Sharland

18 November 2014 Sharland

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 Sharland comes to call,

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

Obituary:

Jack Chalker – obituary

Jack Chalker was an artist whose sketches and watercolours recorded life as a prisoner of war on the ‘Death Railway’

Jack Chalker

Jack Chalker Photo: JAY WILLIAMS

6:19PM GMT 17 Nov 2014

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Jack Chalker, who has died aged 96, was a British artist who drew and painted the atrocities he witnessed as a prisoner of war on the Burma-Siam Railway, also known as the “Death Railway”.

Made famous by Pierre Boulle’s book (and David Lean’s film) The Bridge on the River Kwai, the railway is now a byword for war crimes. More than 12,000 Allied prisoners perished during its construction, along with at least 90,000 Asian labourers. “The sad thing is that here is a race, the Japanese, with an enormous sense of beauty,” said Chalker, “and yet suddenly there was this.”

The construction of a 258-mile railway line between Bangkok in Thailand to Rangoon in Burma during 1943 was intended to provide a supply route for Japanese forces in Burma. Chalker, a bombardier who had been captured at Singapore, worked on a stretch of the line at Kanchanaburi Province in the west of Thailand. His sketches and watercolours, along with the works of his fellow PoW artists, Philip Meninsky, Ashley George Old and Ronald Searle, now form a valuable record of the brutality experienced by the men who were made to work for the Japanese forces, sometimes for up to 16 hours a day.

In later life Chalker described the conditions on the railway as “singularly horrific”. Torture, malnutrition, illness and execution were daily perils. “If you weren’t working hard enough they would make you stand and hold a stone above your head,” recalled Chalker. “You picked it up, which was better than collapsing because then they kicked you all over the place.”

That image – of a sick, beleaguered man holding a boulder aloft – is one of many that he captured on paper. Chalker managed to produce an exceptional body of work, numbering over 100 drawings, sketches and paintings, detailing the hellish circumstances of his captivity between 1942 and 1945.

On his capture, Chalker hid a few watercolour paints and pencils in a secret compartment in his haversack. For canvases, he stole paper from his captors and used the pre-printed postcards that prisoners were given to send home. His works provide a gallery of horrors: emaciated prisoners at the dysentery latrines; cholera tents; a man having his hands hammered for stealing food; a spoon used as a surgical device to extract maggots from a wound. In one, the celebrated Australian surgeon Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop carries out an amputation. In addition to Chalker’s unflinching images he kept microscopic diary notes.

He stashed the drawings and paintings in hut roofs and bamboo polls, which he then buried, and even in the artificial limb of a prisoner. Only once did he get caught.

Two working men, Konyu River camp by Jack Chalker (REX FEATURES)

“A guard found me hiding some stuff and I got beaten up,” Chalker recalled years later. “The guard tore one drawing up in front of me, but when I came back later I found the pieces under a rice sack. All the others had been destroyed, but this one had survived. It is a symbol of the whole thing.”

Jack Bridger Chalker was born on October 10 1918 in London. His father, Alfred, was a stationmaster who had been appointed MBE for dispersing troops during the First World War. Jack won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art but found his studies interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. He joined the Royal Field Artillery and was posted in February 1942 to Singapore, where he was captured by the Japanese. He spent time in Changi Prison and two labour camps before being sent to work on the Burma-Siam Railway, arriving at a camp on the Konyu River in Thailand after a five-day train journey.

During his time on the railway his camp commandant learnt of Chalker’s artistic talent and made him produce watercolour postcards to send back to his family in Japan. “I was ordered to produce 20 paintings a day under threat of being beaten up and incarcerated unless they were forthcoming, and this I did for a few wearisome weeks,” he recalled. In contrast to the devastation shown in much of his work, other drawings capture the beauty of the local plants and flowers.

‘From the artist’s bed, Dysentery hut, Chungkai Base hospital camp’ by Jack Chalker (REX)

His art helped him to retain a semblance of humanity . “I was glad to have something to do, and it was such a privilege to be with so many interesting, wonderful people,” said Chalker. “There was one man, who was absolutely skeletal, a senior lecturer in mathematics at university, and he really loved mathematics and he talked quietly about maths and what a lovely subject it was and he made me feel that calculus must be wonderful. And then he suddenly died one afternoon.”

On Chalker’s release in 1945 he joined the Australian Army HQ in Bangkok as a war artist; some of his work was used in evidence at the Tokyo war trials. On his return to England he resumed his studies, graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1951.

For more than a decade after his repatriation he could not sleep properly. Nor could he look at his drawings and paintings: it would take 40 years for him to take his works out of the box in which they were stored.

In 1950, after teaching History of Art at Cheltenham Ladies’ College he became principal of Falmouth College of Art and, in 1957, principal of West of England College of Art, where he remained until his retirement in the mid-1980s.

He also worked as a medical illustrator and was elected a fellow of the Society of Medical Artists of Great Britain. In retirement, he made anatomical models for the medical firm Limbs and Things (he was “famous for his bowel”) and, having settled at Bleadney in Somerset, gave regular talks about his wartime experiences.

Chalker wrote two books: Burma Railway Artist (1994) and Burma Railway: Images of War (2007). The latter was published in Britain and Japan.

Col Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, Australian Army Doctor, in the Operating Theatre at the Chungkai Hospital Camp by Jack Chalker (UPPA/PHOTOSHOT)

In recent years he was sought out by the Japanese media keen to interview him as part of the process of reparation. A BBC Four documentary, Building Burma’s Death Railway: Moving Half the Mountain, screened earlier this year, drew heavily on Chalker’s stark images to illustrate prisoners’ stories.

He was elected a fellow of the Society of Medical Artists of Great Britain and awarded an honorary degree by the University of the West of England.

In 2002 Chalker, then 83, auctioned a collection of approximately 100 of his wartime works at Bonhams in London. “I feel reluctant and in a way guilty about doing this, but it will help us out,” he said.

Jack Chalker in his studio

Bidders competed fiercely and many were later donated by a buyer to the Australian War Memorial, including Two working men, Konyu River camp, a pen, brush and ink work on paper which 70 years ago had been ripped up by a Japanese guard.

Jack Chalker married, first, during the war, Anne Maude Dixon; the marriage was later dissolved. He married, secondly, during the 1950s, Jill; that marriage was also later dissolved. He married, thirdly, Helene (née Merrett-Stock), who survives him with a son of his first marriage and a son and daughter of his second marriage.

Jack Chalker, born October 10 1918, died November 15 2014

Guardian:

Sonia Rolt Sonia Rolt working on the Grand Union Canal in the run-up to the 1945 general election

In addition to her work as a conservationist, for many years Sonia Rolt played an active part in the organisation of the Cheltenham literature festival, notably in the early 1960s, when its future was far from assured. In the late 80s and early 90s, Sonia’s lively and cheerful presence was a memorable feature of meetings. And as programme director in 1991 I was grateful for her unwavering encouragement and support.

Behind The Scenes At Heathrow's Terminal 5 Passengers walk to passport control at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Heathrow has a proven record of delivering privately funded major infrastructure like Terminal 5 and Terminal 2 on time and on budget, and we are confident of delivering against our costing (Heathrow and Gatwick are underestimating cost of expansion, says Airports Commission, 12 November). The Airports Commission has simply increased the risk allowance and added a 20% “optimism bias” to all submissions for airport expansion. Heathrow’s runways have been full for 10 years. The commission has confirmed that if we expand, then passenger ticket prices will go down. Continue to constrain it and they will go up. That’s simple supply and demand economics.

The real prize for the UK is up to £211bn of economic growth and 180,000 jobs that would come as a result of expanding Heathrow. This is a much better future for Britain than Gatwick offers, because Heathrow is the only airport that can sustain long-haul flights to the fastest-growing economies, such as China. Gatwick can’t do this – Air China tried at Gatwick, but couldn’t make it work. Heathrow handles 26% of the UK’s exports today and expansion will help Britain double its exports. Gatwick doesn’t do cargo. Finally, Heathrow is the only airport that can serve the whole of Britain, rather than just London and the south-east, reconnecting regions such as Inverness, Humberside and Newquay to global markets. Only Heathrow can help Britain win the race for growth. If we are ambitious for our country, we should back Heathrow expansion.
John Holland-Kaye
Chief executive, Heathrow Airport

• I do not expect the Guardian to act as yet another PR arm of Britain’s most aggressive, devious and unpleasant business (Concorde captain’s split runway plan to end Heathrow impasse, 14 November). Those of us who suffer the noise and air pollution generated by Heathrow want fewer not more aircraft screaming over our homes, and preferably none. The Japanese have built two successful offshore airports. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the British to do something similar which, provided the construction is done by British companies employing British workers, could be done at zero cost to the UK economy?
Robert Walls
Camberley, Surrey

England v New Zealand, Britain - 8 Nov 2014 An England flag amid the crowd at the England v New Zealand rugby match, Twickenham, 8 November 2014. Photograph: Patrick Khachfe/JMP/REX

I am grateful to the Guardian for publishing my letter (Shamed by bigoted England rugby fans, 11 November), which rang bells across the media – all the way to the New Zealand Herald. The incident I reported was not an isolated one. A correspondent from a TV sports channel told me that the letter had caught his interest particularly because he had witnessed something similar at Twickenham but had failed to report it. Testimony to the fact that although a lone voice can be a waste of breath, you won’t know it’s wasted unless you shout.

The Rugby Football Union has been in touch and assured me it is pursuing my report on the incident. The RFU is committed in principle to eliminating homophobic and racial abuse from matches. However, if national stadiums are not to be used as safe havens for bigots and binge drinkers, a determined strategy is needed to stamp it out. If it doesn’t already have one, perhaps the RFU could appoint an official whose sole responsibility is to address discipline off the field of play? And at a practical level, it should be easy to advertise a memorable text number on the big screens, at notices around the ground and in the programme, which spectators can use to attract the attention of stewards when incidents are taking place. It is otherwise difficult, on a day when you have paid and travelled a long way to enjoy yourself, to start an altercation with abusive people sitting nearby.

I hope very much that the media, which have pursued this matter so brilliantly, will continue to be vigilant, checking that firm action is indeed being taken by the RFU and supporting that action when it occurs. At a selfish level, I would like my next 14 Twickenham experiences to be as great as the 14 I enjoyed before last Saturday week’s.
Keith Wilson
Doncaster

• Congratulations to the Rugby Ref who is out as gay. Nigel Owens you have made my day – and the Guardian too (Report, 14 November).
George Montague
Brighton

The City of London at sunset The City of London at sunset. Photograph: Vladimir Zakharov/Getty Images/Moment Open

Six years after the 2008 financial crash, we are finally recognising that the banking industry is “rotten to the core” (Editorial, 13 November). Fines and settlement fees of over £25bn in the UK and $100bn in the US can no longer be blamed on lone rogue traders or inadequate regulation. Banking has become synonymous with short-term profiteering to line the pockets of asset strippers, hedge fund gamblers and tax avoiders, at the expense of individual and business customers. Contrast this with India’s Tata Group, which in the same six years bought the loss-making Land Rover and by investing £4bn, including the recently opened Wolverhampton engine plant, has created a profitable company supporting 190,000 British jobs. UK banks have demonstrated that they have little interest in long-term investment in productive enterprise. A radical alternative banking system, such as Labour’s proposed British Investment Bank, with devolved powers for local and regional investment decisions, is required.
Martin Willis
Malvern, Worcestershire

• As an ordinary bank customer reading the editorial and the lead story in the financial pages (Barclays may face massive new penalty, 13 November), it is obvious that the three monkeys – Hear No Evil, See No Evil and Speak No Evil – have long been residents at the Financial Conduct Authority. The ability to still regard the actions of the investment banking community as only liable for fines, which we, as the simple customer, will probably end up paying in higher charges, is deplorable. If looked at from an ethical standpoint, perhaps they should be considered as criminal. If the FCA only considers this as corruption, there must be many of us, in the wider community, who regard this as more akin to deception and fraud. My moral code tells me that if I were to do things such as these, then I would expect to treated as a criminal. But then perhaps I am being simplistic and perhaps investment bankers really are the masters of the universe, and have to be treated as such.
Andrew Searle
Lavenham, Suffolk

• Although banks are regularly fined for their criminal activities we allow them a major role in our governance. They create 97% of the nation’s money through making loans, mostly in ways that inflate property values and underpin financial services. Only 10% goes to productive business. Even Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, has said, “Why should we let such a social creation [money] be handed over to profit-seeking private enterprises?
James Bruges
Bristol

• While fining banks for the liability due to improper manipulation of market rates can be seen as a penalty, I wonder if a warning that further unacceptable organisational financial fraud could lead to the removing of banking licences would show teeth/unacceptable behaviour. Banks may then be more inclined to further look at HR issues – such as remuneration, further reducing incentives to cheat, behavioural interviewing and corporate social responsibility – as they are vicariously liable for the staff they hire.
Colin Rodden
Olney, Buckinghamshire

• Is there no end in sight to the litany of corrupt culture in banks? Financial Conduct Authority chief executive Martin Wheatley tells us that, “A lot of it is not rocket science.” He suggests that firms need to look at whether employees in dealing rooms are using mobile phones. They undoubtedly are.

