Mercedes

20 January 2015 Mercedes

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. MOt and Service Leeds traffic jam took 1 h 20 mins to get to Mercedwa fortunatly the game me a lift home.

Obituary:

Ivor Abrahams in his studio

Ivor Abrahams in his studio  Photo: Anne Katrin

Ivor Abrahams, who has died aged 79, was a British artist best known for his stylised prints of garden scenes and his giant sculptures of owls.

He was a sculptor, painter, draughtsman, printmaker, collagist and ceramicist. His works varied from the small-scale to the monumental and from the whimsical to the experimental. In addition to gardens and birds, his subjects were many: cityscapes, oceans, mythologies, animals and the human figure all reappear in his work. An approach that might have seemed unfocused was, however, for Abrahams all part of a drive to create works that were accessible to a modern audience.

“Abrahams is our greatest interpreter of the suburban dream,” noted Andrew Lambirth in 2011, reviewing the artist’s exhibition Suburban Encounters for The Spectator, “whether it be the kempt lawns and borders of the gardens, the trophy window boxes and gables of the houses, or the edging into night-time activity (the hidden and the unconscious), here symbolised by the owl.”

Ivor Abrahams was born on January 10 1935 in Wigan, Lancashire. His parents opposed him becoming an artist and he supported himself through his studies at St Martin’s School (1952–1953) and Camberwell School of Art (1954-1957).

At St Martin’s he found a friend in Phillip King, fellow sculptor and later president of the Royal Academy. “Ivor was a traditionalist,” recalled King, “who ignored the current trends and found his inspiration mostly in the endless possibilities of the human figure, as well as the English garden, often combining the two happily in a manner that gave his work an unusual atmosphere.”

After graduating from Camberwell, Abrahams travelled extensively throughout Europe visiting galleries before starting on his own works back in London. Initially these were small bronzes of amorphous shapes. He cast some himself; others were forged at the Fiorini Art Bronze Foundry at Peterborough Mews in Parsons Green, where Abrahams was an apprentice in 1957.

One of those intrigued by his early works was Bernard Jacobson, later a leading London gallery owner, who as a schoolboy lived a couple of streets away from Abrahams in Willesden. Jacobson bought a bronze for £40 (paying £5 a month out of his pocket money). During the late-1950s Abrahams began working in plaster and latex. Inspired by the work of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, he produced works featuring classical torsos and limbs, and fragments of ruins, pillars and tombs (with allusive titles such as Dianna and Houdini).

Ivor Abrahams with one of his owl sculptures

Abrahams’s first show, with Peter Blake, was at the Portal Gallery in 1960. He was included in the landmark 1961 ICA exhibition 22 Young Sculptors and had his first one-man show the following year at Gallery One in London. During this period his work touched on the garish and comical qualities of Pop Art (his scarlet plaster Red Riding Hood was headless).

By the late 1960s he had found inspiration in the imagery of domestic gardens. “The garden iconography was like an elaborate, endless chess-game that never stopped,” said Abrahams. “It seemed that this was an area common to everyone and this I liked.”

It was his theme for the following decade. He produced a substantial body of screen-prints, lithographs and etchings (many later bequeathed to the Tate Gallery) detailing tailored lawns and towering topiary, sundials and eerie alcoves.

Often, as with his “Garden Suite” and “Garden Emblems” series, these embraced a palette of bright colours (emerald greens, Mediterranean blues, fuchsia pinks and canary yellows) in blocked-out compositions reminiscent of architectural plans. He also created sculptures of rockeries and shrubberies.

Abrahams and his French wife, Evelyne, bought a house at Pézenas in the Languedoc in the mid-1970s, after which they split their time between France and London.

After the success of his garden period he shifted his focus again to produce sculptures of bathers and nymphs, taking inspiration from the mythologies of southern France (later works depicted dancers). During the 1980s he explored the mediums of photography, video, animation and film. In recent years his love of experimentation could be seen in his totem-pole sculptures resembling follies.

A deep seam of fun ran through much of his work, particularly evident in his late large-scale sculptures of birds. His obsession with winged creatures emerged from a commission to create an oversized cockerel for the Carnaval des Animaux at the Hague in 2000. A series of owls followed, created from epoxy resin and decal. As one critic noted, these mysterious works were “perched precariously between fear and humour”.

He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1989 and taught at the academy’s schools (he also lectured at Goldsmiths and the Slade).

Abrahams had a sculpture retrospective at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1984 and a prints retrospective at the Royal Academy in 1999. His most recent exhibition was at the Mayor Gallery in London (2013) at which a giant three-metre-high red-breasted “Urban Owl” loomed over visitors.

Works by Abrahams sit in the collections of the British Council, the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Abrahams was an avid collector of the obscure and beautiful, filling his home with esoteric objects, from a Balinese bronze drum to jars stuffed with preserved snakes.

He married Victoria Taylor in 1965. The marriage was dissolved and he married, secondly, Evelyne Horvais, in 1974. He is survived by his wife and their son. A son from his first marriage predeceased him.

Ivor Abrahams, born January 10 1935, died January 6 2015

Guardian:

Pope Francis in yellow rain mac waves to the crowd during a motorcade in Manila, Philippines
Beyond satire? Pope Francis waves to the crowd during a motorcade in Manila, Philippines, on 18 January 2015. Photograph: Mark Cristino /Barcroft Media

Religions, so Pope Francis declared (Report, 16 January) in response to the murderous attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Jewish shoppers, have a dignity that we must respect. He no doubt believes that to give religions such privilege would limit aggression and hate. The problem is that there can be no agreement as to what constitutes a religion that would thus be entitled to have its dignity protected. More importantly, many religions, like his own, claim to be the only gateway to God. On that basis, holy wars, the killing of “infidels”, “heretics” and adherents of the “wrong” religion were justified and declared a holy duty. “Deus lo vult” was the battlecry of the crusaders who, on and off for two centuries, massacred Albigensians, Muslims and Jews, and ransacked their homes. A few hundred years later the great reformer Martin Luther advised the German princes to follow the example of other Christian countries “for the honour of God and of Christianity” to drive out “this insufferable devilish burden – the Jews”.

It would have been more helpful had the pontiff supported the humanist view that every human being has an inherent dignity that must be protected. An attack on that is a blemish on our own worth and diminishes us as moral beings. To understand that, we don’t need any religion.

Thus the torture of prisoners, detention without trial, withholding basic rights, degrading living conditions and crass inequality are infringements of the basic need to respect human dignity.

In this context it is pertinent to call into mind article 1 of the German constitution of 1949, expressing a lesson learned from recent history: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”
Jurgen Schwiening
Market Bosworth, Leicestershire

The pope and various Muslim and Jewish religious leaders are agitating for limits on freedom of speech for those who do not share their beliefs. It’s not atheists who advocate violence in response to criticism or ridicule of their views. As an atheist, I am uncomfortable about people proselytising irrational beliefs, especially to children, especially where these preachers advocate violence.

So if freedom of speech is to be limited, perhaps we should at least act in an even-handed way by taking their proposal to the logical conclusion of outlawing freedom of all speech about all religion – both pro and anti. Without indoctrination of new recruits to their religious factions, the number of believers would quickly reduce over time. Think how much more peaceful the world would become without this source of strife, or justification for murdering other people.

For clarification for those who do not understand the principles of the cartoonists who were brave enough to ridicule this sort of repressive nonsense – this suggestion is, of course, sarcasm.
Annie Thackeray
London

In one sentence the pope says it is wrong to respond to insults with violence, and in the next says he would do exactly that himself. It is beyond satire.
Catherine Rose
Olney, Buckinghamshire

I’m amazed at the contrast between the outrage that (rightly) greeted the plan by some American religious bigots in 2010 to stage a public burning of the Qur’an, and the reaction to the provocative republication (by “secular bigots”?) of satirical cartoons featuring Muhammad. Of course people should have the freedom to give gratuitous offence, free from fear of violent reprisal, just as, for example, they should be free to commit adultery, but that doesn’t mean they are right to do so in either case.
Dr David Golding
Honorary chaplain, Newcastle University

If only the concern of anti-war campaigners at UK foreign policy could be put down to a “coping mechanism” to deal with our fear of terrorism, as Jonathan Freedland suggests (Opinion, 17 January). We take this view because it is demonstrably the fact that the war on terror, begun nearly 14 years ago, has failed in its aim. Terrorism has grown in terms of its degree of threat and its spread geographically. The wars continue, leading to devastation in countries as far apart as Libya and Afghanistan.

The implication that we consider Islamist terrorists as “the armed wing of the Stop the War Coalition” is the opposite of the case. We oppose their politics and methods. But we argue that the policies followed by successive governments have allowed these groups to grow, as has support from western allies in the Middle East. If we are going to deal with the effects of this terrorism in Europe, we have to understand its causes.
Jeremy Corbyn MP (chair) and Lindsey German (convenor)
Stop the War Coalition

Jonathan Freedland writes: “There were two groups especially shaken by last week’s attacks – journalists and Jews.” Muslims, by implication, have not been shaken and have nothing to fear, though it is likely they will be even more victimised throughout Europe than they have been so far as a result of these attacks. And it is Muslims who are the main victims of extreme Islamism throughout the Middle East, as well as of US and European responses to Islamism.
Sophie Richmond
London

The identity of Muslims is strongly bound up with Islam, and, as we too often forget, attacking people’s deepest identity only drives it deeper. Moreover, the defining experience of most Muslims in Europe has been one of social exclusion. They have lower incomes, higher rates of unemployment and fewer qualifications than the rest. They also suffer from housing deprivation and disproportionately from bad health. They are also more likely to be the victims of crime. In addition, unqualified western support for Israel and military interventions in the Arab world cause much anger. These factors of poverty, exclusion and war don’t justify the killings, but they go a long way to explaining them.

Satire has traditionally referred to the ridiculing of the rich and powerful, not lampooning those suffering deprivation and exclusion. In this sense, the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were not examples of satire but Islamophobic attacks.
Sabby Sagall
London

Thank you, Tim Lott, for your wonderful piece in praise of doubt, and against anger (Opinion, 16 January). In some ways, it seems to me, it is even worse than you say, but in other ways, not quite as bad. Even science – the soul, one might think, of reason and institutionalised doubt – has its unacknowledged dogmas. There are unacknowledged assumptions about metaphysics, values and politics built into the aims of science. Science would be all the more rational if these implicit articles of faith were made explicit, so that they can be critically assessed and improved as science proceeds.

On the other hand, is it really true that “all our belief systems are just constructs”? It may well be that “everything is in doubt”, as you say, but still things exist that are genuinely of value in themselves in the world – the laughter of a child, an act of kindness, a good article in the Guardian. All views about what is ultimately of value in life may be open to doubt, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing that is genuinely of value.
Nicholas Maxwell
Emeritus reader, Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London

Here in Pembrokeshire we had no trouble ordering the special edition of Charlie Hebdo (Letters, 15 January). Our newsagent said “no problem”, he would add us to his list of orders for it and added: “I’ve been a newsagent for 43 years, nothing scares me.”
Ann James
Hwlffordd, Pembrokeshire

What happens after you’ve been punched by the pope and turned the other cheek?
Clive Coen
Professor of neuroscience, King’s College London

A child walks on a makeshift bridge betw
A child walks on a makeshift bridge between shanty homes north of Manila, the Philippines. ‘Poverty is more than a lack of income: people living in deprivation face many simultaneous disadvantages,’ writes Sabina Alkire of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. Photograph: Noel Celis/Getty

The Action/2015 campaign (This year is key to poverty and climate goals, stars warn world leaders, 15 January) is a welcome initiative that underlines the importance of 2015 as a crucial year in the fight against poverty and climate change, with pivotal UN summits taking place. The campaign released new data showing the number of people living in extreme poverty – on less than $1.25 a day – could be reduced from over 1 billion to 360 million by 2030 if the right decisions are made.

However, poverty is more than a lack of income: people living in deprivation face many simultaneous disadvantages. Health, education and living-standards deprivations are equally important to measure, as the 7 million people who took part in the UN’s My World survey, the Open Working Group and the secretary-general’s December 2014 report stress. The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative proposes one feasible option: to complement the $1.25/ day income measure with an improved multidimensional poverty index (MPI 2015+) that would ensure the many overlapping disadvantages experienced by the poor, such as malnutrition, poor sanitation and lack of education, are not overlooked. According to global MPI estimates, 1.6 billion people across 110 countries are multidimensionally poor.

Considering two measures – income poverty and the MPI 2015+ – would empower leaders to combat poverty in its many dimensions. As Action/2015 underlines, making the right decisions this year is key – but we need to select the right tools for fighting poverty to ensure the right policy decisions can be made in future too.
Sabina Alkire
Director, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative

As celebrities and campaigners begin to talk about what will follow on from the millennium development goals, it is vital that we do not ignore the needs of the disabled people who live in developing countries. Disabled people are often the poorest and most marginalised from their communities. Many disabled people struggle to earn a living, and as a result their families face severe financial hardship. Often, disabled people have not benefited from international aid. For example, one-third of the 58 million primary-school-aged children who are out of school worldwide are disabled.

When the MDGs were agreed by world leaders in 2000, there was no mention of disability in the eight goals or in the 60 indicators of the 21 targets. This needs to change. In order to truly tackle poverty it is vital that the needs of disabled people are met and they get targeted support.
James Thornberry
Director, Sense International

'Asked for 200 more seats, I introduced a further 150 “bad seats”, over and above the brief,' says I

Your account of Chris Bryant’s cultural plans, for more grit and less glitz (Report, 17 January), lifts the heart but he clouds the issue of seating prices: “It’s great to have a £10 ticket system but if all the £10 tickets are being sold to people who were buying them for £50 the week before, then that’s no great gain,” says Bryant.

We need to unravel the connection between seat prices and auditorium design. In the first theatre building boom, at the end of the 18th century, hundreds of playhouses were built with a top-to-bottom price ratio of eight to one. In the second, at the end of the 19th century, many more were built, including the West End theatres. All had galleries and boxes stretching down to the stage. They also had a greater capacity at the lower price levels than at the higher, a contrast to today, where there are very few cheap seats and they are all at the very back or the very front.

