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20 October 2021

Letter of the week: The Church’s shameful legacy in Ireland

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By New Statesman

Revelations of child abuse in France and Canada and the Vatican’s lack of action (World View, 15 October) will surely have stirred memories in Ireland. The cases of the Magdalene Laundries and mother and baby homes are well known, but there were also 50 industrial schools for children in the Republic of Ireland housing thousands of children between 1936 and 1970, where inmates suffered horrific physical, emotional and sexual abuse from members of congregations such as the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers.

A child could be placed in an industrial school if the state deemed their parents unfit to raise them, possibly on grounds of poverty or because they lived in a lone-parent household. Children were known by number, not name, making it hard for them to get in touch with their families upon release at 16. They were used as slaves and severely neglected. In 2002 the state offered the congregations indemnity from prosecution, asking them to pay €128m in compensation. Support for the survivors cost the Irish taxpayer more than €1bn and came too late: survivors, who were often living in poverty because the schools had qualified them for so little, had to help pay for their own restitution.

Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

[see also: An inquiry exposes the scale of sex abuse by the Catholic Church. Will the Vatican ever act?]

From here to eternity

The big flaw in the underlying assumption of the $610bn “anti-ageing” industry (“Immortality Inc”, 15 October) is a narrow body-centric idea of disease and its origination.

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Disease is relationally and dynamically formed from environmental, social, material, spatial, motor, body and brain interactions. In this extended conception, health-disease is not binary: we are only ever more or less healthy. There is a gradient of health-disease that transitions across a flow of psychologically experienced, not scientific or clockwork, time – as Henri Bergson would testify.

Today, there is a widespread mental health crisis. Data suggests that depression affects one in every five in most Western societies. So instead of spending billions investing in single-disease anti-ageing drugs designed for a narrow conception of the body, we need novel approaches for promoting health in its widest context.

Chris Lawer, Buckingham, author of “Interactional Creation of Health”

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Jenny Kleeman’s article has prompted me to think more deeply about possible downsides of living forever. Possibly the most poignant might be the loss of happiness. We would have plenty of pleasure but, as Phil discovered in Groundhog Day, pleasure ceases to please when it has no foreseeable end. He found that perpetual pleasure imparts no existential meaning to life, which is what happiness demands. A second consequence might be a waning of the creative arts, much of which strives to extract meaning from death. It may be the certainty of death that enables us to find meaning, and so happiness, in life.

Geoff Anderson, Sheffield


Jenny Kleeman’s article could have mentioned John Wyndham’s 1960 novel Trouble With Lichen, which posits the accidental discovery of an age-retarding lichenoid and the ramifications of anti-ageing for society. Wyndham agreed with Celine Halioua that women have a lot to gain from an extended life, but he also anticipated that setting in motion such a radical disruption to economic norms and societal expectations could be violent, not just between the haves and have-nots, but the may and may-nots.

Kate Macdonald, Bath

Britain’s property burden

Numerous articles in the NS and elsewhere in recent weeks have referred to the government’s “plan” to create a “high wage, high productivity” economy. But there is no mention of one of the root causes of our failure to invest as much as our competitors: high property costs.

As a nation, we invest in property rather than business. The average Brit will spend vastly more of their income on their mortgage or rent than, for example, the Germans or the French. Successive Tory governments have exacerbated this problem by stimulating demand rather than supply. Thatcher sold council houses and effectively constricted councils’ ability to build more houses. Now there are various “help to buy” schemes. All have resulted in higher prices and pandered to the Tory voter who feels good every time their house increases in value.

Jim Young, Halesworth, Suffolk

Human rights hypocrisy

It’s right to draw attention to human rights abuses in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia that acquire British businesses, but why not express similar qualms about the US (“The great British sell-off”, October 15)? What other nation has killed more than 20 million people in foreign conflicts since the Second World War; has a police force that has killed an estimated 30,000 people since 1980; has held over 700 prisoners without trial in Guantanamo Bay; reportedly subjected 136 people to “extraordinary rendition”; has killed at least 8,000 people, including children, in drone attacks; holds 60,000 people in solitary confinement in its prisons; and has meddled in around 80 foreign elections in 70 years?

The US has sanctions against 39 countries that the United Nations defines as illegal “unilateral coercive measures”, causing suffering to millions of people. This has intensified during the pandemic because the US has refused requests to relax its coercion on humanitarian grounds.

The US arguably has a human rights record at least as bad as the other countries you mention, but it’s frequently given a free pass by its Western allies and the international media. It would be good if the NS were to redress the balance.

John Perry, Masaya, Nicaragua

[see also: Leader: The great British sell-off]

Industrial space

I fear that Bruno Maçães’ piece about tech billionaires unnecessarily mythologises them and thereby helps to hide their aims (“The spirit of the age”, 1 October). One of Jeff Bezos’s spokespersons gave it away on Radio 4 a few weeks ago: he wants to “industrialise space” (the naive radio presenters were fantasising about space travel). I suggest what he sees is not a “higher form of existence” but wasted resources. All those minerals and metals at the bottom of the sea and all those unexploited planets and stars are an opportunity to make more money.

John Knepler, London SE14

A matter of fact

If Pippa Bailey’s summary of EH Carr’s view of history is correct (Reviewed in Short, 15 October), surely such a foolish view can hardly have “changed the study” of the subject. Of course stories have to be told from a point of view, but what point of view can alter the fact that Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting Hall on 30 January 1649, whether that is the fact the historian wants or not?

Edward Greenwood, Canterbury

Eliot’s care in the community

George Eliot’s empathy can be seen in the portrait by Francois D’Albert Durade used to illustrate Johanna Thomas-Corr’s apposite essay on Middlemarch (The Critics, 15 October). The “incalculable” in the last paragraph of Middlemarch describes much of the goodness that we find in communities up and down the country.

I am in danger of committing the literary virtue-signalling Thomas-Corr describes by admitting that I reread all of Eliot’s novels during the pandemic. But I do wish that, in order to praise Middlemarch, critics would not denigrate her other novels. Romola and Felix Holt: The Radical are not “dry” and do not mark a career slump. In Felix Holt the humanity of both Felix and Esther Lyon is beautifully manifested. Romola is Eliot approaching the novel as epic and in the eponymous heroine we find another brave soul who can rise from disappointment and do remarkable acts of kindness that create “incalculable” consequences. Both Esther and Romola are heralds of Dorothea Brooke, but they are not diminished as uniquely memorable characters by being her harbingers.

Don Gardner, London NW1

Against the grain

I’m concerned to read that Nicholas Lezard’s favourite whisky is the Famous Grouse, a grain bottling (Down and Out, 15 October). I would have expected a man of his discernment to be a malt drinker, and while he sometimes notes that he is financially challenged, there are decent malts at prices not much more than grain whiskies nowadays.

Keith Flett, London N17

A turnip for the books

I was intrigued to read Felicity Cloake’s article on the turnip (Food, 8 October). I had just eaten a very good turnip gratin: turnip cooked, then mashed with butter and black pepper, with chopped, crisped bacon stirred through and then topped with Parmesan cheese and baked. I will join her campaign.

Ruth Potter, York

[see also: Whether you like yours mild, bitter or bright pink, it’s time to revive the turnip]

We reserve the right to edit letters

This article appears in the 20 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Twilight of the West