Letters: Perspectives on the Queen in Ireland

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Who apologised to the Queen?

The Queen's visit to Ireland seems to have engendered a demand that she "apologise" (on behalf of the British nation) for the imagined wrongs suffered in times long gone. I would like to see the Queen receive an apology for wrongs suffered in more recent times.

The shameful stigma of Ireland's "neutrality" in the Second World War culminated in the Irish President walking into the Nazi German embassy in Dublin to deliver his personal condolences, and those of the Irish people, on the "sad occasion" of Hitler's death.

Since the end of that war there has been tacit support of IRA criminals including charges of IRA gunrunning against one Irish politician and the protection of numerous IRA murderers by the South.

Furthermore, the Queen's visit is at the request of the Irish Government and I would therefore expect to have seen her treated as an honoured guest with the courtesies normally accorded to her rank.

Instead I have yet to see her greeted with even one curtsy from the ladies, and some of the bows offered by the men were more of a head-butt. Neither have I seen any reference to the undoubted and remarkable courage of the Queen in accepting this invitation with all its attendant dangers.

William Oxenham, Edinburgh

Irish deprived of royal view

What were the security services of both Eire and the UK thinking about when they sealed off the streets of Ireland to the good people of that country during the visit by the Queen?

All they did was to fail to further dissolve past differences, instead of stretching the hands of friendship and forgiveness between two great nations.

Terry Duncan, Bridlington, East Yorkshire

Wise words in 'Ulysses'

At Dublin Castle the Queen declared that a "knot of history" had been loosened ("Queen reaches out to 'firm friends' in Dublin speech", 19 May.) The speech had echoes of a piece of dialogue in James Joyce's Ulysses (1922). "We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly," says a man in a public house. "It seems history is to blame."

A footnote in the 1992 Penguin edition adds that here the Englishman "is evasively transferring blame to history (which is, after all, his own history ... )"

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

Clarke laid out legal rape rules

The laziest, most ambiguous language in the manufactured Ken Clarke furore was "rape is rape". As an explanation it is circular; factually it is tautologous and vacuous.

So what did the BBC interviewer, Victoria Derbyshire, mean? All rape is the same whatever the circumstances? All Clarke did was object to this simplistic idea: and a moment's thought tells us he was right. His remarks in a legal context reflected the fact that differences in severity in cases of rape are recognised in law by the sentencing guidelines judges follow.

Do judges "favour victim over rapist" or not regard "all rape as serious" because they apply these guidelines? Of course not. And nor does Mr Clarke.

Some feminists do want to say that all rape is the "same", equally heinous because done by men to women. For them it is a male gender crime. Of course all rape is serious but to claim that relevant circumstances in each case should be ignored in our judgement uniquely of it, offends a fundamental principle of law and the common sense of people of good will, men or women.

To improve the appallingly low conviction rates for rape and indeed to reduce its incidence, requires men and women to work together to arrive at a more mature relationship between the sexes and yes that does include examining how we better educate boys.

But rape is essentially a crime of violence, not gender. It is not an issue for men alone, because most men are not rapists and most of them are fathers, however much some feminists may wish to ignore the first and undervalue the second.

Keith Farman, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Steve Richards ("Anyone hear what Clarke really said?", 19 May) rightly puts the Justice Secretary's comments on rape in their proper context and perspective. But, in criticising Ed Miliband for his over-the-top reaction at Prime Minister's Questions, Richards ought to have included a rebuke for David Cameron who, in answering the Labour leader, jumped on the populist bandwagon calling for more people to be prosecuted and convicted for rape.

Mr Cameron stated, correctly, that "only 6 per cent of rapes reported to a police station end in a conviction". He was quite wrong, though, to call this a "real disgrace". Repeated citing of the 6 per cent figure is grossly misleading. Any criminal case can only properly be prosecuted if, first, it satisfies the evidential test, namely that, in the assessment of the Crown Prosecution Service, there is a 51 per cent or better prospect of conviction.

Where, as in many cases, the issue is whether the woman consented, it is likely that this test will not be passed unless there is independent supporting evidence. Indeed, if the woman did consent (and a jury, before convicting, must be sure that she did not), no rape has been committed and she is only a complainant, not a "victim".

A more meaningful statistic is that juries do convict in 55 per cent of rape cases brought to trial in which the defendant pleads not guilty, a higher conviction rate than for many other offences of violence.

