22 January 2015 Snow

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. It snowed on and off all day. Post office, Co Op, compost, Elena,


John Bayley

John Bayley

John Bayley, who has died aged 89 , was Warton Professor of English at Oxford University but was better known as the husband, from 1955 until her death from Alzheimer’s disease in 1999, of Dame Iris Murdoch.

Bayley won both friends and enemies with the trilogy of memoirs he published about his wife. His first book, Iris: A Memoir (known in America as Elegy for Iris), published in 1998 shortly before her death, became an unexpected bestseller. It charted their happy, chaotic early life together and described with gentle stoicism Iris Murdoch’s transition from one of the most incisive minds of her generation into a childlike invalid, sometimes distressed and fractious, unable to wash herself or control her bodily functions. Its sequel, Iris and the Friends (1999), published after her death, chronicled the last year of her life when she was visited by imaginary “friends”.

Most critics found Bayley’s account almost unbearably moving in its portrayal of the tender complicity that existed between the couple when faced with Iris’s slow-burning decline. In 2001 Iris: A Memoir was made into a film by Richard Eyre, Iris, starring Kate Winslet, Dame Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent, and Bayley became, in public estimation, a symbol of selfless devotion and fortitude.

But others saw the book as an intrusion into the privacy of a woman who, at the time of its publication, had still been alive, even if incapable of understanding. These included Dame Muriel Spark who, in letters to friends, accused Bayley of “muckraking” by writing a “sordid” account, and criticised him for failing to get outside professional help for his wife.

More trenchant still was AN Wilson, a former student of Bayley’s, who in 2003 stunned the literary world by publishing a book that depicted Bayley as a petulant, deceptive man who, though elevated to “near sanctity” during his wife’s slow decline, was in Wilson’s view more akin to a “screaming, hate-filled child”. The verdict brought an avalanche of protest from friends of the couple – including Iris Murdoch’s official biographer Peter Conradi, who accused Wilson of dumping “ordure spicily mixed with bile” on two people “whose only mistake was their kindness to him”.

But even Bayley’s supporters were astonished by the last volume in the trilogy, Widower’s House (2001), dealing with his life after her death; it included a ribald account of attempts by two women of his acquaintance, “Margot” and “Mella”, to bring him out of his grief and into their beds.

By Bayley’s account, the pair sought to exploit his famed hopelessness when it came to housekeeping to worm their way into his affections, the bulky Margot with indigestible casseroles and middle-of-the-night visits to his bed , and Mella, a “scrawny postgraduate student” half his age, with a bucket and mop. Mella, it appeared, succeeded. “It was obvious what I had to do,” Bayley wrote. “Nor, on the whole, did I mind doing it.”

John Bayley with Iris Murdoch in Oxford (ROB JUDGES)

The book sparked off an entertaining spat between The Daily Telegraph, which had bought the serialisation rights, and The Sunday Times, which published an interview with the author in which he passed off his tales of bedroom romps as lyrical accounts of the daydreams which had consoled him at a bad time. Admittedly, he seemed an unlikely Lothario with his balding pate, Oxfam sweaters and high-pitched giggle. His account underwent several revisions in interviews with different newspapers, though in 2005 he assured The Daily Telegraph that the women were “all too real”, while admitting that some of the details had been fictionalised to disguise their true identities.

Those who knew Bayley’s mercurial character were not surprised by the confusion he left in his wake.

John Oliver Bayley was born on March 27 1925 into an Army family at Lahore in what was then British India. After Eton, he served in the Army from 1943 to 1947, then went up to New College, Oxford, where he took a First in English. He remained at Oxford, becoming a tutor at New College in 1955.

As an academic, Bayley made his name as a literary critic and a specialist in Pushkin and Goethe. Appointed Warton Professor of English in 1974 and a fellow of St Catherine’s College, he established a reputation as one of the most respected academic critics in the country . His students included Dennis Potter, and AN Wilson who, in his more charitable moments, remembered Bayley for his courtesy, love of gossip and complete lack of intellectual snobbery.

But if Bayley was a brilliant interpreter of the ideas of others, he was always notoriously vague when it came to his own. In 1956 two academic letters were published simultaneously in the press discussing the Suez invasion by the British — one for, one against. Bayley was a signatory to both. When one of his colleagues asked him how this could have happened, Bayley reportedly replied: “I believed both!”

For most of his life, however, Bayley’s own fame was eclipsed by that of Iris Murdoch, whom he first saw in 1954 when she rode past him on a bicycle in Oxford. He met her later at a party at St Anne’s College. They married in August 1956.

John Bayley and Iris Murdoch in Japan in 1984 (Eleanor Bentall)

The relationship fascinated outsiders, not least because of their lack of interest in sex. In their early months together they were content to kiss each other’s arms until Iris finally suggested that perhaps they ought to try making love. Sex was certainly not the highest priority for Bayley, who admitted in a radio interview that he had had no sexual feelings at all until he was 27, and that his love for his wife was “in the mind, rather than physically erotic”.

If Bayley was a sexual innocent, the same could not be said of Iris. In Iris: A Memoir, he described how she had sat him down shortly before their wedding in order to make a clean breast of her past relationships: “ Unknown figures arose before me like the procession of kings in Macbeth, seeming to regard me with grave curiosity as they passed by.”

These affairs continued through most of their 43-year marriage. Generally, Bayley turned a blind eye, though he confessed to seeing off some of her more tiresome suitors; and he could not resist a bit of vengeful animus towards the unnamed intellectuals for whom she fell in her quest for “wisdom, authority and belief”.

They agreed never to have children . Rather, they were, he recalled, “very childlike together”, speaking their own made-up language and sharing practical jokes, but otherwise existing in a sort of solitary companionship, “like two animals in a field”.

In housekeeping, too, non-intervention was the rule. In a “Room of My Own” piece published before Iris Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they wandered around their kitchen, opening cupboard doors with childlike curiosity, wondering what might lie inside. Once, Bayley recalled, a large pork pie went missing somewhere under the piles of detritus that covered every surface and never reappeared. An infestation of rats was found to be “congenial, even stimulating”. At St Catherine’s College, Bayley was famous for always leaving the dining table with his pockets lined with leftovers.

It was an old friend, Audi Villers, who first noticed signs of Iris Murdoch’s memory loss. There were clues, too, in Iris’s last novel, Jackson’s Dilemma (1995), which showed a greatly restricted vocabulary compared with earlier works. Shortly after the novel’s publication, Bayley took Iris to her GP.

In his memoir, Bayley recorded how their love strengthened as her intellectual powers declined. Her fear of strangers was so great that he could not bring himself to arrange outside help, and he continued to cope alone. It helped that he was never bothered by dirt. Iris “used to go to the lavatory anywhere she pleased,” he recalled. “I didn’t mind a bit. I just cleared it up.” If anything made her irritable he abandoned it. The chaos of their home descended into epic squalor.

Just weeks before her death, when she was unable to eat or drink, Bayley finally admitted that he could no longer cope. He found a nursing home nearby where he visited her constantly. When she died, a doctor entered the room to find Bayley holding her hand and abstractedly counting her toes. “I was so worried I would miss the moment, like one of those bird watchers – what are they called? – twitchers, who turn their back for a second to find that the bird has flown,” he explained.

Initially, Bayley found it hard to move on, admitting that, months after her death, her medicine was still in the fridge and her clothes still lying where she had left them. But within a year he had married Audi Villers who, with her late husband Borys, had been great friends of the couple for 35 years.

John Bayley with his wife Audi in Oxford (Phil Coburn)

Though friends were surprised, it seemed that Bayley had found a perfect companion for his old age. Throughout Iris’s illness, Audi had been the only person prepared to stay overnight in their house and, after their marriage, Iris remained their “favourite” topic of conversation.

Apart from his memoirs about Iris, Bayley (who once explained that he liked to regard himself as “a Church of England person, but I have no religion at all”), published well-received books and collections of essays on Russian and English literature and the theory of criticism, including Shakespeare and Tragedy (1980), which was widely seen as his masterpiece.

He also made five sorties into fiction, work that he was always quick to describe as “light”; edited Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove and a two-volume selection of James’s short stories; and, in the 1990s, he wrote widely for newspapers.

It was Bayley’s chairing of the Booker committee in 1994 that brought him before the public eye, after he caused controversy by proclaiming that modern fiction was “at best ambitious and, at worst, pretentious”. He was denounced in some quarters as being unfit to chair the panel, which itself remained bitterly divided on the merits of the final shortlist of three: Jill Paton Walsh’s Knowledge of Angels, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Folding Star and James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late (which went on to win the prize). Bayley looked on with amusement and announced that he was looking forward to returning to his wife’s novels.

John Bayley was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1990 and appointed CBE in 1999.

His wife survives him.

John Bayley, born March 27 1925, died January 12 2015


(FILES) In a file picture taken on April
President George W Bush greets British PM Tony Blair on 8 April 2003 at Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland. ‘Blair (and the rest, including the Tories) did what George Bush asked, with little solid evidence of the supposed weapons of mass destruction,’ writes David Reed. Photograph: Luke Frazza/Getty

Surely the only approach to the Chilcot report (Verdict delayed – no Iraq war report until after the election, 21 January) is to publish it immediately, exactly as the investigating team wants, with remarks, refutations and disagreements from witnesses included as an appendix or separate volume, so that readers can judge for themselves (I promise to buy all volumes, not just the first).

