarding their late king as a tyrant or murderer, the city of York publicly mourned “our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city”.

And when it came to wholesale political murder, Henrys VII and VIII made Richard III look like a fumbling amateur.

Richard Humble
Exeter

 

Double Take

In The Independent (17 October) on the same page: the price of chocolate pudding in Israel – two full columns; 13-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank – half a column. Say no more…

Bill Dale
Bristol

Sir, Large cruise ships should be commandeered immediately and sent to West Africa as floating hospital ships. I make this suggestion drawing on my experience on the Falklands task force commander’s staff, mobilising merchantmen as troop transports and hospital ships.

Cruise ships are fast through the water, have sophisticated air conditioning systems, catering facilities and huge electrical generating capacity: there would never be a shortage of power for any medical need. Cruise ships also have helipads and sophisticated communications systems.

This environment could be used to give medical personnel the greatest possible protection (clean rooms, suiting rooms and so on). Each of the big ships could offer up to 3,000 hospital beds.

There are no other capital assets that can put so many beds, and such a sophisticated Western technological infrastructure, in place in west Africa in such a short time.

These ships are very expensive (and no-one is going to want to use them afterwards) but they are far cheaper than military assets with the same facilities.

At about €500 million to build, these ships may be expensive, but it monetises the problem. An investment of €5 billion could put ten ships and 20,000 good medical beds into west Africa within a month. This is just about sufficient to make a difference. I can see no other means.
Nicholas R Messinger
Master mariner, Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Sir, I warned in my book in 2008 of the danger of diseases bred in insanitary conditions in the developing world being spread internationally; I mentioned ebola, together with Sars and HIV/Aids (Jefferson’s Disease, pp. 124-5).

There are other formidable viruses out there, such as Marburg virus and “monkey pox”.

The ebola screening about to be instituted will not detect the really dangerous arrivals in this country: those incubating the disease. Such people will mix with the population, spreading the virus for almost two weeks before being laid low. The only solution to that is to quarantine all visitors from West Africa for two weeks. Unless such rigour is applied, ebola will quite probably have devastating consequences here.

May I now suggest two measures to improve the safety of those nursing the sufferers? One is the judicious use of carbolic aerosol-type sprays as first used by Lord Lister. At one time, I had to perform orthopaedic operations in a room subjected to heavy traffic. By spraying this room there were no post-operative infections.

The second is the use of copper-impregnated materials, which have proved to be bactericidal. Gowns thus treated could be reused. This could help to overcome one of the serious dangers of nursing these patients: that of becoming infected when removing gowns.
Wylie Gibbs, FRCS
Newport, Isle of Wight

Sir, Jenni Russell (“Action this day if we’re going to beat ebola,” Oct 16) omits an important factor with respect to certain west African governments. The apparent inertia is less likely to be caused by crowd psychology than by a reasonable expectation that the governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone should have been making reasonable attempts to isolate affected patients and their contacts, prohibit cross-border travel and communicate effectively the seriousness of the outbreak.
Dr Tony Males
Cambridge

Sir, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year recounts how market traders, fearful of infection from coins, required customers to place payment in, and take change from, bowls of vinegar.

Should not government guidance suggest that retailers display notices stating “We encourage the use of contactless payment in the hope that this lessens the risk of infection by reducing the handling of cash and the use of keypads”?
John Harvey
Caterham, Surrey

Sir, This country has been kept free of rabies by the use of strict quarantine laws. The only way to control ebola is to strictly limit all movement out of affected countries and to impose 21 days’ quarantine on those few who are allowed to leave, preferably before departure. If an infected individual boards a ship for a slow journey home, the result will be a disaster. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship going to Sierra Leone would do well to isolate any person who goes ashore.

Even trained staff with all the protective gear find it difficult to protect themselves from infection. Therefore, those who have been involved in this dangerous task should also be quarantined for three weeks after their exposure. This would have prevented the present panic in America. We have forgotten how important enforced isolation is in the control of infectious disease. Harsh decisions can limit the spread of this tragedy.
Marian Latchman
Braishfield, Hants

Sir, Where is the international ebola aid movement — the international charity appeals and pop concerts? ebola seems to have a low profile in Europe. This needs all our help now, or it will get exponentially worse. I for one will be making another donation to help combat this awful disease — not much, but it all helps. Have you done your bit?
Pat O’Hara
Ormskirk, Lancs

Sir, I was appalled to read that those service personnel deploying to West Africa to help in the WHO efforts to contain the ebola virus, would not “routinely” be flown home by the government, should they be unfortunate enough to become infected. Does this stand up against the armed forces covenant? And what message does this send to those going to west Africa to assist in this great effort?
Nick Bailey
Upton Lovell, Wiltshire

Sir, A seemingly unrecognised route for spread of ebola would be rats and other vermin, if bodies are buried rather than cremated. It came from bats, it thrives in humans, it is likely to find rats a good host, from these ebola will spread to domestic and farm animals and find another route back to humans via pets and meat-eating.
Dr Lesley Kay London, NW1

Sir, Tony Westhead (letter, Oct 15) is describing a general consultant. A management consultant would borrow your watch to tell you the time . . . and keep your watch.
Kerry Thomas
Tilehurst, Berks

Sir, I have been reading your correspondence on zeugmas (letters, this week) with interest and a cup of coffee. However, whether I now better understand the difference between a zeugma and a syllepsis is a matter of conjecture and little practical importance.
Mark Haszlakiewicz
Goodworth Clatford, Hants

Sir, A Times correspondent once wrote that he had received a letter saying: “We had turkey for lunch and Granny for tea”.
Peter Govier
Highcliffe, Dorset

Sir, John Lennon once said: “I play the guitar, and sometimes the fool.”
Dr Dominic Walker
Bourne, Lincs

Sir, The perfect example of zeugma is in Have Some Madeira, M’dear, by Flanders and Swann: “She lowered her standards by raising her glass/Her courage, her eyes and his hopes.” And no good came of it.
Aline Templeton
Edinburgh

Sir, Your readers may spare themselves time and mental anguish by consulting Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, where the entry for zeugma reads: “Essentially the same as syllepsis. The differences between them are trivial and undecided.”
Ean Taylor
Sprotbrough, Doncaster

Sir, All this discussion of zeugma and syllepsis is doing a great service to our knowledge of language, but my head in.
Geoff Buckley
Chislehurst, Kent

Sir, Carol Midgley fears being found asleep and drooling on her 29th circuit of the Circle Line three hours after a liquid lunch (“Boris and the lost art of lunchtime drinking”, Oct 15). It takes 49 minutes to complete one circuit of the Circle Line, so allowing for scheduled night-time closures and changing at Edgware Road, it would take about 29 hours to complete 29 circuits. Perfect timing for a restorative pre-dinner martini while following the 5:2 diet plan.
Angus Saer
Westcot, Oxon

Sir, Helen Rumbelow’s dilemma over the correct label for female footballers is a long-lasting issue. In the late 1950s I was an undergraduate at Bedford College for Women, University of London. That started life in the mid-19th century as the Ladies College but was soon renamed. However, 100 years later it was still widely believed that our rival all-female colleges were not so enlightened and the Royal Holloway College catered for girls and Westfield for ladies.
Olive Main
Stilton, Peterborough

Freedom of expression compromised after memoir ban

The court ruled that the book should not be published on the grounds that it may cause psychological harm to the author’s child.

The Royal Courts of Justice, London.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the memoir about sexual abuse could not be published Photo: ALAMY

SIR – The Court of Appeal’s injunction last week preventing publication of a memoir poses a significant threat to freedom of expression. The court ruled that the book should not be published on the grounds that it might cause psychological harm to the author’s child, who has Asperger’s and ADHD.

The book is not targeted at children and will not be published in the country in which the child lives. It deals with the author’s experiences of sexual abuse and explores the redemptive power of artistic expression. It has been praised, even in court, for having striking prose and being an insightful work.

The author’s earlier public discussions of sexual abuse have led to the arrest of one of his abusers. This memoir’s publication is therefore clearly in the public interest and may encourage those who have suffered abuse to speak out.

As members of English PEN, we are gravely concerned about the impact of this judgment on the freedom to read and write in Britain. The public is being denied the opportunity of reading an enlightening memoir, while publishers, authors and journalists may face censorship on similar grounds in the future.

