Animal Welfare

19 January 2015 Animal Welfare

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. Helen from Animal welfare picks up the cat lit.


Faten Hamama, star of the Egyptian cinema and ex-wife of Omar Sharif

Faten Hamama Photo: AFP/GETTY

Faten Hamama, who has died aged 83, was an enduring star of Egyptian cinema and the wife for nearly 20 years of the actor and celebrated roué Omar Sharif.

The daughter of a civil servant, Faten Hamama was born on May 27 1931 at Mansoura in Egypt, and appeared in her first film, Yawm Said (Happy Day) in 1940; further roles followed, and by her early teens she was also studying acting at an institute in Cairo.

She was soon appearing films alongside the famous Egyptian actor Youssef Wahbi, and at the age of only 16 married the director Ezzel Dine Zulficar, who cast her as the star of Abu Zayd al-Hilali (1947). She was already one of the leading ladies of Egyptian cinema, which was entering its “golden age”, and over the next eight years she made more than 20 movies, becoming the highest paid actress in the country.

Faten Hamama was divorced from her first husband in 1954, and the next year she married Omar Sharif, who had been born into a Christian family but agreed to convert to Islam. They appeared in a number of films together, among them Our Best Days (1955), Lady of the Castle (1959) and – perhaps most famously – The River of Love (1961), based on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina;

Everything changed for Sharif, however, when he was cast by David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Nominated for the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role as Sherif Ali, he inevitably saw Hollywood as a better career prospect than Cairo.

There were other attractions too. He became infatuated with Ingrid Bergman, with whom he starred in The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), and then with Barbra Streisand, with whom he appeared in Funny Girl in 1968 (“I was madly in love with her but it wasn’t reciprocated”).

His marriage to Faten Hamama finally ended in divorce in 1974, although he later maintained that she was the love of his life.

Faten Hamama with Omar Sharif and their son Tarek (AP)

In 2001 he said: “It’s not that we stopped loving, it’s that life separated us. After I became famous in the West, I just didn’t see enough of her. She was a famous actress in Egypt, and I was living all over the place, in hotels, not seeing her. And I was afraid that I’d fall in love with some dizzy blonde and leave my beloved wife for her. I didn’t want to give her that problem, so I went to her and said: ‘Look, we don’t see each other enough,’ and she said: ‘Do you love anyone else?’ and I said: ‘No, but I think I might, at any moment. I meet all these beautiful girls, actresses and other women.’ ”

For her part, between 1966 and 1971 Faten Hamama divided her time between Lebanon and London, complaining of political harassment in Cairo – although President Gamal Abdel Nasser attempted to persuade her to return to Egypt, describing her as “a national treasure”.

She continued to be highly regarded , and some of her movies, such as The Open Door (1964), sought to promote women’s rights; I Want a Solution (1975) is said to have inspired changes to Egyptian marriage and divorce laws.

Her final feature film was Land of Dreams (1993). In 2000 she appeared in a popular Arabic television series, Wagh el qamar.

In 1996, as Egypt celebrated 100 years of the nation’s cinema, she was voted the country’s most important actress, and 18 of her films were named among the best 150 made. In 2000 Egypt’s film critics declared her the “Star of the Century”.

Faten Hamama is survived by her third husband, Mohamed Abdel Wahab Mahmoud, an Egyptian physician, and by the daughter of her first marriage and the son of her marriage to Omar Sharif.

Faten Hamama, born May 27 1931, died January 17 2015


A man holds a placard that reads
A man holds a placard that reads Je suis Charlie, n’oublions pas les victimes de Boko Haram (I am Charlie, let’s not forget the victims of Boko Haram) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Photograph: Sia Kambou/Getty

The question raised in your headline (Why did the world ignore Boko Haram’s Baga attacks?,, 12 January) implies the usual western conspiracy and/or neocolonial design, which is often used by some of my fellow Africans to explain away our failure to sort out our own problems. While we strongly condemn the terrorist attacks in both France and Nigeria, the question about Boko Haram should be aimed directly at the Nigerian authorities and the African Union, who have the primary responsibilities for maintaining peace and security in Nigeria and the continent respectively.

On paper at least, Nigeria and Africa are fulfilling their responsibilities, as demonstrated by the April 2014 report by the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute, which showed that whereas military spending continues to fall in the west, it is rising everywhere else, especially in Africa, where the figures “increased by 8.3% in 2013, reaching an estimated $44.9 billion”.

In practice, however, despite its huge defence spending, Nigeria has failed to tackle Boko Haram, thanks to endemic corruption, poor equipment and indiscipline. To underscore the point, a Nigerian court has recently condemned several military personnel to death for refusing to confront the Boko Haram terrorists. Contrast the dismal response by Nigeria to Boko Haram with France’s prompt and effective counterattack against the Paris terrorists, which saw all them killed within 48 hours.

It’s this firm action by France, not racism or neocolonialism, which drew the world’s media – as well as some 50 world leaders walking arm-in-arm, including David Cameron, Angela Merkel, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – to Paris on 11 January. Nigerian authorities must show a similar resolve if they want to attract and deserve world attention and help.
Sam Akaki
Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (Dipra)

• I read in dismay your article (Nigeria rocked by three more bomb attacks, 12 January). This horrific act of terrorism, though undoubtedly shocking, is only part of the growing trend of Islamic extremism in Nigeria. Many persecuted Christians in the country are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence, unable to worship in freedom as churches are routinely targeted, and bombed.

This trend is not unique to Nigeria. The stark reality revealed in the report released recently by Open Doors is that the increase of Islamic extremism across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and in Asia, is having a significant impact on the future of the global church. The World Watch List report tracks trends, scale and causes of persecution against Christians globally. Forty out of the worst 50 countries show Islamic extremism as the main driver of persecution.

In the past year alone, Nigeria has moved up from number 14 to 10 on the country rankings. So though something like this event is particularly shocking, we can expect more of it unless we act now as an international community – much more intentionally than we currently are. It’s rising fast and affects all of us – those of no faith, those with a different faith, and ordinary Muslims who are also appalled by this attack. Surely we must recognise that we are in extraordinary days and act accordingly?
Lisa Pearce
CEO, Open Doors UK and Ireland

• Thank you for continuing to report on the dreadful situation in northern Nigeria (‘Imagine a fear that makes you let go of your child’s hand’, 15 January). I went to school in Maidugari. I spent my younger days in a beautiful country where I felt safe (even during the civil war) and have fond memories of us packing a cool box into the Land Rover and going for a picnic by Lake Chad. We swam in the Wikki warm springs at Yankari game reserve and gazed at the stars in the clear night skies by the Sahara desert. This is not some imagined recollection of a scene from a Merchant Ivory film but the reality of what Nigeria was like many years ago.

