15 November 2014 Gout

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A n awful day I am stricken with gout.

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


Alexander Grothendieck – obituary

Alexander Grothendieck was a mathematician hailed as a genius who embraced ‘militant activism’ before losing his reason

Alexander Grothendieck

Alexander Grothendieck Photo: REX

5:53PM GMT 14 Nov 2014


Alexander Grothendieck, who has died aged 86, was considered the greatest pure mathematician of the second half of the 20th century, his name uttered with the same reverence among mathematicians as that of Einstein among physicists. Yet in the 1970s he effectively abandoned his brilliant academic career and, in 1991, disappeared altogether; he was later reported as “last heard of raging about the devil somewhere in the Pyrenees”.

A mathematician of staggering accomplishment (one reference work described him as “the mathematician whose work was to lead to a unification of geometry, number theory, topology and complex analysis”), Grothendieck’s ubiquitous presence in almost all branches of pure mathematics between 1955 and 1970 revolutionised the subject, in recognition of which he was awarded the Fields Medal (the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize) in 1966.

His extraordinary creativity expressed itself in the form of thousands of pages of mathematical literature, notably in the monumental Eléments de Géométrie Algébrique and Séminaire de Géométrie Algébrique – although his achievement was matched only by the impossibility of explaining it to anyone without at least a degree in Pure Mathematics. (Grothendieck’s most important single accomplishment, for example, was said to be “the invention of the étale and l-adic cohomology theories”.)

Grothendieck’s most creative period was spent at the French Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES), and his time there was regarded ever after as the institute’s “Golden Age”, during which a whole new school of mathematics flourished under Grothendieck’s charismatic leadership. He established the IHES as a world centre of algebraic geometry, with him as its driving force.

There was, however, another Grothendieck, a man who felt deeply about the world’s injustices. As a young student, he had decided not to study physics (despite his love for the subject), as he saw the discipline, after Hiroshima, as hopelessly compromised. During the Vietnam War, to protest against American imperialism, he gave lectures on category theory in the forests around Hanoi while the city was being bombed.

In the 1960s he refused to participate in conferences supported by Nato, Nasa or other defence interests. In some cases conference organisers went to the length of securing alternative funding in order to secure his participation. In 1966, when he was awarded the Fields Medal, he refused to travel to Moscow for the ceremony in protest at Soviet militarism.

His career reached a crisis in 1970 when he discovered that IHES was being funded in part, and indirectly, by the French Ministry of Defence. This triggered a bitter debate between Grothendieck and the founder of IHES, Leo Motchane, who maintained a clear division between scientific matters, which were left to the professors, and financial ones, which were the director’s domain.

Grothendieck poured scorn on the ease with which colleagues had accepted the situation, observing that their willingness to accept military funding had not prevented them “from professing the ideas ‘of the Left’ or from being indignant at colonial wars. They generally justify this by saying that this did not limit in any sense their independence or freedom of thought. They refuse to see that this collaboration gives an aura of respectability and liberalism to this apparatus of control, destruction and depreciation. This is something that shocked me.”

Alexander Grothendieck (REX)

When Grothendieck failed to secure an immediate halt to the offending subsidy, he felt he had no choice but to resign. His attempts to find a position at an alternative top-ranking university or institute failed, either because the authorities were wary of his fiery reputation or because they did not fulfil his exacting preconditions.

He found work at lesser institutions, but not in areas of advanced research; and in any case, he had become increasingly preoccupied by politics.

In the 1970s, declaring himself a “militant activist”, he founded a small group called Survivre et Vivre, an anti-war, anti-imperialist, environmental movement. But partly because of its founder’s increasingly eccentric behaviour, the group failed to establish a popular base.

By the 1980s, Grothendieck had become seriously psychologically unstable. Finally he secluded himself in a small hamlet in the Pyrenees. In 1991, after burning thousands of pages of manuscript in the garden of his then girlfriend, he vanished altogether.

Alexander Grothendieck was born to Jewish parents in Berlin on March 28 1928. His father, Shapiro, was a Russian-born anarchist who had taken an active part in the Revolution and, after falling out with Lenin, in various Leftist movements in Germany, where he married the equally radical Johanna (“Hanka”). In 1933 Alexander’s parents moved to Paris to escape the Nazis, leaving their five-year-old son with a family in Hamburg, where he went to school. During this time his father fought in the Spanish Civil War.

In 1939 Alexander came to France, and in 1940 was interned with his mother as an “undesirable” (German, then after the German invasion, as a Jew) in the Rieucros camp near Mende. Shapiro, meanwhile, was interned in the camp of Le Vernet, from where he was deported to Auschwitz and died in 1942. Though Alexander never really knew his father, he held him in great esteem. His office at the IHES had no decoration except a portrait of his father.

Life in Vichy France was not easy. But in 1942, after the Grothendiecks had been moved to a detention camp at Gurs, Alexander was able to attend the Collège Cévénol, a school run by Protestant resisters at the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, where he obtained his baccalauréat.

After the war Alexander and his mother moved to a small village near Montpellier, where he found part-time work on a farm while studying Mathematics at the university. In 1948 he went to Paris, carrying a letter of introduction from his former school to the mathematician Henri Cartan. Cartan advised him to go to Nancy, where he studied for a doctorate under Jean Dieudonné.

Grothendieck then spent several years travelling and teaching in Brazil and America . In 1956 he returned to France and, in 1959, he and Dieudonné accepted appointments as professors at the newly-established IHES in Bures-sur-Yvette, where, over the next 12 years, Grothendieck completely revolutionised the theory of algebraic geometry.

After leaving the IHES, Grothendieck tried but failed to get a post at the Collège de France in Paris. Instead, in 1973, he accepted a professorship at Montpellier University, where he mainly taught elementary subjects such as linear algebra and calculus. He became estranged from the high-level mathematical community.

During the 1980s Grothendieck wrote thousands of pages of mathematical and non-mathematical meditations, much of it mixing philosophical invective, paranoid attacks on rivals and, here and there, insights of pure genius. These included his autobiographical Récoltes et Semailles (1983-85), a paranoid 1,000-page treatise in which he set out his dissatisfactions with the mathematical world but also laid the groundwork for a new field known as anabelian geometry; La clef des songes (1986), in which he explained how the reality of dreams convinced him of God’s existence; and Esquisse d’un programme (1984), a proposal for a position at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in which he described new ideas for studying the “moduli space” of complex curves. Although Grothendieck never published work in this area, the idea became the inspiration for other mathematicians and the source of the new theory of dessins d’enfants (children’s drawings).

In May 1988 the Swedish Academy awarded him the Crafoord Prize, a belated attempt to repair the neglect of Alfred Nobel in not creating a prize in mathematics, which came with a cash award of $160,000. But Grothendieck astonished the mathematics world by rejecting it, and in a rambling letter to Le Monde explained his decision as motivated by disgust at the dishonesty and corruption of the scientific and political establishment .

In August 1991, Grothendieck left his home in the Pyrenees, suddenly and without warning, for an unknown location. Severing contacts with friends, family and colleagues, he refused practically all human contact.Over the next few years various rumours circulated. Some suggested that he had remained in the Pyrenees and become a Buddhist. Others maintained that he was living in the Ardèche, herding goats and entertaining radical ecological theories. According to another rumour he was working on a 50-volume manuscript addressing, among other things, the physics of free will.

One of the members of the mathematical establishment to come into contact with him was Leila Schneps who, with her future husband, Pierre Loschak, tracked him down and found him “obsessed by the devil which he sees at work everywhere in the world” . In a subsequent letter to Leila Schneps, Grothendieck said he would be prepared to share his research into physics with her if she could answer one question: “What is a metre?”

In 2010 he tried to eradicate all trace of his past life, writing a letter to one of his students demanding that his entire back catalogue be removed from libraries and refusing to allow republications.

Alexander Grothendieck, who was twice married and had four children, died in hospital at Saint-Girons in south-west France.

Alexander Grothendieck, born March 28 1928, died November 13 2014


To let signs Actions that could address the inequities of the housing market include ‘stop regarding it as a market and begin regarding it as a necessity’. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty

Reading Polly Toynbee (Behind this door live 160 families, 11 November) and Aditya Chakrabortty (The story of the millionaire Tory MP and the tenants facing homelessness, 11 November), it seems to me there are three key actions that could address the iniquities of the housing “market”. They are, first, stop regarding housing as a market and begin regarding it as a human necessity. Second, reintroduce rent controls, requiring all landlords to be licensed, paying for the inspections and processes by charging for the licence. Third, only allow council houses to be sold at full market value, with all money raised from the sales used to build more council housing. If the Labour party were to espouse these policies, it could demonstrate understanding of the average person’s difficulties, as well as dramatically reducing the housing benefit bill.
Sally Plumb
Smethwick, West Midlands

• Neither of these articles proposes the obvious solution: rent control. It should be illegal to evict tenants who are not in arrears for at least a year (two years? five years?) to eradicate revenge eviction. The same rule should apply in cases where landlords default on their loans. In this case, the tenant should simply pay rent to the lender, with the option of converting the tenancy to a mortgage.

Rent could be based on the council tax. For example, a maximum of five times the council tax, so a property with an annual council tax bill of £1,000 could be let for a maximum rent of £5,000 a year (about £416 a month). Rents could increase in line with council tax. If this means that buy-to-let landlords default on their loans, so much the better; it would allow those first-time buyers jostled off the housing ladder to buy such properties cheaply. Don’t forget buy-to-let landlords get tax relief on the interest on their loans. Rent control would also reduce the £9bn that the taxpayer is handing over to landlords each year, another result of the buy-to-let boom, and would relieve the misery of tenants such as in your articles. Come on Labour, rent control could win you the next election.
Roy Saberton
Sale, Cheshire

• My mum and dad in Cardiff bought their council house in the 1980s, as did most of my aunts and uncles, and at the time it was a wonderful thing, driving aspiration, social mobility and great DIY. Thirty years later with our social housing stock dwindling, Labour needs to make an election pledge to end right-to-buy and stop the vulture-like property speculation shockingly reported on by Polly Toynbee. Prompted by this article to check the main parties’ websites, I found the Green party’s policy slate on housing to be thoughtful, broad in scope and highly detailed, with a strong commitment to keep social housing in the public realm.
Mark Garland
New Malden, Surrey

• I lived until the age of seven with my older sister and parents in a Glasgow single-end (one room) on the third floor of a tenement with an outside toilet (not even containing a wash hand basin) on the stair. We then got a new two-bedroom council house, and two years later, a new house in a new town (East Kilbride). I was born in 1946. I have always been puzzled as to why, following six years of war, the country could afford to build tens of thousands of council houses, but will not do so now, preferring to pour billions of pounds into the pockets of private landlords.
Anne Buchanan
Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

• It isn’t just private landlords who are causing the housing crisis in London. My landlord, the supposedly philanthropic Peabody Charitable Trust, is at it as well. A family flat has three bedrooms. One for mum and dad, and one each for teenage children coping with homework and puberty. Peabody is charging such high and fast-rising rents for these homes that two key workers with kids can’t afford them. They are being let to three single working people who have to revert to the student life of shared bathrooms and kitchens. This deprives working families of homes and disrupts the balance of old and young in our communities.

As a concession to the campaigning efforts of our tenants’ associations (Letters, 9 October), Peabody has agreed to limit rent rises to 5% a year for this year only. But wages are not going up at anything like that rate and Peabody’s costs have been held down in line with the inflation indexes. The result is a declared surplus of £281m last year and ever growing hardship among exactly the sort of people George Peabody set up his charity to help. Concerted action by tenants to get landlords and politicians to respond is essential if we are to see any resolution of this shambles.
Nik Wood

• Your article and opinion piece made me feel very angry about the greed of the already wealthy; the “we’re all in it together” hypocrisy of the chancellor; and the sheer apparent inability of councils and the London mayor to do anything meaningful about low-cost housing. The New Era estate that Aditya Chackrabortty writes about was built by a charitable trust apparently; one has to ask what were the trustees up to – were they fulfilling their obligations by selling out to a private firm, resulting in tenants being evicted?
Peter Hartley
West Hoathly, West Sussex

• Polly Toynbee’s reference to slum landlords who evict tenants complaining about the condition of their homes reminded me that my own great-grandfather Alfred Valentine was a Labour councillor in Stepney in the 1920s when he and the mayor, Clement Attlee, fought the slum landlords who failed to repair their properties. Plus ça change.
Dudley Turner
Westerham, Kent

• Affordable housing is needed in many rural areas for those who work or have family ties in our villages and hamlets (Paying the price, 12 November). Without it, these areas will no longer support vibrant communities. Wednesday was also #Housing Day, dedicated to celebrating “the positive impact of social housing on thousands of people across the UK”. Yet government statistics show that only 10,840 social rented properties have been built this year, a quarter of the number built in 2010-11 at the height of the recession.

A further irony is that the government is working on changes to the planning system that will cripple the amount of affordable homes built in the countryside. The proposals will exempt sites with under 10 housing units from the requirement to include a proportion of affordable housing. In 2012-13, 66% of rural affordable housing was delivered via this requirement. This is why CPRE is urging the government not to give rural sites this proposed exemption and to increase investment in truly affordable homes. It is possible, and should be a priority, to ensure that the beauty and tranquillity of our countryside is preserved, while allowing the communities within it to thrive.
John Rowley
Campaign to Protect Rural England

The director of the Landmark Trust (Gormley commemorates Landmark Trust on a human scale, 7 November) is probably mistaken in thinking that the trust’s founder Sir John Smith was the only Conservative MP who was also a member of the union of fairground showmen. As far as I am aware he was never a member of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain in any capacity. However, he had an active interest in the world of the travelling showmen, and in 1964 – the year before he launched the trust – he played host to the Great Steam Fair in Shottesbrooke Park, his Berkshire home. This one-off event brought together several fairground rides that had survived from the age of steam. It was a great success, and through the similar events that it inspired in the following years, such as the Great Dorset Steam Fair, it prolonged the active life of a whole generation of veteran rides that were then on the verge of being consigned to the scrapheap. Significantly, all the rides that appeared at the great steam fair half a century ago are still in existence today. For the record, the only member of the Showmen’s Guild to be an MP was the legendary showman Pat Collins, who served as Walsall’s Liberal member from 1922 to 1924.
Graham Downie
Chairman, the Fairground Association of Great Britain

Baby's feet Compensation for children affected by foetal alcohol syndrome matter ‘is about supporting the child born from that situation throughout their often very challenging life as a result of the injury received in the womb.’ Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

I helped promote abused children’s entitlement to criminal injuries compensation and a local authority’s duty to make application on behalf of children in their care. Both your editorial (6 November) and Simon Jenkins (Opinion, 7 November) assert that any compensation received would alleviate the burden on the council and be to their benefit. The implication is that councils are pursuing these applications in their self-interest. Upon what evidence are these statements based? My understanding is that any award would be directly to the child concerned. While it may be put in trust until the child achieves majority, it could not simply be used by the council to offset any costs of its statutory duty of care.

In raising the matter as far back as 1988, I sought to highlight the parlous situation of many children leaving care with little support, financial or otherwise. Would your writers not wish to pursue any avenue that might benefit a child who has suffered harm at the hands of another person? The issues of whether a foetus can have a legal identity and whether a crime has been committed are difficult, but it’s wrong to criticise a council for seeking to further the interests of a child in its care if there is an arguable case. For them to do otherwise would truly be a proper cause for concern.
Peter Ferguson
Castle Heather, Inverness

• As a lawyer working in care proceedings, I frequently represent children who have been damaged by their mother’s abuse of alcohol while pregnant. In other cases I act for the for mothers and can see both sides of the problem. The use of inverted commas around the phrase “foetal alcohol syndrome” almost implies Simon Jenkins is sceptical about this condition, perhaps implying an invention of fee-hungry lawyers? Foetal alcohol damage is seen on a spectrum – foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – and is one of the largest undiagnosed causes of mental health problems and behavioural issues in this country. For a child to be diagnosed with full foetal alcohol syndrome, rather than foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, indicates a high-level of permanent brain damage and must be taken more seriously.
 David Jockelson
Solicitor, Miles & Partners LLP

• Contrary to your editorial and Joanna Moorhead (Don’t turn these mothers into criminals, 6 November), this matter is not about criminalising the birth mother. It is about supporting the child born from that situation throughout their often very challenging life as a result of the injury received in the womb, and who indeed should be liable for compensation from the criminal injuries compensation scheme. These children often come through the care system and are brushed off to unsuspecting adoptive parents, who have little or no idea of how this will impact upon their family lives. These parents become people who can no longer work because their child cannot attend mainstream schools, for whom no specialist schools exist, and who struggle with their hampered development, their constant rages and their damaging behaviour.

Invariably all these parents want to do is get their child through to adulthood in one piece – a challenging task. I am one such parent. I sit in roomfuls of parents exposed to similar difficulties. It is not rare. We struggle alone, turned away by child and adolescent mental health services and with local authorities telling us there is no funding to support us beyond a few kind words and a couple of “parenting” courses. If the only route is criminalisation, so be it. At least this will put the plight of many families up and down the country in the limelight and these children might finally get the help they need.
Name and address supplied

Tacloban's typhoon Haiyan survivors, Philippines Survivors of typhoon Haiyan, which struck on November 8, 2013. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Your report (After the storm, 7 November) highlights that despite intensive relief efforts, including £95m raised from the British public in response to typhoon Haiyan, 2.5 million Filipino people affected by the hurricane remain without proper homes. This situation can be better understood in the light of the crippling external debts that the Philippines inherited from the days of the Marcos regime (1965-86), when western governments and institutions financed the dictator with loans to secure his loyalty during the cold war. In the year since central Philippines was devastated by Haiyan, the country has spent $5.6bn on foreign debt payments. This amounts to 14% of the government’s annual revenue and 25 times more than was given by EU member states in aid in response to the disaster.

In 2000, world leaders committed to “deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries” to help meet the millennium development goals. Yet, the Philippines was considered too rich to qualify for debt cancellation. This despite the fact that 42% of the population – 41 million people – live on less than £1.25 a day. If the international community is truly committed to supporting the Haiyan recovery efforts, and the Philippines’ adaptation to the worsening impacts of extreme weather caused by runaway climate change, then the calls of Philippines movements and peoples’ organisations for the urgent cancellation of the country’s unjust debts, and for grants not loans for relief and reconstruction, must be heard.
Sarah-Jayne Clifton
Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign

• If Bob Geldof and co want to make an impact on the Ebola crisis then they should write a protest song about transnational agri-business’ culpability in the outbreak of the disease, instead of droning on about Christmas. The destruction of West African forests and the takeover of small farmers’ land to grow cash crops for export has forced large numbers of people to migrate to overcrowded cities or seek alternative sources of food such as bush meat. Some have found badly paid work in the explosion of plantations growing African palm for the production of an oil that is used in products from toothpaste to hamburgers. Moreover, the dislocation from their forest homes of animals that carry ebola and their subsequent contact with humans, via bats urine in oil palms for example, has been a key factor in the spread of the illness. African Ebola sufferers are the victims of an unsustainable neocolonial economic order that prioritises western company profits over everything else and no amount of charity from ageing rock stars will change that.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB

Hansel and Gretel. Image shot 2012. Exact date unknown. Detail of an image from Hansel and Gretel. Might Johann Peter Hebel’s stories be less gruesome? Photograph: Alamy

As Grimm stories become more gruesome (Grimmer Grimms, 13 November) parents might like to turn to his contemporary Johann Peter Hebel. None of the stories in Hebel’s Treasure Chest (Penguin Classic)is unsuitable for children, and some are probably best appreciated by them. Like the Grimms, Hebel, who also collected his stories from popular sources, was admired by Goethe – and by Tolstoy, Kafka and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hebel’s stories often imply or express a moral, but are less specifically Christian than the Grimms.
Nicholas Jacobs

• The deification of Alan Johnson in your pages continues apace (Letters, 13 November). I suppose the poverty-to-parliament story is irresistible to some, but I find the transition from trade unionist to ultra-smooth Blairite deeply questionable. Enough already.
Tom McFadyen

• It is incorrect to say that only the residents of Manchester, rather than the other areas of Greater Manchester, were consulted about the election of a mayor (Letters, 12 November). We in Salford now bitterly regret we had that opportunity, which resulted in not just an elected mayor but a deputy and 13 assistant mayors, now cut to a mere 10. The rest of Greater Manchester should not follow our example but learn from it.
Terence Hall
Salford, Greater Manchester

• Now that the longest-running radio serial is emulating its TV counterparts, why not go for broke (Letters, 13 November)? It happened to Bobby Ewing, Dirty Den. and Nick Cotton. Surely it is time for Phil Archer to be brought back from the dead to sort out the projected move from Brookfield.
Edward Thomas

• Seen on a T-shirt in Broken Hill, New South Wales (Letters, 12 November): “My anger management course pisses me off.”
Nikki Knewstub
Liskeard, Cornwall

• If no one was bribed to let Qatar have the World Cup (Sport, 13 November), Fifa are more stupid than we thought.
Richard Head
Melksham, Wiltshire


Let’s get something straight. The foreign exchange and Libor scandals (“Shame in the City: £2.6bn fine leaves London’s reputation in tatters”, 13 November) did not start and stop with a handful of overpaid adolescents engaged in deliberate wrongdoing for personal gain.

The trading floor is open plan. Traders sit on desks. Fellow traders who sit two feet away know what colleagues are up to. The desk head knows the behaviour of the people on his or her team – their character, their attitudes, their strengths and their weaknesses. Similarly, the head of trading walks the floor, takes in the activity, checks unusual gains and losses, and is fully aware of outbursts, happy and otherwise.

For such wrongdoing to persist, it must be because either it was condoned by leadership of the company’s trading room or the executives responsible on the floor were monumentally incompetent.

Similarly, for this to persist without intervention from the CEO suggests that  senior management either did not know, did not care to know or knew and enjoyed the ride. A final possibility is that banking activities have simply become too complex for a CEO to be expected  to know.

As with every scandal to come to light, one must ask: did senior management know? If they knew they were complicit, if they did not know they were incompetent. And if banks have become too complex for anyone to be expected to know then they are too big to manage.

The first two argue for an immediate ban from the industry of a long list of bankers at multiple levels. The last argues for an immediate break-up of the banks.

Let regulators take their pick but they must get off the fence. We need not wait for a criminal act. Regulators can improve accountability by ensuring that these people never work in finance again. Can anyone explain why they should not do so?

Robert Jenkins

Senior Fellow, Better Markets, London W9


Yet another round of risibly small punishments for the usual purveyors of financial disservices. Shall we compile a list of the significant activities for which they haven’t been fined, investigated (with adverse findings), or otherwise censured over the past 15 years or so?

No, I couldn’t think of any either. How about some really eye-watering sanctions, such as one per cent of global turnover (well within the compass of the Competition and Markets Authority)? Ah, but that would hardly be of benefit to all of those institutional shareholders who invest our money in these dysfunctional entities, or, by extension, us, would it?

Jeremy Redman

London SE6


I was most surprised to read that the banks had been allowed to negotiate their latest round of fines. Presumably this was necessary in order to ensure that they were able to make repayments. Perhaps they ought to consider taking out some kind of payment protection insurance…

Julian Self

Milton Keynes

Miliband takes his eye off the ball again

If Ed Miliband is convinced that Ukip intends to privatise the NHS, he has clearly not read its leaflet: “What a Ukip Government will do”. Under the section on the National Health Service, it states: “We will stop further use of PFI in the NHS and encourage local authorities to buy out their PFI contracts early where this is affordable.”

In any case, why so much concentration on Ukip? Mr Miliband stands to lose far more support to the Scottish National Party. Could it be that he has taken his eye off the ball again?

Edward Thomas



The point about maths is it gives you options

A number of distinguished commentators have sought to condemn the Education Secretary for her comments about the importance of studying maths, but I think that they have all missed the point. I am qualified to speak on this as I am a professor of electronic engineering who also has a degree in history of art, which I studied part-time while continuing to work.

The critics have implied that the Secretary of State was downplaying the importance of culture and the arts generally but that is not what she was saying. She simply stated what to me is the “bleeding obvious”: if you don’t study A-level maths then you close off a number of options. If you do, then all your options remain open.

I am happy to confirm that studying history of art is challenging and intellectually stimulating and that you learn valuable life skills. However, it is obvious that you could not be employed as an engineer or as a physicist.

I am sure that I would not have been able to do what I did in reverse – base my career on a degree in history of art and then study engineering in later life. So it is just a simple fact, if you don’t study maths, you limit your options in later life.

Professor Chris Guy

School of Systems Engineering,

University of Reading


 All hopes that greater sanity would prevail at the Department of Education were dashed when Nicky Morgan announced to the world that the only subjects worth studying were maths and science and that those who study the humanities and arts will be disadvantaged for life.

She has told the nation’s children that unless they are talented in these particular areas they are going to experience a lifetime of disadvantage. If this point of view gains ground, schools and universities will reduce funding and resources for subjects other than those she favours and within a short time generations of expertise will be dissipated.

When I recently visited China, I discovered the Chinese government has identified art and design as one of six new focuses in the economy and education. Chinese families are now encouraging their artistically gifted young to come to British schools to study art and design subjects. Many families are prepared to invest in an education that suits their children’s talents rather than being confined to the same narrow range of subjects which are now apparently preferred by our Education Secretary.

Lynne Taylor-Gooby

Principal, The Royal School

Haslemere, Surrey


What does electorate want from its leaders?

In your leader of 12 November you ask what the electorate expects of its politicians and then answer that “they like their leaders to work together in the public interest”, which, you say, is the reason why the Coalition has survived.

The opposite is the truth. The Liberal Democrats have remained part of the Coalition even though all opinion polls suggest that the electorate does not like the fact that the dire state of the public finances and the need to compromise with the Conservatives have meant they have had to take responsibility for unpopular measures.

As a result their poll rating has gone down to below what it was when they just criticised from the opposition benches. In fact, it is well below what it would be had they decided to not share responsibility and instead continued to criticise and pretend that there are easy answers, as does Ukip.

Charles Jenkins

London SW4


Shame on Sainsbury’s profiting from war

Commercialisation of the First World War has sunk to a new low with the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert. It cannot be right to allow a company such as Sainsbury’s to play upon an event such as the 1914 “Christmas truce” – a tiny event amidst the carnage and horrors of the war – for the purposes of advertising its shops and increasing its profits.

Martin Jeanneret

Newhaven, East Sussex


The world is a whole lot better now

John Dakin (letter, 14 November) writes: “The modern world is not perfect, but it is a whole lot better than before 1914” and he is correct, but what he omits is that, in seeking to diminish institutions like the EU and the NHS, the current UK government is actively helping to move Europe back towards those pre-1914 conditions.

Phillip Marston

St-Gingolph, Switzerland

Metric or imperial – it can’t be both

Please make up your mind whether you’re metric or imperial – a foot (or metre) in each camp makes for muddled journalism. The caption for the photo of Bob Diamond’s daughter (14 November) states her dress was ‘‘made from 35 metres of silk and comprising a 15ft-long train’’. If this was part of a ‘spot the deliberate confusion’ competition, I claim my prize.

Shane Malhotra 

Maidstone, Kent 


I agree with Farage – what a dilemma!

I have just read Nigel Farage’s column (14 November) and have to say I agree with every word. He is so right to condemn private finance initiatives as this policy is making billions of pounds for private companies over and above what would have been reasonable amounts. As Farage says, it will be future generations who have to pick up the tab. The only problem I have with Ukip is that leaving the EU would be an economic disaster. What a dilemma!

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey


Sir, As joint editors preparing the 5th Edition of Clinical Negligence we join the concern voiced about the usefulness of the Medical Innovation Bill (report, leader and letter, Nov 13). Exposure to civil liability has limited effect on medical innovation as most clinical negligence claims concern poor rather than innovative practice. Moreover, the safety of medicines and the performance of doctors are regulated by law. We are not aware of negligence cases founded on medical innovation alone. Existing common law is robust and flexible enough to address innovation and in its present iteration the bill adds nothing to it. There are better ways of promoting medical innovation such as the recently failed Off-patent Drugs Bill, which had little media attention.

While we sympathise with Lord Saatchi and share his aims, this bill addresses an emotional need to provide hope rather than a deficit in current law.
Dr Michael J Powers QC

Dr Anthony Barton

Solicitor and medical practitioner, Lincoln’s Inn, London

Sir, Lord Saatchi’s bill would not enable doctors to give any treatments they can’t already give — it simply puts their treatment decisions beyond questioning by anybody else, beyond the reach of the law. This bill would apply to “innovative” treatment for any condition, serious or trivial, even when there is an existing effective treatment available. The majority of paediatric prescribing, for example, is for “unlicensed” medication, an area about which Saatchi’s campaign has made particular mention. Do we want such patients to be unprotected by the law? Far from simplifying the law, this bill will make the area more complex and unclear.
David Hills

Stop the Saatchi Bill Campaign
Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan

Sir, As your leading article observed, Lord Saatchi is sincere but misguided. There is a lot that needs to be done to speed up medical research and to reduce the burden of litigation against the NHS but his bill tackles neither. It does not provide anything new that would encourage better science. It does not propose ways to cut the legal claims which cost the health service over £1 billion a year. Instead it removes protection from patients and, as you rightly point out, it opens the door to improper experimentation and downright quackery.
Dr James May
Chair of HealthWatch-UK

Sir, Most cancer patients with a terminal prognosis are able to understand their situation and when all other options have been exhausted, given a choice, some will undoubtedly be happy to try untested treatments. They should be free to do so with the proviso that proper safeguards are in place, not only for the patient but also for the medical practitioners. Hope is important even if it is only the hope of a life extension or of a possible addition to our medical knowledge, thus improving someone else’s chances of survival.
Karen Gabony
Cobham, Surrey

Sir, Lord Saatchi’s bill would prevent some patients who have been harmed by what today would be defined as negligence from having any redress. Worse than that, it would make it easier for a small number of maverick doctors to try out experimental treatment on vulnerable patients. No one wants patients to receive treatment which will genuinely help them more than ourselves but we see this bill as both dangerous and unnecessary. Peter Walsh
Chief executive, Action against Medical Accidents

Sir, It is absurd that Saatchi portrays oncologists as being too timid to innovate. Eleven years ago I had an aggressive cancer — like the one that killed Jackie Kennedy Onassis. It didn’t respond to chemotherapy, so my NHS specialist, not being timid, suggested high-dose chemo and a stem cell transplant, which had a modest success rate of 2-3 per cent. I am still working at 73. I go back to see my specialist once a year to thank him.
Caroline Richmond
London N12

Sir, The BBC has sacrificed TV and radio production in the Midlands for some time now (“Please can we have our everyday Archers back?”, Nov 11). It is making further cuts in the staff making The Archers. It could be just a matter of time until the production of The Archers moves to Salford and BBC production leaves Birmingham altogether.
Richard Jeffs

Sir, Perhaps the solution for The Archers is to dam the Am at Lakey Hill and so create a reservoir to supply Borset and farther afield. Unfortunately, Ambridge will be submerged, but at least there will be fewer objections there to the re-routed HS2 through that part of Borsetshire. The Archers, along with the Grundys, can then start all over again in Northumberland.
Andrew Sanderson
Spennymoor, Co Durham

Sir, I dispute Sir Harold Walker’s contention (letter, Nov 13) that behaviour at the luggage carousel is indicative of the selfish gene. Being no longer in the first flush of youth (I’m in my mid-80s), I find that often a young stranger is extremely helpful in lifting my case off the conveyor belt for me.
David Morris-Marsham
London SW12

Sir, The best way of dealing with litter that I have seen (“Fast food litter on rise”, Nov 13) was a few years ago in the Dutch theme park, Efteling. Talking litter bins in the shape of a nursery rhyme character called out “Papier hier!” (litter here!) and growled “Dank u wel” when litter was thrown into their mouths. Every so often, instead of a thank you, a donation was met with a belch. Giggling children were pouncing on scraps of litter in order to feed the bins. The park was spotless.
Jane Courtier

Sir, Jenni Russell believes that the fall in the number of children put forward for adoption is “bleak news.” (Opinion, Nov 13) Rather, it should be seen as good news and evidence of better standards being required. Whereas other professionals are trained to back up their assertions with facts, social workers often put forward views supported by minimal evidence. Also, a child’s security is based in its sense of identity, which is best developed if a child is placed in the extended family. Organisations such as Grandparents Plus are pressing for a legal obligation to be placed on local authorities to do this.

Social workers cannot be accused of tardiness: a mother can be sent to court only two days after giving birth. Her human rights can be ignored because she will not necessarily have the chance to consult a solicitor. Women who have been mentally ill during pregnancy are likely to fare the worst of all. The judiciary are society’s defence against indifferent and “sloppy” social workers, some of whom seem more concerned to protect their backs than strive to do what is best for the child.
Diane Packham
Newcastle upon Tyne

Sir, Jenni Russell believes that the fall in the number of children put forward for adoption is “bleak news.” (Opinion, Nov 13) Rather, it should be seen as good news and evidence of better standards being required. Whereas other professionals are trained to back up their assertions with facts, social workers often put forward views supported by minimal evidence. Also, a child’s security is based in its sense of identity, which is best developed if a child is placed in the extended family. Organisations such as Grandparents Plus are pressing for a legal obligation to be placed on local authorities to do this.

Social workers cannot be accused of tardiness: a mother can be sent to court only two days after giving birth. Her human rights can be ignored because she will not necessarily have the chance to consult a solicitor. Women who have been mentally ill during pregnancy are likely to fare the worst of all. The judiciary are society’s defence against indifferent and “sloppy” social workers, some of whom seem more concerned to protect their backs than strive to do what is best for the child.
Diane Packham
Newcastle upon Tyne


British aid promise; Tower poppies without stems; and a Petit Prince comet

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband Photo: PA

7:00AM GMT 14 Nov 2014


SIR – Because the hapless Ed Miliband is so bad, the Tories should work to preserve him as leader of the Labour Party as a kind of morality tale – that is the suggestion Boris Johnson made earlier this week. This view is dangerously smug.

The spread-betting websites, which have been excellent predictors of elections both here and in the United States, currently predict, by a small margin, that Mr Miliband will be the next prime minister.

Michael Schewitz
London N2

SIR – Ed Miliband’s address to his apparatchiks puts me in mind of Iain Duncan Smith’s promise to the Conservative party conference when he said that “the quiet man is here to stay and he’s turning up the volume”.

Mr Duncan Smith has since transformed himself into a very successful Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. As for Ed Miliband, it may be doubted that, on the basis of his latest performance, he has any such future.

Alec Ellis

SIR – I note from his latest relaunch speech that Ed Miliband is promising to take on the “vested interests” and “powerful forces” in this country. Trade unions first, then?

Graham Jones
Tytherington, Cheshire

SIR – Ed Miliband told the BBC that he had just been auditioning to become our next prime minister; yet for over four years when he has had the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on our behalf, he has asked nothing but “have you stopped beating your wife” non-questions, from which we have learnt nothing.

If he can’t ask intelligent questions, what hope has he got of gleaning the right answers, if he should ever become prime minister, when he would have to rely on the knowledge of experts, with different political leanings, on virtually every subject?

Brian Christley
Abergele. Denbighshire

SIR – Mr Miliband says that his job is an audition for the part of prime minister. Well, thanks Ed, don’t ring us…

John Newman
Pattishall, Northamptonshire

SIR – My reluctance to vote for the Conservatives is based on David Cameron and his ministers making speeches one day contradicted by their actions the next.

In this area of Somerset, we were told by Mr Cameron that money was no object in dealing with the floods. But, as I write, the poor souls affected last year are under threat again.

Why would I vote for more of this? But then, why would I vote for Ed?

Stuart G Pullen
Monkton Heathfield, Somerset

British aid promise

SIR – Philip Hammond is misguided in his comments about the aid law passing through Parliament.

This Bill enjoys cross-party support. Enshrining Britain’s aid promise in law would deliver the 2010 manifesto pledge of all three main political parties as well as the Coalition agreement.

We should be proud that Britain has reached this international target. This law puts life-saving aid beyond politics, guaranteeing that 0.7 per cent of gross national income is spent on aid each year, linked to economic performance, until it is no longer needed. The Bill would also move the debate from “How much aid?” to “How can we use aid most effectively?”

This Bill sends a signal to developing countries that we will keep our aid promise to them. It reminds other rich countries that they too must meet their aid targets.

British aid saves lives and changes lives every day. Philip Hammond is witnessing that first-hand in Sierra Leone where Britain leads the fight against Ebola. However, humanitarian aid alone is not enough. Enshrining the target in law will enable future British governments to make smart long-term investments that address the root causes of poverty.

Ben Jackson
Chief Executive, Bond

Brendan Cox
Director of Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children UK

Chris Bain
CEO, Cafod

Jehangir Malik
UK Director, Islamic Relief

Juliet Milgate
Director of Policy and Advocacy, Sightsavers UK

Aaron Oxley
Executive Director, RESULTS UK

Amy Dodd
Coordinator, UKAN

Bert R Smit

Diane Sheard
UK Director, The ONE Campaign

Justin Byworth
CEO, WorldVision UK

Loretta Minghella
Chief Executive, Christian Aid

Margaret Batty
Director of Policy and Campaigns, WaterAid

Rose Caldwell
Executive Director of Concern Worldwide (UK)

Simon O’Connell
Executive Director Elect, Mercy Corps

Tanya Barron
CEO, Plan UK

Sale of ceramic Tower poppies without stems

Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

SIR – I wonder how many people purchasing one of the poppies from the installation at the Tower of London realised they would receive only the ceramic head.

Wendy Rainford
Brayton, West Yorkshire

SIR – I have just discovered that only the heads of the poppies will be sent to the buyers, without the stems, many of which have weathered in the rain.

I bought poppies for family members in the belief that we would receive the poppy head together with a stem and the washers so that we could reconstruct them for our own memories. I don’t care if the stems have weathered – in fact, it would add to their authenticity.

Fiona Todd
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – Following our visit to the truly breathtaking display at the Tower of London, we tried, unsuccessfully, to buy one of the ceramic poppies.

We fully understand the significance of limiting the number of poppies to 888,246 for this work of art, but we would urge the artist and organisers to continue producing and selling poppies until public demand is sated. Not doing so will lead to the inevitable profiteering that will take place via online auction sites.

Tony Hunter
Solihull, West Midlands

SIR – While my wife and I were visiting the beautiful poppy display, the woman standing next to us observed: “I wonder what will happen to them all? I suppose some will end up on eBay.”

Those who may not wish to keep their poppy on the mantelpiece for ever could indeed re-sell it, donating the proceeds to the Royal British Legion and other charities.

A single poppy could thus generate donations totalling many times its original £25 price, while giving others a chance to take part in this unique tribute.

Stephen Kemp
Tilton on the Hill, Leicestershire

State-run banks

SIR – Extra taxes, regulation and demands for much greater capitalisation are unlikely to make banks attractive to investors. It is the people and banking culture that need to be reformed.

If we fire at the wrong targets we will find that there are precious few investors prepared to put their money into banks, whether as depositors or shareholders.

We are in danger of ending up with state-run banks that direct business according to the political colour of the current government. Is this what the authorities are really aiming for?

Alexander Hopkinson-Woolley
Bembridge, Isle of Wight

SIR – As the wonders of electronic banking were ushered in through the door of the finance industry, the morals were ushered out through the window.

Time for a clear-out.

J A Whitmore

SIR – Shakespeare has Dick the Butcher, accomplice of Jack Cade, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, say: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

If Shakespeare were alive today would he write: “We’ll sort out the bankers”?

Denis Durkin
Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – The bankers involved in the foreign-exchange scandal would, perhaps, do well to heed the report of the Committee of the House of Lords on the Causes of Commercial Distress: “The best banking system may be defeated by imperfect management; and, on the other hand, the evils of an imperfect banking system may be greatly mitigated, if not overcome, by prudence, caution, and resolution.”

The date of this report? 1848. It would appear that some things never change.

David Hearn
Wallasey, Wirral

Conservative chaos

SIR – It is unfair to blame the Speaker for Monday’s chaos in the Commons.

The fault lies squarely with the Government. It controls business and decides the motions that are debated. It cannot, therefore, reasonably complain if the motions it sets down for debate are not wide enough to discuss matters it believes to be relevant.

Indeed the Speaker was generous in the latitude that he allowed to the Home Secretary. The normal Commons rule is that debate must be strictly on the subject set down on the order paper. Anything else is disorderly and members are regularly stopped by the Speaker and his deputies if they wander from the central point.

The Government was warned on Friday by the chairmen of two select committees, one a Eurosceptic the other a strong pro-European, that the procedure it intended to adopt would not cover the European Arrest Warrant. The Government chose to ignore this and similar warnings and has no right to squeal when it has been found out.

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (Con)
London SW1

Petit Prince comet

Photo: ESA/Getty

SIR – I am sure my sense of déjà-vu on seeing the photograph taken from the Philae lander of the 67P comet was shared by generations of aficionados of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella Le Petit Prince.

Christopher Prince
Stocksfield, Northumberland

SIR – Congratulations to the brilliant scientists who, after its 10-year journey, touched down the Philae lander on the 67P comet. Maybe these brilliant minds could now give thought to redesigning my small tea pot, which persists in pouring most of the contents on to the tray and just a little into my cup.

Peter Dace
Cuffley, Hertfordshire

The most versatile of British film actors

Photo: Allstar/MGM

SIR – While I greatly admire Michael Caine’s considerable talent, I cannot accept Anne Billson’s judgment (Arts, November 12) that he is “the best, most important, and most versatile film star that Britain has ever produced”.

In terms of quality and quantity, and extraordinary versatility, no British star can match the record of John Mills, who appeared in more than 120 films. He played with distinction the widest possible variety of characters, ranging from heroic figures, such as the title character in Scott of the Antarctic, to an Oscar-winning performance as the village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter.

John Cottrell
Addlestone, Surrey

One-stop supermarket

SIR – I see Sainsbury’s is considering letting out concessions in some of its larger stores to make better use of the selling space.

May I suggest it could do much worse than incorporate an Aldi in each of its stores. It would make our shopping expeditions so much easier, as we still prefer Sainsbury’s multi-seed bread, and its car parks are so much more commodious.

Paul Harrison
Terling, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – So now we see the Sinn Féin strategy (“Dáil adjourned until Tuesday after Mary Lou McDonald sit-in”, November 13th). Obliterate all embarrassing talk of cover-ups of sex crimes by creating a big diversionary noise elsewhere. Mary-Lou McDonald, by her sit-in in Leinster House, has displayed Sinn Féin’s contempt for democracy and a cynical disregard for the electorate. – Yours, etc,


Gorey, Co Wexford.

Sir, – If the Ceann Comhairle cannot stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen. If the media is going to vilify a TD that dares to challenge the status quo, then we are left with a culture of deference that benefits nobody except the establishment. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – One person took it upon herself to tear up the rules and destroy the ability to function of the forum chosen by the electorate of this democratic republic to represent and make decisions on behalf of all citizens. That is totalitarian intolerance for democratic procedures and should be stated to be such. Instead what has happened is that much of the media coverage has made that person a celebrity. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Having spent decades supporting an armed terrorist campaign that tried to shut down the Dáil, Sinn Féin has finally succeeded in doing so – for a day, at least. Ms McDonald’s behaviour this week gives a good flavour of what we can expect if Sinn Féin is ever elected to government.

Most rational observers would agree that the level of parliamentary oversight which the Dáil has over the Government remains a joke in comparison to other national parliaments. However, some parliamentary oversight is better than none. If Sinn Féin was happy to shut down the Dáil for a full day while in opposition, just a day after its own conduct, past and present, was exposed to sharp parliamentary oversight, then I doubt it would have any compunction about doing so if it were ever elected to government.

In the British House of Commons or the US Houses of Congress if a member was ordered to leave and refused to do so, they would be physically dragged out of the chamber by the sergeant-at-arms. A similar rule applies in the Dáil; however, according to media reports, the Captain of the Guard did no more than politely ask Ms McDonald to leave the chamber. Would a male member have been treated with kid-gloves in this way? Ms McDonald has been quick to use her gender to deflect criticism in the past, resisting objections to her populist grandstanding with cries of “sexism”. It seems that she was allowed to get away with her conduct this week on the basis that she would do likewise on this occasion. – Yours, etc,


Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Mary-Lou McDonald has been accused by the the Ceann Comhairle of causing “reputational damage to the institution” (ie Dáil Éireann). Is this because she actually bothered to be present in the chamber and then had the impertinence to demand an answer from a Minister to the question asked, behaviour which, of course, cannot be allowed to continue for fear it undermines Irish democracy as we know it? – Yours, etc,


Naul, Co Dublin.

Sir, – If Sinn Féin forms the next government it will only be because power was handed to it by those who abdicated it by refusing to govern properly. – Yours, etc,


Howth, Dublin 13.

Sir, – The president and vice-president of Sinn Féin both recently announced their intention to break the law on water charges, notwithstanding that the law in question has been approved democratically by the Oireachtas. Now, that party’s vice-president refuses to abide by the vote of Dáil members on her suspension from the House. For me, this calls into question the commitment of Sinn Féin to democracy. – Yours, etc,


Malahide, Co Dublin.

Sir, – It is not difficult to detect a tone of ambivalence in Government at the prospect of having the responsibility of marking the centenary of perhaps the seminal event of Irish national self-determination. It would seem that what should be an opportunity to reassert and celebrate with confidence the legitimate declaration and establishment of the sovereignty of the Irish people is in fact being played out as a dubious privilege.

It is true one cannot ignore the complexity of Ireland’s journey to nationhood nor the fact that some, even today, struggle to accept the fact or desirability of Irish independence. It is nonetheless a reality.

A European friend observed to me recently how strange it was that the Irish were so uncertain about celebrating periodically what most nations boast of constantly.

I fervently hope we shall as a people in all our rich diversity compensate for the prevailing and governing political ambivalence toward the forthcoming centenary with an enthusiastic celebration of our nationhood and leave apologies to those who will inevitably mess up the logistics. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Could someone representing the 1916 relatives please explain to the rest of us citizens why exactly they see themselves as being so important to the upcoming commemoration? There doesn’t seem to be a plan or programme of activities announced that does not have this group pontificating or complaining about it.

It goes without saying that none of these relatives were actually there during the Rising. They played no part in it, yet because of their bloodline they feel themselves entitled to lecture the rest of us mere citizens and indeed the Government on what should and should not be done. Giving a special place to citizens just because of an accident of birth is the antithesis of republicanism. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.

A chara, – The only surprise so far is that the Government is not planning to commemorate the 1916 Rising on April 1st, 2016. – Is mise,


Dublin 24.

Sir, – I note with some trepidation that the military parade on Easter Sunday 2016 will be led by relatives of those who participated in the Rising. What will be the dress code for the marchers? Military uniforms or leprechaun outfits with Google, Facebook and Twitter insignia? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – Frank McDonald concludes his article on Dun Laoghaire’s new and controversial library with, “In time, the controversy over how it came about will be forgotten” (“Why I love Dún Laoghaire Library”, Saturday, November 8th).

I’m not so sure. Dublin Corporation’s “bunkers” on Wood Quay, also referenced in Mr McDonald’s article, are far from forgotten and not just by those of us who fought with such energy to try and stop them. The Civic Office bunkers stand today as they have since completion 35 years ago, a brutal insult to the Liffey riverfront and to the city, a monument to the arrogance of Dublin Corporation and to the deliberate destruction of our Viking heritage. No hazy sentimentality can airbrush such a carbuncle from the cityscape, no matter how long they stand. I predict Dún Laoghaire Rathdown’s new library, built with the same arrogance, will earn the same opprobrium.

What is the purpose of architecture in a town like Dun Laoghaire? There are the one-off buildings, such as the new library or the council’s own offices, the idea of building as sculpture. Then there is the architecture of the vernacular, the day-to-day buildings where we live, shop and do business and which make up the fabric of the streets and squares of our towns and cities. Many such beautiful streets have somehow survived in Dún Laoghaire, made up of low-rise buildings, built to an attractive human scale and giving a great sense of enclosure and cohesion.

But Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council can only envisage one-off “spectaculars”, alone and contemptuous of their environment, while the rest of the town, particularly the main shopping streets, slip into vacancy and dereliction. Businesses are crippled with enormous county council rates so that vanity projects such as the new library might be developed. As Mr McDonald states, “no expense has been spared” and the final €37 million bill for the library, a figure which few in the town believe, and with enormous ongoing running costs, will remain a burden which ratepayers and taxpayers must bear into the distant future.

The new library may indeed be beautiful on the inside but its exterior is what the people will see every day. It is a constant and expensive reminder of when the Celtic Tiger briefly visited Dún Laoghaire. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I hear that the initial pictures of the Dún Laoghaire library building, taken from the spacecraft Philae on Comet 67P, are quite flattering. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Prostitution has occurred in all societies throughout recorded history. Some countries prohibit it, some permit it and regulate it as a business. In either event, prostitution continues. When we criminalise the transaction (by either party), it must hide from the law, so it goes underground. Neither provider nor user now has the protection of the law, and prostitutes are exposed to criminal intermediaries who can coerce them, confiscate earnings and physically abuse them. Because the business in Ireland is invisible to the law, anything goes. Women can be trafficked and enslaved, working conditions can be vile, health and hygiene precautions can be ignored. Intensifying the legal prohibition will serve only to make this worse. – Yours, etc,


Wicklow Town.

Sir, –To date the majority of people discussing the future of sex workers in Ireland do not, and have never sold sex in any way and never will, with the understandable result that most of them are mistaken about the facts of the issue.

I do not believe that there is any moral justification for the issue to proceed further without an opportunity for people who have worked in the sex industry to challenge those misconceptions autonomously and on equal terms in public debate, something with which, to date, the main protagonists have declined to engage.

If it concerned any other subculture or social group this state of affairs would be considered appalling.

Because of the stigma attached to sex work, it is hard for sex workers to feel comfortable engaging with such a process, but stigma should not cancel out human rights. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The Irish Times continues to give coverage to those who are against the “whip” in political life (“Spare the whip”, Editorial, November 7th).

As someone who once “lost the whip”, on Dublin City Council, I understand fully the need for party discipline in ensuring the smooth running of our democracy and political structures. Those who advocate otherwise are usually commentators and not practitioners.

I broke the whip, which I do not regret, and took the consequences. This took the form of serving as an Independent member of the council for 18 months. During that time I was, of course, free to take any position I wanted on any issue – and did. It was also the case that I could no longer automatically assume the support of my Labour colleagues on issues of key importance to me and my constituents. It was, in that respect, the most enjoyable, but least productive, time I have spent as an elected councillor.

The whip exists to ensure some degree of stability. It provides for stronger leadership and decision-making. It is a freely decided decision to seek a party nomination and accept the whip – after that, if you join the game you obey the rules. Conscience applies to many issues and not just the highly emotive ones. And even after losing the whip all is not lost. Ten years after doing so I became leader of the group that I was once thrown out of. I am, of course, not encouraging any of my present colleagues to follow that lead. – Yours, etc,


Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

A chara, – Judging from the letters on this topic from Raymond Deane and Dr John McLachlan (November 12th), the series on “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks” (November 8th) has already been a success after just one instalment.

Surely the point of a series such as this is to celebrate the included works and debate the merits of those absent? I, for one, will enjoy following, and discussing the series over the coming months. – Is mise,


Midlothian, Scotland.

Sir, – The debacle over “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks” and the absence of classical music is probably not the fault of the perpetrators at The Irish Times and the Royal Irish Academy.

They are guilty of what the Catholic Church calls invincible ignorance, the doctrine proposing that even those who have not heard of salvation can be redeemed by good works.

But knowledge is still preferable to ignorance, and to have to exculpate the sinners on the basis that they didn’t, and don’t, know any better is humiliating for our country, its culture – and them. – Yours, etc,


Royal Irish

Academy of Music,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Ian Lindsay (November 7th) points out that “all we need to do is have the people who write letters to The Irish Times run the country”. Declan Kelly agrees; Dermot O’Rourke does not (November 8th).

Oscar Wilde would support Mr O’Rourke: “I am afraid that writing to newspapers has a deteriorating influence on style. People get violent and abusive and lose all sense of proportion, when they enter that curious journalistic arena in which the race is always to the noisiest” (Scots Observer, August 16th, 1890).

PG Wodehouse would support Messrs Lindsey and Kelly: “I yearn to write letters to the papers. All authors do. Novelists are merely those who have failed as contributors to the Correspondence Column. Unable to make the grade, they drop down a rung on the ladder and write novels” (St Petersburg Times, May 13th, 1951). – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – If Marian Quinn (November 13th), writing from Arranmore Island in Donegal, thinks she has an inferior broadband service compared to the mainland, then I’m happy to tell her that the grass is certainly not any greener here. I live 28km outside Dublin and my broadband speed this afternoon was a princely 1.5Mb/s. Fibreoptic cable? Workable internet would suffice. – Yours, etc,



Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I notice a lot of water meter installations going on, but see that Irish Water has not yet installed any water recycling systems in these same houses? Would this not make perfect sense, and help to curb the national outcry?

Perhaps that’s it, it makes too much sense. – Yours, etc,


Saggart, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Is there any way that our elected representatives in Dail Eireann would stand back for a moment and reflect on what their representation of the citizens of this country actually entails?

Thankfully, we still live in a democracy and at every general election we get the chance to decide who will represent us.

Following elections we as genuine republicans (ie citizens who accept and abide by our Constitution and laws) wait to see what collaboration of TDs will group together to form a majority and control our Dail. Whatever our opinions, we accept that the majority of TDs shall rule. As citizens we continue to abide by our laws and contribute socially and financially to our country.

Politicians put themselves forward for election because they want to be leaders of our country. As we have learned to our cost in recent years the decisions that even a couple of them make does have a huge effect on all of us. Their responsibility to the citizens of this country should not be taken lightly.

Our Government has decided that Irish households should pay for the water that they receive from the newly-created utility, Uisce Eireann. People in Ireland do not – and should not – expect to receive treated water for free forever. Water charges should be based on actual costs, like all utilities – and not on how much the Government believe will be politically acceptable.

The Department of Social Protection is there to assist those who cannot afford all of the charge. As can be seen in the Dail and on the streets, our Government’s indecision is fuelling an anti-everything movement and creating a platform for wannabe future politicians who will be elected on an anti-everything mandate.

In recent days the behaviour of some of our TDs in the Dail can only be compared to that of playschool kids. On Wednesday one Deputy came in to tell everyone that she had a list of eight people allegedly involved in serious crimes, but she wasn’t telling the Dail who they were.

On Thursday another asked that if somebody didn’t pay for what they were supposed to would that be okay. When the question went unanswered she proceeded to sulk and caused proceedings to be suspended.

The Government representative answering Thursday’s questions was either unable or afraid to answer the simple question. I am not trying to make light of any of the Deputy’s remarks or the serious issues, but if our toddlers behaved in a similar fashion we would correct them.

People want leadership and certainty and to see our leaders “of the people, by the people and for the people” govern this great little nation.

We all understand that politics is somewhat of a game, but you can’t keep playing the politics game all of the time. Every politician will be tripping over each other to be in the front row for the upcoming 1916 centenary commemoration.

Maybe if they study the history of the time they will see the great sacrifices made for this country, but also that poor communication and indecisiveness existed in 1916. Show us some real leadership and get things done. You may be surprised by the results.

Kieran McEvoy

Cullohill, Co Laois

Donna captures nation’s mood

Donna Hartnett’s impassioned, compelling letter (Irish Independent, November 11) has really struck a chord with people and captured the immense frustrations of ordinary families facing the onslaught of wave upon wave of taxes and bills.

The Irish people have taken so many austere measures on the chin already, but introduction of water charges has simply pushed too many of us too far. It has been the catalyst that has seen more than 100,000 of us across the nation taking to the streets to protest this latest assault on our already meagre means.

We always understood that domestic water was paid for out of general taxes, but it turns out the money wasn’t invested in maintaining the network. Who’s responsible for that? Not ordinary people. Yet we’re unjustly expected to pay again.

Exactly where does Mr Kenny suggest we find the money to pay TWICE anyway? Would it be at the expense of feeding or clothing our kids? Heating our homes? Paying health insurance, home insurance or life insurance? The list goes on. It really does come down to this for many of us: What else are we prepared to sacrifice? The simple fact of it is that most of us just don’t have any more to give.

Mr Kenny says he’s listening. But yet he keeps bleating on about allowances and affordable water charges. The concessions won’t work this time. He really needs to listen and look to those who have benefited the most in successive budgets: the millionaires and big businesses availing of generous tax arrangements.

It’s time to start redressing this imbalance instead of continuing to squeeze the poor, the vulnerable and hard-working struggling families. This protest is about injustice as much as it’s about our water.

Paul Hogan

Mountmellick, Co Laois

Low antics in the lower house

In reference to Mary Lou McDonald’s velcro-style stubbornness in the Dail the other day. There was nothing to praise, it was hard to see the point of it other than a distraction.

For my own part, I didn’t vote for any candidate or party the last time.

I was born in 1976 and the truth is, at this stage, I’m bored stiff of the talking shop. The proceedings at Leinster House unfold like ‘Muppet Show’ style segments, their only purpose is to fill time in the Dail.

At the same time, the nation’s children are still being raised daily like hens in creches nationwide as we speak.

We have a leader of the house who, in my opinion, comes across as a silly shrill referee of some sort comparable to a character on Fr Ted.

As all this unfolds Sinn Fein are still pushing financial figures that they think will work, but the realists like me believe it’s Disneyland economics.

Tax the rich they say… The rich will just transfer the wealth to the wife or to a different jurisdiction.

In any event Sinn Fein have more excess baggage than any Ryanair flight could possibly manage – or fine – at this stage. Then again, the whole management system in my lovely Ireland is now more Mick the Bull instead of the steady hand that populates the halls of Westminster.

I am setting these thoughts down as a disillusioned squeezed middle-income single-earner in Waterford city.

Eamon Dunphy was probably right when he said this county is a kip… for lads my age anyways.

David O’Connor

Dunmore Road, Waterford city

It took long enough to coerce Sinn Fein into the Dail.

Now we can’t get them out.


Killian Foley-Walsh

Kilkenny city

The haves and the have-nots

Eunan McNeill asks if people who holiday abroad, spend huge amounts on alcohol and buy new cars are the same people who now say they cannot afford the water charges.

Perhaps he should ask himself if it is possible the people who cannot pay for water are in fact not the same people at all?

John Williams

Clonmel, Co Tipperary

Irish Independent

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