Jeffrey Archer
William Boyd
John Carey
Jim Crace
Jonathan Dimbleby
Cory Doctorow
Michael Frayn
Stephen Fry
Daisy Goodwin
David Hare

Tom Holland
Hari Kunzru
Marina Lewycka
Blake Morrison
Katharine Norbury
Will Self
Sir Tom Stoppard
Colin Thubron
Colm Tóibín
Maureen Freely

President, English PEN

Hospital smokers

SIR – It would be more prudent to ban smoking outside hospitals before trying to ban in it public parks (report, October 15).

On arriving at both Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General hospitals one has to walk a gauntlet of smokers, many in wheelchairs with drips attached.

When I asked about this, I was told it was public land, so the hospital authorities were unable to do anything about. What hope for policing a ban in public parks?

Annabel Hayter
Maisemore, Gloucester

Don’t consign Radio 3 to the digital realm

DAB’s quality doesn’t begin to compare with that achieved by FM broadcasts

Digital era: Ed Vaizey has suggested that BBC Radio 3 should be moved to a digital channel

Digital era: Ed Vaizey has suggested that BBC Radio 3 should be moved to a digital channel Photo: Daniel Jones

SIR – Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture and communications, prefers Classic FM to Radio 3. He is entitled to his views but, unlike the rest of us, he is in a position to do something about them and cavalierly wants to banish Radio 3 to digital radio.

Aside from the fact that DAB has singularly failed to achieve sufficient coverage and penetration into our homes and cars, its quality doesn’t begin to compare with that achieved by FM broadcasts, which are exploited so effectively by Radio 3 and Classic FM.

In 2007 DAB+, which does rival FM in terms of quality, was introduced. But unless you live in places like Australia or Italy, you can’t get it, even if you have a DAB+ compatible receiver. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to begin broadcasting in this format in Britain, probably because the signal format is not compatible with existing DAB radios.

Rather than adopting a negative stance on Radio 3, perhaps Mr Vaizey should be exercising his powers in a positive fashion by encouraging wider coverage of DAB broadcasts, cheap and simple conversion kits for existing car radios, and looking again at the case for DAB+ broadcasts in Britain.

Finally, is this just the thin end of the wedge? What are the minister’s views on Corrie versus EastEnders, and what will he do about the one he doesn’t like?

Philip Glascoe
Sturry, Kent

SIR – In 1992 I marched outside Broadcasting House with the Campaign to Save Radio 4 Long Wave, which the then director general was proposing to dedicate to a rolling news service.

That campaign was successful. I do hope I will not have to repeat the exercise for Radio 3.

Ann Cranford-Smith
Valongis, Guernsey

SIR – If Ed Vaizey thinks Radio 3 should no longer be broadcast on FM, perhaps he will pay for a digital radio to be fitted in my car.

Douglas Thom
Woolsery, Devon

 

Minimum wage is a barrier to meaningful employment for the disabled

Lord Freud’s words may have been ill-chosen, but there was some logic behind them

Grieving widows and civil partners will no longer be entitled to ongoing bereavement benefits worth thousands of pounds a year under government plans.

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister Photo: Getty

SIR – My daughter’s ambition is to get a job in an office. She has Down’s syndrome. She thinks that, if she works hard, someone, somewhere will give her a job.

At £6.50 per hour, it’s never going to happen. But at £2 per hour? Maybe. For a tenner a week, an employer could change her life.

The minimum wage protects against unscrupulous employers. But for my child, it is a barrier to meaningful employment.

Indeed, because of the minimum wage, she is destined for a life of short-lived, voluntary non-jobs, together with a succession of “life skills” courses run by a local charity. Not much of a future, is it? Think of what it would mean to her to be able to say: “I have a job.”

Lord Freud’s words were ill-chosen, but I can tell you that I, and many parents like me, would welcome any change that would give our sons and daughters a real opportunity in the world of work.

Candice Baxter
Grimsby, Lincolnshire

SIR – I used to employ two people with learning disabilities who had been assigned to us by social services. When the minimum wage was to apply to them, we had to take them off the payroll; there was no possibility of us paying that amount for the few tasks the two people could achieve.

Social services were anxious that the assignment should continue, however, so we paid the amount that would not affect the benefits the persons received, and this arrangement carried on successfully for a number of years.

Janet James
Cheam, Surrey

SIR – The Prime Minister backs Lord Freud. He also backed Maria Miller. When will we hear about Lord Freud’s resignation?

James Bishop
Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

SIR – My school provides specialist further education, training and development for young people with complex physical disabilities, brain injuries and associated sensory, learning, medical, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Many people we work with say they feel like second-class citizens. Lord Freud’s comments will only reinforce their perceptions.

I call on the Government to reduce the barriers people with disabilities face in getting jobs, and support people in proving what they can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t.

Kathryn Rudd
Principal, National Star College
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – The Coalition deliberately dis-banded the Remploy group of sponsored factories and workshops, which for years provided a well-equipped and successful light engineering and manufacturing resource for British industry, manned by very determined disabled employees and very worthy managers.

Graham Clifton
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

A terror suspect was recorded by police as he allegedly prepared to buy a gun using the code word “sausage” Photo: Eleanor Bentall

SIR – You report that a terror suspect is alleged to have used the code word “sausage” to buy a gun.

It is not the first time such a code word has been used. When in 1961 Goa, Portugal’s small enclave in India, faced the military might of India and was running short of artillery shells or anti-tank grenades (the stories vary), the commander of the Portuguese garrison sent an urgent request for replacements to Lisbon using the prearranged code word of chouriços, or sausages.

The Ministry of Defence in Lisbon, which had long forgotten the code word, duly despatched a large consignment of spicy sausages to Goa by plane.

 

Plum breakfast

SIR – Regarding John H Stephen’s sloe deficit (Letters, October 15), can I suggest plum brandy as a winter warmer?

The residual plums make an excellent topping for breakfast too – though not on days when one has to drive or make important decisions.

Melanie Williams
Craswall, Herefordshire

Sir, – So let me get this straight – corporations are found to be using various schemes and stratagems to ensure they pay a fraction of the current low corporation tax rate of 12.5 per cent, and our Government’s “solution” is to propose a new corporation tax rate of 6.25 per cent?

Using the same logic, those people refusing to pay the new water tax should be “punished” by having their bills halved. But, of course, in this State taxes are only for the little people. – Yours, etc,

PAUL GAVAN,

Castleconnell,

Co Limerick.

Sir, – In an otherwise regressive budget, it is good to see the attention given by the Government to the Special Assignee Relief Programme (Sarp).

Under the Sarp, under certain conditions, international executives can make a claim to have 30 per cent of their income above €75,000 disregarded for income tax purposes. In budget 2015, the upper income ceiling of €500,000 has been removed and the requirement to have worked for the company for 12 months before being seconded into Ireland has been lowered to six months.

A welcome relief for the working poor, which the rest of us will certainly not begrudge having to pay for! – Yours, etc,

CLAUDINE GAIDONI,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – It took only two days for the prediction of ongoing growth in the Irish economy to hit its first stumbling block. Surely those who are charged with responsibility for the fiscal health of the nation should have made it their business to factor in the ominous signs of a weakening German economy, when it was so glaringly obvious to most economic commentators.

Based on past experience, it was surely a reckless act by Government to frame a giveaway budget without regard to a likely downturn in Europe, as well as wider global uncertainty, which was already evident. It seems Murphy’s law will always have a role to play when it comes to predicting an Irish recovery. – Yours, etc,

NIALL GINTY,

Killester,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – I am appalled at the abolition of the 80 per cent windfall tax on the price of rezoned development land from January 1st.

This tax was introduced by the previous government in the aftermath of the crash to try to ensure that a property bubble would never again wreck the economy. As well as removing the temptation to corruption in the planning system, it is also a simple way of implementing the principle idea of the 1973 Kenny report – that the community, rather than individual landowners, should receive any profits resulting simply from a local authority’s redesignation of agricultural land for development.

The Construction Industry Federation, whose members will benefit hugely from Labour’s €2.2 billion social housing programme, lobbied very strongly to have the windfall tax removed. It was confident before the budget to speculate on the removal of this “boomtime tax . . . that has generated zero funding for [the] exchequer since it was introduced in 2009”. This statement is self- contradictory, as the bubble had well and truly burst by 2009 and the main purpose of the tax is to prevent it recurring, not to raise revenue.

