Chair

6 November 2014 Chairs

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day we visit Astrid and Michael and pick up a chair.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.

Obituary:

Vic Allen – obituary

Vic Allen was a Leeds academic and friend of Arthur Scargill who was outed in 1999 as an agent of the East German Stasi

Vic Allen

Vic Allen Photo: PA/BBC2

5:50PM GMT 05 Nov 2014

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Vic Allen, who has died aged 91, was a retired leeds University professor who found himself at the centre of a political storm in 1999 when he was unmasked as having been an “agent of influence” for the Stasi, the East German secret police.

Allen was one of several British citizens, most of them pensioners, named in KGB papers smuggled out of Russia by the organisation’s former archivist Vasili Mitrokhin when he defected in 1992. It appears that the communists regarded Allen as someone with the potential to shape events in Britain in a way beneficial to them.

Allen, who admitted supplying information to the East Germans but denied acting illegally or for pay, had never made any secret of his political views. His commitment to Stalinist communism was public knowledge. In the 1980s his ideas had been regularly attacked in The Yorkshire Post by the columnist Bernard Dineen, who dubbed him the “professor of muddle”. His isolated home outside Keighley was decorated with posters, flags and banners from Eastern bloc countries and pictures and busts of revolutionary heroes such as Marx, Lenin and Castro. He would not, therefore, have been much good at infiltrating the establishment.

There were some suggestions that Allen was reporting back to his masters in East Berlin on the tactics of the CND, of whose national council he was a member. He was said to have made the organisation less hostile to the Soviets, but seems to have had, if anything, the opposite effect. When he tried to get himself elected chairman of CND in 1985 he came fifth in the poll, a failure attributed to the organisation’s membership not wishing to be stigmatised as a bunch of fellow travellers.

In reality Allen was a prime example of that breed of urban revolutionaries satirised by the writer John Sullivan in the character of Wolfie Smith , the self-proclaimed leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front in the BBC sitcom Citizen Smith (1977-80), and his life story was almost as rich in comic detail.

Vic Allen was born in Flintshire, Wales, on January 12 1923 and left school with no qualifications aged 14 to train as a bricklayer. After service with the RAF in the Second World War, he went up to the London School of Economics in 1946 and gained a degree in Economics followed by a PhD. In 1959 he was appointed a lecturer at the University of Leeds, where he rose to be Professor of the Sociology of Industrial Society in 1973. He retired in 1988.

In 1964 the then Dr Allen cut a romantic figure, appearing in a press photograph dressed in a turban and flowing African robes on his way to court in Nigeria after being charged with plotting to overthrow its government. He had visited the country on a sabbatical from Leeds, but was accused of circulating a document urging Nigerian Marxists to “prepare for revolution”. He had then been caught trying to flee the country disguised as an Arab after being granted bail. He was jailed for one year but served only four months.

Paul Routledge, a former Times labour relations correspondent, recalled coming across Allen in the 1970s and 1980s when he presented himself as the power behind the throne in the National Union of Mineworkers. Allen liked to think of himself, Routledge recalled, as “the silent revolutionary beavering away in the background, who would bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain”.

The reality, though, was less impressive. From 1967 Allen worked in the Yorkshire coalfield as an unpaid convener for radical miners who wanted to throw out their “moderate” area officials and replace them with hardliners like Arthur Scargill. The campaign was successful, Routledge recalled, “largely because the men were fed up with earning less than clippies on the buses for arduous and dangerous work”. They wanted higher pay, not revolution. That did not stop Allen lionising them (and himself) in a book, The Militancy of the British Miner, which he published with his own money. During the pit strike of 1984-85, Allen acted as Scargill’s bag carrier, touring the capitals of eastern Europe to raise money to “maintain the fabric” of the NUM.

Allen seemed to rather enjoy the furore that broke over his head during the so-called “Oldenspy” revelations in 1999 . “I have no shame, I feel no regrets about it. My only regret is that we didn’t succeed,” he said in a BBC documentary, The Spying Game (1999).

After a brief flurry of public outrage (during which Tony Blair’s government was accused of feebleness when it concluded that it was not worth prosecuting Allen or his fellow superannuated revolutionaries), Allen retreated to obscurity, though he emerged in 2005 to publish a three-volume History of Black Mineworkers in South Africa, on which he had been engaged for 15 years .

Vic Allen, born January 12 1923, died October 26 2014

Guardian:

Ann Maguire court case Emma, Kelly and Don Maguire (front row, left to right) outside Leeds crown court, after Will Cornick was sentenced to life imprisonment for Ann Maguire’s murder. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

You say (Editorial, 5 November) that the decision of Mr Justice Coulson to allow the murderer of Ann Maguire to be named – in response to a request from the Guardian and other news organisations – is “contentious”. Your editorial goes on to explain and justify your action because of the “very particular circumstances” of the case. One could equally argue that, in the case of such particular circumstances, the law should be at its most robust in protecting the rights of those who are legally considered children, as well as the rights of victims and their families.

There is a real fear that the media will use the precedent of this case to press for other breaches of anonymity where offences by children are involved, citing the oft-uttered rationale of “in the public interest”. Such fears would be allayed if the much-vaunted new press regulator, Ipso, was to make a clear statement that it expects its members, who have already signed up to the code, to respect the law in letter and in spirit as far as anonymity for children is concerned. Those who have not signed up to Ipso should be asked to make similar declarations.

Without some sense of responsibility and self-discipline being exercised by the media itself, anonymity for children in our criminal justice system is only safe until the next time.
Tom McNally
Chairman of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales

• I was appalled to discover the Guardian was one of those seeking to name Will Cornick. There is not an atom of public benefit in doing so and the consequences for the child and his family are irremediable. Your editorial seems to be verging on the side of embarrassment for what you have done, and so it should. Compassion far outweighs narrow media obsessions.
Michael Dempsey
London

• As a retired teacher of children who had emotional and behavioural problems, I feel very strongly about the details which emerged at the trial. I have grave concerns about some of the pupils with whom I have had dealings, as have my colleagues, but there is no one to whom a teacher or a pupil can turn, within the present framework, to express these concerns in order to ensure that the dreadful action which took place in April will not be repeated. I have been threatened sufficiently to be told not to go into our local town on my own in case I was attacked, I have received threats to gouge out my eyes, I have had threats to burn my home down, but it would appear no one can take any pre-emptive action. I am only one teacher and I am still alive.

I wonder if there were warning signs which were picked up about this boy but which were unable to be acted on.
Name and address supplied

• Following the judicial judgment over the killing of Ann Maguire, many newspapers might well rush to total excoriation and condemnation of her then 15-year-old killer. I regret even having to declare that I do not excuse this catastrophic act. But let’s try to bear the unbearable thought of just how awful it is for everyone involved. Ann Maguire herself, warm and loving, is honoured at her memorial service because she believed in the “innate goodness of children and young people”. That this young person did a terrible thing and showed no emotion is perhaps a clue to the depth and degree of his own confusion, anger, pain and distress that led to his distorted thinking and acting.

We need to move far more “upstream” to try to connect with the confused, angry and disaffected who are isolated and – as we learn in this case – self-harming in the recent past. Or we can simply blame a bad/evil adolescent, bang him away for good and carry on – until the next catastrophe. That is the socially easier route, in the company of the tabloid press. The harder route is to keep on thinking about what drives our young to such extremes.

Maybe Will Cornick is unsafe at any time. I do know we can be of little help when it might count for the Wills past, present and to come if we don’t act earlier and keep on thinking while mourning such a terrible loss and losses.
Richard Rollinson
Witney, Oxfordshire

• Congratulations to Deborah Orr on an intelligent and objective article (The 20-year sentence for Will Cornick defies logic, 5 November). There are at least two implications here. The first is for the justice system, which needs to address the philosophical perspective of the nature of, and need for, punishment. The second is for the education system, which should address the potential impacts of high achievement on a child’s psychological wellbeing and self-esteem. Academic success is not always an indication that everything is going well.
Tricia Ayrton
Rochdale, Lancashire

• Deborah Orr questions Mr Justice Coulson’s integrity but in so doing reveals her lack of knowledge and understanding as to what has taken place. Will Cornick has pleaded guilty to murder. He must then be sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge must then set a tariff as to minimum length to be served in custody. Mr Justice Coulson has quite properly determined a minimum length of 20 years, but is entitled to proffer his opinion that Will Cornick may never be released.

A life sentence is exactly that. After the tariff has been served, it will be the job of the parole board (or its successor) to determine when it is safe and proper to release Cornick, and under what licence conditions. If Cornick is released then he will remain under state control for the rest of his days. Ann Maguire would want Cornick to grow, develop and show remorse. She would want us all to show understanding. This must include children and others sharing with teachers and parents if any child is vocalising violent ideation against others or themselves.
Mick Gough
Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire

• The wellbeing and mental health of our young people are increasingly seen as major causes of concern – the Childline report on teenage suicides last week and the brutal murder of Ann Maguire. We need to ask what’s being done to help schools identify all young people who are in distress and possibly self-harming, as well as those causing distress and actual harm to others. Adults with chronic mental, social and emotional problems are often resistant to intervention, so we need to take these conditions seriously in childhood when we see evidence of them in individuals.

There is an awareness issue, a staff training issue, a tracking and monitoring issue and a resources issue. We need secretaries of state for education who devote as much time and attention to mental health and wellbeing as they do to raising scores in tests and exams. Quality work in personal, social, health and economic education should also be essential in every school – for the benefit of all students and their teachers.
Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall
London

Boilersuit-type outfits from Christian Dior, Richard Nicoll, Chloé. Boilersuit-type outfits from Christian Dior, Richard Nicoll, Chloé. Photograph: Getty, Rex

Patrick Donnelly (Letters, 1 November) wants to know of “government IT projects that have actually worked”. In 2000, all 4,000-plus public libraries were connected to the internet, despite a huge variety in infrastructure, locations etc. On time, within budget. All organised by public servants. All have maintained and renewed provision ever since, despite getting no further government funds. IT access is more vital than ever, with the government forcing the poorest people – benefits claimants, jobseekers – to use computers they haven’t got. But libraries are now closing in their hundreds, because of… er, government cuts.
Laura Swaffield (@lswaffield1)
Chair, The Library Campaign London

• My partner is currently unemployed, and was asked to do a full-time unpaid six-week placement providing frontline IT support, assistance and guidance for other jobseekers using the computer resources at the jobcentre (Man who lost job told to work unpaid for same firm, 4 November). She was still expected to be conducting her own job search during this period. If the support for those looking for work is being provided by those who are out of work themselves, what does this say about the system?
Tom Saunders
Bristol

• I am so pleased to see that boilersuits are now acceptable (Style, G2, 5 November). I was asked to leave a pub – that’s a pub, not a restaurant – in London on Tuesday, having just come (in my clean overalls) from site. Perhaps now people with proper jobs can wear their workclothes with a little more confidence. I’ll go back next week and wave your article at the hipster barman. Thanks, fashion guys.
Steve Window
Chester

• Owen Jones’s thesis (The Greens are surging and shouldn’t be denied coverage, 3 November) is undeniable. However, I’m struggling to come to terms with the mental image provoked by his revelation that “the Greens owe a big chunk of their surge to the exodus of voters from Clegg’s discredited rump”.
Robert Driver
Hexham, Northumberland

• Your correspondent (Letters, 5 November) is correct in equating the Celtic Beltane festival with the lighting of bonfires. But it is traditionally celebrated in the spring; the equivalent Celtic festival for the beginning of winter is Samhain.
Simon Bennett
Newbridge, Cornwall

World Service sign ‘Witness, Assignment and Newshour, BBC World Service news and current affairs programmes, have all won Radio Academy awards.’ Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images

Richard Gott writes (Letters, 4 November) of the BBC World Service that “the English-language service has been replaced by a 24-hour diet of trivia and endless sport, with an almost total absence of expert analysis”.

I wonder when Mr Gott last listened to the network that brings audiences in the UK and around the world a raft of award-winning programmes? Witness, Assignment and Newshour – a twice-daily in-depth news and current affairs programme broadcast 365 days a year – have all won Radio Academy awards, the highest accolade from the UK radio industry. None of the BBC World Service’s 1.3 million UK listeners or more than 40 million worldwide would accuse them of lacking depth or expert analysis.
Lucy Walker
Editor, daytime news programmes, BBC World Service News

Passport control at a UK airport Passport control at a UK airport. ”Slowing down immigration’ is a policy objective that is neither possible nor even desirable,’ writes Don Flynn. Photograph: Gavin Rodgers/Rex Features

What does Paul Collier think successive governments have been trying to do for the last decade when he blithely asserts that “The time has come to slow down immigration” (Opinion, 5 November)? Transitional controls are in place for new EU nationals, a “tough” points-based scheme operates for others, and even fee-paying international students are being hit by policies that aim to do what he claims is necessary. Yet still the trend, measured by net migration figures, remains relentlessly positive.

“Slowing down immigration”, in any circumstances short of another crisis-induced deep recession, is a policy objective that is neither possible nor even desirable. Immigration at current levels, and probably higher, should be regarded as the new normal for economies as closely integrated into global markets as is the case with the UK. The challenge for politicians is to do something that is patently not happening at the moment; namely to make this hugely productive economy work for the benefit of all the people, and not just the few.

I can assure you that the vast majority of migrants in the UK would also endorse this as a worthwhile policy objective.
Don Flynn (@donflynnmrn)
Director, Migrants’ Rights Network

• Your front-page headline (UK gains £20bn from EU migrants, 5 November) reads as triumphalism and the article seems dead set on denigrating the British worker. Buried in the report is the £118bn cost to the country by migrants from outside the EU. Both groups are a pressure on health, education, housing etc. Non-EU migrants are pushing up population levels, which is a problem.

I buy the Guardian for the good reporting and well-researched articles, and I think you have showed bias and not the whole story. Big business is only concerned with profits and not the wellbeing of all of us here.
Jenny Bushell
London

• The UCL study in your report finds that European migrants arriving since 2000 are, on average, better educated than the UK workforce. It is said that the UK would have to spend £6.8bn on education to build up the same level of “human capital”. The fact that we seem to be dependent on our European neighbours to provide skills we lack is nothing to be proud of. While there is a pool of well-educated people willing to work for low wages available from other European countries, it would appear that British employers have little real incentive to train our own workforce. At the same time we are robbing other European countries of the very people who would be useful in building up their own economies while applying strict rules on asylum to those coming from other parts of the world where there is genuine need. The problem with the European rules on the free movement of labour goes far deeper than abuse of benefits.
Astrid Arnold
London

• Does your front-page lead give comfort to the left or the right in UK politics? The “centre-right” objections of Civitas’s David Green should be coming, loud and clear, from the left: all the benefits are to the UK economy and business, and to the better-educated and energetic individuals who migrate; all the loss to less-wealthy nations, and to people less advantaged, less energetic, less educated, less footloose, less able to feel well-off on low wages, less confident and empowered. The majority of ordinary people, that is, who need work and housing where they live, and are not able – for so many very real reasons – to uproot and seek their fortune in this privileged and even pampered way.

Good for the economy, bad for ordinary people. Whatever else, this surely makes it plain that to favour unrestricted immigration is not the nice, safe, humane liberal-left position it might once have seemed.
Phillip Goodall
Norwich

Norman Baker resigns Former Home Office minister Norman Baker arrives at Liberal Democrat offices in Westminster following his resignation. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

It’s interesting to see the coalition split over the treatment of drug users in the UK following the publication of a report that compares the UK’s approach on drugs misuse with 13 other countries (Minister steps down with parting shot at May, 4 November).

In fact, treating drugs use as a health matter, rather than a criminal matter, is very much the accepted protocol at present. Even without formal decriminalisation, most users found in possession are dealt with by a fine or an order for treatment if their case comes to court. Generally, only dealers or habitual users who consistently refuse treatment end up with a custodial sentence.

But there is real concern among organisations like Changing Lives that are at the sharp end of the delivery of drug and alcohol abstinence treatment as well as dealing with the fallout of drug use – homelessness, offending, family breakdown and mental illness. Government-funded treatment solutions are commissioned by local authorities and often delivered by charity and voluntary-sector partners. The funding for this work is not ringfenced and, increasingly, cash-strapped authorities with challenging budget-reduction targets are being forced to reduce their spend in this area.

One authority in the north-east has already cut its drug and alcohol treatment budget over the next three years by over 20%. Other authorities in the region are looking at overall budget cuts in the next three years. If we’re truly committed to changing behaviour over drug misuse, we need to continue to fund a solution that’s working.
Ollie Batchelor
Executive director of client services, Changing Lives

• The argument in your editorial (30 October), on how the recent Home Office research shows the folly of the current punitive response to drug possession, is persuasive. The point you make about stop and search, however, is over-argued by the use of 2010 figures for London instead of more recent ones. In that year, around half a million Pace and other “reasonable grounds” stops and searches were recorded in London and black people were 4.6 times as likely as white people to be subjected to the power (the other types of stop and search, under Terrorism and Public Order laws, account for very much smaller numbers and are not targeted at drugs).

Following a new approach by the Met from January 2012, informed by dialogue with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Pace and similar searches had fallen to around a quarter of a million in the last nine months of 2012 and black/white disproportionality to 3.7 times (Stop and Think Again, EHRC, June 2013). More recent figures on the Met’s website show black/white disproportionality at around 2.5, though part of this further fall may stem from the use now of the more up-to-date 2011 census population figures. Notwithstanding this more measured use of the power, crime figures have of course continued to fall in London as elsewhere.

While a policing focus on drug possession has undoubtedly contributed to extreme and unfair race differences in stop and search, I think it is misleading to represent the situation in 2010 as the position now, and not to recognise when progress has been made.
Philip Pavey
Former criminal justice & safety manager, Equality and Human Rights Commission

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, in Vienna in July for talks between the EU3+3 and Iran John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at talks in Vienna in July between the EU3+3 and Iran on reaching a nuclear deal. Photograph: Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

We urge the the EU3+3 countries (the UK, Germany and France and the US, China and Russia) and Iran to reach agreement on a comprehensive nuclear deal by the 24 November deadline. Postponing the final tough decisions ahead is likely to provide more opportunities for those opposing the diplomatic track to spoil this process. This is especially so when creative technical solutions have been formulated and a deal is within reach – a deal that will peacefully and effectively address proliferation concerns of the EU3+3 over Iran’s nuclear programme, while respecting Iranian legitimate aspirations and sovereignty.

The interim nuclear deal signed in November 2013 provided the most robust assurances for the EU3+3 to date by placing rigorous monitoring over Iran’s nuclear programme while capping and rolling back its enriched uranium output. To reach this stage of negotiations, Europeans have invested extensive resources by carrying the economic costs of an unprecedented sanctions regime against Iran as well as the regional consequences of pursuing isolation of Tehran.  Europe must seize this moment to encourage the negotiating parties to address the outstanding areas through reasonable compromises while steering clear of issues that are not essential to a good deal. Europeans should also work with the US administration in reassuring sceptical regional allies of the long-term strategic benefits entailed in a final nuclear deal.

The cost of failed negotiations should also be borne in mind. For the EU3+3, failure would likely result in an unrestrained and weakly monitored Iranian nuclear programme that is off-limits to surveillance. A failure to reach a final deal followed by escalated sanctions, tensions and Iranian isolation could result in greater incentives for Iran to seek nuclear weapons, more active undermining of western interests and an increasingly hair-trigger military standoff. On the Iranian side, the costs of failure, both in economic and security terms, are incalculable. For some opponents of a deal on both sides such an outcome may be desirable, for responsible leaderships it should not.

By reaching a final agreement, the EU3+3 can set a truly historic precedent that safeguards global security by containing Iran’s ability to actively pursue a weaponised nuclear programme. A final nuclear deal will also enhance confidence and create the political space needed for Europeans to re-engage Iran on the type of meaningful – and currently much-needed – human rights dialogue that existed in the past.

Crucially a deal should also reshape the west’s engagement with Iran by opening new options for pursuing overlapping regional interests – at a time when Europeans are again militarily engaged on Iran’s doorstep and when at least partial interests-based cooperation appears possible and necessary without ignoring the many instances in which Iranian and western positions continue to diverge.

Iran and the EU3+3 are closer than ever before to settling the nuclear file. The goals of non-proliferation, global and regional security, de-escalation of burning conflicts in the Middle East and the demonstrative effect of successful multilateral diplomacy in these troubled times will all significantly benefit if a good deal is achieved. All sides have the option to walk away from a nuclear deal but they will do so knowing that the alternatives are far worse when it comes to advancing their respective strategic interests and that there may never again be an opportunity as good as this one to seal a final nuclear deal.
Javier Solana Former EU high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and secretary-general of the Council of the EU; former secretary general of Nato, Ana Palacio Former foreign minister, Spain and former vice-president and general counsel of the World Bank Group, Carl Bildt Former foreign minister, Sweden, Emma Bonino Former foreign minister, Italy, Jean-Marie Guéhenno President and CEO of International Crisis Group, former deputy joint special envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, Norbert Röttgen Chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag and former federal minister for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety, Robert Cooper Former UK diplomat and former counsellor of the European External Action Service

Independent:

Your lead on the benefits of EU migration (“EU migrants add £20bn to British economy”, 5 November) is a small part of the picture. Many other major factors appear to have been ignored.

While the report deals with the revenue effect of immigrants, what about the huge capital costs for providing the infrastructure for them? For example, as a result of letting four million people into the country during the first decade of this century, one million additional secondary school places are required by the end of this decade at a capital cost of £15bn.

The unlimited supply of EU migrants prepared to work for current UK wage rates has depressed wage inflation for this country, which is the root cause of the cost-of-living crisis.

Migrants remit huge sums of money to their home nations, so they take the jobs that UK nationals could do and a significant part of their spending power is lost to the UK economy. I have met Polish waitresses with four apartments in Warsaw funded from their UK income.

Roger Kendrick
Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire

It took a study by researchers at University College London to tell us the bleedin’ obvious – that immigrants contribute more to the economy than they receive in benefits, as if that were a special attribute that only immigrants have.

In general, anyone who works contributes more to the economy than he or she takes out, and there are two million unemployed workers in the UK who will jump at the opportunity of being able to contribute to the economy more than they get out.

But their chance of doing so is greatly diminished because the pool of available labour is vastly enlarged by unrestricted immigration from the EU, a fact those who champion free movement of labour turn a blind eye to.

Fawzi Ibrahim
London NW2

I am surprised to find neo-liberal ideas being promoted uncritically in The Independent. The UK should accept unlimited EU migration simply because it is profitable for UK plc. What about the wider social and environmental impact of millions of additional people living in a relatively small country?

Dr Vincent Barnett
Harrow, Middlesex

 

Life was hard in our day too, Grace

I was disappointed by Grace Dent’s cheap shot at a group she defines as “the over-sixties” (4 November).

Easy mortgages? In 1978, we needed a bigger house to accommodate a growing family. We went from one building society to another with no success despite me being a qualified accountant. We eventually obtained an endowment-based mortgage, which cost a lot more than a repayment mortgage would have. In the following recession years, both inflation and the mortgage interest rate peaked at over 20 per cent, meaning we had no “spare cash to squirrel away” and relied on our parents to give our children something resembling birthdays and Christmas.

We do now have a comfortable, though not opulent, life. This is not because of the increase in value of our home but rather what we did with it.  We put it, and everything else, on the line to buy into a business venture and I then grafted for between 50 and 60 hours a week for 15 years to make sure that investment paid off.

It is a little shallow of Ms Dent to assume that “over-sixties” swanned serenely through life, gobbling state handouts and relaxing as their burgeoning house values solved every financial problem for them.

Richard Stewart-Jones
Whittington, Staffordshire

At 64 years of age I have recently retired from public service and am very proud to have worked tirelessly to improve the life chances of young people. Unlike Grace Dent, I am not interested in causing a divide between generations when we should all be working together to reverse the injustices being imposed by this current Government.

Eleanor Jarvis
Enfield, Middlesex

Let’s follow Cuba’s lead in crisis relief

Ian Birrell (3 November) clarifies the shortcomings and sectional interests in the work of the Department for International Development (DfID) and of some charities in bringing aid to those in need. I hope that in his next article he will suggest ways forward.

He hints at them. Médecins sans Frontières seems an effective and blameless organisation. Could not the generosity of taxpayers and citizens be channelled towards the formation of an emergency medical intervention force so that volunteer doctors and nurses, trained in advance, could be deployed with minimal delay?

Cuba has given us a model of this. This small, poor country sent 165 medics to Sierra Leone early last month (63 doctors and 102 nurses). Many Cubans are in Liberia; the West Africa contingent from the country will total 461 when fully deployed.

There is little coverage in the West of Cuban-style interventions. This is a shame: the work sidesteps corruption, is of a scale and quality to have impact and is very prompt. Couldn’t we do something similar?

Graham Smith
Shrewsbury

Where’s the evidence that Jail works?

Chris Blackhurst is keen for more people to go to prison because he seems to think it has a deterrent effect and reduces crime  (4 November). If only.

The UK has more than doubled the number of prisoners since Margaret Thatcher was in power.  Did this massive increase in prisoners stop the fraudulent bankers, Libor-fixers, Vat cheats, home insurance premium fraudsters, tax-dodgers and the many others who have swindled people out of money for personal profit? Chris only has to look at his own excellent reporting on the City over the years to know his argument is not backed by evidence.

In addition, he does not explain who will pay for all the many thousands of fraudsters he wants to send to prison. Other more intelligent countries have cut crime without dumping everyone with a conviction into prison.

Denis MacShane
London SW1

I’m not offended by ‘battling’ metaphors

I suffer from cancer but despite what linguistics expert Elena Semino might claim (“Calling cancer a ‘battle’ can make sufferers feel like failures”, 4 November), I have never been made to feel “guilty” or a “failure” by people using war metaphors. Nor has anybody else I have ever spoken to.

However, I am deeply offended by silly people like Professor Semino, who, for some bizarre politically correct reasons, feel compelled to mangle our English language and then tell us how we should speak.

Charles Garth
Ampthill, Bedfordshire

Students support academic boycott

From today, academic staff at 69 UK higher education institutions are set to begin a marking boycott; the next step in ongoing industrial action by the University and College Union. The proposed changes to pensions that have led to this action will cost university staff thousands of pounds a year in lost benefits and create inequality between institutions.

Since 2009, average academic pay has fallen by 14.5 per cent, while vice-chancellor salaries increased by 5.1 per cent in the past year alone. The average gender pay gap in higher education is 17 per cent, and 53 per cent of universities employ staff on zero-hours contracts.

Students are angry that this boycott is happening. But our anger is aimed squarely at university managements and Universities UK, who oversee lucrative salary increases for vice-chancellors while leaving staff out in the cold.

Any draconian response from universities – such as the legally dubious threat of withdrawing the full salary for those partaking in a boycott – will be met with discontent from students and staff, who are united  on this issue.

Piers Telemacque
Vice President Society and Citizenship, NUS UK

Gordon Maloney
President, NUS Scotland

Malia Bouattia
National Black Students’ Officer, NUS UK

Shelly Asquith
President, SU Arts

Michael Segalov
Communications Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Areeb Ullah
Vice President Education (Arts & Sciences) Kings College London Students’ Union

Susuana Antubam
National Women’s Officer, NUS UK

Fran Cowling
NUS LGBT National Officer

Harriet Pugh
Education Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union

Bruce Galliver
President, Bath Spa Students’ Union

Lyndsay Burtonshaw
Activities Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Yael Shafritz
President, University of Sheffield Students’ Union

Rosie Dammers
Wellbeing Officer, Manchester Students Union

Luke Jones
Group President, University of Wales Trinity Saint David Students’ Union

Joe O’Neill
Lancaster University Students’ Union, Vice President (Education)

Alice Phillips
Equality, Liberation & Access Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Tom Phipps
Student Living Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Alyx Murray-Jackman
Sport & Student Development Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Holly Staynor
Welfare Officer, Union of UEA Students

Alex Bradbrook
Undergraduate Academic Experience Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton
Co-President, Welfare & Diversity, Royal Holloway Students’ Union

Emma Peagam
President Education & Campaigns, Royal Holloway Students’ Union

Hannah Roberts
Education Officer, SUArts

Conor McGurran
Campaigns and Citizenship Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union

Abraham Baldry
Presient, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Candic Armah
President, Brighton University Students’ Union

Howard Littler
President, Goldsmiths Students’ Union

Mostafa Rajaai
Culture and Diversity Officer, SUArts

Chris Jarvis
Union of UEA Students Campaigns and Democracy Officer

Rianna Gargiulo
Welfare Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Bethan Hunt
Education Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Dash Sekhar
Vice President Academic Affairs, Edinburgh University Students’ Association

Malaka Mohammed
Education Officer, University of Sheffield Students’ Union

Sebastian Bruhn
Community & Welfare Officer, LSE Students’ Union

Dario Celaschi
NUS London Trans* Officer & NUS NEC

Rianne Gordon
University of Westminster Students’ Union Vice President of Harrow

Sorana Vieru
Postgraduate Officer (Education & Welfare), University of Bristol Students’ Union

Emma Cook, President
Leeds College of Art Students’ Union

Dan Goss
Environment & Ethics Officer, University of Warwick Students’ Union

Alasdair Clark
Vice President Education and Representation, Fife College Students’ Association

Hannah Sketchley
Democracy & Communications Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Georgie Robertson
SOAS Students’ Union Co-President Welfare & Campaigns

Sayed Alkadiri
NUS London Black Students Officer

Hajera Begum
Black and Minority Ethnic Students Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Omar Raii
External Affairs & Campaigns Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Saffron Rose
Vice President Education at Leeds Beckett University Students’ Union

Rob Henthorn
President for Education, Aberdeen University Students’ Association

Annie Tidbury
Women’s Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Marianna Ceccotti
Postgraduate Student’s Officer, UCL Students’ Union

David Suber
SOAS Students’ Union Co-President, Democracy & Education

Rachel O’Brien
Community Action Officer, University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Christopher Jarrold
Ethical and Environmental Officer, University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Tom King
LGBTQ Officer, SOAS Students’ Union

Dan Greenberg
Operations Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Kabir Joshi
SOAS Students’ Union Co-President, Activities & Events

 

Let’s add fireworks  to the banned list

Here’s another curmudgeonly member  of John Rentoul’s  anti-fireworks brigade  (5 November). That fireworks are now as de rigueur as the birthday or wedding cake shows how hackneyed they have become. As well as the money-up-in-smoke aspect, organisers of displays, both great and small, show a major lack of imagination.

S Lawton
Kirtlington, Oxfordshir

Times:

Sir, Your front-page headline “Virtual ID for everyone” (Nov 4) should have read “Virtual IDs for everyone”, as it is a vital part of the scheme that we may all have plural identities. For the past two years, we, as members of the Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group, have been working with the dedicated Cabinet Office team to define nine identity assurance principles that, if implemented across government, would guard against the Verify scheme becoming a shadow identity card system.

Control by the citizen is at the heart of these principles. You choose (and can discard) your own virtual identities. They are not imposed on you by the state. Obviously a citizen using a public service (online or otherwise) needs to be identifiable to that service — but this does not mean a service provider should have access to any unnecessary information about the citizen. That is what the Verify scheme was conceived, laudably, to achieve.

We have recommended that all existing powers of data access or disclosure should be reapproved by parliament as these powers have themselves been transformed by modern technology. We also call for effective forms of redress, and for an effective regulatory and judicial oversight over the use of such powers.

Guy Herbert, NO2ID; Louise Bennett, BCS (the chartered institute for IT); Ian Brown, professor of information security and privacy, Oxford Internet Institute; Emma Carr, Big Brother Watch; Dr Chris Pounder, Amberhawk; Dave Birch, Consult Hyperion; Gus Hosein, Privacy International

Sir, Mike Bracken, the head of the government digital service, is quoted in your report as saying that the “internet has changed everything”. Although that may be true, it misses out “for most people”. There is a small but significant number of people for whom the digital age represents a real threat. Yesterday I watched an elderly man trying to enter his PIN in a till at the supermarket. He eventually succeeded but only with some difficulty. I know of several people who, for one reason or another, will never be digitally “enabled”.

It is vital in the design of the new services that these people are not excluded or forgotten, and that a safety net is there to help people who cannot access services digitally because of constraints imposed by health issues or the availability of services. They must not be allowed to be treated — or even considered — as second-class citizens and given a second-class service.

James Hart
Teignmouth, Devon

Sir, Rachel Sylvester (“Meet the geeks designing our digital future”, Opinion, Nov 4) paints an encouraging picture of the digital future awaiting us.

However, here in our corner of southwest Devon we have been without internet connectivity for three weeks, with the prospect of the situation continuing for at least another two because of “a major network fault”. Contact with the digital world is achieved through itinerant use of wi-fi, with the consequence that working from home is a struggle. If I ran an online business, I suspect that I would be bankrupt by now.

If the internet is going to become an even more fundamental part of our lives than it is already, particularly in the provision of public services, is it not time that the network providers were placed under some sort of statutory obligation to provide timely fault repair, as is the case for power and water companies?

Giles Ebbutt
Longbrook, Devon

Sir, I can only assume from her praise of the government digital service that Rachel Sylvester is not a frequent user of the government’s gov.uk website and its associated system of email alerts. Gov.uk is clearly devised and run by geeks with no concept of user or customer focus. It is a Stalinist, top-down system with very odd navigation and content, determined by people who have an obsessive compulsion to fit content into their pre-determined categories. If this were a system run by a commercial company, the firm would be bust within a month.

Paul Twyman
Birchington on Sea, Kent

Sir, Yet again there is an article that uses the word “geek” to describe highly skilled computer software engineers. Scientists and engineers represent the future for this country; they should be recognised for their achievements and described properly.

Thea Boddington
Bollington, Cheshire

It’s fair enough that modern Scouts should be taught IT skills – but public relations?

Sir, I was very pleased to read that the Scout movement has twice as many teenage members as it did ten years ago (“Were you ever a Scout? I’m a frayed knot”, Nov 3). However, my pleasure was somewhat diminished when I read further that the old skills being taught no longer included the sheepshank and clove hitch knot. It is of course understandable that new skills such as IT and skateboarding reflect the changing times, but “public relations”? I ask you.

Sid Davies

Bramhall, Cheshire

The incoming controller must restore the values that once distinguished this network

Sir, Having worked for Radio 3 between 1959 and 1990, I too have observed its diminished level of ambition with concern (letter, Nov 3). As a producer of talks on music, I was briefed to engage the widest range of contributors, scholars, composers and interpreters who would speak with authority; and later as a music producer to offer repertoire that would be exploratory and of substance. I share Robert Gower’s hope that the incoming controller will restore the vision and values that once distinguished this network.

Robert Layton

London NW6

The starched collars in Downton Abbey are one thing, but draughtsmen’s cuffs are quite another

Sir, When I joined an engineer’s office as a trainee in 1956 one of my tasks was to take the draughtsmen’s cuffs and collars to the nearby laundry (“Starched collars”, letter, Nov 4). The cuffs were invaluable to them for jotting down calculations.

Eric Stevens

Marke

Sir, There were 2,387 “freight-only” flights at Heathrow in 2013, representing just three departures and three arrivals a day (letter, Nov 5). Shifting those flights to other airports would make negligible difference to our aviation hub capacity crunch. A total of 26 per cent of UK exports by value go through Heathrow, virtually all of it in the belly-hold of passenger aircraft. Heathrow gets British exporters to their global markets as well as making it easier for investors and tourists to come to the UK. Expand Heathrow and we can provide regular direct flights to and from 40 new destinations in the fastest-growing markets in Asia and South America, keeping Britain at the heart of a shifting global economy and driving export-led growth.

John Holland-Kaye
Chief executive, Heathrow

t Harborough, Leics

Telegraph:

Middle-aged people will be screened by GPs for dementia indicators Photo: ALAMY

6:56AM GMT 05 Nov 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – The proposed tests to screen middle-aged people for possible future dementia are heavy-handed and liable to lull people into a false sense of security. This computer-based programme, posing questions about habits such as exercise, drinking, smoking and weight, is yet another futile exercise in box-ticking.

The extra money this scheme will cost to implement, coupled with the utterly repugnant idea of financial inducement for doctors to carry out something which is part of their remit, is yet another waste of resources at a time when the NHS is struggling to fund essential care.

Instead of introducing a raft of costly new initiatives, doctors should be left to concentrate on performing and improving existing practice for which they are already more than adequately rewarded.

Ann Robertson
Tenterden, Kent

SIR – Why should people of any age not be able to take an online screening test for dementia independently? It would cause less anxiety and it would then be up to the individual to seek help if he or she wished.

Jean Casey
Warwick

SIR – I am happy for my middle-aged doctor to be paid for diagnosing Alzheimer’s, but I shall insist on seeing his own assessment first to ensure he is fit to do so.

Nicholas Pope
Woodcote, Oxfordshire

Slinging mud

SIR – Norman Baker complains that working in the Home Office was like “walking through mud”. His statement reads: “The goodwill to work collegiately to take forward rational evidence-based policy has been in somewhat short supply.” Clear as mud.

David Hurt
Arundel, West Sussex

All-change in Ambridge

SIR – BBC Radio 4 has picked Sean O’Connor, late of EastEnders, as the new editor of The Archers. The show is no longer a ramble around Ambridge; it is turning into a sexed-up soap.

You now report that Mr O’Connor is busily changing half the actors as well as souping up the plot. He has apparently been told he has free rein, and he is sure his ratings will increase as the young tune in. If Mr O’Connor plans to push David Archer up north, he may find I, and many others, will be pushing off, too.

Charlotte Garnett
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – It would have been better to withhold the photographs that accompanied your article on The Archers. Many of us have our own mental images of the characters and prefer not to have the faces of actors forced upon us.

After all, radio actors are chosen for their voices. Their bodies and faces may not at all be the part.

Stephen Phillips
London SE24

Sugar yield

SIR – Amid calls for a tax on sugar and labelling on drinks to advise on calorie content, I wish to propose an alternative: a levy on general nutritional ignorance, lack of responsibility for one’s own actions and utter absence of common sense would yield billions.

Alastair Cannon
Bridport, Dorset

F-35 Lightning II: the “invisible” fighter jet Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew M/PA

6:57AM GMT 05 Nov 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – The Ministry of Defence is gambling an awful lot on the stealth characteristics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (“Britain orders more F-35s as part of biggest-ever defence project”).

It is clear from the initial order of just four operational airframes that the RAF and Fleet Air Arm will struggle to afford to field these exorbitantly priced aircraft in anything other than token numbers.

The MoD is counting on claims made by the American and British defence industries that the F-35 is undetectable in combat. Let’s hope it remains undetectable throughout its life, in the face of evolving radar technology.

Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

Begging laws

SIR – Ramji Abinashi quite rightly points out that begging is an offence. The problem is that giving to beggars is not. It is time the law was changed to make this an offence too.

There is overwhelming evidence that cash given to beggars is used to fuel drug and alcohol habits.

In most cases the giver does so through an unwarranted sense of guilt or mild intimidation and would rather not donate anything in the first place. If giving cash were illegal, it would give passers-by a reason for declining beggars’ advances.

Timothy Goss
London NW3

Post-war treats

SIR – If there was ice-cream during the war, we certainly never saw any.

After the war ended, all the children in our village primary school were marched to the local greengrocer’s shop, where we were treated to the first ice-cream we had ever tasted.

I also queued up for a bag of Smith’s crisps when the first tin was delivered (one bag per child) and walked to the nearby town for the first fireworks, sold wrapped up in newspaper.

Trevor Lashbrook
Bude, Cornwall

Letting the side down

SIR – I was shocked that the animals on BBC’s Countryfile on Sunday were not wearing the obligatory poppies.

Donald Lewis
Gifford, East Lothian

Weathering the storm: scarlet spotted beetles preparing to overwinter on a thistle head Photo: Alamy

6:58AM GMT 05 Nov 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – In November 2012, one corner of my bedroom window became a hibernation nest for ladybirds. The winter of that year was very cold.

Last year no ladybirds hibernated by the window and we had a very mild winter.

This November there are already 20 ladybirds hibernating. Have the ladybirds developed a multi-million-pound computer that predicts a cold winter?

Margaret Higgs
Shillingstone, Dorset

Specialist ex-military courts would reduce crime

America’s specialist courts for veteran offenders show promising results

British paratroopers patrol south of their base in the northern Nad e Ali district of Helmand

British paratroopers in Afghanistan Photo: HEATHCLIFF O’MALLEY FOR THE TELEGRAPH

6:59AM GMT 05 Nov 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Just as society has a duty to help veterans make the transition to civilian life, so the justice system has the opportunity and the duty to address the issues faced by veterans who commit crimes, and help them to get back on their feet.

It’s time to consider specialist courts for former service personnel. In America, specialist courts for veteran offenders show promising results in reducing crime rates.

Trevor Philpott
Project Lead, Veterans Change Partnership
Anton Shelupanov
Deputy Director, Centre for Justice Innovation

SIR – Leaving the Armed Forces can be challenging and, sadly, too many turn to alcohol to try to cope. Our former service personnel are proud; often they are reluctant to ask for help. Some feel that “civilian” support services don’t understand them and many miss the camaraderie of their service days.

That’s why earlier this year Addaction and Heineken launched the Right Turn programme, which provides a dedicated alcohol support service for veterans. Working as a team, they use proven peer-to-peer group recovery tools to support each other. The project was launched in August 2014 and is being rolled out to 10 areas during 2015.

Simon Antrobus
Chief Executive, Addaction
David Forde
Managing Director, Heineken UK

Irish Times:

Sir, – The characterisation by columnist Fintan O’Toole of the recent budget as “the fourth regressive budget in a row” simply does not stand up to scrutiny (“The Irish Water debacle: why the State is heading towards being ungovernable”, Opinion & Analysis, November 5th) .

While the default setting of armchair generals like Fintan O’Toole is to criticise and denigrate everything that this Government, and particularly the Labour Party does, surely the general public has a right to expect a contribution that is somewhat more balanced and more factual than what I read.

Mr O’Toole claims that the combined impact of the tax and welfare measures and of water charges would reduce the income of the lowest income households by 1 per cent. Given that the Government has not yet completed the process of determining the precise details around charging for water – how much households will end up paying, how much they will receive in allowances, how it will be dealt with in terms of tax relief, what kind of supports they can expect from the Department of Social Protection, etc – I can only conclude that Mr O’Toole is in possession of some kind of crystal ball and that he knows more about the final outcome of these deliberations than any of the Government Ministers dealing with the matter!

Leaving that to one side, it seems to have conveniently escaped Mr O’Toole’s attention that as a result of this budget, the tax burden on high-earners has been increased, while the burden on lower earners has been reduced!

The facts are that as a result of Budget 2015: the 1 per cent of all earners on over €200,000 will account for 21 per cent of all taxes paid in 2015. This is up from 19 per cent in 2014. The 6 per cent of all earners on over €100,000 will account for 44 per cent of all taxes paid in 2015. This is up from 42 per cent in 2014. The 76 per cent of all earners on under €50,000 will account for 20 per cent of all taxes paid in 2015. This is down from 21 per cent in 2014. The benefit of decreasing income tax for high earners is capped at €70,000. A further 80,000 low-paid workers will be exempt from the universal social charge.

It also must have escaped his notice that as part of Budget 2015, there was a massive increase in investment in social housing. Alan Kelly announced that we would be investing €800 million in housing, so that we can begin delivering 7,500 family homes in 2015 and a total of 40,000 family homes in the coming years – the single biggest social housing announcement in the history of the State.

The social impact of initiatives like this may not be captured by the analytical models that think tanks, research groups and commentators have come to rely on, but in the real world they have a real impact on actual families.

In addition, spending on homelessness will increase by 20 per cent to €55 million, something that as a Labour TD I would warmly welcome.

Ahead of the budget, we said that we would take steps to reduce the pressure on working families, and to that end, we increased child benefit and introduced the new back-to-work family dividend, a scheme that will provide additional financial support to help jobseekers with families return to work. On top of that, all long-term welfare recipients will receive a Christmas bonus of 25 per cent of their weekly payment in light of the costs associated with this period.

While it may not chime with his consistently critical attitude to Labour, Mr O’Toole should out of fairness acknowledge these positive and progressive measures in a budget that took this country another step along the road to both economic and social recovery. – Yours, etc,

DEREK NOLAN, TD

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.

A chara, – The serialised Irish Water story makes for gripping reading from overseas. Judging by Simon Coveney’s remark that there is no chance Irish Water will be scrapped (“Clarity on water charges to come ‘shortly’, says Kenny”, November 3rd), we will surely now get to see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. – Is mise,

EOIN Ó COLGAIN.

Port Jefferson,

New York.

Sir, – So Enda Kenny is promising us “clarity” and Alan Kelly is promising “changes” to the water-charging regime and that charges will be “modest”. All we have to do is give the Government a week or so to work things out and all will be okay. We’ll see what transpires, but if I was a Government TD I would be very worried indeed for my job.

I bet a lot of people in the Coalition are wishing they were in Big Phil’s happy position right now.

Some of them must feel like the Egyptians following the Israelites across the Red Sea – very, very afraid of water. – Yours, etc,

LIAM COOKE,

Coolock,

Dublin 17.

Sir, – Those who think that they can walk on the stuff inevitably drown. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’DONOVAN,

Cork.

Sir, – In the old days when people needed water, they got it by boring a well. Today, the Government and the media are solving the problem by boring us all to death. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS McKENNA,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Following a marked drop in pressure in my cryptosporidium-infested water, I phoned my local county council office. I was advised that my water problem was now in the care of Irish Water and I was given an 1890 number to call.

On calling this number, a pleasant lady with an accent from the southern hemisphere answered. She requested my postcode and I explained that we do not have such a facility in Ireland, let alone in rural western areas. She seemed puzzled. Having given her my rural postal address, she asked which city was involved. I explained patiently that no city has risen from the limestone grasslands of Co Roscommon, despite the miracles promised by non-party and traditional party politicians. My plea to send out the local water maintenance man, who lives nearby and always dealt efficiently and speedily with such problems, was in vain. – Yours, etc,

Dr MÁIRE

NÍ CHONCHUBHAIR,

Boyle,

Co Roscommon.

Sir, – Yes, there are problems with the establishment of the new organisation that will manage our public supply of water.

Among these are the fact that the complete business model was not thought through before operations began – particularly administration, adequate and equable allowances, and billing; the level of salaries paid to a group of senior executives; a bonus scheme completely lacking in credibility; a level of overmanning that the new organisation has been obliged to inherit; and a reactive rather than a balanced approach to communications.

Some of these are problems that have become endemic in public administration in Ireland, such as remuneration systems, and some are correctable by the management of Irish Water or their political masters, such as ensuring that there is no charge for a level of usage that covers all normal personal and household needs.

The disservice arises, however, because of the refusal to address the problems that Irish Water was established to deal with; and the various red herrings that have been introduced into the debate.

That we need an organisation to correct the historical problems of investment, maintenance, quality and management of the public water supply is incontrovertible and is being ignored. Doing nothing or reverting to what has failed is not an option.

The red herrings include the idea that there is some kind of double-counting involved – that we are paying twice for water. Of course that portion of general taxation previously allocated to our water supply is now being spent on other things. But new taxes would have to be raised for those other things if that were not the case.

Another is that Irish Water is already a private enterprise or that it is particularly susceptible to such a development. It is perfectly legitimate to advocate that it should never be privatised.

But this issue is not unique to Irish Water. It also applies to our public transport and, especially, power supplies.

If the political leaders of the protest seriously wanted to solve the problems of those who feel threatened by the establishment of Irish Water in its present form, they would be accepting the need for an organisation such as Irish Water, accepting that some of its shortcomings are endemic in the Irish public service (and perhaps addressing these), and spelling out how those problems that are particular to Irish Water can be solved within the context of the need for such an organisation.

They should also admit that abolishing charges will jettison the opportunity to collect revenue for excessive or discretionary usage.

The absence of such rigorous analysis and proposed alternatives, and the presence of simplistic slogans, must raise questions about political credibility and responsibility. – Yours, etc,

JOHN CASEY,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Eoghan Murphy bewails the evils of the whip system, which is certainly applied more stringently in Irish politics than in any other modern democracy of which I am aware (“Fine Gael promised political reform, but the Government hasn’t delivered”, Opinion & Analysis, November 5th). However he completely fails to acknowledge the fact that he, like every other TD elected by the people of this country, has a choice – to vote against the whip.

The reality is that Mr Murphy wants to have it both ways by claiming to be the victim of a system with which he continues to co-operate. As long as the majority of TDs continue to follow Mr Murphy’s example and submit to the whip on every single vote, their party leaders could be forgiven for surmising that any protestations are no more than window-dressing.

For my part, as a constituent of Mr Murphy’s, I would rather he speak his mind in the Dáil rather than in the columns of The Irish Times, and follow this up by voting accordingly. – Is mise,

MUIREANN LYNCH,

Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Contrary to what Eoghan Murphy TD seemingly believes, a TD is in fact free to vote how he or she wishes. The whip system operates through pressure but it is not totalitarian; adhering to it is a choice – sometimes a careerist one.

Mr Murphy is only parliamentarily unfree if he holds his political free will and principles as subservient to his membership of the Fine Gael parliamentary party; if he feels the need, he could jettison the latter to dignify the former at any time.

Depressingly for Mr Murphy, the whip system looks like it is here to stay. Leo Varadkar – the current favourite to succeed the taoiseach as Fine Gael leader – has previously written in fervent advocacy of its merits.

In the light of all of this, if Mr Murphy is not merely posturing, then he and like-minded Fine Gael TDs must surely join his constituency colleague Lucinda Creighton and others in standing as non-Fine Gael general election candidates. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW GREANEY,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Eoghan Murphy has pinpointed the malaise that has beset our political and governmental process. Governance and acceptance of responsibility have never been the hallmarks of our national psyche. I naively bought the Fine Gael promise of openness, parliamentary freedom of expression and responsibility at the last election; what a fool I was. And with the current water shambles, the lack of implementation of these basic reforms has come to bite them in no uncertain manner. The way the establishment of a huge quango was railroaded through the Dáil without proper debate and scrutiny was arrogant in the extreme. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN MORE O’FERRALL,

Dublin 18.

Sir, – The wearing of poppies should not be demonised. However, there is a real danger that in this centenary of the first World War, one of the most stupid and unjustified wars in human history, the wearing of poppies and the jingoism surrounding this centenary will be used by militarists and our modern-day economic imperialists to justify totally unjustified wars, especially the wars the US and Nato have inflicted on the peoples of the Middle East since 2001. It is important to remember those millions of young men on all sides who died so needlessly, and who may have killed so thoughtlessly. It is important also to try to achieve some historical accountability towards all those who led and drove so many young men to their untimely deaths. Issues of morality and bravery are often attributed to those who fought in this most immoral of wars. There was no bravery in taking up a rifle and blowing someone’s brains out a mile away, or ordering an artillery barrage that often included chemical weapons from the safety of 10 miles behind the front lines.

By all means let us remember those who died so needlessly but let us neither glorify nor justify crimes against humanity. – Yours, etc,

EDWARD HORGAN,

Veterans for Peace Ireland,

Castletroy, Limerick.

Sir, – I wear the white poppy of the Peace Pledge Union. – Yours, etc,

JANET GOOBERMAN,

Killaloe, Co Clare.

Sir, – In response to Patrick Treacy (November 5th), it is important that people are aware of what the Constitution currently says and does. The Constitution does not define marriage; the wording is deliberately vague, leaving scope for the Oireachtas to set the parameters. The Civil Registration Act 2004 is the sole piece of legislation in Ireland that confines marriage to the union of a man and a woman and there has been no case where this has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

The State is also obliged, under the Constitution, to “guard with special care” the institution of marriage, as it is the institution on which “family” is based.

Any idea that Ireland can create an innovative and unique constitutionally protected union for same-sex couples, while maintaining a differentiation from the marital union of a man and a woman, would raise many constitutional issues. Marriage would have to be defined as solely the union of a man and a woman. Would the proposed upgraded version of civil partnership be recognised as part of the “family” protected in the Constitution? Would the State have to renounce its duty to guard marriage with “special care” to accommodate this new civil partnership?

Is it worth rubbing out and rewriting the fundamentals of the Constitution simply to preserve a traditional ideal of what marriage should look like? – Yours, etc,

CONOR BOYLE,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I agree entirely with Michael and Mary Telford that philosophy should be part of the school curriculum for all the primary and secondary years (November 4th). As we know, young children are natural philosophers and are full of wonder about the world. Why not harness this sense of wonder and give them some of the tools they need to satisfy their curiosity? There has never been a time when being able to think for oneself has been more important. So, let’s help our children to do just that. Otherwise, there is a real danger that the next generation will be lost in a world of increasing relativism, moral turpitude and meaninglessness. Now, there’s a cheery thought! – Yours, etc,

NEIL FORSYTH,

Adamstown,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – When I was at school in CBS Synge Street in Dublin from 1939 to 1947, we were taught some of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas based on Aristotle. The curriculum stopped sharply before Occam’s Razor. A close shave. – Yours, etc,

EAMONN ROTHERY,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir, –Not only will it possibly (or probably) cause most parents, carers and guardians to visit or revisit what they themselves actually think, or don’t think, but they may find themselves deconstructing, then dethinking, before unthinking, some or much of that. Mealtimes could become a lot more animated, and homework could take centuries, methinks. – Yours, etc,

MICHELE SAVAGE,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Well done to Sweden for doing the right thing and acknowledging Palestine as a state. It was wrong to deny Palestinians this basic right. Better late than never. I hope every country will follow Sweden’s lead. – Yours, etc,

MARGARET WALSHE,

Dublin 15.

A chara, – Walking through Stuttgart on Sunday, I noticed a large queue of people standing patiently, indeed cheerfully, outside an important-looking building. My German partner asked them what they were queueing for. The answer was straightforward. There was a presidential election in Romania, and they were queueing to register their votes. It’s too difficult for Ireland to manage votes for its emigrants, but not for our continental neighbours, it seems. – Is mise,

JOHN KENNEDY,

Düsseldorf,

Germany.

Irish Independent:

Daniel O’Connell was being rowed across the River Liffey. O’Connell was soon to embark for London, where he had important business to attend to. The elderly boatman – trying to make conversation in the hope of getting an extra penny for the fare – wished O’Connell good luck in the upcoming important vote.

O’Connell smiled and said: “No matter which way the vote goes this evening, you’ll still be rowing this boat tomorrow!”

Great man as he is remembered by many, yet some of our patriots of the 1916 Rising thought him arrogant.

So a warning to our present leaders in Leinster House.

You may well let them march, you may well let them have their say.

In the end you may well be the victor and make them pay.

But remember: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still!

You may win this battle, and lose the war!

You may force Irish Water down our necks.

But we will remember when we are asked to place our X.

Fred Molloy

Clonsilla, Dublin 15

 

Water charges

So Taoiseach Enda Kenny is promising us “clarity” and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly is promising “changes” to the water-charging regime and that charges will be “modest”. All we have to do is give the government a week or so to work things out and all will be OK. We’ll see what transpires, but if I was a government TD I would be very worried indeed for my job.

If the Government doesn’t get it right this time it’ll be hello Mary Lou, goodbye Coalition at the next general election. And, going on their performance to date, the Coalition is quite likely to mess the whole thing up again.

The Coalition claims that the formation of Irish Water is the best way to keep the €800m or so cost of renewing the water system “off balance sheet” – and the water charges are required to ensure an income stream to keep Irish Water going.

No such worries about income steams for Mr Phil Hogan, architect of Irish Water as well as the property charge system. He is happily ensconced in Brussels as EU Commissioner for Agriculture for a five-year term at a salary of €250,000 a year plus more than adequate expenses.

I bet a lot of people in the Coalition are wishing they were in Big Phil’s happy position right now. Some of them must feel like the Egyptians following the Israelites across the Red Sea – very, very afraid of water.

Liam Cooke

Coolock , Dublin 17

Why the reluctance to hold a referendum on the ownership and control of our water supply?

Promises to legislate in the Oireachtas simply will not cut it, as legislation can be – and frequently is – overturned. In addition, leading politicians have made a plethora of promises to desist from doing all manner of things – from no house taxes, to ‘not another cent’ to toxic banks, no water charges, etc.

Unfortunately, we know what has happened in the real world on these issues. I have phoned several politicians regarding a referendum on our water supply and have been told “no chance”.

These same people are very exercised about a referendum on, for example, same-sex marriage.

I have no problem with such a referendum, but why the ducking and diving on the control and ownership of our water supply? Aligned with escalating water charges it threatens all manner of upset, civil disorder and potentially worse in our country.

John Sullivan

Rathmines, Dublin 6

 

I welcome the letter from Diarmuid O’Flynn in the rural depths of North Cork (November 4).

The comments from our political leaders continue to baffle the intelligence. Suddenly, we all seem to want clarity and modest prices for water, now a commodity but hitherto something not lacking in the Emerald Isle. Living in Dublin since 1968 has taught me never to venture forth without an umbrella.

Clarity is always desirable, but we do not expect to find it on the lips of politicians anxious – above all – to please party leaders. The salient points have remained constant since 2008. They are:

1. Irish taxpayers ought not to be expected to pay for the self-inflicted debts of foreign bankers.

2. The Irish political class has placed the demands and threats of foreign bankers above the needs of Irish citizens, and in this respect the issue of water is appropriate. What can be more precious for us all than water?

3. Having protected foreign bankers in the accumulation of reckless debts, the political class has sought to protect itself against the Irish working class, that is, the plain people in every village, town and city of Ireland. For the rulers there are pensions and bonuses; for the working poor, yet more taxes.

The day of reckoning was bound to come. And it has arrived. The issue now is whether Fine Gael and Labour can survive in any condition as governing parties. It appears quite unlikely in both cases.

Dr Gerald Morgan

The Chaucer Hub, Trinity College

Dublin 2

 

The duplicity of the government knows no bounds. Enda Kenny has ruled out a referendum on the issue of Irish Water. Instead, he promises to enact further tough legislation to ensure it can never be privatised. Isn’t there meant to be double-lock legislation already in place to accomplish this?

If further legislation is required, isn’t that an admission that the double-lock legislation actually isn’t fit for purpose to begin with? Kenny is effectively admitting the double-lock legislation isn’t worth the paper it’s written on – and was probably never intended to be in the first place. Instead he offers a sop – further worthless scribblings on more headed paper in order to assuage the concerns of the 150,000 people who protested last weekend.

Don’t be fooled – nothing short of a referendum will guarantee that our water system will never be privatized for as long as this State remains sovereign. Any “tough legislation” enacted by today’s government can be as easily undone by any future government, should they wish to do so.

Kenny has had no problem setting up a commission to actively suggest referenda on a number of issues, and could easily run an Irish Water referendum alongside any of these. If he won’t accede to the demands of democracy, he himself is not fit for purpose, and needs to be given the heave-ho in the next election – or sooner if possible.

Nick Folley

Carrigaline, Co Cork

 

Love letters

As a regular contributor to your letters page, I had withdrawal symptoms last Monday.

After checking my Irish Independent a few times, I realized it was true. To my shock and horror, no Letters page (November 3).

So please, please, Mr Editor, do not let this happen again – or I may have to book into rehab!

Brian McDevitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

Irish Independent

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