Snow

28 December 2014 Updating

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. Snow the first of the winter, very icy going to the post box.

Mary’s  much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea.

Obituary:

David Mackay, architect

David Mackay

David Mackay, who has died aged 80, was a British architect who played a key role in transforming Barcelona from a provincial backwater with a run-down port into one of the best-designed cities in Europe.

Before Barcelona started planning for the 1992 Olympics, the city’s seafront was a shanty town full of barraques – slum-dwellings – with no beach and just a railway line used for nearby factories. The city council decided to try to use the Olympics to revolutionise the city.

A partner with the Barcelona-based practice Martorell, Bohigas, Mackay (MBM), Mackay not only designed the Olympic Village, at the same time he transformed the city’s seafront, sweeping away the rough industrial zone next to the Mediterranean and replacing it with three miles of upmarket beach front, along with parkland, a marina and seafront bars and restaurants. Much of the road traffic was taken into tunnels, largely paid for by the sale of flats and commercial units.

“The legacy was to put Barcelona on the map. Before it was a city no one knew,” recalled Mackay. “The mayor just told us to ‘take Barcelona to the sea’.”

Mackay defined the role of the architect as creating the conditions whereby “the undefined may take place within the defined”. The Barcelona Olympics represented only the beginning of the city’s revival, and in the years since 1992 it has attracted millions of tourists. In 1999 Mackay won the RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, and in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics Lord Coe visited Barcelona several times, describing it as “a city of reference” for Olympic planners.

Mackay’s achievement led to his involvement in several large urban regeneration projects in Britain, most notably in Plymouth, whose then Tory administration hired him in 2003 to create a master plan to turn it into a “European City of the Sea”. His Vision for Plymouth, published in November 2003, centred on connecting the city with the seafront, celebrating its maritime heritage. Many of his ideas, notably a new city centre piazza, have come to fruition, but some, including the bulldozing of the 1980s Pavilions leisure development blocking the view to the waterfront, remain on the drawing board.

David John Mackay was born at Eastbourne on Christmas Day 1933 into a family with Irish roots. His father, originally from Co Cork, was a colonial civil servant who spent many years on the Gold Coast, while David, his mother and two older brothers stayed in England.

The Hotel Arts and the Mapfre Tower in Barcelona (ALAMY)

Educated at a series of boarding schools, Mackay developed an interest in architecture and studied the subject at the Northern Polytechnic in Holloway, north London. There he met, and in 1957 married, Roser Jarque, a Catalan woman who had left her native Barcelona to escape Francoist oppression.

After a period in poorly paid architectural work in London, Mackay persuaded Roser that they should move to her home city, where she had connections in the architectural field. Initially he taught English in the mornings while spending his afternoons working for a local firm, Martorell and Bohigas Arquitectes, which became Martorell Bohigas Mackay in 1963.

Until General Franco’s death in 1975 MBM kept things ticking over with private commissions while Mackay became involved in the anti-Franco movement, going on demonstrations and putting dissidents in touch with the foreign press.

After the dictator’s death, however, as Barcelona began its cultural renaissance, MBM was in the forefront of restoring the city’s identity, taking on large urban projects and building commissions.

The steel-framed Hotel Arts in Barcelona, built as part of the Olympic Village (ALAMY)

One of its most famous regeneration programmes was Barcelona’s “100 projects” of the early 1980s – a series of small-scale improvements to public spaces designed, as Mackay explained, to “give identity to neighbourhoods, so that people could begin to feel pride in where they lived”.

The Olympic Village project led to commissions around Europe, Mackay taking the lead in Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands.

As well as Plymouth, he worked on regeneration plans for the Lea Valley in east London and the south coast resorts of Hastings and Bexhill.

He remained cautiously optimistic about the future of British cities. “In the Victorian and Edwardian ages, public authorities and private patrons took pride and collective responsibility for their cities, with their grand city halls, squares, avenues and lighting standards,” he observed in 2002. “I think there is now a movement to recover this responsibility for public space, which has been lost. You don’t have to look to America or the Continent for inspiration; it’s here already.”

David Mackay published several books, including Modern Architecture in Barcelona (1985), A Life in Cities (2009) and On Life and Architecture (2013).

He is survived by his wife and their four daughters and two sons.

David Mackay, born December 25 1933, died November 12 2014

Guardian:

ed miliband ed balls
Labour’s message needs to be positive. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Observer

Andrew Rawnsley says the lesson of the Scottish referendum is that negative campaigning works and that the coming election will be “a long and fear-fuelled campaign” (“Lots of donkeys but no lions in a year of political trench warfare”, Comment).  There are certainly many indications that fear does indeed work, but it’s not the only effective approach and it promotes distrust of the political process and disengagement from it.  In the US Barack Obama won on positive and uplifting messages of hope and change. How might the emphasis be switched?  There is plenty of evidence showing that more equal societies are better for everyone, not just the poorest.  Many better-off people want to live in a fairer, more cohesive society, and others are open to be persuaded about the personal benefits of this if the case is put to them.  Surely it is time for Ed Miliband and Labour to return to the one-nation theme which they seem to have sidelined since it was first introduced?

Professor Ron Glatter 

Hemel Hempstead

Herts

Jane Bown’s terrific legacy

My late mother Teresa Tutt was photographed by Jane Bown at the Field of Remembrance in November 1984 and the photograph appeared on the front page of the Observer the next day. The photograph showed my mother, a war widow, framed by two Chelsea pensioners to the rear, looking in the opposite direction. My mother is wearing my father’s medals looking straight to camera. When I learned that Luke Dodd was working on the Jane Bown archive I contacted him and later that morning I received a telephone call from Jane herself enquiring after my mother, saying how well she remembered her. Jane has left a wonderful archive, not just of the rich and powerful; a gift to remember her by.

Rilba Jones

Sutton-on-Hull

Call for secular choral music

It’s all well and good that the BBC Radio 3 carol competition (“Gloria in excelsis deo: Britain tunes in to its spiritual side”, News) adds some nice new feel-good repertoire to the existing mountain of choral music available but I have spent a lifetime excluded from choral singing because that repertoire is almost exclusively religious; endless masses, passions, motets and the rest that proclaim beliefs and emotions that I cannot identify with or want to sustain.   Fact is, Carmina aside, there’s almost no serious secular repertoire that good amateur choirs and orchestras can tackle.  Here’s a challenge: let the BBC (and the Observer?) commission from the best poets and composers a prom of new secular work that is technically achievable by skilled amateur groups. This could kickstart a 21st-century legacy, opening choral singing to a new contemporary community of performers and audiences.

John Forster

Saltash

Cornwall

What makes people give

Tracy McVeigh is to be congratulated for her media first of “natural” disasters (“Natural disasters, not wars, prompt Brits to give to charity”, News). Forty years of UK research and publication have shown how, while hazards may be from natural origins, the disasters they trigger are created by actions and inactions, by others, of a vulnerable humankind – those in poverty being the principal victims of any country. After so many years of effort to break the “natural disaster” barrier, this was a treat to see.