Sir, – I note the continuing travails in Northern Ireland over marches, flags, banners, etc. These rather tiresome obsessions come at a high social and economic cost. Might I suggest that the Parades Commission impose a small charge on each marcher and each banner, at about the cost of a cinema ticket? The income from this would be divided between the police and security budget and charity and community groups nominated by the residents of the area where the march is to take place. The charge could be adjusted by the commission yearly to determine a level where a reasonable contribution to the cost of policing is made and where the residents of the areas where the marches take place would regard the march with indifference or a moderate level of satisfaction. – Yours, etc,

FIONA MOCKLER,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – I am an English guest, gracefully retired in your wonderful country, living with my Irish wife in Mountmellick, a town with a rich history. We could not have chosen a more relaxed place to live and enjoy life to the full.

However, I am astounded that in this, the second decade of the 21st century, I cannot receive broadband in my house via my telephone line with Vodafone, Sky or Eircom, because, as I was informed this morning, “you are too far away from the [Eircom] exchange.”

I rejoice when I hear about the investment in Ireland by foreign companies involved in IT, but my heart sinks when I hear on the radio of directors of businesses in the midlands having to walk across the road from their factories to access broadband. – Yours, etc,

LAWRENCE NUNN,

Mountmellick,

Co Laois.

Sir, – Cigarettes are up to a tenner a pack; that’s life. A fiver and more for a pint; no bother. A soggy disk of dough, with the products of food scientists’ best efforts at transforming transfats and animal protein slathered on top, delivered to your door (a 16-inch deep pan pizza with all the trimmings to you and me), €25; great value! Even better if it is washed down with a slab of lager. Approximately €600 for a satellite sports and movie subscription; sure everyone needs one when eating your pizza!

Approximately €200 for a year’s supply of clean water; absolute war.

Am I missing something? – Yours, etc,

JOHN K ROGERS,

Rathowen,

Co Westmeath.

Sir, – By not availing of proffered free allowances in return for PPS details I am, effectively, having to pay Irish Water for my privacy. I feel abandoned by the Data Protection Commissioner. This will be my election issue when the politicians come knocking. – Yours, etc,

EILEEN O’SULLIVAN,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

A chara, – The big protest march last Saturday against the water charges called to mind Stephen Collins’s opinion piece the previous Saturday (“Inside Politics”, October 4th) lauding the political skills of former minister for the environment Phil Hogan.

“Wiping the floor with his critics” at the European Parliament committee hearing into his appointment as EU agriculture commissioner, Mr Hogan’s “performance [was] akin to that of the Kilkenny hurling team in the All-Ireland final”. Mr Collins found it “hard to think of anybody else who would have managed to introduce the property tax, the water charges and the septic tank charges with relatively little fuss”.

As the stream of public protests against the water charges looks like turning into a flood that could submerge his Labour Party successor as Minister for the Environment, one can add knowing when to quit the pitch to Big Phil’s manifest political skills.

As he settles into his new job in the Berlaymont, the Kilkenny man might also take the time to make a quick call on his smartphone to former colleague Joan Burton to explain the skills of ground hurling and in particular how to keep your footing on a wet pitch. – Is mise,

JOHN GLENNON,

Hollywood,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Will Dublin City Council ever consider the impossible and discontinue the use of bus lanes?

Only this week, this is what the city authorities here in Liverpool have done. After a 12-month review, during which time all of the 26 bus lanes into the city were suspended, it turned out that the routes offered little in reducing the flow of traffic, and in some cases they made matters worse. They have now opted to scrap all but four of the bus lane routes. There are, of course, protests from the usual suspects – cyclists, passengers and the bus companies – but the council is standing firm.

What is particularly refreshing about this development is that the council will forego some £700,000 the lanes generated each year from errant motorists.

“Making the motorist a cash cow is immoral”, said the lord mayor, Joe Anderson. Now that’s a first. – Yours, etc,

FRANK GREANEY,

Formby,

Liverpool.

Sir, – Nobody, I suspect, who questions the measures to restrict access to mortgage funding as proposed by the Central Bank is advocating a return to the mayhem of the “boom” years.

