Sweeping

26 January 2015 Sweeping

I sweep the drive and do my courses.

Obituary:

Lotte Haas with underwater camera

Lotte Haas with underwater camera Photo: Alamy

Lotte Hass, who has died aged 86, was an underwater photographer and model who, with her husband Hans, produced pioneering films of the sea depths during the 1950s.

Shot on early watertight cameras, the Hasses’ footage offered viewers a glimpse of an underwater world unparalleled in its intimacy – at considerable personal risk to Lotte, who dived using a lightweight rebreather and a fashionable swimsuit that afforded her little protection from aquatic predators. The bulky filming equipment posed a separate danger, and on one occasion she almost drowned when her oxygen supply ran out and the heavy lens required for colour shots dragged her down.

In the male-dominated divers’ community, Lotte was a striking exception, and her good looks, combined with a fearless approach to sharks, manta rays and other perils, contributed in large part to the audience appeal. Diving To Adventure, the couple’s 1956 BBC series, was the first of its kind for British television, proving a great hit with critics and viewers alike.

The Daily Mail dubbed Lotte “one of the most beautiful women who has ever prowled under the sea with a spear”; her picture adorned the covers of international magazines, and she received offers from Hollywood. She rejected the prospect of a long-term acting career, however, preferring to remain with Hass on his expeditions, and later retired from the public eye – though not before securing her place in diving history, as the first woman to explore the coral reefs of the Red Sea.

Born Charlotte Hildegard Baierl on November 6 1928 in the Brigittenau district of Vienna, Lotte was 19 years old when she applied for a position as Hans Hass’s secretary. Hans, nine years her senior, had just released his first feature-length film, Men among Sharks, and was planning a new expedition to the Red Sea. As a great admirer of his books, Lotte was eager to attend, but faced considerable opposition from Hass and his fellow team members, who felt that having a woman on board would distract them from the seriousness of their task.

Hass’s film company, however, recognised the value of an attractive lead, and Lotte was ready to prove herself a valuable addition to the crew. Unbeknown to Hass, Lotte had been taking lessons under an Olympic trainer, borrowing Hass’s camera for an excursion into the Danube while he was away on a lecture tour. The resulting pictures – of carp, pike and catfish – were published in an Austrian magazine in 1949. Under pressure from his director, Hass yielded, telling Lotte: “From tomorrow on you are a man.”


Lotte and Hans, centre, on an expedition

For Lotte, the expedition presented a steep learning curve. They made their camp among scorpions in the desert ruins of Suakim in north-eastern Sudan, and out on the sea Hass could be heedless in his determination to achieve the best possible shots. On her second dive Lotte found herself separated from the rest of the crew and eye-to-eye with a shark; a few days later Hass drove a school of barracuda towards her. Eventually she plucked up the courage to approach him: “Do you think there are any giant octopuses?

“I wish there were!” Hass replied. “Unfortunately the only ones I’ve ever seen came from American film studios and they’re made of rubber.”

Newly divorced from his first wife, Hans proposed to Lotte in Cairo at the end of the expedition. Their finished film, Under the Red Sea, won an award at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, and critics were much impressed by the novelty of a female diver. “The figure of Miss Baierl, floating smoothly along the crags of coral in the underwater world”, wrote the New York Times, “makes an equally fascinating and dramatic contrast to the life that is there.”


Lotte and Hans

The couple’s new-found commercial success allowed Hass to purchase a 170-foot hull, the Xarifa, and Lotte accompanied him on expeditions to the Caribbean and Galapagos islands, where they shot Under the Caribbean (1953). The first German film produced in Technicolor, it won an award from the Underwater Photographic Society for outstanding cinematography, and Time magazine devoted a double-page spread to an image of Lotte holding on to the flukes of a sperm whale.

Later the couple dived off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, taking 8,000 photographs along 200 miles of the coral barrier, and trawled the Aegean to shoot Diving to Adventure, producing 26 half-hour films. The Undersea World of Adventure, a six-part series shot in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, followed in 1958.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lotte was the first woman to explore the coral reefs of the Red Sea

From the end of the decade Lotte devoted most of her time to her young daughter and the family’s flat in Vienna. She made a brief return to the screen as an actress in 1976, with a supporting role in an episode of the long-running German detective series Derrick.

Her autobiography, Girl on the Ocean Floor, was published in 1970.

Lotte Hass was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame and the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2000.

Hans Hass predeceased her in 2013, and she is survived by their daughter Meta.

Lotte Hass, born November 6 1928, died January 14 2015

Guardian:

Vigil for Raif Badawi outside Saudi embassy, London
Vigil outside the Saudi embassy, London, for Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blogging about free speech, 15 January 2015. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

The contrast in western reactions to the two dead autocrats in your first three pages on 24 January (Revealed: how Blair colluded with Gaddafi regime in secret; A ‘strong advocate of women’ and ‘skilful moderniser’. The revised view of Abdullah) could hardly be greater: while Hillary Clinton was jubilant when Muammar Gaddafi was murdered in the ruins created by a brutal Nato bombardment, Cameron and Obama rush over to Riyadh; and the British monarch, the UK’s flags flying at half-mast, describes the Saudi monarch as a distinguished man of peace.

The difference certainly doesn’t lie in human rights records: it is notable, however, that the Libyan and the Saudi leaders had very different attitudes to the petrodollar – while Gaddafi threatened it, the house of Al Saud ensures that global oil trade is conducted in US dollars. And shovels its oil revenues into the UK and US military complexes.

We should remember our leaders in mourning the next time they talk about the need for violent regime change.
Peter McKenna
Liverpool

• The decision to fly the union jack at half mast to mark the death of the Saudi king reflects the historic relations between the two countries. The Saudi monarchy is a British-made monarchy. Its close ties with western colonial powers, including having American military bases and its support to the US-led war on Iraq, are unpopular across the Arab world. Banning women from driving cars and other conservative policies are seen by mainstream Muslims as deviation. Arab public opinion favours democratic change but western support for such dictatorships is making western foreign policies unpopular.
Mohammed Samaana
Belfast

• Am I naive in thinking it’s time David Cameron chose between oil and trade agreements and morality (‘I feel destroyed but I won’t cry,’ says wife of Saudi blogger, 22 January)? The Saudi regime is subjecting Raif Badawi to savage torture while governments around the world make mealy-mouthed noises about their disapproval. Britain has recently been shown to have been complicit in torture; it might improve our sullied reputation if for once our prime minister not only condemned this barbarity but proposed meaningful action, notwithstanding the charges of hypocricy that would follow. Our leaders will say a protesting public does not understand the intricacies of international relations and the necessity of protecting our arms sales. But we can recognise that a point has been reached when foul brutality has to be opposed.
Pat Sutherland
Glasgow

• Lest we forget, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and al-Qaida arose in Saudi Arabia, led by a Saudi and funded by Saudi petrodollars. That, plainly, was ok – but to ask for a little more freedom of expression in a blog – no. Sickening to see UK leaders lining up to pay tribute to a man who would have had the world living in an eighth-century-style caliphate.
Wal Callaby
Ipswich

• Disingenuous indeed to report that western powers hope training camps being opened by the US in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for Syrian “opposition fighters” will be a counterweight to Isis in the battle against the Assad regime (Iraqi forces turning the tide in battle to repel Isis, says Kerry, 23 January). Who exactly are these opposition fighters, and why is the west still in denial over the fact that the Syrian president enjoys substantial popular support? Isis was perpetrating its butchery against the Syrian army long before its beheadings of western hostages. The setting up of anti-Assad military training camps by the US is warmongering, adding fuel to the fire at a time when the watchword should be peacemaking at all costs.
Peter Godfrey
Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

• You repeat Eliza Manningham-Buller’s claim that Britain’s rapprochement with Gaddafi was justified by the ending of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programme. But there was always the suspicion that, as with Iraq, Blair and Bush talked up or even invented Libya’s WMDs, in order to do business with Gaddafi despite public revulsion over Lockerbie and everything else. International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Mohamed ElBaradei estimated in 2003 that Libya was three to seven years from producing a nuclear weapon (supposing that it wanted to). But maybe Britain’s spooks know better. Gaddafi and his regime are long gone, likewise Blair. There is nothing now to stop the government from coming clean.
Willy McCourt
London

• The revelations of Blair’s dubious dealings with Gaddafi are no reason for not voting for Ed Miliband – just further proof that we chose the right brother.
Jean Cardy
London

David Owen (Lesson one from the Hinchingbrooke hospital scandal: beware the ‘mutual’, 20 January) confused a complicated question. Many of us who run employee- or co-owned mutuals providing healthcare have followed the Hinchingbrooke “experiment” closely. When Circle withdrew from its contract we were disappointed, but we are equally dismayed that the story has not be been fully explained.

Between 2009 and 2014, 42 new mutuals were formed from parts of the NHS – all are not-for-profits. Most have now been in business for over three years with impressive results. Patient feedback is well above the NHS average. Care Quality Commission ratings are generally good to outstanding, and friends-and-family tests have been passed with flying colours. That’s because we put patients central to everything we do, by allowing our staff to be fully involved in all aspects of our organisation. Take Provide CIC: the CQC recently praised its levels of care and staff engagement as outstanding across the board. Inclusion Healthcare in Lincoln and SEQOL in Swindon are other examples.

David Owen should not blur the private and mutual sector too readily. Most of the mutuals in healthcare are fully employee- or community-owned. Unlike Circle/Hinchingbrooke, most operate as social enterprises with explicit “for good” objectives, with surpluses going back into the organisation and the community. Should all NHS trusts become mutuals? Perhaps not. But the success of many employee- or community-owned ventures confounds the political game played by Owen when he calls for a blanket end to any innovative approach to delivering better healthcare services.
John Niland CEO, Provide CIC
Steve Waite CEO, Plymouth Community Healthcare CIC
Alison Hopkins CEO, Accelerate Health CIC
Janet Rowse CEO Sirona Care and Health CIC
Lyn Bacon CEO, Nottingham City Care Partnership
Joanna Douglas CEO, Allied Health Professionals Suffolk CIC
Liz Weatherill MD, Enable2 CIC
Scott Darraugh CEO, Social adVentures Ltd
Martin Riley MD, Medway Community Healthcare
Heather Mitchell CEO, SEQOL
Jo Pritchard MD, Central Surrey Health
Penny Brown CEO, North Somerset Community Partnership CIC
Keith Edmondson MD, Aspire Wellbeing
Kevin Bond CEO, Navigo Health and Social Care CIC
Andrew Burnell CEO, City Health Care Partnership CIC
Siobhan Clarke MD, Your Healthcare CIC
Julia Clarke CEO, Bristol Community Health CIC
Jonathan Lewis CEO, Bromley Healthcare
Linda Harris CEO, Spectrum Community Healthcare

The EU financial sector does not need to be eased, there is plenty of liquidity in the banks (Report, 23 January). Quantitative easing, as practised by the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve, merely flooded the financial sector with money to the benefit of bondholders. This did not create a so-called wealth affect, with a trickle-down to the real producing economy. This was supposedly the result that the Bank of England wanted, ie to stimulate the real economy; but, as your leader pointed out, it was just fixed assets and properties that benefited. This is yet another factor in the increasing level of income inequality that is now prevalent in the UK and US, and does little to promote growth and increase GDP.

If the EU were bold enough, it could fund infrastructure or renewables projects directly through the electronic creation of money, without having to borrow. Our government has that authority, but lacks the political will. The CBI has calculated that every £1 of such expenditure would increase GDP by £2.80 through the money multiplier. The Bank of England’s QE programme of £375bn was a wasted opportunity.
Tony Pugh
Sidmouth, Devon

• I can follow the logic that the European Central Bank buying a country’s debt will provide cash for investment etc. But this doesn’t cancel the debt, it just transfers it from the country’s balance sheet to the ECB’s balance sheet. And at some stage surely the debt has to be repaid. What happens then?
David Lund
Winscombe, Somerset

• You tell us that the ECB will use electronically created money to buy bonds. Is there an app for this? How do I get it, because I could do with some of it.
Jim Waight
Hertford

“Sturgeon talks about English policy affecting Scotland. But she would push Scottish power south” (Editorial, 22 January). And why ever not? The three main UK parties blazoned from the rooftops the benefits of unionised government.
Benedict Birnberg
London

• I am not overly concerned about tits on page 3, but please, please, not penises on page 8 (Galliano and penises, 24 January). As any fule kno, penis is a third declension noun so the correct nominative plural is penes.
Bruce Holman
Waterlooville, Hampshire

• Three words for fans disappointed by sequels (Don’t give up on Broadchurch, 22 January). Spiral. Series. Five.
Nicola Grove
Horningsham, Wiltshire

King John signs Magna Carta at Runnymeade, 15 June 1215.
‘To mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta we need to … address corporate irresponsibility by demanding genuine accountability at work,’ writes Michael Gold. Above, King John signs Magna Carta, 15 June 1215. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Un/REX

We should all welcome Guy Standing’s call for a Great Charter for the 21st century to “limit the liberties of tax dodgers and put the precariat at its heart” (The case for a new people’s charter, 23 January). Indeed, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta we need to deal with the unfinished business at the core of our democracy – that is, to address corporate irresponsibility by demanding genuine accountability at work too. Corporate power and greed, demonstrated by tax evasion and soaring executive remuneration, are a major source of social inequality and anxiety as senior managers come to lead lives ever more remote from those of countless workers and their families facing austerity and pay cuts.