In the theatres of the postwar building boom, such as the Olivier and Lyttelton, all seats have roughly the same straight-on view. When the National Theatre building committee wondered whether their new theatres would be more intimate with side seats, architect Denys Lasdun replied: “I would need a written instruction to include bad seats.”

Contrast that with the reaction of client George Christie in 1991 when I introduced a horseshoe plan for the new Glyndebourne to replace the old shoebox holding 850. Asked for 200 more seats, I introduced a further 150 “bad seats”, over and above the brief. These paper the walls with people and give the theatre both warmth and a better acoustic. I suggested that this should depend on agreeing a price ratio of 10 to one. Christie immediately understood both the theatrical and social benefits. We built the horseshoe and there is still a 10 to one price ratio.

In the 60s it was thought that a new theatre had to be democratic and serve the whole audience equally. The result is not only cinema or stadium forms but also huge volumes: the volume of the Olivier theatre auditorium holding 1,060 is greater than that of Drury Lane, which holds 2,300. Seat prices have been levelled up rather than down on the grounds that all enjoy an uninterrupted view of the actor. Yet the performers prefer the old theatres with their multi-level circles embracing the stage.

If Labour can reinvigorate our larger touring theatres across the nation it will win great support from the theatre profession. Today we have grit at our smaller underfunded theatres. At the larger theatres, glitz too often reigns with elaborate scenic effects, as seen in London, where spectacle rules.
Iain Mackintosh
London

Generic versions of medicines can save vast amounts of money.
Generic versions of medicines can save vast amounts of money. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

I was one of 500 people who benefited from the £18.7m government funding for Sofosbuvir (NHS delays $1,000-a-pill drug to treat hepatitis C, 16 January). If I hadn’t been treated I would be dead today. The decision of Nice to allow NHS England to postpone Sofosbuvir’s introduction will condemn many patients to death.

There is an alternative, as India has demonstrated, which is to refuse the manufacturers, Gilead Sciences, a patent. In India Gilead has now agreed to the production of a generic version of the drug. The cost of producing Sofosbuvir for a three-month course is $101 – $1 a pill.

The government balks at the potential billion-pound cost of the drug but the answer is simple – produce a generic version of Sofosbuvir. The right of Gilead to charge whatever the market can bear will come at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. In the United States hepatitis C is a bigger killer than HIV, and in Britain there are an estimated quarter of a million sufferers.

The new generation of non-interferon drugs promise to wipe out hepatitis C completely but the major drug companies must be brought under public ownership. Private profit and public health are diametrically opposed. The question is which is more important – the profits of the major drug companies or the needs of those who are ill? Capitalist versus a socialist morality.
Tony Greenstein
Brighton

Toilet bowl and paper
Bog standard. ‘It’s best to leave the seat in the position in which you used it, with the responsibility being on the next user, whatever their gender, to put the seat into the appropriate position to suit their particular anatomy,’ writes Josh Mackay. Photograph: Urban Zone/Alamy

The West Hollywood gay community may like to think of itself as being progressive (Report, 17 January), but its attitude to toilet-seat position (“Gentlemen, remember to lower that toilet seat”) is far from such. It’s stuck in the 1970s. As a general principle, it’s best to leave the seat in the position in which you yourself used it, with the responsibility being on the next user, whatever their gender, to put the seat into the appropriate position to suit their particular anatomy. Thus there is no onus on the members of any one gender to leave the seat in any specific configuration.

The current “seat-down” convention means that in order to relieve their bladders, males have to first raise then lower the seat no matter who uses the toilet next, while females have to do nothing. Surely a discriminatory practice. Maybe the seat-down convention is based on an erroneous assumption that down is the “natural” position of a toilet seat – a prejudice that is possibly boosted by an inappropriate extrapolation from the fact that men do need to have the seat down once, maybe twice, a day (though relatively infrequently in public toilets). Or maybe it’s an outdated example of good manners, in the same vein as “ladies first” – and thus the sort of patronising activity we must discourage.
Josh Mackay
London

MEDIA Weather 1
Just don’t mention the Republic of Ireland… Photograph: BBC/PA

Martin Kettle’s disquiet about weather forecasting (Let’s scrape the hyperbole off the weather forecasts, 19 January) prompts the question of why the TV weather map shows the whole of the island of Ireland but ostentatiously omits any reference, visually or orally, to the situation in the Republic. I have always assumed that this was in order to placate Ulster Unionists who fear that an all-Irish weather forecast would be a first step towards reunification. Why was this vital issue not resolved in the Good Friday agreement?
Chris Haskins
House of Lords

• To say this year or that year is the warmest on record is deceptive (Report, 17 January). Instrument records began about 1850, but measurements using proxies such as ice cores have been successfully made covering the past 6bn years of the Earth’s existence. For example Christopher Scotese, professor of geology at the University of Texas, shows in his analysis using such proxies that the Earth’s temperature and carbon dioxide levels have been much higher than today for 80% of the past 6bn years.
Terri Jackson
Founder of energy and climate group at the Institute of Physics

• I have to say how much I have been enjoying finding out the backstories of my favourite Doonesbury characters in the Doonesbury Classic cartoon strips in G2. It will be quite a jolt when Trudeau eventually brings us up to date with current events in Doonesbury World.
Jill Carr
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

• Since my letter (January 19) asking if my daughter (an unpaid intern in Geneva) is now earning nothing plus 30%, I’ve been told – in no uncertain terms – that she is now earning nothing minus 30%.
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

• I don’t care whether the HP sauce label is in French or English (letters passim), or what its ingredients are, as long as no one calls it “haitch pee”.
Jane Jones
Chester

Independent:

 

Times:

 

Telegr

How should we address the inequality of access to leading universities by students of equal ability?

Sir, The problem of differential access to leading universities by students of equal ability is not new (“Top universities ordered to end the north-south split”, and leader, Jan 17). Much has always depended on where the head and sixth-form teachers of a school were themselves educated. Oxbridge-educated teachers direct their students towards Oxbridge. In 1980, Westminster’s headmaster and I found that there were more such teachers at his school than at the 50 secondary schools in the three poorest-performing boroughs of inner London. London does far better now, but how many Russell Group graduates are teaching at senior level in the lowest-performing schools?

It should not be difficult to establish the relationship between the university attended and level of degree achieved by senior teachers in a school, and the proportion of high achievers at that school applying to Russell Group universities.

Dealing with the results of that research would be difficult, but there is no point in blaming universities for something over which they have no control: the distribution of teachers with personal experience of what they gained from the leading universities they attended and are, in consequence, determined to give their students a chance to experience.

Sir Peter Newsam (Former education officer to the Inner London Education Authority)
Thornton Dale, N Yorks

Sir, The access gap between northern students and top universities does indeed seem daunting — but it can be bridged. The Linacre Institute works in precisely this area, and in 2014 the charity helped 70 per cent of our northern state-school students to win places at Oxbridge and Imperial.

The average acceptance rate is about 1 in 5. All students came from deprived parts of Yorkshire and north Derbyshire — many from places in the English bottom 20 for access, such as Rotherham and Doncaster. Our pilot scheme involved summer schools in Westminster and Cambridge, followed by intensive tuition and mentoring. It shows what students can do given a clear goal, a defined path, and someone to help them along the way.

Paul Coupar-Hennessy
Founding trustee, Linacre Institute

Sir, Clearly, as your reports make clear, the universities still need to do more to attract bright children in all areas of the country. But imposing a quota system is economically inefficient, because it offers places regardless of academic ability or other merits.

Why not create more grammar schools, which have a track record of promoting social mobility, and require them to be situated in poor areas (this can easily be measured from council tax figures). Poorer parents will not then suffer from high property and transport costs — and will in effect be subsidised by wealthier parents, who will need to transport their children on much longer school runs.

Ian Hitchen
Bolton

Sir, Your reports rightly draw attention to a national scandal of inequality and lack of social mobility. Comparing the extreme northeast and southeast counties, Northumberland and Kent, is interesting. Neither feature in the list of top 20 or bottom 20 councils for the percentage of state-school pupils getting into the top 30 universities, yet Kent has more than 30 grammar schools and may soon have another. It should be doing better. It also has a wealth of independent schools and some of the poorest-performing state secondary schools in the country.

Northumberland, by contrast, has no grammar schools and almost no independent schools, because the energies and ambitions of the whole community are channelled into making the state comprehensive 13-18 high schools in all the county’s market towns strong and successful for all. They are very effective agents of social mobility.

Should we not learn from Northumberland’s example?

John Haden (Former principal, Wymondham College)
Oakham, Rutland

Sir, Bernard Trafford (letter, Jan 19) urges the government to buy places at independent schools for bright, poor pupils. Surely these places should be bought for the least bright pupils, who are most in need of what is allegedly better education. Bright pupils will succeed anyway. It is the least able pupils on whom we should be spending money.

Nick Pritchard
Southampton

The Pedant has ruled on Mick Jagger’s use of the double negative. Now can he turn to Andy Williams?

Sir, Isn’t Oliver Kamm giving too much benefit of the doubt when he assumes that Mick Jagger’s double negative really meant he could get some of that elusive “satisfaction” (The Pedant, Register, Jan 17)? I always thought he was just over-emphasising his lack if it. But now that Oliver has strayed from the stockyard, where over the months he has been entertainingly slaughtering grammatical sacred cows, and has now trespassed into the field of popular culture, might I seek his opinion on Mick’s “Hey you! Get off of my cloud!”— and Andy Williams’s “Can’t take my eyes off of you”?

In our early days of marriage, my Shropshire-born wife would ridicule my south London use of that superfluous preposition, but almost 60 years on it would be good to get The Pedant’s view.

Ken Broad

Church Aston, Shropshire

Despite claims to the contrary, Britain is “good for the Jews” — as well as for every other minority

Sir, Most Jews recognise the residual persistence of antisemitic attitudes in our society (report, Jan 19, and letters, Jan 16 & 19). It is a mere shadow of what we saw in the 1930s; to characterise it as more than that is alarmist.

Britain is tolerant, and “good for the Jews” as well as for every other minority. The Pew survey of attitudes towards minorities in 2014 shows that Britain is second only to Germany in having highly positive attitudes towards Jews among other groups.

That is why my family are staying put here in Reading.

Rabbi Zvi Solomons

Reading

Why would emotionless machines be any better stewards of Earth than the human race?

Sir, Don Cowell (letter, Jan 16) suggests that the predicted destruction of the human race by artificial intelligence may be no good thing “given the damage we have inflicted on the planet”.

What gives him the idea that emotionless machines, unmoved by the extinction of their own creators, would be any better stewards of Earth than ourselves?

Simon Mallett

Buckingham

Hugo Rifkind mentioned the Canaanites and the Moabites, but missed the Mosquitobites…

Sir, We were amused by Hugo Rifkind’s piece on the Bible (Opinion, Jan 17). I can add another -ite to his list. While in Israel a few years ago we were on a coach from Jericho to Jerusalem, on a dusty road in the heat of the afternoon. Our excellent guide was droning on about the tribes of Israel: “There were the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Mosquitobites.”

There was an astonished gasp from his audience, before he added: “Just checking to see if you were awake.”

Ann Tillard

North Chailey, E Sussex

Would the Australian preferential voting system, and e-voting, be better options for the UK?

Sir, Compulsory voting makes Australians, in general, rather more interested in political life than I have observed in Britain; “copping out” is not an option (Opinion, Jan 15, and letters, Jan 17). Political disconnection is also reduced by the Australian preferential voting system, which ensures that if I vote for someone who attracts the least votes, my vote will flow on to the second person on my list of preferences, and so on. In that way, a successful candidate is “legitimised” by having received the votes of at least 50 per cent of voters — far more democratic than a typical UK candidate’s election.

Clive Huggan

Banstead, Surrey

Sir, E-voting has the potential to increase turnout, encourage young people’s engagement in politics, assist the counting process and — unlike postal voting — would allow voters to follow the debate through to the day of the election. It seems odd that the government trusts people to purchase its new pensioner bonds online but not enough to cast their votes by similar means.

Peter Saunders

Salisbury

Telegraph:

UK aid to Pakistan should continue but future increases must rest on domestic tax reform

The Department for International Development (Dfid) was required to spend £11.46billion on aid projects in 2013

SIR – I note that MPs are to take issue with the Treasury on its rushed settlement of £1 billion in foreign aid.

An examination of how other countries find ways to benefit their own population as well as the recipient country would show how aid can be more productive and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to British industry. In the early days of establishing an export market for its manufacturing industry, Japan gave manufactured goods, not money, as aid.

The advantages of such a policy are threefold. First, it helps to establish the company brand in the recipient’s country; secondly, it reduces the outflow of investment from the donor country, and also removes the substantial fees that are taken by agents in the recipient country during distribution of that aid.

Malcolm Yates
Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

SIR – Your leader on last year’s spending spree at the Department for International Development highlights a long-standing problem.

DfID terminated my contract in 2000 after I drew attention to poor financial controls, as reported by Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph. The most scandalous waste of money is surely on the parliamentary select committee on international development, which seems forever oblivious to any serious problem. If it were effective the Independent Commission for Aid Impact would be unnecessary.

Howard Horsley
Wenlock, Shropshire

SIR – Last year I corresponded several times with Alan Duncan, in his role as Minister of State for International Development, about the money we give to various developing countries.

I have lived and worked in Africa and I expressed my view to him that aid promotes poverty and conflict. The rulers of the receiving countries have no incentive to improve the lot of their people, since if they did they would lose access to large amounts of hard currency. It also ensures that transfers of power are often bloody affairs.

Brian Farmer
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – The very real risk posed by corrupt governments in poorer countries should not be an excuse for reducing foreign aid.

Rather, our government should direct funds through reliable charities who know where the need lies and are accountable.

John Robinson
Stanton, Suffolk

SIR – Rushing to spend hundreds of millions to meet overseas aid targets, allowing immigration to create an extra city a year, and paying unashamedly obese people not to work: is it any surprise Britain has financial problems?

David Mears
Jávea, Spain

Election debates 2015

(Paul Rogers)

SIR – Charles Moore is right to be wary of the temptation of broadcasters to look for gaffes in election campaigns at the expense of coverage of the important issues.

