Social Worker

21 January 2015 Social Worker

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. Karen the social worker comes to call, I collect the car, new tyre £92!


Ward Swingle, of the Swingle Singers

Ward Swingle at the piano in 1975 Photo: LEBRECHT

Ward Swingle, who has died aged 87, was the founding father of the Swingle Singers, the a cappella group that blended jazz rhythms with baroque and classical music in a distinctive, easy-listening style. The group made its name with scat renditions of Bach: lots of “doob-a-do” and “bah-bah-badah” substituting for the keyboard strokes more commonly heard in works such as The Art of Fugue.

Critics could be wary. “The history of pop music is littered with jazzed-up versions of the classics,” sniffed The Times after they packed the Albert Hall in April 1965, before conceding that some people “truly find that the music’s enjoyable qualities profit by being brought up to date”. Others believed that in the same way that Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced many people to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, so Bach with a swing was an enticing introduction to Johann Sebastian’s carefully knitted counterpoint.

Not only did Swingle and his minstrels receive endorsement at the box office, major classical names such as John Barbirolli, Yehudi Menuhin and Glenn Gould offered their backing. George Malcolm, the renowned harpsichordist, shared the stage with them at the Festival Hall in 1966 in a programme entitled Jazz Sebastian Bach, which was also the name of their first album.

Meanwhile, contemporary composers came calling. Luciano Berio wrote his colourful and noisy four-movement Sinfonia for the Swingle Singers, which they premiered with the New York Philharmonic in 1968 and performed at the Proms in 1969, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.

Ward Lemar Swingle was born on September 21 1927 in Mobile, Alabama, where, he once said, the sounds of New Orleans float along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He took to the piano from an early age and with his older brother, Ira, played lunchtime concerts in the school cafeteria, garnering sufficient popularity to be elected as president and vice-president respectively of their student council. By the time he left school Ward, Ira and one of their sisters, Nina, were touring with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra.

He studied music at the Cincinnati Conservatory, where he met his future wife, a French-born violinist, and won a Fulbright scholarship to pursue his musical studies in postwar Paris, taking lessons there with the celebrated pianist Walter Gieseking. Soon he was working as a rehearsal pianist for Roland Petit’s Ballet de Paris at a time whe n Petit was exploring jazz rhythms in his choreography.

Swingle’s first singing work – his voice was a mellifluous tenor – was with Blossom Dearie’s Les Blue Stars, a French vocal group whose members included Christiane Legrande, the sister of Michel Legrande, the composer. From there he joined Mimi Perrin’s Les Double Six, which won acclaim for its electronic treatment of jazz standards.

As Perrin’s health deteriorated in the early 1960s, Swingle, Legrande and other members of the group began singing privately, experimenting with jazzed-up Bach arrangements with the aim of improving their collective vocal agility. By 1962 the eight-member group was performing in public as Les Swingle Singers. Their concerts proved to be great hits with audiences, especially in Britain, and their early recordings won five Grammy awards.

By the early 1970s Swingle felt that he had exhausted the repertoire possibilities with his Parisian singers. He also wanted to experiment with other techniques, including closed-mic singing. Crossing the Channel in 1973 he set up Swingle II, or the New Swingle Singers. The traditional swing music remained, but listeners were now regaled with jazz renditions from a wider selection of musical traditions, ranging from baroque to big band. As well as looking forward, the Swingle Singers now also began looking into music’s back catalogue, releasing a disc of madrigals with a jazz twist in 1974.

Britain proved to be fertile ground. There were invitations to music festivals around the country as well as plentiful radio work. In 1982, for example, the Swingle Singers appeared in a televised concert from St Paul’s Cathedral performing the sacred music of Duke Ellington with Tony Bennett, Phyllis Hyman and McHenry Boatwright.

After recording the Berio Sinfonia under the baton of Pierre Boulez in 1984, Ward Swingle stepped back from frontline singing to return to the United States. He remained the group’s musical adviser, while also running vocal workshops and publishing his many musical arrangements. He was often invited to share the techniques that he had developed for the Swingle Singers with established groups, such as the Stockholm Chamber Choir and the BBC Northern Singers.

A decade later Swingle moved back to France, and latterly was living in Britain. His book Swingle Singing, published in 1999, tells not only the history of the group, but also takes a musicological look at the techniques that he developed.

Today the Swingle Singers, now a seven-member ensemble, continue to push the boundaries of vocal music while also making recordings for television programmes and films, including Sex and the City. Around 70 alumni keep in touch regularly, many of them gathering to celebrate Ward Swingle’s 80th birthday in 2007, when the Berio was heard once again at the Proms.

He is survived by his wife, Françoise Demorest, whom he married in 1952, and by their three daughters.

Ward Swingle, born September 21 1927, died January 19 2015


A man enters the Congress Center in Davos
‘Are we seriously expecting the politicians and the global business elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos to tackle this urgent problem [of wealth inequality]?’ asks Kevin Smith of Global Justice Now. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

In your article on Oxfam’s new inequality report (Half global wealth held by the 1%, 19 January) you quote Thomas Piketty’s theme of our drift back to 19th-century levels of wealth concentration. However you do not mention his solution, the wealth tax. He says that for democracy to regain control over global financial capital it must invent new tools, including a progressive global tax on capital plus a high level of transparency. He suggests 0.5% on wealth between €200,000 and €1m, 1% between €1m and €5m, 2% above €5m and 10% above €1bn. It should be levied on real estate, financial and business assets, art treasures and vintage cars – no exceptions.

It appears President Obama is moving in that direction (Obama to raise taxes on rich to aid middle class, 19 January), but will this appear in our party manifestos? The OECD and EU will be necessary partners if we are to move in this direction. Oxfam’s report is an urgent call to action. Piketty says his proposed wealth tax could be done at EU level, with a clear distributive system; it would affect only 2.5% of the population and bring in 2% of the EU’s GDP annually. The rich should be delighted to be contributing to a fairer world, they shall have treasure in heaven.
Rev David Haslam
Methodist Tax Justice Network

• It’s horrifying to read that the world’s 80 richest people now own as much as half the world’s population, but are we seriously expecting the politicians and the global business elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos to tackle this urgent problem?

What’s presented as entrepreneurial talent and business acumen at Davos is actually a series of aggressive economic and political policies that have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few while exacerbating poverty for hundreds of millions. Neoliberal free-trade deals, tax evasion, financialisation, privatisation – these are the tools that the “great and good” of Davos are using to ensure that by 2016 the richest 1% will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth.

The world will not be “saved” by a tiny group of super-rich who have done incredibly well from putting their economic dogma into practice. Hope lies in challenging their wealth and power, rather than looking to them for answers.
Kevin Smith
Global Justice Now

• Is it not clear that “Half global wealth held by the 1%” is the major factor behind the global economic stagnation? At the bottom end of the wealth/income spectrum we have the lack of sufficient income to finance the effective demand which would attract sufficient investment to initiate growth; at the other end of the income spectrum we have enormous income failing to find sufficient markets for investment and seeking to invest in public institutions – health, education, prisons etc – which will only increase the problem of maldistribution; not to mention antisocial investment in armaments etc. The widespread avoidance of tax only adds to the problem of financing government services. Similarly, the Keynesian solution of quantitative easing – the creation of new finance – and its spending on infrastructure by government bodies will only have a limited effect as the ensuing spurt in income multiplication is largely siphoned up to the top end of the income spectrum. There can be no lasting solution to this problem save through the actions of governments devoted to the general welfare of all citizens and not acting as partisans for the interests of the few.
Francis Westoby
Hitchin, Hertforrdshire

• At the moment, 99% of people behave as if the power of the wealthy 1% does not directly affect them, because their world seems “austere” but otherwise still recognisable. However, the power of the 1% could become very apparent if major instability arises. There is a good lesson from the time of the Pharaohs in Genesis chapter 47. With the help of his chancellor Joseph, Pharaoh accumulates vast food reserves during seven good years. Then years of food shortages grind most people down. Pharaoh acquires all their modest assets of money, livestock and land. Only the bureaucrats of Egypt (its priesthood) remain homeowners – the royalty take all that the 99% formerly possessed. If power corrupts, powerful inequality indebts and ultimately enslaves.
Woody Caan
Professorial fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health

• The churches’ growing condemnation of governments which tolerate poverty and inequality is welcome (Editorial, 19 January). But they should also draw the attention of affluent Christian believers to the teachings of Jesus Christ. For example, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth”, “You cannot serve God and mammon”, “woe to you who are rich”. The implication is that wealthy Christians should redistribute most of their riches to those in need, that they should live close to ordinary families, send their children to state schools. This is not to say they should not hold important jobs, but they should do so while having lifestyles which bring them close to those on low incomes.
Bob Holman

• In 2012 the Tax Justice Network estimated that $21-32 trillion is hidden in tax havens worldwide. Just who does this stash benefit? It is certainly of no benefit to the people who own it, and they can’t take it with them. The means are there to make the world a more equal place, and in the runup to the election we need some concrete pledges on this.
Lorrie Marchington
New Mills, Derbyshire

Snowy road, woman
Many people, especially car drivers, go out unprepared for winter weather. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

Martin Kettle and I are too old (Let’s scrape the hyperbole off the weather forecasts, 19 January). He clearly doesn’t know that many people jump into their cars in the morning and drive off – windscreen usually unscraped – wearing T-shirts and jeans. So they do need warning that it may be cold and icy. Even as long ago as January 1995, when West Yorkshire was struck by heavy snow at rush hour, there were – joining me in the traffic jam that caused many thousands not to get home that night – many drivers totally unprepared for winter weather. It’s the fault of universal central heating – no ice on the inside of the bedroom window to remind you. All I want to know, like Martin, is the facts, not forecasters’ own value judgments, and, most importantly, whether my washing will dry outside today.
Maureen Panton
Malvern, Worcestershire

LGBT, Brighton Pride Parade
Brighton’s annual celebration of LGBT rights. ‘Children should be taught not to be afraid, and that their sexuality is not fixed.’ Photograph: Heardinlondon/ HeardInLondon/Demotix/Corbis

You report Sue Saunders as saying that a specialist state school focusing on the needs of gay children is a crucial enterprise (LGBT school could open within three years, 16 January). You don’t have to be in denial about infantile sexuality to find the labelling of children as gay or straight etc questionable. Amelia Lee talks of LGBT children “struggling with their identities”. All thoughtful young people do this. Identity develops over time, and sexual exploration and eventual orientation are a part of that growth. But gender shouldn’t dictate or permeate identity. The idea that we have an essential core which is either masculine or feminine or bisexual or trans seems naively and depressingly limiting, and it intensifies the glorified role that gender already plays in our social and cultural life. Children should be taught not to be afraid. Bullies are sometimes those who have realised that their own sexuality is not “fixed”, and so they attack those who show what they themselves would like to hide. Let it be generally accepted in all schools that whatever you think you are is fine, and, just as important, if you feel different next term, that’s fine too.
Louise Summers

Employment agency
‘Agencies should be licensed, with the highest standards set, and loss of licences for those that fail to match them.’ Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Aditya Chakrabortty’s article about the exploitation of agency workers (Ghost jobs, half lives, 20 January) exposes the ethical bankruptcy of the recruitment industry today. To me, as the owner of a London-based agency for the past 26 years, the picture he paints of systematic and routine denial of basic rights to workers is as familiar as it is depressing. All the advances that have apparently been made in recent times to improve the conditions of those who undertake temporary work have been cynically and easily turned to the advantage of those agencies that wish to do so. The minimum wage, holiday pay and the Agency Workers Regulations have been all but ignored by dint of poor legislation and inadequate policing. Tax avoidance occurs on a massive scale and apprenticeship schemes are widely abused.

Corrupt practices have become the norm in the recruitment industry, and those agencies that will not entertain them face a hard struggle to survive, as complicit end-users drive prices ever lower. The growth in the recruitment industry exceeded 8% last year and is expected to outstrip growth in the economy as a whole comfortably again this year. As large users of labour turn increasingly to agencies, which can supply staff far more cheaply than directly employed labour, the twilight world described by Chakrabortty can only develop further.

It is astonishing that the recruitment industry, which employs 1.2 million people, is barely regulated. The mass exploitation of hundreds of thousands of workers could easily be stopped by a government that had the will to do so. Recruitment agencies should be licensed, with the highest standards set, and loss of licences for those that fail to match them. It should not only be unacceptable for agencies to exploit the very workers who earn them money: it should be impossible.
Adrian Gregory
Director, xtraman Limited

I was interested to read Aditya Chakrabortty’s statement about supply teachers “enjoying the freedom that agency status brings”. Most supply teachers are doing it because they need to care for children or elderly relatives. It isn’t exactly a great career choice. The reason? Supply teaching is dominated by our old friends, private agencies. Typically, schools are charged anything up to £200 per day and supply teachers may receive only £100 of that amount (that could be £60 below the national rate). Supply teachers working for private agencies are not allowed into the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. In the last financial year, schools in Liverpool spent more than £7m on supply; the private agencies probably creamed off £2m-£3m of that amount. Zero hours and agencies affect the professions as well.
Richard Knights

Greece, austerity, letter
Pensioners taking part in a protest against austerity outside the Greek financial ministry in Athens in December. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

As economists, we note that the historical evidence demonstrates the futility and dangers of imposing unsustainable debt and repayment conditions on debtor countries; the negative impact of austerity policies on weakening economies; and the particularly severe effects that flow on to the poorest households.

We therefore urge the troika (EU, European Centra Bank and IMF) to negotiate in good faith with the Greek government so that there is a cancellation of a large part of the debt and new terms of payment which support the rebuilding of a sustainable economy. This settlement should mark the beginning of a new EU-wide policy framework favouring pro-growth rather than deflationary policies (Report, 14 January).

We urge the Greek government to abandon the austerity programme that is crushing economic activity and adopt a more expansive fiscal policy setting, targeting immediate relief from poverty and stimulating further domestic demand; to launch a fully independent investigation into the historic and systemic failure of the Greek public financial management processes (including any evidence of corruption) that led to the accumulation of debt, the disguising of the size and nature of the debt and the inefficient/ineffective use of public funds; and to consider the establishment of a judicial body or alternative mechanism that is independent of government and charged with a future responsibility of investigating corruption from the highest to lowest levels of government.

We urge other national governments to exercise their votes within official sector finance agencies and to pursue other diplomatic activities that will support a cancellation of a large part of the Greek sovereign debt and new terms of payment for the rebuilding of a sustainable Greek national economy.
Malcolm Sawyer Emeritus prof, University of Leeds
Danny Lang Associate prof, University of Paris
Prof Yu Bin Professor and deputy director, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Prof Ozlem Onaran University of Greenwich
Prof Mario Seccareccia University of Ottawa
Hugo Radice Life fellow, University of Leeds
John Weeks Professor emeritus, Soas, University of London
Prof Howard Stein University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Anitra Nelson Associate professor, RMIT University, Melbourne
Prof George Irvin University of London, Soas
Dr John Simister Manchester Metropolitan University
Mogens Ove Madsen Associate professor, Aalborg University
Wang Zhongbao Associate professor, editorial director, World Review of Political Economy
Dr Susan Pashkoff Economist
Andrea Fumagalli University of Pavia
Pat Devine University of Manchester
Professor Ray Kinsella University College Dublin
Alan Freeman Co-director, Geopolitical Economy Research and Education Trust
Eugénia Pires Economist, member, Portuguese Citizens Debt Audit
Dr Jo Michell University of the West of England, Bristol
Michael Burke Economist, Socialist Economic Bulletin
Paul Hudson Formerly Universität Wissemburg-Halle
Dr Alan B Cibils Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Guglielmo Forges Davanzati Associate prof, University of Salento
Prof Sergio Rossi University of Fribourg
Faruk Ulgen Associate prof, University of Grenoble
Tim Delap Positive Money
Eleni Paliginis Middlesex University
Grazia Ietto-Gillies Emeritus professor, London South Bank University
Professor Radhika Desai University of Manitoba
Michael Roberts Economist, ‘The next recession’
Michael Taft Unite the Union, Ireland region
Dr Andy Denis City University London
Peter Kenyon Chartist
Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Colin Harcourt UNSW Business School

A Fabian Society report urges Labour to be more “business-friendly” (Report, 16 January). But in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein shows how the fossil-fuel industry has subverted environmental organisations and governments from effective action on climate change. Jonathon Porritt has decided he can no longer work with them. The Tax Justice Network shows that almost all the FTSE 100 companies use tax havens to avoid tax. Top business incomes have gone on rising, while most people’s real incomes have fallen, and only a tiny minority of companies are living-wage employers. The tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical, banking, food and insecticide industries fight almost every regulatory attempt to limit the harm they do. In Lethal But Legal, Nicholas Freudenberg documents how the antisocial policies of major business sectors inflict major damage on public health.

As corporations bigger than many national economies run rings round governments, a clash between corporate power and the democratic state looks as inescapable and as far-reaching as the historical clash between church and state. Is Labour business-friendly, or merely business-fearful?
Richard Wilkinson
Emeritus professor of social epidemiology; Equality Trust

• I agree with Peter Mandelson when he says he would prefer further bands of council tax to the mansion tax (Report, 20 January). However, to describe the mansion tax as crude continues the campaign by Tony Blair and his acolytes to belittle “the wrong brother”. They can’t forgive him for preventing his Blairite brother from leading the party. It is now apparent that these yesterday’s New Labour architects would rather have Cameron continue his devastation of the welfare state than see Ed in No 10.
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

The lid goes up and down automatically on this Toto Neorest toilet.
The lid goes up and down automatically on this Toto Neorest toilet. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Terri Jackson’s letter (20 January) about 2014 being the warmest year since records began is seriously misleading. For the 80% of Earth history when temperatures were higher, there were only micro-organisms, or humans had not yet evolved, nor was there a nexus of other linked human-caused problems with which to cope. The current climate change problem is about how fast the temperature is rising and the destruction of the natural systems that have been able to accommodate more modest rises in the past. But perhaps Terri would like to return to being a blue-green bacterium.
Emeritus Professor Brian Moss
University of Liverpool

• Terri Jackson should get a Nobel for knowing what Earth’s climate was like 6bn years ago. Most scientists think the planet has existed for only 4.5bn years.
Tim Evans

• Surely the matter of whether to leave the lavatory seat up or down (Letters, 20 January) has long been settled – it’s down, because the lid itself should also be down, to minimise the aerosolisation of the contents. This practice has multiple benefits – it’s more hygienic, and any inconvenience associated with touching either the seat or lid is shared equally between the sexes.
Edward Collier

• Chivalry of a kind prevails in our household. The user, regardless of gender, always replaces the toilet seat in the upright position. This is to facilitate our collie bitch ease of access to her favourite tipple.
Dinah Hickish
Tremeirchion, Denbighshire

• “Happy birthday to you, / If I don’t come, you’ll sue, / Whilst rejoicing, you’re invoicing / Your friends; why so few?” (Boy, 5, invoiced for no-show at party, 20 January)?
Fr Alec Mitchell

• Page 3 goes tits up (Report, 20 January)?
Tim O’Malley
Stone, Staffordshire

arrows in all directions
Our sympathies should extend beyond first-world borders. Illustration: Gary Kempston

Let’s widen our sympathies

Aussi moi! Je suis Charlie! Alongside millions I too repudiate Muslim gunmen heartlessly bloodying beautiful Paris in accordance with warped precepts (16 January). Mais…

This atrocity, openly committed in a first-world city, targeted people like us. Not so straightforward is solidarity with those languishing uncharged in hidden Guantánamo Bay cells, tortured by white American boys, perhaps called Charlie. Drone strikes that kill burka-clad women and children in a nameless Afghani village elicit no Je suis Fatima marches. They are too far away – physically, culturally and emotionally. Disconnected.

But if gunmen in American or British military uniforms kill to fulfil the warped precepts of our Christian leaders, they’re not “evil”. They’re “our boys”. And we re-elect the leaders whose designs they implement. “Good healthcare policy”, we say, or “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Of course, I deplore atrocities against people with whom I identify. But when I express equal solidarity for others brutalised by groups to which I belong, then I can truly claim Je suis humaine.
Jeph Mathias
Mussoorie, India

• I was so saddened by the tragic loss of life perpetrated by terrorists in Paris who want to be famous. If the media around the world did not publish their names then they would not have succeeded.

They do not deserve to have their names published; they should be called cowards.
Deanna Mastellone
Sydney, Australia

Our mindset is the problem

No doubt your article entitled Is our economic system broken? (2 January) is correct in that there are critical infrastructural problems with the economy, and that many believe there are several potential “short-term or medium-term fixes that will put matters right”.

But there’s a much more fundamental problem: our cultural mindset on what the economy should deliver is intrinsically flawed. Economic growth cannot continue indefinitely for our civilisation because the environmental resources on which it is ultimately based are not growing – they are finite. There is only so much oil, water, soil, iridium etc on the planet. Although new technologies may overcome particular constraints, most depend on the availability of some finite resource or other, and therefore are not ultimate solutions, and in the longer term they often exacerbate problems. Nevertheless, even though the writing is on the wall, almost all politicians, economists and voters remain steadfastly devoted to the fallacy of perpetual economic growth.

This perspective is gloomy but it’s the reality. Fully recognising and accepting this reality is the first critical step toward putting ourselves on a path toward equitable, perpetual, sustainable human existence. “A dark age” does indeed loom but the question is, just how dark does it need to be? It would be a huge leap forward if our society were to truly acknowledge that the global economy cannot grow indefinitely. Then, and only then, could we start to transform our economic mindset – our whole cultural ideology – from doing more with more to doing less with less.
Paul Grogan
Kingston, Ontario, Canada

• Your article asks the question: is our economic system broken? The system we now have, throughout most of the world, is based on a neoliberal ideology, or in other words, a relatively unfettered capitalism. This system tends to transfer wealth from the general populace to a few persons at the top. The increase in inequality has been particularly strong since 1980, when this system was adopted by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It is not working because of inadequate economic redistribution; or one could say it is broken. It has impacted the Nordic nations less severely because their system has stronger redistribution mechanisms through their taxation and welfare policies. Unfortunately, the ideology is so well entrenched today that governments are blind to its effects and unable to contemplate any other approach. This is due mainly to the control of governments by those who benefit from this system. Is there any chance that this dysfunctional ideology can be overcome by anything less than a revolution?
D Kerr
Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

We need change at the UN

Your suggestions for a new approach in selecting the next secretary general of the United Nations are excellent (Let’s appoint on talent only, 9 January): a single, longer term; decision by the (universal) general assembly; and more careful selection. But in reality, it’s more complicated.

A single term frees the incumbent, but such independence is not acceptable to the major powers. A charter revision is also necessary: easy if they agree, impossible if they do not. Fortunately, democratising the choice of the next secretary general is simpler: the general assembly can be asked for its advice on a short-list, leaving the decision to the council. There is, moreover, precedent for a joint appointment: elections for judges of the international court of justice are held simultaneously by the security council and the general assembly. I am sceptical about head-hunting for such a position: the two best secretaries general of the UN – Dag Hammarskjöld and Kofi Annan – were chosen on the basis of “quiet diplomacy”.

There is a further problem: the selection of the next secretary general will take place in the later part of 2016, coincidentally around the time of the US presidential election. The last time this happened, in 1996, the Republican candidate, Bob Dole, played to the galleries (ironically as it turned out) about the then secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The US administration, and people, as indeed all governments, must realise the crying need for genuine multilateralism in the selection of senior international civil servants: only then will the United Nations have the leadership it desperately needs and the world will have the UN we want.
John Burley
Divonne les Bains, France

Farming fish is no solution

Space is not the least of the problems associated with farming bluefin tuna (Japan fights for its bluefin diet, 9 January). These magnificent creatures, held in cages of up to 90 metres in diameter and 20-30 metres deep, need enormous quantities of pelagic and baitfish to stay alive. Known loosely as “trash” fish, the species used include anchovies, herrings, pilchards, sprats and sardines – all important food sources for coastal people in many developing countries, as well as for larger fish and sea birds. The ratio of feed-fish to bluefin is 15-20:1.

Aquaculture, or fish farming of tuna and other species such as salmon, is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the food economy of wealthy countries, accounting for about 30% of all fish consumed. This growth is partly fuelled by the deeply mistaken perception that the consumption of farmed fish reduces the demand for fast-depleting wild fish stocks.

Japan’s attempts to raise tuna for farming using hatchlings, rather than the live fish that are caught in huge purse nets in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico, may relieve the pressure on declining numbers of wild tuna but the effects of industrialised farming are well documented. These include pollution caused by the accumulation of large amounts of organic matter on the ocean floor and the occupation of wide areas of sea along the coast.

The largest specimen of bluefin recorded weighed in at 684kg. Such huge fish are seldom caught now and are unlikely ever to exist in cages.
Pat Baskett
Auckland, New Zealand


• I was perplexed by an item in your 12 December issue. What exactly does the statement that “Afghanistan’s new president … promised to double down on corruption” mean? From the context of the short article it is perhaps possible to infer the meaning of “double down”, but to be honest, it is really not clear. As one of the world’s most respected newspapers, you should maintain your usual high standards and stick with plain English.
Andrew Forsyth
Wellington, New Zealand

• Ellie Mae O’Hagan (12 December) found difficulty in childhood using right-handed scissors. My wife and I wonder whether things have changed. In a kitchen store, we discovered a left-handed department. Promptly, scissors and a can opener were purchased for our adult left-handed son, only to be told by him that he was unable to use them, as he lives in a right-handed world.
Anthony Walter
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

• Writing as one sconed on the head by half a cooked chicken (with stuffing) during a Mexican wave at a darts competition in Sheffield some years back, I find it puzzling as to just how the authorities knew the audience was rioting (Darts fans riot in Melbourne, 16 January). Surely, throwing plastic garden furniture into the air while dressed as Fred and Barney Flintstone fits perfectly into the mould fans of this most delicate of sports have created for themselves over the years.
Dave Robinson
Newstead, Tasmania, Australia




Theresa May acknowledges that the Jewish community feels “vulnerable and fearful”. What she failed to mention was that protecting the Jewish and other communities would be far more effective and practical with the 16,000 officers that she has removed from UK policing.

Even without the current “severe” threat from jihadist terrorism, police forces across the country would have been struggling to maintain the standard of service that the public have a right to expect.

She complains that intelligence gathering is being hindered by the refusal of Parliament to pass legislation that allows internet data to be retained and examined, yet is destroying another vital source of intelligence: community policing.

Not only has she presided over a dramatic reduction of police numbers at a time of national crisis, she has also ensured that police morale is at its lowest-ever ebb.

It is little wonder that many police officers have made it clear that, should they die in the line of duty, they don’t want “that woman” crying crocodile tears anywhere near their funeral.

Chris Hobbs (Metropolitan Police,  1978-2011)
London W7


Anti-Semitism is a nasty thing – so is Islamophobia. I grew up in the North of England, at a time when people often used the expression “to be Jewish” meaning to be mean with money. In the same era “Paki bashing” meant physically attacking Muslims.

Theresa May has denounced anti-Semitism. She said that the Jewish population of the UK can expect full protection and support, She, however, made almost no reference to the Muslim community. Last year in the UK there were far more attacks on Muslims than on Jews – both acts just as despicable.

The implication of such a speech is that Jewish people, according to the Government, are considered more valued than Muslims. The danger is, surely, that it will encourage yet more anti-Semitism.

Thomas Eisner
London SW14


Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are equally wrong. Anti-Islamic demonstrations and attacks on mosques in some European countries, which predate the Paris attacks, as well as attacks on Jewish targets should be condemned.

Anti-Semitism, however, should not be used to justify confiscating Palestinian land and destroying Palestinian communities in order to build illegal settlements for European Jews fleeing anti-Semitism.

Mohammed Samaana


In the wake of the Paris attacks, there has been much media discussion of the rise in so-called anti-Semitic attacks. We need to be very clear about the difference between being Jewish and being Israeli.

Because of Israel’s 47-year military occupation of Palestine, its continuing violent land grab, illegal settlements, and numerous violations of international law, you can understand people from around the globe being upset. Then we had the slaughter in Gaza in the summer that killed more than 2,100. If there has been a rise in tensions lately, this is the most likely reason.

Israel is a self-proclaimed state for Jewish people, and those who are not Jewish have few rights (if any), and are often “encouraged” to leave. There have been many accusations made against Islamic states (by Western media and leaders) of late, but none has been made against Israel.

Colin Crilly
London SW18


Theresa May stated that she never thought she would see the day when members of the Jewish community would say they were fearful of remaining here in the UK. She says “without its Jews Britain would not be Britain”.

This came as much of the media highlighted the findings of the so-called Campaign Against Anti-Semitism that 25 per cent of British Jews were considering leaving for Israel, and that 45 per cent considered that Jews had no long-term future in Britain.

The CAA’s poll was methodologically flawed, according to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research.  Anyone on the web could, and no doubt did, vote in it.

A poll for The Jewish Chronicle, properly conducted last week, found that 88 per cent of Jews had not considered quitting the UK. The CAA’s primary motivation is to shield Israel from criticism via unfounded charges of “anti-Semitism”. This includes conducting a poll using loaded questions.

Theresa May’s concern about anti-Semitism and Jews leaving Britain is highly opportunistic and motivated by a desire to increase mass surveillance of British citizens and criminalise opinions she disagrees with.

If her concern is about racism against a minority population, she should turn her attention to those who single out the Muslim community.

Tony Greenstein


Free speech comes with responsibilities

I was in Berlin a year after the wall came down and asked an East German journalist how it felt to young people to now be free. He replied: “It’s great – the problem is we don’t know how to use that freedom.”

My community of Marlborough has had a 32-year relationship with the Muslim community of Gunjur in The Gambia. In conversation with friends there since the events in Paris, they have said they are all appalled at the murders that took place, supposedly in the name of Islam.

At the same time, they are confused by the demands for the protection of freedom of speech when that speech is gratuitously offensive, not even humorous and is fundamentally about making money through the sale of a magazine.

Hands up, those who do not think that with freedom comes responsibility.

Dr Nick Maurice
Marlborough, Wiltshire


Some correspondents have failed to grasp what free speech means. It is irrelevant whether or not you like what someone says, draws or prints – it is their right to do it. Some believe that religion is an ancient male psychological disorder, which is why it sends young men mad.

It is irrelevant how “offended” any believers are; it is the right of all of us to believe – or not believe – what we freely choose.

Carole Penhorwood
Brentry, Bristol


Fair trials could soon be only for privileged

The Lord Chancellor has been warned time and again that his cuts to legal aid would result in a surge of self-representation among defendants (“Defendants face court alone due to legal aid cuts”, 19 January). Today’s research is a classic case of a self-fulfilled prophecy, highlighting that Chris Grayling’s wrong-headed reforms are pushing the justice system to its limits. Treasured principles, including access to justice and equality before the law, will be further undermined if his plans for crude and forced consolidation reducing the number of providers by two-thirds goes through.

That is why, in conjunction with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, we are fighting in a judicial review in the High Court over the introduction of these plans. If we are unsuccessful in our challenge, we could be consigning the notion of a fair trial to the dustbin of history for all but the privileged.

Bill Waddington
Chairman, Criminal  Law Solicitors’  Association, Hull


Why can’t Parliament work from home?

How refreshing to read your editorial (“Tax and mend”, 19 January) and its admonishment to encourage people to work from home.

A shift towards working from home, which could transform our national lifestyle, supercharge our national productivity and be the laxative required to relieve our constipated national infrastructure, is constantly undermined by prejudice and moral cowardice. Businesses recoil at the idea that they might trust their employees, and politicians lack the vision or conviction to fight this fear.

How can we escape from this paralysing paranoia? An unambiguous demonstration of courage and commitment from Government would be a great start. What if, rather than merely endlessly extolling the digital highway, they actually embraced it and relocated the House of Commons online? MPs could live in their constituencies, accessible to their electorate, free of the prowling lobbyists and unencumbered by second homes.

If this example were followed, it would mean that commuting, and thus further massive road and rail investment, would be curbed; it could mean that the population drift towards London, and hence property demand and prices, might be reduced; it might mean that Britain would lead the second industrial revolution, rather than endlessly playing catch-up to countries that have overtaken us since the first. Gordon Watt



Greet readers with a compromise

Would “Morning some of you” keep everybody happy?

David Watson
Goring Heath, Oxfordshire



Matt Ridley’s article in Times2 provoked a storm of debate. Where do you stand?

Sir, I agree wholeheartedly with everything that Matt Ridley says in his Times2 article (“Hounded. Attacked. Ridiculed. All because I questioned climate change”, Jan 19).

He mentions his own estimate of a 1C rise this century. So far humanity has been very good at putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but nobody has yet found a way to remove it. As Ridley says, only the science of astronomy has a good chance of predicting some aspects of the future. However, given “business as usual”, a steady rise in carbon dioxide levels can definitely be predicted, even if the consequences can’t be. For all those who wish to look beyond the next 100 years, now is the time to take the foot off the accelerator and apply the brake to fossil fuel usage.
Dr David I Smith
Alnwick, Northumberland

Sir, Matt Ridley’s excellent article about the circular debate on climate change pinpoints how futile it all is. Is climate change down to us or not? The bottom line is that fossil fuel supplies are getting low, and we need to move to other energy sources so as to conserve those resources, irrespective of climate change.

We also ought to be much more efficient in how we use energy. A recent government report states that, by 2020, the UK will be wasting 22 power stations’ worth of energy — at what cost to us all? We must embrace nuclear and renewable supplies. Furthermore, energy wastage should be viewed as socially unacceptable, as it is in some other countries. Let’s stop this endless debate and just get on with the job.
Martin Fry
Honarary president, Energy Services and Technology Association, and visiting professor, City University

Sir, I would like to congratulate you for giving Matt Ridley sufficient space to explain how he got to his position as a “climate lukewarmer”. He got there by doing what any reputable scientist would do — he studied the veracity of all sides of the man-made global warming hypothesis and was surprised to find that many of the warmists were manipulating data so that they finished up with the answer they wanted. The deniers were ignoring the fact that man has any effect on climate change; it’s more a question of how much effect, and whether any prescribed cure is doing more damage than the perceived problem.
John WG Inge
Tenbury Wells, Worcs

Sir, Matt Ridley thinks that he is being reasonable by steering a middle course between climate change deniers and the scientific community. The problem is that, in science, there is always a right answer, and the purpose of the scientific method is to reach a conclusion based on the totality of the evidence. There is not a single reputable scientific publication that disputes the reality of climate change, and there are no national scientific institutions that deny it is man-made and serious.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, FRCP
Stoke Poges, Bucks

Sir, Contrary to the impression that Matt Ridley gives, the so-called “hockey stick” graph, showing that northern hemisphere temperatures have increased much more steeply over the past century than during the previous millennium, has not been discredited. Instead, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently confirmed that the 30 years between 1983 and 2012 was very likely the warmest such period of the last 800 years and likely the warmest interval of the past 1400 years.
Bob Ward
Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

Sir, I am a medievalist. The historical record clearly shows that we have experienced changes in climate — at various times it has got hotter and cooler, and I have little doubt that we too are experiencing change. But to dramatise change, to make its severity an article of belief, is a religious reaction, not a scientific one.
Professor John France

Sir, There is a mantra that all should repeat. The climate has always changed; it will go on changing; and nothing that politicians can do will stop it. It follows that investment is best directed at mitigating adverse effects and taking advantage of beneficial effects, if and when they occur.
Professor Anthony Young

The fashion for using a double negative as an intensifier has largely waned since Shakespeare’s day, so we should now encourage users of our beautiful language to be as rational as possible

Sir, May I take issue with Oliver Kamm’s implied approval that a double negative makes sense when intended as a positive (The Pedant, Jan 17, and letter, Jan 20)? The fashion for using it as an intensifier has largely waned since Shakespeare’s day, so we should now encourage users of our beautiful language to be as rational as possible in its usage.

Indeed, a double negative can only make sense by inference from its context, which is not always obvious. Out of context “I didn’t say nothing” indubitably means “I did say something”; to approve a nonsensical and colloquial interpretation merely confuses young people.

Peter Mans

Thurcaston, Leicester

Sir, Might I seek Oliver Kamm’s opinion on Barry Manilow’s line in Weekend in New England, “We started a story whose end must now wait”?

Ann Capp

Pontarddulais, Swansea

The over-50s are not the only ones who are editing their CVs so as to make themselves more marketable…

Sir, You report (Jan 19) that people over 50 are deleting O levels from their CVs in an attempt to be considered for vacancies. If holders of O levels are discriminated against, what hope is there for those of us who matriculated with a School Certificate?

Gerry Phillips
Hexham, Northumberland

All pupils are entitled to the best education they can receive — this applies as much to ‘bright’ pupils as to those in other parts of the ability range

Sir, Nick Pritchard (letter, Jan 20) repeats the canard that “bright pupils will succeed anyway”. This may well be true, but bright pupils’ needs should not be overlooked. All pupils are entitled to the best education they can receive: this applies as much to “bright” pupils as to those in other parts of the ability range. Their needs, albeit different, are of equal importance.

Mark Wakelam

Haltwhistle, Northumberland

It was the speed of the change of the political reality that caught out complacent loyal German Jews in the 1930s

Sir, If Rabbis Solomons and Janner-Klausner (letters, Jan 16 & 20) are right that Jews are safe in the UK, how do they explain every Jewish school today resembling a fortress, many with guards stationed in nearby streets, not to mention the guarding of every synagogue? In rejecting any comparison to the plight of Jews in the 1930s, they are ignoring historical facts. It was the speed of the change of the political reality that caught out complacent loyal German Jews.
Roslyn Pine
London N3


Pope Francis delivers his speech during a special audience he held for members of Catholic medical associations

Pope Francis has joined the discussion about freedom of speech Photo: AP

SIR – The Pope has said that to mock religion is wrong. If done gratuitously, he is right. In response, David Cameron has reaffirmed his support for the right to free speech, and he is right, too.

However, exercising a right should be done responsibly. It may not be a crime to offend believers but at best it is bad manners, and at worst it could be interpreted as an invocation to violence.

Keith Noble
Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

SIR – I am puzzled by what is meant by “free speech”, given that some French politicians were excluded from the march in Paris because they say things unacceptable to liberal ears. Other examples of such hypocrisy abound.

As for freedom to insult religions, people are certainly free to do so. Surely, however, the question is why they would want to.

Joseph McMahon
Falkirk, Stirlingshire

SIR – Abdal Hakim Murad’s comment on the tolerant and courteous national character is pertinent. This character has been formed, in part, by our freedoms.

If, as he suggests, we were to flood our law courts with cases of hate speech in order to engender a Europe-wide discussion of protection from such speech, he might find that further legal action would follow as a result of people being silenced, leading to greater social unrest.

It is in countries where the repression of freedom of thought and speech is most evident that violence becomes the default form of expression.

Denise Taylor
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – Charlie Hebdo is a catalyst but nothing more. I have read issue 1178, but will not be subscribing. It is scurrilous, funny, insulting, polemic, and positively anti-religious. Until a few weeks ago, it was also irrelevant.

It seems, however, that a tipping point has at last been reached in the battle for freedom of speech, and all available and appropriate measures should be taken to suppress the radicalism which is at war with the values of civilisation.

Martin Betts
Abinger Hammer, Surrey

SIR – Followers of each religion believe that only their own religion is correct. Christians are the largest religious group, but they are outnumbered by believers of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism collectively.

It follows that most believers must be wrong and that, if all beliefs deserve respect, this should include divination by navel fluff and the fondling of crystals.

All I ask is that believers respect my belief that it is OK to laugh at anything I hold to be monumentally misguided.

Rod Macleod
Maidstone, Kent

AS-level uncertainty


SIR – It should come as no surprise that schools are rebelling against A-level reforms that attempt to decouple the Advanced Subsidiary element from the full qualification (“Anxious teachers shun reforms of AS-levels”).

Yet schools will find it very difficult to fund free-standing AS qualifications, and examination boards will cut courses owing to the economics of falling demand. This will be particularly acute in languages and arts subjects, which broaden the curriculum and feed Britain’s world-class creative industries.

Such short-sightedness unfortunately typifies successive governments who cannot see beyond the next election.

Neil Roskilly
CEO, The Independent Schools Association
Saffron Walden, Essex

Work for rural builders

SIR – The popular appeal to spare Thomas Hardy’s village from intensive development serves to emphasise the wider rural problem of development policy being led by the industrialised volume house builders, who are only able to consider developing large blocks of green field, with damage both to the countryside and the rural communities that get swamped in the process.

Princess Anne drew attention to this in a Countryfile programme last year, when she called for wider acceptance of small-scale infilling and extensions in many villages and hamlets. This would also provide essential work for smaller rural builders, as this type of development is not on the agenda of volume builders, who hold sway with planning authorities at all levels.

Jeremy Chamberlayne

Rationing dentistry

SIR – The Government’s dental contract is a major contributing factor towards the neglect detailed by Antonia Hoyle.

NHS dentistry is a limited resource: we do not have the manpower or funding to provide all the dental care that is necessary to care for the nation’s oral health, and therefore treatments have to be rationed. Under the current system, dentists have been made responsible for managing a limited budget and choosing which treatments should be rationed.

Many dentists (myself included) believe that it is unethical to accept patients under the pretence of providing everything that is clinically necessary only to be forced, for reasons of underfunding, into a position of either consciously or subconsciously ignoring disease, or of up-selling private treatment when it should be provided by the NHS. As a result lots of dentists have left the NHS, and others want to but fear the effect it would have on their business.

It is time for a sensible conversation with the public about what they can realistically expect from the NHS dental service. The current system does not work for either patients or dentists.

Duncan Scorgie BDS

Assisted suicide

SIR – Opponents of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill insist that it should more accurately refer to “assisted suicide”.

Assisted dying should mean helping a person on their last earthly journey, as our splendid hospices already do, not standing by impassively as they swallow poison or are despatched with a lethal injection.

Once death is accepted as the solution to suffering, anyone ready and willing to offer real help will feel obliged to explain why they wish to inflict suffering on the sick by denying them access to assisted dying.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

Time to shake the grey squirrel’s hold in gardens

Furry wrecking ball: the mere presence of grey squirrels reduces visits to garden bird feeders (Alamy)

SIR – The French and Swiss are correct to be alarmed about very serious threat Italy’s expanding grey squirrel population poses to their native wildlife and commercial forestry.

In Britain, we have failed to recognise the magnitude of this threat and been too slow to respond. Researchers from the University of Sheffield found that the mere presence of grey squirrels was enough to reduce visits to garden bird feeders by 98 per cent.

The winter feeding of birds in gardens can make the difference between life and death for many species. The recent announcement that landowners would be rewarded for controlling grey squirrels is an important step in the right direction.

It is time for the Government to insist that agencies and NGOs in receipt of public funding follow suit and control grey squirrels on their land – or lose an element of state-funded support.

Keith Cowieson
Director, SongBird Survival
Diss, Norfolk

Hypocrisy of politicians on mental health issues

SIR – The mental health system is currently in crisis as a result of sustained under-funding and neglect.

Nick Clegg has no legitimacy to call for an overhaul of how the NHS tackles suicides rates. Having organised public suicide awareness campaigns in the past, I appreciate that there is much that can be done to improve practice, but hypocritical politicians latching on to such an important national topic during election season – while being part of a government that has slashed mental health funding – is simply unacceptable.

There are 3,640 fewer nurses and 213 fewer doctors working in mental health compared with two years ago, and recent cuts have left mental health services unable to cope. People can’t get the support they need, so patients and their families are forced to endure unnecessary suffering and the taxpayer is forced to pay billions to counteract the impact of the ill-advised cuts.

Ed Miliband suggests that people with mental health problems have been failed by “false economies” in the NHS, but Labour has yet to publish concrete, costed plans for how it intends to address the crisis.

Mental health cuts lead to productivity losses, higher benefits payments and increased costs to the NHS. The Government’s failure to cope adequately with mental health issues costs us an estimated £70 billion a year – the highest among the 34 leading developed nations.

While a focus on the problem of mental health care and funding is long overdue, Mr Clegg has no right to be part of the solution.

Dr Carl Walker
Worthing, West Sussex

Keep the sparkle

SIR – I wish to follow the recommendation of a glass of champagne a day. But if a week’s supply is to come from the same opened bottle, how do you preserve the “fizz”?

I know the trick of putting a teaspoon in the top of the bottle, but even with this method the sparkle seems to disappear after about three days.

Mike Cobb
London SW20

Slow and steady

SIR – I sympathise with your correspondents who suffered the frustrations of trying to log on to the National Savings & Investments website or telephone them to purchase their pension bonds (Letters, January 19). I also gave up.

However, there is no need to panic; there are plenty of bonds available for all those likely to apply. I downloaded the form, filled it in and had a pleasant walk to our post office, where my application joined several others for a stress-free journey onwards.

David Hartridge
Groby, Leicestershire

Alice, wondering

SIR – As an Alice I find it curiouser and curiouser that Royal Mail decided not to use John Tenniel’s illustrations from the original 1865 edition of Alice in Wonderland on the stamps issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of publication.

His work is synonymous with Alice and all that she encapsulates, unlike the images that have been chosen.

Alice Jaspars

Vanished Borders

SIR – Among all this talk of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, there has been no mention of the Border Egg.

Wrapped in tartan foil and filled with chocolatey goo, which was much less teeth-zizzingly sweet than the standard white-and-yellow stuff, it was regarded by my Seventies school contemporaries and me as vastly superior.

Why did the Border Egg fade away?

Michael Oakey
Horsham, West Sussex



Globe and Mail:

Robert Huish

Anger at North Korean defector a failure to understand his nightmare


Irish Times:

Sir, – I note that a spokesman for Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, when asked about the effect that the closure of two out of 10 of their operating theatres at any one time would have, responded, “This is a short-term problem and will lead to minimal disruption” (“Vital operations cancelled at Beaumont”, Front Page, January 20th).

A consultant is quoted as saying that 14 patient lists, affecting 30 to 40 patients, are being cancelled over each eight-week period, including people with brain tumours and serious spinal problems.

I am certain that the patients affected, who need essential surgery, don’t find anything “minimal” about the disruption, let alone the distress, that these rolling cancellations cause both them and their families. – Yours, etc,


Skerries, Co Dublin.

Sir, – As a former teacher, principal and chief advising examiner in state examinations, I am aware of the issues and concerns pertaining to assessment at post-primary level. Nevertheless, I view the current Junior Certificate proposals as an excellent opportunity to improve the process of teaching and learning – subject to adequate resources being put in place.

At present most teachers have little or no experience of correcting scripts in state examinations.

Putting in place a system whereby all relevant teachers will be involved in continuous assessment of their students will raise standards in the areas of setting questions or tasks, devising marking schemes, correcting scripts as well as developing teacher collaboration. This can enhance the role of the teacher as a motivator and thereby positively contribute to the student-teacher relationship.

As far as resources are concerned, it will require time and money and certainly cannot be seen as a cost-cutting measure. Apart from teacher training, it will require a structure that includes adequate internal and external moderation, as well as an appeals system.

It provides an opportunity for teachers and schools to gain increased ownership of assessment. With this comes responsibility and accountability. I believe that it is time for our unions to take a positive step in that direction and trust teachers and schools to act responsibly. – Yours, etc,



Co Longford.

Sir, – Matt Moran has reminded us all of the high standards expected from Irish missionaries overseas (“Missionaries created the template on which Ireland’s aid programme is built”, Opinion & Analysis, January 20th). There are now fewer than 1,500 Irish-born missionaries. It is some support to read that: “As various presidents and government ministers have acknowledged many times, our missionaries created the example and the environment upon which the country’s international aid programme was built.” We are the “unpaid ambassadors of our country”.

As one of these 1,500 Irish missionaries, 43 years working in the northeast of Brazil, and now four years here in Mozambique, at 70 years of age, wouldn’t you think we deserve at least the old age pension? It would help us to put food on the table, diesel in the car, and keep the “embassy” open. But no, not unless we abandon the mission and go back to life full time in Ireland. Some support! – Yours, etc,


Redemptorist Missionary,

Tete, Mozambique.

Sir, – In the mid-1990s, the cost of electricity to the domestic customer was about mid-point on the list of European charges when Brussels canvassed the Irish government to introduce open competition in the energy market – even though the customer base here was clearly much too small for such a dramatic step. As usual our government doffed the cap. Now in 2015 we have a plethora of energy suppliers, a mind-boggling range of confusing rates, and an energy regulator who admits that the only way to ensure best value is to go online every year and change supplier. And guess what – now we are fourth most expensive in Europe for domestic energy.

When I said to my supplier recently that I would be happy to remain loyal to that company if it continued to charge me a competitive rate, its honest answer was that the only loyalty now is to your own pocket!

Would it be too simple to have just one supplier for each energy service, with a competent and well-resourced regulator that would constantly monitor the energy business and ensure charges which were fair to both customer and supplier?

The constant online battle to secure fair treatment in a chaotic market is wrong and leads to unfair treatment, particularly to substantial numbers who struggle with modern systems. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Is switching a futile exercise and a waste of energy? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – All the hoopla about shopping around and switching electricity (or gas, phoneline or broadband supplier) to get the best price – for a while anyway – isn’t a complete waste of time. It provides employment for advertising and PR firms, if nothing else. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – Lord Kilclooney is mistaken to state in his otherwise accurate letter (January 16th) that “there has been no comment from the health sector, teachers or farmers” on the proposal to cut corporation tax.

There has been consistent comment from the trade unions, since the self-interested campaign to cut taxes for big companies was initiated and promoted by a coterie of tax advisers.

Under the terms of the Stormont agreement, the devolution and cutting of corporation tax will only happen in a sequence, following the imposition of welfare “reform” and “a comprehensive programme of public sector reform and restructuring” that will amount to at least 20,000 public sector redundancies. Those are the stakes for this huge gamble.

The trade union opposition has been sidelined and ignored by much of the press, despite the accuracy and detail of our objections. We remain opposed, and have gone so far as to pay for full-page advertisements in the three Belfast dailies, objecting to this tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of public services and 20,000 jobs, with no guarantee of new employment (except for tax advisers).

That said, our comment has annoyed First Minister Peter Robinson, who expressed his acute annoyance at our statements, accusing us in the Northern Ireland Assembly of telling “a downright lie from the pit”.

Time will tell who is right. – Yours, etc,


Assistant General Secretary,

Irish Congress

of Trade Unions,


Sir, – It is a truly sad thing to have to say that we live in a society that is almost weary of reports of child abuse scandals, how they were covered up by all and sundry from high office on down, how the perpetrators were moved on or moved up and how the victims were hushed up and forgotten.

Yet the letter (January 20th) from Cailin Anderson and others was still poignant and shocking.

To think that terms of reference are being written that still make many victims of the Bethany home and Westbank orphanage feel excluded and alienated, rather than trying to welcome them in a redress and reconciliation process, is shocking and unacceptable.

What is the point of having an inquiry if it leaves the victims where they have been for so long – on the outside and not being listened to? – Yours, etc,


Bandon, Co Cork.

Sir, – Dr Mary Wingfield calls for State funding for IVF fertility treatments (January 19th).

Proposed legislation regarding this and related surrogacy requires openness regarding risks to women. IVF treatment babies have a higher frequency of adverse outcomes than babies born after normal conception.

Risks to women include potentially fatal ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, cysts, molar pregnancy and coagulation abnormalities leading to thromboembolism, stroke and myocardial infarction. Excessive ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs during a single stimulated IVF cycle may result in up to a fivefold increase in plasma oestrogen concentration. Excessive oestrogen secretion has been implicated in ovarian, womb and breast cancer. Perusal of the internet indicates many clinical studies which report worrying concerns regarding breast cancer occurrences and IVF treatments.

IVF treatments are central to surrogacy and women should be fully informed about early and potential long-term risks of these treatments. – Yours, etc,


Consultant Medical

Oncologist (retired),

Rosslare Strand,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – I’ve yet to hear how the Central Bank proposes to protect the thousands of prospective house buyers who will be forced into long-term rental as a result of its badly thought-out restrictions. What will happen to people is that they will end up paying rents at levels similar to mortgage payments but without accruing any equity in an asset. What happens if one cannot pay rent due to illness or unemployment? You end up on the street with nothing to show for all the years of rent paid.

Contrast this with a homebuyer who can’t pay the mortgage but who at least could have some equity built up in their property even if they ultimately end up on the street.

Surely having something to show for years of paying rent such as equity in a tangible asset is preferable to having nothing. – Yours, etc,


Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The concerted campaign led by those with a clear vested interest in high house prices against the eminently sensible Central Bank proposal to introduce a meaningful limit on how much people can borrow for their mortgage has been extraordinary to witness (“New mortgage rules ‘will confine house purchases to the rich’, says Siptu chief”, January 20th).

A few short years after a property crash of epic proportions, these vested interests have managed – cheered on by the media – to turn a proposal that should reduce house prices and prevent people from falling into unsustainable debt into a bogus story about the poor first-time buyer unable to clamber on to the all-important property “ladder”. That even trade unions are blind to the fact that more credit will mean even higher prices is deeply dispiriting.

One can only hope that Patrick Honohan uses this moment to prove his independence and, once again, do Ireland some service. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Further to the letter by Conan Doyle (January 19th), every worker in the country who pays income tax or universal social charge (USC) or both has benefited from the changes to personal taxation in Budget 2015. A total of 80,000 lower-paid workers will no longer be liable for USC; this is on top of 330,000 removed from payment of USC over the last three years.

Budget 2015 eased the burden of the USC on those on lowest incomes by increasing thresholds and reducing rates. Anyone on incomes of less than €12,012 are now exempt from USC. The standard rate band of income tax was also increased by €1,000 from €32,800 to €33, 800, meaning that workers pay the higher rate of tax on less of their earnings. In addition the higher rate of income tax was reduced from 41 per cent to 40 per cent.

If these tax reductions are not reflected in net pay, we would encourage workers to raise this issue with their employers. – Yours, etc,



Press Office,

Department of Finance,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Good news – Pope Francis (the first pope for a long time to give hope to a wounded church) promotes a sensible family size – three children at most (January 20th). Now for the bad news – he believes this is possible by entirely natural methods. I can only marvel at his disconnect from the reality that a majority of Catholics achieve a planned family with the help of science and technology. Unfortunately, for less developed societies, the harsh consequences of overpopulation will continue. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I would like to join Patrick O’Donohue (January 19th) in deploring the unnecessary use of four-wheel drive vehicles on our roads. Let’s reduce global warming and increase road safety for those of us not cocooned in these axles of evil. – Yours, etc,


Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Patrick O’Donohoe doesn’t fully appreciate the usefulness of four-wheel drives in an urban setting. They are so useful for mounting the pavement while parking on double yellow lines outside school. As for sunglasses, I use them to stop the glare from all the foglights left on all day. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Perhaps the demise of the “Page 3” pictures in the Sun newspaper is an acknowledgement of the fact that yes, indeed, it was sexist (“Sun drops topless page 3 photos”, January 20th). But perhaps it is rather just an indication of how certain people in society choose to access and consume images and content that objectifies women as sexual objects. The internet age has taken over. Let’s not be too celebratory. – Yours, etc,


Sir, – We’ve certainly travelled a long way since “coming out” meant you were joining a rebellion against the British. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 12.

Rush, Co Dublin.

Sir, – In an article headed “Same-sex witches marry in Scotland in pagan first” (January 19th), you quote Louise Park, the presiding officer, as saying that she was “over the moon” to have been able to conduct the ceremony. She would say that, wouldn’t she? – Yours, etc,


Tralee, Co Kerry.

Sir, – Nuala McParland (January 19th) is to be lauded for acknowledging the supreme efforts made to restore her electricity supply during the recent severe weather.

However, she will not have seen any Electric Ireland staff, nor those of any other energy supply company, atop any electricity poles. This trojan work was carried out by ESB Networks, as the operators of our national electricity network. Credit were credit is due. – Yours, etc,



Co Louth.

Irish Independent:

Who cares if business people gave money to Charlie Haughey?
Who cares if business people gave money to Charlie Haughey?

In the final episode of RTÉ’s drama ‘Charlie’ Mr Haughey told Brian Lenihan Snr: “You never knew me.”

  • Go To

How many of us could use the same few words to so-called friends, relatives, or nearest and dearest? Who really knows anyone?

Another notable quote of his – this time one he actually said – came when he told the Dáil: “I have done the State some service.”

Indeed you did Charlie, unlike many before you, and certainly many thereafter.

You provided the likes of me – an old-age pensioner – with free travel and a lot of other things for free. Unlike today, where we must pay for everything. We’ll soon be charged for breathing, and better to be sent to prison than be sent to a hospital.

You set up the IFSC, the world-wide recognised money trading centre, you made Ireland the world’s leading horse-breeding country, and there are many artists and performers who benefited from your wise decision to leave them tax-free so they could concentrate on getting to where many of them are today.

There were many business people who were too willing to donate to your lifestyle, who saw that with your leadership Ireland could grow.

Who really cares if many of them gave you money? The only ones who care are those looking for something to write about.

Hindsight is supposed to be a great science, so when a hungry beggar knocks on your door looking for something to eat and you are generous enough to give it to him does he stop before he eats it and ask: “Did you earn this sandwich honestly?”

Was JFK as clean as we all thought he was back in 1963? Do we still hold him in high regard?

Is Bill Clinton still welcomed into every county in Ireland after telling a few porkies about a girl he never had sex with?

In 30 or 40 years’ time we will probably have a new blockbuster of a drama called ‘The Day The Water Stopped’, starring Enda on Tap And Leo No Trollies. All proceeds from this drama will be donated to the rich, as by then the poor will have become extinct.

The dead accused are easy prey for the prosecutors of today, but their victories are somehow hollow.

Fred Molloy

Clonsilla, Dublin 15

Blueprint for a political change

Recognising that our system of governance leaves a lot to be desired I offer the following solution.

By 2025, by attrition and by reducing the number of TDs elected at each General Election, the following would apply:

Two Dáil deputies per county = 52. One additional TD per city (Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny) = 6. That would make for a total of 58, a reduction of 108 from the present 166. Starting immediately, when a seat is vacated, a by-election would not take place.

The targeted 58 seats would be more in line with other population-to-administration ratios worldwide. For instance, the USA (population 316 million, representatives 435, a ratio of 726,436 to one); the UK (population 64 million, representatives 650 a ratio of 98,460 to one); Germany (population 80.6 million, representatives 630, a ratio of 128,000 to 1). Ireland has a population of 4.58 million with 166 representatives, a ratio of 27,590 to one. A representation of 58 would be 83,620 to one, still lower than any of the foregoing.

Reduce the Cabinet from the present 16 to 12. Remove the whip to introduce a little democracy. Remove the Office of President, it costs too much and is of little value.

All State and semi-State positions must be advertised to cut out cronyism and nepotism. How about a drastic cut in holidays to bring about a few more sitting days?

Quangos and spin doctors? Yes, for the chop. What is wrong when a senior politician or a group of same must have highly-paid advisers to tell them what, where, when, and the extent of what they should say or do?

End proportional representation. First two past the post win. This would prevent candidates with fewer votes being elected on the coat tails of a party colleague at the expense of one with higher appeal.

A reduction in the Public Accounts Committee, if it is still in existence, to 10. A reduction in the Dáil term from five to four years.

Members of the Seanad reduced from 60 to 15. All senators would be appointed by the electorate, eliminating cronyism and nepotism.

Yes, all of the foregoing would necessitate constitutional changes, but it is suggested that the electorate would agree to change, in a referendum, knowing the savings and benefits that would be realised.

When the dust had finally settled we would have a lean, streamlined, professional administration instead of the costly, undemocratic, ineffective, self-indulgent dinosaur that we have today.

Name and address with editor

To the Bard be true

“I have done the State some service, and they know’t.” (‘Othello’, Act 5, Scene 2). To preserve the Shakespearean (iambic) rhythm, the last word is spelt and pronounced as one syllable.

However, towards the conclusion of the final episode of the RTÉ drama ‘Charlie’, the CJH character is heard to internally quote the foregoing line and enunciate “know’t” with two syllables (i.e. “know it”). The discussion panel on the following morning’s Seán O’Rourke radio show made the same mistake with abandon.

In this poetic respect, it is worth noting that Mr Haughey’s resignation address to the Dáil as Taoiseach (February 11, 1992) was scrupulously faithful to the Bard.

Oliver McGrane

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

I’m ready to come out…

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 tired of all the skulking about and avoiding the subject of who you voted for in the last election. Social occasions are the worst. My parents’ aspirations were that I would vote for a ‘straight’, mainstream party, one that told the truth and put Irish people’s interests first, but people can be so insensitive, by asking who you voted for and what do you think of Enda caving in to the international banking system and the Germans, when he said he would stand up to them and get a deal on Irish debt.

The pressure has been unbearable. I did consider emigrating to America to live freely as a right-wing Republican, and thereby avoiding having to come out in Ireland as a fiscal conservative, but why should I, because damn it, that’s not really who I am. The truth is that I believed. There, I said it – I believed them.

I write this with tears streaming down my face, tears of bitter regret that I should have been true to myself. It is my hope and belief that Ireland is mature enough to tolerate a closet – and now former – Fine Gael voter. I am determined to find political happiness. I will seek out a political relationship that I can be proud of. So, if you see me in the street, don’t judge me too harshly. I am openly politically lost and proud.

Declan Doyle

Lisdowney, Kilkenny

Was Varadkar really ‘brave’?

I really don’t mean to rain on any parades here, but was Leo Varadkar ‘coming out’ on national radio in 2015 really “brave”? A Chinese student standing in front of a line of tanks was brave. The Collins family in Limerick are brave. Eugene McErlean was brave to stand up alone over his whistleblower allegations at AIB when the world seemed against him.

There is a danger, or perhaps it’s too late, that we are teaching our kids that there is a difference between bravery and doing the right thing.

Darren Williams

Sandyford, Dublin 18

Irish Independent


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