Now is the moment for national debate on ways to extend our rights to cover our working lives, with rights to information, consultation and co-determination for all workers, whatever our hours, background or status. In particular, we need the right to elect employee representatives on to the boards of companies so that they can argue the case for workers’ interests at the earliest stages of formulating business strategy. The argument is simple: yes, shareholders invest their capital in companies for profit, but workers invest their lives in companies for income, and without their working lives there would be no profit, so they have equal entitlement to board representation.

The Trades Union Congress has made an excellent start by calling not only for employee board-level representation but also for amendments to company law to redress shareholder primacy and requiring ownership of shares for two years before they entitle shareholders to voting rights. The best way to commemorate Magna Carta will be to update it to our needs in 2015.
Michael Gold
Professor of comparative employment relations, Royal Holloway University of London

 

 

Independent:

 

Times:

Sir, As a physics teacher in all types of schools (girls’ and boys’ grammar schools, comprehensive and mixed independent), I noted that more girls by far took A-level physics in the single-sex grammar than in any of the mixed schools (“Women students shun science”, Jan 22). Some of these girls achieved the highest grades in A-level physics and mathematics but preferred medicine to a career in physics or engineering. One factor was that at the time most physics graduates were employed in the defence industry (Few girls were seriously interested in designing missiles, I imagine). However, the fundamental question is why the presence of boys specifically deters girls from aspiring to a career in engineering, or even studying physics at A-level in this country in particular. Do we have a misogynistic culture that not only restricts the presence of women in the boardroom but also deters girls from making “unfeminine” choices at school? We are undervaluing the talent of half the population.
Catherine Dack
Fleckney, Leics

Sir, I read with a sense of déjà vu on the continuing lack of women who take engineering degrees in the UK. Until we are comfortable enough to say that we need to do something “different for girls” the numbers of women in engineering will remain below 10 per cent. The traditional message that science and maths equals engineering has the impact of simultaneously encouraging the students who already know this (often boys) and discouraging girls who aren’t being made aware of the wider appeal of engineering as a world-changing profession. Girls often have different motivators to boys and these need to be understood and exploited more effectively if girls are going to be persuaded that engineering is worthy of their interest as a creative, innovative and solution-driven profession. Until we support campaigns which deliver this viewpoint then we will not make any substantial progress.
Dawn Bonfield
President, Women’s Engineering Society

Sir, The choice of A-level subjects is made at 16. My chemistry master recommended the “holy trinity” of maths, physics and chemistry, while my headmaster steered me towards classics and ancient history, which he taught himself. Being obedient to hierarchical considerations, I chose the latter, so precluding a degree in STEM subjects. While not regretting my choice (the head of the oil company which recruited me having stated that he liked people who had studied Latin and Greek “because they sold more oil”), I support having a wider array of subjects at the A-level stage, as with the Baccalaureate, which leaves the student, two years older and more mature, free to choose a degree in either the arts or the sciences.
Peter Sterwin
Weybridge, Surrey

Sir, Bravo for your leading article (“Women in Science”, Jan 22) bemoaning the dearth of women taking up scientific careers, particularly engineering. However, newspapers regularly show photographs of big, muscular men in dirty overalls repairing roads, railway lines and electricity cables and refer to them as engineers. Is it any wonder that girls do not take up the highly academic profession of engineering when they see manual workers and tradesmen being referred to as engineers? In my experience, women make excellent engineers but they need to be nurtured in an environment that makes it attractive to them. At the moment they are not.
Paul Taylor, CEng
Derby

Sir, To argue for more women in science and engineering is necessarily to argue for fewer men. If there was a corresponding call for more men in subjects with a female dominance this would not be a problem, but there is not.
John Allen
Swindon, Wilts

Sir, Could the shortage of women in science be because girls at entry level age are typically smarter than boys of similar age? Possibly they have looked at the salary expectation and status of engineers and scientists and decided it’s not worth the trouble of taking on difficult subjects.
Stuart Johnson
Dubai

Sir, Your correspondent Peter Feilden (Jan 21) is mistaken on two points. First, the Milk Marketing Board was abolished (in 1994) by the Major not the Thatcher government. Second, this was not the result of lobbying by the Dairy Trade Federation (of which I was director-general from 1986 until 1994). The federation argued at the time that the fate of the MMB should be determined by a vote of dairy farmers. Neither the government nor the MMB leadership allowed this to happen.
JP Price

London NW4

Sir, Not all of the siren suits worn by Churchill were made by Turnbull & Asser or such eminent tailors (report, Jan 23). During the war my mother worked in the sewing room at the field stores in Aldershot.

One day she came home and told us that she had been asked to make a blue serge “siren suit” for an eminent gentleman in the government.

This she duly did and amused us with the news that his waist measured 54 inches in diameter.

Only much later were we told that the eminent gentleman was indeed the prime minister.

Wendy Naylor
Maidenhead, Berks

Sir, Regarding manslamming (Times2, Jan 20, and letter, Jan 22), my brother and I practised our sidestepping in Princes Street, Edinburgh, and saw how far we could get without pedestrian contact, as training for our respective year-group rugby teams.

It was great fun. He ended up scrum-half and I a wing forward.

Peter O’Malley
Kirkbymoorside, N Yorks

Sir, In the Gadarene rush to buy pensioner bonds (news, Jan 16), the over-60s may be missing an even better opportunity to buy up to £25 of additional inflation-proofed state pension per week. The cost of a state pension top-up falls as you get older. For example, to buy an extra £25 a week state pension at age 65 would cost £22,250. To buy a private indexed-linked annuity of the same amount would cost about £45,000.

The state pension top up (Class 3A voluntary contribution) will be available from October 2015 to everyone reaching state pension age before April 6, 2016. People can register their interest online at gov.uk/state-pension-topup and the offer will be open for 18 months.
Stephanie Hawthorne
Editor, Pensions World

Sir, While I agree with Mark Rylance (Jan 20, and letters, Jan 24) that we need a figure of Cromwell’s calibre in modern politics, it is an Oliver we need, not a Thomas. For several months now it has been obvious that Oliver Cromwell’s words to the “rump parliament” apply with equal force to our current fixed-term parliament: “You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Let us hope that our present crop of MPs use their remaining time to ensure that the misadventure of a further fixed-term parliament of five years is not repeated.
Christopher Jackson
Horbury, W Yorks

 

Telegraph:

Winston Churchill

Churchill’s funeral was attended by a great number of world leaders Photo: Toni Frissell

SIR – Churchill wished for a contingent from the Combined Cadet Force of Harrow School, where he had received his first military training in the 1880s, to line the Palace Yard at Westminster during his funeral. I was a member of the contingent chosen for that great honour.

The weather was bone-numbingly cold. We were each presented with a commemorative coin bearing the images of the monarch and Churchill, and I retain this reminder of a truly wonderful experience to this day.

Rev Simon Douglas Lane
Hampton, Middlesex

SIR – I was a pupil at the school in Bladon, the village where Churchill is buried.

The night before his funeral, I queued on the Embankment in London with my father and my wife to file past Churchill’s catafalque the next morning.

We did not notice the cold that night as we reminisced with others in that long queue.

Edward Bottomley
Hove, Sussex

SIR – As Churchill had served as First Lord of the Admiralty, it was appropriate that the Royal Navy had the honour of towing the gun carriage bearing his coffin at his funeral.

However, the escorts to the gun carriage were Royal Air Force aircraft apprentices, distinguishable by their red hat bands from the No 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton. Churchill had been instrumental in the foundation of this training school, and the Halton boys provided the backbone of the RAF through its difficult early years and during the Second World War.

It was a massive loss to the country when the RAF apprentice scheme ended in 1993. Churchill would have been proud to know that he was escorted on his last journey by RAF apprentices.

Group Captain Min Larkin (retd)
Archivist, RAF Halton
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

SIR – At the time of Churchill’s funeral, we lived in Berkshire, near a railway. We took our very young children to watch as the train taking Churchill’s coffin to Bladon went past.

Certain dates are indelible in my mind: VE Day, the Coronation, the assassination of JFK, man landing on the Moon, and Churchill’s funeral.

Penny Mitchell-Innes
Rye, East Sussex

SIR – Churchill’s state funeral was a landmark event in British history and it was executed to perfection, except for one oversight by the government: financial institutions remained open that day when they should have been closed as a mark of respect for the great man.

As an employee of a clearing bank I had to work on the morning of the funeral when my wish was to be at home to watch the event live on television and pay my respects as best I could.

Andrew Tomlinson
Dereham, Norfolk

SIR – A caption describing the photo of a catafalque with four guardsmen surrounding Churchill’s coffin reads: “St Paul’s Cathedral on January 30”.

Having been Canon Treasurer of the Cathedral for almost 10 years I can guarantee that the photo was not taken at St Paul’s. It was, as Andrew Roberts indicates in his accompanying article, taken in Westminster Hall.

Canon Michael Saward
Bromley, Kent

SIR – In common with many of the reporters on duty at Hyde Park Gate on Saturday January 23 1965, I was convinced that news of Churchill’s death was kept secret for several hours – until the Sunday newspaper deadlines had passed – so it could be announced exclusively by the BBC. It was suggested that the family, and others in positions of authority, felt this would be more fitting.

Some years later I put that point to Sir Winston’s son, Randolph, during the course of a long telephone conversation. He did not disagree, but as we were speaking late in the evening it was difficult to get a clear and positive answer from him.

John Carter
Shortlands, Kent

Unbuckle babies to make them sturdy

SIR – Professor John Ashton makes a convincing case for state intervention in burgeoning childhood physical and mental health problems.

There is growing evidence that the damage to development may in fact start long before the pressures of peers, electronics and information overload. Babies are being strapped into five-point harness carriers, buggies and chairs from birth.

If put on the floor or loose in prams, they learn to control the core muscles that later provide stability for feeding themselves, dressing and writing.

Failure to acquire these skills means children arrive at school ill-prepared to sit still or to hold a pencil or a knife and fork, thus setting them up to be wrongly labelled with attention deficit, learning difficulties or behaviour problems at an early age.

Emma Isworth
Tenterden, Kent

Quantitative easing

SIR – Quantitative easing (“Mario Draghi announces €1.1 trillion QE programme”) is merely a paper exercise.

The continuing recession in many eurozone countries is directly caused by misguided priorities: putting the one-size-fits-all project of Europe above its people. The recession can only be cured by reducing the amount of state interference in work and enterprise.

Diversity is vital, both commercially and democratically, allowing decisions to be taken based on voters’, taxpayers’ and customers’ needs.

George Brittain
Sunderland

Fuelling Islamism

SIR – Demonstrations by the “anti-Islamisation” group Pegida in Germany represent exactly the kind of divisiveness jihadists hope to sow among societies worldwide.

Islamisation is a fiction. By giving credence to this notion, we only aid the jihadists’ agenda and publicise their perverted interpretation of Islam.

Liz Stonard
Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada

Syria in need

Syrian refugess at the Reyhanli refugee camp in Turkey (AFP)

SIR – Britain is to start training “moderate” Syrian opposition groups to help in the fight against Isil.

The conflict in Syria has created the largest humanitarian crisis in recent memory and has caused over 191,000 deaths, the displacement of 7 million people and the widespread destruction of schools, clinics, hospitals, places of worships, and transport and communications structures.

If Britain and its allies really want to help Syria, they ought to stop supporting the armed groups that are operating there. Britain should also take in more Syrian refugees.

Ambrose Musiyiwa
Leicester

Remove licensing powers from councils

SIR – The comments by Victoria Gillick regarding the deficiencies of the current Licensing Act struck a chord with me.

I used to prepare and present applications to magistrates’ courts for alterations to licensed premises. While the magistrates didn’t always get it right, it was absolutely clear that handing over control to local authorities with rules allowing 24-hour licensing was going to lead to problems of anti-social behaviour and alcohol abuse.

I support the calls for a change in the current law, preferably with control being removed from councils and given to a specialised body.

Arthur Bayley
Tyldesley, Lancashire

SIR – Dr Ann-Mary Hills assumes that everyone is drinking gin.

According to the Finfax Guinness Pint Index a pint of Guinness in 1969 would have cost 15 pence. By 2013 that had risen to over £3 – an increase of 1,900 per cent. Yet people still buy it.

George Sullivan
Cubbington, Warwickshire

SIR – With tobacco use decreasing following the introduction of a smoking ban in pubs, the answer must be to ban the drinking of alcohol in those same establishments.

David Wilson
Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Vintage help-to-buy

SIR – Fred Clark writes that the older generation did not benefit from a help-to-buy scheme.

In the early Seventies the Greater London Council did offer people working or living in London the finances to purchase their first property, if proof was provided of mortgage refusals from a bank or building society.

This policy was warmly welcomed by my husband and me, and many other couples whose savings fell short. We continued up the property ladder and have been enormously grateful for that initial opportunity ever since.

Melanie Whitehand
Woking, Surrey

Far from shipshape

SIR – It is not surprising Cunard chose to build so many ships abroad.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 was built in Clydebank, Scotland. In 1968 I went on a “shakedown” cruise to test the ship’s facilities before its official maiden voyage. It was already a year late and it seemed the workers were doing everything possible to prevent it from sailing, thus prolonging their work. As soon as shower fittings were put up, they disappeared. Someone had cut a piece out of the middle of the vast carpet in the Queen Elizabeth lounge for their own home. I heard a plea from the shore authorities for items, including mattresses, not to be thrown overboard.

Eventually we sailed to the Canaries, where a problem developed with the engines. We limped to Southampton and if the sea had been rough in the Bay of Biscay we would have needed a tow.

Noel Rands
Croydon, Surrey

End of the loons?

SIR – I was sad to read that the Monster Raving Loony Party is in need of financial backers (“Stand out from the herd, back a Loony”).

I spent 27 years as a Loony Party member and activist, contesting many elections. The party was never the same after the demise of its founder and leader, Screaming Lord Sutch.

A Ukip donor, Arron Banks, has donated the £500 deposit for Loony leader Alan Hope to stand against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. I’ve even heard talk of a Ukip-Loony coalition.

Lord Toby Jug
St Ives, Huntingdonshire

The ugly reality of Tudor life in King Henry’s court

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII in the BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’ (BBC)

SIR – The ladies of the court of Henry VIII, portrayed by actresses in the BBC’s Wolf Hall, should not have perfect teeth for many reasons.

Penicillin had not yet been invented; society was riddled with syphilis and other disease, and they ate a bad diet, which was very rich and included a lot of red meat.

Nor were these women thin with perfect complexions. They were unlikely to go for an early morning run in those clothes and the air they breathed was badly polluted by the burning of carbon fuel. The places they lived in were so cold and damp that they had to wear many layers of clothing, even indoors, and tuberculosis was rife.

The rats they lived with, however, would have had very good teeth and taken a lot more exercise.

Sue Doughty
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – In maintaining that the Tudors did more to shape the face of Britain than the Plantagenets, Leanda de Lisle (“Which royal dynasty put the great into Britain?”) claims that Henry VIII never lost the devotion of the English people.

We Northerners well remember the promises of pardon made to the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 by this ruler, after which they were brutally executed. We remain resentful and mistrustful of the ruling classes in London.

Harry Santiuste
Edenthorpe, Doncaster

SIR – My problem with Wolf Hall is that Mark Rylance looks just like Kenneth Connor – is this Carry on Cromwell?

R A Reese
Dorchester, Dorset

Tasty wee beasties

SIR – Scotland has yet to discover how best to cook its own national dish. Sally Saunders describes cooking haggis from scratch and boiling it. One of her “wee beasties” turned into haggis soup. It’s a common problem.

All those preparing to celebrate Burns Night today should wrap their beasties in aluminium foil and bake them.

Simon Cox
East Molesey, Surrey

Clarion call

SIR – Rather than using a whistle like Lynne Waldron and her husband, my wife and I use a high-pitched call to locate one another when out and about. This “oooh, oooh”, modulated with a rising inflexion, is very penetrating and effective.

I once used it to attract her attention when on the seafront at Padstow, so startling a man standing next to me that he nearly fell into the harbour.

Roy Bailey
Hungerford, Berkshire

 

Globe and Mail:

MONA ELTAHAWY

In Saudi Arabia, change will come from below, not from the throne

When I lived in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, public executions would be announced at the very end of state media’s newscasts. The anchor would read a statement from the Interior Ministry that included a verse from the Koran used to justify capital punishment along with the name of the person executed and the crime they supposedly committed.

That was it. Just a dry and to-the-point statement that ended the news. Almost an afterthought, an “Oh by the way, we chopped someone’s head off in a public square today.” Sometimes it would be amputations. Horrors delivered in the terse drip-drop of a theocratic tyranny, no questions asked, no shame shown for the barbarism and no challenging what happened because unless you were there at the public square where a human head was severed, you had to take their word for it.

On Jan. 12, some 10 days before King Abdullah died, four police officers dragged Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, a Burmese woman who resided in Saudi Arabia, through a street in Islam’s holy city of Mecca and held her down until an executioner took aim at her neck, taking three strikes to behead her.

She was convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of her seven-year-old step-daughter. She screamed “I did not kill. I did not kill” as the security officers tried to pin her down.

We know all of that because a man secretly filmed the execution and the video was distributed by human rights activists and posted on YouTube. Although the video has been removed by YouTube as part of its policy on “shocking and disgusting content,” the Saudi authorities tellingly arrested the man who shot the video. An Interior Ministry spokesman said such matters fell under the country’s law against cybercrimes.

He might as well have said they arrested the man because he was the latest reminder that social media have unclasped the Saudi regime’s stranglehold over the narrative that they enjoyed for years. That stranglehold allowed the regime to inhabit a moral black hole despite its outrageous human rights record by claiming an “exceptionalism:” We want to reform, the royals would claim, but the people are not ready so don’t push us.

Social media, especially, have given the lie to that claim by giving alternative and opposing voices the ability to leapfrog right over that exceptionalism nonsense and to say “We are here; we are fighting to be free – hear us.” On social media, Saudi men and women – who live in one of the most Internet-connected nations in the world – are able to connect in ways often impossible in a kingdom that enforces a strict gender segregation. And for women, especially, who encounter what can only be described as a gender apartheid that leaves them dependent on a male guardian’s permission to do the most basic of things, social media have helped them give the lie that Saudi women embrace their oppression.

From veteran feminist and activist Wajeha al-Huwaider’s 2008 YouTube driving video in defiance of the ban against women’s driving, to Manal al-Sharif’s own driving video in 2011, for which she was jailed for nine days, to the driving videos of the past couple of years by other Saudi women, social media have continued to document women’s resistance. Several of those activists also openly call for the end of the guardianship system that is one of the mainstays of gender apartheid.

How frightening is a woman armed with driver’s licence and social media to support her? Ask Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, who have been detained for more than 50 days and are to be thought first female drivers to be referred to specialized court in Riyadh that handles “terrorism” cases.

We haven’t seen a revolution in Saudi Arabia in the style of the uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010. But never doubt that the uprisings have influenced Saudis who followed them on satellite television and online, from the activist I mention above to ordinary Saudis who must be wondering why their recently departed king threw billions at a military-backed ruler such as Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi like an antiseptic meant to both sanitize Egypt out of revolution and keep Saudi Arabia safely immune.

But as we mark the fourth anniversary of Egypt’s Jan. 25, 2011, revolution, know that it began a process of unravelling that finds an echo in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region. It is an unravelling of the kind of tyranny that arrogantly never imagined it would be challenged. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it was an arrogance that sat on one of the world’s largest oil reserves and allowed it to use the billions it spent on buying the West’s weapons in return for that same West’s blindness to tyranny.

Incredibly brave Saudi men and women are risking their freedom and their lives to continue to unravel that tyranny. The more we hear – and watch them – the less likely will western officials be able to call a dead tyrant a “reformer king” as they did with Abdullah, and will be forced instead to call him as he was: the king of counter-revolution.

Mona Eltahawy is the author of the forthcoming book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution.

 

H.A. Hellyer

Far from ‘outsiders,’ Europe and Islam have long been intertwined

 

JANICE GROSS STEIN

For new Saudi king, issues run deeper than oil

“The King is dead – long live the King!” The transition from King Abdullah to King Salman in Saudi Arabia nicely fits that phrase. One of the new king’s first actions was to immediately promote Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who had been appointed deputy crown prince by the late king, as the new crown prince.

The succession is now assured and jittery markets can calm.

Or can they? Does the smooth transition promise continuity of Saudi strategy in global markets and in the Middle East?

Saudi Arabia is today the key player in global oil markets. In November at an OPEC meeting, King Abdullah’s ministers made it clear that that they were playing a long game. To preserve its market share in the face of new energy sources coming on-stream from the United States, Saudi Arabia refused to cut production of oil, even though the price was falling. Riyadh is trying to force higher-cost producers out of the market and preserve its pre-eminence.

Saudi strategy is punishing Iran, its sworn enemy, but it is also punishing the new government in Iraq, its vulnerable neighbour and protégé, as well as many of the oil-producing states in the Gulf. Will King Salman continue this strategy?

Almost certainly. The strategy is the result of widespread discussion and consensus among Saudi leaders and experts and is likely to endure, at least until the market stabilizes. In his first official statement as king, King Salman pledged to continue Saudi policies. Iranian and Russian producers hoping for a quick change are likely to be disappointed.

More uncertain is whether the new king will continue the aggressive support of Sunnis in their conflict with Shia Islam that is ripping through the Middle East, leaving a trail of blood and violence in its wake. King Abdullah was vituperative in his opposition to Iran and its allies in the region, privately urging U.S. President Barack Obama to “cut off the head of the snake.” His determination to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, his support of militants in Syria committed to Mr. al-Assad’s ouster, and the strong support of military dictator Abdul Fatah el-Sisi in Egypt were all signature elements of Saudi foreign policy.

As the guardian of the holy places, King Salman will play a leading role in shaping strategy for Sunni Muslims. He, more than other recent Saudi monarchs, brings with him deep experience as a conciliator. King Salman served for many years as governor of Riyadh province, where he brokered agreement among rivals in a royal family of about 7,000 princes and princesses. His temperament may be less assertive than that of the late king.

We will soon know. The new king will be sorely tested by the emergence of Iranian-supported Houthis as an important political force in Yemen and the chaos that is enveloping its southern neighbour. King Salman will not be able to remain passive for long in the face of this challenge. Whether he responds with force or builds alliances within Yemen will tell us a great deal about the predispositions of the new king.

As always, the world will be watching. If the new king mismanages these strategic challenges, Saudi Arabia can destabilize the region and global energy markets.

Irish Times:

Sir, – The opening salvos in the marriage referendum by the No campaigners have seen assertions that the ballot, if passed, will strike a terminal blow to the “traditional family”, as it will operate to extend adoption rights to all persons who would marry under it.

The class of person who can apply to adopt legally in Ireland has evolved with time. The Adoption Act 1952 provided that single people could adopt, though it was initially limited to a widow, a child’s mother, father or relative.

By 1974, a widower was added to this list and, in 1991, any single person could apply to adopt a child. This position was confirmed in the Adoption Act 2010.

A concern of those opposing the marriage referendum seems to be that this amendment will deprive the adopted child of a “mother and father”, as the Oireachtas will not be able to enact legislation which prefers an opposite-sex couple when considering applicants for adoption.

The legislative history of adoption shows that no such preference is a feature of our adoption laws. Indeed, section 33 (1)(a)(iii) of the 2010 Act makes the position clear; an applicant for adoption must satisfy the Adoption Authority of Ireland that “in the particular circumstances of the case, the adoption is desirable and in the best interests of the child”.

It is submitted that this is the State’s primary concern when making adoption orders, and not the particular make-up of the proposed adoptive family.

Whether the referendum is passed or not, this will continue to be the case. – Yours, etc,

GRACE MADIGAN, BL

NICK REILLY, BL

Dublin 7.

Sir, – As a pro-rail campaigner, I read with interest your editorial on turning the western rail corridor into a greenway (January 12th).

In order to merit consideration, such a proposal would need to be advanced and supported by the relevant county councils. There is no such support from the local authorities in the west. Galway County Council and Mayo County Councils have repeatedly rejected any such notion in line with their county development plans and the regional planning guidelines which favour the development of the railway.

There are reportedly 38 greenway proposals under consideration by the Government. A shortlist of 10 was recently published but did not contain any proposal to establish a greenway on the western rail corridor.

There is also the problem of suitability. The western rail corridor crosses many national primary and secondary main roads making it entirely unsuitable for the creation of a safe walking or cycling path for families or older people.

Given the current traffic flow statistics it is difficult to envisage people safely cycling or walking across the N17, which crosses the railway in at least seven places between Collooney and Tuam, or the N5, which crosses near Swinford, not to mention a host of secondary road crossings, including the N60 main Claremorris-Castlebar road or the R332 Tuam-Ballinrobe road.

There are many safer and more suitable places in the west where greenways could be developed without destroying a key piece of regional infrastructure. – Yours, etc,

COLMÁN

Ó RAGHALLAIGH,

West on Track,

Claremorris,

Co Mayo.

Sir, – Peter Bowen-Walsh (January 19th) suggested that the Sligo Way be used as an alternative to the proposed disused railway. As the operator of a bicycle hire and cycle tour company in Co Sligo, I can confidently say that the Sligo Way is totally unsuitable for the proposed route. Its route crosses the Ox mountains, various rivers, streams and public roads. Although a good suggestion for a walking route, which it already is, it is totally unsuitable for cycling.

Ultimately, the preparation of this route to accommodate safely the cycling public, if possible, would cost vastly more than the development of the Western Rail Trail.

All too often I hear complaints about the lack of resources and employment in Sligo and Mayo. We need new initiatives to create jobs and prevent further decline in local populations. I believe the solution is staring us in the face; the Western Rail Trail has been sitting patiently for 30 years and remains totally in public ownership.

It simply could not be more obvious. – Yours, etc,

JARLATH GANTLY,

Managing Director,

Wild Atlantic Ways,

Ted Nealon Road,

Sligo.

Sir, – The supportive editorial for a greenway on the route of the western rail corridor north of Tuam was very welcome.

However, you suggested a commuter route from Athenry to Tuam could make commercial sense. In two years a new motorway will open linking Tuam to Galway by fast dual-carriageway. Bus journey times will not only be reduced significantly but the removal of the Claregalway bottleneck and high-quality bus lanes into Galway city centre will make the bus highly competitive with any proposed commuter rail service.

If a business case is once again presented to reopen the line from Athenry to Tuam and then onto Claremorris, either based on passenger or freight forecasts, we hope the warning “buyer beware” will be attached to any proposal in large red capital letters.

The Western Rail Trail from Athenry to Collooney will be a huge boost to our tourism trade, so why not just get on with it? – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN QUINN,

Enniscrone,

Co Sligo.

Sir, – Israel is calling on its allies, including the US, to stop funding the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a move to avoid an inquiry into its actions in Palestine – its offensive against Gaza this summer and the continued building of settlements in the occupied territories. The Israeli foreign minister has dismissed the ICC as an anti-Israel institution, one that has no justification and has said Israel will do everything possible to undermine the inquiry (“Israel seeks to block Gaza war crimes investigation”, January 18th).

However, it is not just the ICC that Israel takes issue with. Israel has denied access to Gaza for respected international observers including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International amongst others, thereby preventing allegations of war crimes and other violations to be independently verified.

A commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council in July of 2014 “to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the occupied Palestinian territory” reports that it has “repeatedly sought the cooperation of the Government of Israel to facilitate access”. To date Israel has neither responded to the request nor admitted the UN commission to the occupied Palestinian territories.

The history of the occupation has shown that as long as Israel is allowed to act as a state outside the law, it will continue to violate international law. Innocent Palestinian civilians – the “protected persons” of the Geneva Conventions – continue to pay the price of Israel’s impunity. If international law, human rights and justice are to have any meaning, then Israel cannot be shielded any longer by its political allies; political attempts to subvert the course of justice must be rejected outright. – Yours, etc,

ELAINE BRADLEY,

Burj Abu Ramadan,

Gaza, Palestine.

A chara, – It is regrettable that the Government has decided not to proceed with the promised referendum to reduce the voting age to 16. Such a poll would be an ideal way to stimulate real debate about young people’s engagement in politics.

The referendum on Scottish independence and the Brazilian presidential election last year both allowed 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. The turnout in Scotland was 85 per cent, while almost 81 per cent voted in Brazil, much higher than most votes in the rest of the democratic world.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is urging a reduction in the voting age for Westminster elections in the UK. Brazil has permitted those aged 16 and over to vote since 1989.

Granting the right to vote to those aged 16 and 17 will encourage greater civic participation by teenagers and ensure that young people’s concerns are more seriously addressed by more chronologically challenged decision makers.

Over a decade ago, Austria’s regions began moving to permit 16 year olds to vote in local elections and since 2007, all those aged 16 and over can vote in national elections. The Austrian National Election Study, which examines turnout and participation, has found early indications that those who vote at a younger age tend to continue to vote as they get older.

Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua and a number of German regions have also granted 16 year olds the right to vote and the Isle of Man made the change in 2006 (the first territory in the world to give women the right to vote, in 1881).

There have been a variety of reasons put forward for the lack of involvement of young people in political life. The opportunities for success and to influence Irish life are perceived to be in areas other than public office; the perceived irrelevancy of the Irish political system to real life; the failure of the political parties to realistically involve young people. The language of our political leadership is often not encouraging.

But contrary to popular belief, young people are interested in politics. Issues ranging from globalisation to the cost of college to the environment to car insurance will feature in teenage discussions. But consumer power is often seen as more effective than going out to vote and traditional political organisations such as party or trade union branches are seen as toothless in comparison to, say, raising an issue through social media.

For our political system to survive and for it maintain credibility, we need to involve people of all backgrounds and all ages.

At 16, a young person is very much part of their community and it is an easier time in which to start voting than at 18 when young people start to move out of home, to college or to work – setting out on their own journey in life. The earlier in life a habit is formed, the more likely that it will continue through later life.

By lowering the voting age, it will also force the political establishment to pay more attention to the views and concerns of young people. Nothing makes a candidate pay attention more than someone with a vote. Lowering the voting age would be a most powerful signal to young people that they are not just “our nation’s future” but also very much part of its present. – Is mise,

Cllr MALCOLM BYRNE,

Cathaoirleach,

Wexford County Council.

Sir, – There has been recent comment for a loosening of the party whip to allowing politicians have a free vote on matters of conscience. The challenge is that if politicians have a free vote, they will be harassed by sectional interests looking to change their vote. Because of this, many weak politicians like the whip precisely because it protects them from this harassment. The recent docudrama on Charlie Haughey illustrates this problem. When Charlie McCreevy and Albert Reynolds proposed motions of no confidence in Haughey, both asked for a secret ballot, and for the vote on having a secret ballot to also be secret. The reason was obvious, a secret ballot allows weak politicians the courage of privacy to cast an honest vote. This was undermined by having an open ballot to decide whether to hold a secret ballot on having a secret ballot on the vote on no confidence, thus those voting for a secret ballot gave themselves away. While looking ludicrous it shows that a weakened party whip is undermined by an open vote.

When parliamentary elections began, they were by open ballot, and the threat of eviction ensured that tenants voted according to their landlord’s wishes.

During the 19th century the secret ballot was introduced so that voters could not be intimidated, bullied or bribed into voting against their conscience. If it is good enough for the people, why not for the politicians? The whip system can’t exist if all votes in the Oireachtas are by secret ballot!

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

JASON FITZHARRIS,

Swords,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – As a former Labour backbencher in two governments, it is my opinion that the time has arrived for serious reform of the present whip system as it is outdated because the present electorate is far more involved with political issues and more aware of what it wants from government as a result of dramatic developments in the area of communications.

The absence of real reform has produced a large number of Independent TD who have chosen that position to ensure that they are free to represent the views of their electorate.

I found it very difficult, at times, to represent the views of my electorate because of the whip system, which curtailed what I could say as a government backbencher and how I would vote on serious issues.

Unless we face up to the serious issues that arise from the stifling of democratic debate, street politics will flourish and become an alternative rather than another component of political activity and so reduce the authority of government.

Delay in addressing serious and meaningful reforms will seriously damage our democracy. – Yours, etc,

EAMONN WALSH,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Further to “Irish house price inflation six times higher than EU average” (January 21st), regulators failed Ireland over the past decade and we are now living with the consequences. Now sensible proposals for new mortgage lending from the Central Banks are being attacked by vested interests and those who should know better. If Prof Honohan sticks to his guns and stays on track with his proposed regulations he will have done the State some service. Otherwise we are headed into another unsustainable bubble.

Surely the dogs in the street must know the Irish addiction to property will once again lead to pain all round. – Yours, etc,

WARREN GALLAGHER,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – It is easy for Dublin airport to claim an increase in passenger numbers. Of the last four journeys I have taken out of the country, I have been forced to depart from Dublin Airport because Cork Airport does not fly to major European destinations such as Rome, Lisbon or Berlin during the winter months. They are scarce enough even during the summer months! It goes to prove once again that those beyond the Pale are left to fend for themselves. Why should Dublin claim the prize, and what did Cork do to be left out in the cold? – Yours, etc,

J O’DONOGHUE,

Sunday’s Well,

Cork.

Sir, – Ah, here now. Having read the Rev Jack Harris’s claim (January 23rd) that not a single cat is mentioned in the Bible, could I ask which Bible he studied? Every one I’ve read is replete with lions and leopards and the last time I looked they were still considered cats. – Yours, etc,

DONNACHA KAVANAGH,

Auckland,

New Zealand.

Irish Independent:

UTERS/Ruben Sprich

A recent report from Oxfam showed the 80 richest individuals have the same wealth as the poorest 50pc (3.5 billion people). In cash terms, their wealth has doubled in the last five years.

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They predict that by 2016, the wealth of the richest 1pc will overtake that of the rest of the world’s population combined. These revelations are both astonishing and galling. I believe capitalism is the best system to lift people out of poverty but when the gap in wealth has widened to the degree where a handful of individuals control so much, and so many have to survive on so little, then something in the world has surely gone awry.

Figures also show that over recent years the very rich have become increasingly adept at finding ways of paying less tax and when it comes to lobbying politicians, their positions of influence grant them unfettered access to the policy makers.

It seems the avarice of a few, coupled with the obeisance of policy makers, is at the core of the problem. The absurdity of avoiding tax to amass wealth so enormous that it could never possibly be of practical use to the beneficiaries, seems to be lost on them. In its report, Oxfam made several recommendations that would help narrow the wealth gap by means of social and tax reforms. It is up to the world’s politicians to take these suggestions on board, but is anyone listening?

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

Tory mindset in Irish politics

A Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael coalition would bring a Kafkaesque end to our recent nadir.

Surely we are unique in modern Europe by the degree to which right-wing economic orthodoxy is supported by a majority of voters, voters that either don’t benefit from the consequences of their actions, or become victims of those electoral decisions.

Willie O’Dea, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Social Protection, inadvertently put his finger on the fundamental contradiction at the heart of this Irish political malaise in a recent radio broadcast, when he said with gusto, “I have working class people voting for me”, in response to the debate over a potential Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael coalition.

The reality is that a most disorganised conspiracy has operated between the two large right-wing parties for decades, one that operates a simple foundation principle, that being, we are still an occupied people.

The greatest victory the British Empire had over us was that they left a deeply conservative ‘Tory’ mindset behind them when they left.

Our domestic political class simply picked up where the British occupation left off. Coupled with the reactionary influence of an over-dominant and encouraged Catholic hierarchy, the Irish ‘left’ was always going to be ‘up against it’.

The only function of the Irish Labour Party has been to repeatedly betray the poor of Ireland, through propping up the Irish Tory governments.

The next election will provide a challenge to Irish Tories, a challenge they will most likely overcome. Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael, should indeed merge to become the new ‘Irish Tory Party’, as they are the same side of the same coin.

But then again, why should they – their spell over the Irish people isn’t likely to be dispelled anytime soon.

Declan Doyle

Lisdowney, Kilkenny

Striving for equality

Éanna Johnson (Letters, January 24) is correct in saying that the forthcoming marriage equality referendum is about the child.

By passing the proposal, we shall cease discriminating against some children and their families and attain that ideal expressed in the Easter Proclamation of 1916: that all the children of the nation be cherished equally.

Ciarán Ó Raghalliagh

Co Cavan

As the public debate on the upcoming marriage equality referendum warms up, it strikes me as odd that there is always a voice missing – the devout Irish Catholic who is opposed to homosexuality.

How refreshing it would be to hear an honest Catholic advocating for a No vote based on his church’s teaching that homosexuality is a grievous sin and therefore cannot enjoy the same status as heterosexuality. Perhaps then we could have an open and honest debate.

Sean Smith

Navan, Co Meath

A friend of mine recently ‘came out’ as heterosexual. I knew when we met something was clearly bothering him. I assured him he was still my friend and what he did in his private life was none of my business. It was as if a heavy burden had been lifted from his shoulders.

He said it’s just so difficult, nobody comes out as heterosexual. I told him there were many heterosexual people. He left a happier man. We need to be more accepting of people irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Tommy Roddy

Salthill, Galway

Oath of office is discriminatory

Our Constitution currently discriminates against the non-religious community, of approximately a quarter of a million, by insisting on a religious oath for high office, including that of president.

The referendum to reduce the age for eligibility for presidential office from 35 to 21 amounts to an extension of existing discrimination to a new cohort. It is not too late for our Government to eliminate this blatant injustice by adding a few words to allow for an affirmation for those affected. It would be painful to have to vote against the existing wording, but no one could surely support this proposed extension of religious discrimination?

Dick Spicer

Bray, Co Wicklow

Varadkar’s hospital pledge

Health Minister Leo Varadkar (Irish Independent, Comment, January 23) says: “One of the most important goals this year will be to secure planning permission for the new children’s hospital, at long last.” Yet he goes on to say: “We are not going to be able to achieve everything in one year.”

Well, my promise to you, Mr Varadkar, is if you achieve the above goal, you and your party will have secured at least one vote in 2016. Please do not let me down.

Brian Mc Devitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

The callous murder capital

Yesterday, I found a gem of a book entitled, ‘AE Russell: A Study of a Man and a Nation’, in what used to be the Government Publications outlet on Molesworth St, Dublin.

It was written by Darrell Figgis and published in 1916. Here’s his description of Dublin: “Today, instead of dignified carelessness, Dubliners must contend with an ever-increasing callous disregard for the life of another person; as evidenced by numerous press reports citing Dublin as the murder capital of Ireland and our dear country itself; as one of the EU’s murder blackspots.” One can only imagine to what extent Messrs Pearse, Connolly and Co are helplessly turning in their graves.

Ciaran Casey

Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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