What the regulators need to know is how many regulation-compliant registered phones there are in each firm, how that number compares with the number of traders and what amount of phone traffic is going through those mobiles or handsets, as against the volumes traded. All this is readily traceable through telephony. If the recorded trades and conversations fall short of expectations, would it be a surprise to learn that business was being transacted via non-registered uncompliant phones? This must be depressing and demoralising for the people inside the system trying against the odds to turn around their organisations.
Christine Elliott
Institute for Turnaround, London

• Perhaps the proceeds of the bank fines for misbehaviour (some £2bn?) could either be donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to combat Ebola or help pay the EU bill that falls due in December – if the UK is still short of readies to meet its bill on time.
Susan Gregory
Burton in Lonsdale, Lancashire

• Can you please stop referring to banking as an industry? When did banking last make anything? Considering the damage it has done, it should at least be called an unindustry or maybe a criminal conspiracy but an industry? It’s an insult to the real industries in this country, whose biggest problem is not competition, but the impossibility of getting much-needed finance from the “banking industry”.
Jim Morrison
New Barnet, London

Sandwich production at the Greencore factory in Northampton Sandwich production at the Greencore factory in Northampton

Eight-hour days and five-day weeks, which were the norm till relatively recently and enabled people to organise care for children around their work, seem no longer to be on offer (‘They come here and make our sandwiches’, 15 November). But only young adults with no family responsibilities can consider working 12-hour shifts and cope at the same time with unpredictable work patterns. Hence the need to entice young people from eastern Europe, to whom the wages offered here sound wonderful, until they meet the reality of the cost of living.

Are companies such as Greencore and Sports Direct really unable to predict the staffing levels they need and offer regular work on permanent contracts or is this just a way to avoid holiday and sickness pay? Some companies seem to believe they get more out of staff from a regime of fear – bolstered by the attitude of the Department of Work and Pensions to the unemployed. Yet all evidence shows that when people are treated well, they respond with loyalty and a willingness to go the extra mile. The Quaker-run companies such as Cadbury and Rowntree were originally built on that principle.

Companies like Greencore should heed the words of Michael Marks who founded M&S: “I pay my staff enough so they can afford to buy my shirts.” Short-term profits are leading to a shrinking of the economy because of large numbers of people on minimum wage, with uncertain hours and no income security.
Ruth Funnell
Great Torrington, Devon

• Greencore workers are paid the princely wage of £7 an hour, while boss Patrick Coveney lavishesv £1.3m a year on himself, around £400 an hour – nearly 60 times the rate of his staff. Doesn’t this tell us all we need to know about “prosperity Britain”?
Dr Richard Carter
London

A sign above a chemist shop A sign above a chemist shop. Photograph: Alamy

I remember my mum telling me that pre-NHS people who couldn’t afford to see a doctor (including my family) went to seek advice and medicine from the chemist because it was cheaper. Is Jeremy Hunt preparing us for a return to that (Hunt urges patients to visit pharmacist, not A&E, 14 November)?
Karen Bates
Macclesfield, Cheshire

• I suppose I should apologise for having clicked on the link (Kim Kardashian naked didn’t break the internet, 13 November), but if your organ must pander to redtop tastes, is it too much to ask the subs to use arse rather than ass?
Steve Simmons
Camberley, Surrey

• Picked and ate possibly the last blackberry of the season today, a little winey but acceptable.
Alan Pearson
Durham  

Independent

Reading the comments attached under media stories about the US and China signing an agreement to reduce carbon emissions, I found the usual petty diatribes from climate-change deniers and contrarians.

The funny thing is that their interventions are so utterly pointless. What are they in fact afraid of? Why does the act of creating employment by making homes more energy efficient, thereby saving money and alleviating fuel poverty, terrify the living daylights out of climate-change deniers? Are we to imagine that they sit at home with their fridge doors and windows open just to be able to waste a little more energy and money?

Why are they so afraid of the world moving on from fossil fuels? Why do they resent powering cars and homes differently? Would this same bunch of naysayers have been found at the side of the road at the end of the 19th century, screaming abuse at electric streetlights and shouting for gas lamps to be retained?

Never has so much venom and angst been expended so pointlessly.

Christian Vassie

York

I live in solid nimby country which has seen off a number of wind-turbine proposals. The objections mostly centre on the appearance of turbines in the countryside. One thing which doesn’t seem to enter the heads of the objectors is that the impact is strictly temporary.

If one day they are superseded by some better form of energy conversion, the towers can be taken down and all that will be left is a small concrete base. The countryside will be as it was. Quite apart from the global-warming issue, there will be no destruction by opencast sites, no acid rain, no aquifer contamination and no radioactive waste to be stored for 25,000 years.

What will our great-great-grandchildren think of us if we contaminate and degrade our beautiful country for ever, just because we want to preserve the view from our windows for our brief lifespan?

Derek Chapman

Southampton, Hampshire

Your editorial “Brisbane’s legacy” (17 November) needs a reality check. Obama may have forced climate change on to the G20 agenda, but nothing substantial was agreed. Australia’s prime minister is in denial about climate change and has disbanded his advisory panel. Both Abbot and Putin wanted climate change off the agenda because both countries are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for their energy needs and foreign revenue. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and Australia of coal. What Brisbane demonstrated is that the chances of the UN brokering a meaningful climate-change deal next year in Paris are close to zero as long as deniers and dictators are in a position to sabotage the negotiations.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

David Hockney (report, 17 November) raised an important question when he said, “We can go on and on about oil, but if there wasn’t any, what would happen?” The International Energy Agency has said that two-thirds of known fossil-fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, and for many climate scientists, that is a conservative estimate.

We have the capacity to transition to a way of living without oil dependency – new technologies, renewable energy and adjustments to consumption patterns can make this a reality. If we shifted to living “as if there weren’t any oil”, we would be taking a significant step in protecting the planet for future generations.

The oil industry propagates a myth that fossil fuels are an essential part of our way of life. By sponsoring arts institutions, oil giants such as BP create the impression that they are generous and responsible; they cleanse their image and purchase a “social licence” to operate. But many in the arts world not only recognise the risks of tacitly supporting the fossil-fuel industry but, from the artist Conrad Atkinson to the playwright Mark Ravenhill, are willing to speak out against it.

Chris Garrard

Tadley, Hampshire

 

Free patients to make their own IVF choices

Professor Evan Snyder is right that mitochondrial donation must be licensed for patient trials or use only once regulators are satisfied that any risks are sufficiently low (report, 17 November).

But while US regulators are free to make this judgement, UK regulators are not: clinical use of the techniques involved is currently illegal in the UK but not in the US. It is thus critically important that Parliament rapidly passes regulations to allow mitochondrial donation in principle, so that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority can license specific clinics to offer it as soon as there is evidence that it is safe enough to proceed.

Families affected by devastating mitochondrial diseases, properly advised by their doctors about risks and benefits, are best placed to decide whether to use these techniques to try to have a healthy child. They should not be denied this reproductive choice for any longer than is necessary.

Dr Jeremy Farrar

Director, Wellcome Trust,

London NW1

Don’t let murderers choose our words

When someone commits a brutal and deadly act against another person it is often referred to by the media as a “killing”. Similarly those who commit such acts are often referred to as “jihadists” or “militants”.

Instead of using terms which are often generated and used by those people and groups responsible for these acts, the media should be using the words “murder”, “murderers” and “terrorists” – plain and simple. Please leave the fantasy, lies and fiction completely to the criminals.

Laurence Williams

Louth, Lincolnshire

I am deeply opposed to capital punishment and am horrified by the actions of Isis in Syria and Iraq. But consider these atrocities in the cultural landscape of the region: a quick internet search shows that Saudi Arabia beheaded 16 people in the first half of August this year alone. If it is a barbaric act for Isis then surely it is a barbaric act for Saudi Arabia? Western media, in general, condemns Isis but remains silent about Saudi Arabia.

Brian Parkinson

Oxford

Plenty of musicians north of the border

I read with interest Adam Sherwin’s article on the National Children’s Orchestra and the north/south divide (14 November). But I would like to reassure your readers that classical music is alive and well in Scotland. We have our own National Youth Orchestras of Scotland, which run a variety of orchestras at different levels from ages eight upwards, all to an amazingly high standard.

As I write this letter, I have just welcomed 60 nine- to 15-year-olds to one of the Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust’s regular Play Away Days in Perthshire. Seeing them at work convinces me that enthusiasm for classical music among the current generation of youngsters in Scotland remains high.

OK, we have six flutes but only three bassoons, and 19 violins but only five violas, but all these children are showing real interest and talent and a genuine desire to achieve high standards in orchestral playing. The National Children’s Orchestra of GB is doing a fantastic job, but please don’t assume that youngsters who don’t audition for it are not capable. Maybe they have simply found another outlet.

Jean Murray

Director, Scottish Schools Orchestra Trust,

Edinburgh

 

Countryside is a killing ground

Deirdre Conniss (Letters, 17 November) criticises Jane Merrick for “expecting the countryside to operate as a gigantic playground for herself and other townies”.

My experience is that the opposite is true – it is country landowners who expect to use the countryside as their own giant playground, mainly involving games that result in wildlife being hunted to death.

Merrick has clearly outraged Ms Conniss by “raiding” farmers’ sloes on hedges. She was perhaps lucky to find any sloes at all, as many farmers’ hedges are currently being massacred by heavy machinery, a barbaric process which strips off all hedgerow food, depriving not only the odd presumptuous “townie” of a few sloes, but thousands of birds of their winter food supply.

If the landowners and farmers of the countryside would stop slaughtering badgers, foxes, hares, deer, game birds and birds of prey, and decimating wildlife populations through intensive farming methods, they would be in a better moral position to lecture others.

Penny Little

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

My tiny contribution to the cost of Europe

I have just received a letter from HM Revenue and Customs showing how my tax was calculated in 2013-4 and how this money was spent. Since it seems that three-quarters of 1 per cent is spent on Europe, it can be seen that both Ukip and the Coalition are guilty of gross exaggeration.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

 

A knotty landing

The existential problems experienced by the hapless Philae lander (15 November) bring new meaning to the expression “caught between a rock and a hard place”.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor

Times:

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
Chichester

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, I disagree with Ros Altmann (“Ageist road sign promotes job prejudice”, Nov 17). The sign warning of elderly people shows a couple in their 70s to 80s, not vigorous people in their 50s. I am in my 80s and am aware that in a busy street I am more vulnerable than previously, in that I am not able to respond as quickly.
Anthony J Carr
Solihull

Sir, It is not only road signs that discriminate. Most car parks have spaces for the disabled and parents with children, yet when I drive my mother in law, who is elderly and frail, no such facility is provided. It can be more demanding to get an aged person into a shop than a couple of children in a buggy.
Leo McCormack
Sedgefield, Co Durham

Sir, I was under the impression that the road sign depicting a hunched-over couple meant “Beware elderly pickpockets”.
Peter Bowen-Simpkins
Reynoldston, Swansea

Sir, My wife’s grandmother died in the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed 50 million people. Ebola could do the same, or worse, and should be the overarching concern of world leaders.

Many nations are helping generously, but others are not (News, Nov 15). Britain must urge the UN to shout louder to spotlight the pitiful response of Russia and to shake from their torpor Brazil, India and South Africa — all hit severely in 1918.
Rodney Buckton
Oxford

Sir, The refusal by the home affairs select committee to nominate a head for the historical child sex abuse inquiry (News, Nov 14) means that the home secretary, Theresa May, faces an even more tortuous task.

I suggest sending for a bishop. There has been outstanding work done by bishops: for instance as chairman of the Hillsborough independent panel and as adviser to the Macpherson report on Stephen Lawrence. In the debate on women bishops, the General Synod affirmed the critical role of bishops in building integrity, trust and sensitivity. In the previous synod there was a strong bishop lead on safeguarding and clergy discipline, with survivor groups represented. Sounds like a good CV for a place on the inquiry.
Dr Phillip Rice
Member of the C of E General Synod, London E9

Telegraph:

Why grammar is still important; the SNP’s referendum hopes; letting Ched Evans go back to work; and do you wish it could be Christmas everyday?

At least 30% of teachers are not fully qualified in 41 primary and 12 secondary schools.

Should traditional English lessons be scrapped? Photo: GETTY IMAGES

7:00AM GMT 17 Nov 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Dr Heather Martin’s suggestion that traditional English lessons be scrapped from the curriculum is misguided.

Her argument presupposes that English lessons in mainstream schools are focused on the dry teaching of grammar and syntax. They aren’t, and haven’t been for years. Far from alleviating parents’ and teachers’ “anxiety” about this subject, the abolition of English lessons in favour of a “multi-disciplinary methodology” will only increase it.

Excellent English lessons in our schools already explore the richness and subtlety of the language using a range of sources. There is nothing wrong with combining this with a scrutiny of its grammatical and syntactical structures.

The key is stimulating and engaging teaching, not the abolition of a discipline.

Dr Millan Sachania
Head Master, Streatham & Clapham High School
London SW16

SIR – In the Eighties, many teachers believed that children would learn to read naturally, and that drilling phonics would take all the joy out of reading.

My son suffered from this fanciful notion, but an article in The Daily Telegraph alerted me to a retired teacher who still believed in teaching children about letters and sounds. Under new instruction, my son went from being a non-reader to being six months ahead in his ability.

Research has shown that higher-order skills cannot develop without a firm foundation of basic knowledge, which develops poorly unless explicitly taught.

Prof Tom Burkard
Easton, Norwich

SIR – I was initially taught Russian using the Nuffield method. This was similar to what Dr Martin is suggesting in that we were supposed to pick up the language by means of conversation and role play.

This approach did not work and the structure of Russian grammar remained a mystery to me until I learnt Latin the traditional way, and then it all fell into place.

I feel privileged to have received traditional English language tuition and pride myself on my grammar and spelling. Sometimes we have to endure boredom and hard work to reap the rewards.

Jackie Johnson
Birmingham

SIR – As a child of the Sixites I was not taught English grammar and there was no particular importance placed on correct spelling. I picked up some grammatical rules through studying foreign languages, but I would like to have a better understanding of my own language.

The basic framework of language should be taught to all children in primary school. This could be balanced with opportunities for them to put grammatical rules to one side and express themselves.

Christine Matkin
Sunderland, Tyne and Wear

SNP referendum hopes

SIR – Nicola Sturgeon has refused to rule out a second referendum after the 2016 general election if there is an SNP victory in Scotland and has even hinted that if Britain were to vote to leave Europe, but Scotland opt to stay, that would be a legitimate trigger for another plebiscite.

The majority of Scots who voted No did so because they believed Scotland’s future economic prosperity lay within the United Kingdom, and they held as a strong desire to remain British.

As Mrs Sturgeon takes over from Alex Salmond as party leader and First Minister she should accept the referendum defeat, rule out a second vote and respect the fact that the Scots chose unity over division.

William Beddows
St Andrews, Fife

SIR – Which part of the answer “No” does the SNP not understand?

Robin Lane
Devizes, Wiltshire

Litterbug Brits

SIR – Robert Colvile’s observations about the “litter crisis” in Britain (Comment, November 14) come as no surprise.

Littering is an offence but, like so many other rules and laws in this country, enforcement is lacking. Singapore seems able to get it right, so why not Britain?

R K Hodge
Chichester, West Sussex

Girl power

SIR – Jemima Lewis bemoans the lack of powerful female characters for girls to look up to.

May I suggest, with no irony whatsoever, the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? Its compelling mixture of slice-of-life comedy, messages of tolerance and acceptance and, above all, powerful and central female characters have made it internationally successful with both male and female audiences.

Harry Drummon
Midhurst, West Sussex

Life before Ambridge

SIR – Enough about The Archers.

Bring back Dick Barton: Special Agent with Jock and Snowy.

David Hudson
Lyndhurst, Hampshire

Let Evans do his job

SIR – Ched Evans has served his time in prison, which is a clear enough message for young people. He now has a right to earn a living, doing the job that he has trained for.

Marguerite Bowyer
West Huntspill, Somerset

SIR – I wonder whether Jessica Ennis-Hill and all those who have protested against Ched Evans being allowed back into his football career have digested the facts of his case, which are so well reported by Allison Pearson.

His conviction is due for review. If he believes he is innocent, why should he apologise?

Ian Francis
Rochford, Essex

SIR – One would have thought that the Football Association would have a ruling on the employment of convicted criminals. It should not be a decision for Sheffield United alone.

Jessica Ennis-Hill has done well to make a stand and bring this issue to the fore.

Dr Robert J Leeming
Coventry, Warwickshire

NHS accountability

SIR – Laura Donnelly refers to patients’ confusion about out-of-hours GP services.

Primary Care Trusts, whatever their defects, had strong lay representation on their boards. The newly set up Clinical Commissioning Groups have only token lay representation. Similarly, the patient groups linked to GP practices appear to have unclear terms of reference and limited power. We have no democratic means, locally, of bringing about change.

The contrast with the reforms in education is stark. The system of academies and free schools is highly responsive to local democratic pressure.

We are unlikely to see significant improvement in the standard of delivery by NHS England until a strong system of local accountability is put in place.

Robert Batchelor
Northwood, Middlesex

Age is just a number

SIR – How ironic that, in her article lauding Dame Judi Dench and her stand against ageism and the media’s reluctance to employ older women, Cathy Newman should then choose to apologise to her role model for revealing her age.

George East
Havant, Hampshire

Time and a place

SIR – Clapping at ceremonies seems to have become the norm, despite it being so vulgar and inappropriate. I always tell school pupils that you clap at performances but not ceremonies.

The last time I attended the nightly Menin Gate ceremony, I reiterated this to my pupils and a group of visiting soldiers overheard. I was given a round of applause.

Noeleen Murphy
London SE22

Politicians’ porkies

SIR – I am greatly reassured to learn that the average Briton tells more than 10 lies a week – there must be some very honest people around to offset the politicians.

John Newman
Hinckley, Leicestershire

Christmas is spoilt by its ever-earlier arrival

The festive spirit arrives early at the Aldeburgh Carnival in Suffolk . Photo: Alamy

SIR – Nathan Cunningham is to be congratulated on his work analysing data to establish the start of the Christmas season.

I conducted my own study, based on 32 years of commuting by train from Winchester to Waterloo, in which the “index” was the HBI (Hamleys Bag Indicator).