But to suggest that the only alternative to the Central Bank’s proposals is such a return is nonsense – there hasn’t been, and there isn’t, right now, an enormous expansion in credit; there isn’t a property bubble in Ireland.

Right now, the world economy looks very flaky. Ireland’s economy has benefited from the quantitative easing implemented by the US and UK. Had those countries gone the way of the euro zone, the Irish depression would have been much deeper.

With Germany, France. Spain and Italy, just to mention the major euro economies, either flat or in recession, the question is whether there will be a quantitative easing in the euro zone area, and what effect this would have on the Irish property market.

The problem with the Central Bank’s proposal is the 20 per cent mortgage deposit requirement.

Will this douse the housing market at a time when the provision of alternative social housing is limited?

If we are going to have some kind of command economy, will this be extended to other sectors? Why only housing? Should we then have a prices and incomes policy?

Finally, those who are whispering something about putting an end to the cycle of boom and bust are in for a very rude awakening some time in the future – the cycle of boom and bust will recur endlessly. – Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – As a past pupil of Blackrock College, I support the Government’s proposed legislation ensuring all schools have an open-door admissions policy to all children. The world has changed and it is “hereditary privilege” that is totally “unjust” in deciding access to education in any of our schools. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN McDEVITT,

Glenties,

Co Donegal.

Sir, – Your motoring correspondent states that car ownership among the younger demographic is plummeting and suggests that traffic congestion may be the cause (“Car ownership in Europe plummets”, October 15th). I suspect the main reason for the slump in car sales is the smaller wage packets the younger workforce has to endure; plus many workers are forced to work for very low pay under the internship system. Across the EU, youth unemployment is running at 24 per cent. In Greece and Spain, it is over 50 per cent! If we are to break this cycle of stagnation, employers need to follow Henry Ford’s lead in the 1920s when he paid his workers well enough so they could afford to buy the new cars he produced. We have given the money to the banks and it hasn’t worked. It is time to give it to young workers. – Yours, etc,

JOHN DEVLIN,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – On numerous occasions I have politely enquired why we, the customers, have to put up with the witless pap emanating from the sound systems in pubs, restaurants and supermarkets, only to be told, “We have no choice – a CD is sent out from head office on a regular basis, and we have to play it.” Regular inspections are made to ensure compliance.

All of which suggests that money is involved, which means we customers pay for this rubbish. – Yours, etc,

GERRY MURPHY,

Graiguenamanagh,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Your editorial “Recognising Palestine” noted that the new Swedish government is set to recognise Palestine. Maybe Sweden could recognise Ireland too, while they are at it. The last Swedish government slimmed down its representation here, now amounting to an honorary consul, in contrast to all other Scandinavian countries, which have embassies here. – Yours, etc,

JOE CLEARY,

Irishtown,

Dublin.

Sir, – The synod in Rome has made hesitant steps into the 21st century (“Synod backtracks on gay ‘welcome’ in revised translation”, October 16th).

Instead of quibbling over the translation of “accogliere” would it not be more productive for the Holy See to translate the ideas into action? – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN DOHERTY,

Vienna.

A Leavy (Irish Independent Letters, October 17) repeats the myth that we were rescued by the ECB and seems not to understand the difference between sovereign debt and private banking debt.

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When the banking system imploded a deliberate choice was made by EU officials – no doubt some Irish people among them, since Irish people hold some of the most senior roles in EU officialdom – that the terms of providing lending to an EU member would include that member state taking on all of its banking sector debt.

No matter what choice was made, Ireland was always going to have a recession but what made it a depression was the ECB. Ireland could easily have afforded to borrow the money required to make up for the loss of tax revenue and increased social welfare costs that the recession would have required. And given the resources of the State at the time, the borrowing requirement may have been minimal. Like other countries, such as Iceland, the Irish recession could have been over in two or three years.

When the president of Iceland was presented with the legislation mandating the people to take on the burden of its entire banking debt, he refused to sign it. And do you know what? The sky didn’t fall in. There was a referendum on the legislation and the people rejected it – and they rejected it a second time.

The people of Iceland borrowed the money needed to get through their recession and they borrowed a very modest amount to reset their banking system on a more sustainable level.

It wasn’t pain-free, but the banks managed to deal with their debts themselves. Not only did Iceland avoid a depression, it also avoided the social devastation Ireland has experienced and, in fact, social welfare benefits increased in real terms at the expense of the well-off. They rewrote their constitution, they held their banking inquiry and reformed their legal and regulatory systems from top to bottom. They even managed to send a few people to jail but, more importantly, the financial crisis is now part of history in Iceland.

The Irish State was not bankrupt at the start of the financial crisis, it became bankrupt because of deliberate choices made by the ECB and the Irish Government.

The ECB chose to add private sector banking debt as a condition of providing funding; the Irish Government chose to bow to such a threat. At every stage of the crisis there were choices and the tragedy for the Irish people is that their interests were so poorly served.

Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London

 

In a faraway land called IMF

I would love to know where this country called ‘The IMF’ is and what their tax rate is. Indeed, we could also examine its fish quotas, its population, its property tax, its social housing strategy, its natural resources, its democratic institutions and, of course, its history.

Since so wealthy a state had to come to poor old Ireland’s woes, I feel that whatever the IMF is doing as a nation, it should be adopted by the good people of Ireland as the blueprint for our future.

Should we not be grateful that this wonderful country exists and that its taxpayers are so generous to lend us money at only 6pc interest, when the ratings agencies said that we wouldn’t be able to pay back our loans.

Funny how wrong the agencies were – or were they ?

I feel bad now for criticising our elite minds that found such a generous nation of souls and I’m now to brush my teeth and wash my mouth out with soap under the trickle from my tap. I doubt the inhabitants of IMF have leaking pipes.

Dermot Ryan, Attymon, Athenry, Co Galway

 

Rights of the unborn

Colm O’Gorman’s article on abortion looks a little lop-sided. Nowhere is the innocent, unborn child acknowledged. Another anomaly: Amnesty International has always admirably opposed the death penalty.

Terminating a pregnancy puts to death a very young victim, voiceless, hence vulnerable.

Without the basic right to life all other rights are rendered redundant.

This seems self-evident.

Human rights come not from the generosity of government but from the hand of God, said President JFK.

T C Barnwell, Dublin 9

 

Opposition to education reform

To resist changes to the Junior Cycle, ASTI and TUI members have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, up to and including strike action if necessary.

In addition to the clear opposition of teachers themselves to school-based assessment, a national opinion poll last May showed the majority of the public are opposed to teachers correcting their own students’ work for certification purposes.

Our main areas of opposition to Junior Cycle changes relate to the planned removal of national certification and external assessment, both of which provide status and credibility to the assessment process.

Such credibility is linked with the high level of public trust in our education system.

Indeed, a recent OECD survey placed Ireland first among countries measured for public confidence in its education system.

We are also opposed to the imposition of further pressure on the capacity of schools to provide a quality education service in the wake of several years of austerity cuts, none of which were reversed in this year’s Budget.

Furthermore, it is clear that proposed changes to subject provision will have detrimental effects on the quality of education for students.

Certain subjects, such as history and geography, will be downgraded to optional status.

Such detrimental changes will hinder the development of students.

Sustainable and real educational reform requires teacher support and public confidence.

We call on the Education Minister to engage with us on this basis.

Philip Irwin, President, ASTI, Thomas McDonagh Hse, Winetavern St, Dublin 8

Gerry Quinn, President, TUI, 3 Orwell Rd, Rathgar, Dublin 6

 

What’s next? Food charges?

Water is essential for life, and access to good quality water should be a human right. Food is essential for life, and access to good quality food should be a human right.

Shame on the Government for maintaining a system which requires us to pay for food. After all, we do pay our taxes.

Edmund Haughey, Muff, Co Donegal

 

Beginning of the end of history

How can An Post, an organisation that has adopted an Irish language title, allow its mail to be carried in ‘Royal Mail’ bags? (John Waters, Irish Independent, October 15). Why does management not make it obligatory for post bags to carry identifying Irish postal signage?

The proposal by this Government for the downgrading of history as a core subject at Junior Cert level is a step in the same direction.

With no obligation on schools to teach history to our students, the consequences will be that more and more people will know less about our past, which will greatly lessen historical research in our universities, clearing the way for ignorance, revisionism and myth.

Mary Reynolds, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Irish Independent

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