Compost

December 2014 Compost

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get the bin emptied.

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

Obituary:

Sir Fred Catherwood – obituary

Sir Fred Catherwood was a Tory MEP and industrialist who advocated bringing Christian principles to business practice

Sir Fred Catherwood, industrialist and Conservative MEP

Sir Fred Catherwood, industrialist and Conservative MEP: he was a teetotal Ulsterman Photo: PA

5:42PM GMT 07 Dec 2014

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Sir Fred Catherwood, who has died aged 89, was a prominent industrialist, a Conservative MEP and a leading evangelical. A teetotal Ulsterman who took a Bible class every Sunday, he sought to apply Christian principles to the world of business, warning against excessive remuneration and use of industrial muscle.

Catherwood made his name as chief industrial adviser to George Brown’s Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) and director-general of the National Economic Development Council (Neddy). After a spell running the John Laing construction firm, he headed the British Overseas Trade Board, moving into politics in 1979.

His overriding concern was to increase efficiency and the pace of technological change. To Catherwood, Britain otherwise risked a steady decline in competitiveness, with overgenerous pay settlements financed by regular and corrosive devaluations of the pound.

Catherwood’s brief at Neddy was to stimulate industry to put its house in order, and he became exasperated at British companies’ failure to invest, compete knowledgeably with imports, and take advantage of devaluation through imaginative marketing. “What society demands of the tycoon,” he said, “is not that he should be lovable or amusing or full of panache, but that he should perform efficiently and should drive rather than cruise.”

On the structure of industry, he argued from the 1960s that there was “no economic case” for conglomerates. By 1984 he was saying: “Most of our current industrial problems come from the dinosaurs of industry, whose heads cannot control their bodies. Big is bad, and small is sensible.”

Overlaying Catherwood’s view of the need for dynamism and efficiency in business was his insistence that moral basics must be adhered to. In The Christian in Industrial Society (1964) he wrote: “Luxurious expenditure is both depraving and a social evil.” He told the Church of Scotland that businessmen travelling the globe faced a culture of bribery, fiddling taxes and expenses and “other temptations”. And he warned: “The danger to democracy today does not come from communism but from humanism.”

Henry Frederick Ross Catherwood was born in Co Londonderry on January 30 1925, the son of a haulier . He went to Shrewsbury School, then read History and Law at Clare College, Cambridge . Articled to Price, Waterhouse, he qualified as an accountant in 1951.

His first job was as secretary to Law’s Stores, Gateshead, where he was nicknamed “the thinker”. In 1954 he moved to Richard Costain as secretary and controller, and a year later, at 30, he was appointed chief executive of British Aluminium.

He stayed there nine years, becoming managing director in 1962 as he steered the company through the industry’s worst crisis since the 1930s. He built a formidable network of business contacts, putting forward radical ideas through the Federation of British Industry and the British Institute of Management (BIM).

Three days after the election of Harold Wilson’s Labour government, Catherwood was called into Whitehall. During his 18 months at the DEA he reviewed the potential of firms, starting with Short Bros in his native Ulster.

In April 1966 – still on secondment from British Aluminium – he took over from Sir Robert Shone at Neddy. The organisation was on the defensive, and Catherwood pulled it round; he set up Little Neddies for sectors of industry, to secure the speedier application of new technologies. But his efforts were compromised by poor relations with the CBI’s director John Davies.

Catherwood’s book Britain With the Brakes Off (1966) appeared just after Wilson had slammed them on. He warned that Britain would be fighting for its life if investment in industry did not increase, and flew to Harvard to persuade British MBA students to come home when they graduated; they told him that UK companies were not coming over to recruit them.

Catherwood (right) with Harold Wilson and secretary of state for economic affairs Michael Stewart in 1967 (PA)

As joining the EC came into prospect, he warned that it would not immediately solve Britain’s problems, and told Edward Heath’s incoming government that it had two years to prevent Britain’s economic decline passing the point of no return.

In 1971 he returned to the private sector with Laing, becoming managing director and chief executive, but gave up his executive role in 1974 to concentrate on chairing the BIM.

In 1975 he was appointed to chair the British Overseas Trade Board, recruiting the Duke of Kent as his unpaid deputy. Catherwood urged exporters to copy the Japanese and adopt a more aggressive approach in Europe, and predicted an export boom fuelled by the undervaluation of sterling and membership of the EC.

Everyone, he discovered, wanted British goods “but we seemed unable to supply them”. His frustration increased as the pound strengthened and the Winter of Discontent – which he had foreseen – took effect.

Catherwood was the first Conservative selected for the inaugural direct elections for the European Parliament in June 1979. He was elected for Cambridgeshire with a 50,000 majority, having handed over at the BOTB to Lord Limerick.

Initially Catherwood chaired the parliament’s external economic relations committee. He twice stood for the leadership of the parliament’s European Democratic group, finishing third each time . He served as deputy leader from 1983 in place of the Danish MEP Kent Kirk, fined £30,000 for illegally fishing in British waters. By 1984 – when his constituency was redrawn as Cambridge and North Bedfordshire – he was advocating a single European currency along with a single market.

The increasing divergence between Margaret Thatcher and many Conservative MEPs was reflected after her 1988 Bruges speech, which Catherwood declared “contrary to the views of the party, senior ministers and the European Democratic Group”. He toned down a response from the parliament advocating a United States of Europe.

Elected a vice-president of the parliament in 1989, Catherwood backed British membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism as a sign to wage negotiators that devaluation was no longer an option. But after Britain’s exit on “Black Wednesday” in 1992 he said that John Major had been right to insist on an opt-out from the single currency.

Catherwood championed the Maastricht treaty, and castigated the West for offering Russia only $1.5 billion to get its economy on its feet when Nato was spending 100 times that much on new armaments pointed at the former Soviet Union. He stood down in 1994.

Catherwood chaired the timber products firm Mallinson-Denny from 1974 to 1979. He was president in turn of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, the Evangelical Alliance and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

He was knighted in 1971.

Fred Catherwood married, in 1954, Elizabeth Lloyd Jones, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

Sir Fred Catherwood, born January 30 1925, died November 30 2014

Guardian:

19.25 GMT

In loaning the Parthenon marbles statue of Ilissos to Russia (Loan shatters Elgin marbles claim, says Athens, 6 December), the British Museum has acted insensitively and foolishly. It is unseemly and squalid, after unanswered Greek requests for the marbles’ return, for the statue’s first move outside Britain to be to a country we ourselves have placed under sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. At a stroke the museum has legitimised Putin’s Russia at a time when the latter’s unpredictable aggression threatens Ukraine’s existence and Europe’s wider security.

Does the museum think itself exempt from the dynamics of contemporary European politics, and that cultural diplomacy will smooth over the current crisis? Consider this: right now the Netherlands is refusing to return Scythian gold, loaned before the illegal annexation of Crimea, to four museums now under Russian control there. What is to stop Russia holding Ilissos hostage in return? In April the Russian Itar-Tass agency reported that the refusal to return the gold would result in non-cooperation between Russian and EU museums. The British Museum may well have placed one of its most priceless artefacts in serious danger. Putin has shown himself indifferent about far more.
Tony King
Barnt Green, Worcestershire

• If British people want to understand the point of view of the Greeks on the so-called “Elgin marbles”, please consider this hypothetical scenario: in the 15th century, Britain is occupied by the French. British people fall under oppressive French rule. Four centuries later, the Greek Mr Papadopoulos buys permission from French authorities to care for Big Ben. He moves half of it to his estate in Greece. Twenty years later, the British people start a revolution against the French and soon they acquire their independence. At the end of the 20th century, Britain asks for the repatriation of the “Papadopoulos steel”. Greece refuses to talk. The “Greek Museum” causes irreparable damage in the 1930s (see the Guardian, 14 April 2001), organises glamorous parties in the rooms where Big Ben (sorry: Papadopoulos Steel) is displayed in 1999 (see the Guardian, 8 November 1999) and it even gives some objects (say, the number 10 from the clock face) as a loan to a Chinese museum in 2014, while refusing to sit down with Unesco to discuss an offer of mediation on the issue in October 2013.

The director of the Greek Museum says publicly that the British government should be “delighted” with the loan, and that “the greatest things in the world should be shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible”. Well done, Mr Director. The British public would certainly appreciate your views.
Andreas Stalidis
Bath

• Greece’s prime minister Antonis Samaras fulminates about Britain’s retention of parts of the Parthenon frieze. Meanwhile, one of the fragments of the frieze that remained in Greece, newly mounted in the Acropolis museum, is eroded by pollution and so horribly neglected by that long independent country that it can hardly be recognised.

Apart from other issues surrounding the marbles, how dare Greece put that sorry fragment on display and try to take the moral high ground about custodianship of the rest of the marbles? What is more, after years of overseas funding assistance, the Acropolis itself, the most famous archeological site in the western world, is still a dusty, un-energetic-looking, and disappointing mess. Where has all the money gone?
Richard Wilson
Oxford

• If someone stole my family heirlooms (don’t worry, I don’t have any) I’d be unimpressed if the thief then loaned them to someone else, on condition that they went back to the thief after two months. I’d be even less impressed if the thief asked me if I’d like to borrow them, so long as I returned them all safely to him.
Alan Burkitt-Gray
London

• I’m wondering if the British Museum has checked on the potential for Greece to initiate legal proceedings in Russia to recover this item of the Elgin marbles. Does anyone out there really believe that Vladimir Putin thinks like a museum curator? The French have already said he can’t have the brand new French-built carrier that has been undergoing sea trials, with Russian sailors on board; they are contractually obliged to hand that over to Russia, but are refusing to do so.
Vaughan Thomas
Norwich

• British Museum lends Elgin marbles to Hermitage; later, Putin forwards it to Athens: two fingers to London. You read it here first.
John Smith
Lindfield, West Sussex

• The British Museum’s attempts to improve the “frosty relations between Russia and the west in the wake of the invasion of eastern Ukraine” would have had more impact if the works of art loaned to the Hermitage museum actually belonged to Britain. Lending the Parthenon marbles, instead of, for example, some Turner landscapes or samples from the royal family’s vast collection, is simply provocative, and will do nothing but cause resentment in Greece, and display our hypocrisy to the world. How quick we are to offer judgments when Jewish-owned artwork is discovered in ex-Nazis’ homes (Modernist art haul, ‘looted by Nazis’, recovered by German police, 4 November).

Jonathan Jones has rightly argued that British museums must “face up to reality” and that “cultural imperialism” belongs in history’s dustbin, but clearly his passionate plea fell on deaf ears (The art world’s shame: why Britain must give its colonial booty back, 4 November). How can anyone justify, in the 21st century, the looting of Greek treasure by a greedy, profiteering British aristocrat, 210 years ago?

The return of the marbles is long overdue, would provide a welcome boost to an impoverished Greek economy, and would display some British acceptance of guilt for its imperial past. Lending some of the pieces to Russia is simply shameful, and questions must be asked about the role played in this by the secretary of state for culture.

Any political party with a sense of decency would include a promise to return the marbles to their rightful home in its election manifesto.
Bernie Evans
Liverpool

Christmas cards are handmade and decorated by the women of Sreepur village.

Apart from the worthy cause that Sreepur represents, what an extraordinarily beautiful photograph you showed of the women at the orphanage making their cards for sale, with children looking on (Greetings from Sreepur in Bangladesh, 6 December). It has a Renaissance quality that speaks a thousand words and made me immediately go to the website (sreepurcards.org) – congratulations to the photographer.
Catharine Thompson
Edinburgh

• Regarding the difficulty in imagining a Christmas card cause more ludicrous than an emergency rescue scheme for Scottish terriers (Letters, 6 December), I wonder how the Scottish Labour party’s seasonal fundraising is progressing.
Simon Blackburn
Penzance

• I am 70 and I’d be more disturbed to see Nigel Farage in public than I would any female mammal feeding her offspring (Just sit in the corner. Farage advice to breastfeeders, 6 December). It’s best to think before making unsubstantiated statements about what disturbs us oldies.
Angus Doulton
Bere Ferrers, Devon

• Philip Davies MP says the international development bill is “a handout to make a few middle-class, Guardian-reading, sandal-wearing, lentil-eating do-gooders with a misguided guilt complex feel better about themselves” (Report, 5 December). Doesn’t he know we all eat quinoa now?
Joe English
London

• Has the world fallen in (Report, 5 December)? Yes, George, yes it absolutely has, for so many many people. But not of course for you, and not for the people who pulled it down in their greed and selfishness. Crass, supercilious and careless, everything one could want from a chancellor…
Alison Gardner
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Both your correspondents’ replies (Letters, 6 December) to the article by David Baddiel actually illustrate his point.

Phillip Goodall’s removes the agency of Jews to discuss antisemitism, as gentiles have often done historically, by stating that Jews can be victimisers themselves when they call out antisemitism. The antisemite often claims to be the real victim of those who accuse them of their antisemitism with the explicit idea that Jews cannot be trusted on the subject as they are not objective enough. So gentiles must decide what does or does not constitute antisemitism in a way that white people would never publicly do over racism in general. No white letter writer would write such a letter around racism suggesting that black people, for instance, should develop thicker skins and be mindful of coming over as coercive.

Jules Townshend says that Baddiel implies that criticism of Israel is antisemitic. He does no such thing. But implying that he does, while ignoring his wider point, illustrates the issue he raises about assumptions on “the left” beautifully: that the only engagement with Jews that many on “the left” have is around Israel. Yasser Arafat could see the links between antisemitism and Zionism; that the failure to fight antisemitism just strengthens the Zionist argument. And one cannot fight antisemitism without engaging with Jews as they actually are, rather than how we might like them to be. Now there’s a challenge for “the left”.
Andy Armstrong
Manchester

• Phillip Goodall has a curious notion of what constitutes “cultural differences”. Applying that term to Jews’ alleged “sharpness with money” sanitises an age-old smear which contributed to the history of pogroms and the Holocaust. These tragedies were not inflicted on the other examples of cultural difference he cites, laughably comparing antisemitism with offensive generalisations about the French, Italians, Scots and English.

His suggestion that “for Jewish people”, of whom I am one, “to be so quick to be thin-skinned is not good either, and is in danger of seeming coercive” would be insulting if it were not beyond parody.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

The late Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. Photograph: PA/Wire

Dominic Carman (Opinion, 6 December) helpfully shows that the late Jeremy Thorpe was as much on trial for his homosexuality as for murder. This anniversary year of Alan Turing’s death has similarly revealed how he and thousands of others suffered discrimination from individuals and governments alike, reflecting a long history of hate towards LGBTI people. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which took the first important step of decriminalising homosexual acts, is it time to ensure a memorial goes outside parliament to mark this legislation in memory of all those who suffered in so many ways? There is still a lot to do in countering homophobia, not least in my own C of E and in the laws of many Commonwealth countries, and to mark this anniversary in stone will be a strong signpost for the way ahead.
Canon Mark Oakley (@CanonOakley)
London

Former cabinet minister and Conservative Police covertly accessed a journalist’s Plebgate phone records on Andrew Mitchell. ‘Professional and transparent relationships with the media are an essential part of modern policing,’ write Chief Constable Colette Paul and Amanda Coleman. Photograph: Justin Tallis/Getty

Professional and transparent relationships with the media are an essential part of modern policing. We police by consent, and in order to do this effectively we have to show that we are legitimate and accountable. We read Roy Greenslade’s article (Police at war with press as they access phone records, 1 December) with disappointment.

Speaking at recent conferences organised by the Society of Editors and the Association of Police Communicators, Chief Constable Colette Paul stressed the importance of the police and media working together to build and strengthen healthy relationships.

Whether you agree with them or not, the Leveson and Filkin inquiries both found evidence of inappropriate relationships that were not in the public interest. Something had to change.

Guidance developed by the College of Policing following the Leveson report, in consultation with police communicators, journalists and police officers, strongly encourages officers to engage with the media. It also makes it clear that police must do so in a way that is capable of withstanding professional and public scrutiny. The guidance states that officers and staff should be “open, honest and approachable”.

Police use of their power to interrogate journalists’ mobile phone data as part of investigations has concerned journalists; we are working with relevant inquiries to look into this issue.

We believe there is a responsibility on both the police and the media to work hard to regain a level of trust and redevelop our relationship based on ethical practice and integrity. It is in everybody’s interest for us to do so; particularly the public.
Chief Constable Colette Paul
National policing lead for media and communications
Amanda Coleman
Chair of the Association of Police Communicators

Independent:

So, Nigel Farage is a breast pest, on top of everything else.

Over quarter of a century ago I was elected to Newcastle City Council. As a young mother I regularly breastfed my baby at committee meetings and council meetings, even once while chairing a housing committee meeting. Back then Newcastle City Council wasn’t exactly “enlightened” and some of the other councillors were old enough to be my grandparents. No one complained.

In just now many ways are we going to let this dreadful man drag us down?  Maybe children should work up chimneys?

Amanda Baker

Edinburgh

Nigel Farage’s comment suggesting breastfeeding mothers should “find a corner to prevent making people uncomfortable” is simply outrageous. People that find this most natural of human functions embarrassing should look away, and, more importantly, seek psychiatric help to overcome their perversions.

Paul Garrod

Southsea, Hampshire

As Nigel Farage clearly disapproves of a woman’s breasts being visible in public, I assume he also supports the campaign to ban Page 3 of The Sun.

Pete Dorey

Bath

If we left the EU, what about British expats?

I have just retired and returned to England, from being the Anglican Vicar on the Island of Madeira, a Portuguese territory in the Atlantic. The ministry of the Church there is, as it is in the Diocese of Europe as a whole, to English residents and visitors.

Most of the British residents in Portugal are older and retired. This is also true of the hundreds of thousands of British citizens who live throughout the Iberian peninsula, and I imagine other parts of southern Europe. For the most part they are not rich and depend on British pensions.

Like people of their own age living in Britain, they are just as reliant on all the services provided by a compassionate state – home helps, district nurses, and  free hospital care. The property they own only has value so long as there is a viable international property market.

Were Britain to leave the European Union, their situation could become intolerable. Medical care and social support may very well not be available except through private insurance, which most could not afford. Their property would have little value, and even if they were able to sell up, property prices in Britain are far higher than in most parts of Europe, certainly in Spain and Portugal. They could not afford to live where they are and could not return to the UK.

This would follow, should Ukip’s irresponsible ideas become official policy. If the aptly named Mark Reckless, who retained his parliamentary seat in the Rochester by-election,  had his way and all European citizens be required to leave Britain following a British departure from the Union, the elderly retired would be joined in their predicament by the rest of the two million British citizens now living and working in Europe.

Mr Reckless approaches the question of Europe with a completely open mouth and, as far as I can see, with an entirely empty head.

The Revd Neil Dawson

London SE27

Given that Owen Paterson and many of his fellow Conservative MPs have no interest whatsoever in remaining in the EU, should they not be referred to as the Europhobes they are? This would distinguish them from those “sceptics”, who have legitimate concerns that they genuinely want to see addressed.

Robin Stafford

Frensham, Surrey

Bouncers deserve a red card

Earlier this year (11 August) you published my letter asking why bouncers, which are intended to hurt, are encouraged in cricket, as opposed to a system of red cards in football and penalties in boxing for below-the-belt blows.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the demise of Phil Hughes was due to deliberate intent; it appears to have been an accident. I know how the bowler must be feeling. However, the time has now come to crack down on intimidatory bowling in cricket.

Ramji Abinashi

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

More austerity to fund Osborne’s tax cuts

You have to give George Osborne his due – he is a brilliant salesman. Who else could have made an Autumn Statement relatively popular when its main message was that it would reduce government spending on services for its people to the level of 1938, according to the Social Market Foundation.

Those of us who grew up in the post-war era, as a caring and economically successful society was being built, should be appalled. Offering a few attractive tax reductions, which admittedly may be good ideas in times of economic success, hardly seems appropriate when even more austerity is in prospect.

Of course there is no detail of what the service cuts will be. Unfortunately the Labour Party doesn’t seem to have the nerve to be straight with the electorate either. Isn’t it time someone said there are alternatives to destroying the public services – higher taxes are inevitable, but they need to be fair, and surely a small increase for all taxpayers would bring in more than targetting specific groups. Also there are some economists who say that getting the budget down as quickly as possible is not necessarily essential.

When will our top politicians start to debate the real issues?

Derek Martin

Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

Osborne’s Autumn Statement is a disaster of economic thinking. Faced with a severe drop in tax take, want does he suggest? Tax cuts.

The suggestion that there will be a huge cut in central government spending means only one thing – privatisation on a hitherto unheard-of scale, heralding yet more failed projects, massive subsidies and huge profit rake-offs instead of investment.

If this government is re-elected, the “kids in the sweet shop” will finally have put this country on to its knees, while they swan off to the Cotswolds to enjoy their blissful, pension-protected retirement, with the odd directorship to alleviate the boredom.

Alan Gent

Cheadle, Cheshire

Professor Taylor-Goodby’s letter (6 December) calls to mind the graded form of purchase tax of the Attlee period.

Taxable goods sold at a basic price determined by the Board of Trade attracted no tax. More expensive items were taxed according to the amount by which they exceeded the basic price. The rates of tax varied according to the perceived utility of the item. Curtain rings, for example, were untaxed, however luxurious. Rucksacks, on the other hand, were taxed at 66 per cent.

This  meant that those who could only afford basic items paid very little, tax. The better off could indulge their taste for luxury, but were taxed more heavily. The system seemed fair at the time – people were taxed according to their ability to pay.

It was, of course, a cumbersome system, giving rise to much fag-packet calculating and mental arithmetic. The Tories scrapped it the minute they got back into power, and introduced a 5 per cent blanket purchase tax which, as with VAT, fell more heavily on the poor.

It strikes me that, with today’s sophisticated computer systems, something like it could easily be brought in. Not much hope, though, with this lot.

John Pollock

Beccles, Suffolk

The voters of Atherstone whom your reporter interviewed (4 December) expressed disillusionment with Labour. The attraction of Ukip is it appears to be a party that will “sort out this country”, even though many of its policies are more right-wing than the Tories’ and would make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

How should Labour increase its chances of winning the coming general election? Oddly, for a party that seems to assiduously follow opinion polls to help it determine policies, Labour ignores the results from these self-same polls.

Eighty-four per cent polled want the NHS in public hands; 68 per cent want energy companies nationalised and 67 per cent and 66 per cent want the same policies for Royal Mail and railways, respectively.

When the polls repeatedly show these levels of support for public ownership, it is baffling why Labour doesn’t adopt them. That would be the real difference between them and the Tories and Ukip.

The crisis is bad and from the Autumn Statement is going to get worse with the same austerity medicine. Boldness is required from Labour.

John Pinkerton

Milton Keynes

In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor outlined his proposals for yet more outsourcing of the business of running the country. At the next election, why do we not cut out the middle man and instead vote directly for Serco, G4S or Capita?

Gyles Cooper

Times:

Sir, There are not many obstetricians left who remember the days when a third of births took place at home, but I am one of them (“Home safer than hospital for birth, mothers told”, Dec 3). Most of the deliveries are normal and the home birth is very agreeable. However, if anything goes wrong, such as fetal distress during labour or the newborn baby failing to breathe or the mother bleeding heavily, there is inevitably a dangerous delay in getting mother and baby to hospital.
The edict from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) will be misinterpreted by mothers and by radical midwives, and will lead to many inappropriate home deliveries and avoidably stillborn or brain-damaged babies.The UK is already performing badly in the European stillbirth league table. Home births are also an inefficient use of precious midwife time.
Anthony Kenney
Retired obstetrician and gynaecologist
Ovingdean, E Sussex

Sir, News that NICE is recommending midwifery-led births is very welcome, as is the increased accessibility of home birth — particularly as the number of home births has dropped due to the paucity of midwives. However, for the confidence of both mothers and midwives, experience of home birth should become a mandatory part of midwifery training — currently a midwife can qualify without ever have attended a home birth.
Nicky Wesson
Author, Home Birth, Hampton, Middx

Sir, I was in practice from 1960 to 1993 and was proud to be known as a GP obstetrician. I was responsible for all, or the partial obstetric care, of nearly 1,500 women. One hundred and fifty five of these had home deliveries, 133 from 1960 to 1970, and only 22 in the next 13 years, the last one being in 1983. Home confinement is a more rewarding psychological experience for the mother. Two of our children were born at home.
However, when things go wrong with a home delivery the risks to mother and/or baby increased dramatically. Waiting for the Flying Squad to arrive with blood and resuscitation equipment made for some of the most frightening experiences of my professional life.
Every baby deserves to be born within 10 metres of resuscitation equipment, operated by someone who knows how to use it. I think Janice Turner has got it absolutely right (“Will homes births be safer or just cheaper?”, Dec 4); to reproduce as closely as possible the comforting ambience of home, combined with the safety net of a properly staffed and equipped maternity unit is the ideal solution, but one that would cost too much money.
Dr John Owen
Colchester, Essex

Sir, The guidelines from NICE suggest that midwives have been correct in their assertion that, if properly resourced, home and midwifery-only units may be very suitable for many prospective mothers. Obstetric interventions, although well intentioned, may well have over medicalised many normal child births.
The clear distinctions, however, will remain difficult to make. The challenge, and the opportunity, is for midwifes and doctors to settle their differences, agree policies and create a non-threatening atmosphere for women to be cared for without the tensions and disagreements which have in recent times too often greeted vulnerable women entering our maternity services.
Patrick Walker
Retired gynaecologist, London N10

Sir, If it is indeed true that home birth is safer (I suspect careful use of statistics), then one might reasonably ask if hospital maternity care has lost its way. My impression was that development in the field of intra-partum care stalled 30 years ago and may even have gone backwards. The reasons for this would be more due to ideology than progressive scientific research.
Tom Bloomfield
Retired gynaecologist, Carmarthen

Sir, I was concerned to read that NICE is saying that home births are safer. Do they mean cheaper? What happens to a woman who elects for a home delivery and then finds out too late that labour is the time when most life-threatening problems occur, and she needs to be sent into an obstetrician-led unit?
If a pregnant woman had to journey from home to the central Manchester hospitals at rush hour, both mother and child could die in the time it would take. Who would be responsible for this emergency? Over the past 15 years deliveries have gradually been taken away from GPs and they are no longer experienced enough to take over in an emergency. Nowhere is it stated that obstetric emergency teams will be set up.
Dr Martin and Susan Seely
Worsley, Manchester

Sir, The NICE report confirms the wisdom of the system operating here in Leeds around 1966. Second and third babies in straightforward pregnancies were born at home. Our son was delivered on a Sunday afternoon in our bedroom by the duty midwife who used all her skills to avoid any need to summon a doctor, assisted only by myself.
John E Tailby

Leeds

Sir, We only come into this world once. Why should NICE suggest a low risk is acceptable? The dramatic decreases we have seen over the past century in maternal and neonate mortality have come about by improved medical care and most importantly, medical intervention. NICE is throwing the baby out with the bath water with its advice.
Dr Jennifer Quirk
Neurologist, London SW12

Sir, The headline “Home safer than hospital for births” reminded me of our professor of obstetrics who said that “a pregnancy cannot be considered normal until it is over”. Wise words.
Dr James Burton
FRCP, Hope, Derbyshire

Sir, My experience of home births does not fit with those suggested by Janice Turner. We lived just around the corner from the old Arsenal football ground at Highbury. My husband assures me that at the moment of delivery there was a cry of triumph from the Gunners celebrating a home goal.
Iris Hughes
London SW15

14

Sir, I did not tell the Church of Scotland moderator to “kick out non-believers” (“Scorn poured on kirk’s high recruitment target”, Dec 6). I believe the church should welcome non-believers and bring the Good News to them. However, I did say that it is a mistake to welcome as members of the Church those who don’t believe. In fact it is hypocritical and false. The Church of Scotland requires members of the Church to believe in the Trinitarian God of the Bible. Why would the church want such people to become members? We need more Christians in Scotland, not less.
Rev David Robertson
Moderator-Designate of the Free Church of Scotland, St Peter’s Free Church

Sir, Your report “Unite under fire over ballot for Scottish Labour” (Dec 2) omitted a few important facts. First, Unite members who have a vote in the Labour leadership contest in Scotland will cast that vote in the privacy of their own home, having come to their own conclusions about their preferred candidate.

Second, every piece of material we have produced and sent to Unite members was done so in full accordance with the Labour party’s own election rules. Third, Unite materials backing Neil Findlay and Katy Clark fulfil another vital function for members — as the Labour party chose to omit union nominations from their information to voters, it falls to their union to ensure that they receive the full picture about the true levels of support for these candidates.

Pat Rafferty
Unite Scottish secretary

Sir, Anne Milton, MP for Guildford, is right to raise concerns about narrow train seats (“Fat commuters must slim, says Tory MP”, Dec 5). An ergonomic assessment conducted by South West Trains in 2007 concluded that 59 per cent of the population do not fit in these seats.

Despite two parliamentary debates, a conclusive Portsmouth City Council report and representations from three rail user groups, the DfT and SWT have done nothing to rectify the situation. Mrs Milton should join other MPs with constituencies on the Portsmouth mainline to help restore adequate facilities. In the meantime, “large-bottomed” passengers and others will continue to be squashed while seeing their elbows and fares rise inexorably.

David Habershon
Emsworth, Hants

Sir, There was something vaguely familiar about your front-page photograph (Dec 4) of Messers Osborne and Alexander appearing at the same time through an open doorway, and then I remembered: the last “still” of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Oh dear . . .
John Lloyd Jones
Tywyn, Gwynedd

Sir, Dictators have always had one attractive quality: the ability to keep disparate tribes together (“Goodbye, Arab Spring. We like dictators now”, Roger Boyes, Opinion, Dec 3).

Marshal Tito held Yugoslavia together for many years and with his departure the national groups fell into internecine wars. Plato said that the best form of government was a benevolent dictatorship but admitted the problem was finding a leader who, with dictatorial powers, could be trusted to rule benevolently.

JM Carder
Anstruther, Fife

Telegraph:

The costs of departure from the EU; caring for those with Alzheimer’s; survival of the village cricket clubs; failed immigration promises, and imported table manners

David Cameron at the EU council headquarters:

David Cameron at the EU council headquarters Photo: Reuters

7:00AM GMT 07 Dec 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – I am perhaps the only British diplomat still active who knows what it was like not being in the European Union.

Before Britain joined the EEC in 1973, I was at the UK Mission in Geneva, where the European Free Trade Association (Efta) – composed of the “outer seven”, including Britain, and the “inner six” founding members of the EEC – had established its headquarters. The disadvantages of not being “in” with the other six were ubiquitous, but we could partly compensate for these in that we were being kept out by a de Gaulle veto, rather than by choice.

Forty years later, in a global village in which even small changes can have widespread repercussions, the disruption which our departure from the EU would cause would be incalculable. It is worth noting that ahead of the recent Scottish referendum, no responsible foreign voice advocated Scottish independence.

If Britain were to leave the EU, overseas expressions of alarm would swell to a chorus. The damage we would suffer, and the opprobrium we would incur, would be all the greater if our departure was brought about by our invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and behaving truculently in the ensuing negotiations.

Sir Peter Marshall
London W8

SIR – The proposal put forward by Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, to invoke Article 50, with a view to taking Britain out of the political grip of the EU while remaining within Efta, is sound and practical.

Britain’s future stance should be similar to that of Canada’s with regard to her American neighbour. Their relationship is highly co-operative across virtually all spheres of common interest: friendly, harmonious and inclusive of mutually advantageous trade agreements. Despite this, complete sovereign independence – particularly regarding economic, judicial and border-control issues – is maintained.

William Pender
Stratford-sub-Castle, Wiltshire

SIR – Owen Paterson hit the nail on the head. The Prime Minister and much of the Establishment must be reminded that the single market and the European Union are not the same thing.

Sally Cowham
Mellis, Suffolk

SIR – David Cameron seems to assume that if he secures a relaxation of the EU’s cherished freedom of movement rules, he may present this as a significant victory and persuade the electorate to vote to remain in the EU.

If he can negotiate some significant changes to immigration rules, all well and good, but he must not forget the many other ways in which the EU intrudes unreasonably on our government. I hope to see significantly less interference in the British legal system, employment legislation and the financial services industry.

Alan Quinton
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Whatever politicians might say, the detailed negotiations on Britain’s relationship with the EU will be conducted by civil servants.

The Civil Service is, by culture, pro-EU since much of its work comes from redrafting EU directives. Removing these would result in many thousands of civil servants losing their jobs. Thus they will ensure that the talks are long and complicated, before convincing their political masters that they have achieved a major breakthrough. The politicians will convince the electorate likewise, although nothing will have changed.

John Brandon
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – When stuck in the car park at Durdle Door recently, I was approached by a Polish lady who kindly offered to push my car out of the mud.

In view of her strength, kindness and courtesy to a stranger, I have reconsidered my support for Ukip and am now in favour of remaining in the European Union.

Hari Bakhshi
Monkston, Buckinghamshire

NHS success story for Alzheimer’s care

SIR – My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Because of his challenging behaviour, he was transferred from private care to the NHS Woodland Nursing Home in Sheffield, where his life was transformed.

Though routine was in place, there was room for individual preference. The staff made a point of addressing the residents by name, and when their immediate duties were finished they would chat to the residents or walk around with them.

All the staff have extensive care training and, from management down, work together. An inspired activity team manages to stimulate residents with music, poetry, trips out to the Peak District and social occasions.

This is an excellent example of the best the NHS can offer and it is far better than what the private sector presently provides. With proper and continual education of staff plus a commensurate financial reward, much can be achieved in both sectors to improve care for the sick and elderly.

Maggie Brookes
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Privatising schools

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt (AFP/Getty)

SIR – Labour’s initiative to “break down the barriers in English schooling” ignores the one radical move that would tear down those barriers altogether: privatising all state schools.

Parents should be given means-tested vouchers and allowed to spend them at the school of their choice. As in every other field, competition would drive up standards and lower prices.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

Village cricket clubs are still enjoying a good innings

Grassroots participation: three young Tibetan monks playing cricket at the Hemis Monastery in India

SIR – Not all village cricket is dying out in the way Nick Hoult describes.Rankin’s Cricket Club in Essex has been going since the 19th century and is still thriving.

The pavilion has recently been modernised and is now fit for purpose. A new ground and pitch are being opened in 2015, adjacent to the existing one, to cope with the additional players – mostly teenagers – who have joined.

The club recently won an award for Best Sports Club in the district.

Patrick Rankin
Rochford, Essex

SIR – I have been involved with cricket in my village since I met my husband, who played grassroots cricket, 59 years ago. The local team has always had a good following and we are now more popular than ever.

We recently had a new pavilion built and this season we have won our league and been promoted to the Birmingham league. Of the winning team, seven players came from our youth section.

We coach over 100 children each season and have several youth and ladies’ teams. We also have a great social following.

I am coming to the end of a proud two years as president. I wish Nick Hoult could come and see us – cricket is alive and thriving in Shropshire.

Vilma Buck
Worfield, Shropshire

Conservatives’ failed immigration promises

SIR – In 2010 the Conservatives circulated leaflets in which they called for a “contract” between the Conservative Party and the British people, telling voters that they would reduce immigration “to the levels of the Nineties”, meaning tens of thousands a year. Net migration is now 16,000 higher than it was when the Coalition took office.

They wrote: “If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years’ time.”

Jonathan Grant-Nicholas
Brassington, Derbyshire

SIR – The second language taught in most countries is English. Therefore it makes sense that young people unable to get work in their own country will make for an English-speaking country. Considering how much more difficult it is to get into America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is no surprise they head for Britain.

J R Webb
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Euston can’t take HS2

HS2 LTD

SIR – Lords Bradshaw and Berkeley suggest that HS2 could share the existing six tracks into Euston (Letters, November 30).

Perhaps they have never experienced the massive crowds that frequently throng Euston’s concourse when trains are delayed or cancelled due to signal failures or other interruptions. Where will these passengers be able to wait, under cover and in sight of departure boards, while the proposed extension is carried out?

Euston is already at maximum capacity. St Pancras should be reconsidered, permitting direct connection to HS1. Marylebone station is another possibility, where much of the old Great Central Main Line could be utilised. A link with HS1 would also be possible from here, maximising freight capacity.

Dr J R Ponsford
Rugby, Warwickshire

SIR – An expansion of the relatively quiet Stratford International station – which could link HS2 to HS1 services at St Pancras as well as Crossrail – is the most practical and convenient solution for passengers. It would also be cheaper than other proposed options and create less damage to existing property.

Tony Newport
Stowting, Kent

A jolly good fellow

SIR – I sympathise with the Rev Alison Joyce, whose certificate commemorating her appointment as deacon reads “Given to Alison Joyce at his ordination with the prayers and blessings.”

After a not wildly distinguished international rowing career I took up umpiring and, in the Eighties, became Britain’s first female international umpire.

When I retired I received a certificate of acknowledgement for my efforts, which read: “Awarded by the Amateur Rowing Association to Pauline Churcher in recognition of his service to the sport as an ARA Licensed Umpire, 1968-2004”.

Pauline Churcher
London SW15

Shaken not shtirred

Sean Connery as James Bond in ‘Goldfinger’ (Rex)

SIR – In deference to Sir Sean Connery, the new Bond film should be called Shpectre.

Malcolm Ashton
Ramsbottom, Lancashire

Courage recognised

SIR – Sir John Holmes, when making recommendations to the Prime Minister two years ago in relation to military campaign medals, was wrong to conclude that Bomber Command aircrew should receive a clasp while Arctic convoy seamen should be awarded a medal.

Arctic convoys needed 60,000 sailors and 3,000 were lost. Bomber Command needed 125,000 aircrew volunteers as well as many essential men and women to service their aircraft by day and night, and 57,205 (including 1,400 ground staff) were lost.

The courage and bravery of both sailors and aircrew was surely never in doubt.
Jim Wright
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Stop banker-bashing

SIR – Richard Evans has got it all wrong about banks.

Throughout my career in British industry I had extensive dealings with banks and other financial institutions, where I found hard-working professionals using their skills and expertise to provide a useful service to their customers.

Rather than greed, they were driven by the quite legitimate and laudable aims of optimising the use of finance.

Without banks to provide loans for working capital and safe and convenient methods of payment – particularly foreign transactions – most enterprises would struggle to survive.

It is time to stop the persistent trend of gratuitous banker-bashing.

Roger Earp
Bexhill, East Sussex

Churchill’s class

SIR – William Langley writes that Winston Churchill was “pulling class rank” when he referred to Clement Attlee as “a modest little man, with much to be modest about”. This was in fact a typical political insult by an expert practitioner.

After all, the background of Churchill’s mentor, Lloyd George, was far more modest than Attlee’s, and their friendship lasted 40 years. Even as Chancellor in the late Twenties, years after Lloyd George left office, Churchill recognised him as “the master” and himself as the servant in their relationship.

John Birkett
St Andrews, Fife

American infiltration

Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley

SIR – Caroline Coke (Letters, November 30) points out that Lady Grantham’s habit of gesticulating with her knife or fork at the dinner table is not in accordance with English etiquette of the period in which Downton Abbey is set.

Surely one has to take into account that, countess or not, she is American.

Edward Garden
Kirkhill, Inverness

SIR – While we are saving the traditional nativity play, can we also save Father Christmas from the American usurper, Santa?

Annie Pierce
Bromborough, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Before the last general election, would-be TD’s begged us to come out and vote for them, promising all sorts of reform. Now those who were elected do not bother to come in and take their seats and take part in debates. Meanwhile the ordinary people of Ireland, who go to work daily if they have a job, have to pay for the heating of the Dáil chamber.

Some yards away from this well-heated and comfortable place a man has died on the cold street. As a symbol of solidarity with the electorate and especially with the homeless, let the heating be turned off in the Dáil and in all offices and bars in Leinster House and let it not close for Christmas and no TD go home until there are sufficient emergency beds for every homeless person in Ireland. – Yours, etc, LYDIA GILLEN Skerries, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Contrary to the insinuation of Cantillon (“NCC becomes a force in wind energy debate”, December 4th) that the wind sector will be stung by the comments of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC), we in the National Offshore Wind Association of Ireland (NOW Ireland) agree wholeheartedly that Ireland should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of energy policy options before it commits to 2030 emissions targets.

Government policy is that Ireland will meet its renewable energy targets from onshore renewables and that offshore wind is only available for export. This provides Ireland with the opportunity for it to develop a new indigenous export sector based around offshore wind which ultimately could rival agri-food and tourism. Such export would happen at no cost to the exchequer as the price support is paid for by the importing country.

Ireland is in the fortunate position of having strong offshore winds, shallow water and favourable sea bed conditions. This gives a cost advantage over most of our European peers.

After this it is a question of supply and demand. If Europe or the UK want our renewable energy, we sell it to them, starting with the export of our offshore wind.

The State will benefit in a number of ways. Jobs will be created from the construction of the windfarms and through longer term operation and maintenance. The State will receive a lease fee for the rent of the foreshore. The State will generate substantial revenues from corporation tax, employment taxes and other taxation instruments, while also stimulating a supply chain.

Finally, it will also help improve Ireland’s balance of payments. Any risk lies with the industry and investors.

The Irish offshore industry would welcome a cost-benefit analysis which, we believe, will show the true potential for Ireland from the development of an offshore resource which is among the best in the world, a resource which is currently being wasted. All that is required to make it happen is for the Government to confirm that it is seeking to develop this resource. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN BRITTON

NOW Ireland,

2 Marine Court,

Sir, – Peter McGuire’s article (“How your address affects your chances of going to college”, November 27th) provided an interesting insight into the impact of location on the progression to third-level education. It is good to see spatial accessibility to higher education more prominent in the policy debate.

While the school-level analysis provided by Mr McGuire is to be welcomed, the nature of the data analysed and the county-level analysis provided masks some additional important issues.

First, given the roles of a variety of factors in influencing participation decisions, it is important to consider the interplay between where an individual lives and their socio-economic situation.

Second, it is also pertinent to look at the impact of these factors on more specific higher-education outcomes, such as choices of higher-education institution type, degree level and field of study. It is also especially relevant with regard to issues of income inequality and social mobility.

The influence of geographic accessibility, social class and other factors on a range of higher-education outcomes have formed the basis of an on-going collaborative programme of research we are engaged in.

The results support the assertion made by Mr McGuire that travel distance can have a negative impact on participation, but crucially our analysis also demonstrates that these travel distance effects only matter for schoolleavers from lower social classes.

There is no negative impact from living far away from a higher-education institution on the likelihood of participation for a school-leaver from a higher social class.

We also show that the negative effects of distance are most pronounced for students with lower CAO points from lower social classes. Even with the same CAO points and similar geographic accessibility to a university, those from a “low” social class had virtually zero chance of pursing a medical degree compared to someone from a “high” social class.

Mr McGuire’s use of the feeder school list to consider such issues is to be commended and the combination of his analysis with our own research shows that where a young person lives can play a significant role in their higher-education outcomes.

While the student grant scheme is designed to alleviate these inequalities, they unfortunately continue to persist. A more efficient scheme, with increasing, stepwise grants at greater distances, may help better alleviate the costs of living further from a higher education institution and thus provide better equality of access for young people across Ireland. – Yours, etc, DR DARRAGH FLANNERY Department of Economics, University of Limerick.

Sir, – I refer Fr Brian D’Arcy’s call for a five-year moratorium on the closure of the RTÉ One long wave service (Fr Brian D’Arcy calls on RTÉ to suspend long wave radio closure”, December 1st).

Whilst long wave transmissions have poor aerial efficiency, and so require powerful transmitters, they do provide a significant coverage footprint and so the transmission from Athlone is well-received over the UK.

The suggestion that the transmission may be received through digital TV sets is not universally the case.

Most UK viewers use Freeview for their digital terrestrial TV reception and no RTÉ services are carried by Freeview.

A minority of viewers equipped with Freesat can receive RTÉ via their TV sets.

DAB or digital radio occupies the frequencies on VHF vacated by European broadcasters following the European adoption of UHF frequencies for TV broadcasting. Unlike FM radio broadcasting which fades in areas of weak signal, digital radio cuts out completely for several seconds until signal strength improves and so is inconsistent when received in cars for example.

Reception of RTÉ One on long wave such as BBC Radio 4 provides simple-to-tune long-range coverage free from co-channel interference experienced on medium wave (especially at night) using simple portable equipment like a transistor radio or car radio.

RTÉ One listenership in the UK is not just confined to an ex-patriot geriatocracy but to a wider audience.

RTÉ should reflect on the benefits of continuing the transmission on long wave by running it in parallel with DAB and FM transmissions.

This could be with a view to offering programmes, in addition to the likes of Morning Ireland, that would appeal to ex-patriots and those of us who wish to continue to easily receive objective and informed news from Ireland. – Yours, etc, GRAHAM SMITH, Merseyside, UK.

Sir, – I don’t think TV advertisements for new cars ought to portray the car as one’s own personal disco with passengers and the driver bopping up and down, while singing their brains out, and totally oblivious to the inherent dangers attached to such behavior . Cars are not the new disco and should not be portrayed as a fun palace.

I am somewhat surprised that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has made no comment, or is such behavior acceptable while driving now? – Yours, etc. THOMAS J CLARKE Ayrfield, Dublin 13

Sir, – I was surprised that your editorial (“Analysis: Where will extra €1.1bn for departments come from?” December 5th) on property tax did not address the real issue.

This tax, entitled Local Property Tax (LPT), is designed to raise funds for local services. In other jurisdictions such taxes are known as rates or council taxes. In the UK this tax is the liability of the occupier who is the beneficiary of the services. In France, as I understand it, the tax is divided 50/50 between the occupier and the owner. Our LPT ensures that tenants, whether private or local authority, do not pay anything for these services.

Our basis for assessing LPT is currently “market value” whereby a three-bed semi in Dublin is liable to a higher tax than a detached much larger house in the Taoiseach’s constituency in Mayo.

Then to add insult to injury, part of the overtaxed Dublin owner’s payment is hived off to other local authorities.

A very simple solution to this obvious inequity is that all houses are assessed on a rate per square metre. This simple change would spread the tax equally across the population. And rates are a tax-deductible expense in business.

However, we have decided that this does not apply to private landlords.

I am sure that Dublin voters will take this injustice into account when voting in the next election. – Yours, etc, SEÁN BURKE Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.

Sir, – The Government has allocated €22 million to fund commemorations of the 1916 rising. The week of the Rising was undoubtedly a seminal period in our history, but a week nonetheless.

Meanwhile, funding is cut to €11.5 million for our National Museum, an institution that commemorates, preserves and tells the stories of 9,000 years of our history and culture.

This funding reduction is threatening the museum’s existence.

We have been left a wonderful legacy of language, landscapes, objects and stories by the people of this island, a people that lived here long before the influence of British Imperialism or Irish nationalism.

The volunteers of 1916 fought so we could determine our own destiny and cherish our unique history and culture.

It would be a disservice to those men and women to commemorate their deeds but let the culture they fought and died for wither on the vine. – Yours, etc, BARRY DEVON Stepaside, Dublin 18.

Sir, – In relation to Ms Hooper’s letter ( December 5th), in which she asserts that what universities need is more rigorous, external examination, I wish to point out the following: As head of a department that will be examined on two occasions by an external professional body in 2015; will be assessed by an international quality review panel of experts from within and outwith the discipline in 2015 and that as part of normal external assessment will be reviewed by no less than a dozen externally appointed examiners, perhaps we should look to other issues that impact negatively on university performance. – Yours, etc,

DR PATRICK RYAN Director of Clinical Psychology University of Limerick

Sir, – Some of the letters last week in The Irish Times on the death of Jonathan Corrie were most instructive.

I now know that Ireland is the “best little country” to be homeless in and also that there is such a thing as too much charity.

Should I impart this wisdom to the next poor unfortunate who asks for my spare change? – Yours, etc, P SMYTH Mulranny, Co Mayo.

Sir, – Paddy Barry’s efforts (Letters, December 5th) to restrict the parliamentary privilege of TDs and senators has no basis in the Constitution.

Bunreacht na hÉireann makes no mention of using the privilege, “sparingly” or “only when the matter is one of the utmost seriousness” or indeed, “where no alternative” is available.

It says simply that comments in the House are “not amenable to any court or any authority, other than the House itself”.

Mr Barry’s version of parliamentary privilege would gag and stymie public representatives and force them to speak in euphemisms and circumlocutions.

I commend Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald’s intervention in this instance as it has placed on the public record a question of importance.

Anything less will see us repeat past patterns of everyone supposedly knowing something but no-one daring to say anything.

Legally and morally, Ms McDonald has no case to answer. – Yours, etc, CORMAC McMAHON Victoria, Australia.

Irish Independent:

The season of hypocrisy, insincerity and excess is upon us once again. It seems to creep up on us earlier each year. Some supermarkets were actually selling Christmas puddings and mince pies at the end of August with use-by dates well before Christmas.

I am a pensioner, and have lived alone since my wife died more than 50 years ago. I am quite happy to live alone. I get annoyed, fed up and deeply resent it when interfering do-gooders, albeit (allegedly) well-intentioned ones, come around telling me that I am lonely and depressed.

They try to get me to join social groups or link up with other people in my position. I’m sure their motive is to make themselves feel good or to show others how really wonderful they are. I tell them politely and firmly that I am quite happy with my lot and to leave me alone. They then go away to polish their halos until next year.

The people from the local church stopped disturbing me years ago. When they were collecting for Father Joseph O’Blogs Christmas present I told them that, as he lives rent free in the priest’s house and gets paid enough to buy his own presents, they would be better off collecting for St Vincent de Paul or a homeless charity!

A week before the festivities start, I stock up with food, books and DVDs, don’t answer the front door, switch off the phone and only emerge briefly on December 26 for the sales, then go back into hiding until the hostilities are over.

Brian Webb

Address with editor

Dysfunction of Dail clear to see

In the 1950s a TD caused laughter in the Dail with his heartfelt declaration: “The country is in a state of chous”. His inability to pronounce “chaos” is no reflection on the man’s integrity as a politician, nor as a decent caring human being.

Today the Dail is replete with well-educated TDs, who are not alone capable of pronouncing words correctly, but more than able to articulate their point of view. Alas, for some reason, many on the Government side of the chamber publicly give the impression they are merely capable of jeering at those opposite them.

Your paper’s political correspondent, Fionnan Sheahan, reported it has been suggested to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, should his leadership be called into question, that he request the President to dissolve the government.

Such childish threats by Enda Kenny and his closest advisers illustrate they don’t understand the situation the government is in.

Mr Kenny is a decent person, alas he is not officer material. Ireland, at this point in time, requires a leader who can bring the nation with them.

I have observed closely from afar for many years now. The younger generation think vastly differently about politics and government than in my time. Today, people want common sense and lucid, respectful explanations from government.

Sadly since March 2011, neither clarity, or reason has been placed before the people in the Dail. Instead the democratically-elected TDs on the opposition benches and, by extension, the people, are ritually affronted by smarmy smirks, put-downs, and half-baked truth posing as integrity.

Declan Foley

Berwick, Australia

Jack Kyle an example to us all

As a youngster growing up in Dublin the hero of all the males in my family and school was Jackie Kyle. I used to go to Lansdowne Road, stand in the schoolboy stand and watch him mesmerise the opposition with his jinking runs and he seemed to single-handedly orchestrate their defeat.

After the match I would wait for him to come out of the dressing room to get his autograph. He never complained that this was, as he probably knew, the tenth autograph he had signed for me. He just asked “What’s your name son?” and signed “To Jimmy, best wishes, Jackie Kyle”. I was devastated when he retired.

Years later and I am in my 40sand working with John O’Shea in Goal. John arranges sports events to raise money for the Third World and there is a star-studded group of rugby players helping at various functions.

One night I hear that among those helping will be, yes you’ve guessed it, Jackie Kyle. I can’t wait to meet him and talk about all the tries he scored and all those moments we shared.

I do meet him and he is very gracious and pleasant, but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about rugby.

All he wants to talk about is the great work John O’Shea is doing through sport in Goal. Despite my initial disappointment I began later to realise that by seeing things this way and by his own life’s dedication to the poor in Africa he was an even bigger hero than I had initially thought.

Jimmy Casey

Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Questions over legal system

I wish to make a comparison of how two court cases were dealt with during the week.

A young man was kicked in the head while lying on the ground, leaving him with a severe head injury which necessitated a stay in three different hospitals. He is still on anti-seizure medication and was out of work for a year. His attackers received a two-and-a half year suspended sentence.

On the other hand a man was given six years in prison for damaging a painting. I don’t care how valuable the painting was, but one was left wondering if damage to a painting is a more serious crime than damage to a human head. If so, our legal system needs a serious overhaul.

E Murphy

Killeshandra, Co Cavan

Austerity has its place

D Murphy complains that those “in favour of continued austerity” should shut up and the “age of austerity should end” [Letters, December 6].

I would like to inform D Murphy that in 2014 the Irish government will spend nearly €8bn more than it collects in taxes.

The Irish Government will have to borrow that to balance the books. Ireland now owes over a trillion euro and, since our services cost more than we are collecting in taxes, it is increasing.

If those who are complaining at having to pay the water charge and similar austerity measures have their way the Government will have to borrow much more.

The reason for the present austerity is that this country was bankrupt by reckless decisions made by the powerful people who were running the most important institutions in the country during the boom. The rest of us were not told what was happening until it was too late.

The present hysteria about ‘austerity’ is just as reckless and irresponsible as the recklessness which bankrupt the country during the boom.

The least we can expect is that, unlike what happened during the boom, the consequences of giving in to the present anti-austerity hysteria be spelled out. That is that we will have even worse austerity unless the borrowing stops.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13

Pensioners feel the pain

Last Friday, we got 25pc of the old Christmas Gift – Hallelujah!

We pensioners have not had a rise since 2009 but, in the meantime, we have lost: (1) That same Christmas Gift; (2) free telephone rental; (3) free refuse collection. In that time, we have had imposed on us (4) €2 per item on our prescriptions (and most of us need medicaments to ease all agonies); (5) property Tax; (6) water charges.

Where – and why – in the name of God, are we expected to find all this money to save the country?

We are mostly the savers from the old ‘Hard Times’ whose parents had to pay for our education and whose taxes paid for the education of the current workers and shirkers.

Cal Hyland

Rosscarbery, West Cork

Irish Independent

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