21 November 2014 Vet

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 I take Fluff and Kitten to the Vet. I do the Post Office and the Co Op

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


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The Duchess of Alba – obituary

The 18th Duchess of Alba was a flamboyant Spanish aristocrat who married both an unfrocked priest and a man 24 years her junior

The Duchess of Alba with her third husband, Alfonso Diez Carabantes

The Duchess of Alba with her third husband, Alfonso Diez Carabantes Photo: EUROPA PRESS/GETTY

12:18PM GMT 20 Nov 2014


The 18th Duchess of Alba, who has died aged 88, was Spain’s richest woman and a regular fixture in Hola! magazine and other gossip publications on account of her forthright character and colourful private life.

In later life, with her flamboyant manner and shock of frizzy hair (sometimes dyed a whimsical red, at other times a snowy white), the thrice-married Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart fascinated and appalled in almost equal measure.

Known for her piping, querulous voice and often outrageous clothes, she was frequently photographed at society weddings and at bullfights. Her passions were flamenco, horses and painting; she became the subject of a television series and a flamenco show based around her life.

Then, of course, there was her status as an exemplar of the plastic surgeon’s art. She always denied needing any assistance to enhance features which had once earned her a reputation as a beauty; and any suggestion to the contrary was considered an intrusion too far by most of the Spanish press. None the less, a website specialising in such matters claimed to have discovered evidence of a facelift, brow lift, rhinoplasties, lip injections, fat injections to the face and multiple injections of Botox. “She overdid it, obviously,” a family friend was quoted as saying.

The Spanish media estimated the duchess’s wealth at between €600 million and €3.5 billion; her landholdings were said to be so vast that she would have been able to cross Spain from north to south without setting foot on anyone else’s property.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, she had more titles than any other person on the planet, being a duchess seven times over, a countess 22 times and a marquesa 24 times. Yet the Duchess always insisted she was not rich: “I have a lot of artworks, but I can’t eat them, can I?” she once said. Apart from thousands of paintings by Goya, Velazquez, Titian and others lining the walls of her numerous palaces, her collection included a first edition of Don Quixote, Columbus’s first map of America and the last will and testament of Ferdinand the Catholic, the father of Catherine of Aragon.

As head of the five centuries-old House of Alba, the Duchess’s privileges included not having to kneel before the Pope and the right to ride a horse into Seville cathedral. It was also said that, owing to her illustrious lineage, she was entitled to demand ceremonial precedence over the Spanish royal family. But she made little use of these historic perks, preferring the delights of a high-rolling lifestyle that began in England where her father, the 17th Duke of Alba, was Spanish ambassador during the Second World War.

The Duchess of Alba, c. 1947 (GETTY/HULTON ARCHIVE)

María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva Falcó y Gurtubay was born in her family’s neo-Classical Palacio de Liria in Madrid on March 28 1926, the only child of Don Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó, 17th Duke of Alba, and Doña María del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay, 9th Marquesa of San Vicente del Barco. Her godmother was Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain.

On her father’s side, Cayetana was a descendant of King James II of England through his illegitimate son James Fitz-James, Duke of Berwick, born of a relationship with Arabella Churchill, only sister of the Duke of Marlborough. This made her a distant relative of both Sir Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales, descendants of Arabella’s daughter Henrietta Fitz-James.

Other ancestors included Don Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba, known as “the Iron Duke” on account of the ruthlessness with which he put down revolt as governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1567 to 1573, and Doña María del Pilar de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba, a muse of Francisco Goya.

Cayetana did not have a happy childhood. Her mother died when she was eight, and three years later her father (a fervent monarchist who had served briefly under King Alfonso XIII as minister for foreign affairs in the government of General Dámaso Berenguer) took her to London, where he had been appointed ambassador for the Spanish Nationalist government.

The Duchess of Alba on her marriage to Don Pedro Luis Martínez de Irujo y Artacoz, 1947 (REX)

He was still the ambassador in 1940 when the British government recognised Franco’s regime, and the pair remained in London during the Second World War. In 1945, however, the Duke resigned his post, declaring that the Franco regime was “harmful to the best interests of Spain” after negotiations with the exiled pretender to the Spanish throne, Don Juan de Bourbon, whose claims the Duke had supported, broke down.

During the Spanish Civil War, the Albas’ Liria Palace had been occupied by the communists, and for that reason it was almost completely destroyed by German bombers in 1936. The Duke had taken the precaution of storing its priceless collection of paintings in the cellars of the Prado and the Bank of Spain, but around half the palace’s literary collection was destroyed and many other items were looted. On his return to Spain the Duke set about rebuilding the palace according to the original plans, work carried on after his death by Cayetana. It was largely due to her persistence that the palace remained a private residence.

Cayetana was considered a beauty in her youth and was reputed to have had a lively love life. In 1947 she married Don Pedro Luis Martínez de Irujo y Artacoz, a naval officer and son of the Duke of Sotomayor, in a ceremony at Seville Cathedral which cost an estimated £2 million in today’s terms and was described at the time as “the most expensive wedding in the world”. The ceremony was so grand that there was concern it would overshadow the nuptials of Britain’s future Queen, held a month later in austerity Britain.

The bride wore a white satin gown modelled on the dress worn by Napoleon III’s bride Empress Eugénie. After the ceremony the couple travelled through cheering crowds to the bride’s family’s Seville palace of Las Dueñas in a carriage pulled by mules.

The Duchess of Alba in 2011 (REX)

Cayetana succeeded as Duchess of Alba on her father’s death in 1953, and she and her first husband had five sons and a daughter. However, the father of her fourth son, Fernando, was widely rumoured to have been not her husband but the Sevillian flamenco dancer Antonio el Bailarin, who acknowledged his parentage in posthumously published memoirs. When the information was subsequently repeated in an article in the Spanish magazine Interviú, however, a Spanish court awarded the Duchess €90,000 in damages, describing the offending piece as an assault on her honour.

Her first husband died in 1972, and six years later the Duchess shocked Spanish society by marrying Jesus Aguirre y Ortiz de Zarate, an unfrocked Jesuit priest and freethinking intellectual 11 years her junior who had once been her confessor. It was not so much his dubious religious credentials that were considered scandalous, however, as the fact that he was illegitimate.

Yet their marriage was happy – so much so, in fact, that when Aguirre sent three love poems he had written for Cayetana to Julio Iglesias, asking him to set them to music, the singer refused, considering them too steamy. When, in 1988, the gossip pages reported strains in the marriage, Cayetana, then 62, responded: “We are happy, as happy as before. And, if you must know, we make love every night.” Except that “make” and “love” were not the words used.

After Aguirre’s death, in 2001, it was generally assumed that the Duchess, now in her mid-70s, would live her twilight years alone. But a few years later she was reported to be dating Alfonso Diez Carabantes, a minor civil servant in Spain’s department of social security and a man 24 years her junior. “When you get to know someone and you like them, you end up falling in love a little and I fell in love with him,” she revealed in a magazine interview in 2008.

On several occasions the Duchess’s children, apparently fearful of being separated from some of their inheritance by a man portrayed by detractors as a gold-digger, were said to have blocked the couple’s plans to tie the knot. In 2008 the House of Alba issued a statement saying that the relationship “was based on a long friendship and there are no plans to marry”. In June 2011 the Duchess’s youngest son, Cayetano, announced that his mother could not marry for a third time “owing to questions of historic responsibility”. At one point Spain’s King Juan Carlos was alleged to have telephoned the Duchess to urge her to think again.

The Duchess was resentful of her children’s interference, noting, pointedly, that they had all been divorced; so, by implication, they had no right to give her moral lectures. “I don’t know why my children are causing problems,” she complained on Spanish radio. “We aren’t hurting anyone. Alfonso doesn’t want anything, he’s renounced everything. He doesn’t want anything but me.”

In August 2011, however, the prospect of a damaging rift in Spain’s most prominent noble house appeared to have been averted after a deal was made under which the Duchess agreed to divide up her fortune between her children in advance of her death — and her groom renounced any possible claim to her wealth.

She and Diez then married, and after the wedding in Seville she entertained onlookers by kicking off her shoes and hiking up her dress to perform a flamenco dance outside her palace.

The Duchess is survived by her husband and children. Her eldest son, Carlos Fitz-James Stuart, 14th Duke of Huéscar, born in 1948, inherits the Alba titles.

The 18th Duchess of Alba, born March 28 1926, died November 19 2014


Members of the EU Parliament in Strasbourg ‘Abolish the Strasbourg parliament,’ suggests John Rowe. Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

Alistair Darling is right to stress the disastrous consequences of Britain leaving the EU (We’re better together with Europe, so must learn from Scotland, 18 November), and he’s just as correct in saying that those of us who recognise this (at least 50% of the population, according to the polls) need to get much, much noisier about saying so, while stressing the need for significant reform.

However, Mr Darling remains as obscure as most politicians and commentators on what such EU reform might look like. A far greater emphasis on growth, sure – but what would that actually look like? And what about the structural issues that underpin many people’s distrust of Europe? How about the Labour party adopting a policy that says we should: a) abolish the Strasbourg parliament, b) reduce the number of MEPs by a third, c) reduce their ridiculous salaries by a third, d) reduce their even more absurd expenses by half, and e), most important, abolish EU commissioners and make MEPs earn their corn by taking full responsibility for strategy and policy. They would have to elect their own president and allocate areas of responsibility. That might seriously reduce the unpopular movement towards ever-greater integration by ridding us of the unelected bureaucrats and the behind-closed-doors horse-trading about positions of power.

What savings and a huge increase in democratic accountability there would be. I’d then be interested to know what my north-west MEPs were actually doing and voting for, as well as who they had supported for key posts. It won’t happen, I know, but we might be surprised to find how many people across the EU thought it a good idea.
John Rowe

• One might have thought that creating a strong cross-party alliance on EU membership might come in handy in a future referendum, so what purpose is served by comparing the Scottish National party (pro-Europe) to Ukip (anti-Europe)? Labour needs to set aside its resentment of the SNP’s success if it is to win the argument for continued EU membership, and must come up with more convincing arguments than “reform” and “jobs and growth”, which are already EU priorities. The EU is pursuing similar neoliberal policies to those of New Labour, so what reforms does Labour think are now needed to convince British voters that the EU is acting in their interests? The Better Together campaign nearly failed in Scotland because it had no positive vision, and only rescued the situation through last-minute threats and promises that may or may not be delivered. So what is Labour’s vision for Britain in Europe?
Mary Braithwaite
Wye, Kent

• John Major claims that the current British anti-EU hysteria “is not a political ploy to gain advantages and concessions” (Major urges EU to realise that British frustration is ‘no game’, 14 November). But that is exactly what it is.

The chances of Britain leaving are minuscule. Should opinion polls indicate such a possibility in a referendum, the British establishment – which benefits greatly from EU membership – will press the panic button, as it did so successfully before the Scottish referendum. The media will suddenly be filled with daily horror stories of impending doom, economic collapse and isolation outside the EU.

London, the most global city in the world, would be more likely to secede from Ukip-land than accept Britain leaving Europe.
Jakob von Uexkull
Founder, World Future Council

• With all respect to the NUT, the GMB and the other signatories to the letter regarding the commission’s reactions to a proposed European Citizens’ Initiative regarding the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (We demand the right to challenge the TTIP, 18 November), a lawsuit would no doubt be costly and would not get very far. Far better to lodge their protest as a petition, under the terms of article 227 of the EU treaty, and ensure that the voice of citizens is heard where it belongs, in the European parliament. Indeed the parliament has, not surprisingly, registered several on this subject.

Not so long ago more than 2 million people signed a petition to the European parliament against Acta, the anti-piracy agreement, and that did not do so badly, having ensured an animated and well-informed debate in the petitions committee before a landmark vote in plenary session.

It does not help to confuse, as the authors also did, a petition and an ECI, but it is a common failing. The right to petition is a fundamental right of EU citizenship and open to all citizens and residents; the ECI, although defined in article 11 of the Lisbon treaty, is subject to an additional (and in my view too cumbersome) regulation that the commission has entirely respected in its decision. Check out the Europarl web-site; it is quite transparent.
David Lowe
Head of secretariat, petitions committee, European parliament

Peabody Trust housing for key workers in Baron's Place, London Peabody Trust housing for key workers in Baron’s Place, London. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

Nik Wood’s assertion that Peabody is contributing to London’s affordable housing crisis (Letters, 14 November) is incorrect. In fact we are building thousands of new affordable homes for Londoners. We are also investing £150m in improvements to residents’ homes and estates. Housing need extends across all tenures, and while we continue to provide new social housing we also provide intermediate and market rent as well as homes for sale on the open market. We also spend around £4m a year on community investment activities.

The rents on the properties we acquired from the crown estate in 2011 are intermediate rents for key workers capped at 60% of the market rent, with many tenants paying significantly less than that. Despite running these homes at a loss – spending more money than we receive in rental income – we have not applied the maximum rent increases set out in the sale agreement for the last two years. We are cutting rent increases again next year, and have reduced the rent where the level exceeds the local housing allowance limit for the area. In addition, we have invested over £7m on improvements to the former crown estate properties since 2011, with further investment planned in the coming years.

To correct a further inaccuracy, our surplus for 2013-14 was £35m (plus £256m, which is not cash but an accounting treatment that reflects the acquisition of Gallions housing association). Every penny we generate is reinvested to provide more affordable homes, and to enable us to continue our investment in quality homes, services and communities.
Stephen Howlett
Chief executive, Peabody

• We need a moratorium on property speculation in the UK while some sense is injected into the housing market. That might even limit the inevitable rise in the cost of housing benefit to the taxpayer. The application of free market principles to the provision of affordable homes to buy or to rent was certain to hurt tenants (Tenants face Christmas evictions after rent deal revoked, 17 November). The damage began on the day the Thatcher government abolished rent controls and allowed the free flow of national and international wealth into a housing market short on supply. Council estates that need refurbishment are now set for demolition for any reason councils short of funds can cook up.
Here in Tottenham the Love Lane estate must go, they say, to improve a deprived area and make way for a smart walkway from a new White Hart Lane station to the new Spurs football arena. This is not slum clearance but pure exploitation of the housing market by national and international property developers and landlords regardless of the need for affordable shelter of the sitting tenants, leaseholders, and those who bought the freehold since they had the right to buy.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• If Ed Miliband wants a cause to rally popular support, let’s hear him on the subject of the New Era estate, with an explanation of how social housing came to be flogged to a predatory US-based landlord, and an assurance that such a thing could never happen under a Labour government.
Jim Trimmer
Kingston upon Thames

• I’ve been saying to my WEA classes since 2010 that Labour’s next election slogan should be the winning “housing, housing, housing”.
David L Alfred

• There is a world of difference between Holyrood’s and Westminster’s approaches to the housing crisis. Last year, the Scottish government reintroduced a sufficient level of capital subsidy to ensure the future of affordable social rented accommodation both by housing associations and councils. “Affordable” means that someone in relatively low-paid employment or on a limited fixed income could be able to pay rent (of about £72-75 a week) and come off housing benefit. Simultaneously, the Scottish government scrapped the right to buy. The Westminster coalition, however, not only scrapped funding support for social housing in England but also extended the right to buy. And the Scottish government has maximised the use of discretionary housing payments to those seriously adversely affected by welfare reforms. These initiatives appear to have received if not cross-party support then at least only muted criticism from the other parties in Holyrood.
Craig Sanderson

06.08 GMT

The mayor of London’s view on Oxford Street’s air pollution has not changed, contrary to your report (Mayor chokes on own tweet over Oxford Street air, 14 November). The claim that it is the most polluted street in the world was erroneous and the mayor does not accept it. Letters between the mayor and Joan Walley MP have been taken completely out of context. He has never disputed the King’s College data, but has always been clear that this data was taken out of context and misrepresented repeatedly by the media. King’s College agrees that its data was misrepresented and reiterated this point to the London assembly’s environment committee just last week.

London has considerably lower levels of pollution than many world cities, as any reasonable analysis of international air quality shows, and Boris Johnson takes the problem extremely seriously. He is driving the most comprehensive and ambitious set of measures in the world to improve air quality, including tightening standards for buses, taxis and large vehicles and a new ultra-low-emission zone for central London, which includes Oxford Street and the surrounding roads from 2020.
Matthew Pencharz
Mayor’s senior adviser for environment and energy

Person looking at job vacancies in a newspaper ‘I was sacked from three jobs (for instance, for nibbling at the rounds of cheese when working in a grocer’s), yet each time was able to walk straight into another job,’ writes Dr Neil Redfern. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Reading Ian Jack’s column (Sorry, would-be sandwich makers: you’ll find it much harder to get a job than I did, 15 November) made me reflect on how much has changed with respect to employment opportunities and social mobility over the past 50-odd years. My CV illustrates this point perfectly. I left school in 1959, aged 15 with no qualifications. Over the next year or so I was sacked from three jobs (for instance, for nibbling at the rounds of cheese in the cellar when working as a shop assistant in a grocer’s), yet each time was able to walk into another job with no intervening periods of unemployment. Eventually, still with no educational qualifications, I was accepted for nurse training. I became a state registered nurse, qualifying in 1966. I wasn’t a very good nurse and sought new opportunities. After an uncertain period in which I, among other things, sold brushes door-to-door, worked as a labourer in a steel mill and suffered periods of unemployment, I had a stroke of good fortune in 1968 when, working as a clerk at a sportswear manufacturers, I was accepted for training as a computer programmer. I worked in information technology until 1989, when I went to Ruskin College (John Prescott’s alma mater) to study history. After 30 years, I had found my role. After 25 years’ studying, teaching and researching history, I am now a semi-retired university lecturer.
Dr Neil Redfern
Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

• While Linda Tirado poignantly documents the pain and humiliation of poverty in the UK (G2, 17 November), she doesn’t go far enough in her analysis of its origins. Of course capitalism needs its winners and losers and of course at the moment the winners feel they can safely condemn the losers. But this is not because Paul Ryan or Iain Duncan Smith are more loathsome than other cheerleaders for the neoliberal bandwagon. There is nothing personal in their attacks but to argue that they mean well is ludicrous. They do what they do because it’s what the system requires. A fear of pauperisation is vital if people are to be persuaded not to reject whatever zero-hours contract or minimum-wage-plus-humiliation job they are offered, and there is no greater cause of fear than not being able to feed yourself or your children. How long before we see the Victorian workhouse making its reappearance?
Tony Owen

Road accident sign in London A road accident sign in London. There are more than a million road deaths worldwide each year, writes the Rev Barry Parker. Photograph: Antonio Olmos

With tragic irony, the road crash that claimed the lives of five teenagers near Doncaster on Saturday night (Report, 17 November) took place on the eve of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, as well as the start of Road Safety Week. Instituted by the charity RoadPeace in 1993 and adopted by the UN in 2005, the Day of Remembrance is held annually on the third Sunday of November, and over 30 church services were held all over the UK last Sunday. At the event I attended in Barnsley, just a few miles from the crash site, we were reminded that the grief and trauma felt by the victims’ families and friends are intensified by the fact that in nearly every case such road deaths are entirely avoidable given good conduct, discipline and law enforcement. Small charities such as RoadPeace and Brake can do little to raise awareness of the need for safe roads, which are needed to protect us all as road users. Death and injury are a national and a worldwide tragedy, and governments and statutory organisations have a major role to play. The worldwide toll of well over 1 million road traffic deaths each year indicates we have many miles to go before we can say that this collective agony has been brought under some sort of control. It will be good to hear what our government is doing or plans to do to meet this urgent requirement.
Rev Barry Parker

Mylene Klass Does Myleene Klass face a choice between downsizing and paying a mansion tax?

While a Guardian guide to the erosion of public services by private corporations would be very useful (Letters, 19 November), there is some research already out there on who owns Britain and who sold it. George Monbiot’s 2000 book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain answers many of Richard Gravil’s questions. Our own book The Trojan Horse: The Growth of Commercial Sponsorship updates Monbiot’s work, and has a useful appendix which lists the key “providers” and their role in public services.
Deborah Philips Professor of literature and cultural history, University of Brighton
Garry Whannel Professor of media arts, University of Bedfordshire

• Myleene Klass is clearly very exercised by the possibility of a future Labour government giving her rich friends and herself the choice between downsizing or paying a mansion tax (Miliband bruised in Klass war over tax, 19 November). Presumably she is equally exercised by the current Tory-led government’s offer to those at the opposite end of the financial spectrum of the choice between downsizing or paying a bedroom tax.
Professor Jennifer Jenkins

• Hugh Muir should not be surprised by the chatter at the O2 (Notebook, 18 November). The whole atmosphere at the Barclays-sponsored tennis event was crass, from the loud music played at intervals to the dramatised announcements of the players and their obvious embarrassment as each led a small child by the hand while entering the arena. Perhaps next year we can expect cheerleaders.
Ron Houghton

• If that really is a photograph of “Sea and sky in harmony at Alnwick” (Weatherwatch, 19 November), global warming has far exceeded even the wildest forecasts. Last time I checked, Alnwick was five miles inland.
John Mathieson

• The gender-neutral pronoun in widespread use is not the Esperantesque “ze” (Shortcuts, G2, 18 November) but “they”, used as a singular: ugly but effective.
Guy Dugdale


Well now, that’s a surprise! Having bought for a song the UK’s favourite postal system with its major USP and time-honoured universal delivery system, the “new” Royal Mail looks set to be gearing up to shear off this encumbrance so as to streamline itself to battle upstarts such as TNT and Amazon, which have the audacity to be cherry-picking its best routes.

Well, the buyers knew this was already happening perfectly well when they bought the business, and they knew that Royal Mail was not just any old parcel delivery outfit.

It’s time they used their privileged power base and (still) massive customer goodwill to do what they are expected to do, and compete professionally with the relative newcomers.

And let’s hope Ofcom does what it’s supposed to do in preserving the universal delivery system  at all costs.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey

The threat to the Royal Mail universal service is yet another demonstration that competition does not improve service.

As a scientist I discard  or modify hypotheses that do not stand up to observation. Why does the Tory party not do so with  its competition myth?

A A Chabot



I would like to add my  voice to those that have expressed concerns regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

This agreement would expose our democratically elected government to non-democratic pressure from unaccountable multinational corporations, which would under its terms have recourse to suing this country over any policy that they felt to be against their interest.

Worse still, any such legal suit would be heard in secret under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, an organisation that has historically been slavishly supine to the interests of big multinationals.

 Almost certainly, it would make reversal of the creeping steps already taken towards privatising our NHS open to challenge from commercial healthcare operators seeing themselves shut out of lucrative opportunities to further milk the British taxpayer; while re-nationalisation of our railways, utilities, or the Royal Mail – which, like many, I still harbour hope of one day seeing – would be nigh on impossible.

We expect the Tories to welcome the TTIP, because it is the party of big business. What I find seriously disquieting is Labour’s apparent acquiescence in this threat to our independence, which is at least as menacing as any posed by the EU.

When will Labour at long last show some backbone and stand up for the rights of ordinary people over powerful corporations, as it was founded to do?

Richard Trotman

Penistone, South Yorkshire


Bring back the era of belles lettres

The news that budget cuts and safety concerns are leading to a decline in the number of foreign exchanges at secondary school level, combined  with the appallingly low level of pupils’ foreign language competence reported by the National Foundation for Educational Research, is a sad sign of the growing insularity of UK secondary education (“The foreign exchange  trip is becoming passé for UK schoolchildren”,  18 November).

However, there is an alternative to group exchange visits. It is the tried-and-tested foreign  pen-friend arrangement. When I was in my final  year of primary school,  back in the late 1950s,  my class teacher, who had been doing some basic French with us, one day allocated to each pupil  the name and address  of a French school pupil roughly our own age.

Within just over a year, having completed my first year of French at secondary school, I was on my way solo to visit my pen friend, whose family had invited me over for part of the summer holiday period. My pen friend visited my family a couple of years later. He and I still correspond.

Times change, and some parents these days may be nervous about putting 12-year-old offspring on to an airplane to be greeted at the other end by people they hardly know.

Furthermore, letter writing may be tiresome and old hat to many secondary pupils. But the various forms of electronic communication that are now open to them, including Skype, could easily serve as a platform for schools to develop pen friendships with pupils in other countries.

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire

An extreme view of an ordinary school

Turning to the inside  pages of today’s paper (20 November), which carried the front page headline “Islamic extremism claims top C of E school”, I discovered the headline itself to be extreme. An Islamic Society set up by sixth formers does not constitute a takeover of  the school.

I also noted, but was not surprised by, the statistic that despite being a Church of England school 80 per cent of the pupils are Bengali Muslims, accompanied by the comment of your Education Editor that the school  was thus “reflecting the make-up of the community it serves”.

Hence my lack of surprise, because all Church of England schools seek to serve the local community as they are parish-based, not faith-based. The Church of England doesn’t have so-called faith schools. Other Christian denominations and other major faiths do have faith schools, but not the Church of England.

The only qualification required to benefit from the ministry of the Church of England, be that baptism, marriage, burial, pastoral care or, as in this instance, education, is that you live in the parish. Every citizen in this country is a parishioner and can call upon the services of the local parish church, by right. That is one of the huge benefits of the Church of England being the Established Church  of the land.

Canon Tony Chesterman

Lesbury, Northumberland 

No credit for hotels which take liberties

The case of the “hovel allegation surcharge”, in which a Blackpool hotelier attempted to debit an extra £100 from a guest who posted an unfavourable review, not only raises questions of just how critical one can be online – it also raises serious questions over credit card “authorisation”.

When I give an online retailer, an airline or a hotel the “authorisation” to make a deduction, it is for an agreed amount in return for a service. I assume a contract (real or implied) is created for that specific transaction and the agreed amount. I do not imagine I am giving a blank cheque to the retailer to plunder that account.

Recently a hotel in London pre-authorised my credit card for £100 above the cost of the room for “services I might use”. I had to agree, if I was to continue my stay, even though I had no intention of using “additional services”.

The hoteliers in Blackpool may be aggrieved by the tone of the review, but something must be done to protect consumers against retailers who use cards in this way.

Matthew Hisbent


If you don’t need fuel subsidy, pass it on

Trevor Pateman (letter,  19 November) is obviously in the fortunate position of not actually needing the £200 winter fuel payment, but according to AgeUK “on average, one older person will die every seven minutes from a cold-related illness this winter”, so for many pensioners the payment  is a life-saver.

The money is sent out just before Christmas as presumably a goodwill gesture and doesn’t have  to be used straight away  to pay for “winter fuel”.

Mr Pateman could  donate his payment to AgeUK, giving him a  warm glow by helping someone in real need.

Mary Gough

Watford, Hertfordshire


A donnish character, but no professor

Your report on a Cambridge don’s bequest of nearly £1m to the Liberal Democrats (14 November) refers to him several times as “Professor Watson”. George Watson was never a professor. He was a college and faculty lecturer in English, for 50 years a resident fellow of St John’s. He died not “in August”, as your report had it, but in August 2013.

A notable donnish character (who kindly invited me to dinner  once, when I had a literary history of Cambridge published), cultured, polymathic and of robust views, he received, so far as I can discover, surprisingly few, if any, obituaries in the national press.

Graham Chainey


Paddington’s too much? Oh no it’s not!

The British Board of Film Classification has awarded the Paddington Bear film a PG certificate. Have the BBFC’s members ever been to pantomime? Mild threat? What about the wicked queen, step-mother or ugly sisters? A man dressed as a woman? The Dame. A woman dressed as a man? Principal boy. Innuendo? “Ooer, missus, what a big one!” (beanstalk, pumpkin, cucumber). I despair.

Sue Thomas

Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria


Sir, The appalling and brutal murders carried out in a synagogue in Jerusalem during morning prayers this week (“Deaths push Jerusalem to brink of holy war”, Nov 19) are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The desecration of the sacred, taking life in a house of prayer, is the absolute antithesis of faith and of what we stand for. This attack on people at prayer is yet another example from across the globe of violence in the name of religion, which undermines religious freedom. We appeal to the believers of all traditions to denounce such attacks wherever in our world they take place and to call for an end to religiously motivated violence.

The Most Rev Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury
Ephraim Mirvis Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra

Sir, There is, rightly, outrage at the synagogue massacre; there should also be outrage at Benjamin Netanyahu’s response, which will ensure the cycles of “getting even” go on. It seems we are lacking a statesman capable not only of halting this spiral of violence but even understanding it.

Dominic Kirkham

Sir, Foreign secretary Philip Hammond calls for peace between the Palestinians and the Jews. Surely he should be calling for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, whether the Israelis be Jewish, Druze, Christian, Bahá’í or indeed Muslim. The tragedy is that a separate state called Palestine would not have such a variety of believers.

Tamara Selig
Stanmore, Middx

Sir, I have found that when someone shouts at me, shouting back rarely makes things better. My daughter is in Israel at present. I would feel more confident about her safety if the Israeli government took a more measured approach to the inexcusable terrorist murders.

James Goldman
London NW4

Sir, Thousands of Israelis, both Jews and Muslims, including the president and heads of both religions, attended the funeral of Zidan Saif, the Druze policeman killed in the attack. In this deeply conflicted part of the Middle East where the positions of the Arab Muslim and Israeli Jewish parties appear intractable, the Druze, a Muslim community living in Israel, should be seen as a model of cooperation on which to build.

Dr R Rosenfelder
London NW6

Sir, Your correspondent Catherine Philp puts the cart before the horse (“Jerusalem braced for holy war”, Nov 20). The conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours did not begin as “territorial and political,” now “morphing into religious war.” Its origins were always fundamentally religious in nature — the notion of Jewish self-determination in any part of the “Dar el-Islam” [The House of Islam] being a challenge to Islamic jurisprudence.
Israel’s chief rabbinate may have forbidden Jews from entering the Temple Mount, but other rabbis have ruled differently. In any case, it is for each individual Jew to make up his or her mind on this issue. If Christians and Moslems can pray at this site, why not Jews?

Professor Geoffrey Alderman
University of Buckingham

Sir, It is 20 years since Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Muslims and wounded 125 others as the prayed in the Mosque of Abraham in Hebron. His house was not demolished and though some of his supporters in the extreme right-wing Meir Kahane group were briefly held, it was the Palestinians of Hebron who were punished for this atrocity: their movements became ever more restricted, and half their mosque was converted into a synagogue.
As we rush to condemn those who have applauded the synagogue attack in Jerusalem, let us remember that Goldstein’s grave became a place of pilgrimage for Israeli settlers — more than 10,000 visited it before it was demolished by the Israeli government.

Brigid Waddams
Batcombe, Somerset

Sir, I see from your report that spending on lollipop ladies has been cut by more than 40 per cent. The last time I looked I was still a man.

Peter Richardson
Sale, Cheshire

Sir, I write with regard to your report on migration (Nov 19). First, the subject is understated by some media which refer simply to net migration, and second, there is unbalanced criticism of the EU by the failure to make a distinction between immigration from EU and non-EU countries.

For the year ending March 2014 there were 560,000 immigrants of whom almost half were from non-EU countries. The government can do nothing about EU immigrants while we remain within the EU. It does, however, have responsibility for non-EU immigration and it seems to have lost control of this. In the same year, 316,000 people left the UK, making it likely that the UK is less British by almost one million people. No wonder there is growing public concern.
Lord Kilclooney
House of Lords

Sir, The scale and consequences of the failures of Rotherham Council cannot be overstated (“Councils leaving children exposed to sex grooming”, Nov 19), but Ofsted’s contribution should not be ignored either. Since 2005, Ofsted produced 11 reports on safeguarding in Rotherham. In only one report, in 2009, were serious concerns raised and the following year these were said to have been addressed.

An unannounced inspection in 2012 of the council’s arrangements for the protection of children concluded that “the overall effectiveness of local authority arrangements . . . is adequate. Significant improvements have been made since 2009 […] These improvements have been driven by clear and resilient leadership and informed by a sound and realistic understanding of the needs of the local community”.

The sexual exploitation uncovered in Rotherham took place between 1997 and 2013. Who will shine a light on Ofsted?
John Gaskin
Bainton, E Yorks

Sir, I am baffled by the report that Sir Bruce Keogh will require surgeons’ death rates to be published (News, Nov 17). He is a serious surgeon with a track record of good sense. Why is something so extraordinary going out under his name?

Anyone who has worked in the NHS knows that avoidable postoperative complications are more related to nursing care than anything else, and that surgeons have little control over that.

Clearly a correct diagnosis has to be made, and the correct operation offered and performed by the surgeon. Once the last stitch is in, it’s over to nurses and physios to ensure success. Death rates will reflect the success of the team working together, not the skill of the surgeon.
Alastair Lack

Coombe Bissett, Wilts


With life expectancy on the rise, the country’s social care system is in crisis

Close up of an elderly lady's hands, affected by rheumatoid arthritis, holding a cup

The number of people over 85 in Britain is expected to double by 2030 Photo: Alamy

6:59AM GMT 20 Nov 2014


SIR – The ballooning figures for life expectancy at birth and at age 65 in England and Wales highlight the fact that the care of Britain’s ageing population needs to be addressed urgently.

The social care system is in crisis, with the number of over-85s expected to double by 2030. It will be the scandal of our generation if we do not act to meet the needs of our ageing population – after all, the younger people of today are simply the older people of tomorrow.

The Grey Pride campaign has called for the introduction of a minister for older people in Cabinet. This would provide someone who can take responsibility for joining up services that affect old people – health, social care, housing, transport.

We call on the three major parties to commit themselves to such an appointment in their election manifestos.

Jane Ashcroft
Chief Executive, Anchor
Janet Davies
Executive Director for Nursing & Service Delivery, The Royal College of Nursing
Professor Martin Green
Chief Executive, Care England
Malcolm Booth
CEO, National Federation of Occupational Pensioners
Nick Bunting
Secretary General, Royal Air Forces Association
Simon Bottery
Director of Policy and External Relations, Independent Age
Denise Keating
Chief Executive, Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion
Nigel Wilson
CEO, Legal & General
Michael Voges
Executive Director of Associated Retirement Community Operators
Bob Green
CEO, Stonewall Housing
David Orr
Chief Executive, National Housing Federation
Stephen Burke
Director, United for All Ages and Good Care Guide
Des Kelly
Executive Director, National Care Forum
Jeff Skipp
CEO, Deafblind UK
Sam Smethers
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus
Colin Nee
Chief Executive, British Geriatrics Society
Paul Burstow MP
Liz Kendall MP
Dave Anderson MP
Nic Dakin MP
Jason McCartney MP
Dame Joan Ruddock MP
Tracey Crouch MP
Dame Angela Watkinson MP
Nick De Bois MP
Kevin Barron MP
Rosie Cooper MP
Alison Seabeck MP

Hilda Hayo
CEO, Dementia UK

The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East; equality between the sexes; how to save the eurozone; and an English lesson in 1960s chic

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years.

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

7:00AM GMT 20 Nov 2014


SIR – On the day when four Jewish worshippers were slaughtered at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue, the Church of England General Synod gathered to debate religious freedom and the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East.

A discussion paper had been circulated in advance, and we had invited a Muslim speaker to address us, in a historic step forward in inter-faith dialogue. Both the paper and the panel discussion upon it were measured, thoughtful and respectful.

The paper described religious freedom as the “canary in the mine”, which served as the measure of all other human rights.

The debate went well, except for one remarkable oversight: on that of all days, not a mention was made of our threatened Jewish brothers and sisters in the region.

I had tabled a question: “Is the canary in the mine Jewish?” but was not called.

Martin Sewell
General Synod Member, Rochester
Gravesend, Kent

SIR – David Blair writes that, in the present perilous situation in Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, will “probably be a stabilising force”.

Not so. Mr Abbas regularly incites violence among the people of Judea and Samaria as well as those Arabs currently living in Israel.

To the West, he speaks moderation, but to his Muslim audience, Mr Abbas calls for more surprise attacks until Israel is vanquished. If anyone wishes to know the truth about Mr Abbas, they need only look at the English translations of Arab newspapers, television broadcasts and cartoons online.

Dr Elizabeth Stewart
Weston, Lincolnshire

SIR – John Kerry, the US secretary of state, blamed the Jerusalem synagogue attack on “incitement” by Palestinian leaders.

Raymond Solomon

SIR – I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land recently, spending six nights in a Bethlehem hotel and commuting to the various Christian sites around Jerusalem and the West Bank before completing the trip in Tiberias. The hostility between the Israelis and the Palestinians was even more palpable this year than on my last trip two years ago, which is hardly surprising given what went on in Gaza this summer.

The thing that depressed me most of all was comparing notes with a pilgrim from Suffolk, who told me his group wouldn’t visit Bethlehem because their guide had told them that “it’s full of Muslims and they’re dangerous”. When asked, he confirmed that the guide was Israeli. I regard this as yet another example of Israel’s determination to starve the Palestinians into submission. I wish I knew the name of the tour company so I could expose its bigotry publicly.

Gabriel Herbert
London W12

Keeping men

SIR – Jacky Maggs argues that we need to stop vilifying women for the choices that they make regarding child care and work – that women need to be given a choice (Letters, November 18). I fully support her aims, but what about a man’s right to choose?

My son is destined to be a wage slave; my daughter, because she is female, will have a choice. We will only have equal numbers of women and men as FTSE 100 CEOs or government ministers when we have the same number of “kept” men as “kept” women.

Men are mainly judged by their careers, while women are judged on a broad range of issues, not all of them positive. Let’s start by judging women and men on the same basis; we will only achieve equality for women when we also have equality for men.

Kevin Ruff
Banbury, Oxfordshire

SIR – Of course no one commented on the way Karl Stefanovic, the Australian television presenter, was dressed. He was wearing his school uniform of dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. If he dared to wear different, brightly coloured clothes or appear without his tie, the wrath of the viewers would have descended on his head.

If the female presenters dressed conventionally and consistently wore a dark skirt suit and a smart blouse, they would attract as little comment as he did. Men in the public gaze only escape sartorial criticism if they conform to the very restricted view of “correct” male dress. There certainly is a gender divide in dress codes, but I would suggest that it is the men who are the victims.

Dr Steven Field
Wokingham, Berkshire

SIR – Cathy Newman envies her male colleagues who do not need to spend hours rifling through the wardrobe in search of suitable TV attire”. So why does she spend hours? Let her wear a smart suit with a white blouse and her killer heels. Problem solved.

Marjorie Ainley
Bath, Somerset

Heaven’s bacon

SIR – In his recent illuminating article on saffron, Paul Levy refers to “Portuguese saffron desserts… formerly confected exclusively by nuns, [which are] made extravagantly yellow by the incorporation of an unimaginably large number of egg yolks.”

Such desserts were, indeed, originally made in convents and monasteries, where large quantities of egg whites were used for the starching and pressing of the nuns’ and monks’ habits. The leftover egg yolks were then put to good use, resulting in a constellation of celestial desserts, ultra-sweet and sticky, which are found throughout the country to this day. Many of them carry names associated with monastic life, such as “heaven’s bacon”, “nun’s belly” and “angel’s chests”.

Richard Symington
London SW17

Rating bears and birds

SIR – The rating afforded Paddington by the British Board of Film Classification may help the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds when considering the fate of four-and-twenty blackbirds.

Robert Vincent
Wildhern, Hampshire

Litter pickings

SIR – Americans are not necessarily tidier than Britons (Letters, November 19).

Some states, Georgia in particular, employ prisoners to pick up litter from the roadside, sometimes under the supervision of an armed policeman.

Making prisoners useful would benefit society here in Britain.

M D Sparks
Shalford, Essex

35 sleeps till Christmas

SIR – Irena Milloy (Letters, November 17) is wrong in thinking Christmas bedding a new phenomenon.

My reindeer and snowflake patterned bedding is now over a decade old. It is used for no more than 28 days a year, after which it is banished to the cupboard. I expect it to outlast us all.

Dr Fiona Ramsay

SIR – My recollection of Christmas arriving early goes back to the Forties when our milkman was also the supplier of our Christmas chicken. To guarantee a chicken on our table on Christmas Day it had to be ordered by July.

Edmund Redfern
Blackburn, Lancashire

It’s all in the hours: how to save the eurozone

Olde Worlde business: Ernst Graner’s early 20th-century portrait of a Viennese grocer’s ( )

SIR – A recent weekend visit to Vienna on All Saint’s Day brought home to me very clearly why eurozone economies are failing to grow.

It was a national holiday, so I would guess that, during that weekend, the population of the city centre was swollen by perhaps 40-50 per cent: yet, barring an odd coffee shop and chocolatier, the entire city remained closed. Closer inspection of the opening hours of various retail premises revealed that many still close at half past five or six each evening, and have no late-night openings.

With this kind of approach to work it is small wonder that business is bad.

Jan de Walden
London SE1

How the English taught the French to be chic

SIR – My French exchange student lived in the same outfit for 10 days because it was the one rig-out she felt was fashionable. This was 1967 and she wore black needlecord jeans, a rose wool ribbed mini jumper and short leather ankle boots, even when we spent the sunny afternoons at the outdoor lido in Surbiton.

Later I took her to Carnaby Street and she spent all her holiday money on a citrus psychedelic dress – it was Swinging London after all, while the French were still rocking to Johnny Hallyday.

When I got to France we spent our afternoons in an attic “club”, where all the teenagers smoked Kent cigarettes and played moody Michel Polnareff records.

Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – I was saddened to see that safety rules are to preclude pupils’ foreign exchange visits.

Fifty years ago, aged 15, I travelled alone by train from Birmingham to Landshut to meet up with my German pen friend.

I learnt much from that visit, apart from the ability to better express myself in a foreign language. Most importantly I learnt that not all people were as materially fortunate as me. After my lengthy journey I asked to take a bath – never expecting that this would entail buckets of water being brought to the boil and poured into a tin bath.

It was a salutary lesson, and my pen friend and I remain in contact to this day.

Penelope Cornish
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – A U-turn, a climbdown, a volte-face, a rowback, a 180, a flip-flop, a back-track, a watered-down version. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – U-bend or U-turn? – Yours, etc,


Beaumont, Dublin 9.

Sir, – Those surviving on a pittance will be charged the same amount for water as those with too much to count. The distribution of money upwards continues unabated. Governance in Ireland, under this Coalition, is now utterly inglorious. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – What is the logic behind charging an adult living alone €60 for water, while a cohabiting couple must pay €80 each? – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The details of the revised water charges regime outlined in the Dáil yesterday are identical in almost every respect to the information leaked to the media in recent weeks.

As the Government had repeatedly assured us that the Cabinet exclusively was working on this package, it must be assumed that these leaks came from Cabinet members.

This is, of course, very worrying indeed and must be of grave concern to the Taoiseach, who I am sure will order an immediate inquiry – to be conducted by a retired High Court judge, of course. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Watching the “debate” in the Dáil on the changes to water charges, I was struck by the bad manners of our so-called leaders. While the Minister was outlining the changes, Opposition TDs continually heckled him, and when the Opposition spokesman stood up to reply, most of the Government front bench walked out. How are we to have any respect for these people whose manners are worse than a bunch of rowdy schoolchildren? – Yours, etc,



A chara, – Minister for the Environement Kelly had already begun the predictable buck-passing. Asked if non-payers would be brought to court, he responded that this was a matter for Irish Water! I’m sure the same response will be forthcoming when charges are increased in due course. – Is mise,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Anyone familiar with the unerring ability of Goverment TDs to issue retractions, contradictions and pure spin will probably wait another few weeks to see what else it is going to let fly out of their mouths, before deciding one way or the other.

Once people are signed up, 2019 will roll around quickly enough, the plebisicite will never happen and charges will quickly skyrocket before the whole thing is sold off to some private investor. It will then be too late for the Irish people to do anything about it.

Massive public protests get results and the anti-water charges campaign should keep up the pressure until at least a plebisicite is held and the future of Irish Water as a public utility is secured. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – My stance in favour of water charges all along has been because of the conservation argument. Now that we know the details of the water charges payments, it seems the conservation argument has gone out the window. It seems that what my anti-water charges friends were telling me in heated debates was correct, it was just a tax under another name.

What’s the point in conserving water if there is a cap in place? It doesn’t matter how much water you use. We are now being told that the meters will help reduce bills if you use a small amount of water. In reality the reduction will be minuscule and will not be worth the effort. Granted the meters may find a few leaks but if you are effectively not being penalised for them, what’s the point in getting them fixed? – Yours, etc,


Salthill, Galway.

Sir, – The big problem is those who won’t pay and those who can’t pay. What is to be done about that? The Government’s answer is political, ambiguous and mealy-mouthed. People won’t be chased for the charge until a year and a month from the start date. The financial penalties seem rather low and will only count, apparently, when the residence is being sold. There is no mention of jail terms and confiscation of income or property. PPSs are not to be asked for and those which have been given are to dealt with by a protocol between Irish Water and the data commissioner.

The honest will wind up paying for the quango known as Irish Water. Those who don’t pay are going to get a lot more time with their money than the honest ones. Eventually, a detailed scheme will have to be designed for those who really can’t pay. This means income assessment, something Revenue and the Department of Social Protection seem reluctant to do. In the meantime, Irish Water will be racking up the costs, which will have to be paid in the future, almost certainly from government income or loans. So expect a big jump in water charges after 2019. – Yours, etc,


Coolock, Dublin 17.

A chara, – One water meter for sale. Like new. Any reasonable offer accepted. – Is mise,


Mount Merrion,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – If we give it a few more months, the Government will be paying us to use water. – Is mise,


Dublin 24.

Sir, – I was interested to read Stephen O’Byrnes’s piece “‘Peaceful protest’ over Irish Water is truly a charade” (Opinion & Analysis, November 19th). Given his former senior role in the now defunct Progressive Democrats, I particularly welcome his call “that the genesis of this ongoing campaign of unlawful behaviour is spelled out by Government, supported by all our politicians”.

Perhaps you would allow similar space and prominence to be given to an exploration of how certain policies, promoted by the PDs and implemented by governments of which that party was a member, contributed to the economic collapse of this country, with catastrophic results for so many, particularly the poor, excluded and marginalised? Might we start with the lack of regulation of the financial services sector, and its implementation of income tax cuts at a time of unprecedented economic growth, and its impact on revenue when the housing and property market collapsed? The list is long; however, I hope the above two items might be a useful start. – Yours, etc,


Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – What a relief to read such a well-structured article from Stephen O’Byrnes. I agree wholeheartedly and it makes such a change from all the negative media comment we have been subjected to. The complete Irish Water situation has been handled so very badly and it is difficult to believe that the politicians in Government can ever recover from this debacle. Unfortunately, anarchy is rearing its head and I hope the authorities are ready. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – I wish to protest about the protests. Please can we have some new news! – Yours, etc,


Kilcoole, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Stephen O’Byrnes writes, “It is also time that some broadcasters moved beyond their ping-pong presentation of these events, and stopped according a moral and political equivalence to both sides in this national confrontation”. Is he suggesting that The Irish Times should be condemned for publishing his article without warning readers that he is a neo-liberal long associated with the redundant Progressive Democrats? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – Do you have to afford lobbyists such as Stephen O’ Byrne the opportunity to serve up such drivel in your opinion columns? – Yours, etc,


Inchicore, Dublin 8.

Sir, –The opinion piece condemning the “anarchy” of the water protesters by Stephen O’Byrnes describes him as a communications and political consultant. Many people may not be aware that the same Mr O’Byrne and his colleagues in the late and unlamented Progressive Democrats bear a huge responsibility for the economic policies that led to the bankruptcy of this State. The rejection by the people of further impositions to pay for the result of such policies is entirely predictable and justified, while the actions of a few are not. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I would urge the protesters to heed one of their own slogans, “Enough is enough”. You have made your point; now let it rest, please. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

A chara, – In his article on political stability and governability in Ireland (“Losing its grip: why the Irish political system can no longer guarantee stability”, Opinion & Analysis, November 11th), Fintan O’Toole suggests that mass emigration was the price paid for the prioritisation of political stability in post-independence Ireland.

I would argue that political stability was a consequence rather than a cause of mass emigration (which was long-established before the achievement of independence in 1922).

In 1992 the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) published a report by the Norwegian social scientist, Lars Mjøset, which sought to explain why Ireland’s level of economic development lagged behind that achieved by other small west European economies (Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland). Mjoset’s main conclusion was that the latter countries, unlike Ireland, had developed strong export-oriented industrial sectors that were primarily owned by indigenous firms and around which were built robust national systems of innovation which drove processes of continuous renewal and expansion.

Ireland, Mjøset argued, did not possess a comparable national system of innovation, and a key reason for this was the impact of continued mass emigration since the mid-19th century. The selective nature of emigration meant those moving abroad were, for the most part, young, energetic, ambitious, and innovative. In essence, those with get-up-and-go got up and went. This was the classic safety valve that systematically removed those who would otherwise have been sources of social disruption and change.

As a result, Ireland was left in the unchallenged control of highly conservative, agrarian-based, social and economic elements profoundly inimical to change. Rather than challenge these entrenched interests, and faced with very limited employment prospects, potential dissidents who might otherwise have sparked innovation and change simply emigrated. One consequence was the phenomenon of political stagnation (as much as stability) described by Mr O’Toole.

It remains to be seen to what extent the current wave of social unrest, in conjunction with the implosion of the Catholic Church, the marginalisation of agriculture and widespread alienation from the established political parties signals a secular transition to a new era of political instability. – Is mise,



Department of Geography,

Maynooth University.

Sir, – The recent death of a two-year-old girl in a road incident in Waterford was tragic (“Fire service criticises ‘ghoulish’ crash photos”, Front Page, November 20th). I cannot begin to imagine the grief that her family is going through. It is deplorable that members of the public that happened upon the scene began capturing videos and photo images of the incident with their phones. Why anyone would stoop to this morbid behaviour is beyond my comprehension. Yet it has has become so widespread that Waterford Fire Services has appealed to the public to let it get on with its work and to show respect and dignity to those involved in accidents. Curiosity is normal; capturing images of dying, injured and distraught victims is not. – Yours, etc,


Dunleer, Co Louth.

Sir, – I commend Kathy Sheridan for her clear-headed analysis of the inherently harmful nature of prostitution (“Telling the grim truth about prostitution”, Opinion & Analysis, November 19th). As an organisation that has supported over 2,500 women whose lives have been blighted by their involvement in the sex trade, we can confirm that they did not experience prostitution as “a job like any other”, but rather an existence characterised overwhelmingly by objectification, exploitation and violence meted out by those who bought them and those who profited from their sale.

As we move towards long-awaited legal reform on this issue in Ireland, Ms Sheridan is right to suggest it is time to face the truth of what prostitution really involves and stop pandering to the view of it as a harmless or even glamorous “profession”. This is a view peddled by a privileged minority and only serves to line the pockets of pimps and traffickers, and prop up the belief that men have the right to buy women and girls – usually the most marginalised and vulnerable women and girls. If we are truly interested in achieving gender equality in Ireland then tackling the oppression of prostitution has to be an absolute priority. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,


All Hallows College,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

Sir, – Last Friday I travelled to the “3 Theatre” (formerly the 02) in Dublin to attend the Andrea Bocelli concert. The concert was late starting (which is apparently the norm in Ireland now), latecomers were admitted in their droves without even an apology up to the interval, and the prohibition of recording and filming was not enforced. Am I the only person who gets upset when there is constant chatter from behind in the middle of an aria or orchestral piece? Am I expecting too much not to have to sit next to or behind someone constantly using their iPad or iPhone to take numerous photographs from every angle during every song? Am I asking too much of the promoters of these concerts to enforce their own rules and to leave the latecomers outside? There were so many photographs being taken last Friday the scene was reminsicent of the intermittent flashing of Christmas tree lights. Yet nothing was said other than a general announcement at the beginning of the evening, when many of the latecomers were not even present.

What was worse, people were emailing photographs to their friends and then answering the emails, after having an audible discussion, of course. What is it about Irish society that we can no longer arrive on time, sit, listen and enjoy? Intervals were made for chatting.

The ticket (excluding charges) cost €166 and was paid for in April. This was a most expensive trip; I won’t be spending my hard-earned cash in that theatre again. We as a civilised society lost a lot in the Celtic Tiger, and not all of it money.

Thank heavens for the Gate and the National Concert Hall, where standards are still maintained. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Alison Hackett (November 18th) argues that if teachers wish to retain professional status as educators they should assess their students’ work. She cites other professions such as the law and architecture. Would she agree to a system whereby a lawyer would defend a client and then act as judge and jury? Or where an architect would both submit a planning application and then decide whether or not to give permission for construction? Teachers are not only there to assess; they are advocates, supporting students throughout their time at secondary school – encouraging, cajoling, inspiring. The student-teacher relationship is a delicate one that may be ruined by forcing teachers to become the judges of their students. – Yours, etc,


Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole should realise that even little ideas can have big consequences (“What’s the big idea? It’s time for the State to consider a real democracy”, Opinion & Analysis, November 18th). Why not include the banning of smoking in pubs and the charging for plastic bags as big ideas? From little saplings do great oaks grow. – Yours, etc,


Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:

So all is settled. We have “certainty, simplicity and affordability”. The charging rates have been lowered and set in stone for four years. Irish Water will only be privatised if the people agree in a plebiscite. The Government backbenchers, we hear, are quietly satisfied that the worst is over and that the Government has regained the initiative. Case closed. Panic over.

But is it? The big problem is those who won’t pay and those who can’t pay. What is to be done about it? The Government’s answer is political – ambiguous and mealy-mouthed. People won’t be chased for the charge until a year and a month from the start date. The financial penalties seem rather low and will only count, apparently, when the residence is being sold. There is no mention of jail terms and confiscation of income or property. PPSs are not to be asked for and those which have been given are to be dealt with by protocol between Irish Water and the Data Commissioner.

As usual the Government has chickened out. The honest will wind up paying for the quango known as Irish Water. Those who don’t pay are going to get a lot more time with their money than the honest ones. Eventually, a detailed scheme will have to be designed for those who really can’t pay. This means income assessment – something Revenue and Social Welfare seem reluctant to do.

In the meantime, Irish Water will be racking up costs which will have to be paid in the future – almost certainly from Government income or loans.

So expect a big jump in water charges post-2019. Hopefully, the country won’t be washed up by then. This Government are unlikely to be in power then (not to worry – the pensions are terrific).

Maybe Sinn Fein will be power. It should be interesting to see their policy on Irish Water. There’s one positive note about Sinn Fein in government – enforcement of government policy shouldn’t be a problem.

Liam Cooke

Coolock, Dublin 17

Water charges

When George Bush Senior was president of the US he said that future wars would be about water. Once again, Ireland is to the fore as we set out to do the right thing by starting our own watered-down version in the run-up to the 2016 celebrations.

This is what was really said outside the GPO that day in 1916 (as it all becomes clearer now that we see history repeat itself).

“In the name of Water and the dead generations, etc, etc.” We can now confidently replace Padraig Pearse’s “blood sacrifice” with “water retention”, because he obviously was saying this.

You can take our freedom, but you’ll never take our rivers, which always run free. Oh, they’ve taken them as well?

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork

It’s not just any panto… it’s the Irish Water panto.

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont D9

Almost everyone knows that when you are in a hole you stop digging. However, after half a million water holes, the Government are still at it.

Seamus McLoughlin

Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim

‘Disgraceful’ scenes in Ireland

Dear God! Am I supposed to be concerned that Joan Burton has been hit by a balloon? Enda Kenny says this is “disgraceful”. Really?

Taoiseach, for your education, this is what “disgraceful” looks like:

It’s the two men I know in their 40s in our capital who killed themselves because their businesses failed in the crash, which was caused by Irish politicians.

It’s doing absolutely nothing, when you’re the leader of the opposition, to hold an inept government to account – even though that’s your absolute duty in a democracy.

It’s failing to pressurise government during the boom years to invest in hospitals, schools and 100-year-old leaky water pipes.

It’s throwing away €80m of our money to set up Irish Water.

It’s the death of my father this year from complications having developed a lung clot after lying on a hospital trolley. (He was in A&E simply to get three stitches in his head after a fall and wanted to go home during all of the first 24 hours. Then he deteriorated, had to go to a ward and then cost the taxpayer a bomb in useless rehabilitation costs for three months, before he eventually died in a room with eight other patients watching him). My father had paid twice over for his medical care (both public and private).

This is a definition of “disgraceful”.

Dr Maeve White

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14

Don’t let Benjy bull leave alone

I note in your pages the exploits of Benjy the Co Mayo gay bull (November 18).

So far, £9,000 (€11,242) has already been pledged to rehome the lucky bull.

A young adult Charlois would weigh about 800kg, at current (well-publicised) low pricing levels (€3.67/kg) this would amount to under €3,000. Considering the amount raised, perhaps there would be enough left over for him to bring a friend?

Richard E Joyce

Monkstown, Co Dublin

Backing continuous assessment

The second-level teacher unions are committed to resisting the compromised proposals for junior-cycle reforms as outlined by the Minister for Education and Skills. Regrettably, they have announced two days of strike.

In a joint statement the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland continue to raise concerns about the potential impact of 40pc school-based continuous assessment on “educational standards”. They also strongly claim to be taking a stand on behalf of their students and what is best for them.

However, both the National Parents Council Post-Primary (NPCpp) and the Irish Second-level Students’ Union (ISSU) have come out in support of the minister’s proposed reforms, including a level of school-based assessment.

In their own joint statement both parent and student bodies have respectfully asked teachers to return to talks, stating that the minister’s proposed package of reforms is “good for students, good for parents and good for education”.

Therefore, these proposed strikes do not have the support of many parents and students. More importantly, many of the concerns raised by the unions are not supported by research.

Both teachers and union representatives are well aware that research has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that constructive and formative feedback is essential for promoting learning.

Students need to know what they are doing well, where they are required to improve and how they can improve.

A summative exam at the end of a three-year cycle does not give teachers the opportunity to provide such feedback. On the other hand, the proposed 40pc school-based continuous assessment over years two and three provides teachers with the opportunity to assess their students and help them identify areas where they can learn and develop their skills, as well as hopefully improving students’ overall grade outcome.

Teachers are best placed to provide students with individualised formative feedback that can help them reach their full potential.

Dr Raymond Lynch

Department of Education

University of Limerick

Irish Independent


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