In the early Seventies, passengers would appear for the homeward journey carrying such bags in the second week of December. Over the years I noticed them earlier and earlier. By the time I stopped commuting in 2002, it was the third week of September.

Michael Fielding
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – When I was a child the only time we ever saw a mince pie was at Christmas. It was a seasonal treat that we looked forward to and enjoyed.

Now that they are available from October, by the time Christmas finally arrives I’m heartily sick of the sight, taste and smell of them.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – While out shopping last weekend I was astonished to come across a display of Christmas bedding.

If proof were needed that there is more disposable income around than ever before, this has to be it.

Irena Milloy
Buckden, Cambridgeshire

Was the Philae lander project money well spent?

SIR – One cannot but marvel at the brilliant technological achievement of landing on a comet, but what is the point?

Instead of trying to work backwards over billions of years, at enormous cost, to determine what happened all that time ago, it would be better to sort out some of today’s desperate problems.

John Cuthbert
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – You report that the small lander “shot back up into the air”. Does this mean that the comet has an atmosphere?

Eddie Collings
Pinner, Middlesex

SIR – Should the brave little Philae lander be renamed the Philae bouncer?

Robert Graham
Wye, Kent

SIR – The European Space Agency asteroid lander Philae is performing exactly as one would reasonably expect of any European project.

It is largely in the dark, it is upside down, everyone with a financial interest declares it a success, but the solar energy isn’t producing as much electricity as it requires to survive.

Ian Wallace
Whitley Bay, Northumberland

Irish Times:

Sir, – The treatment of the Tánaiste was not a protest, it was mob rule (“Kenny says protests ‘not about water’”, Front Page, November 17th). In no way was this a peaceful protest. – Yours, etc,

BRONWYN MOLONY,

Clondalkin,

Dublin 22.

Sir, – Having marched against water charges, I am shocked, angry and ashamed at the menacing nature of the protest in Tallaght. People have a democratic right to protest and demonstrate in a peaceful, lawful manner, but they have no right to obstruct or hold captive anyone in a car, much less bang on it in a threatening manner. They may disagree with Government policy but that does not give them the right to intimidate any member of the Dáil.

People claiming rights have a responsibility to act within the law. Those involved should consider that their behaviour was counterproductive to their cause. Many, like myself, who have marched in the past may reconsider doing so in future. I have no wish for anarchy. – Yours, etc,

SORCHA DONNELLY,

Greystones,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Paul Murphy TD has stated that what happened in Tallaght was a non-violent protest. To be imprisoned in your car is a serious form of violence and a denial of freedom. – Yours, etc,

CLAIRE CONNOLLY,

Ballinasloe,

Co Galway.

Sir, – I suggest that members of the Government began the campaign of frightening and menacing the voters to bully and cajole us on many issues and it is simply chancing its arm to see how much they can bleed from us. Perhaps now the politicians will step back from the abyss, stop their confrontation with the justifiably angry voters and discontinue their bullying of us by actually listening for once. – Yours, etc,

JOHN MALLON,

Mayfield,

Cork.

Sir, – As tempting as it is to belittle the water balloon incident (and all credit to the Tánaiste for her dignified response in such circumstances), it would be very wrong for the Government or political class to sneer at those who throw water balloons and to misunderstand what such incidents mean.

The fact some people felt so angry, so disconnected from the political process, that they felt their only option was to throw a water balloon, or even worse a brick, means those people no longer have any trust in the State to respond to their needs. The political class has no concept of what it’s like to get a water bill, even if it’s €200, when you have €0 in the bank, or of the sheer drudgery of living week to week literally counting every single cent, so they genuinely don’t get it.

But the political class, including the media, would do well to stop to think that such public responses stem from the anger and frustration people feel that despite their sacrifices for the last six years, nothing has changed for them, as they struggle to feed, clothe and house their families.

Maybe the chattering and establishment classes, who think they won’t be affected by rising anger, need to start thinking through the consequences if those angry people actually do go and vote in the coming general election.

They don’t need to win the election, they just need to win more seats than their centre-right and hard-right counterparts. – Yours, etc,

DESMOND FitzGERALD,

Canary Wharf,

London.

Sir, – By now, it must be clear to everyone that Irish society is under attack from a small, tightly organised group of political ideologues who are fanatical in their determination to impose their will on the people.

This group is highly disciplined, secretive, has unlimited funds and access to an army of press advisers and spin-doctors. They have consistently shown their disregard for Dáil procedures and the broad wishes of the Irish people.

The Economic Management Council must be disbanded at once. – Yours, etc,

EUGENE McELDOWNEY,

Howth,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – It is time, I think, that Mr Kenny and Ms Burton took some meaningful measures to alleviate the extreme hardship their parties have created.

The patience of the “little people” has finally ended. – Yours, etc,

IAN KAVANAGH,

Kilmainham,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Paul Murphy TD sees no problem about encouraging others to indulge in a type of behaviour that flouts the rights of other citizens, whether they be politicians or not, to pass peacefully on their way. How does this accord with his membership of the Dáil and its law-making role?

His attitude is in marked contrast to the dignified way in which over 100,000 people protested throughout the country a few weeks ago against water charges. The debacle of the water charge issue in no way justifies the type of protest Mr Murphy has “no problem” with. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK HOWARD,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – Can’t pay for water but can pay for eggs to use as missiles? Some logic! – Yours, etc,

AILEEN HOOPER,

Stoneybatter,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Breda O’Brien’s article of November 15th displays a confusion of morality with legality (“Legalising prostitution legalises a fantasy – that sex does not involve the self”, Opinion & Analysis). The debate is not about whether prostitution is “wrong”. The issue is whether the customer should be criminalised or not. There are many things that are considered wrong and that the state (rightly) does not intervene to prohibit: for example worshipping false gods, or missing church on Sunday. States that do enforce morality are called theocracies and have a bad press (rightly so).

As a general rule it is not the legitimate function of the state to police private behaviour, insofar as such behaviour is confined to consenting adults. The logical result of a contrary view – regardless of its well-intentioned adherents – is that, potentially, it leaves the way open for the government to criminalise anything it doesn’t like.

Historically, laws prohibiting alcohol and gay sex are examples of how governments have got things disastrously wrong when the principle of individual freedom is not held as paramount. It’s entirely consistent both to disapprove of prostitution (which I do) and also not to want to control what other people do with their bodies.

