Off to the tip with 15 bags of leaves. Give Shanti her Christmas present, Co-op and Jill comes to call.
Alan Williams was a long-serving Labour MP whose chance of high office was blighted by his party’s years in the wilderness
Alan Williams, who has died aged 84, was Labour MP for Swansea West for 45 years, a minister in four departments and, at the close of his parliamentary career, Father of the House.
Moderate, sensible and never a hogger of the limelight, Williams was one of the generation denied the chance of higher office by Labour’s defeat in 1979 and the internecine strife that kept the party in opposition for 18 years. He was 49 and a minister of state when Margaret Thatcher pitched his party into the wilderness, and 67 and a senior backbencher by the time Tony Blair led it back to power in 1997.
Williams might not have made the top flight anyway, as he never won election to the shadow cabinet and shadowed a cabinet minister for only one year as shadow Welsh secretary. Yet his impact was felt; he demolished the economic case for retaining a Royal Yacht, and under his chairmanship the Liaison Committee of select committee chairmen gained the right to question the prime minister in public.
His highest profile moment came in June 2009, when as Father of the House he presided over the election of a new Speaker after Michael Martin’s forced resignation over his handling of the MPs’ expenses scandal, broken by The Daily Telegraph.
The election was the first held by ballot, the previous system of moving resolutions in favour of each candidate in turn having degenerated into a shambles when Martin was elected in 2000. The former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett was favourite, but Labour MPs switched to the maverick Tory John Bercow, who defeated his fellow Conservative Sir George Young by 322 votes to 271.
Two years before, it had fallen to Williams in the same capacity to put the final question to Blair before he left the Chamber to resign as prime minister, and from the Commons. Williams told him that despite their differences, he could say that Blair had been “one of the outstanding prime ministers of my lifetime”.
His most important contribution to Labour was the robust line he took against the rampant Left in the early 1980s. When others on the Right of the party were defecting to the SDP, Williams stayed, urging Labour to purge itself before it was too late .
Alan John Williams was born on October 14 1930, the son of a miner. Educated at Cardiff High School, Cardiff College of Technology and University College, Oxford, he became a lecturer in Economics at the Welsh College of Advanced Technology and a regular broadcaster in Wales.
He joined the Labour Party as a student, and was a member of the National Union of Students’ delegation to Russia in 1954, as the Kremlin opened up after the death of Stalin.
Williams fought Poole in 1959, and five years later captured Swansea West from the Conservatives as Harold Wilson led Labour back to power. A promising member of a large, young Labour intake, he became after the 1966 election PPS to the Postmaster General, Edward Short.
The next year he was appointed parliamentary secretary in the Department for Economic Affairs . The Daily Telegraph’s sketchwriter reckoned him “far from the most dashing spokesman of a far from dashing ministry”, but he saw off Left-wing critics of the government’s economic policies.
When the DEA was wound up in October 1969, Williams moved to Tony Benn’s upgraded ministry of technology, with responsibility for economic issues and the nationalised industries. It fell to him to announce that pit ponies would be withdrawn from all but a handful of mines where machinery could not replace them, and defend an embarrassing shortage of smokeless fuel.
Within months, Edward Heath pulled off a surprise election victory. Williams now became opposition spokesman on consumer protection and small businesses . On Labour’s return to power in March 1974 he became minister of state in a new Department of Prices and Consumer Protection headed by a fellow-moderate, Shirley Williams.
Alan Williams had a role in perpetuating Labour’s controls and subsidies on the prices of basic foods, which Mrs Williams later conceded were economic nonsense. He brought in regulations obliging publicans to display the price of drinks, and rolled out a network of local consumer advice centres.
After James Callaghan succeeded Wilson in 1976, Williams moved sideways to the Department of Industry as deputy to Eric Varley, and at the end of the year was made a privy counsellor. He concentrated on shoring up Britain’s flagging manufacturing sector, including the workers’ co-operatives Benn had encouraged. He also took the heat for his department’s refusal to let Toyota open a car importing base in Bristol in an attempt to force the Japanese company to go to a development area.
The weeks in early 1979 before the Callaghan government’s defeat at the polls were difficult for Williams. He had to admit his efforts to boost British manufacturing had been undercut by the “Winter of Discontent”, which had cut production by 10 per cent and laid off 235,000 workers. He then had to bite his tongue as other Labour ministers campaigned for a “Yes” vote in the Welsh devolution referendum, a cause he then did not support. He was vindicated by the plan’s defeat, but in the ensuing election held his seat by only 401 votes.
Back in opposition, Callaghan made Williams a front-bench spokesman on Wales. When Michael Foot became Labour leader late in 1980, he appointed Williams shadow minister for the Civil Service. He condemned Mrs Thatcher for “vindictiveness” in deleting from the New Year’s honours civil servants who had struck over their pay.
After Labour’s devastating defeat in 1983, Neil Kinnock made him a trade and industry spokesman and campaigns co-ordinator. On his watch Mrs Thatcher floated British Telecom, a step Williams denounced as “the biggest giveaway in British commercial history – you can sell almost anything at half price”. In his dual role as deputy shadow Leader of the House he also turned up the heat over the Spycatcher affair.
In 1987 Kinnock made Williams shadow Welsh secretary for a year before demoting him to deputy shadow Leader of the House once again . He left the front bench in 1989.
Williams came into his own as a respected backbencher. In 1990 he rejoined the Public Accounts Committee, on which he had served in the 1960s, staying there for the rest of his career. He secured an investigation by the National Audit Office into the cost of royal travel, which revealed – as he intended it should – the true cost of the Royal Yacht Britannia and contributed to the eventual decision to pay her off.
Williams served on the Standards and Privileges Committee at the height of public concerns about parliamentary “sleaze”, and from 1997 on the Joint Committee on Privilege.
From 2001 he chaired the Liaison Committee, and in 2005 he succeeded Tam Dalyell as Father of the House. He retired in 2010.
Alan Williams married Mary Rees in 1957. She, their two sons and their daughter survive him.
Alan Williams, born October 14 1930, died December 21 2014
A serious omission from the science section of Bim Adewunmi’s list of female faces of the year (G2, 23 December) was the new head of Cern, Dr Fabiola Gianotti (Report, 4 November).
Dr Richard Carter
• A boycott of Amazon is not just for Christmas (Online report, 23 December). Find the Amazon-free shopping guide at amazonanonymous.org/better-than-amazon.
• Two special advisers have been forbidden by the Cabinet Office rules to take part in election campaigns (Home secretary’s special advisers removed from parliamentary list, 19 December). Surely the opposite should be the case: to work as an adviser, there should be an accompanying obligation to take part in parliamentary elections, and in the process come into contact with real voters on their doorsteps. It would beat cosy focus groups any day. The further from Westminster this takes place, the better.
• Abiotic methanogensis on Mars based on deposits of the mineral olivine has been known about for many years, without previously triggering a debate on extra-terrestrial life (Report, 20 December). Don’t tell David Bowie, though.
• Corrections are always amusing but today’s (22 December) were a delight. Thank you for a good laugh.
• Humanists rejoice! 98% of our “Xmas” cards are secular – there is hope after all. As a Scot, I particularly enjoyed the absence of Wee Freakings.
Dunbar, East Lothian
My late eldest sister, Kitty, was photographed by Jane Bown some time during the 1970s. She was a shop steward fighting for equal pay for sewing machinists. When my sister died two years ago, my daughter asked if she could have the photograph as she also lived in Alton. Not until I read that Jane Bown had died and looked at her work in the middle pages (22 December), did I realise why this photo was such a lovely image of my sister, and how lucky we are to have one of her photographs. I feel quite proud of her, as she was a typical lovely-looking Hoxton girl, who left school at 14 with no proper schooling because of the war. But she was a very feisty shop steward and I feel that Jane Bown could see this when she chose to photograph her.
• I met Jane Bown briefly in May 1982 at Wembley Stadium, where Pope John Paul II was to celebrate mass on his visit to Britain. I was the photographer for a Catholic magazine. The press photographers had been corralled in an area roughly in the centre of the football pitch, facing the platform where mass was to be celebrated. There were dozens, all with step-ladders and long lenses. While we were waiting I got talking to a diminutive lady who introduced herself as Jane Bown from the Observer. She had an SLR camera with a lens that looked as though it might have been 135mm at most. After weighing up the situation she said: “This is hopeless. I’m not staying here. Keep an eye on my bag, will you?” And off she went. Shortly after the Pope had arrived she returned, picked up her bag and said goodbye. Next morning the Observer carried on its front page a striking picture of the white-clad Pope, alone against a dark background, a hand raised to acknowledge the crowd. And underneath: Photograph: Jane Bown.
Fr Michael Henesy
• How very sad to hear the news of the death of Jane Bown. • One of my favourite photographs is her portrait of Anthony Blunt taken (I think) in 1964, 15 years before he was exposed as a Soviet spy. At the time of the photograph, Blunt was surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and there is a government or crown document on his desk. However, if you look at Jane’s portrait with the benefit of hindsight, there is something dark, tense and secretive about it, characteristics somewhat atypical in Jane’s work. Assuming that she had not been told, this one portrait sums up her profound psychological astuteness.
It is a bit late in the day for Peter Horrocks to complain about BBC World Service underfunding in the face of ratcheted-up competition from Moscow and Beijing (World Service fears losing information war as Russia Today turns up the pressure, 22 December). When he appeared before the Commons foreign affairs committee on 9 March 2011 to explain the new BBC licence fee-funded regime for the World Service, MPs repeatedly offered to mount a campaign to help him to ask for a better settlement for the World Service. Horrocks as repeatedly declined their offers of support, insisting the BBC as a whole must accept funding reductions. That looks like a strategic error, as does the earlier closure of direct broadcasting to Russia and central Europe on the grounds that pluralism of communication and information was now freely available in those countries.
There is a source of funding readily available to the World Service – the huge annual underspend in the international aid budget. This should be made available to the World Service, not because it is deemed to make a contribution to development but because it serves the essential needs of listeners for unbiased information. BBC World Service is a broadcaster, not an aid agency, and should be funded as such. The World Service was never an arm of the Foreign Office. It must not become a division of overseas aid.
Managing director, BBC World Service 1986-92
• You compare the BBC’s international activities, funding and audiences with those of its Russian counterparts. You say that the BBC World Service’s current global reach is 191 million. That figure is based on recent representative, quantitative research in many countries around the world. You say Russian Today claims “it can reach 700 million”. That is like saying the Grauniad can reach 64 million people in the UK. Both sentences are equally meaningless.
The one thing I do know is that Russia’s international broadcasting activities have never been very successful anywhere. In the Soviet days, surveys carried out in most countries showed tiny audiences for Radio Moscow. I think the only places where we ever found audiences of any significant size for Radio Moscow were where it broadcast in a language that other international broadcasters were not using; examples I remember were in India and west Africa. But all those modestly successful services were closed during the 1990s, when all state-funded Russian international broadcasting began to put a heavy emphasis on English. I have seen no evidence from anywhere that this move has been successful in audience terms.
Radio Moscow, now the Voice of Russia, and its TV counterparts, unlike the BBC, do not carry out any kind of regular audience measurement. So they have no idea about the size, nature or whereabouts of their audiences. My guess is that they are very small, and almost certainly smaller than they were in communist days.
Head of audience research, BBC World Service 1982-98
• Your report raises the familiar issue of the competing obligations to domestic and foreign constituencies. The World Service is a huge asset doing generally excellent work. But why should home licence fee payers meet the bill for the provision of an international public good and/or a foreign policy instrument?