James Lewis

Author: Development in Disaster-prone Places: Studies of Vulnerability

Marshfield

A truly great politician

In the New Review’s “Those we’ve lost” obituaries issue, you have made sure to honour some minor names including  TV actors and daughters and wives of rock stars, but decline to even mention the death in October of somebody that should be more of an Observer-type of figure we should be reading about – the late-20th century political icon Gough Whitlam. This giant of a politician single-handedly dragged Australia into the modern age, proving to politicians that once in power you don’t have to renege on all your promises, that you can have the courage of your convictions and change the political landscape of your country for the social good.

Andy Hall

London SE7

How could you possibly have failed to include Johnny Winter in your list? He is acknowledged to have been one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos. A multi-instrumentalist, he produced three Grammy award-winning albums for blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters and recorded several albums of his own which were Grammy-nominated. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and, in 2003, he was ranked 63rd in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

Dave Hirons

Binley Woods

Warks

I was disappointed that you did not include the extraordinarily talented musician Christopher Hogwood.  His influence on music in the last 30 years has been profound.

Hester Doherty

Shrewsbury

 David Cameron with the Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg and David Cameron go into Number 10. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/EPA

Attempting to portray the Lib Dems as gallantly and selflessly holding rampant Toryism in check is by now the well-worn excuse offered for entering into coalition with the Tories, and just doesn’t wash (Ian Dickins, Letters. Their eager grasping for cabinet seats, big offices and limos had even party members appalled.

Had the offer of coalition been refused, the option for Cameron of calling another instant election was a non-starter, as having failed to secure the expected victory his position as leader was far from safe from his right-wing critics, leaving a minority administration as his best bet for saving his neck.

Without collusion by the Lib Dems, the manifesto pledge which ruled out “top-down reform” and piecemeal privatisation of the NHS could not have been attempted, along with the dilution of the welfare state by the privatisation of other public bodies: infinitely better than the alleged restraining influence exerted by the Lib Dems. Ian Dickins concludes: “Politics is the ‘art of the possible’, and the Lib Dems should be given credit for their achievements in government, not vilified for policies outside their control.” But what was “possible” for a party determined to preserve the life of the coalition was precious little. A coalition was better than a Tory government, but that’s a false choice: there was a superior, option.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St. Edmunds

Suffolk

Ian Dickins says: “The Lib Dems should be given credit for their achievements in government.” Credit for what? So the weak, vulnerable and poor are given a kicking with size eight boots instead of size 10? The bedroom tax, tuition fees, benefit sanctions? I used to respect some Lib Dems such as Vince Cable but I hope the British people will remember their broken promises at next year’s election.

Barry Norman

Drighlington

W Yorkshire

Ian Dickins argues that if the Lib Dems had not agreed to enter into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 the UK would have, by default, had to suffer a majority Conservative right-wing government later in the year.  It is the same proposition that I’ve had robotically dictated to me by canvassers on my doorstep almost word for word: positing that no other “events” would have taken place, no other actors taken the stage, no changes in public attitudes to Brown, Miliband, Cameron; no attempts by MPs from all sides to behave in the public interest, nor even for Nick Clegg to have been given a boost in the ratings by holding to his principles, not taking the shilling, and proving himself above treachery to those that voted for him.

While it’s interesting to note that almost the entire Liberal Democrat party seem able to understand “what if” scenarios that fan out to infinity and beyond, they seem unable to grasp the relatively more simple mathematics of probability and chaos; the various formulae that make even predicting the weather in two weeks’ time a near impossibility, let alone establishing the behaviour of the entire country’s population, media and financial institutions. I suggest that the next time we on our doorsteps receive the Official Lib Dem Future Was Saved Warning we all point out the equally possible scenario of Bruce Willis failing to divert an asteroid hurtling toward the planet on an unstable orbit so that it collides with us with a bang on the twelfth of never.  This is speculative fantasy in the extreme .

Simon-Peter Trimarco

Kings Langley

Herts

Do the Lib Dem “achievements in government” include voting alongside the Tories to continue the bedroom tax which they and the Tories jointly introduced in 2013, despite now hypocritically claiming to oppose it? And if they regard the resulting £360 million annual cut in the housing benefit bill as indispensable, why did they vote for the Tories’ £3bn a year tax cut for top earners?  The Conservatives know perfectly well what they are doing by this series of measures; the pathetic Liberals are just dragged along behind them.

Phil Tate

Chester

Independent:

Share

Jane Merrick’s article (“Peer pressure”, 21 December) was the best argument yet for reform of the House Of Lords. It should be compulsory for Lords to hear all sides of a debate rather than relying on their own experience and view, and be there from start to finish of a debate.

Scrap the rule that says they have to be there from the start of a debate? No way Jane! Bring on a second elected chamber as soon as possible.

Jim Elliott

Norwich

It’s such a shame that the BBC Sports Personality of the Year has already been chosen (“Amir Khan condemns the Taliban”, 21 December). We could have had a really worthy winner instead of a tax exile driving a better, very expensive, racing car than everyone else.

Jan Wiczkowski

Prestwich, Manchester

I enjoyed the Walk of the Month, including the nice comments about Cromer (“The perfect start for a coastal odyssey”, 21 December). I am surprised that Mark Rowe did not notice the Pavilion Theatre in front of the lifeboat station, especially as it hosts the last end of the pier show in Europe!

Sheilagh McGowan

Cromer, Norfolk

In your article “Air passengers avoid London connections” (21 December) you say that “Heathrow remains the most popular hub for regional travellers only when flying to North America”.

I have been flying to Canada to visit relatives since the late 1970s when we actually had the luxury of a choice of carriers providing direct flights from Manchester. Since this option disappeared we had been using flights out of Heathrow, with the prospect of queues in the Flight Connections Centre and a bus trip between terminals, on one of which the bus (standing room only on a hot summer’s day) was stationary in a jam for 45 minutes.

This year we decided to try KLM via Amsterdam, despite the prospect of heading east rather than west for the first leg of the journey. No bus trips, nor change of terminal, and in our case a 15 minute walk to our next flight’s departure gate. It is unlikely that Heathrow will be considered for future trips.

One further factor which could explain avoidance of the London airports: there are no longer any flights from Manchester to Gatwick, so any international flight from there would require a train journey and possibly an overnight stay in a hotel. Or – horror of horrors – a flight to Heathrow and bus or train transfer to Gatwick. What a prospect!

Ray Jennings

Ormskirk, Lancashire

John Rentoul is right to criticise coalition austerity hypocrisy over the employment of special advisers in government, and right, too, to suggest they are needed (“Who needs special advisers? We all do”, 21 December). Running the country is a complex matter and if there is to be an appropriate balance between civil servants and elected politicians the latter need support. That said one does wonder if the 20 special advisors Nick Clegg has provide value for public money.