Anything else challenges the independence of the report, which must already be in doubt. And it is us – the taxpayers – who have funded the whole thing. We deserve nothing less.
Chris Farrands

• Why all the agonising about the delay in publication? We all know that MI6 got far too close to Tony Blair and his sofa-style governing methods and allowed itself to be pressurised by Blair’s insistence that the necessary intelligence be “found”, so as to justify and permit him to tell the British public that it was OK to go to war. This was for no other reason than he had already made a personal (and semi-religious) commitment to George Bush that Britain would do so in support of the US.

The problem was that weapons of mass destruction never existed, but under extreme pressure from Blair (never of course voiced by Blair himself, he was far too clever for that and had cohorts such as Alastair Campbell to do that for him), MI6 allowed itself to pass on alleged intelligence to Blair, through the joint intelligence committee, which, had it not been under such pressure, it would first have checked properly to ascertain whether it was true or not, rather than being the wishful product of “agents” themselves being pressed by MI6 to come up with something (anything) that would get the government off MI6’s back.

It truly is as simple as that and has been proved so time and again (eg see Gordon Corera’s excellent book MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service (Chapter 10). Those demanding publication largely do so in the hope that it will disclose something concrete with which finally to damn Blair. It won’t. It will blame MI6, who are the ones delaying its publication.

What those who are holding up the report fail to appreciate, is that the longer these delays and the more that when published the report’s conclusions are other than I have stated (because MI6 succeed in getting Chilcot to water down his conclusions), the more we shall all know that this has been yet another whitewash.
Paul Clements

• The withholding of the publication of the Chilcot inquiry till after the general election means that the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 continues to distort the electoral process in a constituency such as mine, where the sitting MP has been an unapologetic supporter of the invasion.

The election in May will now be the third general election in which I will have found myself unable to support an MP I might otherwise have wished to vote for. Had I been able to know what John Chilcot’s findings were, and then to ascertain from my MP whether he accepted them or not, the matter might at last have had a chance of being laid to rest for me.

Now the general election of 2020 will be the earliest in which this matter can cease to cast its shadow over this constituency.
David Evans

• While Labour has little to gain from raking over the factors leading to the Iraq war, I think Ed Miliband’s more recent stance on our possible involvement in Syria shows we could have had a massively different result if Tony Blair had said the same: “No invasion without a proper UN mandate.” (This time, the boot was on the other foot, and Miliband’s move got Barack Obama off the hook, showing that he, too, has more sense than his predecessor.)

Instead Blair (and the rest, including the Tories) did what George Bush asked, with little solid evidence of the supposed weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps the main delay now is because it shows how useless both countries’ security services were?
David Reed

• Could it be that our nuclear deterrent is not independent and the renewal of Trident might have been in jeopardy if we had not joined the invasion?
Emeritus professor Keith Barnham

• With the latest delay to the Chilcot report, I am coming to believe that it is another example of a phenomena first noticed by the late French social theorist (Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007) in respect of the first Gulf war. Namely, something that did not really happen but was reported in the media as if it had.
Keith Flett

Rupert Murdoch with the Sun
Rupert Murdoch with the Sun. In the 70s the newspaper’s boss said: ‘Keep that Page 3 style going, for ever,’ writes Vic Giles. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

For the first seven years of the Sun I was its art director (Editorial, 21 January). Every page that I created had to be shown to the editor, Larry Lamb for his approval. I had chosen a news picture for page three one day in the early 1970s. However, Rupert Murdoch was sitting in the editor’s chair while Larry reclined on the settee the other side of the room. I held up the fully drawn normal page so that Rupert could see it. He said: “Great, Vic.” Then I placed my “fun” – topless – version so that both could see. Larry immediately shouted: “No, that will lose readers.” But Rupert said: “I like it. Let’s print it.” The next day Rupert appeared at my elbow: “Keep that Page 3 style going, for ever.” By the end of the week the circulation figures were climbing at a fantastic rate and continued to do so. Many have claimed the idea as their own. I am happy to tell you that it was it my “fun” Page 3 accident, instantly approved by the chairman.
Vic Giles

Rear view of woman holding umbrella in field under cloud
Looks like a weather bomb again. Photograph: Getty Images/Blend Images

Listening to the weather forecast is a source of constant irritation (Let’s scrape the hyperbole off the weather forecasts, Opinion, 19 January) as the forecasters proceed with their inaccurate English. They speak of weather fronts when they mean cold or warm fronts, of warmer temperatures when they mean higher temperatures, of sunshine coming out, when they mean the sun coming out, of the morning time or evening time, when they mean morning or evening. I shout corrections at the radio to no avail. Surely I’m not the only one to want a weather forecast delivered more professionally?
Mary Prince
Christleton, Cheshire

• Forecasts have taken on the role of soap operas, with metrological phenomena playing the main roles. Hence we hear that sunshine will “try” to break through by mid-afternoon and temperatures will “struggle” to reach double figures. No they won’t – they will do exactly as they wish, as has been the case long before man presumed to predict such events.
Bob Caldwell
Badby, Northamptonshire

• As one of the Ulster Unionists referred to by Chris Haskins (Letters, 20 January), I always put the Met Office’s refusal to report on the Republic’s weather – while showing clouds and other climatic manifestations scudding across the 26 counties – down to British politeness: the Republic doesn’t belong to the UK so we shouldn’t talk about its weather, sort of thing. In the runup to Scotland’s referendum vote I was looking forward to seeing how Scottish weather would be handled post-separation. Images of rain, snow and hail buffeting Northern Ireland’s six counties would appear to miraculously avoid both the Republic and Scotland! What fun.
Marcus Oliver
Bromley, Kent

• My mum-in-law cancels trips and racks up the thermostat at the mention of the “big freeze” or the next “weather bomb” arriving on the back of the evil “jet stream”. Save the hyperbole for the serious stuff coming our way soon, courtesy of global warming and our precarious position twixt continent and ocean.
Haydn Jenkinson
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

• “Sub-zero temperatures, rain, gales” and even “snow” (Report, 15 January). Yes, it’s what we used to call winter.
Gerry Wyld
Langley, Berkshire

How I get ready (17 January). If it’s cold or wet I put my coat on. Or I don’t.
Paul Spedding
Macclesfield, Cheshire

Your article (Anonymous sources are vital – Guardian editor, 20 January) exposes the risk to journalists from the new powers being given to the police, intelligence services and other state bodies by the data retention powers in the counter terrorism and security bill currently before parliament. The simplest mechanism to provide some basic protection to journalists and their sources is to ensure that where any state agency seeks to exercise these powers in the case of journalists or other professions that have a duty of confidentiality, then the authority of a court must be sought and it is not left to the internal decision-making processes of that agency. On several occasions now I have tried to amend the bill before parliament to this effect. There has been no adequate explanation from government ministers why they still resist this simple measure. Time is running out to secure this concession and we urgently need the maximum pressure on the government to achieve this minor but critical change.
John McDonnell MP
Secretary of the NUJ parliamentary group

Your article (£2.5bn ‘lurking’ in academies’ bank accounts, 19 January) claims that money prudently kept by academy schools in reserve is not spent on teaching or learning. Academies are responsible for spending around £1bn each month, which they receive in advance. The amount in reserve, though a large cash amount, is less than three months’ income – a sensible amount, especially when compared with the vast reserves of local authorities. What is important is what academies do with the money. In many cases, they will have plans to reinvest this money directly into teaching resources. And, unlike schools still under council control, academies will also use reserves for capital projects – money to build the excellent classrooms and facilities needed to learn. Unlike council-run schools, academies cannot operate while insolvent. Many, therefore, take the sensible decision to keep a healthy amount of money in reserve to meet any liabilities. We rigorously check the accounts of academies and probe any reserves that appear too large.

It is also crucial to recognise that the majority of secondary schools are academies, which naturally have far larger budgets than primary schools. That academy trusts are able to reserve funding for future investment in teaching and learning should be welcomed by those interested in seeing our young people flourish. It shows the futures of many of the best schools in the country are safe – encouraging news for our hard-working teachers. Our research is clear that these reserves have no impact at all on the standard of education offered. In fact, the latest Ofsted data also shows both primary and secondary academies are more likely to be rated good or outstanding than local authority schools.

The higher cash balances held by academies are a reflection of the freedom and responsibility that this government’s plan for education has given to schools – resulting in more than a million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.
John Nash
Schools minister

Assessing the impact of major school reforms is a tricky, imprecise, value-laden business (School reforms undermined by failure to track success or failure, says OECD, 19 January). It’s not simply a question of “what works”. Too often, encouraged, by the OECD itself, success or failure has been measured by test results of dubious reliability and validity, which by their very nature cannot do justice to the wide-ranging outcomes of major school-wide reforms. Such reforms cannot be measured, only judged; and judgments of complex outcomes can only be rendered by those knowledgeable and experienced enough in the fields in question. England used to have such a cadre of experts (HM inspectors) who reported without fear or favour. But they were regarded as “turbulent priests” by the government of the day and neutralised through incorporation into Ofsted. They or their ilk need to be reinstated, not just in England but elsewhere within the OECD.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

A cell in a police station in London
A cell in a police station in London. Campaigners are calling for a review into the strip-searching of children in police stations. Photograph: Peter Brooker/Rex Features

Strip-searching is a humiliating, degrading and frightening experience for anyone, but especially for children who come into contact with the police, a high proportion of whom may have experienced abuse and/or mental health difficulties. This is graphically illustrated by a case being heard by the court of appeal on Friday in which a 14-year-old girl with a mental health condition was stripped in a cell without her mother or other appropriate adult present.

Last year saw welcome changes in children’s prisons, so that children are only strip-searched where there is a good reason for doing so. This followed a pilot scheme that showed the new approach caused little variation in serious incidents, contraband or violence.

However, there has been no equivalent review of the strip-searching of children in the police station. This is despite the fact that far more children come into contact with the police than go to prison, and freedom of information requests show that police strip-searching of children as young as 12 doubled between 2008 and 2013.

We are calling on the government to launch an urgent review, to make sure children are only strip-searched at the police station as a last resort and that when this happens it is subject to proper safeguarding and child protection measures, such as making sure a child’s parent or another appropriate adult is present. These changes are vital to protecting children’s human rights to be kept safe from harm.
Shauneen Lambe Executive director, Just for Kids Law
Paola Uccellari Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England
Dr Maggie Atkinson Children’s commissioner for England
Sue Berelowitz Deputy children’s commissioner/chief executive, Office of the Children’s Commissioner
Deborah Coles Co-director, Inquest
Juliet Lyon Director, Prison Reform Trust
Natasha Finlayson Chief executive, Who Cares? Trust
Anna Feuchtwang Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau
Christine Renouf Chief executive, NYAS
Kathy Evans Chief executive, Children England
Professor Carolyn Hamilton Coram Childrens Legal Centre
Susanne Rauprich Chief executive officer, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services
Sandra Beeton Executive director, the Association of Panel Members
Penelope Gibbs Chair, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice
Jodie Blackstock Director of criminal and EU justice policy, Justice
Pam Hibbert Chair of Trustees, National Association for Youth Justice
Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth Newcastle University
Richard Garside Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
Chris Bath Chief executive, National Appropriate Adult Network
Gareth Jones Chair, Association of YoT Managers
Maud Davis and Nicola Jones-King Co Chairs, Association of Lawyers for Children
Anne-Marie Douglas Chief executive, Peer Power
Sarah Salmon Interim director, Criminal Justice Alliance

sed but no mention of new take-off flight paths causing even more noise to west London (Heathrow advertisement, 21 January). More important, no mention of pollution and the dire effects on health of diesel residues descending on millions of people beneath. Those who predicted that Sir Howard Davies (known locally as “the man who rose without trace”) would somehow come up with this solution, may being proved to be right.
Anna Ford

• Re the proposed Nicaragua canal. You ask “will it bring wealth and growth or confusion and destruction?” (Report, 21 January). I would hazard a guess that it will bring wealth and growth to the rich and confusion and destruction to the poor.
Mike Harrison

• After many failed attempts to “potty (seat) train” me, my late lovely wife asked me to sit on the porcelain at 3am one cold winter night (Letters, 21 January). What a shock to the system – more so if unexpected in a pitch-dark bathroom. Ever since then I’ve put the seat down (and still do as a conditioned reflex).
Joe Locker
Surbiton, Surrey

• When Josh Mackay has given birth at least once, he’ll have earned the right to demand the end of the toilet “seat-down” convention.
Lucy Craig

• With the interest in HP sauce, is it not time its royal warrant lapsed as it is now produced in the Netherlands despite its invention in Nottingham? If the royal family is interested, I could recommend One Stop Brown Sauce as an acceptable alternative, which is produced in Walsall.
Robert Dyson
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

• Jane Jones should come to Spain (Letters, 20 January). Here HP is pronounced “Atchee pay”.
Mark Green
Port Andraxt, Mallorca




The decision of King’s College London to reverse its daft adoption of a trendy new name, “Kings London”, is a welcome but regrettably rare example of university “management” being forced to realise that they had gone to far in their zeal for corporatism rather than education.

The real question was why and how the original stupid decision was taken in the first place, when it is clearly opposed by just about everyone in the university. Sadly, anyone who has worked in a university knows only too well how these decisions are taken.

Universities are now run as businesses, by isolated groups consisting of vice-chancellors and their pro-VC sidekicks  and senior non-academic managers (usually ex-Tesco or NHS accountants and HR executives who have rarely set foot in an academic department), who have become totally distanced from the rest of the university, particularly the academic staff.

“Consultation” is something they do after  whatever out-of-touch decision they have taken, and is then used as a rubber-stamp – usually by VCs who clamp down on any sensible debate in Senate. The decision is then taken for approval to gullible lay Councils or Courts who believe that everyone is in agreement as they have been “consulted” (but rarely listened to).

These university managers in the past were members of the academic staff, but now no longer see themselves as part of a continuum, but as corporate strategists. They have mostly lost sight of the basic academic functions of teaching, scholarship and research. Management has become for them an activity in its own right, with little regard for what they are actually managing.

So well done the staff and students of KCL. If only more of us had the will to stand up to these self-opinionated berks.

Professor T J Simpson FRS
School of Chemistry
University of Bristol


Super-rich don’t make the rest poor

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (19 January) has jumped on the bandwagon of blaming the super-rich for our woes. Her claim that “inequality is threatening to tear our democracy apart” is unfounded scare-mongering.

Capitalism produces great inequality – that is true. But it also delivers prosperity on a massive scale. The UN 2014 Millennium Goals report states that “In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 22 per cent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million.”

Capitalism and technology are making most people better off. Some of the entrepreneurs who build businesses and create jobs, such as James Dyson and Richard Branson, become fabulously wealthy, but that does not make the rest of us poorer.

Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world. He has also done more to combat malaria than all the governments in Africa combined.

It is convenient to make the super-rich scapegoats, but driving them away will not make the rest of us richer. And they are no threat to our democracy.

Paul Sloane
Camberley, Surrey


The Pope condemned ‘Charlie’ terrorists

David Cameron is over-reacting  and taking the Pope’s comments on the Charlie Hebdo attack out of context. Pope Francis was rightly saying that we need freedom of expression, but he reminded people to be sensitive and responsible. Surely that is reasonable?

His point about mothers and punches was trying to point out that of course people are going to be upset if you ridicule things very dear to them. He spoke from a Latino cultural background, where your mother is sacrosanct and people will get passionate if she is attacked.

Yes, it was an unfortunate example to use but he was not actually condoning violence, and condemned the terrorists outright in no uncertain terms.

Fr Kevin O’Donnell
Rottingdean, East Sussex


Sasha Simic (letters, 15 January) claimed that white Norwegians were not required to “scrutinise their values and beliefs” after the murderous rampage by the neo-Nazi Anders Breivik.

Actually that is not true. I am married into an extended Scandinavian family and I know that there was serious debate about the rampant Norwegian nationalism of recent years and the extent of wartime collaboration.

The Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews


Labour party and imported labour

Labour admits that the UK economy is improving but states that the improvement is not being felt by “everyday people”.

Of course this situation has nothing to do with the mass of cheap imported foreign labour that has fuelled our recovery and which Labour encouraged in its immigration policy while in office?

It is one of the ironies of modern politics that the political party formed to further the interests of the British working class was the very party that deliberately exposed this same class to better educated and cheaper foreign labour, thereby deploying market forces to drive down the incomes of those it supposedly represents.

Alan Stedall
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands


The other victims if the Nazis

I have followed the correspondence on anti-Semitism with interest, but also with a certain knowledge that prejudice is not limited to non-Jews.

In 1981 I visited the Dachau concentration camp. To be brought face to face with the agonies suffered there was indescribable. At the end of my visit I stood near a low wall, looking over it into the distance, pondering the experience of the last hour.

As I stood there, I felt a hand come to rest on my shoulder. It belonged to a Jewish gentleman wearing a skullcap. I fancied he had seen my distressed state. He asked me in German how I was feeling.

“How is one supposed to feel after seeing all that?” I asked him rhetorically. He had lost family members in the Holocaust; some had even been here at Dachau.

He then asked me if I had lost anyone here. I replied that I hadn’t, that I was English and not even Jewish, and had not suffered. But if I was here, it was largely to pay my respects to another group of men who were imprisoned here and who suffered along with the Jews and the gypsies: the homosexuals.

The hand which up to that point had still been resting on my shoulder was removed. He enquired if I was homosexual myself. I answered him that I was.

“Es tut mir leid, aber  Ihr habt’s verdient!” was  his reply. In English:  “I’m sorry, but you lot deserved it!”

Dr Michael Johnson


If we are to understand, depressing as it is, that many Jews in Britain and France feel there is no future for them “here” (“The new anti-Semitism”, 14 January), it can only be made worse by their being assumed, understandably but often wrongly, to be sympathisers for a Jewish state carved out of Arab lands by the connivance  of the British and the French and expanded illegally ever since.

There is an understandable frustration among many Arabs and Muslims at the acquiescence of the West, which can only poison relations between Muslims and Jews outside Israel.

As John Pilger memorably said, Palestine is still the issue.

Sam Kendon


I notice that the Palestinians will formally join the International Criminal Court, in order to bring charges against Israel for war crimes, on 1 April, commonly called All Fools’ Day. In view of their own behaviour, in siting rocket launchers in schools, mosques and apartment blocks when targeting Israel’s civilian population, both deliberate contraventions of the Geneva Convention, is this choice of date not highly significant?

Martin D Stern
Salford, Greater Manchester


I find David Grodner’s letter (15 January) repugnant. He appears to be saying that the reason Jewish people are threatened is because the world’s press keeps reporting the injustices that the Israelis are inflicting on the Palestinian people.

The way to stop the  “bad” press is to stop inflicting these injustices; it is barely a couple of months, for example, since the Israeli navy shelled and killed four Palestinian children on a beach. They were 11 years old.

Lindsay Johnston
Gauldry, Fife


Truncated tennis

As a long-time tennis fan, I was intrigued by your article (13 January) on the possible introduction of the much-truncated Fast4 format in Australia. However, I very much doubt that, if the format is widely adopted, the prize money would be reduced pro rata, notwithstanding the inevitability of much less court time for the protagonists: indeed, the chances must be close to love – sorry, zero.

Jeremy Redman
London SE6



Sir, Daniel Finkelstein doesn’t say why antisemitism is so persistent in its different forms — religious, political, antizionist, superstition (“Here’s why we all have reason to be fearful”, Jan 21). Wherever they go, Jews are tolerated rather than welcomed, treated as guests who might outstay their welcome: one moment the humble immigrant, next thing beavering to take over.

Their prominence makes them natural targets. To best them in an argument a Kalashnikov comes in handy.

Disproportionate contributions to the arts, science, commerce, law and medicine are meritorious but not endearing. They can build a viable state in 50 years, they make the best capitalists, the deadliest communists, even the most ingenious crooks. And their greed when it comes to Nobel prizes is legendary.

This is great if you are one of us, but uncomfortable for the rest. Israel is the only country that positively discriminates in favour of Jewish immigrants; other countries have been known to pass the parcel when it was a matter of life or death. Yet with all these disadvantages and dangers, it is a wonderful thing to be a Jew, to belong this most exclusive of clubs. I wear my invisible yellow star with pride.
Victor Ross
London NW8

Sir, As a British Jew I was heartened by the home secretary’s public support. However I fail to share rabbis Solomons and Janner-Klausner’s feeling of comfort as a Jew in this country (letters, Jan 20). This week my children’s school will have to relocate some activities because of security concerns. Until Islamic totalitarianism is combated, including the facetious link between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the cold-blooded murder of Jews around the world, Jews everywhere will have to get used to a life of fear.
Anthony Cohn
London NW4

Sir, Roslyn Pine (letter, Jan 21) makes a strong if disingenuous point by confusing three different issues. To be a Jew today has long meant that you are a terrorist target, wherever you live. Schools and synagogues have had guards and pupil security drills for decades. Our government is not the Nazi regime, and we have the caring support of the police and security services. We are nowhere near that black pit. Roslyn Pine has seen the headlines, and heard about the recent flawed survey of attitudes of British citizens. Like many of my fellow Jews, quite reasonably, she feels vulnerable.

By adding the three together it is easy to come to the wrong conclusion, and respond inappropriately. In Israel there are constant terror attacks. They have armed security at shopping centres. After 67 years they are still at war with their neighbours. Would she advise Israelis to leave, in the face of their plight?
Rabbi Zvi Solomons

Sir, I share the apprehension expressed by Daniel Finkelstein. In a week that has included Democracy Day, we need to recall that democracy protects us all from tyranny. Hold our representatives to account at every turn, but as Mr Finkelstein notes, “casual disdain” for politics has no place where there is so much at stake.
Ann-Frances Luther
Frant, E Sussex

Sir, All terrorism is evil. A sense of proportion is needed when we talk about the safety of Jews in the Britain. The King David Hotel bombing in July 1946 of the British military and administrative headquarters for Palestine resulted in the deaths of 91 people, of whom 28 were British. To the best of my knowledge there have not been 28 Jewish deaths at the hands of Islamic terrorists in the UK during the almost 70 years since that date.
Adrian Cartwright
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein fears that the evils that followed the Nazis’ rejection of democracy can happen here. Holocaust Day on January 27 is designed as a reminder because, to quote the philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “Only in knowledge can it be prevented.”
JM Carder
Anstruther, Fife

Sir, I await the day when I can mark a Holocaust Day that includes all victims of genocide — such as the 700,000 Serbs in Jasenovac (1941-45) and the Armenians in Turkey (1915) — and isn’t tainted by modern politics and shameful diplomacy.
Anthony Shelmerdine Boskovic
Saddleworth, Oldham

Sir, The simple answer to the concerns about the current heavy security at Jewish schools is to abolish all religious schools. Beliefs are a private matter, which could be passed on to the children of religious parents in their own time.
Judith Stodel
Diss, Norfolk

Sir, Manslamming (men sticking to straight lines when walking in public spaces) is alive and well in my gym (Robert Crampton, Jan 20). I cannot remember once having had a female invade my exercise space, yet males seem to do so with clumsy, oafish, and arrogant regularity. Perhaps now this manshaming will put an end to this unedifying practice.
Fiona Phillips

London NW8

Sir, Ken Broad (letter, Jan 20) may be as encouraged as I was to find that, long after the original version was a hit, Andy Williams re-recorded Can’t Take My Eyes Off You without the superfluous preposition. Unfortunately it came too late to prevent the absurd use of “. . . off of . . .” (instead of simply “off”) creeping into the vernacular.
Emeritus Professor Richard Wilson
Bunny, Notts

Sir, Everyone is discovering Thomas Cromwell (“Cromwell rules in Westminster’s ‘Wolf Hall’ ”, Jan 20). The first play about Cromwell was written by George Calderon in 1909. Calderon is the Russianist who introduced Chekhov to the British stage, was a Times reviewer, and died at Gallipoli 100 years ago. He used the same sources as Hilary Mantel, but produced a pre-Shakespearean morality play in iambic pentameter. His message was as contemporary as your writer Rachel Sylvester suggests Mantel’s is: Calderon’s play was an allegory of the rise of Lloyd George.
Patrick Miles

Sir, One slipshod passage destroyed much of the intended impact of Eric Pickles’s letter to British imams (News, Jan 20). By using “can be” in the phrase “faith in Islam can be part of the British identity”, he implied that the Muslim community and its faith is not part of the British identity, that it is at the moment “inherently apart” but need not be. How different if Pickles had used “is” instead.
Kenneth Jordan
North Chailey, E Sussex

Sir, I have experienced even prompter service from the NHS than David Aaronovitch (“This is not the best way to meet the readers”, Opinion, Jan 19). I phoned my GP at 8am on Thursday and was seen 90 minutes later. I was referred to my local hospital which phoned me at 5.30 that evening with an appointment for the next day.

I was seen by a urologist who arranged for me to have an MRI scan on the Sunday, followed by a further examination on the Monday and a CT scan on the Wednesday. Five appointments in seven days — well done NHS.
David Lloyd

Sir, Lord Pannick, QC, is right to deplore the way in which human rights are being used as “a political tool to be manipulated for narrow and partisan advantage” (“Dangerous inmates to be stripped of human rights”, Jan 20).

There is nothing new in jumping on an individual case as a justification for overhauling laws so that a political party can cast itself as the public’s saviour, but current proposals to introduce a Bill of Rights go beyond point-scoring. The draft of the proposal we have seen is nothing short of legally illiterate. It also undermines the principle of the universality of rights, set down in Magna Carta.

Suggestions that decisions from the European Court of Human Rights will be rejected if “wrong” are alarming. Who is to determine when they are wrong? The very politicians being challenged in that court? We must ask if we are prepared to allow Britain to become a country where rights apply only to the popular.
Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK

Sir, The draft Bill of Rights is a reasoned attempt to correct an imbalance between rights and responsibilities introduced by a European Court that is now intervening inappropriately in the daily life of this country. Many of us are confused at the stream of bizarre and unbalanced judgments that come from the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights should be judged against human obligations.
Tim Howard
Corfe Mullen, Dorset

Sir, Some years ago a colleague was surprised to find a Page 3 girl in his Church Times (News, Jan 20). It had been inserted by his teenage daughter. Is such simple pleasure to be denied to future generations?
The Rev Canon Basil Jones

Sir, I have not seen The Sun for years, but I can still despise those “politicians and campaigners” who think it appropriate to censor it. If a woman is happy to be photographed in her natural state and if people enjoy looking at those pictures, what business is it of others to interfere? It’s a sad day for freedom.
Steve Devereux
Beuste, France

Sir, One of the first “page 3” girls appeared not in The Sun but in a Fisons advert in The Times. In 1971 I was the executive who raised the client’s idea for a picture of a naked Vivien Neves with the editor, William Rees-Mogg. After much thought, that wonderful voice intoned: “Yes, provided she is not in colour”.
Michael Brotherton
Chippenham, Wilts


Paid for current accounts may be next scandal, watchdog warns

Figures released by Oxfam suggest half of global wealth will soon be held by the wealthiest 1 per cent Photo: Rex Features

SIR – The figures released by Oxfam (“Top one per cent ‘richer than rest of world’, Oxfam says”) are misleading. The world is in fact getting richer, and the world’s poorest are getting richer twice as fast as the world’s richest. The proportion of the world’s population living on less than $2 (£1.30) a day fell from just under 70 per cent in 1981 to 43 per cent in 2008. There is greater equality now than 15 years ago.

And the reason? Capitalism. Decades of handouts from rich countries have not made the poor richer. People in India and China – and increasingly parts of Africa – are better off because they have launched themselves into the world trading economy. Economic freedom and growth are finally combating poverty.

Sensationalist figures do a disservice to those of us who want to understand and defeat world poverty.

Dr Eamonn Butler
Director, Adam Smith Institute
London SW1

SIR – On a recent trip to my bank I was queuing behind a man who had inadvertently gone £11.42 into his overdraft.

The bank teller told him that he would be charged £6 per day until the overdraft was cleared. He had no way of paying any money into the bank for the next week, so he was likely to incur a £42 charge, plus the £11.42 he was overdrawn.

What happened to fair play? This was an example of a poor man getting even poorer due to a genuine mistake. It is time banks stopped such individuals being able to withdraw cash if they don’t have the money in the bank.

It is a money-making exercise and totally immoral.

Paul Caruana
Truro, Cornwall

SIR – The open letters exchanged between the pop singer James Blunt and Chris Bryant, the shadow culture minister, (“Being posh went against me, singer tells MP”) display the huge gulf that exists between the Labour elite and the rest of society.

From price controls advocated by Ed Miliband to Chris Bryant’s proposals to manipulate the arts and his pathetic attack on Mr Blunt’s success, one thing is clear: Labour is out of touch.

We deserve better from the Opposition.

Robert Sandall
London SW12

SIR – Mr Bryant asks where the next Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson are to come from.

Perhaps rather than playing the class card and bemoaning the success of a public school-educated pop singer, he should reflect on his own party’s chaotic education policy and consider the fact that both of the actors he refers to came from a more meritocratic age, and both attended grammar schools.

Tim Wilson
Daventry, Northamptonshire

Helping industry

SIR – MPs are urging the Government to do more to protect dairy farmers from sharp falls in milk prices. I don’t remember similar exhortations to protect the construction industry throughout the downturn, when thousands of skilled people lost their jobs and many small and medium-sized businesses were forced to close, and many larger ones to downsize, owing to a fall in demand.

The industry now lacks the capacity to respond properly to the growing demands being placed on it. But, as ever, it is adapting. Various initiatives are being explored, such as encouraging those leaving the Armed Forces to consider a career in construction.

It is not the job of government to provide subsidies to struggling industries or to make decisions on their behalf.

Ian Mackenzie
Broughton, Lancashire

Throwaway evidence


SIR – Many of the letters on the essays by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury seem to ignore the main concern voiced within them: that consumerism and individualism dominate our society.

Based on my observation of the ring road round Shrewsbury, where the verges are strewn with plastic fizzy drink bottles and branded cardboard cups with plastic lids from coffee shop chains, I am inclined to agree. It shows scant regard for fellow human beings and significantly less for the environment. The archbishops are on to something that we really need to address.

Simon Martin
Kenley, Shropshire

Proposed Bill of Rights

SIR – The Law Society is very concerned by the Conservatives’ proposed Bill of Rights (“Terror suspects and criminals to be stripped of human rights”).

In the 800th year of the Magna Carta, we should be ensuring that our fundamental civil rights are protected, not allowing them to be used as a political tool. Human rights are afforded to every individual. It is important to note that they usually act in defence of the most vulnerable – such as the elderly, children, and those with mental health problems – not in defence of terrorists.

The Law Society has consistently questioned the necessity of a Bill of Rights and has stressed the importance of the Human Rights Act and the need to promote it, not replace it.

We will be following developments in this area closely and scrutinising any draft Bill of Rights carefully. Human rights belong to us; they are not within the gift of government.

Andrew Caplen
President, The Law Society
London WC2

Who benefits

SIR – I was outraged to read that specially adapted homes and payments of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are given to people who have become obese due to their chosen lifestyle (“Mother and child happy to be fat on benefits”).

My daughter was born with Poland’s syndrome, a rare birth defect characterised by underdevelopment of the chest muscle and hand on one side of the body. She has suffered – and will continue to suffer – a life of corrective surgery. Owing to her condition, she is limited in the type of work she can do and is therefore in receipt of a low income.

The various surgical procedures on her right hand and right chest have left her with chronic pain. Her condition has resulted in a spinal defect which also causes her great pain.

She was told last year that, as she was not sufficiently disabled, her DLA payments would be reduced. This year she was told to re-apply, as DLA is being replaced by another form of benefit payment.

She has also been on the council house waiting list for several years: the cost of her privately rented accommodation, taxes and heating take up the majority of her salary, leaving little for food and clothing.

How can it be right that others, through greed and sloth, get benefit payments far exceeding my daughter’s salary, when she is denied the financial help she so sorely needs?

Karen Dewdney

Measuring the real cost of the congestion zone

SIR – Leon Daniels, managing director of Surface Transport for Transport for London, illustrates the benefit of London’s congestion charge: the number of vehicles entering the zone has been reduced.

However, what he did not mention was the fact that the average journey time through central London has increased sharply. This has a hidden cost to businesses and all road users, which is not reflected in Government or local authority statistics.

Part of the increase in journey times is because the roads have been funnelled down to allow for cycle lanes. Yes, the number of cyclists using London roads has dramatically increased. But cyclists do not pay the congestion charge, nor do they pay to use the roads.

Transport for London has certainly increased its revenue, but are the road users really better off since the introduction of the congestion charge?

John Butterworth
Esher, Surrey

It’s time for a bit of child-led etiquette in Devon

No skiing extravaganza at this children’s party in the Sixties (Getty/Hulton Archive)

SIR – The thing to be learnt from the spat over the birthday party no-show invoice in Devon is that parents can be more childish than their offspring.

Let’s hope the two boys remain friends, to set an example to their parents.

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – It is important to teach your children to keep their word. Once I invited several people to a garden party, for which I had purchased tickets, and not one turned up. If they had given me a call, I could have invited someone else.

Graham Moorhouse
Heaton, Lancashire

SIR – The saddest part of the story about the boy charged for failing to turn up to his friend’s party is the awful – and ubiquitous – use of the verb “invite” as a noun.

Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Foyle’s foible

SIR – The final episode of Foyle’s War was compelling.

However, I do think that Christopher Foyle should have raised his hat when finally saying goodbye to Samantha Stewart, especially given that she had just asked him to be a godfather to the child she was expecting.

Malcolm Cross
Plungar, Leicestershire

Touch wood

SIR – On the Telegraph obituary pages I once saw the surname “Pine-Coffin”.

I found myself wondering: “Was it?”

Hamish Grant
Buckland St Mary, Somerset

Don’t go flat

SIR – In order to keep the fizz in our champagne, we use a gard’bulles – a gadget that pumps air into the bottle and prevents the bubbles escaping.

It can be purchased from wine shops in France or online.

Susan Ramsden
Upton, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Mike Cobb should enlist several friends to ensure that his champagne is consumed all in one go.

His “syndicate” could purchase champagne by the case, thus reducing costs and opening up new social opportunities.

Colin Cummings
Yelvertoft, Northamptonshire



Globe and Mail:

Are France’s shocking cartoons hurtful or beneficial to minorities?

Do cartoons like those found in Charlie Hebdo cause harm to ethnic and religious minorities and drive communities apart, or does hiding these cartoons serve only to portray members of these communities as weak and over-sensitive?

The Debate

The cartoons from the magazine Charlie Hebdo were shocking enough to one group – terrorists – that they murdered the creators of those images. But are these images, which tend to draw on crude ethnic stereotypes to ridicule Muslim figures (including the prophet Mohammed) and other minority groups, themselves offensive and damaging, and is their widespread publication likely to stir up racial intolerance? Or does their libertine, dissenting spirit help support the very minority groups they portray? Read these two opposing views, and use the box on the right to vote.

The Debaters

Debate contributor
Piali RoyToronto-based freelance writer. Tweets @pialiroy
How can you fight racism with racist images?
Debate contributor
Omer AzizFellow with the Information Society Project at Yale University Law School. Tweets @omeraziz12
Hiding these cartoons belittles and stifles minority communities

The Discussion

Debate contributor

Piali Roy : The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are just jokes, right? More funny than racist. What is wrong with a series of a nude Mohammeds, genitalia exposed, or the prophet moaning, “It’s hard being loved by jerks,” or a black justice minister depicted as a monkey?

In the two weeks since the murders at the French satirical magazine, the issue of republishing its cartoons has become a foaming whirlpool of media angst between the crusaders for free speech and defenders of community standards. Do we stand up to the murderers and for our way of life, or protect the delicate constitutions of Muslim readers?

This so-called civilizational discussion about freedom of expression and censorship feels like a coded attack on behalf of the forces of assimilation. Forget equality, minority cultures must embrace what is deemed acceptable by the mainstream. To do otherwise would be the gravest insult to “us” whoever this “us” may be.

Apologists for Charlie Hebdo’s style of satire claim the rabble-rousing cartoonists are not racist. The images are merely used for effect and are perfectly in tune within the French tradition. And even if they are offensive, they must be republished to understand the rationale behind the murders, regardless who they may offend.

Are the images harmful to minorities? What is wrong with showing what appears to be the most benign of Charlie Hebdo covers, a tearful Prophet Mohammed saying all is forgiven while holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign? It can justifiably be read as beautiful and mournful as well as the magazine’s middle finger directed at the murderers and their supporters: the secular world’s infidel.

That cover, however inoffensive to the majority, can also be read as a not-so-subtle reference to the countless Charlie Hebdo covers mocking Muslims and other French minorities. To those communities most threatened with a backlash against them, they signify mosques with broken windows, the innocent attacked in retaliation. Ordinary law-abiding Muslims who hope not to become victims of a different group of extremists.

Charlie Hebdo, born of the political left of the 1960s Paris (the Internationale was sung at this week’s funerals), sees itself as anti-racist publication, poking its finger in the eye of authority. Unfortunately, their methods do not work. The intent may be to attack racist figures such as National Front leader Marine Le Pen, but by using the crudest of ethnic stereotypes, which seemingly tickle its insular audience, it lays itself open to appearing retrograde. Readers outside its self-satisfied cage see how hurtful it is and understand how others will use the cartoons against them. Charlie Hebdo becomes the ironic purveyor of racism, reinforcing everyday French racism.

The magazine regularly approves of images that are meant to make their targets uncomfortable – even the target is, by extension, an entire community. The numerous lawsuits – Catholic, Jewish, Muslim – against Charlie Hebdo demonstrate what many in France felt about their caricatures.

Making a faith a subject of mockery and scorn has real-life effects. French anti-racist activist Rokhaya Diallo, author and producer of the documentary Networks of Hate (Les Reseaux de la Haine), faced it the day after the shootings. As she participated in a radio panel, a prominent journalist made the bizarre demand that Ms. Diallo, as a Muslim, publicly disassociate herself from the murders.

Her response: “So I am the only one around the table to have to say I have nothing to do with it?”

It has becoming increasingly obvious that even in France, freedom of expression is not a universal right but one circumscribed by history. Protecting one minority has become critical to France overcoming its previous crimes against its own Jewish population. Anti-Semitism is banned as is denial of the Holocaust. There are no such protections for Muslims. Shouldn’t we be fighting the hierarchy of prejudice?

Today’s debate is not about censorship – the cartoons will live forever on the Internet – but about whether the mainstream media must publish them as an act of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo (or as context), or not publish them in solidarity with Muslim communities. On one side, it’s back to that simple binary: you are either with us or with the terrorists.

And what of “our” community standards? Are the editorial pages a free-for-all? Do we continue to use homophobic imagery, such as political leaders engaged in sodomy as a commentary on gay marriage, a la Charlie Hebdo’s infamous cartoon involving God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit engaged in that act? Does that make a naked Mohammed seem as benign as one would think? What about an emaciated Jesus as Santa nailed to the cross at a mall during Christmas? I don’t think we’d let that happen. Yet, not publishing cartoons deemed offensive to one group is now considered to be pandering.

Debate contributor

Omer Aziz : Dissident voices within minority communities have their absolute right to free speech threatened today by those who think certain forms of expression should be off limits if they give too much offence. This is not about “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” (a metaphor employed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to silence opponents of the First World War).

It is about the right to express diverse, irreverent, and offensive opinions. It is about the right to publish satire and ridicule racists, religions, and the powerful alike. Most crucially, it is the same right that empowers minorities within immigrant communities who are pushing for organic and progressive change — the same people with whom other Westerners should be allied.

Plenty of objections can be made to anyone who insists on censorship. The first is that it arrogates to the censor the right to determine what is acceptable speech and what is not. It allows him — it is usually a he — to define the borders of speech and punish those who dare cross it. If giving offence is the line here, then every community can claim certain ideas as too sacred. Christians were once so offended by certain books that they banned them, and punished those found reading them. Today, this list reads like a syllabus of great novels and philosophical tracts. Many Jews who have a religious connection to Israel are offended by harsh criticisms of the Jewish state. Militant Hindus last year pressured Penguin India to withdraw a scholarly study on Hinduism that they considered offensive.

This kind of censorship would be endless, accommodating a theoretically infinite number of special immunity zones where ideas were to be restrained. It would require the appointment of arbiters to enforce these “acceptable speech” borders — an effective recipe for dictatorship over the mind.

Censorship also excludes precisely those minority viewpoints which are, within their communities, using free speech to provoke, confront, and, yes, offend established dogmas. By challenging authorities and authoritarianisms, these voices are ensuring that their communities are not held hostage by reactionary views.

The absolute right to expression is an empowering thing for the “double-minority:” that is, someone who is already an ethnic or religious minority in her country, but also an intellectual minority within her community. This is why so many writers accused of blasphemy have been minorities and women, from Azar Nafisi to Taslima Nasrin.

Finally, when censors tell us that “the Muslim community” is offended, they are suggesting that there is one easily discoverable Muslim community, an undifferentiated collective of immigrants who all think a certain way. The entire post-9/11 demand from countless intellectuals has been for politicians and media outlets to stop treating Islam as a monolith, yet this is what the centres of power do when it comes to cartoons.

This bigotry of low expectations, where “the Muslim community” cannot be entrusted with ignoring or critically refuting rebellious art, is actually a subtle form of racism, a kind of modern White Man’s Burden where the good censors paternalistically limit what Muslims may see — all supposedly for their own good.

The move from treating people as autonomous individuals guaranteed fundamental rights to treating them as part of collectives defined by the state was all done in the name of multiculturalism. Originally institutionalized to celebrate diversity, multicultural policies tried to manage it, and the self-segregated parallel communities that exist in Canada and Western Europe are its worst result. Governments now slap catch-all labels such as “the Hindu community” on millions of individuals, reducing their layered identities to their ethno-religious affiliation. This has produced a virus of sub-nationalisms within the state, exploited by the xenophobic right.

Immigrants are not the problem. They inject a vital dose of energy into any society, exposing it to new forms of thinking. The problem is with outsiders putting immigrants in boxes and treating different groups differently, thereby vitiating the Enlightenment idea of equality and reason that unites us humans.

Those who would hide or censor these images, like the European right, commit a grave error when they refer to this imaginary homogenous unit called “the Muslim community.” The two famous cases of offending “the Muslim community” make nonsense of the censors’ arguments. The Satanic Verses only became controversial after Saudi Arabia tried to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel and Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khomeini issued his homicidal fatwa. The Danish cartoons stirred controversy four months after their publication when Islamist governments pushed their citizens to protest in the same squares where protestors are usually shot. In both cases, theocrats and conservative imams claimed offence “in the name of Islam.”

The seventeenth-century Sufi poet Bulleh Shah—himself accused of blasphemy — once wrote, “I am free, my mind is free.” He understood that enlightenment was part of the Islamic tradition, where even the Quran encouraged dialogue. As with all indictments of the ironic by the literal, the censorship of art and the punishment for thought-crimes must be opposed unconditionally.

John Ibbitson

Why Trudeau may regret saying no to the Iraq mission


Jan. 22: Politicians’ hands – and other letters to the editor

Politicians’ hands

There’s a potential solution to the all-too-common political strategy of governing by obfuscation and half-truths (Language War – editorial, Jan. 21). Before sitting in a house of government, politicians at all levels should be required to stand before their constituents, one hand over their heart and one on the Canadian flag, and repeat a version of the statement we use in our courts: “I promise to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth at all times. If I ever do otherwise, I will immediately step down.”

Of course … they might be lying when they say that?

Peter A. Lewis-Watts, Barrie, Ont.


Re Tory Hikes TTC Fares To Pay For Improvements, Backing Away From Promise To Freeze Rates (Jan. 20): When reporting politicians’ promises, please provide an accompanying rear-view picture so we can see if their fingers are crossed behind their backs.

Michael J. Wills, Toronto


Words of war

Re Language War (editorial, Jan. 21): I agree that the language used to describe military operations is a political battlefield. I note the reluctance of any nation to use the word “invasion.” When a large and powerful country determines its national interests require it to overwhelm by military might and occupy a far weaker country halfway around the globe, the media obligingly report it as a “war.”

The victors write history.

Spyro Rondos, Beaconsfield, Que.


Deal beggars belief

So the government would have me believe it’s good for Canada to provide Canadian-made weapons to a country that decapitates people and gives them a 1,000 lashes, just so long as it sustains 3,000 jobs (Arms Deal Raises Human-Rights Issue – Jan. 21)?

Get assurances from the Saudis they won’t use the weapons against their own people? Come off it, please. To what depths of two-faced hypocrisy are we being asked (or told?) by our country to descend to? One has to wonder.

F.D. (Derm) Barrett, Kingston


1-per-cent solutions

The letter from Don Kerr, allegedly of the 1 per cent, was a masterpiece (Stacked-Up Wealth – Jan. 21). It lured me in and then, just before my queued-up outrage burst forth, I realized it was a joke! Right? Right?

Tuula Talvila, Ottawa


Wednesday’s Moment In Time focused on King Louis XVI’s trip to the guillotine – the result of the ultimate income disparity of a small group’s being super rich, and the masses living in extreme poverty. Further inside the front section, a letter to the editor from Don Kerr said, “The more we are unequal, the greater the incentive to rise above the crowd. We need more inequality. When all the wealth becomes concentrated in the 1 per cent, everything will be perfect.” Maybe the 1-per-cent should take a French and/or Russian history class.

Terry Drahos, Wolfville, N.S.


Re Forget Fairness, Here’s Why Taxing The Rich Benefits Us All (Report on Business, Jan. 20): What do the wealthy fear the most? Losing their wealth. What do the wealthy do to protect and preserve their wealth? They invest it, they make their wealth work for them. In so doing, jobs are created, enterprises started, tax revenue generated. That is why their wealth grows.

Suggesting that government can better use the wealth of these citizens? What a load of horse pucks.

Wade Pearson, Calgary


Robbie says naw

Re For Shepherd’s Pie, Granny Knows Best (Life & Arts, Jan. 21): Lucy Waverman makes Scottish shepherd’s pie with ground beef? It’s a surprise to me that Scottish shepherds herd cows. In my experience, they generally know more about sheep. A true shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb. If you put beef in it, you are making a cottage pie. Robbie Burns is shuddering in his grave.

David Smith, London, Ont.


Peace of minds

Some areas of health care have received very little investment, despite reform rhetoric (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – Jan. 21). Mental health is one of these areas. For example, the mental-health share of health spending has declined to 5 per cent in Ontario, down from 11.3 per cent in 1979.

Increases in health transfers should focus on neglected areas of health care. Perhaps the time has come to reconsider former senator Michael Kirby’s ideas of a mental-health transition fund, which would enable provinces to improve accessibility to community mental-health services.

Steve Lurie, executive director, Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto Branch


Free(ish?) speech

A second-rate magazine publishes cartoons offensive to many around the world and is hailed as a hero of free speech.

Produce a tasteless, mediocre movie, and even the President of the United States defends its release as a freedom-of-expression issue. Hide anti-Semitic vitriol within a comedic performance and people line up to protect the right to free speech, no matter how offensive it may be.

Make sexist, juvenile and offensive comments on Facebook and be condemned and perhaps denied a right to make a living as a dentist. Am I the only one seeing a double standard in these free-speech issues?

George Zvanitajs, Barrie, Ont.


An artist’s lot

Re If The Artists Starve, We’ll All Go Hungry (Jan. 19): If “fans” are loath to pay for their favourite artist’s work, who will? Sex trade workers, hangmen and ditch diggers get more respect than we do.

Maybe it’s time for an artists’ general strike. No more studio tours, art hanging in libraries, cafés and city halls, free e-samples, pay-what-you-can folk evenings, poetry readings, live music in the park, etc. It seems not to occur to people that artists, too, have expenses.

If we had a dollar for every time we’re asked, “Do you make a living at it?” there’d be no starving artists. It would be considered nosy to ask an electrician, biologist, hairdresser or accountant that, but it’s open season on us.

Anne Hansen, Victoria


About that sweater

Re The Leafs Aren’t Really A Hockey Team, They’re A Leading Cause Of Nervous Breakdown (Sports, Jan. 21): Toronto Maple Leafs fans throwing jerseys on the ice? It’s a wonder they don’t throw their straitjackets.

Terry Toll, Campbell’s Bay, Que.


So three unhappy sweater-tossing fans “were trespassed from the premises – which is a legal way to say they were taken away from the property.” Now, if only the Leafs hockey team could be “trespassed from the premises” and put us all out of our misery.

Richard Seymour, Brechin, Ont.



Irish Times:

Sir, – The current industrial action on junior cycle is not about seeking additional money for teachers. However, recently disclosed documents from the previous government reveal that saving money drove the plan to dismantle the Junior Certificate examination (“Government considered secondary education fee”, January 19th).

The content of the declassified papers comes as little surprise to many. Teachers have always believed that the austerity agenda was a key driver in this move. This has informed our ongoing campaign to protect educational standards and the space, time and resources for teachers to teach and students to learn.

For several years, schools have been hit with a range of cutbacks by successive governments. Class sizes have increased and the pastoral support framework has been dismantled by the removal of middle management positions and guidance counselling provision. On a daily basis, teachers witness the damage that these cuts have wreaked on the educational experience of students.

Last week the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment chairwoman Brigid McManus commented that assessment change should be the driver underpinning Junior Cert reform and that if assessment does not change then nothing else will (“Student assessment is the key to proper reform of junior cycle”, January 13th). However, she failed to acknowledge that teachers are in favour of positive, fully resourced change that guarantees improvement. We fully agree with the Minister for Education and Skills that project work, portfolio work, practical work and other methods of evaluating student learning are vital elements of a modern, forward-looking system, but we believe that they should be externally assessed for certification purposes.

Teachers have shown how educational ideas such as “assessment for learning” are already part of the culture of Irish schools and are open to having this culture enhanced. Agreement with teachers is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of Junior Cycle reform. – Yours, etc,


President, Teachers’ Union

of Ireland (TUI),

Orwell Road,


Dublin 6;



Association of Secondary

Teachers in Ireland (ASTI),

Winetavern Street, Dublin 8.

Sir, –  It has been repeatedly stated on RTÉ and other media outlets that second-level teachers are protesting against “junior cycle reform”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers have been making positive suggestions about real reform in the junior cycle for many years now but central to this reform must be the retention of external state certification for the junior cycle.

Teachers and their unions are very much of the opinion that project and practical work, portfolios and other methods of evaluating students’ work all have a part to play in a modern assessment system. At present, several Junior Certificate subjects have several modes of assessment, such as practical or project work. All these are externally assessed by trained,objective and impartial examiners and second-level teachers firmly believe that this practice should continue. Forcing teachers to grade their own students for official state examinations fundamentally changes the student-teacher relationship, undermines educational standards and leads to inconsistencies and inequalities between schools. In short, teachers seek the retention of state-certification and objective external assessment.

It is ironic that by attempting to force teachers to grade their own pupils for state exams, the Department of Education is embarking on a course that has proved disastrous in other countries. Recently the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK revealed that their members are being forced to manipulate results and rewrite work for students in the face of growing pressure to achieve attainment targets. In June it was reported that England’s exam regulators have received scores of complaints from whistleblowers about manipulation and grade inflation by schools in teacher-assessed exams and coursework. One complainant alleged that students were being told what to write in an English exam, another stated that an IT consultant was employed to complete students’ work. In parts of the US, the pressure on teachers to produce grades is so excessive that complex computer algorithms have to be used to determine if teachers have cheated when administering exams to their own students. Is this the vision that we want for our education system? – Yours, etc,


Killarney, Co Kerry.

Sir, – Despite the fact that the National Parents Council Post-Primary, the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, the Joint Managerial Board, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals and international educational experts, such as Prof Pasi Sahlberg, have come out in broad support of the proposed junior cycle reforms, the teacher unions continue to hold strikes in an attempt to block these reforms.

Despite the fact that it is outlined in the code of professional conduct for teachers that “teachers should maintain high standards of practice in relation to student learning, planning, monitoring, assessing, reporting and providing feedback”, the teacher unions continue to resist any reforms that include school-based teacher assessment (while acknowledging that this already exists in varying ways for many subjects). Assessing students’ work and providing them with feedback is an essential professional responsibility of teachers worldwide. Accepting this responsibility is not only central to promoting enhanced student learning through formative feedback but is also vital to the promotion of the teaching profession in Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Department of Education

and Professional Studies,

University of Limerick.

A chara, – Siptu president Jack O’Connor states that new Central Bank rules on mortgage lending “will confine house purchasing to the rich” (January 20th).

Perhaps a better situation to the current one we find ourselves in where house purchasing is confined to those who can’t afford it. – Is mise,



Co Dublin.

Sir,– The Central Bank is quite right to try to prevent house buyers from being stampeded into buying houses at crazy prices – and don’t tell me that couldn’t happen again.

However, those who point out the difficulty of coming up with a 20 per cent deposit also have a point.

The solution may be a system which is more nuanced than the crude 20 per cent proposed.

Take, for the sake of argument, a price of €275,000. Up to that price you must come up with 10 per cent. For every €10,000 above that you must come up with another 1 per cent.

There is nothing sacred about the figures but I think the idea is worth considering. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Contrary to media reports, Pope Francis did not recommend a maximum of three children.

He simply referred to experts quoting this figure, which, incidentally is the minimum required for replacement of the population.

Overpopulation is not a problem worldwide when, in fact, most countries in Europe are not even replacing their populations.

Developing countries would not have this problem either if sufficient support were given to them to develop their economies, often stifled by our protection of our economy.

I find it very hard to understand the lack of promotion for natural family planning. After all we are in an age when health and a healthy lifestyle are to the fore. Yet women are willing to put their health at risk by taking the Pill, etc. Every pill has a side-effect and, it should be pointed out, it also contributes to the coffers of the vast pharmaceutical companies. After Humanae Vitae, scientists were encouraged to update methods of natural family planning, especially by Pope Paul VI. This has resulted in this method, especially Na Pro, being as effective as artificial methods and without the endangerment of women’s health.

This is an age of choice, as we are constantly reminded. Why not chose the healthy way of planning a family over that of commercial profit and at far less expense? Na Pro has also benefitted very many couples who have fertility problems. A win-win situation all round! – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Pope Francis has proven remarkably adept at hewing to an entirely orthodox line as regards faith and morals yet has journalists eating out of his hand with a few of his impromptu remarks that, parse them how you will, do not amount to a repudiation of Catholic teaching. I think he may understand that journalists, like eager puppies, yearn for a bit of harmless attention. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – From the hallowed and privileged environs of the World Economic Forum in Davos emerges the news that, according to a new study of the global labour market entitled the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2014, Ireland is not doing enough in terms of “labour competitiveness” and “flexibility” and is lagging behind such inspirational role models as Britain and the US (“Ireland failing ‘home-grown’ talent, says report”, January 21st) .

Well, according to a 2013 survey of its members, Unite, Britain’s biggest union, suggested that as many as 5.5 million Britons are employed on zero-hour contracts. As for the US and “job flexibility”, well the US boasts one of the lowest rates of unionisation among the world’s industrialised nations so that speaks for itself.

Nevertheless, shame on us as a nation and all our Government’s endeavours because our economy is still not “open” enough, which, roughly translated, means we still haven’t enough jobs incorporating the aforementioned zero-hour contracts, union-free labour, minimum wage, minimum job security, maximum job instability because, unless I’m mistaken, that’s what “open” and “flexible” really mean, don’t they? – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I’d have to disagree with Michael Noonan in relation to social partnership (“Talks with the social partners”, January 19th) when he says, “Rather than having the re-establishment of social partnership, which at the end was a failure, I would like to see something where people had a way of inputting between elections”.

The proof that it was not a “failure” is the fact that people accepted savage austerity measures without any protest or significant disruption to services. It was social partnership that created the climate that made this possible.

To assert otherwise devalues the personal sacrifices that the people of this country have quietly made. – Yours, etc,



Co Clare.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole, in speaking up for the leftist political party that is leading opinion polls in Greece today (“Syriza’s way or Frankfurt’s way?”, Opinion & Analysis, January 20th), is now accusing his fellow Irish citizens of “ethnic stereotyping”, because we want to live in a country that has a secure economy.

He does not articulate the empathy of so many Irish people for ordinary people who have struggled in Greece in recent years.

He also omits to mention that Greece descended into chaos some years ago because a socialist government ran up public debts which Greek taxpayers could not afford, whereas Ireland’s economy bombed because a free-wheeling right-wing Government gave free rein to unregulated capital.

This demoralising decade has been a European experience, and its lesson is that the centre must hold; otherwise things fall apart.

I hope for all Europeans, after too long a sacrifice, that Greeks will not now hit the panic button. – Yours, etc,



Co Roscommon.

Sir, – All the best to Leo Varadkar in his personal disclosure; however that is barely of passing interest. The pressing matter for citizens is his failure to resolve the shortage of consultants, the essential collapse of the Fair Deal nursing home arrangements and the predictably recurring emergency hospital trolley issue whereby ill people are expected to endure dreadful conditions, notwithstanding the very best efforts of front-line medical staff. Many of us expected him to deliver decisive action; however there is no evidence of that yet. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Leo Varadkar says he has “lifted a weight from his shoulders” by publicly revealing his homosexuality. With that done, could he now please lift a weight from the shoulders of hospital patients and start reducing the number of people on trolleys and waiting lists?

Mental health services also need Mr Varadkar’s urgent attention, because they are now almost non-existent, due to cutbacks. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Further to the letter from the Department of Finance (January 21st), I agree that lower-paid workers will be better off and their net pay will increase.

I would also implore these low-paid workers to do their bit to kickstart the Irish economy by using the extra money to buy a new car, have a staycation and perhaps put an extension on the house. Anything left over could be invested for a rainy day. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – In his “Irishman’s Diary” (“Man of letters”, January 21st), Frank McNally discussed some of the personalities who, like Charlie Haughey (CJH), were often known by triple letters. A famous holder of perhaps the best of such letters is Lord O’Donnell, a former British cabinet secretary and head of the civil service there. Being Gus O’Donnell, his commands were initialled GOD. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I recall that the Daily Telegraph used to refer to former Conservative leader Iain Duncan-Smith as “IDS” in headlines. It never caught on. Other papers referred to him as “top Tory” or “Tory chief” in their headlines. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 12.

Sir, – I look forward to when we follow Barack Obama and introduce middle-class economics to this country (“Obama touts economic record at State of the Union address”, January 21st). I assume I will then get a tax credit for each letter published in The Irish Times. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Would the demise of “Page Three” have anything to do with those warnings about the dangers of overexposure to the Sun? – Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Senator Ivana Bacik writes (January 17th) that “sensible and proportionate legal limits may be placed on free speech in every democracy”. That is to say, she believes a majority (which will always see itself as “sensible and proportionate”) may prevent a minority from communicating its views to the people, so that they will go to the polls unaware of differing views and unable to make an informed choice between them. That does not seem to me consistent with democratic principles. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

Forcing teachers to grade their own students for State exams will undermine educational standards.

It has been repeatedly stated on RTE news and other media outlets that second-level teachers are protesting against “Junior Cycle reform”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers have been making positive suggestions about real reform in the Junior Cycle for many years but central to this reform must be the retention of external State certification for the Junior Cycle.

  • Go To

Teachers and their unions are very much of the opinion that project and practical work, portfolios and other methods of evaluating students’ work all have a part to play in a modern assessment system.

At present, many Junior Certificate subjects have several modes of assessment, such as practical or project work. All these are externally assessed by trained, objective and impartial examiners and second-level teachers firmly believe that this practice should continue. Forcing teachers to grade their own students for official State examinations fundamentally changes the student-teacher relationship, undermines educational standards and lead to inconsistencies and inequalities between schools. In short, teachers seek the retention of State certification and objective external assessment.

It is ironic that by attempting to force teachers to grade their own pupils for State exams, the Department of Education is embarking on a course that has proved disastrous in other countries. Recently, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK said that its members are being forced to manipulate results and rewrite work for students in the face of growing pressure to achieve attainment targets.

In June, it was reported that England’s exam regulator, Ofqual, has received scores of complaints from whistleblowers about cheating, manipulation and grade inflation by schools in teacher- assessed exams and coursework.

One complainant alleged that students were being told what to write in an English exam; another stated that an IT consultant was employed to complete students’ work.

In parts of the US, the pressure on teachers to produce grades is so excessive that complex computer algorithms have to be used to determine if teachers have cheated when administering exams to their own students. Is this the vision that we want for our education system?

Kevin P McCarthy, MSc, HDE, Killarney, Co Kerry


Loosen mortgage cap rules

The Central Bank is quite right to try to prevent house buyers from being stampeded into buying houses at crazy prices – and don’t tell me it couldn’t happen again. However, those who point out the difficulty of coming up with a 20pc deposit also have a point. The solution may be a system which is more nuanced than the crude 20pc plan proposed.

Take, for the sake of argument, a house price of €275,000. Up to that price you must come up with 10pc. For every €10,000 above that you must come up with another 1pc.

There is nothing sacred about the figures but I think the idea is worth considering.

Brendan Casserly, Bishopstown, Cork


The not-so-charming Christine

Reading Lise Hand’s piece (Irish Independent, January 20), one could be forgiven for thinking that a top model/celebrity had descended on Dublin, instead of the boss of the IMF.

Lise appears to be enchanted by the “charming Christine”, with her brooch from Newbridge Silverware and her €7,000 designer handbag. We certainly are impressed. Or not – this woman has the bloody cheek to call us heroes after her organisation was partly responsible for the catastrophic financial devastation wreaked on the working-class people of this country.

Our politicians still don’t get it – this kind of behaviour only alienates them from the electorate. Pictures of the Taoiseach walking almost hand in hand with this woman, and Michael Noonan besotted with his “good friend” only evokes Marie Antoinette’s answer to the problem of the Paris peasants: “let them eat cake.”

Unfortunately, the charming Christine could only stay long enough to congratulate us on our extraordinary tolerance towards her policy of taking from the not so well off and giving to the fabulously well off, then she had to board her plane for a trip to Davos to attend the annual get-together of the billionaire club.

Mike Burke, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare


Post offices’ archaic opening hours

Our post offices are rarely out of the news for one reason or another, with closures and competition being the main issues.

Why then, if competition is applying such pressure and forcing An Post to close post offices throughout Ireland, do they continue to shut their doors from 1-2pm each day, a time that would most suit thousands of users?

I recall this being an issue in many of the National Partnership Agreements over many years. Yet this archaic practice has survived not just those, but Croke Park 1 and 2 and Haddington Road. It seems to have slipped through the cracks entirely both from management’s perspective and that of our media.

Liam Cassidy, Celbridge, Co Kildare


Don’t strip capital of its magic

Ian O’Doherty’s article ‘Capital needs to pull the plug on noisy buskers’ (Irish Independent, January 20) makes a trenchant case for banning “noisy, terrible bands”.

This may well be so, but the Irish Street Arts and Spectacle Network has multiple concerns that in dealing with over-amplified performances, Dublin City Council may strip the capital’s streets of vibrant street performances. We urge Dublin City Council to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In an earlier era, Noel Purcell sang: “Grafton Street’s a wonderland, there’s magic in the air.”

Let’s keep the magic!

Lucy Medlycott, Coordinator, Irish Street Arts and Spectacle Network, C/O Irish Theatre Institute Temple Bar, Dublin 2


Make all Dáil votes secret ballots

There has been recent calls for a loosening of the party whip to allow politicians to have a free vote on matters of conscience.

The challenge is that if politicians have a free vote, they will be harassed by sectional interests looking to change their vote. So, many weak politicians like the whip precisely because it protects them from this harassment.

The recent drama about Charlie Haughey illustrates this problem. When Charlie McCreevy and Albert Reynolds proposed motions of no confidence in Haughey, both asked for a secret ballot, and for the vote on having a secret ballot to also be secret. The reason was obvious – a secret ballot gives weak politicians the courage to cast an honest vote in privacy.

This was undermined by having an open ballot to decide whether to hold a secret ballot on having a secret ballot on the vote of no confidence. While it might seem ludicrous, it shows that a weakened party whip is undermined by an open vote.

When parliamentary elections began, they were by open ballot, and the threat of eviction ensured that tenants voted according to their landlord’s wishes. During the 19th Century the secret ballot was introduced so that voters could not be intimidated, bullied or bribed into voting against their conscience.

If it is good enough for the people, why not for the politicians? The whip system can’t exist if all votes in the Oireachtas are by secret ballot!

Naturally, some will argue that they have a right to know how their politicians vote. But if a vote is open, how do you know if it is an honest vote? Only with a secret ballot can politicians be freed from intimidation and harassment to be allowed to vote according to their conscience.

Jason Fitzharris, Swords, Co Dublin

Irish Independent


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