The analogy with buying votes is invalid because buying votes undermines the democratic system. Buying sexual services may indeed morally harm one or both parties involved, but that’s an issue of morality, and should not be one of legality. Whether an individual wishes to indulge in fantasy, or risk the stability of a relationship they are involved in, is a matter for the individual’s conscience, not for the criminal courts.

Whether sex can be separated from a person’s body is an interesting question which, whether the answer is in the negative or the affirmative, is the appropriate province of metaphysics and moral philosophy, but not of legislators. In any case it’s not clear why, from a legal point of view, we should ban one form of alienation and not others. Any kind of paid work which the worker would not do if he or she were not paid for it could be described in terms of “bribery,” or indeed as a form of slavery for that matter. If the commodification of sex is banned, why should not other forms of commodification be banned as well?

There are well-worn arguments that the whole capitalist system should be prohibited since it involves both commodification and exploitation, both of which are seen as bad things by critics. What is not clear is why sex should be singled out over other activities (eg bricklaying or plumbing) as one that should not be commodified, unless such singling-out is for basically moral reasons. Such moral qualms may have validity in their own right, but they have no legitimate place in law-making or law-enforcement. It is a serious, and dangerous, incursion on freedom to allow the Garda to weigh up the relative quotas of love and money in any given relationship. – Yours, etc,

PAUL O’BRIEN,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – It is undeniable that vulnerable young women are trafficked for sex. It is also undeniable that some women choose to work in this area. Why are people seeking to use the “Swedish model” or, indeed, any model taken from another country?

From exposure to the debate on radio and in the newspapers in recent weeks, it seems that none of the “off-the-shelf” options from other countries even work properly for where they were designed. Is it not possible to carry out a proper analysis of the issues at play in Ireland and create the “Irish model”? At least that way we could have a solution designed to work properly for all those concerned in Ireland, making sure that trafficking is tackled and that those that choose to work in prostitution are properly protected. I would have thought that the illusion of a one-size-fits-all solution working anywhere would be well over. Although maybe people are looking to cover their behinds so that, when the “model” doesn’t work, they can point at the Swedes and blame them. That way no one need be accountable for the consequences. Actually, that sounds exactly like an Irish model. – Yours, etc,

STUART BOYLE,

Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – I find myself totally on the side of the teachers who in the interests of students are resisting the continuing arrogance of the Department of Education and Science in demanding teacher assessment of their own students.

I am writing out of personal experience. Some 54 years ago, I sat the “mock” Intermediate exam, which was then marked by our own teachers. Mathematics was my best subject and there were three separate papers. I had an excellent teacher, but one who knew of only one way to reach a correct answer to any question. I obtained the correct answers but was failed in each paper because of my methodology. I sat the State Intermediate exam some three months later and obtained marks in excess of 80 per cent in each paper. Two years later I received a distinction in mathematics in the Trinity matriculation.

This persuades me that the teachers who refuse to assess their own students for a State exam are acting in the best interests of the students. – Yours, etc,

Right Rev Dr

JOHN RW NEILL,

Bennettsbridge,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects and accountants are certified to practice through training, examinations, accreditation and registration. They assess, advise, treat, instruct and make judgment calls on a daily basis.

If teachers wish to retain professional status as educators, surely they need to be confident in their ability to assess objectively a student’s work – whether it is a student known to them or one whom they have never met before. – Yours, etc,

ALISON HACKETT,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Recent weeks have seen a further worsening of traffic congestion in Dublin, to the detriment of the regional economy and quality of life (“Pause offers possible route to settling bus row”, November 15th). Dublin needs increased capacity in public transport. Consequently, there should be more than enough demand to sustain an increase, not a reduction, in driver jobs in Dublin Bus, as well as among private operators. Providing additional services to meet demand should be the priority.

In my view, the National Transport Authority would be better engaged in seeking to increase bus-carrying capacity on high-demand corridors in and out of the city, including by licensing more private operators in regulated competition, rather than getting bogged down in a process of privatisation of existing orbital and local routes which would generate a lesser return in terms of tackling congestion. – Yours, etc,

Cllr WILLIAM LAVELLE,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – How do you get from Gorey, Co Wexford, to Tinahely, Co Wicklow, a distance of 16 miles, using public transport? Take a bus to Dublin 60 miles away, then take a bus back for another 65 miles, but don’t make any promises to be there at any particular time. Can you just imagine how brilliant the national transport service will be when it is privatised? – Yours, etc,

DAN McDONNELL,

Gorey,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – I read with disbelief Carl O’Brien’s report on the queuing system at the Garda National Immigration Bureau (“A day in the life at the State’s immigration offices”, November 17th), where foreign nationals are required to get in line at the crack of dawn in order get a numbered ticket which will enable them to have the privilege to pay the Government the sum of €300 to apply for or to renew on an annual basis their GNIB registration card.

Despite the response by the Minister for Justice and Equality in relation to Dáil questions in relation this situation, in which it was claimed in June that an online appointment system was being planned, the situation has appeared to have worsened.

In an age in which Ireland boasts of being Europe’s technology hub, how difficult is it and how long does it take to set up an online booking system? To put things in perspective, my 10-year-old car, which requires an annual NCT at €55 a go, gets much better customer service than these foreign nationals. All I have do is to log on to the dedicated website, book a date, choose a time slot that suits me and my car, and so long as I arrive on time, the whole process takes less than an hour! – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA CRAVEN,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – If I understand the latest proposals for water charges correctly, a single person living in a mansion with a swimming pool and a jacuzzi would pay less than a couple with several children living in a three-bed semi-detached house. If that’s correct, it would be a little hard to swallow, I’m afraid. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – The latest drip-feed on likely water charges has been, as usual, devoid of debate. Should every resident get a reasonable amount of water free of charge? How much water is necessary, or excessive? How to structure the charges to incentivise both rich and poor to use water economically?

It is telling that Government politicians keep repeating that Dublin ran out of water last year. Dublin City Council turned off the taps, despite the supply meeting biological drinking water standards but only because cosmetic standards were not met. The water was coloured from minute peat particles, stirred up by storms. Yet it is practice elsewhere in the country to supply water which would make people sick. The motive? Vested interests will make a lot of money to pipe water from the Shannon.

Introduction of a progressive, affordable, way of charging for water, free for essential use, would incentivise everyone to conserve water, minimise the cost of a good, sustainable water service, and would improve fairness and equity. Alas, it seems that this Government has a different agenda. – Yours, etc,

CLAIRE WHEELER,

Ballsbridge,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – The recent US media interviews with IDA Ireland’s Martin Shanahan and Tourism Ireland’s Niall Gibbons have underlined an uncomfortable reality that is so readily ignored at home (“US radio host wants to know if Ireland plans to leave the UK”, November 14th). I have had personal experience of this while living abroad in the US and continental Europe. The reality is that the constitutional status of Ireland is not well known or understood outside our shores. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN FOX,

Mount Pleasant,

Washington DC.

Sir, – It seems that Mary Lou McDonald has figured out how to work the Dáil system for minimal accountability and maximum publicity. She won’t enter the Dáil when she doesn’t want to answer questions, and she won’t leave when her questions aren’t answered. – Yours, etc,

JAMES QUINN,

Sterling Heights,

Michigan.

Sir, – Surely the best way to commemorate the Easter 1916 Rising would be to have one day when no patient has to sleep overnight on a trolley or one night when we have zero homeless. – Yours, etc,

DERMOT O’ROURKE,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

I applaud Donna Harnett on her letter to your newspaper (November 11), and for the debate it has sparked in relation to the work-life balance of taxpayers and childcare costs.

However, I was very dismayed after reading Gerard O’Regan’s article (“So, who is going to mind the baby?” – November 15).

I too stopped working due to the high cost of childcare. After my second child was born I realised I would be better off spending quality time with my children during their most formative years, rather than going out to work. This was because I did not even have enough money left over to put petrol in my car to get to work after mortgage repayments and childcare costs were covered. Luckily, we were able to restructure our mortgage and my husband’s income was enough to cover repayments – as long as we stuck to a very tight household budget.

Ironically, the job I gave up – a job which I loved – was as a Montessori teacher in an early years care and education centre. Although I was not highly paid ,I am offended by Gerard O’Regan’s statement that childcare centres have a “propensity to hire cheap-as-possible employees, who may lack both the aptitude and the interest required to look after children”. The vast majority of childcare employees are educated professionals who love and respect children and value greatly the impact the quality of their care can make on young lives.

However, requirements for staff under preschool regulations – and the measly capitation offered by the government under the ECCE Free Preschool Year scheme – means that fees charged for childcare for children aged up to three and for after-school care have had to be increased. This is to make services sustainable and in the interest of the quality experience of children.

The average fee for preschool in Ireland before the introduction of the ECCE scheme in 2009 was €75 a week. Five years later the government are giving only €62.50 capitation for 38 weeks a year. Out of this rent, rates and overheads costs have to be met – so is it any wonder staff are paid so little?

And how can we expect to improve quality and the level of staff training when the teachers delivering the ECCE scheme are forced to go on the dole over the summer months?

Like Donna Hartnett I believe the government does not understand the plight of the taxpaying public. It saddens me that Gerard O’Regan’s article shares the Government’s same lack of awareness about the financial reality for childcare providers in Ireland. It shows that Mr O’Regan obviously conducted no research at all before vilifying childcare services and making debt-burdened parents feel guilty for going out to work.

In summary, I would ask Gerard O’Regan, the media in general and the Government of this country to start respecting and valuing childcare professionals. This, in turn, will help working parents to feel confident about how their children are being cared for. In this way we can surely create brighter futures for Irish children.

Jo-Anne Corcoran

Navan

Politicians must heed the people

The recent spate of misgivings about Uisce Eireann’s intention to introduce water charges says much about the condition of politics in Ireland. Political life seems to have cut itself adrift from the people whose raw experience of supporting family life was so eloquently expressed by Donna Hartnett (Irish Independent, Letters, November 11).

A disjunction between the rhetoric and the reality of political activity tends to characterise all democracies. The rhetoric speaks of the wish to create a better tomorrow through a commitment to the demands of justice and fairness; the reality shows us that the driving force in politics is the tendency to minister to those who already have more than enough.

Spin doctors, masters of the art of persuasion, are employed to sell policies to the public in order to manufacture popular consent, often appealing to our worst instincts.

In a democracy, political authority is assumed to reside in the will of the people. We are free to the extent that we can regard the laws that govern us as the expression of our common values. Political policies and practices work well to the advantage of all if they are in tune with critically-formed public opinion.

What has stirred the outrage of people is that many crucial decisions are biased towards certain powerful interest groups. In a representative democracy we expect our politicians to focus on what is desirable, determine what is possible and implement what is feasible. We expect this form of reflection to be conducted on our behalf, in the interests of the nation.

However, what counts as the national interest has to be determined through a genuine attempt to seek consensus on the direction in which we wish to see our country going. In any thoughtful society things don’t just happen, they are made to happen.

One can only hope that the courage and conviction of Donna Hartnett will leave its mark on the minds and sensibilities of our politicians.

In another age much of what has been done in our name would have triggered a rebellion.

Philip O’Neill

Oxford, England

TDs beating the recession

Judging by the list of TDs’ expenses I’d agree with Mr Noonan when he says the recovery has spread across the country (Irish Independent, November 15). The question is, when will it get to the rest of us that are not TDs?

Philip Duffy

Knocklyon Road, Dublin 16

Ireland needs to calm down

As an Irish person living in Britain for over 30 years I am still a keen observer and participator in Irish political events.

When we go to our post office or GP surgery we observe people’s personal space and allow then their private transactions.

For me the events in Tallaght on Saturday violated the personal space of two women attending an adult education conferring event. Their space was violated severely when, in effect, they were held captive in the car, which it appears was banged on and had items thrown at it.

To see and hear an elected member of Dail Eireann then asking the rabble “Do we agree to let her go” only highlighted the fact that they were truly captives.

In order to get a full picture of the events of Saturday I have been listening to RTE radio and TV and other networks. I have just seen footage where an Tanaiste was physically hit on the head by something.

So the protesters said what they wanted to say, but they did it with violence. This was not peaceful protest. Nobody should be treated like that.

The launch of the Easter Rising consultation and planning was even marred by protest. Calm down Ireland or you will tarnish the one line of the 1916 Proclamation we all know – “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.

Some readers might say: “It’s OK for you, you do not live here”. I lived through Irish austerity in the 1980s and as a result was forced to migrate to Britain, but I never lost my love for and interest in all things Irish.

Frankly, with the sulk of Mary Lou in the Dail and the events in Tallaght are for me a giant step backward for Ireland’s democracy and does nothing for the reputation of Ireland and her emigrants abroad.

Gerry Molumby

Nottingham, England

Irish Independent

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