8 January 2015 Pottering

Mary a little better though she could manage to get up fot breakfast. Potter around childrens books on Amazon, sweep some leaves tidy up’


Cabu was a cartoonist described by the film-maker Jean-Luc Godard as ‘the best journalist in France’

Cabu with his cartoon  character Le Grand Duduche

Cabu with his cartoon character Le Grand Duduche Photo: LYDIE/SIPA/REX

Jean Cabut, who has been killed in Paris aged 76, was better known as “Cabu”, a cartoonist who earned the wrath of Muslim fundamentalists with a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, which became the subject of a court case in 2007; the film-maker Jean-Luc Godard one called him “the best journalist in France”.

In its issue of February 8 2006, Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly in which Cabu was a shareholder, republished 12 drawings that had appeared the previous year in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, some of them representing Mohammed. Their original publication in September 2005 had provoked an outcry in the Muslim world and sparked violent protests in several countries, resulting in the deaths of at least 50 people.

On the cover of its reprint, Charlie Hebdo also published an original drawing by Cabu depicting a sobbing Mohammed with his head in his hands, saying, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots’’ under the caption “Mohammed overwhelmed by fundamentalists”.

Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons in solidarity with the Danish newspaper and to make a point about freedom of expression in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe. The previous week the republication of the Danish cartoons by the French daily France Soir had led to the dismissal of its editor, Jacques Lefranc.

Following the publication of the offending issue of the magazine the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France sued its editor Philippe Val, arguing that the Cabu cartoon and two of the Danish images drew an offensive link between Islam and terrorism. They accused Val of “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion’’ and requested €30,000 in damages. The charges could have resulted in a six-month prison term.

However, in March 2007, following hearings seen as a test case of freedom of expression, Val was acquitted by a Paris court. The ruling was hailed as a victory for freedom of speech, but it put Charlie Hebdo in the sights of radical Muslims. Journalists on the magazine reported threatening telephone calls and in November 2011 its offices were firebombed after it published a special edition featuring the Prophet Mohammed as a “guest editor”.

Yesterday gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs and a rocket-launcher opened fire in the offices, killing 12 people, including Cabu. Witnesses have claimed that they heard the gunmen shouting “we have avenged the Prophet Mohammed”.


The son of a schoolmaster, Jean Cabut was born at Chalons-en-Champagne on January 13 1938. After studying Art at the École Estienne in Paris he began producing drawings for a local newspaper.

Conscripted into the French Army for two years during the war in Algeria, Cabu produced cartoons for the army magazine and also for Paris Match. But his experiences in Algeria turned him into a virulent anti-militarist and he remained a relentless campaigner for non-violence and critic of the French political establishment.

In 1960 he became one of the founders of Hara-Kiri, a satirical magazine which, after it was banned by president Charles de Gaulle in 1970, simply changed its name to Charlie Hebdo and appeared with the same cover the following week. Cabu also produced political cartoons for its rival Le Canard enchaîné and other magazines.

His best known characters were Mon Beauf (“My brother-in-law”), an incarnation of bovine French provincial complacency. On one occasion the notorious Gaullist mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin (to whom the character bore a physical resemblance), sued Cabu for libel. (Médecin was later tried and convicted for corruption.)

Another popular character, Le Grand Duduche, was the eternal awkward adolescent, in love with the headmaster’s daughter and a naive observer of the law of the jungle that rules school life – and the grown-up world of politics.

Cabu’s work, which also featured in books and album covers, was the subject of a major exhibition in 2006-7 at Paris’s Hotel de Ville.

In the 1960s Cabu had a son with the Isabelle Monin, co-founder of the ecology magazine, La Gueule. The boy became better known in France as the punk singer-songwriter Mano Solo, who died of Aids in 2010.

Jean Cabut, born January 13 1938, died January 7 2015


The A&E crisis is an inevitable consequence of ideological cuts

uk ambulence service images. Emergency service reportarge.. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.
‘The crisis in A&E departments is a ‘dead canary in the coal mine’ for our public services,’ writes Andrew Judge. Photograph: John Sanders/Alamy

“Rationing by payment may offend tradition, but rationing by chaos is cruel,” says Simon Jenkins (The NHS can’t survive without payment for frontline treatments, 6 January). SImon Jenkins needs to consider some important questions. Why is it kinder to ration by pricing rather than a lottery? Is that because restricting some healthcare randomly potentially affects everyone, including the rich and powerful, making the problem more visible? Has Simon Jenkins taken into account the fact that charges mean additional costs in management, thus causing a further reduction in the resources available to actually deliver services ?

Perhaps Jenkins could also try to explain why the NHS is rated the most efficient health service across 11 major developed nations as assessed by the Commonwealth Fund. “The UK ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency,” states the report. The US, despite the massive costs of its health system, ranks bottom. The Commonwealth Fund is Washington-based and respected around the world for its analysis of the performance of different countries’ health systems.

Of the 11 countries assessed, only New Zealand spends less per head of population than the UK, yet the NHS provides the best service. It’s obvious that the NHS model works well despite the lack of investment. The difficulties of the NHS are due not to the model of healthcare, but the lack of funding. The obsession with reorganisations and marketisation is what damages the NHS.
Ian Reissmann
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

• Simon Jenkins, in advocating co-payments for core NHS care, has resurrected what is referred to in health systems research as the classic zombie policy. The arguments against it are overwhelming: costing more to collect than it raises, deterring those in real need, and creating boundless perverse incentives, so that it has, quite rightly, repeatedly been killed off. Yet, like a zombie, there is always someone to bring it back to life. Clearly, the mass of evidence that many researchers consider to be the stake through the heart of this discredited policy is not yet adequately understood.
Professor Martin McKee
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

• The crisis in A&E departments is a “dead canary in the coal mine” for our public services (Report, 7 January). Not only is it evidence that the NHS is indeed broken, with money wasted on costly reorganisation and GP appointments increasingly difficult to obtain, it also suggests government-imposed cuts to local council social care services are leading to vulnerable people becoming unwell. Yet we haven’t seen half the cuts they intend yet. There is a harshness to Tory plans that requires public spending to be slashed unnecessarily by £27bn in pursuit of an ideological agenda. Labour plans to eliminate the deficit in revenue spending over a realistic period, but the Tories want to go much further to undermine public services and change the nature of government. The fabric of our society would be damaged for ever. The country now faces a vital electoral choice.
Andrew Judge
Labour parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon

• The coalition never mentions that it has presided over 30%-plus cuts to local authority social care, meaning frail elderly ill patients admitted to A&E and hospital beds cannot be discharged because the government has stripped community care back to the bone. No matter how much Mr Hunt tries to blame GPs or other parts of the NHS, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a crisis of his making and the electorate must be made aware of this gross political failure with our most vital public service.
Dr David Wrigley
Carnforth, Lancashire

• Though Britain desperately needs significantly higher levels of capital investment, I don’t know what Peter Hain MP was doing for 13 wasted years (A smaller state? It’s what got us into trouble to begin with, 6 January). During its time in government, New Labour failed to tax as much in terms of GDP as even conservative-led Germany, let alone France and Scandinavian countries. Between 2004 and 2012 this tax gap averaged 2·8% compared to Germany, according to Eurostat.

While in 2012, eurozone countries spent 10·7% of their national income on public and private medicine, the UK only spent 9·4% of our GPD on health, compared to a truly unsustainable 17·9% in the US, according to the World Bank. Clearly the NHS needs more taxation and not yet more untaxed PFI contracts of which Gordon Brown was so fond, when honours for tax exiles set the tone.

When it comes to crude Tory comparisons with socialist France, Labour can’t even talk their way out of a wet paper bag and explain that President Hollande inherited an economic mess from his rightwing predecessors.
RA Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

• Surely radical solutions are required for the ongoing A&E crisis to affect both supply and demand. So what about a small charge for those non-critical cases at A&E who are not on benefits or pensions, coupled with an additional ringfenced tax on alcohol to fund more care beds?
Don Macdonald
Social enterprise consultant, London

• You quote (Report, 6 January) the chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support’s opinion that progress in cancer treatment is “a double-edged sword” with which “as numbers surge, the NHS will soon be unable to cope”. Would this be the same Macmillan which, as reported in File on 4 recently, made an £867,000 contribution to support the controversial £1.2bn Staffordshire outsourcing tender? This is not the kind of support most of us wish charities to offer the NHS; we do not contribute to them to swell the profits of private companies. Many of us have reason to be grateful for excellent cancer treatment from the NHS, and there are better ways of expanding NHS capacity than those insinuated and followed by Macmillan.
Dr Anne Summers

• There has been much criticism of the NHS, and especially A&E, over the last few days. There are, however, some excellent examples of their extreme proficiency. In November, by husband slipped out walking and fell 20ft on to rocks. Alerted by my screams, a passer-by called the emergency services. The first paramedic arrived within four minutes, assessed the situation was serious and within minutes help was on the way. We ended up with 21 emergency service personnel, including three doctors, an ambulance, a fire engine, mountain rescue services and a helicopter. My husband was taken by helicopter to Southmead hospital, Bristol. As a family, we have nothing but praise for all the rescue services and all the staff at the hospital. We must keep the NHS alive, otherwise we are going to suffer.
Margaret Kinsey
Chepstow, Monmouthshire

• In the week before Christmas 2013, A&E treated 390,000 people in under four hours. In the same week in 2014 they treated 6,000 more in under four hours. It was the same pattern in the week after Christmas: 4,000 more than the year before treated in less than four hours. They deserve congratulation but your headlines reads “Cameron defends NHS in worst week for A&E”.
John O’Brien
LondonUnited Nations Undersecretary-General fo

UN secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos will step down in March. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images

Your editorial draws welcome attention to the process of selecting the next UN secretary-general (1 January). You also chide David Cameron for nominating Andrew Lansley to succeed Valerie Amos as the UN’s humanitarian chief. But, alongside questions about Andrew Lansley’s suitability for the job, there is another consideration that should persuade Mr Cameron to withdraw this nomination. Just as the UN secretary-general has never been a national of one of the five permanent members of the security council (China, France, Russia, UK and US), so it was recognised that emergency relief coordinators could also not be drawn from those countries.

In 2007, however, secretary-general Ban Ki-moon appointed British diplomat John Holmes to the post, and in 2010 Holmes was succeeded by Lady Amos. While both Holmes and Amos have shown great energy and commitment, it is widely acknowledged that the appointment of British officials has politicised the role and made it more difficult for the UN’s humanitarian work to be seen as impartial. The UN has appealed for more than £10bn for relief operations in 2015, the largest sum ever requested. The millions of people caught up in disasters deserve to know that the person charged with leading international efforts to assist them inspires the confidence of governments and humanitarian organisations everywhere.

The British government can rise above narrow national interests and embrace the idea of the best person for the job. In doing so, the government will earn credit far beyond the musty halls of the UN secretariat.
Martin Barber

• Cameron’s nomination of Lansley, a man who has failed to deliver the NHS reform he was appointed to deliver, is one of a long list of incompetents nominated by UN member states. You alluded to the rotation of the top post of secretary-general across continents rather than concentrating on competence. Rotation is not the core problem. Rather, it is that the candidate has to be agreed by all the permanent members of the security council. This means the selection of an individual who is unlikely to upset the interests of the major nations, including the US, China, Russia, France or the UK. The pool of talent has to be expanded from politicians and diplomats to those with significant and successful careers in business and the professions such as project management, engineering and accounting.
Jeremy Ross
Ashtead, Surrey

• Your proposed “more serious” approach to the appointment of the UN secretary-general fails to address the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN security council. It has 15 members, and each member has one vote. Yet the security council is a creature of the five permanent members.
Dr Alex May

• The Commonwealth will be choosing its sixth secretary-general this November. Similar issues to those in your editorial have been raised about the selection. For a voluntary Commonwealth, required to prove its relevance to member states every few years, the stakes are high. Experience shows that only an active secretary-general, backed by a range of governments, can make a difference. Since 2003 two states have left, complaining at Commonwealth enthusiasm for human rights, and Canada has pulled out of funding the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation, in protest at permitting Sri Lanka’s president to chair the association – ie that the Commonwealth was insufficiently serious about rights. In the 1990s, Commonwealth ambassadors at Unesco successfully led a campaign to insist on a job specification and interviews prior to the appointment of its director-general. It is not too late to do something similar for the Commonwealth itself.
Richard Bourne
Senior research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

The Magna Carta on display at Bodelian Library in Oxford
Magna Carta on display at the Bodelian Library in Oxford. Photograph: Alamy

David Carpenter (Magna Carta, 800 years on, Review, 3 January) writes that in 1215 Magna Carta was “a divided and divisive document, often reflecting the interests of a baronial elite a few hundred strong in a population of several millions”. Our constitution still does not accord equal treatment to all. Power is massively over-concentrated and is in the hands of an elite few – our politics is dominated by wealthy, middle-aged, middle-class men, most of whom have followed a very similar education and career path. This lack of diversity is a major factor in a growing and widespread disengagement with politics.

David Carpenter is right to note that human rights are still trampled on in many parts of the world. But we must also recognise that the UK’s own reputation as a defender and promoter of human rights is under threat – the Conservative party’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act would have profound effects for our international reputation and would call into question our continuing commitment to the effective protection of human rights. I, too, hope that Magna Carta will be celebrated 100 years from now. It was a landmark in constitutional history, the foundation of the concept of rule of law and of limited government. But celebrating an 800-year-old document is no longer enough. We must also think about our present and our future. We need a new Magna Carta, fit for our modern democracy. We need a written document to set out the rules of the political game and the framework for the exercise of power.
Graham Allen MP
Labour, Nottingham North

• A sharp wake-up call for the Labour leadership from Timothy Garton Ash (What is Britain? The right answer could win the next election, Opinion, 5 January). Garton Ash’s highlighting of the practical, positive and radical proposal by Lord Salisbury to save the union partially via reform to a quasi-federal UK, with the Commons as the English parliament, and an elected upper chamber for the UK residual functions, mainly overcomes the major flaw in ideas from party leaders. None of those in office have a clue about the current second chamber. (I did not, when in 1980 I moved a 10-minute-rule bill to abolish it.) I have yet to hear a party leader address any issue other than composition, when all serious commentators realise the powers and functions have to addressed first. Lord Salisbury does have the advantage over current leaders, in that he has served in both Houses. Linking the union issue with reform at the centre is a masterstroke. We could end up with fewer politicians at Westminster and serious modern democracy. All the better coming from a Tory dynastic source to get a wagon rolling.
Jeff Rooker
Labour, House of Lords

James Dyson (No Theresa May, we need those foreign graduates, 5 January) rightly says that Theresa May’s proposal to train up then kick out brilliant foreign students would be a major barrier to progress. The home secretary’s proposal must be the first deliberate attempt by a mainstream UK politician to stop the brain drain operating in our favour. The creative sector would sustain particular damage were this proposal to go ahead. UK universities train a very high proportion of the world’s best graduates in creative disciplines. From film to fine art, design to fashion, the creative industries depend on international networks of practitioners and businesses. These industries now form one of the biggest sectors in the UK economy.

As James Dyson, himself an art-school graduate, argues in relation to science and technology, our borders must remain open to the world’s best to attract, train and retain highly skilled professionals and to protect our creative industries.
Nigel Carrington Vice-chancellor, University of the Arts London, Dr Paul Thompson Rector, Royal College of Art, Patrick Loughrey Warden, Goldsmiths, University of London, Professor John Last Vice-chancellor, Norwich University of the Arts

Price of oil shown on board above New York Stock Exchange
The price of oil is shown on board above New York Stock Exchange. Economists predict that ‘falling oil prices will be a shot in the arm for the global economy, unless they aren’t’. Photograph: Richard Drew/AP

The essence of democracy is the ability to speak freely without the fear of persecution (Paris terror attack: Huge manhunt under way after gunmen kill 12, 7 January, theguardian.com). This is an attack on the freedom of speech and on all freedom-loving people. It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms and the perpetrators must be punished.
Dr Michael Pravica
Henderson, Nevada, USA

• Nothing highlights more clearly the irrelevance of economics as a profession than the range of forecasts in your story about oil prices (Report, 7 January). Past forecasts of 2015 oil prices by economists range from $20 to $85 a barrel, as random as rolling dice and multiplying the result by 10. And the wisdom of economists is leading to definite forecasts that falling oil prices will be a shot in the arm for the global economy, unless they aren’t. Time to put them in the same category as astrologers and their views relegated to the back pages of the tabloids?
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warkwickshire

• John Smith writes that the British establishment prevented a yes vote in the Scottish referendum (Letters, 2 January). I formed the impression Scots voters had rather more to do with the result.
Colin Armstrong

• My granddaughter, 19, has gone from a zero-hours contract to a six-hour weekly contract, and is pleased. Is this is what George means by things are looking up? Expect nothing from the Tories and that is what you will get.
Doris Rose

• It was heartening to hear how community action has kept footpaths open (Country diary, 2 January), using the Rights of Way Act 1990. However, a change in the law due to come in in 2026 will prohibit access to paths not specifically designated as public rights of way. Who has proposed this, and how has it been accepted with no public outcry?
Nicola Grove
Horningsham, Wiltshire

• Stuart Jeffries writes in his Foyles War review that “the London on screen looked nothing like it” (G2, 5 January). That’s because it was filmed in the lovely city of Liverpool.
Alan Musa
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Jim Hillier and his colleagues had to carry on at the BFI when they had no official manage

Jim Hillier played a pivotal role in ensuring the British Film Institute education department stayed on the track that it had been started on during the creative and dynamic headship of Paddy Whannel in the 1960s. Jim also made a substantial contribution to the development of a collective management style in arts educational organisations.

In 1971 a change of policy led to Whannel and his deputy, Alan Lovell, resigning from their posts. This left Jim and the other members of the education department, including Colin McArthur and myself, with no official manager, but we nonetheless set about maintaining the existing approach. The way Jim combined its main features – attention to practical detail, rigorous pursuit of ideas and their aesthetic implications, equal focus on popular and experimental forms, and responsiveness to educational needs – was our lodestone.




Sir, Your leader “Hospital Pass” (Jan 6) misses one of the main problems affecting our NHS, which is that no politician will admit that the present system of commissioning and procuring services is hugely expensive and wasteful.

Healthcare, just like defence, needs to be planned and not left to market forces. There are good ideas in the NHS England five-year forward view, including the integration of health and social care, but these do not sit comfortably with the business culture which is responsible for some of the unsatisfactory attitudes and behaviour of staff.

Competition between health providers is accepted by most politicians, journalists and health economists as the best way to motivate people in the NHS and improve efficiency. It does not — and is hugely costly.
Professor Robert Elkeles
Northwood, Middx

Sir, Artificial targets that distort clinical priorities have beset the NHS since the Blair government. Instead of treating the sickest patients first, in line with hippocratic principles, staff are diverted to deal with patients whose need may be low or nonexistent, simply to fulfil artificial objectives. Nowhere is this more telling than in A&Es, where 20 to 30 per cent of attendees don’t need to be there. The quickest fix for the current crisis is to abandon a damaging target to see 95 per cent of patients within four hours. Patients attending A&E should be seen strictly according to clinical priority, with those who are not ill being told to expect a very long wait.
Adam P Fitzpatrick
Consultant cardiologist & electrophysiologist
Mottram-St-Andrew, Cheshire

Sir, Both Professor Suzanne Mason (Jan 7), who is quoted as saying “GPs . . . don’t have to open”, and your leader (Jan 3), which stated that GPs shut at 5pm, are misinformed. GP practices are contractually obliged to be open from 8am till 6.30pm on weekdays, and many offer extended hours. Furthermore, every part of the country has a GP out-of-hours service, although one recent report found that more than a quarter of the public did not know such services existed.
Dr Emma Rowley-Conwy
Chairwoman, South East London Doctors on Call

Sir, Katherine Murphy and Mike Smith from the Patients Association (letter, Jan 6) ignore the many out-of-hours GP provider organisations nationally that give good care to patients. They are safe, caring, effective, responsive and well led; not my words, but those of Professor Steve Field of the Care Quality Commission.
Dr Simon Abrams

Chairman, Urgent Health UK

Sir, Two ways to help the NHS are to contract all new doctors to work full time for a minimum of five years (this will help staff retention, stop new doctors working abroad straight after qualification, and repay the taxpayers whose money has trained them) and to give A&Es a financial incentive to direct inappropriate patients back to their GP or out-of-hours service.
Dr Stephen Brown
Beaconsfield, Bucks

Sir, The flooding of A&Es with unnecessary referrals from NHS 111 was widely predicted (News, Jan 7). Even experienced GPs find telephone triage challenging. These help lines are a huge waste of scarce NHS resources. There was never any evidence that these services would improve patient care — but this is what happens when patients are given what they want, rather than what they need.
Dr Bob Bury

Sir, NHS 111 was piloted in my area of practice and was recognised by all clinicians to be unfit for purpose. Nevertheless, it was declared a success by the primary care trust overseeing the pilot. Its worthlessness is now plain for all to see.
Dr Edward Staines
Spennymoor, Co Durham

Sir, The ludicrous (but powerful) quasi-religious attitude towards the NHS crushes anyone who dares to say it is not perfect. Other countries have much better levels of health care and most are based on some sort of insurance or payment system. Try saying that and you will be shouted down and told you are evil. So the present shambles will go on, costing more and getting worse. It is the British way.
Francis Bown
London E3

Sir, While gardening, I got grit in my eye. My surgery said no one could help straight away and booked me to see a doctor. Within five minutes, a doctor rang to say the surgery didn’t have “the right equipment” and to go to A&E. A couple of hours later a doctor removed the grit with the “equipment to remove foreign objects in eyes”, aka a cotton bud. I saw five NHS staff, all to wield one cotton bud. What a waste of NHS money.
Dennis Clement
Barnham, W Sussex

Sir, Many of us who rely on the NHS — I have type 1 diabetes — do not enjoy witnessing its politicisation. The service seems to lack long-term strategic planning probably because the political parties tend to plan in blocks of five years or less. Knowing that the bubble caused by the postwar baby boom would have such a big effect, why did politicians reduce the number of district nurses by 10,000? The result is much greater bed blocking by elderly people because they cannot be treated at home.
Julian Rivers
Earls Barton, Northants
Sir, Prime minister David Cameron has said that part of the solution to A&E problems is to “get the elderly back into the community”. One way of doing this would be to reopen or re-create the “old-fashioned” cottage hospitals to act as staging posts and a buffer for the absorption back into the community.

These could be staffed by the many highly-trained but non-degree nurses who left the NHS when the use of “degree nurses” became the norm — and proper nursing went out of the window.
Dr JD Baines
Penpillick, Cornwall

Sir, Bertrand Duplat, cofounder of the company responsible for the new smart belt (News, Jan 6), claims that “the belt experience hasn’t changed in centuries”. I must inform M Duplat that there are now, and have only ever been, two belt experiences: No 1: your trousers stay up; No 2: your trousers fall down.
Ian Ferguson
Upper Quinton, Warks

Sir, I agree with Boris Johnson’s comments on migrants to the UK speaking English (“Boris attacks ‘multi-culti Balkanisation’ ”, Jan 7), but I trust he holds the same view on the estimated 800,000 Brits living in Spain speaking Spanish.
Jay Sanghrajka
Northwood, Middx

Sir, Channel 4 is not a “taxpayer-funded” organisation (Business, Jan 5) and never has been. It is publicly owned but entirely commercially funded. Revenues raised from advertising are spent on £600 million of high quality programmes each year. This investment, primarily with the UK’s world-class independent production sector, is a catalyst for innovation and helps to drive the UK’s fast-growing export earnings from programme and format sales.
Dan Brooke
Channel 4

Sir, A normal business invests in plant to produce more of a product for an anticipated rising market share. It does not campaign to persuade its customers to use less of its product. While asking energy firms to invest in generation and fracking (News, Jan 7), George Osborne is demanding that they pass on lower supply costs while assisting customers to use less of their product. Better energy policies are needed, not inappropriate demands.
John Busby
Lawshall, Suffolk

Sir, British citizens resident in the Irish Republic do have the vote just as Irish citizens, like myself, have in Britain (News, Jan 5). But this is not about reciprocity, it is the Tory right aping the tactics of the Republican party in seeking to disenfranchise groups unlikely to vote for them. I’d recommend one idea which the Republican right is fond of: “No taxation without representation.” If you want to disenfranchise me, I’d like a refund please.
Gerry Gaughan
Eastrington, East Riding

Sir, As historians, scholars and photographers we wish to express our concern about the effect of proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham’s photography collections and axing of its staff. The library’s holdings, built since the 19th century, are of international importance, and contain major collections from pioneers of photography as well as the archives of contemporary British photographers.

In recent decades the collection has attracted more than £1 million in sponsorship in order to mount major exhibitions and undertake vital conservation. At a time when the government is encouraging such funding partnerships, we believe that the collections should be protected and used for the social, cultural and educational benefit of all.

The fait accompli abandonment of the collection is unwarranted. If Birmingham City Council feels unable to properly fund its internationally important collections then the government must step in.

Professor Elizabeth Edwards, Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester

Dr Michael Pritchard, Director-General, The Royal Photographic Society, Bath

Martin Barnes, Senior curator, photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum

Colin Ford CBE, Founding Director, National Media Museum

Professor Amanda Hopkinson, School of Arts, City University, London

Anne M Lyden, International Photography Curator, National Galleries of Scotland

Magnum Photos, London

Dr Brian H May CBE, photo-historian and musician

Dr Christopher Morton, University of Oxford

Professor Darren Newbury, University of Brighton

Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery

Jo Quinton-Tulloch, Director, National Media Museum, Bradford

Brett Rogers, OBE, Director of The Photographer’s Gallery, London

Matthew Butson, Vice President, Hulton Archive, Getty Images, London

Dr Patrizia di Bello, lecturer, Birkbeck, University of London

Duncan Forbes, co-director, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland

Chris Harper, Chief Executive, British Institute of Professional Photography

Paul Herrmann, Director of Redeye, the Photography Network

Professor Francis Hodgson, University of Brighton

Sir, My 7-year-old grandson muddled my name. From now on I shall be Gandalf (letters, Dec and Jan 3).
Alan Millard
Lee-on-the-Solent, Hants


Hospital waiting times; fixed-term parliaments; anonymity in rape trials; war on grey squirrels; a fair supermarket deal for dairy farmers, and boozy breakfasts

Just two of Scotland's 31 A&E departments managed to hit four-hour target every month in 2012/13

Accident and Emergency departments have had their worst performance in a decade according to new official figures Photo: ALAMY

SIR – You call on doctors to make surgeries more “user-friendly” and accessible in the evenings and weekends, thus making it unnecessary for people to turn up at A&E.

Why not use the GP out-of-hours service, which is available the whole time surgeries are closed?

Those who attend A&E with non-urgent problems should think before wasting resources and increasing the wait for others who might have a genuine emergency.

Stop encouraging the demand for immediate non-urgent attention and the services might be able to cope better.

Rosie MacRae
Harwich, Essex

SIR – When I heard on the radio that NHS waiting times were the worst for 10 years, I thought things must be pretty bad. In fact, instead of a 95 per cent response target being achieved, the actual rate was 92.6 per cent. The population has increased in the past decade. I am sure most people would think the doctors and nurses in the NHS should be congratulated on doing such an amazing job in the face of such adversity.

Dean Yorwerth
Stockport, Cheshire

SIR – The main problem in A&E departments is the existence of targets such as waiting times. In the good old days, we just got on with our work with professional pride. We worked long hours and put the patients first.

We did not waste time chasing targets. Get rid of targets, managers and the increasing mound of bureaucracy so that beleaguered medical staff are not hampered by trying to fit into the boxes which must be ticked; just let them look after patients, exercising sound common sense.

If there are no meaningless target figures, then no one can fail to achieve them, and so morale, and consequently patient care, will improve.

Kate Mash
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Labour has promised to hire – not train – 36,000 medical staff to “save” the NHS (Letters, January 6). Which Third World country will be deprived of its valuable resource?

Alistair Bishop
Northwood, Middlesex

SIR – If, as seems likely, the increase of 20,000 patients a week visiting hard‑pressed A&E departments is an unintended consequence of the introduction of the 111 service, this helpline should be scrapped immediately.

Michael Stanford
London SE23

SIR – As a newly appointed consultant in 1981, I was both irritated and amused at politicians trying to impress voters by spending public money to make very modest savings in NHS expenditure when there was an enormous deficit.

The idea that £150 million can be saved by pharmacists policing patients’ entitlement to free care is redolent of this practice. Is this an attempt to distract attention from the enormous sums of money awarded in pay and bonuses to NHS executives?

Angus McPherson
Findon, West Sussex

Fixed-term parliaments

SIR – My case against the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is not levelled against its effects on this current Parliament; indeed, a measure of contractual security has worked as a way of cementing the Coalition. My concerns are for the future.

Philip Johnston believes Parliament itself should be able to respond to a vote of no confidence in one government by replacing it with another without calling an election. This is a recipe for increased public disfranchisement.

In my view, all parties should step back from early electioneering and repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act with effect from May 8. It is only by restoring the prime minister’s right to call an election that we can re-establish a tidy process for refreshing an electoral mandate. Otherwise, we could see years of internecine political jostling and unpopular coalition horse trading.

Unlike Mr Johnston, I think the ability to ask the voters to decide at any given moment is an essential power of the office of prime minister.

Sir Alan Duncan MP (Con)
London SW1

Squirrel feeders

(Bertie Gregory/2020VISION / Rex Features)

SIR – It’s about time we had a programme to control grey squirrels. Apart from the damage they do, these pests also interfere with wild birds in domestic gardens. They steal great quantities of bird food and, ultimately, destroy the feeders intended for birds.

Peter Wickison

SIR – Each year we have to replace nets that squirrels have holed in order to get at our strawberries. Recently we were without broadband for a week after one chewed through our phone line. They also eat unripe apples and pears and dig up bulbs: but their most distressing activity is destroying the nests of garden birds and killing the chicks.

Malcolm F Symonds
Ashtead, Surrey

Anonymity and rape

SIR – The decision to take no further action in the Mark Pritchard MP case builds evidence in favour of reforming the law back to the 1988 position where both accuser and defendant had equal rights to anonymity.

I have recently spoken with a number of other high-profile individuals who confronted allegations over several weeks to a year before their case was dropped. In the meantime, their names are plastered across national and international media, ensuring the trauma, stress and stigma associated with such allegations are amplified to an unfathomable degree.

In some cases, the person does not work, costing them tens of thousands of pounds.

The publicity of the allegation in itself is a particularly sinister punishment meted out to the accused, which only dissipates on no further action with lingering consequences. The accuser rightly remains anonymous.

Once there is a charge, the name of the accused is made public. This then could lead to more people coming forward.

There might also be a new procedure whereby the police have the opportunity to go to a judge and request publicity prior to charge because they believe in this case the evidence is such to persuade them that more people will come forward.

What is simply not fair is that the current cruel default system continues to vilify and persecute people who are then told no further action will be taken. There is scant recognition that the process has a damaging and distressing impact on the accused.

The time has come for this experiment in lopsided judicial procedure to be reversed.

Nigel Evans MP (Con)
London SW1

The Prince of Wales

SIR – Clarence House has not been cooperating with the makers of the proposed programme “Reinventing the Royals” (Comment, January 5), and the Prince of Wales has not been involved in its development. The programme is not Panorama. Neither the BBC nor the programme makers revealed until December 19 that it was to be called “Reinventing the Royals”.

Clarence House has also and importantly neither blocked nor attempted to block the proposed programme.

The decision to broadcast – and when – is that of the BBC alone. Clarence House is solely interested in receiving assurances regarding fairness, accuracy and tone in accordance with the principles of editorial fairness and obligations under the BBC Editorial Guidelines and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

Kristina Kyriacou
Communications Secretary to HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall
London SW1

Preserving Nelson’s flagship for the long term

In need of a bail-out: emblazoned leather buckets on board HMS Victory in Portsmouth (Alamy)

SIR – As a boy I made several tours of HMS Victory in Portsmouth (report, January 3) and subsequently returned on a number of occasions during the Eighties and Nineties to dine on board and for private, more extensive tours.

The later visits were memorable for one specific reason: the gloomy prognostications about the condition of this magnificent vessel. With the nearby Mary Rose being so well housed, I often wonder why, if the progressively worsening state of Nelson’s flagship has been known for decades, no long-term preservation strategy of that sort has been implemented.

Maybe the potential short-term drop in tourist revenue if the latter were to be closed for some time has influenced the decision-making process?

Jeremy C N Price

Booze at breakfast

SIR – The healthy attributes of a bowl of porridge are again in the news.

After 60 years of testing, I’ve found the ultimate topping is prunes stewed in a quality red wine, honey and cinnamon.

Christopher Allen
Siddington, Cheshire

A fair supermarket deal for British dairy farmers


SIR – I am disappointed to note that Clare Mutsaars (Letters, January 3) suggests that Tesco pays its dairy farmers below the production price for fresh milk; in fact, we pay them above the market average.

We offer our farmers stability and confidence in a volatile market. Over the past seven years we’ve worked in partnership with our dairy farmers, and have used an independent consultant, to deliver a fair price for their milk that is guaranteed to cover the cost of production.

I would like to assure customers that our farmers are paid that same fair price, whatever the competitive pricing in store.

Tom Hind
Director of Agriculture, Tesco
Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

SIR – I can’t understand why milk produced by British farmers is not sold under the Fair Trade label, something that the National Farmers’ Union should be pushing for.

I for one would be willing to pay an extra 10 pence per litre if it were sold under the Fair Trade scheme and I could be sure that this money was going directly to the farmer.

David Pattenden
Beverley, East Yorkshire

SIR – I suggest that the time will shortly come when all dairy products will come from the Continent. This will then place those overseas producers in a position of strength when negotiating wholesale prices with our domestic retailers, who in effect could be held to ransom.

While I would love to see supermarkets whipped into submission, I would far rather see a prosperous British dairy business – not only for the delights of fresh, locally produced milk but also for the pleasure of seeing meadows with cows grazing, rather than further urban sprawl.

Nicholas Fowle
Neatishead, Norfolk

None of your business

SIR – I recently purchased a new electrical appliance from a company, which invited me to complete a form for the guarantee.

It is not unreasonable that they require my name, address and the date of purchase: but can anyone give me a sensible reason why they need my marital status, my partner’s name and age, our dates of birth, number and ages of children and their dates of birth? They also ask for employment status, our total household income, whether we rent or own, the number of bedrooms, insurance and credit card details and details of our activities.

Brian Herbert
Yarmouth, Isle of Wight


Globe and Mail:

Nahrain Al-Mousawi

In the Mideast, as in France, satire is a weapon against extremists

Nahrain Al-Mousawi is a writer and academic based in Rabat, Morocco.

In the wake of the deadly attacks on the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, some are portraying the current showdown as one between Western free speech versus an angry and intolerant Islamic world. In fact, it is the Islamic countries of the Middle East that have led the way in attacking the extremists of groups such as Islamic State using the instruments of satire. The use of mockery and caricature as a way of mocking Islamic extremism is, in fact, in some ways far more pronounced in the Middle Eastern media than it is in Europe.

Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) has slaughtered hundreds of Iraqi civilians and soldiers, raped and enslaved hundreds of women, held public crucifixions and stonings in Syria, and staged the executions of U.S. journalists and British aid workers. The group is revolting, abhorrent, and terrifying. But the region on which Islamic State has unleashed its sadistic campaign has responded producing a surprising volume of satire.

On Iraqi state TV, a satirical soap opera dedicated to mocking Islamic State, State of Myth, depicts the gruesome yet absurd “contributions” ISIS fighters and ideology unleash on a fictional town in Iraq, such as a green-energy car-bombing factory– cost-effective, reasonably priced, environment-friendly, and export-ready! All this information is provided by an IS engineer in a TV interview, where the female news announcer has resorted to wearing a sheet while asking questions.

While some claim humor is a way of taking back power – the power to name, to shame – on an uneven playing field, the show appears to be making fun of not only IS’s crude, fumbling, and sadistic methods to gain power, but also the strategic powerlessness of Iraqis trying to play along with, manipulate, and knowingly skirt the cruelty of that blundering power.

On another episode, the host of an Iraqi game show titled “Who Wants To Butcher a Million” asks an IS jihadi contestant what country will be the site of all this destruction and placatingly provides random, unrelated words in rhyme: “Daesh [Islamic State’s name for itself], Baesh, Maesh, Jaesh. The show offers not just an ironic treatment of IS, and thus the subversion of its authority; it also communicates to other Iraqis the recurring predicament in which they are yet again facing another form of tyranny (Saddam, foreign occupation, IS) and attempting to thwart its weightiness with humor.

Less astute in social criticism, but still aimed at the absurdity of ISIS fighters, is a musical parody video broadcast in October by Iraqi Kurdish KurdSat TV, featuring a group of goofy bearded men jerkily playing air guitar on rifles, pretending to sword-fight and fumbling with skulls, while belting out lyrics like: “We are ISIS. We are ISIS. / We milk the goat even if it is male. / Our music is without rhythm. And our leader is called Qaqa. / Our pockets are full of Qatari money. Our language is bullets and cutting.”

TV shows across the Middle East have dedicated a sketch or two to the group’s hypocrisies in adopting modern methods, such as Twitter and Facebook campaigns, to demand the return of medieval Islam. The popular Lebanese show Ktir Salbe showed a skit where a taxi driver picks up an Islamic State fighter who asks that the radio be turned off because this technology did not exist in the early days of Islam. When the driver suggests turning off the air conditioning because it did not exist in the early days of Islam, the fighter refuses and then starts talking on his cell phone, at which point the driver kicks him out and tells him to wait for a camel instead.

Even IS’s practice of gunning down innocents is apparently not off limits for comedic fodder: Palestine’s Al-Falastiniya TV broadcast a skit featuring three Islamic State fighters who reminisce about partying with Beirut’s beautiful women before shooting a Lebanese driver for not answering correctly a trick question about the number of times to kneel during prayers and upon entering a mosque.

Since then, a Jordanian play satirizing IS has been successfully touring theaters, while an Iranian animation mocking the foibles of IS is soon set to be released. Using satire to neutralize the threat of IS is not only the realm of network television, but social media, where the Twitter hashtag #ISISMovies played with popular film titles to mock the militants. Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro tweeted his own take on a news report claiming to outline the “anatomy of ISIS” – a haphazard napkin sketch of a chart mocking the group’s leadership and hierarchy: “the committee for oppressing women,” “the video guy,” “the Twitter fanboys body,” etc.

Although there is a tendency to dismiss the impact of social media, not to mention the role of humor, it is worth noting that this is where the networked Muslim majority might do the most damage in discrediting Islamic State – considering the Internet appears to be one of IS’s main battlegrounds (the group uses social media and YouTube for propaganda and recruitment efforts).

While the efforts highlighted above are organic, based on a shared community, other efforts appear to be more technocratically orchestrated. A recent article noted that Mr. Sharro’s satirical chart was widely shared, including by the U.S. State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. The CSCC has exhibited its own type of muted mockery in a video countering IS recruitment efforts. The integration of humor in U.S. counter-terrorism strategies has been ramped up since the development of social media and its snarky style of communication. A State Department program calling itself Viral Peace confronts and undermines online currents of extremism with “logic, humor, satire,” in its creator’s words.

But a government-backed effort does not necessarily make for an effective means of striking back (and can often be perceived as intrusive, stilted or awkward). After all, satire’s subversiveness can be an ill-fitting mask worn by government institutions, distinct from more organic efforts, produced in times of crisis by a shared, discursive community – at least, when that community itself is threatened. Still, if laughing in the face of the absurd reveals an ability to “dwell with the incomprehensible without dying from fear or going mad,” then that may be the first step in striking back – by having the last laugh.

Lysiane Gagnon

Will Couillard survive the cuts?



Jan. 7: Total lack of judgment, and other letters to the editor

Lack of judgment

Margaret Wente defends the members of the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen as hapless pawns of “young male group behaviour” who have now fallen prey to a “witch hunt” (Dalhousie’s Dental Hysteria – Jan. 6). Spare me. They made their own decisions and they were bad enough ones to potentially end their dental careers.

I understand the university’s attempts at mitigating the suicide risk, but extending the process only slows the progress of the rest of the class through their own final year of school – already overwhelmingly stressful. Anyone, of any demographic, who spews forth violent hatred toward any other group has no place in a profession that requires dentistry’s level of caring and trustworthiness. Their futures are not necessarily “destroyed” – they’ll just be different.

Anita Jain, DDS, Vancouver


As a mother of two university-age men, I think I can speak to that particular demographic. Absolutely, some of them can behave in ways that are juvenile. This should in no way be a defence – it has the ring of the old “Boys will be boys” defence of days past.

The young men, and they are young men, of the Dalhousie “gentlemen’s club” behaved grossly out of step with the collective conversations that are happening all around them in society.

I will agree with Ms. Wente to a point. When you are a juvenile and you engage in juvenile behaviour, you need to be corrected and guided. But university-age men are no longer juveniles and therefore should not be treated as such. Whatever their fate, I remain completely baffled at their total lack of judgment.

Paige Cowan, Toronto


Ms. Wente concludes that “Despite all that misogyny, women seem to be doing just fine.” I would worry less about such men’s colleagues and more about their patients.

Surdas Mohit, Gatineau, Que.



André Picard’s point about extending the hours of primary-care practices in order to divert people from emergency rooms (Don’t Blame Flu For ER Congestion – Jan. 6) is common sense, in times of flu or otherwise.

As a registered nurse in a family practice setting, I perform “telephone triage” through multiple daily calls to my patients. This results in keeping the majority of patients at home with expert advice on treating their symptoms (including red flags) and assessing which patients need to be seen urgently.

This nursing service provides continuity of care to patients, it fosters confidence that they can care for themselves at home and it frees up the ER.

Jane McLeod, Toronto


Back in the 1950s, when I was undergoing my medical training in London, we used to moan about never having time off at Christmas. Our superiors told us, rather unsympathetically, that if we couldn’t take it, we shouldn’t have joined. We came to understand that a medical career involved service as well as making a living.

David Amies, Lethbridge, Alta.


Green silks

I was disappointed to read that one of your best reporters and writers, Adam Radwanski, will be wasting his talents covering the horse race of federal politics. He should be writing about significant issues of public policy. The nuts and bolts of electioneering is way too much “inside baseball,” and in the big picture, of little importance to engaged voters.

But if we have to live it, why leave out the Green Party (Readiness For The Writ – Jan. 3)? If nothing else, including it would help legitimize its status as a viable political contender.

Brian Green, Thunder Bay


Never simple

Thank you for Sandra Martin’s column (Let’s Talk About Death – Jan. 2) targeted at all the death-denying folks who instead prefer to refer to “passing” instead of “dying.” You did omit one of my favourite, or should I say most annoying, namely “She lost her husband,” to which I feel like replying, “Would you like me to help you find him?”

You have made me wonder what I would like said in my own obituary. Probably something like “Patricia died on this date. She is grateful to everyone who enriched her life while on this beautiful Earth. She hopes you will take good care of it. She loved and was loved by many wonderful people. If you wish to remember her, please be kind to someone who needs it.”

Patricia Houston, Victoria


Ms. Martin says we’re “prudish” in the way we talk about death and then goes on to say we’re all misguided for continuing to talk about it in language that’s even mildly poetic.

When we grieve, we do not want to be reminded of the physicality of the loved one’s death. We are well aware that they have biologically expired. Poetic language, invoking comforting memories of the deceased, is a way we honour them. The words to describe this go far beyond what can be conveyed by frank language.

When my mother died last year, so did a part of me. But she remains alive in me, and the language I use to talk about that is deep from my heart. The words are never simple.

Paul Salvatori, Toronto


Other rights

Humans and animals have rights, but not all the same rights (I, Orangutan – letters, Jan. 6). This reminds me of a debate after the 1972 publication of a collection of forestry articles, edited by Christopher Stone, titled Should Trees Have Standing.

Trees do have standing – legal standing, that is. Many municipalities have tree protection bylaws. Old-growth forests and other unique environments may also have legal standing to protect them.

Reiner Jaakson, Oakville, Ont.


Bemused and irritated by Stanley Cunningham’s letter, I turned to a later page, where I found a picture of a group of men beating each other with sticks. Ecce Homo!

A.L. Doyle, Toronto

Irish Times:

Sir, – The situation at the A&E departments of the country’s main public hospitals is intolerable. But there is no such problem in the country’s private hospitals.

The obvious solution is for the State to requisition private hospitals for public use. At the same time, investment in step-down infrastructure needs to be accelerated.

There will be much squealing, of course, but the common good has to take priority over the private property rights of individual billionaire owners and investors.

Since the private pension funds of ordinary citizens have been dipped into by the State to pay for socialised bank debt, the private property taboo has been well and truly broken. It’s just a matter of focus and scale – and impudence.

The Mater private and St Vincent’s private are beautifully positioned on the sites of two major public hospitals that are experiencing overcrowding. They would be a very good place to start. – Yours, etc,


Department of

Obstetrics and Gynaecology,

Graduate Entry

Medical School,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – Can I take it that the people of Ireland are going to sit back and watch underpaid and overworked nurses bear the burden of protesting against the scandalous situation in our hospitals? Are people who found their revolutionary fervour quickly enough when their pockets were being hit by water charges indifferent to the suffering and, I have no doubt, deaths that will occur until this situation is rectified?

If ever there was a time for the barricades to be built has it not arrived? If we sit quietly under this scandal then we should not dare to commemorate those who went out nearly 100 years ago to build an Ireland that “cherished all the children of the nation equally”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – It is shocking and unacceptable that in this day and age, elderly patients are kept waiting in chairs in A&E wards for lengths of time that are equivalent to multiple working days.

The fear, anguish and lack of dignity afforded to those who have given much to this country can only be imagined. That nursing staff stoically carry out their duties under such difficult and stressful working conditions is a credit to them. But this is not a problem that crept up on us. It was foreseen that with an ageing population and a lack of community care that this situation was inevitable.

As usual, we end up trying to solve problems rather than prevent them. – Yours, etc,



Co Louth.

Sir, – Older people in hospitals are often inappropriately the exclusive focus of the bed crises . While not majority occupants, younger trauma patients, for example, or younger chronic disease patients in need of rehabilitation, are rarely the focus of emergency discharge initiatives, even though they are less likely to have the complex co-morbidities or the predispisition to acute crises requiring the technology and interdisciplinary expertise of an acute hospital. Similarly many of our acute assessment initiatives favour fitter and younger patients to the exclusion of frail older people left on trollies to await an admission into the main hospital.

 Perhaps when discussing our hospital bed crises we might start with those who most need to be there and who are least likely to need an acute hospital bed on admission and discharge. – Yours, etc,


Consultant Physician

in Geriatric Medicine,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Merely increasing beds and staff in hospitals will be costly and may not resolve the problem in the long term. The real question to explore is how many patients in hospital are delayed discharges and how can they be supported at home or moved to nursing home care in a timely manner.

While families and community-based services need to work proactively with hospitals in the discharge plans for all those who for a variety of reasons can not return home, prioritising available funding to primary care teams with a requirement to case-manage the most vulnerable in our community, both to prevent hospital admissions and effect timely discharges, may be the key response. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Once again the annual outcry about people waiting on hospital trollies erupts and it’s all put down to funding problems and austerity.

We continue to ignore the fact that every single night 2,000 of our total 11,000 hospital beds are occupied by people with alcohol-related illness.

If our political and health leaders prioritised the public health issues of reducing our alcohol-soaked culture and provided effective alcohol treatment services, people would not have to wait on trollies. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Having worked in our hospitals for a number of years, and having also worked abroad, I have no doubt that this annual “winter surge” is primarily due to a lack of spare capacity within the hospital system.

However, it is worth pointing out that this annual problem follows the Christmas holiday period; a period of two weeks, during which our hospitals are run on a skeleton staff. I have attempted to contact staff in different hospital departments over the last few weeks, only to be told the department was either closed or staff were on holidays.

We all want a modern healthcare system. We cannot expect to run effectively our hospitals on a skeleton service for two weeks each December and not expect repercussions each January. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – The screening of RTÉ’s biopic of Charles J Haughey has provoked comment, once again, with the same old chestnuts about his flaws, covetousness and personal imperfections, which we’ve heard interminably regarding Haughey since light was publicly shone on these shortcomings over two decades ago.

For example, Kathy Sheridan’s piece (“Charlie’s devils: how Haughey era’s poisonous culture lives on”, Opinion & Analysis, January 7th) refers to Haughey’s “poisonous” culture and legacy and proceeded down the same well-worn path of clichéd criticism and invective.

If it wasn’t Charles Haughey it would have been someone else. It seems to have been practically in Fianna Fáil’s genetic make up, not to mention in politics in general (and not just in Ireland). The tendency to venality in the Irish body politic started as far back as the 1930s when Eamon de Valera used the Irish Press newspaper which he’d set up himself to con shareholders investing in the company at a time when Haughey was still in short trousers!

As with many of Haughey’s critics, Ms Sheridan refers to Desmond O’ Malley and his Progressive Democrats as a kind of counterbalance; a force for good set against Haughey’s malevolent Medici prince. I would argue that Mr O’Malley and his party’s neo-liberal economic ethos and legacy have done far greater damage to the fabric of Irish society than Charles Haughey ever did and, furthermore, this agenda and its deleterious effects still persist.

The other constant plank of criticism among many commentators relates to Haughey’s personal style and aspirations and describing his penchant for handmade shirts and a “big house” lifestyle in sneering terms. Apart from this being a classic example of the begrudging attitude that the Irish do so well, this particular form of snobbery implies that some in society are entitled to present themselves in this way whereas for others it only makes them look cheap and tasteless. Essentially, what this says is that Haughey was from a relatively modest, working-class background, therefore why would he crave and aspire to trappings considered luxurious? On the other hand, had he hailed from Dublin 4, Blackrock or Carrickmines, would we have heard this same scornful dismissal of his choice of apparel? I think not.

The other issue is the complete absence of balance in all this. What of Charles Haughey’s many and significant political achievements?

I am convinced that, at some point in the future, the Haughey era and his political career will come to be judged less harshly – in the same way that another taoiseach, voted the most popular in that role only about a decade ago, has surely found that status significantly revised! – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The RTÉ drama on the political life of Charles Haughey should come with a post-broadcast warning that anyone affected by the issues portrayed can call a counselling helpline. Personally, I couldn’t stick anymore than a few minutes of it. I didn’t need to watch it. I was there the first time round, when his rise to, and rapacious abuse of power, was played out in technicolour with full surround sound.

Charles Haughey’s sole legacy was that he encouraged a generation of acolytes in politics and public administration to reduce public administration to a tawdry racket, designed to enrich insiders and insulate them from any kind of accountability. All the rubbish about him “giving” anything to anyone is manipulative lying. Haughey was paid very well to administer legitimately the public purse. He cannot and should never have been thanked for doing the job he was paid to do.

What he was not paid to do was to seek every opportunity his elevated position of responsibility gave him to seek payments from businessmen, and to threaten those that opposed him, such as the behaviour he exhibited toward the AIB bank when it attempted to call in his debts.

There is only one thing I loathe more than Charles Haughey’s political and social legacy, and that is the degree to which some journalists at the time sat on their hands and consciences, when the heart and soul was ripped out of this nation by the godfather of Irish political corruption. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – There is no mystery about it. The new party is, quite simply, a Christian Democrat party. What is different is the personnel. This party is being set up by people who stood up for their principles, when many of their colleagues allowed themselves to be bullied into submission. In my book, that is a very good start. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – For a country with a proud history of producing great leaders on the sporting field, the lack of real leaders on the political stage is a profound worry, particularly in the context of an inexplicable rise in support for Sinn Féin.

I have no idea whether Lucinda Creighton is a real leader, but she is to be greatly admired for her willingness to give this her best shot. Fintan O’Toole, on the other hand, is happy to roll out his depressingly familiar condescending tone in his latest missive from the sidelines (“Reboot and be damned: a temporary little arrangement?”, Opinion & Analysis, January 6th).

If memory serves, having threatened to change the world before the 2011 election and enter the political fray, he quickly decided on the comfort and safety of his ivory tower. The great pity is that in deciding not to put up, he unfortunately chose not to shut up too.

It would be lovely, mind you, to see him focus on some more of his Christmas memories (“When I close my eyes and think of Christmas”, December 23rd). #RebootOToole. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole is quick to put the boot into Lucinda Creighton’s new party, but is factually wrong on one point at least, that of Ms Creighton’s supposed appeasement approach to trade unions. Ms Creighton is on record as saying unions need to be faced down, and that she had objected to Fine Gael going into coalition with Labour on the basis that this would compromise the Government’s ability to challenge unions and pursue a reform agenda. She cited the creation of the HSE and Irish Water as instances in which governments had capitulated to union demands, to the detriment of the State. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – If Lucinda reboots does that mean she will then be on an election footing? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – Chris Johns’s “single transferable answer – more spending for me, higher taxes for you” can be applied far beyond his immediate concern with the unsustainability of taxpayer-funded pensions (“State faces stark arithmetic over future of pensions”, Business Opinion, January 5th). Since a general election is on the horizon it is probably expecting too much to hope that our politicians might do what is right for the country rather than what is most likely to get them elected. But the vast majority of us who are not politicians would do well to remember that spending increases and tax cuts – the staple of election promises – can be paid for only from one or more of additional taxation, spending cuts or additional borrowing.

The exchequer returns tell us that in 2014 we spent €8.4 billion in excess of our income. Apparently this is great news and is leading to calls – and promises – to restore the cuts made to public sector pay, to reduce or abolish the USC (which, by the way, is no longer “universal”) and to throw the usual additional billion or so at our health “service”. We must hope that print, radio and television journalists will up their game and insist that politicians tell us exactly how their promises are to be paid for. The old reliables of revenue buoyancy and efficiencies in the public sector should be given a very wide berth. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Further to reports of plans for the setting up of a new “Independent alliance” ( “TDs Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice to form alliance”, January 6th), how is the extent of cooperation within such an alliance to be manifested? Presumably only one candidate from the alliance would be run per constituency, so a voting transfer pact between candidates would not apply.

It is very likely that the views among “participating candidates” (as opposed to “members”) would be starkly divergent. One candidate’s idea of an essential reform agenda could be totally incompatible with another alliance candidate’s viewpoint. If one set of elected TDs who are centre-right in mindset clashes with another set of elected TDs with a left-wing stance on a given policy, who would win out within the alliance?

General support given by the electorate to an incongruent hybrid grouping, presented under a gimmicky banner of convenience, could in practice lead to a significant element of instability in the event that such an alliance held the balance of power. Voters should always bear in mind that an incorporation of instability brings its own effective economic levies, given how dependent the perception of international markets of Ireland’s fiscal reputation is derived from the immediate cohesive level of domestic governance. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – What a brave and insightful piece by Laura Kennedy (“The Yes Woman: I return to Mass and the room reminds me of a closed fist”, January 1st). I had virtually the same experience going to Mass this Christmas. And what a tragedy that the heart of the Christian message (and also the heart of all religions) has been hijacked by religious organisations. True religion should be a personal journey of discovery, certainly not anything dogmatic. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15

Sir, – Further to “Paul Howard’s 44 life lessons” (January 6th), may I add one of my late father’s? If you find a hobby you enjoy, don’t be afraid to spend money on it. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

The crowded waiting room in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital.
The crowded waiting room in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital.

It would appear that, despite public hospitals including the word ‘University’ in their titles, the services provided have deteriorated significantly and are now nowhere near ‘university’ standard.

  • Go To

A university is described as ‘an institution of higher education and research’, so it is misleading, and inaccurate to apply such a word to the dysfunctional medical services being managed by the HSE.

When the professional nursing staff who provide 24/7 patient care are screaming for changes to hospital conditions, then it’s time for everyone to take notice.

It has become clear that the Government health policies, as provided by the HSE, are far from effective. The current systems have not worked for some time, despite additional resources being applied.

The HSE has proven to be an inefficient organisation and appears to spend a large amount of time and resources defending its position in the courts, which leaves it seriously short of any real credibility. Assuming that the Government will not be able to find a large amount of additional resources in the short term, perhaps it’s now time to consider adopting the Ryanair approach to our health services – ie provide a safe, low-cost service that achieves its objectives in the majority of cases and leaves no room for customers to be left on trolleys.

If hospitals have to include the name ‘university’ perhaps the HSE should give way and have the Higher Education Authority take over its responsibilities.

As the Department of Health and the Minister for Health also appear to wish to distance themselves from the day-to-day provision of health services, perhaps now is the time to ask what function they are paid to perform? And how are their results measured? Keeping a Government department close to budget is meaningless if it does not provide the basic public services required.

Owen Davin

Rockshire Road, Waterford


Patients pay price for holidays

As another January arrives, we encounter another overcrowding crisis in our country’s emergency departments.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation recently announced that the number of patients waiting on trolleys had surpassed 600 for the first time.

Having worked in our hospitals for a number of years, and having also worked abroad, I have no doubt that this annual “winter surge” is primarily due to a lack of spare capacity in the hospital system.

However, it is worth pointing out that this annual problem follows the Christmas holiday period; a period of two weeks during which our hospitals are run by a skeleton staff.

Over the last few weeks I have attempted to contact staff in different hospital departments, only to be told the department was either closed or staff were on holidays.

We all want a modern healthcare system. We cannot expect to effectively run our hospitals on a skeleton service for two weeks each December, and not expect repercussions each January.

Dr Ian MagFhearraigh

Arbour Hill, Dublin 7


Haughey and FitzGerald

In response to Robert Sullivan’s letter (January 7) I would like to point out that the “flawed pedigree” comment from the late Garret FitzGerald had nothing to do with Mr Haughey’s financial history. The comment was made in 1979 in the context of how Mr Haughey came to be elected leader of Fianna Fail.

Garret FitzGerald pointed out that his authority as leader of that party could legitimately be questioned because he got the position through a flawed process of threats, intimidation and bullying. The hallmarks of the thug he was and of the thugs he surrounded himself with.

Mr Sullivan is also factually incorrect to infer that the debt arrangements of Mr FitzGerald were in any way comparable to Mr Haughey.

Mr Haughey was in receipt of cash donations from various businesspeople for decades in return for which he shaped Irish government policy to meet their needs at the expense of the needs of the Irish public.

On the other hand Garret FitzGerald was stupid enough to place his entire life savings and money he borrowed into a single high-risk investment, which of course went bust. As a result he lost every penny and felt honour bound to sell his only asset, the family home, to repay as much of his debts as he could. There were no secret investments, offshore accounts or other assets and Garret never owned a property again for the rest of his life.

The reason AIB wrote-off the remaining debt was not because of some secret deal, it was because there was nothing left for AIB to take. Yes, it could have forced him into bankruptcy, but even then that wouldn’t have magically produced any more money.

Desmond FitzGerald

Canary Wharf, London


Foresight needed in health care

It is shocking and unacceptable that in this day and age, elderly patients are kept waiting in chairs in A&E wards for days.

The fear, anguish and lack of dignity afforded to those who have given so much to this country can only be imagined. That nursing staff stoically carry out their duties under such difficult and stressful working conditions is a credit to them.

But this is not a problem that crept up on us. It was foreseen that with an aging population and a lack of community care that this situation was inevitable. As usual, we end up trying to solve problems rather than preventing them.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth


Licence fee must be reformed

Colette Browne states that RTE is in need of reform (“Broadcasting charge is wrong – what’s needed is reform of RTE”, Irish Independent, January 6).

As has been recognised by a number of independent reviews, RTE has reformed and transformed itself radically over the past few years: operating costs have reduced by over 30pc (€130m) since 2008; staff numbers have fallen by over 500; remuneration to top-paid presenters has reduced by over 30pc.

And yet RTE has maintained over 25 public services, from orchestras to children’s channels to Irish-language services.

RTE continues to invest in the type of home-produced content that commercial competitors simply will not touch; important investigations such as the recent ‘Inside Bungalow 3’ or ‘The Torture Files’ programmes, high-quality Irish drama such as ‘Love/Hate’, ‘Amber’ and the ‘Charlie’ series, and factual programming such as David Brophy’s ‘High Hopes Choir’ series, are just a few recent examples.

RTE is dual-funded because in 2013 it cost €330m to run the full range of its public services; licence fee income accounted for only €186m.

At 17pc Ireland has one of the highest licence fee evasion rates in Western Europe. RTE has achieved substantial reforms over the past five years, and that process of change continues. It is now time for the licence fee to be reformed, too.

Brian Dalton

Managing Director,

Corporate Development, RTE


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