Chairs

17 December 2014 Chairs

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I go out to pick up Michael and Astrid’s two chairs.

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

Obituary:

Sheila Stewart, Scottish folk singer

Sheila Stewart Photo: TOPIC RECORDS

Sheila Stewart, who has died aged 79, was one of Scotland’s most popular folk singers and helped to fuel the British folk song revival of the 1950s and 1960s. The last of the Stewarts of Blairgowrie, a singing dynasty of travellers, she was acclaimed not only for her full-blooded unaccompanied singing but also for popularising a huge fund of traditional ballads which had been preserved for generations by her family.

A colourful character with a ready wit and gift for storytelling, in 1976 Sheila Stewart was invited to perform at the United States bicentennial celebrations in Washington, DC, where she met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at an official reception byefore a show. “The Duke of Edinburgh says to the man next to him ‘Can we go down to the Mall and hear Sheila sing?’ ” she recalled. “And the man says ‘Sorry, Your Highness, security won’t allow it’, and he says ‘—- security!’ ”

Later on she was accosted by two men in dark glasses who demanded she accompany them: “They put me in this long limo – I thought they were Mafia! And they take me to the White House and there’s President Ford and his wife and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who says to me ‘I told you I was hearing you sing.’ So I had tea in the White House and sang for them for two hours.”

Sheila Stewart’s largest audience, however, was at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, in 1982 when she sang in front of 385,000 people who had come to see Pope John Paul II. “When they asked me to sing for the Pope, I says I cannae do that, I’m not a Catholic.’ And they said: ‘Oh, the Pope won’t bother,’ ” she recalled. “So I bought a pair of green shoes to wear, and when he gets out of the Popemobile, he says: ‘I like your shoes’, and puts his hand on me and blesses me. So I went in front to the mike … I sing Ewan MacColl’s Moving-On Song.” The following day a newspaper report observed that “only two things silenced the crowd – the Pope’s arrival and Sheila’s singing”.

Sheila Stewart was born on July 7 1935 in a stable behind the Angus Hotel at Blairgowrie, Perthshire, after an argument between her mother and grandmother had rendered her parents homeless. Her mother Belle – also a singer – had been born in a tent, and the family was accustomed to the travelling way of life, surviving through hawking, besom-making and seasonal farm work. Music was a key part of the family’s itinerant lifestyle, which included regular trips to Ireland , and Sheila’s father and grandfather were well-known Highland pipers. At harvest time they would often meet up with fellow members of the travelling community to sing, play and share stories around the camp fire.

Sheila was five when she learnt her first song, and her singing became a regular feature of family gatherings. A notable characteristic of her style was the decorative “conyach” – an ill-defined term suggesting a gift for conveying the emotional feeling of a ballad – with which she imbued many of the oldest and most epic songs in the canon of Scottish folk song, notably The Twa Brothers and The Bonnie Hoose Of Arlie.

It was a tough existence. Travellers were the victims of much prejudice, and Sheila was frequently bullied at school; but life began to change in the mid-1950s when the song collector Hamish Henderson arrived to record the family’s vast repertoire of songs. Until that point the Stewarts had never performed in a formal setting, and they were initially somewhat self-conscious. But as a result of Henderson’s recordings for Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies, the Stewarts’ repertoire became a key source of the folk revival in Britain, with ancient ballads such as Young Jamie Foyers, Bogie’s Bonnie Belle and Queen Among the Heather passing into the common repertoire.

Sheila Stewart, Scottish folk singer

At 16, Sheila rebelled and gave up the travelling life to work as a waitress. She then spent a brief spell in the Army . In 1956 she married a non-traveller, Ian McGregor, with whom she had four children and eventually moved to Stoke Newington, north London, where in the early 1960s her husband found work as a joiner helping to build the new Victoria underground line.

There Sheila became involved in the folk song club movement after meeting Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, who made many recordings of her family and featured them in their documentary The Travelling People. The Stewarts became a popular festival and folk club act as a result, and released two LPs, The Stewarts Of Blair (1965) and The Travelling Stewarts (1968), in addition to being included on many other compilations.

Ian McGregor died suddenly in 1977, after he and Sheila had returned to Scotland. As the children grew up and left home, she took a series of jobs, including a brief period as a molecatcher. For a time she lived in Yorkshire , working as a liaison officer for travellers in Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford. She also taught in schools and lectured in America.

Sheila Stewart performed whenever she could with her mother Belle and her sister Cathie, and after Belle’s death in 1997 she undertook solo work, touring internationally and releasing a solo album, From the Heart of the Tradition (1998). Altogether she recorded more than 80 ballads.

She also wrote a biography of her mother, Queen Among the Heather (2006), followed by an autobiography, A Traveller’s Life (2011). She appeared as a café owner and singer in the 2012 Jamie Chambers film Blackbird .

Sheila Stewart was appointed MBE in 2006.

Her children survive her.

Sheila Stewart, born July 7 1935, died December 9 2014

Guardian:

Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy
Jim Murphy: ‘Nicola Sturgeon will have no trouble in representing him as the man sent to run the branch office.’ Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

You report that Jim Murphy wants “to press Scottish Labour to rewrite clause four of its constitution to emphasise that the party will act ‘in the national interest of Scotland’”. Clause IV is more than just warm sentiments. It is 345 succinctly crafted words, expressing the “principles” on which “Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern”.

It was under paragraph 2(c) that the original principle of devolution was born and developed: “we work for … an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people [and] decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect”.

However, political events in Scotland have clearly moved on. Devolution never envisaged national separation. The Tories are unambiguously unionists. The Lib Dems (according to their constitution) are federalists. A new form of words ought now to be found to distinguish Labour’s new principles of government for devolved nations (bearing in mind that, constitutionally, a Scottish Labour party cannot embrace national independence).

If the issue of national integrity is to be so redefined, it is also surely right that Labour clarifies its governing principles over its political and economic relations with Europe. A new cascading and embracing principle of devolution and nationalism is again surely well overdue. On the broader level, remember, clause IV was the defining product of New Labour. So, yes, perhaps Murphy is right to want to go back to first principles.
Mike Allott
Eastleigh, Hampshire

• I would love to believe that Jim Murphy is the man for the job (Editorial: Jim Murphy has a huge task ahead. All Labour supporters should unite behind him, 15 December). But can I really accept that a New Labour Blairite, in favour of Trident, who supported the war in Iraq, can reach out to the people who deserted Labour to vote yes? Or people such as me who deserted Labour over the Iraq war? Nicola Sturgeon will have no trouble in representing him as the man sent to run the branch office.
Margaret Squires
Fife

• With the election of Jim Murphy (with more than a hint of “or else!” from Labour’s London HQ), even the most delusional Labourite north of Hadrian’s Wall can no longer kid themselves that the “people’s party” is anything more than Tories in red rosettes.

