Peter Rice and Vet

29 November 2014 Peter Rice and Vet

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get to the Vet with Fluff. Peter Rice turns up again.

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


Bernard Stonehouse was a polar scientist who braved atrocious weather to study king penguins in Antarctica

Bernard Stonehouse, polar scientist in the Antarctic

Bernard Stonehouse at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge Photo: JOHN ROBERTSON

5:18PM GMT 28 Nov 2014


Bernard Stonehouse, who has died aged 88, was a polar scientist who studied king penguins on South Georgia and seabirds on Ascension Island; he was also one of the very few to have spent three consecutive winters in the Antarctic — and was lucky to have lived to tell the tale.

Stonehouse first went to Antarctica at the age of 20 in 1946 as a naval pilot seconded to the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS, now the British Antarctic Survey). Based mainly at the survey’s Base E on Stonington Island, he also served as a meteorologist, dog sledder and, ultimately, biologist.

On September 15 1947 Stonehouse was on board as deputy pilot when the base’s Auster aircraft took off to mark out a safe landing spot for a larger American twin-engined aircraft which was about to undertake an extensive aerial survey. On the return flight, however, bad weather forced him and his two companions to make an emergency landing on sea ice, and the aircraft turned on its back after one of its skis hit an ice hummock. The three men emerged unscathed but were forced to pitch camp on the ice. They had only a small “pup” (two-man) tent, one sleeping bag, one inner bag and a tin of pemmican between the three of them.

After somehow surviving the first night and failing to attract the attention of a rescue aircraft with a flare, they decided to attempt to cover the 70 miles to base on foot. On the first day they travelled 10 miles, but then the snow set in. For the next few days they averaged only three or four miles a day, hauling their few belongings on a “sledge” improvised from the aircraft’s fuel tank, taking it in turns to use the sleeping bag and eking out the pemmican. Then they were hit by a ferocious gale which saw them huddling together in the tiny tent for three more days.

The gale was a mixed blessing, however, because when it abated it had scoured the sea ice and they were able to set off again. Seven days after their crash, they heard the welcome sound of an aircraft circling some miles away and decided to use their last flare to attract its attention. They were rescued by the American expedition’s Norseman aircraft. They were extremely tired and hungry, but otherwise largely unharmed.

Bernard Stonehouse was born in Hull on May 1 1926. Joining the Fleet Air Arm in 1944, he trained as a pilot, and in 1946 joined the FIDS, travelling to Stonington Island in the sealing ship Trepassey.

During his first year, apart from his close shave with the Auster, his meteorological duties kept Stonehouse mainly at the base. In his second year he took part in two long dog-sledge journeys, under the direction of Vivian (later Sir Vivian) Fuchs, who had taken over command of the base.

Bernard Stonehouse (third from left) celebrating Christmas Day, 1947, on Stonington Island

On the second of these journeys, to survey the coast of Adelaide Island to the north-west, the party covered a total distance of 500 miles. Stonehouse had a few unpleasant moments when he and another member of the party with their sledge broke through thin sea ice and were plunged into the icy water.

In 1949 Stonehouse was one of the so-called “lost 11”, the name given by the press to the men who had an enforced winter at the Stonington base after a relief ship was prevented from reaching them by thick sea ice. For Stonehouse and four others, it was the third consecutive winter in the Antarctic.

By the time he returned to Britain to read Zoology and Geology at University College, London, in 1950, Stonehouse had already carried out a pioneering piece of scientific research. The expedition to Adelaide Island had made the exciting discovery of an emperor penguin “rookery” on the Dion Islands, just off Adelaide’s south coast. At that time, only two other such rookeries were known.

From early June 1949, Stonehouse, supported by two companions, spent three months on the Dion Islands, living in tents in temperatures as low as -40C, to study the penguins during the winter breeding season, about which very little was known at the time. He gained valuable data on the breeding behaviour and embryology of the animals, observing their instinctive desire to hold an egg, or indeed any object of similar size.

On one occasion when a Leica camera was found to be missing, the thief was spotted waddling away with a leather strap trailing between its feet. A penguin, Stonehouse concluded, thinks that a human is a penguin who is “different, less predictable, occasionally violent, but tolerable company when he sits still and minds his own business”.

Doctoral research at the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology and Merton College, Oxford, involved an 18-month field study of king penguins on South Georgia between 1953 and 1955. On his return Bernard married Sally, whom he had met in the University of London Air Squadron and with whom he departed, in 1957, to Ascension Island as leader of a British Ornithologists’ Union Centenary Expedition.

There, with a team of five companions, the Stonehouses spent 18 months studying seabirds on the island and on nearby Boatswain Bird Island, a 250ft-high, steep-sided column of weathered rock liberally festooned with white guano and surrounded by circling hammerhead sharks. The only landing point was a flat platform of rock 25ft above the churning water, with just enough room to build a hut with two camp beds. It was there that the couple spent their third wedding anniversary.

In 1960 Stonehouse moved to New Zealand as lecturer, and later reader, in Zoology at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, where he remained until 1968. During this time he led students on expeditions over five summers working out of New Zealand’s Scott Base, Ross Dependency, continuing his work on penguins, and visiting the classic breeding area of the emperor penguin at Cape Crozier.

After a year at Yale and a further year as a Commonwealth research fellow at the University of British Columbia, he returned to Britain, teaching biology at Strathallan School, Perthshire, while embarking on a serious writing career. In 1972 he moved to Bradford University, setting up the new School of Environmental Science there.

In 1982 he accepted the post of editor of the Polar Record, the journal of the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. By this time, as well as scientific papers and reports, he had published several popular books on wildlife and the environment, including Animals of the Antarctic (1972) and an impressive volume of air photographs of the British countryside (1982), for which he provided the commentary. He thus brought to Cambridge a valuable knowledge of publishing, and he rapidly improved the style and format of the Polar Record, while attracting an impressive range of contributors.

After retiring as editor in 1992, he retained his connection with the Institute as a senior associate, forming its Polar Ecology and Management Group and heading a long-term study on the ecological impact of polar tourism, during which he took advanced students for five summer expeditions – to Cuverville and Hannah Point.

Stonehouse on a dog kennel roof with three of his expedition’s dogs in the Antarctic, 1947

Antarctic tourism, he concluded, was broadly positive if properly managed, in that it encourages a public interest in polar conservation. “On the whole,” he observed, “the tourists have done far less damage than some of the scientists who have had the run of the place since the 1950s.” He published the first travel book to the area, Antarctica: The Traveller’s Guide (1996); co-edited Prospects for Polar Tourism (2007); and worked as a popular lecturer on board tourist ships for more than 20 years.

His other publications include Wideawake Island: The story of the BOU centenary expedition to Ascension (1960); Penguins and Sea Mammals of the World (1985); and Antarctica and Global Climate Change (1991, edited with Colin Harris).

In 1953 Stonehouse received the Polar Medal. He is also commemorated in Stonehouse Bay on the east coast of Adelaide Island (first surveyed in 1909 by a French expedition and to which he led an FIDS sledge party to resurvey in 1948) and by Mount Stonehouse, a peak in the Transantarctic range.

Bernard Stonehouse is survived by his wife Sally and by their son and two daughters.

Bernard Stonehouse, born May 1 1926, died November 12 2014


Former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchelll arrives at the High Court Andrew Mitchell. ‘I can assure him we will be able to find a room for him where I work – a charity-run hostel for homeless people in Birmingham.’ writes Graham Hart. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

I am concerned about Andrew Mitchell and what will happen to him once he settles his debts, believed to be about £3m (He did say ‘pleb’: judge’s ruling leaves Mitchell’s career in ruins, 28 November). Handing over this much money could clearly leave him destitute, and he could lose his homes. However, I can assure him we will be able to find a room for him where I work – a charity-run hostel for homeless people in Birmingham. And it is only a short distance from his Sutton Coldfield constituency, should the fine people there choose to re-elect him.

We house about 170 people at present on one of our sites and about 200 on several more. You could say we are one of the few growth industries of recent times. It also means Mr Mitchell would get to know a few more “plebs” and the problems they face thanks to the actions of his government. He may even realise they are not just “people you step over on your way home from the opera”, as another Tory once said.
Graham Hart

• Mr Justice Mitting believed PC Toby Rowland rather than Andrew Mitchell over the “pleb” allegation, but his reasons for doing so were not very flattering. The officer, according to the judge, “is not the sort of man who had the wit, the imagination or the inclination” to “invent in the spur of the moment what a senior cabinet minister would have said to him”. I don’t know how PC Rowland feels, but I’d prefer to be called a pleb.
Donald Mackinnon
Newport, Gwent

• I think the judge is probably wrong there. I’m sure the PC could have managed to think of something if he’d wanted to. More to the point is that Mr Rowland was able to handle the challenging dilemma of telling right from wrong.
David Barford

• It will take more than one sensible legal decision to restore any faith I have in British justice, but the £1.5m bill shows how ludicrous the system is. At the same time, the fact that Mitchell brought the case shows what an arrogant person he is. And why was he demanding the gate be opened when he could easily have wheeled his bike through the side gate, or ridden it on the pavement like most cyclists would have done? But perhaps he was afraid the police might arrest him for that? What a waste of time, energy and effort, all for one little man’s ego.
David Reed

• Ill-advised or capricious as the decision to sue for libel may have been, I just don’t understand how the costs of such a relatively short trial can amount to anything like £1.5m – £1.5m represents 15 years’ labour at a relatively generous salary of £100k per year. Very nice work if you can get it.
Andy Smith
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

• Parliament is currently passing a bill designed to enable electors to recall MPs who have behaved badly. Andrew Mitchell has been found to have behaved badly. Yet the bill in its present form would not enable the electors of Sutton Coldfield to decide if they would like him to remain as their MP. Would it not make for better accountability if it did?
Tony Wright

• Now that the Andrew Mitchell libel trial has concluded, I do hope Bob Geldof (a character witness for Mitchell) will not be raising funds by releasing a song titled Legal Aid or something similar.
Kapil Juj

• Perhaps all those commenting on the Mitchell affair should recall that the post of tribune of the plebs was one of the most honourable and sought after in the Roman republic?
Dugald MacInnes

• In all the reports about “plebgate”, no one has explained why Andrew Mitchell was told to dismount at the gates of Downing Street and wheel his bicycle awkwardly through a side gate. There were three able-bodied policemen standing around on a rather tedious duty. Surely one of them could have made the modest effort to open the main gate and let him cycle through?
John Birtill
Guisborough, North Yorkshire

• What a pity that Andrew Mitchell didn’t have a taxi following his bicycle, the better to carry his government documents as he cycled across London. Then we might have had a complete recording of the encounter at the gates.
Bob Caldwell
Daventry, Northamptonshire

• I can’t help feeling a shred of sympathy with Mitchell’s angry “pleb” moment. It is mild compared with David Mellor’s considered diatribe to the taxi driver. Could one imagine any more offensive piece of elitist narcissism than that?
Betty Rosen

Francis ‘The Bible exhorts society to ‘Honour thy father and mother’, not, as Pope Francis has been portrayed as doing, dissing the lot,’ writes Hilary Cooper. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

Is it just me or was there something just a touch offensive in Pope Francis’s (otherwise laudable) speech on Europe’s alleged demise, picking out, as it did, words such as tired, haggard, infertile, grandmother to get his point across (Report, 26 November)? We live in an ageing world and yet insist on the glorification of youth. Why should age be associated with lack of worth, absence of creativity and value?

Older people in our society are vigorous and active in so many ways, many still working or offering their experience for free as volunteers, others simply and uncomplainingly accepting the sheer graft of their invisible but increasingly necessary role as carers.

And yes, it is possible to be old, infertile and a grandparent and yet to be extraordinarily creative. Why else is London currently hosting exhibitions on the late Rembrandt and the late Turner, hot on the heels of the stunning exhibition of the mature Hockney’s creative outpourings, if not in recognition of the power of late-flowering genius, as in the burnishing sunsets of a Turner masterpiece?

Time was when to be called a grandmother, an elder, was a mark of respect for the wisdom and experience that came with age, a nod perhaps to that maxim reportedly coined by George Bernard Shaw (no doubt in later life), that “youth is wasted on the young”. The Bible exhorts society to “Honour thy father and mother”, not, as Pope Francis has been portrayed as doing, dissing the lot.
Hilary Cooper

• So the pope, the head of the Roman Catholic church, believes the EU has become “elderly and haggard” and gives “a general impression of weariness and ageing”. The words which come to mind are kettle, pot and black.
George Steel

Cricket lovers everywhere would wish to contribute to any fund in memory of Phillip Hughes – perhaps to advance research into head injuries (Sport, 28 November) and head protection. But it might also support the millions of cricketers across the world who play on dangerous surfaces without protection because it’s too dear.
Richard Heller

• So many adverts on TV and in the media show dinner tables groaning under mountains of food. What must go through the minds of people who’ll have next to nothing at Christmas, apart from perhaps bangers and mash, if even that?
Sigrid Morrison

• Has this subject got legs (Letters, 26 November), or will it be just another case of hare today gone tomorrow?
Ken Atkin
Richmond, Middlesex

Labour Leader Ed Miliband Makes A Speech In Defence Of His Leadership Ed Miliband. ‘While attempts are being made to portray Labour as a remote elite, it’s worth remembering that 85% of Labour MPs elected or re-elected in 2010 had been to state schools,’ writes Janet Dobson. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

I understand there may be a question mark over whether Labour remains the party of working people (Miliband pledge to white van man, 22 November)? Lets looks at some facts. Labour introduced the national minimum wage and tax credits for the lowest paid workers, and increased them year on year. Labour ensured that all fulltime workers received four weeks’ paid leave, plus bank holidays, from their employers.

Labour doubled maternity leave for mothers and introduced two weeks’ paternity leave for fathers. Labour built over 2,000 Sure Start centres to help support parents and children in the most deprived areas. Labour cut NHS waiting times from months, if not years, to the lowest they have ever been – an average of 18 weeks. Older NHS users may even remember that Labour built the NHS – an historic but not unimportant fact. Labour also helped the poorest pensioners by introducing winter fuel payments, the pensioner credit and minimum income guarantee. And can you recall how expensive it was to see a private dentist? So Labour reintroduced NHS ones.

These are really important gains for working people. They don’t happen by magic. They were legislated for and driven through by a Labour government. Despite what they say now, all were opposed by the Tories. Is Labour still the party of working people? Of course it is.
David Bodimeade
Rayleigh, Essex

• Another week, another set of briefings and Twitter exchanges about inner-party politics within Labour – what’s new (Watson ‘manipulated Labour leader contests’, 24 November)? David Lammy accurately captures part of the problem by suggesting that too many supporters and past voters feel distanced from and out of tune with the party. This will not change until he and others address the principal question – how will voting Labour change our society? Reading the obituary of Tony Lynes (Obituary, 24 November) and the work he did within and outside of Whitehall was a poignant reminder that there was a time when electing a Labour government would make a difference.

Then the speculative piece on Gordon Brown’s future told us that, flawed though he may have been, there were nevertheless reasons for voting Labour fairly recently (Brown to quit?, 24 November). Frankly I don’t give a damn whether Tom Watson or Ivan Lewis back different horses in the race, if it resembles a donkey derby – let’s have a few thoroughbred ideas.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

• What is most depressing about Labour now is not just the silly pratfalls, poor speeches or stupid childish gimmicks. It’s that they can only pay attention to old self-limiting white-men, Ukip and the Tories. The media is strangely fixated too; but that a large so-called progressive party should ignore the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, when they could work together in coalition to create our peaceful move into a better, healthier society, is a disgrace.

Maybe it’s that at least two of those parties are led by women? I’d remind Ed and his advisers that women dislike both the Tories and Ukip by a huge margin and we are half the population. Why doesn’t Labour look north for inspiration since they’re not listening to their own women? When Nicola Sturgeon took office she announced she was going to discuss and work with all members of her assembly.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

• So Labour’s answer to the anti-egalitarian independent/state school divide is to introduce a “school partnership standard” requiring private schools to form “genuine and accountable partnerships with state schools if they want to keep their business rates relief”. Because, apparently, the independent sector displays “world-beating educational attributes” beyond the advantages that come with selection and wealth, “that those working in the state sector could do more to acknowledge”. According to Tristram Hunt (Comment, 25 November), teachers in the independent sector display superior subject knowledge, private schools provide greater “pupil confidence” and better “co-curricular activities”, as if these have nothing to do with funding and resources, and better staff development, though no evidence is provided to support this claim, or the others.

The truth is the independent sector has nothing to offer the state sector that it couldn’t do for itself, with similar funding and social mix of pupils. To suggest that it does is deeply insulting to teachers who have to cope with the multiple problems that too many of their pupils experience in the divided society they live in. Which sector does Hunt suppose is teaching the children of the 900,000 odd households dependent on food banks?
Tim Davies
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

• The tweet by Emily Thornberry exemplifies the patronising and elitist attitude we have come to know and expect from the Labour party in general and Islington’s champagne-socialist set in particular. I personally have no doubt exactly what was meant by her odious tweet, it was a snobbish and condescending insult to the ordinary working folk whom the Labour party claim to represent. Frankly, I am impressed how Ms Thornberry managed to distil into such a short tweet of three words the very essence of Labour’s elitist snobbery.As a direct result of “tweetgate”, the Ukip branch in Islington and Hackney has now made it our urgent mission to stand up for the ordinary working people that Labour has forgotten and Ms Thornberry has insulted.
Pete Muswell
Vice-chair, Ukip Islington and Hackney branch

• Whatever happened to the party that used to defend the weak against the strong? And why should a woman from a council estate be sacked for taking a photo of the house of a man who cannot remember the last time he voted?
David Handy

• John Harris (Comment, 21 November) says “Labour believes it can speak to two different audiences without either noticing”. With a first-past-the-post system, all political parties do this. UK elections are won by winning most of the 100-odd marginal seats, so the main political parties use focus groups to design policies for the voters in the marginal seats, not for the voters in the safe seats, which never change hands.  I’ve made the point in my own blog, that the 1832 Reform Act created parliamentary seats in the new industrial towns and abolished the rotten boroughs with a tiny electorates, often controlled by one individual. The safe seats are today’s rotten boroughs, controlled by a small party caucus, who select a candidate who is then foisted on the electorate.

The real question for May 2015 is whether the stench of corruption and incompetence, given off by the politicians of the main political parties, is strong enough to make safe seats unsafe. In Scotland the SNP will make inroads into Labour safe seats. Can the Green party now make real inroads into the Labour heartlands in England?
Michael Gold
London @radicalmic

• I agree with Polly Toynbee (Labour must fight off these bogus Tory attacks on class, 25 November) that it is not necessary to attend a state school or be poor to care about poverty and inequality. However, while attempts are being made to portray Labour as a remote elite, it’s worth remembering that 85% of Labour MPs elected or re-elected in 2010 had been to state schools, compared to 60% of Lib Dems and 46% of Tories. Two-thirds went to comprehensives. No Etonians.
Janet Dobson


When Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in the Commons he had chosen A&E over the GP for his children (report, 26 November), I imagine parents across the country were sympathetic. Every parent wants their child to be seen quickly by a healthcare professional when they are ill, and for many the default option – whether due to opening hours, waiting times or convenience – is A&E.

Hospitals are too often seen as the place to be despite the Government urging A&E attendance only in real emergencies. We estimate up to 16 per cent of children who arrive in A&E could have their care effectively managed outside hospitals.

The question is, what are the alternatives? What should you do if your child is ill in the evening and, although you suspect it’s not too serious, you’re worried enough to want medical advice immediately?

Extending GP opening hours is one part of the solution, but more needs to be done to move more care for children outside hospitals. That means measures such as better child-health training for GPs and co-locating services in community settings – creating “child health hubs” where GPs, paediatricians, nurses and other professionals can provide high-quality local provision.

Unless we start thinking about delivering health differently and providing viable alternatives, the A&E crisis will continue to worsen.

Dr Hilary Cass

President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, London WC1

It beggars belief that Jeremy Hunt is unaware of the arrangements for GP consultations at the weekend. All practices have out-of-hours services which can be contacted by telephone at weekends and at night time. Usually a call to the practice will be directed to a doctor who is either a member of the practice or employed by them and a visit to an out-of-hours service can be arranged if necessary. I first worked as a GP in 1983 and ever since then out-of-hours cover has been available.

It is hard to have any confidence in a health minister who has so little knowledge of how the system works.

Dr Margaret Safranek

London N10

I read with interest your report of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s defence of his decision to take his children to an A&E department, in direct contradiction of HMG’s advice that we present ourselves to our GP or out-of-hours service if the problem isn’t life threatening.

Whatever the particular circumstances, the cruel irony is that, had there been no successful legal challenge to Mr Hunt’s acceptance of the South London Healthcare Trust Special Administrator’s recommendation that Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department be closed, he wouldn’t have had the luxury of such a choice, assuming that the problem had occurred here.

Jeremy Redman

London SE6

As Jeremy Hunt seems only to have insight into those issues in which he has had personal experience, perhaps he would like to work a few 12-hour shifts on an acute medical ward.

I think he would be awarding himself that 1 per cent pay rise within no time.

David Bennetts

Blandford Forum, Dorset


Palestine should embrace the ICC

Tomorrow marks two years since Palestine was granted non-member observer state status at the UN. The 138-9 vote paved the way for the bilateral recognitions of Palestinian statehood that have swept across Europe of late (“European Parliament considers initiative to recognise Palestine”,  26 November).

It also opened the door to international justice, by further clarifying that Palestine can become a party to the Rome Statute, and thus bring itself under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

ICC accession would mean all actors, including Palestinian armed groups and the Israeli authorities, could be held to account for commission of war crimes in Gaza and beyond, and the missing ingredient of accountability would be introduced to this too-long running conflict.

And yet, the Palestinians have so far declined go to the ICC. Their reluctance can, in part, be put down to misguided pressure from Europeans not to do so, which runs counter to EU support for the Court in other cases.

Two years ago, Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas said the UN vote showed “that justice is possible”. As the region continues to be gripped by violence and deep mistrust, the prospects of such justice remain elusive.

European countries must now lift their opposition to ICC jurisdiction on the situation, which would help end impunity and bring justice for Palestinian and Israeli victims of crimes under international law.

William Bell

Senior Advocacy officer, Middle East, Christian Aid

Annemarie Gielen

Secretary General,  Pax Christi Flanders

José Henriquez

Secretary General,  Pax Christi International

Lieve Herijgers

Director, Broederlijk Delen

Karim Lahidji

President, FIDH (International Federation  for Human Rights)

Philip Luther

Director, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Amnesty International

Mitchell case is a triumph for justice

Andrew Mitchell’s case (28 November) proves that no one is above the law in this land. Britain stands as a beacon of justice and human rights. The country has always been a haven for those fleeing racial, social and religious persecution, oppression, intimidation and corruption. Perhaps this is the most intriguing part of its success story throughout centuries.

Where else on earth can you find a country where the rulers and the ruled stand on an equal footing before the law? The alternative to this is what we are witnessing in Ukraine, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the occupied Palestinian territories, and even in Ferguson in the US.

As John Locke, one of the greatest English philosophers and enlightenment thinkers, eloquently put it: “Whenever law ends, tyranny begins”.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2

The verdict in the Andrew Mitchell trial is bad news for all those who believe the class struggle is dead. It seems clear that the battle between patricians and plebs that the historian EP Thompson identified as a key feature of 18th-century England is with us still.

Keith Flett

London N17

Andrew Mitchell has been found guilty because, the judge said, the police officer in question did not have the “wit or imagination” to make up the damning phrases… Mmm – I think I would have preferred to have been called a pleb.

Tony Webb



Who should pay for the UK’s veterans?

Your efforts to raise awareness and cash for war veterans are laudable. However, it is not the general public who sent troops to war. I suggest that the governments that did do so should be responsible for any related problems in the future, and fund this through the taxation system. This could be done simply by creating a patriotic tax and hypothecating the money for veterans only. This could be collected through the current system and might have the added benefit of shaming tax avoiders.

Why not impose a windfall tax on the companies that made billions from the wars, to cover these costs?

William Park

Kilsby, Northamptonshire

Well, it didn’t take long for the party leaders to pledge support for your appeal.

While I support your appeal I strongly feel that you do a disservice to veterans if you fail to highlight that tens of thousands of ex-service personnel would not require charity if successive governments had not robbed them of their pensions.

The history of the Armed Forces Pension Group campaign is well documented; it has had plenty of support, with even Cherie Blair involved in our legal fight, which we lost!

It’s a disgrace how politicians evade dealing with this inequality and pay lip service to veterans.

Francis Vincent

Market Bosworth, Leicestershire


Balls aimed at players are just not cricket

While wholeheartedly extending deepest condolences to Phil Hughes’s family and colleagues and indeed sympathy to Sean Abbott, the tragedy is a sharp reminder of the real dangers of cricket and bouncers in particular. Once upon a time, bowling which was a direct attack on a batsman was outlawed, but nowadays hardly a test match goes by without the spectacle of batsmen being subject to what the commentators call “a good working over” or some such euphemism which in reality means a barrage of short stuff imperilling life and limb.

Is it too much to hope that head-high bouncers will be definitely outlawed (maybe with a five-run penalty at least) so that we may enjoy a contest between bat and ball rather than having to watch ducking and weaving in avoidance of deliveries persistently and deliberately aimed at a batsman?

Andrew Horton

Hemel Hempstead, Hert


Sir, You argue that the Smith Commission report could be a significant step towards a federal Britain (“The Price of Union”, Nov 28). That is unlikely: first, because England does not want federalism, and second, because no federal state known to me hands control of income tax to a sub-national unit.

Devolving control of income tax to the Scottish parliament is illogical, since revenue from the tax pays not only for devolved services such as health and education but also for reserved services, such as foreign policy, defence and pensions.

Were Smith to be implemented, Scottish MPs at Westminster would lose responsibility for the main tax paid by their constituents. Further, the prime minister has argued that Smith makes the case for English votes for English laws “unanswerable”. If Scottish MPs no longer voted on parts of the budget they would in effect be steered towards an exit from Westminster.

The SNP adopts a policy of “English votes for English laws” since it is separatist. It is odd that some unionists support a similar policy. Unionists should be seeking to bring the Scottish and English systems together. If implemented, the Smith proposals would be in danger of giving Scottish separatists — through the back door — what they failed to gain through the front door in September’s referendum.

Vernon Bogdanor

Professor of government, King’s College London

Sir, Nicola Sturgeon is “disappointed” at the Smith commission’s proposals (“SNP wants more power and vows to fight for it”, Nov 28). The commission was set up to create a more federal Britain by enhancing the powers of the Scottish parliament. The recommendations in fact go further than the original “vow” promised by Gordon Brown.

The proposals, far from being a Westminster betrayal, deliver on the home rule that was promised to Scotland and can bring about a stronger Scotland within a new federal United Kingdom.

William Beddows
St Andrews

Sir, It is understandable why the latest proposals for fiscal devolution to Scotland are encouraging ever greater demands for “English votes for English laws”. However, this is an answer to the “West Lothian question” which will not work, and should be rejected.

Enoch Powell described creating first and second-class MPs as “an abomination”, and he was right. As he explained, “no line of demarcation can be drawn in a unitary state between one set of subjects and another . . . a debate on defence is also a debate on education.”

Rather than demote Scotland’s MPs to “second-class” status, they should simply be reduced in number.

Richard Ritchie

London SW18

Sir, The only fair way of devolving power in the UK is to devolve it identically to each of the four nations, including England. We must now have an English parliament at Westminster. However, we cannot afford to have further palaces and politicians, so this should be made up of existing English MPs.

A separate UK parliament, formed by a sub-set of existing English MPs, MSPs, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assembly members, selected in proportion to their population and party support, can meet as required, on days when the devolved assemblies do not sit, in existing parliamentary or assembly facilities to deal only with UK-wide issues.

The UK government should be determined by the majority party in the UK parliament, with ministers responsible for UK-wide departments such as foreign affairs and defence. The English government should be formed by the majority party in the English parliament with a first minister and ministers responsible for devolved departments such as the NHS.

Martin Herbert

Great Waltham, Essex

Sir, The majority of Scots voted for the Union and against the SNP and their proposals in the referendum, and yet it looks as though we are now being railroaded against our will into making huge concessions driven by political need and the spectre of a May election next year.

The eventual fierce tax regime will drive business and homeowners away. Who will protect an unrepresented majority that is now disenfranchised and who do not want any of this?

Stephen M Fielding

Kirkbrae, Galashiels

Sir, The Scots want Barnett formula spending levels or even more and they want the opportunity to pay the higher taxes that such benefits and other spending require. What’s not to understand? What’s to argue with?

David J Cashman

Sir, Labour’s university-focused education polices are in danger of leaving the country without the skills to keep the economy moving forward (“This mindless dash for degrees is pointless”, Ross Clark, Nov 26).

While graduates are battling for a handful of opportunities, trade businesses cannot find enough trained and experienced workers. Students should train in the workplaces of their chosen profession. In my industry, through apprenticeships, it’s the only way forward. Creating a fully-funded, national apprenticeship scheme will provide employers with a skilled workforce that can take businesses forward.
Charlie Mullins
Chief executive, Pimlico Plumbers, London SE11

Sir, A university experience is good for individuals, society and the economy. University students are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, business leaders, entrepreneurs and inventors. Students build global connections, experience different cultures and are exposed to a range of arguments and opinions.

The UK university sector offers degrees co-created with employers, work placements, online and part-time learning. I am sure, despite never looking at his degree certificate, Mr Clark’s university experience enriches his life on a daily basis.
Nicola Dandridge
Chief executive, Universities UK

Sir, After reading the first paragraph of your leader (“Beauty Sleep”, Nov 27) I was (I am reliably informed) already snoring.

Lindsay GH Hall

Theale, Berks

Sir, Arthur is not the first dog to attach himself to a long-distance event (“Amazing jungle tale of Arthur the dogged adventurer”, Nov 25). In the 1970s a dog joined a team in the 50-mile Tour de Trigs hike in Oxfordshire. At the end, the dog was handed to the warden of a scout campsite. “Trigs” saw out his days as a much-loved member of the camp staff.
Trevor E Parry
Banbury, Oxon

Sir, Shakespeare would have loved the debate on whether his sonnets reveal homosexual love as well as heterosexual (“Shakespeare in Love . . . with a man?”, Nov 27). He loved to play with the sensibilities of his audience: in Twelfth Night he endorses love for Viola both as man and woman and in The Merchant of Venice he portrays Antonio favouring a man with his eye on the main heterosexual chance.

David Day

Pontefract, W Yorks

Sir, Labour’s university-focused education polices are in danger of leaving the country without the skills to keep the economy moving forward (“This mindless dash for degrees is pointless”, Ross Clark, Nov 26).

While graduates are battling for a handful of opportunities, trade businesses cannot find enough trained and experienced workers. Students should train in the workplaces of their chosen profession. In my industry, through apprenticeships, it’s the only way forward. Creating a fully-funded, national apprenticeship scheme will provide employers with a skilled workforce that can take businesses forward.
Charlie Mullins
Chief executive, Pimlico Plumbers, London SE11

Sir, A university experience is good for individuals, society and the economy. University students are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, business leaders, entrepreneurs and inventors. Students build global connections, experience different cultures and are exposed to a range of arguments and opinions.

The UK university sector offers degrees co-created with employers, work placements, online and part-time learning. I am sure, despite never looking at his degree certificate, Mr Clark’s university experience enriches his life on a daily basis.
Nicola Dandridge
Chief executive, Universities UK


Scottish devolution; Miliband’s mansion tax; school politics of envy; and the risks and romance of Marigolds

People fly the British and Scottish flags outside the Scottish Parliament prior to the debate on the future of Scotland

The Smith Commission will unveil proposals to give the Scottish Parliament a swathe of new tax and welfare powers Photo: Alamy

7:00AM GMT 28 Nov 2014


SIR – All three main Westminster parties have already agreed to the Smith Commission proposals for significantly increased devolved powers for Scotland. These go beyond what was understood to have been promised shortly before the September referendum.

They retain the nonsense of Scottish MPs being able to vote on matters affecting the rest of the United Kingdom where powers have been fully devolved to Scotland. To someone who is English, this proposal, with agreement before it is even put before the House of Commons, seems to be the ultimate nightmare – ensuring that a greater portion of my English taxes goes to Scotland than ever before.

The proposals appear to be completely unfair, not to mention unconstitutional and undemocratic.

I cannot believe that our politicians are so out of touch with reality and so scared of the independence lobby in Scotland.

It will only take a half-sensible proposal from Ukip to modify these proposals into something more reasonable to see English voters flocking behind Nigel Farage’s party at the next general election.

Andrew Robinson
Ecclesfield, South Yorkshire

SIR – If a cross-party deal is to give more power to Scottish MPs, why should we not have equivalent powers in Hampshire? Hampshire, which dates from AD  755, is older than England itself.

Michael Fielding
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – We are told constantly that one of the main problems with the eurozone is lack of fiscal convergence, and here we are encouraging fiscal divergence in our little sterling zone. This is yet another nonsense emanating from our panicking politicians.

John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey

SIR – The Smith recommendations ensure that Scottish ministers are fully involved in agreeing the UK position in EU negotiations relating to devolved policy matters. Sadly, however, this does not extend to reserved matters which will affect Scotland.

Should the other devolved administrations disagree with the Westminster line, there is no means of arbitration to resolve this, unlike the situation in Belgium. In that country the regions and communities have been given powers, through a co-operation agreement, to represent a common Belgian position at Council of Minister meetings, but, should views differ, there is a mechanism in place to try and resolve this.

Alex Orr

SIR – Is the Government seriously going to allow the Scottish Government to set its own income tax and still subsidise it through the Barnett formula?

Bill Halket
Ormskirk, Lancashire

Harm of net migration

SIR – The latest statistics about UK immigration reveal that 583,000 mostly poorer immigrants arrived and 323,000 mostly wealthier people left. This illustrates the negative impact that migration is having on the wealth of Britain.

Gordon Black
Stockport, Cheshire

SIR – Nobody seems to be explaining what the net immigration figure of 260,000 people a year really means. It is a city the size of, say, Derby (or Brighton or Hull).

Who is building each year the houses, schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, sewage plants and prisons for such a city?

Politicians and others bandy statistics with gay abandon, but we cannot accept immigration on this scale without building the infrastructure; and we cannot build a city this size in the United Kingdom every year. It is madness.

Patrick Fossett
Cobham, Surrey

SIR – It has been a pretty awful 24 hours for David Cameron – Scottish devolution proposals, benefit payments being used fraudulently to finance jihadists, immigration up by 78,000 a year.

Can’t he and other British politicians sort out Britain’s problems instead of trying to sort out everybody else’s? Let’s start by slashing foreign aid.

David Booth
Macclesfield, Cheshire

SIR – “No ifs, no buts”, I will be voting for Ukip at the forthcoming general election.

Roger Castle

SIR – First they came for the immigrants from outside Europe. Then they came for the (almost non-existent) EU immigrants who come here just to claim welfare.

Now they’re after the EU working poor (getting rid of tax credits for hardworking immigrants in menial jobs).

I’m an Irish immigrant who’s worked hard and paid taxes here for almost 20 years. I wonder when it will be my turn.

David Clarke

School politics of envy

Tristram Hunt said David Cameron was failing in his ‘basic responsibility’ to provide good teachers. Photo: Rex Features

SIR – Tristram Hunt should descend from his political high horse, drop the politics of envy and visit King’s College School, Wimbledon, which takes pride in close links to the local community and whose amenities are fully used by those outside the school.

I know: I went there and my sons have gone there. Believe me, I am no rich oligarch and there have been years of financial difficulty to afford this choice.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

SIR – Mr Hunt is advocating private-school teachers (some unqualified) should go into state schools to show state-school teachers (qualified) how to teach.

What does that say about the standard of the state-school teachers?

Denise Taylor
Glossop, Derbyshire

SIR – Mr Hunt is right to have high expectations of independent schools, but he is behind the times, as much of what he hopes for is already in place.

Benenden sponsors a local academy, sharing resources, expertise and time, in a growing and reciprocal relationship. We offer Ucas support, share staff training and run a well-established mentor programme conducted by the students themselves.

We also play a part in a county-wide programme of Easter and summer residential schools for the brightest students from Kent academies.

Alfred Nicol
Benenden School
Benenden, Kent

SIR – I am patriotic, hence I support England teams. I own a white van for the purpose of work, and pay independent school fees for my children.

It now appears that for all three of these activities (and maybe others too) I am despised by the Labour Party. The feeling is mutual.

Dominic Cummings
London SE15

Dangerous cricket

SIR – We can get rockets millions of miles into space but we can’t seem to provide a safe cricket helmet.

Patrick Moroney

SIR – Bouncers should be outlawed. It is pure aggression against the batsman and quite unsportsmanlike.

Sir Gavin Gilbey Bt
Dornoch, Sutherland

Burning money

SIR – I am beginning to wonder if I have unwittingly become part of a government money-laundering scheme. On the same day that my £200 winter fuel payment arrived in my bank account, the local council removed most of it by direct debit into their coffers as council tax for the month – no doubt to help with the heating of their offices.

Chris Bocock
Quorn, Leicestershire

One-track franchises

SIR – With a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin picked to run the East Coast Mainline service, the three main routes to the North (West Coast, Midland Main Line and East Coast) are now to be run by Stagecoach and Virgin. What’s the point of a privatising franchise system that hands control to a duopoly? They might as well be run as they were by British Rail.

Bill Jolly

Too many flaws in Miliband’s mansion tax

SIR – A property can only be valued accurately when it is sold. A house near mine was recently put on the market for £2.1 million but sold for £1.9 million. If mansion tax had been in operation, would tax have been levied on the asking price? Would the owner be entitled to a refund when the selling price fell short?

In the property market there are always huge fluctuations. A property worth

£2 million today could be worth much less if the market crashes. How will mansion tax be calculated if a crash occurs half way through the financial year?

As a practitioner in tax for over 50 years I believe this to be the most ill-conceived tax I have ever come across. Its main purpose is to convince the electorate that the Labour Party is on the side of the “poor”.

David Turner
Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire

SIR – If Angelina Jolie is put off buying a £25 million house in London because of mansion tax proposals, perhaps she should buy a similarly priced property in Hollywood, where the property tax could be as much as £250,000 a year and increase by up to 2 per cent a year.

Mike Evans
Shalford, Surrey

The rare risks and romance of Marigold gloves

Foot in glove: creative home-made chicken costumes . Photo: Getty Images/Flickr RF

SIR – The reason to get rid of a pair of rubber gloves is because they have developed a hole. I have never been scalded, because the water cools down before it gets to your hand.

Oven gloves do wear out at the end of the fingers, but far more dangerous is the oven itself. Or, come to think of it, the iron. Is Brussels going to invent an oven and an iron that do their jobs without getting hot?

Margaret Bentley

SIR – Lady Coward is unaware of injuries caused by Marigolds. While recovering from a rugby-induced cracked rib some years ago I had a rare go at washing up. Removing a wife-sized Marigold with great difficulty, my hand recoiled and struck me directly on the injury.

Robin Hargreaves
Trawden, Lancashire

SIR – Marigolds can have a very strange effect on men. I was once with my now husband at a nature reserve planting reeds and wearing my Marigolds when he looked up at me, thought for a moment, and said: “I think we should get married.”

Joyce Corlett
Higher Poynton, Cheshire

Keep off the grass

SIR – I recently read that a cull of wild boar is intended as they are damaging the Forest of Dean. I also read that some scientists are anxious to clone mammoths. This must be of concern to golfers and members of bowling clubs.

John Buggins
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Irish Times:

Sir, – I found Keith Duggan’s article (“Is rugby in danger of becoming a brilliantly-coached bore?”, November 22nd) to be an excellent assessment of the current professional rugby game. He, however, sees the halcyon days of the amateur era through somewhat rose-tinted glasses. The “up your jumper” 10-man rugby so expertly played by Munster, and to some extent by Ireland, through many of those amateur years was just as boring as the modern game.

I have two suggestions to help make the current game more exciting and to encourage more individual flare.

Firstly, to provide more open space in which to attack, reduce the number of players or increase the size of the pitch. Secondly, to encourage the team in possession to take more risk and use its creativity, change the laws at breakdowns and restarts so that it is much less likely that the team in possession retains the ball. At the moment that likelihood is almost at 100 per cent stupid. – Yours, etc, ADRIAN O’CONNOR Tai Tam, Hong Kong.

Sir, – The recent decision by the Equality Tribunal to recommend promotion of a NUIG academic Dr Sheehy Skeffington and to award damages to her in the context of what they described as a “ramschackle” promotion process (“NUI Galway ordered to promote lecturer overlooked over gender”, November 18th) raises questions about the role of the Higher Educational Authority (HEA).

It has responsibilities under the Universities Act (1997) to promote gender balance.

It also has responsibilities to return figures to the EU to enable the strength of the “glass ceiling” in public universities to be compared.

In that context, the very least one would expect is that the HEA would publish academic staff data broken down by gender and level for each of the seven Irish public universities.

After failing to do this from 2004-2012, it did so in January 2013. However the annual report in 2014 again omitted this.

What gets measured gets done. – Yours, etc, PAT O’CONNOR Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Limerick.

Sir, – Your editorial (November 27th) on “a critical situation worsening as high rents compound problems for the disadvantaged”, underlines that the housing rental market in Ireland is dysfunctional.

If the rental market functioned as it does in Belgium for example, the supply could meet demand or even exceed demand and rent increases would be controlled.

I lived and rented there for a number of years. While no system is perfect, a standard lease is based on a three-six- nine-years principle, where rent can only be increased at the beginning of each three- year stage.

After each three-year period the landlord can ask the tenant to leave if the owner wants the property for a family member but must give six months notice, pay the tenant three- months rent if ejected after a three-year lease and six -months rent after a six-year lease period. Leases are registered with the finance ministry and can only be increased in line with the consumer price index .

What’s in it for the landlord? Tax on rental income is low and based not on the rent but on a notional cadastrel income level; the base for which is reset every 15 years. The result is a very low effective tax rate, whcih on a notional rental income of €1,000-€1,500 per month can be as low as 10 per cent.

It appears that this tax regime encourages investment in property to let, thus creating a healthy supply-side market and keeps rents affordable for the demand side. This mutually beneficial approach for tenant (security) and landlord (good return on investment), would ensure that the Government could get its act together on the rental housing market.

It is not that difficult to fix. – Yours, etc, FRANK KAVANAGH Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir – The reason our rental sector is so desperately neglected (Kitty Holland “Nine out of 10 Dublin rented dwellings failstandards test”, November 26th) is because the Government is too lax on private investors in the property market.

Anyone can become a landlord without any licensing or basic knowledge of housing legislation.  With the standards set so low, why should we expect any better of landlords?

There should be a proper licensing process where those who want to rent out a property have to be up to date on housing legislation and their duty of care to tenants.

They should be tested on their knowledge and, only if successful, granted a license to rent out property.

We don’t allow people to drive cars without first taking lessons and passing a test, so why should we allow anyone with a bit of extra cash to become a landlord?

We are seeing over and over again greedy investors providing sub-standard housing at exorbitant prices.

Just because someone has money to invest, doesn’t mean they will make a good landlord. We need to stop talking about rentals as investments, and acknowledge that the business of providing a home is a big deal. – Yours, etc, BROOKE NEARY Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir,- In this wet and watery month of November, my civic spirits were lifted by my recent passport application.

First I was given an online tracker number which provided helpful and updated information about my application. Then my passport arrived a day earlier than the 15-day turnabout promised.

The document itself can only be described as a thing of beauty, with many great images of this Republic.

Well done to the Passport Office!

If this agency – which was in considerable chaos and the subject of much controversy some years ago – can get its act together, perhaps there is hope for change in other other public services. – Yours, etc, FIONA CUMMINS Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The Feeder Schools 2014 supplement (November 27th) provided limited but welcome data on the present situation of education inequality.

In providing progression rates per school to third-level education as a percentage of all students sitting the Leaving Cert, the figures shed light on the vast disparities by postcode which exist in Ireland.

However, the figures are limited as they do not provide a full picture, particularly in relation to Deis (designated deprived) schools. The number of students within each school not sitting the Leaving Cert, or who drop out of the school prior to this, are not represented within the figures. Thus, the figures, already damning in terms of inequality, are actually downplaying the situation.

Serious questions must be asked as to the dearth of available data by the Government in this area. A number of months ago, my office contacted the Department of Education, the Higher Education Authority as well as the specialist body for widening access HEAR (Higher Education Access Route).

We asked for available data in relation to progression to third level from all Deis schools in the country, to which we were told that such data was not collected or indeed available by the State.

In light of the massive inequalities that exist, and have existed for a very long time, the question must be asked as to how the Government can justify not collecting this data?

In order to address these inequalities, it is absolutely imperative that such analysis is available.

Moreover, the very glaring inequity associated with socio-economic status must be addressed head on by this Government, not in the future, but right here, right now. How much longer can this two-tiered system of opportunity continue? – Yours etc, MAIREAD HEALY, Chief Executive, Future Voices Ireland, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Sir, – Following the publication of the Feeder Schools 2014 supplement (November 27th) I wish to acknowledge and congratulate the 2,965 students who sat the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme this year. Sadly, this group of students do not merit consideration or comment in your supplement. However many LCA students have secured places on their chosen course in one of our many “top” PLC colleges.

A decade ago a cohort of students would not have continued their second-level studies because of the high-stakes exam that is the Leaving Cert.

The LCA programme is an exciting alternative to the established Leaving Cert for those students who respond best to a hands-on, practical approach to learning. The skills they develop in LCA, such as communication, decision-making and teamwork, are essential in the modern workplace. It is designed to enable students develop these skills and qualities through the various experiences in the classroom and beyond. It enables students to have more positive learning experiences through the ongoing assessments and the regular feedback they receive at the end of each session of the programme.

At Castleknock Community College our LCA students are part of the Leaving Certificate group: they share the same teachers, participate in the same sports and are considered for the same awards.

Congratulations to all LCA teachers who honour their profession on a daily basis by ensuring that the needs of all students are provided for in their schools. – Yours, etc, JOHN CRONIN Principal, Castleknock Community College, Dublin 15.

Sir, – Peter McGuire says of the feeder school tables (Feeder Schools 2014, November 27th), “These tables are flawed and imperfect. We know that.” Well said, Peter, maybe now we can stop publishing them and making such a song and dance about what are essentially indicators of privilege and advantage as opposed to any real reflection on quality of experience and schools.

Wealth, privilege and opportunity are the real keys to success at school and progression to third level, as alluded to in Brian Mooney’s commentary in the same supplement.

The one way of raising standards for everybody is through narrowing the gap between rich and poor, something our current domestic policies seem hell-bent upon avoiding.

What the feeder school supplement does teach us is that the rich get richer through increased opportunity to access third-level education and therefore any discussion of school performance is in fact a discussion of social inequality. – Yours, etc, DR KEVIN CAHILL School of Education, University College Cork

A chara, – While the person who cut down the cross on Carrauntoohil may have had an anti-religious motive, I, not so much as a Catholic priest, but more as a climber of hills for most of my life, would be of the opinion that certain structures defile the natural beauty of hilltops and mountaintops.

When I drove through England in the early 1970s, I noticed how many beautiful hilltops were spoiled by masts, a feature which we didn’t have in Ireland. Not so any more.

Soon after that visit, the beautiful Corn Hill with its perfectly centred ancient meascán, Carn Chlann Aodha, which had for centuries dominated the scenery in my native Co Longford, was ruined by the erection, slightly off centre, of a television mast.

The symmetry of the hill, and the view from the top, has been further spoiled by the planting of trees on the hilltop.

While our ancestors had a sense of regard for the shape of our hills in their placing of cairns on various hilltops, none more striking than those on the Paps of Dana, An Dá Chích, in Co Kerry, crosses, no less than masts, seldom fit with the natural contours of hills and mountains, and therefore should be allowed only sparingly, and with due account of the hill’s natural shape.

Tree planting, too, should be similarly controlled. What can be done to restore the beauty of so many spoiled hills now is quite another problem. – Is mise, etc, AN tATHAIR SEÁN Ó COINN, Maothail, Co Liatroma.

Sir, Bishop Kevin Doran (“Bishop says opposition to same-sex marriage not about homosexuality”, November 28th) asserts there is a “unique relationship between marriage and procreation” and that “this is the principal reason for the State to have any reason in regulating marriage”.

It may help to clarify the Bishop’s thoughts if he, and others, were to consider that marriage is a contract between two people for the joint ownership of property and its intergenerational transfer.

All the terms within this statement are capable of definition and regulation within the law as society changes its emphases over time. If he does not believe me, look what happens when a marriage breaks up. – Yours, etc, ROBERT TOWERS Monkstown, Co Dublin. Sir, Bishop Kevin Doran’s view that marriage is primarily about procreation (“Bishop says opposition to same-sex marriage not about homosexuality,” November 28th) is obviously incorrect, the former being in no way a requirement for the latter.

A majority of births in Ireland already occur outside of marriage and historically the notions of adoption or of acquiring stepchildren by marriage are commonplace.

Suggesting that the entire purpose of marriage is procreation is an insult to those married couples who for one reason or another cannot have children of their own.

Furthermore, tying marriage to an exclusively heterosexual biological event, while at the same time denying a bias against homosexuality, is a threadbare hypocrisy.

Marriage is a legal contract between two parties. It applies certain mutual rights and privileges, and complementary duties and obligations, in respect of each other and of property and minors in their guardianship.

The sexual, emotional or financial character of the interpersonal relationship between those parties is not material to its legal status.

While the open adoption of children by homosexual couples or procreation via surrogacy may be new phenomena, it is certainly the case that these children deserve the same protections and privileges in respect of their parents as do the children of heterosexual unions.

The bishop might find less opposition if they were to argue that a principal difference between a marriage and a “sexual friendship” is the legal framework to support parenthood, a possibility which in the modern world is equally open to heterosexual, homosexual and infertile couples.

There are obviously other spousal privileges and responsibilities conferred by marriage that have nothing to do with children but are still valuable and meaningful to society, such as next of kin status, inheritance rights and so on that the bishop seems content to ignore. – Yours, etc, JOHN THOMPSON Phibsboro, Dublin 7.

Irish Independent:

Pope Francis is right to call for opening dialogues with adversaries. However, terrorists bent on conquering the cradle of Christianity and planting the black flag of their self-declared caliphate, represent only themselves. They do not represent the more than one billion Muslims scattered across the globe. Muslims and Christians have coexisted harmoniously throughout centuries, from the times of Prophet Mohammed and the dawn of human civilisation.

It is true that the Muslim world is facing formidable challenges at the present juncture and that a few terrorist organisations and individuals are perpetrating gruesome and chilling acts in its name, assailing its true message of fraternity and tolerance and sowing discord and enmity among believers and non-believers alike. But extremism has no religion, creed or colour. Extremism, prejudice and bigotry are as old as history.

Let us not forget the Holocaust, the most atrocious massacre witnessed in contemporary history when six million Jews perished in Christian Europe; and the unmitigated anguish endured by defenceless Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the countless Muslims tortured, humiliated and murdered in Burma, Central African Republic and elsewhere.

Interfaith, intercultural and interreligious dialogue can positively contribute to the advancement of good governance, compassion, tenderness and the appreciation of the sanctity of human life and dignity. The Koran says “if any one slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (The Koran, Al Maida: 32).

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2

Irish nationalism a mutation

In commemorating 1916 we must substitute critical reasoning for romance and fantasy. Nations are only ‘imagined communities’ and nationalism of ‘hate the other’ is negative. Padraig Pearse said: “Irish hate of English is a holy passion”. Universal love promotes forgiveness and fellowship and necessary in a global village. Knowledge is power and a creative scientific community sufficiently big to push out the frontiers of knowledge would be over a hundred million people.

Financial and intellectual capital is scarce and only big units have the critical mass to be effective. States that push out the frontiers of knowledge are a blessing and those that push out the frontiers of their territories are a curse. The US and UK innovated most of the world’s significant technology. The world is interdependent and shared sovereignty and integration is good. The founding fathers of the EU described nationalism as a sewer down which flowed the blood and wealth of Europe in two major wars.

The EU was set up to prevent a recurrence and has the size to keep pace in a high-tech race. An open society based on an ideology of liberty – not race or creed – is best to maintain human rights. Freedom is about human rights, the freedom to be different, to form your own opinions, to change and grow. Irish nationalism was a mutation of race and religion that enforced compulsory conformity. History cannot be changed. Bear the pain, lean from it and it will not be lived again.

Kate Casey

Limerick city

A case of history repeating

Economists – blind to the lessons learned from the ‘Celtic Tiger collapse’ six years ago – seem happy with the speed of the property price rises. They continue to asses house values using the peak figures achieved in the boom – even though it was nationally acknowledged these prices were outlandish and not value for money.

In Dublin, houses were up 3pc in October and are now 24pc higher than a year ago. Likewise, house prices outside the capital are up 8.3pc in same period. Note prices are still down 35pc nationally since the peak in 2007. To me, the correct market values are the prices now prevailing.

I have been observing advertised house prices in a number of weekend national newspaper property supplements, particularly in the Dublin area, where prices are suddenly becoming very similar to those in 2007. Property columnists, not economists, are even warning on the danger of another bubble.

The same wise guys who said: “Why didn’t somebody call ‘halt’ on the Celtic Tiger bubble?” are now fanning a new bubble. Finance Minister Michael Noonan clearly wants the property party to continue indefinitely.

Challenging him is his ‘obedient’ servant Patrick Honohan, head of the Central Bank. He seems desperate to take sensible action to, at least, appease the Dublin house market and avert any possibility of another national economic inferno.

I believe a lot more social housing is the solution, and let those who can afford it follow the markets. Sanity must prevail.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Parents clued in about schools

I am baffled by John Walshe’s article (November 27) in which he asserts that parents “have a right to know more about how well our kids are being educated”. (I deplore the use of the word “kids” in relation to children, as kids are young goats) As an educationalist for the past 36 years I can assure your readers that parents are very tuned into all aspects of the school life of their children.

Schools are very engaged with critical self-evaluation,and this is examined in all ‘whole school evaluations’, and standardised tests results are returned to the Department of Education on a yearly basis. Parents’ associations are an integral part of all school activities and their opinions are listened to and acted upon.

It seems to me that the call for “league tables” comes from the media and not from parents – because they already have all the information they need.

M McDonnell

Address with editor

Health and funding

Illness, both physical and mental, is a very fickle thing. It doesn’t talk or communicate. It doesn’t listen or negotiate. Time is of no interest to it and it can strike like a thief in the night. Words such as over budget, National Service Plan, deficit, going forward, HSE and bed blockers are of no consequence to it. As somebody who has suffered several serious illnesses and survived – thanks mainly to our superb medical people and all hospital staff, I can vouch for this .

Therefore there is no such thing as over budget when it comes to health and illness – only underfunding.

Dr Aidan Hampson

Artane, Dublin 5

Dail could learn from sports

I have recently being thinking of Ireland’s position in the world of sport.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry at the top of the leader board in a prestigious golf tournament; Rory number one in the world; Katie Taylor number one in world women’s boxing for the fifth time; our men’s amateur boxers one of the very top teams in the world; the Irish rugby team number three in the world.

I couldn’t help thinking, how did such a great little country get such nondescript – with a few notable exceptions – politicians through the years?

Brendan Delaney

Donabate, Co Dublin

Save us from Sinn Fein antics

That the Dail and the country should now be doomed to a near-weekly display of the Shinners’ stunt politics is a damning indictment of our parliament’s disciplinary procedures, and a disappointing one at that.

Killian Foley-Walsh

Kilkenny city

Irish Independent


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