4 January 2015 Books

Mary a little better, I go to the Post Office and post three books.


Mario Cuomo, once regarded as a shoo-in for the Democratic presidential nomination

Mario Cuomo: he was once regarded as a shoo-in for the Democratic presidential nomination Photo: NEWSCOM

Mario Cuomo, who has died aged 82, was a long-serving Democratic Governor of New York State, regarded during the 1980s as the intellectual mentor of his party and its greatest communicator.

Revered by the young Bill Clinton and a whole generation of radical Democrats, Cuomo served a record three terms as governor, from 1982 to 1994, and with his eloquence, erudition and common touch was widely regarded as a shoo-in for the Democratic presidential nomination during that time. Instead he came to be known as the “Hamlet on the Hudson” due to his public agonising over whether he actually wanted the job.

In both 1988 and 1992 the nomination was his for the asking, but he dithered and finally declined. Why, he wondered aloud when he was considering whether to run against the incumbent President George HW Bush in 1992, had God been so good to St Paul? God had, Cuomo mused, “hit him in the tush with a little lightning” on the road to Damascus, and spared him the agony of having to make up his own mind. In the absence of Divine intervention, Cuomo, by contrast, went so far as to charter an aeroplane to take him from Albany, the state capital, to Washington to announce his candidacy — only to change his mind as the plane idled on the tarmac.

At 6ft 1in, Cuomo was a handsome, powerful man with large, expressive eyes and a warm smile. His national reputation rested both on his tenure as a reformist Governor of New York — the second biggest state in the country after California — and on a bravura performance at the Democratic National Convention of 1984, when he “gave the Democrats back their soul” with a rousing torrent of anti-Republican invective, as the forlorn supporters of Walter Mondale prepared the party for another thrashing at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

The performance confirmed Cuomo, in Democrat eyes, as their greatest orator. He followed up a few months later with a shameless piece of casuistry. In a speech at Notre Dame University, Indiana, he strove to reconcile Roman Catholic teaching, to which he claimed to be “privately” loyal, with his advocacy of public funds for abortion, on the grounds that the “pluralistic” nature of American society demanded that public servants should sometimes sacrifice their private beliefs for the general good.

The speech confirmed his reputation in the liberal American media as a great brain. “Cuomo is the first Catholic to pick a fight with a prelate,” noted the Washington Post approvingly, after he had admonished New York’s Cardinal O’Connor for saying he could not see “how a Catholic in good conscience can vote for a candidate who explicitly supports abortion”.

Cuomo’s crusading work for the poor and for Aids victims won him praise from all sides during his time as governor, but his record on the economy and law and order was abysmal. By the end of his three terms, New York State had become the outright winner in the crime stakes, with shanty towns of homeless, drug gangs, gun-toting ghetto children and a million people on welfare. It had also become notorious as the state with the highest taxes, the least efficient public services, and the biggest budget deficit.

Mario Cuomo with President Bill Clinton in 1994 (AP)

None the less, the Democratic Party appeared to believe that in Cuomo they still had a winner; and in the run-up to the 1994 gubernatorial elections they were confident that he would see off his Republican opponent, George Pataki, a virtual unknown when he entered the race. Their confidence increased when Rudolph Giuliani, the popular Republican Mayor of New York City, broke ranks and endorsed Cuomo for another term in the governor’s mansion.

But the voters were unimpressed. The Democratic vote in Cuomo’s stronghold of New York City was feeble. His grassroots supporters among the urban blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics simply did not bother to go to the polls and he went down to defeat.

Mario Matthew Cuomo was born on June 15 1932 in an apartment behind his family’s grocery shop in the Queens district of New York, the child of illiterate but hard-working Italian immigrants who had moved to America after the First World War. His father began as a drain-digger before opening his business.

After taking a degree in Latin American Studies, English and Philosophy at St John’s College, a Catholic university in Queens, Cuomo passed out equal top from the college’s Law department and began his career working for an Irish-American judge on the New York State Court of Appeals.

Subsequently he joined a legal partnership in Queens and became a formidable advocate for local communities threatened with displacement or rehousing by city planners and developers.

In 1972 the city’s Mayor John Lindsay asked Cuomo to sort out a row which pitted middle-class Italian-Americans against black welfare recipients, for whom a new housing project had been planned in the Forest Hills area. He succeeded so well, pacifying both sides, that in 1974 the state governor Hugh Carey made him New York Secretary of State. In this capacity he settled strikes, mediated a Mohawk Indian land claim, investigated abuses in state-run nursing homes and tackled a variety of civic quarrels.

Mario Cuomo campaigning in 1977 (REX)

In 1977 Cuomo ran for Mayor of New York City — but lost the Democratic nomination to Ed Koch. The next year he won the state’s lieutenant governorship, becoming New York’s ombudsman. In 1982 he won the governorship.

Cuomo’s name was never tainted with scandal. Despite his Italian-American origins, efforts to find links to the Mob got nowhere. Apart from his 1960s-style liberalism, his chief weakness was his thin skin. A New York Times reporter who had covered state politics for years described how, when offended, Cuomo would make “blistering phone calls where he ranted out of control. It was scary.” Meanwhile, some thought his self-indulgent bouts of public agonising about the presidency tended to divert public attention from more worthy Democratic candidates.

After leaving the governor’s mansion, Cuomo returned to his Manhattan law practice. He later hosted two New York radio shows and became a regular on the lecture circuit. He also published a book, Reason to Believe (1996), an attack on Newt Gingrich-style Republicanism.

In 1954 he married Matilda Raffa, with whom he had two sons and three daughters. His closest confidant and eldest son, Andrew, married (but later divorced) Robert Kennedy’s daughter Kerry and followed his father into politics. Andrew Cuomo stood for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York against George Pataki in 2002, only to withdraw from the race on the eve of the state convention. In 2010, however, he won the nomination in an uncontested primary and beat his Republican opponent, Carl Paladino, in the general election. He was elected to a second term as governor last year.

Mario Cuomo is survived by his wife and children.

Mario Cuomo, born June 15 1932, died January 1 2015


british paratroopers kosovo
British paratroopers of the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, reveive flowers from a young ethnic Albanian Kosovar, while patrolling in Pristina, Kosovo, as part of the Nato peacekeeping force.(AP Photo/Paul Grover/MOD pool) Photograph: Paul Grover/AP

Will Hutton makes some good points in his piece on our recent military interventions but only looks at the ones he perceives to be failures: Iraq and Afghanistan (“Right-of-centre ideology has lost us a war and much more besides”, Comment). We should be proud of the action our forces took in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, which saved lives.

And while learning from the undoubted mistakes made in Afghanistan and Iraq we should also look at countries where perhaps the mistake was not to intervene. The million or so Syrian refugees would probably welcome the type of intervention Hutton condemns and not see it in the political terms he mentions but instead welcome it as a humanitarian response to their unfolding tragedy.

Peter Halsey



Will Hutton’s appraisal of Britain’s failed military pretensions post 9/11 lacks one vital factor: any mention of the bizarre plan to replace Trident. There could not be anything more pretentious than a government subjecting its people to “austerity” measures, which generate real and growing poverty, while it seeks to wave its willy with unusable weapons of such extravagance.

In 1962, many of us went to Holy Loch to protest at the basing of US Polaris submarines there and Scottish CND came up with a very musical “Och! Och! There’s a monster in the loch” to rally opposition. If the SNP were to form a group after 7 May capable of blocking missile submarines in Scotland, there would be a powerful opposition to basing them in any Welsh or English cove or bay and perhaps even a Miliband government would be driven to cancelling the existing plans.

“Nay! Nay! No monster in the bay,” perhaps?

David Spilsbury


Now, now, do not naysay Nye

By suggesting that Nye Bevan made a “faux pas” when comparing Tories to vermin, Chris Mullin (Books) reveals himself to be a supporter of today’s middle-ground, middle-class politics. When parliament is inhabited by MPs who have more in common with each other than constituents, it is understandable that these careerists find it distasteful to be blunt when addressing other members of their “club”, even when their name might be Iain Duncan Smith.

Bevan was rough, tough and working class. He used blue-collar language and spoke from the heart. A similar comment today would be applauded by millions. Sadly, on the left, we no longer have politicians with the fire, passion, honesty and fearlessness to speak in the language of those they supposedly represent .

Bill Geddes


West Sussex

Young can’t afford not to vote

Great news about the views of the 17 to 22 age group (“Optimistic and tolerant, our first-time voters give cause for hope”, leading article). If they wish to see the UK in Europe, the Human Rights Act maintained, the need to address climate change accepted and the level of privatisation in NHS kept very low, they must vote. Otherwise we over-65s will again be “bribed” to vote for a misremembered past and their futures will be ignored.

Janet Roberts



And the cuts keep coming

While there is much to commend in Peter Bazalgette’s article (“Use the arts to boost the nation’s health”, Comment) I have to point out that Arts and Minds in Cambridgeshire has had to restrict its services due to lack of funding and its much appreciated services to mental health service users in Peterborough’s in-patient mental health unit have been curtailed due to lack of money.

Ian Arnott


A Bentley? That’s a bit rich

A minor correction to Polly Toynbee’s tribute to Jane Bown (New Review). David Astor never had a Bentley; he would have regarded that as an unpardonable extravagance. He used an office Volvo, which collected him from home in the morning and returned him there after work. During the day, as Polly found, it was available to the news desk to ferry reporters around. David was embarrassed by any display of wealth, so much so that his driver was once heard to say: “For a rich man, he doesn’t have a very good time.”

Donald Trelford


Proud to be a Twirly bird

I don’t care for “real senior” at all (Katharine Whitehorn, Magazine). Even “unreal senior” would be preferable. However, many years ago, when I qualified for my bus pass, one of my daughters told me that her bus-driving friend from Liverpool told her that they referred to us as “Twirlies”. Think about it in Scouse language. “Can I get on this bus or am I too early”? Anyway, I’ve referred to myself as a Twirly ever since and I’m sticking with it whether it’s true or not. It is a very long time since I lived in Liverpool.

Elizabeth Hill



An Accident and Emergency Unit sign at a UK hospital.. Image shot 09/2014. Exact date unknown.
The pressures on accident and emergency units are increasing, but does that mean certain categories of patients should be turned away? Photograph: Alamy

Who are the “more deserving” patients being prevented getting speedy access to A&E because of the undeserving drunks (“Arrest drunks who clog up A&E wards – medical chief”, News)? Are they the speeding motorist, the heart-attack victims who smoked 40 a day? I think it becomes problematic if we start making moralistic judgments about who deserves help and don’t just treat them regardless of the cause.

Drinking to excess is a problem, but there are multiple reasons why people drink. It might be partying, depression or a whole host of reasons. I recently saw a 70-year-old man who had been banned from local pubs for drinking to excess and was being treated for liver damage. His wife had died and he had few other places to find company. I think helping him with his grief and finding other places to be less lonely is a better solution to arresting in his case. Two possible solutions spring to mind:

1. Drink-awareness courses offered instead of arrest and paid for by the individual. They could be run by drug and alcohol services/charities and make people aware of the dangers of excess drinking and for those with more long-term problems be an access point to get help.

2. Increasing the price of alcohol. Smoking has decreased as its cost and the services to help quit have increased. We need the same two-pronged approach to alcohol.

Dr Chris Allen

Consultant clinical psychologist


“Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community,” said Nye Bevan in 1951.

I doubt very much that he would have seen an inexorable influx of the legless into A&E as the responsibility of his embryonic NHS, which Dr Cliff Mann rightly questions more than 60 years later.

Clearly it is debatable as to whether this amounts to a legal offence as he suggests but it does highlight the increasing demands of lifestyle illness on the NHS. The charity Alcohol Concern recently reported that in-patient admissions entirely attributable to alcohol cost the NHS £518m per annum and partly attributable cost £1.3bn.

Surely this money would be more appropriately spent reversing the cutback of nursing numbers or funding better care for chronic illnesses and for the elderly.

Patients’ rights and expectations are repeatedly sounded but perhaps there needs to be an equal emphasis on the public’s responsibility to look after their own health and to use the precious NHS resources judiciously. I, for one, would drink to that.

Dr John Trounce


East Sussex

While sympathising with Dr Cliff Mann there is little chance of police enthusiasm for his suggestion. A much more effective policy may lie with the enforcement of existing legislation that involves the removal of licences from premises serving alcohol to the intoxicated. As with the drink-driving laws – once somebody you know has spent a night in the cells and lost their licence the temptation to flout the law lessens considerably.

Perhaps those doctors so exercised by cigarette packaging could now turn their attentions to alcohol as I am still seeing advertisements for alcohol on television, one featuring the clean-cut Mr Beckham, who should know better.

Anna Farlow

London NW2

Dr Mann should be reminded that it is not the job of NHS staff to assert that one patient (or group of patients) is more deserving than another.

He would do better to join with other NHS workers and public servants, including police officers, in demanding that the government provides them with sufficient resources to do their respective jobs in the way that is most appropriate.

Francis Prideaux

London W9


It was heartbreaking to read the findings of the Family Food report but heartening to see The Independent on Sunday give it such prominence (“Millions of Britons battle to feed themselves”, 28 December).

Among the 492,000 people who used a food bank between April and September 2014 is the mum forced to give up breastfeeding after four weeks due to poor calorie intake or the dad who lost three stone having forgone meals for several weeks to ensure his two boys could eat.

The issue of malnutrition is very real to people with names, faces and painful stories of their own. I hope politicians from across the spectrum are willing to prioritise the reduction of food poverty in the run-up to and beyond the general election.

Ewan Gurr

Scotland network manager

The Trussell Trust, Dundee

I have a great deal of sympathy with Fiona Sturges regarding the difficulties and dilemmas one faces when giving up drink (“I’m just as merry without a drink, thank you” 28 December). I have been drinking since the age of 16. I am now in my late forties and am considering giving it up for a variety of reasons, health being the principal one.

It isn’t until you contemplate such a radical course that you realise how deeply embedded alcohol is in our culture. It is particularly difficult when all your friends and most of your family drink. I aim to go alcohol-free for the whole of January and take it from there.

It is not my intention to lecture people and I am not on a moral crusade. However; it is your contemporaries and society that will now allow you to go quietly without interrogating you as if you were a terrorist suspect. Good luck to Fiona. You are going to need it !

Liam McParland

Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

David Kuo’s concerns about China’s growth rate are exaggerated (Investment insider, 28 December). If it falls to 7.0 per cent from 7.5 per cent, the amount added to GDP will be slightly higher this year than last. We should not be too hooked on the idea that every year needs to show a bigger increase than the one before; that rapidly becomes impossible.

Harvey Cole

Winchester, Hampshire

DJ Taylor writes a thoughtful article on cultural standards (“Good taste? It’s all a matter of timing…” 28 December) but he omits any discussion of language. It is a curious anomaly that society today is censorious towards sexist language and yet it tolerates the parading on television and radio of coarse and even obscene language much of which is sexist. The worst culprits are usually so-called comedians whose delight in obscenity takes the place of genuine humour.

Those who control the media and who licence this decline are terrified of being labelled prudes whereas, in fact, to make a stand demonstrates maturity and an awareness of what enhances human values.

Michael Meadowcroft

Leeds, West Yorkshire

Has Helen Grant never heard of rowing? (“Greatest year for women’s sport”, 28 December.) This is the sport in which not only did GB women achieve extraordinary success at the 2012 Olympics but in which one crew in particular has remained unbeaten ever since, culminating in winning the World Championships in August 2014 in a world record time. Short or selective memory, then? And it’s not just because I’m a proud uncle that I feel constrained to write!

David Stanning

Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

The Environment Agency does not hold shares in any listed companies. Like many pension funds, the Environment Agency Pension Fund invests in a wide range of companies and these assets are completely separate from the Environment Agency.

The day-to-day management of the fund and selection of companies is delegated to external fund managers. The fund invests more than £600m in clean technologies, and is recognised as a global leader in responsible and sustainable investment.

John Varley




NHS direct website

NHS Direct was set up in March 1998 in an attempt to relieve pressure on A & E departments Photo: Alamy

SIR – Charles Moore asks: “Should our leaders make an animal NHS their pet project? It might not be in the animals’ best interests.

The day after being discharged from hospital following surgery recently, I experienced acute urinary retention. On the advice of the hospital, my wife phoned our GP. It being a Saturday the surgery was closed (like all local GPs) until Monday. A recorded message said that “a doctor would ring back”. No phone call resulted.

She rang NHS Direct, which instructed her to dial 111. Another recorded message said that “This service is unavailable in your area”. By 9pm things were so desperate that she had to call an ambulance and I was taken to A&E.

Here I was seen promptly but neither of the two doctors who saw me was able to pass a catheter. It was not until 8.30am on Sunday that the surgeon who had carried out the original procedure came on duty. My problem was resolved in five minutes.

I have only praise for the care I received during my initial spell in hospital, but as a retired veterinary surgeon I feel the post-operative service provided by the NHS was abysmal. If I had failed to provide adequate out-of-hours cover for my animal patients, I would have been called before the RCVS disciplinary committee and struck off. Pets seem better served than their owners.

Paul Carwardine
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – The most significant factor in the crisis in emergency care examined by Robert Colvile is the reduction in the number of beds available in NHS hospitals.

Between 2003 and 2014 the total fell by 27 per cent, from 183,826 to 134,709. This is the continuation of a trend since the inception of the NHS in 1948 when it inherited 544,000 beds – 11 beds per thousand of the population.

In 2012, the latest year for which full figures are available from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the NHS had 2.8 beds per thousand. In comparison Germany had 8.3 and France had 6.3. Only Chile, Mexico and Turkey had fewer than Britain.

Dr Max Gammon
London SE16

SIR – Dr John Turner (Letters, December 23) is right in his diagnosis of flawed thinking on keeping elderly patients out of hospital. Complex conditions require urgent access to pathology or blood tests (not available nearly quickly enough in primary care).

Well-intentioned “home-care support” is characterised by reported 15-minute rushed visits by carers. Until local government pays attention to funding social care for the elderly that problem will not be solved.

Until the NHS 111 telephone service is staffed again by people more qualified than call handlers, neither will that.

Linda Hughes
Newton Abbot, Devon

Not the ticket at all

(Getty Images)

SIR – I see from the report on January 1 that tickets for rail journeys can be cheaper if purchased from the ticket office rather than the ticket machine.

That approach is almost an impossibility in Ely as the ticket office is rarely open, due, we are told, to a shortage of staff.

Eileen Norton
Ely, Cambridgeshire

Enterprise hobbled

SIR – On January 27 2014 David Cameron made a speech to the Federation of Small Businesses, in which he promised to scrap or amend over 3,000 “needless regulations”.

On January 1 this year the Government brought in a new EU directive on VAT that will see thousands of small businesses close down, or face a huge additional administrative burden.

The new law requires sellers of digital services to identify sales to each EU country and charge the VAT applicable in that country. So a musician selling music on download or a budding author selling an e-book will now need to register for VAT and keep detailed records for 10 years, even if their turnover to EU countries is negligible. These traders could have been Britain’s success stories of the future, but the need to register for VAT from day one will simply stifle business enterprise.

Nigel Draper
Takeley, Essex

Round the houses

SIR – Dr Brian Wareing (Letters, December 30) should refer back to the introduction of postcodes in the Sixties before blaming them for leading his delivery drivers astray.

Postcodes were developed to speed up sorting in Royal Mail’s mail centres. It is a very comprehensive and robust system, but was never intended to assist with the location of addresses. Because it is so good, it was hijacked by the manufacturers of satellite navigation systems, who found it sufficiently accurate for their purposes and much cheaper than writing their own locating program.

Robin Platt
Wokingham, Berkshire

SIR – Postcodes are frequently a source of extreme irritation here. The Welsh counties were again reorganised (perhaps not the most apt description) almost 20 years ago, at considerable cost. The county of Clwyd disappeared and was, in this area, given the old name of Flintshire, but with different boundaries.

But when I try to buy goods online, the suppliers often have a database with only Clwyd available.

It’s easy to complain about modern technology – it seems to me that there are far too many dunderheads involved in setting it up.

Mary Fraser Burns
Buckley, Flintshire

Highway to heaven

SIR – The launch of the first Conservative Party poster of the election campaign featuring a “road” to a stronger economy raises an eyebrow.

Not a pothole in sight. Where exactly is this rural idyll?

Dr Alan Newlands
Haverhill, Suffolk

SIR – The Conservatives’ election poster promises miles of straight, empty road, without speed cameras or wind farms to blight the view. Count me in.

Vivian Bush
Hessle, East Yorkshire

Nato’s lost deterrence

SIR – Nato is in danger of forgetting what made it the most successful alliance in history for half a century of confrontation with Soviet Russia: its credible deterrent posture based on the collective security of Article 5 of its treaty. The Soviet Union was in no doubt that an attack on any Nato member would instantly involve it in a Third World War with all other members.

In order for any deterrent policy to be effective, the potential aggressor must be aware not only that the consequences of attacking will be unacceptable, but also that they will be unavoidable. For Nato this means that no country should be admitted to membership if there is little prospect of Article 5 being invoked on its behalf.

Before casually setting countries like Georgia and the Ukraine on the path to Nato membership, we must ask ourselves one key question: “Would we be prepared to start a Third World War if such proposed new members were invaded?” If the answer is “No”, as I believe it is, then admitting them to membership would undermine, at a stroke, the credibility of Article 5.

We would then be back in the uncertainties of the Thirties, when aggressors could pick off weak countries while gambling that their stronger friends would not intervene. This is the very scenario which Nato was set up to avoid, and we should be mad to return to it.

Dr Julian Lewis MP (Con)
London SW1

Flight of fancy

SIR – How can Lydd airport now be called London Ashford Airport (report, January 2)? It is nowhere near London and is not that close to Ashford.

On this basis, is Birmingham to be renamed London Birmingham Airport?

Steve Donovan
Fleet, Hampshire

Open sesame

SIR – I am happy to report that I have cracked the problem of my sister-in-law’s password based on her late husband’s first car (Letters, December 29). My late brother, Christopher Barlow, was most precise in all things and a search through some old photograph albums yielded the answer – which, for obvious security reasons, I cannot divulge.

A lesson learnt for me perhaps, as I am constantly trying (and failing) to remember which password applies to which account.

Robin Barlow
Torbryan, Devon

Tracing the Irish origins of the Iron Duke

The Duke of Wellington and his ally General Blücher bear down on an overweight Napoleon (

SIR – Your obituary of the 8th Duke of Wellington suggests that the family originated in Somerset. There were indeed Wellesleys from Somerset, but the Iron Duke’s family were barely Wesley/Wellesley at all. They were Colley.

The Iron Duke’s paternal grandfather was born Richard Colley in County Meath, and inherited the nearby estate of Garret Wesley, a childless cousin-by-marriage, on condition he change his name. When Richard, the elder brother of Arthur, became Governor General of India, was given a peerage in 1797, he chose the title “Baron Wellesley of Wellesley in the County of Somerset,” the original family name of the cousin-by-marriage. Thus the Wesleys became the grander-sounding Wellesleys.

However, it was as Arthur Wesley that the Iron Duke, aged just 21, sat in the Irish Parliament as member for Trim in County Meath.

Members of the family remained notable in later Irish parliaments. George Colley was elected in 1944 for Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party. He became finance minister and deputy prime minister, and in the Sixties challenged Charles Haughey for the leadership. Nobody calls the Colleys “Anglo-Irish”.

Mary Ellen Synon
Brussels, Belgium

Cheap milk and a bleak future for dairy farmers

SIR – My brother-in-law Mark and his father Sam are dairy farmers on a tenant farm in Surrey, which has been in the family for the last 60 years. In total, they have about 90 head of adult cattle and around 150 calves.

I have always thought of Mark as the hardest working man I know. He’s up milking at 4.30am, every day of the year. He cannot and does not go on holidays as they do not have the funds to employ full-time help.

During dinner recently, Mark told us that he may have to hand in his notice on the farm in the spring. He is now losing 2.5 pence on every litre of milk that he produces with all that hard work. Six months ago, after years of fixing milk prices artificially low, prices per litre had “recovered” to the levels they were at when he married my sister in 1986, but it did not last long. Ironically, the British public have on the whole expressed their willingness to pay more for British milk.

Mark sees Tesco as the biggest culprit in the milk wars, but surely all supermarkets must, to some degree, be to blame for the crisis facing British dairy farmers. Rebuilding the farming industry once it is destroyed – and it is already being destroyed – will take generations.

I call upon the Government, the dairy cooperative Arla and the major supermarkets to act together to keep farmers like Mark working our beautiful countryside for a decent living.

Clare Mutsaars
Guildford, Surrey

Globe and Mail:

Jeffrey Simpson

Iran bashers display a dangerous lack of worldliness

The potentially most consequential negotiations in the world this year will centre on Iran’s nuclear program.

Until June, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will continue negotiating with Iran a possible deal on preventing that country from building nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Negotiations were supposed to end in early December. But negotiators did not reach a deal, so they agreed to a six-month extension. Both sides declared that serious progress had been made, such that more talks were worthwhile.

A deal is there to be had, and the collapse of oil prices can only put even more pressure on the Iranians to be reasonable, given the double whammy their country faces with sanctions and low oil prices.

The devil for a deal lies in the politics of Iran and the United States, but also in important details such as how many centrifuges Iran would be allowed, what level of uranium enrichment would be permitted, how large would be the stockpiles and the time frame for Iran to turn its nuclear capability into a weapon – the so-called “breakout.”

Critics of the negotiations – led by Israel, of course, and the Harper government that follows Israel’s lead on all Middle East issues – insist Iran should be stripped of centrifuges and essentially of its entire capability ever to make a weapon. For the critics, it’s all or nothing, which is not how any successful negotiation ever ends.

The critics’ bottom line would mean, of course, no possible deal, which is presumably what Israel, the Israel lobby in Washington, the U.S. Republican Party and irrelevancies such as the Harper government want. Their short-term alternative is to apply even more economic sanctions on Iran, hoping that the country would bend under their weight, which is what would not at all happen.

Instead, some of the six negotiating partners (Russia and China for sure; France perhaps) would assume no deal and likely begin to make their own arrangements with Iran. Other countries (India, for example) would increase economic ties. Iran would continue without bothering with any international inspections to spin more centrifuges and move closer to the possibility of some day wielding a nuclear weapon which, in turn, would so frighten Saudi Arabia (and perhaps Turkey) that a nuclear race might begin in the world’s most volatile region.

No deal with Iran, coupled with phobias about the country elsewhere, would tempt Israelis and some Americans into a military option that could, at best, merely cripple the Iranian nuclear program but not prevent it from eventually unfolding. Such an attack would destroy the moderates (by Iranian standards) who won the 2013 presidential election and embolden the hardliners. It would also enjoin Iran to further support Hezbollah, Hamas and even the Syrian regime.

Professor Thomas Juneau at the University of Ottawa warns, quite wisely, in a recent paper for Middle East Policy of Iran’s “strategic loneliness.” By this, he means that Iran has no natural or historic partners in the region. All Iranian regimes, whatever their composition, will be prickly because the Iranians believe themselves surrounded by “threat and encirclement.”

Iran has been attacked, after all, by Iraq, which was supported in that war by the United States. Iran’s relations, as the world’s leading Shia country, with Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia are poor. Iran’s government was overthrown once by a U.S.-inspired coup. Around it, nuclear weapons are in the hands of China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Israel and the Western powers of the United States, France and Britain.

Given Prof. Juneau’s warnings about “strategic loneliness,” and Iran’s sense of its own history (and importance), no one should expect a nuclear deal would transform the country’s foreign policy. But it might, over time, lead to some thawing of relations with the United States, with which it has co-operated on such issues as the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State.

Iran is a very complicated place. It has a governmental system with elections but where ultimate power over internal and external security lies with the Supreme Ayatollah and the Revolutionary Guards, who own large chunks of the Iranian economy.

The middle-class and more educated Iranians – the kind of people who elected Hassan Rouhani as President – want to break free from the rigidities imposed by the regime and the sanctions imposed by the West.

To see Iran as a monolithic society with a monochromatic political system reflects a dangerous lack of sophistication and a failure to imagine possibilities.

Ian Buruma

What drives anti-immigrant sentiment?

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Focus Ireland has told us 40 families every month are becoming homeless in Dublin alone
Focus Ireland has told us 40 families every month are becoming homeless in Dublin alone

Sir – Has the country turned the full forgettable circle?

  • Go To

One Friday in December, I was making my way down the very fashionable Lesson Street in Dublin 2 when I stumbled across a private Christmas party in full swing.

At first glance there seemed to be many hundreds of people in attendance. Out of curiosity I made an attempt to enter the party – but was halted in my tracks by the door security who informed me that it was a private Christmas party . . . for a bank.

Now, as a recent victim of banking ruthlessness, I was extremely annoyed at the lack of empathy that this bank and I’m sure other banks have with the great unwashed (myself).

The night previously I had been out in sympathy with the family of the homeless man who died on the door step of our parliament. After that, to be presented with tasteless and provocative behaviour by members of the very fraternity that landed us in the financial nightmare of the last six years was quite sickening to me as I struggle every day to pay my way.

Mel Devlin, Navan, Co Meath


Learning to love yourself

Sir – Dr Ciara Kelly gives very good advice regarding New Year resolutions in her column, headlined ‘Accentuate the positive’ (Sunday Independent, December 28).

“Why not decide to do something you’ve always wanted to this year,” she says, and talks about “eliminating the negative”. The priest in my local church in his homily on Christmas Eve was singing from the same hymn sheet, and talked about looking at what was working in your life, nourishing this and getting rid of what wasn’t working.

All of which is very worthy advice. But I’d like to add a further important element: do not be too hard on yourself.

We all need a forgiving attitude to ourselves. Who among us hasn’t beaten themselves up because maybe they haven’t achieved some goal, or did something they regret?

Sometimes a more loving attitude to ourselves can translate into having a more human and compassionate life towards our fellow human beings. So my advice is definitely accentuate the positive, try and eliminate the negative, but don’t be too hard on ourselves in the process. That’s a win-win situation, irrespective of the outcome.

Tommy Roddy, Galway


Brendan manages all the elements

Sir – Brendan O’Connor`s article (Sunday Independent, 28 December) managed to weave all the elements underlying the public’s current despondency, into the most lucid commentary I`ve read anywhere on the government’s austerity policy. I may become a fan, I felt I could hear his sighs as he typed it.

Arthur O’Donnell, Dublin 17


Re-discovering the joy of giving

Sir – Ian Morris’s article (Make a commitment to your new furry friend in 2015) highlighted the heartlessness of some people towards their pets.

We could help. Today much charity is mediated through professional groups and we rarely get opportunities to experience face-to-face almsgiving. Adopting an abandoned pet is one sure way to rediscover the original joy of giving. A joy that will last.

Tom Collins, Dublin


Don’t put SF into government

Sir – No matter how dissatisfied we are with the present Government, we really must think and reflect before we cast our next vote. Our vote has great power, so, I implore all of us to be very careful how we use that power on voting day.

Do we really believe, in all honesty, we would be better off with Sinn Fein in Government? Please think and reflect about the dreadful treatment of the wonderfully brave lady, Mairia Cahill.

Of course, it would help if the three established parties of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail would start getting their act together immediately, because we will have much greater problems if Sinn Fein get anywhere near government.

This is a party with no realistic politics and an ambiguous point of view on the investigation of sexual abuse”

This is a party with no room for dissent – with dangerous leadership. Do the people who expressed a preference for Sinn Fein in the recent polls really believe that Gerry Adams is a future leader? Would they send him to Europe to discuss our economy with Angela Merkel?

Sinn Fein does not deserve to be anywhere near Government – end of story.

Brian Mc Devitt, Glenties, Co Donegal


SF focussed on grab for power

Sir – Looking back on the year to when Gerry Adams made his ‘guns in the Irish Independent building’ comment (while he was in the US, cadging money from gullible and ignorant Irish/Americans), it was lost on him and his audience, that no war has taken place in this Republic, since the foundation of the State in the early 1920s.

We’ll have no gunmen wrecking printing presses anywhere, Mr Adams. How dare anyone make such a link between what transpired almost 100 years ago in the fog of war, to the peaceful country we now know and love here in our free southern democracy.

Adams and his cohorts forget they agreed, along with the whole of Ireland, that we have no claims over Northern Ireland. But the ridiculous call for “unity” is still the main excuse given for Sinn Fein political belligerence, which we are expected to accept, or be called ‘partitionist’.

To listen to Adams and his motley crew , including elected ex-jailbirds and subversives, north and south of the Border, one would think that their violent madness conducted in Ulster, was on behalf of us all, despite we being quite well established in the democratic process even before Sinn Fein decided we need to be free under their very own tricolour on this side of the border.

Make no mistake, the grab for power, under all means at their disposal, is what the Provos are focused on. We heard from Gerry’s own lips that this is a period of “unarmed strategy,” though what the future holds when this phase is over, I shudder to contemplate.

In the North, nothing passes for “political activism” which the hard men do not sanction first. The same is true here in the south, and just because the ballot box is useful to Gerry and the lads at this time, be assured that nothing short of complete submission by the ‘Free State’ will be settled for.

I spoke with a prominent Fianna Fail member recently who naively told me that in the (un)likely scenario where FF went into coalition with SF, Fianna Fail would easily subsume the Provos and all would soon become normal politics, with the experience of the ‘Destiny Soldiers’ being dominant in the corridors of power.

When I pointed out to him that being shoved against a wall in a Dail corridor with a Glock muzzle put under his chin, he would soon change his tune, and it wouldn’t be Fianna Fail who would be in charge, he thought I was joking. No joke.

Some may think that voting for Independents is not good for a functioning democracy, but let me assure them that at this dangerous time in Ireland it is vital that we do (if now dissatisfied with the mainstream parties) so long as it weakens the sinister elements in SF/IRA, who only seek power for its own sake, and to be in a position to settle old and new scores and to act with impunity, generally.

Sinn Fein see themselves as living martyrs and are blinded by rhetorical sound-bites and the sabre-rattling of the likes of Gerry Adams and Bobby Storey in Northern Ireland who, in contradiction with what we know as normal politics here in the south, will always have their plan ‘B’ with which to continue their stupid “revolution.” Stop them at the ballot box, it just might make them see they have an intelligent electorate to deal with. If we do not, we will be very regretful.

Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork


Emotion will decide the election

Sir – Your editorial of December 28 tells us that we need “guidance from wiser souls” such as the three wise men in our present “uncharted political landscape”.

The evidence in this day and age that the Irish or any other electorate would listen to the three wise men does not stand up to scrutiny.

In modern times, when mass media has replaced religion as the most powerful influence, all electorates are at the mercy of the loudest and most emotional voices in the public arena.

The virtually unquestioned celebrity status of a small number of our most powerful citizens during the Celtic Tiger era here and its consequences is a sobering example.

The consequences of the coming to power of Hitler in Germany on the basis of high emotion generated by the use of mass media and mass rallies is an even more sobering example.

Even more sobering still is the fact that our day-to-day shopping is largely determined by what particular products and services multi-national corporations spend billions promoting.

The next government in this, and indeed every other country, will be determined more by the media-generated emotions of voters on the day than they will be by intelligent guidance by “wise men”

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13


Of course we are a nation

Sir – Your correspondent, Tom Gallagher, formerly of Co Mayo but writing from Las Vegas, raises the important question of the distinction between nation and state.

Of course Ireland is a nation and has a settled existence as a nation for many centuries. The first Irish parliament, for example, took place at Castledermot, Co Kildare, in 1264, and the 750th anniversary was commemorated in Seanad Eireann earlier this year.

In 1707 there was a union of England, Scotland and Wales, and in 1800 a United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland.

The Union was never really accepted in Ireland, but the constitutional efforts for Irish Home Rule were thwarted undemocratically by the unelected House of Lords in 1910-1914 and by the threat of armed insurrection in Ireland in 1912.

Eventually the Irish nation was partitioned in 1921 by the British Government under the Welshman David Lloyd George.

None of the major Irish players of this tragic period, Redmond, Carson and De Valera, was in favour of the partition of their nation.

Partition of Ireland in 1921 inevitably led to the Civil War between treaty and anti-treaty forces. It has taken us in Ireland the best part of a century to emerge from this political division.

On these islands we have four great nations, not merely two or three.

Dr Gerald Morgan, Trinity College, Dublin 2


No more need for ‘Scrooge’

Sir – The winter solstice of 2014 was darkened further by a disturbing Sunday Independent front page message – “no light, but darkness visible” – alongside a depiction of prehistoric remembrance of human endeavour to enhance and create a better, more secure existence for all.

We live in the best time that ever existed. We have created a world of unimaginable abundance and achieved the power to overcome the great tyrants – inability, poverty, ill-health, pain, discomfort, shortage, ignorance, isolationism, boredom, and the great breaker of body and spirit throughout the ages: constant hard work.

But a great ‘Scrooge’ mentality appears to have usurped economic thinking; a determination to shout ‘humbug’ at the utter transformation of economic activity from shortage to surplus, from growth to sufficiency and from work to automation. Happy New Year.

Padraic Neary, 
Co Sligo


The ‘right-to-die’ case infuriates us

Sir, I wish to thank the Sunday Independent of December 28 for their coverage of the tragic ‘right-to-die’ court ordeal of a family of a young pregnant woman.

I am not a medical or legal person and so listening to the barrage of medical and legal arguments has left me saddened beyond words. I can’t help feeling that this country of ours has lost something very precious and almost intangible that is hard to articulate but strikes at the very core of our country.

Political correctness and the fear of being sued seems to have driven this case beyond the bounds of human decency. Not once did I hear a mention of the Hippocratic Oath. This is one of the oldest binding documents in history and is still held sacred by physicians. It calls on doctors to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation and so on.

Former attorney general Michael McDowell states that “the Constitution is very clear in its role ‘to promote the common good with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured’.” Its role is protector of the constitutional rights of the defenceless.

He states: “this makes it blindingly obvious that a grotesque scenario in which the Irish state took over the body of a brain-dead woman against the wishes of her grieving family with a view to using it for an extended period of months in the hope that an early-term foetus might develop to the point of viability, in whatever state of health or incapacity was never intended, still less mandated, by the Constitution.”

Dearbhail McDonald says that “the grotesque stranglehold over Irish women’s bodies and minds wielded by the Catholic Church” has somehow influenced this tragic case. She also paints a pathetic picture of the “three unfortunate doctors… sitting in a room with a copy of the Irish Constitution trying to figure out our the Eighth Amendment.” She concludes her article by stating: “When the HSE, an arm of the State, says that doctors need to trust their clinical judgement, the time for hiding behind the skirts of the Eighth Amendment has come to an end.”

Judge Kearns, the presiding judge, states that “it was a futile exercise which commenced only because of the fears held by the treating medical specialists of potential legal consequences.” My burning question is: If all those experts are so horrified by this appalling human tragedy, who are the people who authorised this action? It is not good enough for the citizens of this country who are forced to bear the cost of this multi-party litigation to be fobbed off by faceless institutions, medical terminology and legal waffle.

Eileen Davey, Laytown, Co Meath


Wilful waste and woeful want

Sir – It is said that wilful waste makes for woeful want. Hence, it never ceases to amaze me that politicians even attempt to defend their wilful wasting of taxpayers’ contributions.

Despite ridding ourselves of the previous cocky shower, we have replaced them with a self-proclaimed man of high political standards in Mr Kenny. Big mistake. This spotless leader is now defending his Government’s spending of €540m on water metering, despite being advised to the contrary.

Pray tell Mr Kenny, why in hell are we paying out millions of euro on salaries for advisers when you proceed to ignore their advice? Perhaps public anger wouldn’t turn into anarchy if people’s constitutional entitlements were protected, instead of being deliberately ignored by political bullies?

It’s hypocritical to be accusing others of fascist behaviour, while ramming water charges upon people against their will. All this could have been avoided if a greater level of economic awareness and common sense prevailed.

Although they have lost my trust, I hope all our politicians are enjoying their long Christmas/New Year break; and I look forward to an early opportunity to show my appreciation for their irresponsible behaviour at the polling booth in the New Year.

Matthew J Greville, Killucan, Co Westmeath

Sunday Independent


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