But some years ago, BBC Radio Four had the excellent idea of broadcasting extracts from just a couple of speeches each night in the 11.30pm to midnight parliamentary slot. I hope politicians will still have a similar platform for presenting their ideas in depth.

Hugh Alexander
Williton, Somerset

SIR – I agree with Charles Moore that David Cameron should feel no compulsion to participate in a televised debate.

However, he really is in a tricky situation. Should he decline, Ed Miliband will be in a stronger position to rebuild his battered image. Should he take part, he would at least be better placed to contrast the economic outlook with Labour’s record in government.

But best to stay away? Yes, probably.

Richard Larner
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – Once the television debates are over, will I be able to vote via text or will Simon Cowell decide the outcome?

John Allan-Smith
New York

Pigs in print

SIR – The author guidelines for Oxford University Press have not recently changed, and there is no ban on the mention of pigs in children’s books.

OUP believes that if we are to make the biggest impact on the educational performance of children in the 200 countries we publish for, we must also reflect children’s cultural needs. Our priority with all our publishing is that we uphold high academic standards, while ensuring our titles do not cause offence that is either unnecessary or would get in the way of our educational objectives.

Kate Harris
Managing Director, Oxford Education
Oxford University Press (UK)

Effective drug funding

SIR – The establishment of an additional Cancer Drugs Fund was a clear sign that the current system for the effective and efficient commissioning of cancer drugs in England was failing to achieve its objectives.

Now even this additional pot is crumbling under demand and the high cost of cancer drugs. The knee-jerk reaction has been to save money by re‑evaluating the availability of these drugs, regardless of need.

The number of people living with cancer is predicted to reach a record level this year in Britain. A long-term plan for more sustainable and effective drug-funding and appraisal systems in all parts of the country is urgently required. Cancer charities are uniting behind this common goal and will be working closely with NHS England, the Department of Health, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) over the coming months to develop a better process for commissioning cancer drugs.

Only this way, with the full cooperation of manufacturers, will the health service be able to cope with demand and meet the needs of people affected by cancer.

Owen Sharp
Chief Executive, Prostate Cancer UK
Mark Flannagan
Chief Executive, Beating Bowel Cancer
Andrew Wilson
Chief Executive, Rarer Cancers Foundation
Deborah Alsina
Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK
Baroness Delyth Morgan
Chief Executive Officer, Breast Cancer Campaign
Samia al Qadhi
Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Care
Chris Askew
Chief Executive, Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Maggie Wilcox
President, Independent Cancer Patients’ Voice
Nick Turkentine
Chief Executive, James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer
Robert Music
Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust
Rose Woodward
Founder, Kidney Cancer Support Network
Monica Izmajlowicz
Chief Executive, Leukaemia Care
Lindsey Bennister
Chief Executive, Sarcoma UK
Jesme Fox
Medical Director, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation,
Roger Wotton
Hon. Chairman, Tackle Prostate Cancer

Time is money

SIR – Would it be too early to nominate National Savings & Investments for this year’s “Windows 8 Award”, for sheer technical incompetence and customer dissatisfaction with a computer-driven service?

It took me about 15 hours to log on and eventually purchase the two new NS&I bonds, and three days to find out if my purchases had actually been processed due to a stream of false error messages. At no time during those three days was I able to get through by telephone.

Jeremy Thorn
Fairburn, West Yorkshire

SIR – If my experience with NS&I is anything to go by, I fully expect that doctors’ surgeries will be filled with pensioners suffering from high blood pressure over the coming week.

Jo-Ann Rogers
Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Archbishops’ views ignore the Anglican majority

SIR – The recent comments by our archbishops concerning the economy are, sadly, still very much the norm among the higher echelons of the Church of England.

We the Anglican majority can see the results of Coalition policies: record levels of employment, the lowest crimes rate ever, improving state education, and rising living standards here in Britain.

Rev Richard Fothergill
South Stoke, Bath

SIR – Alistair McBay (Letters, January 16) writes that the assets of the Church of England are worth £6 billion.

One of these assets is St Botolph’s Church in Hardham, West Sussex, which contains the oldest ecclesiastical wall paintings in Britain. Regrettably, these unique 1,000-year-old paintings are suffering from the effects of neglect and damp and are fading fast.

Can the Church not find the necessary funds to preserve them?

Michael Dallas
London SW13

SIR – Perhaps if the Church of England concentrated more on visiting parishioners and less on ripping out its comfortable firm pews, it might succeed in filling the latter.

Frances Jarvis
Cartmel, Lancashire

I’m just going outside…

SIR – I find the latest research on the health benefits of a brisk walk most reassuring.

Returning from my daily excursion in the recent weather conditions of west Scotland, I have never felt nearer death.

Paul Wilson
Prestwick, Ayrshire

Wild suggestion

SIR – Your correspondents Juno Hollyhock and Trees Fewster (Letters, January 17) should get together and run a garden centre.

Flora Wild
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – There is a respected clergyman living near us whose surname is Page-Turner.

As an organist, I have often thought of inviting him to assist me during a recital.

Paul Cheater
Dorchester, Dorset

A disappearing act 27 years in the making

Life in the slow lane: the spur-thighed tortoise can live for more than a century in captivity (Alamy)

SIR – In 1982 I inherited a spur-thighed tortoise with a basement garden flat that I bought near Holland Park in London (Letters, January 10).

“Ferdi” turned out to be an energetic, rather bad-tempered tortoise with a penchant for escaping. When we moved to a terraced house in Ealing he would often squeeze through a neighbour’s fence and be found marching down the road towards Pitshanger Park, his shell covered with Able Labels bearing our address.

When we moved to rural Worcestershire, he roamed around a well-fortified pen in our garden, and would inevitably make a run for it if we were distracted when we let him out to graze the lawn. Neighbours found him on a dog walk half a mile from home; a motorist found him on the main road to Worcester and foisted him on an unsuspecting family for a month before we retrieved him.

After 27 years of loving care, he finally left us one summer’s day by perfecting the art of pole-vaulting over his wooden fence while we were out.

I do not miss the restlessness, the headbutting attacks or the intolerance he had for our pet dogs and cats, but I admired his determination to escape year after year. The Worcestershire countryside is no doubt enriched by his company, and I hope he roams the woods and farmland for as long as he wishes.

Catriona Craig
Malvern, Worcestershire

Out of this world

SIR – If the Bob cartoon is to be believed (January 17), the Mars Express has increased in price by only two pence in just over 11 years.

Get me on the next rocket.

Brian Simpson
Taunton, Somerset

 

 

Globe and Mail:

DAVID BUTT

Canada’s law on hate speech is the embodiment of compromise

Freedom of expression in Canada is normally a dry legal concept, sporadically explored by law professors in dense papers, and taken for granted by everyone else. Until now, if freedom of expression got any attention at all, it was fleeting and superficial, like a bumper sticker on a passing car. The terrorist attacks in France and their aftermath changed all that, giving freedom of expression an extended tenure in the limelight and popular consciousness.

But the discussion in Canada so far fails to address the unique Canadian approach to freedom of expression, and thus fails to ask a crucial Canadian question. Does freedom of expression as legally defined in Canada provide the right tools for expression challenges in a fragmented and largely angry 21st century social media world?

Canadian freedom of expression law, like so many things Canadian, embodies compromise. In the United States, even the most hateful, virile and destructive speech is constitutionally protected. In many other countries, expression is suppressed if politically problematic. We walk between those extremes.

Here you can be put in jail for hate speech. But before you condemn the prospect of jail for speaking your mind, consider the built-in limits to the hate speech law. There are seven of them, and together they pour a big pail of cold water on any over-zealous prosecutor intent on duct-taping your mouth. For a prosecution to go ahead, all of these conditions must be met:

1. The hate speech must be the most severe of the genre;

2. The hate speech must be targeted to an identifiable group;

3. It must be public;

4. It must be deliberate, not careless;

5. Excluded from hate speech are good faith interpretations of religious doctrine, discussion of issues of public interest, and literary devices like sarcasm and irony;

6. The statements must be hateful when considered in their social and historical context;

7. No prosecution can proceed without approval of the attorney-general, which introduces political accountability because the attorney-general is a cabinet minister.

Even with these limits, the Canadian hate law still clearly curtails free expression. But the Supreme Court has not struck it down. Why? Four main reasons. First, our constitution protects not only free expression, but multiculturalism and equality as well. So to read the constitution holistically, we cannot permit one protected freedom to undermine other rights and freedoms enjoying equal status.

Second, the Supreme Court recognized the insidious impact of propaganda campaigns that gain social traction and incrementally dull our rational faculties and empathy. Perhaps paternalistic, but the court is saying sometimes we need to be protected from our baser and stupider selves.

Third, the courts have said that even if a hate speech prohibition is never used, it has symbolic value, like that framed mission and values statement on the wall of most businesses, that stares silently down at the workers while they work.

Fourth, hate speech has no redeeming value.

So, given our unique law, how would recent events have played out if they had occurred in Canada? No comics would have been rounded up by police. Prosecutors would have just shrugged their shoulders and ignored the Pope’s argument that insulting religions should have consequences. And protests by religious groups against cartoons satirizing their religion would have had ample breathing space, with police present to prevent violence, but not muzzle the message.

In other words, a crisis of Parisian magnitude, had it occurred here, would be a serious matter for our criminal and anti-terror laws, but not our hate speech law. And the hate speech law itself, on the books for decades, is used only sporadically. So does such a marginal prohibition still serve any useful purpose?

One glimmer of the law’s utility might be seen in the decision by many Canadian media outlets not to re-publish the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons, despite being sincerely awash in “Je suis Charlie” sentiment. Our Supreme Court suggested the hate speech law has symbolic value such that even without being invoked, it silently validates a national ethic of multicultural accommodation and respect; and in the decision by Canadian media not to re-publish the cartoons, that very ethic can be seen in action. So it may be that our hate speech law was a silent point of resonance with the values, not the legal obligations, that motivated the media outlets who chose not to publish.

Is that sufficient reason for our hate speech law to exist? Sufficient reason for a law that can impose jail for speaking out? If we take these questions back to our social media haunts, our office water-cooler chats, and our classrooms, freedom of expression in Canada will come out a winner regardless of how opinion is, or is not, divided.

 

Elizabeth Renzetti

If the artists starve, we’ll all go hungry

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – Well, we have grown up even if it did take much longer than it should have. Now, can Leo go on to be the first openly gay party leader or even taoiseach? – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN CASSERLY,

Bishopstown,

Cork.

Sir, – Leo Varadkar’s thoughtful interview with Miriam O’Callaghan made me think about the forthcoming marriage equality referendum. All political parties are supportive, in theory, of the Yes campaign. But concern has been expressed that complacency about positive polls on the issue may yet scupper our endeavour. Actions speak louder than words. Unless the political party machines, on the ground, nationwide are mobilised to actively campaign for a Yes vote, we will fail. I am fearful, a year out from a general election, that the political parties, whose focus will be on re-election and not marriage equality, will not step up and do the work required to deliver a positive referendum result. Will the political parties, and their leaders follow through and honour their commitment to marriage equality? I, for one, will not hold my breath. – Yours, etc,

GER PHILPOTT,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – I can’t believe that Leo Varadkar has come out and admitted that he doesn’t listen to Liveline. – Yours, etc,

MARTIN CAREY,

Athlone,

Co Westmeath.

Sir, – What does it tell us about our society that LGBT people in public office feel obliged to declare their preferred sexual interest? Though maybe in a democracy we can now expect that all heterosexual people in public office – and media commentators – will also dutifully divulge their own sexual preferences. Another feather in the cap of prurience. – Yours, etc,

EUGENE TANNAM,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – What does it say about our maturity as a country that the mention of a Minister’s sexual orientation is deemed worthy of being main headline news not five minutes after his interview on Miriam Meets? – Yours, etc,

SHEELAGH MOONEY,

Naas,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – Well done to The Irish Times for not having an “I am gay, says Leo Varadkar” headline splashed across the front of your newspaper today. I would think the only thing people want to know about Mr Varadkar is whether or not he can sort out the mess that is the HSE. – Yours, etc,

JOE HARVEY,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – It was a brave move of Leo Varadkar to speak publicly about his sexual orientation. Victory in the forthcoming referendum can only be secured if each and every member of the gay community becomes a self-elected public representative for the cause of marriage equality. It is time to come out and speak up! Talk to your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, your nieces and nephews, your cousins, your friends and your work colleagues. Tell them why they should vote yes; respond to their concerns with reason, evidence and respect. These are the people who can realise Mr Varadkar’s hope “to be an equal citizen in his own country”. – Yours, etc,

Dr FIONÁN DONOHOE,

Glasnevin,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – I am coming out. I cannot live a lie any longer. I voted for Fine Gael at the last general election. Phew, that’s a weight off my chest.

I am determined to find political happiness. I will seek out a political relationship that I can be proud of. – Yours,etc,

DECLAN DOYLE,

Lisdowney,

Kilkenny.

Sir, – Won’t Ireland be a great little country when a Minister does not have to take to the airwaves and disclose his sexual preference? I live in hope. – Yours, etc,

FRANK BYRNE,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Leo Varadkar has “come out” as a being gay. As a gay man I think this is brilliant. However a part of me feels sad that his “coming out” – and isn’t that a peculiar expression in itself – has made such headline news across all media.

Why the need for gay people to “come out?” Do heterosexual people “come out”?

I know many young gay people today will welcome Leo Varadkar’s announcement and it certainly will come up in conversations in households all across the country. It may even help some gay people to “come out”, if that is what they wish to do. However, the media attention to this will die down and the conversation will move on and rightly so.

Now what were we talking about? It’s the economy, stupid, or more specifically, in Leo’s case, hospital waiting lists and the numbers of people on trolleys. – Yours, etc,

TOMMY RODDY,

Lower Salthill,

Galway.

Sir, – Given the media’s positive coverage of Leo Varadkar’s declaration of his sexual identity and the public’s blasé acceptance of same, it’s clear that it would be far more courageous in the current climate for a Minister to come out in favour of fully metered water charges. – Yours, etc,

STEVE CORONELLA,

Shankill, Co Dublin.

Sir, – There is always a balance to be struck for a gay person in the public eye. On one hand they have the opportunity to provide an example for other people dealing with the same emotional issues about whether to be open about their sexuality. But on the other hand the emotional impact of revealing your sexuality is something a heterosexual person will never understand because they never have to explain themselves, not just once but repeatedly for the rest of their life. People say, and with sincerity, that it’s no big deal, while never really understanding just how big a deal it actually is.

The undercurrent of course is that LGBT people should be grateful that heterosexual people have no “problem” with us, rather than asking why would a LGBT person have to fear someone finding out they are gay at all in the first place.

It is interesting too that despite his own experience of being marginalised, in the sense that Mr Varadkar only now felt able to be open about one of the most fundamental aspects of his personality. Remarkably his experience doesn’t seem to have had any impact on tempering his willingness to put the boot into a range of other people who also find their lives marginalised through circumstances they had no say over, such as being born into a dysfunctional family or an economically deprived area. Thanks to the decisions made by Mr Varadkar and this Government in 2015 those people have less chance to rise above their circumstances than they ever had before.

Since 2011, he has been a Cabinet Minister and I think most people would be at loss to set out anything he has actually achieved so far.

His time as transport minister was a period of paper-shuffling blandness where none of the embedded problems of the Irish transport system were addressed. Similarly to date, his time as Minister for Health is also noticeable for its lack of ambition. The location of the children’s hospital is still not decided. Absolutely nothing has been done to provide a health service that is free at the point of use that would in fact cost less than any other system, when one compares the price per head the Irish taxpayer spends on health compared to the level of service other countries with a free health system provides. The most vulnerable in Irish society are still having to battle for a medical card despite a promise that they would not have to. Ireland’s health system can’t even rise to the most basic provision of a “baby box”, similar to that provided to every new mother in Finland, to ensure that at least for the first few weeks of life, a child, no matter what circumstances they are born into, will have a safe, clean space of their own and the supplies needed for those essential first few weeks when the seeds of so many future problems are sown, and could instead be avoided.

So, lest anyone claim to be surprised later on, no-one should be under any delusion that any experience of being marginalised due to his sexuality will filter down into a more compassionate conservatism from Mr Varadkar. The reality is that he will still continue to support and vote for every single decision of the Government of which he has been a member since it was formed to chip away at the welfare state safety nets and concentrate the wealth of the country into fewer and fewer hands.

The media coverage of Mr Varadkar coming out is disingenuous when the same level of attention isn’t directed to his actual decisions as part of the Government and anyone expecting the LGBT element to bring a softer or more nuanced edge to his politics will be disappointed. – Yours, etc,

DESMOND FitzGERALD,

Canary Wharf,

London.

Sir, – We wish to express serious reservations about the recently published draft terms of reference of the forthcoming inquiry into mother and baby homes, and related matters.

We have every confidence in the capacity of the distinguished members of the commission to investigate. We are not confident that the commission will be allowed to examine lives blighted outside institutions where unmarried mothers were forced to abandon their children.

The terms of reference mention “exit pathways” from mother and baby homes. It is not clear if such pathways will lead up the entrance path of similarly dysfunctional institutions to which abandoned children were sent.

For example, some of the undersigned were sent from the Bethany Home to the Westbank Orphanage in Wicklow, which had the same Protestant fundamentalist ethos as Bethany. The orphanage had one main purpose, to raise money for the institution, with one main effect, the denial of a right of adoption to most children. Children were paraded in front of gullible but sincere church congregations in Northern Ireland as the South’s poor Protestant orphans. We were, in fact, exploited, unpaid, professional orphans, illegally transported back and forth over the Border. Some “children” remained in Westbank, which closed in 2002, into their twenties. Many suffered systemic physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

We insist on being allowed to tell the Commission of Inquiry of our experiences.

If we succeed, and lives of children who arrived from Bethany are examined, that will leave those who arrived from other “pathways”.

They arrived sometimes direct from maternity hospitals, or from the Braemar House Mother and Baby Home, Cork, which (unaccountably) is not listed in the terms of reference. Their situation too should be investigated. Similarly, the exit pathway from the Church of Ireland Magdalen Home to its associated Nursery Rescue Society, which farmed out children from the age of three, should also be examined.

We demand to know why we were abandoned and ignored by regulatory authorities.

It is time for the State to accept responsibility. The draft terms of reference should be tightened and clarified so that our experience may be recognised, investigated and validated. – Yours, etc,

CAILIN ANDERSON,

(Bethany Home,

Westbank Orphanage)

Kilwinning, Ayrshire;

COLM BEGLEY;

(Westbank Orphanage,

Bethany Home),

Carrigadrohid,

Co Cork;

ELIZABETH

CHIKANEY O’TOOLE,

(Bethany Home,

Westbank Orphanage),

Newtownmountkennedy,

Co Wicklow;

HELEN FITZPATRICK,

(Westbank Orphanage),

Langhorne, Pennsylvania;

SIDNEY HERDMAN,

(Westbank Orphanage),

Richill, Co Armagh;

JOHN HILL,

(Church of Ireland Magdalen

Home, Nursery Rescue

Society),

Stamullen, Co Meath;

DEREK LEINSTER,

(Bethany Home),

Rugby,

Warwickshire;

JOYCE McSHARRY,

(Bethany Home),

Kinsealy,

Co Dublin;

VICTOR STEVENSON;

(Braemar House,

Westbank Orphanage)

Bangor, Co Down;

ANDREW YATES,

(Bethany Home,

Westbank Orphanage)

Newtownards, Co Down.

Sir, – I should like to endorse Catherine Sweeney’s proposal (January 17th) for a “Bean an Tí” party. In a recent book, the political philosopher Colm O’Regan puts it succinctly – let’s have a government of mammies. – Yours, etc,

MAEVE KENNEDY ,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – I am writing to you with regard to the wonderful photograph of Jack Cruise, Sean Mooney and Frank Howard on the inside of the back page of your Magazine (“The Times We Lived In”, January 17th). To say that it inspired feelings of deep nostalgia for the great times of variety shows in Dublin would be an understatement. A time when nobody had a shilling in their pocket and the word austerity had not entered our vocabulary. However the Frank in question was not Frankie Howerd but was our own Frankie Howard, a man of infinite jest, who entertained us regally in those dark days. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS MULLEN,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Jim O’Sullivan (January 17th) makes a very good point regarding switching energy suppliers to obtain discounts. I would suggest it is an entirely pointless exercise designed to fool us into believing that there is actually a competitive market with each supplier fiercely fighting for market share. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you switch you are not told, as you should be, that the contract is for one year and that at the end of which you revert to the then full price. The current supplier will make no effort to keep you as customer and will not countenance a renewal of contract on the same terms. If you wish to at least retain the same level of discount, you have no choice but to switch. This of, course, presupposes that you have copped on to the fact that it is a one-year contract in the first place.

It is quite an extraordinary coincidence that just before your contract is due to expire a competitor’s representative suddenly appears on your doorstep offering precisely the same terms that you signed up for a year previously and so the merry-go-round continues.– Yours, etc,

DEREK MacHUGH,

Foxrock,

Dublin 18.

Sir, – We at the Hugh Lane read with interest the article on The Eve of St Agnes by Harry Clarke which appeared in “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks” by Fintan O’Toole and Catherine Marshall (January 10th). The Eve of St Agnes is part of the city’s collection in the Hugh Lane and it is on permanent exhibition in the stained-glass room in the gallery.

We also read with interest Frank McDonald’s column on the 1914 Civic Exhibition (“An Irishman’s Diary”, January 13th). The Hugh Lane has organised an exhibition, “Phoenix Rising: Art and Civic Imagination”, which pays tribute to Patrick Geddes as the inspiration behind the 1914 Civic Exhibition. It also exhibits the original Abercrombie plan for Dublin’s regeneration from Dublin City Public Libraries and Archives, together with contemporary responses by artists Stephen Brandes, Mark Clare, Cliona Harmey, Vagabond Reviews, Stéphanie Nava and Mary-Ruth Walsh. It is on public exhibition in the Hugh Lane until March 29th and admission is free. – Yours, etc,

BARBARA DAWSON,

Director,

Dublin City Gallery

The Hugh Lane,

Charlemont House,

Parnell Square North,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Recent reports are in error giving Dr Langwallner and his colleagues in the Justice for Harry Gleeson Group credit for exposing Gleeson’s wrongful conviction and execution for murder in 1941. This was done in 1993 in a superb book, not mentioned in those articles, entitled Murder at Marlhill, published in 1993 by the late Marcus de Burca, barrister, parliamentary draftsman, historian of the GAA and biographer of John O’Leary, the Fenian. – Yours, etc,

CHARLES LYSAGHT,

Merrion,

Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Grandparents' generosity with food has been linked to obesity in children
Grandparents’ generosity with food has been linked to obesity in children

I’m upset and angry this morning, as I heard that the Revenue/Government are thinking of taking tax from young people helped out by their parents for mortgages or other things.

  • Go To

We, the silent majority, have taken a lot on the chin in recent years, the latest being the water charges and the terrible waste and lack of common sense or planning associated with this.

When we were starting out over 40 years ago, our parents helped us out with a piece of land to build a house on and £500 from my mother-in-law, who saved it from her old-age pension. Without this help we would have had a bigger struggle to put a roof over our heads.

For the present generation of couples and young families life is difficult. Many will never qualify for social housing, ironically because they are out there working their butts off either self-employed or in PAYE jobs.

Getting a deposit for a home and making ends meet is a struggle. And all the time they’re realising that these are the days of their lives, their youth, their children’s precious childhood, not to be repeated and so they must make the most of this time.

But the Government seems determined to make life as difficult as possible with ever increasing cuts and new charges.

Thank God for the family, for parents and grandparents who are willing to help out. This can give hope to the struggling generation, a dig out in the best sense of the word. A lifeline when everything else is stacked against them.

But no, enter the Revenue/Government, who want to see if there is anything left to suck out of the old folks or their children or grandchildren, because, make no mistake about it, any new tax on help to our children will affect our grandchildren too.

Is it not enough that pension funding has been attacked and tax on any money earned on savings has been decimated- now they want to tell us that we can’t help out our children without them being penalised. I’m enraged by this.

My generation has already paid hefty tax on anything we have earned and we are willing to forego our pleasure or future security to help out our children and grandchildren.

The Government should be grateful and relieved. How many more people would be on the housing list or looking for more social welfare payments if they were not receiving help from the older generation?

Where will it end? This interference in the natural order of things, families looking out for each other, is wrong. Will we have to keep a note of the Sunday dinners provided? Will they be checking to see if nanny has a shoe club for the kids, and what about Christmas and birthday presents for the grandchildren?

Noeleen Dunne, Drogheda, Co Louth

Our free speech is under threat

Thank you for publishing my letters, most of which deal with the subject of “free speech and a free and responsible media”.

I am deeply concerned about the state of free speech and a free and responsible media in this country. Why? As Thomas Jefferson said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

From my perspective, any country that does not have a vibrant free press and a free-flowing conversation on subjects that are offensive to some is in great danger of losing other liberties.

Citizens of a strong democratic republic should feel completely free to say and read unpopular and, yes, even stupid words. When citizens feel in fear of expressing themselves in whatever manner and the media feels it is being controlled by the subliminal fear of court action or threats of violence, these citizens and media organisations are in grave danger of extremism from either the left or the right.

One should never feel censored for expressing opinions. One should only be held accountable for actions.

Vincent J Lavery, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Burton has missed her chance

How do we get those responsible “left-of-centre” citizens who have been alienated by our recent political culture back – positively – into the political process? Engage those creative, hard-working people to undertake the “democratic revolution” which never happened during the last four years?

The non-launches of the non-party parties have been massively underwhelming.

The general election has to be in or before April next year. But because of events and the capacity of this Coalition not to be a victim of accidents but to create them itself, this election is very likely to happen at a moment not of Enda Kenny’s – or anybody’s – strategic choosing. Plunging us into chaos.

In the absence of common-sense national leadership, some of those now exercising the very un-Irish right to march have – as illustrated in the vox pops – lost all sense of realism and are being manipulated by groups with very questionable political agendas.

But these protesting, ordinary citizens do not want day-to-day governance by fantasists, either of the latter-day Trotskyist variety or of the Sinn Fein brand. They just want to live their own lives in socio-economic security. And for some of their grandchildren to live in Ireland.

If a pragmatic social democratic party was on the electoral menu, it would have a coherent group of at least 20 TDs in the next Dail.

It is very, very late to think of saving Labour. But maybe not too late.

That party might look to Scotland for inspiration. The SNP is focusing, leading and organising a small nation which is in an intellectual and political ferment. A people determined to choose their own future. The SNP’s Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are engaged in real-life 21st century politics.

Eamon Gilmore’s resignation offered Joan Burton and Labour the opportunity to re-write the script for the party. Not necessarily to flounce out of Government, but simply to send a message that Labour would become the party and the core of a movement of which 21st century Irish people of all ages might wish to be a part.

Brutally put: Joan, an able and conscientious minister but a relic of past times, must go. This is not a game.

She had her chance, after years of waiting to seize the moment – and fluffed it.

Maurice O’Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry

Je suis Leo

We in the gay community welcome the brave move by Health Minister Leo Varadkar in speaking publicly about his sexual orientation.

We must all now follow his lead. Victory in the upcoming referendum can only be secured if each and every member of the gay community becomes a self-elected public representative for the cause of marriage equality.

It is time to come out and speak up!

Talk to your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, your nieces and nephews, your cousins, your friends and your work colleagues. Tell them why they should vote yes; respond to their concerns with reason, evidence and respect.

These are the people who can ensure Mr Varadkar’s hope “to be an equal citizen in his own country.”

Dr Fionán Donohoe, Glasnevin, Dublin 9

I support the freedom to be who you are with no recriminations based on colour, faith or sexual orientation.

The straightest shooter in the Cabinet has come out of the closet. “Je suis Leo”.

Kevin Devitte, Westport, Co Mayo

Irish Independent

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