Keith Flett

London N17

Unlike John Rentoul, I don’t think we need a plethora of special advisers. For each Cabinet post holder and member of parliament has the back up support of people who helped to get him or her elected, individuals with the constituency knowledge needed in order to enable Westminster to function without being unduly biased towards one part of the country. Such men and women are voted in as local councillors up and down Britain, and will be glad to give their advice free of charge without adding to the nation’s payroll costs.

Councillor Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Times:

Homer Simpson’s plan to become obese so he can work from home soon backfires Homer Simpson’s plan to become obese so he can work from home soon backfires (Matt Groening/Fox TV)

I WAS the kind of international student that Theresa May, the home secretary, is now seeking to ban from staying on to work in the UK after their studies (“May: I’ll kick out foreign graduates”, News, last week).

I came as a non-EU student in 2008 to do a master’s degree at University College London at a cost of nearly £15,000. I graduated in the first class and stayed on through a series of post-study visas at between £600 and £1,200 a go. I now work in the City and pay tax at the higher rate, as do my non-EU partner and most of our non-EU friends.

In my spare time I work at a pro bono clinic that serves a destitute (predominantly English) local community that has suffered swingeing cuts at the hands of this government. I am insulted at being portrayed as some sort of benefits-seeking parasite, apparently for the sake of improving May’s chances of a shot at the Tory leadership.

If May is so keen to curb net migration to this meritocratic, tolerant country, she might turn her attention to the Calais border or the backlog of 390,000 immigration cases identified by the Commons home affairs committee.
Sharon Shamir, London SE4

COMPETITIVE SPIRIT

Clamping down on bona fide international students would damage not only our universities but also our economy. International (non-EU) students make a £7bn annual contribution to the UK economy, and we have the second-largest share of the global market after America. If the UK is to remain internationally competitive, it should be looking to broaden, not limit, the opportunities.

According to recent ICM polling, the majority of British people (75%) are in favour of allowing international graduates to stay on and work for a period after they finish their degree. Among Tory voters, support rises to 81%.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Universities UK, London WC1

PAYING THE RENT

Foreign students come here because they are attracted by the quality of our education and because we speak a global language. Like many others, I secure an income by renting properties to foreign students who are prepared to pay good prices to live somewhere decent. The proposal by May will damage Britain and in the long run her party. You cannot out-Ukip Ukip.
Phil Parry, Cardiff

UNDOING THE MATHS

Your article suggests that Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that of 121,000 non-EU students who entered the UK in the year to June, only 51,000 left. In fact the figures cannot be used to show this. The incoming and outgoing totals do not refer to the same individuals — they could not, as the definition used by the ONS of a long-term migrant is someone who stays in the country for 12 months or more.
Jay Lindop , Director, Population Statistics, Office for National Statistics

EU shows fat fingers in ruling on obese

THE absurd ruling by the European Court of Justice to treat obesity as a disability is an insult to the disabled (“Call it the Billy Bunter charter”, Camilla Cavendish, Comment, last week).

My own active and healthy lifestyle didn’t prevent me from developing a neurological condition that has severely limited my mobility. I applied nine months ago for a personal independence payment and have only just had an assessment.

Does this ruling mean obese people will be eligible to apply for state benefits? If you are fat, eat less and exercise more. It’s simple.
Lynda Turbet, Holt, Norfolk

BIG ISSUE

While I agree with the criticism, it is unfair of Cavendish to describe this as a “spectacular piece of EU meddling”. In the same edition you reported a “landmark” case — determined before the European Court of Justice ruling — in which a High Court judge had come to the same conclusion (“21-stone man wins job case”, News, last week).

As long as a silly decision is ours, it’s OK, but if there is any link — real or imagined — with the EU, it has to be bad. How can we have sensible debates about Europe when even your newspaper joins in this EU-bashing?
Trevor Field, Hexham, Northumberland

D’OH BOY

The article reminded me of a classic episode of The Simpsons in which Homer deliberately put on weight in order to be classified as disabled. Being obese soon proved to have drawbacks, and the plan was later shelved. I’m not sure if that will happen in real life.
Eliot Pollak, London NW4

A mean-spirited potshot at Strictly Come Dancing

CAMILLA LONG is clearly at odds with the majority of the population on Strictly Come Dancing and, I suspect, your readers (“Sorry, Strictly, it takes sex to tango”, News, last week). I must be part of the “gin- soaked, rabidly menopausal” group she suggests made up 90% of the audience. Once we’d got through the tedious early weeks, it was great viewing.
Dave Meneer, St Austell

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

Strictly is too easy a target. How lamentable that someone who has intellectual wit can take a cheap shot by parodying a show that 11m-plus people enjoyed. The participants gave much pleasure to viewers.
Pat Gander, East Preston, West Sussex

LIGHT RELIEF

Long completely misses the point of Strictly. It’s a joyful show of self-discovery that clearly has a profound impact on many of the contestants and stands out alongside much of the carping, sensationalised and depressing programmes on air.
Andy Jones, Guildford

MALE SHOT

I wonder what the reaction would have been if a male journalist had written: “But the more [Judy] Murray danced, the less shaggable she seemed.”
Peter Jones, Shrewsbury

SHOW US YOUR MOVES

It is very easy to snipe from the sidelines. Perhaps Long could put herself forward next year.
Martin Wilcock, Barlow, Derbyshire

NAUGHTY BUT NICE

As Craig Revel Horwood might have said: “Camilla Long’s summing up of the Strictly final was cynical, spiteful and wicked, and I loved it.”
Martin Henfield, Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester

WHISTLEBLOWERS MUST BE PROTECTED

Yet another whistleblower faces disciplinary action and the possible ruin of his career (“The NHS is allowing babies to be maimed”, News, last week). We are assured new laws have been introduced to protect those who expose dangerous practices, and yet people such as Dr Shiban Ahmed are hung out to dry for trying to keep us safe.
Martyn Beardsley, Nottingham

THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

Ahmed did a public service by drawing attention to the harm suffered by boys undergoing circumcision, but the spectacle of a wounded child locking himself in the toilet out of fear suggests that boys should be protected from circumcision until they can make their own choice as an adult.
John Dalton, Frizington, Cumbria

JOHN MAJOR WON POPULARITY VOTE

Adam Boulton (“The election is here, yet the parties are skulking away from free publicity”, Comment, last week) stated that the Conservatives have not had an overall majority “since John Major’s painfully fragile win in 1992”. True, Major had a majority of only 21 seats, but he secured what remains to this day the largest number of popular votes in British electoral history — 14,093,007.

Only the vagaries of the electoral boundaries deprived him of a larger majority in terms of seats. The same unfair discrepancy between votes cast and seats won may well determine the outcome in 2015. This would be both shameful in principle and probably catastrophic in practice because of the likely resulting unstable minority or coalition government.
David Levy, London N3

AUNTIE’S PARTY LINE

Boulton seems to have got himself confused. The BBC Trust has expressed no view whatsoever about which parties should or should not take part in any general election debates. We are, however, asking the public what they think about the BBC’s draft guidelines for the way its programmes cover the next election.
Richard Ayre, BBC Trustee

GOING THE EXTRA MILE

Shock, horror! I nearly choked on my croissant while reading “Join the Mile High Club for £12,500” (News, last week). Those of us who have joined this club know that membership is earned riskily with a frisson, not bought at a luxury price. The membership requisites are simply a plane ticket (class irrelevant) and a bucketful of spontaneity, lust, inventiveness and daredevilry. If organised in a “three-room luxury penthouse on a plane” and no longer illicit, membership will not be the real McCoy.
Francoise Lotery, Chelmsford

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

I doubt very much whether Etihad Airways’ introduction of the Residence will greatly increase the membership of the Mile High Club. My wife and I both worked for Pan American World Airways in the 1960s, and the rules then were quite established. The “relationship” had to be with somebody new, not with the crew and not in the loo.
David Rogers, New South Wales

CHILD-FREE BENEFIT

Prince Charles refers to the terrifying prospect of 3bn more people on the planet by 2050 (“Charles tells architects to smell the roses”, News, last week). Rather than accepting such a prediction, governments should be rewarding those who choose to be childless rather than throwing money at those who opt to procreate massively and expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab. It would be a win-win situation in so many areas, not least in respect of climate change, congestion and pollution.
Anthony G Phillips, Salisbury

AID PROTOCOL

Could I add to Gordon Bridger’s letter (“Nothing new about budgetary aid misuse”, Letters, last week) that overseas aid should be made up of goods and services produced by British companies in the UK — for example, books, medicines, seeds, fertiliser and tractors. No cash should be changing hands. I know that this would not eliminate corruption but it should reduce it.
Chris Rockett, Lindfield, West Sussex

ISLAND HOPPING

Your article “Bristol taps away to be first smart city” (News, last week) tells me that in the smart city of the future my house might be wired up to inform my doctor about my eating and drinking habits — essential in a “Big Sister” society that will protect me from myself. The same edition announces that some islands can be purchased relatively cheaply (“Islands on sale for price of a car”, News, last week). Faced with a choice, I’ll take the island, with its privacy and risks of freedom.
Francis Beswick, Manchester

LOG ROLE

Your correspondent Simon Gladdish complains about the smoke and smell from his neighbours’ wood-burning stoves (“Smoke screen”, Letters, last week). These can be readily reduced by burning kiln-dried hardwood logs.
Graham Waller, Rochdale

NOEL FIRST

It was disappointing that the local official consulted over celebrities with links to Sutton seemed to be ignorant of the great Noël Coward’s links with the place (“UK’s most normal town reveals its wilder side”, News, last week). Coward spent part of his childhood in Sutton, attended his first school there and gave his first public performance in the Sutton Public Hall in 1907.

The cultural achievements of the former Sutton resident Tracey Ullman do not stand comparison with those of the great dramatist, actor and composer.
Richard Hughes, Banstead, Surrey

RECIPE FOR DISASTER

Thanks to Charles Clover for pointing out the appalling plight of our sea fish, especially bass, which are facing extinction (“Bye Bye Bass, a massacre ballad from Europe’s feeble fisheries ministers”, Comment, last week). Yet week after week you publish recipes for fish dishes — indeed one for sea bass last week.
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Northwood, London

FARE’S FAIR

It is about time that airlines started to show a reduction in fares as oil prices fall.
Sam Sproul, Denham, Buckinghamshire

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Corrections and clarifications

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Birthdays

Terry Butcher, footballer, 56; Richard Clayderman, pianist, 61; Sir Max Hastings, journalist and historian, 69; Lord Hattersley, Labour politician, 82; Nigel Kennedy, violinist, 58; Sienna Miller, actress, 31; Pat Rafter, tennis player, 42; Dame Maggie Smith, actress, 80; Denzel Washington, actor, 60

Anniversaries

1065 consecration of Westminster Abbey; 1612 Neptune is first observed, by Galileo, who lists it as a star; 1879 Tay Bridge near Dundee collapses as a train is passing over, killing all 59 people on board; 1895 Lumière brothers give first public screening of projected motion pictures; 1923 death of Gustave Eiffel, engineer

Telegraph:

Polling station in Eastleigh

Polling station in Eastleigh Photo: Getty Images

SIR – Philip Johnston notes that only in 1959 and 1983 has a party increased its support having been in power for more than two years. In both these elections, the Conservative share of the vote actually declined, yet the party gained more seats, due mainly to a divided opposition.

It is possible for the Conservatives to lose votes next May but to gain enough additional seats to secure a slim overall majority with only 35 per cent of the vote, if Labour similarly loses support from its position in 2010.

This scenario may seem unlikely four months before the election campaign commences, but four months before the 1992 election, most pundits and pollsters forecast a Labour victory, similarly overlooking the leadership’s shortcomings and lack of credibility on the economy.

There are also early indications that thousands of potential Ukip supporters will return to their natural Conservative home when faced with the prospect of Ed Balls as Chancellor and Yvette Cooper running the Home Office.

Philip Duly
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – Philip Johnston discusses a possible leadership change in the Conservative Party, but does not say why it misses a true leader. A true leader not only wins elections but leads from the front, by proposing effective policies that may not always gain immediate favour.

The latest proposal from Theresa May is to make it obligatory for students from outside the EU to reapply for a visa once they have finished their degrees, should they wish to remain on British soil. Why on earth should a government make it so difficult for a well-qualified individual to contribute positively to this country?

Many of us will not vote Conservative at the election if the party does not give up its pathetic carbon-copying of Ukip.

Anthony M Ronalds
Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

SIR – Well said, Peter Oborne. The Government led by David Cameron has done a marvellous job in very difficult circumstances. It inherited a real mess in the country’s finances, the welfare state and education, and in all cases the situation is much improved.

True, mistakes have been made (the demoting of Michael Gove to appease the Left-wing teaching unions was probably the worst). There have also been problems from being in coalition with the Lib Dems, who sometimes appear more Left-wing than Labour.

All in all, Mr Cameron and the Conservatives should be rewarded with the opportunity to carry on. The alternative is a Left-wing government of Lib Dems, SNP and a very confused Labour Party. The only thing they have in common is a complete failure to understand economics.

Geoffrey Wyartt
Newent, Gloucestershire

Christians driven out

SIR – George W Bush and Tony Blair often mentioned their Christian beliefs, but by invading Iraq it looks as if their achievement will be to have finally driven Christianity out of its original heartland in the Middle East.

Andrew J Rixon
Hertford

Fat lot of use

SIR – If the NHS is serious about tackling obesity, it should not rely on the ridiculous Body Mass Index for measuring it.

The BMI, which gives the same value of 25 for a 9 stone, 4 ft 11in women as for a 16 stone, 6ft 6in man, is only fit for categorising two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs not real, three-dimensional people.

I would not like to be in the shoes of a GP who tells the 18 stone, 6ft 7in England rugby international Courtney Lawes that he is on the edge of obesity.

Emeritus Professor Julian Wolfram
Falmouth, Cornwall

Easily foxed politicians

The Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt ride out for the Boxing Day hunt (REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

SIR – Having wasted a great deal of time in banning foxhunting, politicians are now going to waste a great deal more time in permitting it.

Politicians do not appear to know whether they are coming or going, and, unlike the general public, they obviously don’t think that they have anything better to do.

They take time off work by awarding themselves extra holidays and then declare that they have no parliamentary time to debate important issues. All this while awarding themselves a pay rise five times bigger than the national average.

If we have to give them credit for anything, it is having the gall and brass neck to thumb their noses at the public and do just as they please.

Bill Thompson
Frankby, Wirral

SIR – The proposed repeal of the hunting ban will be seen by rural communities for exactly what it is: a desperate attempt to win back defectors to Ukip by aping their policies. What members of the Conservative Party seem unable to realise is that they, in general, and David Cameron, in particular, have lost the trust of their core supporters by a series of appalling misjudgments.

David Lane
Edgbaston, Birmingham

War after Christmas

SIR – After a century, can we not dispense with the idea that British people in 1914 thought that the war would be “over by Christmas”? In reality, estimates of the length of the war in its early months differed enormously: from three weeks to three years, “with every variety of intermediate estimate”, as one military correspondent noted.

Mark Bostridge
London NW3

Beastly letters

SIR – Frank Wilkinson’s cat (Letters, December 22) should count itself fortunate to receive from the vet a letter only about flea treatment. Our border terrier, named Dyson, received a letter from his vet beginning: “Dear Dyson…”

The gist of the letter was that, now he was all of six months old, he would be much happier without his testicles. It invited him to ask his owners to make an appointment.

John Ward
Great Bookham, Surrey

Cathedrals repainted

SIR – It is widely known that ancient temples, sculpture and cathedrals were coloured and that their original effects were not those encountered on the present weathered surfaces (Dominic Selwood, Comment, December 24).

Attempting to recover such unrecorded original appearances by painting no-longer original surfaces on the basis of insufficient evidence is not “restoration” but folly, self-indulgence, and adulteration.

Sometimes, in more recent buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, a plausible recovery of the original interior may be possible. It was known that Sir Christopher Wren had instructed the interior be unified and finished with three coats of oil paint. Sections of that warmly tinted original finish had survived behind book cases in the library. Its pigments and their binder had been established by technical analysis.

However, St Paul’s wished there to be “more light” – as much light as possible – not a recovery of the original, somewhat muted surfaces but the dazzling white interiors beloved by modernist architects. Accordingly, the last vestiges of the original painted interior surfaces were stripped and, to heighten the dazzle of chemically bared raw stone, the artificial lights were greatly increased – as has recently occurred with the 7,000 LED lights installed in the also chemically stripped interior of the Sistine Chapel.

What all of these so-called restorations have in common is the imposition of speculatively inauthentic appearances by the most expensive possible, sponsorship-harvesting programmes.

Michael Daley
Director, ArtWatch UK
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Remote wanderings

SIR – David Watt (Letters, December 23) is lucky. Our television remote is regularly to be found down the sofa, in the bedroom or (twice) in the fridge.

Dr Jim Finlayson
Beauly, Inverness-shire

How you say?

SIR – The Norman invaders at the Battle of Hastings may indeed have said the year was “one thousand and sixty-six” (Letters, December 24). The satnav on my German-made car speaks with no hint at all of a foreign accent, but she calls my local road “the B three thousand and forty seven”, rather than the more familiar B 3-O-4-7.

Henry Labram
Easton, Hampshire

Predator control can help nesting birds

Competitive predators: a crow in the act of buzzing a fox on a frozen lake. (Arterra Picture Library/Alamy)

SIR – David Gardner (Letters, December 17) is right to says that it is important to maintain a balanced eco-system. Our research shows that some vulnerable bird populations benefit from reduced predation pressure during crucial times such as the breeding season.

Most conservationists agree that the breeding success of curlew, golden plover and lapwing, for example, is improved by as much as three times when generalist predators such as foxes and crows are controlled during the breeding season.

The number of declining songbirds such as spotted flycatcher, yellowhammer and chaffinch doubled during periods of predator control in the nesting season on our research farm in Leicestershire, but declined once the control was stopped.

Professor Nick Sotherton
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Fordingbridge, Hampshire

Jumping the gun on the Queen’s speech

SIR – I was annoyed that the theme and some content of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast was the first item on the BBC news bulletin at 7am on Christmas Day.

Speeches by the Queen should be reported after the event, not with a “the Queen will say”. Shame on the BBC anyway for spoiling the occasion.

Ian Maule
Ballasalla, Isle of Man

SIR – Where is the politician who can make so many good points so briefly and so clearly as the Queen did on Christmas afternoon? Wow!

William Naesmyth
Devizes, Wiltshire

SIR – Do those who gather at Sandringham every Christmas morning think that cheering the Royal family is the equivalent of attending a church service?

Susan Gow
Weymouth, Dorset

SIR – In the absence of a daily paper on Christmas morning, I switched on the BBC news channel. A cheery message greeted me – 20 minutes on the famous people who had died this year. This is normally an end-of-year item, and I can hardly say it was an uplifting Christmas greeting.

Carolyn Tansey
Porthcawl, Glamorgan

SIR – On Christmas Day, where I live, 700ft up in the Brecon Beacons, there were flowering in my garden Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lily), nasturtium, geranium, fuchsia and aubretia.

Jeffrey Cook
Llanellen, Monmouthshire

SIR – I have just picked a vaseful of roses, alstroemeria and hebe. They look wonderful by the Christmas tree. I felt guilty disturbing a large bumble bee, though.

Heather Gosling
Corfe, Somerset

Globe and Mail

DOUG SAUNDERS

Lessons in giving from the wave that took all

Ten years ago today, I arrived at the remains of a beachside town in northeastern Sri Lanka. The first person I encountered there, standing blank and motionless outside an improvised shelter, was a woman who less than a day earlier had seen her two small children ripped from her arms by a tidal wave, as she tried desperately to hold them above water.

I could not think of anything to say to her. During the next two hours, I would meet at least a dozen parents who had endured exactly this horror, and hundreds more people who could not find their families. The beach was speckled with corpses, most of them children, and dotted with adults looking vainly into the ocean for their loved ones.

I’d had my Boxing Day in London interrupted by news of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and spent much of the next month along the coasts that had been devastated by the catastrophe; I would return several times over the next years, living with families in shelters and observing the changes, human and political, wrought by the disaster.

Not only was it one of the worst natural disasters in history, killing at least 230,000 people in a matter of hours and leaving millions homeless in a dozen countries, it also spurred the largest worldwide charitable, humanitarian and aid-agency response. History’s first Internet-driven, crowd-sourced disaster charity effort generated $5.4-billion in private donations on top of $8.4-billion in government spending.

It also provided an advanced course in helping damaged people back on their feet. Here, a decade later, are that catastrophe’s lessons in how to be charitable, and how not to be:

Helping can hurt.

It was three days before any aid arrived in this region – and the first aid trucks to reach this largely Muslim fishing village were from the Church of Scientology. Their assistance came with copies of Dianetics and overt conversion efforts, which were met with vacant stares. Christian and Muslim agencies were far more ethical and didn’t proselytize, but still sent the wrong message. Your religion probably preaches giving (most do), but getting your faith mixed up with your charity can cause people to lose hope.

Good intentions are a bad idea.

Within weeks, there were about 200 organizations operating in and around the village. Most were tiny. Some were devoted to single causes: water wells, sports training or marriage counselling. Some were vanity projects of celebrities. Even worse were the vanity projects of business people, who thought their product would be just the right thing. In the end, only the big United Nations bodies – Unicef and the High Commission for Refugees – and the Red Cross possessed the scale and organizational talent to help communities rebuild, and to keep the small groups out of everyone’s hair. Small charities may sound charming, but it’s better to give big.

Don’t go there.

One of the most extraordinary sights in the cities of Colombo and Jaffna were dozens of hotels entirely filled with doctors who’d arrived from North America and Japan, hoping to lend a hand. They weren’t needed. Even the tiniest villages each had three or four foreign medical teams, treating people who were largely healthy. (Decomposing human corpses do not cause disease outbreaks.) Never have very poor communities been so well treated for venereal disease and hernias. What was needed were framing crews, diesel mechanics and electrical technicians; the agencies scrambled to hire these locally. The doctors had simply assumed they would be needed, which was heartwarming – but they should have asked.

Don’t send stuff.

Most very poor people make their livings growing and selling food or fish or selling cheap goods to one another. A flood of free food, which was quick to arrive, was necessary at first, but it soon hurt the recovery: It’s hard for a poor rice farmer to compete with free dinners. Sending a planeload of toys, shoes or used clothing probably sounded like a good idea to people who’d seen a lot of forlorn kids playing in dust patches on television. Bringing these things to a faraway country and overseeing their distribution cost a fortune and tied up hundreds of people who could have been doing actual good (or buying those things from locals who needed the business).

Give, but don’t be specific.

This was the first of many recent disasters in which the charitable donations far exceeded the amount needed, often by hundreds of millions of dollars. That should have been a good thing: When aid agencies run a surplus, they can set up permanent stations in many countries so they can respond fast. But too much of the aid was given to “the tsunami” rather than Unicef, Oxfam or the Red Cross. Giving is a good idea, but keep it non-specific. Charity works best when combined with trust.

Carl Bildt

The international battle for Santa Claus’s house

Carl Bildt is a former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden.

A couple of years ago, a Canadian cabinet minister proudly declared that Santa Claus is a citizen of Canada. After all, his home and toy factory are at the North Pole, which, according to the minister’s interpretation, belongs to Canada.

More Related to this Story

Though Santa Claus has not commented on the matter, it is now clear that he could choose several passports when he travels the world on Christmas Eve. In 2007, a privately funded mini-submarine planted a Russian flag directly beneath his alleged home. And two weeks ago, Denmark, which has sovereignty over Greenland, staked its own territorial claim, also covering the North Pole.

By filing its claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Denmark has joined our era’s “great game:” the contest for economic control over a large part of the Arctic. And Denmark’s claim is massive. Not only does it seek sovereignty over everything between Greenland and the North Pole; it is also extending its claim to nearly 900,000 square kilometres, all the way to the existing limits of the Russian economic zone on the other side of the Pole – an area 20 times Denmark’s size.

How to assess countries’ claims to Arctic territory hinges on the status of the Lomonosov Ridge, a vast formation that rises from the sea floor and stretches 1,800 kilometers from Greenland to the East Siberian continental shelf. Everyone agrees that it is a ridge. The key question is whether it is an extension of the Greenland shelf or an extension of the East Siberia shelf.

Denmark, together with the government of Greenland, now claims that it is the former, giving it the right to extend its economic zone across a huge area at the top of the world. Though nothing is yet known about the claim that Russia says it will present in the spring, there is no doubt that it will argue the opposite.

And what about Canadians and their claim? That remains to be seen, but there have been reports that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dissatisfied that Canadian scientists are not being sufficiently aggressive in pressing the country’s case.

Nonetheless, for all the hype about a “race for the Arctic,” and despite the rather icy atmosphere among the claimants, there is little reason to fear conflict. Under the terms of the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, all of the countries bordering the Arctic Ocean agree to resolve their claims peacefully and based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. According to settled procedure, a UN commission will first judge whether the claims have merit. If they are overlapping, which is highly probable, bilateral negotiations will be held.

Such talks, to put it mildly, could take time. Norway and Russia negotiated over a far smaller territorial delimitation for four decades.

Both Denmark and Russia have been devoting significant resources to exploring the Lomonosov Ridge. Denmark has hired Swedish icebreakers for repeated expeditions, and Russia has been deploying special submarines to obtain samples from the ridge and the ocean floor.

The Arctic region has always been strategically vital for Russia, accounting for roughly 85 per cent of Russia’s natural-gas production, which is based primarily in Western Siberia. The Kremlin has activated a new military command for the Arctic, and is busy reopening air bases and radar stations along its Arctic shoreline.

But it is a very long way from these new Russian bases to virtually everywhere. And, in addition to the vast distances, there is the harsh climate. A Canadian military commander, asked what he would do if foreign soldiers attacked his country’s Far North, calmly replied that he would dispatch an expedition to rescue them. Though Russia had hoped for a rapid increase in shipping along the Northern Sea Route, commercial traffic this year fell by 77 per cent.

Of course, the stakes are too high for Canada, Denmark, and Russia to allow the region’s remoteness and its hostile environment to influence how resolutely they press their claims. Boundaries like these are fixed once and forever, and no one knows what discoveries, technologies and opportunities the future might bring.

But for the time being, neither Santa Claus nor anyone else has reason to be worried. The nature of the Lomonosov Ridge will be debated for years to come, while his thoughts – and ours – are likely to be focused on more immediate issues.

 

The warnings from Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz that Canadian homes are 10- to 30-per-cent overvalued are indeed disturbing. If it’s correct that prices must revert to their historical relationship to incomes, I’ll have to abandon my comfortable Canadian pessimism about the future and get ready to embrace a brave new world of lower prices for meat, motor fuel and maple syrup (but only after stocking up on electronics, clothes and long-distance calling cards).

Teri Jane Bryant, associate professor, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary

………

How irritating is that?

Re Top 10 Most Irritating Canadians 2014 (TV-Related) (Life & Arts, Dec. 22): I won a 50-cent bet with my wife that near the top of John Doyle’s list would be the “Pastor Mansbridge” title he regularly hangs on Peter Mansbridge. Most people we know think he’s a credit to Canada. We trust him to be honest with us. And no, I’m not a friend or a family member.

Larry Wulff, Toronto

………

Not fair! John Doyle can’t put himself on his own list of irritations. Where’s the fun in that for the rest of us?

Moira Pelletier, Montreal

………

‘Show me the money’

As it does not appear that there will be pipelines “a mari usque ad mare” in the near future, if at all, perhaps it’s time for a new motto for Canada.

In view of Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s recent musings about easy access for millionaire investors, I’d like to suggest “Monstra mihi pecuniam” as a new, more apt motto for Canada. It will succinctly describe to both Canadian citizens and potential immigrants how we roll in Canada.

David Stone, Toronto

………

Show me the list

So it is those dratted Saudis who, by stubbornly refusing to cut production, are single-handedly driving the price of crude so low?

Perhaps The Globe and Mail could publish a list of countries that have voluntarily lowered production to boost the price.

You might also want to explain why low energy prices are bad for the global economy.

Marc Riehm, Toronto

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Letters to the Editor

Published 28/12/2014 | 02:30

Voice of protest: Michael Fitzmaurice, TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim
Voice of protest: Michael Fitzmaurice, TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim

Sir – John Drennan in his recent profile of Michael Fitzmaurice says that “this fellow, it struck us even then, was different,” when referring to his decision not to meet a deputation of protesting workers because he felt their proposals were not economically feasible.

He does appear to be cut from a different cloth from your average politician. He is not afraid to speak his mind.

While an endorsement from Luke “Ming” Flanagan obviously helped him get elected, people were referring to him as “Ming’s man”. But at the time he quietly pointed out that he was his own man.

Nowadays it seems to be the populist mantra for an independent politician to be opposed to water charges, as indeed Ming is, but Fitzmaurice in principle has no problem with the charges based on a conservation argument.

He seems to work from a very practical approach to solving problems. While many people arguing their case become entrenched in their views, possibly with one eye on upcoming elections, he shows a confidence in his beliefs and appears willing to take chances. The greatest leaders in the world have always been the ones who thought outside the box and put precedence on the end result even at the risk of self-destruction.

Elsewhere in the paper John Drennan profiles as many as 10 different groupings of independents. Not a recipe for success there surely if a plethora of them were elected. Could someone like Michael Fitzmaurice be a unifying force among them? Maybe a tad simplistic but sometimes the best solutions are the simplest and under our noses all along.

For a newbie he is certainly talking a lot of sense in my view and deserves to be taken seriously,

Tommy Roddy,

Galway

Why Sinn Fein are bullies

Sir – It will take more than the Mairia Cahill case (Sunday Independent, December 21) to make any serious dent in support for Sinn Fein.

The reality is, of course, that most Sinn Fein voters have already discounted the story as just one more attack on the party from a hostile press. If Jean McConville’s profoundly disturbing case cannot break the back of the Sinn Fein machine, then those who oppose Sinn Fein must see that nothing really can if it comes from that particular angle.

The hard men and women of Sinn Fein are proving attractive to some voters. But Gerry Adams told us at the time the news broke of his brother’s sexual abuse of his daughter, Aine Tyrell, about their father’s “sexual, emotional, physical and psychological” abuse over the course of their childhoods. So there really can be no basis for the aggressive coldness and provocative baiting of politicians in other parties who seem baffled by what Sinn Fein is up to.

Is their intent not ‘an Ireland of equals’ but ‘an Ireland of bullies’?

John O’Connell,

Derry

We treat animals badly

Sir – Fiona O’Connell has always been an advocate for the animals, a voice for those who cannot speak.  Her article, “Animals suffer a perpetual winter solstice,”  (Sunday Independent, 21 December) portrayed most vividly the plight of animals around the world.

Her description of the cows desperately sniffing for air through the slats on their way to be slaughtered must surely have troubled the conscience of anyone who cares for animals.

While their truck journey seals their fate within a matter of hours, how much worse is it for the cattle that are exported from our shores to North Africa and the Middle East.

Compassion in World Farming recently highlighted that animals who are sent to this part of the world often experience “brutal treatment” and “slow protracted deaths.”

Those who champion the cause of the animals are often subject to ridicule. Perhaps those who disregard such concerns should reflect on the words of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity.”

Overall as a country our reputation in animal welfare is not one to be emulated or admired. Gandhi, Leonardo Di Vinci, Einstein, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and many other great minds all championed the cause of our fellow creatures.

The millions of animals who continue to suffer at the hands of us humans would concur with the sentiments expressed by writer William Inge. “We have enslaved the rest of animal creation and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.”

Margaret Fitzpatrick,

Glounthaune, Co Cork

Please don’t put your foot down

Sir – Some drivers are such fools and it takes no skill to put the foot down. Often it’s the innocent careful people who die, ending up on an expertly driven slow last journey. Let’s hope more young people especially think, and use their brains instead of their hoofs.

Kathleen Corrigan,

Cavan

Consider all angles on abortion

Sir – Dr Ciara Kelly in her article, ‘The grim litany of crisis pregnancies in Ireland goes on’, (Sunday Independent, 21 December), refers to the young pregnant woman on life support and suggests that the 8th Amendment should be removed to allow doctors and patients resolve all crisis pregnancies.

But Dr Kelly does not consider that such an action could result as is the case in Britain, in a liberal abortion regime with late terminations of viable unborn, something the majority of the Irish public do not want.

Hard cases may not make good law and I think most reasonable people will acknowledge that the unborn are due some consideration regarding their human rights particularly as they develop.

Frank Browne,

Templeogue,

Dublin 16

Anne produced the best read of all

Sir – I couldn’t agree more with all the sentiments expressed and compliments paid to retiring Sunday Independent Editor Anne Harris by columnist Eoghan Harris and letter writers Tom Carew and Niall Ginty, (Sunday Independent, 21 December).

I might describe her as a lamb in steel clothing, normally kind and sympathetic but unhesitant in letting sparks fly when crime or injustice raised its vicious, greedy head.

Being a student of the hard news tradition school of the Irish Press in the Tim Pat Coogan era, it was no surprise Anne launched into the tough investigative end of journalism where few flies had time to lodge. The murder of fellow journalist Veronica Guerrin incited in Anne Harris even a greater revulsion of all violence, criminal and political.

Gauging her thoughts and polices over the past three years through my contributions to the Letters page, I wouldn’t hesitate in saying her honesty and integrity left its brand on the Sunday Independent as the ‘best read in the land’.

James Gleeson,

Thurles,

Co Tipperary

Praise for Gene Kerrigan

Sir – Well done Gene Kerrigan on the piece he wrote last Sunday about Louise O’Keeffe.

I’ve been meaning to thank him for some time for the wonderful work he does in relation to exposing our corrupted Government.

Have a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.

Keep up the good work and thank you.

John Hickey,

Bishopstown,

Cork

Be alert to growing authoritarianism

Sir – The interview with Michael McDowell (Sunday Independent, 21 December) is a tribute to arguably one of the best political and legal minds of Ireland.

McDowell deserves praise for competence and toughness but also for his concern to protect the rights, freedoms and civil liberties of individual people; by this if nothing else he is distinct from certain more recent members of the government who seemed to perceive the likes of an independent judiciary or Seanad as a mere pesky nuisance which obstructed their grand plans for “reform”.

In 2011 the referendum to let the Oireachtas establish itself as, in effect, its own court was defeated. In 2013 so was the move to scrap the Seanad, as effective as that chamber might really be. Both of these decisions show how the Irish electorate knows of the need to keep such bodies independent and unfettered – though it is unfortunate that the move to allow lower judicial pay was passed because, firstly, our judiciary generally are excellent at their jobs and, secondly, in comparison to other parts of the public sector the judges are neither overpaid nor under productive.

It is hard to dispute that present circumstances need the likes of Michael McDowell to stay active and aware; authoritarianism never goes away and nearly always disguises itself as being for the greater good – it is important to shatter every effort it makes.

Christian Morris,

Howth,

Dublin 13

Classics are a good start for the young

Sir – I usually enjoy Declan Lynch’s articles in your paper. However I could not agree with his article on suitable reading for teens. I was introduced to reading via The Secret Seven and Famous Five – but especially the Biggles books. I later went on to the classics and studied English Literature in university

So I did get to read Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky, Camus etc.

There’s a fair chance that were the writings of Camus etc, the only fare available in my teens, my love of reading would not have been as well established.

To be honest, nowadays, give me Ian Rankin any day.

Joe Heffernan,

Mallow, Co Cork

Was physical force really inevitable?

Sir – Tom McDonald quotes Dr. Ronan Fanning as saying that while the Home Rule Act 1914 was passed, “it was simultaneously suspended” and unlikely to be implemented “in the form in which it was enacted” (Sunday Independent, Letters, 21 December).

Tom McDonald also says that “it was likely also that Pearse and the IRB would stage a rebellion against a Redmond-led government”.

Why then did the world’s most powerful parliament, under Liberal PM Herbert Asquith, spend two years passing it?

If the “form in which it was enacted” was not right, why was it not amended when going through parliament?

When the Home Rule Act, giving self-rule to the whole of Ireland with a parliament in Dublin, was finally passed and signed into law by the monarch, Andrew Bonar Law (the leader of the Conservative opposition in the imperial parliament) had already committed treason by expressly backing Ulster Unionist threats of civil war against Irish Home Rule.

Nearly half a million unionists signed up to “use all means necessary” to prevent it being implemented.

In addition, an amendment to exclude four Ulster counties from the Home Rule Act had been proposed in parliament but was rejected by majority vote.

Despite these difficulties is it not true to say, therefore, that the form in which the Home Rule Act was enacted, giving self rule to all of Ireland, was the will of the imperial parliament, and that physical force was inevitable only when the most powerful parliament in the world did not implement its own act?

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13

We are a nation, not just a state

Sir – Reading Irish newspapers online, I am struck  by the constant reference to “the state” when referring to Ireland – in this context, the Republic of Ireland.  What happened to “country” or “nation” – or simply “government” if that’s what’s being referenced?

“State” conjures up the image of a heartless government and mindless bureaucracy: a thing that is dead; a thing that is controlled by robots and secret police; a thing that has power without accountability; a thing devoid of values or feelings, or humanity; without a pulse, all-powerful but no soul.

Who is responsible for this sci-fi description of Ireland?

Why is it that we never hear the people of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Australia or other countries refer to their country as “the state.”

“Country” and “nation” immediately summon to mind a living, vibrant entity, a place of culture and history, of pride and belonging. Who can feel pride in “the state”? Who wants to belong to “the state”? We can easily see Stalin or Lenin refer to their monstrosity as “the State.” We can easily see North Korea being referred to as “the State.” Why? Because “state” dehumanises the place where we live. We associate “state” with communism and totalitarianism, not with democracy and freedom and enlightenment.

Is it because we are holding out for a united Ireland? Do we get the term “state” from the Irish Free State? Is that it? So, when we re-unite North and South, Ireland will become a “country,” ‘a nation once again’ as Thomas Davis lamented long ago? Well, that might be in 20 years or when Hell freezes over! Please, let’s not wait indefinitely. Let’s banish this very un-Irish word that so ill-suits the Irish personality, character and temperament.

So, Urgent Alert to the Irish government, Irish courts and the Irish media: We are Ireland, we are a country, we are a people, we are a nation.

But we are not “the state”.

Tom Gallagher ,

(formerly of Co Mayo and regular visitor to Ireland),

Las Vegas, USA

Sad fate of Kavanagh’s barn

Sir – “There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn to-night” went a line written by Patrick Kavanagh in that wonderful poem Inniskeen Road: July Evening’.

Rumour has it that the same barn has been sold and is to be taken down stone by stone to be transported and re-erected in Winnipeg, Canada.

What sad feelings this news aroused in me, that this lovely landmark on the Inniskeen road should disappear from Ireland forever. Patrick Kavanagh captured the beautiful, quiet scene so eloquently 80 years ago, describing the bicycles going by in twos and threes, speaking their ‘half-talk code of mysteries and the wink-and-elbow language of delight’.

As for the future generations of poetry lovers, we can only apologise and ask if nothing is sacred.

James J Heslin,

Lucan, Co Dublin

Our President does us proud

Sir – My husband and I attended the Mooney Tunes Christmas Special at the Bord Gais Theatre. A wonderful night – with one dreadful exception. Just before the concert, Oliver Callan was beamed at us, via the big screens, with an insulting cameo of our esteemed President Higgins.

We are sick of this. President Higgins cannot do anything about his stature; he is a small man but a truly wonderful man. The important fact about our President is that he represents us magnificently on every occasion.

What did Oliver Callan’s rant have to do with the Christmas special? We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and salute our own local boy, Jack L. who was terrific, but the start of the concert left a very bad taste in our mouths.

Leave our President alone!

Happy Christmas to you and all your staff at the Sunday Independent.

Kay Lawler,

Athy, Co Kildare

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