17 November 2014 Reading

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to do the housework and read a little

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


Ralph Herman was a versatile artiste in the sunset years of variety who performed with Jack Hylton and supported Vera Lynn

Ralph Herman, comedian and circus artiste

Ralph Herman, comedian and circus artiste

7:08PM GMT 16 Nov 2014


Ralph Herman, who has died aged 104, was an enterprising and versatile Russian émigré with a long career in the closing years of variety on stage both as a musical comedian and as a speciality act with his circus family, the Four Hermans.

Contemporary reviewers termed them “equilibrists”, explaining that Herman, his brother and two sisters “are balancers while perched on rollers and on the tops of pedestals – at the same time playing music, juggling, and changing costumes”. All the balancing and tumbling required strength, and the 5ft 10in Herman was broad-shouldered and powerfully built, capable of holding up a human pyramid.

Bills featuring the Four Hermans also tended to include the Five Ralfinis, “Russian musical eccentrics”, for the good reason that they were Herman and family doing double duty. Throughout his career, Herman used various professional names deriving from his own, including when in a double act with his wife, Joan Knight.

Among the musical instruments Herman commanded were the soprano saxophone (his personal favourite), the clarinet, concertina and tin whistle, plus a specially constructed musical waistcoat. The family legend was that, when visiting Britain in the 1930s to ascertain its suitability for the family profession, Ralph saw a map of the London Underground and eagerly cabled back: “Many circuses here – Piccadilly, Oxford, Cambridge. Come at once.”

Raphiel Herman was born on February 18 1910 in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. (He settled on “Ralph” as part of the stage name “Ralph Rockfeld” in the late 1950s.) His parents, Aaron and Olga, had fortuitously taken the circus on a tour of the Far East just prior to the events of 1917. Then, attaining British citizenship by way of India, they travelled first to Paris and later to London. Among the Four Hermans’ first British appearances was at the Adelphi, Slough, in 1936, where Leon Cortez, a Cockney comedian and supporting actor who specialised in Shakespearean send-ups, was top of the bill with his Coster Band.

Soon they were supporting the tempestuous pairing of Arthur Lucan (as Old Mother Riley) and Kitty McShane at the Blackpool Palace, and by 1937 were playing Sidney Bernstein’s Granada chain. At the Holborn Empire in that year, the Hermans were on a bill headed by George Robey, the “Prime Minister of Mirth”, camp monologuist Douglas Byng, and (in a rare venture down south) Robb Wilton. In the same year, they performed alongside Hughie Green and his Gang at the Wolverhampton Hippodrome; the future quiz show host was then a teenage impressionist.

Ralph Herman and his wife Joan Knight

They twice performed with Jack Hylton and his band in 1937, at the Empress, Brixton, and at the notorious Glasgow Empire. A 1938 date with Tommy Trinder was at the Wood Green Empire, subsequently a venue for television shows. When Hylton turned from bandleader to impresario, the Hermans appeared in his presentation of Band Waggon (Finsbury Park Empire, 1938), with the radio pairing of Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch also augmented by the future Coronation Street stalwart Betty Driver.

The Hermans also performed as a circus act. At Christmas 1938 in Birmingham, they (as the Five Ralfinis) were among the comparatively few human performers, the line-up also comprising a boxing kangaroo, “performing Himalayan bears”, sea lions, waltzing horses and “Monsieur Julian’s educated monkeys and dogs”. They supported Vera Lynn at the Glasgow Empire in 1942 .

One of the last outings for the Four Hermans was in 1951, as part of an International Festival Circus at Rhyl. A year later, at the Alhambra, Morecambe, Herman and his wife made their debut as Ralph and Joan, an act in which he would produce a succession of instruments diminishing in size, with the cry “I got another one!” Amending the billing slightly to Ralph and Joan Rockfeld, they supported the outrageous Frank Randle in one of his last shows, Let’s Be Frank (1956), at the Pavilion, Liverpool.

Going solo as Ralph Rockfeld, he advertised himself as having “four changes of programme… either lounge suit or continental clown”. From 1957 onwards he featured in summer seasons on Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, and at Pontins holiday camps. He supported Harry Corbett and puppets in Sooty’s Christmas Party (Royal, Brighton, 1961-62).

On television, he appeared in Caravan (BBC, 1960), a children’s programme presented by Jeremy Geidt, who joined Peter Cook’s Establishment Club the next year. Herman’s fellow guests included Jimmy Edwards, Cardew “The Cad” Robinson, and Trevor Little, publicised as “TV’s comedy balloonist”. Work in “Olde Tyme Music Hall” revivals at seaside venues continued throughout the 1970s, and “Ralph Rockfeld and his musical extravaganza” had television spots on Morecambe and Wise and The Black and White Minstrel Show. A late stage turn was in Golden Years of Music Hall (Richmond, 1981) as one of a roster of veterans headed by the singer Adelaide Hall.

Ralph Herman’s wife survives him with their two daughters and one son.

Ralph Herman, born February 18 1910, died October 8 2014


British Labour Leader Miliband speech Party politics have become too presidential, say some, as controversy continues over Ed Miliband’s leadership of Labour. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

British politics has become too presidential with far too much emphasis on individual  party leaders instead of policy (“Miliband in new crisis as senior MPs back leadership change”, News)).

Labour’s problems stem from urging their leader to stick to the centre ground for fear of frightening floating voters with too much radicalism at a time when the centre has been so imploded by austerity that the old two-party game is over.

The Scottish referendum is just the start of irreversible progress towards a new federal constitution  that the Tories cannot stem, either with their undemocratic call for English votes on English issues, when there are no such issues that will not affect Scotland and Wales; or with one elected mayor for Manchester with a budget well below the level of funding cut by devolving austerity to local councils in England and Wales in a classic divide-and-rule manoeuvre.

The real Tory agenda is not deficit reduction, otherwise they would not have wasted billions on needless NHS reorganisation and on their botched welfare “reforms”.

The only way to prevent this is for Labour to make common cause with Liberal Democrats, who have always been consistent on the need for constitutional and electoral reform; they must make clear they will have no truck with a Tory party that has lurched so far to the right

Margaret Phelps


Vale of Glamorgan

Daniel Boffey was probably right when he wrote: “The headlines (relating to the Labour leadership) are distracting from significant problems currently facing David Cameron.”

They certainly seem to have distracted him and his colleagues on Sunday’s paper from writing  about Mr Osborne’s dissimulation with regards to the UK’s payments to  the EU. In the Observer this important issue was conspicuous by its absence.

However, this edition of the paper did devote the title page and four other pages to a leadership struggle in the Labour party in which the principal heir has specifically refused to stand now or ever.

All of this was inspired by some gutless wonders so confident in their stance that they were afraid to express their views openly.

Paul Hewitson


I turn the page from Ed Miliband and the Labour party’s squabbling and read that carers for vulnerable disabled people have – after 90 days of strikes with support from the Unite union – done a deal with the privatised Care UK that will see their wages “edging towards the living wage” (“After 90 days of strikes, Care UK workers celebrate new pay deal”, News). And Labour’s shadow ministers are muttering about Miliband instead of fighting about issues they can win an election on? Now that makes me despair.

David Reed

London NW3

Labour’s lack of credibility is far more serious than its leadership.

Thanks to our crazy electoral system, rather than fighting the Rochester and Strood byelection to win the seat with a higher turnout and divided rightwing vote at the next general election, Labour have decided to fight on as narrow a front as possible.

Locally in Chipping Barnet, having in May won 11 out of 21 council seats, we have not seen a single leaflet introducing their prospective parliamentary candidate and so we have no reason to consider voting tactically .

Such campaigning would give their supporters hope and stretch Tory resources.  Without this, Labour will fail to make many gains and not just in Scotland risk being outflanked.

David Nowell   

New Barnet, Hert



Sir, The welfare and upbringing of children is the first duty of parents and they should know these responsibilities well enough to be able to judge when children are sensible enough to be left alone or in the charge of younger siblings; if there is any doubt then children should not be left. Anything less is in breach of parents’ moral responsibilities (report and leading article, Nov 15).

To ask government ministers to take on those responsibilities, and so give parents the opportunity for others to take the blame when things go wrong, shows a grave lack of any sense of duty and care.

The welfare of children starts at home, from where most of their guidance should emanate. These ethics of parenthood were learnt by example, among the poorest of people during the 1930s; without a welfare system they coped alone and showed their children that they were cherished. Most of the parents in our community put their own needs and wants second to our welfare. Both my parents were in work for most of the time, and we children assumed responsibility in home-alone situations (coal fires and all) when they judged that we were able — but certainly not before.

I am a great-grandmother, and care deeply about family life and my mother-country, but I am in despair for the welfare and upbringing of many children and for the future of Britain. It is appalling that parents feel the need of such a law. What culture has raised them to believe that they come before the welfare of their children?

Eileen Johnson
Cheadle, Staffs

Sir, “Parents seek clarity over when to leave a child”. Who are those parents? Surely it all depends on the situation, the maturity of the child, how well the parents trust a child, and the reason for leaving a child on their own, etc. If a parent cannot judge this, there is something wrong. A law cannot provide the answer. Or is this simply so parents can hold the authorities responsible rather than themselves, if anything goes wrong?

Yvonne Graham

Sir, Many years ago, when living on the edge of a large town, my 6-year-old son was in bed while my 7-year-old daughter was walking home in the dark from Brownies. I then received a message that the person coming with her had left her. Previously my older son had been hit by a group of boys when walking past them in daylight. What would you have done that night? Parents are responsible for their children and must make difficult decisions.

Joanna Young
Cirencester, Glos

Sir, As soon as the law tries to specify the age at which children may be left alone there will be cases in which no harm at all has occurred but where the law has been broken and responsible parents persecuted. Why should this area of parental judgment be superseded by statute when there are so many judgments required of parents? Should we not consider legislating to protect more crucial aspects of children’s lives, such as the advertising directed at them and the liberty of those who have behaved manipulatively towards them?

Peter Inson
East Mersea, Essex

Sir, I left my elder son at home alone for the first time at the age of 11. The 15-minute absence to collect a prescription was preceded by an equal amount of time warning him what not to touch and explaining what to do in case of any emergency, however improbable. I concluded by asking if he had any questions. “Yes,” he replied, earnestly. “Where do we keep the matches?”

Sandra Clarke
Dartford, Kent

Sir. Once again we are told that the Somerset Levels are close to flooding (Nov 14). Locally it is even reported that a levy may be imposed on every inhabitant in the Somerset area to cover dredging costs and road repairs, etc. I think the government should purchase, at market value, the small number of properties at risk and demolish them (even if listed), so that no one can inhabit them. The cost would be considerably less than the current policy of hurling millions of pounds at the flooded areas.

Surely, nature will eventually win.

Anne Hague


Sir, David McCandless is wrong (“Collie is top, but don’t tell the bulldog”, Nov 15). The border collie is a wonderful dog, but one that it is cruel to keep as a pet unless you are prepared to give it hours of work or walking a day. The Irish wolfhound will happily get by on little exercise given the proximity of a warm fire, and will give much love and affection during its (usually) shorter life.

The glory of the dog is that there is a breed to match almost every personality, environment and situation. But every breed — and every dog — has its own needs. If Mr McCandless thinks the border terrier an overlooked treasure, he should take a walk around my village, where they are almost as ubiquitous as cockers.

David Laven

Ruddington, Notts


The impact of EU migration; Imperial War Museum cuts; changing Songs of Praise; and James Bond’s appetite for eggs

Wildcat strikes

Protesters at the Lindsey oil refinery in North Lincolnshire in 2009 Photo: PA

7:00AM GMT 16 Nov 2014


SIR – Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP, eloquently describes the downsides to cheap immigrant labour.

At present, we have a shortage of particular skills in Britain. Only by improving the skill-set of British workers can we hope to provide the sort of expertise for which we too often rely on migrant workers.

This would decrease the likelihood of companies undercutting each other on price and lead to fewer British people emigrating for jobs, as well as far less social disruption and cost caused by uncontrolled influxes of migrants from Europe.

John Hannaford
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – We hear a great deal about certain benefits and costs relating to immigration, but we rarely address the additional costs resulting from the increase in population that immigration brings.

Presumably those EU member states that lose significant numbers of people to migration will, at some stage, benefit from a reduction in social benefit costs. As we appear to have a particular problem with excess immigration, would it not be reasonable for EU members who benefit from this imbalance to compensate Britain?

Peter Harvey

SIR – Population is the most critical aspect in the debate on immigration. Many would argue that Britain, as one of the most densely populated countries in the world, already has too many people.

Do those who oppose stricter immigration control believe that there is no upper limit to the population of this country?

William Deller
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – Claire Duffin is right to note that migrants in Calais would rather perish than return to a country of origin where they have no future.

I have just returned from Pas de Calais, where I met destitute migrants living in absolutely appalling conditions, which will worsen considerably with the onset of winter. They all lack essentials like safe drinking water, adequate nutritious food, sanitation and proper shelter. Many suffer ill-health from the physical and psychological effects of their situation. They are tired, hungry and desperate.

In fields near Saint-Omer I met several Syrian boys huddled together in a rain-sodden, muddy ditch under tarpaulins; one was just 10 years old and riddled with scabies. With little more than summer jackets and sandals to fend off bad weather, these children are at very real risk.

Our volunteer doctors and nurses are doing what they can to meet essential health needs.

In any other setting the international community would assure these vulnerable people the elementary assistance that should be afforded them according to globally agreed humanitarian standards.

Migrants in Calais are the responsibility of every government in Europe.

This inexcusable humanitarian crisis on our doorstop demands action.

Leigh Daynes
Executive Director, Doctors of the World UK
London E14

SIR – Immigration from the EU is not the main problem; illegal immigration and the ongoing chaotic asylum system is.

Our representatives in Parliament must resolve these issues now. Failure to do so will destabilise our homeland.

Hugh Jones

SIR – As a country with a reputation for welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers, we should be more positive about the situation in Calais.

We could send an immigration officer to the shelter to advise these unfortunate people on their rights, and an English teacher to help with the future integration of those considered eligible for entry to Britain. This would be an intelligent, humanitarian approach.

Wayne K Thomas
Treorchy, Glamorgan

How do you like your eggs in the morning, Mr Bond?

Roger Moore as secret agent 007 alongside Kristina Wayborn in Octopussy, 1983 . Photo: Alamy

SIR – Andrew M Brown refers to James Bond’s love of eggs.

Bond was always very careful to do as the locals did for breakfast, and eggs, being pretty ubiquitous, would frequently be a part of that.

However, if he were in the tropics, for example, his meal would revolve round exotic fruit. If he were in Turkey, the main component would be yoghurt.

John Lawrence
London NW2

SIR – Andrew M Brown quite rightly eulogises the breakfast egg. As a boy travelling to Singapore in 1957 aboard the SS Eumaeus, a Blue Funnel Line cargo-passenger ship, I was amazed at my first sight of the breakfast menu showing, among many other culinary delights, “eggs: fried, turned, scrambled, boiled or poached, omelettes plain and savoury”.

Over the course of the four-week journey I managed to work my way through the entire breakfast menu and its offerings of perfectly cooked eggs, several times over.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

EAW fails to protect British citizens’ rights

SIR – The Home Secretary, Theresa May, fails to address the key point of objection to the European Arrest Warrant, which is that it denies to a British citizen the fundamental right to have a case brought before a British judge applying British principles of justice.

Mrs May’s article does, however, demonstrate how easily this right could be protected, without affecting the vast majority of cases in which the EAW is used. She tells us that only 4.3 per cent of the subjects extradited from Britain in the past five years were British. This 4.3 per cent should have this basic protection before being subjected to the rigours of a continental court applying the standards and procedures of continental systems.

Bertie Maddocks
Aughton, Lancashire

A different vice

SIR – If Mr McMillan wishes for a tougher and more rational approach to addiction, drug abuse and its social consequences, he might ask why governments are unwilling to tackle the problem of alcohol.

When I was younger there were licensing hours and alcohol was not sold in supermarkets. My university boasted few on-site bars and we students (who couldn’t usually afford alcohol anyway) sat around drinking coffee and discussing the human condition.

Alcohol is no more virtuous a way of taking away the pain of living, or of getting high, than cannabis.

Doraine Potts
Woodmancote, Gloucestershire

United songs of praise

SIR – I am delighted that Songs of Praise is going to embrace a “broader church”.

I am a Non-conformist but I have on occasion worshipped in a Roman Catholic church as part of a local “churches together” initiative. Long may such co-operation continue.

Dr Peter S Richards
Wallasey, Merseyside

SIR – I was intrigued to read about the plans that the BBC’s head of religion, Aaqil Ahmed, has to boost Songs of Praise’s “dwindling” following.

Unfortunately, the rot set in many years ago when it became the only vaguely religious programme on BBC 1; when it was gradually whittled down from 45 minutes in length to 32; when it was robbed of a regular slot and its mid-week repeat; and when 50 per cent of its diminished content was given over to formulaic interviews.

Godfrey H Holmes
Withernsea, East Yorkshire

Proud Canadians

SIR – Canada is a reserved, proud nation. We serve the world whenever we are needed. This is not always recognised, but that is not why we serve.

We recently were greatly shaken as a nation by the attacks on two of our soldiers on home soil. The effect of these attacks was clear in the huge increase in attendance at our remembrance services this week and the sale of over 19 million poppies, which we wore with pride to honour our veterans.

We have been shaken but we are resolved to protect the rights and freedoms won for us over the years.

Anne Bell
Victoria, British Columbia

Decoding the war

SIR – The story of Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park is very interesting, but it is only part of the story.

The origins of decoding can be found in the First World War, when wireless was in its infancy. Mata Hari, the Belgian courtesan and dancer, was caught by a wireless operator passing vital information to the Germans. She was tried and shot. Winston Churchill heard about the incident and encouraged the Armed Forces to set up wireless intercepting units.

My father was a railway telegraphist and a 1914 volunteer to the Army. The First World War ended and he came home safely. In 1938 he responded to the government’s appeal for civilian wireless enthusiasts. He was interviewed, signed the Official Secrets Act, and was accepted, becoming one of 1,600 top-secret civilian “Y” outworkers around the British Isles. Bletchley Park became top secret station “X”.

As a family we knew nothing of this. I remember hearing the Morse code sounds, wireless whistles and shushings coming from under the stairs and thinking it was Dad’s hobby.

M I Osbourne
Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire

Sing it out

SIR – Aled Jones finds it “amazing” that in the Birmingham Symphony Hall the acoustics are so good that someone can be heard from the stage without the aid of a microphone (Guestlist, Seven, November 9).

Does he not know that properly trained singers don’t need a microphone, except perhaps in vast arenas?

Never judge a singer until you have heard him or her unamplified.

Alan Gallagher
Wallsend, Tyne and Wear

Don’t undervalue an arts education

SIR – Nicky Morgan suggests that those who study the humanities and arts will be disadvantaged for life.

If this point of view gains ground, schools and universities will reduce funding and resources for arts subjects and, within a short time, generations of expertise will be dissipated.

The Chinese government has identified art and design as an important focal point for the economy and education. Chinese families are now investing significant sums of money to send their artistically gifted children to British schools to study art and design subjects.

Lynne Taylor-Gooby
Principal, The Royal School
Haslemere, Surrey

War Museum cuts

SIR – Mike Clancy writes about the proposed cuts to services across the Imperial War Museum sites.

I am particularly concerned about plans to cut the formal learning department at IWM Duxford. This is the educational service that brought in 50,000 schoolchildren last year from all over the East of England, and beyond.

Thousands of children every week benefit from sessions with Duxford’s highly knowledgable, experienced and charismatic staff. These are the people who do what they do for the love of it, certainly not for any financial glory.

My grandchildren very much enjoyed learning at IWM Duxford. Those behind these changes to think again; losing this exceptional service would be a great loss to the nation.

Anne Collins
Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Stiff collars

Photos: ITV; REX; BBC

SIR – Your article about the revival of starched collars and their renewed popularity reminded me of my days as a junior banker in the Sixties and Seventies, when I would wear a starched collar every day.

The company that supplied the collars provided a cardboard box with a slip-in reversible address label. Each week I would send off my used collars and receive back the laundered ones within a few days. The service was excellent and always reliable.

John C Humphrey
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Getting twitchy

SIR – As a keen birdwatcher I was dismayed to see a picture spread of six British birds just above the headline “Labour ‘must apologise for migration’” (report, November 2).

Anthony Kaye

Irish Times:

Sir, – In recent years there has been a notable effort to encourage students to enrol in IT courses. John Cradden (“IT conversion courses: not all employers are converts”, November 11th) observes that many graduates of such courses are unlikely to find good jobs without additional experience and effort.

Clearly there is a gap between what employers are looking for and what the colleges are delivering. As someone who regularly interviews and make hiring decisions in the IT sector, I concur. The very large number of people who have “fallen” into successful IT careers having started out in finance, marketing, design, etc, is evidence that third-level qualifications are not essential.

IT courses tend to be diverse, touching relatively lightly on a broad range of topics, while most IT companies are specialists in particular technologies and business domains. Even IT courses that focus on particular industry sectors still tend to hedge their bets. While some larger companies may have the resources to turn generalists into specialists, most operate on lean margins and need new starters to hit the ground running. Much IT work is “service” based, in which IT companies provide technical expertise to other companies, and new starters who don’t know the ropes are very exposed in these circumstances. Someone who knows a particular product or area very well is much more valuable than one with a broad general knowledge. Early specialisation is vital in IT career development, and students should try to achieve professional certifications in specific technologies before finishing their academic courses.

Project work and placements are also key in developing a raw graduate into someone approaching a professional. The best graduates I have interviewed are those who have been involved in delivering a real project for a real customer, in many cases small projects for local charities, businesses or sporting organisations with which they have an association. Experience of the process of engaging with a customer, assessing requirements, and planning a solution that suits the available budget, skills and resources is just as important as being able to implement the technical solution. Colleges should develop partnerships with local organisations to allow students experience of delivering real projects. This could also give a boost to organisations that could not otherwise afford to develop IT systems. Ryanair’s first website was developed by students.

There has been much discussion in recent years of the need for higher-level maths in IT. Leaving Cert maths is a good “canary” subject, providing evidence that students have the ability to understand complex abstract principles and the dedication required to crack difficult problems. However, while most programming work requires excellent logical skills, outside of certain niches areas it requires very little maths. A lot of time can be wasted at third level in developing advanced mathematical skills that typically remain unused in the real world.

The emphasis on “hard IT” (maths and technical expertise) puts a lot of people off, supposedly women in particular. In fact, there are a very large number of people working in IT who will likely never write a line of code, instead using “soft” skills such as project planning and management. Pre-project engagements to elicit and document requirements, and to negotiate project scope and commercial details, are also very important, as are the skills to market and present. Courses that develop a mix of light technical, project management, business analysis and commercial sales and management skills, with involvement in real projects along the way, would attract a different type of candidate into the industry to fill these “soft IT” roles. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

A chara, – Ian Talbot of Chambers Ireland refers (November 1st) to the “promise of a new era of growth and prosperity for the citizens of the EU and the US” and the “potential increase in GDP in Ireland” as a result of the negotiations on the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The two words “promise” and “potential” are pertinent. I recall that it was the “promise” of jobs and investment that eventually convinced the Irish people to sign up for the Lisbon Treaty, arguably against their instincts and better judgement. We are still waiting for those jobs. However, on the same date that Mr Talbot’s letter was published in your paper, Ireland was feeling the effects of that decision as our voting weight in the EU was reduced as a result of our acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty, the same treaty in which we have also lost our right of veto in significant areas such as international trade.

I do agree with Mr Talbot’s assertion that TTIP does provide “potential” benefit for Ireland. A trade negotiation on this level, of course, has the potential to benefit both the EU and the US. The reality is, however, that there are also many potential drawbacks for areas such as agriculture, environment, workers’ rights and employment, which have been largely ignored by our Government and not explored in any great detail.

One of the most worrying aspects of the negotiations to date has been the secrecy in which they have been shrouded. The public only became aware of the mandate for the negotiations as a result of a leaked document. Indeed, the reference Mr Talbot made to the potential increase in GDP for Ireland is contained in a report commissioned by the Government on the economic assessment of TTIP on Ireland which, to date, has not been made public, although it appears that selective findings have been publicised. The reality is that we simply do not know what the consequences of this agreement will be.

What we do know, and has been generally accepted by all commentators on these talks, including the European Commission, is that TTIP will result in the “prolonged and substantial dislocation of EU workers”, with some suggestions of up to a million across the EU. What we also know is that, as it currently stands TTIP will result in the establishment of an external Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which operates external to the courts system and rule of law and gives investors the right to take legal action against member states for loss of revenue. This is the same mechanism by which tobacco giants are currently suing Australia over public health measures against smoking.

I agree with Mr Talbot that there does need to be a public debate on TTIP and what it means for Ireland, a debate in which all of our citizens participate fully with all of the relevant information, lest we are to sleepwalk, heads full of “promises” and “potential”, into an agreement which is not in our best interests and will have long-lasting consequences. – Is mise,


Carraig Mhachaire Rois,

Co Mhuineachain.

A chara, – I am part of a new generation of secondary teachers. We simply get passed from one school to another, with no chance of a permanent position. I have taught in 11 different schools in eight years. We are simply fillers and stopgaps for career breaks and maternity leaves. There is no chance of progression.

It does cause concern when I read that a high number of retired teachers are still teaching in secondary schools this year. This leaves newly qualified teachers with no opportunity to teach and develop their careers.

While I am forced to pay a fee to the Teaching Council of Ireland each year, they do nothing to look into this farce, hence the widespread view that the only thing they do for teachers is ask for their fee. The current system must be altered and a proper chance given to a new generation. – Is mise,


Mount Merrion,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole believes we are becoming an ungovernable people (“Why the Irish political system can no longer guarantee stability”, Opinion & Analysis, November 11th).

I would suggest that we are simply repeating history. In the Clare Journal of 1838, there is an account of an attempt to implement the provisions of the recently passed Lighting and Cleansing Act in the town of Ennis.

This was supported by the clergy and the shopkeepers who saw it as a logical and advantageous move, and who were prepared to pay the extra tax required. It was vehemently opposed however by some who, in the words of the editor, “appealed to the prejudices and passions of the people, with unfounded statements”, and the proposal was defeated. Subsequent editions of the paper carried passionate letters on both sides of the argument until, finally, the editor called for “peace”. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Dr Maitiu Ó Faolain (November 13th) misses some of my point about same-sex marriage being “biologically impossible” when he overlooks that a consummated heterosexual marriage relationship has an inescapable and definitively constitutive biological dimension – considered as the science of life. Of course this dimension also applies to some other heterosexual relationships. And I freely accept that marriage considered as a cultural institution would properly be outside the scope of medical training. – Yours, etc,



Co Wexford.

Sir, – Recent correspondence on the issue of same-sex marriage has frequently focused on semantics, principally the meaning of the word “marriage”. Yet no-one so far has questioned what is meant by “sex” or indeed a “same-sex” couple. Although seemingly self-evident, this question merits some reflection.

Anatomical sex is technically a continuum, a truth quite evident, when considering that 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of children born in Ireland display some degree of visible sexual ambiguity. Intersex is the term used to describe people whose chromosomes or genitals do not allow them be distinctly identified as male or female.

Where thus should we draw the line between male and female? What constitutes a heterosexual couple? Under our current legislation, should someone with XXY chromosomes be allowed marry someone with XX chromosomes? Should someone born with XY chromosomes and Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, a condition resulting in a fully female external body, be prevented marrying a “normal” XY individual with male genitalia?

Nature doesn’t draw a line between male and female. We draw that line on nature. Introducing marriage equality for couples of every shade of sex and gender makes not only moral but also biological sense. – Yours, etc,




Co Kildare.

Sir, – One aspect of the reduction of funding for arts and culture as a result of the recession that has not received much notice is RTÉ’s cutting of its budget for drama.

Thomas Dennigan (November 13th) described Love/Hate as a replacement for The Riordans, Bracken and Glenroe. It is of course the excellent Fair City that replaced those shows. Written by Irish writers and acted by Irish actors, each of the four episodes per week of Fair City are viewed by five or six times as many Irish people as buy tickets for the Abbey Theatre in an entire year. Love/Hate is more of a successor to On Home Ground, Pure Mule, Proof, Single Handed, The Clinic, Raw – to name just a few – short series which return over a number of years. Brilliantly written and garnering more than one million viewers for many of its episodes, Love/Hate is a credit to all involved, and caught the imagination of Irish people to an extraordinary extent as well as generating considerable advertising income for RTÉ.

In endeavouring to address its serious financial problems, RTÉ seems to have abandoned its policy on drama and has cut back on its spending in this area more than on any other aspect of its programming. Between 2008 and 2102, according to its annual reports, RTÉ’s spending on indigenous programming fell by 28 per cent, but its spending on drama fell by nearly 50 per cent.

This is short-sighted and has a negative impact on the creative infrastructure necessary for great Irish television drama in the future.

Broadcasting is a more important part of our arts and culture infrastructure than we tend to acknowledge but, despite the success of Love/Hate, original Irish television drama is not well served by RTÉ’s current funding policies. – Yours, etc,


Writers Guild of Ireland,

Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Sir, – As a Catalan living in Ireland for many years, I would like to congratulate your newspaper for the excellent reporting of the present situation in Catalonia.

I was born and grew up in Barcelona during the time of Gen Franco’s dictatorship, a fact that undoubtedly has influenced my view of many things. At that time anything Catalan (except such things as the old traditional dress and a few folksongs) was viewed with suspicion and therefore had to be suppressed. Fortunately we have moved on, but it frightens and saddens me to see today’s Spanish government using some of the same methods that were used then, eg the constant use of threats and prohibitions instead of dialogue and compromise, the refusal to listen, the suspicion and the authoritarian attitude.

Has intransigence, whether in the political or private area, ever yielded any positive outcome? –Yours, etc,


Ballinteer, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Niall Gillespie’s assertion that Catalonia is a “colony” of Spain is ludicrous. Perhaps he is ignorant of what a colony actually is?

Catalans have full rights within Spain and a free vote in electing members to the national parliament. Catalonia is an autonomous community with more self-governance than probably any other region in Europe, with the exception of the Basque Country. Obviously I am referring to the Spanish Basque region since the French Basque region has no autonomy worth mentioning. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 01:02

First published: Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 01:02

A chara, – In welcoming the Lexicon, Dún Laoghaire’s new library, I look forward to the day when it is fully appreciated and cherished by all locals and visitors to the town. For over 100 years, we have learned to love and use our Carnegie library buildings, bequeathed to the State by the Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Recently the Carnegie Blackrock building was refurbished, winning an international award for the excellence of the finished project.

Unlike Fergal McLoughlin (November 14th) I welcome the contemporary nature of the Lexicon. I look forward to it receiving prizes too, as a world-class building, housing a library, cultural venue and auditorium to be used, visited and loved by all us citizens. – Is mise,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I would like to echo the words of gratitude of the mayor of Concepcion Milliard Villanueva (November 10th) offered to the Irish people for their generous response to Typhoon Haiyan. This terrible natural disaster once again demonstrated the tremendous capacity of Irish people to empathise with children in times of crisis. Irish people were again amongst the most generous per capita donors in the world.

In the days after the typhoon, I flew to Tacloban City to oversee Unicef’s emergency response. It is hard to convey the scenes of devastation I witnessed. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed up to 90 per cent of the hospitals, schools and homes in its path. My most abiding memory is the stench of death in the air. The tragic consequences of this violent natural disaster will haunt me for a lifetime.

In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, Unicef initiated its highest level of emergency response, mobilising our global resources and personnel to the region. Thanks to the generosity of our loyal supporters around the country, we raised €1.2 million to meet the immediate, life-saving needs of children. In the past year, 1.3 million children have been vaccinated, 1.3 million people have access to safe drinking water and almost 625,000 children received education materials.

Without the generosity of our Irish supporters, this work would not be possible. – Yours, etc,


Executive Director,

Unicef Ireland,

33 Lower Ormond Quay,

Dublin 1.

Irish Independent:

People are angry and anger is an ugly emotion which must be handled with great care; it can be constructive or destructive depending on how it is channelled. The treatment of Joan Burton by the mob was an example of how anger can become a shameful, disgraceful thing.

Ms Burton is a senior player in a democratically elected government. Will you dangerous fools who rage against the wind and shake your fists against the sky think for a moment about where you have come from? It may no longer be PC to mention the fact, but people fought and died so that we could choose our own government. The first members of the Dail carried guns inside their trench coats for protection, such were the levels of fear and intimidation.

Surely to God we have moved on, we are justly proud of the legacy of our unarmed gardai. If you want to protest you do so with right on your side. If you violate the rights of another individual then you are not a democratic protester. Compare the decency and dignity of Donna Hartnett, who articulated the pain and despair she was enduring, with the antics of those who trapped the Tanaiste in her car. Ms Hartnett did not threaten anyone, though she has been stretched to breaking point. She picked up a pen, not a rock, and put her thoughts into the public domain and what might have been a drop in the ocean became a wave.

Last week, Mary Lou McDonald stamped her foot in the Dail and flouted democracy for hours in a fit of petulance. Was this protest about water charges, or was it a distraction from the skeletons Sinn Fein still has in its closet?

When you enter politics you sign on to play by the rules. Peaceful, legitimate protest is an absolute right but taking away the liberty of another is an insult to democracy and a slur on the struggle of all those who sacrificed themselves in the name of freedom.

T G O’Brien

Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin


TDs’ expenses claims

Your article on TDs’ expenses (Irish Independent, November 15) states: “The system was remodelled in 2010 in an effort to safeguard against potential abuses and make it more transparent.”

Yes, the system was remodelled in 2010 – by our politicians and not by an independent body – and became worse than before. The pre-2010 system had its faults but at least all expenses were subject to the FOI Acts and expenses were claimed in arrears after being actually incurred.

The new system excluded the Public Representation Allowance (PRA) from the FOI Acts and only 10pc of members are subject to the audit of these expenses. It is relevant to note that Ivor Callely was caught defrauding the system following a FOI request made by the media under the pre-2010 system.

Under the other strand of the 2010 system, the Travel and Accommodation Allowance (TAA), politicians are paid a monthly round figure allowance based on where they live, and at the end of the year self-certify that they spent their travel money on travel.

Fortunately, these forms are available under FOI. Now, in any normal organisation, accounting staff receiving such forms would at a minimum scrutinise them for obvious discrepancies. However, our politicians’ self-certifying forms are clearly just filed.

All other workers pay their own travel costs. If an employer subsidises travel costs there are tax implications. Not so with our politicians, but then, they make the rules.

Enid O’Dowd FCA

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

You opened your editorial on Saturday saying politicians must wonder why their standing with the public is so low. I doubt that very much. When they see another negative portrayal of the cost of politics in your newspaper, they need hardly wonder at all.

Clearly, it’s a waste of time asking that the pay and allowances to politicians for doing the important but unpopular job they are elected to do be presented fairly in the media. When one sees a trumped-up headline like ‘TDs expenses average €147,000’, one should know the standard of journalism one is dealing with.

For instance, despite repeatedly explaining to journalists that TDs get an annual (not monthly) allowance for travel and accommodation costs, some cannot resist the lazy temptation to suggest that it is a monthly allowance, so that they can then suggest that TDs get expenses for the month of August when the Dail doesn’t sit.

They don’t. They get an annual payment based on annual attendance but sure, why bother explaining it again? The fact that TDs have incurred multiple pay cuts, including all public sector pay cuts, as well as a cut in allowances, was naturally also omitted from your spread last Saturday. But of course it was.

As I had stated to your reporter, grossing-up nearly four years’ costs and allowances and creating the perennial simplistic league table of allowances is easy, dramatic and might even sell a few extra papers on the back of stoking some more outrage, but it isn’t really informative and doesn’t represent real analysis. Nor does it capture the real story of TDs commuting long distances or the genuine demand that exists from the electorate for constituency work, especially in rural Ireland.

Of course, this letter is relatively pointless, the damage is done and your readership will continue to be misinformed on a subject that actually does deserve expert and informed analysis and debate.

Mark Mulqueen

Head of Communications

Houses of the Oireachtas

Leinster House

Dublin 2


NCT backlogs unfair on drivers

I understand that from December, three penalty points will be imposed upon a driver of a car which has not passed the required NCT. In some areas one may have to wait two months or more booking a test, therefore it seems very unfair that a driver could be penalised for what is a failure to provide reasonable facilities for timely testing.

No doubt, insurance companies will be pleased to increase the premium, even though the car might be entirely roadworthy. May I suggest that it should be a defence for the driver to produce evidence that he or she has booked a test?

Anthony W Scott

Tramore, Co Waterford


One-sided man of the match

At the end of last Saturday’s rugby international between Scotland and New Zealand, the winner of the ‘man of the match’ award was announced on BBC and appropriately went to a player on the winning All Blacks side.

The previous night, at the conclusion of the Scotland v Republic of Ireland Euro 2016 qualifier, a member of the Irish side which performed so moderately was named for a similar accolade.

But surely the ‘man of the match’ award should go to the best player in the game?

Please explain yourselves, RTE!

Eric Rice

Trim Road, Navan, Co Meath

Irish Independent


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