Carrie

23 January 2015 Carrie

Mary a little better she could manage to get up for breakfast. Carrie Grey Carers Outreach come to call to explain the Socal Services

Obituary:

Leon Brittan

Leon Brittan Photo: Christine Boyd

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, who has died aged 75, overcame a humiliating end to his ministerial career during the Westland crisis to become the longest-serving and most effective of Britain’s European commissioners.

Widely respected for his intellect and capacity for hard work, Leon Brittan made his reputation in the early 1980s as a formidable administrator with an unrivalled grasp of the details of his brief, a talent that had previously made him a successful QC.

Suddenly brought into Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet in 1981 — promoted over the head of Nigel Lawson to chief secretary to the Treasury — he proved highly effective in imposing detailed control on public spending, an intellectually demanding task that his predecessor, John Biffen, had found too unpleasant (or too difficult).

As home secretary after the 1983 election, Brittan imported a raft of ideas for updating criminal justice, including stiffer sentences, and easing restrictions on using tape-recorded witness statements and on independent prosecutions. He produced many reforming Bills and tried to streamline Home Office bureaucracy; senior officials reckoned him the only post-war home secretary to realise what was wrong with the department and try to remedy it.

Brittan was one of the few Cabinet members who could privately persuade Mrs Thatcher that her initial reaction on a particular issue was wrong, and his willingness to argue with No 10 contradicted the popular caricature of him as a placeman.

Yet though he was one of the most gifted of her ministers, he was short on political judgment and sensitivity. Myopic-looking and unashamedly intellectual, Brittan’s manner was widely interpreted, especially by press commentators, as patronising, even contemptuous. In her memoirs Mrs Thatcher recorded: “Everybody complained about his manner on television, which was aloof and uncomfortable.”

Where the public saw arrogance and coldness, Brittan’s friends noted precisely the opposite: a shy, humorous and exceptionally kind man and, improbable as it might have seemed to outsiders, the object of real affection. Even in a wider circle he was notable for being completely free of malice or spite. Yet the criticism that he was too clever for his own good and short on common sense dogged his career.


Leon Brittan (centre) with Margaret Thatcher, Lord Hailsham, Sir Keith Joseph and Michael Heseltine in the 1980s (PA)

These failings came to the fore in 1985 when, in response to rising Tory anger at “Left-wing bias” in the BBC, Brittan tried to pressure the corporation’s governors to prevent the screening of a Real Lives documentary on Northern Ireland, an effort which, since he did not succeed, left him looking simultaneously authoritarian and ineffective. This episode prompted Mrs Thatcher to move him, against his wishes, to the Department of Trade and Industry in September 1985. She was also influenced by backbench Tory complaints that Home Office questions, in which Brittan was pitted against Labour’s Gerald Kaufman, who shared his Baltic Jewish origins, was “like being in a foreign country”.

The DTI should have been an easier billet, well suited to Brittan’s backroom talents, and his speech at the party conference soon after brought him an unexpected standing ovation. But then came Westland.

The Westland company of Yeovil, Britain’s only helicopter manufacturer, was in financial trouble and sought to be bailed out by Sikorsky, its American counterpart. The Sikorsky bid ran into immediate opposition from the defence secretary, Michael Heseltine, who claimed that the Americans would turn Westland into a “metal-bashing operation” and suggested the company look for a European buyer.

When Heseltine convened a meeting of the national armaments directors of France, Italy and Germany, as well as Britain, to agree a policy whereby they would only buy helicopters designed and built in Europe, he put himself at loggerheads not only with the Westland board but with the prime minister and her trade and industry secretary, who felt it was wrong for the government to prevent any particular solution to Westland’s problems.

This disagreement erupted into a political crisis, with the arguments played out in Parliament and the press, mostly to the advantage of Heseltine, lobbying frantically behind the scenes. Then extracts were leaked from a confidential letter in which the solicitor-general, Sir Patrick Mayhew, accused the defence secretary of “material inaccuracies” in the presentation of his case.

Following Heseltine’s dramatic resignation in mid-Cabinet on January 9 1986, it emerged that Brittan had authorised the leak, albeit with what he thought was No 10’s consent. On January 24 he offered his own resignation.


Brittan with John Gummer in 1984 (Hulton Archive)

Brittan’s departure at the height of the worst internal crisis of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership was the direct result of his loyalty to a prime minister he regarded as a friend. Inevitably, he was seen as the fall guy, a necessary sacrifice to save Mrs Thatcher herself. “He meekly accepted the role of scapegoat,” Lawson recalled. “Had he made public all he knew, she could not possibly have survived.” Perhaps in acknowledgment of this, Mrs Thatcher broke with tradition in expressing a clear desire in her reply to Brittan’s letter of resignation to have him back in Cabinet as soon as possible. But he was never rehabilitated, and in 1989 left for Brussels.

Leon Brittan was born on September 25 1939, the younger son of Lithuanian Jews who arrived in the country as refugees in 1927 and settled in Cricklewood, where his father was a doctor. Leon’s elder brother, Sam, would become a respected columnist on the Financial Times.

From Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, Leon won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. His ambition to succeed in both law and politics was clear: he gained double Firsts in English and Law and became both president of the Union and chairman of the university Conservative association. After a scholarship year at Yale, he was called to the Bar by Inner Temple in 1962 and became a leading libel lawyer, taking silk in 1978.


Brittan in 1992 (Rex)

Two years before, Brittan secured a change in the law of contempt of court in a case that involved The Daily Telegraph. Its reporter Nicholas Comfort had named a ward of court in the paper, and the Official Solicitor brought prosecutions for contempt against the Telegraph and the Slough Evening Mail, which had repeated the story.

After a three-day trial in the High Court both papers were found guilty. The Telegraph’s counsel advised the paper to accept the conviction, but Brittan, representing the Slough Evening Mail, insisted on appealing and so both papers had to contest it. He won, convincing Lord Denning that it was ridiculous there was no permitted defence against a charge of contempt. In the interval he told Comfort, whom as a young barrister he had taught at Trinity, “I don’t think we got this far in the syllabus, did we?”

After being rejected for 14 safe Conservative seats, Brittan was elected MP for Cleveland and Whitby in February 1974. The seat disappeared in boundary changes and in 1979 he won the far-flung Yorkshire farming constituency of Richmond, representing it until he resigned to join the Commission in 1989; the future Conservative leader William Hague took his place.

Brittan’s initial reluctance to go to Brussels owed much to his affection for his constituency. He may have been an improbable countryman but he became an enthusiastic one, with a passion for cricket. Whatever his defects as a national politician, he was a popular local MP.

Within two years of entering the Commons, Brittan became Opposition spokesman on devolution, then on industrial relations, and played an important part in framing Conservative trade union reforms. In Mrs Thatcher’s first government of 1979, he became minister of state at the Home Office under Willie Whitelaw who, with Sir Geoffrey Howe, became his main political supporter and mentor.


Leon Brittan, as EU commissioner, with Japanese trade minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1995

It was Whitelaw who recommended him to Mrs Thatcher as a suitable replacement for Biffen in 1981. His promotion as the youngest member of her Cabinet was announced at a party given by Sir Geoffrey in No 11 Downing Street to mark Brittan’s marriage to Diana Peterson, a divorcee with two teenage daughters. Lady Brittan would go on to chair the National Lottery Charities Board and be appointed DBE.

Although Brittan’s appointment as a commissioner was reckoned by some of his friends a poor and belated consolation for his loyalty to Mrs Thatcher, Brussels gave full rein to his talents. Serving first as competition commissioner, he demonstrated not only a lawyer’s mastery of detail but also a steely determination to force through the principles of fair competition against entrenched national interests.

His ability to plough through and absorb mind-numbing detail won him the admiration of staff at the Commission, and his willingness to learn languages (he became fluent in French and German) earned admiration from colleagues and European politicians; the president of the Commission, Jacques Delors, rated him “one of the most brilliant men I have ever met”.

In 1993 he was appointed vice-president of the Commission and given the crucial trade portfolio, a job that pitched him into the centre of the tortuous Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt). Brittan’s mastery of detail proved crucial in reaching agreement with the Americans later that year, a personal triumph which saw his reputation as a high-powered if aloof intellectual transformed into that of a deal-maker on a grand scale.


Brittan in 1989 (Rex)

Yet Brittan’s successes won him few friends; his unshakeable faith in the power of reason left him little sympathy for emotionally tinged arguments in favour of French farming. The Gatt negotiations were notable for an explosive encounter with the French foreign minister Alain Juppé in which Brittan saw off French attempts to scupper the EC-US Blair House Accord limiting farm export subsidies.

Although this triumph kept the Uruguay round alive, the French never forgave him. “He was good,” a German official at the showdown was quoted as saying, “but maybe he was too good.”

French opposition effectively sank Brittan’s hopes of succeeding Delors, and put paid to his hopes of the crucial eastern Europe portfolio after the installation of Jacques Santer. Santer had assured Brittan the job was his, but at the last moment voted for the Dutchman Hans van den Broek, a volte-face which caused Brittan to consider resignation.

Brittan also paid the price for growing Conservative Euroscepticism under Mrs Thatcher and her successor John Major. He sought to counter this in speeches and articles despite personal attacks in the British press, some of which bordered on the anti-Semitic, and a relationship with Major which was no better than cool. But his support for Britain’s entry into the EMS and the Euro put him increasingly at odds with his own party and with sentiment in the country.


With his wife Diana at home in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, in 1990 (Rex)

Brittan was among the commissioners who resigned en masse in 1999 following allegations of nepotism against their French colleague Edith Cresson. Within days of clearing his desk at the Berlaymont he was appointed vice-chairman of the merchant bank Warburg.

The last year of his life was overshadowed by rumours, including the allegation that as home secretary he had failed to act on a “dossier” prepared by the Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens detailing alleged child abusers within the British establishment.

Brittan published two books on Britain’s role in Europe, The Europe We Need (1994) and A Diet of Brussels (2000), arguing for the nation to become more fully engaged.

Leon Brittan was sworn of the Privy Council in 1981, knighted in 1989 and created a life peer in 1999.

He is survived by his wife and his stepdaughters.

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, born September 25 1939, died January 21 2015

Guardian:

Britain's Secretary of State for Communities
Eric Pickles and Theresa May hold up signs reading ‘I am Jewish’ during a Board of Deputies of British Jews event in London on 18 January. ‘When I read May claim that ‘antisemitism is making Jewish people fearful to stay in Britain’, I feel angry,’ writes David Rosenberg. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Individual experience does not necessarily reflect general social trends. David Conn (Just how antisemitic is Britain?, 20 January) is wrong to conflate his lack of ever having experienced anti-Jewish racism with the claim that Britain suffers from little anti-Jewish prejudice. As a PhD student in Britain I experienced anti-Jewish racism. I was called a dirty Jew walking home from synagogue, my rabbi was kicked and punched in central London while anti-Jewish epithets were hurled at him, and my university sometimes suffered from an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment of Jewish students.

Conn is right that overall British society shows respect for its religious minorities. Britain is remarkably humane and tolerant. However, the aggregate data on violent and non-violent hate crimes show a major increase in frequency and severity of anti-Jewish attacks. This evidence is not a chimera. British Jews, the police and domestic intelligence services and government are reacting to real threats to the rights and freedoms of Jewish Britons, not imagined ones.

Conn’s individual life experiences do not challenge this evidence any more than my experiences necessarily confirm it. Both may be representative, to different degrees. Doubting whether British Jews are grateful to Britain because they express concerns for their freedom and safety is irresponsible, unreasonable and indefensible. Implying so stokes anti-Jewish prejudice, however unintentionally. Only a proactive approach to protecting human rights in solidarity with threatened minorities that defends democratic principles of equality and freedom will ensure that Britain’s values of tolerance and inclusion remain its defining ethos.
Noam Schimmel
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

• We are shocked and alarmed that the home secretary has been swept up in the wave of hysteria deliberately whipped up by the so-called Campaign Against Antisemitism (Theresa May pledges extra police patrols to counter antisemitism threat, 19 January), claiming that a quarter of British Jews were considering leaving for Israel and that 45% believed that Jews had no long-term future in Britain. The CAA’s scaremongering report quotes from its own poll which, according to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, was methodologically flawed and unreliable. Another poll by Survation, from a representative sample of more than 500 of Britain’s Jewish population, found that 88% of Jews had not considered emigrating.

The home secretary must know that the CAA was set up last summer, not to fight antisemitism but to counter rising criticism of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza. Its first big success was bullying the Tricycle Theatre into withdrawing its objection to Israeli embassy funding of the UK Jewish Film Festival. The CAA and the home secretary conflate anti-Israeli and antisemitic views, convenient cover for her desire to legislate for a snooper’s charter and criminalise opinions she disagrees with.

Accusing critics of Israel and Zionism of antisemitism merely devalues the currency, while claiming the right for Jews to censor what others say about Israel is hardly the way to combat prejudice against them. We do not deny that there are fears abroad among Jews in Britain, ourselves included, but we see far greater racist threats to other minorities in this country, in particular the beleaguered Muslim community.
Seymour Alexander, Craig Berman, Rica Bird, Prof Haim Bresheeth, James Cohen, Mike Cushman, Deborah Fink, Kenny Fryde, Carolyn Gelenter, Michael Gold, Tony Greenstein, Abe Hayeem, Selma James, Michael Kalmanovitz, Paul Kaufman, Rachel Lever, Dr Les Lewidow, Susanne Levin, Prof emeritus Moshe Machover, Miriam Margolyes, Diana Neslen, Roland Rance, Frances Rifkin, Sheila Robin, Prof emeritus Steven Rose, Prof emeritus Jonathan Rosenhead, Leon Rosselson, Michael Sackin, Miriam Scharf, Ruth Tenne, Stanley Walinets, Sam Weinstein, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

• Robert Booth reports (20 January) that “UK Jews are braced for the worst” in an extensive article filled with antisemitic incidents, reported jihadist plots and suitcases packed to leave Britain. While the Paris tragedy and the spike in antisemitic incidents during last summer’s Gaza conflict demand that we remain vigilant and support individuals who are feeling vulnerable, reports from Liberal Judaism constituents seem to affirm the truism that “Britain is good for the Jews and the Jews are good for Britain”.

The challenge of reports like that of Robert Booth’s is that they do not constitute evidence of an actual increased risk of attack but rather they increase the risk of the Jewish community cutting itself off from the wider community and retreating to fortress synagogues, schools and community centres. It is impossible to contribute to an open, welcoming and inclusive society while locking ourselves away; and we cannot confront prejudice if we see only malevolence in our neighbours. The only meaningful, long-term response to antisemitism is to reach out to those of other faiths and of none, to study and work together, and – through our openness – give the lie to the ignorance and hatred which lurks behind sealed doors.

That is why, this Shabbat as every other, strangers will be particularly welcome in our communities. The only response to closed minds is open doors.
Rabbi Danny Rich Chief executive, Lucian J Hudson Chair, Rabbi Charley Baginsky Chair, Rabbinic conference, Liberal Judaism

• While Antony Beevor is right to remind us of both the Soviet Union’s role in liberating the Nazi extermination camps and of Russia’s long history of antisemitism (Why Putin should be at Auschwitz, 21 January), he fails to highlight why, at this particular moment, it is worse than “a great shame” that Putin will not be attending the events at Auschwitz next week to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by the Red Army. The fact that Putin will not be attending and that the Polish government did not invite him is a tragedy. That this should happen so soon after millions of people around the world and their leaders appeared to come together to express their abhorrence at the recent terrible events in France is especially dismaying.

The Nazi policies of mass murder and the Holocaust were crimes against humanity and the ruins of Auschwitz stand as a terrible warning of where race hatred, religious intolerance, narrow-minded nationalism and absolutist political and religious dogma can lead. So at this time when dogmatic religious absolutism and old race hatreds are reasserting themselves and leading to outbreaks of violence around the world, it is doubly important that an event such as the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz should stand above the petty nationalisms and political point-scoring of today’s political leaders.
Michael Darlow
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

• Antisemitism in Britain is not like that of 1930s Germany, nor even of present-day France, but 2014 was the worst year for antisemitic incidents in the UK since records began. If 45% of gay people feared they had no long-term future here and a quarter were thinking of leaving due to homophobia, we wouldn’t round on them saying that they have it much better here than in Russia; we would do our utmost to tackle the problem. So why when Jews express the same sentiments does your newspaper see fit to doubt their fear? History has shown that the wellbeing of the Jewish community is the litmus test of freedom.
Gideon Falter
Chairman, Campaign Against Antisemitism

• Hot on the heels of recent swastika daubings and damage to Jewish property in Stamford Hill, Hackney, a Holocaust memorial event poster mounted on a plinth by Newham council was graffitied last week with the word “liars”. These actions indicate that, alongside other forms of racism, antisemitism is currently on the increase. But when I hear Theresa May telling a Jewish meeting of her determination to stand together with the Jewish community against antisemitism, as a Jew I feel extremely queasy. And when I read her claim that “antisemitism is making Jewish people fearful to stay in Britain”, I just feel angry.

Jews certainly need support and solidarity against antisemitism – from people committed to overcoming racism in all its forms. We do not need support from those whose policies have marginalised and targeted vulnerable minorities, and contributed towards the atmosphere in which growing numbers regard migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a “problem”. We do not need support from those whose policies have aided the growth of the likes of Ukip.

The spurious claim that Jews fear for their future in Britain represents a paper-thin analysis, based on self-selecting responses to a set of loaded questions in a discredited survey promoted by a body announcing itself as the Campaign against Antisemitism”. This survey was transparently designed to bolster a sensationalist misreading of Jewish experience in Britain, one that dovetails neatly with Binyamin Netanyahu’s attempts recruit British and French Jews for Israel’s “demographic wars” against the Palestinians.

If antisemitism, alongside other racism, is on the increase, why on earth should Jews respond by saying to the racists “You are absolutely right – we’ll pack our bags”, instead of saying: “we will make common cause with others threatened by racism, and redouble our efforts to build a strong, pluralist and diverse society.” As a Jew I have no doubt that together with like-minded people from all communities in Britain, we can defeat our enemies. It’s “friends” like Theresa May, who divide our communities, who give me sleepless nights.
David Rosenberg
London

• We suggest Islamaphobia is there because the Muslims do not integrate. The Jews are fully integrated, yet some 50% of the population is antisemitic. What does that say about us?
Jehangir Sarosh
Bushey, Hertfordshire

• I think it is time to take issue with the statement you and other newspapers are repeating that, in the words of your own headline, “Almost half of Britons hold antisemitic view, poll suggests”. This is based on a survey in which seven views, presented as antisemitic, were said to be “definitely or probably true” by 17%, 11%, 10%, 17%, 25%, 20%, and 13% of the sample. Somehow out of these figures your headline emerged. The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which organised the survey, said that 45% believe at least one statement to be definitely or probably true. But it is possible to believe that one of those statements, that Jews’ loyalty to Israel made British Jews less loyal to the UK, is probably true, without being antisemitic. Many, if not most, British Jews attack the British government when it condemns Israel’s illegal settlement policies and the disproportionate military actions against Palestinians in Gaza. Such attacks on the government could be seen as disloyalty, just as I was disloyal to the UK when I attacked the UK government’s war on Iraq.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warkwickshire

• I fear the government’s imbalanced response to Charlie Hebdo will deepen the dangerous divisions in our society. First we saw politicians join the marches in France in the name of free speech and democracy while in the same breath announcing plans for new security measures that raise concerns about civil liberties. This seems obviously incongruous and even hypocritical. I had to ask myself “who are our leaders claiming to defend the right to free speech from?”. Surely they aren’t trying to send a message to radical Islamic terrorists? Most Muslims in Europe already understand that we have free speech. They have lived in Europe for generations without doing anything to try to change that or take it away. For the sake of fairness and social cohesion a fair and balanced response is important. But while defending the anti-Islamic cartoons and speaking out specifically against antisemitism, they ignore Islamophobia. Then we see the home secretary publicly showing support for one community over another – ie the Jewish community. Meanwhile, Eric Pickles wrote to Muslim leaders asking them to “explain how Islam can be relevant to British society”, as if they are somehow responsible or representative of extremism and terrorism.

I can only conclude that, despite the rhetoric, they seek to further divide us.
Samuel Rice
Bangor, County Down


When one of my cousins died, I didn’t hear about it until months later. I was sad about this, because we had played together as children. So why not compose a posthumous email entitled “I have died”, to be sent to everyone in my address book? Perhaps it will become the fashion? At the bottom left-hand corner of my desktop my executors will find the file. As to what it says, you are going to have to wait and see. I was inspired to write it after an incident in the remotest Congo in which I had taken off in a tiny plane, whereupon its windscreen had become covered in oil, causing the pilot had to stick his head out of the window and land in a very great hurry. He had left the cap off the sump of his engine. A vivid intimation of mortality. We need to adapt our traditions to the opportunities of new technology.
Maurice King
Leeds

Sir John Chilcot author of the long awaited iraq war report
Sir John Chilcot, author of the inquiry into the Iraq war, has said his report is unlikely to be published before the 2015 general election. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA

At the Scott inquiry into the export of defence and dual-use equipment to Iraq, we too were criticised for delay. The parallels with the debate over publication of the Chilcot report are plain (Editorial, Letters, 22 January). In that regard, are the criticisms well-founded? The proper conduct of any independent public inquiry will be driven by key factors. First, effectiveness. An inquiry is under a duty to consider the evidence objectively and impartially. It must draw defensible conclusions, based on the evidence (and not speculation), and must make responsible recommendations. That can take time. At the Scott inquiry, there were many reasons for the three-year time lapse between the inquiry’s establishment and publication, including the breadth of the terms of reference and the failure to submit evidence to the inquiry in good time.

Second, fairness. Where someone’s personal interests are likely to be affected adversely by publication, the person must be given a reasonable opportunity to comment. The inquiry must take such comments into account in an open-minded, objective way. That too takes time if it is to be meaningful.

Third, the timeliness of publication. A balance inevitably has to be struck between the requirements of speed and of other aspects of the public interest. That includes the proper protection of individuals’ interests, of national security and of intergovernmental relations.

There may be one salient difference between the powers conferred on the Scott inquiry and on the Chilcot inquiry. Sir Richard Scott was given the right to publish whatever he considered relevant and necessary. He took the final decisions on disclosure and publication, subject, of course, to full consultation with the authorities. That consultation was lengthy.

In respect of publication and disclosure, Sir John Chilcot’s powers appear to be more limited. For example, under paragraph 15 of the protocol agreed between the inquiry and the government, the cabinet secretary has the final say on disclosure where the inquiry and the government cannot agree. The cabinet secretary’s involvement is necessary since disclosure will encompass the papers of a previous administration. Moreover, unlike Scott, it seems to be the government, not the inquiry, that will determine the date of publication, although I doubt whether the final report would be delivered to the government until the inquiry is given a firm publication date.
Christopher Muttukumaru
Formerly secretary to the Scott inquiry

Man in art exhibition
A visitor to Tate Modern looks at a LHOOQ, a tea towel of the Mona Lisa with added moustache and beard. We need a better way to inform about artworks, writes Frank Landamore. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Following the comments by Chris Stephens, co-curator of Tate Britain’s forthcoming Barbara Hepworth exhibition, about using Google to track down exhibits (Out of the shadows and back in focus, 20 January), I would be interested to know if he and his fellow curators intend to embrace new technology in another, scandalously disregarded, area of curatorship. Exhibition captions, those simple but crucial devices for enhancing gallery visitors’ knowledge and enjoyment, typically comprise lengthy texts mounted on small cards in myriad (and often puzzling) positions. This results in visitors crowding around virtually unreadable captions – and obscuring both the caption and the exhibit. This is just not good enough and is surely the very opposite of what curators intend. It is high time they investigated modern, effective and economical solutions to this 19th-century holdover – including innovative printing techniques, light-projection and wireless/mobile/digital technologies. How we, the paying public, would appreciate it if they finally did.
Frank Landamore
Lewes, East Sussex

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address
Barack Obama delivers his state of the union address. ‘I heard a speech of a politics of social justice, of opposition to torture, and of climate change mattering,’ writes Sigrid Rausing. Photograph: UPI/Landov/Barcroft Media

I read with a growing sense of disbelief the report on President Obama’s state of the union speech (22 January). The commentators, excluding Russia’s foreign minister, were all Republican: Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, and Tom Cole. The speech, therefore, was broadly presented as partisan and hypocritical, and the report was accompanied by a snide little piece about the suit worn by Michelle Obama.

I heard a different speech – a speech that framed a newly confident Democratic narrative; a politics of social justice, of opposition to torture, of higher taxes for the rich and tax breaks for the poor, of childcare being not a women’s issue but an issue for all of us, of climate change mattering, delivered by probably the best orator in recent history, to many standing ovations. There is much to criticise President Obama for, but in this speech something happened that gave comfort to progressive America, just like Dianne Feinstein’s report on CIA torture did.

British leftwing politics, with its mean-spirited focus on the excessive “privilege” of individuals like Eddie Redmayne or James Blunt (“blooming precious”, according to shadow culture minister Chris Bryant) is disappointing in comparison. We need a more intellectually rigorous political debate about progress and equal opportunities than that.
Sigrid Rausing
Publisher of Granta

• Larry Elliott is right to be sceptical about whether the trillion-euro dose of QE will solve Europe’s economic problems (Report, 21 January). Like its £375bn UK predecessor, it will buy government bonds from banks and, as happened here, that money won’t generate economic activity in the real economy, but instead will doubtless benefit the banks and the asset-rich by inflating property prices, the stock market and commodities. What is needed is a Europe-wide debate about what kind of QE can actually help its flagging economy. The Green New Deal group paper Europe’s Choice – How Green QE and Fairer Taxes Can Replace Austerity proposes the introduction of “green infrastructure QE”. This would fund investment in the continent’s renewable energy supplies, ensure all buildings are energy efficient and revitalise local and regional public transport links. Paying a living wage would help to boost governments’ tax revenues and address climate change. Another huge revenue source could come from tackling the non-payment of taxes that we estimate might cost the governments of the European Union €1 trillion a year.
Caroline Lucas MP, Colin Hines Green New Deal group, Richard Murphy Tax Research UK

As Lord Oakeshott has launched a financial popular front by contributing support to 30 Labour parliamentary candidates (Report, 22 January), may we expect in return that a generous Labour donor will give £10,000 to each 30 Lib Dem candidates in marginal seats? I await the news.
Bill Rodgers
House of Lords

• Caroline Quentin’s use of the word “asexual” (‘As the years go by I enjoy my sexuality more’, G2, 21 January) seems to assign negative connotations to the word: people over 50, perceived by others as being too old for sex, or those who cannot enjoy sex due to advanced age. I should like to point out that the term asexual is defined by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network as “a person who does not experience sexual attraction”. Asexual people can be of any age and being asexual is not caused by a loss of libido linked to age. The asexual community is not helped by inaccurate use of this term.
Carolyn Sutton
Glastonbury, Somerset

• Did Keith Flett (Letters, 22 January) really write “a phenomena”? You’ll be telling me next he’s shaved off his beard.
Robin Lustig
London

• Joan Smith (The Sexual Revolution made Page 3 possible. A feminist revolution ended it, 21 January) says: “There is no evidence that anyone actually burned a bra.” Maybe not. But clearly inspired by bra-burning tales, my brother, at the conclusion of a school debate on “men’s lib”, burned a pair of Y-fronts to make his point.
Diana Cairns
Edinburgh

• A friend of mine was waiting outside an “engaged” public toilet in Paris (Letters, 22 January). When the door eventually opened a gentleman came out and seeing her said: “Excuse me madam.” He went back in and put the seat down.
Jim McLean
London

• How helpful of the Met Office to issue a “yellow snow warning” (Report, 15 January). I was advised never to eat yellow snow.
Mike Kelter
Bushey, Hertfordshire

 

Independent:

 

Times:

Sir, The decision by Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Sentamu, following his ordination of the Rev Libby Lane as a bishop, not to lay hands the following week on a male bishop as a gesture to traditionalists is insulting and medieval in tone (“Hands of Sentamu ignite row”, News, Jan 22).

Does the archbishop believe that his touching the head of a female bishop implies some sort of physical contamination as well as a spiritual one?

If he does, he should not be involved in ordaining a woman in the first place. If he does not, his decision to decline to lay hands on the male bishop is a lie: he is symbolically declaring something in which he does not believe in order to appease a backward section of the Church of England. It is hard to see how the Rev Libby Lane can agree to be ordained by him under these circumstances.
Douglas Kedge
Sonning Common, Oxon

Sir, This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, when Christians of all denominations pray for that unity for which Christ prayed (John xvii, 20-21). What message about unity does it send to those both within and outside the church when some Christians in the Church of England would see their bishop as “tainted” if, at his ordination, hands had been laid on him by those who had earlier laid hands on a woman bishop?
David Lamming
Boxford, Suffolk
Sir, Catholics in the Church of England are used to the slur that they fear the “taint” of women’s priesthood. Your article repeats the innuendo. It is not true, since traditionalists have been receiving communion from bishops ordained by archbishops that ordain women for two decades. Father Philip North may be about to minister in Lancashire, but it is insulting to the traditional Anglicans to whom he will do so to suggest that their views have the same validity as those of the Pendle witches.
Thomas Carpenter
Student, College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, W Yorks

Sir, Why am I reminded of the extremist movement of another religion: denigration of women contrary to teachings and of human rights, prejudice and nonsensical interpretation of religious law? I thought that was why we were fighting in the Middle East.
Jennifer Latham
Wedmore, Somerset

Sir, The credibility of institutions is quickly undermined when they become the butt of jokes. It was, I think, the prophet Amos who issued the warning “Mockery killeth the good intent” — as I kept repeating to my colleagues in the European Commission when I worked there.
Peter Pooley
Alresford, Hants

Sir, Perhaps those traditionalists who adopt the doctrine of “taint” should consider the possibility that, in the light of the concept of a universal church, all of their bishops, male or female, are “tainted” by virtue of the Tudors’ break with Rome. As it is, like the Pharisees, they seem to strain out a gnat while swallowing a camel.
Malcolm Bowden
Horringer, Suffolk

Sir, Tim Montgomerie (“The church is blighted by left-wing bias”, Jan 22) gives a misleading impression by suggesting that On Rock or Sand?, edited by John Sentamu, does not recognise the benefits of private business, economic incentives and the market economy. In my chapter of the book, I point out that business is at the core of our economy, and highlight how market-oriented economic growth has lifted billions of people out of poverty. And I argue for a reform of the tax system to reduce the perverse incentives many individuals and families face.
Andrew Sentance
Horndon-on-the-Hill, Essex

Sir, Mr Davis (letter, Jan 22) might like the solution to keeping sermons brief that a lord of the manor used to employ. Sitting in the front pew, he ostentatiously placed ten sovereigns on his thigh. After five minutes of the sermon he put one into his pocket, and every minute thereafter another one. What was left at the end went into the collection.
Robert Pennant Jones
London SE1

Sir, My wife found the answer to easy dishwashing 44 years ago and it has been in daily use since (Leader, Jan 17): a pair of rubber gloves, one for my right hand and one for my left.
Brian Brayford
Penarth, S Glamorgan

Sir, So the answer is to have two dishwashers (letter, Jan 20). Sadly, the law of bigamy is against me.
Eamonn O’Gorman
Elstree, Herts

Sir, A “nice cup of tea”, offered with a smile, is such a comfort in care homes, but it can have a sting in the tail (“Scandal of dehydration”, Jan 16).
Care home managers should consider changing to decaffeinated tea, which is not a diuretic, so saving time for their staff. I am in my late 80s. I love a cup of tea but I restrict the treat to times when I know a toilet is close at hand. I dread possible nappy-wearing times “in care”.
Meg Wilkes
Ellesmere, Shropshire

Sir, I have no idea whether the climate is changing (letters, Jan 21) but for years I have noted the dates of the first aconite, snowdrop, wild daffodil and bluebell. There is no discernible pattern: over the past 18 years, for seven the first aconite has been earlier, one the same date as this year and nine later; for snowdrops nine have been earlier, one the same as this year and seven later. Too early yet for wild daffs and bluebells.
Julian Pilcher
Steventon, Hants

Sir, To delay publication of the Iraq inquiry until after the general election is an admission that politicians are manipulating the electorate (News, Jan 21). I am disgusted that government can be exploited in this way. The obscuration of truth devalues the quality of my vote.
RG Williams
Hove

Telegraph:

Sir John Chilcot Photo: Getty Images

SIR – If the reasons given by Sir John Chilcot for the continuing delay in issuing the conclusions of the Iraq inquiry are to be believed, the failure to publish the report is not the result of some Machiavellian establishment plot.

Rather, it seems to be the result of bureaucratic indolence. The taking of evidence was completed in 2011, but the process of allowing those mentioned in the draft report to respond still continues, with no end date yet in sight.

Sir John and his team appear to be operating in a self-sealed vacuum, unhearing of the clamour and untouched by the importance of making their conclusions public in a timely manner. We are all the losers.

Adrian Scrope
Hungerford, Berkshire

SIR – No doubt like many others, I am perplexed as to why the Chilcot Inquiry cannot be published until after the general election.

Having started in 2009, taken its last evidence in 2011 and allegedly cost £9 million, with the draft finished last summer, why is it necessary to allow those involved an unlimited amount of time to comment on its findings?

If they feel they have been misrepresented in the report, they can have a right of reply after publication. If the report is diluted beforehand, the word “independent” is a nonsense.

David J Beswick
Ashford, Kent

SIR – Last week we cried “Je suis Charlie”. This week the lid is put firmly on to prevent publication of the Chilcot report.

Just where do we stand on free speech?

Barry Bond
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – The Telegraph has reported estimates that at least 116,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the conflict there, as well as 179 British soldiers (in addition to another 453 in Afghanistan). Does this horrendous death toll count for nothing in the minds of our politicians as they jockey for position in a looming general election?

It is time for our elected MPs, regardless of their political sympathies, to demand that the findings of the inquiry be published now. The consequence of further obfuscation and dithering is to detach the British people even more from this once great Parliament.

Jo Bird
Slapton, Devon

SIR – The Chilcot report may contain inconvenient truths for many, but to delay its publication for political expediency sends out entirely the wrong message.

Jeremy Prescott
Oadby, Leicestershire

SIR – Apparently the truth would confuse voters.

David Baldwin
Ringwood, Hampshire

Wasting NHS drugs

SIR – Every time I read an article on cancer drug funding I want to shout with frustration.

My wife has just died from cancer after 18 months of outstanding palliative care from the NHS. Some of the drugs she received worked and some didn’t. After she died, all of the remaining drugs had to go to the pharmacist for destruction. One cost £50 per tablet; 63 of those went to waste.

I am aware of the importance of clinical safety, but if Robertson’s can sell jam in a tamper-proof jar, why can’t drugs be dispensed in a tamper-proof container that releases them one at a time, leaving the rest secure for use by someone else?

There may be a cost in secure packaging, but this would be eclipsed by the savings made in usable drugs that fall by the wayside as new treatments are adopted.

Philip Horton
Orpington, Kent

Original Alice

SIR – Alice Jaspars (Letters, January 20) asks why Royal Mail has not used John Tenniel’s illustrations from the original 1865 edition of Alice in Wonderland on its stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of publication.

Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat appeared in a set to commemorate the Year of the Child in 1979; the Cheshire Cat in a series of famous smiles in 1990; and Tweedledum and Tweedledee in 1993.

Perhaps for 2020, the bicentenary of Tenniel’s birth, Royal Mail might consider a full series to commemorate his work.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

Wide eyes at Ascot

SIR – I wore a monocle to Royal Ascot a couple of years ago. It caused quite a stir, with Americans asking to be photographed next to me in the Royal Enclosure.

Damien McCrystal
London W14

The Human Rights Act

SIR – It comes as no surprise that the president of the Law Society (Letters, January 21) defends the Human Rights Act.

He suggests the Act supports the most vulnerable, but yesterday we saw another example of its actual application, in the refusal to extradite a man to face charges of child rape because of a potential infringement of his human rights, in the event that he is found guilty in America (“Foreign doctor accused of child rape can stay”, report, January 21).

At the moment it looks more likely that the Act is providing a good income stream for the legal profession than protecting the wider population.

Roger Gentry
Sutton-at-Hone, Kent

All aboard: going loco for the steam locomotive

Full steam: a Ffestiniog Railway double Fairlie on the level crossing at Penrhyndeudraeth (Alamy)

SIR – The news that John Caudwell, the founder of Phones4u, is to build a railway round his estate made me wish that my late brother was still alive, as he, too, was a steam railway enthusiast.

A plaque exists on the Ffestiniog Railway in honour of his clandestine efforts in thwarting the Central Electricity Generating Board when their pump storage scheme threatened to cut the railway in half.

In the paddock alongside his home in Conwy, North Wales, he laid a circular narrow gauge railway with a steam locomotive in which he could sit. Each Thursday he and an old railway employee would don their blue overalls and peaked caps, raise steam and have a great time.

On the occasion of our father’s 100th birthday, he was taken on a ride around the paddock in a wagon.

Another brother – also a steam buff – would, on the least provocation, put on LP records of steam locomotives struggling up inclines.

I sometimes wonder why I did not get the bug. Possibly because I was a mariner.

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

Compulsory voting

SIR – I disagree with James Kirkup.

As disengagement with politics increases, all of us need to make a contribution to recapturing public interest.

A recent report by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which I chair, underlined that not only is compulsory voting on the agenda, but also votes at 16 and registration of voters right up to election day.

Now there are reports that the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy will recommend online voting. The debate will heighten as we approach National Voter Registration Day on February 5.

We need to support these ideas in order to extend participation in our democracy.

Graham Allen MP (Lab)
London SW1

Greeks bearing gifts

SIR – If the Greeks vote to repudiate austerity, can we also expect them to vote to change Einstein’s theory of relativity so they can go back in time and avert the 2008 crisis?

Andrew Wauchope
London SE11

SIR – Greece is Nature’s way of telling us that the EU is doomed.

G T Theakston
Ditchling, East Sussex

Party like it’s 2025

SIR – I seem to recall some years back a leading article in the Telegraph regretting (quite rightly) the passing of “simple” birthday parties in favour of bouncy castles and competitive goody bags.

This week you and your readers (Letters, January 21) lament the passing of even that level of entertainment.

I look forward to 2025, when the parents of toddlers vanishing forever in party-rental teleportation booths will have only themselves to blame, and we can all yearn for the good old days when kids were happy with dry-slope skiing and a bit of après-ski litigation.

Antony Thomas
Esher, Surrey

SIR – Charles Foster is a little belated in his objection to the use of “invite” as a noun.

The theologian Martin Bucer was given an “earnest invite to England” by Archbishop Cranmer, according to an account written in 1659. You will find it widely used in Victorian novels, though young ladies are still sometimes rebuked for the usage by their mothers.

Caroline Moore
Etchingham, East Sussex

Things are looking up

(MARTIN HARTLEY/EYEVINE)

SIR – Sir Ranulph Fiennes has said that climbing Everest failed to cure his fear of heights because he never looked down, only upwards.

How then did he get back down the mountain? By walking backwards?

David Morton
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

The teeth in ‘Wolf Hall’ that should be bad

SIR – Having Wolf Hall on television has raised the subject of tooth decay in Tudor times. Hilary Mantel has suggested that all teeth were healthy owing to the lack of sugar in the diet.

When the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, was raised from the Solent bed, archaeologists discovered that the skulls in the stern section had very decayed teeth and those forward of the poop were in good condition, suggesting that the officers, whose quarters were in the aft part, had a diet with sugar in it, while the hands forward fed on simpler food and thus their teeth were in better condition.

So to be accurate, the Wolf Hall producers should have actors playing the rich with teeth in bad condition, while those playing the poor should have shiny white gnashers.

Peter Smales
Swallowcliffe, Wiltshire

SIR – I applaud Hilary Mantel for refusing to dumb down Wolf Hall for television. If history had been rigorously taught in recent years, instead of served as sound bites to a generation brought up to expect academic subjects to be made “relevant” to their own lives, there would be no need for such a debate.

The idea that by simplifying the political complexity of the story, the programme would appeal to a wider audience, is misguided. What’s wrong with being challenged and stretched once in a while?

Sandra Wood
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

 

Globe and Mail:

AMANDA LANG

Public trust matters more than speaking fees

Amanda Lang is senior business correspondent for CBC News.

Journalism is one of the most important jobs in a strong and functioning democracy, and it’s a job I consider a privilege to do.

A reporter’s integrity is critical to her ability to carry out journalism’s core public responsibilities. Audiences need to be able to trust what they read and view. I have been a business reporter for 20 years and work for CBC, one of Canada’s most important journalistic institutions. I fully understand my obligations. Because of that, it is painful to me that public perceptions of my integrity may have been compromised because I have been accused of acting improperly by allowing myself to be seen to have been in a conflict of interest.
The exact allegation is this: that I intervened to affect a story the CBC was pursuing because I have accepted speaking fees from the Royal Bank – directly or indirectly. The accusation is that I sought to relieve the Royal Bank from criticism because of a personal financial interest. Some have even suggested that, because of a personal relationship with a director of the bank, that my questions about the report were due to that personal interest. It has been further implied that I intentionally kept these interests concealed. These are very serious allegations. If any of them were true, it would be an extremely serious matter. But they are not true. Let me repeat: they are not, in any fashion, true.

Yes, when asked (in fact, invited on to a conference call I did not instigate), I expressed my view – informed by my familiarity with the issue – with colleagues at the CBC. As a matter of editorial opinion, I felt the story was flawed and that it reflected a misunderstanding of important subject elements. In this, I meant (or mean) no disrespect. That opinion was a consequence of my time and experience as a business reporter – and nothing else. I did not attempt to block the story from airing, as has been implied by some reports. Indeed, it was aired. As the CBC’s senior business correspondent, I would argue that I have an obligation to challenge such stories. Similarly, others with whom I work have an obligation to challenge my stories, check my assumptions and question my understanding of all relevant facts.

It did not occur to me that others would question my motivation. That they would raise doubts about my integrity. That they would believe my perspective on this story was affected, for example, either by a relationship or by the fact that I have spoken for pay at events organized by business groups and companies. Let me explain why that didn’t occur to me.

Business reporters are acutely aware of the possibility of conflicts of interests. They have to be. Everywhere they work, there are rules about disclosure of personal assets and investments. Their personal reputations are critical to them. My particular roles in television business journalism have ensured significant and consistent scrutiny of my work.

Nevertheless, in this case, some have questioned my motives and seem willing to assume that I have been for sale because there is an implied quid pro quo for companies for contributing to or subsidizing even small parts of speaking fees. Those who say I acted improperly seem not to care that they, in effect, are alleging deeply unethical behaviour, or worse. I’m not sure how to convince people that my principles, integrity and career are fundamentally important to me, that I have no trouble understanding right from wrong and reporting honestly and independently. Unfortunately, it appears that I can assert that as long as I wish and still not overcome suspicions that originate from unshakeable and, in my view, utterly unwarranted presumptions of venal behaviour.

But I can try to limit the opportunity for the malevolent to raise those sorts of questions about me, my work, my integrity and my motives. I very much want to ensure that I can continue to earn the trust of the people who watch what I do because I have a deep professional obligation to them. That relationship of trust is built up over time, and it is one that I prize, and consider absolutely necessary in order to do the work I know and love.

In retrospect, I see that I allowed this circumstance to develop, by assuming that my integrity would not be questioned if I accepted speaking fees from business associations and companies.

Although my reporting has never been influenced by conflict, it is influenced by my general world view. I do not believe that business is inherently evil. I think business is eminently capable of behaviour that is counter to the public interest – environmental degradation, financial fraud or predatory practices that hurt consumers. I have documented all of that and more. For the record, I have been especially critical of the role the financial services and banking industry played in the 2008 market crash and the recession that followed. On the other hand, I also think business is capable of doing good – creating jobs, bringing innovations that improve our lives, playing a positive role in communities. That is my perspective and I think viewers know it, and are comfortable with it. Not everybody agrees, and some people are more inherently suspicious of business.

But conflict is a different matter from perspective, and it is what I have been accused of in recent weeks.

For much of the past two decades, at this network and the ones I worked at previously, I was permitted and even encouraged to speak publicly to groups. Sometimes that meant emceeing events. Sometimes, and especially after I wrote a book on the nature of innovation in business, I was invited to give my thoughts on innovation and the role it can play in business and in our lives. And for many years, often these invitations were paid appearances.

At CBC, the practice of allowing journalists to be paid to speak was understood to be complex, but our producers and managers undertook to work with us to be sure our journalism remained unbiased and trustworthy. I, and my colleagues, have been and remain comfortable that we were able to do that. I can look back proudly on many years of reporting, during which I was also paid to speak, and know I was on no occasion influenced. Most events have multiple sponsors and the speakers have no idea which company contributed what amount. But even where that has not been the case, the integrity of the journalism has never been in jeopardy.

And yet I now encounter the casual assumption that if I speak at events for pay, there must be a quid pro quo provided in terms of the inclination I adopt in my reporting. It seems that a distressing number of people happily accept that my reporting must be for sale. That such an assumption carries with it a deeply offensive assessment of my personal ethics and professional integrity, appears immaterial. Denials are easily dismissed, defences are brushed off as self-interested.

The question of whether I should have disclosed my relationship is a trickier matter. At the time of these events, it was very new, and very private, something that we had yet to discuss even with our children. As such, it would not have occurred to me that it could influence my journalism (or be seen to). Some of my colleagues may have felt they had a right to know about it, and I regret if they feel misled. I can see now that I should have disclosed at the time of the RBC story. But in my mind, it was then a private matter. When it became more serious and more public, I disclosed to my producers in order to manage any issues around stories we were covering.

These issues combine to create a challenge. I can lament this development, argue with detractors and consider myself a victim of malicious attack. I can try to defend my years of respected journalism, and note that I have never been in a position where any event shaped how I reported on anything. Or I can accept that the privilege of reporting carries with it obligations that, occasionally, will shift. Inside CBC, with our management team, we have undertaken to review whether this policy needed to change.

The truth is the debate that has ensued has caused many of us to reflect on this matter in a new way.

I cover business. And I cover business for the CBC. More than other networks, we serve at the pleasure of the citizens of this country. It confers a special obligation on the CBC to be above reproach, to be at the leading edge of ethics and standards. I need to be able to explain the business world to Canadians, and I need to be able to influence CBC coverage of business issues, without people doubting my motivations.

My perspective on business adds to the onus on me. To do the job as I understand it, which is to explain business in all of its facets and complexity without being reflexively critical, requires trust that I have only one interest in mind – the public interest. I am determined to protect that.

I support CBC’s decision to change its policy, and I will no longer accept paid appearances, and in fact began refusing payment several weeks ago. I want to continue to do this work that I know and love, that I’m granted the privilege to do. To do that, I need the full trust of the public.

PATRICK LAGACÉ

French Quebec has its own take on blackface

Go back to 2007. André Boisclair, then leader of the Parti Québécois, was reminiscing to a group of students about his days at Harvard.

He marvelled at the number of students of Asian heritage he encountered there: “I was surprised to see that on campus, about a third of the undergraduate students had slanted eyes.” The anglophone media could not conceive that in this province, in this culture, in this language, using “les yeux bridés” to describe an Asian person is not a racial slur. A media firestorm was born.

Mr. Boisclair’s political opponents made no issue of the comment. In La Presse, to show how absurd the complaints were, I offered this example: There is a restaurant in Montreal called “Les Bridés.” It’s owned by Québécois of Vietnamese descent.

News flash: Cultural codes, and hence cultural taboos, sometimes differ from people to people and society to society.

The past weeks, another of these controversies, mostly fuelled by anglo media and commentators, engulfed Quebec. This time, it was about blackface at Montreal’s Théâtre du Rideau Vert, where the farcical end-of-year review featured a white actor, in black makeup, portraying the hugely popular Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban, who was a big newsmaker in 2014.

The skit raised no eyebrows from French reviewers. That’s because blackface, used in the detestable minstrelsies that used to portray stereotypical and generic versions of blacks as dimwitted, are not as well known in French Quebec as they are in English-speaking North America. The term blackface doesn’t even have a French equivalent.

The Rideau Vert controversy was a replay of the 2013 Gala Les Olivier controversy. When philosopher king and comedian Boucar Diouf, of Senegalese descent, was portrayed in blackface by colleague Mario Jean (who also played other Quebec comedians in the feature), no concerns were raised by the province’s French media. The outrage came first from anglo media outlets and commentators. Mr. Diouf himself confessed to not knowing about the blackface stigma; he said he was not offended.

I wrote about Rideau Vert, highlighting that French Quebec sometimes has different cultural codes and taboos than you find in the United States and the rest of Canada. I offered the Charlie Hebdo covers as an example: News outlets in France and Quebec published them (offence-takers be damned) while anglo media in Canada, Britain and the United States mostly balked.

I also argued that while using blackface to stereotype an entire race is indeed idiotic, we may be confusing plate and meal when makeup is used to impersonate someone in a positive way, as in the cases of Mr. Subban and Mr. Diouf. Just as sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, black makeup is sometimes just black makeup.

The criticism in my inbox and on social media – levelled in English, mainly – was tough. But, in hockey parlance, the hits were mostly legal. I understand that discussions about race are going to be lively.

Globe theatre critic Kelly Nestruck was the only commentator of note who gave me a cross-check to the face. He distorted my 925-word column into a one-sentence quote that came within an inch of calling me a racist, and then, in a francophobic fashion, painted Quebeckers who didn’t object as backward dimwits.

But hey, he flashed his credentials: Mr. Nestruck has francophones in his family, hailing from Quebec.

Guess how patronizing I would have sounded if I’d written that I have black friends. Then again, in the ROC commentariat, one can say stuff about Quebeckers that they wouldn’t dare say about other people. Plus ça change …

 

Go, Nipp and Ng

What this UNB professor practices is intolerance, not sociology

Avvy Go is clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic; Dora Nipp is CEO of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario; and Winnie Ng is the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University.

Amid growing controversy over the published views of Professor Ricardo Duchesne, who has repeatedly argued that Asian-Canadians are harmful to the country, the University of New Brunswick is cowering behind academic freedom without adhering to its tenets. Mr. Duchesne spreads falsehoods about an entire community and in doing so betrays the standards of academia by engaging in racial caricature and perpetuating intolerance.

Mr. Duchesne’s writing has anti-Asian themes; most recently, he asserted that Asian immigration has “damaged Vancouver” and the speed of this migration has transformed Vancouver from a once “beautiful British city” to one of “Asian character.” Mr. Duchesne’s posts appear on a website he co-founded, which self-describes itself as a “group of public-minded individuals who believe the European heritage and character of Canada should be maintained and enhanced.” In a May, 2014, post he warned of a “re-imagining the history of Canada in such a way that white Europeans are portrayed as oppressors and non-whites as victims with the goal of taking Canada away from the Europeans and transforming the nation into multicultural and multiracial society.” Efforts by Asian and African Canadians to claim their rightful place in Canadian history are framed by Mr. Duchesne as “assaulting European civilization.”

In claiming this, Mr. Duchesne ignores the historical fact that the “founding” of Canada took place on the land of indigenous peoples, and that in the name of “preserving European civilization” systemic exclusion and colonial domination has been inflicted on the First Peoples. It is hard to avoid reading Mr. Duchesne’s notion of “European civilization” and “Britishness” as something resembling white supremacy.

It matters not to individuals like Mr. Duchesne that Chinese people first landed on Canada’s west coast in 1744, came to pan for gold in 1858, and in 1881 were brought to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. It appears immaterial to Mr. Duchesne that Chinese Canadians have a longstanding presence in Canada. Similarly, South Asians have made Canada their home since the turn of the last century.

Despite their contributions, Chinese faced tremendous discrimination in Canada. As soon as the railroad was completed, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald imposed a head tax on all Chinese immigrants and denied them the right to vote. In the shadow of federal anti-Chinese legislation emerged provincial and municipal laws and regulations that had impacts on the social, economic and political life of the Chinese – including those born in Canada. These were carried out in the name of preserving the “European” character of Canada. Meanwhile, South Asian immigrants – who were part of the British Empire – did not fare well either, as their entrance was curtailed by the Continuous Passage Regulations in 1908.

Mr. Macdonald’s legacy, both good and bad, is now being examined as Canadians celebrate his 200th birthday. His supporters argue we should not apply today’s ethical standard to judging his racially discriminatory acts. If the first Prime Minister had time as his defence, what is Mr. Duchesne’s excuse? After all, it is 2015 and one expects a more enlightened populace today – one that includes all peoples and rejects the portrayal of Canada as one preserved for “Europeans” only.

Duchesne is a professor of history and sociology, but he has brought the academic profession into disrepute.

Mr. Duchesne’s intolerant statements will run the risk of inciting fear and resentment toward Canadians of Asian heritage by reinforcing stereotypes of the ethnic Chinese as perpetual foreigners. He glorifies scholarship and writing that fuels xenophobia and provides fodder for white supremacy. Mr. Duchesne is a unicultural ideologue. As an academic discipline, sociology is interested in examining the truths and motives behind cultural mythologies, not in perpetuating them. Duchesne’s rants are an apostasy to sociological thinking.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s Statement on Academic Freedom (2011) affirms that unlike the broader concept of freedom of speech, academic freedom must be based on institutional integrity, rigorous standards for enquiry and institutional autonomy. The Statement sets out the responsibilities of academic freedom, which include: evidence and truth must be the guiding principles; academic freedom should be exercised in a reasonable and responsible manner; faculty must be committed to the highest ethical standards in their teaching and research; faculty should examine data, question assumptions and be guided by evidence; and faculty and university leadership are obligated to ensure that students’ human rights are respected.

The purpose of academic freedom is to prevent a chill on the pursuit of knowledge and to safeguard diverse viewpoints. However, in Canada no right is absolute; in the case of academic freedom, this right starts to unravel when academics hide behind academic freedom to espouse untruths that actually inflict harm. If the staff and faculty of UNB are truly committed to academic freedom and academic excellence, they should join the Asian Canadian community in condemning racism in any form in Canada.

WHAT READERS THINK

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 cantankerous and the idiotic are already limbering up for the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage.

The current clamour centres on the right of a child to a mother and father. Biologically a child can only be borne of a mother and father so the concept of a right in this context is self-evidently fatuous. The role parents subsequently play in their child’s life is another matter entirely and society has a surfeit of examples of mothers and fathers failing often and badly in responsibly rearing their offspring to adulthood while untold silent numbers strive courageously and succeed heroically.

Woolly-headed obfuscation serves too often as a foil to derail open and honest debate, yet neatly serves to expose the hypocrisy of those moral conservatives who, for all their panicked consternation towards same-sex marriage, have rarely troubled themselves with societal failings with regard to children of heterosexual relationships; their right to know, and be publicly acknowledged by both parents, not to be abandoned, to be cared for emotionally and supported financially by their parents – rights which any society should cherish and invoke for its children and ones unrelated to the question of whether two consenting adults have a right to marry. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA MULKEEN,

Ballinfull,

Sligo.

Sir, – I don’t think people mean anything by it, and perhaps it’s just people thinking that they are making the issue clearer, but can we please stop referring to the upcoming referendum as one on either “gay marriage” or “same-sex” marriage? Or for that matter, referring to pending adoption legislation as dealing with “gay adoption”.

The electorate needs to understand that it is not being asked to introduce some new form of civil marriage or adoption. It’s exactly the same civil marriage process, the same civil marriage ceremony, the same civil marriage licence, the same civil marriage registrar and venue. All we are being asked to do is extend those exact same rights to marry as enjoyed by straight couples to same-sex couples.

Similarly, the Children and Family Relationships Bill simply seeks, among other things, to allow couples, who happen to be of the same sex, to apply to adopt a child, or children. The legislation allows for gay couples to have exactly the same chances of being allowed to adopt, or be refused to adopt, a child or children by exactly the same criteria as straight couples. The referendum, and the aforementioned adoption legislation, seek to make our society more equal for all citizens regardless of whether they be straight or gay. – Yours, etc,

DAVID WILKINS,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – A major reason why I will be unable to support the wording on same-sex marriage that the Government has proposed for insertion into the Constitution in the event of a referendum being passed by the Irish electorate this May is that the wording, in addition to the Children and Family Relationships Bill, completely disregards and impedes a child’s natural right to be raised by a mother and a father where possible.

If the Constitution would allow no distinction or preference for the purposes of marriage between a male/female couple and a male/male couple or a female/female couple (which is what the wording proposes), what this would mean in practice is that it would be impossible for any adoption law to recognise the desirability of a child to have the benefit of both a father and a mother because the law would have to proceed under the illusion that when it comes to the qualities needed for raising children (in addition to the qualities imparted by parents to their children), two women or two men would be exactly the same as a mother and a father.

For the law to put the desires of some adults ahead of the common good (and common sense) is wrong, and it is why I will have to vote No when this wording is put before me at the polling station in May. – Yours, etc,

JOHN B REID,

Monkstown,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – While I remain undecided on the referendum at this point, emotionally I am committed to promoting the rights of gay people and to anything that assists young persons coming to terms with being gay, particularly from communities where there is a stigma attached to being gay. Logically I find the argument that there is no redefinition of the term marriage makes no sense as it clearly does in terms of the traditional definition of a man marrying a woman.

As a father I would ideally wish all my children to have a traditional marriage and raise children together, but should any of them be gay, I would want them to find happiness and a partner for life with all the same legal protections and rights as anyone else. While I remain unsure of using the term marriage for all relationships, I think an open, honest and respectful debate will have a positive effect in destigmatising the experience for those “coming out” as gay. – Yours, etc,

FRANK BROWNE,

Templeogue,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – It is dishonest and deliberately misleading to talk of “marriage equality” in the context of the forthcoming referendum. Anyone with even a modicum of intelligence will see that marriage between a heterosexual couple and any arrangement between same-sex couples could never be “equal”. – Yours, etc,

FRANK MURPHY,

Sligo.

Sir, – The debate about the constitutional amendment to allow same sex-couples marry in Ireland seems to touch on the welfare of children.

For decades children have been successfully raised by single parents, often in spite of the obstacles put in their path. While I will be voting Yes to this amendment, there will be single-parent families and families with same-sex parents in Ireland regardless of whether the amendment is passed.

Unfortunately a No vote will deny these parents and families the additional security and acceptance that would make children’s lives better. Surely children’s welfare is best served by living in a supportive community, not one of exclusion and less than subtle moral superiority.

A No vote is a vote against children’s welfare and an uncharitable action. – Yours, etc,

SE LYDON,

Wilton,

Cork.

A chara, – The Children and Family Relationships Bill will be enacted whether or not the Irish people vote Yes to same-sex marriage. This piece of legislation will allow for adoption by same-sex couples and provide for guardianship also. The Government has pledged to enact this legislation, brought forward by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, before the referendum in May which will seek to add the following clause to our Constitution: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

The No campaign has sought to entangle both of these issues. If the No campaign were to be successful we could have a situation whereby a child could be adopted by a same-sex couple but that couple would be unable to marry. This would be counterproductive to the very principle it purports to promote – the protection of children and the family. – Is mise,

KILLIAN BRENNAN,

Dublin 17.

Sir, – Miriam Lord’s entertaining and incisive article on marriage equality (“A window of wanton consensus on wording”, Dáil Sketch, January 22nd) highlighted an interesting general trend.

The No campaign claims that its central concern is related to children, yet several prominent No campaigners opposed the civil partnership Bill even when it went out of its way to exclude children from its provisions.

The reality is that 230 families are headed by same-sex parents (2011 census) and this referendum aims to ensure family stability for them. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN DINEEN,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – If you asked married couples what is putting them and their family under pressure, they would mention increases in taxation, finding affordable accommodation, unemployment, emigration and the fear of it, childcare costs or trying to juggle family life and looking after elderly relatives. I doubt that one of them would mention the prospect of equal recognition for same-sex relationships as being a threat to their family. Yet, in the forthcoming debate, we’ll be told once again that safeguarding children, marriages and families requires withholding basic rights from one section of the population. It is a matter of some regret that articulate people who would otherwise have much to offer in the development of social policy are still basing their contributions around such ideas. – Yours, etc,

CIARÁN

Ó RAGHALLAIGH,

Cavan, Co Cavan.

Sir, –Having spent more than three decades teaching and assessing undergraduate and postgraduate education students in various higher education institutions, nationally and internationally, as well as being in the role of external examiner for such programmes, what remains to overcome the current stand-off is to work out more precisely the details of the reforms. In so doing, the challenge to the educational leadership on all sides is to harness, as well as to enhance, the professionalism of the teaching profession. To delay in doing so is to risk reputational damage to the status of the profession, nationally and internationally. – Yours, etc,

Prof CIARAN SUGRUE,

School of Education,

University College Dublin,

Belfield,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – I would like to dispel the notion that teachers don’t already give students feedback on the progress of their work. I give feedback to my students on a daily basis through homework, projects and portfolio work.

In addition, there are assessments including monthly progress tests, midterm tests, Christmas tests, Easter tests and summer tests.

Teachers want to be advocates rather than judges of their students and have become even more protective of them in light of cutbacks to the guidance counsellor allocation to schools and special education needs resources, which have predominantly affected the most vulnerable students in our schools. – Yours, etc,

ENDA WHELTON,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to your recent article “Ireland needs to switch on or be left behind in computer science” (January 20th), Ireland had a Leaving Certificate computer studies course. I operated it from 1982 for over 20 years as a Department of Education-supported pilot programme in schools, mainly in the Limerick area.

It was pointed through the CAO system for entry to a number of higher education institutions as a science subject. I designed and reviewed the curriculum, trained the teachers, set and marked all examinations and project work for about 15 years. I also benchmarked it against other Leaving Certificate subjects that indicated that it was appropriately challenging. Many pupils not going on to third level found that, having completed it, it greatly improved their employability. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was, at that time, not interested in developing a national curriculum along these lines.

Those interested might refer to the recently established UK National Computing Curriculum which, reassuringly, is very similar to what I had implemented and my concern with establishing computational thinking in schools.

A vital aspect of this is to have pupils designing, coding, testing, debugging and documenting software. There is a lot to be said about this.

Rather than going into detail, I would strongly support the development of a serious national strategy for the establishment of a Leaving Certificate computing curriculum, including the necessary teacher training.

It should be a full subject beyond tinkering with other subjects like mathematics and applied mathematics. – Yours, etc,

EAMONN McQUADE,

Emeritus Professor,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – The latest CSO report which revealed that 135,000 children are living in poverty is deplorable (“One in eight children without basics such as heating or warm clothes”, Front Page, January 22nd) . Fergus Finlay of Barnardos put it succinctly when he said that that number is the equivalent to the entire population of Mayo, the Taoiseach’s constituency. Would Enda Kenny tolerate his whole constituency suffering daily deprivation? I doubt it. Yet that is what is happening on a daily basis to an equivalent proportion of children. Sometimes we may grumble about how austerity is affecting us, be it having to cut back on annual holidays or giving up certain indulgences, but when it affects children to the point of deprivation then something is grossly wrong in the way society is functioning.

When parents, through no fault of their own, are unable to adequately provide for their children then the State has a duty to step in. Our policymakers need to take a long, hard look at the consequences of decisions which have adversely affected the lives of children. – Yours, etc,

JOHN BELLEW,

Dunleer,

Co Louth.

Sir, – It is not surprising that the occurrence of orange-coloured cats is twice as high in Donegal than in Dublin (“Cat lovers, we need your help – talk to us about fur”, January 21st). After all, Donegal is in Ulster. – Yours, etc,

JOHN HUNTER,

Belfast.

Sir, – I welcome the nationwide survey of cats that The Irish Times has initiated and wish you well with it. All who take part in it might be happy to know that we cat-lovers have a heavenly patron in the person of St Jerome. He had a cat at his feet as he translated the Holy Book which, strangely, from Genesis to Revelation, does not mention a single cat. – Yours, etc,

Rev JACK HARRIS,

Cork.

Sir, – Congratulations on your cat survey. I do hope it covers the vexed question of matching socks. – Yours, etc,

SEAN MURPHY,

Kilcoole,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I see the Minister for Transport is encouraging local authorities to install more speed ramps (“Minister wants more 30km/h speed limit zones introduced”, January 12th). I wonder if the Minister took advice on the matter from people suffering from various back ailments before making this decision.

Each time a car goes over a speed ramp, the suspension receives four impacts. The result of this on the driver varies from the uncomfortable to the quite painful. Surely we don’t need more ramps. – Yours, etc,

HUGO LACY,

Drogheda,

Co Louth.

Sir, – Many thanks for Patrick Freyne’s interesting article “Don’t buy stuff. Do stuff” (January 17th) on James Wallman’s book Stuffication – Living More With Less. Mr Wallman, described as a futurist, claims that the western world has been drowning in possessions since the 1920s and this hasn’t made us happier.

I have taken Mr Wallman’s advice and will not buy his book. Though I may reconsider this at a later date, something he might also appreciate. – Yours, etc,

DONNCHA de BÚRCA,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Frank McNally’s mention of “a C.I.E. man” in his “Irishman’s Diary” of January 16th is a reference to Mrs Ethel (Stoney) Turing’s father being a companion member of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire. The British intended this order to be a less exclusive version of the Order of the Star of India and was to reward officials, both British and local, who served the Raj. – Yours, etc,

JOHN F McCULLAGH,

Skillman,

New Jersey.

Irish Independent:

What is the human rights issue of our time?

Simply to live?

The deliberate murder of even one individual is a crime. The murder of 17 individuals is a crime. The global establishment recently whipped itself into a frenzy and an orgy of ritual official gesticulation over the murder of 17 individuals in France. They were named and buried with respect. Correctly so.

Yet, every day a multiple of 17 are murdered in many countries. Generally, as the “necessary” consequence of ‘war”. They are unnamed and unnoticed and their bodies are casually disposed of. No choreographed official ritual mourning. No names; no pack drill.

A multiple of that multiple of 17 also die also every day from a number of boring causes, deriving from our species’ failure to manage the planet. The so-called “international community” cares in a vague and superficial manner but does – in effect – nothing.

Coincidentally, the statisticians tell us that 1pc of the planet’s population owns or controls half of its wealth.

Edmund Burke once bemoaned the passing of “the age of chivalry” – referring to the ungallant treatment by Parisians of a celebrated Frenchwoman (by marriage).

To attempt to hurl cheap shots at the IMF’s Christine Lagarde would not only offend Burke, but be bathetic, mean, meagre, banal and – given her job – utterly lacking in canny foresight. She has all the eclat, elan, ambience, sheer classical ‘style’, (as well as intellectual calibre and directness), which we expect of our Gallic cousins.

Nevertheless, whilst with one hand she was regally patting us “irlandais heroiques” on the head, with the other she was holding, as her entitlement, a €7,000 handbag. C’est magnifique, Mme Lagarde, mais ce n’est pas la politique. Ni la solidarite humaine.

Leo Varadkar’s coming out takes us one massive step further towards the tolerant, pluralist Irish society towards which some of us have devoted some effort.

Surely, however, the overriding ‘human rights issue of our time’ is the concrete, daily ability for all human beings to simply ‘live’ in peace and socio-economic security in a just and democratic global society. Just very occasionally perhaps to have a tiny slice of ‘frugal comfort’.

Maurice O’Connell

Tralee, Co Kerry

 

Remembering Haughey

In this country, Charlie Haughey was God – particularly in rural Ireland. I remember on one occasion – during a youthful drinking sessions in the 1980s in one of our local pubs here in Glenties – a discussion on Charlie was in progress. I mentioned – very naively, of course – that he was maybe “a bit of a rogue”.

Suddenly, the silence in the pub was just deafening, and a bit scary.

So, it was the end of that particular session for me, and I left the pub quietly and went home to my lovely wife a little earlier than I anticipated.

Brian McDevitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

 

State must protect children

The latest CSO report revealing that 135,000 children, or one in eight, are living in poverty is deplorable.

Fergus Finlay of Barnardo’s put it very succinctly when he said that that number is equivalent to the entire population of Mayo, the Taoiseach’s constituency. Would Enda Kenny tolerate his whole constituency suffering daily deprivation? I doubt it.

Yet that is what is happening on a daily basis to an equivalent proportion of children. Sometimes we may grumble about how austerity is affecting us – be it having to cut back on annual holidays or give up certain indulgences – but when it affects children to the point of deprivation, then something is grossly wrong in the way society is functioning.

When parents – through no fault of their own – are unable to adequately provide for their children, then the State has a duty to step in. Our policymakers need to take a long hard look at the consequences of decisions which have adversely affected the lives of children.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

 

Not all parents are equal

I will be unable to support the wording on same-sex marriage that the Government has proposed for insertion into our Constitution in the event of a referendum being passed this May.

The reason for this is that the wording – in addition to the Children and Family Relationships Bill – completely disregards and impedes a child’s natural right to be raised by a mother and a father where possible.

If the Constitution would allow no distinction or preference for the purposes of marriage between a male/female couple and a same-sex couple (which is what the wording proposes), this would mean that it would be impossible for any adoption law to recognise the desirability of a child having the benefit of both a father and a mother.

This is because the law would have to proceed under the illusion that when it comes to the qualities needed for raising children (in addition to the qualities imparted by parents to their children) two women or two men would be exactly the same as a mother and a father.

In my view, for the law to put the desires of some adults ahead of the common good (and common sense) is wrong.

That is why I will have to vote ‘No’, when this wording is put before me at the polling station in May.

John B Reid

Monkstown, Co Dublin

 

University merger in south-east

I wish to take issue with John Walshe’s recent article on the prospect of a university for the south-east.

As is well-known, a recent study suggested that a merger between WIT and Carlow IT would probably not meet the academic requirements set for TU designation, mainly because of a lower level of academic research activity at the latter college.

This raises the very real danger that the proposed merger could diminish, rather than enhance, the prospect of a university in the south-east.

Whether such fears are entirely justified is not yet known, but to dismiss the issue as “two institutes that can’t get their act together” is hardly the viewpoint one would expect from an expert in third-level education

Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh

School of Science

Waterford Institute of Technology

 

Turbulence at Aer Lingus

Selling off Aer Lingus would prove a disastrous error, not just for the travelling public, but also for Ireland as a whole. It would be another short-sighted move by the Government in relation to our national assets – the most prestigious of the ‘family silver’ – for short-term gain. Competition is the life of any trade, and the relationship between Aer Lingus and Ryanair in this regard is a healthy one. It gives the public variety, choice and keen prices.

Accepting a fancy share price offer from its former high-powered boss – Willie Walsh’s International Air Lines Group – would possibly see Dublin carry on as usual, but it could mean adieu to Shannon, Belfast, Cork and, eventually, our national defined airline. The reality then will be higher prices for all travellers.

Established Aer Lingus – its pasture green with shamrock logo – acted as a silent foreign salesman, selling this country and its produce for many years. A country without its ‘national wings’ is not even an independent state. Shame!

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Irish Independent

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