This dilemma was an all too predictable result of the decision to fund the World Service out of the licence fee. It is all very well to say now that this will help the BBC to defend the very principle of the licence fee, but that will not solve the problem of long-term resourcing. The answer is for the government to grasp the nettle of the need to fund external broadcasting by hypothecating a given amount out of general taxation to be ring-fenced within the BBC’s budget, thus preserving both journalistic independence and the resources necessary to do the job – which are very small beer in relation to, say, the defence budget.
Professor of international relations, University of Cambridge
• Every day, and three times each day, I take the news from Russia Today, the BBC, ITN and Sky. The best for world coverage and the avoidance of patronising “human-interest” leads is RT. Though it is true that it gives the Russian angle on many stories – on which Sky is equally US-biased – much of the reporting is factual, broader than all the other channels, and pro-US interviews, critical of the Russian government, are often broadcast from the US. Your article quotes ex-RT broadcasters with clear axes to grind; the truth is that the depth and balance of RT are in many ways superior to our own BBC, which is often lazy, with stereotypical and predictable vox pop interviews and the shallowest of comment. The best news programme of all, however, is Channel Four News.
• I would not look to Russia Today to tell me what is going on in Russia, or to give a complete picture of what is going on in the wider world. Neither would I look to the BBC to tell me what is going on in this country or the wider world.
RT regularly gives information about important events that should be reported on the BBC but never are.
We deplore the decision by Luxembourg to bring criminal charges against someone they believe to be the whistleblower responsible for passing to the media confidential rulings awarded by the Luxembourg tax authorities (Report, 20 December). We believe these disclosures were manifestly in the public interest, helping to expose the industrial scale on which Luxembourg has sanctioned aggressive tax-avoidance schemes, draining huge sums from public coffers beyond its borders.
The so-called LuxLeaks papers have already forced senior Luxembourg politicians, past and present, to admit there is an urgent need to reform the way multinationals are taxed. The revelations have also transformed the international tax debate, prompting the finance ministers of France, Germany and Italy to write to the European commission calling for urgent action. In their words: “It is obvious that a turning point has been reached in the discussion on unfair tax competition … Since certain tax practices of countries and taxpayers have become public recently, the limits of permissible tax competition between member states have shifted. This development is irreversible.”
We believe this development is in large part thanks to the brave, public-spirited actions of an individual who ensured the contents of confidential tax rulings granted in Luxembourg became public. In contrast to his actions, Luxembourg has shown itself reluctant – up to this week – to disclose, even to the European commission, the criteria by which it offered businesses confidential tax rulings. Officials at the commission are tasked with ensuring such rulings do not constitute illegal state aid, and are already investigating whether Luxembourg rulings separately granted to subsidiaries of Amazon and Fiat violate state-aid laws.
Until last Thursday, Luxembourg had been firmly resisting what it told the European court of justice were speculative and disproportionate requests for information on its tax rulings from the commission. But now it has abruptly changed course and is complying with all requests. We believe this change is the result of the LuxLeaks scandal. Meanwhile, Margrethe Vestager, commissioner responsible for competition issues, has made clear that the commission is treating the LuxLeaks papers as “market information” and is actively reviewing these tax rulings to decide whether or not they should be made the subject of further illegal state-aid cases. While we understand and agree the rule of law must be observed, we note that Luxembourg prosecutors are required to have in mind whether or not the public interest is served by pursuing a criminal prosecution. We believe there is no public interest in prosecuting an individual suspected of bringing the LuxLeaks papers to the attention of the world.
Raymond Baker Global Financial Integrity
Jack A. Blum Tax Justice Network USA
José Bové French MEP (Green)
Franziska Brantner German MP (Green)
Richard Brooks Author
Prof A J Brown Griffith University
Terri Butler Australian MP (Labour)
John Christensen Tax Justice Network UK
Allison Christians McGill University
Frank Clemente Americans for Tax Fairness
Alex Cobham Centre for Global Development
Rosa L. DeLauro US Congresswoman (Democrat)
Karima Delli French MEP (Green)
Anneliese Dodds UK MEP (Labour)
Lloyd Doggett US Congressman (Democrat)
Rev Prof Andrew Dutney Uniting Church in Australia
Bas Eickhout Dutch MEP (Green)
Prof Peter Eigen Transparency International
Sven Giegold German MEP (Green)
Andrew Giles Australian MP (Labour)
Jesse Griffiths Eurodad
Gavin Hayman Global Witness
Nathaniel Heller Global Integrity
John Hilary War on Want
Martin Hojsik ActionAid International
Kelvin Hopkins UK MP (Labour)
Tim Hughes Involve
Yannick Jadot French MEP (Green)
Cathy James Public Concern at Work
Lord (Joel) Joffe UK member of upper house (Labour)
Eva Joly French MEP (Green)
Ged Kearney Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
Paul Kenny GMB union
Dr Sheila Killian University of Limerick
Philippe Lamberts Belgian MEP (Green)
Archie Law ActionAid Australia
Mauricio Lazala Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Daniel Lebegue Transparency International
Eric LeCompte Jubilee USA
Laetitia Liebert Sherpa
Caroline Lucas UK MP (Green)
Benoît Majerus University of Luxembourg
Adrienne Margolis Lawyers for Better Business
Sorley McCaughey Christian Aid Ireland
Len McCluskey Unite the union
Porter McConnell Coallition for Financial Transparency
John McDonnell UK MP (Labour)
Katherine McFate Center for Effective Government
Michael Meacher UK MP (Labour)
Austin Mitchell UK MP (Labour)
Richard Murphy Tax Research UK
Melissa Parke Australian MP (Labour)
Cedric Perrin French senator (UMP)
Prof Sol Picciotto Lancaster University
Bernard Pinaud CCFD-Terre Solidaire
Prof Thomas Pogge Yale University
Marc Purcell Australian Council for International Development
David Quentin Tax Justice Network UK
Michèle Rivasi French MEP (Green)
Friederike Roder ONE
Prof Tulio Rosembuj University of Barcelona
Molly Scott Cato UK MEP (Green)
Mark Serwotka PCS union
Nick Shaxon Author
Prof Prem Sikka University of Essex
Nick Smith UK MP (Labour)
Jim Stewart Trinity College, Dublin
Lord (Ben) Stoneham UK member of the upper house (Lib Dem)
Dr Andy Storey University College Dublin
Ernest Urtasun Spanish MEP (Green)
Tom van der Lee Oxfam Novib
Denis Vienot Justice et Paiz
Duncan Wigan Copenhagen Business School
Rebecca Wilkins FACT Coalition
Dan Wootton Uniting Church in Australia
Dr Mark Zirnsak Tax Justice Network Australia
Sir, If it is true, as you suggest (Leader, Dec 20), that (senior) civil servants are not good at “getting things done”, then the role, organisation and recruitment of civil servants needs a thorough examination, since “getting things done” for ministers is their job.
It is very true, as you say, that a good special adviser can be an asset, though it is not so difficult to “get things done” in Whitehall if one has the immediate ear and backing of a dynamic secretary of state. It may be even truer that things are generally better done if they are first critically examined by the people who will actually be responsible for doing them.
Many of the administrative messes of the past 30 years might have been avoided if the procedures had been more thorough, less dynamic, and less punctuated by backstairs chatter between political advisers and the press — accompanied, it must be said, by constant slander of the civil service.
Sir, Is Britain better governed as a result of the work of more than 100 special advisers to ministers? No one knows (“Special Forces”, leader, Dec 20). A rigorous independent study of their contribution to government is badly needed. That should be followed by cross-party agreement on an upper limit to their numbers and by the establishment of a simple and transparent set of criteria that they would need to meet before being considered for appointment. Allowing ministers to appoint whomsoever they wish is hardly a satisfactory basis for good government.
To complement the work of career civil servants, special advisers need a firm understanding of the policies of the political party whose interests they are helping their ministers to advance.
That is unlikely to be available to those whose political education has been derived principally from a lobbying or public relations organisation.
On the Tory side, many of the best special advisers have been graduates of the Conservative Research Department. It was there that both the current prime minister and chancellor served their apprenticeships. So too did Nick Timothy and Stephen Parkinson, whose work is highly valued by the home secretary (“Cameron approved removal of May’s aides from candidate list”, Dec 20).
(Deputy director, Conservative Research Department 1985-97)
House of Lords
Sir, I have no problem with Mr Cameron barring Mrs May’s aides from becoming Conservative parliamentary candidates.
I hope he will go further and legislate for all aides to be banned from standing, regardless of party, unless they have worked a minimum of five years outside the Westminster bubble between advising and standing. We need to change the parliamentary system and that will only start when we change the people.
Ryde, Isle of Wight
Sir, Michael Savage writes of today’s increasing use of “spads” by ministers (News, Dec 19) as “special advisers”. In my field, a “spad” is the acronym for “signal passed at danger”. How exquisitely appropriate.
(Safety consultant, railways)
Sir, You conclude (Leader, Dec 23) that “Mr Clegg has put country before party”. Is this not the test which every voter should apply at next year’s election?
Sir, At several restaurant celebrations this year, I have noticed the tendency for revellers to sport special Christmas jumpers. Should the collective noun be a “fright” of jumpers?
Sir, Richard Crampton’s article “The bonds of marriage: no stronger than a strip of tinsel” (Dec 23) is very sad. It is interesting, though, to note that “tinsel” contains three Christian words, “Silent, Listen, Enlist”. If taken seriously, these could lead to a rethink by those people whose marriages are in trouble this Christmas time.
The Rev Allan Bowers
Sir, Apropos the letter from Julian Peel Yates (Dec 23). I married the daughter of an earl who has the courtesy title of lady. If there were equality between the sexes I would be Lord Julia. Perhaps I will suffer the inequality.
Sir, Kaya Burgess is right (TMS, Dec 22). Each year “distinguished graduates” on the special University Challenge embarrass themselves with their seeming lack of knowledge. When you realise that many of the contestants have responsible posts in government and business, it is rather worrying.
Tockwith, N Yorks
SIR – Jews have always labelled food (“Shoppers will be told how their meat has been killed”). Our strict system of supervision ensures that meat labelled kosher is kosher and meat labelled beef is in fact beef.
Shechita conforms entirely to the EU definition of stunning: “any intentional process that causes a loss of consciousness and sensibility without pain, including any process resulting in instantaneous death.” So labelling meat stunned or unstunned would be misleading.
What Huw Irranca-Davies, the shadow environment minister, suggests is fair and would be informative. Consumers should know whether their meat has been shot by a bolt, asphyxiated by gas, electrocuted by tongs or water or slaughtered by the Shechita or Zabiha methods.
Jews do not say a prayer when slaughtering an animal. Nor do we claim that Shechita “kills animals instantly”. Scientific evidence bears out that Shechita does what the law requires; that the animal is rendered insensible to pain without unnecessary suffering, something that the approved mechanical methods do not.
Chairman, Shechita UK
SIR – The British Veterinary Association is heartened by “the clearest signal yet” that the Government will introduce labelling to inform consumers about whether products come from animals that were “stunned” or “non-stunned” before slaughter.
But we emphasise that this is not a matter of “compulsory labelling of halal or kosher products”. The issue is animal welfare at slaughter, not religious practice or preference. Compulsory labelling of products as halal and kosher would do nothing to inform the public about animal welfare concerns, and could fuel prejudice.