Know your place and obey your betters is the Labour way, and it’s a mark of how out of touch with the electorate they’ve become that they still think Scots will vote for them anyway. With Labour offering nothing but more misery for the masses and more tax breaks for “wealth creators”, they’re likely to find most core voters either staying at home next polling day or voting SNP, Green or Ukip to give them a well-earned bloody nose.
Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

• If Jim Murphy is to regain the lost Scottish Labour party supporters by reaching out to those who want “a fair deal”, he will have to reconsider his position on Trident. His rivals in Scotland, the SNP and the Greens, have clear policies on phasing it out. Yet all Murphy can do is mutter the threadbare argument that Britain needs “a strong defence”. But Trident isn’t “defence” and it cannot keep anyone in Scotland or the UK secure. It also provokes proliferation and will cost upwards of £100bn to renew, when “austerity” is biting so hard. He would be better advised to start working with other members in the Labour party to support the Austrian pledge at the recent Vienna conference on starting negotiations for a global ban on nuclear weapons.
Rae Street
Littleborough, Lancashire

• Jim Murphy cannot go it alone and ignore the UK Labour party (Murphy’s law: Scottish party will act in the national interest, 15 December) as the “Scottish” Labour party is registered as an accounting unit of the Labour party with the Electoral Commission and is therefore not a separately registered political party under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. As such Scottish Labour does not have a “party leader”, although Murphy leads the Scottish division of the UK party, having been elected by members in 2014. At party conferences he appears under the title “leader of the Labour party in Scotland”. He is the branch manager of the aforesaid accounting unit of the UK Labour party.
Jim McLean
London

• As a long-standing member of Unite in Scotland I take issue with your editorial’s assertion that, in opposing Jim Murphy, Unite showed itself to be out of touch with its members in Scotland.

Many Unite members have opted out of the political levy in protest against its being used to support a Labour party which has shown itself to be less and less concerned with social justice and the rights of workers. They were thus ineligible to vote in the leadership election. Murphy’s record of support for Trident, for continuing austerity and for opposition to devo max might make him representative of Labour party parliamentarians, but not of many trade unionists.

Indeed a major future issue for Unite will be to assess how the political fund is used and to consider changing the present policy, whereby the Labour party is the only political party to be financially supported.
Rev David Mumford
Brechin, Angus

Ian Jack (13 December) is surely right to recall that many of Scotland’s left-leading political class tend to be conspicuous by their absence at political protests at the Gare Loch and elsewhere.

He identifies the Scottish universities as a breeding ground for plausible-sounding social democrats, eyes set firmly on their own main chance, but he perhaps plays down the role of the schools in this process. A friend of mine, a keen observer of all things political, once observed of a later generation of Labour politicians that “they all looked like they’d been head boy”. Perhaps even more cuttingly, he went on, “Christ, you wouldn’t want any of these on your side in a fight would you?”
Alistair Richardson
Stirling

• Jim Murphy’s credentials as worthy of the top Labour job in Scotland seem to have been boosted by the news that he slept in a drawer as a baby. So did many a working-class baby in the 50s. I, too, was put into a chest of drawers when I was born in a back-to-back house in Leeds, with a tin bath, shared toilet and dripping sandwiches for tea. Can I be leader of the Labour party please?
Maggie Lyons
Sheffield

Mary Berry
Mary Berry. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/REX

Why is Mary Berry referred to as “the 79-year-old TV judge” (Media, 15 December) when the age of not one of the other celebrities was mentioned in this article? Is it ageism, or sexism, or both?
Ann Lynch
Skipton, North Yorkshire

• Martin Griffiths, CEO of Stagecoach, claims that his and other private operators’ input have delivered Europe’s “best, safest and fastest growing railway” (Letters, 13 December). These claims are the opposite of the truth for anyone who has travelled on railways in Europe, which are clean, uncrowded, frequent, punctual and affordable. Trains in the UK are none of the above; one cannot help admiring the chutzpah of Mr Griffiths.
Peter Brandt
Oxford

Zoe Williams (15 December) highlights a cruel aspect of government policy. Natalie Engel is surely being denied a basic human right that is not denied to foreign citizens in prison. If they have been able to challenge deportation in the European court of human rights, Engel should be able to do so even if her husband, as a South African, has no such right.
John Pelling
Coddenham, Suffolk

• So Chelsea, a stonkingly rich football club, is to pay its staff a living wage at last (Report, 12 December). Are we supposed to applaud?
Gwyn Jones
Windermere, Cumbria

• You devote a page to the apparent injustice of Rory McIlroy’s failure to win BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year 2014 (15 December). This is an award previously bestowed upon such sporting giants  as Princess Anne and Zara Phillips…
Bob Merrison
Barking, Essex

Enoch Powell
‘No one should attempt to rehabilitate either Powell or his vile ideas, and his kind of overt racism is, fortunately, now absent from mainstream politics.’ Photograph: ITV/REX

Anne McElvoy writes (13 December) that Enoch Powell was many things. The one thing she doesn’t mention is that he was a racist. Nor, apparently, were his followers, many of whom “were neither racist nor wholly opposed to immigration”. It didn’t feel like that at the time. My mixed-race English father took for a while to double-barrelling his name to make it look more Anglo-Saxon. To her credit, my white English mother would have none of this. Powell, as Hanif Kureishi rightly points out in a piece on the same day, instilled real fear in many immigrant communities, and played a major role in instigating the wave of popular white racism from which the National Front and other fascist organisations profited in the 1970s. No one should attempt to rehabilitate either Powell or his vile ideas, and his kind of overt racism is, fortunately, now absent from mainstream politics. But the British right are emulating their US counterparts, for whom to be called a racist is worse than to hold racist views (which, in their surrealist world, like Magritte’s pipe, are not racist). Time, to use a good Anglo-Saxon expression, to call a spade a spade. Racism, albeit more subtly manifested than Powellism, is poisoning the sphere of public discourse, and politicians of all the main parties are shamefully pandering to it.
Professor Chris Sinha
Norwich

• Ian Jack’s review of Boris Johnson’s encomium on Winston Churchill (13 December) refers sceptically to the Goveian view which reduces history to the achievements of individuals. But a few pages on, Hanif Kureishi appears to do just that in his lucid but rather simplistic piece on Enoch Powell. Demonising Powell doesn’t help to deepen our understanding. If, as Kureishi argues, Britain was being remade into a multicultural haven, evident in today’s cosmopolitan London (which is not Britain), then it was also being unmade, and many natives, especially some members of the white working and lower-middle classes – historically, the foundation of fascist movements – felt threatened by the changes happening around them. Their British identity was, in part, predicated on a notion of whiteness – the origins of which predated Powell – that was being threatened by post-second world war changes, domestic and international, economic and ideological. By articulating their fears, Powell’s notorious speech may have given them a mainstream voice, thereby averting a greater conflagration. A decade after Powell’s infamous speech, Margaret Thatcher also reached out to the corners of benighted Britain with a reference to fears that the country would be “swamped by people with a different culture”. However distasteful the racist and anti-immigration voices, they must be included in the national debate.
Ferdinand Dennis
London

faith illustration
Celebrations for the season, and for a story that has evolved. Photograph: Gary Kempston

Celebration of the season

David Mitchell made one quite serious mistake in his article about the Christmas season (12 December). He suggested that at that time of year we had nothing to celebrate. This is very far from the point (literally). Yule is the opposite point on the wheel of seasons from midsummer. To celebrate yuletide is to celebrate the day after which the hours of sunlight increase.

Many modern countries celebrate this rather than Christ’s birthday. The only word in some Baltic nations for Christmas is the translation of yule. Jul in Denmark, joulu in Finland, and Sweden’s is julen. So in the land of Father Christmas, Finland, he is called Joulupukki, which translates as the yule buck. But, as stories mutate he is just the man in red who arrives pulled by the yule buck.
Andrew Youd
Turku, Finland

We must save the NHS

We are very fortunate to have the NHS and in no way would I wish to see it privatised (5 December). However, I see a problem that every government kicks down the road. The very success of the NHS contains the seeds of its own destruction.

When the NHS was established in the 1950s medicine was a great deal simpler. You got your medicines, then much cheaper, or you went to hospital to have broken bones healed, or to die.

Now scientific advances have made operations much more complex and expensive, with new hips, kidney, liver and heart transplants. Dying is not an option. In addition, because we are living much longer the care and other costs are mounting exponentially. Scientific advance will continue so the NHS will become a bottomless pit of expense. So what is the solution?

One could cap the type of operations available on the NHS to limit the cost. However, we do not want health only available to the wealthy and that would be the inevitable effect. This problem cannot be solved by paying the NHS staff peanuts, which is the present policy. Nor can it be entirely solved by automation. No one wants their hand held or brow mopped by a robot. Similarly it would not be acceptable to limit treatment to those under a certain age.

I do not see the answer to the problem, but it needs to be faced by us all and not just left to the government of the day to find an ad hoc solution.
Geoffrey H Levy
Andover, UK

Truth about cats and humans

The article in your 21 November issue about the domestication of cats has no clue about ecology. The closing remark about cats killing lovable little creatures is astonishing. Whatever effect kindness and affection may have had on the human-cat relationship, the way it started is that humans, by storing food in primitive shelters, made their habitations into breeding places for rodents, which raided their grain stores. The wealth of rodents made people’s farms into feeding places for small felids.

The relationship between cats and people started out as strictly business and even today most farmers are not inclined to feed the cats. That would be bad for business! That contemporary cats are lovable may of course have developed as the article avers – but as a byproduct.
Dave Schmalz
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

There is more danger now

Since this year marks the 100th anniversary of the horrors of the first world war, aversion to war should be high. Yet there’s little questioning of the sanity of continually erupting wars perpetrated by western powers on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. These wars, costing trillions of dollars, divide and damage countries, causing misery, chaos and cycles of continual violence.

The new Ukraine conflict, with the US and EU baiting Russia, terrifyingly risks annihilating all life on earth through the potential use of nuclear weapons, which can also be released accidentally, especially under conflict pressures. Your story, A cold war for the 21st century (28 November), claims the worst excesses of the original cold war are largely absent. But a huge increase in US military bases worldwide has stimulated a nuclear weapons arms race and the modernisation of nuclear weapons; they can be released now in a few minutes, rather than the longer time it used to take. There’s more danger now with less time for correcting errors of judgment.
Kay Weir
Wellington, New Zealand

Groupthink is the problem

Owen Jones (28 November) seems not to have noticed the basic fact about humanity: we live in social groups. It is within these groups that “selflessness and cooperation make evolutionary sense” but in conflicts between groups (ie wars) that we are “capable of sickening cruelty against other human beings”.

These groups are defined by the information they share. Originally they were extended families and all the information was in their DNA, but every advance in communication from language itself (some 50,000 years ago) to writing (5,000) to printing (500) and television (50) allowed them to get bigger by facilitating that sharing. The bigger the group, the more unequal its members became, and attempts to remedy it by violence ended badly. Hence, the gradual social democratic approach favoured by us Guardian readers.
Graham Andrews
Spokane, Washington, US

Briefly

• Eric Schlosser (5 December), rightly fearing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons in war or via accidents at a base, says that Iran, for these reasons, must never get the bomb. His concern for the Iranian people doesn’t seem to extend to Israel, where an accident would not only endanger the Israelis, but also those in lands it has annexed, built on, and occupied.
Ivor Tittawella
Umeå, Sweden

• Mike Selvey is right that the bowler will be as devastated as anybody over Phillip Hughes’s death (5 December). But why was he bowling at the batsman’s head? The principle of cricket is to bowl towards the stumps for the chance of a wicket for the bowler or of a score for the batter. Too wide of the stumps is disallowed, so why not too high equally?
Adrian Betham
London, UK

• Dirty supermarket chicken (5 December) is one episode in a decade-long row of abominable scandals in the meat industry. Judging by consumer watchdogs’ publications, spoiled meat has been the new standard for a long time. Supermarket bosses should be ashamed, indeed. It is time, however, to also raise the following question: why is it that countless well-informed consumers are still so eager to buy what is evidentially of very poor quality when literally everybody has what it takes to live on better foodstuffs?
Karim Akerma
Hamburg, Germany

Please send letters to
weekly.letters@theguardian.com

Independent:

The siege of a café in Sydney should not be viewed as anything other than simply a criminal incident committed by a lunatic with a history  of sexual violence, assaults and murders.

On the same day, an Iraq war veteran killed his ex-wife with six members of her family in the US. Contrary to the incident in Sydney, where media outlets rushed to attribute it to an Islamist extremist; no religious meaning was attached to the shooting rampage in the US.

We should abstain from attaching any religious  flavour to these criminal acts. Islam and Christianity are the same as they ever were: peaceful religions which forbid wanton aggression and terrorism. And as Christmas, “the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ”, is fast approaching, there is every need to refrain from empty slogans, political grandstanding and petty rivalries, and to resurrect the gospel message of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation, humility, tranquillity, co-operation and peace.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2

 

As an Australian and a former Sydney resident, I am deeply saddened by the events at Martin Place. Yet somehow, it is not terrorism I fear the most. It is how the Australian government  may react.

Will another Australian be dumped in Guantanamo Bay, subjected to torture and tried by a kangaroo court? Will security forces be given even more draconian powers than the ones they already have but didn’t use?

Samantha Chung

Cambridge

 

I can’t help thinking that if the siege in Sydney had occurred in America or Israel the gunman would have been swiftly shot by a marksman as soon as he became visible through the café window, which he clearly did on a number of occasions, as could be seen in the live editions of various television news programmes.

That would have brought about a much earlier conclusion.

Robert Tuck

Wimborne Minster, Dorset

 

Torture report shames us all

The US Senate’s CIA report is welcomed. It is a start. It may do some good and, it being a formally published document, the law ought to take its course.

However, having no special information, I feel I have known all along that the denials and half-truths of British and US officials and politicians have been lies. We are not stupid, and if I knew, then, probably, most of us have known.

The blind eyes that millions have turned appear to be the same blind eyes that much of the population of German and German-occupied collaborationist Europe turned towards the Holocaust. Uncertain and impotent we may be, but it shames us all even so.

That shame is intensified by the effrontery of the liars. And they ask us to vote for them?

Roger Bloomfield

London NW6

 

Sober as a Lord

I write regarding the piece by Donald MacInnes about catering in the House of Lords (13 December).

At no time has the House of Lords voted against a shared catering service. No such proposal has been made by the House of Commons. Furthermore, we work closely with colleagues in the Commons to procure catering supplies cost-effectively. It is preposterous to suggest that the House has a “champagne fund”; we sell champagne at a profit in the Lords and most of it is sold in our gift shop (30 per cent) or at revenue-generating banqueting events (57 per cent). Such activities have helped us to reduce the cost of the catering service by 27 per cent since 2007-08.

Mr MacInnes said that this matter left him “spluttering” in anger. Your paper’s failure to reflect my statement pointing out that Sir Malcolm Jack’s evidence was inaccurate has left me similarly incandescent with rage. Neither the House itself nor its authorities would reject so lightly any proposals for closer working with the House of Commons, particularly were it to be in the taxpayer’s interest.

Lord Sewel

Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

Pupils and teachers both let down

The Ofsted annual report made it clear that it is not just the country’s most able pupils who are being let down by schools but also those with a special educational need (SEN) (“Bright pupils are cheated by ‘lack of scholarship’ in schools”, 11 December).

The report stated that pupils with SEN, including autism, are being failed by lack of appropriate support from teaching staff. It also stated that not enough attention is paid to the development of personal and social skills, despite the fact that this can make a “substantial difference” for pupils with SEN.

This comes as no surprise to us, given recent research which found that 60 per cent of teachers did not feel adequately trained to support children with autism. Such a huge skills gap, and the impact it has on pupils with autism, should be clear to all.

With more than  1.4 million pupils in English schools having a special educational need, school leaders must ensure staff are trained to support them. Local authorities also have a role to play in ensuring that all schools under their control have access to an autism specialist teacher.

Jolanta Lasota

Chief Executive, Ambitious about Autism

London N10

 

We are often faced with headlines which say, in effect, “Pupils let down by teachers”.

During my long career in education I met many pupils who could not, and some who simply would not, apply themselves to the hard work which is necessary for those who want to learn.

It seems that nowadays disruptive pupils can refuse with impunity, and at the same time disrupt those who are willing to put in the effort. With modern technology there are many more ways in which this can be done, mobile phones and computer games being but two examples.

The whole concentration seems to be on the pupils, and the teachers get the blame. Anyone can lead a horse to water, but no one can make it drink. Education has to be a two-way process. Perhaps it is time for the headline to be revised and read, “Teachers let down by pupils”.

Bill Fletcher

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

 

It was disappointing to read your recent article on the Ofsted’s inspections of free schools (“Ofsted tells a third of free schools to improve”, 3 December); not least because it failed to reflect the fact that free schools are significantly more likely to be judged as outstanding than all other state schools.

Nearly a quarter of free schools have been recognised as outstanding, compared with 19 per cent of all other schools, no small feat given the these schools did not even exist three years ago.

Natalie Evans

Director, The New Schools Network, London SE1

 

Maths is more  than numbers

I must disagree with Guy Keleny when he recommends that the term “maths literate” be replaced by “numerate” (Errors and Omissions, 13 December).

The word “numerate” is not appropriate to the problem. Numeracy refers to ability with numbers – in other words, arithmetic. Arithmetic is just one part of mathematics – even school mathematics introduces people to algebra, geometry, calculus, all topics that require the development of logical thought processes.

The problem nowadays is that our politicians and others are quite capable of adding up numbers, but the choice of which numbers and the conclusions about the effects of their sums seem to be beyond them. They just don’t think things through logically.

I agree that “maths literate” is not sensible – but the country’s  need is much wider  than “numeracy”.

Professor Anthony North

Leeds

 

New invasion of Scotland

Marilyn Mason (letter, 15 December) asks if the rest of us will have to make up the difference between low taxes and high welfare payments in Scotland. The answer is no: we will use our right of free movement to cross the border and take advantage of this regime, provided, that is, we are still in the EU.

David Wallis

Cirencester

 

Platform for a nasty party

Your editorial “The nasty party” (16 December) rightly shows The Independent’s feelings about Nigel Farage and Ukip. So why give him the “oxygen of publicity” by allowing him to have a weekly column?

John Blenkinsopp

Sheffield

 

Marriage of inconvenience

Lynton Crosby thinks that legalising humanist marriage would distract from the Tories’ main message at the election. Too right. Celebrating and valuing humanity sits uneasily with the inhumanity of creating deep social divisions through the misallocation of resources and opportunity. The country would be stunned.

Paula Jones

London SW2

Times:

Melanie Phillips says that, to save innocent life, you may have to dole out rough treatment on occasion

Sir, The arguments put forward by Melanie Phillips (Opinion, Dec 15) in her defence of the use of torture by the CIA during the interrogation of terrorists are flawed. The moral and legal permissibility of the use of torture does not depend on the particular circumstances of the case in question (the “supreme emergency” or “ticking bomb” justification referred to by her has long been discredited on logical and empirical grounds). Nor does it depend on the motivation of the agent doing the torturing. Honourable motives do not turn a fundamentally wrong action into a “right” wrong. Article 2.3 of the UN Convention against Torture specifically states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture”.

“Torture” also does not admit of degrees, and cannot be redefined to suit the purposes of those wishing to justify it: recall the cynical attempts of US government lawyers in the Bush era to reclassify so-called lesser degrees of mistreatment as “torture lite” and to redefine this as “enhanced interrogation” simply to suit their highly selective use of special pleading argument in order to justify what was, in effect, state-sanctioned torture.

The prohibition against torture is an absolute, not a qualified, one: the right not to be tortured does not admit of any exceptions. If civilised communities attempt to derogate from this basic right, no matter what the purported justification, then they become, to use Ms Philips’s own words “morally no different” from those who torture.

Don Carrick
Project director, Military Ethics Education Network, Universities of Hull and Leeds

Sir, We are hearing a great deal these days about our government’s attitude to torture. It may be worth recalling that when the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi died in 2011, documents found in Tripoli the following day revealed that until a late stage of the Libyan uprising against him, MI6 and the CIA had been involved in the “rendition” of Libyan dissidents from as far afield as Singapore to face torture and worse by the authorities in Tripoli in exchange for “intelligence”.

Ivor Lucas
(British Embassy, Tripoli, 1962-66)
London SW19

Sir, Melanie Phillips asks “Can waterboarding be torture when it is used to train US forces?” The journalist Christopher Hitchens voluntarily experienced it first-hand, in North Carolina. He survived the experience but concluded: “If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

Dr John Doherty
Vienna, Austria

Sir, The end does not justify the means, and it is never right to commit an evil in the hope of eradicating another evil. From a practical point of view, the use of torture could lead the one being tortured giving false information to shorten the period of suffering.

John Scotson
Altrincham, Gtr Manchester

Sir, The softly, softly method of interrogation worked better than torture when I was a serving soldier many years ago. Pain makes one confess to anything to escape the unpleasantness. A sort of bad cop, good cop routine without the agony softens up a recipient who’ll respond better to food and drink from those wanting information rather than the quasi-sadists who enjoy their power.

Robert Vincent
Wildhern, Hants

Sir, “Redacted”? I understand that our language is evolving all the time but suddenly this word is appearing everywhere. What is wrong with censored, deleted, erased or cut out?

David Housden
Elton, Cambs

If the BBC gives away the rights to its Wimbledon coverage, just what are we paying our licence fee for?

Sir, Having lost cricket and much of rugby, the BBC is now negotiating away coverage of Wimbledon (report, Dec 16). This, coupled with the plethora of repeats on BBC 1 and 2, including the interminable railway peregrinations by Michael Portillo, begs the question: what is the BBC doing with our licence fee? Plenty of the BBC’s big-wigs are pocketing £100,000-plus salaries, but where does the public feature in the priorities of this increasingly self-serving body?

Richard English

South Petherton, Somerset

The proposed two-tier contract will impinge access to justice and undermine the principle of equality before the law

Sir, Dominic Grieve’s comments are yet another blow to the Lord Chancellor in a month in which they have already rained thick and fast on his wrong-headed reforms to the justice system (“Politicians put stability at risk in race for popularity, Grieve warns”, Dec 16). The ban on prisoners’ books overturned, his guidance for granting legal aid in immigration cases ruled unlawful, parliament misled over his judicial review reforms and, crushingly, a High Court judge labelling his policies “strange”.

However, our legal system still stands at a tipping point. His proposed two-tier contract will impinge access to justice and fundamentally undermine the principle of equality before the law. This is why, in conjunction with the London Criminal Courts Association, we are launching a judicial review into the unlawful nature of his reforms which we hope will be the straw that will finally break this particular camel’s back.

Bill Waddington

Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association

Is one reason behind good health in today’s elderly people simply that their peers were killed off during the war by TB?

Sir, One reason for better health in older people today (report, Dec 15) may be that their less fit peers were killed off by diseases such as tuberculosis which increased substantially during the war. The danger is that as the disease-resistant generation dies off and drug resistance increases, we may repeat the cycle all over again.

Professor Peter D.O. Davies

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital

Lady Herries of Terregles and her siblings were known as ‘The Norfolk Broads’ on the 1962 MCC tour of Australia

Sir, Your obituary of Lady Herries of Terregles (Dec 15) mentions the fact that her father, the Duke of Norfolk, managed the 1962-63 MCC tour to Australia, but not that the cricketers irreverently referred to her and her three sisters as “The Norfolk Broads”.

Harold Goldblatt

London NW11

Telegraph:

Ukip and the EU; air traffic control chaos; displaying the season’s e-greetings; and festive shopping soundtracks

A supporter is seen wearing a United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) badge before meeting the leader of the party Nigel Farage, at a campaign event in South Ockendon, Essex

A supporter is seen wearing a United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) badge  Photo: Reuters

SIR – It is a pity that Professor Alan Sked chose to denigrate Nigel Farage and his party, rather than offer practical alternatives as to how the people of Britain can voice their many concerns over membership of the European Union.

Boycotting the European Parliament as a demonstration of opposition (the Ukip policy laid down in Professor Sked’s day), is surely too silent an option. Mr Farage chose to highlight what he perceived as a fundamentally flawed institution by getting as close to its working as possible. Importantly, it is a strategy his constituents have consistently agreed with.

The EU, with its single currency that has brought mass unemployment and debt on a truly massive scale, is a very different beast from the one Professor Sked knew when leader of Ukip. If the power of the unelected elite in Brussels is to be challenged, there seems little point in the grinding of axes.

David Taylor
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – We are told that a vote for Ukip at the next general election will mean that

Ed Miliband will be in No 10. Why, then, has the Labour Party felt it necessary to issue its MPs with a strategy document entitled Campaigning against Ukip?

Gordon Galletly
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – Nigel Farage seems to think that Enoch Powell was forecasting bloodshed between whites and West Indians. This was not so.

Powell was far more worried about Asian immigration, both because the potential number of Asians wishing to migrate to Britain was hundreds, perhaps thousands of times greater, and also because he felt that many Asians were culturally unassimilable.

He did not specify Islam as a factor – I talked to him about it – but I think that was what he meant.

It is important to say that colour and race did not matter to him. What he wanted was a British nation that did not include unassimilated minorities. He would, precisely, have abhorred multi-culturalism.

R W Johnson
Cape Town, South Africa

SIR – Enoch Powell was not a racist. I was present at a reception in the London School of Economics attended by academics, politicians and journalists being given a glass of wine as we entered by an Afro-Caribbean waitress. Enoch Powell did not just take a glass and pass on; he – and only he – stopped to talk to her as a person.

J R Lucas
East Lambrook, Somerset

SIR – Side effects: this painkiller may cause blurting out of racist and anti-gay remarks. Avoid driving, operating heavy machinery and contesting a target seat in next year’s general election.

Keith Gilmour
Glasgow

Virtuous circles

SIR – The European Commission will vote today on its work programme for 2015, which may remove support for the Circular Economy package. This concerns resources and recycling. It offers huge potential for job creation, resource security, environmental protection and economic growth in Britain and the rest of Europe and abandoning it would be short-sighted.

There is a great deal of support for the package from many sectors, and the World Economic Forum has suggested that developing the circular economy would save $1 trillion a year.

We call on British ministers to send a clear message to Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, that the programme must be retained to protect the continent’s environment, economy and competitiveness in the long term.

Gillian Drakeford
Country Manager, Ikea Group

Richard Gillies
Group Sustainability Director, Kingfisher Plc

Sheila Redzepi
VP Global Advocacy, Unilever

Mike Barry
Director of Sustainable Business, Marks and Spencer

Gareth Stace
Head of Climate and Environment Policy, EEF, The Manufacturers’ Organisation

Andy Atkins
Executive Director, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Jacob Hayler
Economist, Environmental Services Association

Steve Lee
Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Waste Management

Dan Cooke
Director of External Affairs, Viridor

Matthew Spencer
Director, Green Alliance

Ray Georgeson
Chief Executive, Resource Association

Charlotte Morton
Chief Executive, Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association

Dr John Williams
Sinvestec LLC

Nick Molho
Executive Director, Aldersgate Group

Matthew Farrow
Executive Director, The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC)

Jeremy Jacobs
Renewable Energy Association

Forbes McDougall
Head of Circular Economy, Veolia UK

Derailed commuters

SIR – From January 11 trains for London Charing Cross will no longer stop at London Bridge. This is where one could change trains for Cannon Street. Commuters on the train from Hastings are to be left with only one train before 7.30am into Cannon Street.

How am I and many other commuters, who have paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of travelling with Southeastern Trains, supposed to get to work on time?

Oh – and on January 2, the cost of my ticket will rise again, making it almost

30 per cent more expensive than in 2010.

Ian Rennardson
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Air traffic chaos

Air traffic control at Gatwick Airport

SIR – While the breakdown of air traffic control is of great concern once again it is the lack of detailed information given to the thousands of people whose travel plans were disrupted that was most inexcusable. This seems to be a common problem at both airports and railway stations.

The duty manager at the airport concerned should broadcast a message introducing himself or herself personally, apologising for the inconvenience caused, and explaining the exact reason for the delay and the possible knock-on effects. They should then provide regular updates as more information becomes available.

The public will be more accepting of delays if they are given detailed information by someone in authority.

Stephen Reichwald
London NW8

SIR – With our increasing dependence on ever more complex computer systems, it is inevitable that glitches will occur from time to time. The real question that Nats – and Heathrow – need to answer is why an outage of just 36 minutes led to chaos lasting for more than 24 hours.

All organisations, in both the private and public sectors, which serve the general public should be obliged to pass stress tests in which they demonstrate the resilience of their service to a single point of failure.

Michael Grayeff
Harrow, Middlesex

SIR – Why is this country buying bespoke real-time software from a Spanish company?

Is it a consequence of the abysmal record of the Government’s computer system projects over many decades? If so, it is to be bitterly regretted, as Britain boasts some of the most talented software developers in the world.

Peter Humphrey
Tideswell, Derbyshire

Motorway barriers

SIR – The dramatic photograph of the recent tragic accident on the M25 was particularly frightening as it showed the new reinforced concrete reservation barrier smashed and breached.

These barriers form part of the Government’s “smart” upgrades for motorways and many miles of this type of barrier have been built, with more under construction. One would have thought this type of accident should not happen where concrete barriers have been constructed.

David Hartridge
Groby, Leicestershire

Discouraging nurses

SIR – Has it occurred to the UK nursing authorities that the current university-based training system may be a significant disincentive for those interested in a nursing career?

It certainly was for our daughter, an ideal candidate, who was discouraged by a further three years in academic study after successful completion of her A-levels.

John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey

Music while you queue

SIR – Has NatWest lost its senses? When I found piped music playing in my local branch recently, I was told it was likely to become the norm.

To where can I move my account of many years, for peace and quiet?

Robin Stainer
London EC2

Fishy timing

SIR – I once worked for an NHS trust that had a strict policy on staff surrendering to the personnel department any gifts offered by patients.

I was given a nice pair of freshly caught trout by the father of a patient. Contacting personnel I asked them if I should put the trout into the internal or external mail to comply with trust policy. They phoned me back two days later to say I could keep the trout, which by then had already provided me with a very nice fish supper.

David Booth
Dunfermline, Fife

Just popping outside to warm up a little bit

‘Lighting the Stove’, an oil painting by Pierre Édouard Frère, 1886 . Photo: http://www.bridgemanart.com

SIR – We live in an old farmhouse in a frost pocket where it is colder inside than out.

Setting the daytime room temperature at 22C is merely a target that is never reached. A woodburner, recently fitted in one room with three walls to the outside, is having to be upgraded to cope, contrary to the manufacturer’s assurances.

In summer, when the weather is occasionally too hot for us, we come inside to cool off.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

How can the season’s e-greetings be displayed?

SIR – This year I have already received more electronic Christmas cards than I have on all previous Christmases combined. A few have been preceded, or accompanied, by messages explaining that postal charges and card costs are becoming exorbitant and the sender will therefore be making a donation to charity instead of buying and posting a card.

My difficulty with this is in finding a method of displaying these “cards”. It also becomes more difficult to keep a reliable list of card-senders.

Jeremy C N Price
Cromarty

SIR – For the past four weeks I have been trying to buy fresh rabbits in preparation for making my Christmas Eve game pie, but none of our local butchers is having any delivered.

Where have all the rabbits gone?

Ann Hellewell
Camberley, Surrey

SIR – My husband and I have found a solution to the problem of tangled Christmas lights and their effect on marital harmony.

On Twelfth Night this year we left our Christmas tree as it was – lights and all – and put it in the spare room until December 1. Incidentally, we have been married for 46 years and this is the first time we have resorted to this.

Maureen Iles
Eldene, Wiltshire

SIR – The odd gem does appear in Christmas circular letters. Here’s one I found particularly odd, from an American whom I met just once on holiday some years ago and who has sent a card ever since. It said: “We lost our sister in law Betty this fall and Lisa lost her bulldog Fred this past summer. Both Betty and Fred are fondly remembered and missed.” They didn’t say who was missed more.

David Leigh
Ludlow, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Prof Frank Murray (December 15th) provides us with a convincing and compelling argument for the creation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol. He emphasises the consequences of drinking to excess and points out the number of lives that could be saved should minimum unit pricing be introduced.

Here in Britain similar concerns have been aired by authoritative bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the British Medical Association, which are calling for not only minimum unit pricing but also a ban on alcohol advertising and increasing to 21 the age at which one can purchase the stuff. Regrettably the British government, possibly hiding behind European directives, is vacillating and perhaps reluctant to take on the drinks industry, a powerful lobby which spends some £800 million a year promoting its products.

I cannot add to the eloquence or authority of Prof Murray, but his views resonate with many of us this side of the Irish Sea. The collateral damage brought about through excessive drinking in incontrovertible. It is evident in domestic violence, assaults, anti-social behaviour and of, course, untold damage to our health. – Yours, etc,

FRANK GREANEY,

Formby, Liverpool.

Sir, – The opinion piece by Derek Byrne (“Clear policy needed to tackle alcohol fallout”, December 14th) regarding Ireland’s alarming alcohol abuse problems highlights again the lack of coherent Government policy in this area.

On October 7th, you published a report by your correspondent Mark Hennessy on a recent Scottish study on alcohol abuse which showed that there were 13,000 deaths in Scotland between 2002 and 2011 directly caused by drinking habits (“Areas with many pubs have triple the alcohol deaths, says Scottish study”) .

What was particularly shocking about that report was the statistical correlation between the number of drinking licences issued in an area and the significantly increased number of alcohol-related deaths within the associated catchment areas. The study demonstrated that whereas hospital admission rates for alcohol-related illness were constant in neighbourhoods with fewer than six off-licences and nine pubs within a 10-minute walk, the admission statistics more than tripled when there was an increase in the number of outlets selling alcohol.

In particular the study highlighted that off-licences were a leading contributor to alcohol abuse and illness, as also is the practice of shopping outlets using alcohol as a loss-leader in competition among stores.

It will come as no surprise that the highest number of deaths were in the poorest communities.

I haven’t seen a similar study published in Ireland, but given the very close cultural connections between Scotland and Ireland, it would be highly likely that similar patterns and statistics apply here.

Local planning authorities should take note and government should take the lead in ensuring more coherent health-related strategies to combat our epidemic of alcohol abuse. – Yours, etc,

Dr VINCENT KENNY,

Knocklyon,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – The suggestion by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) that the State should assist asylum seekers in meeting the cost of travelling abroad for abortions is nothing short of surreal (“Migrant women unable to travel for abortions”, Front Page, December 15th).

At a time when the exchequer is struggling to maintain existing hospital services for the general public, why should taxpayers foot the bill for anyone to get elective medical procedures which are illegal here in Ireland? What kind of a precedent would this set in respect of other medical procedures or treatments banned here?

The recent subtle emphasis on this issue of cost shows how the goalposts on abortion are slowly being shifted by the IFPA and other pro-choice groups. First, they pushed strongly for legislation for the X case and abortion in the case of suicidal ideation, a cause which was taken up with vigour and enthusiasm by the Government. The ink was hardly dry on the so-called Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act when there was a concerted attempt to use the death of Savita Halappanavar to discredit Ireland’s maternity services, which remain among the best in the world. And the recent Miss Y case is now being used as the catalyst for the suggestion that abortion on demand ought to be introduced in Ireland because of the high cost of travelling to England.

The fact remains that any woman in Ireland, including asylum seekers, whose life is in danger due to their pregnancy is entitled to all treatment which is necessary to save their lives. What they are not legally entitled to do is to seek abortions for social or economic reasons or as a matter of lifestyle choice. So why should taxpayers pay for them to do so abroad? – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – The RTÉ programme on the Áras Attracta care home in Swinford, Co Mayo, last week shone a depressing light on the standards of residential care for persons with intellectual disabilities in this HSE-run facility. The scenes have caused shock and distress to people all across the country. Inclusion Ireland has identified specific legislative or ministerial actions which could be taken now in five areas: advocacy, individualised funding (personal budgets), investment in promised disability reform, assisted decision-making legislation and hate crime legislation.

The Citizens Information Act 2007, a core component of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) (2004), provides for the establishment of a Personal Advocacy Service with statutory powers. The Personal Advocacy Service and Community Visitors Programme have yet to be introduced. The decision not to introduce the Personal Advocacy Service was made in 2008.

The National Advocacy Service has huge waiting lists and is struggling to meet demand and it has been reported that these advocates are being met with resistance and a lack of co-operation from public bodies, including the HSE.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton should, under section 5 of the Citizens Information Act 2007, establish the Personal Advocacy Service.

The HSE and Minister of State for Social Care Kathleen Lynch should introduce the Community Visitors Programme in 2015, in partnership with Inclusion Ireland and other stakeholders.

The Department of Health convened an expert group to review disability services that stated in 2012 that the current model of disability service provision does not meet stated policy objectives and that “those using disability services do not participate in society in any meaningful way . . . have little opportunity to self-determine or to live full and independent lives”.

Five large disability service organisations control 50 per cent of the total disability spend of circa €1.4 billion. They serve nowhere near 50 per cent of persons with disability who require support. In the absence of Government commitment to individualised or personalised supports being fulfilled, no real reform will happen soon.

In line with Programme for Government commitments, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar should instruct the HSE to ensure that service-level agreements are signed with disability providers for 2015 to allocate 5 per cent to 8 per cent of the block grant to individualised, person-centred, community-based models of support.

A programme of investment by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin to ensure the implementation of the congregated settings report is urgently required if these abuses are to be avoided in the future.

Legislation currently before the Oireachtas – the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 – will put in place the legal recognition of people with disabilities and a realisation of their right to enjoy legal capacity alongside others.

Crucial to this realisation is the supports that are needed to make decisions and exercise legal capacity, and it is critical that the legislation recognises the individual support each person with an intellectual disability requires to make and communicate decisions.

Persons committing hate crimes against persons with disabilities should be punished through the criminal justice system. There are two ways of doing this – by introducing aggravated forms of existing offences and through sentence enhancement. Both of these should be immediately considered by the Government.

In addition, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald must repeal the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871, which labels people with intellectual disability as “idiots” in law and does not protect the decisions or choices of people with intellectual disabilities.

She should also publish the revised Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 and ensure its enactment at the earliest possible moment. – Yours, etc,

CORMAC CAHILL,

Inclusion Ireland,

Unit C 2,

The Steelworks,

Foley Street, Dublin 1.

Sir, – It cost €510 million more than budgeted to run the health service this year (13 times what the department budgeted to extend medical cards to children under six).

A large Dublin hospital is advising patients to stay away. Another is only able to see its diabetics for their annual check-up every 18 months.

Waiting lists locally for orthopaedics are in excess of two years.

Some of my patients have experienced puberty and come out the other side while on the ear, nose and throat (ENT) waiting list for outpatients.

Consultant posts lie empty and many rural areas are set to lose their family doctors for good. The HSE has stated it is not going to readvertise the GMS list in Feakle, Co Clare, which received no applications, so in other words there will probably never be another GP in Feakle.

Yet the Department of Health and the HSE are planning to extend free GP care to children under six, to primary schoolchildren, the over-70s, secondary schoolchildren and then to the rest of the public.

We are told we aspire to having a world-class health service based on the medical needs of patients rather than the ability to pay.

Like world peace, this is hard to argue with, and I hope the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar can succeed, but I worry about the fact that we don’t have enough doctors and that we cannot afford these reforms.

The existing system is already struggling and common sense would seem to suggest that it would be prudent to fix the health service we have before we continue to expand it.

I would like a world-class health system, but would settle for one that is safe and sustainable. – Yours, etc,

Dr SÉAMUS McMENAMIN,

An Uaimh,

Co na Mhí.

A chara, – Kathy Sheridan nails it as usual with another thoughtful and well-researched article (“Blueprint for a smarter society”, December 13th). Citizens who protest the “broken” political system would be well served to direct their energy into realising that the system isn’t “broken,” it’s just functioning the way it will inevitably function in its current form. And the glory of a democracy is that you can vote for alternatives, or mobilise to create the alternatives where none exist. I personally don’t think the majority of citizens are willing to vote for the type of changes that would do away with localism or cronyism, and none of the existing parties is advocating wholesale constitutional reform. So we have to educate ourselves to know the alternatives, decide among them, and agitate for them to be enacted, if we’re serious about meaningful change. – Is mise,

AMHLAOIBH

MacGIOLLA,

Oileán Chliara,

Co Mhaigh Eo.

Sir, – Joanna Tuffy TD highlights (December 13th) what she sees as a contradiction in the ESRI’s analysis of the distributional effects of the budget.

Perhaps Ms Tuffy should read the Labour Party manifesto on which she stood for election, particularly the reference to the water tax, and examine the role of the Government which she supports.

Ms Tuffy concludes with a reference to economists and light bulbs; in her case, pots and kettles come to mind. – Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – The ESRI’s pronouncements remind me of Ronnie Corbett telling one of his shaggy dog stories – a vague and rambling yarn with so many contradictions and caveats as to be close to unintelligible. At least Mr Corbett has the excuse of being vaguely amusing. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA O’RIORDAN,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Here’s a simple mathematical tip for journalists to avoid arguments with street protesters about crowd numbers – each square metre of standing space can safely accommodate three people, depending on body size and fixed obstacles (parked cars, street furniture, etc). It’s possible, therefore, to fit 9,000 people into 3,000 sq m. As an example, Croke Park has standing space – about 3,500 sq m – for 8,800 spectators.

The area of the streets (including footpaths) on either side of Merrion Square can be accurately calculated – the length of the north/south side of the square is twice that of the east/west side, the latter being about 180m. The four sides together at, say, 20m wide (allowing for obstacles) produce standing space of about 21,600 sq m. Multiplying this parameter by three equals 64,800 people. Substituting the east side of the square for Mount Street, and Merrion Street, Lower Clare Street and Nassau Street, it’s very probable that more than 70,000 people could have attended last Wednesday’s water charges protest.

That’s engineering for you! – Yours, etc,

JOHN GREANEY,

Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to David Walsh’s letter (December 16th), I fail to see how the existence of a few gender studies centres is an example of “notorious gender bias” when the real figures that show the lack of representation and the biased promotion methods that abound in Irish universities and the rest of Irish society are somehow not notorious at all.

It is interesting how the elephant in the room can be ignored when it affects women, rather than men. – Yours, etc,

Dr CHRYSSA DISLIS,

Cork.

A chara, – On December 13th The Irish Times ran a reprint of a New York Times article (“Good dogs go to heaven, Pope suggests”) in which it was reported that Pope Francis had made some remarks concerning man’s best friend and the afterlife to comfort a young boy who was grieving his lost pet. All very touching, except he said and did nothing of the sort – indeed, the New York Times ran a correction to their original piece making that clear. And the date they published that clarification? December 12th. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – You report that the Association of Catholic Priests has written to Pope Francis to ask him to reverse the silencing of Fr Tony Flannery (“Priests’ association asks Pope to reverse decision on Fr Flannery”, December 15th). The use of the word “silencing” in this case is odd. Has Fr Flannery ever been more vocal at any time in his life than he has been since he was disciplined? – Yours, etc,

CDC ARMSTRONG,

Belfast.

Sir, – To mark Thierry Henry’s retirement from soccer, perhaps we should change the name of Henry Street to Handball Alley. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN O’DONOGHUE,

Killerig, Carlow.

Sir, – It is so refreshing to read Michael Harding’s column every Tuesday. His words and style of writing transports one to a place which is free from the daily worries of modern life. Romantic Ireland’s alive and well. – Yours, etc,

HITESH TEWARI,

Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

Some of the nurses at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin
Some of the nurses at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin

To all the staff and management at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin:

All too often we hear bad press relating to the Irish health service, and it is only right that if a service as critical to the well-being of the country, such as health, is under- performing it should be criticised and improved.

But if we are to be open and honest in our criticism when the health service is under-performing, we should also be forthright in our praise when it does an excellent job. It is for this reason I am writing to you today.

On Friday, December 5, our 8-week-old boy, Frank, had been sick with the symptoms of a cold for a couple of days.

By Friday night he seemed to be deteriorating and was brought to Crumlin A&E. It turns out he had the RSV virus, his lung was partially collapsed and he was in a very critical condition. He spent about three hours being intensively treated in A&E and was then moved to ICU for 24 hours. After this he spent eight nights on St Peter’s ward.

On Saturday, December 6, his twin brother, Bobby, started to show signs of the virus and we brought him to A&E. He was also admitted with RSV and has spent 10 nights on St Peter’s ward. We are expecting him to be discharged this morning.

During our time at Crumlin, the care our family received was amazing. Not just the care given to the boys but also the kindness and tenderness shown to us as parents. I do not have one complaint about the service we received there. Please pass on our thanks to all at the hospital, particularly the staff on the floor in A&E, PICU1, St Peter’s ward and Dr Kileen’s team. Thanks to you all, our whole family will be safe and sound at home this Christmas.

Please keep up the excellent and very important job you are doing. We will always remember how well we were treated during our time with you.

All our love and happy Christmas.

The Carr Family: Frank, Bobby, Amy, Marty and Harry

Now not even air is free

I called into my local garage in Kilkenny the other day to pump up a soft tyre on the front of my car, only to be confronted by a machine demanding a – non refundable – one euro coin for five minutes of air.

I confronted the shop assistant, who confirmed that, yes, this garage is now charging customers for air. Disgusted at this new development and with the words of George Lee ringing in my ears, I refused to pay. I’m reluctantly paying for water, I said, but I absolutely refuse to pay for air, and stormed out.

Hobbling home I questioned George’s logic. “Price increases can lead to inflation,” he said – but in my case not paying contributed to deflation. I was confused but satisfied myself by deciding that you really needed to be a very clever economist to work all this stuff out.

Eugene McGuinness

Co Kilkenny

We need statemanship on NI

I do not wish to be critical of British Prime Minister David Cameron, but he carries in his hands the future for peace in these islands along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Is it too much to hope that the one will be inspired by the example of Gladstone and the other by that of Parnell?

We do not elect a prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to solve the problems of, say, Libya and Ukraine, but we do elect him or her to solve the problems of Northern Ireland.

Events in Belfast and Dublin ought not to be the sideshow for a British prime minister that they were in 1914 for Asquith or at the time of Sunningdale in 1973 for Heath. Nothing is more important to the peoples of these islands, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh alike, than a permanent and just settlement in Ireland. A peace process will no longer suffice. It is peace that is required.

All the main players are now assembled in Belfast. They must realise that they have an unparalleled opportunity to find a lasting solution for us all. We have waited for a hundred years for the British parliament at Westminster to build upon the Home Rule Act of 1914. Surely we have waited long enough.

The British are in no position to tell the rest of the world how to conduct its affairs (as they frequently do with a simply unbelievable arrogance born of past imperial rule) unless they can govern themselves. Christmas 2014 is the time for one Old Etonian (Cameron) to assume the mantle of another (Gladstone).

More is needed here than gifts of money, which the bankrupt British dole out with extraordinary largesse throughout the world. We need statesmanship and a compelling vision for the future.

Dr Gerald Morgan

Chaucery Hub

Trinity College Dublin

Why not slam Egypt on Gaza too?

In recent weeks, 60 tunnels and 800 homes have been destroyed in Gaza. A 500-metre-deep security zone is being created along the border and no structures whatsoever will be allowed in this zone. In addition to this, military courts have been authorised to try civilians who block roads or damage state facilities. These moves are as a result of attacks which caused the deaths of 33 security men.

The reason I write this letter is because the silence in this country and around the world is quite deafening. There is no hijacking of the Dail, there are no flotillas, no academics or trade unions screaming for boycotts, no false accusations of apartheid, no political hissy fits from either House and no bullying of people in supermarkets who wish to buy products of their choice.

The answer, of course, is obvious. Israel cannot be blamed. Egypt was forced to take this action to defend itself against Hamas terrorists. It just goes to show how anti-Semitic and racist this country really is.

Captain Donal Buckley

Castlebar, Co Mayo

Israel is nothing like ISIS

It is morally repugnant of Dr Al Qutob (Letters, Irish Independent, December 15) to even insinuate any comparison between ISIS and Israel.

ISIS is a barbaric organisation that has murdered countless thousands of fellow Muslims, Christians and Yazidis, usually in the most fiendish manner possible, including decapitation. It has tortured, raped and sold into slavery thousands of men, women and children. Its ideology calls for the conquest and annihilation of everyone who does not match its demented standards of Sunni Islam fidelity. Israel, by contrast, is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

Dr Qutob says that the issue of the Palestinians is ignored by the world. In fact, there is a very disproportionate focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to the point that other conflicts in the region, not to mention the Third World, receive scant attention and commentary. This summer, for example, during the seven-week-long war between Hamas and Israel, there was saturation coverage of the situation, at a time when far more people were murdered on a daily basis in Syria and Iraq, not to mention Africa or Afghanistan.

What Dr Qutob also ignores is that Israeli Arabs (a minority of over 20pc of the Israeli population) are the most secure and safest Arabs in the entire region. This is why opinion polls show that most Israeli Arabs are proud to consider themselves Israeli citizens. They can see on their TV sets every day the nightmare that stalks the Arab World, of which ISIS is merely the most extreme manifestation.

Dr Derek O’Flynn

Press Officer

Embassy of Israel

Has fiscal advice come too late?

“Everybody is utterly turned off by Ireland’s Fiscal Advisory Council”, according to Shane Ross.

He did not mention the fact that we could have done with what he calls “this academic quintet containing … four professors and an economist” during the years of the boom. It might have challenged the people at the head of the government, financial institutions, etc, then and prevented them from bankrupting this country and contributing to its needing an €80bn bailout.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13

Irish Independent

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