Toni-Ann Byfield, Iraqi flag and others

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The Independent Online

Toni-Ann highlights impossible demands on social workers

Sir: Whilst we all grieve the tragic circumstances of Toni-Ann Byfield's murder and the omissions which allowed it to happen, one factor is predictably ignored (report, 29 April).

There are 50 vacancies for social workers in Birmingham, but why is this so? The reason is not money but rather the unacceptable stress and impossible demands which we, as a society, place on this profession.

Of course, there are many poor social workers, as there are in other professions. However, social work seems to be a profession for which no one has a good word, least of all the Government, who presumably do not see votes in praising this section of its workforce. Rather, we place some of the most important and long-term responsibilities in our communities in the hands of increasingly overworked people.

We hate them because of what they do, and we hate them when they fail. It is no wonder that there are so many vacancies, and that there are therefore failures in the system. Who would be a social worker? Why give oneself the grief? The Government must take steps immediately towards valuing publicly this profession, not only in words but in actions.

They must make the profession worth joining, and for once it seems that money is not the answer. Valuing social work as a society is the way that cases might be covered properly. The solution is certainly not in introducing more forms, more procedures and more checks. These simply create more work for a diminishing work force, decrease morale and will surely lead to another child's safety being overlooked.

Margaret Hodge, Minister of State for Children, says that failure is not an option, yet unless she addresses value as the fundamental issue, failure appears to be unavoidable.


Sir: Every report concerning the tragic death of Toni-Ann seems to begin with how the social services have let this child down.

Whilst they do have a responsibility that should have meant performing routine inquiries regarding the suitability of the man, now known to have been a drug dealer, before entrusting him with the care of the girl, where in all this tragedy does the natural mother accept any responsibility for handing her daughter over to strangers in another country three years before the death occurred, when the child was only four years old?

King's Lynn, Norfolk

Anger greets new flag for Iraq

Sir: The unveiling of the new Iraqi flag by the Iraqi Governing Council is very disappointing for many Iraqis including myself. The vastly growing rejection of the new flag across Iraq is completely understandable, since the design lacks consideration of the country's history and heritage.

What angers many is the decision of an unelected body, such as the IGC, to change the Iraqi flag at a time when many other pressing issues need to be addressed. The new Iraqi flag should be designed and selected by a fully elected and representative government, including consultations with the Iraqi people.

Wembley, Middlesex

Sir: Rifat Chadirji is not just a designer but a prominent architect in the Middle East whose reputation is worldwide. He is an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and of the American Institute of Architects. The buildings he has designed included: the Unknown Soldier Memorial (destroyed by Saddam), the Freedom Monument, the Telecommunications Tower and the BP Building, both bombed twice by the coalition forces in 1991 and 2004, the Council of Ministers building and many other buildings in Iraq.

He was imprisoned by Saddam in 1979 and sentenced to life only to be released two years later to take charge of the planning for the Non-aligned Conference to be held in Baghdad in 1982 (cancelled because of the Iran-Iraq war).

The new Iraqi flag is the first one to be designed by an Iraqi. Iraq's first flag, the flag used by the royal regime was designed by a British designer to be used by both Iraq and Jordan. The second one (that used by Saddam) was an Egyptian import and was designed by an Egyptian. The new flag is characterised by its simplicity and its multi-symbolism. The white represents peace, reconciliation and a new era. The two horizontal blue stripes represent the Tigris and the Euphrates and the yellow stripe represents the ancient civilisations of Sumer and Babylon and symbolises the sun, light and hope. The crescent represents Islamic culture although, in fact, it is a pre -Islamic symbol.

London W5

Sir: As an Iraqi I read with interest your article about the new Iraqi flag ("Burning with anger: Iraqis infuriated by new flag that was designed in London", 28 April). I found Rifat Chadirji's flag tasteless and ugly. It is kitsch. The flag has no composition and lacks creativity.

Iraq should restore its flag of 14 July 1958. It was composed of three equal parts: from left black, white and green. In the middle white there was a sun. The flag was well composed and proportioned. Saddam's flag was first introduced to Iraq after the 8 February 1963 fascist coup. Many Iraqis loathed it.

Mr Chadirji's flag has a lot of similarity to those of new states in Asia (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan). These states wanted to emphasise their Islamic heritage. The situation in Iraq is different. There are about 1 million Christians and five or six other religious or ethnic groups.

London EC1

Sir: In all the controversy over the new Iraqi flag I think that all sides are missing the main point. Judging by the colours, Mr Chadirji, who lives in England, has obviously become a Leeds United supporter and is subconsciously showing his affinity with this once great club during its last few weeks in the Premiership. A cause finally to be united in maybe?

London NW7

Sir: What makes Deborah Orr ("The final irony of this dreadful war", 27 April) or anybody think that any continued occupation can bring any improvement to the situation in Iraq?

The longer US and British forces stay the more the violence will increase. There is very little evidence to show that the country would fall into civil war if they left. But even if it did, would this be worse than the current situation? If we take Bush and Blair at their word - that the main issue is terrorism - then the imperative to leave is overwhelming.

Bin Laden must be rubbing his hands with glee as the US alienates not just Arab and Muslim but world opinion with its nightmarish attacks on Fallujah. Bush appears to be validating all that Bin Laden has been saying, and acting as his recruiting sergeant. Do our leaders not have the imagination to see what this looks like throughout the Arab and Muslim world?

This war was immoral, illegal, and stupid from its conception. Escalating it, as is happening now, only makes it worse. Let us end it immediately. If a peace-keeping force is necessary, then let it be under the auspices of the UN, and consist of forces from countries more acceptable to the Iraqi people.

Wiveliscombe, Somerset

Age of retirement

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 26 April) is right to highlight the advantages of removing many of the barriers which prevent working people continuing in paid employment. There would, however, be significant downsides in swallowing his simple prescription of "no retirement age".

It was not without cause that in the 1970s Parliament agreed to introduce mandatory retirement ages for judges and the Church of England for its bishops and parish clergy. Until then all of these had all but had the right to die in office. Employees are, of course, not in the same position as office-holders and - whether by carrots or sticks - employers do in principle have more scope to persuade them to leave, if their performance tails off. But in practice this is often very difficult.

It will be a sad outcome of the EU directive if more employers conclude that the only way to secure the periodic refreshment of their organisations is to threaten to dismiss people who may no longer be performing at their peak but may nevertheless have served the organisation well over a long period.

These are among the reasons why, in its evidence on the Government's consultation document, my employer, the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, welcomed the idea that the age discrimination regulations should preserve a default retirement age. Indeed it suggested that for those organisations still with a retirement age of 60, the Government's proposal of moving in one go to 70 rather than 65 would be too dramatic.

By all means let's have more choice. But maintaining some balance between the rights of the employer and the employee may deliver a better solution for both than would a radical approach which took insufficient account of the human dynamics involved.

London SW11

Chirac and EU vote

Sir: The headline and the story "Chirac protests over UK's referendum U-turn" (29 April) are untrue.

President Chirac and the Prime Minister discussed the decision to hold a referendum in the UK on the proposed European Constitutional Treaty during one of their regular telephone conversations. President Chirac never protested to the Prime Minister over this decision.

President Chirac made it perfectly clear that the decision that has been taken was entirely a UK matter. This is also what President Chirac declared publicly during his press-conference on 29 April: "The Prime Minister has considered it necessary to put the question to the British people. This is a political choice on which I naturally have no comment to make. I can't imagine that Britain would find herself in a position where she'd have to leave Europe."

During his press conference, President Chirac recalled France's longstanding commitment to Europe and stressed that she has nothing to fear from Europe.

Ambassador to the United Kingdom
French Embassy
London SW1

Peace proposals

Sir: Alan Senitt (letter, 28 April) makes the extraordinary claim that every Middle East peace plan brokered by the international community has been scuppered by the Palestinian leadership. The most important peace proposal put forward by the international community was that contained in UN Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders - a demand which Israel has consistently refused to implement and which remains the basis of the conflict.

Far from being more interested in securing a future for the Palestinian people, Ariel Sharon's latest proposal, to make the six largest (and illegal) Israeli settlements in the West Bank a permanent part of Israel, is simply a land grab on a massive scale and will leave the Palestinians with less than 17 per cent of their historic land - not much of a future.

Westerham, Kent

Gibbering hordes

Sir: Frankly, I'd be quite pleased if a part of the British national identity was lost through the EU's "morphing into a single, fully-integrated megastate", as Frederick Forsyth fears (24 April) - preferably the part embodied in the likes of the Royal Family, Michael Howard, Tony Blair and David Blunkett.

To this I'd add the gibbering, barbaric, flaccid hordes of warmongering, xenophobic, gay-bashing, Beckham-fixated, tabloid-reading, pavement-parking, junk-consuming, ID-card supporting, crime-obsessed paro-chials who seem more and more to be laying claim to the character-set identified generically as "British".

Oh, and Frederick Forsyth, of course.

Herne Bay, Kent

Late delivery

Sir: In view of the current dissatisfaction with the services of the Royal Mail, I thought your readers might be interested to learn of the efforts of its French counterpart. A priority letter, properly addressed, was despatched from Dijon to my address on 18 December 2003. It arrived yesterday having been redirected by the Jamestown post office on St Helena, 1,200 miles off the coast of South Africa. Can they beat that?

St Helens Road, London SW16

Diplomatic principles

Sir: Whatever happened to our government's commitment to the enlightened notion of an "ethical foreign policy"? The letter from the diplomats talks of "abandonment of principle". Do we now have a government which is led not by principle or ideal, but by personality ... seemingly an American one, especially in connection to Iraq and the Holy Land?


Take no notice

Sir: En route yesterday from one office to another in the same building, I had to pass through three sets of doors, marked respectively "push", "pull" and "lift". The third exhortation was the most challenging.


Sir: On a recent visit to T J Hughes department store in Warrington I was dismayed by a sign on the door to the gents. It said "All goods must be purchased before entering the toilets".

I just couldn't afford to go.

Nelson, Lancashire

Pressurised readings

Sir: I see in today's paper ("Students will need ID cards", 28 April) that face or iris recognition will be recorded on an ID card using "barometric reading". Will it be recording blood pressure as well?

Professor JOHN SALT
University College London