The British Veterinary Association campaigns for all animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter to render them insensible to pain until death supervenes. But if non-stun slaughter is to continue we must have clearer labelling.
It is important that the issue of welfare at slaughter is not hijacked by other agendas and the clear, simple labelling being suggested by George Eustice, the environment minister, keeps the sole issue of animal welfare to the fore. We believe this is a step in the right direction for consumers who care about the welfare of animals when they purchase meat and fish.
President, British Veterinary Association
SIR – If shoppers are to be informed as to how their meat is killed, will this include a note hung round a pheasant’s neck, “I was shot while fleeing for my life,” and a notice on supermarket fish counters: “Most of us were hauled out of the water and simply left to die slowly and painfully by asphyxiation”?
North Korea’s fears
SIR – It is unlikely that the North Koreans care twopence what we think (Letters, December 21).
The most probable reason for the regime allegedly causing Sony to pull The Interview is that the North Korean people might find it funny, making them subversive.
SIR – The Sony imbroglio – cyber attack, weird dictator, vendetta, blackmail, capitulation – has all the makings of a Hollywood movie. Is somebody making it?
Dr John Doherty
The Forces we need
Michael Fallon during a visit to soldiers from Army Reserves based in Wiltshire (Richard Watt/MoD)
SIR – Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, states: “Our Armed Forces should reflect the society they serve”. I was under the impression that they were there to protect the society they serve. Armed Forces that truly reflected our society would be somewhat less than effective.
SIR – Can an impending collapse of the overheated emergency admission system be avoided? Maybe, but imbalance between supply and demand is no longer seasonal. It is an all-year-round phenomenon, experienced by Trusts across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The annual “winter pressures” ritual fits a diversionary blame game, exaggerating British weather (rarely exceptional), invoking phantom flu epidemics and Norovirus (real but manageable), and rounded off by predictable pleas of insoluble staff shortages.
Crisis cash injections are then dissipated into high-cost, low-efficiency firefighting measures, with temporary beds, overpriced locums, agency nurses and a growing gravy train of interim managers.
Community services are typically commissioned with over-optimistic performance projections, but they far from compensate for the long-term reduction in beds at NHS acute hospitals.
Strategies to keep older patients out of hospital are well-intentioned but flawed. Elderly emergency admissions are characterised by complex multiple problems demanding humane, efficient, rapid access to skilled diagnostic and treatment facilities, followed by safe early discharge with appropriate integrated health and social care community support.
Too many older patients in the first 24 hours are frenetically shunted, three times or more, between different components of the excessively crowded emergency admission system. This adds disorientation to their distress and generates errors by a fragmentation of medical and nursing care.
The NHS could do without major reorganisation, but needs stability, intelligent implementation of healthy reform and wiser budgeting of its finite taxpayer funding.
Dr John J Turner
SIR – In considering university degrees for nurses, it should be noted that accountancy became a graduate profession some decades ago but reverted to employing articled clerks (apprentices in Scotland) straight from school, as well as graduates – with no reported ill-effects.
St Andrews, Fife
SIR – Had Sir Elton John married a woman, she would have been accorded the courtesy title of “Lady John”. What, I wonder, is the male equivalent?
Next year’s name
SIR – I agree with Carol Chadwick that, in normal conversation, no one refers to the year 1914 as “nineteen hundred and fourteen”. This is because the “hundred” is assumed in that context.
However, in no normal circumstance would the term “twenty hundred” be used. So the correct way to articulate the year 2015 is “two thousand and fifteen”.
Richmond, North Yorkshire
SIR – My wife keeps putting the remote control for the television on the television.
It would help me so much to know that I am not alone in this plight, because I don’t know how much more I can take.
SIR – In your obituary of John Freeman you spoke of his power as an interviewer, and rightly so.
In his interview of John Huston, the director stayed my hand (as the vision mixer at the time) at inter-cutting and held a superb low, half-profile shot of Huston’s craggy face for eight minutes.
How many would dare to do so today, given the self-importance of so many interviewers?
Silence by numbers
SIR – The elimination of phone coverage black spots on trains would be double-edged.
While I was travelling from London to Birmingham recently, a particularly loud passenger in the seat in front gave her phone number to the listener at the other end. I seized the opportunity, scribbled her number in the margin of my Telegraph and then texted her asking if she always shouted down the phone.
It all went very quiet after that and I was able to peruse my paper in peace.
Cormac Mac Crann
Spruce up your health with a real Christmas tree
A ‘Christmas tree worm’ protruding from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (Getty Images)
SIR – All types of natural Christmas tree – spruce, Noble, Nordman, pine – exude resins that enrich our environment.
They contain terpenes (natural antibacterials used for centuries to heal wounds) and propolis (a powerful antibiotic used by bees to protect their hives and coat their honeycombs).
A living tree, when it has served its purpose, takes just a few months to decompose. An artificial tree will take 22 million years.
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
SIR – Clementines may have overtaken satsumas as the most popular Christmas fruit but what happened to the tangerine?
In both taste and smell it is far superior to the other two varieties.
SIR – Why does chocolate money, a favourite stocking filler, no longer have the Queen’s head on it?
Marks & Spencer, for example, are selling chocolate euro coins.
SIR – Martin Moyes asks if there is anything that doesn’t count as “Christmassy”. In Superdrug last week I noticed that every item bore a placard describing it as “Festive” – including the toilet rolls.
SIR – A small Christmas cake my wife purchased has the following important serving instructions: “Remove ribbon. Place on a flat surface. Slice using a sharp long-bladed knife in a vertical direction. Repeat across cake. Turn cake 90 degrees and slice again in a vertical direction to create rectangular portions.”
Unfortunately they neglected to include instructions on how to eat the cake.
SIR – I was both appalled and amused by the politically correct edition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen printed in our church hymn book. It replaced “gentlemen” with “gentlefolk”.
SIR – As I have grown older I have noticed that the quality of the presents I receive from my children has improved.
Presumably they hope to inherit them.
Globe and Mail:
Sinn Féin and the Ceann Comhairle
Sir, – I feel so sorry for Gerry Adams (December 23rd). Ever since Joan Burton asked him some embarrassingly personal questions he seems to have taken umbrage at the Ceann Comhairle’s lack of support. He could put a stop to this nonsense by choosing to answer questions without breaking into questions of his own – a tiresome stunt which doesn’t fool anyone, inside or outside the Dáil. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein seem to have a problem with the behaviour of the Ceann Comhairle on procedural issues. There are procedural issues within any democratic parliament, and you change them or abide by them. Mr Adams should not come come crying to The Irish Times every time someone runs away with the ball. – Yours, etc,
THOMAS J CLARKE,
Sir, – Many people in the last weeks have called for the introduction of cameras to ensure that what happened at Áras Attracta does not happen again. Newspaper reports suggest that the HSE is investigating the cost of this option. While this might seem an obvious way to prevent the kind of physical abuse we witnessed, it is yet another erosion of the human rights of these residents. Unless every corner of their home (and we should remember that this is someone’s home) is covered, it will not prevent recurrence. How many of us would allow CCTV in our bedrooms, our bathrooms?
There is a cultural change needed. The “service provider” mentality needs to change completely. The move from congregated settings to smaller units is meaningless without a complete change of thinking. People with disabilities are not commodities, to be moved from one setting to another to reflect current thinking. They are individuals, with the right to be supported according to their needs. There needs to be real choice about where to live, who to live with, how to spend time and how the funds allocated are spent.
This will only happen with full individualised funding. People who have a choice may not choose to spend all their days in a chair. The irony of choosing a person to lead the investigation who has a vested interest in the “service provider” system cannot be overstated.
We need closer links between vulnerable adults and their advocates, whether they are family members, friends or professional advocates. Advocacy services need to be strengthened, and to have a right to access vulnerable adults, rather than having to depend on the cooperation of the services.
People need to be supported to communicate, and to make as many choices as they can about their life. Speech and language therapy advice should be sought to set up supportive communication environments with alternative and augmentative communication where needed. Ensuring the absence of physical abuse is necessary, but in no way sufficient to allow people to thrive. A complete change of focus, rather than tinkering around the edges is needed. People who have lived in this type of environment, even without the physical and emotional abuse filmed, will require considerable rehabilitation to reach the point where choices can be made.
If you have been unable to decide even which chair you sit in, it is unrealistic to have someone come in and ask where or how you would like to live. Investment in advocacy services and speech and language therapy services focused on creating a positive, responsive communication environment will be essential. The absence of abuse is not enough.
A robust complaints system independent of the service is needed. Too many families are silent because they are afraid they will be asked to leave the service, and are unable to provide the 24-hour care needed at home. Every complaint needs to be taken seriously and investigated.
We welcome the steps taken towards strengthening advocacy and complaints systems in the last two weeks, but argue that they need to go much further. – Yours, etc,
GRÁINNE de PAOR,
Speech and language
therapists and advocates,
Down Syndrome Ireland,
Citylink Business Park,
Old Naas Road, Dublin 12.
Sir, – Thank you for publishing Fintan O’Toole’s memory of his knitted circus (“When I close my eyes and think of Christmas”, Opinion & Analysis, December 23rd). I smiled as I read the wonderfully captured colour and magic of a child’s innocent delight; and then, as only a great writer can do, he rekindled my memory of a home-made cavalry fort complete with “millions” (probably hundreds) of cocktail sticks painstakingly glued around the external wall as logs. How many hours did my hard-working father spend up to his elbows in Evostick to produce that effect? The uniqueness of that toy made me feel very special and obviously someone that Santy held in high regard.
There’s a funny kind of sadness around Christmas. I treasure my own two daughters now, but wish they could have known their remarkable, gentle grandfather Paddy. So, thank you Irish Times, thank you Fintan and thanks Dad. – Yours, etc,
Fairview, Dublin 3.
Sir, – Further to the letter by David Herman (December 22nd), far from “asserting” that anyone “wanted” to trespass on suburban gardens, I was poking fun at the inconsistencies of those in leafy suburbs who see no contradiction between keeping people out of their gardens and tennis courts with dogs, cameras and alarms while loudly insisting on their “rights” to march over mostly peasant-owned land. The underlying principle appears to be a curiously socialist belief in compulsory sharing of privately owned amenities, secure in the knowledge that they will never be expected to reciprocate.
Ireland certainly is different from many other European countries – rightly or wrongly, we have much more one-off housing than most other countries. Aside from parts of a few counties such as Wicklow, Mayo, Kerry, etc, there simply aren’t the swathes of remote land that you find in many other countries. In many northern and midland counties in particular, go a few hundred yards in any direction and you’re on top of another house. This pattern of rural housing development and small farm sizes means that much of our land is unsuitable for rambling. It’s not the Scottish highlands; it’s not northern Sweden.
Further, the far bigger issue is the chronic political failure to designate more areas as national parkland. It’s startling that Yorkshire has more national parkland than the whole of Ireland put together (Northern Ireland has none). In this context, off-loading the amenity access issue to private landowners is a cop-out to excuse continuing Government inaction on the issue. But then again, you can’t be having too much parkland when there’s all that fracking to be done. – Yours, etc,
Trillick, Co Tyrone.
Sir, – I’m reminded of the farmer who put the the following notice on his gate, “Entry to field free but bull may charge later”. – Yours, etc,
Beaumont, Dublin 9.