I attended the government girls secondary school and, although the school was predominately Muslim, as a white Christian I experienced no prejudice whatsoever. I learned about the history of the magnificent ancient empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai, and was able to experience a rich and diverse culture. What’s happened to the country I grew up in?

Islam has not evolved from a religion into a rogue army. Boko Haram are a band of criminals trying to justify their actions. Their barbaric behaviour has nothing to do with the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. I hope the international community will recognise that this situation needs urgent intervention.

United Nations peacekeeping force, where are you?
Jane Badstevener
Southsea, Hampshire

Marty Feldman
Marty Feldman: always one to properly sauce his lyrics. Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar

The weakness of our government in standing up for human rights is presented starkly in your stories about Mohamedou Ould Slahi (From inside Guantánamo, a tale of torture and torment, 17 January) and Raif Badawi (Saudi blogger’s case referred to supreme court, says his wife, 17 January), each foully mistreated by governments with whom we are hand in glove commercially and politically. We seem to spend time protesting loudly and fruitlessly about the actions of our enemies – whom we are actually unable to influence – while standing by as our so-called “friends” get away with officially sanctioned crimes, torture and injustice.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Tania Branigan’s excellent article on North Korea (16 January) quoted an expert describing its economy as one that “generates benefits for a small ruling clique and key regime constituencies, but does not deliver prosperity for the bulk of the population”. Obviously quite different from the situation in the UK.
David Hoult

• Coincidental that the three political parties currently set to be excluded from the forthcoming TV election debates are led by women and the four to be included are led by men (Report, 17 January)?
Dave Young

• My daughter is an unpaid intern in Geneva. Given the shock increase in value of the Swiss franc (Report, 16 January), is she now working for nothing plus 30%?
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

• Marty Feldman turned the French text on HP sauce (Letters, 16 January) into a heart-rending chanson. Just type “Marty Feldman a song for sauce lovers” into a search engine.
Michael Vaughan-Rees
Butlers Cross, Buckinghamshire

Sales on the High Street.
Shoppers on the high street. ‘Our whole success story is based on buying stuff on credit that we can’t afford,’ writes Tim Grollman. Photograph: Alamy

Both Larry Elliott (Prolonged deflation remains a slim risk, 14 January) and your editorial (14 January) are alarmingly complacent about the slide in inflation towards deflation, as already grips the eurozone. The idea that a deflationary environment boosts living standards is delusion: as industry’s input prices decline, businesses respond to competitive pressure by cutting their prices, which in turn leads to cuts in wages or layoffs to maintain profit margins or avoid losses. Any business fortunate enough to enjoy an oligopoly will simply boost its profit margins and shareholder distributions. As the UK has the highest ratio of household debt to GDP in Europe, wage cuts lead to catastrophic loan defaults devastating bank balance sheets. As returns on traditional fixed-income securities turn negative, financial markets turn increasingly to leverage and speculative propositions to “juice up” returns, which is unsustainable and eventually turns to crash. None of this is a nightmarish fantasy: this is exactly what happened in Britain and across Europe from 1925 after Churchill, as chancellor of the exchequer, took the catastrophic decision to restore sterling to the prewar gold standard. It was not even clever politics in the short-term: the Tories’ landslide majority of 1924 collapsed in the 1929 election which made Labour the largest party for the first time. What followed, with the Wall Street crash and rise of fascism, may be history, but we should try by all means possible to avoid repeating it.
Tom Brown
Labour in the City

• Economists need to “look through” their theory a bit, and see what goes on in the real world. The idea that deflation will make us all stop spending now in the expectation of falling prices is about as plausible as the contractionary fiscal expansion that underpins austerity. If it were so, then shops wouldn’t do any business between sales and would all go bust. Anyway, our whole success story is based on buying stuff now, on credit, that we can’t really afford.

And while we’re at it, how can “core inflation” exclude things like food and fuel, which happen to be driving the present story? What is more “core” to people’s lives than driving to the supermarket? Perhaps there is no such thing as inflation, just prices that rise and fall in ways that can be added up and averaged.
Tim Grollman

Palace of Westminster restoration
The Palace of Westminster. ‘On 30 June 1994 my son, William Scott, appeared, aged seven, before an all-party parliamentary group on the family,’ writes Jean Scott. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

In his sketch (13 January), John Crace stated that Alex Rukin, at nine years old, became the youngest person to appear before parliament. On 30 June 1994 my son, William Scott, appeared, aged seven, before an all-party parliamentary group on the family to give evidence about the importance of his after-school club and after-school care generally for working parents. It was covered by the main newspapers with headlines such as “Boy who brought straight talk to the Commons” (Daily Mail) and “MPs are told about childcare benefits by an expert, aged 7” (Daily Telegraph). MP Peter Thurman slipped a note to him while he was giving evidence, which contained a sketch of his MP colleagues and the words “Hello, Will. Don’t worry, we are all very nice really”. We still have it.
Jean Scott
Cranleigh, Surrey

Fully Stocked Bookstore Shelves, USA. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.
Bookstore. ‘What a relief to know I’m not the only old bird reading an actual book, the World’s All Time Best and ­Irreplaceable Present,’ writes Ann Hawker. Photograph: Patti McConville/Alamy

Has the editor of The Bookseller compared the fall of print sales of adult fiction since 2009 by more than £150m with the massively declined budgets of public libraries over the same five-year period (The writing’s on the wall for adult fiction in print, 14 January). This is also conditioned by the number of closures of public library branches and the radical changes in book selection due to the serious loss of qualified librarians. The problem facing traditional publishing must have been exacerbated by such austerity in local government, just as it affects the profits of retail supermarkets – and it’s time for real attention to be paid to Keynesian economics instead of finding blame everywhere but in the most obvious place. The villain is not always the internet. Should the austerity continue to such an extent that public libraries disappear, then publishers of fiction – and their authors – will go with them. As will, of course, hundreds of once very familiar journals.
Ralph Gee

Thank You, Brian Lake, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, and thank you Guardian for publishing his letter (12 January). What a relief to know I’m not the only old bird reading an actual book, the World’s All-Time Best and Irreplaceable Present.

A very long time ago, after every Christmas, either my mother or my best friend’s mother would take us to Bumpus (RIP) to spend our book tokens. It took all day – for Jennifer and me it went by in a blinding flash and nothing could match that quiet (silent, actually) delight. Do they have book tokens any more? (I still have most of my beloved books.)

Thank goodness for public libraries and for bookshops.
Ann Hawker
Ham, Surrey


The result of landlordism in Scotland has been the greatest curse which has ever blighted the country (“SNP storm clouds gather over Highlands estates”,  17 January).

Every inch of land in the Highlands and Islands was stolen from the ethnic population by Anglicised clan chiefs and landlords. The whole mass of the inhabitants were dispossessed by an unrelenting avarice, which has now been found to be as short-sighted as it was selfish and unjust. The Highlands was the largest man-made wilderness in Europe.

The Highland Clearances is the longest period of ethnic cleansing in European history, lasting over 100 years – from 1784 when the Duke of Athol (Chief of the Murrays) evicted the population of Glen Tilt, until 1903, when Lady Gordon-Cathcart was cramming emigrant ships with men, women and children from Uist and Barra. It is not by accident that today there are more Highland surnames in Halifax, Nova Scotia, than in the Highland capital of Inverness.

Once British aristocrats acquired a great taste for deer, salmon and game, large swathes of land were appointed as deer forests. Between the early 1800s and 1913 the area of Scotland covered by deer forests escalated from a few hundred thousand acres to 3,599,744 acres.

Many of the tyrannical landlords were members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Is this the reason that Westminster has not apologised to the descendants of the Clearances, though Tony Blair apologised to the Africans and the Irish for the slave trade and the potato famine?

I fully support the SNP policy on land ownership, and as a descendant of an evicted family that settled in Canada in 1851 would like to see the estates nationalised so that the people of Scotland have the fundamental right to use and enjoy their native land.

Donald J MacLeod
Bridge of Don, Aberdeen


It was inevitable that Scottish landowners would complain about Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that Holyrood would be seeking to take away the tax subsidies for their estates.

They didn’t mention how much money some of the estates got in farm subsidies. According to Andy Wightman’s tireless research into who owns Scotland, in 2008-9 the 50 largest estates received anything from £2.3m to £8.5m per estate – this when so many small farms are going under.

All Sturgeon is doing is implementing the Land Reform Act 2003, which was promised to be implemented by the end of the current session of the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

The Tory rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson bleats that the Scottish government was supposed to be governing for all Scotland’s people. When around 400 people own half of Scotland’s rural land, I would say that Sturgeon is thinking of the remaining 5,327,300 citizens.

Lesley Docksey
Buckland Newton, Dorset


What the ‘Charlie’ cartoons mean

Even in France, but certainly here in the UK, many people rushing to express solidarity with Charlie Hebdo don’t know what they’re doing. This is not a satirical magazine like Private Eye, whose cartoons are mostly gently mocking at the Establishment. Naïve Brits imagine that when they say “Je suis Charlie” they are defending free speech. Well, not quite.

Have a look at a cartoon like the one of a naked Muslim woman with a bit of blue rag sticking out of her derriere. The caption reads: “Yes to the wearing of the burka – on the inside!”

I doubt if even Voltaire would have fought to defend this or any of the other vicious and salacious anti-Muslim cartoons.

Elizabeth Morley


If you pay attention to the content of the cartoons produced at Charlie Hebdo you will see that, just as in the case of the Danish cartoons at Jyllands-Posten, none of them are actually about the Prophet Mohamed himself (pbuh).

Indeed they could only be construed as “being about him” if they depicted something he is generally believed to have done or said. Most of these cartoons satirise not the Prophet but the beliefs about him implied by the actions of extremists.

The primary target of all such cartoons is the beliefs of extremists. What they seek to depict is not the Prophet himself, but what the extremists’ actions imply about him.

It causes great mischief to misdescribe these cartoons as “satirising Mohamed” or even as being about him, because it risks prompting devout Muslims to say the fault lies in making any kind of depiction in the first place. Some may try to use this in justification of extreme reactions. Instead such pictures should be rigorously referred to as “cartoons satirising extremist Islamist beliefs” or as “anti-Islamist cartoons”.

Is it too much to hope that the media could combat visual illiteracy by making sure readers pay attention to how images should be “read”? Failing to do so, and lazily using the wrong language to describe them, may well stoke hostility between people who actually agree with one another.

Jonathan Powers
Quarndon, Derbyshire


If over a million people had gathered in the Paris streets to protest the execution of gay people by Islamic fundamentalists, or the murders by Isis, I would have stood with them.

A mass defence of pornographic cartoons of Mohamed, which serve to do nothing except humiliate and alienate Muslims, was mass lunacy.

Islamic extremism can only be truly defeated by education; by winning hearts and minds. To do this the West must start with a basic respect for the founder of Islam. The damage done by the “Je suis Charlie” approach is already in evidence around the world.

Daniel Emlyn-Jones


No mountains  in Denmark

Married to a Dane these past 45 years, I have a little knowledge of Danes and Danish geography. Neither of the writers of your feature “Oh, happy Danes?” (15 January) mentioned the co-operative working practices that make the workplace in Denmark very different from that in hyper-competitive London.

However, it’s geography that makes me write. Surely the mountains in the picture at the top of the page are in the Faroe Islands? The Faroes are an autonomous country within Denmark, and if you want to upset the calm exterior of the average Dane, just raise the question of Danish subsidies to the Faroes, or Greenland. Then you can find unhappy Danes.

Chris King
London N3


In “Oh, happy Danes” we are told at some length about the psychological effects of the long, dark winters. Relative to where, exactly?

Denmark’s average latitude is less than one degree north of the UK’s, insignificant in terms of daylight hours, and its most northerly point is well south of that of the British mainland.

Colin Duncan
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey


Editor bullied by Pharisees

I was surprised that a small minority of readers demanded that you stop using the opening phrase “Morning all!” in your weekly “Letter from the Editor” column in the Saturday edition of The Independent. I was also surprised that you felt obliged to carry out their demands.

Now is not the time to back down to a small group of people and their ideologies, so I would like to be the first in the obviously successful campaign to bring back “Morning all!” Long live Richie Benaud.

Nick Hodgson
Gosport, Hampshire


Morning Sir. I do not want “my” editor to be bullied, particularly by grumpy old people who get “very irritated” by trivia, can’t spell or use the plural “all” incorrectly.

I guess you can’t please them all. Like Dr Ann Kendell, I’ve bought The Independent every day since the first issue and enjoy your Saturday Letter. I like “Morning all” and agree that it conveys an informal, inclusive tone which I appreciate. We should definitely celebrate affable eccentricity.

Please don’t let them bully you. Restore “Morning all” this week!

David Small


By giving in to those boot-faced Pharisees over your cheery greeting, you have left yourself vulnerable to green-ink criticism from self-appointed purists everywhere. Prepare to be inundated!

Norman Foster
Duxford, Cambridgeshire


A manifesto for the victims of cats

May I add a couple of items to the Cat Manifesto (16 January) which could possibly increase the popularity of cats even among cat non-owners:

A collar to be worn with a bell or some electronic device to warn their potential victims, in particular songbirds.

Encouragement to use a litter tray on the owner’s premises to lessen the fouling of neighbouring gardens.

That would be a start.

Mary Evans
Heathfield,  East Sussex


Sir, If Pope Francis (“Mock Islam and expect a punch, says Pope”, Jan 15) can throw a punch, others can justify using a Kalashnikov.

Satire or insults hurt only when they reveal a truth that others wish to hide, be it rogue rabbis, paedophile priests or horrible humanists. When it is offensive without cause, it falls flat and just reflects badly on the source.

After all, religious satire originates in the Bible, when Elijah tells the prophets of Baal that the reason their God is not answering their prayers is that he has fallen asleep or gone to the loo, and so they should shout louder to get his attention (I Kings 18.27).

Religious groups — or anyone else — need fear ridicule only when they are being ridiculous; in all other cases, the old adage about sticks and stones is still the best advice.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain

Maidenhead Synagogue, Berks

Sir, Pope Francis’s comments brought to mind his predecessor’s visit to Scotland in 2010. The Rev Professor Donald Macleod accused Scotland of abandoning John Knox in favour of “old men dressed in ancient Roman togas”.

Will His Holiness deliver the papal punch on the nose? Much of the mockery of religion is practised by one faith or one sect on another, as here demonstrated.
Alistair McBay

National Secular Society

Sir, That the Pope is not a PC theologian is wonderful. Like Jesus, the Pope uses everyday circumstances to explain deep truths. That they are not fine-tuned statements matters nothing; ordinary people can spot a big truth in everyday conversation, but theology leaves most of us — even true believers — cold. What we want is authenticity.
Philip Iszatt
Coleford, Somerset

Sir, The Pope warns us about disrespecting religion. Respect must be earned. The Catholic Church loses respect when it protects abusers; Islam when it advocates terror. When religions cease to be morally absurd, there will be nothing over which to ridicule them.
Jonathan Rowe
Spalding, Lincs

Sir, Having repeatedly and explicitly condemned the Charlie Hebdo terrorists, Pope Francis simply observed that respectful debate is more effective at securing peace than provocative insults. The former encourages a shared search for truth; the latter descends into senseless retaliation.
David Culley

Sir, Freedom of speech is the right to disagree, which often means to offend. To condone any form of violence in response to a man’s right to express an idea or an opinion is to sanction religious and government oppression. To quote the philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand: “The difference between an exchange of ideas and an exchange of blows is self-evident. The line of demarcation between freedom of speech and freedom of action is established by the ban on the initiation of force.”
DSA Murray

Dorking, Surrey

Sir, The Pope’s comments show a level of maturity and insight lacking in the minds of “Je suis Charlie” demonstrators. Press freedom implies responsibility which has been deficient in recent days. When similar anti-Muslim insults were dished out in a Danish magazine, those who suffered most were innocent and defenceless Christians in northern Nigeria, Indonesia and the Middle East. Hopefully, the Pope’s comments about the need for responsible and sensitive publishing will help to prevent a reoccurrence of such atrocities, but if they don’t Charlie Hebdo and its naive supporters will have to share some of the blame.
John Wainwright
Potters Bar, Herts

Sir, Our own freedoms are based on free speech, and we must ensure they are eroded no further by political correctness. Freedom entails the right to offend governments and religions. The Pope and Muslims must accept this and turn the other cheek — a fundamental principle of both faiths — if the huge advantages of modern liberal democracies are to continue to thrive.
John Lawrance

Enfield, Middx

Sir, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (letter, Jan 16) disagrees with our antisemitism survey results because she has not experienced much antisemitism, and I am pleased to hear it. According to the Community Security Trust, last year was the worst year for antisemitic incidents in the 30 years that records have been kept. Our YouGov poll shows that 45 per cent of people hold at least one antisemitic view. Our survey of the Jewish community — the largest ever — shows that 45 per cent of Jews fear we have no long-term future here and one in four have considered leaving. It is time to counter the rising tide of antisemitism with zero-tolerance law enforcement.
Gideon Falter

Chairman, Campaign Against Antisemitism

Sir, The YouGov survey into antisemitism was extremely one-sided. It asked people to agree or disagree with closed statements, such as “Jews chase money more than other British people” and “Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other British people”, leading to a biased picture. Had the survey been more neutral, with a balanced range of statements on each topic, the results would have been more meaningful.
Kay Bagon

Radlett, Herts

Sir, You omit to mention one of the most glaring errors in the programme (“Broadchurch plot laughed out of court” Jan 14): the fact that the family of the victim chose and, apparently, instructed counsel for the prosecution. That is, of course, the function of the Crown Prosecution Service.
His Honour Michael Baker
Chichester, W Sussex


Cheers: despite its attractions, alcohol can be a curse - Boozy Britain: your very good health?

Would a minimum price for alcohol help ease pressure on A&E departments? Photo: PA

SIR – This year marks 10 years since the Licensing Act, which transferred licensing decisions from magistrates courts to district councils and allowed licensees to apply for 24/7 opening hours, came into force. It is hardly a surprise, then, to learn that admissions to hospital A&E departments for alcohol-related injuries among young people have risen 60 per cent during the past decade.

Within two years of the Act being introduced, street drinking, anti-social behaviour and drink-fuelled fights became a huge menace in my local area. Despite opposition from harassed police chiefs, the council’s licensing committee felt obliged under the new Act to continue handing out liquor licences.

By 2014 our small market town had a total of 56 licensed premises selling vast quantities of alcohol throughout the day and well into the night at weekends.

Putting up the unit price of alcohol for everyone will only encourage bootlegging. The solution is far simpler and fairer: since the problem was caused by our politicians, it is Parliament that must act by immediately revoking the 2004 Act and reinstating the previous limited licensing hours and conditions.

Victoria Gillick
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Calls for a minimum price for alcohol to ease the A&E crisis totally miss the point. The vast majority of drunks who fill up hospital wards at weekends have been drinking in pubs and clubs, where alcohol prices are many times higher than the minimum price suggested.

The most effective action would be to scrap Labour’s 24-hour drinking laws.

Paul Homewood
Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire

SIR – I share the view of Dr Kieran Moriarty and others that evidence-based policies are required to deal with alcohol misuse in Britain.

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol is, however, not an evidence-based measure. The case for it rests on unproven models and its legality is currently being assessed by the European Court of Justice. It is a heavy-handed way of trying to encourage responsible drinkers to drink slightly more responsibly while doing nothing to deter heavy drinkers, who are largely insensitive to price.

Price-fixing does not become good policy just because the motives are commendable.

David Frost
Chief Executive, Scotch Whisky Association

SIR – Never trust a simple solution to a difficult problem. Raising the cost of alcohol will not help with the problems facing A&E departments.

Take cigarettes, for example. Prices have been put up numerous times in the past. Sales tended to drop for a short time but quickly return to previous levels.

It wasn’t until the health effects were hammered home that levels of smoking dropped in the long term.

Les Sharp Hersham, Surrey

SIR – Fifty-one years ago my father bought a litre bottle of gin made by a well-known firm. I still have the receipt – the bottle cost him £4 15s (£4.75). Over the recent Christmas period an identical bottle was available in my local supermarket for £17.

I can think of no other item of food or drink that has risen in price by a factor of less than four in 51 years. It is quite obvious that alcohol is grossly underpriced. A 50 pence minimum unit price for alcohol would be a welcome start to bringing alcohol misuse under control – and it would help the Exchequer as well.

Dr Ann-Mary Hills
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – Alcohol is responsible for wide-ranging problems in society and puts a severe strain on our police and ambulance services. Schools and other agencies must provide better education on the destructive effects of alcohol misuse.

Clifford Baxter Wareham, Dorset

Protecting Britain against radicalisation

Andrew Gilligan exposes the fragility of the Government’s efforts to tackle radicalisation.

It is naive to believe that by focusing on an inclusive multicultural society – without some acknowledgment of the conflict between democracy and radical Islam – fair-mindedness and democracy will prevail. The Government needs to prevent polarisation in society by clearly stating that we cannot be tolerant of anti-democratic rhetoric from any quarter.

Elizabeth Jones
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, says that “we spend more on the heating allowance for the elderly in a year than we do on the combined budgets of our security services – GCHQ, MI6 and MI5”.

Many elderly people would willingly forego their heating allowance if they were assured that the money would be ring-fenced for redeployment in our security services.

In an election year it would be difficult for the Coalition Government to renege on their promises about maintaining heating allowances for the elderly. The Chancellor could instead offer tax relief to anyone who returned their heating allowance for use in the security budget.

Charles Tweedie
Ludlow, Shropshire

Controlling squirrels

(Rex Features)

SIR – Ginny Martin has obviously never witnessed the wanton destruction of her garden by grey squirrels; never seen her hours of work and money spent on planting bulbs completely spoiled; never seen grey squirrels entwining their bodies around bird feeders and eating the seed which she has bought for the garden birds; never seen them raiding nests for eggs and young birds; never seen them stripping the bark off trees.

In our squirrel trap we have yet to snare a red squirrel; small birds and mice are not snared as they can easily escape; and a pigeon once or twice a year is let out unharmed.

A grey squirrel “cull” is not about eradicating the species, but rather keeping the numbers to an acceptable level.

Carol Parkin
Poole, Dorset

Public sector strikes

SIR – The Conservatives’ proposals to curb strikes in the public sector are most welcome.

One reason teachers strike comparatively often is that their terms and conditions encourage them to do so. Schools are only required to open for 190 days a year. Yet when teachers go on strike they only lose 1/365th of their pay. Effectively teachers only lose half a day’s pay when they strike for a whole day, which hardly seems fair.

Phil Taylor
London W13

Boko Haram

SIR – It is not strictly correct to say that boko means book in the Hausa language, as David Blair asserts in his otherwise excellent article on the Islamist group Boko Haram (“Beware the rise of Africa’s own al-Qaeda state”).

When the British first arrived in Northern Nigeria, Hausa was written in Arabic script, which was called ajami. The British introduced Roman script, and Hausa written in Roman script was subsequently called boko to distinguish it from ajami.

Boko later became a word to describe books written in Roman script, which led on to Western education. The Hausa word for book is “littafi”.

John Hare
Benenden, Kent

Capital adventures

SIR – Caroline McGhie (“Find us a place with space”) suggests that couples with young families moving to the outskirts of London are somehow discovering amazing pastures new.

The idea of “moving farther east” sounds so adventurous until you realise this means moving to Walthamstow.

If these people want more space and better value they ought to give Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds or Manchester a go – plenty of culture, lovely countryside and three-bedroom semis on offer for a lot less than £300,000.

Joanna Dunn
Stapleford, Nottingham

Who can be trusted to run the economy?

SIR – During Gordon Brown’s tenure as Chancellor, this country had both product and wage deflation. Product prices fell as much cheaper Chinese goods became available; wages fell as cheap EU migrant labour flooded in.

The deflation was hidden by Brown’s profligacy that would, under any other circumstances, have caused massive inflation in wages and prices. He was able to get away with years of financial illiteracy thanks to an equally financially illiterate oppostion. This opposition is now in charge.

We still run a huge current account and balance of trade deficit and pump money into the economy, distorting house and share values. Can either Labour or the Conservatives be trusted with another five years in power?

John Upex
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Dodging debate

SIR – I hope every time Mr Cameron passes the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square he hangs his head in shame. Churchill never ran away from a fight.

Cameron would rather be called a coward than, in the middle of an election campaign, discuss important issues on television with the other party leaders. He needs to answer his critics and convince his followers that he will try harder next time.

Jim Rennie
Caerphilly, Glamorgan

SIR – Messrs Miliband, Clegg and Farage flatter themselves; I have absolutely no desire to see them on television, individually or en bloc.

Anthony Cumming
Ripon, North Yorkshire

Britannia rules the waves – with help from Europe

The Queen Victoria Cunard liner, depicted on this Gibraltar stamp, was built in Italy (Alamy)

SIR – In his fascinating book review mentions the enormous ocean liners built for Cunard in recent years: Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2. But how many of these liners were built in Britain? Not a single one.

Writing in 2003, a member of the Mackie family, who ran one of Belfast’s most internationally renowned engineering companies, observed how the government had abandoned manufacturing in favour of information and banking services, and time would tell if the policy would be a success or a disaster. This is noted in The Lives of the Great Engineers of Ulster, edited by Prof Sir Bernard Crossland and John S Moore.

Disaster or not, it is to be hoped that the recent financial crisis has changed the general attitude towards manufacturing in Britain. Perhaps Cunard might even order a ship from a British yard.

J Charles Teggart
Bangor, Co Down

In defence of soya

SIR – Substitute dairy products may be “ghastly” to those looking for a taste of milk but they are delicious to people with no alternative. Those of us who are lactose intolerant welcomed the advent of almond, soya and other “milks” and spreads.

I remember when there was no milk substitute at all for porridge or cereals. The only non-dairy spread available was one used in Jewish cooking, and it most definitely wasn’t intended to go with Marmite on toast.

Pam Maybury

Here, boy

SIR – Like Michael Simkins’s wife, I know exactly where my husband is by following his recognisable whistle.

It makes taking him to the supermarket so much easier as I never lose him. We also have a specific family whistle, which is used to call children and dogs to heel.

Lynne Waldron
Woolavington, Somerset

SIR – I, too, am a constant whistler.

My preference is for songs from the Great American Songbook – good melodies that tell a story.

Bernard Greenberg


SIR – There may be no plans for self-emptying dishwashers, but I have long maintained that a kitchen equipped with two dishwashers would have no need for a crockery cupboard.

James Fraser
Knowle Green, Surrey



Globe and Mail:


We must never censor ourselves for fear of offending the faithful

Irish Times:

Sir, – Patients requiring neuro-rehabilitation services continue to be poorly served by existing provision in the community. Where such services do exist, repeated cutbacks have whittled them away near to (and beyond) the threshold of effectiveness.

I am under 65 and require regular neuro-rehabilitation to maximise my functioning and continued employment despite several decades of multiple sclerosis. I have no idea when I will get access to these services again. With a modest amount of appropriate help, I can continue to work and enjoy a social life. I want to do so, but the modest amount of help I need is being steadily withdrawn.

There are roughly 700,000 other patients in need of neuro-rehabilitation services in this country. The most recent survey (2014) by the Neurological Association of Ireland revealed that 34 per cent of respondents had increased difficulty accessing physiotherapy, with 14 per cent unable to. The figures for speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychology were similar. Meanwhile, related services are being cut back – 43 per cent of respondents had their medical cards revoked, 83 per cent had been affected by escalating drug costs, 70 per cent had to fight for access to respite care and 25 per cent had no access, while 64 per cent had experienced cuts to their homecare package.

The HSE’s own 2011 report (Policy and Strategy for the Provision of Neuro-rehabilitation Services in Ireland) sketches how such services might be provided. But it has been largely ignored.

In the long run Ireland is likely to save money by providing the services in these reports due to the continuing cost of the medical complications of not providing the services. Also, a recent study on a potential early discharge service for stroke patients published by the Irish Heart Foundation (Towards Earlier Discharge, September 2014, and carried out by the ESRI and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) estimates an overall saving of up to €7 million nationally in the first year post-stroke if the service were provided.

Failure to provide these rehabilitation services, for patients of all ages, hurts patients, their families and ultimately it hurts us all.

Planning these services will require careful attention to their real “outputs” before someone is discharged. Are patients functioning as well as they possibly can? Are they happy with the proposed arrangements? Are they capable of any employment? Are appropriate community services available? Are financial burdens on the family and on the taxpayer minimised? These are deceptively simple questions with complicated answers. Patients have a firm, personal (if non-technical) grasp of the implications for themselves – especially the implications unnoticed (or ignored) by others. All stakeholders – citizens, medical staff, healthcare planners and providers, Government and patients – need to listen to each other.

We have known for several years that the savings would outweigh the costs of these rehabilitation services. Yet, existing services have been cut, not developed. The time for debate is over. It is time to get moving. – Yours, etc,


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – John FitzGerald, in “Shedding light on inequalities in life expectancy” (January 13th), makes the oft-repeated error of asserting that Ireland’s maternal death is three per 100,000; in fact the correct rate is close to three times higher than that, eight per 100,000, as found by the Maternal Death Enquiry Ireland, reporting in 2011 (and nine per 100,000 according to the UN).

For years Ireland’s maternal death rate was incorrectly under-reported both nationally and internationally. The reason for this was that in Ireland, figures were in years gone by not gathered accurately, in line with international standards as practised in countries like the UK. Figures here came directly from the CSO, whose information would come from death certificates only. The cause of death had to be cited as pregnancy or birth specifically on these for a death to be counted. In the majority of cases of maternal deaths, a death certificate will not record exactly this and thus these cases were not recorded by the CSO, skewing the results for Ireland dramatically.

As per the World Health Organisation definition, maternal death is the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.

These figures are now being reported for Ireland in line with international best practice, as a result of the effort put into this important work by the Maternal Death Enquiry (MDE) based in UCC. However even the MDE itself points out that the true figure for Ireland is still probably unknown, as a review of MDE cases to date has shown that “pregnancy status [on the Medical Death Notification Form, filled out by a medical practitioner to report a death] has not been correctly completed in some cases”.

For developed countries with access to healthcare, nutrition, hygiene, and technology, it is more appropriate to measure safety not only in terms of death but also the “near-misses” and serious health implications to mothers and babies as a result of birth (morbidity) – both physical and psychological. – Yours, etc,


Association for the

Improvement in

Maternity Services,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, – I attended a British Fertility Society meeting in Birmingham recently. There was a debate regarding the ethics of what has been called a “postcode lottery” in Britain. Couples in Scotland and Wales, regardless of income, are entitled to two NHS-funded cycles of IVF treatment if they meet appropriate medical criteria. Those in Northern Ireland are funded for one cycle and those in England receive one, two or three cycles, depending on their postcode.

Contrast that with the Republic of Ireland, where even the poorest in our society are not funded for even one cycle of treatment. In the last European survey, Ireland and Lithuania were the only two EU countries not to offer state-funded assisted reproduction. Does anyone in this country realise how out of step we are with accepted first world medical standards? – Yours, etc,


Clinical Director

and Consultant


Merrion Fertility Clinic,

Sir, – I refer to your editorial regarding a greenway on the western rail corridor (January 12th).

An alternative and highly scenic route for Mayo-Sligo, the Mayo-Sligo Ox Mountain Trail, has been mooted for both counties which would not interfere with the railway but which would serve a vast area and allow feeder routes from many nearby towns such as Charlestown, Swinford and Tubbercurry.

With minimal planning or expense, this route could be linked directly into the Western Way in Mayo creating an integrated tourist trail. In addition, part of the Sligo Way route joins the Wild Atlantic Way so tourists would have the opportunity to divert effortlessly into the Sligo Way as part of their touring holiday. This new development would also link up with the existing Mayo greenway.

Would this not be a better option for all concerned? – Yours, etc,



Co Sligo.

Sir, – Following details of the survey indicating that 74 per cent of Fine Gael TDs want the parliamentary whip system relaxed for some votes (January 13th), it should be immediately agreed upon by the Government parties that they will permit one-line and two-line votes on a number of issues before the next election, thus replicating the long-established and well-understood model operating in the British House of Commons.

For example, a minister who chooses to defy a two-line whip on a government vote would not retain a place in cabinet – while the effective consequences for a government backbencher would not be as severe.

Either way, in both circumstances, the relevant member of parliament defying a two-line whip would retain his or her associated membership of the given parliamentary party.

The public would like to see evidence of substantial political reform along these lines. The Opposition parties should also recognise this obvious sentiment and also indicate that they too will respect this by loosening their own intra-party whip instructions on the same basis. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – A person elected to the parliament or national assembly of a democracy is there to represent the voters in that person’s constituency. Yes, they are a member of a party; however the party exists as a mechanism to aid citizens place an elected representative in the decision-making chamber of the nation. The elected official’s primary duty is to represent the voters, and secondarily the party.

Democracy is messy, disorderly and haphazard at the best of times. Imposing a form of strict party obedience on elected officials risks making government stagnant, sterile and estranged from the nation’s population. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – Oil is generally traded and priced in US dollars. While the price of oil has fallen roughly 55 per cent from its high last year in dollars terms, a stronger dollar means that the fall in euro terms is closer to 48 per cent. So one might expect the price at the pumps to have fallen by a similar margin. Not so – and the petrol station owners are not to blame; they generally run on thin margins with profits derived primarily from non-petrol sales.

Government taxes and duties, primarily excise and VAT, make up close to 60 per cent of the price we pay at the pump.

What possible reason is there for Irish businesses and consumers to be paying such an incredibly punitive level of tax for petrol? Excise duties on petrol should be slashed to reflect the new reality of energy prices, and allow Ireland to remain productive and competitive, not to mention the potential to ease the burden on cash-strapped households. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Áine Uí Eadhra (January 3rd) refers to the large number of vehicles with defective lighting on Irish roads and the problem is certainly of epidemic proportions. It has worsened significantly over recent winters and is yet another manifestation of the irresponsibility of many road users when policing of road behaviour is almost non-existent.

Increases in penalty points and the urgings of the Road Safety Authority are utterly useless in the absence of rigorous enforcement. The appalling lack of manpower and resources suffered by An Garda Síochána in recent years has clearly prevented sufficient attention to traffic law enforcement and it is inevitable that road user behaviour will deteriorate when there is little prospect of detection.

The increase in road deaths in 2014 must be a consequence of inadequate traffic policing – and the resultant indifference of many road users to traffic laws is to be seen daily. It is impossible to take the shortest journey without encountering drivers using hand-held telephones, driving with dangerously defective lighting and engaging in other irresponsible behaviour.

It is to be hoped that the new management of An Garda Síochána will have the courage to demand the resources necessary to provide effective and conspicuous policing of Irish roads. Doing so will not only ensure that our roads are safer and that lives will be saved but, moreover, the unfortunate perception that our police service is inefficient will be corrected. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – I share concerns about the increase in road deaths and injuries. Speed is obviously often to blame but pedestrians in dark clothes on dark nights or in heavy rain do not seem to realise how invisible they are. Most cyclists now wear high-vis clothing as they know their lives are at risk if they are not easily visible. Pedestrians also should wear a reflective vest, armband or belt when out in the dark. I am also perturbed by the reluctance of many drivers to switch on dimmed headlights in rain and twilight; I have seen several near-misses recently when unlit cars have emerged from the gloom unnoticed by oncoming traffic or pedestrians. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Enda Kenny has made a big issue of people noticing take-home pay increasing in January 2015 and has run into trouble by claiming people were ringing him to thank him for it. I would like to inform him and your readers that my wife’s pay has dropped by €60 per fortnight in her first wage packet of 2015. Her USC has fallen by €6, but her PAYE rose by €57, the rest has been made up by increases in her pensions deduction. Her basic pay has remained the same.

No matter what Enda might say, €60 less is not an increase, though he might try to spin it as a “turn of phrase”. – Yours, etc,


Pococke Lower,


Sir, – Further to “Paul Howard’s 44 life lessons” (January 6th), I recall the words of my beloved uncle, Bill Bradley: “Live every day as if it is your last one on earth, but if you are a gardener, live every day as if you will live forever.” – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – I will support any political party that proposes a ban on the sale and driving of 4×4 vehicles by drivers with oversized sunglasses unless both driver and vehicle smell of farm manure. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Thanks to the hard-working Electric Ireland team, who, in face of raging gales, hail showers and freezing temperatures, climbed up to the heights and brought back power to Shrove, Inishowen, after recent storms. Many thanks to you all! – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

An Irishman’s Diary on approaching Charles Haughey for a loan

‘I want that stuff back in dollars ’

I should have been given a part. As the only man on the planet who borrowed money from Charles J Haughey, I warranted some sort of role in the television drama. It happened in Paris, Charlie’s favourite city after Donnycarney. As diplomatic correspondent for this newspaper half a century or so ago, I travelled around Europe with the then taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and his minster for finance, Charles J, covering their lobbying campaign of European leaders in an effort to gain entry into what was then known as the Common Market. It was no easy task. As the official website of the EU Representation in Ireland so niftily puts it: “Ireland’s agricultural based economy was choked by its dependence on the UK market and the country suffered from poverty, mass unemployment and emigration.” (Plus ça change .) Sometime in the early 1960s they called on the president of France, the formidable Charles de Gaulle. The general, who had remote ancestral links with Co Down, had a fondness for Ireland and came here for a long holiday once. He was inclined to favour the Irish application for membership but Ireland could not enter the market unless the United Kingdom was admitted at the same time. But de Gaulle was resolutely opposed to the UK’s application. Let the Brits in, he told the Irish duo, and they will only set out to wreck everything. It would be another decade before Ireland – and the UK – were granted membership.


It was on that visit to Paris when I had to approach Haughey for a loan. I was running out of cash. In those days mere journalists did not rise to credit cards and a hole in the wall was simply an unsightly aperture. After the meeting with de Gaulle we all returned to the Irish Embassy for refreshments. “Any chance Minister you could lend me 50 dollars until we get back to Dublin?” I asked. “No problem,” says he, and peels off 50 greenbacks from his wallet. At the time Ireland and Britain shared a common currency, sterling. It was a period of erratic currency fluctuations but the almighty dollar was steady. As I was about to depart with gratitude the minister for finance grabbed me by the shoulder. “By the way,” he said, “when we get back home I want that stuff back in dollars. None of your auld sterling or anything like that.”

Radio programme

It was not my only encounter with Haughey. Jack Lynch sacked him in 1970 in advance of the Arms Trial at which he was accused and acquitted of attempting to import arms illegally into the state (for use by the IRA). Lynch brought him back into the cabinet in 1977 as minister for health and social welfare. At the time I was head of news in RTÉ and it was decided to seek an interview with him for the This Week radio programme. Unlike some other ministers, Haughey did not aggressively seek publicity and was inclined to give interviews only when he felt he had something worthwhile to say. But after seven years in the political wilderness he obviously felt his profile needed a reburnish and agreed to the request. The editor of the programme along with the presenter (the late Gerry Barry) met him in Government Buildings. They intended to start the interview with a question about how he and Lynch had mended their fences.

The minister promptly switched from cordial welcoming to bullying mode. No. No. No questions about the Arms Trial or any of that auld s***e – that was all in the past. Gerry and his editor said they could not accept any restrictions. They left the minister’s office and contacted me at Donnybrook; such was the aura of brooding menace around Haughey they felt they could not accept his invitation to use the phone in his office but went outside to a public telephone box. I advised them to tell the minister that his first major interview as a member of the new cabinet would be seen as having no credibility if the question was not put and answered. Back they went and, forever the pragmatist, Haughey took the point without further argument and the interview went ahead.

Some years later, when he was taoiseach, I received a phone call from one of the coterie of hangers-on who surrounded him (and were indulged by him). The caller said he had it on the highest authority that my days as head of news were numbered because of the things we were broadcasting about the government and the taoiseach.

‘That sort of thing’

A few days later I got a call from the man himself. “I’m told one of my so-called friends rang you the other night,” he said. “You know I had nothing to do with it. The fellow who rang you was not acting on my behalf or with my knowledge. You know what he’s like — when he gets a few drinks he goes overboard. I’m sorry about the whole thing.”

As it happened the Sunday following he came into the newsroom to do an interview for the This Week programme. As I accompanied him and advisers to the radio studio he pulled me aside and reiterated his apology: “You know me long enough to know I would have nothing to do with that sort of thing.”

Irish Independent:

Published 19/01/2015 | 02:30

A protest in Niamey, Niger, against 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine.
A protest in Niamey, Niger, against ‘Charlie Hebdo’ magazine.

Can I be the only one who thinks it was a mistake for the survivors of Charlie Hebdo to put a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the front cover of its new edition?

  • Go To

Yes, free speech is important but, as Pope Francis said, it must have limits. Look at the trouble it’s causing. Already Christian churches have been attacked and burned in Niger in Africa, police stations there have been attacked, and thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets in angry protest all around the world.

The cartoon has turned out to be provocative and now some people are claiming to be surprised at the outrage it’s causing. Fyodor Dostoyevsky asked: “Is all the art in the world worth a child’s tears?” Yes, there are violent fanatics in the world but should we go out of our way to infuriate and provoke them?

The murderous attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo was truly dreadful and unforgivable but it does strike me as irresponsible for the magazine to then go and publish a cover which could make things even worse. Surely, restraint and self-censorship are sometimes required? There is no such a thing as absolute freedom of speech. In some countries it is a crime to deny the Holocaust took place, and rightly so.

It is reported that Boko Haram has recently murdered 2,000 people in Nigeria, and I don’t see over a million people led by world leaders marching in protest about that. It seems that only Europe and the USA really matter. Does the world care about the people in Syria and Iraq? Unimaginable horrors are taking place there on a daily basis but our response is very muted. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and former US President Jimmy Carter have suggested that Israel has a case to answer regarding the deaths of over 2,100 people in the recent conflict in Gaza. I thought of this as I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Paris demonstration.

And in Saudi Arabia, a young human rights activist, Raif Badawi, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, 50 of which are to be carried out every week. And the Saudi government was represented at the march for free speech in Paris. Amazing.

Anthony Redmond, Dublin

Silence on Boko Haram attack

The global response to last week’s terrorist attacks in France is commendable, with millions converging in Paris to show their opposition to terrorism and support for free expression, a cornerstone of liberal democracy.

Likewise, world leaders joined arms to show a united front of solidarity with France. Also standing against the Paris attacks was Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, whose swift condemnation of the “dastardly terrorist attack” in Paris should be welcomed.

However, Mr Jonathan has been strikingly silent on another terrorist attack that recently occurred in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International estimates 2,000 people (mostly women and children) were massacred in the north-eastern Nigeria town of Baga by Boko Haram, an extreme Islamist group which controls swathes of north-eastern Nigeria and is already notorious for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in April 2014.

Despite the brutality of the terrorist attack in Baga, Mr Jonathan has yet to publicly speak about the killings, even while Nigeria’s north-eastern states plead for troops to protect their people. This is probably due to his wish to avoid drawing attention to the instability in northern Nigeria, particularly given the upcoming election, in which he will face former general Muhammadu Buhari, who takes a stronger stance on security.

Níall McNelis, Galway city

Dublin Airport – 75 years on

The rise in air passenger numbers in 2014 was recently illustrated in graphical form in your newspaper (Irish Independent, January 13).

Civil aviation in this country began at Dublin Airport (Collinstown) on January 19, 1940, when existing services were transferred from Baldonnel military airfield.

The growth in civil aviation can be seen when we note that the services from Baldonnell (from 1936) were only to Liverpool and the Isle of Man.

William Ryan, Dublin 7

Farmers wield huge influence

I smiled while listening to a recent broadcast in which a politician described himself as a rural TD.

He went on to deride the practise of trade unions subscribing to parties and then telling them what to do – the unions dictating to government, or words to that effect.

He is obviously unaware of a rural entity, one which holds the most powerful political lobby in this country. This is the agriculture sector, which is represented by a minister, a European Commissioner, special correspondents assigned by the national broadcast authority, a TV show, a radio programme and a newspaper. A sector which receives 65pc of the funding paid into the European Commission. I could go on.

The story of ‘Strumpet City’ should be mandatory reading for TDs, in order that deputies with such a narrow mindset will understand how trade unions came to be.

Harry Mulhern, Kilbarrack, Dublin 13

Hats off to Leo Varadkar

Well, we have finally grown up, even if it did take much longer than it should have. Now, can Leo Varadkar go on to be the first openly gay party leader or even Taoiseach?

Brendan Casserly, Bishopstown, Cork

I never thought I’d see the day that a Fine Gael government minister would make my day – and on a Sunday at that – but hats off to Leo Varadkar for doing just that.

Unfortunately, I know that this morning, all of his colleagues will be doing just the opposite.

Liam Power, Ballina, Co Mayo

Do the sick people waiting on hospital trolleys care about Leo Varadkar’s sexuality?

John Williams, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

We must get our priorities right

In a week that saw Islamic fundamentalists conduct a major terrorist attack on one of the pillars of Western democracy, Boko Haram militants in Nigeria use two 10-year old girls as suicide bombers, killing 19 people, and the Ebola virus further ravage West Africa, the question of how we prioritise our concerns entered my mind.

As I watched Al Jazeera News interview volunteers in Sierra Leone who are risking their own lives to dig graves for the dead, I was promptly told by my housemate to “Turn off that s****!” Only for him to replace it with ‘Hollyoaks’. The fact that the Ebola crisis is so bad that the 50 graves they dig in a day does not meet the demand seems to have been lost on him.

I work in a professional environment where I interact with a lot of well-educated, decent people whose localised compassion I’ve experienced for many years. But the notion of Boko Haram, Isil, Al-Qa’ida, or indeed the Ebola crisis getting any airtime in regular conversation seems far fetched at this stage. Most people’s priorities seem to be centred on things closer to home or in the alternative world that is social media.

My criticism is not of the media, for the material published is a reflection of their readership. My concern, however, is that in a modern society of instant information, the issues that are of real, significant, world importance seem to be forgotten, in an instant.

Are we becoming a people whose compassion extends only to the duration of the latest Twitter trends? Is our empathy restricted to our geographical borders?

Name and address with Editor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: