17 January 2015 Courses

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. Gout fading, sign up for two more courses and Adode.


Allan Garraway, railway enthusiast – obituary

Steam train pioneer who saved the endangered Festiniog line and drove an engine named Linda

Allan Garraway, who helped revive the Festiniog narrow gauge line in North Wales

Allan Garraway, who helped revive the Festiniog narrow gauge line in North Wales

Allan Garraway, who has died aged 88, was a pioneer of steam railway preservation , helping to revive the historic Festiniog narrow gauge line in North Wales and giving up his career with British Railways to manage it full-time for 28 years.

When Garraway first became involved in efforts to save the Festiniog in 1951, it had been closed for five years and was decaying fast. When the businessman and enthusiast Alan Pegler – who later owned the Flying Scotsman – acquired the company three years later, Garraway joined its board; he was the Festiniog’s full-time engineer and manager when services resumed over a short section of line in 1955, and was appointed general manager in 1958.

By the time he retired in 1983, the line had reopened over its entire length from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog. This was after the company had won a legal battle with the Central Electricity Generating Board, which had flooded part of the track to create a reservoir. The CEGB offered nominal compensation, dismissing the Festiniog as “amateurs playing trains”, but was eventually forced to pay out – the Festiniog Railway’s own volunteers constructing a deviation for the line to reach its objective.

Garraway was at the helm of the world’s oldest operational railway company, dating back to 1832, as it renovated and added to its Victorian carriages and locomotives – including a stable of double-ended Fairlie locomotives built for hauling heavy trainloads of slate – and became a major tourist attraction. His natural leadership qualities motivated a largely volunteer staff and maintained standards.

He could turn his hand to almost any job on the railway, but was happiest driving Linda, one of its smallest locomotives. Cutting a commanding figure in oilskins which he christened his “Cod War gear”, he preferred an engine without an enclosed cab, reckoning that this gave him a better chance to inspect the state of the track in the almost incessant rain.

Garraway “lived over the shop” after fashioning a flat out of offices over the station at Porthmadog – staying there for a time even after marrying Moyra Macmillan in 1965. They “went away” on a special train driven by Bill Hoole, a “top link” BR driver whom Garraway had recruited to the Festiniog, their journey hampered by colleagues closing level-crossing gates with non-standard padlocks. Moyra helped out on the footplate, getting her dress covered in smuts.

A train on the Festiniog railway (ALAMY)

Allan George Weldon Garraway was born in Cambridge on June 14 1926, the son of a railway manager with the London & North Eastern. Soon after starting at The Leys School, he was evacuated with it to Pitlochry; he fell in love with the Scottish Highlands, where he would live for the last three decades of his life.

At St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, Garraway was a keen oarsman. After graduating in 1947 he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers, becoming locomotive superintendent for the Detmold Military Railway in Germany. Demobilised in the rank of captain, he trained as a locomotive engineer at BR’s Doncaster works, then served as an assistant to the motive power superintendent, Eastern Region.

Garraway got involved in the Talyllyn Railway, the first in Britain to be taken over by enthusiasts. Then, in 1951, he was one of a group who met in Bristol to see whether the Festiniog could be rescued. Following Pegler’s takeover, frantic efforts by Garraway and a few other volunteers enabled trains to resume over the Cob causeway between Porthmadog and Boston Lodge on July 23 1955.

Garraway also found time in Porthmadog to help restore and then sail the steam pinnace Victoria.

On retiring in 1983, he moved to Boat of Garten, on the equally spectacular Strathspey Railway, of which he became a director.

He also took up rowing again, becoming secretary, treasurer and eventually the first honorary member of Inverness Rowing Club, which he helped to acquire a boathouse. Until then Garraway would carry his boat 400 yards from the club’s temporary store to the Caledonian Canal, make a separate journey for the oars, row six miles each way, and then carry everything back again. Between 1989 and 2002 he recorded 1,091 outings on the canal in everything from single sculls to eights. Giving up rowing at 76, he donated his kit to the club .

Garraway was vice-president of the Heritage Railway Association, and chairman and later president of the Gresley Society. He was appointed MBE in 1983.

Moyra Garraway died in 2011.

Allan Garraway, born June 14 1926, died December 30 2014


hen harrier (Circus cyaneus), adult female landing with a prey, United Kingdom, Scotland, Sutherland
Hen harrier, Sutherland, Scotland. ‘Of a nest of five hen harriers fledged in the Peak District last year, three died. Indications are that two, if not all three, were killed by a natural predator,’ writes Adrian Blackmore of the Countryside Alliance. Photograph: Alamy

It is wonderful to read that finally one of these people has been sent to jail (Gamekeeper jailed in Scotland’s first custodial sentence for killing bird of prey, 13 January). I’m sure gamekeepers will note how quickly this man was deserted by both the estate concerned and his professional association. He has apparently lost his job and his membership of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

This crime – beating to death a highly protected and rare bird of prey, after deliberately trapping it – is covered in Scotland by the law of vicarious liability. Presumably this will now be pursued against the gamekeeper’s employers. However, I would like to draw attention to what the SGA said after the earlier hearing: the SGA believed it was wrong for individuals “from one particular profession” to be under surveillance in their place of work without their knowledge.

The spokesman added: “It is not right for the Scottish government to deny people whose livelihoods come under pressure, due to the activity of certain species or animals, recourse to a legal solution to solve that conflict.” In other words: 1) How can we break the law with you watching us? 2) I know what – let’s change the law so we can kill these birds legally. You couldn’t make it up.
Name and address withheld

• The Countryside Alliance agrees with much said by Patrick Barkham in his article about the plight of the hen harrier (The long read, 13 January). We too want to see many more hen harriers in the English countryside. However, poor breeding rates and low numbers in England cannot be solely the fault of illegal persecution. Natural mortality rates are known to be highest for recently fledged and inexperienced hen harriers. Of a nest of five hen harriers fledged in the Peak District last year, three died. Indications are that two, if not all three, were killed by a natural predator.

We hope that all the groups interested in the future of hen harriers in England can work together to improve the conservation status of these beautiful birds.
Adrian Blackmore
Director of shooting, Countryside Alliance

• I take exception to Stephen Mawle’s description of anti-grouse-shoot campaigners as having “a hypocritical distaste for those who take pleasure in killing wild birds”. Distaste for sure, but what is hypocritical is the creation and management of a specific habitat entirely for the breeding and wholesale slaughter of one particular species of bird, to the exclusion of any aspect of a more diverse environment that might jeopardise the profits to be wrung from the cynical exploitation of that one resource – and then to claim custodianship of the land in the face of all opposition. In the 21st century, there is as serious a moral case to be made against killing birds for pleasure as there was in the 20th against hunting with dogs.

And to set the record straight, the pair of hen harriers I saw in Bowland last summer were nesting in a clough on United Utilities land (where no commercial shoots are organised) – and feeding on their preferred diet of meadow pipits on the river banks below.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

• As long as grouse-shooting is permitted to take place, birds of prey and huge numbers of other wild animals will continue to be – legally and illegally – persecuted and killed. Environmentally damaging burning is carried out to encourage the growth of fresh heather, on which the grouse are fattened up for shooting. Roads are dug and car parks built for the visiting “guns” and, under the current government, wealthy moorland grouse-shoot owners are receiving even larger public subsidies than before. The grouse-shooting industry doesn’t exist to protect the environment, aid certain species of birds or create jobs; its main function is to indulge a wealthy minority that enjoys killing birds for “sport”.
Kevin Mutimer

• Stephen Murphy’s final comments (penultimate paragraph) were particularly incisive but the other “elephant in the room” was never broached – human access to our wild places. It is established that by far the most prolific year for our ground-nesting birds on access land was 2001 – the year of foot and mouth when moors were closed throughout the avian breeding season. Land interests and the politicisation of many of our wildlife organisations, who are donor-dependent and heavily influenced by PR, has led to conflict and as usual science and truth are the casualties. Until the facts are accurately presented, assessed and the protagonists are willing to listen and agree on the real issues without PR conflicting the argument then, sadly, the future of the hen harrier will remain dismal.
David Newton
Hope Valley, Derbyshire

• Whatever the arguments on either side of the hen harrier issue the overriding factor in the current situation is a legal one. Too many grouse-moor owners and their gamekeepers seem to think that the law protecting birds of prey does not apply to them so, in effect, taking these areas outside the law. The rule of law is of fundamental and vital importance in any civilised society and should be upheld.
Graham Whitby
Portesham, Dorset

Egyptian students, Muslim Brotherhood
Egyptian students, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrating outside Cairo University last year. Photograph: Afp/AFP/Getty Images

Controversy over the Guardian’s recent reporting of the “al-Jazeera three” case and Amal Clooney’s work should not be allowed to obscure further evidence that the Egyptian judiciary continues to act in a manner that shows scant regard for any recognisable principles of justice (Amal Clooney risked arrest over report on Egypt’s legal flaws, 3 January). A few days ago the Egyptian prosecutor general issued a decision seizing the assets of 112 people who, he claims, are members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian government designated a terrorist organisation in a separate ruling. No evidence to back up either of these claims has so far been tested in court. Courts continue to condemn hundreds to death in rushed hearings described by Human Rights Watch as “blatantly unjust”.

The real political purpose of the seizure of assets is revealed by the inclusion on the list of Haitham Mohamedain and Hisham Fouad of the Revolutionary Socialists, Amr Ali of the 6th April Youth Movement and Khaled el-Sayyed from the Youth for Justice and Freedom Movement, all outspoken opponents of the regime and members of left and liberal groups.

They are activists who have fought tirelessly to defend ordinary Egyptians from repression by the state, including the thousands of political prisoners who experience torture and abuse in detention centres, as exposed by the Guardian in June last year ( Hundreds of ‘disappeared’ tortured in Egypt’s secret jail, 23 June 2014).

We stand in solidarity with Hisham, Haitham, Khaled, Ali and all other Egyptian activists who are facing judicial persecution as a result of their political opposition to the military regime. We call on the Egyptian judiciary to repeal the death sentences and prosecutions under the anti-protest law passed since the military seized power in July 2013.
Ken Loach film director
Ted Honderich professor emeritus, University College London
Eamonn McCann NUJ
Billy Hayes general secretary, Communication Workers Union
Henry Blaxland QC, University of Cambridge
Bashir Abu-Manneh lecturer, University of Kent
Professor Gilbert Achcar SOAS, University of London
Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam SOAS, University of London
Professor Nadje Al-Ali SOAS, University of London
Anne Alexander research fellow, University of Cambridge
Professor Raymond Bush University of Leeds
Professor Alex Callinicos King’s College London
Professor Peter Hallward Kingston University
Adam Hanieh senior lecturer, SOAS, University of London
Tom Hickey University of Brighton
Dina Matar senior lecturer, SOAS, University of London
Karma Nabulsi associate professor, University of Oxford
Professor Alfredo Saad Filho SOAS, University of London
Mohamed-Salah Omri associate professor, University of Oxford
Ruba Salih reader, SOAS, University of London
Alberto Toscano reader, Goldsmiths, University of London
Professor Salwa Ismail SOAS, University of London

Homelessness, a spiralling housing market, funding for homes slashed by government – London is in a housing crisis. Locally, Waltham Forest council is doing what it can. Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (The families cheated out of their homes – for the sin of being poor, 13 January) is couched in emotive language with a simplistic narrative: bad Labour council wants to turf local residents out, then flog off flats to the highest bidder – just like Tories. In fact, no resident of Leytonstone’s Wigg and Walsh towers will have to leave the estate; all will be offered a flat on the redeveloped estate; a third block will be built between the two towers so residents will move only a few metres during renovation. We have spoken to residents personally, and the vast majority want a radical solution.

This is because half the residents live in overcrowded homes. It’s unacceptable that a family of seven is squeezed into a rundown two-bedroom flat. We did a minimal revamp a decade ago; a simple cosmetic change would do nothing to tackle overcrowding. Our scheme will deliver desperately needed bigger, better homes. The government won’t fund this, so some flats will be sold to help pay for the scheme. But 200 will be council-owned, wholly or partially. Mr Chakrabortty didn’t mention that by 2020 we will have built 12,000 new homes, many affordable council houses. If he visits the estate, we will happily introduce him to the families who are thanking us for making the decision to tackle overcrowding and get them good homes.
Cllr Khevyn Limbajee
Cabinet lead for housing, London borough of Waltham Forest

David Cameron linked arms with other European leaders to defend freedom and human rights. His discussions with President Obama (Report, 16 January) will be an opportunity to put these values into action. British resident Shaker Aamer has been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly 13 years, without charge or trial, in violation of all his human rights. David Cameron has stated that Shaker Aamer’s release and return to his home and British family in the UK is an urgent priority. President Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo. Can we assume that, at last, there will be news of Shaker’s imminent freedom?
Joy Hurcombe
Worthing, West Sussex

• I pity the electorate in my old constituency of South Thanet. Now Al Murray is standing for parliament alongside Nigel Farage (Report, 15 January), voters will now have a choice of two upper-class morons portraying themselves using the grossest caricatures of what working-class people are like.
John Curtis
Ipswich, Suffolk

• Perhaps Timothy Spall could be given the Turner prize (For Heaven’s Sake, no Spall, Mr Turner or Lego Movie, 16 January)?
Mary Jackson
Gilston, Hertfordshire




Of course Al Murray, “The Pub Landlord”, has a democratic right to stand for election in Thanet South (report, 15 January), but the cynic in me suggests that this is more about reviving a stalled career than a serious effort to engage in the politics of one of the most deprived parliamentary constituencies in the country.

True, Murray’s candidature may provide  huge comic potential, which might undermine Ukip’s angry Little England appeal, but conversely irony and satire can sometimes lend credibility to the target.

However, the important point is this: Farage and the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem candidates are all firmly tied to an austerity programme of draconian cuts to public services. Not one of them is campaigning on the extremely serious issues facing many people living in the constituency. These include: tackling the massive health inequalities in a district served by a hospital in special measures; dealing with significant educational underachievement in a constituency with its major comprehensive school also in special measures; regenerating an economy with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest wages in south-east England; calling to account an out-of-control Jobcentre, which is sanctioning benefits at twice the rate of anywhere else in the county; providing more social housing for the 6,000 people on the longest housing waiting list in Kent; campaigning to reform a council described by the Local Government Association as “toxic” and by Eric Pickles as a “democracy dodger”. Sadly, Murray’s candidature will detract attention from these issues.

In fact, there is already a pub landlord standing for election in the constituency; Nigel Askew, who runs the Queen Charlotte in Ramsgate, is standing for Bez’s Reality Party. My fear is that, rather than campaigning about social justice, public services  and regeneration in one of the most deprived areas of the country, we will have the spectacle of two pub landlords and a well-known pub regular vying for votes in a contest which, with the help of the media circus which is already gathering in Ramsgate, will soon be reduced to a piss-up in brewery.

Councillor Ian Driver
Thanet District Council
Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Thanet South


Al Murray’s announcement that he intends to stand against Nigel Farage in Thanet South is a breath of pub-toilet air. To make it a really fair contest, instead of holding a democratic election through the ballot box, it should be a drinking contest. This will save both the public purse and the time of the electorate going to the polling booth.

Murray vs Farage, pint for pint, the last man standing becomes the new MP for Thanet South. It will be a fiercely contested battle, with both candidates having near-legendary hard-drinking reputations. For the loser, there is a position in my shadow drinks cabinet as minister for culture.

Lord Toby Jug
Leader, The Eccentric Party of Great Britain
St Ives, Cambridgeshire


Pope overlooks the duty to speak out

His Holiness’s remarks (“Pope Francis says if you swear at my mother – or Islam – ‘expect a punch’”, 16 January) make me reflect that I abstain from commenting on people’s religions on much the same basis that I abstain from commenting on their children. They are mostly harmless or at most an annoyance even if they are not as lovely, gifted and talented as the parents (or believers) think they are.

However, when the little darlings are tearing around the neighbourhood, stealing, bullying and hurting people, it becomes a positive obligation to say and do something about the matter. The commandments (which one assumes his holiness is in favour of) tell us to eschew false witness. To fail to bear witness at all, when there is harm being done, is also, I would suggest, a sin.

I hope Pope Francis will continue his work in improving the modern church without expecting anyone’s actions past or present to go unexamined or uncriticised.

Michael Cule
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire


Mark Steel’s article highlighting the hypocrisy of many of the world leaders attending a march in Paris for free speech and against violence was brilliant (16 January), in particular, his comments regarding Raif Badawi’s punishment of 1,000 lashes for setting up a liberal website in Saudi Arabia. This punishment is so monstrous as to be unbelievable in a modern world.

It is nauseous that Western governments kowtow to Saudi Arabia for fear of losing oil and influence in that area; they bear moral blame for Badawi’s treatment in that they condone such barbarous practices by saying nothing.

A MacCallum
Milton Keynes


The Pope “believes there should be limits to offending and ridiculing the faiths and beliefs of others”. I am offended by people who follow such ridiculous, irrational belief systems, and force their delusions on their children.

Tom Gahan
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire


Ordinary fans have no chance against touts

John Rentoul (16 January) misses the point about with ticket touts. Genuine fans simply cannot compete against the industrialised touting industry, which is able to employ sophisticated computer programmes with hundreds of ghost accounts and credit cards, cosy relationships with promoters, and all sorts of sharp practices, to jump the queue and buy up vast numbers of tickets before fans ever get a look in.

According to Ticketmaster, up to 60 per cent of available tickets go straight to the touts. One only needs to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of tickets that appear on sale on secondary resale sites within seconds of them going on sale to realise just how distorted and unfair the secondary-ticketing market has become.

Few would object to buying tickets from a genuine fan who can no longer use them, even if it cost them a bit more. It is the rank profiteering, the unscrupulous practices and the large-scale exploitation of fans that people are sick to death of. And by opposing the transparency measures in the Consumer Rights Bill, once again the Government has shown itself to be working in the interests of a wealthy minority, rather than in the interests of ordinary people, who are being priced out of musical and cultural events by secondary sellers.

Jo Selwood


Honour for a true heroine

Anne Keleny’s fine obituary of Sonya d’Artois (14 January) sheds a telling light on today’s honours system. D’Artois, an agent of the British Special Operations Executive in occupied France during the Second World War, delayed the progress of a Panzer division heading towards Normandy after D-Day, acted as a courier, and gained the admiration of “tough communist maquisards” as a “de facto second-in-command and weapons training officer”.

She was just 19 at the time. Not much later, d’Artois was sent behind retreating enemy lines to relay intelligence about enemy positions. That was when she was beaten and raped by enemy soldiers. Undaunted, next day she delivered the information she was carrying.

The obituary ends: “For her war work, she was appointed MBE and mentioned in dispatches”. At a time when so many people were displaying often unimaginable courage, this recognition was possibly considered commensurate, though this is hard to grasp now. It certainly highlights the vacuity of the UK’s present-day honours lists, which routinely allocate more elevated awards to people who, compared with d’Artois, have achieved nothing particular. There is a case for reviewing the benchmarks for national honours using the example that d’Artois, and people like her, once set.

David Head
Navenby, Lincolnshire


The story of Sonya d’Artois’s exploits in occupied France was one of incredible heroism. I despaired to discover that she’d only ever been awarded an MBE for bravery. According to BBC News, that’s the same honour as bestowed on DJ Pete Tong for services to broadcasting and music.

L Day


Not disenfranchised, just disorganised

“The missing million voters” (front page, 16 January) – what twaddle. No one is being “disenfranchised” by the electoral-roll changes. Students simply have to register, in the same way as anyone else.

Geoffrey Deville
New Malden, Surrey


Unwilling enforcer of the speed limit

Peter Rogers (letters, 16 January) is wrong about 20mph zones not being enforced. I enforce one such every day – for myself, and by default for everyone behind me. I invariably lead a parade of angry and abusive motorists and I am heartily sick of doing the police’s job for them.

Stan Broadwell



Sir, Tim Montgomerie’s proposal for compulsory voting at UK general elections (Opinion, Jan 15) has much to commend it, yet there is a less authoritarian way to galvanise and engage not only the 35 per cent who currently don’t vote, but also the four out of five who do cast their vote with very little chance of it affecting the choice of governing party and prime minister. These politically impotent voters — the vast majority of actual voters — live in the “safe” Conservative or Labour seats, where only an electoral earthquake could dislodge the incumbent. The national outcome is actually settled by relatively few voters — tens of thousands — switching parties or perhaps voting for the first time in the dwindling number of marginals. Each citizen’s vote should count by making it worth the same throughout the UK.
Robert Orchard
Sir, I doubt whether the result of compulsory voting would be all that Tim Montgomerie would hope for. Politicians are apt to make promises which they cannot keep, but which guide voters’ choices. A good example is Ed Miliband’s intention to cap energy prices. Voters may see this as attractive but they will complain when power cuts follow as suppliers fail to invest in new generating capacity. Similarly, the national obsession with the NHS; no party will take the radical steps necessary to correct the situation for fear of voter backlash. How will the votes of those who have not given any real thought to the matter help resolve this?
R Bullen
Beachley, Glos

Sir, Compulsory voting must be the first principle in a genuine democracy. It will have a salutary effect on those who vote as well as on the politicians seeking that vote. Manifesto promises will be expected to be delivered and voters will be much less forgiving next time if they are not. The requirement to vote will surely make the voter think about its significance, leading to a deeper political interest generally.
Jeff Wilner
Didsbury, Manchester

Sir, The notion of compulsory democracy is oxymoronic. The essence of democracy is freedom — freedom to cast one’s vote or not to do so. The fact that most pensioners exercise their right and that most first-time voters do not is irrelevant. If this latter group chooses not to have a say in the governance of the country, then that is their right. It is no business of governments passing laws to make sure that elections produce the “right” results.
JRG Edwards
Birchington, Kent

Sir, There is injustice for the generation coming after me and I feel for them, as we all should. Compulsory voting would engage the younger generation who have been disenfranchised by mainstream politics. The system deserves to have a good kick up the register of electors. Apply compulsory voting to the 2015 general election and we may see queues at polling stations.
Judith A Daniels
Cobholm, Norfolk

Sir, Tim Montgomerie suggests that the Conservative party has been “at its best when it has sought to extend the franchise”. Other than Disraeli’s unprincipled dash in 1867 with little support from his party, which of the major changes in voting qualifications found the Conservative party on the side of extending the franchise? 1832? 1884? 1918? 1928? Oh yes . . . none
of these.
Nick Ratcliffe

Sir, Tim Montgomerie’s argument has a flaw. We vote for (at least in theory) a candidate to represent us, rather than a party or prime minister. If none of the candidates are acceptable, you should not have to vote for any of them. Should voting become compulsory, every ballot paper should carry the option “none of the above”. This will give us an honest picture of the level of support for politicians.
John Allen
Shrivenham, Wilts

Sir, If David Winnick MP believes that we should be obliged to vote in elections or face a penalty, then presumably he would accept that MPs should participate in every Commons vote or face a penalty.
Richard Knipe

Solihull, W Midlands

Sir, The claim by Keith Willett of NHS England (News, Jan 15) that the 111 service “saved” two million visits to A&E while the actual number of visits has shot up, puts me in mind of my wife’s claims of savings in the January sales.
Jim Symington
High Wycombe, Bucks

Sir, Matthew Parris should beware the new health app on his smartphone (“I’d walk 2 x 500 miles”, Jan 14). I found mine intriguing and I challenged myself to walk a bit more each day. I also felt inspired to get the once-over from my GP.

As a result I now have high blood pressure, a dodgy liver, diabetes and have found that my heart may not be up to the job. With a cupboard full of drugs and a string of medical appointments to come, I spend my evenings feeling feeble and looking up medical websites.
Richard Bailey
Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, Too many parents have the deluded notion that their children will be the next star footballer (“Fears raised for young rejects”, Sport, Jan 15). The result is that many teenagers will not even consider a back-up plan, and a construction course is seen as being for losers. Parents need to set achievable expectations, or at least create a plan if dreams are shattered.
Chris Foreman
Wheathampstead, Herts
Sir, The phrase “millions spent in vain” (Sir Jack Hayward obituary, Jan 15) misses the point of what he achieved. Sir Jack not only repaired Wolves’ heartbreak and gave them a magnificent stadium, but also a brief stay in the Premier League. There were crowds of 30,000 as the team won League One last season. No one was happier than Sir Jack.
R Feetham
Stamford, Lincs

Sir, The polarisation of views about GM crops ensures that developments such as the recent EU decision (“English farmers free to plant GM crops”, Jan 14) lead to fierce debate, and science and rational risk assessment are frequently the casualties.

Your report describes the first GM crops likely to be planted in England as being genetically engineered to withstand higher concentrations of weedkiller (implying perhaps that more or more concentrated herbicide is needed to manage them). Actually they are engineered to be resistant to specific, usually broad-spectrum, herbicides which kill the weeds but not the crop. Deployed safely and successfully in other parts of the world and enabling no-till agriculture — improving soil and carbon conservation — they are not without environmental benefits.

If grown here, where weeds in and around arable crops form the basis of the food chain for key farmland bird species, careful husbandry and mitigating measures may be needed, but they should not be ruled out solely on the grounds that they are GM.
Professor Alan Gray
President, International Society for Biosafety Research

Sir, I am enormously encouraged by the views of the young people quoted by Alice Thomson (“We may be Charlie but our children are not”, Jan 14), but I question whether there is a purely generational divide on the issue. The reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre could be said to have been a little hysterical and potentially polarising. While there should be a place in all liberal societies for iconoclasts, and violence against them can never be excused, they should not necessarily be folded into the arms of the establishment as a result of such a tragedy. It seems that we have turned Voltaire on his head, and that to defend someone’s right to free speech has become by default to signify agreement with them.
John Condon
Withington, Manchester

Sir, Alice Thomson generalises when she includes “the old” as disagreeing with today’s offensive attitudes in the press. It was this generation that made programmes such as Spitting Image and Not the Nine o’clock News: compulsive viewing for their irreverence.
Roger Foord
Chorleywood, Herts

Sir, I agree with Alice Thomson in so far as women, gays and ethnic minorities are concerned: we don’t want to go back to an age when they were ridiculed. The law rightly protects them from prejudice. Religious beliefs, however, are a different matter because they are not universal truths and a personal choice is involved. If free speech is to mean anything then it must include the right to challenge the beliefs of others.
Mark Crivelli



The Archbishops of Canterbury and York warned that economic growth is not the answer to Britain’s social problems

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York warned that economic growth is not the answer to Britain’s social problems Photo: Getty Images

SIR – The polemics of our religious leaders would be more persuasive if they were coming from an institution that was thriving.

Sadly, the Church of England has only just come into the 21st century and put its own house in order with the ordination of female bishops. Until it can demonstrate rising popular appeal with growing congregations and modern-thinking clergy, its voice is weak, especially when our archbishops conflate politics and economics.

Greed and free-market ideology are two distinct concepts. Capitalism and the reform of the welfare state can work hand-in-hand to improve the lot of everyone.

John May
Arkesden, Essex

SIR – On Monday, Archbishops Welby and Sentamu expressed concern at the decline in Sunday church attendance – down to 800,000. Is it any wonder?

Ruth Alltree
Walden, Essex

SIR – The Church of England has assets worth £6 billion and its total investment income has risen during a recession in which many businesses have closed, and hundreds of thousands of people have been made redundant or been stripped of their welfare benefits.

An investment report in the middle of the recession boasted that the Church’s Hyde Park Connaught Village development was to focus on “boutique fashion, specialist retailers, galleries and high quality restaurants” and it announced “a number of exciting new retailers” to be added. The Church also invests in shopping centres and warehousing.

This may well raise an eyebrow from those lectured now by archbishops on the evils of consumerism and individualism.

When the Government announced it would end the zero-rated VAT concession on church repairs, the resulting outcry from the churches led the Chancellor to set aside £30 million per annum to continue to subsidise the practice, on top of the £12 million already provided to the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, which provides funding for auto-winding turret clocks, pipe organs and bells and bell ropes. In December, a further £15 million was set aside for cathedral repairs.

Shouldn’t churches pay their taxes, too, in the effort to alleviate poverty – not least when these same archbishops have denounced Starbucks, Amazon and Google for tax avoidance?

Alistair McBay
London WC1

SIR – It would be more honest of the two archbishops if, in future, they were to sit on the Labour benches in the House of Lords.

Edward Giles
Wootton Bridge, Isle of Wight

SIR – The archbishops’ remarks will serve only to alienate the people who keep the ailing Church of England in business.

Susan Gow
Overcombe, Dorset

Television debates are not about entertainment


SIR – It seems illogical to leave the choice of candidates for TV debate solely to the broadcasters. The debates should be about parties presenting themselves to us, the electorate, not about entertainment.

Surely we should refer this matter to the electoral commission, or a similar independent body, to adjudicate.

Bob Woodward
Pewsey, Wiltshire

SIR – If the debates are to go ahead, all national parties, including the Greens, should be included. The SNP, Plaid Cymru and other regional parties should not take part in national debates.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – The proposed television debates between our political leaders would be a waste of time. The debates are in danger of becoming a clash of celebrities rather than an exchange of ideas.

Far better, in my opinion, would be an individual grilling of each party leader in turn by members of the public, chaired by a respected broadcaster such as Jeremy Paxman.

In this way, regional leaders of the SNP and other parties could be included in broadcasts in their own areas without the whole exercise becoming unwieldy.

John de Waal
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – We were no less a democracy in the last century, despite not having any presidential-style hustings.

Andrew Wauchope
London SE11

SIR – I wonder if Ed Miliband will now refuse to take part in a televised debate unless the Archbishop of Canterbury is invited to participate?

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

British Jews

SIR – This week Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, denounced the rise of anti-Semitism in France. He said: “The awakening of anti-Semitism is the first sign of a crisis for democracy.”

You report that almost half of Britons hold an anti-Semitic view. This would seem to indicate a worrying trend in this country. Many British Jews also appear to feel threatened.

I wonder how many people in Britain would recognise that we may be seeing the first signs of a crisis for our democracy, too.

Neil Miron
Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

SIR – It was with increasing unease that I read online Emma Barnett’s article about growing anti-Semitism in Britain and the actions of those who conflate Israeli policies with the beliefs of all Jews. I know that some of my fellow Muslims do so routinely and that radical Muslims see Jews as targets for their hate and bigotry.

Muslims with a more modern or secular outlook who aspire to greater integration in Britain have a responsibility to stand up to those who hold such bigoted views. Doing so consistently will enhance our right to demand action and condemnation of the many who vilify all Muslims for the actions of a violent minority and seek collective accountability.

Muslims wishing to live in Britain have not only to stand up to the violent minority but also expose and condemn all forms of racism. Making a common cause with Jewish citizens is a good way to start.

Osman Sarioglu
Bromley, Middlesex

SIR – Might we have less race and creed and more ethics?

Penelope Govett
London SW3

SIR – Imam Ibrahim Mogra, representing the Muslim Council of Britain, suggested yesterday on the BBC’s Breakfast that instead of an image of Mohammed, the Charlie Hedbo publishers should have published a blank page. He seems to be confusing free speech with saying nothing.

Paul Harrison
Terling, Essex

SIR – I, for one, salute Charlie Hebdo for its magnanimity, thoughtfulness and courage in responding so eloquently to this tragedy.

Dr Neil McLellan

Container ships are small fry to Seawise Giant

The Seawise Giant supertanker was the longest and heaviest ship ever built (Alamy)

SIR – Media reports on the construction of large container ships keep referring to them as the “biggest ships ever built” or the “world’s largest ships”. They are not.

The largest ship by deadweight tonnage was the Seawise Giant, broken up in 2009, which weighed 564,650 tons and had an overall length of 1,504.1ft – some 200ft longer that the CSCL Globe container ship that docked in Felixstowe recently.

The four TI ultra large crude carriers are considered to be the largest ships in the world today by displacement, deadweight tonnage and gross tonnage.

Modern container ships may have a larger displacement when the above-deck storage is included, but they are nowhere near the deadweight of these behemoths that used to, or still do, ply the oceans.

Jeremy Wescombe

Green Deal failure

SIR – The Green Deal continues to be a waste of public money. After a take-up of 8,000 and a cost of £42.5 million, most participants say they have lost money and are disillusioned with the scheme.

The building industry, especially at the level of small firms doing small projects, is harshly competitive and hard-working. The training and accreditation procedures for the Green Deal appear cumbersome and expensive. Reliable local builders are not short of work, so the likelihood is that only less successful operators will apply.

As an architect specialising in home extensions, I have always been depressed by the incentives of 5 per cent VAT on energy consumption against 20 per cent VAT on improvements, including better insulation. The most cost-effective way to boost woeful standards of home insulation would be to introduce a VAT concession on insulation materials. This would help reputable workmen give better value with minimal red tape, leaving the consumer to pick an installer they know and trust.

Stephanie Webster
Woking, Surrey

Inactive children

SIR – The Government has overseen a dramatic decline in the physical fitness of the young.

A relation of mine manages a leisure centre – owned and operated by the local authority – which is undergoing a £2 million refit. The proportion of this money being spent on providing sports facilities to schools, or indeed young people generally, is minimal. The bulk of it is being spent on a gym and fitness suite, because this is what produces the income. The council is interested in profit rather than being a cog in the wheel of “inspiring a generation”.

Peter D Harvey
Walton Highway, Norfolk

Fondant memories

SIR – The airline I work for used to offer Cadbury’s Creme Eggs to passengers at Easter. Cutbacks have since curtailed this largesse but, back in the day, a correctly positioned, unwrapped egg would grow an inch-high chocolate-tipped white stalagmite as the pressure change during ascent forced the fondant centre up and out through the bunghole.

I believe changes in manufacturing technique have halted this phenomenon – but then I haven’t tried it for a while.

Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire

Signs of expense

SIR – I am glad that Welsh villages have rejected alterations to their village names; we already spend too much on Welsh signs. At Caerphilly railway station, a Tacsi sign has been added next to Taxi. All Welsh road signs are bilingual to please a tiny percentage of the population. Yet we lack money for cancer drugs.

Robert McCarthy
Caerphilly, Glamorgan

SIR – Why stop at hyphens to aid pronunciation for only Welsh place names? Ewell in Surrey would certainly benefit from becoming Ewe-ll.

Gillian Fogg
Surbiton, Surrey

A mountain to ski

SIR – It’s the time of year again for complaints about Alpine ski resorts. Why more people do not sample the delights of the Tatra mountains in Poland is beyond me; wonderful scenery, hassle-free resorts, lovely people, and the beer’s £1 a pint.

Joanna Hackett
London SE1



Globe and Mail:

Tabatha Southey

Don’t tell me I can’t joke about rape. I’m serious

That, within hours of the killings, the merits of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were being weighed against the crime of murdering 12 members of the magazine’s staff was disturbing to me – but then, I’ve a vested interest in people not being killed for failing to be funny.

Various rationales as to why this wasn’t such a tragedy for free speech were tossed about; cartoons are a legitimate tool only in the hands of the most earnest, deadpan, certified-oppressed people, it was said – by those apparently confusing the tradition of satire with the singing of folk songs.

Humour, I read this week, is a weapon reserved exclusively for those “punching up.” Charlie Hebdo, it was judged, didn’t fit that criterion because the magazine ridiculed a vulnerable minority – Muslims.

Muslims, it was insinuated by a few non-Muslims, are pretty much powerless not to kill in the face of offensive jokes about their prophet, and racism. This, although racism is something Muslims encounter frequently in France and elsewhere, and meet with eye rolls, not violence, and despite the fact that violence committed by Islamic extremists is something being endured by and, in the main fought against, by Muslims.

Similarly, the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag embraced by many was critiqued by those apparently under the impression that when, to protest the fatwa against him, people wore “I am Salman Rushdie” buttons, they meant “I wrote Midnight’s Children. Contact me for a copy to review.”

I used the #JeSuisCharlie tag – not without ambivalence, but now isn’t the time for literal interpretations of any texts, nor the time to drop “freedom of speech” for “licence to speak” as something we defend.

Carry on, morons everywhere, I say, speak your minds – and not because your right to say, for example, that black people are lazy should be protected because it’s balanced by the right of black people to say that white people can’t dance.

That’s a false equivalency that fails to take into account the power differential – loaded overwhelmingly on the side of white people. Nor does it consider the potentially negative effects of such a slur – few people are looking for employment in the dance sector.

No, your right to say those things is balanced by the rights of non-stupid, horrible, racist people to judge you out loud for saying stupid, horrible, racist things. A fair trade, provided everyone gets to speak.

Can you make jokes about people more disadvantaged than you? Sure, you should be able to make jokes about anything there are no bad subjects for jokes, only bad jokes, lots of them, and it would be great if that weren’t the case.

However, this trend – in no way limited to Muslim extremists – toward cordoning off whole subject matters as too sacred, dreadful or sensitive to be joked about should be checked, brusquely, and here’s an example of why:

Several days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler co-hosted the Golden Globe Awards. In their opening, they joked about Bill Cosby drugging, as he’s alleged to have done, many women, in order to rape them.

I won’t repeat their jokes here, not because they weren’t funny, they were, but because humour often loses much in the retelling, or reprinting. Humour removed from the context in which it’s produced – both the medium and the moment – often can’t be judged fairly. I’d say that’s also true of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

It was amusing to watch those at the Golden Globes laugh, then clearly wonder if they should be laughing – some appeared to stop just short of texting their publicists for advice on the matter.

They were, of course, laughing at jokes about rape, rape jokes – those jokes we’ve been told we cannot make because rape isn’t funny, and because, it’s said, even hearing about rape might “trigger” victims.

Although by that logic we shouldn’t cover rape stories in the news either – and, of course, to tell women comics they can’t joke about rape is to tell women they can’t talk about rape, something women have been told enough.

No comic worth her salt and salary would’ve stood up there and asked solemnly for two minutes of silence for Bill Cosby’s alleged victims. Judging from the anger the Fey-Poehler bit engendered, that’s apparently what some demanded.

Instead, these comics did something brave, subversive and funny, and we saw what happens when we don’t limit speech – what it is we’re allowed to joke about – but instead allow more diverse voices, those with perhaps a more informed understanding of the subjects at hand, to be heard.

Saeb Erekat

It is John Baird who needs to apologize to the Palestinian people

Irish Times:

Sir, – John Horgan correctly writes, in the wake of the horrific Charlie Hebdo murders, that there is a strong argument here for removal of both the constitutional provision on blasphemy, and section 36 of the 2009 Defamation Act, which introduced a statutory blasphemy offence (“Press Council can play role in blasphemy debate”, Opinion & Analysis, January 15th). Indeed, the constitutional convention has already recommended a referendum on blasphemy.

However, we do not need to wait for a referendum to repeal or amend the statutory provision – that should be done now through the Oireachtas. As I argued in 2009 when opposing section 36, a statutory definition of the constitutional blasphemy offence could be limited to criminalising only hate speech or incitement to hatred; the Constitution does not require imposition of a €25,000 fine where a person has insulted a matter held sacred by any religion.

As John Horgan says, this sweeping 2009 definition of blasphemy has unfortunately but predictably become a precedent for repressive legislation in other countries.

Sensible and proportionate legal limits may be placed on free speech in every democracy, but it is hard to see how the use of blasphemy laws to stifle satirical commentary may be justified in a republic. – Yours, etc,


Seanad Éireann,

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The recent debate has not given sufficient weight to one aspect: the extent to which the flow of satire between western and Muslim societies seems to be a one-way street. All societies throw up worthy targets for satirists. I, for one, would be only too delighted to see a more regular and suitably jaundiced view of life in the so-called liberal democracies coming from those who hold to Muslim values.

I’m sure there must be many aspects of our lives and culture that provoke Muslim disdain, mockery or even barbed humour, up to and including the extent to which Christian religions have become mere cultural remnants in many European countries.

What history of satire has there been in the Muslim world? Has it been stifled by the lack of press freedom and open democratic societies ? Does the Muslim view of what is “sacred” preclude Muslim writers from criticising or even mocking Christian beliefs and adherence? I would very much welcome a perspective on this from informed readers of your newspaper.

In the meantime, and with all due respect to “freedom of speech”, I find the current unequal flow of satire a little bit too much like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Raymond Deane (January 15th) congratulates The Irish Times for not republishing the “Islamophobic Charlie Hebdo cartoons”. As a phobia is an irrational fear I believe this terminology is wrong.

The staff of Charlie Hebdo, and the victims of Boco Haram in Nigeria, have found that these fears are not irrational. Just as the Aztecs and Incas discovered at the hands of Christians before them.

Where you have religion you can have intolerance, then zealots, then people who believe they get to paradise by killing those who disagree with them. We need to be able to challenge these sacred cows with rational argument and ridicule. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

A chara, – It is troubling that in the wake of the atrocities in Paris the narrative regarding freedom of expression in the media includes calls for sensitivity when dealing with aspects of religion or faith. People may be offended by artistic or literary material that mocks a belief that they hold sacred, but nobody has the right not to be offended.

Any argument that begins along the lines of: “I believe in free speech, however . . .” is, in fact, not an argument that favours free speech. – Yours, etc, – Is mise,


South Kensington,


Sir, – Voltaire’s view of defending free speech to the death has been much aired but, given the reluctance to publish the offending cartoons, another of his beliefs may be more relevant: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.” – Yours, etc,


Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Dhún na nGall.

Sir, – With regard to the ongoing hospital overcrowding crisis, a national conversation must be opened up about the plight of people with dementia languishing in our hospital wards awaiting discharge either to appropriate facilities or home with the appropriate services and supports in place.

Writing on this page (January 13th), the clinical professor of emergency medicine at St James’s Hospital, Patrick Plunkett, said those waiting for nursing home places for three to four months in overcrowded hospitals, many with dementia, could be compared to victims of institutional abuse.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has long raised the issue of how delayed discharges are adversely impacting people with dementia in this country, and yet delays to the Fair Deal scheme continue to hurt our most vulnerable members of society.

There are currently 48,000 people living with dementia in Ireland – a figure set to rise exponentially in the coming years. Research produced by Dr Suzanne Cahill at Trinity College Dublin demonstrates how up to 25 per cent of patients in hospitals at any one time can have dementia.

While a steep rise in the number of delayed discharges of people occupying beds unnecessarily is being blamed for much of the rise in overcrowding in recent months, we must be cognisant of the fact that behind every headline is untold suffering for people living with dementia and their loved ones.

People living with dementia are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of delayed discharge from hospital; it can adversely affect their health, cognition and overall wellbeing.

As a result, adequate funding needs to be put in place now to discharge people to appropriate settings, whether that is care at home, in other community settings, in step-down facilities or nursing homes.

It also further highlights the importance of implementing the key tenets of the National Dementia Strategy which was published last month – that is the provision of adequate intensive homecare and community supports.

While hospital admissions can cause enormous distress and are associated with functional decline in older people with dementia, community-based supports make living at home possible and delay premature admission to long-term care and unnecessary stays in acute hospitals.

Political will and leadership are what is needed now to ensure there is a strategic approach to dementia care in this country for the protection of our most vulnerable people. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Alzheimer Society of Ireland

Temple Hill,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I refer to Paul Cullen’s article regarding the possible closure in July of 2,500 public nursing home beds due to a failure to meet national nursing home standards (“Nursing home beds may close”, Front Page, January 16th).

I find it incredible that Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch would say that the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has agreed to extend the application of the standards to public homes by three years.

Where does this leave the 500-odd private nursing homes that have had to borrow to upgrade their homes to meet the standards, on pain of closure? They did not have the luxury of a Minister to waive national standards that are supposed to apply to all. Also, where does it leave the residents in public nursing homes who will now have to reside in nursing homes that do not meet national standards?

It looks like one rule for the State and one rule for the private sector, again. – Yours, etc,


Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Noel Whelan’s opinion piece is a timely reminder of what should be avoided in the next election (“UK posturing on TV debates a taste of what we can expect”, Opinion & Analysis, January 16th). During the Celtic Tiger period we had plenty of posturing by celebrity politicians, aided and abetted by celebrity media commentators. That ended with a bankrupt country needing an €80 billion bailout.

A more sober but thorough investigation of the facts and less emphasis on personality during the next election campaign might serve the interests of the ordinary citizen of this country better. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Noel Whelan is correct that there has been a lot of posturing both in the United Kingdom and in Ireland over forthcoming election debates in terms of participants and format.

We should recall the manner in which the last presidential election debates were handled in 2011 and the surrounding controversy.

Perhaps the establishment of a non-partisan and independent debates commission might be of assistance to all participants. The commission could lay down clear rules and guidelines, including on format, carry out research, select moderators and, more importantly, prevent the debates from descending into farce. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Institute

of Technology,

Aungier Street,

Dublin 2.

A chara, – A report in The Irish Times entitled “Children in wealthy areas get more special education teaching” (August 5th, 2013) plays a large part in explaining the discrepancy in educational attainment. The article referenced a report the Department of Education itself conducted that year, which found that children in Terenure were getting more special education teaching hours than children in Darndale. The reason for the discrepancy in provision is that in middle-class schools, psychological assessments paid for privately by parents are fed into the public education system. These assessments are used in determining resource hours and staffing allocated to a school. And so the gulf widens.

In the inner-city school where I work, we are allocated a restricted number of assessments per year and we have no parents who can afford to pay for private assessments, which can cost between €400 and €600. We struggle to provide adequate teaching time for children who score under the tenth percentile in standardised tests. We hear stories of schools in leafier suburbs where children at the 35th or even 63rd percentiles may be receiving extra teaching support. It is incredibly frustrating to be so under-resourced, but more so to read reports stating that no significant change has occurred.

All children should have equal access to educational resources, irrespective of parental wealth. – Is mise,



Dublin 8.

Sir, – It beggars belief that the Government, after all the fanfare of announcing a Minister of State for the Diaspora, and after all the commitments to take seriously and act on the views of the Convention on the Constitution in a timely manner, should be contemplating drawing up a diaspora strategy that has no provision for votes for Irish citizens abroad (“Referendum on emigrant vote ‘unlikely’ this year, says Deenihan”, January 15th).

A total of 78 per cent of the Convention on the Constitution members voted for enabling citizens abroad to vote for the president. Most polls on other issues considered by the convention have demonstrated that its members have been broadly in line with public opinion in Ireland.

Despite prodding from an Oireachtas committee and the European Commission, the Government continues to baulk at a move most countries embrace. – Yours, etc,


Professorial Research


Centre for Irish Studies,

School of Arts

and Humanities,

St Mary’s University,

Waldegrave Road,

new political party called the “Bean an Tí” party. There will be no financial experts, no legal experts, no management experts, no religious experts – in fact no experts of any kind. Members will be made up of all the women of this country who, for at least the last 50 years, have run the family homes without running the country into debt and thereby enabled the whole show to carry on. Take a look and see where male domination has led us. Mná na hÉireann, get your act together! – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Does anyone else out there see any problem with energy companies offering significant discounts to customers who “switch”? Is this really a sustainable way to do business? Who actually pays for the “discount”? And what happens when everyone has switched? Do they all just switch back again? Is this an enormous waste of people’s time? Or is all this “switching” just a distraction from the real problem that people are trying to ”switch” away from in the first place, the exorbitant unit cost of electricity? – Yours, etc,


Rathedmond, Sligo.

Sir, – The big supermarkets often force local producers here to bear the costs when the supermarkets have promotional prices or try to lure shoppers with loss-leaders such as milk at bargain prices. How much worse is it for small farmers overseas! In price wars between the supermarkets, the price of bananas has halved in the past 10 years but the cost of producing them has doubled. We eat cheap bananas but the banana farmers and workers in tropical countries cannot afford to feed their families or pay for basics such as education or healthcare. We should all insist on only buying fair trade bananas, as well as fair trade tea and coffee, to ensure that we do not have cheap food at the expense of those working to produce it. – Yours, etc,



A chara, – It always strikes me as odd that teachers are expected to inculcate “chivalry and courtesy” (January 12th) into a child rather than their own parents.

A teacher’s job is to teach children; a parent’s job is to rear children. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Travelling on the Dart from Dún Laoghaire some time ago, I was most impressed by a very well-behaved group of scouts.

At the various “stops”, a nod from the girl in charge led to one of her group hopping up and offering the seat to an older citizen. – Yours, etc,



Irish Independent:

Actor Aiden Gillen as former Taoiseach Chariles Haughey in the RTE drama 'Charlie'
Actor Aiden Gillen as former Taoiseach Chariles Haughey in the RTE drama ‘Charlie’

The shootings at Charlie Hebdo were undoubtedly a major crime against humanity and reflect very badly on the Islamic extremists who perpetrated the attack.

  • Go To

The implications for future relations with the Islamic world can only be guessed at and one can only hope that the view of the majority of Islam’s followers, who practise tolerance towards their fellow human beings, will prevail over that of these lunatics.

While the situation is sad and dangerous, like all such affairs it’s not without a certain black humour.

Being called a ‘Charlie’ is usually far from being a compliment, yet it seemed the whole of France, and a large part of the civilised world, were carrying placards reading “Je suis Charlie” after the shootings.

At the same time in Ireland, the most talked-about programme is ‘Charlie’, a TV drama about Charlie Haughey while he was Taoiseach of this country.

Not too many people were going around carrying placards supporting the scandal-ridden Haughey but the situation was still ironic, as Haughey was a Francophile par excellence.

With his dark sense of humour, our Charlie would have got an ego boost from it if he were still alive.

Isn’t it strange how words mean different things to different people?

Perhaps the pen is mightier than the sword after all. Somebody once said that God has a sense of humour. If these words prove anything, they are right.

Liam Cooke

Coolock, Dublin 17

Our historical debt to Islam

The growing perception within the last 30 years of a so-called “clash of civilisations” should not obscure our historical indebtedness to the Islamic world.

While Europe languished in the Dark Ages, a Golden Age of learning flourished further east.

The international language of science was Arabic and Baghdad’s House of Wisdom contained the largest repository of books in the world.

The arrival of Islamic scholarship in Spain via North Africa reintroduced the lost works of the ancient Greeks to Europe and brought advances in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, literature, art and theology.

This laid the foundation for the Renaissance in the 14th Century, out of which evolved the 17th Century Enlightenment principles of justice, fairness and autonomy that underpin modern European values.

These values allow people with profoundly different views to co-exist peacefully within a socio-legal framework that protects them all equally.

This is one of the greatest achievements of recent history in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where countries have had to overcome centuries of violent discord to create a peaceful union.

The founding principle for this progress has been the goal of co-operation and mutual respect among all citizens, regardless of race, creed, politics or nationality.

This is a challenging goal that requires on-going reflection, debate and negotiation but as a cornerstone of democracy, it is one that we must never lose sight of.

Maeve Halpin

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Out of step with democracy

What does the following fact say about the Irish people?

Some 100,000 protest in Dublin over water charges, while 4,000 protest a violent attack on the freedom of the press and a violent act of anti-Semitism.

Where were the voices of Ireland’s leading unions, left wing politicians, academics, civil rights organisations, anti-war groups and ‘community activists’?

A lot can be learnt from both these marches and none of it bodes well for a healthy, vibrant democracy.

Vincent J Lavery

Irish Free Speech Movement, Coliemore Road, Dalkey, County Dublin

Importance of satire in society

Satire can be a dangerous game – but we must defend it.

The recent events in Paris have thrust satire into the international headlines.

From the depictions of the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish ‘Jyllands-Posten’ newspaper to the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by Muslim extremists.

Why bother?

The killing of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices came as a shock to the general public.

These were regular people going about their jobs – but the ramifications of which can get you shot in cold blood. Satire can be seen as the mirror in which a society reflects on its current moral position.

Sometimes, when there are no other options left, it can be the only way to illuminate the wrongs of a corrupt nation’s elite and the only safe way to hold powerful politicians accountable.

Take, for instance, Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’, in which he highlights the hypocrisy of Britain’s attitude to the Irish poor.

The work highlighted the plight of the Irish whilst cunningly pointing the finger at the British establishment.

But let us not get lost too much in the philosophical or theoretical constructs here.

Sometimes satire serves to get a simple laugh through the use of irony, toilet humour and outlandish slander, but, if it makes a few people open their eyes a bit more, sends a message to the masses or even makes one person’s day a bit brighter, well, isn’t it worth it?

Steven Timothy


The stamp of foolishness

I write to record my utter disgust and bafflement at An Post’s recent decision to relocate the Listowel post office at a site so far away from its current central location, a location that has facilitated the business and social needs of the local population for many a long year. You have offered no convincing rationale for moving the post office. To say that this decision is foolhardy, erroneous, stupid and totally unwarranted is an understatement.

Incredibly, it seems to have eluded you that this most inconsiderate decision will cause hardship and inconvenience to many, but especially to elderly people. What input did the local population or the business people of the town have in your consideration?

Without fully canvassing the views of the public – inevitably this is the hallmark of those who have lost touch with the grassroots – you have made a significant blunder.

If you have the wit or courage to reverse this inconsiderate decision, I suggest you do so at the earliest opportunity.

I have rarely witnessed such unanimity of offence and disappointment in Listowel over a local matter.

You have without doubt ripped the heart out of our town and greatly disheartened the local community. I urge you to reverse this decision and end this nonsense now!

Aidan Ó Murchú

Address with editor

Cracking the code, as Gaeilge

I note that the new Eircode postal code examples include the letters W and K. These, along with J, Q, V, X, Y and Z, at least up to my Leaving Cert 1968 Irish exam (mediocre pass), didn’t exist in the Irish language alphabet. Will Gaelic users be obliged to change keyboards for the address section of correspondence, or, will each ad dress have a facility to alter their code to exclude the offending letters?

Perhaps a 10pc postage price reduction for writing the address “as bhéarla”? Just wondering, I’m sure the powers that be have it all in hand.

Liam Pluck

Carrig on Bannow


Irish Independent

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