Sir, – I’ve enjoyed the debate on these pages about walking, cycling, tourism and property rights. It has certainly opened my eyes to the legitimate fears and gripes of farmers and the frustrations felt by ramblers who feel stymied by obdurate property owners. Whichever side of the debate we come down on, I hope we can all agree that there is nothing like a brisk walk to shed those extra Christmas pounds. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I watched our distinguished Senators debate for many hours the water services Bill.
An inelegant display of showboating and pomposity by a number of them convinced me of the following: the Taoiseach was correct in seeking to have this assembly of privilege abolished; I should get out more often. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A number of commentators have begun to question why the most striking Irish popular reaction to austerity has come against the relatively minor imposition of the Irish Water charges.
In his letter, Felix M Larkin (December 23rd) puts the public anger evident at demonstrations across the country in the context of a “revolution of rising expectations”.
In other words, an improving economy and the perception that things are getting better has actually provoked this mass revolt.
Might it be closer to the truth to suggest that the imposition of the Irish Water charges has simply come to many people as the final straw?
Granted, there were no public protests when the bankers were bailed out or the troika came to Dublin, nor following the imposition of the universal social charge or local property tax.
For many people, though, the sight of water meters being installed in their estates and neighbourhoods has resulted in a very visible indication of how austerity has impacted upon their lives. That, and the stories we have read about the bonuses being paid to Irish Water executives.
It’s not that the Irish Water charges are seen as any more unfair than the other austerity measures imposed over the past six years, but people had to reach breaking point in terms of paying for the sins of a tiny elite at some stage.
Strangely, at any of the Irish Water protests I have attended in recent months, I have yet to hear anyone express the opinion that the perception that things were improving had provoked them to revolution. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The old Irish phrase “uisce faoi thalamh” really came into its own this year. According to the sources, while it literally means “water under the ground”, it actually refers to a conspiracy! – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Your columnist Laura Kennedy (“Why I’m searching for a sense of self at Al-Anon meetings”, December 18th) has done a great service to many families in the lead-up to Christmas. While a joyous time for many, it is difficult and challenging for others. However, Ms Kennedy explained in dignified fashion how she addresses her own family problems, through Al-Anon, and so how there is hope for many who are troubled by relatives with unacceptable behaviour. With great clarity and respect, she showed a way to manage a “sense of grief and disappointment”, to move to knowing unconditional love and self-worth. This was an exceptionally good article and provided great comfort for many. – Is mise,
Dr JOE MacDONAGH,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.
Sir, – The current misuse of the political label of “Independents” by the media and the general public is not only misleading but incorrect.
Apart from the facts that a high proportion of our “Independents” are people who have either been expelled or rejected by their mainstream political parties, the reality is that our electoral system does not permit the election of anyone under the label of Independent. Instead, aspiring politicians who have campaigned under such banners are, rather paradoxically, renamed as “non-party” when it comes to their identification on the ballot paper.
It is not only insulting to those who genuinely do not wish to be associated with current political parties to be labelled as “non-party”, it is also confusing for the electorate. – Yours, etc,
Dr VINCENT KENNY,
Sir, – Something is rotten in the state of Ireland. We’re well on the way to having a labour force comprised exclusively of IT geeks and financial bean counters.
While universities promote recruitment fairs for IT, science, engineering and business studies students, they do virtually nothing for their arts and humanities students.
With universities uninterested, is it any wonder that employers put so little value on an arts and humanities degree?
But what a loss this is to employers and to the country generally. Bright students can’t find work because employers are blinkered to the value of diversity and creativity that arts and humanities students can bring.
Once upon a time a general education was seen as a strength, but not anymore. We’re now living in the land of the one-trick pony! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to the letter by Patrick Hastings (December 20th), I am also a dissatisfied prize bond customer and I suspect one of many.
I have been buying prize bonds in small amounts since 1987 and when I recently tried to reinvest a €50 prize using their cheque, I received a letter requesting various proofs and my PRSI number and quoting money-laundering legislation. I pointed out to it that the legislation does not require this in my case and that according to welfare.ie, it is not entitled to request my PRSI number.
After further correspondence, the matter is now with its “resolution team” and I await developments. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Lucille Redmond’s “An Irishwoman’s Diary” (December 9th) mentions CR Fletcher as joint author with Rudyard Kipling, of a history textbook which gave an unflattering portrait of the Irish population. The same CR Fletcher wrote an earlier (1907) Introduction to the History of England which was severely criticised by Mary Hayden for its biased treatment of Irish history.
Hayden was to become, in 1911, the first professor of modern Irish history in University College Dublin. Fletcher was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. In a series of three articles published in the English magazine the Sphere, in August-September 1908, Hayden described Fletcher’s writing on Ireland as reckless, improbable and factually inaccurate, quoting Alice Stopford Green, and others such as Kuno Meyer, in refutation, and citing earlier sources including Spenser, Fynes Moryson and the Annals of the Four Masters. Hayden concluded her series, called “Irish history as she is written”, by questioning whether Fletcher’s representation of the Irish population as ignorant savages was either judicious or conducive to good feeling between the peoples of the two countries, in a work written for the future men and women of England. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – On November 29th I was part of a group from the Irish Vintage Radio and Sound Society that visited the decommissioned RTÉ Radio station in Athlone.
We were flabbergasted to see the full 1932 100kW Marconi transmitter in pristine condition and looking like it had just been switched off the day before. We believe that this is the only intact transmitter of its type still existing on its original site anywhere in the world. In Britain there were about 20 stations similar to the Athlone one but unfortunately none has been preserved. This is a very important part of the radio heritage of Ireland and is a true gem that must be cherished.
It was truly fantastic to discover what was hiding behind the “Athlone” on the radio dial. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Who on earth dreams up these Christmas television advertisements? Cue happy domestic scene. Cue anticipation of someone arriving, maybe even Santa Claus. Cue tinkling music.
Then cue snowflakes.
Why snow, for heaven’s sakes? Snow is cold, wet and miserable. People slip and fall on snow-covered footpaths. Snow causes traffic chaos.
Besides, it is very difficult to park a sleigh on a snow-covered roof. Let’s slay the snow, I say! – Yours, etc,
Simple message for Christmas is worth more than gifts
Published 24/12/2014 | 02:30
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, many people will exchange gifts, some doing so in the traditional manner, emulating the Three Wise Men who presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child in the manger. Others will do so for no particular reason other than it is what is done every year.
Totally overlooked, in a society that is no longer God-orientated, is the fact that over 2000 years ago, God sent a present, or gift, to all mankind in the form of his son, Jesus.
It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that this one person’s enormous impact on the world has never been equalled, or even slightly encroached upon by any other single person, regardless of their achievements.
All he did in the final three years of his life on Earth was to encourage us to be charitable to one another and by doing so reap the reward of eternal life after death. For bringing that message to humankind he was sentenced to death by a mob which had the freedom of choice – and chose the evil of Barabas.
Weak-minded humanity fails to recognise the fact that God, despite not making his presence visible, has always been active sending messages and gifts carried by every single baby that is born – and that includes you, dear reader.
A few of God’s gift-bearers have been John Logie Baird (inventor of television), Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), Alexander Fleming (discovery of penicillin) and Karl Benz (the creator of the first automobile).
Some examples of message bearers are Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, who has called for the right of all children to a proper education; Wolfgang Borchert, a young German soldier/poet who wrote the powerful anti-war poem ‘No’; and someone we in Ireland should know, homeless man Jonathan Corrie (RIP) who had to die on a doorstep, just metres from Dail Eireann, to convey his message: ‘Every single person should be given a chance.’
Perhaps this Christmas Day, you could ponder on what message, or gift, you bear for humankind.
Dundrum, Dublin 14
A truce on Christmas Day
My dad made a ritual of carving the Christmas turkey. Usually, he’d have started on the first glass of wine after the presents were opened.
By the time the turkey came to the table, he was Caesar in the forum, wobbling, but full of confidence and authority. His own mother would give a running commentary on the quality of the tipsy butcher’s efforts. “Your father could cut slices as big as a hand. It looks like it’s shedding feathers, those whispy slices wouldn’t fill a tooth.”
She could keep it going. I’d notice the crimson colour rising over his shirt collar but somehow he kept calm. Then he once said this:
“I could get mad and then you would be sad. Or you could get mad and I’d be sad. Why not let us both be glad, for all we knew and all that we had.”
It made for a kind of Christmas truce. I did note from that Christmas on we always had goose.
Dalkey, Co Dublin
Home thoughts from abroad
I couldn’t agree more with Tara Monaghan’s letter to Enda Kenny (Irish Independent, Monday December 22).
I myself have just come home for the fourth Christmas through one of London’s airports. I am staying for two weeks but I too will see tears again in my mother’s eyes upon leaving and hopeful promises from my dad about the economy.
In permanent employment as a construction manager, a day doesn’t go by without a comment on my accent or pronunciation. I have just chosen to opt out of my company pension as I don’t know if I can withdraw it whenever I move home. I wonder too if I will ever get to move home.
I’m not prepared to move home for a few weeks’ work because, like Tara and so many others, getting set up away from home takes a lot of hard work and you end up leaving people behind that you have helped – and can help – in everyday life.
My wonderful life in care home
My name is Mary Fox and I live in the CASA (Caring and Sharing Association) Respite Home in Malahide, and because of the RTE Investigations Unit programme on ‘Bungalow 3’, I wanted to give my very positive experience of living in care to assure people that not all care centres function in such an awful, degrading fashion.
Since the programme – which was very upsetting to watch – institutional care is now being questioned, and rightly so for people with family members in care.
I just wanted to tell of my experience, the exact opposite to what we saw on our TV screens. My career was nursing. But I was diagnosed with MS in 1982 and have gradually, over the years, lost my ability to do things for myself. At this point I can do nothing with my hands or feet, but my mind remains as good as it ever was.
I can speak of my experience in the CASA house. I have PA care every day and am still in charge of my life; what I wear, where I want to go and what I want to eat. I experience only love and care in the house and I take full part in all meetings, outings and the entire goings on.
The CASA house is a respite home (a family-type set up and a home from home for people with disability).
The emphasis isn’t only on being care-givers and service users, but is very much based on friendships, love, care, sharing of our time, respect, dignity, fun and building genuine relationships. One of my fears when I was diagnosed with MS was that when I reached the point where I couldn’t do anything for myself that I would be left in the corner to wilt away. That, thankfully, has never happened to me. I, through the loving care I get in the CASA house and the love and care I give to others, am such a part of everything, just as everyone else is too. I have to say I am very, very happy.
CASA Respite Home, Malahide,
Your letters ‘tell the truth’
I have just read the letter of the day (The working poor of Ireland’, Irish Independent, December 22, 2014) and it was excellent. I am a big fan of the letters page because, well, speaking plainly, you have the guts to print the truth.
Harolds Cross, Dublin
Don’t forget to close the gate
Reading that it is a two-mile hike from the bottom gate to the front door of the main house on Castlemartin Estate, it occurred to me to be one helluva walk back if someone forgot to close the gate behind them.
Consigning hunts to the past
Tis the Season to be jolly – sadly not for the fox. This wild dog of the countryside gets such a raw deal at Christmas. Over the festive holiday, hunts will be out in force.
Even when I don’t see an actual hunt in action at this time of year, I do notice hunt scenes on hotel walls (murals or prints of old paintings), and on some Christmas cards and table mats. These display all the pomp and ceremony of the chase.
I have no problem with these depictions, because that is where foxhunting belongs – in pictures of our colourful and murky past.
Callan, Co Kilkenny