The Prime Minister later answered: "The real need is to change the fact that 94 per cent of rapists are walking the streets free because they have not been convicted." This assumes (a) that all alleged rapists are guilty, and (b) even those acquitted by a jury should have been convicted. Where, in the Prime Minister's remarks, is there any acknowledgement of the presumption of innocence or respect for the verdict of a jury?

David Lamming, Boxford, Suffolk

It is probable that many of those who are baying for Ken Clarke's blood have teenage children and some of these will be sexually active.

Where one partner is just above the age of consent and the other just below, this will constitute rape in the eyes of the law, but are Mr Miliband and his supporters seriously suggesting that this should be treated with the same severity as, say, a case where a man breaks into houses and rapes women at knife-point?

If they are, and they have their way, a substantial proportion of the nation's youth is in danger of being incarcerated. Is this really what the protesters want for their children?

Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle

A young lady a couple of weeks short of her 16th birthday has entirely consensual sex with a young man who has just turned 18.

A woman in her twenties goes out for the evening with her boyfriend of several years with whom she has slept on numerous occasions. They both have too much to drink. On their return to her flat one thing leads to another. They end up in bed together, passionate and aroused. She then decides that she would prefer not to have sex but her boyfriend persists.

A 14-year-old girl is grabbed on her return from school by a stranger. She has never had a sexual experience. She is pulled into an alley, threatened at knifepoint, her clothes are ripped off and her attacker forces himself on her. He then runs off with her clothes leaving her terrified, naked and bleeding.

All would be defined as rape. I would prefer to live in a society whose Justice Secretary could distinguish between the degrees of culpability in these different scenarios.

Rachael Shearmur, Exeter, Devon

Thank God there are some rational. intelligent people in this country. The defence of Ken Clarke by Christina Patterson and Steve Richards (19 May) may not undo the damage done by Ed Miliband's shameful appeal to mob instinct but at least it reassures some of us that reasoned debate is not dead in this country.

That one Labour MP on television went as far as suggesting that Ken Clarke is "on the side of the rapists" merely shows how far a panicking Labour Party has sunk under the present leadership.

John Wells, West Wittering, West Sussex

It would be a disgrace were Kenneth Clarke to lose his job for expressing an unpopular opinion. Unpopular opinions are a sine qua non of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech would not exist if all opinions had to meet with general approval.

Peter Tomlinson, Shipley, West Yorkshire

Lansley reforms may doom NHS

Steve Richards suggests that there is some justification to the claim that "the rest of us" could have known "what was being planned" by Andrew Lansley in his Bill to reform the NHS (Comment, 10 May. No doubt, but before the election we also heard David Cameron insist on his support for the NHS and assumed that the reforms were another attempt at reorganisation and restructuring. It is only in the past week or so that the news media seems to have picked up on how fundamentally this Bill could alter the NHS. Indeed, a recent article in the British Medical Journal is titled, "How the Secretary of State for Health proposes to abolish the NHS in England". A scarey title, but not scaremongering.

The authors, Allyson Pollock and David Price, point out that the proposed Bill will fundamentally alter the basic premise of the NHS, since the duty of the Secretary of State to provide comprehensive health care will be abolished.

The Government will abrogate its responsibility for the health care of residents of the UK to commercial consortiums. The primary function of these organisations is economic, not medical: profitability, not health care, will be their driving force and as commercial organisations they will be subject to trade law which insists on free competition. A commercial organisation, by its very nature, puts profitability first.

If the NHS is to be preserved in more than just name, the changes to Lansley's Bill need to be radical, not the reluctant changes Richards foresees.

Cate Gunn, Colne Engaine, Essex

Pension slashed on draw-downs

Can you imagine the furore that would follow if the Chancellor had cut pensions by 17 per cent? Well, for those of us who have opted for phased drawdown rather than annuity purchase from our hard-earned private pensions this is exactly what has happened.

On visiting my IFA last week to arrange a further draw-down I was horrified to be told that the income payable is to be reduced by 17 per cent as a result of an announcement by George Osborne last December, which has been implemented, without consultation, from the start of this tax year. Further, the tax on the residual sum on death is to go up from 35 per cent to a whopping 55 per cent; slower withdrawals and massive tax on the residue.

This is an incredibly cynical move targeting a few hundred thousand (maybe fewer?) pensioners on modest incomes. How can Mr Osborne possibly justify this measure especially in the face of 4.5 per cent inflation.

A 17 per cent drop might typically be about £40 to £50 per week. It's a huge amount. Allegedly, this is to stop funds running out and the pensioner then falling back on the State. But the periodic reviews (increased in frequency to three-yearly) do that anyway.

I feel as though I have been robbed, and I don't feel as though Mr Osborne is together with me in this at all. Just the opposite in fact.

David Moore, Biddulph, Staffordshire

Rail fares high in Australia too

As an expatriate Australian who has lived in the UK for 15 years, I respond to Sarah Benson (letters,16 May) about rail fares here. I have checked fares and times for roughly comparable journeys that I have made for work in Australia and the UK, namely, Sydney-Melbourne (880km) and Glasgow-London (650km). The key difference is the travel time: about 11 hours for Sydney-Melbourne by train and about four and a half hours for train from Glasgow to London.

The economy ticket for a Glasgow-London train journey today or tomorrow (with return, say, in a week), will cost £120. If I travel on 1 June and return a week later, the cost is £85 (and cheaper if I travel at inconvenient times). The costs of the return train ticket for Sydney-Melbourne? Low season £117, high season £170. There are attractive points about living in Australia, but the quality and cost of train travel are most certainly not among them.

Paul Bishop, Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire

Interest soaring on student loans

University fees of £9,000 have grabbed the headlines and the bulk of protest but the exorbitant rates of interest being proposed by the Government have not. It is unethical for government to profit by borrowing at AAA sovereign rates and lending at higher uncommercial rates.

The end result is a highly progressive back-door tax that will affect a generation of working graduates. For example, a student starting in 2012-13 will need to borrow £43,500 for fees and living costs over three years. Interest will be charged at RPI plus 3 per cent (RPI in March 2011 was 5.3 per cent). That adds interest over the three years of university of about £6,000, resulting in a starting loan once available to work of just under £50,000.

Repayment is made at 9 per cent of salary over £21,000 (with a nominal concession that the full 3 per cent uplift kicks in only for salaries over £41,000). A typical graduate starting on a salary at or about £21,000 will accrue interest at a much faster rate than they are able to repay their loan. This means the loan balance rapidly increases year by year and could easily get above £100,000.

Perversely, those who start on high salaries (such as recruits to large law firms and investment banks being paid £40,000-plus per year) get to pay off their loans quickly and will pay much less in aggregate than the bulk of graduates who may have to bear the impact of these high rates for up to 30 years. There is a much-heralded 30-year write-off but only the most poorly paid graduates will see this benefit.

Many graduates will end up paying multiples ranging to more than three times the original cost of their university education.

Tim Lovell, London SE24

MPs should read energy study

Professor Roger Kemp's letter (17 May) presents a devastating analysis of the engineering limitations that will have to be overcome if we are to meet the proposals for renewable energy made by the Committee on Climate Change.

Has the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which the professor represents, published their detailed study of the situation? It should be made widely available, and be required reading for each member of the Government.

But few MPs seem to have a scientific background, so they need to include an explanation of the vital role of a reliable and uninterrupted supply of electrical energy for modern society.

Howard Fuller, Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Just a second...

Now that Birmingham's status as Britain's second city is challenged by Manchester, do you think the Government will reconsider the multibillion-pound plans for HS2, which is intended to cut London-Birmingham travel to 45 minutes? There doesn't seem to be much point in building a new rail line to link London with a declining industrial outpost.

Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford, Hertfordshire

Fading Labour

Steve Richards's excellent analysis of the Coalition's problems and changing relationships (17 May) was notable for one thing: not a single mention of the Labour Party. What appears to be happening is that because of all the intra-Coalition wrangling the Lib Dems are emerging as the opposition to the Conservatives, leaving the Labour Party redundant. This will surely have an effect on Labour's impact on the electorate come election time.

George Healy, London N16

Drop the gossip

It is relevant to know whether or not Chris Huhne asked someone to take his penalty points. It is totally irrelevant to be told that his new partner is bisexual, and 13 years younger than his wife ("An ambitious outsider who made too many enemies along the road to the top", 17 May).

Karen McMullan, Ballyclare, Co Antrim