13 December 2014 Peter Rice
I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But its getting better. Peter Rice finishes off the shelves.
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up trout for tea and her tummy pain is still there.
Anne Sorby, who has died aged 91, was a member of the Special Operations Executive and part of a covert operation to repair relations with China and restore British prestige in south-east Asia, which had received a seemingly terminal reverse after the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in December 1941.
Anne Sorby was despatched to Kunming, south-west China, in 1944 and was one of the SOE team that ran Operation Remorse. Although she was one of the administrative staff, she quickly found herself in the shark pool of adventurers, swindlers, crooks and frontiersmen associated with the Chinese black market.
Dealers acting for Remorse could buy several times more Nationalist currency than could be purchased at the official rates. Walter Fletcher, a rubber planter who was subsequently knighted and became a British MP, and Edward Wharton-Tigar, a spy, saboteur and mining executive, were among the colourful characters who played a leading role in the operation.
Penal exchange rates were avoided by establishing a network of distributors and buyers of low-bulk, high-value items such as Indian rupees, watches, diamonds, medicines and whisky. The funds raised provided military equipment for Chiang Kai-shek’s army and helped to bolster Chinese resistance to the advance of the Japanese.
The money was also employed in suborning provincial government officials, buying influence, safety and food for Allied prisoners of war as well as financing American air force bases and purchasing supplies for aid agencies like the Red Cross.
The business soon became immensely (and embarrassingly) profitable for the SOE, but proved of vital importance in keeping the British foot in China’s door and in making sure that Allied forces were in a position to reclaim the colony as a secure base for Sino-British trade.
Anne Sorby never forgot the rapacity of the Chinese warlords with whom they had to deal, or seeing starving peasants being crucified for stealing grain. Kunming was also a base for the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers. Wharton-Tigar used to take a whistle to the wild parties thrown by the Tigers. He would blow it loudly to summon his girls home when he felt that things were getting out of hand and it was time for the English contingent to withdraw.
Anne Sorby (left) with friends at Kunming in 1944
Anne Sorby also took part in Operation Waldorf, aimed at helping Free French soldiers who had managed to struggle into Free China from French Indo-China. She was based in a commandeered temple and obtained supplies from the local warlord in exchange for Napoleon brandy.
Linda Margaret Anne Burrows was born at Worcester on October 16 1922. She went to Abbot’s Hill School, Hemel Hempstead, until she was aged 16. Her father was a soldier serving overseas, so she was largely brought up by her aunt and uncle in Kent.
In 1940, she joined MI6 and was billeted at Keble College, Oxford, where she achieved the feat of climbing over the roofs of all the university colleges. She was based at Blenheim Palace but found the work insufficiently exciting and volunteered for an overseas posting with SOE. She had taught herself Mandarin and was posted to China. The last leg of the flight took her over the Himalayas and she saw the remains of crashed aircraft littering the mountainsides.
Her remarkable wartime experiences left Anne Sorby with a deep and lasting love of the Far East. After the war, she joined the Military Administration in Hong Kong. While working there, she struck up a friendship with Terence Sorby, a veteran of El Alamein who was forging a successful career in the colonial administration.
In 1947, she returned to England and worked in various secretarial positions but went back to Hong Kong in 1954 to marry Terence. He subsequently became director of commerce and industry in the colony. She was an indefatigable fundraiser for charities.
Anne Sorby and her husband returned to England in 1973 and settled in Kent. He predeceased her and she is survived by their two sons and two daughters.
Anne Sorby, born October 16 1922, died September 28 2014
Janet Suzman claims that theatre is a white invention and only in the DNA of white people (Report, 9 December). The Tricycle Theatre is my local theatre in the middle of a multicultural area. When there is an Irish play the theatre is full of Irish people, when there is a black play with black actors (such as the recent The House That Will Not Stand) it is full of black people, and so on. I also go to the National Theatre, where there is a nearly exclusively white (and middle-aged) audience. But put on a play such as Elmina’s Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah and suddenly there are lots of black people in the audience. When the subject matter is relevant, and when there are black or other minority ethnic actors and directors involved, you find audiences of all backgrounds.
• Working in Leicester schools with Indian (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh) students, the immediacy of theatre presented few problems. Audience was a different matter. Taking productions into local theatre attracted few parents. Years ago the (then) Haymarket Theatre employed the poet Mahendra Solanki to encourage bookings from our new and growing Indian population with scant result. A beautiful new theatre was incorporated in the Peepul Centre located in the “Cultural Quarter”. Despite that, even Tara Arts and specially adapted productions attracted few local residents.
And so it appears to continue at the recently built Curve. Janet Suzman’s analysis of why theatre fails to attract a wider audience may be challenging but in my experience she certainly speaks from fact.
• As a white, middle-aged man, I have always regarded drama as an invaluable means of increasing my appreciation of our diverse society. But if ethnic minority communities don’t relate strongly to theatre as an art form, let’s just admit it and get over it. There are many other ways in which people can express themselves and try to understand each other better. And what’s the point of the Arts Council threatening sanctions against theatre groups who don’t do sufficiently “diverse” work if it’s not very likely to put bums on seats? Running a theatre is tough enough already.
• I recently went to see Rudy’s Rare Records at the Birmingham Rep and felt like I was the only white person in the audience.
• The salient point is not whether black people go to the theatre – but that all British citizens are taxed so that the government and councils can pour subsidies into theatres for a liberal elite to put on plays that no one (regardless of ethnicity) wants to go and see.
• As a teacher I regularly used to take my sixth formers – most of whom were Asian – to the London theatre, opera and ballet. As well as encouraging them to love the arts, I was also trying to dispel the myth that such places were not for the likes of them. But I couldn’t help noticing that even in productions like Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s The Island – a South African play about Robben Island with black actors – and a production of Twelfth Night set in India with Indian actors, the audience was still overwhelmingly white and middle class.
By all means let’s commission more Asian, Chinese and African-Caribbean theatre, but getting a more diverse audience to see it is another story.
• Janet Suzman makes the elementary mistake of assuming that whatever she doesn’t happen to know about doesn’t exist . She asserts that all theatre comes from the ancient Greeks. Many sophisticated plays were written in Sanskrit in India from about 200BC to 500AD, and are available in English translation. Many more are thought to have been lost.
• I am no expert on the origins of theatre, but if it is not free to examine critically our beliefs, customs, ideas and institutions, it is neutered. So my response to Meera Syal is to wonder whether some of the Asian ethnic and religious minorities are willing to accept this critical freedom. I am reminded of Behzti, the play which depicted a rape in a Sikh temple at the Birmingham Rep in 2004. Violent demonstrations forced it to close and the playwright fled into hiding.
Similarly, I doubt whether seriously critical drama involving Islam can be tolerated. As long as artistic freedom is compromised, it is not theatre that has a case to answer but those who are unable to entertain ideas that conflict with their beliefs.
I am writing to clarify comments which appeared as part of an interview about bus and rail transport policy (Stagecoach boss: free bus travel comes at a cost, 11 December) and subsequent claims by shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher MP. To be clear, at no time have I ever said, nor would I say, that I or anyone else in the Stagecoach Group organisation is underpaid. Any suggestion or inference to that effect is simply not true.
What I have argued is that the margins earned by train operators in the UK are low, between 2-3%. The point I have made is that these sector returns should be considered in light of the risks assumed, management and staff responsibilities and the very significant financial contractual commitments that we, the industry, have to government to make premium payments or reduce subsidies. It is that industry input which has delivered Europe’s best, safest and fastest-growing railway, providing funding to government to reinvest in public services.
It is disappointing that some politicians try to create mischief rather than acknowledging the successes of our transport system and working in partnership to face up to the challenges we face.
Chief executive, Stagecoach Group
• For a prominent businessman, Martin Griffiths of Stagecoach seems unfamiliar with the concept of demand elasticity. Does he really believe that the same number of senior bus-pass holders – for whose journeys his company and other bus operators are remunerated from public funds, thereby keeping many marginal routes viable – would be using his buses if they were required to pay the full public fare?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Life-affirming experiences don’t come much more convincingly than cancer. In June Mr Tim Duncan, with his steady gaze and infinite blue eyes, told me that I had cancer of the ovaries, bowel and possibly liver. I had gone to see my GP, a few weeks before, thinking that I was intolerant to wheat (feeling bloated is apparently a common symptom; ladies be warned). I can’t imagine what it is like having to tell people the news that they may not see their children grow up and alarmingly, these days, telling it regularly. I write to thank Mr Duncan for his gentle patience as my world crashed before me, and to sing from the roof tops praise for the NHS, with its incredible staff who have looked after me and my family through these five months.
I was admitted to Norfolk and Norwich hospital where I underwent an 11-hour operation performed by surely the most handsome team of surgeons (all the nurses agree), and after a short stay in the high-dependency unit I arrived at the wonderful Cley ward for 20 days. I can’t begin to explain my thanks and gratitude to the staff of Cley. My condition was at times frightening and harrowing, but I was cared for with such expertise and vigilance that I have to share my experience and rejoice in the knowledge that their support has meant that I am now walking in my favourite woods again.
It amazes me that I am alive. I fully intend to remain so. Most women in the world do not have access to this level of expertise. Even in the US, on my income, my insurance probably would not have covered the operation and I don’t have a house to re-mortgage or funds to cover this unexpected disease. The x-rays, scans, medication, food, cleaning staff, porters that have been given to me because I’m British leave me speechless. We all know someone who has had a baby, broken an arm or has been seriously ill. Do we consider enough how lucky we are to see our GP for free? I feel immensely proud of Britain for providing a health care service that is brilliant and accessible to all.
I really want to say thank you for the kind way my decrepit body was washed; how, in the middle of the night when I felt overwhelmed, a nurse stopped what she was doing and held my hand; the cake covered in Smarties the catering staff brought me for my birthday; the smiles and jokes with the staff to pass the long days; and Mr Burbos (one of the handsome consultant surgeons) who has been so generous with his time and care. Thank you. I will be supporting the strikes to get better pay for nurses. They are intelligent, helpful, kind people, not money-grabbers. If they say their pay is unfair, I believe them.
Sir, Matthew Parris (My Week, Dec 10) should not feel disgust at British and German soldiers playing football on Christmas Day, 1914. Walter Nash, a Grenadier Guards machinegunner who took part in the truce, told me that a current of excitement built up between the men on both sides during the fraternisation in the hope that it might lead to a cancellation of the conflict. Having given his tin of bully beef to one of the enemy and been given a leather belt in return, the German was disappointed that it was the British officers down the line who ordered their men back into the trenches. It was a brief, sad episode, but a small light of humanity in the darkness of war.
Sir, Surely the key question about the Christmas truce of 1914 is why did it happen only in that year and not in subsequent ones? Had the spirit of generosity been worn down by yet more months of atrocious warfare, or was there pre-emptive action by commanders to prevent it? It is the non-truces of Christmas 1915-17 that are the most heart-wrenching. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Maidenhead Synagogue, Berks
Sir, I have often wondered what would have happened if the British and the Germans had decided to have a return match on Boxing Day and then another on the 27th, then another on the 28th, then on the 29th. It might just have caught on.
Rustington, W Sussex
Sir, The football match in 1914 was between men who possibly didn’t know where they were, nor why, and didn’t want to kill men of similar backgrounds anyway. The war was essentially a war of failed diplomacy and ordinary soldiers, most of whom had certainly not had the benefit of a broad education, were more interested in football than killing. They were obeying orders next day and the previous days with a refusal to do so leading to an equally horrible outcome. It is proof that the war was a war from above, and if the justification for the killing was “only obeying orders”, then the failed diplomacy was a reprehensible excuse too.
Sir, The soldiers who took part in the game were involved in a vast and messy conflict over which they had no control. Whatever the 21st century does with that occasion, there was no sentimentality in it for them. They were making the best of a bad situation, as were the chaplains, whose job was to provide what spiritual comfort they could. Only a very prejudiced eye could interpret the joining together, in no man’s land, to play a game as a sign of the emerging beast. For me it clearly demonstrates that human sympathy and fellow feeling cannot be destroyed even by the most horrific of circumstances. Would Matthew Parris have preferred it if they had spent Christmas Day polishing their guns and looking forward to the next battle?
Lower Bebington, Wirral
Sir, Matthew Parris asks: “How can you sport with a man whom tomorrow you are going to try to kill?” The question would not baffle most professional soldiers; it would not baffle Wellington or for that matter Achilles. Parris’s muddled sentimentality disguises something very bleak indeed: the wish that the only war should be total war, in which the enemy is dehumanised, a war with no hypocrisy because there are no truces and no surrenders.
Sir, The Health Survey for England is not the first representative study to report the incidence of prescribed medication by the British population, as was reported (“The nation hooked on presciption medicines”, Dec 11). In 1984 and 1991, the Health and Lifestyle Study (HALS), which was a stratified representative random sample of 9,003 members of the adult population in Britain, collected such information. In 1984 the number of respondents taking prescribed medications was reported and in 1991, when the majority of the survivors of the study (5,352) were re-surveyed, detailed information was collected on the specific medications taken by the respondents. Our data should enable a comparison to be made with the current report. Of course, one major change would be the prescribing of statins, which were not regularly prescribed at the time of our surveys.
Dr Brian D Cox
Director of the health and lifestyle study, Wolfson College, Cambridge
Sir, While abolishing doctors’ dining areas (letter, Dec 11) reduced the chance of useful contact with medical colleagues, attending the canteen did allow you to line up behind the last patient from the morning clinic and, having strongly advised them to lose weight, watch while they loaded a tray with chips, crumble and custard.
(Retired orthopaedic consultant)
Sir, David Aaronovitch (Dec 11) fails to mention that I changed Labour policy on the private sector when I was health secretary. The old system meant that an increasing number of providers dealt with one person’s care. Evidence from around the world tells us that market-based systems cost more, and I am not neutral about who provides NHS services.New rules preferring NHS suppliers were in force when we began the search for new management at Hinchingbrooke hospital. But a private operator was appointed by the coalition 18 months later. Labour believes in the public NHS and we will make it our preferred provider if elected next May.
Shadow health secretary
Sir, How unfortunate that a fellow Crowthorne resident seems to have encountered an unrepresentative handful of Wellington College’s pupils (letter, Dec 10). In my view most of the school’s pupils are considerate and thoughtful people from a variety of backgrounds. Moreover, they and their school contribute to this community in wide-ranging ways, including year-round acts of remembrance — led by Sir Anthony Seldon.
SIR – Stephen Nickell from the Office for Budget Responsibility says that the United Kingdom has “masses of room” for immigrants.
That is quite true. If Scotland was to bring its population density up to that of England it could take another 26.7 million people (on top of its current 5.3 million people). The Highlands of Scotland may be a bit inhospitable but I am sure we could squeeze more people in.
Wales and Northern Ireland could take another 9.2 million between them (on top of their current 4.9 million).
I can’t help thinking that these extra 35.9 million people will put more pressure on the NHS and infrastructure, rather than aiding prosperity.
SIR – To suggest that there is lots of room for immigrants in this country, by citing the acres taken up by Surrey’s golf courses, is to neglect two things about these courses.
First, they do less to mar the wonderful countryside of Surrey than housing estates would, and secondly, if there is a world food shortage they could be ploughed up and used to feed the population. Food security is an issue all political parties appear to ignore, yet with a growing world population and the threat of climate change it seems foolish to assume that we will always be able to import a large portion of our food.
SIR – Stephen Nickell is reported as saying that 35 per cent of health professionals are migrants. A Freedom of Information request that Get Britain Out placed with the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed migrants make up only 11 per cent of the NHS work force, with migrants from EU countries making up just 4 per cent.
Get Britain Out
SIR – Charles Moore is in favour of increasing the population as the road to increased prosperity. If only.
As living standards have increased steadily since the industrial revolution, man has ploughed ahead with scant regard for the environment (over-fishing the oceans, decimating the rainforests, increasing air pollution and provoking climate change). Environmentalists would argue that, by continuing to do this we are rapidly reaching the point beyond which there will be irreparable damage to our planet.
We have witnessed, in recent decades, ever smaller houses on bigger estates served by ever more congested streets. So while increasing the population may be beneficial for the immediate prosperity of the middle classes, increased materialism will not necessarily equate to a better quality of life for those at the bottom of the social ladder. People need space.
Britain east of Suez
SIR – Con Coughlin (Comment, December 8) is right to describe the Wilson government’s decision in 1968 to withdraw British forces from “east of Suez” as disastrous. The decision upset not just the Gulf states but four key allies in the Far East – Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore – all of which had given invaluable support to Wilson in his efforts to resolve the toxic Rhodesia problem. Britain could instead have saved money by scrapping its spurious and expensive “independent” nuclear deterrent.
Unwelcome best friend
SIR – I, too, have been asked to be more discreet and moved away from the front of a restaurant (near the window) to the rear of the dining area (in a corner, away from others) (“Adopting a Victorian attitude to breastfeeding”, Letters, December 8). I was doing nothing untoward – in fact, I was not the “problem”. I had with me my assistance dog and, although he is small and very well behaved, I was told it would be bad for business if the public could see the dog through the large front window.
There are several kinds of assistance dog – mine is a hearing dog – and each type is necessary. Having an assistance dog should not make a person feel like a less valued customer. Being moved is embarrassing.
Donald B Sharpe
A cut above
SIR – You suggest that the Duke of Cambridge wore trousers three inches too short in New York. In the accompanying picture, he is seen struggling through wind and heavy rain with an umbrella which keeps him dry down to the waist, maybe, but would do nothing for his trousers. As they got saturated, they would obviously have stuck to his legs and ridden up as he walked, assisted by the wind.
SIR – Prince William, being a perfect gentleman, is no doubt wearing his trousers short to fit in with the American males who invariably wear theirs above the ankle.
Now home, he will return to his usual elegance.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
North Sea oil bank
SIR – Given the low oil prices and their projected further fall, why doesn’t Britain conserve its dwindling supplies of oil in the North Sea by leaving it there against the time when prices once again increase?
SIR – What price Scottish oil now?
SIR – Kevin Daly of Goldman Sachs has said that the price of a litre of petrol could fall to almost £1 if oil prices stay low. Should that not be “should” fall?
SIR – It would be wrong to demonise diesel power in areas of much lower traffic density than London. In most of Britain, lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by diesel cars make them a better choice for the longer journeys required.
SIR – I wonder if the long list of worthy people who signed the letter commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are aware that its ninth article, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”, is flatly contradicted by the European Arrest Warrant.
Arrest and detention without any evidence being produced, is clearly arbitrary. This is common practice in the jurisdictions with Napoleonic-inquisitorial systems, which are prevalent among Britain’s EU partners. Mere suspicion, based on clues, is enough.
Italian criminal procedure, for example, provides that “serious and concordant clues” are grounds for arrest and lengthy imprisonment, with no right to any public hearing while the authorities seek hard evidence against the prisoner.
The European Arrest Warrant is based on the mistaken assumption that the legal systems of all EU states operate as fairly as our own, in particular regarding this matter of evidence. If such a warrant is received, no British court is allowed to ask to see evidence against the suspect. It must simply truss him up and ship him over.
The Lisbon Treaty left Britain the option of staying opted out, so reconfirming the European Arrest Warrant was voluntary, indeed wanton. It cannot now be revoked without leaving the EU completely. Is it one of the powers that David Cameron intends to “claw back” in his vaunted future “renegotiation” strategy? Presumably not.
SIR – The European Commission has relaunched its very own cartoon strip, Captain Euro. This “instant media sensation in the 1990s” is back to promote EU brand identity with new adventures for Captain Euro and his band of Euro warriors. The latest episode is about David Cameron and the “F word” (for Federal).
I wonder what future episodes could help our friends in Brussels to give Captain Euro a long and enjoyable future.
Husbands are not to be trusted with Christmas
Deck the halls: ‘Preparation for Christmas’, by Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin, 1896
SIR – The easiest way to avoid marital friction over Christmas is to ensure one’s husband is excluded from all preparations, except possibly peeling the potatoes.
On Christmas Day, my spouse presents me with a gift that my daughter has reminded him to buy (and almost certainly has purchased on his behalf), opens a bottle of wine and reaches for the carving knife – one of the few skills I have failed to master in 42 years of marriage.
I doubt he even knows where I keep the Christmas lights (Letters, December 11).
SIR – At the end of my first Christmas with my boyfriend’s parents, I was directed to a mountain of tree lights on the floor, handed eight cardboard and polystyrene sleeves, and told to put the lights away. We are still married, 22 years later.
SIR – I am executor for an elderly neighbour. Although I wrote to everyone in her address book when she died a few months ago, some Christmas cards have arrived for her and I have no way of contacting the senders because they have not included their return addresses.
SIR – Am I the only one who cannot understand why people send cards at Christmas reading “Season’s greetings” or “Happy holidays”?
They don’t send them in the summer, when most people take holidays. I only send cards with Christmas messages, otherwise I fail to understand the point.
SIR – Jo Marchington (Letters, December 10) is lucky that her daughter was cast as a tree in her school Christmas play.
Years ago my three-year-old told me with great excitement that she had a role in her nativity play.
Me: “Well, done! Are you Mary?”
Daughter: “No, Mummy.”
Me, puzzled: “What then, darling?”
Daughter : “A child!”
Of course, she acted her part perfectly.
SIR – I was about to spread some Cornish Blue on my cream cracker when I noticed it was inviting me to “Have a cool yule”.
Is everyone being similarly addressed by their food this festive season?
Sir, – Can the ESRI explain the contradiction between its reports published in July and December of this year (“Unemployed worst affected by budgets, says ESRI report”, December 12th)?
In the July report The Distribution of Income and the Public Finances, which covers the years 2008 to 2012, it states that “the fiscal options chosen by successive governments have contributed to an outcome where inequality in the distribution of income has fallen”. The successive governments referred to are the present Government and the government of 2007 to 2012. The December report The Distributional Impact of Taxes Welfare and Public Service Policies: Budget 2015 and Budgets 2009 – 2015 finds the outcome of the budgets regressive.
The latest report contains a contradiction within the report itself when it states that the impact of Budget 2015 was “close to neutral” and in the same paragraph that it was “clearly regressive”. It later goes on to state that the results for budgets 2009 to 2015 are “too complex to be characterised as either progressive, regressive or proportional”. That old joke about how many economists it takes to change a light bulb comes to mind. – Yours, etc,
JOANNA TUFFY, TD
Dublin 2 .
Sir, – The acknowledgement by dietician Paula Mee ( Health & Family, December 9th) that dietary saturated fats do not belong to the class of “bad fats” is a timely and welcome reversal of long-standing anti-fat, anti-cholesterol dogma.
Fearsome warnings about the “cholesterol-raising” potential of saturated fats fail to recognise the scientifically proven heart-healthy properties of saturated fats such as butter, eggs, cheese, animal fats and tropical oils.
These health-supporting fats have been vilified for many years by supporters of the traditional food pyramid, the observance of which has served to promote an excess of carbohydrate consumption, and a minimal intake of saturated fats.
The folly of this advice is evident in our visible escalation of obesity, diabetes and heart disease over the past decade.
The real culprits underlying our present explosion of chronic disease are commercially produced trans-fats, processed polyunsaturated fats, and an excess of carbohydrates and sugar intake, all ubiquitous in the traditional dietary habits of our nation. To confuse these unhealthy fats with saturated fats serves to mislead the public in matters of healthy dietary choices.
The acknowledgement by a leading dietician that our traditional food policy has long been misguided is refreshingly welcome, and can only serve the best health interests of our nation.– Yours, etc,
DR NEVILLLE S WILSON,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – In common with others, I was horrified by what I saw on Prime Time. This is not a training or staffing level issue; we could see that there were enough staff, and a kind schoolchild could do a better job of looking after these women than the nurses and Fetac-qualified assistants there, because it is kindness that matters, not qualifications. My elderly mother has home carers who are recently qualified but have been doing the job successfully for years beforehand, and they are so kind and wonderful to her. Maybe the qualification helps with paperwork and first aid training but if they were not kind and caring people, no amount of training would help. You need to start by hiring and training people who are patient and kind and then you have a hope of getting it right. I was also horrified to hear the HSE spokesperson speak of apologising to the relatives. I’d like them to apologise to the women who were abused. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – We have allowed the care of vulnerable people of all ages in a range of environments to become, to a considerable extent, a minimum wage job, with all that implies.
Are we entitled to demand high standards of these workers when we offer them poor pay, little or no career development, low status and no respect? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The debate on the property tax and local services is missing the main point of the tax. After the property bubble burst in 2008 the country’s tax and spend policies came unstuck. The government’s income declined rapidly and it found itself in grave need of additional sources of revenue. The tax was one such source. It was marketed to the Irish people as a tax for local council-run services, but it is more similar to motor tax – it is a tax that goes into central funds and is distributed from there. Councils receive the local government fund general purpose grant from central government, of which a portion comes from the proceeds of the local property tax. We can debate all we want about where our property tax should go, which council areas are subsidising others, and which are getting more services than others, but in effect, it is a tax raised to reduce the overall level of government borrowings, not a direct attempt to fund all council services from locally raised taxes. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Steven Long (December 10th) makes the point that in relation to local government services, all households should be supplied equally, and all services supplied equally.
It should be noted that under the local property tax (LPT) framework, all householders are not charged equally; those who live in towns and cities are charged substantially more LPT than those who live in rural Ireland. This inequality is compounded further when the average size of a dwelling in urban and rural areas is considered. In addition, the Government applies an “equalisation” process to the distribution of LPT funds paid by householders in the Dublin city area. Of LPT payments made by householders in Dublin city, €16.5 million was distributed to rural areas.
Finally, the Government further directed that €49.5 million of LPT payments collected from Dublin householders be used to replace existing Government grants for capital purposes. This money could not be spent on providing the services referenced by Mr Long. Equality must apply to all aspects – for all householders, cities, towns and rural dwellers alike. – Yours, etc,
Cllr RUAIRI MCGINLEY,
Finance and Emergency
Dublin City Council.
Sir, – In July I was in Mongu in western Zambia, where Concern is supporting people to move out of poverty. I spoke to Mushimbei Mwendabai. Concern gives her 30 kwachas a month – €3. It allows her build up a little head of steam, buy and sell her produce and send her older child to school. Liam Kavanagh (28) from Coolock is working on the project. I asked him what he plans to do in the future. His reply was “I can’t see myself doing anything else”.
Concern is working with the most vulnerable families in 27 of the world’s poorest and most neglected countries. Whether they are caught up in poverty, war, conflict or even the deadly Ebola virus, our teams are providing immediate assistance and helping people get back on their feet. And this work is only possible because of the support of people in Ireland such as the readers of The Irish Times, who through their extraordinary generosity have supported our work over the years. At our peril can we take that support for granted.
For every euro Concern receives, 90.4 cent goes directly to the work in the field. In early December we won two awards in excellence in financial reporting in Ireland.
I am conscious that many people have little spare cash and yet they are willing to support the poorest of the poor in the countries where we are working. For that I say thank you and wish you a joyful and happy Christmas and new year. – Yours, etc,
Chief Executive Officer,
Sir, – I disagree with Nick Strong’s call (December 12th) for a merger of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. What Ireland requires urgently is for the many talented younger TDs and Senators in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour to form a new centrist party – and leave the old fogies behind. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Might Dick Spring’s concept of a “rotating Taoiseach” finally come to fruition? That question may be answered sooner than we think. – Yours, etc,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I do realise that this is the season for giving, but I do feel that charities are going a little over the top at present. I have monthly standing orders for three good causes, but at this point I have nine requests in from varying charities looking for money for varying reasons. One of them wanted €150 as a basic donation. In our local church we have a monthly collection for St Vincent de Paul; no problems with that. Last Sunday, we were told that next Sunday we would have the annual Christmas collection; again, no problems. My problem is that the very next day I received a request in the post from St Vincent de Paul looking for more money. I am a pensioner and cannot reply to all of these charitable requests with what they expect from me. I do appreciate that they are all attempting to do great work, but I am terribly sorry that I cannot fulfil all that they expect me to do. It is a terrible thing to say but this time of the year is charity overkill ! – Yours, etc,
BRIAN D BYRNES,
Sutton, Dublin 13.
Sir, – When the same limited number of names recur in reviews on radio and in the print media and the same book titles crop up in the end of year lists, Eileen Battersby’s choices stand out. Her reviews throughout the year serve to expand our horizons and introduce our conservative reading habits to new names. My shelves are lined with authors I would never have heard of if it weren’t for her recommendations. Nobody should be “put off”, as Alison McCoy (December 6th) was, by translations. – Yours, etc,
Kanturk, Co Cork.
Sir, – From one Alison to another, I have to tell Ms McCoy that I find nearly all Eileen Battersby’s recommendations well worth reading. Who says that only those who write in English have valid and valuable ideas? Thanks to Ms Battersby I have read and enjoyed books by Joseph Roth, Hans Fallada, Stephan Zweig and many others. I would consider it a dereliction of duty if a literary correspondent did not suggest such authors, as they are so intrinsically important. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – If the Government backbenchers are correct in their assessment of the demographic of the protesters, ie mainly Sinn Féin and hard-left supporters, it should concern them that in mid-December, these parties are able to convince so many people to travel to Dublin.
If these left-leaning individuals are that committed, it must be a worry to the Government parties.
Perhaps the Government TDs are incorrect; however, if they’re not, it doesn’t augur well for them in the next general election. The next opinion poll will be very interesting. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Perhaps it is time for some divine inspiration in relation to additional funding for our museums. Some years ago when in Rome and the Vatican, we took the opportunity to visit many of the landmark churches there.
While entrance to the churches was free (though not into the Vatican museums), the church authorities introduced a rather clever wheeze – in gloomier parts of the churches, one puts a coin in a slot and, presto, famous works of art are illuminated for about one minute. This has a two-pronged result; the works of art are not exposed to harmful levels of light over long periods and, equally important, it gives visitors the option of deciding what objects they wish to view in detail, or not.
Now there’s an idea for the National Museum of Ireland to chew on over Christmas. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I have just come from a visit to a patient in hospital. On the way in, I met an elderly man in a dressing gown and woollen hat, leaning on a walking frame and having a smoke.
The weather was as bad as it gets and a loudspeaker was blaring out in Irish and English “This is a no smoking area”.
If this represents the compassion and care of the do-good administrators then I will eat my hat. – Yours, etc,
Patrickswell, Co Limerick.
Sir, – Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to purchase gifts for my family in Ireland, and I’ve made the effort to seek out Irish merchants, where possible. The internet should make this a straightforward proposition, but unfortunately I’ve been prevented from spending my money in Ireland on more than one occasion by websites that will only accept credit cards that have an Irish or British billing address. Three times this week I’ve tried to pay for items from Irish merchants, only to be turned away when I go to the online checkout.
It’s often cheaper to order from UK merchants, even with higher delivery charges. Now it’s easier as well. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It seems to have become a tradition for those who can still afford to go elsewhere to take advantage of the silence of Christmas Day to remind their neighbours of their great luck by allowing their burglar alarms to ring non-stop until December 27th at least. The lack of enforcement of token noise pollution laws helps with this.
It remains to be seen if the tradition continues this year. – Yours, etc,
Thirty seconds. Thirty precious seconds – that’s all the time I had last Christmas morning between hearing my smoke alarm and having to get out before my house went up in flames.
I was in the shower. It was 11.20 am. I was alone. Everyone was gone to Mass.
I timed it later – 30 seconds. But for the smoke alarm, I’d have been trapped in the bathroom. Others, the same day, in Ireland and Scotland, were not so fortunate: they died in their house fires.
Smoke alarms can be annoying: for example going off during a fry-up when the door from the kitchen to the hall is left open. “Switch off that smoke alarm, for God’s sake. Take out the battery and leave it out,” and so on.
Two weeks before my narrow escape from death, my grandson, Adam, had remarked: “Granda, your smoke alarm is beeping; you need to put in a new battery.” I said I’d see to it. But I didn’t. Adam himself got the new battery after a few days, and put it in.
So I wish everyone a happy Christmas, and maybe getting a smoke alarm, or checking the one you have, may ensure that it really is happy!
Naas, Co Kildare
Animals deserve compassion
A homeless man dies on a morgue-cold Dublin street, residents of a residential care home are manhandled by dullards and Christmas is about to be celebrated in a fugue of alcohol while people remain emotionally clamped to consumerism.
What is happening to Irish society? A seam of callousness has opened, revealing a disconnection of feeling and understanding for those adrift from our normal functional world. Self-interest has rendered the tenets of caring and acting in a compassionate manner obsolete.
This coarsening of life in Ireland is brought into sharp focus at Christmas time, when in this Christian and supposedly civilised country there will be widespread cruelty inflicted on wild animals over the Christmas holiday season.
No Christmas respite is given to wildlife by bloodsports followers.
Despite the displays of support for those who reside on the fringes of society, the core of Irish society is hollow. As a nation we have all but all given up on really caring – as opposed to charity-induced caring – for the human and non-human members of our society that need respect, financial support and the reach of a helping hand.
The thought and deed of kindness is in fear of dying in Irish society. The emotional connection to another person and to the non-human members of our society has been unplugged.
New party season
The 19th century bosses in Fine Gael appear to be stuck in the zombie zone, the Fianna Fail leadership is unable to raise its flagging spirits, and Labour faces a slow walk to the gallows. Now is the appropriate time for the young Turks sitting on the backbenches of these three out-of-date parties to form a new Centrist party. Time for the visionaries to stand out from the followers.
State contempt for people clear
I attended the water tax protest in Dublin on Wednesday. I wanted to do so in order to canvass the Government in relation to its unjust establishment of this tax.
Alas, I could not, as not only could I not stand at their gate – I was even prohibited from walking on their street. Never before have I witnessed a Government with such a physical contempt for its people.
Soon they will come to my door, to canvass me before the next election and – while I would never display my indignation – they will leave without my vote. The Government achieved only one thing on Wednesday – the reaffirmation in many not to pay the water tax.
Last Wednesday I took part in the national anti-water charges protest in Dublin. It was my first anti-water charges protest and I will not be taking part in any further protests, in Dublin at least
The actions of the few who took part in actions which left a garda hospitalised and blocked roads only alienate ordinary Dubliners who may be sympathetic to the cause but cannot do their daily business, such as travelling home from work.
I believe in people’s right to protest but there is a sinister element to the anti water charges protests I do not wish to be associated with.
Where’s the accountability?
I have just come from a visit to a patient in a hospital in this county.
On the way in I met an elderly man in a dressing gown and woollen hat with a walking frame. He was having a smoke.
The weather was as bad as it gets and a loudspeaker was blasting out – in Irish and English – “This is a no-smoking area.”
If this represents the compassion and care of the do-good administrators then I will eat my hat.
Nobody can object to the control of smoking where it affects others, but we are being overruled by numerous assertive quangos with no accountability.
Time to bin the bailout
I – an English blow-in to Trinity College Dublin in 1968 – wish to congratulate the good-humoured, but hard-pressed Irish public for a spirited and peaceful protest (as we all expected) on Wednesday.
In my view, the array of gardai and dogs lined up on Kildare Street to protect the TDs (cowering) in Leinster House was unnecessary, provocative and a waste (to add to the many examples of waste) of public money.
May I suggest that Irish politicians now take note of this massive but peaceful public protest? Their duty is to the Irish people, not to foreign bankers. The bailout is morally indefensible, and we shall never be able to afford it.
Give the money instead to the homeless and the many in need. It’s quite simple, really. Not at all rocket science. But it requires courage and integrity.
Dr Gerald Morgan
Trinity College, Dublin 2
Dread of a reggae Christmas
Finding my ears assaulted by ‘upbeat’ /’reggae’ reworkings of traditional Christmas tunes prompts me to proclaim: come back Dean Martin and Andy Williams – all is forgiven.
Beaumont, Dublin 9
Action needed on Syria
I applaud the Irish Independent for shining a light on the plight of Syrian refugees, especially children. Children are always the casualties of war.
The civil war in Syria has been pitiless and unrelenting. Children have been forced to flee their homes; endure unspeakable agony amidst the utter ruins of their apartments; compelled to witness the destruction of lives and livelihoods and to live their life in desolation and destitution in refugee camps.
But – apart from being killed, maimed and wounded – the lack of food, clean water and warn shelters puts children at an increased risk of diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria, malnutrition and other psychological and emotional disorders. They also fall prey to sexual exploitation, violence, rapes and forced marriages.
This is the worst humanitarian disaster unravelling before our eyes in the 21st century. The international community must show its unequivocal support for children in need, treat their festering wounds and assist countries such as Jordan, which valiantly shoulders the tremendous burden of the refugee crisis despite its meagre resources.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob