25 October 2014 Sweeping
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweep the pgarage roof some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor.
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down trout for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Simon Featherstone – obituary
Simon Featherstone was a diplomat whose fascination with China proved useful when he was made High Commissioner to Malaysia
5:51PM BST 23 Oct 2014
Simon Featherstone, who has died aged 56, was one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s leading China experts, and witnessed the rise of China from the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution to her ascendancy as a world power. Whereas, before the end of the Cold War, experience of Europe and the Soviet Union was seen as the route to the top in the FCO, Featherstone’s career marked a change of emphasis towards the Asia/Pacific region.
Simon Mark Featherstone was born on July 24 1958, the son of David Featherstone, a theologian, and his wife Nora, a French teacher, and educated at Whitgift School, Croydon, and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read Law. He joined the FCO in 1980, and after studying Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies and in Hong Kong he was posted to Peking. It was still a city of bicycles, Mao suits and conformity.
The British were regarded as an imperial power, and the negotiations over the future of Hong Kong had just begun. Peking — now known as Beijing — was regarded as a “hardship” post, but Featherstone saw it as a challenge and never lost his fascination with China. Returning to London in 1987, he went on loan to the Cabinet Office and was there in 1989 when the massacre of student protesters in Tiananmen Square took place. He was able to use his experience of China to good effect in advising on sanctions against the regime.
He then moved to Brussels in 1990 to cover environmental issues in the UK Representation to the European Union. The importance of the environment was by then firmly on the international agenda, and Featherstone, with his legal background, became a master in Britain’s interest in coping with the thicket of EU regulation — he was acknowledged by friend and adversary alike as “the computer”.
But China again beckoned, and at the young age of 36 he was appointed consul general in Shanghai, where Britain was in stiff but successful competition with foreign rivals to equip the new Shanghai Airport. Featherstone moved to be political counsellor in Peking in 1996 as the negotiations for the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 were being completed and played a key role in understanding the Chinese government’s intentions.
He returned to London in 1998 to head the European Department in the FCO, which was charged with the difficult issue of the accession of the former communist countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States — in particular, whether their citizens should have the right of residence and employment in Britain. This was a matter for political decision, but Featherstone believed that the post-war division of Europe should be ended and that enlargement of the EU was in the interests of Britain’s security and prosperity.
Featherstone was appointed ambassador to Switzerland in 2004 and was much involved in negotiations to force Swiss banks to reveal details of secret bank accounts held by foreign nationals that were being used for tax evasion and money laundering. However, he was called again to work with China on appointment as the British director of the Shanghai Expo 2010. The British Pavilion, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, won the gold medal for pavilion design, but it required an immense and skilful campaign by Featherstone to fill it with the best of British culture and industry. He was appointed CMG for his work. After the Expo he was appointed High Commissioner to Malaysia.
For Featherstone, through his long association with China, this could have been a difficult assignment given Malaysia’s rivalry with China in the Asia/Pacific region. There were still vestiges of Britain as a colonial power that had at one time led to the “Buy British Last” campaign and the banning of Concorde overflights. But he found that the Malaysians welcomed his knowledge of China, and he quickly got on terms with Najib Razak, the prime minister, who described Britain moving from “benign neglect to constructive engagement” during Featherstone’s time. There was a rise in trade and investment, including the purchase of Battersea power station by a Malaysian consortium. The loss of the Malaysian airliner MH 370 over the sea in March 2014 led to close cooperation in the search operation.
He was a keen supporter of British education in Malaysia, notably with Nottingham University, which honoured him with a Doctorate of Laws.
Having grown up in south London, he was a Crystal Palace supporter but, ever the diplomat, he presented himself in Malaysia as a Manchester United fan, since this is the team supported by half the Malaysian population.
Featherstone was diagnosed with cancer in September 2013 but served on with great courage in Malaysia until May 2014. Once, when still a junior official in the FCO, he was amused to be quoted in The Guardian as “a senior Foreign Office mandarin”. But that never became his manner. He had an approachable style that won friends wherever he served. While he played his official role with dedication, he never took himself too seriously. As a committed Christian, he saw public service as part of his calling, treating everyone with respect, seeking to show integrity in all his dealings.
He married, in 1981, Gail Salisbury, whom he met when they were both at Oxford. She survives him with a son and two daughters.
Simon Featherstone, born July 24 1958, died August 26 2014
AH Halsey at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 1992. Photograph: Kenneth Saunders for the Guardian
The Oxford department that AH Halsey headed at Barnett House for 28 years trained graduate social work and probation students. His role as an activist ran through what it did: his view of sociology was always a broad one, encompassing social and community work at the applied end.
After his appointment as research adviser to Tony Crosland in 1965, he and Michael Young campaigned hard to get a government response to the Plowden report on primary education, and to launch pilot action-research projects in educational priority areas. The result was a national programme run directly by the Oxford department, with Margaret Thatcher, a later education secretary, keen to meet “Dr Halsey” to learn the results for her 1972 white paper. He took a similar role in launching the Home Office community development projects in the wake of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.
In the late 1960s Halsey encouraged the OECD in Paris to focus more on educational policy rather than manpower training, personally securing substantial funding from the Ford Foundation and Japanese government for a new OECD centre, which he chaired for many years. He travelled Britain speaking to groups as part of his commitment to adult and community education. Nearer to home he established a local community project on the Barton estate in Oxford, which ran for many years under Barnett House auspices. His ability to engage many different audiences without using any notes or aids made him a very formidable and effective operator – within academia, the civil service, international organisations and local groups.
John Gray’s essay is disappointing (The evil within, 21 October). To sustain his critique of secular liberalism, he needs to distinguish between the so-called liberalism of western governments and the so-called liberalism of those who are critical of their own governments, especially when those governments propose intervention or restricting “human rights”, invoking “security”. He does not do so. In fact, he homogenises divergent strands of western liberalism.
Gray affects to believe that because Tony Blair said Saddam Hussein was “uniquely” evil, all other western leaders thought the same, when even George W Bush spoke of an “axis of evil” comprising three states. His assertion that “our leaders”, today, believe Isis to be “uniquely evil” seems baseless. They believe that Isis is more evil than Bashar al-Assad and more of a direct threat to us – justifiably. They also tell us it will be a long struggle – correctly.
Gray’s other error is to invoke situations where intervention has not “worked” without mentioning situations where non-intervention has been equally unsuccessful. Thus, Libya “is now an anarchic hell-hole”, but tenfold worse Syria is not mentioned.
Western leaders as believers in “melioristic liberalism” is quite a stretch. In fact, it is their vocal opponents on the liberal left who believe that people can just go on getting better without what the market calls “corrections” now and again. They will not like Gray’s wise conclusion that “non-intervention is a morally compromised option” and that “military action may be justified”.
• The conclusion to John Gray’s lament exposes the contradiction within it: he accepts that there is no peace without “functioning states”; but functioning states are examples of the same “social institutions” he has dismissed a thousand words earlier. Social institutions are established to mitigate a variety of evils (rather than a single monolithic “evil”). Some grandiose creators of social institutions may believe that evil can be finally overcome through their efforts. But many members, supporters, or advocates of social institutions are not so deluded. They understand that institutions are fallible, will break down, and may themselves become agencies of harm. There will be improvements, but also deteriorations. So institutions have to be dismantled and rebuilt, generation after generation, and all final solutions are bogus. It’s possible to believe that social institutions are all we’ve got without believing they provide the royal road to the perfection of anything.
School of Social Sciences, University of East London
• “No advance in human knowledge can stop humans attacking and persecuting others.” Surely a claim too far, unless John Gray regards his own article as a futile contribution to a pointless debate? Meliorism is not idealism: in education, and social science in particular, meliorism assumes that while violence and destructiveness may be inherent and inescapable features of humanity, improvements in interpersonal and inter-group relations are possible.
This assumption does not conflict with the broad sweep of Gray’s analysis and he has no need to assert that it does.
Neil S Batchelor
• John Gray’s article is fascinating, and in many respects convincing. However, I strongly reject his view that the tendency to violence and evil is a fundamental aspect of our nature. While it would clearly be ridiculous to claim humans are never violent, the psychotherapist Carl Rogers argues that his experience shows that “the innermost core of man’s nature, the deepest layers of his personality, the base of his ‘animal nature’ is positive in nature – is basically socialised, forward-looking, rational and realistic”.
The generally accepted view, however, as Rogers points out, is that man’s basic nature is destructive and has to be kept under control. One reason this view is so widespread is that therapy reveals (and we often feel) destructiveness, violence and anger, and it is easy to mistake these feelings as fundamental. But Rogers found that these “untamed and unsocial feelings are neither the deepest nor the strongest, and that the inner core of man’s personality is the organism itself, which is essentially both self-preserving and social”.
Gray calls on evolutionary psychology to support his case, but I would ask: why would a species evolve that was fundamentally self-destructive? The instinctive desire for preservation of self and others seems to me to be a much more likely product of human evolution.
• It’s perhaps apt that John Gray’s article should coincide with your editor-in-chief’s invitation to readers to engage more fully with the Guardian. I was struck by the quoted abstract from CP Scott’s famous 1921 essay that one of the most important aspects of a newspaper is it that should “play on the minds and consciences of men”. May the Guardian long continue to do so.
Douglas, Cork, Ireland
• Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth in their novel Wolfbane explain that human cultural development is controlled by the ratio C:P, where C is the number of calories and P is population. The practice of liberal ideals will only be possible where C:P is high; it will be degraded, and eventually disappear, where C:P declines.
• John Gray provides an insightful commentary on the global political and socio-cultural chaos we are bequeathing to our children. His essay reveals the inadequacies of the “western” political and military responses thus far, yet does not offer any way out of the morass. He ascribes many historical and current atrocities to a refusal to offer “moral standing” on the part of the perpetrators towards their victims.
I recall, when teaching politics at Oxford University in the late 1990s, that many of my students were enamoured of the Charter 88 movement of an earlier political generation. A written or codified constitution, for them, provided an answer to many of the issues and inequalities besetting the UK at the time. I confess that I did not wish to stifle their youthful idealism, yet felt duty bound to spend time running through the inadequacies of nation-states that did possess codified constitutions.
For example, the US constitution and bill of rights did not prevent the Removal of Indians Act, the internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war or the abuses of Senator Joe McCarthy. Clearly, to be denied “personhood” in the eyes of others or institutions entails a threatening vulnerability, written constitution or not. Liberation theology, a useful credo that emanated from Latin America, offered another insight to which Gray alludes, that institutional structures have their own dynamic that can bring about awful, or “sinful”, results.
His fundamental thesis, however, concerns the seeming intractability of human nature and the failings of the “melioristic” liberal construct to handle this. He recognises that this observation is nothing new, but perhaps fails to acknowledge the insights provided by the great Lithuanian, Levinas, whose whole philosophy, it is said, can be summed up with the words: “After you, sir.”
The great world religions, too, offer a critique of human nature and in many ways emphasise the importance of empathy, the abrogation of self, wisdom and a perspective beyond the now at both a collective and individual level. It is perhaps this shared element of human understanding, if not nature, that we must all now look to as a means of giving the next generation something with which they can work to counter the nihilistic theism that characterises the present epoch.
Dr Jonathan Snicker
St John’s College, Oxford
• Barack Obama, David Cameron, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Bashar al-Assad, Abu Bakr Naji, Vladimir Putin, George W Bush, Jo Biden, the Taliban, Gaddafi, God, Mani, Jesus, St Paul, Satan, St Augustine, Pelagius, David Cesarani, Adolf Eichmann, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Avishai Margalit … are either against, or exponents of, or responsible for, or quoted on, or victims of, or have ideas about evil, in John Gray’s explanation of human conflict as a basic human trait. One woman, Hannah Arendt, had a say.
It’s no wonder women don’t write letters to the Guardian. Surely they deserve better representation in an essay on such an important matter, that affects all of us so deeply. Ok, they are not on the world’s historical cast list, but they did give birth to it, and nurtured it.
Obituaries of Ben Bradlee (News, 23 October) have rightly reflected his bravery as an editor of a national newspaper, most obviously in handling the Watergate revelations. He was also a man with a dry wit who never took himself too seriously. Some time after Watergate I had a meeting with him at the Washington Post. I asked him how the worldwide fame of his ace reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had changed things. “Oh, there is no real change here. If a chicken gets run over in Georgetown, Woodward is there to tell us all about. If there is a failure in the traffic lights, Bernstein is on the job in the usual way. The only thing is … about 6 o’clock every the evening, the office Tannoy will sound with a message: “Mr Woodward or Mr Bernstein, your chauffeur is waiting for you.”
• In the second paragraph of his obituary (23 October), Christopher Reed refers to Ben Bradlee’s dread that, despite being the “most lauded and influential American journalist of his era”, the second paragraph of his obituary would mention the name of Janet Cooke, who brought the worst disgrace upon the Washington Post in its history (From the archive, 20 April 1981: Failures which spawned Pulitzer lie). Ironic or not?
• When reading Alan Rusbridger’s appreciation of Ben Bradlee (Opinion, 23 October) as well as the other heartfelt tributes in the Guardian, I couldn’t help wondering whether, in years to come, both Rusbridger and the Guardian might receive the equivalent of the presidential medal of freedom (Roy Greenslade, 12 August 2013) from the British government for journalistic integrity, regarding Edward Snowden’s revelations and their ongoing support for him.
Todi, Perugia, Italy
The attitude of the Atos Healthcare spokesman in your report about Iain Duncan Smith deciding MS and Parkinson’s disease are curable (23 October) is astonishing. He states that their healthcare professionals are trained in the assessment of these chronic conditions.
Perhaps they should go back to training classes as they clearly have not understood these conditions at all. As a specialist health professional with many years of experience in Parkinson’s, I have never come across a single person with the condition who gave up working any sooner than was absolutely necessary.
The decision to terminate paid employment is always very difficult to come to terms with and many people with Parkinson’s have carried on longer than might be advisable, with some detriment to their physical health. To suggest that Atos is in any way competent in assessing level of function and making a fair and honest appraisal is an affront to all the people to whom they have denied the benefits they should have been entitled to.
Atos could rightly claim responsibility for increasing some of the well-recognised and quality-of-life-affecting non-motor symptoms such as anxiety and depression. It’s high time this process was made fair and transparent.
After spending half an hour in my bathroom, I spent another half an hour getting together the medication that limits the pain and suppresses (most) of the violent spasms that make my legs cramp up and my hands turn into claws.
I get through the day one way or another before taking liquid morphine to dampen the pain in my neck and upper back (the MS is now attacking my spine) so I might get some sleep. I would like to thank Iain Duncan Smith for announcing the cure for MS. Can he also tell me when the pain and indignity of my condition will go away?
With the major political parties all welcoming the NHS report (News, 23 October), this is the opportunity for them to agree on bold new ideas on funding, that individually they would not dare to propose. It is clear that more money is needed; but expecting to find it by savings is optimistic.
Pensioners are major users of health services yet, once retired, contribute nothing. Paying a national insurance contribution – reduced so as to contribute to the NHS but not to pensions, would be fair.
I should make it clear that I am a pensioner!
Many of us who are now retired have been beneficiaries of free education, free health services, generous pensions, and so on. Perhaps it’s time for us to share more of the funding burden.
There has been much talk recently about the NHS saving money by concentrating upon prevention rather than cure. This cannot work and is brought about by lazy use of language. Preventative medicine is clearly a very good idea. Childhood vaccinations and cancer screening are wonderfully successful programmes that work very effectively. They do not, however, save lives. They prolong lives.
The long-term effect of the superb service that we get from the NHS is that we have an ageing population with record numbers in their 80s, 90s and even 100s. Thus it is disingenuous to pretend that preventative medicine saves money. In fact it creates ever increasing numbers of older people upon whom, quite rightly, large sums of money must be spent to meet their medical needs.
Instead of giving encouragement vouchers to obese people, they – and all those who deliberately risk damaging their health by binge eating and drinking, drugs and alcohol – should be charged for all the resultant medical care and attention they receive.
That would reduce the drain on the NHS and discourage the irresponsible with idiotic lifestyles by hitting them hard in their pockets instead of adding to the burdens of others.
Wimborne Minster, Dorset
How soon before this increasingly callous government declares that the dead are actually fit for work, and tells them to stop lounging about all day in their coffins?
Botham’s interest in wildlife is to kill it
Ian Botham and his gang describe the RSPB as a “vampire squid hoovering up conservation funds”. (Report, 24 October). In fact, Botham and his gang appear to think that conservation of wildlife habitat should be for the purpose of providing victims for blood sports.
In 2008, Botham objected to a plan to release European beavers in Scotland. He told The Telegraph it would be “catastrophic for salmon fishing”. Note, “salmon fishing”, not “salmon”. In other words it’s his “sport” he values, not living, breathing, miraculous beings.
EU’s £1.7bn demand will spur on sceptics
Own goals do not come much more spectacular. Assuming that the EU wants to keep Britain a member, it could hardly have proceeded more wrong-headedly. By its £1.7bn cash demand to this country it really has poured petrol on the flames of an already heated discussion.
There are, of course, benefits to UK membership and the EU represents a noble aspiration to transnational cooperation. But without a bit of gumption at the top, it could soon be minus a member.
Why is Farage a regular columnist?
I have been a subscriber to The Independent since the beginning of this year, and look forward to reading it every day. Yet, like a previous correspondent, I am puzzled as to why Nigel Farage is, alone among party leaders, given a weekly column in your paper.
Today (Another Voice, 24 October) he uses most of his column to defend a calypso recorded by Mike Read. It may be acceptable for him to do so, but what I find repugnant is his suggestion that the “left”, in itself is a vague and ill-defined term, is more outraged by this than about sexual abuse in Rotherham. I can see no evidence for this.
I have no objection to right-wing columnists. I used to enjoy the pieces by Bruce Anderson and Dominic Lawson. But they were not party leaders; and Ukip’s policies and general stance seem so at variance with The Independent’s ideals that I find the acceptance of Farage as a regular columnist hard to understand.
A rush to judgement about 14 children
Gillian Smith’s letter (24 October) appears to have accidently appeared in The Independent rather than the Daily Mail. If she believes that the man with 14 children has no thought for the “cost [of his children] to his country”, then clearly she believes him to be unemployed or unable to work and claiming benefits other than child benefit. What if he isn’t claiming any other benefits?
Child benefit, let’s not forget, is a near-universal benefit, the amount of which would not incentivise anyone to have 14 children, and hardly qualifies the country as “looking after these children”.
It could well be that the man is earning more than £50,000 per annum and therefore receives no child benefit at all, and actually contributes more in taxes than he would ever receive from the state. As for over-population, perhaps his 14 children will all get high-earning jobs and their taxes will contribute to Gillian Smith’s pension, or perhaps this man is already contributing to her pension. The only certain thing is that we shouldn’t make rash judgements without knowing the facts.
There’s more to Wales than Dylan Thomas
As a resident of Swansea, it’s easy to agree with John Walsh’s comments on Dylan Thomas (Voices, 23 October). Laugharne is a fascinating township and well worth anyone’s visit but, for many reasons, must rely on the fame or infamy of the poet for much of its livelihood. So well and good.
But Wales has many more charismatic characters, some of whom don’t seem to get a look-in. WH Davies of “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare” fame had an involved and varied life worthy of study. And, it seems, for those who want excitement, TE Lawrence was born in the Principality.
But all we get is Dylan!
Sean T Jackson
Socialist historians making it easy for Mi5
The fact that MI5 spied on some of the most prominent post-1945 British intellectuals such as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm tells us something unpleasant about how liberal our democracy actually was in the Cold War era. One hopes that in these austere times MI5 is not still at it. If they want to know what modern-day socialist historians are thinking they can check our Twitter feeds.
Dr Keith Flett
Sickness absence ruins working lives and brings great costs for the economy, so calls for employers to incentivise healthier lifestyles are welcome (News, 23 October).
Inactivity is wreaking havoc with the nation’s health and since many of us spend the bulk of our week at work – often sedentary – it makes sense for employers to take the lead.
This preventative approach – combined with fast access to health professionals such as physiotherapists for those who need it – is essential if we are to tackle the obesity crisis and reduce the ever-growing demand on the NHS. Some employers may baulk at the cost of such interventions but actually the Work Foundation found that for every £1 spent, £3 was returned through reduced absence and improved productivity.
They also yield broader savings for society by keeping people in work and reducing their need for benefits. The measures proposed yesterday by Simon Stevens – along Public Health England’s “Everybody Active, Every Day” framework – are therefore good news for individuals, employers and the economy as a whole. They must now be followed up with action.
Prof Karen Middleton
Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, London
Reading about the future plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned. While the focus of the report on meaningfully addressing the root causes of ill health – and the need for radical upgrades and financial support for prevention and evidence-based public health interventions – is to be admired, the defence of the infrastructures of the market and privatisation are deeply problematic.
What is worrying is the broad acceptance of the ethic of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulatory requirements and a focus on efficiencies.
The issues of infrastructure and organisation in the NHS are about funding. Breaking down boundaries between doctors and hospitals, and between physical and mental health, may in some contexts be useful but they are not the key issues. This plays into the idea that “the NHS is unfundable and needs to change” – where there appears to be no alternative.
There are alternatives beyond the politics of tinkering embraced by the three main parties. The key issues facing the NHS are constant, chronic underfunding compared to other developed countries, wasteful internal markets, bankrupting PFI deals, the damaging physical and mental health impacts of austerity economics, and a failure to understand the way other core economic issues impact on the funding available for the NHS.
We spend at least £5bn annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care. We have just seen an unnecessary and damaging £3bn top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and the use of the private sector.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party, Brighton
It is clear that the results of smoking and obesity are the same: early death or expensive, avoidable stress on the NHS. While cigarette advertising is now illegal, it is incongruous that fast-food outlets can tart up façades of their premises with mouth-watering pictures of meals designed to stimulate the cephalic stage of digestion.
I wholly concur with Jane Merrick’s disdain for NHS England’s plan to pay GPs £55 for every patient they diagnose with dementia. (23 October 2014). What is the rationale? My only inkling has come from Jane’s own trepidation. We know that the continual increase in demand for GP services is due, in part, to the care required by the growing elderly segment of the population.
What if this is a cunning plot to curb this demand? Who, over say 60, will want to visit their GP, with whatever ailment, if there is a risk that they will be declared “demented”? We (I am, I admit, over 60) all know the care awaiting us in that eventuality!
If I were a GP I should be outraged at the suggestion that I needed a financial incentive to diagnose dementia. As a patient I might fear that an unwanted diagnosis might be about to be thrust upon me. As a taxpayer I’m (almost) speechless at yet more mis-spending of my money, possibly for a political purpose.
It’s obvious what the Woolf test should be
Surely the test for the suitability of Fiona Woolf to chair the latest inquiry is very obvious. What would a judge do if a jury member, and foreman, disclosed the same level of acquaintance with the defendant in a trial? Unless the same policy is applied then the appointment is simply a case of an elite declining to abide by the same rules as it sets for everyone else.
I do not know the policy for juries but do know that if a member of a planning committee had the same degree of acquaintance with an applicant as in the parties in the Woolf case then, under rules laid down by the Government, they could face censure if they did not declare it and remove themselves from the discussion. The appearance of impartiality is important.
It is also debatable, especially in an era where official files can go missing, whether office staff for the inquiry should be drawn from the department being investigated. They may worry that their colleagues might not welcome them back, and give them an honour, if they did not soften criticisms.
In a nation of nearly 60 million people it should not be that difficult to find at least one person who is perfectly well qualified to head an inquiry into child abuse – and who does not believe that being Lord Mayor of London is not part of the “Establishment”. Oh, and does not live in the same street as Leon Brittan, but does live on the planet!
This chain of events would be laughed at as too unbelievably nonsensical to be included in even the most satirical of anti-establishment shows. As for the “victim community mind” comment – it says it all about the establishment community mindset.
What’s so great about having 14 children?
I was shopping in a supermarket yesterday when I heard a man boasting that “he” had just had his 14th child. He obviously thought it was a magnificent achievement, with no thought for the cost to his country (us) of looking after all these children for him, nor the fact that he is contributing to the over-population of our country and our planet.
I am becoming more convinced that we should offer child benefit only for the first two children in a family (and nothing to those above a certain income) and that any more than two should be paid for entirely by the parents.
Looking after those on benefits
The report by major charities (23 October) into people with long-term debilitating conditions shows how much time and money is wasted trying to find people fit for work, who subsequently are found not to be fit after all, at a great financial and emotional cost. I have been working on benefits appeals for 17 years and have helped thousands overturn incorrect decisions and in most cases secure other benefit entitlements. The real shame is that many go without their correct entitlement because the Government uses the media to discourage benefits claiming, even by the most vulnerable.
Benefits Adviser East London
Why Ched Evans must show true remorse
If Ched Evans believes he is innocent he has every right to appeal against his conviction, but whether his appeal is successful or not he must demonstrate true remorse if he is to resume his football career. A successful appeal would only show that he might not have acted illegally.
His responsibility is wider than merely not acting illegally. His actions, whether legal or not, have brought shame to a great football team and to the reputation of all professional football players. If he wants to be rehabilitated into the football world he must apologise wholeheartedly and give unreserved assurance that he will avoid the risk of any repetition.
In common with all who benefit from their position of being role models he shares the duty of being better than merely law abiding.
A calypso that brings back memories
Matthew Norman’s piece in today’s paper made me think of my wartime service in Trinidad. There was one calypso I would like to repeat for your enlightenment.
When the Yankees came to Trinidad They got the young girls going mad.
Young girls say they treat-em nice,
Make Trinidad like paradise.
Drinking rum and Coca-Cola Go down point Tumana
Both mother and daughter, Working for the Yankee dollaaaar!
Sir, One aspect that is overlooked in the NHS England Five-Year Forward View (“Crisis in the NHS”, leading article, Oct 23) is the significant role that digital technology can — and must — play in providing sustainable and affordable care. Targeted use of a range of social media and other low-cost technologies (such as apps to monitor diet and exercise) can be used to change behaviours and encourage healthy lifestyles. Further investment in telecare technology can immediately support the provision of sustainable at-home care to our ageing population. In the long term, technology such as wearable patches that monitor vital statistics will enable practitioners to provide significantly better focused care. With smart use of digital technology, a better NHS is possible without blowing the budget.
PA Consulting Group, London, SW1
Sir, Another reorganisation of the NHS may help to cut costs, but it will do nothing to solve the underlying problem with the health service, which is that the country simply cannot afford it. There is not the remotest possibility that we can go on providing medical care for all patients and all conditions, free of charge; we will either have to cut demand or cut supply. Attempts to limit, let alone cut, demand have proved useless. Nor is there much likelihood that preventive measures will do much to lessen demand. So we must cut supply. Perhaps the NHS can only be free for emergency treatment, and all routine treatment paid for by insurance or through means testing.
Professor Tony Waldron
Sir, The assertion by the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens’s of a rigid barrier between primary and secondary care is true of today’s NHS and is one of the major failings in the patient journey. In the days before market forces were introduced there was a healthy relationship between local GPs and their consultant colleagues. I could pick up the phone and be able to talk to a specialist with whom I had developed a personal relationship over several years. In the present system, both primary care and secondary care are separate entities, both fighting for their share of a diminishing pot of cash. The only way I can talk to a consultant colleague nowadays is on the golf course at the weekend, and even this route of access is now threatened by Mr Cameron’s plan for seven-day working.
Dr AW Cairns
Swan Surgery, Petersfield, Hants
Sir, The solution to NHS funding (“NHS: the £8 billion black hole,” Oct 23) is a hypothecated tax. Rename National Insurance as “NHS Tax”. NI revenue is at a level close to NHS spend. The rate is set annually and increases to reflect the country’s projected NHS expenditure for the following year, including overspend for the previous year.So that everyone feels ownership of our National Health Service, contributions start at the minimum wage threshold and are paid on every pound of income above that.
Sir, Reading about the plans of NHS England leaves me deeply concerned. What is worrying is the acceptance of of privatisation, with its emphasis on personalisation, local flexibility in rules and regulation and a focus on efficiencies.The key issues facing the NHS are chronic underfunding, wasteful internal markets and bankrupting PFI deals. We pay at least £5 billion annually on an internal market that does not improve patient care. We have just seen an unnecessary £3 billion top-down reorganisation of the NHS. The answer to the health of our nation is manifestly not efficiency savings and use of the private sector.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action Party, Worthing, W Sussex
Sir, In the same way that charges were introduced for dental treatment and prescriptions, charges of £10/£20 must be introduced for every visit to a GP. This will eliminate most of the unnecessary “casual” visits which take up far too much of the GP’s time. Also, as the result of the absurd agreement which the last Labour government concluded with the BMA, GPs’ salaries are the highest in Europe and should be frozen for at least the next five years in order to make them realistic.
W Anthony Pike
Sir, “Treatment Centres” are nothing new. Twenty-odd years ago, tired of years of ineffectual treatment for my chronically ingrown toenails, I asked my GP about removing them. No problem. He phoned another local practitioner who specialised in such matters, made me an early appointment, and within a few weeks the job was done.
Sir, Simon Stevens would like consultants in GP surgeries to “consult” with patients. Just imagine the number of hours consultants would spend in a car or train or bus. This would amount to a huge waste of specialist skills, of time spent doing no useful skilled work instead of operating on patients at their tertiary base hospital. Thousands of hours would be lost to reducing waiting lists lost at the cost of increasing pollution. What we need is a more efficient referral system to the centre.
David E Ward
Consultant in cardiology and electrophysiology, London SW17
Sir, It is disappointing that your editorial repeats the falsehood that the British Medical Association opposed the formation of the NHS. It was in the 1930s that the BMA produced plans for general medical, hospital and maternity services for the nation. Many of these themes were revisited in the 1942 Beveridge Report that looked at providing a national health service. Doctors’ opposition to parts of what was proposed at the time was related to the detail of the government’s initial plans for how the system would operate, not to the principle of a publicly funded and comprehensive service that was free at the point of use for all patients.
Dr Mark Porter
Chairman, BMA Council,
Sir, Robert Vincent claims (letter, “Come back Kipling, Eliot and Auden, all is forgiven”, Oct 22) that the poems of Auden and Eliot can be committed to memory because they are ordered according to Waugh’s demand that they “rhyme, scan, make sense”. However, though the work of both poets not only at times lacks both rhyme and metrical pattern and also immediately accessible sense, it nevertheless invites memorisation by virtue of its movement and patterns of sound. Poetry is often initially known simply “by ear”: appealing resonances work and linger in the listener’s system.
Ackworth, W Yorks
Sir, Mr Vincent cites poets who “rhyme, scan and make sense”.
Auden began one poem:
Sir, no man’s enemy, forgiving all/
But will his negative inversion be prodigal.
Eliot once opened up with:
The sapient sutlers of the Lord
Drift across the window-panes.
I hope Mr Vincent’s forgiveness extends that far.
Sir, I agree with Ian Botham (“Ian Botham accuses RSPB of misleading its donors,” Oct 24). The RSPB’s site in Sussex was a haven for many birds and much wildlife and flora before they purchased it. I saw owls and foxes and loved the place. I am sad to discover that the woodland, which provided shade for the bluebells, has been destroyed and that the whole area has been fenced off with barbed wire. The notice tells me there are highland cattle on this land. The wonderful pine trees have been chopped down to leave a barren space — they say this is to encourage adders. Most of the natural habitat I loved is fenced off or overused.
Sir, When the Spitfire was on the tail of a Messerschmitt 109 (letter, Oct 24), the Spitfire’s Merlin engine cut out momentarily upon commencement of a dive. The Messerschmitt engine continued to deliver full power as it had direct fuel injection. The negative “G” occasioned by a dive caused the float carburettor of the Spitfire to starve the engine for a crucial second; time for the Luftwaffe pilot to escape. This problem was solved by an engineer with Rolls-Royce, a Miss Shilling. She invented a simple device — a small metal disc with a precisely measured hole in its centre placed in the fuel line.
East Grinstead, W Sussex
Sir, Am I the only elderly person irritated by the “gnarled-hands-clasped-on-stick” image that seems to feature in every article on the over-75s? For a change, I would happily allow my 93-year-old mitts to be photographed peeling potatoes, mixing a cake, or typing this letter.
Avril H Powell
Sir, I agree with Ian Botham (“Ian Botham accuses RSPB of misleading its donors,” Oct 24). The RSPB’s site in Sussex was a haven for many birds and much wildlife and flora before they purchased it. I saw owls and foxes and loved the place. I am sad to discover that the woodland, which provided shade for the bluebells, has been destroyed and that the whole area has been fenced off with barbed wire. The notice tells me there are highland cattle on this land. The wonderful pine trees have been chopped down to leave a barren space — they say this is to encourage adders. Most of the natural habitat I loved is fenced off or overused.
A memorial to Bill Tutte has just been unveiled in Newmarket
6:56AM BST 24 Oct 2014
SIR – Amid the Hollywood hype surrounding the new film The Imitation Game, which highlights the achievements of the wartime code-breaker Alan Turing, it is worth pointing out that a memorial to Bill Tutte has just been unveiled in Newmarket, the town of his birth.
Tutte was a contemporary of Turing’s at Bletchley Park and was credited with achieving the greatest intellectual feat of the Second World War by determining the structure of the German Lorenz code machine without ever having seen one.
Lorenz was vastly more complex than Enigma – whose code Turing cracked – and strategically more important. The Soviet victory at Kursk in 1943 and the success of the D-Day landings in 1944 owed much to the intelligence gained by decoding intercepted German Lorenz messages. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, acknowledged that Bill Tutte’s work shortened the war by two years.
For continuing Cold War security reasons, neither Bill Tutte nor Tommy Flowers, the Post Office telephone engineer who built Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, received any public recognition or award for their efforts at the time – although David Cameron has recently written to Tutte’s remaining family in Newmarket to express belatedly the nation’s gratitude to him.
Bill Tutte went on to become an eminent university mathematics professor in Canada, and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001. He died in 2002.
Church at dusk
SIR – Alice Fowles refers to “traditional” times for Christian church services, at 10.30 or 11am, but during the 1st century the usual time was at dusk on Saturday, as Sunday was a working day in the Roman Empire.
The evening service is currently very practical and popular with young families in the Catholic Church.
Fr Colin Wilson
Many pensioners have houseguests and need spare rooms.
Lord Newby told over-55s to downsize – though he lives in a London vicarage with at least one spare room
6:59AM BST 24 Oct 2014
SIR – Downsizing is expensive. It is not just a matter of removal expenses but of estate agent fees, energy-rating certificates, two lots of legal fees (buying and selling) and Stamp Duty. Then there are new curtains and carpets and other refurbishments to consider.
We have spent 30 years getting our house the way we like it. We have nice neighbours and Lord Newby isn’t the only one who has visitors. We will be staying here.
SIR – My wife and I have a pension income and a modest retirement pot. If we downsized to, say, a £300,000 house (modest in today’s market) we would have to hand over £9,000 of our money as Stamp Duty to the Government.
This punitive tax makes older people think twice about moving down the ladder, and prevents the younger generations from moving up.
Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire
SIR – Should our grandchildren and their parents all sleep on the sofa when they come to stay at Christmas and half term? Should our friends who visit from abroad be expected to stay in hotels?
I need the extra space for my art and craft work, to store my knitting wool and my sewing machine and to study Open University courses. My husband needs room for his computer, jigsaws and models. These things help us to have an active retirement, keeping us healthy and out of the clutches of the NHS for as long as possible.
Would Lord Newby prefer that we moved into a one-bedroom bungalow and plonked ourselves in front of a television?
Christine M Dann
St Asaph, Flintshire
SIR – Lord Newby’s comments are yet another example of the “do as I say, not as I do” approach of our politicians.
Brunch is not a “quirky American invention”
Brunch doesn’t deserve a battering: ‘Cooking Pancakes’ by Pieter Aertsen, circa 1560 Photo: http://www.bridgemanart.com
6:59AM BST 24 Oct 2014
SIR – William Sitwell is perhaps not entirely fair in his critique of brunch. For starters, it is not “a quirky American invention”: brunch originated in England in the late 19th century as a buffet-style meal, and didn’t cross the pond until the Thirties.
Furthermore, the grating name is also English, coined in 1895 in Hunter’s Weekly magazine, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, to describe the meal taken by “Saturday-night carousers” on a Sunday.
As a non-drinker I adore brunch – it is an excellent time to see friends without having to watch them descend into inebriated idiocy.
SIR – Everything I ever needed to know about Classic FM was summed up for me a few Saturdays ago, when the presenter, Alan Titchmarsh, back-announced a recording of the slow movement of Beethoven’s sonata Pathétique and added: “But you probably know it better as More Than Love by Ken Dodd.”
SIR – My favourite memory of Classic FM is hearing an Irish DJ announce: “And now, a stirring march by Soupy”.
Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire
SIR – You report on “country buses with no driver”. Here in rural Lincolnshire we are obviously ahead of the game, as we have bus routes with no buses.
Finding a cure for cancer is important, but so is investing in early detection.
Lab technicians check over digital scans for signs of ovarian cancer. The cancer has one of the worst survival rates, because it is often symptomless until it is too late. Photo: EARNIE GRAFTON/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre
7:00AM BST 24 Oct 2014
SIR – The Medical Innovation Bill reaches a crucial committee stage in the House of Lords today. Spearheaded by Lord Saatchi, whose wife died of ovarian cancer – a disease he quite rightly describes as “relentless, remorseless, merciless” – the Bill will make it easier for dying patients to access untested drugs and treatments.
The statistics for ovarian cancer are woeful: the number of deaths has barely changed in 30 years. So, unquestionably, something needs to change dramatically.
Innovation in treatment is important, but with gynaecological cancers it is innovative research into risk prediction, prevention and earlier detection that is going to make the most difference and save more women’s lives.
The statistics for cervical cancer are astounding by comparison: there has been a 70 per cent decrease in deaths over the same 30-year period thanks to advances in screening.
Investing in finding a cure for cancer is important, but we shouldn’t ignore investing in earlier detection.
CEO, The Eve Appeal
Teaching a lesson
SIR – As an ex-teacher, I feel embarrassed that the reader from Kent (Letters, October 20) should feel so outraged by how hard his wife, the deputy headteacher of a secondary school, works for so little financial reward.
He must surely be aware that his wife also enjoys very long holidays and that, as a professionally qualified person, if you don’t like the hours you work or the pay you get, then you can find another profession. I did.
Admiring the view
SIR – You report that “chainsaw gangs were on standby… to keep trains running” in the face of Hurricane Gonzalo. This made me smile.
In the early Seventies, railways decided to stop cutting banks. Now they are covered in mature trees and large bushes that scrape the sides of trains and blow down in gales. In pictures of railways up to the Seventies, there’s not a tree in sight.
“See Britain by train” no longer applies; all you see is a green tunnel.
Manner of speaking
SIR – I would be grateful if someone could tell me why the name of the letter H, spelled aitch in my Collins English Dictionary, is frequently pronounced haitch.
Should French laziness be rewarded with British sweat?
2:10PM BST 24 Oct 2014
SIR – We have a large deficit and an even larger national debt. Britain borrows huge sums of money, some of which goes toward servicing our existing debt and some of which will now go towards making this £1.7 billion payment to the EU. The demand seems to be nothing more than a penalty for our putative success rather than the levying of taxation as part of a budget in its generally accepted sense.
The Government must face down the EU over this issue. If the Commission wishes, it can exclude us from membership.
Little Wratting, Suffolk
SIR – On a visit to Dieppe in northern France three weeks ago, we discovered that businesses, shops and many restaurants were closed on Sunday. With the exception of a few boulangeries, everything in the town went into shutdown on Monday.
When we realised that, besides breakfast, no food was available either in the bar or restaurant of our four-star hotel after Saturday evening until dinner-time on Monday, we returned home early.
Why is Britain’s success and hard work being penalised to prop up France’s ailing economy?
SIR – Our children are facing retirement at a much later age than we are, whereas the French reversed their attempts to balance their pension books and strengthen their economy.
I have been pro-EU for many years, enjoying the advantages of easier travel and reciprocal health arrangements, but now I am moving towards wanting Britain to withdraw from the European Union.
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
SIR – The EU demands that Britain pay an extra £1.7 billion to support European countries such as France which have ruined their own economies. Can this be paid by the Department for International Development?
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – There is a workable formula which accommodates British and EU interests.
UK defence spending can easily be deemed EU spending in the context of broader European security interests. There is wide respect in Europe accorded to our Armed Forces for their contribution to Europe’s stability.
Therefore, there is a strong case for waiving the proposed extra £1.7 billion fee and channelling that money into British defence spending.
Fittleworth, West Sussex
SIR – I have to ask: is Jean-Claude Juncker a secret Ukip plant?
London’s low maternal employment rates leave 100,000 mothers out of work in the capital.
5:24PM BST 24 Oct 2014
SIR – We welcome news that the Chancellor wants to see 450,000 more women in the workplace by 2016 .
Our report, We can work it out, found that London’s low maternal employment rates leave 100,000 mothers out of work in the capital, and that this fuels London’s high child poverty rates. Increasing the supply of high-quality part-time jobs, affordable child care and employment support are key to tackling this.
With in-work poverty high, it is essential George Osborne ensures that women moving into work will also enable families to move out of poverty.
Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Snow vs Davies
SIR – I was interested to read of the altercation at ITN between Channel 4’s Jon Snow and Philip Davies MP. At times the programme does display Left-wing bias. This is acceptable if expressed in a reasonable way.
However, you also report that Krishnan Guru-Murthy joined the conversation. Mr Guru-Murthy frequently adopts a hostile manner when interviewing. Often this detracts from the value of the discussion.
While he is not the only reporter guilty of such bad manners, there are others who achieve successful results without bullying.
Mobile to phone
SIR – You don’t have to live in far-flung corners of the country to need a landline. We live only 30 miles from central London, but can only get a mobile signal by leaning precariously out of the bedroom window.
When we had a small house fire that disabled the phone line, we had to run down to the end of the garden in order to summon the fire brigade. Don’t get me started on broadband speeds.
SIR – I recently received an email from an old flame in New Zealand: “Was just watching an antiques programme, and thought of you.”
Sir, – Taoiseach Kenny Enda and the leader of the Opposition Micheál Martin are in agreement that the Dáil did not accept excuses of leading churchmen over the handling of cases of abuse. We have moved on and as Christians have hopefully forgiven those who were guilty. Certainly we have allowed some important hierarchal figures who were involved to enter peaceful retirement without question. Sinn Féin is the fastest-growing political party in the State, much to the annoyance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, but surely it is time to stop this chorus of vilification of Gerry Adams by politicians – and the media, and extend to him the same courtesy and grace as was afforded to the churchmen, guilty or not guilty.
Surely it is the homeless, the old, the young marrieds who are struggling to rear families, and many other groups, whose problems should be addressed by TDs? The political point-scoring that has become the “hallmark” of Dáil debates is a waste of time and serves only to distract attention from the important functions of Government. – Yours, etc,
ROBERT A SHARPE,
Cootehill, Co Cavan.
Sir, – Some years ago I published a research report, They Shoot Children, Don’t They? It documented so-called punishment attacks on young people and children by loyalist and republican paramilitaries.
Of those victims I interviewed then and subsequently, virtually without exception, none was prepared to make claims in public. One of these was hospitalised as far back as 1985 after a beating in a parent’s backyard. This was carried out by members of the IRA. He still will not speak openly almost three decades later, although he can name some of those involved. One is now a leading member of Sinn Féin in Belfast.
The reasons are simple. Whatever assurances Sinn Féin might give through its media presentations, the reality at street level can be very different. In loyalist and republican areas individuals are vulnerable in all kinds of way, not only personally but through a variety of avenues, including threats against family, kinfolk and friends. As one cautioned: “You never know”.
This makes Maíria Cahill’s challenge to power, albeit power of the invisible and unaccountable kind, both exceptional and all the more admirable. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I have sympathy with much of what has been said on both sides of the debate about Ciaran O’Neill’s article on independent secondary schools in Ireland (“Paying for privilege”, Education Opinion, October 21st). I am the headmaster of Headfort School, a non-denominational, co-ed, independent prep school for children from three to 13 located near Kells in Co Meath. Headfort receives no State subvention.
I am often asked would I like the State to support Headfort in the way it supports independent secondary schools. My answer is that I am ambivalent on this question. I feel it would be unfair on the taxpayer, yet, if the school did receive State support, it could lower its fees. Headfort is building up its bursary programme whereby it is able to enrol children from families who would not be able to pay full fees; yet with most of our teachers paid by the State, we could immediately drop fees significantly. American and British independent schools, none of whose teachers are paid with state funds, are so expensive that they are way out of reach for the vast majority of families. This has created a massive gulf that does not exist in the same way in Ireland, whose independent secondary schools, while expensive, are much more affordable. – Yours, etc,
Kells, Co Meath.
Sir, – It was heartening to read Ciaran O’Neill’s critical, contextual and informative article.
Patrick Cassidy (October 23rd) offers two standard arguments in opposition: that every child has the right to a State-funded education; and that some parents simply top this up with fees, and this practice saves the State money.
I am not convinced by either of these arguments. It is a curious practice to enable people to top up their rights with private funds, though admittedly this practice is prevalent in Ireland in both education and healthcare. We would not accept a situation in which people can top up their right to security – for instance, where people who pay a fee are offered something akin to “platinum protection” by the Garda or fire services, with special Garda stations and fire stations with improved resources set apart from the standard network. The concept is as offensive in education (and healthcare) as it is in security, even if we have been conditioned to regard it as normal.
As to whether it saves the State money, perhaps it does, but it also has a pernicious effect on the free second-level education sector. Rather than freeing up additional funds for State schools, the political effect is to actually diminish their resources.
Imagine if all letters written in defence of Ireland’s anomalous subsidy to fee-charging schools, and all the lobbying done in its favour (both individual and ecclesial), were instead directed at seeking additional supports for all schools. Imagine if the typical children of ambassadors, judges, partners in large firms, senior civil servants, and government ministers were as reliant on the State as other children are for funding for sports facilities, extracurricular activities, and other educationally valuable resources. I think a much better-resourced education sector would emerge, funded by the State and open to all. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It was interesting to read the different attitudes to private education, with those opposing objecting to the State support for these schools. What no-one seems to have said is that those paying for private education are generally significant taxpayers and have through their taxes already paid for State schools. Surely we are entitled to spend our taxed income on private education, private medical care or, for that matter, whatever we wish! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Johanna Lowry O’Reilly (October 24th) suggests that families with the right ethos are entitled to private schooling and that “most parents whose children don’t attend private schools wouldn’t want them to”. Since these private schools were generally established by the main Christian churches, how would the founder of Christianity evaluate this extremely elitist position? – Yours, etc,
Prof JIM GLEESON,
Sir, – Most citizens who are currently being asked to register with Irish Water have already paid handsomely in taxes during their lifetime for the current water infrastructure. I propose that in order to acknowledge this undisputed fact and to avoid the problem of asking citizens to pay twice, the State should issue one share in Irish Water to each citizen as a reward for their investment to date. Each year we would receive a dividend and when it is eventually sold, we would all get a nice lump sum.
As a shareholder of Irish Water, I would be much more likely to register and pay my water charges. – Yours, etc,
Rathgar, Dublin 14.
Sir, – Laurence Hogan (October 24th) is wrong to claim that the troika required Ireland to introduce water charges in order to help pay back the bailout loans. The reality is that the troika’s assessment of the Irish taxation structure showed it to have become dangerously overdependent on windfall tax revenues from an unsustainable property bubble.
When that bubble inevitably burst, tax revenues duly collapsed with it, creating a massive and unsustainable budget deficit. As such, the troika’s insistence on water charges and a property tax merely sought to bring Ireland into line with other developed countries, where such taxes make the tax base more sustainable, more predictable, and less reliant on transaction taxes and short-term windfalls from one overblown sector of the economy. – Yours, etc,
Lucan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly asserts that Irish Water must deal with customers in a “fantastic way” (“Kelly seeks ‘people of calibre’ for new board”, October 23rd).
He should know that it is already doing so. It has unnecessarily spent a fantastic amount of money (€50 million) on consultants. It has come up with a fantastic set of repair charges that have turned its repair personnel into said consultants. It is paying its staff fantastic salaries and even more fantastic bonuses, whether they perform or not, and is already overstaffed by a fantastic 33 per cent. It has made fantastic promises regarding timescales for meter installations which cannot be met. It will take a fantastic amount of money out of the economy next year and succeeding years with no published strategy as to how it will be spent and what fantastic advantages will accrue to its fantastic customer base for this most basic civil right. It is quite fantastic to think that it may get away with it.
It is equally fantastic that the Coalition might think it has a hope of re-election on the back of such a fantastic cock-up. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – For the second time on an RTÉ news programme, I have heard Clare Daly TD state that we pay for our water through the general tax system and that she is not in the habit of paying twice for services.
I live in a rural area and am not connected to either the mains water or sewage system. I have incurred the capital cost and ongoing running costs of installing a water pump and effluent treatment plant. I also pay my taxes on the same basis as other citizens of this State. Does this mean that I, and hundreds of thousands of others, are due a repayment of tax, as we have paid for a water service over many years which was not provided to us by the State? – Yours, etc,
Monasterevin, Co Kildare.
Sir, – Regarding the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the question of The Irish Times’s costs of its legal battle with the Mahon tribunal (Front Page, October 24th), a battle that the newspaper won, by the way, it is a sad day for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It’s all very well to shrug our shoulders, but this judgment will have a chilling effect on media freedom, particularly in those European states where freedom of the press is still something of a comparative novelty. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I can hear the howls of anguish from the chattering classes as it dawns on them that even their sacred cow, The Irish Times, is not entitled to take upon itself , in the words of the European Court of Human Rights, a “role properly reserved to the courts”. – Yours, etc,
CHLOE M RYAN,
Sir, – Donald Clarke’s article on fluoride (“Pouring cold water on anti-fluoridation arguments”, Opinion & Analysis, October 11th) misses an essential point – dental decay is not caused by a lack of fluoride. Dental decay is caused by a poor diet and a lack of dental hygiene.
Instead of the fluoridation of drinking water, we need a public education campaign on the importance of brushing teeth and avoiding sugary foods.
In addition to drinking water, the Irish population is exposed to fluoride from a variety of sources, including toothpaste, mouthwashes, dental floss, as well as from fluoride-containing foods such as sardines and tea.
Fluoride, therefore, does not need to be in the drinking water supply, which gives the population a chemical whose dose is dependent simply on how thirsty they are. It is simply wrong to address a problem with a non-chemical cause by adding more chemicals to our already polluted world. – Yours, etc,
Dr ELIZABETH CULLEN,
Sir, – Joe Cleary worries that the lack of a Swedish embassy in Ireland (October 18th) amounts to a lack of recognition by Sweden of our State. Mr Cleary should note that when Ireland’s need was dire, the Swedes (along with the Danes and those pesky, friendly Brits) stumped up over €1 billion in bilateral loans to us.
The absence of a full-time ambassador or staff did not seem to limit Swedish solidarity as our economy crashed.
The recent recalibration in the Swedish foreign service was designed to deliver more efficiencies in the wider context of our joint membership of the European Union. A grand pile on embassy row in Dublin seems counterintuitive to investing in 24/7, 365 diplomatic resources where they can make a true difference.
In making its diplomacy smarter and soft-power reach longer, we could learn from much from Sweden’s example. – Yours, etc,
JAMES F DUNNE,
Sir, – Gordon Linney never fails to challenge and inspire (“Compassion – the heart of the ministry of Jesus”, Thinking Anew, October 18th). Commenting on the views of a lecturer on ethics who was reported as saying that compassion would not solve any problems in the NHS, he so rightly notes that “healing is not just about drugs and procedures, it is about people with feelings and anxieties who need and deserve compassion and understanding”.
Compassion in my dictionary has many definitions, all bordering on understanding, humanity, concern and care. Perhaps it is worth adding the oft-quoted words of Maya Angelou, “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. – Yours, etc,
Bride Road, Dublin 8.
Sir, – As we approach October 31st, may I appeal to radio and television broadcasters, politicians and social commentators, and all those who respect the spoken word, to study the vowel arrangements in the word Halloween, particularly the first vowel? There’s nothing hollow about it. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Fluoridation of water. Privilege in private schools. Could we have something on Roy Keane to make this week a hat-trick? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With reference to the letter that appeared on October 24th, your correspondent may be interested to know that the automatic border control gates, which are currently being trialled, have been operating on a 24/7 basis since early October. – Yours, etc,
FIONA M O’SULLIVAN,
Department of Justice
“From the solemn gloom of the temple children run out to sit in the dust, God watches them play and forgets the priest.” – Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet.
Whether one believes in God, Darwinism or any other theory in between; the one undeniable fact of life is that all of it is driven to extend itself through offspring. The driving force that is death underlies this charge. It is inevitable and yet we all – each and every one of us – are a celebration of life that has observed the same sun in many guises since time began.
With all the talk of precious resources is it not time for humanity to recognise that the Earth’s children are at the very top of the pile when it comes to placing a value on our existence?
Yet, all over the world, children suffer. Children don’t manipulate politics to cause war or famine. Children don’t dream up schemes of combining their efforts to grow wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Children only want to play – to escape the gloom.
One of the most horrific stories to emerge regarding children this year – and there were many, many examples – was the bombing of four young boys as they played football on a beach in Gaza. They were engaged in that most innocent and joyful pastime of dancing with a ball at their feet – and they were killed in cold blood.
Our Government – which is paid to promote the notion of peaceful settlement of conflict throughout the world -conveyed their usual silence, however.
But not the Seanad. The Seanad voted this week to recognise the State of Palestine. They voted to give Gaza and other areas in Palestine a voice that has been muted and ignored for years, a voice that has been placed under the harshest of treatments by its neighbour.
While the Seanad has provided many a day of groaning disbelief with some of its antics and comments, this week it stood up to the plate and proved itself worthy of its existence.
Take a bow, Senators!
Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co Galway.
Central Bank restrictions
A lot of articles have been written about the fact that Central Bank restrictions are excessive. In 1995, when I bought my house, the deposit ratio was 34pc. I thought it a bit excessive at the time, but that was pre-bubble deposit ratio.
This makes the central banks restrictions seem reasonable and wise.
The problem is that people’s expectation of house prices are too high and bank lending is too loose. This is what is forcing higher prices.
I would be more concerned about increasing my standard of living and having a higher disposable income, or money left from when one pays a mortgage.
If I could actually move to another part of the country, it would be Limerick. I don’t know whether their house prices will rise, but it is the city with the greatest potential and it has high rental returns, and high income relative to house prices.
This, of course, was highlighted by David McWilliams earlier this year. He is a beautiful writer.
Darragh Condren, Dundrum, Dublin 16
Deliver us from ‘old’ politics
I think most people here believe Mairia Cahill and her account of her horrendous treatment at the hands of the IRA.
I also think that Gerry Adams should personally – and on behalf of Sinn Fein – apologise to her for all the trauma she endured, even though neither he nor his party had any hand, act or part in the affair.
The ‘storm’ in the Dail over the issue is nothing more than a smoke screen by the Coalition and Fianna Fail to divert attention from the economic mess they have created. They just do not get it. They are as thick as a double ditch.
People are sick and tired of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. The minister who pushed through the property and water taxes has been rewarded with a top job in the EU.
The property tax and water taxes were approved by the Dail and thus belong to the category of ‘legalised robbery’. If the government had an ounce of cop on, they would resign immediately and call for fresh elections. I can safely predict that the winner would be Sinn Fein – since they are the only party saying the right things.
However, I shall not be voting for them since they – like all the other parties – are in favour of more abortion, same-sex marriage and an end to our blasphemy law. In fact, the silent majority (ie Catholics) have been disenfranchised. Christian morality has been swept aside.
Who then can we vote for? It is pointless voting for Independents as they have no power.
The country badly needs a Messiah, a new party of honest men and women that will reform our corrupt system of government.
James M Bourke, Terenure, Dublin 6
Irish Water a predictable mess
It’s not until they actually start work in your estate that you realise what an unmitigated cock-up the decision to place a water meter outside practically every house in the country was.
In years to come this is going to be one of those issues that will be discussed on Prime Time.
“Minister the recent inquiry (yes, there will be one) has found that the then-government acted with an astonishing degree of incompetence in its decision to install water meters outside every house in the country, a decision that plunged the country into political and financial turmoil resulting in political stalemate for the foreseeable future. What’s your take on it, Minister?”
The one thing we have learned in Ireland over our 100-year history is that we never learn by our mistakes. In my opinion, this government came into office with the intention of making the vast majority of the population poor.
They have just over a year to achieve their goal and they are well on course.
To paraphrase Brendan Behan: “If it was raining soup the Irish government would go out with forks.”
Mike Burke, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare
Ever feel like you’ve been ad?
We are constantly reminded by our state broadcaster that it’s our licence fee that makes quality Irish programmes and services possible.
Although the RTE player is cited as one of these services, it would seem that our downpayment is forgotten when we are forced to spend 60 seconds of our time watching advertisements that can’t be skipped.
Peadar Grant, Dundalk, Co Louth
Petit mort before a little life
With regard to Sean McElgunn’s letter (Irish Independent, October 23 “Sex is God’s creation”) please note the following – without good, precious and beautiful sex, none of us would be here!
Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co Donegal
Channelling my dissatisfaction
The night before last I sat in the living room watching the telly. Last night, I actually turned it on. The night before last was better.
Brendan Casserly, Bishopstown, Cork