28 October 2014 Tip
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day off to the tip to drop off the leaves still some trouble over a ‘Servas’ visitor won’t answer the phone!
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
Richard Laws – obituary
Richard Laws was a British Antarctic Survey director whose budget was saved by the Argentines and Mrs Thatcher
5:32PM GMT 27 Oct 2014
Richard Laws, who has died aged 88, was an eminent zoologist who served as director of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) from 1973 to 1987; he had much to be grateful for when the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982.
Laws set out to build on the work of his predecessor, Sir Vivian Fuchs, who had led the Survey through its pioneer days and gained government support for a central headquarters in Cambridge, as well as for an effective field organisation with five research stations, two support ships and supporting aircraft. Laws aimed to consolidate BAS’s reputation as a leading multidisciplinary research institute. But he had to struggle against efforts by the BAS’s parent funding body, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), to trim its budget.
Soon after he took office, BAS was required to make cuts of 10 per cent, and further budgetary pressure was applied in 1979. Among other reductions, the BAS cut its representation in the Falkland Islands to just one person, though plans to close its station at King Edward Point on South Georgia were vetoed by the Foreign Office which was concerned that Britain would lose its only administrative presence on the largely uninhabited territory.
The Foreign Office agreed to fund the construction of a new BAS facility at King Edward Point, which had been occupied for only three days when the Argentines arrived in April 1982.
The BAS team was deported and briefly interned in Argentina before being repatriated to Britain.
The successful recovery of both South Georgia and the Falklands by June had an enormous impact on the fortunes of the BAS. Margaret Thatcher decided it was in Britain’s interest to remain a major presence in the South Atlantic and Antarctica and that one of the routes to achieving this should be in science.
She directed that the BAS’s operating budget be doubled and a major programme of capital investment be carried out. As a result, by the early 1990s BAS had been transformed into a highly professional organisation, leading the world in Antarctic science.
Steel helmets abandoned by Argentine armed forces who surrendered at Goose Green in 1982 (PA)
A key result of all this activity was the discovery, in 1984, by the BAS team of atmospheric scientists at the Halley Bay base, of the depletion of the ozone layer over the South Pole – a discovery which jolted the world into a new awareness of man’s potential to wreck the planet.
In 1989, when the leader of the opposition, Neil Kinnock, attempted to belittle Mrs Thatcher’s claim in an interview to have intervened to save the BAS’s funding, Laws leapt to her defence, revealing that she had intervened, not once but twice, to save the Survey from cuts that would have put its work at risk — once after the Falklands conflict, and again in 1986 when the NERC had made a change in funding rules which again threatened its work. “It really was a personal, individual appreciation of the problem, when it had been put to her, that led her to intervene,” he recalled, “and I felt extremely grateful.’’
Richard Maitland Laws was born on April 23 1926 at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, and educated at Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, from where he won a Scholarship to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he later became a research scholar and honorary fellow.
Late in 1947, within a few months of gaining a First in Zoology, Laws sailed south as a biologist with the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (later BAS), in a team led by Sir Vivian Fuchs. Fuchs put Laws in charge of the station on Signey Island in the South Orkney Islands, where he was to study the biology of the southern elephant seal.
Southern Elephant Seal pup, South Georgia Island (ALAMY)
He spent two years at Signy before returning to Cambridge to start writing up the results of the most comprehensive study to have been made of any species of seal — and perhaps of any large mammal in the wild — until that time.
In 1951 Laws went south for a further year with the FIDS, this time in charge of the station at Grytviken, South Georgia, to continue his work on the elephant seal, looking in particular at possible measures to conserve the population in the face of exploitation of the seals for their oil. He devised a management plan for the industry which was implemented successfully until sealing on the island ceased with the closure of the whaling station in 1964.
During the course of this work Laws found that the age of a seal (and indeed many other mammals) can be accurately assessed from the study of growth rings in the teeth — a discovery that revolutionised studies of the population dynamics of mammals.
After taking his PhD in 1953, Laws joined the staff of the National Institute of Oceanography, and in the same year returned to the Antarctic for a season, this time as a biologist and whaling inspector in the factory ship Balaena. He continued his research on whales until 1961 and was the first scientist to suggest that the reduction in the population of fin whales through whaling had led to an increase in their growth rate and decrease in their average age at maturity — a finding that is still a matter of debate.
In 1961 Laws transferred his interest from large marine mammals to large terrestrial mammals, and from Antarctica to East Africa. He worked in Africa for the next eight years, initially as director of the Nuffield Unit of Tropical Animal Ecology in Uganda and later as first director of the Tsavo Research Project in Kenya. His own research concerned the biology and management of hippopotamus and elephant populations. In Elephants and their Habitats (1975) he and his co-authors put forward the controversial, but now generally accepted, idea that culling is essential for the proper management of the animals.
Southern Elephant Seal (ALAMY)
Laws returned to BAS in 1969, as head of its Life Sciences Division, succeeding to the directorship of the whole organisation in 1973. Despite the burden of administrative duties, he continued to play a leading role in scientific forums, helping to draft conventions for the preservation of marine life and editing major works on Mammals of the Sea (1978-82) and Antarctic Ecology (1984). He also published a more personal assessment of challenges facing the region in Antarctic: the last Frontier (1989), in which he expressed cautious optimism that within the Antarctic Treaty system the problems of safeguarding the environment could be solved.
On his retirement from the Survey in 1987, Laws took over full-time as master of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, having already served two years part-time in this capacity. From the start he took a characteristically firm hold on college affairs, in the face of reservations from some members of the strongly religious foundation about his professed agnosticism. But the college flourished under a master who also took an active part in university affairs and in outside organisations including the Zoological Society of London, of which he was secretary from 1984 to 1988.
Laws was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and appointed CBE in 1983. He was awarded the Bruce Memorial Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1954, the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society in 1965 and the Polar Medal in 1976. An accomplished water colourist, he was also a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists.
In 1954 Richard Laws married Maureen Holmes, with whom he had three sons.
Richard Laws, born April 23 1926, died October 6 2014
Russell Brand speaks to Occupy Wall Street activists in New York City on 14 October 2014. Photograph: XPX/Star Max/GC Images
Is politics the only area of human knowledge in which it is deemed clever to sneer at people who raise astute questions, but don’t have instant answers? In most other areas of science, people are applauded for raising questions that resonate with lived experience, even if they cannot provide confident answers to them. The relentless stream of condescension directed towards Russell Brand, including Hadley Freeman’s latest contribution (Don’t put all your faith in Russell Brand’s revolution, 25 October), give the impression that if one is not a native speaker of the opaque language of insider politics, one is almost certainly a clownish impostor.
In my current British Academy-funded study of how people first experience talking about politics, I have interviewed many people who have told me that they are frightened to open their mouths in the political realm lest they be dismissed as naive, ignorant or emotional. Asking radical questions is no less a contribution to democratic debate than devising sophisticated policies – and it is more of a contribution than is made by those who regurgitate stale and unreflective caricatures.
Professor of political communication, University of Leeds
• Russell Brand is a flawed individual, something which he admits regularly, and I do not agree with him when he proclaims that people should not vote. However, the views he promotes should not be denigrated and disregarded out of hand, as so many of your commentators have done in recent days. John Lydon, who has had the misfortune to experience directly the sufferings of the British underclass, proclaimed that Brand preaches revolution from “a mansion” (Never mind Russell Brand, use your vote!, 15 October). So too did Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm – on whom, it has been revealed recently (Report, 24 October), MI5 once spied – and EP Thompson. Hill was the master of Balliol College, Oxford; Hobsbawm was a product of the bourgeoisie who held a professorship at a major college of the University of London; and Thompson pursued a career as an independent historian and political activist because of his inherited wealth (and, it should be added, the income provided by his wife, Dorothy) after he parted company with the University of Warwick in the early 1970s.
I raise these points not to argue that these historians had no sympathy and understanding of the plight of those less fortunate than themselves, but instead to suggest that the middle-class left, from whom the Guardian draws much of its readership, seeks to engage with Brand in a less hostile fashion. Neither Brand’s morals nor arguments are perfect, but he is able to set an agenda and engage an otherwise apathetic sector of the population in politics. Out of your commentators, Owen Jones is one of the few who is able and willing to engage sympathetically yet critically with Brand, and I commend him for doing so.
Dr Tim Reinke-Williams
Senior lecturer in history, University of Northampton
• Could I just clarify to Hadley Freeman that people are not “a bit fed up” with politicians, they are extremely sick of the horrors. Russell Brand is certainly amplifying the cause of people who have every right to be, such as the Newham mothers. Perhaps we can look forward to her analysis of what she might consider more coherent manifestos by political parties even though (SPOILER!) they will be works of complete deception. At least Brand has begun to show that will be the case.
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire
• Well done, Hadley Freeman, for puncturing so eloquently the pompous, overinflated, overhyped balloon of Russell Brand’s ego. For too long, commentators who should know better have acquiesced with or even lauded his naive faux-intellectual views. The Evan Davis interview on Newsnight exposed Brand’s extreme reluctance (or inability) to engage with facts, as well as his conspiracy-theory cherry-picking mentality. What remained was little more than bluster. May the rollercoaster now be derailed before it departs totally from reality.
• Having worried for some considerable time about the Guardian’s apparent fascination with Russell Brand – his column some years ago plus his almost daily advertising image recently – imagine my relief on reading Hadley Freeman’s splendid column. Seemingly gentle in tone, her demolition was nevertheless almost total. Maybe she should now write about Nigel Farage or, come to that, David Cameron?
• Should we not be open to the possibility that Russell Brand might be an MI5 stooge masquerading as an anarchist to discredit the movement?
Dr Michael Paraskos
• Could Maureen Lipman (Queen for a day, 25 October) please talk some sense into Russell Brand?
• Russell Brand’s Newsnight interview was like watching a spoilt brat, shouting, groping and incapable of listening to any voice but his own. I thought how glad I am that my own children have manners. Many of the views he espouses aren’t different to mine.
I’ve been a Labour councillor for 28-plus years and have dedicated a huge amount of my life to supporting vulnerable people and helping to make the community I live in a better place. I do it as a democrat through a political party.
This is the kind of thing many politicians do in abundance, but you don’t get to hear of it in the press because they rarely report good news.
I live in a country where democracy is not valued. Where the rightwing media is constantly negative and promotes a blame culture. Since we get most of our views from the media, it’s no wonder people are disillusioned on their daily diet of woe.
So much time is now devoted to motormouths like Nigel Farage and Russell Brand, who can convert the apathy generated by the press into a messianic cause with narcissistic self-promotion and get a massive pat on the back for it. What a sad society we have become.
Sometimes I switch off the daily gloom for a month. Life definitely becomes a more serene experience then. If we heard more of the the good stuff that politicians do we might not be so “switched off” – and pigs may fly!
• I read Hadley Freeman’s article and found myself disagreeing with her opinion. Firstly, who is asking us to believe in “his” revolution? I like to watch Russell Brand’s Youtube programme The Trews not because I believe in him as a revolutionary leader but because I find the points he makes and the subjects he covers are interesting and not ones widely covered in the mainstream media. I do not find he has “long ago exceeded the outer limits of his knowledge” but rather would consider he is on a voyage of discovery. He also makes me laugh, which Hadley’s article sadly didn’t. I am a nurse, and while I vaguely remember watching the Woody Allen film Hadley refers to, I also struggle to remember when I last had a pay rise – which, along with increased pension contributions, increased professional body membership fees and the rising cost of living, has left me also struggling to feed and clothe my children, and keep our home warm. Therefore I appreciate Russell Brand’s appearance on the anti-austerity demonstration and find his views more of use in understanding both my current situation as well the global one than I do Hadley’s blithe comment that the revolution is not going to happen. If there is no revolution in the way power structures are presently organised – benefiting a few at the expense of the many – then (spoiler alert) the world’s climate, for one thing, will not survive.
I am left wondering why so many column inches were spent on such a negative view of Russell Brand.
• I found Hadley Freeman’s comment on Russell Brand offensive and derisory, and it left me thinking: “You don’t get it!”
So what if he uses a chauffeur to drive him to see a group of women who are threatened with homelessness by immoral landlords. He used his position to try to support them, and to stop them and their children being removed forcibly from their homes. He sees very clearly how the “system” is set up to support those “who have” at the expense of those who “have not”.
The reference to Brand comparing himself to Jesus is hardly worth mentioning – he is a comedian! Opening his life to the world, his troubles and challenges, Russell makes connections with people, understands and listens to people and empathises with their struggles. He makes connections with young people who feel excluded and isolated when being “talked at” by mainstream politicians and corporate representatives. He can see clearly where the roots of struggles lie and shouts loudly about them. Thank goodness somebody does. I have been waiting for him for 61 years!
This will make many people who enjoy the comforts of the world’s inequalities uncomfortable and want to mock and deride Russell Brand, belittle him and try to make him look a fool. This is a well-worn tactic used by the establishment media to undermine anyone who criticises the established order.
Despite not wishing to give Mike Read’s Ukip calypso (Report, 24 October) any more attention than it deserves, I must point out there could be some plagiarism going on. The 1956 Harry Belafonte song Man Smart (Woman Smarter) which it appears to be based on was credited to King Radio (Norman Span). The notion of using calypso in an anti-immigrant discourse is bonkers, even for Ukip.
Bob (King Liar) Jones
• You don’t suppose, do you, that the apparent lack of interest in DIY could have anything to do with a generation stuck with renting and therefore no incentive or opportunity to renovate (DIY stores are hammered by lack of do-it-yourself drive, 23 October)?
• Steve Rose writes that Renée Zellweger, at 45, isn’t exactly in the Norma Desmond league (My face is my brand, G2, 23 October). Not that far off. Norma Desmond was only 50, younger than Kristin Scott Thomas, Janet McTeer, Emma Thompson, Jodie Foster, to name but a few actors de nos jours. Something has changed, thank god.
• It struck me that, apart from on your spread describing how far women’s representation in sport had come, every photo in the 25 October Sport supplement was of a man and every contributor was male. A long way to go as far as the Guardian is concerned, evidently.
• It’s easy for Mark Zuckerberg to appear charitable (The tyranny of life’s high achievers, 25 October) with the money he avoids in paying taxes. The reality is different.
• Menopause symptoms last “two to five years”, Dr Dillner says (G2, 27 October). I wish! I’m in the 13th year with no end in sight. I wish I’d been warned.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people (and their friends) may come together for events such as Pride marches, but generally ‘the groups have fewer commonalities than differences’. Photograph: Paul Brown / Rex Features
“Police fear that other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities may have been targeted” by two “robbers who met their victim through dating app” (Report, 24 October). Let’s be clear: this was a crime by men against men – lesbians had nothing to do with it. Women form a tiny proportion of violent criminals, and these men are hardly likely to target lesbians; heterosexual women are much more likely to get caught by men using a dating app, so they’re the people who need to be warned. We need to stop this mindless conflation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – the groups have fewer commonalities than differences – and if men are the problem, then we should say so.
Professor Rosemary Auchmuty
University of Reading
What dictionary is Gaby Hinsliff (The forelock-tugging has gone, but most of us still depend on servants, 24 October) using? The Shorter Oxford defines a servant as “A personal or domestic attendant; a person employed in a house to perform various household duties according to the orders and requirements of his or her employer”. To claim that anyone who is “paid to perform duties on your behalf” is a servant invites great confusion. As one of those time-poor, (relatively) cash-rich professionals, yes, I pay someone (yes, a woman; yes, an immigrant) to clean my house.
This is a very different arrangement from that which my parents and I experienced “below stairs” in a very, very minor country house in the 70s and 80s. We lived in a tied cottage on the estate, we drove around in an estate car that was the estate’s car, and so on.
For people living and working as true servants, to be dismissed or to resign is to be almost immediately homeless and stripped of the basic mechanisms of modern life. Your employer’s whims and fancies govern your life in a myriad of ways: imagine having to negotiate with your boss whether or not you can install a new bathroom in the house you live in.
I depend on my cleaner more than she does on me. I accommodate changes to her schedule if her regular time becomes inconvenient. I recently gave her a pay rise. I do this because she is reliable, trustworthy and effective. I pay for her time and I want to go on doing so because of the value I receive in return, so I am motivated to be a good … not master, not employer, not boss, but a good client.
• With regard to Aisha Gani’s report (Whitehall cleaners gather outside HMRC to campaign for living wage, 17 October) and Polly Toynbee’s article (Low pay is breaking Britain’s public finances: the evidence can’t be denied, 23 October), the Living Wage campaign is doing a good job to raise wages for the low-paid. However, it does nothing to address the army of domestic help with no job security, no benefits, no pay rises and no legal redress.
The casual acceptance of black-market domestic help – often by people who champion ethical causes, attack zero-hours contracts, and are conscious in their purchase of products but not services – is also preventing the development of more ethical business models.
It is time to address this paradox whereby ethical consumers are not ethical employers.
I am a sociology teacher and my wife runs a domestic cleaning business. As such we are astonished that JaneJeffersonCleaning.com is the only domestic cleaning company to be recognised by the Living Wage Foundation.
We hope this letter provokes further analysis of the structural constraints that prevent our society from being the just one that it should be.
Dan and Jennifer O’Donnell
Those of us who think Florence Nightingale’s work, in promoting public health, founding nursing and reforming hospitals, was and remains important do not oppose a statue for Mary Seacole (White History Month is here already, 21 October).
Such a statue, however, should not be at St Thomas’ (Nightingale’s hospital) nor label her “pioneer nurse”, which she never claimed to be (Comment, 8 June 2012). She never worked a day at a hospital, in any country. Nor should a Seacole statue face the Houses of Parliament, when it was Nightingale who wrote briefs and lobbied politicians to improve healthcare, especially in the workhouses. Seacole was a businesswoman who sold champagne and fine meals to officers, and catered their dinner parties. Yes, she was kind and generous, to ordinary soldiers as well as officers. These are good qualities, but not the sort that saves lives or pioneers health care.
On 21 October 1854 Nightingale and her team left for the Crimean war. Mrs Seacole was in London, not applying to become a nurse but attending to her gold-mining stocks. She says so in her book.
Professor Lynn McDonald
Editor, Collected Works of Florence Nightingale
Ha-Joon Chang (Opinion, 20 October) is right that “the country is in desperate need of a counter narrative” to the Tory story on the economy. I believe it should go like this.
First, Labour did not leave behind an economic mess; the bankers did. Labour was not profligate: the biggest Labour deficit in the pre-crash years was 3.3% of GDP; the Thatcher-Major governments racked up deficits bigger than that in 10 of their 18 years. So who was the profligate? It’s a no-brainer.
Second, the Tories have claimed that the reason for enforced austerity is to pay down the deficit. Yet, after six years of falling wages, private investment flat, productivity on the floor, and fast-rising trade deficits, the deficit is £100bn, when Osborne promised in 2010 it would now be next to zero. To cap it all, the deficit will almost certainly rise this year because income from taxes has sharply fallen as wages are increasingly squeezed. Austerity is now a busted policy that has turned toxic. It should be dropped.
Third, Osborne’s so-called recovery is bogus because it is too dependent on a housing asset bubble, too dependent on financial services rather than manufacturing, and has no demand to sustain it. It is already fading as growth slows.
Fourth, the only way now to get the deficit down is by public investment to kickstart sustainable growth via housebuilding, upgrading infrastructure, and greening the economy. Funding a £30bn package at interest rates of £150m a year would create 1.5m jobs within two/three years. Or it could be financed without any increase in public borrowing by printing money, or instructing the publicly owned banks to concentrate lending on British industry, or taxing the 0.1% ultra-rich whose wealth has doubled since the crash.
People need hope. The Tories are continuing with austerity because their real motive is to shrink the state and public services, not to cut the deficit. The alternative offers investment desperately needed, growth in the real economy, genuine jobs, rising wages – and really will pay down the deficit.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton
A crucial factor in the success of the HS2 rail project will be making sure that individual transport projects are not developed in isolation. We must look at our transport network as a whole – that includes roads, rail and air travel.
The new proposal for a high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds reiterates the fact that high-speed rail is about improving transport links in the North and not just connecting infrastructure to London. Having a clear strategy that allows Network Rail, the Highways Agency and local authorities to work together is therefore crucial to ensure northern cities can take advantage of the new infrastructure.
HS2 will be a huge catalyst for economic redevelopment along parts of the route. We’ve heard a lot about these opportunities for the major cities connected by the high-speed line but, until now, little or nothing about the potential wins for cities beyond the immediate confines of the HS2 network.
There is great potential through the connections to the east and west coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits must be tackled now to ensure these locations do not fall behind.
Another crucial factor for the success of HS2 is the availability of engineers to deliver them on time and on budget. Currently, demand for engineers remains high in the UK but companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the people they need. This is only going to get worse as major projects such as HS2 move a step closer to reality.
Sahar Danesh, Institution of Engineering and Technology
Sir David Higgins’ backing of HS3 is a fillip for the campaign to create a “northern powerhouse”. Let’s hope the Government’s commitment isn’t just pre-election banter that will fall short of actual results. As ever, the devil is in the detail.
Savvy young investors ought to watch these future infrastructure improvements closely. Already buy-to-let yields achieved in the North are stronger than in London and the South-east. Key northern student cities, including Leeds and Manchester, are top for investment and the strength of the property investment market is set to grow as leading companies relocate around the new “powerhouse”.
With excellent transport links and prime opportunities for investment we will see far more talent grown at the top universities in the North stay put rather than the majority of graduates gravitating south.
Stuart Law, CEO Assetz
Ed Balls and Andrew Adonis complain that, “Only a quarter of projects in the Government’s infrastructure pipeline are in the North-east, North-west or Yorkshire and the Humber” (Independent Voices, 26 October)
However, what they don’t mention is that these areas also contain around a quarter of the country’s population. So if Labour thinks those parts of the country should get a larger share of infrastructure than their share of the population, perhaps they could also tell us which areas they want to see getting a disproportionately lower share?
Fallon’s apology was disingenuous
Shortly after he made the ludicrous claim that some British towns were being “swamped” by immigrants who were putting their residents “under siege” the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon withdrew the remarks as “careless” (report, 27 October).
He went on to insist that he had framed his argument in words he “would not usually use” but stood by the central claim. This is disingenuous. Fallon’s words were carefully chosen to provoke a very specific response.
“Swamped” was the word Margaret Thatcher employed in relation to immigrants in her notorious 1978 interview for the current affairs programme World in Action. Thatcher was trying to win back racist voters from the National Front. Fallon, I’d argue, is mobilising the same language in trying to win back racist Tory voters lost to Ukip.
Fallon is blowing hard on the racist dog whistle. The mobilisation and encouragement of anti-migrant racism by politicians is not simply “careless”, it is criminally irresponsible.
Tory austerity is destroying services across the country – not migrants. And the only thing “swamping” British towns at present is racism and xenophobia
Sasha Simic (second-generation east European immigrant)
What a relief to see and hear Michael Fallon revert to type at last. I recall his poisonous first successful electoral campaign in north London where he became elected as one of Margaret Thatcher’s disciples.
More right-wing attack dog than serious Cabinet material, he has managed to keep his true persona well hidden to attain a sufficient air of respectability to become Defence Secretary.
However in an unguarded moment on the BBC he has exposed the prejudices that run through today’s Tory party like the proverbial stick of rock. Mr Fallon should be congratulated; I for one, am deeply indebted to him.
We need to know cost of radioactive waste
I compliment The Independent for highlighting the lack of information from the UK Government of what the costs of radioactive waste management will be from the development of new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point (report, 27 October). The European Commission was rightly concerned to understand more fully this critical matter. This is important to the UK taxpayer, who is already paying tens of billions of pounds to resolve the radioactive waste burden from the existing 60 years of the UK nuclear programme.
I believe the European Commission is looking separately at the waste transfer pricing element of the contract between the UK Government and EDF, and I urge the Commission to come to a conclusion on this matter as soon as possible.
I believe the “small print” of the contract reveals there will be a cap on costs for the nuclear plant operator, EDF. If costs escalate above this cap – and the long-term experience of the nuclear industry shows that costs always escalate – then the top-up costs will fall once again to the taxpayer.
This is yet another reason why the Commission should have rejected the deal, and why it has another crucial opportunity to question the waste part of this exorbitant deal. It is another reason why a joint legal challenge by the Austrian Government and environmental groups is urgently required. Otherwise, the taxpayer is saddled with a very bad deal.
Mark Hackett, Chair of UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities
Farage’s column is more than a tease
Bob Gilmurray’s response to my letter is wonderfully subtle (letter, 27 October), and maybe including Nigel Farage as an Independent columnist is a clever form of harm reduction. And, to be fair to Farage, his column does show what a good communicator he is; but then, Ronald Reagan was known as “the Great Communicator”.
However Farage’s last piece went beyond being “teasingly at variance” with the paper’s editorial policy; and I did not know when I wrote my letter that it was part of a co-ordinated campaign for the election of a Crime Commissioner. That makes it even worse than I thought.
Perhaps it is better that such nastiness is out in the open, and in a forum like the pages of The Independent. However, your leader worryingly suggests that a Ukip candidate may win the election for Crime Commissioner.
Could The Independent allow Natalie Bennett of the Green Party a weekly column in line with that privilege given to Nigel Farage? The Greens appear to be the only party at present with a socialist agenda and they offer something truly different from the other four parties. They also have a purpose other than just obtaining or retaining power. I believe this used to be called commitment politics. It would be interesting to hear their point of view each week.
Scottish labour a shell of former self
I am surprised that anybody in the Scottish Labour Party could countenance as their leader Jim Murphy, who will always be known as The Man Who Was Scared Of An Egg.
But maybe their London masters see things differently and they will do as they’re told if frightened by frequent re-telling of Humpty Dumpty.
Scandal of old men sleeping on benches
It saddens me to know that about a thousand elderly people, mostly men, are to be found sleeping on benches most days and evenings in central London in this wealthy country of ours. I see them regularly whenever the television shows the backbenchers on live news programmes from Parliament.
HS2 and HS3 must be planned as one system, integrating with the existing rail network at key points
Sir, A major drawback of HS2 is that it is being planned in isolation from the existing rail network. Shiny new terminal stations at Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester will have no onward rail access, and those passengers who want to continue — for example from Birmingham to Wolverhampton/Shrewsbury — will have to transfer to a different station in addition to changing trains.
The French, the pioneers of high-speed rail in Europe, use existing stations in their main cities, and so should we. The proposed HS3 across the Pennines (report and leading article, Oct 25) runs a serious risk of compounding the problem.
HS2 and HS3 should be planned as one system, integrating with the existing network at key points, and in a way that enables the high-speed network to be expanded in the future. An independent study by railway engineers, and known as HSUK, does exactly this. It has produced (and costed) a “spine and spoke” route which not only incorporates both HS2 and HS3 but dovetails with the existing railway system. It merits serious consideration.
Robert H Foster
Winterburn, N Yorks
Sir, Your editorial supporting the development of a high-speed railway network for the north of England is right on the mark. Extending the northern network to include Sheffield would provide a valuable trans-Pennine link to HS3 and to Nottingham and the East Midlands, particularly as a disused trans-Pennine rail tunnel, the Woodhead tunnel, is available and is still in good condition. This tunnel used to carry electric trains between Manchester and Sheffield before it was closed in the 1970s.
Paul M Mather
Emeritus professor of geography
West Bridgford, Notts
Sir, We have had various proposals from Mr Osborne to revitalise our “northern cities” by increasing local powers and improving transport links. However, the “northern cities” in question are not Edinburgh or Glasgow, but the northern English cities of Manchester and Leeds.
Given the projected increase in population in the UK we will need to improve our transport infrastructure, and a high-speed railway from London to the north of the UK is an obvious first step. We need to plan from the outset for a line to link London to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a branch to south Wales. The devolved governments of both Scotland and Wales should be involved in the planning process.
A properly thought-out scheme for HS2, which also connects directly to HS1 and the new hub airport for London, would provide an economic stimulus and improved connectivity for all parts of the UK. Links to Scotland and Wales cannot be add-ons which may happen in 25 years’ time.
Dr Warren Mann
Sir, Have the proponents of HS2 and HS3 taken into account the effect that automated cars and lorries will have over the next 30 years? We shall surely see great improvement in the efficient use of roads and vehicles. Many travellers will choose this option to escape the problems of getting to city-centre stations with their luggage.
The efficient driving of vehicles will remove the need for road widening schemes (merging at junctions will be a problem of the past), and necessity will dictate that cars be designed with workstations and loungers. The transport of freight will no longer be hampered by restrictions on drivers’ hours.
Sir, Forty years ago I could travel from Sussex to London in under an hour. Now it takes 25 per cent longer. HS2? HS3? Progress?
Lewes, E Sussex
Tom Whipple heard his stomach rumbling. The composer John Cage heard something else entirely
Sir, Many years ago the composer John Cage wrote of being in an “anechoic room” where there was no sound. He heard two sounds, one high, one low. When he emerged the engineer told him that the high sound was his nervous system and the low sound was his blood circulating. He concluded that there was no such thing as silence. If Tom Whipple’s tummy had not been rumbling so much, he might have heard the same sounds (Oct 25).
We certainly hear more sounds when listening to Cage’s 4’ 33”.
Sir, The poet Catullus lampoons a Celtiberian coxcomb called Egnatius who is always beaming so as to reveal the sparkling white teeth of which he is evidently very proud (letter, Oct 27). His secret? “Et dens Ibera defricatus urina”. His teeth have been scrubbed with Spanish urine.
Sir, It’s hard to know how to read Oliver Moody’s column (“From modernist maniac to national treasure”, Oct 25) on TS Eliot. Was it a defence of Eliot? A dissing of him? The random section given from The Waste Land proves nothing either way, since Moody chooses to quote, out of context, just one of the many voices in this famously collaged piece. In this case, a barmaid is speaking and her speech patterns are brilliantly ventriloquised by Eliot: a few lines later, he segues into Hamlet.
The false dichotomy set up in the title of the piece, pitting youthful extremism against cuddly old age, is nothing to do with Eliot’s original reception: much of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock was, according to Eliot, written in 1911 and would have seemed shockingly original when set against the somnolent idylls of the popular Georgian poets of the time.
Eliot did not have to “find his way back” to a poetry audience: they had to find their way to him. To generalise that “there is nothing special about Eliot” is mystifying, when Moody then lists, immediately afterwards, the special qualities of his verse.
For better or worse, Eliot changed the course of English poetry: his work can transcend criticism, too.
Sir, Miss Shilling was a member of the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s engine department when she invented the orifice which rightly bears her name and which enabled Rolls-Royce Merlin engines to operate at full power under “negative G” (letters, Oct 25 & 27). She finished her career as head of the RAE’s mechanical engineering department; her male staff were usually addressed by their surnames.
One of her other accomplishments was to be the first woman to lap Brooklands racetrack on a motorcycle at over 100mph. With her husband, Vernon Naylor, she enjoyed several successes tuning and driving sports cars as well as motorcycles.
James F Barnes
(Former deputy director, RAE)
Sir, Your leader (Oct 25) suggests an experiment is “overdue” for constant summer time. This has already been done. The 1968-71 experiment was utterly detested, and was repealed by the House of Commons by a massive majority, 366 to 81, to resounding cheers. Let us not be so foolish as to try again. Going to school, not in the Outer Hebrides but here in Chester, in the pitch black was horrible.
If changing by one hour to central European time would save 80 lives, why not move the clocks by two hours and save 160?
The 1968-71 experiment actually increased morning road casualties and although evening casualties decreased, the period coincided with the introduction of drink-driving legislation, which vastly reduced road deaths — so the supposed saving of lives was not a definite result.
Sir, All your letters (Oct 27) are from people who live in the south of England. In the north of Scotland in midwinter, we have up to three hours less light than those in the south. If the clocks did not go back, our children would have to be taken to school in the dark, often on roads covered in snow and ice, which is encountered much more frequently here than in the south. The full light of day would not occur until after 10am. Thus there would be many more accidents here than in the south, where street and road lighting is much more common.
Emeritus Professor Edward Garden
Instead of trying to wriggle out of his agreement (“I won’t pay £1.7bn bill, PM tells Brussels”), David Cameron would be better employed questioning the EU budget and waste of money, in Brussels and Westminster.
SIR – It is time that the European Commission publish correctly audited accounts. They are, as I understand it, at least six years overdue.
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire
SIR – I am a farmer. I hope that the Prime Minister and Chancellor understand how I feel when, having spent a fortune on EU environmental compliance, the decline of British farmland birds is still my fault.
SIR – Just back from “impoverished” northern Spain. Fantastic new roads, new towns replacing fishing villages, and no parking spaces for the huge increase in vehicles. No evidence of their so-called economic problems.
B F Hunt
SIR – Of course the European Commission wants to boost the prospects of Ukip against the Conservatives (leading article, October 25). The best option for the Eurocrats is the return of a Labour government. To keep the European federal project on course, it is vital to avoid popular referendums, and they know that only a Conservative government will give the British people an in/out vote on the EU. So the more that can be done to encourage Ukip to eat away at Conservative support, the better.
That’s why we saw Jean-Claude Juncker, the new Commission President, glad-handing Nigel Farage last Wednesday. Commission presidents have form on this: in his last “state of the union” speech, José Manuel Barroso couldn’t resist kicking the Tories and suggesting people might prefer to vote for Ukip.
Now, the presentation of an additional £1.7 billion bill to Britain just before the Rochester by-election has been a gift to Ukip. Potentially therefore, it is a double gift to the EU.
I trust that voters can see through this.
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP (Con)
SIR – Having given £125 million to help with the Ebola epidemic, Mr Cameron rightly castigates seven EU member states for giving less than Ikea’s contribution of £4.5 million (report, October 24). He then increases our contribution by £80 million. What incentive is there to meet your obligations when you have mugs like Britain that will pay your share?
Bardsey, West Yorkshire
Is it snobbery or regional accents that make people drop – or add – Hs everywhere?
Aitch v haitch: Martineau’s 2014 ‘H is for Horse’ and Miarko’s 1920 ‘L’art croquis d’animaux’ Photo: Bridgeman Art Library
7:00AM GMT 27 Oct 2014
I himagine hits because people hare so hanxious not to drop their haitches that they hinvent new ways hof using them.
Whatever, I ate them.
Burnhill Green, Staffordshire
SIR – I attended a timber technology night-school course in which the lecturer referred to hoak, hash, helm and ‘ickory.
SIR – I don’t know why aitch is frequently pronounced haitch. But I have never heard anyone say Enn Haitch Ess.
Northallerton, North Yorkshire
A poem by a retired major, reflecting on service in Afghanistan
11:34AM GMT 27 Oct 2014
Mud ramparts and dusty streets emerge from out of the grey.
Colours slowly sharpen and there’s a stillness to the air.
Echoing along the valley, drifts the morning call to prayer.
Another night ends and sentries change their post,
On watch in a land familiar to Alexander’s ghost.
Snow-capped mountains restrain the morning sun,
Urging it ever higher, though the day has just begun.
Worn faces gaze outwards from within a sandbagged layer;
Their clothes are dust-caked, for there’s little water here to spare.
Behind compound walls the village steadily comes to life:
A haze of cooking smoke finally banishes the night,
The bazaar gradually fills with traders and their wares;
A passing foot-patrol gathers tentative stares.
Empty faces turn and watch the soldiers on their way
Feelings carefully hidden from those in the Taliban sway.
In the shadow of distant peaks this enduring scene unfolds
Yet traces of our last endeavour seem at times hardly cold.
Alexander, the Great Khans and Empires all have waned
A dusty coin or broken fort is all that now remains.
So when the armies have moved on from Afghanistan,
And another generation of forts slowly returns to the sand,
Was the price paid worth it? We will not yet know.
We’ll shake out the dust, pack our kit and await the next show.
Major Bruce Down (retd)
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Sir, – In The Irish Times (“Why Europe needs to set the pace on climate change”, Opinion & Analysis, October 20th), Mary Robinson called for us to show climate leadership by tapping into our abundant renewable power supplies, while in the same edition Colm McCarthy argues for the abandonment of just such a policy (“Scrap wind farm plans, urges McCarthy”).
Who is right and who is wrong? Perhaps Colm McCarthy could help by clarifying if he accepts the scientific consensus that tackling climate change will require us to build a completely clean power system within a few short decades. If he does accept that assumption then he needs to show how he would do so without having recourse to additional wind power. If his concerns are limited to the immediate issue of excessive power supplies and electricity subsidies in the Irish market, then why does he not argue for the closure of the peat-fired power stations which are more expensive and polluting than the wind farm alternative? But perhaps the difference is bigger than that. Perhaps he thinks economics trumps science on this issue? Given that the science is based on physical realities, then surely it is the economics that is going to have to change and fit within the limits that exist in the natural world. As Mary Robinson said last week, if we don’t deal with this issue appropriately now, we won’t have a world to do business in. – Yours, etc,
The Green Party,
Suffolk Street, Dublin 2.
Sir, – At long last an Irish Government is putting forward arguments in favour of Ireland being treated differently to the other countries in the EU as regards limiting greenhouse gas emissions (“Ireland’s reliance on agriculture recognised in EU climate deal”, October 24th).
Our country has a very different emissions profile and does not conform to the European norm, being comparable only to New Zealand which, the last time I looked, was not in the EU. Yes, we do have other sources of emissions from power generation, domestic and industrial usage and transport but these are quite small and appropriate to our status of a developing economy. Our principal emitter, the coal-fired Moneypoint power station, despite irrational calls from supporters of windfarms for it to be closed or converted to burning biomass, is a vital component of our strategy to keep the lights burning. Coal is abundant and can be sourced from many different countries, which increases our security of supply. Contrast this with the potentially perilous state of supplies of natural gas which we import.
We still suffer from an indifferent electricity grid which loses more power than it should because of a lack of investment during our glory years in particular. Our motorway network is still nowhere near complete and many subsidiary roads require upgrading to reduce traffic hold-ups which lead to wasteful delays. Public transport within our cities needs bringing up to international standards.
Finally, something that is often forgotten is that global greenhouse gas emissions have been rising because the world population is increasing from the current 7 billion people to a projected 11 billion and because the emissions per capita are also rising as people in the third world buy their first cookers, refrigerators, mopeds, etc. Neither of these root causes apply to Ireland and it seems paradoxical that strict limits should be imposed on us because some idiotic committee decided that we were the second-richest nation in the EU and as such should be forced into extraordinary measures to solve a global problem.
The only factor which is acting to decrease emissions are technological improvements in the generation, transmission and utilisation of energy. Here is where our efforts should be concentrated, not in the arbitrary imposition of penalties. – Yours, etc,
JOHN M SIMMIE,
Furbo, Co Galway.
Sir, – Harry McGee’s spotlight on the growing unease over property taxes (“Dubliners ‘could face huge increases in property tax’”, October 18th) reminds us of what a very bad model was chosen as the basis for this tax.
The time bomb that is built into the legislation, a property revaluation in 2016, should have been foreseen by the legislators who framed and passed this law. The whole approach to the tax was founded on a flawed and unsustainable model from the beginning – the tax is based on market value of a property rather than on the living space it provides. The present Dublin property bubble represents a looming financial debacle for hundreds of thousands of people that should have been anticipated. But then, was this not the “guillotine Government” that denied enough time to debate the legislation?
Post-2016 those in employment may be able to negotiate with their employers for a raise in pay but those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, face the oncoming storm without any means of avoiding further swingeing cuts to their already depressed living standards.
There is still time for legislators to revisit the tax and substitute a fairer, more stable model than a floating property market.
In Germany, France and many other countries, property tax is calculated on the basis of a rate per square metre of usable living area. Such a system here would remove the vagaries of localised property markets, provide tax consistency throughout the country and assure property owners of the stability needed to manage their household budgets. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The terms of reference for the working group on direct provision were recently published (“Working group announced to examine direct provision ”, October 14th). These were announced following eight weeks of protest by asylum seekers against the inhumane conditions in which they are forced to live. These protests cannot be dismissed as isolated incidents. Twenty per cent of all direct provision centres in the country have now protested against both local conditions and the system itself. Thanks to their courageous public stand, the truth about life in direct provision has been widely broadcast across the national media.
Despite the widespread public revulsion against the “open prison” that is direct provision, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has seen fit to dismiss these concerns. The terms of reference make the objectives of this working group very clear. Direct provision will remain in place. Any suggestions for improvement will be governed by “cost efficiency”, continued ghettoisation and deterrence. The testimony of asylum seekers will continue to be ignored.
The inclusion of just one former asylum seeker among the 12 NGO representatives cannot conceal the fact that no current asylum seekers will be party to these deliberations. The Department of Justice may gesture towards treating asylum seekers with “respect and dignity”, but it is hard to imagine a greater indignity than constantly being spoken about and for. This working group further silences and marginalises asylum seekers who have to live with the damage that this system has inflicted upon them.
This week, Anti-Deportation Ireland (ADI) issued a statement calling on NGOs on the working group to resign their seats so that asylum seekers chosen by residents in direct provision can take their place. We support ADI’s call. It is wholly unacceptable that a group discussing the present and future conditions of asylum seekers should so disdainfully exclude them. People who are suffering in this system are the ones best placed to speak to its inadequacies.
While those NGOs taking part no doubt do so in good faith, the terms of reference make it clear that this is a cosmetic exercise. The restriction of the working group to considering only limited reform to direct provision is unacceptable. As the scandalous history of institutionalisation in this country demonstrates, there can be no reforming a system of institutional living such as direct provision. As many of the NGOs involved in the working group themselves agree, it must be abolished.
Once this working group has done the Minister’s work, there will be little room for further negotiation in the lifetime of this government. The working group as it is currently constituted will do nothing to alleviate the conditions that asylum seekers endure. Given this, we call on NGO representatives to insist that asylum seekers take their place at the table. – Yours, etc,
1 Dr Jody Allen Randolph, University College Dublin (research fellow)
2 Paddy Anderson, Cork Institute of Technology
3 Dr Kate Antosik-Parsons, University College Dublin
4 Professor Margot Backus, University of Texas at Austin
5 Dr Rebecca Barr, NUI Galway
6 Dr Claire Bracken, Union College, New York
7 Professor John , University College Dublin
8 Dr Patrick Bresnihan, Maynooth University
9 Harry Browne Dublin Institute of Technology
10 Dr Audrey Bryan, St Patrick’s College, DCU
11 Dr Mick Byrne, Maynooth University
12 Dr Susan Cahill, Concordia University, Montreal
13 Dr Nick Chisholm, University College Cork
14 Professor Danielle Clarke, University College Dublin
15 Professor Mary Clayton, University College Dublin
16 Dr Lucy Collins, University College Dublin
Sir, – Perhaps Permanent TSB ought to be renamed the “Post Traumatic Stress Bank”. – Yours, etc,
Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.
Sir, – Does the “needs improvement” rating bestowed on PTSB confer an automatic performance-related reward? – Yours, etc,
Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.
Sir, – Watching the European Central Bank vice-president Vitor Constancio speaking at the ECB stress test news conference live on television, I became aware of why politicians failed to react earlier to the financial crisis in Europe – within seconds I was asleep. It may be the case that “banker-speak” is so boring that our political leaders were actually asleep when the bankers briefed them on the impending crisis. Do we owe bankers a collective apology for not listening to them in 2008?
We may finally have a solution for insomniacs – distribute recordings of ECB news conferences to people who have sleep disorders. It may not solve your financial stress but is guaranteed to remedy sleep stress. – Yours, etc,
Baldoyle, Dublin 13.
Sir, – I would like to disabuse your readers and correspondents of the notion that the troika is responsible for the introduction of water charges.
In 2000, Ireland signed the EU Water Framework Directive into law. Article 16 of that directive requires the introduction of domestic water charges. The directive has to be implemented in full by 2015 and domestic water charges are one of the final pieces still outstanding. The last government signed us up for water charges, leaving this Government to implement them. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Is Irish Water just a cover for the greatest homeopathic experiment in the history of mankind? What happens to Government popularity when you dilute happiness to 1/50,000 parts per millilitre? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Dr Damian O’Maonaigh (October 23rd) claims that the Humanae Vitae ideal has been left untried because it is difficult. It is fortunate that this is so. Had it become the arbiter of life then typical family sizes, particularly in the West, would be very much larger than they are. This would be bad for the planet, which is already overpopulated.
It would be bad for individual countries. They would find, like Ireland in the 1950s and the Philippines today, that people would become their biggest export. Above all, it would be bad for women, who would be reduced to the status of brood mares.
That women manifestly do not want this state of affairs is amply attested to by the fact that they have, wherever it is possible for them to do so, embraced the empowerment to limit family size that is afforded by modern methods of contraception.
This includes, in general, those women who profess adherence to Catholicism. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Leaving Certificate is not structured to allow for creative thought, rather it is a two-year cycle focused on a two-week regurgitation of what has been “learned”. Teachers are not to be blamed for this, rather it is those who structure education towards rote learning who have designed a cycle based around this. We shouldn’t forget that this system has also given rise to a multimillion euro industry of “grinds” schools which also focus on what text “will probably come up” for the exam rather than actually teaching children to think for themselves or (heaven forbid) be creative.
A sizeable number of students who qualify for third-level places via the current system subsequently drop out as they do not have the correct skills for a university education. As I understand it, the Trinity College Dublin scheme seeks to address some of the gaps in the current admissions system, whereby those who have the correct aptitude for third-level education – but not necessarily the points – are given the opportunity to prove themselves at this level.
I believe that the TCD scheme should be welcomed to run in tandem with the current admissions system. It is foolish to rush to condemn what is, after all, an experiment. Judgment should be reserved until the quality of the graduates can be benchmarked against their points-race colleagues. – Yours, etc,
RORY J WHELAN,
Drogheda, Co Louth.
First published: Tue, Oct 28, 2014, 01:03
Sir, – We are writing to you with reference to John McKenna’s recent article “The best thing since sliced bread? A ban on sliced pan” (Health + Family, October 21st).
Mr McKenna asserts that “if you want to improve the health of families and the health of the nation, what you should ban is commercial bread”. He also comments that “if it’s not good for the swans, can I suggest it’s not good for you either?” This is not only factually incorrect but we believe could raise unnecessary alarm amongst the general public.
All bread, whether made commercially or otherwise, has an important role to play in a healthy, balanced diet. Bread provides a wide range of nutrients, including protein, folic acid, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. For example, research undertaken by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance has found that bread provides as much as 10 per cent of Irish people’s daily intake of protein and folic acid. Although brown bread contains more fibre than white bread, because of its popularity, white bread provides 9 per cent of our daily fibre intake. Bread is also the second main contributor to both the iron and calcium intake of the Irish diet.
A recent review by the British Nutrition Foundation shows that bread produced by the Chorleywood method has the same nutrient content as any other method of production. Bread is largely made from flour (which contains naturally occurring enzymes), yeast and water. In some instances, additional ingredients are added in very small quantities to enhance the final product. These are all approved and deemed to be perfectly safe. – Yours, etc,
and Bakers Association,
Dalkey, Co Dublin;
Sir, – I have just come home from crossing the M50 from Exit 16 to Dublin Airport and back. At long last I have discovered why there are three lanes on this wonderful route. The inside lane is for those of us who drive at or about the speed limit, the middle lane is for those who travel at up to about 20 per cent over the limit and the outside lane is for those who think the rest of us are wimpy idiots. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I agree with David Reddy (October 27th) when it comes to traffic lights in Dublin impeding the smooth flow of traffic. I am old enough to remember the “Winking Willies” at many intersections in the late 1950s. These signals flashed red in one direction and amber in the other, signifying the care necessary to negotiate a junction. Surely traffic lights could be programmed to revert to flashing during off-peak periods, allowing road users to use “common sense”. – Yours, etc,
The Christian churches have so removed God from our ordinary experience of life that they have unwittingly killed him. Belief is seen as an unquestioning acceptance of certain doctrines that are presumed to lie beyond our capacity to understand them. Our parish priest regularly comforted us with the assurance that even he, after four years in college, could not understand them.
Originally, the concept of belief meant to love, to prize or hold dear. It was in the late 17th Century, through the influence of the philosophers, that belief began to change its meaning, becoming identified with assent to a particular proposition or opinion. What turns people off God is the reduction of faith to what we must believe, entombing our wilder imaginings.
I have real fun with the endless questioning of my very young grandchildren, whose idea of God varies from day to day. It usually refers to all that they experienced as good. My six-year-old granddaughter is more measured, declaring that she feels she is half Christian and half normal.
The development of modern science seduced churches into the business of proving God’s existence, assuming they could match the certainty of science, failing to appreciate that the quest of faith and the scientific quest are very different exercises. The miracles attributed to Christ were seen as the killer blow to any scepticism, though miracles were commonplace in his time and were not seen as proof of superpowers. I see God as the unknown at the heart of things. Understanding the world, or God, is a journey we take. Our explanations are like the bird in flight. We continue into the unknown.
No two people have the same understanding of God; in a way, there are as many imaginings of God as there are people.
I am reminded of the eager five-year-old pupil who, in response to the teacher’s query as to what she was drawing, replied: “God”.
The teacher responded: “But nobody knows what God looks like”.
“They will in a minute,” was the confident response.
Time for Britain to decide on EU
In 1963 and again in 1967, Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the EU. He argued that Britain was not really interested in European integration. If anything, it was hostile to its success. Notwithstanding that, the UK, along with Ireland and Denmark, finally concluded their negotiations with the EU and became members in 1973.
As early as 1974, the Wilson government wanted to renegotiate certain terms and then have a referendum on membership (the first ever UK referendum). The referendum was carried in 1975.
In 1984, the Thatcher government refused to be bound by the rules on calculating each member state’s contribution to the EU budget. A considerable rebate was given to the UK and to the UK only.
Over the years since then, other member states have raised from time to time the need to revisit that rebate. They do not see why the UK should continue to have it when everyone else continues strictly to be bound by the rules.
Since 2010 we have again been faced with the UK parties playing football with their EU membership. They have promised even more negotiation and another referendum after their 2015 general election. Since then, David Cameron has picked all the wrong battles. He could win friends by tackling policies where he might have developed common ground with others committed to European construction.
But instead, all we Europeans have seen is his stance against the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President and the balance due on the UK’s contribution to the EU budget (0.06pc of GDP). His performance at the press conferences after both those events can at best be described as petulant.
Was de Gaulle right? Is there something in the British DNA that prevents them from being European? If Britain continues to procrastinate on EU membership should not the rest of Europe remind them of Oliver Cromwell’s words to the British Parliament in 1653: “You have sat too long . . . In the name of God, go!”
John F Jordan
Killiney, Co Dublin
What goes up, must come down
I write to strongly condemn the modus operandi of the establishment of Irish Water.
The great EU commissioner Phil Hogan established Irish Water and when he did, the board appointed John Tierney in a permanent capacity as its chief executive officer.
How could the board do such a thing and go causing such upset? How could it force such a fuss, leading Fine Gael senator Martin Conway to let the nation know that “water does not just fall out of the sky”.
How could the board cause such consternation when all it had to do was appoint Mr Tierney and co in a temporary capacity. Then we couldn’t possibly know how much it takes to process water that just doesn’t fall out of the sky by the natural process of gravity, through a pipe, with a little fluoride and other chemicals added. Think temporary from now on please, quangos. Then the little people can’t know, and if little Paddy doesn’t know, then there will be no fuss.
Athenry, Co Galway
In the spirit of Vatican II
Congratulations to the Catholic bishops who stood up to the crescendo of liberal bullying during last week’s synod.
Of course, the easy option would have been to go along with the mob and yield to all the dubious agendas being promoted. We would all like a church made in our own image, facilitating our various human weaknesses – and I’m talking from a male heterosexual perspective.
But that would be cheap grace, selling us all short, unworthy of Jesus Christ. It’s ironic that liberals are condemning the bishops for exercising their authority and going against the Pope. Surely this was what collegiality and Vatican II was all about. Apparently not, if it means dissenting from liberal dogma. I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but thank God for the spirit of Vatican II.
Navan, Co Meath
‘Civil disobedience’ and crime
Please permit me to comment on the use of the term ‘civil disobedience’ as used by the mass media across this nation. The term is also used by elected officials, union leaders, civil rights organisations and others when citizens refuse to pay a tax or block traffic on major highways – or simply refuse to obey the laws of the land.
An act of ‘civil disobedience’, as outlined by Ghandi and Martin Luther King may only take place when the following five criteria are present.
1. It must be self-evident that the issue being protested against is clearly against the moral code i.e. having to sit in the back of the bus because of the colour of one’s skin.
2. Every avenue for redress must have been pursued without any redress gained.
3. Not only did those in positions of power and influence refuse to address the issue but in the process belittle the petitioner and left no possibility of redress being gained. 4. By committing the act of civil disobedience one must not “seriously disrupt the livelihood of others”.
5. After arrest, one must be prepared to accept the punishment without complaint.
If any one of these principles are missing, ‘civil disobedience’ should be considered as a breach of the law or criminal behaviour.
Vincent J Lavery, Irish Free Speech Movement
Coliemore Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin