1 December 2014 Rest

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I have a quiet day.

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


Cherry Wainer was a pianist known as ‘the female Liberace’ who found fame playing a quilted white-leather Hammond organ

Cherry Wainer in the film Girls with Latin Quarter

Cherry Wainer in the film Girls with Latin Quarter

7:14PM GMT 30 Nov 2014


Cherry Wainer, the pianist hailed as “the female Liberace” who has died aged 78, pumped the Hammond organ in the group Lord Rockingham’s XI and was singled out for solo stardom on Oh Boy!, British television’s most atmospheric pop spectacular.

During live broadcasts of Oh Boy! on ITV in the late 1950s, its procession of chiefly male idols passed so swiftly before the cameras that screaming girls scarcely had pause to draw breath. However, screams became cheers for Cherry Wainer, seated at an upholstered Hammond organ as part of the programme’s house band, Lord Rockingham’s XI. With her grinning vibrancy and ping-pong eyes, Cherry was adored more as an admired elder sister.

Indeed, she was something of a mother figure to the up-and-coming Cliff Richard. “I drove him to and from his family home and was his general confidante,” she said in her final interview, for Vintage Rock magazine. “His parents knew nothing about showbusiness .”

Cherry Wainer was born on March 2 1935 in South Africa, and was in showbusiness almost from infancy. Her father promoted tours by nationally renowned artistes while her mother ensured that their daughter’s obvious musical talent was formalised. “I was going to be a classical pianist,” she recalled. “At the age of eight, I performed a concerto with an orchestra. I was, I suppose, considered a child prodigy – because, in my early teens, my mother took me to London to start at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School.”

While she finished the course, she failed the audition to join the associated ballet company. However, on returning to the Transvaal, her imagination was captured by the Hammond organ, a keyboard that was becoming increasingly more prominent in jazz, notably beneath the hands of the American exponent Jimmy Smith. “I was entirely self-taught,” she confessed, “mostly by applying what I knew on piano to organ. I wanted to be the female Jimmy Smith!”

Response to her performances in regional clubs was sufficiently encouraging for Wainer to seek engagements further afield – in the first instance in Holland, but she was too young to go on her own, so her mother went along too. “I only knew six tunes, which I played over and over again while trying to learn new ones,” said Cherry Wainer in later life.

Next, she collaborated with accordionist Nico Carstens on Flying High, the first rock and roll album recorded by South Africans before entering the orbit of Don Storer, a highly paid jobbing drummer and her future husband. They first played together in 1958 at a private function for the billionaire Johnny Schlesinger. With a musical chemistry that was, reckoned Wainer, “almost telepathic”, the duo tried their luck in Britain – where Wainer’s flatmate, the singer and actress Georgia Brown, introduced them to booking agent Tito Burns, who found them work on the variety circuit and in US military bases. Burns also got them booked on ITV’s Lunch Box, the lightest of light entertainment shows.

Cherry Wainer with Cliff Richard in the 1960s (REX FEATURES)

It was through one such appearance that they came to the attention of Jack Good, who had been commissioned to produce the first series of Oh Boy! that autumn. As well as incorporating Storer and Wainer into Lord Rockingham’s XI, he also brokered a recording contract for Wainer. Her output was to include Money (1960), historically the first Tamla-Motown number to be covered in the UK (and, later, a set track for many beat groups).

While chart entries proved elusive for Wainer in her own right, a maiden Rockingham single, Fried Onions, made the US Hot 100. Hoots Mon, the follow-up, was a domestic No 1 – and was heard on a section of Oh Boy! featured in the 1959 Royal Command Performance. Wainer became the focal point of the band – publicised as “the female Liberace” – with solo spots as both a singer and instrumentalist.

“I had my Hammond customised with quilted white-leather and diamanté studs,” she recalled. “Also, my poodle used to sit next to me. I loved every minute of it – being recognised in the street, signing autographs and when fans washed my pink saloon car when it was parked outside the hall in Islington where every Oh Boy! was rehearsed.”

After the final edition of Oh Boy! in 1959, Wainer went on to star in another ITV series, Boy Meets Girls, which was aimed at a wider audience. “It didn’t have the same pace as Oh Boy!” said Jack Good, “and was a dreadful mistake.”

“It just didn’t feel the same,” agreed Wainer, “Neither has any other television series in which I’ve been involved since.” Among the shows was Beat! Beat! Beat!, a German TV pop programme on which she and Storer were regular performers during the mid-1960s prior to their move to the United States in 1968. In America they played residencies at venues in Las Vegas where they settled.

In the wake of Storer’s death in 1977, Wainer retired as a professional entertainer. In 2013, at the time of her appearance on Rock’n’Roll Britannia on BBC4, she was working as an assistant in a small gift shop.

Cherry Wainer, born March 2 1935, died November 14 2014


I agree with every word Ian Jack says (We should tax private schools as businesses, not beg to borrow their cricket pitches, 29 November.) Tristram Hunt’s lamentably feeble proposals have finally sunk my floating vote. How could I possibly vote Labour after this? Labour should abolish the charitable status of private schools, not beg from them. They know this, we know this, but they dare not do it.
Margaret Drabble

• I hope all the rightwing critics of the BBC will apologise now we know that its former political interrogator-in-chief is a Conservative (Paxman approached to be Tories’ candidate, 29 November). It also puts the Michael Howard farce in a different and dubious light.
RC Whiting
Stilton, Cambridgeshire

Battersea power station, London Casino property speculation: a £1m studio flat being built in the old Battersea power station, above, is going back on the market at £1.5m. Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

Page 5 in your 29 November edition about ordinary people desperately shoving each other to get a cheap telly (They’re going to need a bigger boot … Black Friday brings shopping frenzy). Page 7 in the same edition about rich investors desperately buying and selling non-existent flats in a non-existent development . Difference? Black Friday comes once a year; obscene casino property speculation happens 24/7/365. Effects: Black Friday means shops lose a little revenue and people get a few bargains; obscene casino property speculation causes homelessness, rampant, greed-driven private rental rises, poverty and associated mental health problems; and incentivises tax avoidance, leading to further austerity measures by a government who couldn’t care less.
Max Fishel

• While police were called to Tesco in Manchester on Black Friday to deal with greedy, fighting shoppers, at our branch of that hugely profitable supermarket there was an equally depressing scene. As shoppers entered the emporium, they were buttonholed by assertive volunteers and urged to give donations to the local food bank. Lists thrust at those manoeuvring their trolleys through the door requested tins and packets of foods that might fill hungry stomachs but certainly would do nothing to enhance health. Both scenarios speak much of the nation we have become.
Margaret Kitchen
Ormskirk, Lancashire

• Striking juxtaposition on Saturday’s front page: “Christmas, a time for giving – and grabbing” and “Our appeal: Please help us take on mental illness”. Taking on increasingly widespread social madness would seem an even bigger ask than usual.
Howard Lane

African woman with bottle of drinking water ‘No one can lead a healthy, productive and dignified life if they do not have access to safe drinking water.’ Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

Twenty-six years after the first World Aids Day was declared, on 1 December 1988, the HIV epidemic is still with us. It claims 1.5 million lives each year, 70% of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been progress. Many more people are living longer with HIV, thanks to more advanced drugs and efforts to make them available. Work on prevention, including mother-to-child transmission, has slowed new infections.

But there is one crucial element missing from life in sub-Saharan Africa that disproportionally affects the health and wellbeing of the 25 million people there living with HIV. That element is water. Clean water is critical to keeping them healthy, for taking antiretroviral drugs and for good hygiene to minimise infections – ideally, as much as 100 litres a day. Yet 35% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to clean water and 70% are without basic sanitation, leaving many people living with HIV suffering from chronic diarrhoea and unable to care for themselves or their families.

No one can lead a healthy, productive and dignified life if they do not have access to safe drinking water, a safe and private place to relieve themselves, and the ability to keep their bodies and surroundings clean. Doctors and nurses cannot properly contain infections if hospitals and clinics do not have clean running water, functioning toilets and good hygiene practices.

Next year, as the UN finalises a new set of sustainable development goals that aim to eradicate extreme poverty within a generation, a strong stand-alone goal that ensures that everyone, everywhere has access to water and sanitation must be among them, as well as targets within health goals that recognise the importance of these services. Without safe water and sanitation, we undermine all other efforts at infection prevention, control and treatment.
Barbara Frost Chief executive, WaterAid, London, Chris Bain Director, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod), London, Ben Simms, Director, StopAids, London, Lois Chingandu Executive director, SAfAids, Harare, Zimbabwe

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Disappointed at Smith commission tax proposals: Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon states, unsurprisingly, that she is disappointed at the Smith commission’s proposals on devolving powers to Scotland (Report, 28 November). Naturally it is right that both she and the SNP are left disappointed. The Smith commission was set not with the task of delivering independence by the backdoor but with the aim of creating a more federal Britain by enhancing the powers of the Scottish parliament. Whatever outcome the commission brought forward, it was always going to be short of SNP desires to break up the union.

In contrast to nationalist attempts to present the proposals as a betrayal by Westminster, the commission’s recommendations go further than the original “Vow” promised by Gordon Brown, in that they recommend full, instead of part, devolution of income tax, alongside significant elements of welfare spending. The proposals provide Scotland with a large degree of political autonomy, while retaining the economic security, international prestige and joint British identity that the UK provides. The proposals, far from being a Westminster betrayal, as the nationalists may try to make out, deliver on the home rule that was promised to Scotland and can bring about a stronger Scotland within a new federal United Kingdom, fit for the challenges of the 21st century.
William Beddows
St Andrews, Fife

• The passing of powers to tax income to the Scottish parliament has the hallmarks of a short-term political fix with long-term economic consequences. The political consequences of variations in income tax rates are easier to predict than their economic consequences. Tax increases for the rich (however defined) tend to be liked by those less well off. They may or may not lead to an increase in government revenues, with consequences for amounts available for public spending.

Will those responsible for tax rates be accepting the political consequences, or will they be looking to the Barnett formula’s guarantee to fund devolved administrations? Will the same economic rules apply to all parts of the proposed federal UK? Are you taxed on the basis of where you live, or where you work? What is going to happen if people currently taxed in Scotland decide to nip over a dividing line? What will happen to social cohesion where neighbours on different sides of the line face significantly different rules? The SNP lost the recent vote, but the reaction to damp the fires may be the first step in providing a logical rationale for full devolution.
Andrew Watters
Director, Thomas Eggar LLP, London

• Does anyone understand how the principle of English votes for English laws, as applied to devolved income tax, will relate to the Barnett formula (or any successor) for redistributing UK tax revenue to fund public services run by the devolved administrations? We are promised a paper before Christmas. But the issue needs to be thought through and debated in public. If Scottish income tax revenue is under the control of the Scottish government, there will be that much less under the control of the UK exchequer for spending in the rest of the UK (rUK). So the transfer of public service funding cannot be left unaffected.

On the other hand, to deduct the whole amount from the Barnett transfer would cancel any income-tax change decided on by the Scottish government. The most equitable arrangement would seem to be to deduct what the Scots would have paid if rUK rates had applied. So it is hard to see what remains of (purely) English laws in this field.
Alan Bailey

• The commission’s decision to devolve all rates and bands of income tax, while reserving the personal allowance (apparently at Labour’s insistence) is bizarre to say the least. Full control over rates and bands implies the power to alter the personal allowance. For example, the allowance could be increased above £10,000 simply by creating an initial tax rate of 0%. Similarly, it could be lowered below £10,000 for workers earning over the threshold by creating an initial rate of say 40% (a 40% rate on the first £1,000 of income would be equivalent to reducing the personal allowance to £9,000).

The only thing Holyrood would be unable to do would be to lower the personal allowance for workers earning less than £10,000, though this is inconceivable within the current climate in Scottish politics. That Labour sees this arrangement as a guarantee of the strength of the union is indicative of the state of utter confusion/panic within Scottish Labour.
Thomas Roberts

• English votes on English laws may be a superficially seductive slogan, but it does not answer the West Lothian question satisfactorily if a UK government of a different political affiliation from the majority of English MPs continues to control the Queen’s Speech, the legislative programme, the parliamentary timetable and the Commons agenda.
Clive Saville

• So sweeping constitutional change will become law irrespective of who wins the election. What happened to the principle of consent? Constitutional change used to require a popular mandate from manifesto pledges. MPsno longer feel they need consent; they have assumed unprecedented power. The real winner of the referendum was Westminster itself. Will politicians have the courage to seek consent with a referendum on these proposals?
John Hartigan
Norton Lindsey, Warwickshire

• Having now had the recommendations for “devo max” in Scotland, I hope this will be followed by a proper devolution settlement for the rest of the UK. We need real devolution to the English regions, given that this already exists in part for London, and a new Westminster parliament, much reduced in numbers, which deals with matters affecting the whole of the UK. This would provide for a real cascade of powers to regions/Northern Ireland/Scotland/Wales and thence to unitary authorities and to the parish and community level. But reducing the numbers of Westminster MPs will be the biggest problem, given that turkeys don’t like voting for Christmas.
Tony Mayer
Swindon, Wiltshire

• Around a third of the east coast mainline is in Scotland (Report, 28 November). Ironic, then, that on the day the Smith commission announced more devolved powers to Scotland, including more control over its railways, the UK government decides to award the east coast franchise to a private company, Virgin/Stagecoach, rather than allowing East Coast, the profit-making state operation, to continue.
Malcolm Stewart

• Policies dealing with childcare, in-work poverty, access to education, public health, gender equality and domestic abuse, extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds, and land reform (Sturgeons strategy, 27 November). Can we have an SNP government in England, please?
David Bishop
Nantwich, Cheshire

ungang, China. Photograph: Imaginechina/Corbis

Next year in Paris the world’s leaders need to find proper solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as Robin McKie explained (“Six vital steps world leaders must agree to take to protect Earth”, In Focus).

But there is no mention that a price should be put on carbon. It is essential that the externalities of carbon are internalised in the price, as we often do not directly pay for the associated health and environmental costs. People who are not responsible for the pollution can suffer from the consequences and this is not fair. The revenue gained from carbon pricing can be used for the Green Climate Fund to lessen the impacts of climate change globally.

The key driver behind climate change is excessive consumption. Consumption creates higher energy demand, requires more resources and has a large impact on global pollution levels. Limiting consumption will not be solved by technology, which McKie mentions as the key factor to stop temperature rise, but requires political will and awareness among consumers. Instead of focusing on pollution from the production sides solely, the world’s leaders must take action to limit the effects of consumption on the environment, just as consumers need to be more aware how much they contribute to climate change through their behaviour. The problems will even be more severe with the increasing demand for energy and resources in the future, especially of the developing nations, so solutions are needed as soon as possible.

Yanniek Huisman

Rijswijk, The Netherlands

Chris Rapley and Duncan Macmillan are absolutely right that, although climate change has been revealed by science, it’s not really about science (“Climate change is not just a matter of science. It’s about the world we want to live in, the future we want to create”, special report). They are also right that, despite all the technology we’ve thrown at the problem, emissions continue to rise. This is because no feasible technology will sufficiently decouple economic activity and environmental impact – the challenge is political rather than scientific. So it’s a shame that, in the face of all the evidence, Rapley sticks with the line that his hope “lies with the engineers”, and that he is encouraging his daughter to be one. When will scientists take the political plunge?

Andrew Dobson 

Spire, Keele University, Staffordshire

Nobody wanted climate change. James Watt’s steam engine started it but, unlike slavery for example, those who brought it about didn’t know that what they were doing was harmful to people.

Now we know. So from now on, we are faced with the decision to take effective action. We must join together and ask our leaders to do this. Generate electricity from renewable sources. Insulate homes to reduce demand for heating. Adopt agricultural practices that sequester more carbon than they produce. It’s all possible and we have to start doing it. Don’t waste time blaming people or feeling guilty, but do talk about it. Make governments start now to reduce and then reverse greenhouse gas emissions. It is their most fundamental duty to us.

Jeanne Warren


Your analysis on climate change concentrated on the usual relatively easy fixes and, like almost all articles on the subject, ignored the problem of rapidly increasing population. There is no crisis without people, and since having children is such a fundamental right, it seems easier to concentrate on renewables than seriously try to address this basic truth. It’s often said reassuringly that population size in developing nations is static or falling. Whether true or not, it also seems likely that the current 7 billion will be 9 billion in a few years, and presumably go on increasing, putting at greater risk food, space, water, shelter. Wouldn’t it be sensible for governments to start thinking about this, rather than wait for nature to fix things?

Mark Dickinson

Barnet, Herts


Andrew Mitchell’s defeat in the High Court (report, 29 November) has emphasised the cost of going to law in England. We probably have the most expensive legal system in Europe.

The EU Commission took the UK Government to court about the matter. In the case of EU Commission vs UK (Case c-530/11) the European Court of Justice ruled, in February this year, that English justice was “prohibitively expensive”. That case was about the environment, and the decision was to the effect that the UK was in breach of its environmental obligations by having such an impossibly expensive system of law. The ruling has wider application, however. EU law generally requires an effective civil justice system; ours is so terrifying even to the very rich, let alone the poor or averagely wealthy, that it is no longer effective.

Yet nothing is being done about this. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Government welcomes the extravagant costs of legal proceedings and the consequent decline in the role of the courts as contributors to the nation’s governance.

In a lecture in 2012 Professor Dame Hazel Genn of University College London vividly described the “decline, and now virtual extinction of trials in the civil courts, and with it the public determination of the merits of civil disputes”. Matters have got worse since then.

The odd thing is that this has escaped public notice. Clients come to me with an expectation that justice can be had. It is only when the cost of litigation is explained that it dawns on them just how things have changed in the last 25 years or so.

It’s easy to blame the lawyers, but this state of affairs certainly does not suit me, nor, I am sure, the vast bulk of practising solicitors. It is the system which drives costs up to our own and our clients’ despair. Yet there is no need for our courts to be so expensive.

Reform has been attempted, but these efforts have been judge-driven, and ineffective. It is high time the people themselves started to demand an accessible and therefore effective system of law. For its part, the Government should seek to avoid further collisions with the European Court of Justice. These are inevitable if nothing changes.

Robert Morfee
Langport, Somerset

Your description of Andrew Mitchell as “clever and talented [with] a genuine passion for… helping the world’s poorest people” flies in the face of all the facts. Clever? He has had a very good education and has hence spent hours immersed in the sanest philosophies produced by the best of human culture: Plato, say, or Dickens, or the Bible. It is evidence only of breathtaking stupidity, that after all that education, he can still emerge thinking that he is innately superior to other people. David Mellor’s recent cringe-inducing altercation with a taxi driver is evidence of the same disaster: giant education, tiny mind. The cabbie behaved better, spoke more rationally and was hence clearly the brighter man.

Yet the cabbie is a still a cabbie, the policeman is still a policeman and crassly stupid people just like Mr Mellor and Mr Mitchell are still running the country. No wonder we’re in such an awful mess.

Emma Fox Wilson


All the fuss about the word “pleb” stems from its association with social class; had Mr Mitchell used a different word he would not have attracted the same obloquy. But surely this misses the point; rather he should be condemned for stubbornly and persistently lying about what he did or did not say.

David Gist
Fairlight, East Sussex

While I would agree with much of your editorial concerning Andrew Mitchell (28 November), I would take issue with the idea that what took place at the gates of Downing Street when he abused police officers was “a silly row and should have been settled quietly and privately”. The public has every right to know that Mitchell is a bully and a snob.

Joe Connolly
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

We need to talk about death

Thank you for a moving and much-needed article on the rarely discussed subject of dying. Catherine McCartney (28 November) describes the “medicalised battle to prolong life” that seems to happen so often, quite simply because doctors believe they should offer treatment and because patients believe they should accept it. It is possible for a patient to be in control of what happens to them, but only if they are of sound mind and/or have made an advance decision.

I have done so, with the help of my GP, who said that very few people came to him with such a request and he wished they would: it would be beneficial to both doctors and patients at a very difficult time.

I made my decision after my mother-in-law’s far from “humane, happy ending”. Ninety-two years old, she had crippling arthritis, and senile dementia. When diagnosed with pneumonia, she was taken to hospital, though she protested. There she languished for 11 weeks, being treated with antibiotics for one infection after another until she died. It was a horrific situation which no one, patient or family, should have to endure.

We don’t like to talk about death, but we should do so before it is too late. I would urge everyone to make an advance decision.

Christina Jones
Retford, Nottinghamshire


Last year my husband, Richard Coward, was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was metastatic. He died exactly eight months later. They were very difficult months for him.

Richard underwent some chemotherapy, at his own request, but it damaged his immune system and his death, when it occurred, was not an easy one. He died in hospital.

Since his death I keep reading about others who have “lost their battle”/ are “bravely fighting” cancer. Cancer is a disease and, as such, should be approached like any other disease. Cancer UK would do well to recognise this. Their current advertising campaign, which includes young children, could lead people to the view that all cancers can be cured. This is simply not the case.

Dr McCartney is absolutely correct in her views. We, all of us, patients, their families, the medical team, need to rethink how we deal with those diagnosed with cancers that are not going to be “cured”.

Siobhán Leslie

Veterans’ plight deserves publicity

Merry Cross raises an excellent point (Letters, 28 November) about this year’s Independent fundraising campaign. War veterans are clearly being let down by the Government they served. However, her opinion actually highlights the need for this appeal.

A high-profile movement to raise money and awareness for those in need can only be a good thing. By making the population more aware of this issue, the Government is more likely to accept its responsibility. We’ve already seen the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties get involved, which again raises awareness. Support for the armed forces is rising up the political agenda and I don’t see why this issue can’t be viewed as both a governmental duty and a charitable cause.

Dan Krikler
Kenilworth, Warwickshire


Franchises that risk becoming monopolies

The award of the East Coast rail franchise to the Virgin-Stagecoach consortium (report, 28 November) means that all three main lines north out of London (West Coast, East Coast & Midland) will be run by an operator comprising a significant Stagecoach presence. This is essentially a private monopoly analogous to British Rail Inter City which was broken up some 20 years ago on the mantra that privatisation creates competition which drives improved customer service and operational efficiency.

When National Express won the original Midland Mainline franchise it had to undertake to maintain coach services at current levels. Stagecoach is already undercutting National Express coaches using Megabus and Megatrain budget services feeding into East Midlands Train services; will a similar undertaking be required to ensure that Stagecoach doesn’t create a complete monopoly in the public-transport market between London, the Midlands, northern England and Scotland?

Dr John Disney
Nottingham Business School

Black Friday madness

If stores can afford to discount so much over “Black Friday” then surely they are ripping consumers off the rest of the time. Why do they not reduce the price of their products over the course of a whole year?

Seeing the images of fights and injuries, it seems as if companies are revelling in the infamy of it all. Imagine if a festival wilfully arranged such a dangerous situation – its organisers would be hauled over the coals. I hope that the Health and Safety Executive will investigate why shops did not provide enough security and staff to prevent chaos.

DJ Cook

What a hideous display of rampant greed, as normal decency is sacrificed on the altar of imported American-style consumerism. Black Friday indeed!

Nick Pritchard

Why are Health and Safety regulations ignored by stores when they organise their Black Friday greed stampedes?

Robert Tuck
Wimborne Minster, Dorset


Sir, Your lead story “Parents say yes to more grammar schools” (Nov 27) illustrates the difficulty of gauging public opinion. You report that 54 per cent would support opening new grammar schools. The number would have been far lower if the pollster had asked whether people supported opening new secondary moderns, which in a selective system is where most pupils go.

The YouGov poll says that two thirds of parents want their children to go to grammar school. The latest research, from the Institute of Education, shows that in recent decades, in selective areas, 20 per cent went to grammar schools — leaving 80 per cent for secondary moderns or equivalent. So much for parental choice.

The selective system was designed for a very different postwar world where a tiny number of people went to university and the vast majority left school with no qualifications at 15. Indeed, in practice, until the mid 1950s it was illegal for those at secondary moderns to take public exams at all. As last week’s research showed, grammar schools do not help working-class children to get to university, although secondary moderns are a barrier.

The standard of secondary education now is much higher than when selective education was the norm, partly as a result of the abolition in most areas of the 11+. If you tell a child of ten that they have failed the 11+, and that an academic education is not for them, most will believe you and behave accordingly. In most of Britain we don’t do that any more. Far more people now are expected to do GCSEs, A levels and go on to university — and therefore many more do. The challenges of the future will not be met by a return to a system of the past where conditions were very different to those of today.
Demitri Coryton
Editor, Education Journal

Sir, You report that 66 per cent of parents responding to a YouGov poll said that they would send their children to a grammar school. Were they aware that, under the old system, 80 per cent of their applications would be turned down? Perhaps they should be asked whether they would welcome the return of secondary modern schools.
Rev A Graham Hellier
Marden, Hereford

Sir, By all means let us discuss grammar schools — but only after a national debate on the schooling of the unacademic, a far larger group. To do otherwise is to hasten the re-emergence of the default option, namely the discredited secondary modern. Why should the state concentrate unduly on the bright, who by definition are more capable of fending for themselves? This calls for a less socially divisive, tripartite secondary school system consisting of grammars and vocational institutes, with high schools for the academically inclined sandwiched in-between.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Sir, The YouGov poll mirrors other major polls commissioned by the National Grammar Schools Association in recent years, all demonstrating that a majority of parents and voters support new grammar schools. But what of the best of all polls — the choice of real parents for real schools? The 164 grammar schools left in England, under parental pressure, have expanded their schools as far as ingenuity will allow, to admit the equivalent of 30 new grammar schools into their bulging walls. Some have up to 20 pupils who have passed the 11+, competing for each place. The main parties have their own agendas for ignoring parental wishes, but the reality of them has been blindingly obvious for decades.
Roger Peach
Vice-president, National Grammar Schools Association

Sir, Clarissa Farr makes no mention of her own school’s responsibility for the kind of pressure which sees students and parents unable to cope with the “failure” of coming second (“Head attacks rich parents”, Nov 29). The briefest glance at the St Paul’s Girls’ School website reinforces the “shame” awaiting if you wreck the school’s evident desire to top the league tables. “For the fourth year running no grade less than a B in 2014”. Woe betide the poor girl who gets the school’s first C grade since 2010. No wonder the parents have a “kind of ticking frenetic anxiety”. The solution is in Ms Farr’s own hands. Looking at her school website, I suspect she has as much difficulty coming second or even third, fourth, or fifth as her pushiest parents.
Dennis Richards
(Former headteacher, St Aidan’s CE High School, Harrogate)
Harrogate, N Yorks

Pharmaceutical companies are not ‘turning a profit’ – they need to make a return on their investment

Sir, At a time when the UK is falling behind its peers in terms of patient access to innovative medicines, it is deeply concerning to note the Department of Health’s remark that the meningitis B vaccine producer Novartis is trying to “turn a profit” (“Dispute with drug company delays meningitis jab”, Nov 25).

Pharmaceutical companies invest £1 billion and 12 years in developing a new treatment; they need to make a return on that investment if we are to ensure the development of new medical treatments. It is short-sighted to want to deny pharmaceutical companies a return on their investment when the value such products bring, to patients and the healthcare system alike, is so significant. Would the department prefer companies to make a loss, close factories and laboratories and stop their research? Without profit, there would be no new medical innovations — drugs or vaccines alike — or even existing medicines. Profit has served patients extremely well; let it continue to do so.

Stephen Whitehead

Chief executive, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

Sir, Your excellent leader on dairy farming (“Milk and Money”, Nov 29) states that “the task of fixing this mess starts with the consumer”. As one who buys four pints of semi-skimmed at my local Waitrose for £1 twice a week, may I propose that the store immediately takes a lead in saving the dairy industry by raising that price to £1.50 and sending all the difference directly to the farmers who produce the milk? I am confident that many of my fellow customers would support this initiative.
Samuel Gray
Eastbourne, E Sussex

Sir, It is the supermarkets and milk processors who are ruining the dairy farmers, not the consumer. If they wish to lead with low-priced milk, it is they who should bear the cost.
John Taylor
Coniston Cold, N Yorks

Sir, Queen Victoria scarcely turned a hair when on March 2, 1882, Roderick Maclean became the seventh person to try and kill her (“Mad poet who shot at Victoria”, Nov 27). “He had fourteen bullets on him,” she noted calmly. She much enjoyed reading, and replying individually, to the 206 telegrams that poured in. Two Eton schoolboys, who had set about Maclean at Windsor station with umbrellas, brought nearly 900 others with them to present an address in the castle quadrangle to which “I read a short answer” while noting how good-looking her two young champions were. She told her eldest daughter: “It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved.”
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

I was always taught that a police officer could not be insulted and that silly remarks should be ignored

Sir, There is a bit of me that wishes Andrew Mitchell’s comments could have been shrugged off in the first place (report, Nov 28).

In my initial police training, we learnt that a police officer could not be insulted and that idle and silly remarks were unworthy of notice.

Geoffrey Bourne-Taylor

(Metropolitan Police, 1957-88)

Bridport, Dorset

Bouquets are not always the sole preserve of female performers – as the pianist Kevin Kenner proves

Sir, On his regular visits to his father, my husband always takes flowers (report and leader, Nov 29). Chosen with care and received with pleasure, they are regarded by both as a perfectly normal gesture of affection.

Kate Saunders


Sir, Last Thursday, at the end of a splendid recital in the Perth Concert Hall given by the violinist Kyung Wha Chung and the pianist Kevin Kenner, staff appeared on the stage bearing a bouquet of flowers and a package, which clearly contained a bottle. It was Mr Kenner who received the flowers — Kyung Wha Chung had already claimed the bottle!

Robert Sanders

Crieff, Perthshire


SIR – Janet Daley is right: not all voters share Labour’s view that social fairness is achieved by endless redistribution of wealth “from those who have earned it to those who haven’t”.

Resentment is felt especially towards the few EU immigrants who, prompted by gross financial disparities between member countries, are content simply to take. The EU’s greed for political expansion has blinded it to the utter failure of some latecomers to meet entry criteria.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul ensures that, ultimately, nobody benefits fairly from hard work.

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

SIR – As usual, I find myself agreeing with Janet Daley. She mentions several ways in which it is evident that the Labour Party despises a large proportion of the electorate. There are two more examples that are worth adding to her list.

First, the fact that Labour refuses to redraw electoral boundaries, which are manifestly unfair to the Conservatives to the extent that they need about 10 per cent more votes than Labour does to attain a majority. This indicates contempt for voters in one of the most important areas of our democracy.

Secondly, Labour’s Scottish MPs have frequently abused the electorate by voting on matters relevant to England and Wales which north of the border have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Ken Rimmer
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – Labour was founded by hard-working people fighting to get the best for their families, but today it wastes time fighting over trivial issues in Westminster.

The trade unions were founded to protect workers and fight for better working conditions, but these battles have been won – safe working conditions are enshrined in law, and non-compliance carries severe penalties.

Both Labour and the unions have lost their purpose.

Jennifer Habib
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – The Government has failed in two of its main tenets: immigration and the budget deficit.

In fact, Mr Cameron’s greatest asset is that he is not Ed Miliband.

Mervyn Jackson
Belper, Derbyshire

SIR – At the heart of the Tory election campaign is a promised re-negotiation of Britain’s EU membership. But where are the details? Not even David Cameron seems to know what he intends to demand, what he will accept, or how it is to be achieved by 2017.

Mr Cameron obviously hopes to win the election without any detailed commitments, so that he can remain free to abandon his vague promises and fulfil his desire to remain in the EU.

David Hutton
Crewe, Cheshire

SIR – The only reason Mr Cameron is entertaining the idea of leaving the EU is because of the formidable challenge to the Government posed by Ukip.

If the Conservatives or Labour win the next election, they will carry straight on with the business of handing more British sovereignty to Brussels.

Roger Hayes
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

SIR – The Tories have only themselves to blame for Ukip’s success in Rochester.

Mr Cameron has had ample time since the last election to win over the support of working-class voters. The disparity between his rhetoric and actions is all too obvious.

Ukip had to do very little to win over the disaffected voters.

Angus McPherson
Findon, West Sussex

SIR – At the centre of one of the England flags adorning the house in Rochester, which was immortalised by Emily Thornberry’s tweet, is the logo of West Ham United Football Club.

The Hammers’ recent run of success owes much to the recruitment of talented overseas players, which provides a symbolic commentary on Ukip’s immigration policies.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

Not the end for HS2’s Euston terminus

SIR – Andrew Gilligan reports that work on the favoured Government scheme for rebuilding Euston station to house HS2’s terminus has stopped. This does not mean that HS2, or its Euston terminus, are dead.

We continue to discuss a much cheaper alternative, connecting HS2 at Old Oak Common by tunnels to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Queens Park Station. Both HS2 and WCML trains would use the existing six tracks into Euston.

There is enough width at Euston to cater for this traffic, and tracks would be extended southwards towards Euston Road in order to give the platform the length required for HS2 trains. A deck over the top would give access to platforms along the length of the trains, and provide the necessary station facilities, as well as better connections to the Underground, buses and taxis.

By using existing tracks and platforms, the construction time and costs of the project would be much reduced.

Lord Bradshaw
Lord Berkeley

London SW1

SIR – HS2, with projected costs of £50 billion, never made sound financial sense. The French are building a TGV line to Bordeaux, running the distance of London to Manchester, for £9 billion. A financial case can be made for high-speed railways but only at less than £40 million per mile.

In the Nineties a university research project in Liverpool designed a high speed railway between the North West and London, via Birmingham, using existing rights of way and terminating at St Pancras.

Perhaps HS2 should be renamed the Brabazon Line, after the ill-fater airliner, and quietly dropped.

Prof L J S Lesley

Mass-produced game

SIR – Your report on the RSPB is rather too kind to the shooting industry.

A review by economists at Sheffield Hallam University this year valued the industry at less than £746 million, and grouse shoot operators receive millions of pounds annually from the taxpayer via the Common Agricultural Policy.

Every year in Britain around 50 million pheasants and partridges are mass-produced like commercial poultry. Many of the birds used for breeding are confined in metal battery cages.

The industry tries to portray “game” meat as being natural, but the sad truth is that it is yet another unnatural product of intensive farming.

Richard Mountford
Development Manager, Animal Aid
Tonbridge, Kent

Women bishops

SIR – The comments of the Rev Canon Dr Alison Joyce illustrate why it has taken so long for the Church of England to move from accepting women as priests to accepting women as bishops.

She suggests that structures have been set up so that traditionalists never have to be “contaminated” by any glimpse of women’s ministry. For theological reasons, a proportion of worshipping Anglicans do not believe that women can be properly ordained as priests or bishops. I am one of those people, and I have been labelled a misogynist by female priests and told to go to Rome by others.

Nevertheless, I and others like myself welcome the fact that, whether for or against women bishops, we can all now go forward together in a spirit of Christian unity.

R T Britnell
Canterbury, Kent

Taking a gamble

SIR – Nigel Farndale extols the virtues of the National Lottery.

It is noticeable that he avoids any mention of scratchcards, studies into the effects of which suggest that they should be considered a “hard” form of gambling that can lead to untold misery, even among adolescents. They are often bought in tens, sometimes even hundreds, at a time and are almost certainly addictive.

A percentage of their sale may well go to good causes, but the fact that the state conspires in the promotion of such forms of gambling is extraordinary.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

Intelligent design

GCHQ is far from the average office block. Photo: Alamy

SIR – GCHQ’s building is very impressive, but I wonder if it has been found by those who work in it to be as practical as a normal office block.

Do employees have to walk half way round the building to reach the other side, or can they nip across the lawn in the middle? Was it designed expressly to discourage such excursions, and thus possible leakage of information?

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

The height of fashion

SIR – I was once in Park Street in Bristol – a very steep street – when a woman walked down the adjacent pavement in high heels. I realised as she tottered down the hill that the main portion of each foot was actually leaning forward.

It really was a frightening sight and I felt pity for her in her fashionable plight.

David E Hockin
Portishead, Somerset

Psychological abuse between partners

SIR – You report the good news that “coercive control” by partners is soon to become illegal. However, only the psychological abuse of women by men is mentioned.

I hope this law will also apply to the abuse of men. Women can withdraw affection, demand that ties be cut with family and friends, and threaten (with some confidence of financial gain) to leave and to take their children with them.

John Stringer
Harbury, Warwickshire

Music in schools

SIR – It was very encouraging to read a letter from musicians at the top of their profession, lamenting the demise of instrumental music in schools.

The Government’s pledge in 2011 to give every child the opportunity to learn an instrument, free of charge, appeared to coincide with mass redundancies of many peripatetic music teachers across several local authorities. Small-group teaching was replaced in many instances by whole-class tuition.

If the present state of instrumental tuition is allowed to continue, centuries of music by the classical masters will be lost for ever.

Ros Groves
Watford, Hertfordshire

SIR – For much of the last decade I was a governor at a state school. We valued music highly, prioritised it above many other subjects and cut our spending cloth accordingly. Of the 350 children at the school, at least 50 per cent were learning to play an instrument.

The power to provide this opportunity already exists in many schools. Perhaps educating the volunteers on governing bodies and school leadership so that they better understand what music brings to children would have a greater effect than carping at the Government.

Andrew Wall
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Metric madness ahead

SIR – Introducing new height restriction road signs, using metric as well as imperial measurements, is clearly the beginning of a change to a fully metric system. Any suggestion that our continental neighbours should follow suit and display feet and inches on their road signs would be laughed at.

Edward Huxley
Thorpe, Surrey

SIR – Metric or imperial, it doesn’t matter. They will still be hidden behind overgrown trees.

John Henn
Marazion, Cornwall

Downton discrepancies, from etiquette to fashion

Table manners: Lady Sybil rests her elbows on the dining table. Photo: ITV

SIR – Concerning period detail in Downton Abbey I am sure no one, either upstairs or down, would have talked without first having put down their knife and fork. Nor would they have gesticulated with their knife or fork. Lady Grantham is one of the worst offenders.

Caroline Coke
Slapton, Northamptonshire

SIR – I was surprised to read that Alastair Bruce, a historical adviser on Downton Abbey, is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. I gather that the wearing of Sam Browne belts – from the positioning of the belt buckle to their being worn indoors – has been the most frequently criticised detail of accuracy in this popular costume drama.

I sympathise with Mr Bruce’s predicament over “men in tights”, but a real stickler would never have let improper dressing hold sway over looking good.

Col J M C Watson (rtd)
Welford, Berkshire

SIR – While watching the recent finale of the fifth series of Downton Abbey, I was irritated to note that the characters kept talking about the wedding they attended in the Caxton Hall “registry office”.

Surely Julian Fellowes should know that weddings take place in a register office.

My dear old father informed me that in days gone by the registry office was where one sought out one’s prospective servants.

Alexandra Sard
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, Season’s greetings from all here in the North Pole Workshop to you and to all your readers!

Santa has checked his list and has asked if you would remind all the boys and girls to write and post their letters to him as soon as possible.

The workshop is buzzing with activity and Mrs Claus is busy adding some glitter and magic to all the toys and gifts while the elves are packing them.

Santa looks forward to reading letters from the children in Ireland, especially when so many children include colourful drawings of him, Mrs Claus and Rudolph. Mrs Claus likes to put these special drawings on the mantelpiece.

All the boys and girls need do is:

– Put their letter in an envelope;

– Write their own name and address (in very clear writing) on the top left-hand corner of the front of the envelope;

– Stick a 68 cent stamp on the top right-hand corner and,

– Post it in a green post box to: Santa Claus, The North Pole.

It’s as simple as that!

An Post is once again helping Santa to reply to as many letters as possible so it’s important that the boys and girls get writing and posting straight away.

I hope you have a Christmas filled with magic and lots of sparkle. Yours, etc, NOLLAIG Chief Elf, North Pole PS, Rudolph and his friends have asked me to thank the boys and girls for all the carrots they got last year.

A Chara, I didn’t think he would or could tackle the topic of Junior Certificate Reform, but Fintan O’Toole actually nailed it. (IT 25.11.14)

Let me be clear: I love teaching young, inquiring minds. It allows me to keep fresh, enthused about my profession and idealistic that great teachers can and do make a daily difference.

Tomorrow’s protest is not about pay or conditions, nor is it about “lazy teachers” not wanting to do extra work.

Teachers have, for years now, repeated that they are willing to engage on many of the proposals contained in the Framework for Junior Cycle. We have supported a move away from a single terminal exam and the inclusion of portfolios and project work etc.

In addition, teachers have implemented a wide range of changes to the Junior Cycle curriculum over the last 10 years, and will continue to do so. This has included the introduction of project maths, a new science syllabus, and group work, especially in CSPE.

We do not want to assess our own students. This is quite simply about maintaining educational standards, defending the integrity of the pupil-teacher relationship and affirming the (yes, cold and not-without-fault) anonymity and egalitarian nature of the current exam structure.

Yes, there are many faults. Yes, grinds and grind schools provide an uneven playing field. Yes, DEIS schools do marvellous things, but can struggle on a number of criteria. Yes, private schools confer an inherent and understood advantage.

But the structure of exam corrections is it stands is anonymous, unassailable and bullet-proof. And it works.

And maintaining that incorruptibility is what the strike is about.

Nothing else.

Is mise, etc, FRANK MILLING Ardee Community School, Co. Louth

Sir, – In the education opinion piece in relation to the Junior Cycle reform ( “Students will suffer most if reform of junior cycle fails,” November 25th), he analysts appear to agree that the changes recommended by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan will benefit all young people into the future.

After all what could possibly go wrong in the Ireland of today with teachers assessing their own students for 40 per cent of the examination? What could possibly go wrong with young people age 12 choosing not to take subjects, such as, history or physical education? It is naive to think that this policy is politically neutral and is unconnected to the liberal agenda sweeping across Europe seeking to reduce the role of the state in the delivery of all public services, including education. This reform intends that schools will find their own way within the logic of the markets and will finally separate one from the other as either “exploratory”, “adventurous” or “cautious” schools.

This stratification will for the first time in the history of the state shatter the conception of education as a public good for all. The questions that might need to be asked are: what savings will be made on an annual basis by the government in this reform, what policies and plans have been put in place to ensure that the savings made will remain within the Ministry and be used as a future sustainable investment in education and who will really benefit from these changes? – Yours, etc,

DR GERALDINE MOONEY Department of Education and Professional Studies , University of Limerick.

Sir, – Recently, Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Tourism expressed concern that Dublin is falling behind cities such as Edinburgh and Copenhagen as a tourist destination.

The comments by Davis Norris (“David Norris says areas of Dublin city centre derelict”, November 25th) explain why.

As a Dubliner, I am constantly struck by the level of dereliction and by the number of vacant sites in the city centre compared to in any other European capital city. The building that housed Gill’s Bookshop in O’Connell Street was destroyed in 1981, and the site remains derelict 33 years later. The top end of the city’s main street is a mixture of vacant sites, and a lot of ugly architecture built in the last third of the 20th century.

The centres of Edinburgh and of Copenhagen are intact and well-maintained, with attractive shopfronts and a complete absence of the ugly steel shuttering that characterises much of Dublin’s shopping streets.

People live above shops in these cities but this is not the case in Dublin, where the upper floors of many buildings are unused.

A lot of work needs to be done on the city centre and its immediate environs in order to make the city an attractive place to visit, or indeed, as David Norris points out, for Dubliners to wander around.

A levy of up to 5 per cent annually on all vacant buildings or derelict sites, as proposed by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, might encourage their owners to develop or sell them.

In Dublin, the rights of property owners is more important than the common good. – Yours, etc, DAVID MacPHERSON Clontarf, Dublin 3. Sir, – In the light of Dublin Corporation’s proposal to pedestrianise an area at the Bank of Ireland building in College Green, hopefully they will also turn their attention to the streetcape in the adjacent area outside the beautiful building housing Pearse Street Garda station.

This wonderful building cannot be properly enjoyed – viewed, photographed, or sketched – because of the sea of vehicles parked outside, two and invariably three rows deep from the footpath.

How this situation has been allowed to happen in the very centre of our capital city is baffling.

This area should be restored to public use and “softened” with for example landscaping, a fountain or seating. – Yours, etc. TOM KENNEDY, Milltown, Dublin 6.

Sir, – You report (“Home being built from shipping container to house family for Christmas”, November 28th) that contractors and suppliers are donating materials to build what will be Ireland’s first home in a shipping container. This is not strictly correct. Cork people were building holiday homes from timber shipping containers delivering material to the Ford factory in Cork back in the 50s and 60s. The “Ford boxes” homes were a common sight in seaside resorts like Myrtleville, Fountainstown and Youghal and I understand that some still survive. As ever, Cork people were ahead of the game. – Yours, etc, JOHN FINN Carrigtwohill, Co Cork

Sir, Your economics editor Arther Beesley is obviously concerned that the EU Commission “is coming after the use of green diesel by Ireland’s boating classes” (“EU now making waves over ‘green diesel’ for boats”, November 27th.)

Should Mr Beesley’s concern not be that the Government allows the wealthy owners of boats and yachts, used solely for pleasure, avail of cheaper green diesel, while at the same time frequently deploying customs officers to ensure that owners of small businesses do not avail of this concession.

I suspect this concession to owners of pleasure craft came about when a well-known sea- faring taoiseach was in power.

This is not a reason for the present Government to continue the anomaly.

For once I agree with the EU Commission. – Yours, etc, FRED J FITZSIMONS, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan

Sir, – Niall Ó Murchadha (Letters, November 28th) justifiably queried the latest unemployment figures by saying that the figure of 250,000-plus of our citizens who have emigrated during the past five years should be taken into account.

However a more balanced approach would be to include citizens returning to our shores which provides us with net emigration figures.

This method leaves us with an emigration figure of 124,000 citizens, or, approximately half the number who left. We should also separate unemployment figures from the more telling fact that there is actual growth in employment numbers. – Yours, etc, JOHN BELLEW, Riverside House, Dunleer, Co Louth

Sir, – Like your correspondent Noel McAllister from Fingal, (Letters, November 27th) we in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown are also planning our own events to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Similarly we find ourselves in a limbo on deciding on dates which do not clash with the national commemorations which remain to be clarified.

Nevertheless we are pressing ahead. For our exhibition we appeal to the public to loan us any relevant artefacts they might possess and indeed provide any facts on our area’s many connections with the 1916 Rising.

We will then attempt to present this information not only through the public exhibition but also in publication format. All items loaned to us will be maintained to the highest museum standards and returned with gratitude following a successful conclusion. – Yours, etc, ROGER COLE, 1916 Rising Committee, 3 Eblana Avenue, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Dear Bertie Ahern. I’m sorry Bertie, but I have to ask this; are you mad or what?

You say that your government’s response to an over-heated housing market during the bubble was to accelerate the process in the hope, as you so ‘Bertily’ put it, “somewhere along the line we had to get to a situation where we would have saturated it [construction], and that the natural laws of supply and demand would kick in…” Doesn’t that have the ring of a bloke in a pub telling you about his plan to ‘do over’ the bookmakers by putting a tenner on every horse in a race?

Now Bertie, when you say that you didn’t know that the Irish housing bubble was built on borrowed money, you must be having a laugh, come on now, admit it, you’re just pulling our legs. Or perhaps there’s another explanation? Because Bertie, not everyone could adopt the house financing model you developed, you know, the instant whip-round after your spurned wife demanded the family home, so that you could have an equally good place in the same general area, finance free.

Perhaps that’s where you went wrong, you didn’t have to borrow like everyone else, so you came to believe in miracles, or organised miracles, as some might put it? Bertie, you often complain bitterly about how the Irish people got government spending out of control, by demanding more and more during the bubble years. Poor you, being leader and all, it must have been awful having to be so un-leaderly when the people became so demanding. But there are those that argue that the point of leadership is to provide for the general, long-term good, and not the populous demands of any particular group. But don’t worry too much Bertie, those silly voters got what they deserved in the end. They won’t be so demanding again, will they?

Declan Doyle, Lisdowney, Kilkenny


Enda Kenny’s selective memory

Mr Kenny is quoted in your paper as stating that people should reflect on how perilously close the country was to an economic abyss when the coalition came to power in 2011. I would call this selective memory on his part.

However a miracle must have occured soon after; his government permitted a lot of public sector employees make an early exit before the end of 2012 in order to retain certain retirement benefits courtesy of the following: USC, Property Tax and the impending introduction of water charges. Not Another Penny Mr Kenny.

Terry O’Connor, Co Dublin


Vandals have heavy cross to bear

As a keen hillwalker, the Carrauntoohil cross was always a welcome sight to me in dense fog. Thanks to some vandals, climbers had one safe landmark less when making the ascent. Lugging cutting equipment up 1,000m of steep terrain required a lot of effort. Somebody was clearly out to make a point. Hopefully they’ll be quickly caught and made pay the full cost of re-erecting the cross, complete with CCTV.

Whoever it was, Atheist Ireland were quick to jump into the fray, saying the cross should be replaced with ‘something more representative of the whole community’. Perhaps Atheist Ireland could enlighten us which ‘community’ they have in mind. They don’t want a cross because, in the atheist mindset, the 84pc of the population it represents simply isn’t enough. Atheism is already represented on the summit – by nothing – because as they’ll tell you themselves, they are defined by their lack of belief.

Nick Folley, Carrigaline, Co Cork


Wily fox is a great human ally

The old saying that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ should be applied to one of the most maligned creatures of the Irish countryside: the fox. At this time of year foxes are under relentless attack from both trigger-happy gunmen and tin-pot aristocrats on horseback. There is no let-up in the killing and orchestrated torture of these wild dogs that have co-existed with humans for millennia.

The fox’s role as a predator on sheep and poultry is exaggerated by hunters to justify their recreational cruelty. Foxes mostly take lambs that have died from hyperthermia or eat discarded afterbirth tissue. And the hyped-up horror stories of the fox in the henhouse date from an age when poultry was not as well-protected as it is in today’s security-conscious farm environment.

Not only is the fox NOT our enemy. He is in fact our great benefactor. Foxes kill vast numbers of rats, in addition to keeping mice, slugs, beetles, and grubs at bay. They also serve as nature’s bin-men, removing dead animals from country lanes and forest clearings.

Right now, rats are running riot across the country, infesting rural households, throwing their weight around farmyards and homes nationwide as if they owned them.

But rats are no match for the wily fox. Every fox accounts for anything up to six or more rats a day. A significant toll when you consider that a tiny rat population of say five rats can, if undisturbed, grow to several thousands in a few months. There have been reports of rats as big as cats arrogantly strutting about in some districts, the suspicion being that they have developed immunity to the various poisons deployed against them.

So I say we should stop demonising the fox and recognise this wonderful creature for the great ally he is in keeping an age-old pest at bay.

John Fitzgerald, Callan, Co Kilkenny


Step forward Ivan Yates

In his now customary mode Mr. Ivan Yates launched another broadside against the Taoiseach: “Kenny has now become part of the problem rather than part of the solution” (Independent Nov 27). One must wonder why. Mr. Yates often says that he once shared an office with Mr. Kenny, so is there some bit of jealousy at work here?

Mr. Kenny opted for the long hard (often unrewarding) slog of politics, while Mr. Yates opted out for private business. Ivan even tells us that his period as Minister for Agriculture for just two years got to him health wise. So why does he rail against one who did not opt out?

Mr. Yates as a hurler on the ditch might just ask himself what he did for his country, maybe indeed given his ego and experience he might return – there are plenty of vacancies around, and new parties coming up which he advocates.

Brendan Cafferty, Ballina Mayo


Anti-Catholicism irony

It has long been the mantra of modern/liberal Ireland that in the past the State was over deferential to the Catholic Church. There undoubtedly was an element of truth to this; to the detriment of both Church and State, it must be said. However those times have long since passed.

Unfortunately instead of a reasonable/rational middle way, much public debate has been replaced by a nasty, ill-informed and knee-jerk anti-Catholicism. This poison has seeped also into academia, and a Catholic chaplain, Fr. David Barrins has courageously drawn attention to this new form of intolerant, anti-intellectual, liberal fundamentalism.

No where was this phenomenon better illustrated than in a recent RTE Today radio debate, featuring Fr. Barrins and three protagonists.

It was ironic that when Fr. Barrins stated that he wasn’t looking for any privileged position for Church-related groups, merely pluralism on campus, he was shouted down by his opponents. The irony was lost on all three that they were engaging in exactly the kind of censorious group-think that in the past was labelled on the Church.

Eric Conway, Navan, Co Meath

Irish Independent

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