1 January 2015 Sharland

Mary a little better, Sharland and Steff come to call.


The 8th Duke of Wellington

The 8th Duke of Wellington Photo: CROWN COPYRIGHT

The 8th Duke of Wellington, who has died aged 99, led a level-headed and responsible life in the shadow of his great ancestor, the victor of Waterloo.

He earned a Military Cross in the Second World War, spoke up for the Army and rural communities in the House of Lords, and served as a Hampshire county councillor and as president, trustee, governor and member of a wide variety of bodies.

Well aware of the social changes that followed the Second World War, Wellington once remarked, tongue in cheek, at a meeting of the Zoological Society, that perhaps dukes should be made a protected species. He remained determined to protect his property, and took steps to secure his family’s interests in Britain, Spain and Belgium against threats posed by politicians and high taxation; he was not afraid to be seen backing causes in which he had a personal stake.

Above all, he kept a judicious eye on both the 1st Duke’s reputation and the battlefield of Waterloo, becoming exercised by the commercialisation of the site, where he felt that the predominant number of imperial eagles and other items bearing the initial “N” in the gift shop implied that Napoleon had really won.

In 1995, after seeing the “inglorious flag” of the European Union flying over the site, he wrote to The Daily Telegraph to protest against the “unnatural” celebrations of the battle’s 180th anniversary. “We British have a feeling and respect for the past, something that not all nations understand or share,” he explained; in addition he noted that Napoleon’s headquarters, which had once housed a small museum, was now a discotheque.Shortly before the letters column’s deadline, he rang back to add another line below “Duke of Wellington” at the bottom of the text: “Prince of Waterloo”.

Arthur Valerian Wellesley was born in Rome on July 2 1915, the centenary year of his great-great-grandfather’s victory over the French. His father was Lord Gerald Wellesley, the third son of the 4th Duke, an author and diplomat who later qualified as an architect and succeeded as the 7th Duke in 1943. Valerian’s mother was Dottie Ashton, a wealthy industrialist’s daughter and poet who married her husband in 1914 and published a volume of letters from the poet WB Yeats and another containing her letters to him after his death . When Valerian was seven, his parents’ marriage broke up, partly because of his mother’s drinking and her friendship with the writer Vita Sackville-West.

The Duke of Wellington’s house Stratfield Saye, between Reading and Basingstoke (REX)

At Eton he was a member of the shooting VIII. While serving in the corps, he fainted during a parade at Windsor, and when Queen Mary asked afterwards what had been wrong he said he thought he had measles — drawing the comment from George V (who believed such diseases should be experienced in childhood): “And high time, too.”

Although Valerian wanted to go straight into the Army, his father sent him to read History and Languages at New College, Oxford, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club; at the same time he enjoyed London society, dancing with suitable girls at grand balls and less suitable ones in subterranean nightclubs. As a result he failed his finals and was sent to a London crammer, run by an attractive widow, and then to France to learn French. He was commissioned into the Royal Horse Guards, which taught him sword, lance and revolver drill, tent pegging and other cavalry exercises. Before embarking for Palestine in 1940, he paid an Indian at Liverpool docks to tattoo his regiment’s emblem on his left arm.

After being posted to Tulkarm with the 1st Household Cavalry, Wellesley made patrols through Arab villages, but was upset after a few months to be ordered to shoot 14 black horses, which had taken part in George VI’s coronation, when the regiment was mechanised.

He was then part of a column which advanced 500 miles into Iraq, where he found himself hunting, and being hunted by, the canny nationalist leader Fawzi al-Kawukji who, in league with the Vichy French in Syria, was harrying British supply lines.

A painting of the ‘Iron Duke’ at the Battle of Waterloo (GETTY)

On one patrol Wellesley found himself crawling at night through the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra, outside which he found a French officer’s scarlet cloak; it would remain on the ducal bed for many years until the Duchess threw it out as moth-eaten. On another he was turned back by enemy armoured cars outside El Beida. “Apart from the above incidents,” the citation for his MC declared, “this officer’s conduct throughout the operations in Syria was exceptionally gallant and he was a magnificent example to all ranks of his squadron.”

While in Cairo he enjoyed the friendship of a Druze princess, who once hid him in her bedroom while she remonstrated with an enraged friend. He took part in the battle of Alamein before being wounded when a “brew-up” of tea exploded. It was in late 1943 that he learned that his cousin, the 6th Duke, his elder by three years, had been killed with the Commandos at Salerno. Wellesley’s father succeeded as the 7th Duke, and he began to use the courtesy title, Marquess of Douro.

On being posted to the staff in Jerusalem he met Diana McConnel, who worked in the office of her father, Major General Douglas McConnel, the GOC. Shortly before their marriage in January 1943 a bomb was discovered outside the Anglican cathedral; it had been due to go off on their wedding day. Nine weeks later Douro was sent to Italy where, in the course of the difficult advance, he was given a duck which, instead of eating, he kept with a pointer in his armoured car, which his men dubbed “The Dog and the Duck”.

The Duke and Duchess of Wellington at Stratfield Saye in 1974 (REX)

Posted to Germany after the war, he considered leaving the Army until King George VI asked him to stay on, saying: “I like to have people I know in the Household Cavalry.” The following year Douro stood guard for 22 periods at the King’s lying-in-state.

His next significant posting was as commanding officer of the Blues in Cyprus, where he always slept with a pistol under his pillow. He then commanded the Royal Armoured Corps in Germany before a final appointment as military attaché in Madrid — he was in the unusual position of being a diplomat in a country where he was heir to a title (Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo) and to 2,500 acres, which had been conferred on the 1st Duke.

On retiring from the Army in 1968 in the rank of brigadier, Douro turned his attention to the family estates. These were in an unsatisfactory state since his father had handed over the running of the main holdings to the government in the hope of preserving them. As a result these became a “parliamentary estate”, vested in the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Commons and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, an arrangement with great disadvantages which was dissolved in 1972.

After succeeding as the 8th Duke in the same year, in order to meet estate duties he sold 1,135 acres at Silchester and 230 at Wellington, Somerset (from where the family had originated). Over the following years he sold paintings, drawings and a 120-piece Sèvres dessert service made for the Empress Josephine. When it was learned that the buyer of the Sèvres was the French government there was a storm of protest in Britain, and an export licence was delayed before it eventually went to the Victoria and Albert Museum for £450,000. The Iron Duke’s papers were dispatched to Southampton University as part of an agreement with the Treasury.

The Duke with his dog, Nutkin, in 1990 (REX)

A plan to modernise the Wellington estates included opening to the public Stratfield Saye, the 17th-century house with 7,500 acres between Reading and Basingstoke which had been given by the nation to the 1st Duke, and the creation of a 700-acre country park . In the course of 40 years, it was estimated that he planted more than one million trees.

The democratic age sometimes posed a threat to the Wellington properties abroad. In Spain, 500 farmworkers staged a sit-in on the ducal hunting estate near Granada . In Belgium in the 1970s and 1980s, two retired senators (one a descendant of a Napoleonic general) called the Duke’s right to an income of £20,000 a year from the 2,600 acres next to the battlefield of Waterloo a “feudal and medieval annuity”.

There were other irritations, such as the persistent press interest in his daughter Jane’s friendship with the Prince of Wales in the early 1970s; and he could be sure that, wherever he was in the world, nobody would miss the opportunity to serve him Beef Wellington.

In the House of Lords, the Duke was particularly critical of the cutting of the Army’s numbers after the fall of communism. (When the Blair government introduced its reforms of the Upper House, the dukes declined to put their names forward for election.)

In his later years the Duke visited Iraq (he was highly critical of the 2003 invasion) and made a pilgrimage to the 6th Duke’s grave near Salerno. He was proud when a grandson served in Afghanistan with the Blues and Royals.

The Duke’s many appointments included being the last Colonel-in-Chief of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment; president of Game Conservancy; a director of Massey Ferguson; a trustee of the Royal Armouries; and a governor of Wellington College.

He was appointed LVO in 1952, OBE in 1957 and KG in 1990. He was also an officer of the French Legion of Honour, and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael of the Wing in Portugal, and of the Order of Isabel the Catholic in Spain.

The Duke’s wife died in 2010. The heir to the peerages is the eldest of his four sons, Charles, Marquess of Douro, a former MEP, who was born in 1945 and married Princess Antonia von Preussen, a great-granddaughter of the last German Emperor.

The 8th Duke of Wellington, born July 2 1915, died December 31 2014


Alexis Tsipras, head of Greece's radical leftist Syriza party
Alexis Tsipras (left), head of Greece’s leftist Syriza party. The country is to hold a national election on 25 January. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

With the radical left Syriza coalition tipped to form the next government in Greece following the announcement of early elections in the new year (The future has begun, says leftist Tsipras as he scents power, 30 December), liberal democracy is under scrutiny as it has never been before in the very heart of Europe. Will the Greek people and their democratic constitution be respected and upheld by the European and US establishments which have committed billions to foreign interventions in the name of democracy and human rights, or is Europe poised to experience the overthrow of a democratically elected government within its union?

In connection with the possibility of Syriza forming the next government, one cannot help remembering US president Lyndon Johnson’s hubristic disregard for Greek democracy when he expressed himself with regard to the Greek ambassador’s concern with the US’s preferred solution on Cyprus: “Then listen to me, Mr Ambassador, fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant’s trunk, whacked good … We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr Ambassador. If your prime minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitutions, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last very long.”
Russell Caplan

• The size of the Greek economy being minuscule in comparison to the major economies in the EU, the only threat to world finance of a Syriza victory is political. It is a threat of the loss of grip on the narrative of the financial crisis, that the crisis is caused by the profligacy of the poor, in the hands of the plutocracy of global finance.

If Syriza is allowed to retain the euro on its own terms, people elsewhere might begin to question the benefit of continuing with the particular programme of poor-bashing austerity, even if they accept the need for austerity, preached by the union leaders, the troika, of this governing plutocracy. The governing classes ask for decades of sacrifice from citizens, holding out at best only the prospect of low-paying, insecure jobs.

If the received narrative comes into question, workers like those in Germany might begin to doubt their masters. Workers there have accepted low wages for decades without questioning the narrative of competitiveness ensuring their financial security. They would see that their sacrifice has, paradoxically, contributed to their economic insecurity by allowing for a glut of money in trade surpluses to be built up in a banking system that has developed innovative techniques of financial engineering which only reward the plutocracy in corporate boardrooms and banks, and contribute to the instability of the economic edifice that delivers jobs and prosperity to the masses.
SP Chakravarty

• You state (Editorial, 30 December) that if the left-leaning Syriza wins the January election, it will ask the EU for debt forgiveness. Perhaps you should have pointed out that Germany too asked for such macroeconomic mercy after its defeat in the second world war, which was duly granted by the allies under the postwar London debt agreement, thereby paving the way for West Germany’s economic miracle.

A debt write-off for Greece, however, although affordable, will not please German voters, as they will have to bear its cost. But such a prescription, if agreed upon, will go a long way towards lessening the growth of extreme pathologies that invariably ensue from stagnating incomes and declining living standards.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

• Syriza is being disingenuous in repeatedly declaring its intention of keeping Greece in the European economic and monetary union (Syriza can transform the EU from within – if Europe will let it,, 30 December). If you belong to a club, you have to play by the rules; which doesn’t include having your debt written off by the other member states. In order to avoid deceiving the electorate, Syriza should do the honourable thing and advocate Greece leaving the EU.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

• The people of Greece now have a stark choice: more brutal austerity in return for EU and International Monetary Fund bailouts for the banks, or a rejection of austerity altogether. With the party of the radical left, Syriza, now topping the polls, it is clear which way Greeks are leaning. If the Greeks can vote to reject austerity, so can we – we need to break the pro-austerity consensus of the main parties. Let’s make 2015 the year we put people before profit and public service before corporate greed.
Jenny Sutton
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition parliamentary candidate, Tottenham

Sign language
Sign language. Photograph: David Levene

My hearing daughter learned sign language to communicate with her school friends during silent assemblies at her Quaker school. I had no idea she had this skill until on an family outing we were forced to take shelter in a mountain hut during a blizzard. Sharing our table was a silent and rather sad-looking man. We were told by his companion that he was unable to speak, so my daughter started signing. I shall never forget the joy on his face as he realised he was able to communicate with us. I for one will be signing the Let Sign Shine petition (Letters, 31 December).
Sarah Noble
Kirkby Overblow, North Yorkshire

• We are now on an even split between men and women in the honours list (New year honours 2015: the full list,, 30 December). About time. Puzzling, then, that women who have no other title are still listed with indicators of their marital status. If relationship status is relevant to achievements warranting honours, then surely we should be given this information for the men too? To do otherwise would surely be illegal discrimination.
Naomi Standen

• The best aphorism in the Guardian of 2014 (Review of the year, G2, 30 December) was by Barney Ronay – he defined God Save the Queen (sung by England fans) as “a plea to an entity that doesn’t exist to preserve one that shouldn’t” (Sport, 20 November). Brilliant.
James Herring
Dunbar, East Lothian

• When I went into the central London branch of my old bank to close the last account, the cashier gave me £3.83, which emptied the account, but said I would need to make an appointment if I wished to close it (Letters, 31 December).
Angela Frampton

Ricky Tomlinson speaking at the Robert Tressell Festival, Hastings, Britain - 01 Jul 2007
Ricky Tomlinson speaking at the Robert Tressell festival in Hastings in 2007. Photograph: David McHugh/Rex Features

In response to Martin Kettle’s article on the People’s History Museum’s invitation to supporters to sponsor one of its 100 radical heroes (Right, left and centre: our debt to history’s radicals, 26 December), I wanted to let readers know that people can suggest and sponsor their own radical heroes – we welcome relevant additions to the list. We selected our 100 from the museum’s diverse collections from across the political spectrum – all of them appear somewhere in our museum. They are all radical men and women who believed in ideas worth fighting for and who changed history. The campaign was launched in November by Alan Johnson MP, who sponsored his own radical hero, Scottish activist Jimmy Reid, taking our list immediately to 101.
John Monks
Chair, People’s History Museum

Gerry Abbott asks (Letters, December 31) whether anyone will celebrate the centenary of the publication of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists? Mugsborough itself did so. Hastings borough council, to its great credit, published a brilliant illustrated edition of the book in 2014 “as a public enterprise, not for private profit”, for the handsome price of £2.95. I bought mine from its seafront information office.
Jonathan Coe
Hastings, East Sussex

The centenary of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was celebrated with a symposium at the Hastings campus of the University of Brighton in April, 100 years to the day after its publication. We also celebrated the arrival of the Robert Tressell family papers left to the university in Hastings, which we hope to have online by the end of 2015.
Dr Trevor Hopper
Lecturer in social history, University of Brighton in Hastings

Pickles comments
‘In ruling out an English revaluation, communities and local government minister Eric Pickles said it would put up to £320 on the average council tax bill for English households,’ writes Sue Campbell. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Your editorial on Britain’s broken council tax (20 December), calling for councils to be free to introduce new council tax bands, is welcome. In its report, Devolution in England: The Case for Local Government, published in July 2014, the communities and local government committee, which I chair, called for devolved areas – in the first instance, London or combined authority areas such as Manchester – to be given the power to introduce new council tax bands at the top end of the scale and to split existing ones.

This change needs to follow a revaluation. Council tax rates are based on 1991 valuations, and those in the highest-banded properties are limited to paying no more than three times the tax of those in the lowest. The pretext for deferring revaluation – that it would increase most people’s council tax – is erroneous if the revaluation is fiscally neutral overall locally. Therefore a revaluation of itself must not affect a council’s income. If nothing is done, there is a risk that the whole system will eventually collapse. The government has to legislate to revalue domestic properties every five years. With up-to-date valuations, devolved authorities can introduce a new band with the appropriate properties in it. Doing so would increase fairness in the distribution of the tax burden locally.

With the growing demand for the devolution of tax-raising powers to local authorities in England, the council tax should, in the next parliament, I hope, be overhauled and handed back to the control of local politicians.
Clive Betts MP
Chair, communities and local government committee

It is not only Scotland that has been used as a testing ground for government policies (Downing street files reveal how Letwin kept poll tax plans alive, 30 December). Properties in Wales were revalued in 2005, which led to 40% of properties being moved up one or two council tax bands and higher tax bills. Revaluation of English properties has never been implemented. In ruling out an English revaluation, communities and local government minister Eric Pickles said it would put up to £320 on the average council tax bill for English households. In this election year, no party would dare to even suggest, never mind implement, such a policy. One law for the English and another for the Welsh.
Sue Campbell

An Iraqi Christian woman sits inside a church in Telkaif near Mosul
An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul, sits inside a church in Telkaif. ‘Iraq is another case where Muslims who fall foul of the Isis brand of Islam are just as savagely persecuted as Christians,’ writes the Rev Canon Andy Thompson. Photograph: Reuters

As the Anglican chaplain living in Abu Dhabi, a former chaplain in Kuwait and a canon of Bahrain Cathedral, I would like to address your editorial on Christian persecution (26 December). I appreciate the Guardian highlighting what has become a disturbingly widespread trend. However, as a resident in the Gulf, I felt the throwaway line presenting the Gulf as a front line in Christian persecution was misleading. While this would be true for Saudi Arabia, the reality in other Gulf countries is far more nuanced. Though there is a large domestic workforce consisting of Christians from the Philippines, India and Ethiopia, there is also a significant Christian minority who work in the professional sector, in education, health, tourism and the oil and gas industry – in other words, we are not all impoverished servants.

There is no persecution in the UAE, Bahrain or Oman. Living in Kuwait, I saw a lot of abuse of domestic workers, and sometimes that was related to religion, but mainly it was abuse of power rather than persecution. I have found that the ruling families have been unstintingly generous towards the church, especially in the UAE. At the recent G20 Interfaith Summit in Brisbane, as a representative of the Christian community in the UAE, I spoke about the UAE as an excellent example of religious freedom within an Islamic framework.

I think your editorial also needs to remind readers that some of the named countries are dysfunctional to the extent where all minorities and even the majority suffers (I think of North Korea especially). Iraq is another case where Muslims who fall foul of the Isis brand of Islam are just as savagely persecuted as Christians.

Yet Christian persecution is a reality and I thank you for raising awareness about the suffering of countless devout Christians. In the case of the Gulf, though, your editorial is an inadequate representation of the experience of the church.
Rev Canon Andy Thompson
Senior chaplain, St Andrew’s Church, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

John Freeman
John Freeman, newly appointed high commissioner to India, 1965. Photograph: Alamy

John Freeman’s years as British high commissioner to India, 1965-68, happily coincided with my own stay there, sponsored by the Ministry of Overseas Development, as a professor at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology and occasionally invited to High Commission events. Tall, well-built and handsome, with wavy, gingerish hair, Freeman (obituary, 29 December) was a combination of diplomatic charm and intimidating presence. Yet despite his determination to represent Britain’s Labour government as a new political and cultural presence, the high commissioner’s extensive private compound, with accompanying croquet lawn and equipment, did little to convey to both Indian and British guests that, as the writer Khushwant Singh observed, he was little different from a “pukka sahib”.


You rightly observe that when disaster strikes our railway system, as during the Finsbury Park fiasco, government ministers “ooze sympathy for the public’s predicament, never forgetting to remind us that, alas, it is no longer the direct concern of the state” (editorial, 29 December). The same pattern is, of course, replicated whenever there is an outcry over the behaviour of privatised utility companies.

One of the issues in the forthcoming general election will be the desirability or not of reducing the size of government, an ambition which the Conservative Party is likely to embrace with enthusiasm. The railway scandal of recent days and the tendency of private gas, electricity and water providers to ill-treat their customers with impunity are a sobering reminder that “small government” in the UK today is another way of saying “You’re on your own.”

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire


Steve Richards (30 December)  has the wrong end of the stick if he thinks that those caught up in the rail chaos of 27 and 28 December had accepted it. Far from it. They were given no choice.

It was caused by at best lack of planning and at worst incompetence at Network Rail and, probably, acquiescence by the Department of Transport. The DoT’s statement on the 27th that they were “very disappointed” didn’t quite do it for most of the people affected.

You can imagine the conversation that took place before Christmas:

Network Rail: Sorry Minister but we think the engineering works might overrun.

Minister: Oh, never mind – it’s the weekend and only people outside London such as Northerners will be affected, so it’s not important.

Steve Richards shows the same London-centric view when he talks about a “starting point” for a journey in north London. What about those who started in Leeds (not to mention farther north) who eventually got to London after a seven-hour journey (normally three hours at most), re-routing from Peterborough on their own initiative as best they could, without any help from rail companies or Network Rail.

Steve is right that we need proper public debate – about a lot of things – but I don’t think we’ll get it while everyone in the capital thinks London is the UK.

Geoffrey Downs

Wilsden, West Yorkshire


The answer to Rob Edwards’s conundrum why passengers were not told to go to St Pancras (letter, 30 December) is simple. Services from St Pancras are run by a different company, which is a rival to those run from King’s Cross.

The same is now becoming increasingly true in the NHS, where neighbouring hospitals are in competition for patients and services, and experienced clinicians spend half their time writing business plans rather than seeing patients.

Such is the fate of once great public services under the last few governments.

Christopher Anton



Simon Bryant (letter, 30 December) reminds us that Network Rail is the responsibility of ministers. Unfortunately, someone invented “government agencies” to distance ministers from responsibility and provide much smoke and many mirrors. Who invented the agency, with it’s highly paid people that cannot be questioned in the House of Commons?

Simon Allen

London N2


I stood up to the sex pests

As the 22-year-old daughter of Nigel Glover, whose letter you published on 27 December, I felt deeply saddened to read Jennifer Towland’s response (29 December) to his anger in hearing the frequency of unwanted sexual attention I had recently received. I resent the advice to “man up”, take control of my life, and “stop running to daddy”.

In answer to Ms Towland, I did handle each situation myself, and I can assure you that I am more than capable of standing up for myself and my friends. However I feel Ms Towland has missed the point entirely, and I cannot understand why I deserve any criticism.

What I inferred from her letter is that I should have dealt with the situation and then shut up about it. How dare I speak to my father about this? How dare he express an opinion? Ms Towland insists that I should hold some responsibility for the situations I found myself in. Sadly this perpetuates the view that the person who has suffered sexual, physical or verbal harassment is somewhat to blame.

However I chose to act, or whomever I decided to tell, should be of no consequence. When will the blame for sexual harassment finally be landed solely on the perpetrator?

If Ms Towland feels the need to hand out advice in the future, perhaps it would best be aimed at the sexually aggressive instigator, rather than the victim.

Abi Glover

St Albans, Hertfordshire


Lord Mayor’s gong for Dame Fiona

It is probably unfair to criticise the award of a damehood to Fiona Woolf (who is clearly not a member of the Establishment) in the aftermath of her resignation as head of the child abuse inquiry. This award had nothing to do with that inquiry.

A knighthood or damehood is automatically given to every Lord Mayor of London on leaving office.  This happened to her immediate predecessors, Sir David Wootton and Sir Roger Gifford, and no doubt next year will happen to the current Lord Mayor, Alan Yarrow. It is therefore unfair to single out Dame Fiona for this.

However it does raise a wider question of whether it is right that, when someone achieves a certain office (for example in the Civil Service or the armed forces or as a long-serving backbench MP), an award is automatically handed to them. Surely achieving that position is in itself recognition of their eminence, and no gong or title needs to go with it.

There is clearly a case that the honours system is so archaic and arbitrary that it is beyond reform and should be swept away. However it will not be, as it is such a useful means of patronage to those who control it.

Gordon Elliot

Burford, Oxfordshire


Religious people do good deeds

Your correspondents are correct to assert that ethics are not always derived from religion (letters, 29 December). Atheists can behave in a perfectly ethical way, though often the roots of the ethics may be found in Biblical sources.

However, modern sociological research on British and American society shows us that people belonging to religious groups are more likely to act on their ethics. They are more likely to give charity, to visit the sick or elderly, or do someone a good turn. The data shows that religion, as measured by attendance at a place of worship, is the best indicator of altruism.

Zaki Cooper

Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews

London EC4


Gay scene in Doctor Who

Those who complained that scenes in Doctor Who were “promoting homosexuality” were mistaken. No “promotion” was taking place; the BBC was fulfilling its public-service commitment.

One valuable role of children’s television is to teach acceptance of difference. All non-abusive relationships are normal, and free expression of emotion is a human right. By making what was once pushed to the fringes now seem commonplace, we ensure that our children need never lead lives of exclusion, imprisoned by guilt and fear.

It seems that there are still a few dismal individuals who are only content when they see their prejudices being perpetuated down the generations for all time, despite such attitudes truly deserving to be locked firmly in the past.

Julian Self

Milton Keynes


Shot dead by a toddler

A two-year-old has killed his mother with her gun while she was shopping at a Walmart store in Idaho.

While it is well known that the gun lobby cowboys have complete power in the US, what they don’t seem to understand is that when the right to bear arms was enshrined in the US Constitution only strong adults would have the strength to fire a gun.

Now that they are making guns so easy to use that a two-year-old can do it, you would think they would get the message that something must be done to control gun ownership.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey


Artists who weren’t there

Professor Martin Kemp tells me I should not take Tracey Emin’s My Bed too literally, because she may not have slept in it (“Why Tracey Emin’s bed looks too good to be true”, 29 December).

Should I then regard The Raft of the Medusa in the same way simply because Géricault was not actually on board?

Michael Elkin

Halifax, West Yorkshire



Sir, I couldn’t disagree more with Carol Midgley (“Call me love, but never bossy”, Dec 31). We usually praise assertive and outspoken women as role models but men with such traits are often seen as overbearing.
Michael Hussey
Newton Abbot, Devon

Sir, My grandchildren (letters Dec 29, Dec 31) call me “grandoc”.
Dr Robert Scholefield

Ledbury, Herefordshire

Sir, Given my love for champagne, I am known to my grandsons as “GFizz”.
Susan Craig
Richmond, Surrey

Sir, My wife and I are “GP” and “GM”.
Roger Gillham
Windsor, Berks

Sir, I’m “grandad”.
Brian Mackinney

Sir, The closure of King’s Cross provoked heavy criticism of Network Rail’s management (letters, Dec 28), but at no time was any mention made of the critical importance of completing these engineering projects safely and with full inspections before letting services resume.

Memories of the Clapham Junction disaster seem to have passed out of public memory. It is critical that these outcries should not affect the safe completion of projects. The risk of public persecution is a small price to pay for safe execution.
Sir Bob Reid
Former chairman, British Rail
St Andrews

Sir, I defend your selection for man of the year . Those who wrote to criticise the choice have totally missed the point (letters, Dec 30). It is Nigel Farage who has forced the Westminster village to address the concerns of the electorate.

Politicians have been made to listen to the views of the electorate, regardless of whether these views are justified or not, and act accordingly. They are after all the “employees” of the electorate not their party political machines. Such an achievement in itself warrants the accolade given by The Thunderer.
Paul Gilbert
Knowle, Solihull

Sir, There were 65 awards for the army in the New Year’s Honours List. Fifty six went to officers, 8 to warrant officers and one to a sergeant. Yet the reporting from Afghanistan praises in the highest terms the performance of junior ranks.

In the 1980 New Year’s Honour List, the Queen awarded the British Empire Medal to 62 soldiers (all staff sergeant or below), of whom 14 were corporals. This year she was asked to approve honours to just one soldier who would, under the old rules, have qualified for a BEM.

The record of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is similarly poor. We can correct it.

Colonel (Ret’d) John Wilson
Former editor British Army Review


Lord Mitchell spoke out during the debate on assisted suicide in the House of Lords

A vote on the issue of assisted dying is a matter of conscience Photo: Alamy

SIR – Your leading article finishes with a plea for the proponents of assisted dying to accept the outcome and not come back time and again until they get what they want.”

This is naive. No matter how many times the vote is against assisted dying – and it has been many times over the past couple of decades – its proponents will keep on coming back to the issue.

It is, I gather, a “conscience vote” in Parliament. One can only hope the Lords have the gumption to allow doctors a conscience clause, or we may have the spectacle of doctors being prosecuted for not killing their patients.

John Allen FRCS
Swindon, Wiltshire

SIR – Campaigners use selective quotation as the drunken man uses the lamppost: more for support than illumination.

The letter calling for a change in the law on assisted dying (December 29) quotes Dr Atul Gawande, this year’s Reith lecturer, as saying “we are heartless if we don’t recognise unbearable suffering and seek to alleviate it”.

Dr Gawande went on to point to the three- or fourfold rise in the number of people in the Netherlands choosing assisted suicide, noting that “the number one reason is no longer unbearable suffering, it’s become that people don’t want to be a burden on the family and the society any more. And that concerns me a great deal because we can put people in a position where they feel that they are just a burden.”

Neither the judicial nor the medical safeguards proposed thus far would relieve this insidious but powerful social pressure.

Don Brand
Staplehurst, Kent

SIR – At what stage did actors, comedians and prize-winning novelists acquire sufficient status and moral high ground to tell Parliament how to proceed on an issue as important as assisted dying?

Diana Jones
London N12

SIR – I accept that there are compassionate people on both sides of the assisted dying debate and that such a debate is needed in this country.

I do not, however, believe that it was a coincidence that both my beloved husband and mother were enabled to die peacefully and calmly in hospices.

Law-makers must listen carefully to the views of palliative care professionals and their patients before deciding on a law that would have an international impact. Many of the fledgling palliative care programmes around the world are based on the principles and practice of the modern hospice movement, pioneered in this country by Dame Cicely Saunders. Where we lead they are likely to follow.

Gail Featherstone
Sevenoaks, Kent

Hospital overcrowding

SIR – I was the Chairman of Birmingham City Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee from 2004 to 2012, while the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital was being planned and built.

On a number of occasions my committee questioned whether the number of beds planned was adequate. We were assured by health professionals that, because hospital stays are shorter these days, everything would be fine.

As your report (“Night one of our brightest and best hospitals was defeated by the dire state of the NHS”, report, December 29) shows, it is not. And with Birmingham’s population set to rise quite considerably over the coming years, the situation will surely only get worse. The number of on-site parking spaces is woefully inadequate, too – as a look around the clogged neighbouring roads will confirm.

Cllr Deirdre Alden (Con)
Edgbaston, Birmingham

Run out of puff


SIR – Over the weekend just gone, the coldest of the year so far, all 100-plus off-shore wind turbines along the North Wales coast were idling very slowly, all using grid power for de-icing and to power their hydraulic systems that keep the blades facing in the same direction.

Thanks to Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, we will be subsidising these follies for the next 30 years. And then, if we continue to vote for technically naive green politicians, for further periods after that.

Brian Christley
Abergele, Conwy

Doggone it

SIR – Releasing a dog caught on wire, without injury to the rescuer, should simply involve throwing your Barbour over the dog’s head while you get on with the business. Failing that, a lead wrapped round the dog’s muzzle and tied not too tight is a trickier alternative.

Ear defenders (for the rescuer) are helpful but seldom available.

John Josephi
Lydney, Gloucestershire

Cut off in Cumbria

SIR – Alan Kibblewhite (Letters, December 26) is spot on when he writes about rural buses. In Cumbria, the only bus connecting Penrith and Kendal has been withdrawn due to the loss of the county council subsidy. The result is that several villages no longer have access to public transport. Some people have been forced to give up paid and voluntary employment, while others may even have to move house.

Eric Pickles is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Perhaps he could explain why the council is spending vast sums of money on a new headquarters, while abolishing a subsidy for a service upon which so many people depended.

Patricia Jagger
Penrith, Cumbria

There’s no good time of year for rail repairs

SIR – Dr David Cottam (Letters, December 29) suggests that major rail engineering work should be carried out in August to avoid the effects of winter weather. This seems to be a good suggestion. Regrettably it’s not as easy as that.

For example, when I was track renewals contract manager for Railtrack, and then Network Rail in the North-West, mid-winter was the period of the year booked for routine track renewal works over Shap on the West Coast Main Line.

I was told that the train operating company, which Network Rail has to negotiate with to agree such blocks, would only permit this period as the summer was too busy.

However, this company was the first to complain when sub-zero conditions caused ballast to freeze solid in the wagons delivering it to the site, with a resultant delay in completing the job.

There is never a good time to renew track and undertake disruptive engineering works; the availability of diversionary routes is too limited in many areas.

I hope something positive comes out of discussions of the post-Christmas debacle.

John H Brook
Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire

SIR – If Network Rail were a private company, heads would roll and future contracts put in doubt. However, as it is a taxpayer-funded organisation, no one will be held responsible and our money will continue to fund it.

Ed Miliband has promised to ensure more of the rail franchises are nationalised, just like Network Rail.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

Speed cameras

SIR – Ian Kemp’s assertion that cameras are “only ever installed at collision hotspots” (Letters, December 29) does not stand up to analysis. On the contrary, cameras are primarily installed where they are most likely to catch motorists exceeding speed limits – limits that are often unrealistically low.

On December 7 2003, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the then chief constable of Durham, Paul Garvin, said that “if you break down the 1,900 collisions we have each year, only 3 per cent involve cars that are exceeding the speed limit.”

The available evidence clearly shows that cameras are an extremely efficient revenue-raising system, but have a negligible effect on improving road safety.

Jimmy James
Stanwick, Northamptonshire

Car code cracking

SIR – I did not know the late Christopher Barlow (Letters, December 29), whose online password is the name of his first car. The car is likely to have been a Wartburg. Anyone would want to keep that a secret.

Adrian Love
Grafham, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Yesterday I placed inside the envelope for my son to open after my death, a list bearing my mother’s maiden name, the make of my first car, his nickname as a child and the name of my first dog – together with, by way of explanation, a copy of the letter from Sarah Barlow.

Christopher Horne
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Replacing the tangerine with seedless impostors

Forbidden fruit: the tangerine takes its name from the Moroccan seaport of Tangier (Valentyn Volkov / Alamy)

SIR – As a retired greengrocer, I may have the answer to the scarcity of tangerines in the shops (Letters, December 23).

Original tangerines were absolutely packed with pips and, although flavoursome, were difficult to consume politely – what did one do with the pips?

They were replaced by a seedless version – satsumas – which are almost tasteless, so sales of these have dwindled.

Clementines are much tastier but not as good as the old tangerine which, incidentally, has a very short shelf-life – and is thus unattractive to supermarkets.

David Hughes
Llandudno, Conwy

SIR – I read the letter about the demise of the tangerine but there are many more candidates for their crown. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the fruit I bought the other morning were clemenules.

Sue Cameron
Fulwood, Lancashire

Watching the waistline

SIR – Sqd Ldr T J W Leyland wonders what social events he can look forward to in his seventies (Letters, December 29). I suggest he visits Necker Island (report, December 29), where apparently he could eat sushi off the bare midriff of a young woman.

Anthony Coletta
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – Sqd Ldr Leyland has much to look forward to in his seventies, including someone like me supplying him with Meals on Wheels. He should brace himself.

Zara Pradyer
Chessington, Surrey

SIR – What comes next is a very long lie–in.

Nicholas Coates
London SW6

The fat of the land

SIR – Natasha Corrett advocates eating “as Mother Nature intended.

Looking at the list of ingredients in her recipes (from umeboshi plum purée to galangal), I can only conclude that Mother Nature never intended anyone to live in the British Isles.

Chris Wright
Ferndown, Dorset

Globe and Mail:

  (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

Here’s a resolution: Forget the polls

Lysiane Gagnon

It’s the question we push aside every Dec. 31

Christmas is for family, New Year’s Eve is for friends, or so it goes in many circles.

Christmas is tradition, New Year is innovation. On the 24th of December, you look back. On the 31st, you look ahead. Nostalgia gives way to hope.

At Christmas, the festivities are held along a makeshift table long enough to accommodate several generations. The meal must be a reminder of days gone by, thus the turkey, the homemade “tourtières” and the “bûche de Noël” – the Yule log cake kids and grandparents love.

At New Year’s Eve, the table is folded, the furniture pushed against the walls. It’s time for drinking and dancing and socializing: entertainment for adults, as the kids have gone to their own parties or are at their grandparents. Nobody spends the evening sitting down like we did at Christmas. Time to get on one’s feet, to waltz one’s way around the room to chat with everyone. There is no flirting at Christmas (who wants to seduce an uncle or a cousin?) but at New Year’s celebrations, especially around midnight, hugs may very well turn into more insistent embraces.

The required drink is champagne (or a good bubbly like Spain’s cava or Italy’s prosecco), and the food must be creative. After hours of research in trendy cook books, the home chef has prepared in advance fancy finger food or a stunning buffet. With her silky black dress and stilettos, the most she will do on New Year’s Eve itself is reheat the delicate puff pastries bought from a high-end caterer. At Christmas, people like to sport things like red pullovers and red socks – a reminder that the spirit of Père Noël is still alive and strong. But for New Year, they are in their finest: Women wear their sexiest outfits, some men even show up in a tux (minus the tie).

Christmas is a time for comfort and cuddling, as people marvel at their children’s joy and retreat into their own childhood memories. And presiding over these warm celebrations is the archetypal figure of Santa Claus, a symbol of kindness, protection and generosity. The New Year is something else: fleeting waves of worry run across the champagne-fuelled excitement. There is no reassuring symbol, no clear sign of what lies ahead. All you know is that another year is gone – which makes you think how fast time flies and realize that you’re one year older. “Here’s to happiness!” the guests exclaim while raising their glasses. Older guests insist on health: “If you have health, you’ve got everything!” they joyfully intone, knowing full well it’s false: You could be perfectly healthy and lose a child, a lover or your job, or face a dreadful car accident.

The future is foggy. We all know the world will not be a better place in the year to come – and if a pessimist ruefully predicts it will actually get far worse, nobody will dare contradict him, because the prediction is quite sensible. But as far as our own lives are concerned, what we’re left to contemplate is some kind of crazy game of Russian roulette. I could be lucky and slalom through potential tragedies, or I could unknowingly have drawn the bad number.

How will we feel next year on the same date? This is the insidious, disquieting question that arises amid the celebrations, but soon we push it away – as we should. Happy New Year to all readers!



Debate over police powers missing key voices: women and minorities

Bob Ramsay is a Toronto communications consultant and founder of RamsayTalks

The biggest story in America this year is that racism isn’t dead. Just ask any young black man who’s been ‘carded’ by the police. Or the families of those who were killed by police under murky circumstances. Or the families of police gunned down in revenge.

Almost as tragic as the deaths is the murderous rhetoric. Patrick Lynch, head of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of New York, claimed “There’s blood on many hands. [It]… starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the Mayor,” because Mayor Bill deBlasio didn’t support the NYPD wholeheartedly after Eric Garner was choked to death by an NYPD officer, after screaming 15 times: “I can’t breathe”.

Here in Canada, Toronto Police Association president Michael McCormack waded in against “irresponsible anti-police rhetoric,” then linked “the resulting hatred” to the deaths of the two NYPD officers.

We’ve come to expect union heads to call any criticism of their members’ actions ‘irresponsible’, and in this case ‘anti-police.’ It goes with the territory.

But across Canada it also goes with the gender, and maybe even the race.

Because what’s missing in our own national debates over the abuse of police powers are two voices: women, and especially policewomen, and non-whites, and especially non-white police officers.

This first clicked for me when I saw Pat Lynch ranting against New York’s mayor on TV last week. He was surrounded by five very large white men, his fellow executives at the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. True, there is the Policewomen’s Endowment Association, which represents the 34 per cent of the NYPD’s 34,500 officers who are women. But they’re a networking and fellowship group, not a union like the men’s association.

Here in Canada, to say that police unions are boys’ clubs – and white boys’ clubs at that – understates just how glaring the absence of women and visible minorities is.

Let’s start with Toronto, “the world’s most diverse city.” Of the eight board members of the Toronto Police Association headed by Mr. McCormack, all eight are male and seven are white. This in a force of 7,650 members, in which 30 per cent are women and 23 per cent are visible minorities, who police a city where 51 per cent of the residents are women and almost the same percentage are members of a visible minority.

Canada’s second-largest city fares no better. The Montreal police union has six executive members. All are men and all are white.

Calgary? Of seven board members, all are men, one is non-white.

Ottawa: of eight members, all men, one non-white.

Halifax: five members, all men, all white.

Vancouver only lists its president (male, white) on its website, and Winnipeg doesn’t list any of its 13 board members.

RCMP officers are forbidden from forming a union. But Canada’s two largest provincial police unions mirror their city cousins: the Ontario Provincial Police Association has seven board members. Six are men and all are white. The Sûreté du Québec has six executive members and 12 board members. All are men, all are white.

But why does this matter? What’s the connection between lower levels of testosterone and less incendiary rhetoric? And not just rhetoric. When police line up outside the courtroom to defend one of their own accused of a crime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a policewoman pushing the media away. And when the New York cops turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio outside the church last week where he was to speak at the funeral of Raphael Ramos, not a policewoman’s back was to be seen.

The connection, of course, is that women are less violent than men, certainly in deed and often in word as well. (in ‘thought’ we’ll never know). Women are more empathic than men. Women make more rational decisions than men, in everything from investing to … shooting. While women make up 20 per cent to 35 per cent of many police forces, the number of female police officers caught using excessive force ranges from tiny to non-existent.

So why can’t more policewomen and non-white officers get on the boards of their unions?

That’s a question Canada’s 70,000 police officers who want more respect from the public should ask their unions.


Dec. 31: Failed sex-assault policy – plus other letters to the editor

Failed policy?

How can we expect universities to come up with viable, usable codes of conduct when two members of Parliament seem to have been accused and tried by their leader without legal recourse to tell their story (Legal Experts Say Universities Failing On Sex-Assault Policies – Dec. 30)? If a would-be leader of this country, Justin Trudeau, can trample rights like this, how can we demand better of lesser organizations?

Colin Wheeler Whitby, Ont.


As part of the face-to-face restorative justice meeting between the 13 Dalhousie University male dentistry students and the female classmates they targeted with misogynistic comments, I strongly urge that the offenders’ mothers and sisters also be present.

The male students’ offensive behaviour affects not only their classmates but all women.

J.D. Rothwell, Ottawa


Santa’s politics

Re Santa, Evicted (letters, Dec. 30): Suggesting that Santa is not a good fit with the Harper government fails to recognize the true nature of both.

Santa, clearly a very rich man, pays no taxes; his commitment to the North is more publicity stunt than real, as there is no evidence of a permanent establishment; his gift giving shows a clear bias to the rich, with the value of the gifts having an inverse relationship to need; he has an unabashed connection to Big Business, appearing regularly in its marketing.

And, like the Harper Economic Action Plan, Santa is a myth.

Cathy McRae, Thunder Bay, Ont.


Trial by innuendo

I agree with the opening statement of your editorial: I, too, am dismayed to see reputations and careers destroyed by public opinion before the courts weigh the evidence (The Year Justice Changed – Dec. 29). This is not right. However, that’s where my agreement stops.

It is hypocritical of The Globe to decry this rush to judgment as it plays the role of enabler to a scandal-addicted public. Every one of the accusations, every innuendo, and all of the arguments (sans defence) are supplied by media outlets, which then cluck their disapproval at the resultant lynching. Instead of trying to expiate the media’s guilt by pointing at the federal government and criminal justice system, perhaps a look at the media’s – and your own – critical role in this grave injustice and assault on our courts would be in order.

Robert Metcalfe, Toronto


Due process and the presumption of innocence are hallmarks of the Canadian criminal justice system but they have no place in the arena of public perception.

None of us function that way in everyday life. We constantly make decisions and come to conclusions based on information that would not support a civil burden of proof, never mind a criminal burden of proof. Rob Ford was subjected to constant pillorying in The Globe. Warranted or not, like all of us, your editorial staff didn’t wait for any involvement by the court system before commenting on his activities.

It is only a criminal court that can legally deprive one of their liberty. It makes sense to have safeguards in such a forum so that the innocent are not punished.

There hasn’t been a shift from a presumption of innocence to a tolerance of public shaming. All that is different now is the speed at which people get their information.

Michael O’Hara, Halifax


Working poor, too

Re Success Eludes Recent Migrants As Fort Mac Braces For TFW Fallout (Dec. 29): Your article hit a particularly sensitive nerve with me. As one of Canada’s working poor, my family subsists on what are basically minimum wages.

If fast food outlets were to offer decent wages to their employees, they’d have no shortage of capable, reliable workers. Businesses wax eloquent about the virtues of free markets, but they conveniently balk at improving wages in order to accommodate the labour market. The national minimum wage in Australia is about $16 per hour and the sky has not fallen; in Canada, it varies by province, ranging from $10 to $11.

Better wages for Canadian workers would put spending power into the hands of those who can use the money for everyday items. This would boost the manufacturing sector and create sustained economic growth. It is well past time for Canadians to take a hard look at where they are headed and make the necessary changes to put this country back on track for all who live here.

Basil Freeman, Vancouver


‘Source of Peace’

While a letter to the editor on the terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar had much merit, we were most surprised to read that the Ahmadiyah Muslim community is “the only Muslim group that readily stands for peace and lives by the true Islam” (Peshawar, Patience – Dec. 29).

We draw your attention to this point, as among Canadian media outlets, you are probably the most versed in the basic tenets of Islam and the diverse communities within our multicultural faith. Thus, we would have expected you to catch this quite inaccurate statement and obvious attempt at self-promotion.

We would humbly submit that 99.9 per cent of all Muslims, whether they be Sunni, Shia or Ahmadiyah, see Islam as a religion of peace and intellectual search. In fact, one of the 99 names of Allah is As-Salaam, the Source of Peace.

Iffat Salaam, Amir Karim, Montreal


Let’s talk death

Re The Year We Put Death Above Indignity (Dec. 23): André Picard notes that “the end-of-life conversation … finally worked its way into the mainstream media.” Let’s keep the conversation going.

Old people do not want to live forever, they are wise enough to opt for quality rather than quantity of life. Yet why is it considered tactless, unpleasant or politically incorrect to talk about death to an old person? Why are the children of seniors upset when a doctor says to grandfather, “At your age, why would you want another operation that won’t help you in the end?” And complain that the doctor is heartless to be so direct?

I propose that we all become more honest and acknowledge openly that we are aging, that we do not want increasing health costs to burden our children, and that we do not want unnecessary medical intervention just to buy some time of dubious quality.

Let the old people decide how much care they want. How dare I raise this issue? I dare because I will make necessary decisions in my life, and yes, I am old.

Dr. I.M. Wilm (ret’d.), Guelph, Ont.


Scratch that notion

Despite what Marsha Lederman was told, when she yelled “There are insects… in my hair,” she was absolutely right (Tackling The Creepy-Crawlies – Dec. 29). Head lice (Pediculus humanus) are actually insects with the standard six legs, and belong to the order Anoplura. Know thine enemy.

Bryce Kendrick, Sidney, B.C.

Irish Times:


Irish Independent:

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks

In terms of Irish history, there are three new years every year.

We have the Celtic Samhain or Halloween, then there is the new light born of the solstice on December 21, and of course there is January 31. All are full of symbolism and meaning.

The New Year we celebrate today marks a fresh start, as the earth completes another 365-day marathon around the sun.

People and particularly the media have a tendency to look back as the cycle is completed.

Thus we’ll revisit the near revolution over Garth Brooks, the water charges and sundry other convulsions that this time next year will seem like so many tiny tempests in china tea cups.

You will also be bombarded with diets and fitness programmes on how to attain the body beautiful and a balanced life.

All are predicated on dissatisfaction with the way things were, are, or might be.

My belief is that we would all be a lot happier if we could accept who and where we are, and be thankful for what we have, while we have it. Everything is temporary, including trouble.

Certainly we can hope and trust that things can be better, but there is an old saying that one shouldn’t waste energy trying to push the river.

There is an ebb and flow in life, and if we can learn gratitude and acceptance in the certain knowledge that everything passes, and remember to enjoy the journey; then the space for us to overcome our difficulties will open up, and we can make the best of all our lots.

T O’Brien

Killiney, Co Dublin Hope for 2015: a real statesman

Ireland as a society is clearly on a journey to an undefined destination, and for many decades now our political leaders have, at best, functioned simply as effective ‘pot-hole fillers’ on this uncharted road.

Important issues like creating jobs, education, an effective health system, etc, are the potholes, and, like the poor, they may always be with us. But without an overarching vision indicating where the road is taking us, we can never hope to build a meaningful society.

My hope for 2015 is that we and our political system may begin the process of spawning a dynamic leader who is a real statesman (or woman). One who puts an agreed vision for a truly ethical and right-living society in Ireland before ego or power or personal wealth or party.

Maybe it’s time now for each of us, the voters, to consider the type of society we aspire to have; to demand higher ethical standards from our politicians, business executives, and religious leaders; to seek out remarkable and visionary leaders; and to constantly look for that trace of greatness in ourselves and others as we all work to make Ireland a right-living example to the world?

Aidan Devon

Glenageary, Co Dublin

Pro-life amendment saves lives

As a result of last week’s extremely sad right to life case, a number of commentators have attempted to use this tragedy to bad mouth those who dared to vote yes to the pro-life amendment in 1983, and to push further for an abortion regime in Ireland.

The facts are that, largely thanks to that amendment, Ireland has one of the lowest infant/maternal mortality rates in the world. Our rates are much lower than those in the US and UK, where abortion on demand has corrupted the entire medical profession.

Many would argue that last year’s infamous legislation is already a step too far. In fact, on a contrasting basis, those who voted in favour of the 1983 pro-life amendment have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary.

Eric Conway

Navan, Co Meath

Give out Cabinet jobs on merit

Our Taoiseach has let it be known during the past week that he would consider appointing senators to Government based on merit.

Why not take this a step further and set up an non-political, unpaid advisory body, whose task would be to draw up a list to be presented to the Taoiseach of candidates who would be capable of taking on the role of a minster in the Government.

This list of candidates should have a proven track record in their own fields of expertise, have excelled in management and demonstrated their ability in reaching certain goals within their area of work.

Even to be on this list would be recognised as an honour in itself.

Should the Taoiseach ignore this list and appoint his own 11 nominees to the Seanad and to Government, we will be in a better position to make a more considered evaluation of his judgment in making his appointments to Cabinet.

Paddy Fitzpatrick

Glanmire, Co Cork

A modern Robin Hood struggle

If there is one thing that we ought to be able to unite on, it is surely this: It is in all our interests to support both the arguments and the moderate approach of the Ballyhea protesters. We cannot possibly pay the debts of foreign bankers and it is foolish as well as cruel to try to do so. They are ruinous for Ireland and the Irish people.

It is an old struggle in modern economic form. To put it in English terms, it is the struggle between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Dr Gerald Morgan

The Chaucer Hub

Trinity College, Dublin 2

We must use our God-given gifts

Christmas day has gone for another year.

Many people will have exchanged gifts – some doing so in the traditional manner emulating the Three Wise Men who presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. Others will have done so for no other reason than it’s what’s done nearing the close of another year.

A New Year is upon us and resolutions will be made. Perhaps this is a good time for everyone in Ireland, and in particular those who have been elected to govern, to discover what gifts they carry from God and if those gifts are being delivered as intended by the sender?

Perhaps unfortunately, messengers and/or gift bearers, have also been gifted with free will and quite often they chose to serve mammon rather than God.

This is most obvious when we consider a cruel fact that the wealth of just 85 persons exceeds the total wealth of 3,500 million of the Earth’s poorest people.

Totally overlooked, in a society that is no longer God-orientated, is the fact that over 2,000 years ago God sent a present, or gift, to all humankind 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 by any other 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, perhaps by each working for the common good of all humankind and by doing so reaping the reward of eternal life after death.

For bringing that message to humankind He was sentenced to death by a mob.

Fortunately, we don’t all have to prematurely die to deliver our God-given gifts to humankind.

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 exists in a mother’s womb and is then born, and that includes you, dear reader.

Perhaps this New Year, whether you believe or disbelieve in God, you could ponder on what message, or gift, you bear for humankind and resolve to play your part to the full?

Patrick Murray

Dundrum, Dublin 14

Irish Independent

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