June 13, 2014

13 June2014 Hair

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. Off to have our hair done with Louise

ScrabbleIwin a not very respectable score well under 400 and only by one point perhaps Mary will win tomorrow


Martha Hyer – obituary

Martha Hyer was an actress who played cool beauties but longed to let her hair down

Martha Hyer

Martha Hyer Photo: REX

5:46PM BST 12 Jun 2014


Martha Hyer, who has died aged 89, starred in many overwrought melodramas of the sort that the Hollywood studios cranked out in the 1950s, winning an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her role as a snobbish and sexually repressed schoolteacher seduced by Frank Sinatra in Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running (1958).

Martha Hyer and Frank Sinatra in Some Came Running (MOVIESTORE/REX)

Some felt the nomination was surprising (Shirley MacLaine was considered a more deserving nominee for Best Actress). None the less her performance was memorable for a scene in which her elaborate blonde hairdo, held stiffly in place by hairspray and pins, comes undone in Sinatra’s hands, tumbling down over her shoulders, symbolising her erotic liberation from middle class respectability.

Martha Hyer’s physical resemblance to Grace Kelly (albeit with elements of Diana Dors) led her to be typecast as the ice-cool society beauty — as seen, for example, in Audrey Hepburn’s 1954 romance, Sabrina, in which she played the glamorous fiancée of playboy David Larrabee (William Holden), and in Houseboat (1958) in which she played diplomat Cary Grant’s rich sister-in-law. But with few other opportunities to let her hair down, either literally or metaphorically, by the early 1960s Martha Hyer’s career had started to fade. She was considered for the role of Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) but lost out to Janet Leigh.

“I would like very much to convince people that I can be something more than a well-dressed sophisticate,” she told an interviewer. “I go from one picture to the next getting wealthier and wealthier, but I’d like to do it with the hair down — either as a nymphomaniac or an alcoholic. I want to be a problem.”

She had her opportunity in 1963 when she was booked for the part of Janine Denton, the Hollywood call girl who becomes a film star in Edward Dmytryk’s The Carpetbaggers (1964), a tawdry, though commercially successful, melodrama, based on a novel by Harold Robbins, whose principal attraction lay in watching Martha Hyer appearing before George Peppard’s wife and daughter with nothing on but a mink stole.

Martha Hyer in The Carpetbaggers

But it was not the comeback she was hoping for.

By this time, Martha Hyer had bought into the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle, giving interviews in which she boasted of her collection of fur coats and claimed to have run out of wall space for her collection of French Impressionist paintings: “It’s very embarrassing when you are forced to hang an original Renoir in the bathroom,” she observed.

But her spendthrift ways caught up with her and in her 1990 memoir Finding My Way, Martha Hyer admitted overspending so badly that she ended up in debt to loan sharks.

Martha Hyer was born on August 10 1924, in Fort Worth, Texas, the daughter of a judge who would participate in the prosecution of Second World War criminals at Nuremberg.

After taking a degree in Drama from Northwestern University, she joined the Pasadena Playhouse, where she was spotted and signed to a contract by an RKO talent scout.

After making her screen debut in The Locket (1946), she found small roles as a cowgirl in low-budget westerns, before her role in Sabrina led to her being typecast as the “other” Grace Kelly.

In 1951 she married the producer/director Ray Stahl, whom she met on the set of Oriental Evil (1951) and who directed her in The Scarlet Spear in 1954 — the same year the marriage ended. Her roles in 1960s films such as Bikini Beach (1964) Picture Mommy Dead (1966) and House of 1,000 Dolls (1967, described by one critic as “quite possibly the sleaziest movie American International Pictures ever made”), were seldom enthusiastically received, though some, such as Sidney Pink’s Pyro (1964) have acquired belated cult status on DVD. In this she played the title role of the vengeful mistress with a liking for matches (“the strange desire that feeds on her cannot be quenched by love alone!”) opposite Barry Sullivan.


In 1966 she married the director Hal Wallis. Although she remained with him until his death in 1986, she complained that he had sought to limit her spendaholic habits. Yet he clearly failed because by the 1980s she was so badly in debt that, desperate for a loan of $1 million, she delivered a Monet, a Gauguin, and two Frederic Remingtons to con men as collateral. The works belonged to her husband, who knew nothing about the loan and wound up in a legal dispute with the gallery that eventually acquired them.

After her husband’s death, Martha Hyer — who became a born-again Christian in the late 1980s – moved to Santa Fe where she lived a quiet life and shunned the spotlight.

Martha Hyer, born August 10 1924, died May 31 2014


The study published this week in the BMJ, which shows that the recent threefold rise in prediabetes has led to a third of adults in England being at high risk of type 2 diabetes, makes shocking reading (Report, 9 June). It is a stark warning, and the government needs to respond in a serious and coordinated way. Otherwise the number of diabetes-related deaths and people enduring devastating health complications such as blindness and amputation will continue to rise. The pressure and financial impact on the NHS will cause problems for all health service users and for taxpayers.

First, we need to identify those at high risk. The NHS Health Check is doing an important job in this, but less than half of the eligible population received a check last year. Those identified need to get effective support to make the lifestyle changes that can prevent them from developing diabetes.

But we need to go beyond this. The government urgently needs to review its strategy for tackling the underlying causes of type 2 diabetes: obesity, lack of activity and poor diet. The voluntary approaches to improving the nation’s diet, such as through the Responsibility Deal, are not working. The government should consider legislation to drive reformulation, introduce restrictions on the marketing and distribution of unhealthy food, and encourage healthy lifestyle through taxation and price signals.

We need schools to do more to educate children and normalise healthy eating behaviour by providing free school meals and having mandatory food- and nutrient-based standards for school food. This is an epidemic. Without strong and decisive leadership, the crisis for families and the NHS will be inexorable.
Barbara Young
Chief executive, Diabetes UK

• Your health correspondent, Denis Campbell, informs us of the risk to NHS staff of a jail sentence for wilful neglect of patients (Report, 12 June). Of course this approach is proper in the main. However, as a recently retired GP, I see the loss of patient responsibility in many areas of health compared with the start of my career in 1974.

What does Denis think about a proposed “Go direct to jail” Monopoly-style card for those thousands of NHS patients with huge excesses of obesity leading to profoundly skewed health spending and consequently lowering the health benefits to the more prudent folk in today’s nanny NHS?
Dr Gavin Ewan
Whitchurch, Aylesbury

• I do wish writers like Ms Gold (Obesity is not a disability, 12 June) could get it into their heads that obesity has causes other than overeating. For 20 years I had an undiagnosed illness that caused me to gain weight relentlessly: I increased one dress size each year. I told my doctor that I could starve myself to death and I’d still die fat. “With your condition, you would,” he (eventually) agreed. I was often told to “lose weight”, as if it were under my control. At last it was diagnosed as a total collapse of my endocrine system. I was not diabetic because I was fat; I was fat because (among several other things) I was diabetic.

This misconception about a lack of self-discipline in obesity sufferers (and the causes of conditions like diabetes) not only hurts obese people; it also contributes to the lack of a sensible solution.
Sara Neill
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Gordon Brown on

Former prime minister Gordon Brown who criticised David Cameron for turning the referendum into a battle about Britain v Scotland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

While it was good to see the Better Together campaign finally being urged to accept that its negative campaign has not worked in Scotland (It’s not Scotland v Britain, 10 June), Gordon Brown continues to miss one crucial point. When the former prime minister argues that “Scottish Labour has to breathe new life into, and devolve new responsibility to Scottish civic institutions”, he ignores the fact that Scottish Labour has for a number of years been forced to remain silent and refrain from espousing any policies that might reflect the culture of the Scottish polity for fear of upsetting the metropolitan elite in London, or the Ukip supporters of England.

An example of this is the recently published document The Common Weal by the Jimmy Reid Foundation. This is exactly the sort of debate that in the past Scottish Labour would have engaged in: a political debate which reflects the cultural and aspirational goals of the Scottish people. Regrettably there is just silence, as anything which breaks from the dominant neoliberal market-driven agenda of Westminster is to be ignored. I, like many others in Scotland, will be voting yes on 18 September. Not for an SNP government, but one led by a Scottish Labour party, which, removed from its Westminster shackles, will once again be able to argue for the egalitarian politics that Gordon Brown wishes.
Geoff Earl

• It is no surprise that JK Rowling chooses to vote no in the Scottish independence referendum (Magic day for no campaign as JK Rowling donates £1m, 12 June). She is English-born and raised, after all, and wants to maintain the link with her homeland. Even if she has lived in Scotland for the last 20 years, that does not make her Scots. I lived in England for six years and did not feel the least bit English. We are what we are, for better or worse. Like most English people, I would suggest, she does not know the concept of independence because the English have always considered themselves to be independent. Technically they are not, but it is understandable that they might feel that way, as they make up 80%-plus of the UK population.

So she is voting with her heart. One cannot say the same of the traitor knaves Brown and Darling. Of course they and all the other Scots MPs at Westminster stand to lose their jobs, well-paid with generous expenses, were the referendum to go against their wishes. I shall also be voting with my heart – “just for the glorious privilege of being independent”, as Burns would say.
Tom McNab

• As we hit the 100 days to go in the run-up to the referendum and amid what seems to be a consensus among all three unionist parties that they will promise the Scots devo max as their main hope of defeating a vote for independence, why have we still heard not a peep about one of the key implications for the UK’s constitutional arrangements if Scotland does vote no? Surely it is now impossible to avoid Tam Dalyell‘s West Lothian question? You cannot have more devolved government and still have Celtic MPs determining English-only policies. The implications of this are so stark, particularly for the Labour party, that one can well understand why the politicians have taken a seeming vow of silence on the issue. But it will not go away and will loom ever larger as the referendum and the general election come ever closer.
Simon Sedgwick-Jell

• A federal structure for a united UK is impossible because Scotland has its own distinct legal system. Similar powers cannot be given to regions within the UK without splitting the English legal system into several diverging versions. English law cannot be administered by a single Westminster legislature at which Scottish MPs have votes. It cannot be administered by a sub-assembly of English MPs without running the risk of that sub-assembly having a different political colour from the main Westminster government. Those who advocate federalism are deluded.
Hugh Noble
Appin, Argyll

• Gordon Brown is right that the problem is economic and social dislocation and he is right that no political party is offering a compelling vision of Britain’s future. What the SNP has offered the Scottish people is the chance to imagine something better. Both the SNP and Labour succumb to neoliberal rhetoric and, for fear of vilification, avoid serious debate about taxation and borrowing for public investment. Instead, their social democratic aspirations are couched in admiring references to the Scandinavian countries. And so it is up to the rest of us to engage with these issues to win the vote for independence. It is not a matter of patriotism, but of politics.
Barbara MacLennan

• Rather than David Cameron, how about Gordon Brown debating with Alex Salmond ? At least he has some knowledge of the issues and emotions involved, while Cameron and the rest of the Tory tribe just talk counterproductive rubbish. The UK’s future depends on our being united (the kingdomship is optional) but, without Scotland, Britain will be sadly diminished economically, socially and politically. Scottish independence means little in today’s globalised world, but separation will create the Little England that Ukip wants. Scottish engineers, doctors and, yes, politicians, have helped make Britain greater than either nation would have managed alone. We are stronger together.
David Reed

• Gordon Brown is right, it’s not Scotland v Britain. But the SNP is offering Scotland what Britain also needs. Shifting to a social democratic economy would benefit all of the people in the UK instead of the wealthy and powerful. And a written constitution is a must for a modern European state. These are just two things the SNP is offering us, so why isn’t Labour offering this for everyone in the UK? Could that be why so many Labour voters in Scotland are seriously considering voting for independence?
Malcolm Stewart

• Better hurry up to teach “British values” in schools. If Scotland votes for independence, then there will not be much of Britain left to be valued.
Tim Bornett
Old Buckenham, Norfolk

• Much as I agree with his analysis of the deficiencies of the no campaign’s relentlessly negative strategy, Gordon Brown, like so many other labour politicians, comprehensively misses the point of independence for socialists intending to vote yes. We are not voting for the SNP or it’s policies; we are voting to ensure that in future, if Scotland votes for parties espousing fairer economic policies, including his, we might actually get a government capable of enacting them. It’s for that reason that large numbers of Labour voters intend to vote yes, not because of their fondness for the SNP.
Professor Robin MacPherson

• Gordon Brown succeeds in casting some light on the issues facing us as we evaluate the prospect of independence. But hard facts remain hidden behind his gloss on an egalitarian covenant he considers to have emerged in the last century. It is hard to see how equality is manifest in a UK society which, in the three decades following the flow of north sea oil, has seen the greatest increase in the gap between the richest and poorest in society of all OECD countries. This accrued wealth has not been distributed fairly. It could, as Dr Brown indicates, have been used to mitigate deindustrialisation, to improve housing, to upgrade skills.

But it was not. It was frittered away in the financial sector and trousered by the already wealthy. I am not a nationalist. I abhor the current posing behind British nationalism, with ever present union flags (often incorrectly flown), but I am attracted by the prospect of a written constitution, a statement of individual rights and the opportunity to vote for a parliament with a mandate to deliver social justice. I will vote yes on 18 September.
Andy Hawkins
Cupar, Fife

In the UK only around 55% of eligible 17- to 24-year-olds are registered to vote. Of that number, only 24% are “certain to vote”. Despite these stark figures, as honorary president of the non-partisan movement Bite the Ballot – a fantastic organisation seeking to empower young voters – I know how enthusiastic young people are about political issues when they are taught about the power they hold at the ballot box.

This simple premise forms the basis of the voter registration bill which I introduced in the House of Lords on 10 June. The bill will authorise electoral registration officers to “fill in the gaps” on the register using information held by bodies such as the Passport Office, DVLA and DWP. Crucially, this will be an opt-in process and information will only be shared with electoral administrators with a person’s consent. The bill will also require EROs to take active steps to increase the number of people registered from under-represented groups, including organising at least one voter engagement session per year, per school or college in her area of responsibility.

This bill is the first step in tackling our youth democracy crisis. We need to equip EROs with the right tools to make our democracy as strong as possible. The bill, I suggest, is a leap in the right direction, and I very much hope that the government gives it a fair hearing in this parliamentary session and considers its proposals carefully. Not to do so will only widen the democratic deficit, making our bad situation even worse.
Roger Roberts
Lib Dem, House of Lords

Socks on display

A Guardian reader ponders his footwear. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

With Isis militants now getting ridiculously close to Baghdad (Report, 12 June), is it not discomforting that British politicians are more interested in discussing passports and water cannon? Thousands of refugees fleeing cities is more important than people missing their holidays. Our politicians should not be afraid of talking about the situation in Iraq because of Tony Blair’s actions more than 10 years ago. There are ways to intervene in Iraq that do not involve war.
Gabriel Osborne, aged 14

• The best ever (only?) poem about socks that have come asunder (G2, 12 June,) is Greg Delanty’s The Sock Mystery: “There should be an asylum for single socks,/ Lost, dejected, turned in on themselves.” Unless any other readers know a better one?
Jenny Swann
Beeston, Nottingham

• “Most people ignore most poetry, Because most poetry ignores most people.” (Adrian Mitchell, 1932 – 2008).
Nicholas Jacobs

• Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire: “Ow bist?” There’s a Facebook page and even car stickers devoted to a greeting that’s become a marker for local pride.
Ed Collard
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

• For Brazil 2014 (Editorial, 12 June) we need a wall chart showing the money flows in and around Fifa.
Dr Alex May


• How does Belgium do it (Sport, 7 June)? Never mind football – how does Belgium also produce the best beers and chocolate in the world?
Barry Norman
Drighlington, Bradford

• Black cab blockade in London (Report, 12 June). Should be no congestion south of the river, then.
Michael Cunningham

• In France, 1978, Sic was available alongside Pschitt (Letters, passim). Perfect D and V combination.
Margaret Waddy

Having personally witnessed the injustice visited upon the Palestinian people in the territories occupied by Israel, it is with the utmost sadness and dismay that we, the undersigned international authors and artists, note Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval last week of yet another 1,500 new illegal settlement units in the West Bank (Report, 5 June). This is particularly unfortunate at a moment when the Palestinians have formed a unity government that has been recognised by the international community. Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have long been pronounced illegal by international law. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is itself illegal, and declared so by the international community through various UN resolutions. Additional settlements can be seen only as an act of aggression, showing utter disregard not just for the human and civil rights of the Palestinian people, but for international law.

We applaud the non-violent efforts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and express our solidarity with its demand that Israel should comply with the precepts of international law by:

Ending its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the separation wall.
Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.
Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

The Israeli government should respect international law and reverse the approval of the thousand plus additional settlement units in the West Bank.We call on the international community to work to induce Israel to uphold the basic principles of international law.
Harif Abdel Kouddous, Susan Abulhawa, Teju Cole, Nathan Hamilton, Nathalie Handal, Brigid Keenan, Sabrina Mahfouz, Michael Ondaatje, Ed Pavlic, Eliza Robertson, Sapphire, Kamila Shamsie, Ahdaf Soueif, Linda Spalding, Janne Teller, Haifa Zangana


JK Rowling (12 June) offers a reasoned case for supporting Better Together in the Scottish referendum. The reasons for voting Yes are far stronger.

There are “cybernasties” on both sides but the really vitriolic attacks on the political leaders of the referendum debate sadly have come from the Better Together campaign leaders against the Yes campaign, something the mainstream media appears to have neglected.

Going it alone, which is not about narrow nationalism, is not the worry, but the risks of staying in an unhealthy, unjust, avaricious, anti-immigrant, anti-Europe and bellicose UK are an enormous worry. As indeed are the cuts in the UK science budget which Scotland can avoid in the future.

JK Rowling writes about the 14 professors in Scotland who expressed concerns about threats to Scottish medical research if Scotland becomes independent. It is only fair to mention that over 100 academics in Scotland   also wrote a letter recently that fully supported independence.

I should add that I am English but live and work in Scotland. I am not a member of any political party but I am involved in public health research. I will be voting Yes in the referendum.

Professor Andrew  Watterson

Kippen, Stirlingshire

I haven’t actually read JK Rowling’s books, but I am sure she thoroughly deserves her success. Now, having read her article on Scottish independence, I can only applaud her writing (and you for publishing it).

Thoughtful, lucid, balanced, self-deprecating, generous to her adopted homeland, it sets out an argument which gently but remorselessly destroys the case for independence.

The only omission I can spot is any reference to the one group who would benefit with absolute certainty from an independence victory – the lawyers who would be entitled to argue expensively for decades over who owns what.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey

John Rentoul, in his otherwise admirable article in defence of JK Rowling (12 June), maintains that only the residents of Scotland should have a say in whether the UK breaks up.

At present there is a proposal that our country should be split into two entities: Scotland and another area that (for want of a name so far) could be called the Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (KEWNI).

As a current citizen of the UK and a possible citizen of KEWNI if the split occurs, I would like my views on the subject to be sought. However, no one seems to have any plans for doing so. The fate of a country with 64 million people is being left in the hands of just  5 million. Is it too late to give us all a say?

Sam Boote

Keyworth, Nottinghamshire

Extra burdens on GP services

Rosie Millard (10 June) encapsulates a large part of the problems of access to GPs. She asks what should someone do if the GP surgery is closed, if their child has meningitis, if they have toothache, or if they have run out of the contraceptive pill.

A child with meningitis definitely needs to be in hospital, not seeing a GP; someone with toothache needs a dentist; and someone taking the oral contraceptive pill will generally know to the day, six months in advance, when they are due to run out, so there really is no need for this to be an emergency. The idea that all these conditions need urgent GP attention is one reason for the pressure on appointments.

A significant percentage of GP workload is now made up of seeing patients who 10 or 15 years ago would have been dealt with in hospital. They are now managed in general practice, and there has been no comparable expansion of GP numbers.

I am a GP. My surgery opens every day all day. We don’t close for lunch, and we don’t close in the afternoon other than once every couple of months for approved training.

James Ward-Campbell

Long Whatton, Leicestershire

Rosie Millard’s criticism of her GP service is understandable, but I wonder why she does not register with a different surgery which might meet her needs better.

The practice I attend is open regularly five days a week from 8am to 6.30pm, and in addition on two days it opens earlier, and on two days it stays open until 8pm. Making an appointment is never difficult.

There is so much criticism of the NHS, but there are substantial bits of it (for which I am enormously grateful) that remain outstanding.

Angela Crum Ewing


I notice a pattern in your correspondence on patient care in the NHS. People with personal experience are very positive, whereas negative letters are strangely abstract, based on generalisations.

I spent three months in the hands of the NHS and social workers in the past year and occasionally I try to think of something negative to say, no matter how trivial, just as an exercise. So far, I have come up with nothing at all.

Sean Nee



Tax system favours owners over workers

Richard Horton (letter, 10 June), in arguing against a progressive property tax on expensive homes, makes the surprising assertion that those that live in them are not wealthy. The often-quoted example is of a person who bought the property when its value was very low and is now sitting on a large tax-free capital gain, but has low income.

The essence of his argument is that earned income should be taxed and wealth arising merely from holding assets should not. There is no moral justification for taxing the worker far more than the owner of capital, yet that is what we do.

If there is to be more fairness in taxation, the taxing of wealth would be a good place to start, beginning with a property tax, which, by its nature, cannot be avoided. And who knows, it could lead to more efficient use of housing, just like the bedroom tax, and not the use of housing as the best way to provide tax-free capital gains.

Nick Bion


A nation ruled by posh boys

One crucial “British value” that Matthew Norman neglects (11 June) is respect for one’s betters. A willingness to be ruled by rich posh boys educated in single-sex schools where they wear weird costumes and are isolated from the rest of the community is absolutely central to what makes us British.

And, of course, it is vital to have the state education system run by people who weren’t educated by it, a principle that all major parties have embraced.

John Newsinger


After Iraq, stop trying to save the world

The long war in Iraq has been a waste of time. More importantly, it has been a colossal waste of money. Critically, it has been an enormous waste of life.

I feel for all those families who have lost young men and women – for what? To say that we have kept terrorism at bay and made our country safe is obviously unsupportable.

What is just as worrying is that what we are seeing in Iraq will undoubtedly occur in Afghanistan too, once the troops are all gone.

We should put our energies into making our own back yard safe and forget trying to save the rest of the world, which doesn’t appear to want to be saved.

Graham Pearce

Winkleigh, Devon

Islamic fundamentalists are blazing a swathe of destruction across Iraq, as they have in Syria. In Nigeria, Boko Haram  kidnaps hundreds of innocent girls to sell into slavery. And once again the western world wrings its hands and declares that “something must be done”, while ignoring the massive elephant in the room.

All of these fundamentalist groups derive patronage and funding from the extremist wahhabi ideologues in Saudi Arabia. Yet when was the last time you heard a government minister say a single word of condemnation of the Saudi regime? Where are the sanctions against the Saudi rulers?

It would seem that in UK plc, oil and arms deals mean more to our rulers than human rights or combating the hydra of Islamic fundamentalism.

Jo Selwood


With the unfolding prospect of jihadists seizing Baghdad and the fragmentation of Iraq into sectarian provinces, perhaps Tony Blair can be questioned under oath as to why he led Britain into a fruitless and costly war based on deceit and without UN approval, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of UK soldiers and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Iraq’s imminent future offers catastrophe for its hapless people and the West. Blair should be hauled before the court in The Hague for war crimes, instead of earning millions on the lecture circuit.

Dominic Shelmerdine

London SW3


People on benefits cannot be fined at the level being mooted for speeding

Sir, You report (June 10) on plans to increase the fines for several motoring offences and other offences. Under this government’s sentencing guidelines, fines must be related to an offender’s ability to pay. So, unless the guidelines are changed, this is just another meaningless law’n’order soundbite.

Marvyn Slater, JP

London N3

Sir, A punishment is supposed to fit the crime. I consider these new proposals ludicrous. A 10mph overspeed on a deserted motorway — incidentally still the UK’s safest roads — at 3am could cost six months’ average salary. How long before we resort again to hanging for stealing a loaf of bread?

John Atkins

Chelmsford, Essex

Sir, The plan to increase motoring fines and penalties is overdue. Too many motorists have an à la carte attitude to the rules of the road, where speed limits become targets and the compulsive need to use a mobile phone for any purpose has become a divine right.

However, increased powers to impose eye-wateringly sobering punishment will be ineffective unless we see more police pulling over recalcitrant drivers who take a neocon view about their freedoms behind the wheel. Lives saved are more important than so-called “rights” preserved.

Charles Foster

Chalfont St Peter, Bucks

Sir, Once again, the government is targeting motorists, because they are easy targets. What about £10,000 fines for habitual shoplifters and burglars. What about £10,000 fines for people who get drunk and then kick people senseless. Instead of letting them off with a caution or deferred prison sentences, hit them where it hurts. Yes, many will not be able to afford it, but it can be deducted from their income for years to come. I’m sure that it will deter many.

Melvin Haskins

London EN5

Sir, The proposal to raise fines for motoring and other offences by up to 400 per cent is by any measure, disproportionate and draconian. To threaten, for example, a single mum living on a sink estate with a fine of up to £4,000 because she can’t get her child to school is ludicrous and oppressive. Legislation that does not have the support of the court of public opinion lacks legitimacy and is, in the words of Mr Bumble, an ass.

Frank Greaney

Formby, Liverpool

Sir, Given that the overwhelming majority of people who appear before magistrates are on benefits, from which only £5 a week may be deducted, increasing fines will have absolutely no effect.

I recently had a case where the defendant should have been fined up to £20,000 but because he claimed to be on benefits we were pushed to fine him £1,000. All fines are related to income, and the government can make them as high as it likes but very few people will ever pay them.

Alexandra Kingston, JP

Twickenham, Middx

Landowners might be more enthusiastic about fracking if they got a share of the proceeds

Sir, Matt Ridley says “You don’t own the land 300m below your feet”, (June 9), and believes the law of trespass should be amended accordingly to permit fracking — though it is not clear how rights would be given or protected in Scotland where there is no corresponding law of trespass?

Many UK landowners might welcome fracking under their land if they shared in the financial returns. Surely the debate on fracking under private land would be all the richer if land owners (and local communities) had a right, enshrined in law, to receive payment based on the area of their land. Only if negotiation were unsuccessful would satisfaction need to be sought in the courts.

Landowners clearly do own the land 300m below their feet, otherwise why would the law of trespass need to be changed to allow what many see as an act of theft?

Rodney Basford


Students on science degrees seem to work harder for longer than arts undergraduates

Sir, Katerina Gould’s son’s experience (letter, June 11) is diametrically opposed to my daughter’s. She is in her second year of reading zoology at a Russell group university and has been worked to the bone since she started. Each week she has many hours of lectures, with tutors turning up, experiments to perform and write up, massive scientific tomes to read and make notes from, and essays galore. Now she is on a two week intensive field trip studying, measuring and analysing data on fauna in a given area. Of course she is taking a science degree rather than arts and perhaps this is the difference.

Neil Jones

London SE24

The increase in the number of over-65s getting married may have more to do with tax than with romance

Sir, One prime reason for getting married in later life is to avoid paying George Osborne two tranches of inheritance tax and your report (June 12) seems naive in suggesting more romantic interpretations. It is of course iniquitous that those who prefer to cohabit because they disapprove of state intrusion into their intimate lives should have to compromise and wed or risk ruin.

Phillip Hodson

Tetbury, Glos

A reader offers Fink Tank a hefty bet that Italy will win the world cup

Sir, I was surprised by some of the Fink Tank ratings (The Game, June 11). They imply Russia is eight times more likely to win the World Cup than Italy (0.3 per cent); and both Switzerland and Bosnia-Herzegovina have a better chance than the Azzurri. I’d be happy to take those odds in a private bet with the Fink Tank: I have £3,000, does it have the £1 million required to cover a surprise Italy win at 332 : 1?

Joan Phillips


Cameron did not mention the most important British value – equality, of sex, religion, race

Sir, David Cameron’s definition of British values (June 10) omitted an important — and given the ideology imposed in the six Birmingham schools, perhaps the most important — value that we regard as inalienable. That is equality, of the sexes, of races, of religions, and of people of a different sexual persuasion. Without a grounding in this fundamental right, values such as tolerance and respect have no real focus. Equality should be emphasised to the young by their parents, educators and religious leaders. In cultural milieux where this may not happen in the home, it is up to educators to explain its importance.

Unfortunately, meaningful discussion on this issue between Muslim religious leaders and the government does not seem to have taken place — or at least has not been widely reported.

Susan Ward

London N1

Sir, While I welcome the Prime Minister’s support for the teaching of British values in our schools there was a glaring omission in his definition of our accepted values: gender equality.

At the same time as a major conference on rape as a weapon in war and evidence of the normality of rape of women in Egypt, surely the equality and respect for both sexes must be embedded into any discussion regarding British values.

Leo Mccormack

Sedgefield, Co Durham


SIR – Sadiq Khan promises that a Labour government would free our courts from the obligation to follow the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, without repealing the Human Rights Act 1998.

I cannot see how this could work. Since the Human Rights Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, and since the European Court of Human Rights is the authoritative interpreter of that Convention, the British courts have no practical choice but to follow clear rulings of that European Court.

Jonathan Morgan
Fellow in Law, Corpus Christi College

The value of the BBC

SIR – My assertion regarding “free access” on the BBC’s Points of View (report, June 10) never meant anything other than free access to all BBC services at point of use. I believe that the licence fee is the best way of funding a public broadcaster of the scale, range and quality of the BBC. At 40 pence a day, the BBC’s services are extraordinary value for money.

Danny Cohen
Director of Television, BBC

Recalling Rik Mayall

SIR – Many of us who were Conservative parliamentary candidates in the Eighties regarded Rik Mayall’s The New Statesman as a cross between a documentary and a training exercise.

Cllr Chris Middleton (Con)
Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Angel of advertising

SIR – Given Antony Gormley’s displeasure at his Angel of the North sculpture being used to advertise a Morrisons baguette, creating a new work that looks like Lego is just asking for trouble.

Michael Powell
Tealby, Lincolnshire

Message on a bottle

SIR – I have an old milk bottle (Letters, June 10) which bears the slogan “Wonderfuel Gas”. I bring it out annually, when I make a cup of tea for the engineer who calls to service my gas boiler. Sadly, so far none of them has noticed it.

R R Mohile
Lancing, West Sussex

Speed limits

SIR – John Ewington found his speed-awareness course interesting (Letters, June 11), but appears not to have picked up two key themes evident from the three courses I have attended.

First, the difference between 30mph and 34mph is not negligible when it comes to stopping distance; and secondly, there is already a scale of penalties. The driver who is 10mph or more over the limit would not be offered the course as an alternative to the £90 fine and three points on their licence.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

SIR – The 30mph limit is usually imposed in a built-up area and where one should take special care. Another 5mph could be the difference between injury and death.

Car owners have become far too blasé about their driving speed. I find this to be especially true in the case of drivers with many years’ experience, who risk becoming blind to their own worst habits.

Ann Baker
Torpoint, Cornwall

In the night garden

SIR – On the subject of nocturnal gardening (Letters, June 10): I used to work in Shepperton with the late Jimmy Wright, who was a film-maker and founder of the Spelthorne Talking News.

When I called him late one evening, his wife answered the phone and said she would fetch Jimmy indoors as he was busy gardening. Unthinkingly, I replied, “But it’s pitch dark!” Jimmy, of course, was blind – he had been shot down in the war and was horribly disfigured by burns, costing him the sight in both eyes. He was one of Sir Archibald McIndoe’s “Guinea Pigs”, and his energy and commitment to his work was a constant inspiration.

Carole King
Ilfracombe, Devon

Here’s to the hackney

SIR – I rely on taxis for transport. Harry Mount ignores the fact that, unlike minicabs, they are heavily regulated.

Taxis are therefore safer, and there is also the privacy offered by the voice switch. Minicabs, on the other hand, are not regulated; in many cases they are pricier, and the incessant talk is a big deterrent.

D B Cohen
London W1

SIR – Any extra charge levied by black cab drivers is more than compensated by the solutions they offer, over their shoulder, to the world’s problems. Do they all belong to the same debating society?

Robert Vincent
Wildhern, Hampshire

Early risers

SIR – With regard to sleep and health (Letters, June 11), my cockerpoodle wakes at 7.15 and we are out walking by 7.30.

An eight-hour sleep is a dream, and my health has certainly been affected: I’ve lost half a stone.

Kevin Platt
Walsall, Staffordshire

Dress for success

SIR – As a current A-level student, I read with interest your report regarding the theory that wearing a lab coat could improve performance in a science exam. What shall I wear to help me in my politics exam tomorrow?

Alice Roberts
Kineton, Warwickshire

The British values of responsibility and respect

SIR – Among other British values (Letters, June 11), the Prime Minister should promote personal responsibility.

This extends to one’s own health and well-being. Type 2 diabetes is the result of lifestyle choices, and yet the individual expects the state to pick up the cost. The central value of responsibility has been eroded by an over-generous welfare system that gives the impression that everything can be had for free.

Frank Sloan
Rochester, Kent

SIR – Children should be taught respect in schools, as well as at home. Respect for life, for oneself, for the rights of others as enshrined in law and for the environment.

If religious schools wish to justify this in terms of obeying God’s word, what difference does that make?

Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – Much could be achieved by devoting just an hour a week in secondary school to the meaning of democracy, the roles of government and national institutions and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

This used to be called citizenship. If it also embraced a non-partisan exploration of the role of religions in society, all schools could be truly secular, as in France.

Mike Davison
Holywell, Huntingdonshire

SIR – There is one British value that always seems to get forgotten – the good manners of putting the other man at his ease.

Michael Jeffrey
London W12

SIR – The identifying characteristic of British values is the ability to queue.

Andrew Wauchope
London SE11

SIR – Boris Johnson’s purchase of water cannon doesn’t seem to chime too well with British values. However, if they were adapted to fire real ale rather than water, that would be uniquely British.

Keith Flett
London N17

A dog’s life on the Grand Union Canal, which stretches from London to Birmingham  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 12 Jun 2014

Comments12 Comments

SIR – Having lived on a narrowboat, Joanie M, for the past seven years, I’m afraid the annual running costs for a premium mooring and 3,000 miles of cruising are a lot more than £3,760 (Property, June 7).

Diesel is currently around 90p a litre (even higher for fuel used for propulsion), and residential moorings, if you can find one, are around the £3,000 mark.

Living on a boat is great, but you must go into it with your eyes open. Hiring one first to see if you like the lifestyle is good advice, but do it in the winter, not in the glorious summer months.

Peter Earley
Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire

The new NHS statin guidelines ‘risk harming patients’, doctors have claimed Photo: Alamy

7:00AM BST 12 Jun 2014

Comments40 Comments

SIR – At last, doctors have pointed out that much of the research undertaken relating to statins has been funded by the drug companies. Medicating people “just in case” can never be right.

Perhaps now we can have an open debate on these drugs before millions more people sleepwalk into taking them, possibly compromising their health.

Christine Watson
Burghfield Common, Berkshire

SIR – Again we hear of drug companies producing favourable reports about their products, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) absorbing this advice and passing it on to the NHS. Bewildered patients will do as their doctor says and take these unnecessary chemicals when a simple change of lifestyle might fix the problem. I refused to take statins, and more people should stand up to their doctors and do the same.

Neville H Walker
Orton-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire

SIR – It would be far better for people to change their lifestyles than to take statins. Avoid food loaded with sugar, reduce salt intake, and take regular exercise: these will lessen the risk not only of cardiovascular disease, but all the others that cause disability and early death.

Over-50s who are overweight, and those who have a family history of cardiovascular disease, should ask their doctor to check their cholesterol levels. If high, they can consider taking statins.

The remainder of over-50s should save the money to be spent on something more worthwhile.

Gillian Seward

SIR – If my experience is typical, I believe the full extent of the side-effects may not yet be known.

My GP was understanding about the problems I experienced with two different brands before prescribing a third. However, it was not apparent to me that these side-effects were being recorded. I have had fewer problems with the third brand but, even so, at the moment I take less than the prescribed dose.

James Thacker
Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

SIR – There is an economic side-effect of statins: the automatic increase in travel insurance premiums, because there is an assumption by insurers that the applicant has a heart condition. In my case, the premium doubled.

If the Government continues with this policy, then some way will have to be found to remove this impact.

Bill Halkett
Bispham, Lancashire

SIR – Thanks to Nice, I can eat and eat and drink and drink, take a statin a day and be OK. If more problems should appear, they’ll have another pill for me.

Brian Farmer
Chelmsford, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – There has been a great deal of emotional reaction to the Tuam mother-and-baby burial story. I welcome the reporting and analysis by Rosita Boland and Patsy McGarry (June 7th). The actual situation doesn’t elicit the mass hysteria generated by the mis-reporting of the “septic tank” mass graves.

There is no doubt that we are justifiably ashamed of our treatment of unwed mothers and their babies in the past, when they were conveniently hidden away in Victorian buildings. But we need to remember that it was members of the Catholic Church who initiated the change in our treatment of these women.

In the 1960s and 1970s a Dominican priest, the late Fr Fergal O’Connor, set up the organisation “Ally”, which sought to move single pregnant women out of mother-and-baby homes and into family placements.

This was the first effort to remove stigma and shame from women who found themselves pregnant out of wedlock. I played a small part in this work by agreeing to host some young women who were placed in our family by a religious sister (a professional social worker) employed by the diocesan social service centre in Limerick.

Mostly it worked out well in that the single pregnant women acted as an au pair in exchange for her board and keep. With some we developed a lasting friendship. However, the situation depended on mutual respect and a guarantee of absolute confidentiality.

Over 21 girls and women came to live with us from 1971 until 1985; by then the necessity of hiding away began to change.

My experience of more than 21 women who varied in age, education, class and background was that each of them cared passionately for the unborn child.

The majority concluded, after much soul-searching, without coercion, that the best option for the child would be adoption.

Could it be that adopted babies sometimes did get a better deal in life as a result of the mother’s choice? Could it be that at present some are keeping babies that do not get a good deal from that choice? Are there social pressures now that push people towards poor outcomes for children?

Change starts at the margins with quiet work, often in the background. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference (“Apology for stigmatisation of unmarried mothers”, Home News, June 11th) has apologised “for hurt caused by the church” in terms of its role in society’s “culture of isolation and social ostracising” of unmarried mothers. Again they refuse to accept full responsibility when they add “unmarried mothers were often judged, stigmatised and rejected by society, including the church”. These bishops know full well it was the Catholic Church who created that society and made the rules. – Yours, etc,


Braemor Road,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Darach MacDonald (June 12th) makes a spirited defence of the dictionary definition of “unionism”, and rightly points out that purity of blood is a fiction in the modern world. But culture is not transmitted through the genes, and anyone observing an Orange parade should be left in no doubt of the existence of “unionist” culture.

The constitutional question is far from the “single common identifying policy” that unites unionist political parties. Support for monarchism, the Orange Order and Scottish cultural heritage, together with disdain for the Irish language, Gaelic sports and (historically) the Catholic Church have long been commonly held positions. None of these follow automatically from the dictionary definition, so the dictionary definition must be incomplete.

It is unfortunate that a political term has come to have a non-political meaning. But whatever name we decide to use, most people understand it to mean more than just a single policy position. It also identifies a distinct, shared worldview that can be difficult to fully appreciate from the outside, leading to a gulf in understanding that perpetuates conflict.

It has never been just about the Border. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – Dick Keane (June 9th) suggests that the Belfast Agreement should be rewritten so that “a united Ireland is off the agenda until a majority of unionists request it” rather than “an overall simple majority” of the Northern Ireland electorate.

The existing arrangement has already been approved by referendum on both sides of the Border, including, in Northern Ireland, a clear majority of the unionist electorate. In other words, a majority of the unionist electorate has already agreed that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland should be determined by “an overall simple majority” of the Northern Ireland electorate. Indeed, this was their long-standing demand.

Northern Ireland is a financial liability to Britain, which would be better off without it. Its retention in the UK is normally justified by British politicians to the British people on the grounds that this is what “an overall simple majority” of the Northern Ireland electorate wants. Does Mr Keane seriously think that the British people would want to pay for the privilege of hanging on to Northern Ireland against the wishes of “an overall majority” of its electorate?

That said, the holding of a referendum now would be completely pointless. What is the point of asking a question to which everyone already knows the answer? – Yours, etc,


Keswick Road,

St Helens,



Sir, – Mairin de Burca’s tale of her attempts to quit the Catholic Church (June 12th) contained so many curious assertions that I found myself squinting in disbelief.

Two claims stood out. First, Ms de Burca considers it a “serious breach of a citizen’s civil rights” that recorded defection is no longer available to her and others.

While I am aware that a European court has recently carved a “right to be forgotten” out of thin air in the Google case, I am aware of no analogous right in ecclesiastical contexts. Indeed, a similar regime would be very peculiar given that this matter involves canonical, not civil, rights.

Second, I find it a bit strange to, on the one hand, declare that the Catholic faith is meaningless for one personally, and yet on the other hand, insist that a parochial registry of the Catholic Church – recording one’s (meaningless) baptism – be amended. Ms de Burca’s real objective must be to undo whatever “hold” the Catholic Church is perceived to exercise over its former members by refusing to alter the historical fact of baptism. Ms de Burca claims that her “baptism was rescinded”. As a church historian I would be most interested to see a document stating that fact, given that in both the Code of Canon Law (canon 849) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1272), baptism is referred to as “indelible”.

It seems to me that, given the entirely voluntary nature of religious participation, the plainest way to “cease to observe the Catholic church’s rituals” is to do exactly that. – Yours, etc,



Chao de Loureiro,


Sir, – It might be helpful if atheist contributors to your letters page (June 12th) desisted from claims such as faith and logic being mismatched. In fact, if pure logic is demanded, then the proper position is agnosticism, not atheism. When this is pointed out, the atheist customarily moves his position to the “burden of proof” argument, apparently unaware that the legal burden of proof is a utilitarian doctrine rather than a scientific or academic one; it is accepted in law for practical reasons, but outside of a courtroom, there is no assumption of “innocence” or “guilt” as such, and the burden of proof rests on whomever is making whatever assertion.

For the atheist, this is problematical, since the concept of a creator God is a perfectly reasonable one, particularly when placed against the alternative of life from random chance, a likelihood (as calculated by scientist and atheist Sir Roger Penrose) as being one in 10 to the 10th power to the 123rd power, a number so vast that, were you to write it out as a single “one” with all the zeros behind it, it would stretch beyond the limits of the universe.

With such odds, there is no particular reason to assume atheism as the default.

The problem is that atheism – at least in its newer, Dawkinsian variety – is an affectation. Most atheists are motivated less by an attachment to logic and more by a desire to perceive of themselves as being just a little more intelligent, just a little less gullible than their fellows.

In one regard, they are the living proof of the doctrine that what you think of God comes out in what you think of others. More thoughtful atheists, like the philosopher Thomas Nagel, have noted this phenomenon, commenting that “atheism, like religion, can often rest more on a will to believe than on dispassionate rational arguments”.

He is, of course, quite correct. – Yours, etc,


Harmonstown Road,

Artane, Dublin 5.

Sir, – The Health Information and Quality Authority has released yet another report critical of hand-hygiene practices in hospitals, and the immediate response from the hospital concerned is to introduce aggressive, disciplinary-based approaches to ensure hand-hygiene compliance (“Hygiene at Wexford hospital criticised in Hiqa report”, June 11th). With these reports becoming more common, might I suggest we adopt a different approach to hand-hygiene compliance?

In other areas of healthcare, in particular surgery, a “no-blame” culture is now standard. In the event of an error, it may be instinctive to seek immediate punishment, but this paradigm is actually counterproductive to preventing further errors. While it discourages blame, it is not a “no-fault” system. It does not tolerate malicious or purposefully harmful behaviour, and supports disciplinary actions against those who engage in such behaviour. This culture recognises that human error and faulty systems can lead to mistakes and encourages an investigation of what led to the error, instead of an immediate rush to blame an individual. Through this process, systems that may perpetuate errors can be fixed. It also gives healthcare professionals the opportunity to feel more at ease reporting errors and a sense of empowerment for system improvement, instead of being afraid. – Yours, etc,


Dargan Building,

St John’s Road West,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – The failure of the HSE to take action to stop top-up payments to senior staff is yet another example of how the insiders look after the insiders, and as the people receiving these utterly cynical payments were able to eyeball the HSE management face to face, the HSE blinked first (“HSE U-turn means some executives may retain pay top-ups”, Front Page, June 12th).

I bet if cleaners or hospital porters had been found to have been overpaid then the HSE would stop those payments immediately and request a repayment of the amounts already paid.

But given the HSE lacks the guts to take on these overpaid people directly, there are other options for dealing with the issue of senior public-sector staff abusing both the letter and the spirit of the policies of austerity everyone else faces.

The easiest way would be for every single person above a certain grade across the entire public sector to be required to publish their tax certificate, as is the norm in most countries, and face the judgment of society. However, as this would also cover the political class it’s unlikely to happen.

Or the HSE could change the rules so that those employed by the public sector must also declare their private-sector income and then the HSE could deduct funding to the relevant health organisation by the amount paid that exceeded the public-sector cap.

A similar tactic would also work for former office holders, who seem to think that it is acceptable to receive a public-sector pension while still being employed elsewhere.– Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,

A chara, – As regards Sean Glynn’s problems with signage translated into Irish (June 11th), it must be said that not all his examples are that intolerable. The “daddy of them all”, as he says, above the X-ray department in the Bon Secours in Galway is quite acceptable as a piece of Scottish Gaelic. “Gaillimh Thiar” and “Gaillimh Siar” are both correct, but don’t mean exactly the same thing. Taking a longer linguistic perspective, both “Bóthar Átha an Rí” and “Bóthar Átha na Rí” are both all right, depending on whether we speak in the singular or the plural.

The attitude of many sign painters and that of their advisers, when given an Irish job, seems to be “throw in a síneadh fada if in doubt”, but even so, I shall leave to those of your readers who are well read in the variety of nominal compounds in Irish to decide on the merits of “Séan Nós”. – Is mise,


Bóthar an Tóchair,


Sir, – Michael Harding, it barely needs saying, is blessed with a writer’s gift of lifting our spirits and somehow elevating everyday things above their ordinariness (“Thoughts about priests in a priestless world”, June 12th). His latest offering serves as a timely reminder that there’s no shortage of goodness and down-to-earth decency in those men drawn to the priesthood at some point. – Yours, etc,


Station Road,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Minister for Health James Reilly’s new Bill to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes (“Reilly hails Bill on plain packaging for tobacco”, June 11th) will be welcomed by smugglers, and will result in further lost revenue to the State. This move will make it a lot easier for criminals to produce a plain package, resulting in an increase in contraband products, thus eroding further our tax take on tobacco products. – Yours, etc,


Oakview Avenue,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – We can only thank Senator Catherine Noone of Fine Gael for bringing her call to regulate the use of ice-cream van chimes to public attention (Home News, June 13th). Therehas to be an inquiry or tribunal, or at the very least a Garda investigation, to get to the heart of this matter. Perhaps we could lump it in with all the other tribunals, inquiries and Garda investigations that are going on.

Or maybe, just maybe, parents could take responsibility for their own children, and leave the State to take care of more pressing matters. – Yours, etc,


Carrickbrack Lawn,


A chara, – Given the increase in use of helmet-mounted cameras used by cyclists to “shame” motorists (June 10th), perhaps pedestrians could take to using their mobile phones to document the daily instances of cyclists dangerously and arrogantly breaking red lights and mounting footpaths at speed. – Is mise,


Lismore Road,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – The headline in your Property supplement (June 12th) concerning Lisselan House, near Clonakilty, Co Cork, informs us that the house’s owners also “once owned the former Cheltenham Golf Cup Winner, Imperial Call”. Has the horse learned to play golf in his retirement or did you mean the Cheltenham Gold Cup? – Yours, etc,


Chapel Close,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Could somebody please tell me why I can’t buy fruit and nut chocolate made with dark chocolate? – Yours, etc,


Church Road,


Sir, – It is absurd to expect a person who is already licensed to watch television and to listen to radio to pay a second time when staying away from home in a holiday caravan or cottage. Will they next consider a compulsory television licence for our summer tourists? – Yours, etc,


Millbrook Road, Dublin 13.

Irish Independent:

* I’ve got to thinking lately that this little country of ours should scrap the title ‘Isle of Saints and Scholars’ and instead be known as the ‘Island of Immaculate Conceptions’.

For it would appear that an inordinately high number of Irish babies, past and present, have come into this world without any male involvement in the process at all.

As the sickening revelations about the thousands of Irish women and children who were condemned to live and die in religious institutions continue to emerge, I’m struck by the fact that not a single father seems to have existed in this whole sad and deplorable saga.

Even up to this day, it’s become impossible to switch on the radio without hearing another lone parent (always a mother) decry the State’s inability to provide sufficiently for her children. Again there never seems to be a father in sight.

These children are not of course an issue of some miraculous intervention. Rather they are an issue of spineless, irresponsible men – except in the case where the father is deceased.

I am calling on the current generation of ‘non-existent fathers’ to come out from behind the bushes and take responsibility for your offspring.

Because, as a hard-pressed taxpayer, I am bloody well sick and tired of paying to raise your children.




* During the period in question regarding the mother-and-baby homes, mid-1920s to mid-1960s, how many nuns died of malnutrition?



* In light of the recent baby-home scandals, which have followed the Magdalene Laundries and industrial homes scandals, can some of your readers explain to this mystified non- Irishman how and why it was the people of those periods ignored the inhumanity that what was going on under their roofs?

With all the media coverage on this subject, nobody has actually broached the angle of how it was there was no protest.

I have asked endless Irish people this particular point and all you ever get is vague answers. Even young Irish people don’t ask why their parents’ generation turned a blind eye to the mayhem that was being perpetrated across the land. Will it be left to historians in a future Ireland to explain what went on under their ancestors noses?

Surely, if we are going to learn from history, you can’t just brush it off by blaming it on to the so-called culture of another period and time.

I await answers.




* A creative, relevant and agile government response is required for the tax probe launched by the EU into Apple, the concerns of the US Senate, and the widely reported comments of Governor Brown of California if the impact of these is not to inevitably take their toll on the sentiment of foreign direct investors towards Ireland.

Major international corporations will be extremely concerned about unanticipated liabilities and the reputational implications of any EU ruling that is discerned as being adverse to their interests and those of their institutional and personal shareholders.

The consequences for Ireland will be missed investment opportunities and fewer fact-finding visits around the country by prospective investors.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spends in excess of €57m promoting Ireland’s economic interests overseas but bears no accountability to deliver the value claimed as a consequence of this expenditure.

The department declares that the rationale for spending this money is exports and services from Ireland worth €182bn and 250,000 jobs in the country attributable to foreign direct investment.

However, over 90pc of the nation’s exports are derived from foreign-owned companies, without any intervention whatsoever by any Irish authorities, agencies or the nation’s ambassadors.

It would therefore make compelling sense to have IDA Ireland report to the Foreign Affairs and Trade ministers.

A rationalisation of embassies, consulates and the 19 IDA Ireland overseas offices, as a well as the combination of public diplomacy with the skills and know-how to secure foreign direct investment, would surely mean that Ireland’s efforts in the foreign direct investment sphere would be more focused, defensible and successful.




* When the Cold War ended in stalemate; with both sides winning victory in each of the main battlefields of all wars, the world learned some very important lessons.

With Russia winning the military struggle, by proving it had the capability of annihilating the Americans, we learned that America is the second most powerful military in the world at best.

When America won the field in the economic battlefield, and thus saw the collapse of the Russian economy in both structure and wealth, we learned that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

The problem facing the American military right now, particularly given the recent billion-dollar investment in “Fortress Europe“, is that it may soon fall foul to not being able to afford its military prowess.

Recent events in Iraq point to a world police force that is on the point of over extension. History proves this to be a terminal viewpoint for those who have relied on the “might is right” principle to earn their daily crust.




* Your editorial (Irish Independent, June 11) on the ESRI research paper ‘Welfare Targeting and Work Incentives’ and story on same may have lent the impression that there is a massive problem with welfare traps; that welfare pays more than work in many cases; that many people therefore prefer to stay on welfare; and that the Department of Social Protection is doing little to tackle the problem. None of this is the case.

As the ESRI itself has stated, the paper “confirms that work pays more than welfare for close to six out of seven unemployed people – even when costs like childcare and travel to work are taken into account.”

Furthermore, the research shows that in relation to the small numbers of people who would actually receive more on welfare than work in the short term, “more than seven out of 10 choose work rather than welfare” – because they recognise that wages can increase with time and there are significant additional benefits to being in work.

In your editorial, you state that “the problem … means that when the economy needs workers, they are not available and there is the double blow on the Exchequer of having to make welfare payments and forgo income tax.”

In fact, all the available evidence shows that as jobs become available, jobseekers take them – and the fact that unemployment has reduced from over 15pc to 11.8pc under this government’s watch demonstrates as much, as does the fact that the Live Register has fallen for 22 months in a row.




Irish Independent


June 12, 2014

12June2014 Caroline

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. Off to phave our feet done with Caroline

ScrabbleMary wins a very respectable score over 400 perhaps Iwill win tomorrow


Lord Templeman – obituary

Lord Templeman was a law lord who pronounced on eloping heiresses, errant spies and the culture of excessive litigation

Lord Templeman of White Lackington in 1982

Lord Templeman of White Lackington in 1982 Photo: UPPA/PHOTOSHOT

5:46PM BST 11 Jun 2014


Lord Templeman, who has died aged 94 was one of the outstanding law lords of his generation.

Off the bench, Sydney Templeman was a genial character entirely lacking in pomposity; on it, however, he could be distinctly fierce. His exceptionally sharp legal brain was such that he was unusually quick to get to the heart of a case and make up his mind about it, and he was not notably tolerant about continuing to listen to an opposing line of argument from counsel once he had done so.

His peremptoriness resulted in his being affectionately known as “Syd Vicious” by some of the barristers who appeared before him. Yet however painful it felt to be on the receiving end of his onslaughts, he was never thought to be deliberately unkind — it was assumed that he had simply got carried away with the rightness of his decision. If counsel stood up to him, moreover, he took it in good part.

Templeman was well aware of his fearsome reputation, and in retirement he recalled a case in the House of Lords during which he had, as he remembered, been “bashing the leading counsel about a bit”. When the unfortunate QC had finished his speech, Templeman asked (in line with convention in House of Lords cases) whether his junior would like to follow. “No My Lord,” came the reply. “Not without a helmet.”

Sydney William Templeman was born on March 3 1920 and grew up at Heston in Middlesex, where his father worked as a coal merchant. As a boy, Sydney was a voracious reader and it was while confined to bed by illness, aged 12, and reading the works of Dickens that he conceived the idea of a career in the Law.

After attending Southall Grammar School, he won a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge (he later became an Honorary Fellow), but his studies were interrupted when — after reading History for a year — he was called up for service in the Second World War. Commissioned in the 4/1st Gurkha Rifles in 1941, he saw action on the Northwest Frontier (1942), Arakan (1943), Imphal (1944) and Burma with the 7th and 17th Indian Infantry Divisions. He was mentioned in dispatches, demobbed as an honorary Major, and appointed MBE in 1946 for his work as a staff officer. He then returned to Cambridge to finish his degree, this time reading Law.

In 1947 he was called to the Bar by Middle Temple as a Harmsworth Scholar, but after resolving to practice at the Chancery Bar and joining Lord Morton’s old set of chambers to 2 New Square in Lincoln’s Inn, he joined that Inn ad eundem as a MacMahon Scholar.

Lord Templeman (left) with Lady Wilcox of Plymouth and Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

His remarkable aptitude soon brought him an excellent and wide-ranging practice, and he was noted for his brilliant and incisive advocacy in court. The work of a Chancery barrister rarely makes newspaper headlines, however in 1957/58 he appeared as counsel in the much-publicised case involving the 26-year-old painter Dominic Elwes and his 19-year-old wife Tessa Kennedy, the shipping heiress, which caused a scandals célèbre in staid 1950s Britain by eloping to Cuba.

Templeman became a member of the Bar Council in 1961, took Silk in 1964 and became a Bencher of Middle Temple in 1969 (and Treasurer in 1987). He served as Attorney General of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1970 to 1972, when he was appointed a High Court judge, Chancery Division.

He was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1978, where he gained a reputation, among other things, for his implacable opposition to artificial tax avoidance schemes — although as a QC in the 1960s his practice had involved helping some of his clients to avoid estate duty. “Every tax avoidance scheme involves a trick and a pretence,” he said later. “It is the task of the Revenue to unravel the trick and the duty of the court to ignore the pretence.”

Templeman became a law lord in 1982, and thereafter participated in a series of high-profile appeal cases.

In the case of Victoria Gillick, in 1985, he was one of the minority of two law lords who supported Mrs Gillick’s battle to stop doctors from prescribing contraceptives to girls under 16 without their parents’ consent. Two years later he was one of five law lords who ruled unanimously that a 17-year-old severely mentally handicapped girl should be sterilised in her own interest.

The next year, he gave the lead judgment that decided that Coca-Cola was not entitled to a monopoly in its familiar shaped bottle as a trademark.

In 1988, he gave judgment in the unanimous decision that the mother of Jaqueline Hill, the 13th and last victim of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, could not sue the police for alleged negligence over his capture, on the basis that the police did not owe a duty of care to those attacked and injured by criminals.

The same year, Templeman was one of the three law lords who supported the government in the “Spycatcher” case, backing the ban on publication of the memoirs of former M15 officer Peter Wright, and in his own judgment dwelling on the desirability of restricting the profits that Wright could garner in this country for his perceived treachery. However, Templeman later admitted that the judges had been “too backward-looking” in their judgments, and regretted the fact that they had been pushed into deciding the case in a hurry due to political pressure.

In 1993 he was one of a three-two majority of law lords who decided that consent was no defence to charges of sadomasochistic assault by homosexuals. Dismissing the appeals of five men, Templeman said that society was “entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is an evil thing.” The practices of the appellants were, he said, “unpredictable, dangerous and degrading to body and mind”.

After retiring in 1994, shortly before the compulsory age of 75, Templeman became an occasional source of pithy quotes about what he saw as the shortcomings of our legal system. In 1995 he criticised the Law Society for supporting the sale of the names and addresses of accident victims to solicitors in order to facilitate “ambulance-chasing”.

He regretted the fact that more and more lawyers were adopting a proactive approach to litigation and lamented the increasing tendency of people to resort to the law. “What I would call bad luck has gone out of the window,” he said. “People now look for someone to blame, anyone but themselves, whereas many accidents are purely bad luck.”

He chaired several committees, mostly related to the law. He was president of the Senate of the Inns of Court and the Bar (1974-76) and chairman of the Bishop of London’s Commission on City Churches (1992-94).

Templeman was one of the more accessible and open members of the judiciary, and in 1988 he agreed to be interviewed by The Guardian columnist Hugo Young for the BBC Radio 4 series The Judges. When asked how many of his fellow judges he thought voted Labour, Templeman estimated between 10 and 15 per cent although he hazarded that it was probably “a diminishing number”.

He may well have been among that minority himself, however he was never defined by his politics and he maintained that to attach a political label to a judge was absurd.

Away from the law, Sydney Templeman helped to create a fine garden in the two-acre grounds of the house that he bought in Woking in the 1950s and which for several years he and his family shared with his parents-in-law.

On becoming a QC, he took up golf in the unrealised hope that as a new Silk he would have more leisure time.

He was appointed MBE in 1946, knighted in 1972 and sworn of the Privy Council in 1978.

Templeman married first, in 1946, Margaret Rowles. She died in 1988. He married secondly, in 1996, Mrs Shelia Barton Edworthy, who died in 2008.

He is survived by the two sons from his first marriage, the elder of whom went into the Church and the younger of whom practised at the Bar.

Lord Templeman of White Lackington, born March 3 1920, died June 4 2014


In the 1990 World Cup, team captain Bryan Robson was England’s best player; unfortunately the team did not play at their best until he was injured; England had to readjust and were far more exciting and effective without him. They got close to the final that year. I see a similarity to Robson in Steven Gerrard (Sport, 11 June). The latter is undoubtedly one of England’s best players but, like Robson, he dominates so much that everything revolves around him. The match against Ecuador and the second half against Honduras when Gerrard was not playing produced a more unpredictable and exciting England. Most of England’s performances with Gerrard produce a functional but mundane performance that opposition managers are able to plan for. It would be an almost impossible decision to put him on the bench, but for England to advance in their style and be much more exciting and effective, then Gerrard – and perhaps Rooney – would be better off as substitutes.
Peter Gilbert
Newark, Nottinghamshire

It is not just state education that is in chaos (The Lesson of Birmingham? State education is in chaos, 10 June), but educational values. What has happened to the concept of learning as a lived experience or part of democratic society? John Harris is right that the Birmingham Muslim schools spat suggests a deep flaw in the idea of education as a commodity dispensed by “providers”. Integrated education in Northern Ireland is a relevant example of exactly the opposite: giving a realistic democratic choice to all parents to promote diversity.

During the Troubles many parents wanted their children to learn together “with the other side”. Last week, a Northern Ireland judicial review confirmed that parents have an equal right to choose either segregated, faith or integrated schools. This clarifies what integrated education means and requires the Northern Ireland department of education to encourage and facilitate it as an integral part of education policy.

The judge said an integrated ethos cannot be delivered by a partisan board. This is crucial. Integrated education requires equitable representation of parents, staff and pupils of both – or all – communities, to share in decision-making, where appropriate, with outside agencies. Integrated education is desperately needed in Britain’s multicultural cities. Parents of all backgrounds would welcome shared integrated schooling for their children. Learning together is a good way to rebuild faith in “British” values of liberty, equality and tolerance.
Chris Moffat and Tom Hadden
Rostrevor, Co Down

• Given the history between our countries, I wince when I read that English politicians want British values instilled into young school children.
John Burns

Connor Sparrowhawk: he had an epileptic seizure, unobserved by staff in his assessment and treatment unit, and died in the bath.

The Guardian has reported (Society, 21 May) on the preventable death of Connor Sparrowhawk (nicknamed LB or Laughing Boy). Connor was placed in a small, highly staffed, specialist assessment and treatment unit for people with learning disabilities. He had an epileptic seizure and, unobserved by staff, drowned in the bath. The #justiceforLB and #107days campaigns want justice for Connor and to change the status of people with learning disabilities and their families within services and society.

More than 3,000 people with learning disabilities and/or autism in England are in similar units at a cost of over £500m a year. People are likely to live in these units for years, to be placed a long way from home, to be treated with serious tranquillising drugs and to experience self-harm, physical assaults, restraint and seclusion. More people are being transferred into such units than are transferring out.

On the day of a House of Lords debate into the premature deaths of people with learning disabilities, we would like to highlight that support for people with learning disabilities and/or autism and their families should have four basic principles:

We should support people to live long, healthy, fulfilling and meaningful lives.

A learning disability and/or autism is not a health problem. Any additional health problems should be taken seriously and we should make sure that our health services work just as well for everyone who uses them.

We should respect, value and work closely with their families and others who care about the person.

We should make sure that commissioners and providers are using the best available evidence to make decisions.

For over 20 years we have known how to do this. We know how to provide good support for families with young children. We know how to support people’s health needs. We know how to support people, including those who are distressed, to live active, meaningful lives within their local communities without the need for specialist drugs or heavy-duty tranquillisers. And we know that all of these things depend on people with learning disabilities and/or autism and their families being respected as equal citizens.
Prof Chris Hatton and Dr Jill Bradshaw
There is a full list of signatories at
http://107days of guardian/

Alan Turing, who conjectured that one day a computer program would be able to fool an interrogator into believing that it was human. Photograph: Sherborne School/AFP/Getty Images

Professor Warwick’s claim that a computer has now passed the Turing Test (Did Eugene the computer program pass Turing test?, 10 June) is nonsense. Turing never set a 30% mark as a criterion for “passing” his test. In his famous essay on this topic, which is reprinted with commentaries in my book, Parsing the Turing Test: Methodological and Philosophical Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer, Turing merely conjectured that by 2000 a computer program would be able to fool an “average interrogator” into thinking it was a person 30% of the time in a five-minute conversation. He didn’t propose that as a test of anything; he was merely speculating.

Turing never actually said how his test could actually be passed, but a blue ribbon panel of computer scientists and philosophers from Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere which I directed for several years in planning the first Loebner Prize contest in 1990, came up with with a brilliant method that I am sure would have pleased Turing greatly: after lengthy conversations with both hidden humans and hidden computers, a panel ranks the humanness of each, and when the median rank of a computer exceeds the median rank of a human, it wins. No computer has ever crossed that line in the more than 20 years the contest has so far been held, but it will happen eventually.
Professor Robert Epstein
American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology

• You report that the Turing test “challenges computer scientists to create a program that is indistinguishable from a person in its conversational ability”. But that assumes that there is just one way of talking that we all recognise as “conversation”. Research in socio-cultural linguistics has shown that speakers can choose from a variety of conversational styles: for example, a one-at-a-time way of talking as opposed to a more collaborative, all-in-it-together way; they can choose to jump from topic to topic as opposed to moving gradually from one topic to the next; they can self-disclose or they can opt for less personal subjects. These are just three variables.

Most of us can do all these things, depending on context, but there is a great deal of evidence that female speakers in relaxed conversation with friends prefer the former of each of these styles, and male speakers prefer the latter. Since most computer scientists are male, I worry that the test is likely to favour an idea of conversation as being an information-focused activity rather than an interactive process which builds relationships between people.

Given the potential future of “chatbots”, surely it is important that we judge them on their ability to develop relationships and express feelings as much as on their ability to take part in a narrow, information-focused exchange?
Jennifer Coates
Emeritus professor of English language and linguistics,
University of Roehampton, London

• The Turing test has not been “officially” passed at all. Turing said that most of the interrogators had to be fooled, and that the conversation would have to take a long time. Plus, it’s a chatbot, not an artificial intelligence program; and pretending to be a child whose first language is not English is clearly a cheat. AI is an impossible and wildly hubristic project. Give it up.
Chris Hughes

 a small monkey stands in a tree in the Lago do Janauari, or Solimoes River, near Manaus, Brazil.

‘A compassionate society would work to keep wild animals in their appropriate wild habitats.’ Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP

It cannot be difficult to find out how many primates are kept as pets (Report, 10 June): just ask vets. No matter whether there are 100 or 10,000 primates, it is patently obvious that a house is not a suitable environment for a monkey. A compassionate society would work to keep wild animals in their appropriate wild habitats. Sadly, some people keep animals such as meerkats, hedgehogs and monkeys in their homes, largely, I suspect, to make them appear more interesting than they really are.
Kate Fowler
Head of campaigns, Animal Aid

• So Antony Gormley’s £2,500-a-night Mayfair hotel annexe in the shape of a neo-constructivist crouching man sculpture (Art, property and a meditation on luxury, 11 June) is to be called simply Room? How very unaffected.
John Bevis

• Regarding Gormley’s latest sculpture: sorry guys, all I see is, Lego Man Takes a Dump.
Emyr Owen
Llanfairfechan, Conwy

• We Lancastrians often hear Yorkshire folk saying ‘Ow do?, as Lynda Dee points out (Letters, 11 June), but not as often as their despairing cry of ‘Ow much!
Colin Burke

• Headline: Ian Bell named cricketer of the year, followed by Vic Marks’ article. One short sentence: “Charlotte Edwards took the women’s award.” Your sports pages continue to be overwhelmingly male, while the features pages continue to ask why it’s so hard to get girls to exercise. Joined-up newspaper? I don’t think so.
Dr Lesley Smith
Harris Manchester College, Oxford

• I was surprised that Luisa Dillner on losing weight after having a baby ( 9 June) did not mention the easiest, cheapest and most effective way: breastfeed, for at least nine months. The weight drops off with no need to diet.
Jane Mercer

• One of the oldest soft drinks in France (coulddoes it (Letters, passim) is Pschitt. Make what you like of that. Try asking for one.
Brian Saperia

Make Poverty History March In Edinburgh

Make Poverty History march in 2005 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

In 2005, Make Poverty History campaigned extensively to reduce debt and to call for urgent action for more and better aid in the poorest countries of the world. The goal to close the gap between rich and poor and to eliminate injustice and eradicate poverty is still a long way off internationally, but the campaign succeeded in some measure by beginning to hold governments to account for their promises. In 2014, as religious leaders in the UK, we are deeply disturbed by the conclusions of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which has said that the government’s goal to reduce absolute child poverty goal is “simply unattainable” (UK’s child poverty goals unattainable, 9 June).

Here on our own doorstep, poverty is harming the health, wellbeing and prospects of children. The report demonstrates that while it is important to help people into work, the goal to reduce or eliminate poverty will not be met while incomes stagnate and the cost of food and housing rise relentlessly. The need to Make Child Poverty History in our own country is now urgent. Jewish values teach that there is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty. The gap between rich and poor is a shameful blot on our society. All of us, from the government down, must have a commitment to renew our vision of a socially responsible society and bring an end to economic  injustice. Our task is to ensure that all of us live in dignity and be accorded the fundamental right to a standard of living that is adequate for the health and well-being of their family.
Rabbi Alexandra Wright
Rabbi Charley Baginski
Rabbi Lisa Barrett
Rabbi Miriam Berger
Rabbi Rebecca Q Birk
Rabbi Janet Burden
Rabbi Douglas Charing
Rabbi Howard Cooper
Rabbi Janet Darley
Rabbi Ariel J. Friedlander
Rabbi Anna Gerrard
Rabbi Amanda Golby
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
Rabbi Andrew Goldstein
Rabbi Harry Jacobi
Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi
Rabbi Richard Jacobi
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris
Rabbi Yuval Keren
Rabbi Sandra Kviat
Rabbi Daniel Lichman
Rabbi Monique Mayer
Rabbi David Mitchell
Rabbi Lea Muehlstein
Rabbi Jeffrey Newman
Rabbi Rene Pfertzel
Rabbi Marcia Plumb
Rabbi Danny Rich
Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild
Cantor Gershon Silins
Rabbi Mark L. Solomon
Rabbi Larry Tabick
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers
Rabbi Andrea Zanardo
Student Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen
Student Rabbi Nathan Godleman
Student Rabbi Daniel Lichman
Student Rabbi Zahavit Shalev
Student Rabbi Kath Vardi

• You report that demand for food aid has massively increased since last year (Food aid soars by 54%, 9 June), but that the data is dismissed by a government spokesman because the figures are “unverified” and come from “disparate sources”. Yet the report was drawn up jointly by three responsible bodies – Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, the largest food bank provider – that regard the data as worthtaking seriously.  I find the government’s response staggeringly arrogant, especially after repeated warnings by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, reported in the same issue, that predicts absolute child poverty will increase by 3.5 million, almost five times the target set by the 2010 Child Poverty Act, unless the government changes its strategy.

Present policy is based on the assumption that a reliance on reducing worklessness while cutting benefits, together with raising educational standards, will do the trick. Yet, as the commission points out, moving to work with low wages often means simply moving to another source of poverty; and school failure has long been shown to have its roots in poverty, probably more so than standards of teaching. You also report that in no other decade since reports began in 1961 has absolute poverty not been reduced. All this suggests that the government’s confidence and stubbornness in insisting it is already doing the right thing lacks credibility.
Dr Jim Docking
Betchworth, Surrey

• Four years into a parliament and one year from an election, Nick Clegg, with bare-faced effrontery, says: “… we’ll finish the job – but we’ll finish it in a way that is fair,” (Lib Dems want a new golden rule to cut debt, 9 June). Without the essential support of Lib-Dems such as him, Danny Alexander, Vince Cable and David Laws, an extremely reactionary right wing Tory-led government could not have used austerity as a weapon to cut the state’s role in healthcare, education and welfare, causing lasting hardship for many millions of people on low incomes. There is hope, though, that even at the 11th hour Lib-Dems might be coming round to understanding what Professor Victoria Chick and Ann Pettifor made clear in their 2010 paper, The Economic Consequences of Mr Osborne: that in 100 years, austerity has never cut the national debt, but, as now, always increased it. Contrary to conventional wisdom we need to “spend away the debt”.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• Four years ago, I left a full-time job in the software industry to do a full-time job – as a carer for my father who has Parkinsons and diabetes. I work seven days a week, am up every night and have no holidays or sick leave. For this, I’m paid just £9 a day. I can claim benefits only once all my savings have run out. I’ve read that carers save the NHS billions annually. Yet the service we do is valued at £9 a day. If I wanted respite for a couple of days, I’d have to pay an agency much more than that to do exactly the same job. It’s crazy and deeply unfair.

Carers do an important job, but are stigmatised and forgotten. We have to deal with the daily stress of caring, plus the stress of financial hardship. Our future is bleak – if you read the Carers UK forums you will see people in despair. There’s money for wars, for greedy bankers; for MPs to claim expenses. But there’s no money to treat carers with dignity. Welcome to Britain in the 21st century, where the people who care are punished and amoral conduct is rewarded. Who cares for the carers?
Rupesh Srivastava
Slough, Berkshire

• Another attack on the most vulnerable in our society shows how “austerity” impacts on the most defenceless while those whose bank accounts are brimming remain untouched. An example of this is the recent news that the funding for the Oxfordshire Complex Needs Service is at risk of being cut. Those with disordered personalities and complex needs are often seen as undeserving of public sympathy, but this service provides the chance for them to come to terms with the terrible experiences many of them have endured and move on. Evaluation and feedback confirms its effectiveness.

Participants meet, supported by professional staff, to challenge each other’s behaviour and attitudes. The therapy is self-directed and self-motivated, enabling most of them to go on to lead more ordered lives. Consequently they are less likely to use accident and emergency departments, stay in hospital, cause harm to others, or create anti-social disturbance.

The proposed cuts which will close all four therapy centres in Oxfordshire and will mean that crisis management – more expensive and less effective –will be their only option. One banker’s annual bonus – on top of his more than adequate salary – would cover the cost of keeping this service open. It is a sad indictment of our society that “austerity” protects the rich and punishes the most vulnerable.
Professor John Hall, Dr Jane Kay, Anne Winner, Wyn Jones, Dr Simon Winner, Alan & Trish Bower, Professor Paul Bolam, Janet Bolam, Tina Everett, Helen Elphick, Stephanie Byrne, Adrian Townsend, Nan Townsend, Donnie Campbell


As a working GP of nearly 20 years’ experience with a longstanding interest in prescribing issues, I am concerned about the growing use of statins to the point where our local guidance suggests checking blood lipids on everyone of 40 years of age every five years, regardless of whether or not they have risk factors. Now we have Nice seemingly advocating statins for anyone with a risk of 10 per cent or more.

This would mean that every single man aged 51 and over who had a normal blood pressure reading of 140 systolic, a normal total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol ratio of 5.0, who had never smoked, who had no significant family history, and no significant personal medical history would be put on to a statin.

I am horrified by this “statins in the water” approach to primary prevention and healthcare. It will create large profits for “big pharma” and it will needlessly medicalise millions of people, but the evidence that such an approach to primary prevention will significantly help these individuals is just not there.

The benefits and risks of statin treatment need to be made explicitly clear to allow patients to make a truly informed choice. The absolute risk reductions for stroke and heart attack with primary prevention using statins are small. If patients are treated for five years then: 98 per cent will see no benefit; 0 per cent will be helped by being saved from death; 1.6 per cent (1 in 60) will be helped by preventing a heart attack; 0.4 per cent (1 in 260) will be helped by preventing a stroke. It seems wrong to me to be putting 260 people on a statin so that one person can benefit.

I am 48. I have never had my lipids checked – I have no risk factors so I see no point in ever having them checked.

Dr Stephen McCabe

Portree, Skye

I am relieved to hear that a note of caution has been sounded on the increased prescribing of statins to people who are healthy.

In my personal experience these pills are certainly not without side-effects. I was prescribed statins on two occasions, and each time I succumbed to a bout of severe depression approximately three months later. I have not had any other episodes of depression.

I am aware that many people take them with no ill effects at all; however, I do not think people should take them unless absolutely necessary.

Jane Gregory

Emsworth, Hampshire

Gove’s muddle over ‘British values’

Michael Gove may remember Gordon Brown adding “British values” to the citizenship curriculum in 2008, to address issues of diversity and integration. Unfortunately, Mr Gove also emasculated the same theme in his curriculum review, and has turned a blind eye to the delivery of citizenship, the natural home for “inculcating British values in the curriculum”, as Mr Cameron puts it.

Academies and free schools (roughly half our secondary schools) can choose not to teach the subject at all, and routine Ofsted school inspections do not review it. As a consequence, its omission goes overlooked in state schools.

It was noticeable therefore that Ofsted came down heavily in judging that one recently-demoted Birmingham Academy (Park View) had “not taught citizenship well enough”. This snap judgement will surprise teachers who have got used to Gove’s blind eye. The spotlight was thrown on to citizenship because alarm bells rang in Whitehall; the failure to deliver the subject was then picked up when the school was re-inspected under the “Trojan Horse” investigation.

This illustrates the problem: inspection of a school’s delivery will only occur when it is already too late. This should be reviewed immediately. Our schools need clarity that citizenship on the National Curriculum must be delivered effectively and will be inspected routinely (sometimes with no notice) as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. This will go some way to assure citizens that democratic values will be comprehended by the British population.

Andy Thornton, Chief Executive

Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudbury), Founder and President

Citizenship Foundation

London EC1

The irony is that Michael Gove is a fan of faith schools, and has suggested they become academies to avoid “unsympathetic meddling” from secularists. He has even approved free schools run by creationists.

Gove should be consistent, and withdraw the right of any publicly funded school to indoctrinate children and discriminate on the basis of religion.

Peter McKenna


Jihadist demon loosed on the world

The fall of Mosul has brought into sharp focus what you said in your editorial of 9 June.

The imperialist-drawn border between Iraq and Syria now has disappeared. The well armed and equipped Isis jihadis with their exploits in Mesopotamia are going to become the magnet to draw in the foot soldiers of other militias now doing the jihad in Syria.

Perhaps that might momentarily lessen the pressure on Assad’s forces. But the demon that the obscurantist interpretation of Islam, Saudi Wahhabism has foisted, with Western connivance, upon the Muslim world, will hurt all, including the world Bush and Blair inhabit.

May Allah’s mercy be upon them.

M A Qavi

London SE3

Legacy of the Second World War

I must take issue with Colin Crilly (letter, 9 June). In none of the recent television coverage of the First World War or D-Day have I detected any attempt to celebrate war. Rather the attempt has been to present a more critical and fairer analysis of these events than in the past.

True, Churchill was an avowed imperialist, but there is no evidence that preservation of empire was the overriding motive behind his strategic thinking on occupied Europe. He and Roosevelt reached agreement in 1942 about the need to open a second front in the west.

If Churchill showed any hesitation about this, it was about the timing rather than the necessity. He knew that we were not ready for it and was aware of the risks that lay in haste and poor preparation. His misgivings were vindicated by Dieppe. The claim that we barely engaged the Germans on land between Dunkirk and D-Day is not only untrue but insulting to all our troops who fought and died in the North Africa campaign.

Few would claim that the allied campaigns were completely innocent of atrocities. However, nothing which the allies did could equate to the systematic inhumanities visited for years upon the victims of Nazism.

As to the Second World War’s legacy, there was never any guarantee that it would be one of worldwide peace, but at least it has lead to almost unbroken peace in this continent since I was born seven years after the war ended, a legacy for which I am truly grateful to those who, like my father, gave so much to earn it for us.

Terence A Carr

Prestatyn, Denbighshire

Bad and good violence

Rosie Millard is right (10 June), Angelina Jolie is beautiful and smart and is ideally placed on the world stage to draw attention to sexual violence. However we must not forget that she gained most of her fame by starring in violent films.

So while she continues to do admirable work drawing attention to the abject misery caused by sexual violence in conflict zones, wouldn’t it be refreshing if she could just honestly add a caveat that while hoping to stop this one unpalatable form of violence she and her husband would like to continue to glamorise other forms of violence so that they can carry on raking money in.

Rebecca Evanson

London SE15

Migrants have always kept together

Edward Thomas (letter, 10 June) asserts that until multiculturalism came along in the past half century, immigrants expected to be absorbed into the culture in which they had chosen to settle, but is this true?

Throughout the world immigrants have always tended to cluster together, which has given rise to all the Chinatowns, Little Italys, Jewish Quarters and suchlike. The Brits do it too and “going native” was always considered rather a peculiar thing to do.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

Delights of the chalk downs

Reading Michael McCarthy’s lovely article about visiting chalk downland (10 June) inspired me to spend today at Surrey’s top spot, Box Hill. There I saw most of the butterfly species he mentioned, and many orchids too. While he thinks that the Adonis blue is just coming out, I saw only very old specimens. On the other hand, the marbled white and dark green fritillary are just coming out. Delightful!

David Hasell

Thames Ditton, Surrey


PA:Press Association

Published at 12:01AM, June 11 2014

The problem of faith schools and who controls them promises to be intractable

Sir, Birmingham city council gets its share of the flak. However, 25 years after the Education Reform Act how can we talk about local authority “control” of any schools — especially academies, which account for most schools now being placed in special measures. The local authority role has been largely written out. Look at school governance, financing and inspections — how can anyone seriously suggest that there are effective levers of local control?

Nick Henwood

Littlebourne, Kent

Sir, A secular, taxpayer-funded school in Birmingham has been criticised by Ofsted for interfering with the performance of a nativity play, while another has incurred the wrath of the inspectors because it cancelled Christmas celebrations.

By what right did these secular schools attempt to foist a Christian celebration on their non-Christian pupils?

Professor Geoffrey Alderman

University of Buckingham

Sir, Isn’t it high time that all religious state schools be phased out to make way for equal opportunities for all pupils under a state education system to receive an impartial and inclusive education that is free from any religiously biased activities? Citizenship education does not need to be delivered by any acts of faith, be it Christian or otherwise.

Jane Tam


Sir, The head of Ofsted does little to build confidence in either the transparency of working procedures or reporting conclusions of his organisation. His talk of “a culture of fear and intimidation” summarises precisely that Ofsted-generated climate which continues to erode morale among teachers, of whom more than a few would relish the opportunity to carry out an unannounced inspection of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s work.

Robert Gower

Egleton, Rutland

Sir, I have been a Scottish Presbyterian missionary in Ghana; a Hebrew-speaking Jew; a Catholic school social worker and the manager of a Sunni camp after the Pakistan earthquake 2005. This background leads me to conclude that Ofsted could create a multicultural educational system at a stroke by separating education from religion. In this post-Christian country, it must be the only way forward to prevent friction in children’s lives and education.

Miller Caldwell


Sir, I am amazed that it is only now that inspections without notice for schools are being considered. As a retired head teacher of primary schools in London, I would have appreciated not being given any notice. Why have special preparations for an inspection? Why shouldn’t Ofsted see what goes on in a school, warts and all? It should be able to go into any school, without forewarning, and see what everyday life is like in that school.

The time between notice of an inspection and the inspection was an extremely nerve-racking for all in the school community. And, as has been alleged in Birmingham, it may be possible to manipulate what inspectors see. Indeed, more generally it is often suggested that difficult pupils are “encouraged” to be absent for an inspection — not possible if it is sprung without notice.

David Collins

Tel Aviv

Losing weight is the first and easiest step towards reversing the health effects of diabetes

Sir, For the past 15 years I have been working in primary care specialising in the care of those with diabetes (“One in three now at risk as diabetes levels soar”, June 10). In three years at my current practice in Portsmouth, the number of patients with diabetes has more than doubled.

We need action across the country, to educate people how to eat healthily, we need to stop advertising unhealthy foods and instead advertise the benefits of healthy eating.

People need to know that just a 5 per cent weight loss can provide significant health benefits as regards blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars. Small changes can produce significant benefits. Healthy cooking on a low budget is possible — we must start educating now. Those of us working in this arena need more resources to help us deal with what is rapidly becoming an overwhelming problem.

Margaret Stubbs

Godalming, Surrey

Bristol’s wealth came from the slave trade but it would be wrong to try to erase the city’s history

Sir, I see battered pieces of furniture on Antiques Roadshow, and the expert tells the punter not to interfere with that — “It is part of its history”. So too the statue of Edward Colston is part of Bristol’s history, and removing it would be an Orwellian distortion of history (letter June 7). Colston’s ill-gotten gains did benefit his home city. If people are offended by the statue, an appropriate addition might be a (dated) plaque enlarging upon his career. We should not modify history, but added detail may edify posterity.

Dr NP Hudd

Tenterden, Kent

Sir, If the principle of removing statues now deemed offensive were applied to Ireland not only would all statues and monuments have to be removed but nearly all street names as well. Whoever they were, they are offensive to one side or the other.

Des Keenan

Wembley, Middx

Pincher Pym was one of the most celebrated footballers of his day, even if he did not play against Brazil

Sir, In your report “Brazil tackle Exeter City in action replay” (June 10) you mention Dick “Pincher” Pym, who missed the 1914 match because of injury. He was Exeter’s goalkeeper and star player, as you say, but there was somewhat more to him than that.

Pym served in the Devonshire Regiment from 1916, as a PT instructor and went back to Exeter City after the war. In 1921 he was transferred to Bolton Wanderers for a world record fee of £5,000. He played in three FA Cup finals, 1923 (the famous “white horse” final), 1926 and 1929. He was on the winning side on all three occasions and did not concede a goal in any of the matches. He also played three times for England. At his death in 1988, aged 95, he was, and remains, the longest-lived former England footballer.

David Woolrich


A vigorous trade in artefacts with religious or historical connections is as old as religion and history

Sir, These Soviet spivs and medieval pedlars of wood and bones are mere arrivistes (letter, June 9). Purveyors of Egyptian ruins were in action for centuries before the true Cross was dismantled.

Malcolm Watson

Welford, Berks

The rules for military widows’ pensions have changed but are still not satisfactory

Sir, The D-Day commemorations prompted me to try again to do something about military widows’ pensions (I first wrote to you in June 1994).

My husband enlisted as a soldier in September 1939, and was sent to France. He was evacuated from La Panne (north of Dunkirk) after several days on the beach and in the sea. He served in London during the Blitz, took part in the D-Day landings and the push through Europe. He was mentioned in dispatches.

He was demobbed in 1945 but re-joined in 1952. Over the next 17 years he worked his way up again to major and was appointed MBE for active service in Cyprus.

We married in 1969 after a total of 22 years service for him, and 9 years for me in the WRNS. However, this was one year after my husband had retired from the Army, so I did not count as a wife as far as the government was and is concerned.

New regulations recognising post-retirement wives were passed in 1978 — but not retrospectively — so my husband’s last years before his death in 1994 were overshadowed by this concern.

My father served for 34 years in the Royal Marines and was a PoW after Dieppe; my uncle, a reservist, was killed by the Japanese in the defence of Hong Kong; my great-uncle, also a Royal Marine, served in Gallipoli and France in the First World War.

This country has not paid out a single penny in a widow’s pension for any as they were either not married or were the last survivor of their marriage, and I am a post-retirement widow.

My husband’s pension was small anyhow as he was not a regular, and he was thankful that, as he worked on the staff of Nato after retiring from the Army, Nato would at least award me a pension on his death.

So I write now for all my fellow ex-service people and their survivors. It’s not good enough for our politicians to attend commemorations, and promote the Armed Forces Covenant, and then conveniently forget it all until the next commemoration. There can’t be many of us left, and we’ll cost this country precious little — certainly not the life my husband, father, uncle and great uncle were each prepared to give.

Lucy Murdoch

Fletching, E Sussex


The Queen sits with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as she delivers her speech  Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/WPA

6:57AM BST 11 Jun 2014

Comments134 Comments

SIR – I congratulate the Government on its announcement in last week’s Queen’s speech that laws on child cruelty will be updated.

Nearly one child in 10 in Britain experiences neglect. The impact on their lives can be devastating. Every day, social workers and child protection professionals help children out of these terrible situations but, sadly, not all cases of child neglect can be protected by the civil law. Police and social workers need support from a legal framework which allows them to work together effectively, under a common definition of child maltreatment.

Last week the Government took the first step by recognising the full range of harm done to neglected children, including emotional abuse. Such abuse, which may include subjecting children to degrading punishments, repeated verbal attacks and humiliation, can lead to long-term mental health problems in adults and, in the most extreme cases, to suicide.

The changes to current legislation are long overdue. Now we in turn must maintain the momentum with political and professional colleagues.

Baroness Butler-Sloss
Former president, Family Division of the High Court of Justice
London SW1

Collider scope

SIR – A group of distinguished scientists has deplored the “peer preview system” for distributing research funds. I worked under such a system in an academic career beginning at Oxford in the early Fifties, through a period in America, then at Sussex University.

It is clear that knowledgeable people should decide whether to fund research in a certain field. But I believe the real problem, in physics at least, lies in the vast sums of money and sheer number of researchers dedicated to international projects like the Large Hadron Collider.

This research appoaches the realm of philosophy. As such it is most worthy of pursuit. But at what cost?

Professor Emeritus Douglas Brewer
University of Sussex

Windy targets

SIR – You correctly report that Britain is committed to a target of 15 per cent of all its energy supplies from renewable sources by 2020, and 30 per cent of its electricity.

A pity, then, that the latest official figures are about 4.5 per cent, and 14 per cent, respectively. That suggests there is a mighty long way to go within six years.

Professor Michael Jefferson
Melchbourne, Bedfordshire

Smooth going

SIR – We have been sent a map of the route the Tour de France will take through this part of rural Essex. We don’t need a map.

We just have to follow the route the road surfacers have recently taken, which is now completely pothole-free.

Pamela Westland
Wethersfield, Essex

Put that light out

SIR – Marian Callender wants to know how she can get her teenage son to turn off the lights at night (Letters, June 9). The late actor James Mason would announce he was going to bed and then turn off all the lights – regardless of how many guests were still in attendance. He swore it reduced his electricity bills substantially.

Lesley Thompson
Lavenham, Suffolk

Broken nights

SIR – I am sure that Harry Wallop is correct in stating that poor sleep can adversely affect health.

However, not all poor sleepers disregard the importance of a good night’s sleep, or damage their chances by using technology late at night. My own chronic insomnia began when my husband walked out on me. These days, an eight-hour night is just an impossible dream.

Alison Place
Hampton, Middlesex

Danger of secret trials

SIR – There are always good reasons to remove those principles of our legal system which act as bulwarks against the government becoming despotic (Comment, June 6).

Some are even justified, but all make it easier for our liberty to be taken away.

We have now lost so many of the freedoms we possessed a century ago that our ancestors would be horrified.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

Norfolk or nonsense?

SIR – Paul Strong wonders if his grandmother’s phrase “Bally-yan-yan” was from a now-extinct Norfolk dialect. My mother, whose own mother hailed from Norfolk, used to sing us a rhyme which, apart from the first two lines, she insisted was in “ancient Norfolk”:

There was a little mouse and he lived in a mill

And if he isn’t dead he’s a-living there still

With a shim-sham pommy-diddle rig-dog

bunny-minny ky-mo

Ky-mo nair-o, kilcock air-o

Shim-sham pommy-diddle rig-dog

bunny-minny ky-mo

Sugar, sugar, sugar lally-loon

Sugar on the popcorn, sugar popacoon

Rolts on the banjo, tra-la-la


No one else I have met has ever heard the song. Is it just nonsense? Or is it Norfolk dialect? If so, what does it mean?

Jeremy Nicholas
Great Bardfield, Essex


SIR – Browsing in my local Waterstone’s, I came across a new, allegedly unintentional, grouping of books: “Politics and True Crime”. Is this part of a drive for more accurate categories?

Michael Coward
Shefford, Bedfordshire

Drivers need better information, not higher fines

SIR – Increasing fines for motorway speeding will not necessarily deter drivers from going too fast.

What is needed is stronger and more visible education by using gantries more effectively. Instead of the pointless information about distance and time to certain junctions and forthcoming events, gantries should have reminders of the need to keep your distance, not hog the middle lane, and follow speed limits.

Many motorists do not concentrate enough. Regular displays like this would keep them more alert.

David Hartridge
Groby, Leicestershire

SIR – Last year a police van parked in a lay-by caught me, driving at 34 mph in a 30 mph zone. I was not aware that I was over the limit as the difference between 30 mph and 34 mph is negligible. As there is a 10 per cent leeway, I was, in effect, only 1 mph over the limit.

I was given the option of a £90 fine and three points or attending a speed awareness course. I chose the latter and found it very interesting.

However, I do think that there should be a scale of fines so that somebody who is, say, up to 5 mph over the limit, is not penalised as much as a person who is 10 mph or more over the limit.

John Ewington
Blechingley, Surrey

SIR – In cracking down on crime, quadrupling fines for speeding seems a strange place to start.

We need a review of sentencing guidelines for violent crimes and life sentences that pay more than lip service to the definition of life. These would be a better way for politicians to prove they are listening.

Roger Gentry
Sutton-at-Hone, Kent

SIR – Fines for using a mobile phone at the wheel and breaking the speed limit on dual carriageways may be increased to £4000. The same fine is being considered if you do not have a television licence.

When was the last time someone was injured or killed because of not having a television licence?

Bernard Powell
Southport, Lancashire

Thousands of Travellers attend the Appleby Horse Fair, which dates back to mediaeval times  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 11 Jun 2014

Comments30 Comments

SIR – The annual Appleby Horse Fair in Westmorland is in full swing. I understand that a group has been established to help manage the event. It is known as “The Multi-Agency Co-ordination Group for Appleby Horse Fair”.

Is this a record for the longest committee name?

Dr Robert Walker
Great Clifton, Cumberland

h ‘British values’ are to be promoted in schools

Government officials seem to place self-interest above traditional moral standards

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May listen in the House of Commons, London, after Ofsted placed five Birmingham schools into special measures in the wake of the

Michael Gove and Theresa May listen in the Commons after Ofsted placed five Birmingham schools into special measures Photo: PA

7:00AM BST 11 Jun 2014

Comments178 Comments

SIR – Every school will now be ordered to promote “British values”.

Which ones? Those exhibited by our own politicians, namely, self-interest before all things? Love of money?

An inability to empathise with those less fortunate than themselves?

Self-congratulation for the smallest achievement?

Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire

SIR – All schools in Britain, whatever their foundation, should be required to fly the Union Flag and pupils should be taught what it means to the country. This happens in America, on many islands in the Caribbean and in many African countries.

J G Richardson
Aldeburgh, Suffolk

SIR – Pupils should be taught to sing the national anthem.

John Spiers
Bursledon, Hampshire

SIR – May we assume that a list of British values will contain few of the following?

1) Respect and honour for the elderly;

2) Disgust at pornography;

3) A daily relishing of cultural inheritance and language;

4) Protection of the young from the profiteering persuasions of drugs and alcohol;

5) Little or no interest on loans to the needy;

6) Modesty;

7) Intergenerational discourse and the giving of care;

8) Daily acknowledgement of the beauty and grandeur of the world;

9) A constant reminder that we may not be the be-all and end-all of absolutely everything;

10) A permanent delight in families’ regularly living, working and spending time together.

Who do these Muslims think they are?

Ian Flintoff

SIR – My son went to an English-speaking school in the United Arab Emirates but was denied any religious education by the British headmaster. I would have been delighted for him to have had the chance to study any religion, including Islam.

It was not so long ago that British primary schools had separate entrances for boys and girls and separate playgrounds. Most secondary schools were single sex, which is more conducive to learning.

If children in non-religious schools are denied a decent Christian education, at least do not criticise those who wish their children to be exposed to some sort of religion.

Hilary Davidson
Wudam Al Sahil, Al Batinah, Oman

SIR – Today’s homework: Q: Prove that multiculturalism has no place in education.

A: British tolerance + alien culture + Park View Educational Trust = failure.


Dave I’Anson
Formby, Lancashire

Irish Times:

Sir, – For the past week I have been reading the many hundreds of letters and comments on your website regarding the mother-and-baby homes scandal. In most cases the tone is understandably one of outrage and the general theme is that if the writers had been alive back then, those children’s lives would have been very different.

It is striking, therefore, to look back at the recent reports in The Irish Times about the suffering of the many children whose families are currently homeless in Ireland and about the miserable lives led (often for years) by immigrant children living in the direct provision hostels currently being operated by private companies on behalf of the Government. None of those reports evoked much outrage (or even comment) from your readers and, in the case of the direct provision hostels, those who did choose to comment were more often inclined to justify the manner in which those children are being treated than to object to it.

A cynic might observe that it is easy to be outraged about abuses in the past but taking note of abuses in the present might actually require us to do something about them. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – It seems that we are about to spend a substantial amount of money on a statutory commission of investigation into mother-and-baby homes. I wonder what the commission will achieve. It cannot undo the tragic results of an insular collusion involving the State, the churches, the Garda Síochána, the fathers of the infants carried by the pregnant women and the parents of these women.

We are hearing that the files relating to these events are readily available in county council and other archives throughout the country. They have been available for many years. There was nothing to stop professional researchers, historians and journalists from accessing them. But an international media story reporting “800 infants dumped in a septic tank” triggered a frenzied national response calling for an inquiry from a smug, self-righteous, sophisticated society where we consider ourselves different, wiser and more compassionate than our forebears.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoiláin has said it is a dreadful fact that women and children were “treated as outcasts and non-people” in these institutions. He is right, of course. But it is a dreadful fact from a wretched past that no inquiry can undo.

However there are dreadful facts in our present society that can and should be addressed. There are homeless people sleeping on the streets of our cities and towns, the life expectancy and general health of our Travellers is seriously below the national norm, there are over 4,000 asylum seekers who have spent years living in the inhumane conditions of “direct provision” and there is the daily spectacle of old and sick patients on trolleys in our hospitals.

Our country should be directing scarce public funds at current societal problems. Investigations culminating in results such as the Ryan Report and the Murphy Report can have positive and worthwhile outcomes. In those cases, greatly strengthened procedures protecting children from abuse were put in place. But an investigation into the history of mother-and-baby homes will achieve little, other than to create increased calls to phone-in radio shows and to provide another stick with which to beat the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. – Yours, etc,


Acorn Road, Dublin 16.

A chara, – The recent disclosures about the Tuam babies, unearthed by local historian Catherine Corless, brings home to us again the importance of coming to terms with our past.

The English historian EH Carr observed that history is a dialogue between the past and the present. Here we have a case of the sad facts of our relatively recent past clashing violently with the perceptions we cherish of ourselves in the present.

The task of the local historian is a particularly difficult one. In every community there are taboo areas, subjects which are just too close to the bone for many people. But unless we understand and acknowledge where we have come from, how can we decide where our futures should be? In digging beneath the surface in Tuam, Catherine Corless has done her own community and all of us some service. – Is mise,



Hollywood, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Donald Clarke is perfectly right in saying that people who cease to have faith in the Roman Catholic religion (or indeed any religion) should cease to observe its rituals but this is not always easy (“If you don’t approve of the church then don’t take part in its rituals”, Opinion & Analysis, June 7th).

On May 25th, 2010, I officially ceased to be a member of this church, my baptism was rescinded and I received official notification as to these facts. Shortly afterwards I saw an article claiming that the Roman Catholic Church had decided that it would accept no further applications for this process (“Church defection website shuts ‘due to change in canon law’”, August 8th, 2013).

I was appalled at this development, which I consider a serious breach of a citizen’s civil rights. I tried to get a humanist organisation interested in taking up the issue but, like those people who continue to observe rituals in which they no longer believe, this organisation refused in a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude.

I have no idea why the Roman Catholic Church took this decision – the proximity of time to a census was my suspicion – but it is time it was rescinded and people who wish to do so are allowed to formally renounce religious affiliation. – Yours, etc,


Upper Fairview Avenue,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – Charlie Talbot (June 10th) makes an attempt to apply logic to faith. These two concepts are surely mismatched.

He states: “For some people at least, faith is the only sensible option when mere logic proves inadequate”. This is simply an argument from ignorance, as are most faith-based claims. Faith, simply put, is the belief in something without proof or evidence. When you venture into faith, you leave logic at the door.

The correct and logical answer to a question we do not yet have an answer for is “we don’t know”. It is illogical to insert an answer based on faith. – Yours, etc,


Hilton Gardens,

Ballinteer, Dublin 16.

Sir, – As an adult is required to complete the census form in Ireland, it is worth noting that the figures of 84 per cent Roman Catholic and 6.4 per cent Church of Ireland that John Bellew (June 11th) quotes also include the children in the State, which the 2011 census puts at in excess of one million. It is circular logic to use these figures to support an argument for why parents baptise their children, given that the figures are padded with the very children who are being baptised. This in addition to myriad other problems associated with the religion question in the census, as highlighted in campaigns by Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland.

We might temper the interpretation of the census figures with those of a 2012 Gallup poll – of adults, I might add – which found that 47 per cent of the population identified themselves as “a religious person”, 44 per cent identified as “not a religious person”, and 10 per cent identified as “a convinced atheist”. – Yours, etc,


Mountain Park,


Dublin 24.


While the Brazilian government and soccer’s governing body Fifa had hoped that the 2014 World Cup would be a celebration of samba soccer, the run-up to the tournament has instead been marked by protests and complaints about delays and incompetence.

Across Brazil, people have been protesting at the prohibitive costs of the tournament, and Fifa has come under fire for its unwillingness to let small business benefit from the event. What’s more, Fifa’s insistence on tax breaks for its multinational corporate sponsors has cemented the feeling that the World Cup is designed for foreign elites, at the expense of the country’s growing working class.

Yet mega sports events such as the World Cup do have great potential to benefit, rather than marginalise, poor people and impact positively on the local society and economy.

But these benefits do not accrue automatically; only if the sports event is respectful of people’s rights and deliberately includes marginalised communities will it be able to deliver lasting benefits for the host country. It is time for Fifa to learn this lesson and act accordingly. – Yours, etc,



Baggot Court,

Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Recent correspondents have suggested one can continue to be a “unionist” when voting for a united Ireland.

Unionism is not a political philosophy, much less a cultural or genetic strain. It is a constitutional preference to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is the single common identifying policy of all those parties that include the word in their title. Political labels have to mean something.

The current impasse in Ireland cannot be reduced to a constant Humpty Dumpty jumble of semantic name-calling or two nations nonsense.

There are no “purebloods” left, whether native Gael or planter-settlers. The surnames Adams, Morrison, and Bell are no more a signifier of constitutional choice than are those of O’Neill, McCusker or Murphy. – Yours, etc,


Florence Street,



Sir, – While it is true there are historic correlations between unionism, Protestantism and a British identity (and between nationalism, Catholicism and Irishness), these traits are not mutually dependent. Indeed Andrew Gallagher (June 11th) supports this idea when he concedes many nationalists are content to remain part of the UK and that many unionists would prefer an independent Northern Ireland.

Many other people in the North do not hold political views of any persuasion but are assigned a political grouping relative to their perceived culture and thus denied an identity which may more readily represent them.

Unionism and nationalism are political ideologies that are open to persuasion and rational thought. Continuing to rigidly apply cultural traits to political ideologies only serves to exacerbate division and inevitably delays the potential for any truly lasting peace in Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Priory Road,


Sir, –Tony Fagan’s spirited defence of the Garda Síochána (June 6th) should be applauded and the points he makes about the unfounded criticism levelled at the force do have a level of validity. I am, however, not sure where he is going with his view that the appointment of a senior British police officer to the position of commissioner would be “the last straw”.

Really? The Garda Síochána, like most police forces in the developed world is undergoing a tsunami of change and perspective. It is operating in a changing environment and is now more then ever being brought to account by an educated and less deferential public.

To steer the force though these challenging times it goes without saying that the next commissioner should have that “X factor”, with a proven record in delivering the goods. The present temporary incumbent does appear to tick all the right boxes, but this shouldn’t deter the appointing body from casting its net far and wide to appoint the right candidate. The people of Ireland deserve nothing less. If the process comes up with a senior British police officer as the best candidate, then he or she should be appointed. No ifs, no buts. – Yours, etc,


Lonsdale Road,

Formby, Liverpool.

Sir, – In light of the debate on whether the Government should stick with its adjustment target of €2 billion in the forthcoming budget, it is worth remembering the previous government was accused of either ignoring or not knowing the warning signs within the Irish economy prior to the crash.

Given that the EU, IMF and the Government’s own fiscal advisory council have stressed the necessity of the Government sticking to its target, it’s fair to say we have been warned (again). – Yours, etc,


St Raphaela’s



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I applaud your editorial “Towards a low-carbon society” ( May 31st) for what you propose but question the plausibility of your claim. As much as I would like to see Moneypoint power station closed, do you have any scientific basis to show that the 915 megawatts it generates can be offset by increased home insulation and retrofit schemes and other clean energy measures? Also, what do you propose the 500 or so workers should do once Moneypoint is closed? – Yours, etc,


South County Business Park,

Leopardstown, Dublin 18.

Sir, – “Weather Watch” has come in for some adverse comment lately, but it is nothing if not democratic. Why else would Clonmel be included in your list of the world’s major cities? – Yours, etc,


Glendasan Drive,

Harbour View,


Sir, – Perhaps the welcome introduction of legislation on new cigarette packaging will take the heat out of all the criticism levelled at Minister for Health James Reilly (“Ireland leads EU on plain packaging of cigarettes”, June 11th). I was beginning to think he had reached burnout, but now he will probably go out in a blaze of glory. – Yours, etc,


Ashbrook Gardens,

Ennis Road, Limerick.

Sir, – A pack of plain is your only man. – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I note in your Business & Innovation section that the winner of the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 is an Indian who founded a bank that is “a people-focussed financial services giant” (“Indian banker is EY World Entrepreneur of the Year”, June 9th). Of course he won. He had no competition. – Yours, etc,


Pine Valley Avenue,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – While on a Bank of Ireland website today I was struck by one of their slogans: “For small steps, for big steps, for life”. It would appear that Wilbur Ross (“US billionaire bows out of Bank of Ireland”, June 11th) no longer shares the third element of this sentiment. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 24.

Sir, – Can I suggest a State inquiry into the number of inquiries currently in place?

The terms and timetable for such an inquiry should be established as soon as possible.

It should not just establish the number of inquiries that have been set up and their costs, but look into the political and social backgrounds that have produced them. – Yours, etc,




Co Mayo.

Sir, – Heartwarming though it was to see a baseball metaphor employed in an Irish Times leader (“That GPO moment”, June 10th), it didn’t quite work.

America’s national pastime allows for the theft of second base, third base and even home plate, but not first.

To have “stolen first base”, Sinn Féin would have to ignore the rules of the game entirely, and I’m certain that was not your point. – Yours, etc,


Waterfall Road,


Co Antrim.

Irish Independent:

I read Dr Noel Browne’s book ‘Against the Tide’ 25 years ago and found it to be incredible. I took it down and read it again recently and found it to be totally credible.

What had changed in the meantime? Answer: Philomena Lee’s story, the Magdalene Laundries, the various reports on child abuse, the recent revelations about the mother and child homes and the demise of the staunch pillars of Irish society.

Noel, who was a friend of the mother and child, wrote about the devotion of the Irish women to their religion.

“There is a forlorn hope that the magic miracle of the Mass, or other Sacrament, will fend off that greatest single fear that so many working-class mothers know – the fear of the next pregnancy.”

He devoted his medical and political life to the care of the underprivileged – the introduction of the mother and child scheme and the eradication of TB, which claimed the lives of his parents and sister and almost claimed his. Sadly, he appears to have been forgotten.

He made enemies in political and religious circles because he rocked the conservative boat.

He tried to tell us, but we would not listen – perhaps, we’ll listen now.





As a year-head in a busy community school who regularly deals with bullying issues, I am in full agreement with your editorial comment (June 10) that the best way to combat the scourge of cyber-bullying is by education. All members of society need to learn that individual rights and responsibilities do not end at a computer keyboard and schools clearly have a role to play in this process.

Regretfully, the capacity of second-level schools to deal with bullying issues has been massively diminished over the last five years by a series of swingeing cuts. Positions such as year-heads and special duties teachers, the very people who can investigate bullying incidences and develop and co-ordinate anti-bullying initiatives, have been axed.

The role of the guidance counsellor, often the first port of call for a student in crisis, has been seriously curtailed and one-to-one counselling time has been halved.

Reducing the already meagre resources available to young people at a time when they most need them makes no educational or economic sense and will likely prove to be far more costly in the long term.

Despite all the cutbacks, teachers and schools will still endeavour to meet the challenge of cyber-bullying in a creative, positive and constructive manner. In reality, schools have been doing more with less for many years. Logic however, suggests that this situation cannot continue indefinitely.





I was not surprised to see proposals for schools to teach lessons against cyber-bullying.

But I’m wondering why we think schools can sort this out? Already schools are expected to teach children about sex, relationships, healthy eating, hygiene, avoiding binge drinking and being environmentally active citizens. Perhaps schools should build places for students to sleep and eat as I’m not sure what exactly is left for parents to do ?





I must take exception with John Clifford‘s assertion that Stalin’s USSR ‘freed’ Europe (Letters, June 9) during World War II. To quote President Barack Obama‘s fine words – the brave men from Canada, the US and the UK who landed in Normandy to establish ‘democracy’s beach-head’ in that corner of France – as they were as much in a battle with their enemy’s enemy the USSR as they were with Nazi Germany. It is certain if the US and UK had been defeated, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia would have fought to impose their version of tyranny on Europe and liberal democracy that allows revisionists to write letters to a free newspaper wouldn’t have survived.

I’m sure the Polish, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks, East Germans would disagree with Mr Clifford’s assertion that the USSR had ‘freed’ Europe.

After all, no one was ever shot crossing the Berlin Wall to defect from West Berlin to Russian-controlled East Berlin.

I particularly take issue with Mr Clifford’s diminishing of the sacrifice of men like Wing Commander ‘Paddy’ Finucane who prevented the invasion of Britain (and ultimately Ireland) when Britain stood alone during the period of the non-aggression pact between USSR and Germany, not to mention the merchant sailors of the Arctic convoy who dodged U-boats to supply the USSR.

To describe the Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima as ‘skirmishes’ is offensive to great generals like Eisenhower, who didn’t believe in cheaply sacrificing the lives of his men. I also take issue with the statement that the barbaric Red Army (who massacred 22,000 Polish officers), killed POWs at will and systematically raped the female population of occupied Germany was an army of liberation. Russia saved Russia and Russia alone from Nazi tyranny before imposing a longer-lasting and equally vicious form of tyranny on the countries that were unfortunate enough not to be reached by Patton’s army.





It was to be expected that Ms Burton and Mr White would identify banking-related debt interest, which accounts for a third of the €9bn annual debt interest bill, and various tax relief schemes, which result in about €7 billion of lost revenue, as areas in which further savings could be made. That is low hanging fruit.

However, what would be a real sign of genuine leadership would be for the Labour Party leadership candidates to explain why they felt it was appropriate for them to accept a pay rise when they were appointed to office. Was it moral that money clawed back from cutting services should be redirected to pay the higher salaries and allowances of Labour ministers?

How can they have nothing to say about the salary of €250,000 being paid to their party colleague President Michael D Higgins, when €100,000 would be far more equitable for the president of a small bankrupt country of four million.

These payments in my opinion are unjustifiable, not to mention immoral. So much for the left leading by example when it comes to fairness and equality.

A sign of genuine leadership from the left would be to recognise that if tax relief schemes, which mostly benefit the well-off middle class, are no longer affordable or justifiable, it must also follow that automatic increments in the public sector cannot be justified either.

It doesn’t matter if most of them are paid to frontline low-paid staff because there are plenty of frontline low-paid people in the private sector, in shops, offices and factories all across the country, who work just as hard as those in the public sector, but there’s no taxpayer-funded automatic increments for them.

It’s easy to have a go at the well-off middle class but it takes real guts and leadership for a Labour leader to point out to the public sector the areas where it needs to change – but it doesn’t appear either Ms Burton or Ms White have the guts to do that.



Irish Independent


June 11, 2014

11June2014 Liz

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. Off to pick up Liz and Anna

ScrabbleMary wins a very respectable score perhaps Iwill win tomorrow


Professor Marilyn Butler – obituary

Professor Marilyn Butler was a scholar of Romanticism who found the politics in Jane Austen and became the first woman to head a formerly male Oxbridge college

Marilyn Butler

Marilyn Butler

5:47PM BST 10 Jun 2014


Professor Marilyn Butler, who has died aged 77, was a groundbreaking scholar of Romanticism and wrote several influential critical works on Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth; she was also the first female head of a formerly male Oxbridge college.

As Regius professor of English at Cambridge, Marilyn Butler’s sophisticated analysis helped to define Romanticism within its colourful political and social context. Her warmth, impish sense of humour and passion for political as well as literary debate made her a hugely popular tutor and lecturer. In contrast to much clunky, jargon-laden contemporary criticism, her elegant, entertaining prose style was a model of clarity and betrayed her early influences – journalism and broadcasting.

She was born on February 11 1937 to Margaret (née Gribbin) and Trevor Evans, a former South Wales miner who had worked his way up through penny-a-line local newspapers to become industrial correspondent of the Daily Express. He was knighted in 1967.

News stories and deadlines dominated the household, to which six newspapers were delivered each morning. The family lived at Kingston-on-Thames because the only train which left Fleet Street after 4am, the time of the Express’s last edition, went to Kingston.

Brought up amid constant political debate and discussion, Marilyn was fascinated by current affairs from early childhood, and, aged 11, thrashed the rest of Wimbledon High School in the school’s general knowledge quiz, remaining unbeaten throughout her time there.

Planning to read History at university, her mind was changed when she watched a production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Stunned at its power, she made a last-minute switch to English, which she described as “the artistic representation of history”.

After winning an Exhibition to St Hilda’s College, Oxford, she threw herself into the university’s intellectual and political life. She wrote film reviews and news stories for student magazines and became involved in Oxford’s New Left, a group of students which, according to one of its leaders, Stuart Hall, moved beyond the “pretty backward, belle lettriste atmosphere” of the official Oxford literature course and discussed questions of power, culture and why literature mattered in wider society. He described Marilyn as “not a student radical but very, very intelligent”.

After graduating in 1968 with the top First in her year, she briefly moved into journalism as a BBC news trainee, but two years later married the social scientist David Butler, an academic at Nuffield College, Oxford – a renowned psephologist nicknamed “Mr Swingometer”. Marilyn Butler began a DPhil as a junior research fellow at St Hilda’s, studying the work of the neglected novelist Maria Edgeworth, an Anglo-Irish intellectual whose questioning, sceptical intelligence matched her own.

This fruitful period produced a well-received literary biography, Maria Edgeworth (1972), and three sons. Thanks to Butler’s formidable capacity for multitasking and her husband’s devoted support, she was able to balance both family and academic commitments. The couple enjoyed a loving, teasing relationship of mutual respect that endured throughout their lives.

In 1973 she became a tutor and Fellow at St Hugh’s College, where, she later revealed, she spent the happiest years of her career. In her most celebrated book Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975), she argued that Austen’s novels are not apolitical studies of young women’s inner lives, but highly political, subtly reflecting in their dialogue and repeated themes the ideological battles of the early 19th century. This, which proved as accessible and lively to general readers as to academics, established her reputation.

Peacock Displayed (1979) was a literary life of the relatively obscure author Thomas Love Peacock. In it, Marilyn Butler, steeped in the historical background of the period, strongly identified with her subject’s humour, intellectual curiosity, satirical gifts and scepticism and vividly fleshed out both his personality and his ideas. Her fourth book, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries (1981), portrayed the political and social preoccupations of the younger Romantic poets – Byron, Shelley and Keats – as more central to their work than the transcendent world of the imagination traditionally associated with them.

To her students, Marilyn Butler’s mischievous wit, friendliness and charm proved as irresistible as her relish for intellectual debate. Her tutorials, conducted in a room decorated with exquisite pencil studies of her three sons, were a comforting reminder that formidable scholarship could coexist with happy family life. She and the family were devastated when in 2008 one son Gareth, a radio producer and former editor of Radio 4’s The World this Weekend, died of a heart attack aged just 42. The BBC has set up a journalism traineeship in his memory.

In the famously bitchy world of academe, Butler had a rare capacity for friendship and made few enemies. She was never happier than when enjoying heated debate at social gatherings or introducing her students, particularly the shy, to academic opinion-formers and literary greats. Giggling, she would recount how at one of her cocktail parties, a newly-arrived provincial undergraduate found herself in proximity to a round-faced, untidy-looking woman at the centre of a chattering literary throng. Scrabbling for small-talk, the student blurted out: “Do you write?” at which point a friend hissed: “Shut up you fool, it’s Iris Murdoch!”

In 1986 Marilyn Butler was appointed to the Edward VII chair of English at Cambridge, where she edited the works of Edgeworth and, with Janet Todd, those of the outstanding female intellectual of British Romanticism, Mary Wollstonecraft. When Marilyn Butler became Rector of Exeter College in 1993 her gregariousness and love of debate proved a winning combination. A string of honours and awards followed, including a Fellowship of the British Academy in 2002.

She retired in 2004 and her last few years were blighted by Alzheimer’s disease.

Lady Butler is survived by her husband, who was knighted in 2011, and their two sons.

Professor Marilyn Butler, born February 11 1937, died March 11 2014


D-day was a decisive moment but the 70th anniversary celebrations (Report, 7 June) are in stark contrast to earlier observances that I recall from postwar summers spent with my French grandmother. So many more civilians died than allied troops as a result of indiscriminate bombing that locals claimed the safest place on the Normandy coast that day was the beach. The traditional image of grateful French women showering soldiers with flowers needs to be tempered by the reality of a summer of chaotic violence, brutality, looting and rape. Nobody wanted to hear this after the war – especially De Gaulle – but before D-day fades into history we might reflect that, for many, Libération was “a bitter road to freedom”.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews

• Why not just campaign against violence in war (Angelina Jolie lauded over war zone anti-rape campaign, 10 June)?
Roger Greatorex

Thames magistrate court. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

I seldom think that media accounts or dramatised portrayals of what goes on in magistrates courts are very accurate but Amelia Gentleman’s article (Crimes and misdemeanours, 7 June) nails it. What she saw in Thames magistrates court is what happens in courts up and down the country. The sad and hopeless cases she saw are dealt with these days in almost heroic manner by defence solicitors, probation officers, court officers, the police and magistrates, against a background of ever-more savage cuts by a succession of governments who seldom see the damage being caused to what are often the most vulnerable members of our society. The latest cuts to legal aid are nearly the last straw.

In Lincolnshire we are witnessing the end of local justice through the closure of many of the courts in our geographically large county. We have seen the appointment of district judges, allegedly with the aims of speeding up proceedings, bringing more consistency to sentencing and saving money, none of which seem to be much in evidence in my experience. Instead, we have seen two much-cherished rights disappearing: the right to local justice and the right to be judged by three of one’s peers, who give their time and experience free of charge. Why don’t I resign as a magistrate, I hear you say? Maybe, like many of my colleagues, I feel we are now the only half chance of meaningful intervention some of our offenders have left – since cuts to welfare and services mean that shoplifting seems increasingly carried out not just to feed drug habits but also, it often turns out, families.
Name and address supplied

• In comparing the coalition’s output of criminal justice legislation with that of Labour, you describe the coalition as having been “relative (sic) quiet in this area” (Report, 5 June). Outsourcing ever more prisons with ever more punitive regimes to be run for profit by the likes of Serco and G4s; cutting legal aid to the most vulnerable; secret court hearings for terrorism; and the part-privatisation as of this week of the globally-revered 107-year old probation service with no guarantee of the level of training or quality of non-probation staff assessing and managing risky offenders. The legislation may have been lean but the consequences have been prolific for justice, human rights and public safety in this country.
Professor Gwyneth Boswell

Tristram Hunt‘s pathetic response (‘It’s chaos, with free schools just landing in the middle of nowhere’, 10 June) to Michael Gove‘s rampage against our state-funded school system (is this for him an example of the “history of British statecraft … to work with what you inherit and try to mould it in constructive and progressive ways”?) comes as no surprise to those members of the Socialist Education Association national executive who met him last year in the House of Commons to discuss Labour party education “policy”.

He certainly astounded us, when asked whether all state-funded schools should be returned to some form of oversight by a locally elected democratic body, by replying that we should not “fetishise” (his word) democracy. It would appear he has inherited the patrician views of his great-uncle that “the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves”.

Equally shocking to us was his curt dismissal of one of the previous Labour government’s most progressive social policies: Every Child Matters, whereby the needs of all children, and especially those from the most vulnerable families, would be met by a coordinated multi-agency response involving schools, health and social care agencies. Clearly for Hunt, as with addressing state subsidies to private schools, “it’s not where my energies will be”.

At a time when the wheels are dramatically coming off the Gove juggernaut (could the scandals over the governance of academies and so-called “free” schools, and the problems in some Birmingham schools, occur if local education authorities, democratically accountable to their wider communities and with properly resourced advisory and support services, including to governing bodies, still had a responsibility for overseeing all state-funded schools?), sadly, it is only the Green party which has a commitment to move in this direction, and for that matter move towards ending the need for private education, rather than the Labour party.
Don Berry
Ex-member SEA national executive, Manchester

• John Harris (Comment, 10 June) is correct when he asserts that the issue at the heart of the Birmingham schools debate is about the system and not the extremist tag that the machinery of government is trying to spin it towards – to divert attention from its policy failings. It is the system that the Labour party started by sowing the dragon’s teeth of academies and centralising power away from local democratic accountability and onto the centralist dark star of the DfE, Ofsted and individual “sponsors”.

Of course, the coalition government has seized the chance to take this to its conclusion: parents know best what their children need and should be free to set up schools when no additional places are required in the area, while those parents living in oversubscribed regions cannot get access to a local school. Academies and free schools able to determine the appropriate curriculum and culture, free from the yoke of local democratic control via local authorities. The result is what we see today, allied to the politicisation of Ofsted under Michael Wilshaw, a system that neglects the need of young people to receive a broad, balanced, engaging education diet, free from the idiosyncratic whims of whichever secretary of state is in power and whom appoints an appropriate head of Ofsted to see it is translated into school-based pressure and action. The centralist experiment has failed, the DfE and Ofsted should be the ones being called to account in this debate, for it is they who have created the situation they are now condemning.
Gary Nethercott
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Gove is not the first secretary of state to exploit the inspectorate. I recall Ed Balls doing much the same in the Baby P case. The children’s services department was subjected to a second inspection after a very satisfactory earlier inspection: Haringey council was instructed to dismiss the service head when the second inspection conveniently produced a differing outcome.
Lesley Kant

• John Harris is right to highlight the disarray of the state education system as a key issue emerging from the Birmingham schools row. In particular, the arrangements the government has created for the oversight and governance of schools are not fit for purpose and need to be drastically revised.

Labour’s current solution is local oversight; that may help but would not be enough on its own. It’s the wholesale commissioning of state schools – contracting them out to hundreds of different and highly disparate bodies and then trying to monitor them – that is the cause of the current chaos and the barrier to the interdependence that is essential for effective oversight and support. That system is unsustainable and should be phased out.

Labour introduced the system on a small scale but surely never intended it to achieve such dominance. It also invented a much better model: the maintained-trust school, which gives ample autonomy and allows outside views and expertise to be brought in while upholding taxpayer-funded schools as interdependent public institutions. That kind of model should become the norm.
Professor Ron Glatter
Hemel Hempstead

Two factors stand out as responsible. First is the potential power vested in governing bodies. The School Governance (Role, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 state that the functions of the governing body include “ensuring that the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school are clearly defined”. Surely this should be the professional function of the teachers – for which they have trained – with the governors having oversight. But, as it seems has happened in a number of schools, obsessive governors have interpreted this as expecting them to lay down the law for teachers to follow.

The second factor is that governments (the coalition and to some extent its predecessors) have so cut back on finance for local authorities that their education departments are weakened. They have become unable to monitor and challenge changes in schools which seem inappropriate in a multicultural society. It is local inspectors and local administrators, familiar with the social features of localities, who are needed – not Ofsted inspectors briefed by London administrators.

At a deeper level, the spread of faith schools should be challenged because these can sow the seeds of future tensions in communities. There are few ideas which we should import from the United States, but the ban on religious instruction (not religious education) is one. Thomas Jefferson, in 1791, saw the wisdom of this, but would any of our current politicians dare advocate it?
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

•  As a primary school governor in the wake of the 1988 Education Reform Act, I was soon confronted with the impact of its requirement of a daily act of “wholly or predominantly” Christian worship, a requirement introduced by an amendment inserted by Christian “extremists” in the House of Lords (All schools must promote ‘British values’, says Gove, 10 June). Members of a local evangelical C of E church were quick to demand that their children should worship according to their religious views, and not be subverted by what they called an irreligious “hymn sandwich”. An intense debate ensued, involving Christian, atheist and agnostic parents, and the merely bemused. The outcome was that the staff declined to lead such worship, which was subcontracted, once a week, to local Protestant priests, one of whom had advised the school not to bother inviting “the Romans”. At one such act of worship, one of the priests cited the Japanese race as evidence of human evil, with a Japanese child sat in front of him. The head, to her credit, promptly banned him from the school premises. The legal requirement to conduct religious worship in schools is inevitably divisive and, self-evidently, puts parents of minority faiths in an invidious position, and can leave some children excluded from school assemblies. It would be much easier for school staffs and governors to contend with the demands of local religious communities to influence school activities if this invidious requirement that our children take part in acts of religious worship in their schools were repealed.
Dr Steve Ludlam

• Bernard Crick must be spinning in his grave. Whatever happened to all the work he did to establish citizenship – promoting knowledge of the system, tolerance and engagement as citizens – as a national curriculum compulsory subject? With its inclusion in teacher training, and training places allocated for the specific subject? And what about Keith Ajegbo’s report and the requirement to promote community cohesion in schools? Sidelined, vanished or downgraded by state schools who have had support for citizenship and community cohesion reduced or withdrawn by this government and “no longer required” by academies, and free schools not obligated to follow the national curriculum. Mr Gove, all the tools are already there, in detail and with associated materials and developments; why then the refusal to use them, instead relying on a vague statement about “British values”? This smells much more of politics than genuine concern.
Dr Neil Denby
Admissions tutor, teacher training, University of Huddersfield

•  Amid the present concern in certain schools for what Sir Michael Wilshaw has called “a culture of fear and intimidation” and whatever systems of regulation the realities may perhaps justify, there remains the issue of how to promote a culture of trust and respect, a culture in which children and their families of all backgrounds may prosper and contribute to each other’s wellbeing. I believe that a modern course in religious studies meets those needs, being critically focused on the accurate appreciation of a commonwealth of wisdoms in traditions both religious and secular. In that sense, it ticks all the boxes; it is academic in methodology, empathetic in technique and constructive of community, without prejudice to the concerns any individual’s interest in the notion of truth may have. As such, from my 30 years of observation, it is a subject which should be a universal birthright that can only be enriching for any modern society.
Esmond Lee
Head of religious studies, Trinity school, Shirley Park, Croydon

•  ”A culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some schools,” laments Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted. The same man who said in 2012 that: “If anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low, you know you are doing something right.” And they say irony is dead.
Tony Clarke

•  Just checked the recent Ofsted report for my local community college (we don’t do academies down here in darkest Devon). Ethnicity of the pupils? Overwhelmingly white British. Preparation by school for children to live in multicultural Britain? No mention anywhere. Perhaps Mr Gove would like to call for a reinvestigation down here, as well as in Birmingham.
Sylvia Rose
Diptford, Devon

• Michael Gove expects schools to teach that gender segregation is wrong. I wonder if he has run this past the prime minister and the other Old Etonians in the cabinet?
Simon Cherry
Claygate, Surrey


Jonathan Freedland repeats the view (7 June) that Britain’s hostility to the EU derives from victory in the second world war. But his assumption that continental Europeans were gung-ho for a federal Europe on account of their different war records remains unproved. No one ever asked them to vote on a European constitution of any kind till 2005, when France and the Netherlands voted no. Thereafter, the matter was fixed behind closed doors. As the letter you published (7 June) from a long list of academic Eurofanatics ironically shows, matters still are. The EU has never been a democratic body. European citizens on both side of the Channel know this all too well.
Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics

• Despite the danger of crossing departmental boundaries in Govist fashion, may I suggest that food banks be used to feed minds as well as bodies? If the books our children study are to be rationed like fruit or canned goods in wartime, then perhaps we should donate copies of The Grapes of Wrath (Review, 7 June) and the like along with other staples such as beans to be handed out to the hungry of our own times. Or would that run the risk of starting them thinking about the way our country is run?
Juliette Brooke
Bewdley, Worcestershire

• Ministers and their special advisers would do well to remember that on the railways Spad stands for signals passed at danger (May faces questions, 9 June).
Michael Sargent
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

• Love the photo of Cameron, Merkel and the Dutch and Swedish leaders afloat in a boat (10 June). No oars? No rudder?
BCJ Bowden

• Tell Lucy Mangan that ‘ow do? is still in regular use in Yorkshire (How do I do? Much better without canapes and kisses, thanks, Weekend, 7 June).
Lynda Das

• During the decades-long struggle to get a letter published in the Gruniad, I realised that you printed many from doctors. So I embarked on a part-time PhD programme that took me 10 years to complete. I have maintained my efforts to get a letter in, but more recently have noticed there are usually a few letters from professors. I can tell you now that as I approach the grand old age of 65, there’s not a cat’s chance in hell of my getting a professorship!
Dr Khosro S Jahdi

There was another, quieter side to Rik Mayall, as I found when sharing a platform with him at a conference on broadcasting and censorship in the 1980s, at a time when the BBC had dropped, banned or cut a succession of controversial programmes. Of course one knew there had to be more to him than his anarchic, explosively violent comic creations, but I still half expected him to burst out onto the stage and start an eye-popping, spittle-flecked rant.

Instead, he actually seemed quite shy and even slightly vulnerable beneath his impeccable manners and modest demeanour. He was one of the most handsome people I’ve ever met, with striking blue eyes, a surprisingly gentle manner and understated charisma as he spoke. He was inevitably highly critical of the coercive and repressive tendencies within Thatcherism but equally scathing about the number of times the BBC had succumbed to the prevailing pressures. He argued with a kind of icy precision that we all too often censor ourselves, both as individuals and as institutions that are meant to serve the public such as the BBC, effectively doing the job of social control on behalf of the conformists and agents of repression. It was clear to me that there was a vein of continuity between his art as a comedian and his way of thinking as a citizen. He was a consistently free and liberat

I was shocked that so many rightwing, isolationist parties had such success at the European elections, but feel that we are missing a large part of the story (30 May). At the moment we are given a binary choice, with people either supporting Europe and voting for a mainstream party or being against Europe and voting for an anti-European party. I don’t feel that I fit into either of these camps.

I am a passionate supporter of Europe and strongly believe that Europe should stay together. But I am also strongly against the clique in Brussels, which seems more intent on pandering to the demands of corporate lobbyists rather than working for the interests of ordinary Europeans. Evidence of this can be seen on any high street, where the usual suspects of retail chains have crowded out local commerce, individual creativity and regional colour.

On top of this, oligarchic, monopolistic conglomerates are given free rein, banks are far too powerful and transnational companies are allowed to channel their profits to offshore hideaways. The next big threat to Europe’s soul is the fact that Brussels is pushing for the signing of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will pass power out of the hands of the people into the laps of multinationals, with them obtaining the right to prosecute governments should they feel that they have been hard done by.

So where is a party that I can vote for? One that is for Europe but against the kind of Europe that Brussels, with its bloated, self-serving structures, is peddling.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany

An anarchist president?

It is understandable that in a world of bland career politicians, military strongmen and bombastic ego monkeys, somebody like José Mujica should stand out as a subject of interest (Uruguay’s maverick president, 30 May). He is clearly not your average leader and the writers did well in capturing their subject’s eccentricities, depth of learning, commitment to reforming his country and commendable modesty.

However, it was remiss of them, in their enthusiasm for the subject, to allow his self-characterisation as a putative “anarchist” to go unchallenged. Mujica may be many things, but if political terminology is to have any meaning, the leader of a state is by definition the antithesis of an anarchist. Allowing his statement to pass without comment lends credence to it and conflates his own “slightly potty” nature with that of a political philosophy that he has nothing to do with.

Anarchism may have faults, but it can surely do without the confusing rhetorical contributions of Mujica. Just because a topic is interesting, that should not obviate the requirement to exercise a bit of clarity and basic critical judgment.
Barrie Sargeant
Otaki Beach, New Zealand

Even bosses get sacked

Hadley Freeman is right: bosses are bosses, male or female, like marriage is marriage, gay or straight (30 May). But bosses get sacked; often they are criticised. What is crazy – and dangerous – is to suggest that simply sacking a woman editor and listing her faults is necessarily sexist (or else why the story?). No one should be exempt from losing a job or being criticised, whatever their gender (or colour or sexuality), if there are adequate grounds.

Most of my bosses throughout my 40-year career have been women. Most have been good; a few have been unbelievably bad, but that could be said of some of the men. Freeman should not blame Jill Abramson’s sacking simply on her gender, unless she can adduce better evidence than she has here.
Peter Roberts
Huddersfield, UK

• Hadley Freeman’s piece on how the English language can deal with women in charge is but little compared with how the French handle this. English has no gender. French must get to grips with le juge, le professeur, le député (MP) and so on. There was a spell of madame le juge, which seems to stick. Madame le ministre has become Madame la ministre.

As to teachers, une professeuse doesn’t work. The illustrious defenders of French, the French Academy, have their work cut out. At least it gives them something to do.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France

Where does racism begin?

I don’t understand where racism starts (Racism is far more than using the N-word, 23 May). Our family lived for 20 years among people whose skin was darker than ours. During her second term at an international school, our daughter, aged six, wanted to tell me something about her friend. I wasn’t sure which little girl she meant.

“She has the desk near the window. She is the best one at sums. Her Daddy sometimes comes to collect her. We eat our sandwiches together and sometimes we swap.” I was still not clear who she meant, and asked her whether she was a Papua New Guinean. “Yes” was the reply.

Not only did I identify her friend but I was deeply touched that it hadn’t occurred to our daughter to mention her friend’s colour. Today she has a senior position in a government department working with people here and overseas, from those in displaced camps to heads of government. Her attitude remains the same.
Cherry Treagust
Portsmouth, UK

Thailand is changing

Your coverage of the current coup in Thailand is a reminder of the dramatically changing social dynamic in that country (30 May). There is, as you say, an underclass of Thais mounting a credible challenge to a military-backed elite that has yet to run its course in that country.

My wife Julie and I taught in northern Thailand in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh to communist forces in the 1970s. At that time it was feared by conservatives in our region that south-east Asian countries were starting to fall to communism, in what was perceived as a domino effect, with Thailand the next country anticipated to go down. In response, internal government pressure on grass-roots dissents in Thailand was very heavy-handed indeed and ugly things were happening there.

That’s a story that’s yet to be fully told.

As your editorial cautions, the new social dynamic in play is a potentially dangerous one – for the Thai people, and for visitors there.

It’s as well to remember that it was during a Thai coup in 1985 that the highly regarded Australian journalist, Neil Davis, was killed in crossfire involving the Thai military.
Terry Hewton
Adelaide, South Australia

Oil is an economic activity

The horrors of coal, as Simon Jenkins so succinctly sums it up, are not in its science but in its economics (23 May). Oil companies don’t major on hydrocarbons because they’re good for the world, but because they make money out of them. Oil is an economic activity, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a science establishment. They talk different languages. Unfortunately one, like Shakespeare’s Tarquin, takes all its pleasure up front, while the other, Lucrece, is left to suffer the consequences.
Richard Crane
Vallon Pont d’Arc, France

The sky’s the limit

After reading with delight the news that Mexican environmentalists are successfully promoting the growth of rooftop gardens to ameliorate air pollution (9 May), I then moved on to your Culture page to discover with dismay your writer Oliver Wainwright going on about a skull-obsessed graffiti artist rhapsodising about using drones to fly over the city to “get to places others can only dream of reaching”.

Apparently, then, even “green roofs”, as they are called, will not be immune to direct hits by polluting, chemically derived aerosol paint, as the result of apish Jackson Pollocks furtively reaching for new heights of absurdity.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada


• I was struck by a disturbing phrase in your article Conflict fears as Arctic ice retreats (23 May). Describing dangers posed by conflicting national interests arising from the rapidly melting ice, Paul Kern [spokesman for the board behind a recent report] prefaced his summary: “as the Arctic becomes less of an ice-contaminated area”. A curious use of language – what could be purer or less contaminating than polar ice?
Cynthia Reavell
Hastings, UK

ing spirit who enriched all our lives.


Who is Michael Gove to perceive extremism? He is himself an extremist, a disciple of Bush and Blair, an ardent believer in the worldwide existential threat to western civilisation, whose fifth columnists  are in our midst plotting against us. 

Notice the charge against the schools involved: not that they have been teaching the jihadist view of the world, but they have been “failing to protect” pupils from exposure to any views which might lead them to further views which might perhaps cause sympathy with opinions which need to be proscribed. The extremist requires the teaching of his own views, and failure to do so (or even insufficient ardour in doing so) is further proof to him of the omnipresent threat which he fights against.

Roger Schafir

London N21

In his madcap crusade to create “free schools” and academies and to destroy local education authorities, which he regarded as part of the “Blob”,  Michael Gove has failed to provide any monitoring or accountability procedures.

Given the appalling problems identified at the Al-Madinah school in Derby and the numerous accounts of financial mismanagement in a host of academy chains and academies, he has failed to act decisively.

The programme has carried on at a giddy pace, and now it appears has gone completely off the rails. The education of children in some schools has been taken over by radical elements, and the “revolution” which he promised has been subverted by others with a quite different agenda.

Mr Gove chooses, like many fanatics, to blame everyone else. Now is the time for him to stand up and be counted, stop faith school groups creating free schools, and bring all academies back into a structure that can oversee them, like local authorities. He may thus salvage something from this disastrous monster that he has created.

Simon G Gosden

Rayleigh, Essex

There was a time – the 10 centuries preceding the past half-century – when immigration was low enough for newcomers to be absorbed, and they expected to be absorbed into the culture in which they had chosen to settle.

Along came multiculturalism. Then the idea of a host nation’s culture taking precedence began to unravel. All minority cultures were to be regarded equally, regardless of the lack of equality practised in some of them.

There was bound to be a clash sooner or later. One of the results of the multicultural approach is now being played out in Birmingham and Whitehall.

Edward Thomas

Eastbourne, East Sussex

When the “Popish Plot” was exposed as phoney in 1685 its author, Titus Oates, was flogged at the cart’s tail through the streets of London. Now it’s the Islamic “Trojan Horse Plot” that is creaking at the seams. Better get the newspaper down the trousers, Mr Gove.

Richard Humble


What cottage hospitals could do

Kenneth Taylor (letter, 4 June) was almost certainly a hospital doctor and certainly not a GP working in a GP-led cottage hospital as I was for 25 years back in the 20th century. He should not make generalisations based on his own limited experience.

In that hospital we, the GPs, were delivering 250 babies per year in the maternity unit and had the best safety figures in the region.

My partner, a GP surgeon, was doing two lists per week in our small operating theatre.

After morning surgery we went on a rota system from the GP surgery to the hospital minor injuries unit to deal with casualties and undertake minor surgery.

We had visiting consultants in all specialities from the district general hospital every week coming 12 miles to do outpatient sessions in psychiatry to gynaecology to dermatology and undertake ward rounds on the medical, surgical and geriatric wards.

We had a thriving physiotherapy department, X-ray facilities and a day hospital.

It is now a shadow of its former self, purely for economic reasons.

Ask anyone what they want from the NHS and they will say, the best possible treatment as local to where I live as possible.

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough, Wiltshire

I understand what Kenneth Taylor writes about the downside of cottage hospitals. But I wonder whether a physician, even an obviously caring one like him, realises that his familiar working environment is a frighteningly alien and impersonal place to a vulnerable old person.

Any old person who does not wish to go “gentle into that good night” would welcome Dr Taylor’s concern. But many of us would readily swap access to the latest technological equipment for a shorter life with palliative care in the more homely atmosphere of a cottage hospital.

Friends that I visited, 40-odd years ago, in a Suffolk cottage hospital seemed to me to be cared for, virus-free and relatively happy. It is what I would wish for myself.

Margaret Cook

Seaford, East Sussex

Cautious welcome for carrier bag charge

Most campaigners against plastic waste will give a cautious welcome to the 5p charge on plastic bags announced in the Queen’s Speech. The welcome would be much warmer if the Government had been brave enough to be consistent and include all single-use bags and all retailers, large or small. As it stands, the charge will confuse shops and shoppers, and still allow significant amounts of waste and litter to pollute our environment.

Those who care about our environment will also greet the “food poisoning threat” from reusing bags with some scepticism. Most food, even from small retailers, comes so well wrapped that cross-contamination seems highly unlikely, and those of us who regularly use cloth bags don’t, in any case, “store” fresh meat and vegetables in them, as the researchers seem to think we do.

We store fresh produce in our fridges and cupboards, where contamination is also possible if proper precautions are not taken. We also wash our cloth bags occasionally and most of us have so far survived the dangers of reusable bags rather well.

Marilyn Mason

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

The announcement of a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags in the Queen’s Speech comes as welcome news for England’s canals and rivers.

Plastic bags are an unsightly blight on the nation’s waterways, blocking weirs, getting tangled in boat propellers and trapping wildlife. Even with the help of many volunteers, the Canal & River Trust still spends over £770,000 a year removing litter from the 2,000 miles of historic waterways in our care, money we have to divert from vital maintenance.

What would make a real difference is if the money raised for the charge were recycled back to those environmental charities, like ourselves, that are at the front line of tackling litter.

Richard Parry

Chief executive, The Canal & River Trust

Milton Keynes

A penal tax on expensive homes

There remains a strand of political thought that the solution to every problem is to increase taxes on someone else. You assert, with no evidence, that the present system of council tax means that the bills of the super-rich are “subsidised” by those in the lower bands (editorial, 4 June).

The truth is that most of local government expenditure is financed by grants from central government.

These funds are derived, inter alia, from income tax, and the highest earners are the larger income tax payers by a long, long way. Council tax is intended to be a payment for council services and was never intended to be a penal tax on expensive homes, whose occupants may not be wealthy.

Richard Horton

Purley, Surrey

Mix-up in the Great War trenches

It was nice to have John Lichfield share his thoughts on the Somme offensive (“Massacre of the innocents”, 28 May) but could I point out that the illustration captioned “going over the top during the Battle of the Somme” in fact shows members of the 9th Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) carrying out a  trench raid near Arras on  27 March 1917?

Professor Jim Sharpe

Department of History

University of York

Fewer children produce less art

I have just read Zoë Pilger’s article about the RA summer exhibition (3 June) and see there is a work entitled “In 2013 14% Less Children Chose Art at GCSE …”.  Let us hope that these 14 per cent fewer children were busy learning English grammar so that they will not commit the same mistake.

Shirley Leuw

Stanmore,  Middlesex


Sir, Birmingham city council gets its share of the flak. However, 25 years after the Education Reform Act how can we talk about local authority “control” of any schools — especially academies, which account for most schools now being placed in special measures. The local authority role has been largely written out. Look at school governance, financing and inspections — how can anyone seriously suggest that there are effective levers of local control?

Nick Henwood

Littlebourne, Kent

Sir, A secular, taxpayer-funded school in Birmingham has been criticised by Ofsted for interfering with the performance of a nativity play, while another has incurred the wrath of the inspectors because it cancelled Christmas celebrations.

By what right did these secular schools attempt to foist a Christian celebration on their non-Christian pupils?

Professor Geoffrey Alderman

University of Buckingham

Sir, Isn’t it high time that all religious state schools be phased out to make way for equal opportunities for all pupils under a state education system to receive an impartial and inclusive education that is free from any religiously biased activities? Citizenship education does not need to be delivered by any acts of faith, be it Christian or otherwise.

Jane Tam


Sir, The head of Ofsted does little to build confidence in either the transparency of working procedures or reporting conclusions of his organisation. His talk of “a culture of fear and intimidation” summarises precisely that Ofsted-generated climate which continues to erode morale among teachers, of whom more than a few would relish the opportunity to carry out an unannounced inspection of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s work.

Robert Gower

Egleton, Rutland

Sir, I have been a Scottish Presbyterian missionary in Ghana; a Hebrew-speaking Jew; a Catholic school social worker and the manager of a Sunni camp after the Pakistan earthquake 2005. This background leads me to conclude that Ofsted could create a multicultural educational system at a stroke by separating education from religion. In this post-Christian country, it must be the only way forward to prevent friction in children’s lives and education.

Miller Caldwell


Sir, I am amazed that it is only now that inspections without notice for schools are being considered. As a retired head teacher of primary schools in London, I would have appreciated not being given any notice. Why have special preparations for an inspection? Why shouldn’t Ofsted see what goes on in a school, warts and all? It should be able to go into any school, without forewarning, and see what everyday life is like in that school.

The time between notice of an inspection and the inspection was an extremely nerve-racking for all in the school community. And, as has been alleged in Birmingham, it may be possible to manipulate what inspectors see. Indeed, more generally it is often suggested that difficult pupils are “encouraged” to be absent for an inspection — not possible if it is sprung without notice.

David Collins

Tel Aviv

The founder of Dyson says the future is in the hands of engineers — and intellectual property lawyers

Sir, I’m grateful to Giles Whittell for challenging Dyson engineers to solve some of humanity’s biggest problems (“The future’s bright if we can trap the Saharan sun’” June 7).

Our engineers are problem solvers: a Saharan electricity superhighway, transportation or over-population — there are plenty of problems to be solved. The future is in the hands of engineers.

Dyson’s 1,500 engineers and scientists are working on a 25-year technology pipeline, and I believe Mr Whittell would find some projects very interesting. I’m afraid they are top secret, however. Intellectual property is valuable. We have projects at more than 20 of Britain’s world-class universities, including a robotics lab at Imperial and a chair leading research into aerodynamics at Cambridge. Britain is a wonderful place for ideas and it’s an exciting time to be an engineer. Watch this space.

Businesses often assume that if they acquire an existing formula and apply it somewhere new, money will roll in. But this doesn’t lead to better technology, and people quickly see through it. The important thing is that the resulting technology yields genuine improvements, rather than marketing fluff.

For a company to be genuinely pioneering, it should take new approaches to problems, investing heartily in research and development. But assurances are needed that these ideas won’t be copied. There will be no Saharan electricity superhighway if Britain’s rip-off laws are not strengthened.

Of course it’s cheaper to copy than make new technology successful but it’s immoral and doesn’t move the world on. So I found it interesting that Whittell chose to highlight that Samsung has a marketing budget the size of Iceland’s GDP.

Sir James Dyson

London SW3

A judge ponders his experiences of juries in 20 years of trying rape cases

Sir, May I add two points in support of Messrs Heaton-Armstrong and Wolchover (letter, June 10) about the new director of public prosecution’s comments on rape allegations ?

First, juries are there to use their own independent judgment and will not take kindly to being instructed on so-called rape myths.

Second, as a judge trying many rape cases over the past 20 years, although not infrequently surprised at acquittals in less serious cases, I came to the conclusion that, being well aware a minimum sentence would be at least five years’ imprisonment with the judge allowed no discretion, juries were often not prepared to visit such an outcome on a defendant.

His Honour Robert Hardy

London SW7

Japan has said that it is to defy the UN and global public opinion to resume the killing of whales

Sir, The breathtaking arrogance of the Japanese in resuming whale hunting despite a UN court ruling that it is illegal (June 10) should result in sanctions of some kind against Japan. Whales do not belong to Japan or indeed to any of us; they are beautiful wild creatures that have every right to be left alone. The smoke screen of scientific study and tradition should be treated with contempt. At the least there should be a boycott of Japanese goods if they pursue this unacceptable killing.

Robert Smith

Merstham, Surrey

Hedgehog populations are declining; badgers are multiplying; badgers eat hedgehogs – it is a no-brainer

Sir, You point to bonfires, tough winters and elastic bands dropped by postmen as the causes of the fall in hedgehog numbers by 35 per cent over the past ten years (June 10). However, bonfires are banned except those with a licence, elastic bands are far less common now than ten years ago as people send less mail, and harsh winters have become no more common in recent times. Several studies have shown that the real culprits are badgers whose numbers have coincidentally risen over the past decade. The bumblebee has suffered a similar pattern of decline over the past decade. It is time to face facts about the damage a predator like the badger can cause if their numbers go unchecked.

Peter Evans

Sandon, Herts

A judge ponders his experiences of juries in 20 years of trying rape cases

Sir, May I add two points in support of Messrs Heaton-Armstrong and Wolchover (letter, June 10) about the new director of public prosecution’s comments on rape allegations ?

First, juries are there to use their own independent judgment and will not take kindly to being instructed on so-called rape myths.

Second, as a judge trying many rape cases over the past 20 years, although not infrequently surprised at acquittals in less serious cases, I came to the conclusion that, being well aware a minimum sentence would be at least five years’ imprisonment with the judge allowed no discretion, juries were often not prepared to visit such an outcome on a defendant.

His Honour Robert Hardy

London SW7


Retiring collection: milk bottles among other vintage receptacles on sale at a craft fair Photo: ALAMY

6:58AM BST 10 Jun 2014

Comments60 Comments

SIR – Collecting milk bottles is not a bad idea for Janet Newis’s retiring milkman (Letters, June 6). I now have more than a dozen bottles from the Seventies. They carry colourful advertisements, my favourite being: “Eggs are smashing for breakfast.”

Tony Geake
Exeter, Devon

SIR – Having recently retired, I’ve taken up church bell ringing.

It is a wonderful blend of sport, music, exercise and friendship – a challenge to your wits, a service to the church and very satisfying when you get it right.

There are hundreds of churches with bells all over Britain and there are always days out organised to ring other towers’ bells. Go to your local church, see who the tower captain is and give him or her a call.

Philip Hulme
Yarford, Somerset

SIR – Why give schools even 30 minutes’ warning of an Ofsted inspection? When I worked for a high street bank, the thought that the inspectors might walk in at any moment focused minds on correct procedure and prevented any misdemeanours.

These schools should not be given time to cover up their grubby practices.

Rachel Mason
Seaton, Devon

SIR – Alan Judd’s article “Mission to end extremism” implies that the teaching of extremist views is not for taxpayer-funded state schools, but perfectly all right for privately funded Muslim schools. Surely, this cannot be allowed. Isn’t it time to abolish all religion-based schools and leave religious education for families and churches to organise in their own time?

J S Hirst
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

SIR – Faith schools in Northern Ireland helped to foster division and mistrust, encouraging children to grow up thinking those of another faith were different, if not downright enemies. Allowing Muslim faith schools is surely likely to have the same effect. It would appear that we never learn.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

An audible actor

SIR – Michael Gambon’s every syllable in Quirke was audible, since he can project without losing nuances of expression. The problem is with younger actors who have not learnt their stagecraft.

Rev Don Bennett
Forres, Morayshire

Writing wrongs

SIR – The ballpoint pen is to blame for the peculiar way the younger generation hold their pens (Letters, June 9). If one were to hold a fountain pen in the modern contorted fashion, using liquid ink, or even a chalk on slate, the line above would be smudged.

Two generations ago, in the age of nibs and inkwells, we were obliged to write with the hand resting on the paper below the line being written.

Ian Sims
Graigfechan, Denbighshire

SIR – As a retired reception-class teacher, I am appalled at how many children are not taught to hold a pencil correctly. A pencil should be gripped by the thumb and forefinger and rest on the middle finger.

Sue McFarland
Little Bytham, Lincolnshire

SIR – My daughter, who is a teacher, says: “Put a pen or pencil on the edge of a table pointing towards you and pick it up”.

Jan Hunter
Ottershaw, Surrey

SIR – The art of holding a knife and fork also seems to have been lost. The knife, if it is used at all, is held as if murder is to be committed and the fork gripped in the manner of a young child or baby.

Patrick W Fagan
Bowden, Roxburghshire

Turing Test

SIR – I am impressed that the first computer has passed the Turing Test in fooling operators into thinking it was a human being.

Many call-centre operatives I talk to would not pass that test.

Michael Gorman
Guildford, Surrey

Siting sun farms

SIR – It is good to read that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has ruled against solar energy farms on arable land. But it is too late for us, soon to be blighted by a sea of panels on farmland at the edge of the village.

Surely the Government should open up, for energy needs, the vast areas of largely infertile land devoted to military training and not now required by a shrinking Army.

Michael Edwards
Farringdon, Hampshire

Cost of special advisers

SIR – Perhaps the debacle surrounding Fiona Cunningham, the Home Office special adviser, should highlight the cost of such officials to the taxpayer.

Jeremy Hunt rejected the independent recommendation for a 1 per cent rise for NHS staff this year. Yet advisers last year enjoyed rises of up to 36 per cent, with Ms Cunningham seeing a rise of 14 per cent to £74,000, and some advisers being paid £140,000. Despite a Coalition promise, their number and cost have rocketed (to £7.2 million last year).

So what is Danny Alexander, who approves their pay, doing?

Rev Marcus Stewart
Broadstairs, Kent

Kings in waiting

SIR – King Juan Carlos clearly does not understand the value of the Prince of Wales’s current role.

Far from standing idly by, waiting to become king, he works tirelessly for this nation and the Commonwealth in ways that will not be possible once he ascends the throne. Let us wish long life to both him and his mother as they each fulfil their separate, different roles.

Mary Pain
Peasmarsh, Surrey

Nocturnal gardening

SIR – In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman in the last stages of emotional and physical exhaustion, mental confusion and despair, goes to dig his garden in the middle of the night .

Surely the drama of the World Cup (report, June 9) will not force us out of the house in this way, will it?

Brian O’Gorman
Chichester, West Sussex

A domestic chorus of beeps, pings and jingles

SIR – John Leach (Letters, June 7) bemoans the fact that every item of equipment seems to emit a “beep”. One exception is the microwave, which “pings”.

The Welsh, with considerable ingenuity, have invented a name for it – popty ping (popty being the Welsh for oven).

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

SIR – I have a washing machine that gives a short rendition of Jingle Bells to show that the programme has finished.

I wish it just went “beep”.

Roger T Simpson

SIR – Beeping domestic appliances drive my labrador frantic. But worst of all are the beeps at the end of questions on Mastermind. The final, when there were six contestants, was a nightmare, with 12 episodes of beeping terror.

Alison Stephenson
Coanwood, Northumberland

SIR – My mechanical heart valve makes a barely audible, high-pitched click, which I can hear when I lie awake in the night.

I find this reassuring; my surgeon tells me that if the sound stops, so do I.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

SIR – Max Pemberton describes the current NHS policy of forcing medical staff to remove ties and watches as making no sense. He is perfectly correct.

This and shift work, which was widely introduced to implement the European Working Time Regulations, have badly damaged the morale of trainee and senior doctors. Almost every month seems to bring a new and badly thought-through initiative that does nothing to help us treat patients.

Most of this doesn’t happen in the private sector – perhaps because doctors who think their hospitals are hopeless will simply move and also take their patients elsewhere.

I, too, have decided that early retirement (aged 59) from the NHS is the only option that will allow me to retain my self respect.

Tony Narula FRCS
London W2

SIR – For the past two days, I have been under the excellent care of the nursing staff at Lincoln County Hospital Trust, needing an Achilles tendon repair operation. They take my blood pressure, temperature and heart rate three times a day and offer me drugs, which I decline as I am not in pain. They bring me food, water and regular hot drinks. However, I am not allowed to wait at home because I would lose my place in the queue. No wonder the NHS is losing money.

My sister had an operation recently in a private hospital. She turned up at 10am, having followed normal pre-operation rules, and was operated on that afternoon.

Alice Gray
Stow, Lincolnshire

SIR – The current crisis in primary care is beyond anything I have seen in my 20 years as a GP. For efficient primary care to work, it needs experienced clinicians. Locally we are losing those clinicians to early retirement in a significant way.

Government and the profession accepts that the number of GPs needs to increase. But in the March 2014 round of recruitments there was a 15 per cent drop in applications to train for general practice.

Daft government initiatives mean that doctors are doing more box-ticking and administration than ever: we get letters from hospitals requesting us to make referrals (instead of the consultant doing it directly) and requests from patients, solicitors, gyms and airlines to provide certificates of health.

Patients’ unrealistic expectations from a health service that is on its knees and financially unsustainable have led to further criticism about access and waiting times, without any politicians pointing out that this is an inevitability of the current system and its attendant pressures.

The number of meetings has also increased, taking doctors away from their patients. Constant negativity from politicians, hospital colleagues, health pressure groups and the press have led to a specialism that is so demotivated it will take a lot to recover.

Professor Johnny Lyon-Maris
Marchwood, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – As an alumnus of Bessborough (1985), I remember vividly the screams of the institutionalised in the middle of the night, the old nun who said my baby would be fine in America and the girls who came and went without notice. But in that strange world of false names and shame there was also a strong and grim camaraderie between the girls, and some green shoots of humanity as I have a clear memory of the same nun helping me study for my Leaving Certificate French exam.

My daughter was adopted in Cork and, natural bonds rent asunder, we are now reunited and trying to piece together a relationship that has a beginning, no middle and an end to be determined. – Yours, etc,


Killester Avenue,

Dublin 5.

Sir, – I was born six weeks prematurely in Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, in March 1965, and my birth mother, who was 21 at the time, died from a post-partum haemorrhage three days later. I was alive, thanks to the same nuns who may well have neglected my mother. No thanks to my grandmother, extended family or society, who had discarded me and my mother as an inconvenient truth.

There was a chicken-and-egg scenario in Ireland whereby the church fed societal fear and shame but society also accepted it. The valley of the squinting windows took easily to rigid Catholicism.

When I met my grandmother (more than 30 years later) she said that no one in the family would have had a future if they had taken me home. They would have been spat at in the street. The parish priest at the time didn’t want to bury my mother on sacred ground and my grandmother lied to neighbours about the cause of death.

The “culture” of the time was largely influenced by the Catholic Church.

On a recent visit to the abbey, I visited the chapel where the girls would have prayed daily. Over the altar is a stained-glass image of Mary Magdalene – the prostitute and sinner. But who was the real sinner? – Yours, etc,



Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – One line of thinking I have seen repeated since the dreadful Tuam story broke in the media is that the public must consider the tragedy in the context of the country’s economic and social profile at the time. Well I say this – no particular time in our history should be an excuse for what happened here. All our shameful history needs to be brought out in the open – corporal punishment in our schools, the dreadful industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, clerical sex abuse, and now this latest news on the remains of 796 babies, who died at a religious-run and State-funded home for unmarried mothers in Tuam from 1925 to 1961.

We must not separate these dreadful happenings, and realise and accept, once and for all, that as a society we have no excuses whatsoever. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – The refusal of the Irish authorities to reveal the extent to which they sought orders for the disclosure of content from Vodafone is a matter of the gravest concern (“Thousands of requests made to secretly track Irish calls”, June 6th). While one might accept that the details of such warrants may be sensitive, the number of warrants issued simply gives a measure of how much covert surveillance is taking place.

In a functioning democracy, citizens have a right to know the extent to which the apparatus of state impinges upon their privacy and they have a right to challenge the state if they feel that the state is exercising the enormous power that they have vested in it inappropriately.

Entire networks have been penetrated covertly by a State that is not prepared to quantify the extent of its surveillance.

This matter needs to be clarified immediately. The State has already been found to be utterly remiss in its administration of justice. Seen in this context, any attempt to prevent publication of these figures can only be interpreted as an indication that the State has something to hide from its citizens. – Yours, etc,



Scariff, Co Clare.

Sir, – Frank McNally’s interesting “Irishman’s Diary” (June 5th) recalls the infamous libel action taken by the poet Patrick Kavanagh against the Leader in 1954.

As late as the autumn of 1966, 12 years after that trial, Kavanagh’s anger over that disastrous fiasco still burned strongly in his heart, as this writer was to experience in an encounter in the Bailey Bar in Dublin. At the time I had just graduated from UCD with a degree in history. I joined Kavanagh’s company in the Bailey and was carrying a copy of the literary magazine Envoy.

Kavanagh spotted the magazine, asked to have a look at it and he then went into a paroxysm of anger when he discovered that his own diary column in that particular back issue dealt with the Leader trial.

He accused me of deliberately setting him up to read it and denounced the staff in UCD history department. It seems that he strongly suspected that a certain professor of modern history at UCD had had a hand in writing the Leader profile of him which had caused him to take the libel action against the periodical. – Yours, etc,


Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – When will we learn? It was disturbing to read (“Nama considers offering 500 apartments as social housing”, Home News, June 3rd) that consideration is being given by Nama, the Housing Agency and the Department of the Environment to using 500 apartments near the Square shopping centre in Tallaght in Dublin for social housing. According to the article, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has urged local authorities to reconsider the national guideline placing an upper limit of 20 per cent of social housing dwellings in a private development.

There are solid, evidence-based reasons for that limit – the long-standing and compelling evidence from around the world that undue concentration of disadvantaged families compounds the disadvantage experienced by those families, affecting children’s educational outcomes and life chances as well as the residents’ health, employment prospects and wellbeing.

The present housing crisis in Dublin must not be solved by adopting short-term strategies that could have serious long-term negative outcomes for people and communities, and especially for children. If we are serious about placing children’s needs and interests at the centre of policy, as set out in the recent National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020 published by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, we must recognise the lasting impact of housing on children’s lives and plan accordingly. – Yours, etc,


Ballinteer Road,

Sir, – I have sympathy for your correspondent Dr Martin Pulbrook (June 9th), who had the misfortune of seeing so many errors of spelling, punctuation and translation in notices for the public in Portlaoise railway station and elsewhere. From now on he will have to quickly avert his eyes when he comes across another, as they are everywhere, especially in Galway, where it seems that a concerted effort is being made to propagate the notion that Irish is spoken and understood in the city.

On consecutive road signs, “Galway West” is “Gaillimh Thiar”, then “Gaillimh Siar”. A road sign in Loughrea has “Bóthar Átha na Rí” instead of “Bóthar Átha an Rí”. I had to look twice when I saw “Shráid na Siopaí” in gold lettering on a shop window.

I saw “Sean No’s on Friday” in a pub window. Somebody must have pointed out the error, for a few days later the apostrophe was extended backwards to become a síne fada. Then it became “Seán Nós” followed by “Séan Nós”. Above its doors a beauty salon has “It’s Ú mo Chuisle”. The phrase was taken from the internet, they told a friend of mine, and was therefore correct!

In radio advertisements “An Post” is pronounced in genteel English tones to rhyme with “on” and “lost”.

The daddy of them all can be seen in the Bon Secours hospital in Galway. The English version is: “If you think you may be pregnant, please tell the radiographer before you have your X-ray”. The translation underneath is: “Ma dh’fhaodadh e bhith gu bheil sibh trom, leig fios dhan radiographer mus teid sibh a-steach airson X-ray.”

I agree with Dr Pulbrook that those responsible should hang their heads in shame but for his own peace of mind I suggest aversion therapy. He should start collecting examples. He will very soon have a full notebook and will be able to smile and shrug his shoulders. What else can one do? – Yours, etc,


Donnellan Drive,


Sir, – Cían Carlin (June 10th) repeats one of the cardinal errors of Irish politics when he reduces “unionism” to a mere political preference. The divisions in Northern Ireland span not only politics but also culture, religion, history and ancestry. “Unionist” and “nationalist” have become shorthand names for Ulster-British and Gaelic-Irish ethnic groups, each with their distinct mythology and cultural norms. Pretending that a word when uttered by someone else means only that which you would prefer it to mean serves only to derail the argument.

To believe that one ceases to become “unionist” if one votes for a united Ireland is to reduce the entirety of a culture to a single issue. If changing your mind about a particular policy also implies wholesale abandonment of your culture and history, then it is no wonder that Northern Ireland politics is so dysfunctional. For too long we have pretended that a struggle for ethnic supremacy is a mere political disagreement, perhaps because we fear the implications of admitting that our problems are not amenable to quick-fix solutions.

More thoughtful politicians and commentators prefer to use “pro-union” for the political viewpoint in order to clearly distinguish it from cultural “unionism”.

It is quite possible to mix and match political and cultural labels – there is a distinct body of “unionist” opinion that would prefer an independent Northern Ireland state, and many “nationalists” are content to be part of the UK.

So many fruitless arguments hinge on the misinterpretation of ambiguous terms. Just as “Ireland” can mean either the 32-county island or the 26-county republic, so can “unionism” and “nationalism” have multiple, distinct meanings depending on context. Debates descend into slanging matches where opponents aim their rage past each other, each using the same words but meaning different things by them.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped using the words “unionism” and “nationalism” altogether, as they seem to create more confusion than enlightenment. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I fully share Cormac Meehan’s view that the nomination of Ireland’s next EU commissioner should not be a consolation prize for political failure (May 31st).

Instead, I believe Ireland’s next EU commissioner should be directly elected by the Irish people. What would be required would be for the Government to hold an election and to undertake to nominate the candidate chosen by the people. This would in no way contravene existing European treaties as the actual nomination would still be formally made by the Taoiseach. It would simply be a way for the Taoiseach to ask the people whom they wished him to nominate.

One advantage of this arrangement would be that it would be extremely difficult for the EU Council of Ministers, the incoming European Commission president and the European Parliament to reject the people’s choice, which is, of course, why it probably won’t happen. Nevertheless, I think the Government should give it a try. Who knows, it might even catch on in other countries if someone sets the example. – Yours, etc,


Keswick Road,

St Helens,

Sir, – Your Editorial (“Educating Together”, June 9th) on plans by the Stormont Executive to fund “shared education” between Catholics, Protestants and those of other faiths, gives a guarded welcome to the initiative.

However, I believe the provision of “shared campuses” rather than the complete integration of students is a failure to take the bold steps necessary to confront sectarianism and racism in Northern Ireland and could be construed as promoting a benign form of apartheid.

You cite as an unacceptable reality that of 291 schools in Northern Ireland in the 2011-12 school year, 180 had no Protestant children and 111 had not a single Catholic on their roll.

Since the foundation of the Northern state a policy of segregation of communities was rigorously enforced in line with the policy of gerrymandering to ensure continuation of unionist hegemony in predominantly nationalist areas.

Indeed, a recent survey found that in excess of 90 per cent of the population in the North lives in denominationally segregated housing.

Therefore, the successful integration of students in education can only come about if there is the same appetite to pursue a similar policy of integrated housing. This policy of integrated education, which I fully endorse, must be consensus-based, not mandatory, where difference is not just tolerated but respected, where all creeds, colours and systems are celebrated and where the existence of schools with a differing ethos is both welcomed and defended. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Sir, – Donald Clarke’s recent article suggested that many parents participate in Christian rituals in order to gain school places for their children (“If you don’t approve of the church then don’t take part in its rituals”, Opinion & Analysis, June 7th). Yet the recent census of 2011 revealed that over 84 per cent of the population regard themselves as Catholic, while 6.4 per cent said they were from the Church of Ireland faith. Perhaps these statistics explain the large numbers willingly participating in Christian rituals. – Yours, etc,




Co Louth.

Sir, – It was with great sadness that I learned of the sudden and untimely death of Prof John Fitzpatrick (“Outstanding doctor who became a world leader in urology”, Obituaries, June 7th).

Known to a litany of surgical trainees and junior doctors that worked in his department as “Prof Fitz” or, but never to his face, “Fitzy”, his remarkable qualities are outlined in your obituary.

I had the immense good fortune to receive his guidance both as an undergraduate looking up from a packed lecture theatre on Wednesday mornings in the Mater hospital, where he would impart his wisdom without the aid of chalk or PowerPoint, and as a junior surgical trainee scrubbed alongside him during one of his intricate cancer surgeries.

I also had the luck to work alongside his youngest son – a true gentleman, a remarkable character and excellent doctor. My heartfelt sympathy to him and his family. I know I echo many UCD and surgical graduates when I say his character and guidance will be missed. – Yours, etc,



Co Sligo.

Sir, – I take no side in the dispute between Aer Lingus and its cabin crew. Be that as it may, I prefer to take my holidays on the days I choose – and with that in mind I have just made a booking for later this year with a competitor, despite a higher price and a less convenient time. I cannot be the only one. – Yours, etc,


Pembroke Square,


Sir, – I have been waiting for at least five days for the forecast “thundery showers” here, “with possible flooding”. Nothing so far. Perhaps if “Weather Watch” stops forecasting it, it might happen. Otherwise, sending this letter might just do the trick! – Yours, etc,


Lower Dodder Road,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

* The attempted rationalisations conjured up by the church and its followers with regard to the Tuam mass grave are not surprising.

The “we weren’t the only ones at fault” attitude has almost become a slogan for the church and religious apologists in modern times, wheeled out in times of controversy in an attempt to inoculate itself from further disgrace.

I would take issue with Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob’s and Fr Con McGillicuddy’s letters (Irish Independent, June 9) where they say things such as “we should blame societies who at times condemned unmarried mothers or children born out of wedlock to neglect, ostracism and abandonment”, and “adoptions were forced on unfortunate single mothers because there were no social services for them and Christian families would not bear the public shame of caring for a daughter who had a child born out of wedlock”.

Both men focus on symptoms rather than drilling deep for the cause. However, they hit on an accidental truth (thus disproving their intended points). An aside . . . even if their points were true (and church and State were completely separate) it wouldn’t make a difference, for only one of these organisations preaches divinely inspired morality.

At the time in question (still to this day, some would argue) Ireland’s politics, culture and society were so deeply couched in religion that it was arguably, if unofficially, a theocracy.

In fact, so much power had church and so tightly had the concept of sin impressed itself into the lives of the people, a kind of proto-caste system had emerged, and the unlucky were cast into indentured servitude, to which no one batted an eyelid.

This had a crippling effect on society and Irish culture. Ultimately, it’s at such times, when dogmatic religious fervour has gripped a national consciousness to such an extent, that the church can preach righteousness, morality and love while simultaneously, and apathetically, committing acts of unspeakable cruelty.

This mental and emotional compartmentalisation coupled with such pervasive political power allows the church (and all religions) to be able to eschew empathy in lieu of preserving its supposed virtue.

Dr Al Qutob goes further to say: “The more we distance ourselves from religious doctrines, the more we become ruthless, indifferent and void.” I dare say if the unwed mothers and terrified children (and everyone else) of 20th-Century Ireland had been more distant from religious doctrines, they’d (and we’d) be all better off for it.

It’s time to cast aside the mental manacles of religion, to cull this willing suspension of our critical faculties and seek intellectual and emotional independence just as we once sought national independence.





* What people have to remember is that when the Tuam babies were being buried, the Catholic priests of the time were talking Latin to a wall while all the people of the parish were looking around wondering what was going on.

They were then treated to the thoughts of a single man on the evils that could beset all those outside wedlock, while at the same time expected to believe that this man was above these very same temptations.

This placed the clergy in an ascended position in society through the simple trick of their being the only ones brave enough to speak about sexual matters in public and from an unchallenged position.

This was a power, involving different themes, eg, Hitler speaking about Jews, that has been manipulated for centuries.

The antithesis to this is the truth. Once evidence emerges, then the problem has to be dealt with. In today’s world, one of inter-connectivity, one where all opinion and all stories are shared, the old days of burying a file or dancing an advocacy group to oblivion, or outliving them in the courts is coming to an end.

What the world is evidencing in the recent votes is a changing of the guard, the new replacing the old, the method of governance in the digital age is emerging. Ancient methods and ancient theories and superstitions are being broken down by an emerging educated youth.

The politicians that best resemble this emergence are those who will be elected in the future.





* A shocking discovery of a mass grave of 796 babies who died in a mother-and-baby home in Tuam. Another case of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil in good old Catholic Ireland. Another dirty little secret hidden under the nuns’ habits.

Church and State have always gone hand in hand so they too are responsible for turning a blind eye through the years of Ireland’s past.

How many more of these babies not buried went to hospitals/colleges for medical research?

This was raised in the Dail in 1930 but maybe the government was too busy with the treaty and had no time to bother about its young citizens dying like flies. To the outside world, Ireland was this picturesque island of fairies and leprechauns with horses and traps and donkeys going around the lakes of Killarney, a land of saints and scholars, the land of milk and honey – well, what a pretty picture this latest scandal paints.

Suffer little children to come on to me, the Lord said. Safe in the Lord’s hands they now rest, away from the hands that promised to serve God but failed.





* Media failed to challenge the spending spree brought about by the decisions of a small number of our most powerful citizens during the boom.

That ended with a bankrupt country.

The consequent austerity was denounced by the same media as unnecessary since it was someone else’s fault and should be paid for by someone else.

Now media are orchestrating an early election and the return of an anti-austerity government in a country that is borrowing billions to keep public services going.

How irresponsible is that?





* Columnist Ian O’Doherty trawls far and wide in his quest for new cultural patterns to share with his readers. The latest offence he has unearthed in the US is “cultural appropriation”, ie, going native. I had heard of cultural imperialism where small nations are dominated by great powers.

The newest politically incorrect offence means that those pilgrims touring here clad in looney leprechaun costumes are looting our traditional treasures.

Blush in shame.





* As the great World Cup fiesta approaches, one must note the widespread criticism about questionable FIFA decisions, inequalities in Brazil, overpaid underperforming prima donnas, etc.

But we football fans must also embrace the beautiful game and look forward to some spectacular moments of sheer skill.

The balletic artistry of performers such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and more is sure to enthral. These ball-juggling wizards are the Rudolf Nureyev or Vaslav Nijinsky of their discipline. A joy to behold. Game on!



Irish Independen


June 10, 2014

10June2014 Out

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park.Off to the bank and the Dietitian

No ScrabbleMary not very well perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Rik Mayall – obituary

Anarchic comedian who took on the British Establishment in The Young Ones and The New Statesman

Rik Mayall as Alan B'Stard in The New Statesman

Rik Mayall as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman  Photo: Yorkshire Television

7:20PM BST 09 Jun 2014

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Rik Mayall, the comedian and actor, who has died aged 56, was a former enfant terrible of alternative comedy with an anarchic line in over-the-top scatology; he later broadened his appeal with his portrayal of the egregious politician Alan B’Stard.

His breakthrough came in 1982 when he co-wrote and co-starred in BBC Television’s The Young Ones, a situation comedy featuring a group of revolting students on the breadline, squeezing spots, baring bottoms and sharing a filthy flat.

Arms flailing and eyes bulging, Mayall’s character, the angst-ridden loud-mouthed student Rick, chimed with the programme’s unpredictable “alternative” quality. The show tore up the established rules of comedy; the resulting 35 minutes of rampaging, violent slapstick struck some as having more in common with Warner Bros cartoons than with traditional sitcoms.

Mayall in The Young Ones with Adrian Edmonson, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan (BBC)

Mayall wrote The Young Ones with his then girlfriend Lise Meyer and another emerging alternative comedy star Ben Elton. Although it found a cult audience straight away — mostly students, teenagers and twentysomethings — others were slow to catch on and it was only when the series was repeated that it began to build a sizeable audience.

In contrast to his outrageous, rebarbative characterisations, Mayall was quietly-spoken and shy, with a reputation as the chameleon comedian: “fluent, funny, polite, informed” noted one of the comparatively few interviewers he spoke to, but “also evasive, slippery, canny, cautious and a tad self-congratulatory”.

“There’s a quality about me,” Mayall himself once confessed, “that you don’t quite trust”.

Although he became a defining part of the television landscape of the 1980s — including a memorable turn as the rumbustiously randy Squadron Commander Flashheart in Blackadder Goes Forth (“Always treat your kite like you treat your woman … get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back!”) — Mayall always preferred working in the live theatre. His fellow comic actor Simon Fanshawe ascribed to Mayall “a kind of pure energy as a solo performer on stage that, if you are prepared for the ride, is irresistible”.

In April 1998, when he was 40, a near-fatal accident on a quad bike left Mayall in a coma for five days; severe head injuries caused impaired memory, shaky co-ordination and speech problems. “The accident was over Easter and as you know, Jesus our Lord was nailed to the cross on Good Friday,” recounted Mayall in an interview last year. “The day before that is Crap Thursday, and that’s the day Rik Mayall died. And then he was dead on Good Friday, Saturday, Sunday until Bank Holiday Monday.”

But he appeared to have made a complete recovery, and returned to work in blustering form as Richie Twat (pronounced Thwaite) in Guesthouse Paradiso (1999), a film he co-wrote with his friend and long-time comedy partner Adrian Edmondson.

Although his part as Peeves the poltergeist in the first Harry Potter film failed to make the final cut, Mayall remained philosophical. “I’ve looked over the edge,” he remarked, adding that his brush with death had taught him that ending up on the cutting room floor hardly seemed so bad.

Rik Mayall: ‘one of the funniest performers ever’ (JIMMY GASTON)

Richard Michael Mayall was born on March 7 1958 at Matching Tye, a village near Harlow, Essex, but brought up in Droitwich, Worcestershire. The third child of two Left-wing drama teachers, he made his stage debut when he was six in a crowd scene in his father’s production of The Good Woman of Setzuan.

Taking the name Rik from the comic strip character Erik the Viking, he passed the 11-plus aged nine as it was being phased out, winning a free place at the fee-paying King’s School, Worcester, the youngest boy there when he arrived a year early.

At Manchester University, studying drama in the late 1970s, his tutor noted that Mayall’s humour was “always pretty puerile”. Nevertheless Mayall undertook a student tour of America as Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors. Graduating in 1979, he arrived in London to work for a job agency on £29 a week.

With Edmondson, whom he met at university, he formed a comedy duo called Twentieth Century Coyote, and began making appearances at The Comedy Store. The pair went on to make their name at another club, The Comedy Strip, launch-pad for several so-called “alternative” comedians. Television work followed, with Mayall teamed with Alexei Sayle, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in the Comic Strip films.

Rick Mayall with Adrian Edmonson on Saturday Night Live, 1985 (REX)

Mayall also found work as a straight actor, making what The Daily Telegraph called “a brilliant debut” as the dashingly good-looking dandy Ivan in Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the Olivier Theatre in 1985. In 1988 he starred with Stephen Fry in Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit at the Phoenix, and in 1991 was what one critic considered a “downright nerdish” Vladimir in Waiting for Godot at the Queen’s Theatre.

In Simon Gray’s ill-starred Cell Mates at the Albery in 1995 — Stephen Fry famously walked out of the production after three performances and vanished for several days — Mayall’s portrayal of the petty Irish criminal Sean Bourke was hailed as “brilliant” by The Sunday Telegraph’s John Gross: “At every stage he exerts a magnetic spell.”

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Covent Garden during the play’s six-week run, Mayall pulled a toy gun in the street and pointed it at two strangers. Police formally warned him but he was released without charge, Mayall himself conceding that he had been “a total prat”.

He came to national notice on television as the unemployable investigative reporter Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The Eighties, a sketch show that he co-wrote. Mayall went on to co-write and star in The Young Ones with Elton, Edmondson and Nigel Planer. The show became a cult hit worldwide — including in America — and was his best-known project. The team’s feeble follow-up Filthy, Rich and Catflap was followed in turn by the critically-panned black comedy Bottom (1991), with Mayall starring as a sex-starved bachelor; a sell-out touring stage version of the programme was resurrected a few years later.

Rik Mayall with Adrian Edmonson in Bottom

In The New Statesman (1987), Mayall portrayed a ruthless and corrupt Tory MP called Alan B’Stard who would stop at nothing to gain power; as part of Mayall’s character research, the Conservative MP Michael Portillo gave him a tour of the Commons. The scriptwriters Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran explained that they had taken Mayall’s persona from The Young Ones and poured it into a Savile Row suit.

He continued to blossom as a comic actor in a series of hour-long showcases for ITV Rik Mayall Presents (1993), in which, noted the Telegraph’s critic, “Mayall achieves high comedy”.

In addition to his occasional role in the BBC’s Blackadder during the 1990s, Mayall also provided the voice of a malevolent baby in the mini-sitcom How To Be A Little Sod (1995). His other film credits included both a Hollywood flop, Drop Dead Fred (1991), and a British one, Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis (1997), in which he played a music industry manager plotting to kill his fading pop star client.

After his accident, Mayall’s output had been less prolific, but as well as Guesthouse Paradiso he starred in several video versions of Bottom, and as a camp DJ in Day of the Sirens (2002). He also starred in the ITV sitcom Believe Nothing (2002) as an egotistical Nobel Prize-winning Oxford professor named Adonis Cnut, a member of the Council for International Progress, an underground organisation that aspires to control the world. He reprised the role of Alan B’Stard in the stage play The New Statesman 2006: Blair B’Stard Project (Trafalgar Studios), in which B’Stard has left the Conservatives to become a Labour MP. In 2011, Mayall appeared on Let’s Dance For Comic Relief, attacking his old friend Edmondson with a frying pan as he attempted to perform The Dying Swan.

His autobiography Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ was published in 2005.

Rik Mayall married, in 1985, Barbara Robbin, a BBC Scotland make-up artist. She survives him with their son and two daughters.

Rik Mayall, born March 7 1958, died June 9 2014


The military coup d’état in Thailand that took place on 22 May is the 13th since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. We stand with those protesters who are calling for a return to constitutional rule by a civilian government (Thai police warn online critics, 7 June).

As academics and university staff and students, we also wish to express particular concern at the surveillance, harassment, and roundup of academics and students calling for democracy and the reinstatement of civilian rule. Academics and students who have been critics of the lèse-majesté law have been summonsed and we understand that some have gone into hiding as a result. We join with all others who have also called upon the commander in chief of the Thai army to immediately release politicians, activists, journalists, academics and others who have been harassed and imprisoned following the military summons to stop making any political criticism or comment. We condemn the move ordering universities to monitor the political activities of staff and students on campuses, and are also concerned that some universities have issued orders to their staff and students to refrain from making any political comment in the public sphere.

We support and admire the courage of university staff and students who continue to gather at Thammasat University and other protest sites. Intellectual freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental tenets of a democratic society and functioning university system alike and we urge their restoration.
Professor Gurminder K Bhambra University of Warwick, Professor John Holmwood University of Nottingham, Professor Les Back Goldsmiths, University of London, Dr Ipek Demir University of Leicester, Dr Kirsten Forkert Birmingham City University, Dr Robbie Shilliam Queen Mary, University of London, Dr Lee Jones Queen Mary, University of London, Mark Carrigan University of Warwick, Dr John Narayan University of Warwick, Dr Madhumita Lahiri University of Warwick, Dr Peo Hansen Linköping University, Dr Daniel Orrells University of Warwick, Professor Luke Martell University of Sussex, Professor Andrew Sayer Lancaster University, Dr Malcolm MacLean University of Gloucestershire, Emeritus Professor Gavin Edwards University of South Wales, Professor Raphael Salkie University of Brighton, Dr Nessa Cronin National University of Ireland, Galway, Professor Jonathan S Davies De Montfort University, Dr Jo Ingold University of Leeds, Professor William Outhwaite University of Newcastle, Lauren Tooker University of Warwick, Professor Larry Ray University of Kent, Dr Justin Cruickshank University of Birmingham, Professor Robert Fine University of Warwick, Dr Rosa Vasilaki University of Bristol, Dr Carole Jones University of Edinburgh, Bernard Sufrin Emeritus fellow, Worcester College, University of Oxford, Professor Nickie Charles University of Warwick, Dr Luke Yates University of Manchester, Claire Blencowe University of Warwick, Professor Patrick Ainley University of Greenwich, Dr Kevin McSorley University of Portsmouth, Gabriel Newfield Retired pro-director, University of Hertfordshire, Professor Mick Carpenter University of Warwick, Dr Andrea Hajek University of Glasgow, Lisa Tilley University of Warwick, Dr Nicola Pratt University of Warwick, Dr J Sanchez Taylor University of Leicester, Dr David Featherstone University of Glasgow, Dr Angela Last University of Glasgow, Dr Bryn Jones University of Bath, Simon Dawes Independent scholar, Prof Chris Jones Liverpool John Moores University, Dr Vivienne Jackson, Chrysi Papaioannou University of Leeds, Lee Mackinnon Goldsmiths, University of London, Dr Goldie Osuri University of Warwick

George Monbiot (Comment, 3 June) asks why Rinat Ahkmetov pays less council tax for his £136m flat in London than the owners of a £200,000 house in Blackburn. This forms part of his argument as to why he considers that the only way to fairness in housing is to tax property.

One answer, of course, is that council tax is computed to discharge the relevant local authority outgoings as between the residents of a particular borough; not to punish property owners for being wealthier than George Monbiot likes. Another point to observe is that while the stamp duty on a £200,000 property is £2,000, the stamp duty on a £136m property is hugely more at £9,520,000. Finally, it should be noted that figures from HMRC for 2012/13 show sales in Kensington & Chelsea together with Westminster brought in £708m in stamp duty, which exceeds, by £73m, the total stamp duty raised by the Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the north-east, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside put together.

So George Monbiot is mistaken in thinking that expensive London property is somehow under taxed.
Patrick Way QC

• Your two-page spread on Londoners who have “made” six-figure capital gains on property in London (Families leaving London with a real capital gain, 7 June) perfectly illustrates the need for a property tax. Though some of these people did improve their houses before selling them, most of the gains came from house price inflation. Some may regard this as a smart “investment”, but it’s actually just a windfall, for unlike real investment, it creates nothing that doesn’t already exist. Since money only has value if there are goods and services being made for sale that it can buy, their windfalls depend on those who do productive work producing more than they get back in earnings. Hence the windfalls are parasitic on the labour of others, including many people who would need to work for 10 years to earn as much.
Andrew Sayer

•  Your article about young, successful families cashing in on the obscene profits being made on homes in the capital makes me want to weep. We’re losing “real” people we need in London; they’re being replaced by the wealthy and foreign investors using the property market to make vast amounts of money.

I live in central London, and any property in this area is bought by absentee companies or landlords. New-builds which start at £600,000 for a two-bed are snapped up off plan by foreign investors, and left empty or tenanted by wealthy overseas students. I chatted to some students in the park the other day about the cost of living in London. One, a Chinese girl, said her parents are paying £1,000 a month for a tiny room in a four-room flat.

What chance do we as ordinary working people have to remain here when your paper is lauding the gains made on what should be homes for the working people of London? You report an estate agent saying his friend bought a flat for £60,000 that is now worth £400,000, 12 years later. So what? I don’t want to hear how well estate agents are doing out of the misery caused by this and previous governments’ failure to stop the loss of all affordable housing in London. Our communities are dwindling as young working people move out to the suburbs or abroad to find something that should be everyone’s right in a civilised society, a place to live. We must do something before it’s too late and London is left only for the wealthy or transient population.
Margaret King

• CPRE welcomes Sir Michael Lyons’ comments that councils should be allowed to build more houses (Let cities grow, Labour urged, June 6). This is an important step towards getting the right type of homes built in the right places.

We are concerned, however, about his suggestion that urban containment is no longer important. We believe that the housing crisis this country faces can be seen as an opportunity to rejuvenate our towns and cities. By focusing on brownfield sites and increasing urban densities we can secure more vibrant places to live while making better use of existing infrastructure. It isn’t just about protecting the countryside, but about ensuring we make the most of our urban spaces.

Lyons appears focused on adding urban extensions on to existing settlements. Where towns have insufficient capacity to accommodate development within existing boundaries this approach is likely to provide a more sustainable option for new development than free-standing new towns. In office, Labour showed great vision by promoting an urban renaissance. This has helped revitalise many towns and cities, but there is a great deal more to do to make our urban areas fit for the 21st century.
John Rowley
Campaign to Protect Rural England

President Obama has drawn swords with a hostile Congress over the release of Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban fighters held in Guantánamo (Report, 9 June), yet he still refuses to use his executive authority to free Shaker Aamer. This British resident, incarcerated for over 13 years, is physically and mentally broken from the tortures inflicted in that hellish US prison. Is this not the time for a stronger protest from the UK government to free Aamer, who – unlike the Taliban prisoners – has no evidence against him?
Margaret Owen

• The five freed from Guantánamo will be retelling their experience of beatings, waterboarding and noise torture. What will this mean for westerners held by the Taliban in future? It has been reported that Americans held in Iran for violating its borders who complained about their treatment were told: “Well, this is not as bad as Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib.”
Gavin Lewis

Rather than urging Labour to woo Green voters, why not just vote Green? Photograph: Alamy

David Edgar might be less surprised that only the right is “defending immigration as a positive good” if he could see the issue as primarily about economic exploitation rather than “immigration” (Red goes well with green, 6 June).

Of course the exploitation of poor countries has always been a positive good – for the ruling class. And it has fringe benefits for the middle classes too, reducing as it does the price of their “help” and other services. The NHS has particularly benefited from having poor countries fund staff training.

But for the poor within the rich country – and in particular the “formerly migrant communities”– the exploitation of others inevitably exacerbates their own situation.

It should not be too difficult for the left to identify exploitation, not immigration, as the real enemy of working people. If we ignore that reality and conflate the two, we accept economic exploitation in the global labour market as a force of nature, providing the economic right wing with a cloak of respectability, and the social right wing with lethal ammunition.
Peter McKenna

•  Rather than urging Labour to woo Green voters by developing a more pro-migrant stance, wouldn’t it be simpler for David Edgar to shift his political allegiance over to the party that best represents his beliefs?

I am proud to be a member of a party that does not need to decide whether it will defend and support migrant families simply on the basis of whether it is politically astute to do so.

Our Green MEPs, MP and councillors are already working towards creating the kind of democratic politics that Edgar exhorts Labour to adopt.

Instead of asking Labour to copy Green policies, commentators should be encouraging the public to cast their vote for the party whose policies they actually support.
Matt Hawkins
London Green party

Anti-fracking protest near Chester by the Green party last month: there is no consensus in academia behind exploitation of shale gas. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

What a pity that Richard Selley and his fellow “geoscientists and petroleum engineers from Britain’s leading academic institutions” (Letters, 5 June) appear to be motivated more by a desire to return to the good old days of abundant fossil fuel energy than by the overwhelming case that it is emissions from fossil fuels that are responsible for changing the climate faster than since the end of the last ice age. When in a hole, don’t keep digging – but that is exactly what Selley is advocating. There may be short-term national security benefits “on offer” to the UK from Lancashire shale gas but the case is not “undeniable” that there will be environmental benefits. Selley has been trawling the email lists of university earth science departments for months now, sending repeated messages looking for support. It seems only 50 have signed up. Perhaps other geoscientists see things differently. I certainly do.
Tim Atkinson
Professor of environmental geoscience, University College London

• More pertinent than the possible “directorships and other commercial interests” (Letters, 6 June) of the 50 academics who signed the pro-fracking letter is the insidious influence of oil industry funding. Of the 21 university departments to which the academics belong, at least 15 are in receipt of research funds from the oil industry. Unfortunately, the days of academic independence are over.
David Smythe
Emeritus professor of geophysics, University of Glasgow

•  Democratic society is reliant on a variety of expert advice to make sense of complex issues. Academics are identified by the public as a trusted source of knowledge. It therefore risks undermining academic credibility as a whole when colleagues make categorical and public comment on highly contested issues, particularly when associated with business interests that have the most to gain.

The letter from a group of geoscientists and petroleum engineers, asserting that there are “undeniable economic, environmental and national security benefits” of substantial gas production from the Bowland shale, overlooks important and unresolved issues raised by other academics at the UK Energy Research Centre and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, among others. Professor David MacKay and Dr Tim Stone, the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s own scientific advisers, note in their recent review of shale gas: “If a country brings any additional fossil fuel reserve into production, then in the absence of strong climate policies, we believe it is likely that this production would increase cumulative emissions in the long run. This increase would work against global efforts on climate change.”

It is also clear that were it possible to produce 10% of the British Geological Survey central estimate of the Bowland basin’s gas resource, the combustion emissions would exceed the entirety of the UK government’s carbon budgets up to 2050.

That academics engage publicly on issues of the day certainly needs to be encouraged. However, when we do so it is incumbent on us to reflect uncertainties, provide clear reasoning and avoid drawing unqualified conclusions.
Kevin Anderson and John Broderick
University of Manchester

It’s a bit rich for a government spokesman to respond to a report on the increased dependence on food banks by saying “It’s simply not possible to draw conclusions from these unverified figures from disparate sources” (Food bank demand up 54% in 2013, 9 June). When I asked a written parliamentary question about food banks last October, the DWP minister, Lord Freud, replied that food banks are not a government responsibility so they didn’t collect statistics. It’s time they did, and it’s also time Iain Duncan Smith reconsidered his petulant refusal even to meet the Trussell Trust, which plays a leading part in helping to feed the growing number of children, and others, in poverty.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• You report that Harriet Harman “seldom sees people from her south London constituency at the BBC Proms” (State-backed arts must reach out to public, 9 June). That implies that she would recognise one of her 80,000 or so constituents if she saw him or her in an audience of 5,000 in the Royal Albert Hall.
David Hoult

•  Harriet Harman may have been able to tell that most of the Royal Opera House audience was white. She could not be sure they were middle class just by looking. Perhaps next time we attend we should wear straw in our hair to indicate our non-metropolitan origins.
Christina Baron
Wells, Somerset

• The £6 of condoms, two boxes of Twix, £13 of beer and £123 of smoked salmon in your magistrates court article (Crimes and misdemeanours, 7 June) sound like the makings of an excellent night in.
Stuart Gallagher
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

•  When I was working with the restaurateur Alan Crompton-Batt in the 1980s, I remember him referring to a smarmy maître d’ of our acquaintance as “an oily prat” (Letters, 7 June).
Alan Budge
Buxton, Derbyshire

•  A Greek restaurant in Caledonian Road has a multitude of England flags and bunting. Not sure if Ukip should be reassured by this or not (Letters, 9 June).
Claire Poyner



Getty Images

Last updated at 12:02AM, June 9 2014

The Conservative party has pledged to eradicate illiteracy within a generation

Sir, You report that the eradication of illiteracy among young people is to feature significantly at the next election (“Every child to read and write”, June 7). If our situation is so bad by international standards, what have our politicians been doing about it since the Education Act of 1870?

There is no magic bullet for this problem. Synthetic phonics, the teaching method officially favoured, has some advantages over others; but it cannot overcome the problem that so many English words conform to no spelling rule, and have to be memorised. Most children do manage to memorise such irregularities eventually — but a significant minority cannot.

Genuine progress on English literacy requires accepting the possibility of at least some changes to our orthography (the principles underlying spelling). Other languages’ spelling has changed. English spelling is not so different as to be incapable of improvement.

Hence, the English Spelling Society is promoting an international congress, which with expert assistance and after consultation with the wider public will produce a standard revised orthography. We hope that this will eventually become the accepted norm, holding out enormous potential benefits for the English-speaking world.

Stephen Linstead

Chairman, English Spelling Society

Sir, As a teacher of many years’ experience I have a simple solution to the problems of teaching literacy: reduce class sizes. We all know that a class of 30 is too big, and that a class size of 20 is more manageable for effective teaching.

Perhaps the £10 million being given to the Education Endowment Foundation could be better used to employ more teachers.

Jane Dobell

Guildford, Surrey

Sir, Adequate standards of numeracy and literacy in school leavers might be achieved simply by imposing a school-leaving embargo until an individual has attained suitable standards. The motivation for students, parents and teachers is self-evident.

John Gisby

Milford, Wilts

Sir, I am astonished that neither the government nor your leading article (June 9) makes mention of the “reading buddy” scheme. In our local school there are 15 volunteer buddies who hear the children on a one-to-one basis. The scheme has been in operation for about six years and by now practically every child over nine, boys included, is an adequate reader; most are excellent readers. If all primary schools were to adopt this costless scheme I am sure the problem would be a long way towards being solved. In our case the headteacher started the scheme with an appeal to our local Church of England church.

Tony Tidmarsh

Areley Kings, Worcestershire

Sir, I bet that not one of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day was illiterate. We could read then, because there was no television or Skype, no mobiles and few telephones. We read newspapers to get the news, we read books for pleasure or to learn.

We wrote letters: love letters to our girlfriends, news letters to our families, letters to air our views. And here I go again, at 85, writing another letter to the editor.

John Lakeman

West Heath, Hants

It’s all very well having an idea for a Garden Bridge over the Thames, but what about east London?

Sir, Richard Morrison (June 6) welcomed the submission of Thomas Heatherwick’s imaginative Garden Bridge for planning consent. This would be the tenth Thames Bridge in central London (counting the similarly pedestrian Hungerford Bridge), while west London has a further 12 Thames bridges.

While the mayor of London and Transport for London are considering new bridges, perhaps they could turn their thoughts to east London, where there are no bridges crossing the river.

Joseph Finnegan

Greenhithe, Kent

Lady Rawlings’s list of economies is all very well, but 200 panama hats are hardly what I would call cheap

Sir, Lady Rawlings’s list of economies was no doubt tongue in cheek (June 6), but 200 panama hats at, say, £50 each, would be expensive.

Then there is her suggestion of self-service. Husbands have been known to arrive back home with silver forks still lodged in breast pockets, white napkins in another pocket; someone else’s umbrella brought along “just in case there is no marquee” — and the panama hats will still be on their heads as they drive away with shouts of “excellent party — many thanks”!

Janie Day

Ousden, Suffolk

Godrey Dann asks what the coarse expression ‘bob-on’ means. He asks a good question. The answer is ‘spot-on’

Sir, Godfrey Dann is fortunate to live in a world where he is not exposed to coarse expressions in common usage (letter, June 9). “Bob-on” means “spot-on”. In these parts there is also the term “Bob-all”, used in place of “nothing”, and in the northwest “bobbins” replaces “nonsense”.

Jeff Biggs


We lost our ‘deference and blind confidence’ in the government long before the Profumo affair

Sir, Most of us lost the “deference and blind confidence” in the government that we had in 1944 (Libby Purves, June 9) long before the Profumo affair. It was in October 1956, when Anthony Eden took us into a disastrous and unnecessary war over Suez, and lied to the Commons about it.

Sir Michael Howard

Eastbury, Berks

Should statues of errant city statesmen be removed or simply left for future generations to decide?

Sir, Further to the letter from Mike Gardner (June 7), demanding the destruction of Bristol’s statue of the slave trader, merchant and MP Edward Colston, if we really are to embark on a bout of iconoclasm directed at those whose standards do not meet modern sensibilities, our streets, parks and squares will be sadly empty. For example, Nelson was an adulterer (though that might now be permitted as self-fulfillment), and Thomas Jefferson a slaveowner (and father of a child born to one of his slaves).

It is a legitimate source of inquiry as to how apparently enlightened people, who were often very generous in their giving, can have had such double standards, but I am not sure that destroying their statues — which illustrate how they were regarded by their contemporaries — will help this process.

Let us not try to obscure important aspects of our history by destroying statues of those of whom we now disapprove.

Clive Fletcher-Wood


Sir, Edward Colston’s statue should not be removed from Bristol city centre. By all means change the inscription, to show all his works — but to remove the statue would not change the history of the city.

Better to keep the statue in the open so that future generations can see and ask questions without necessarily having to enter a museum to discover the unsavoury truth.

Colin Bengey

Hawarden, Flintshire

Sir, Edward Colston is not the only dubious character to be commemorated in his home city. Simon de Montfort, a notorious and rabid antisemite, was enthusiastically expelling Jews from Leicester decades before the national expulsion of 1290. Today he is remembered through De Montfort University.

Many Irish people might also cavil at the statue of Cromwell in front of Parliament, given the outrages perpetrated via his fiat in Ireland.

Barry Hyman

Bushey Heath, Herts


Get a grip: ‘Boy Writing with His Sister’, 1875 oil on canvas by Albert Anker (1831-1910)  Photo: Bridgeman Art Library

6:58AM BST 09 Jun 2014

Comments144 Comments

SIR – All my grandchildren – and most of their teachers, who are in their twenties or thirties – hold a pen or pencil as though they are afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. They then complain of aching wrists after taking exams.

Your picture of Judith Woods and her daughter shows Lily holding the pencilin the same way.

Is this some new teaching?

Howard Williams
Gilwern, Monmouthshire

The role of the bicycle in D-Day.

The Queen and veterans attended the commemoration of D-Day Photo: Getty Images/AFP/Eddie Mulholland/Reuters

6:59AM BST 09 Jun 2014

Comments317 Comments

SIR – June Green’s letter (June 6) reminded me of when I accompanied General Tommy Harris of the Ulster Rifles on a return trip to Normandy some 25 years ago.

Harris was commanding officer of an Ulster Rifles battalion in the second phase of the D-Day landings and they waded ashore carrying bicycles. The bicycles were used to move swiftly inland but there were unforeseen problems.

First, having waded ashore from landing craft at Lion-sur-Mer, the wet battle dress chafed the inside of everyone’s legs, so that they became very sore.

Later, when they had to attack the Germans, the bicycles were left in a culvert. When the Yorkshire Yeomanry tanks arrived to support the attack, they accidentally ran over the bicycles as they manoeuvred to avoid German fire.

After the attack, apparently the consensus was: “No loss”.

David W Carter
Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire

GCSE changes

SIR – As a chartered physiotherapist, I was disappointed to read that Ofqual is recommending the abolition of human biology as a school subject. If children understand how their bodies are put together and how they work, they might take better care of them – from avoiding smoking, alcohol and excessive weight gain, to cultivating better posture and physical fitness.

Mind you, I might then be out of a job.

Diana Hall
Newmarket, Suffolk

SIR – Home economics is a primary school topic, and should never have been a GCSE. Taken seriously, with explanation of the chemistry, maths and mechanics of it, cookery science could be up to GCSE standard – food preparation and packaging is one of this country’s biggest industries. Accounting and bookkeeping could be a GCSE, maybe combined with typing.

Home economics is little more than safely boiling a kettle, with no knowledge of where the power comes from or how it is regulated. I am happy to see it dumped.

Sue Doughty
Twyford, Berkshire

Rhythm of the road

SIR – John Leach wonders why everything beeps. I feel his pain. Due to an unsolvable problem, our car’s seat belt warning dinged from north Norfolk to south of Beaune on a family trip this Easter.

I began to find it quite rhythmical by the time we got to Troyes.

Thomas Courtauld
Matlaske, Norfolk

SIR – My latest washing machine plays a whole stanza of Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” at the end of the cycle.

It took some time for me to work out why my children were shouting “trout” to alert me to when it had finished.

Winnie Choy Winter
Great Paxton, Huntingdonshire

SIR – I think I’ll put up with beeps. The alternative will be irritating ring tones.

Geoffrey White
Wellow, Somerset

Rock of ages

SIR – Do not tell Matron at The Laurels, but I shall be going awol and making my way by zimmer to Glastonbury.

Alan Sabatini
Bournemouth, Dorset

Nice and MS medicine

SIR – The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence’s recent appraisals of new medicines have been carried out in a transparent manner, with opportunities for patient groups and health-care professionals to contribute. However, the development of the new Nice clinical guideline for multiple sclerosis was drafted behind closed doors. The approach excluded patient groups and professional expertise.

As a result, Nice is proposing to block access to two potentially life-changing MS treatments that are licensed and proven to be effective at helping people walk more easily and control painful muscle spasms.

If this guideline remains unchanged, people will be forced to pay privately, or face the agonising daily frustration of living with painful and debilitating symptoms.

We urge Nice to conduct an open and transparent review, engaging patient and professional organisations in constructive dialogue.

Michelle Mitchell
Chief Executive, MS Society
Dr Jeremy Hobart
Professor of Clinical Neurology and Health Measurement, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry
Dr Belinda Weller
Consultant Neurologist, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh
Dr Willy Notcutt
Consultant in Pain Management, James Paget University Hospital, Great Yarmouth
Dr Raj Kapoor
Consultant Neurologist and Reader in Neurology, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London
Dr Matthew Craner
Honorary Consultant Neurologist, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford
Dr Stanley Hawkins
Consultant Neurologist, Belfast Health and Care Trust
Professor David Nutt
The Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London

Baroness’s make-do-and-mend tips are a bit rich

SIR – I was warming to the article regarding Baroness Rawlings’s tips for the poor until I reached the last few paragraphs.

Does the baroness really believe that working-class families can afford bars of soap costing £8.50, or that a family man can afford half a dozen new pairs of socks for work, costing between £16 and £25 per pair? Beautifully thin or not, the initial outlay would be far too much in the bigger picture of monthly family bills.

Jackie Tuck
Jodrell Bank, Cheshire

SIR – I can’t thank Baroness Rawlings enough for those useful money-saving tips. However, if indeed I were to follow her advice, it would cost me a fortune. For example, should I throw away my paper napkins and buy a dozen damask dinner napkins? Must I buy Panama hats for all my friends at tomorrow night’s barbecue? I am definitely on the horns of dilemma.

Janet Turner
Frome, Somerset

SIR – I was amused to read Sir Richard FitzHerbert’s admission that he takes away the pens provided in hotel rooms.

A few years ago, I visited the tea room at his house, Tissington Hall, with my partner.

Before our sandwiches were brought to us, my partner left the table to collect some sachets of salad cream and mayonnaise. While she was away, I picked up a copy of Derbyshire Life magazine, which had been made available for customers.

When she returned, I was obliged to warn her that she should resist the temptation to take away any sachets that we did not use in the tea room as there was, by coincidence, an article in the magazine in which the writer complained about customers taking away the free sachets of sauces from his tea room. The writer: Sir Richard FitzHerbert.

Andrew Willott
Bury Bank, Staffordshire

SIR – Never mind giving your guests Panama hats instead of hiring a marquee. Can anyone suggest how I can get my

16-year-old son to turn off the lights, especially when he’s been watching late-night television?

Marian Callender
Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Longleat exhibition

SIR – I was surprised to see the headline “How Lady Weymouth had her revenge” – my wife’s “revenge” apparently being that the Robes Corridor in Longleat House has been updated with an exhibition of our marriage.

The reality may disappoint, but family relations are at a relatively harmonious point and, in any case, my wife is not a vengeful individual.

The wedding exhibition at Longleat was devised by the house curator, with our marketing department.

The portrait of my wife was commissioned by my cousin more than a year ago and was painted by Paul Benny, whom the same cousin arranged to paint each immediate family member including both parents, my sister and myself.

Viscount Weymouth
Longleat, Wiltshire

A big step

SIR – I once took a dainty young lady walking in the Peak District hills. Due to diabolical weather, her shoes disintegrated completely. That evening I had to take her home wearing a pair of my shoes.

She was so comfortable, she married me.

Dr Hans L Eirew


SIR – From 1995 to 2000 I was principal of Edwardes College in Peshawar, a church foundation near the Pakistan-Afghan border. The college is a place of open liberal learning and inter-faith cooperation.

We initiated a programme of professional development involving visits to and from Birmingham schools, one of which was Golden Hillock school (one of the schools at the centre of the current Trojan horse controversy). Even then in the Nineties, Golden Hillock and other schools in that part of Birmingham had taken on an Islamic character, reflecting the increasingly

mono-cultural character of parts of multi-cultural Britain.

Most of my students, who were Christian and Muslim, were intelligent and open-minded, and disgusted by the ideology of al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, one or two expressed support for the jihadist ideology; we were surrounded by extremist madrassas where boys were indoctrinated into the teachings of jihad. When we introduced the first girls at the college in 1999, I was attacked in the press almost every week and received threats. A similar development of fatwas, closed minds and jihadist networks now exists in Britain.

In a small way our task in Peshawar was to “drain the swamp” by educating students in ways that opened minds and helped nurture young people who were tolerant, civilised and able to see through the ideology of extremism. The same is surely true of our education system here in Britain.

Dr Robin Brooke-Smith
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

SIR – Hear, hear, Charles Moore (“While we turn a blind eye to Islamists, our children suffer, Comment, June 7).

We expect and require our Government to root out this unacceptable threat to our society and deliver us from it.

John Penketh
Hayling Island, Hampshire

SIR – Charles Moore asks why there is a growing risk of Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom. Setting aside the significant own-goal scored by politicians who took us into unjustified wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby incensing much of the world’s Muslim population, there is a simple and mostly overlooked reason why the threat from Islam is growing on our own doorstep: the almost total silence from the moderate Muslim community when extremist outrages happen either in Britain or elsewhere.

It is difficult to believe that problems would continue if there was a chorus of disapproval and revulsion at things being done in the name of a religion that in essence is every bit as honourable as Christianity.

Muslims in a multi-faith community need to promote the enormous universal good that is preached in the Koran and publicly deal severely with extremists.

P J Mahaffey
Cardington, Bedfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s “The trouble with the septic tank story” (Weekend, June 7th) should be compulsory reading for everyone who has been concerned about the Tuam former mother-and-baby home. Her report underlines the appalling extent of lies, distortion and hysteria that has characterised the public uproar surrounding this tragic episode of mistreatment of women pregnant out of wedlock in the Ireland of the 1920s to 1960s.

Relating the painstaking research of local historian Catherine Corless, she points out that the 796 child deaths, mostly infants, over 36 years to 1961 represented an average of 22 deaths per year. The death certificates, meticulously researched by Ms Corless, recorded various causes of death, including tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis. At various times, the Tuam home housed more than 200 children and 100 mothers.

As for the widely circulated reports of “796 babies buried in a septic tank”, Ms Boland records that the local man who recalled removing a concrete slab from a hole (not a septic tank) back in 1975 says that there were “about 20” skeletons there.

While not minimising in the least the tragic human suffering this story from Tuam reveals about the mother-and-baby homes era, this was not the Herod-like massacre of the innocents which other media, various politicians and others have sought to depict. Indeed, it is clear that the mortality rate in similar homes elsewhere in Ireland was much higher. Instead of bilious rants against the Catholic Church and religious orders, and demands for criminal investigations, people should consider the informed and measured words of Ms Corless. Perhaps it is also time to infuse our decade of commemorations with some social history studies to accompany the focus on military and political events. There might not be so much to celebrate after all! – Yours, etc,


Morehampton Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Breda O’Brien (“Protestant or Catholic, the short lives of these children must be given some respect”, Opinion & Analysis, June 7th) manages the considerable feat of writing an entire column relating to the deeply disturbing case of St Mary’s mother-and-child home in Tuam without once mentioning the Catholic Church.

Apparently “we” are all to blame. “We Irish pride ourselves on doing death well,” she writes. She notes that in Ireland decades ago “we denied children the right to respect in death” and we “failed to be true to the Christian ideal that no child is unwanted in the eyes of God”.

Her article could function as a lesson on the use of the passive voice. “Mothers were denied an opportunity to mourn” and “children were denied the right to an identity”. Yet nowhere does she point out who did this. She refers to avoiding “mistakes that were made” in the past. Who is she suggesting might do so?

Apparently “not enough people questioned the obsession with sexual purity” that punished women. Who was obsessed with sexual purity? Or did this obsession exist independently of people, floating in the air and coursing through our water? It is true that “Irish society ostracised and neglected single mothers and their babies” but I suggest the “powerful cultural norms” she refers to did not exist in a vacuum and nor did they spring magically into existence. They were a direct consequence of the stultifying influence of the Catholic Church in Irish education, politics and society.

“We” are most definitely not all to blame. – Yours, etc,


Clancarthy Road,

Donnycarney, Dublin 5.

Sir, – Now is the time for the Government to allow all adopted people full access to their files. The whole sorry saga of the fate of “illegitimate” citizens of this country turns up more and more horrors every year. It seems to be a litany of secrets upon secrets and shame upon shame. It is mystifying how this “Christian” country could have had such an abhorrence of unmarried women who had children. – Yours, etc,


Watermill Road,

Raheny,Dublin 5.

Sir, – It was only in 1995 that stillbirths were registered in this country. Therefore the number arrived at in Tuam does not include stillborn babies who were never registered. – Yours, etc,


King’s Court,

King’s Channel,


A chara, – Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has announced that there will be an inquiry into mother-and-baby homes. This is in response to the discovery of the remains of babies at St Mary’s, Tuam. It is right that these deaths should be investigated and these short precious lives acknowledged and honoured.

Now is the time also to acknowledge the living people who spent time in the mother-and-baby homes. Many of the birth mothers who passed through these institutions are still living with the scars of the stigma and shame imposed on them at that time. Tens of thousands of babies were adopted from these homes. Those of us born in the mother-and-baby homes are now adults and are still caught up in the legacy of shame and secrecy.

We adopted adults in Ireland are, by law, denied access to our birth records and adoption files.

Any investigation into mother-and-baby homes will be incomplete and insincere if it does not acknowledge those of us (mothers and babies) who survived these institutions.

Surely this is the time to open up the discussion on the rights of adopted children in Ireland, time to make available the records of adoption agencies and religious orders, time to acknowledge the damage done to the birth mothers and apologise to them, time to move on from secrecy and shame to acknowledgement and openness.

It is easier to express horror at events in the past than to implement changes in the present. I hope this opportunity will not be lost. – Yours, etc,



Ballymote, Co Sligo.

Sir, – As senior doctors in training and working in emergency departments, we welcome the most recent Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) report that identifies unsafe and overcrowded conditions in a major regional emergency department (“Limerick hospital overcrowding ‘putting patients at risk’”, Home News, June 6th).

The conditions described in this report do not come as a surprise to us and are also not unique to the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

We had hoped that the 2012 Hiqa report into conditions in Tallaght Hospital would represent a watershed moment nationally in the unsafe and undignified conditions that our most vulnerable and critically ill patients have to endure. This has not been the case.

Solutions to overcrowding and unsafe conditions do exist, and other institutions and jurisdictions have successfully tackled this issue. Innovative and incentivised solutions are needed, along with serious regulatory consequences when action is not taken.

Until Hiqa possesses the power of closure (even temporary) against unsafe units, or meaningful ethical or professional sanctions exist against hospital management, we fear that this report will merely accompany the myriad other reports into this issue – gathering dust on a shelf.

We might also take this opportunity to signal a further threat to patient safety that has regrettably emerged. In the last few months we now have a situation where major emergency departments are left without in-house emergency medicine registrar cover at night.

We hope that we will not need yet another Hiqa investigation as a result of this significant patient safety issue. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – Donald Clarke’s latest column (“If you don’t approve of the church then don’t take part in its rituals”, Opinion & Analysis, June 7th), takes the guise of an appeal to his fellow unbelievers not to take part in the rituals of the Catholic Church if they don’t believe in them.

He does, however, manage to get in the usual sideswipes against the church, such as a passing mention of its “sex-hating doctrines”.

The Irish Times now has Fintan O’Toole, Donald Clarke and Eamon McCann serving up regular dollops of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian invective. All of this is “balanced” by the lone voice of Breda O’Brien.

Your newspaper has the right to take whatever editorial line it chooses, and your columnists have the right to express their opinions as they see fit.

However, if The Irish Times has any serious commitment to fairness, it must make more of an effort to represent the huge proportion of the Irish people who are not convinced by the rather hysterical polemics of Messrs O’Toole, Clarke and McCann. – Yours, etc,



Woodford Drive,


Dublin 22.

Sir, – Donald Clarke’s article on participation in church rituals claims that “people of faith” is “a self-definition that positively revels in rejection of logical thought”. This is, at best, misleading. For some people at least, faith is the only sensible option when mere logic proves inadequate. That is not to reject logic, but rather to accept that human reasoning has its limits. Is it possible to think outside of logic and yet not reject it? Isn’t that what we do when we appreciate a sunset, enjoy music or rejoice in a friendship? Thankfully, we have more than one way to perceive and understand ourselves and our surroundings. – Yours, etc,


Moanbane Park,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Councillors in Kerry who have insisted on placing a religious symbol in the revamped council chambers in Tralee are acting unwisely because they are inviting those who might reject such a move to explain their objections (“Crucifix erected in Kerry County Council meeting chamber”, June 6th).

This is likely to be interpreted by the supporters of the symbolism as yet another “attack on religion” when it will be, in fact, nothing more than fair comment.

A great many people who are happy to observe and practice their religious beliefs in private and with dignity will have them held up to ridicule, and will be once more confronted with the detail of how the same beliefs have been betrayed by those who set themselves up as leaders of religion in the past.

Whatever the councillors of Kerry might think, religion should be a personal matter. If they are acting out of pure conviction, one has to ask how sure can they be of their beliefs if they need to have them reinforced by such public display. If this is a populist measure, it is beneath contempt. – Yours, etc,


Farrenboley Park,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – It should have been a flat cap.



Sir, – On Saturday, I travelled from Dublin to Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, to see the Kilkenny vs Offaly hurling match, the first GAA match to be broadcast by Sky Sports. We are Dublin supporters but over the past two years have travelled to many provincial stadiums to watch some wonderful hurling matches, many not involving Dublin.

The bonus of small stadiums “down the country” is that children can go onto the pitch after the match, ask the players to sign their hurls, and puck a ball about on the same pitch their heroes were battling on just minutes before. It does more to generate a passion for hurling in my children than any amount of cajoling from their father.

However, at Nowlan Park on Saturday evening, we found that wire-fencing had been erected between the fans and the pitch. Gates onto the field were locked. Five minutes before the end of the game, the following announcement was made; “Fans are not to come onto the pitch at the end of the game as Sky Sports need to conduct post-match interviews”.

The GAA say that the participation of Sky Sports will enhance the GAA. If the demands of Sky and their armchair fans are to take precedence over the experience of fans who make their way to stadiums, come rain or shine, then I strongly disagree. – Yours, etc,


Ballymun Road,

Sir, – I read that driving tests may include visual exercises and simulations, ensuring that motorists can spot hazards on the roads (“Simulated driving tests may be down the road”, Home News, June 6th).

Will this involve simulation as to what it is like to be a cyclist? A kind of reverse-engineering type of scenario could be created – the driver as virtual cyclist.

I cycle every day, and inevitably, at least once a week, I get put in a position of hair-raising danger by car and lorry drivers. Perhaps if drivers had to experience some virtual cycling, amid chance-taking drivers, it might save a handful of cyclist lives?

Meanwhile I am purchasing a rear light that has an always-on digital video camera to witness and warn devil-may-care drivers. – Yours, etc,


Newtownpark Avenue,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – William Baxter’s letter (June 7th) reminds us that “we have to take personal responsibility for our actions” in respect of our carbon footprint.

Those of us who have, for many years, taken personal responsibility for our actions by living a low-carbon lifestyle are wondering now why we bothered. For every household with a recycling routine, there are dozens without one. For every modest home heated by a low-carbon heating system, there are dozens of oversized residences that require the consumption of large quantities of fossil fuel to heat. The same principle applies to those of us who took personal responsibility for our borrowing – why did we bother? – Yours, etc,




Co Wexford.

Sir, – On Saturday in Bucharest, Katie Taylor won her sixth European title. For Ireland. She holds all the major titles at European, world and Olympic level. For Ireland. Where was the State broadcaster on Saturday? In this household of licence payers, we had to watch the bout on a laptop, relying on a link sent via twitter by Katie herself. When the football World Cup kicks off, no doubt we’ll be treated to such gems as Honduras vs Switzerland or Greece vs Ivory Coast, and why not? But why could not just a tiny fraction of the budget have been allocated to an emerging sport where Ireland has a real, true and inspiring champion and role model?

We need not just to celebrate the successes of our athletes, but to support them on their long and arduous journeys. – Yours, etc,


Goldenbridge Walk,

Inchicore, Dublin 8.

Sir, – Dick Keane (June 9th) denounces the constant threat posed by a united Ireland to the unionist community and ponders why it is that the government in North Ireland requires a majority of both communities to agree before legislation can be passed, while a border poll only requires a simple majority of the electorate.

Mr Keane has missed the obvious flaw in his argument – voters cease to be unionist once they become supporters of a united Ireland and therefore a majority of unionists can never be in favour of it. – Yours, etc,


Priory Road, London.

Sir, – Two Ulster counties, Cavan and Armagh, a parade, a row over flags and neither side giving an inch (Sport, June 9th). Surely a matter for the Parades Commission, not the GAA Central Competitions Control Committee? – Yours, etc,


Windsor Terrace,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – This is a very difficult time for even the best students. May I ask those whose schooldays are long behind them not to begrudge us a public show of support from the media? – Yours, etc,


Annadale Drive,

Marino, Dublin 9.

Irish Independent:

Catherine Corless has done humanity a great service in the courage, determination and integrity she showed in bringing to light the extent of the desecration of the bodies of innocent children and the barbaric conditions in which they lived, died and were buried.

I remember well the whispered murmurings when a girl became pregnant outside of marriage. The euphemism that she had ‘jumped the fence’ seemed to imply that the man had remained in his assigned enclosure. The girl disappeared; her return after nine months rekindled the gossip that surrounded her and her family.

I remember one case where a young unmarried mother who, on returning from seeing her baby for the last time, had the courage to attend the local dance but was shunned by the men. The male dominance in church and State worked against the humane consideration of the place of women in Irish society.

Additionally, we have all been blinded by a narrow concept of respect for human life. The focusing of moral debate on contraception and abortion has inhibited a more refined sense of our moral responsibility for one another.

However, the treatment of unmarried mothers and their offspring cannot be purged by just condemning the past. The past can only be redeemed by addressing the equivalent realities of the present.

The existence of widespread food poverty in Ireland, particularly in our cities, ensures that there are many children who go to bed with an unfed stomach. Hundreds of our citizens have nowhere to rest at night. Inhumanity is not to be found just in distant lands or distant times, it is to be found in our own time and in our own land.

Love and care are not concepts that sit easily in the pragmatic world of free enterprise capitalism.

Sadly, what lies ahead of us is not an outbreak of repentance and humanity but a return to a new wave of unfettered acquisitiveness where enough is never enough.





Unfortunately it will take a lot more than Colette Browne’s excellent article on June 5 (‘Ireland didn’t cherish all its children equally. We still don’t’) to move our tearful politicians to actually stop “immiserating the living”.

I am particularly angered and saddened at the callousness and cruelty being meted out to the asylum seekers in our country. Men, women and children are being denied their human rights, incarcerated in “direct-provision centres”. Those of us shocked at what happened in mother and baby homes all those years ago must surely be equally moved by the plight of people seeking asylum here.

This Government has the chance now to truly show the whole world how Ireland cherishes its current children.





While following the Tuam babies story, there is one question which I cannot get out of my head.

Why is it that an issue which has been public knowledge since the 1970s suddenly dominates the news agenda for days on end as if it had come to light in recent weeks?

In all the recent coverage not one columnist or commentator has sought to address this question.





Fr Con McGillicuddy (Letters, June 9) shifts any blame for the mother and child home scandals from the Catholic Church by saying “Christian families would not bear the public shame of caring for a daughter who had a child born out of wedlock”.

He conveniently omits the fact that it was an authoritarian Catholic Church that created this stigma in the first place. I as a Christian will readily admit to that. So too should Fr McGillicuddy.





John Cuffe in his letter ‘Hatred of sexuality and women’, (June 9) describes the Irish State from its foundation as “sick and tortured, angst- and guilt-ridden”. The sad reality is that this disparaging description of Ireland in those days is quite accurate. I ask have we changed sufficiently?

Although regaining our independence from the British, we replaced them with a master which was just as punitive – the Catholic Church. Sex and the Catholic Church just did not mix.

The late Oliver J Flanagan claimed “there was no sex in Ireland before television”, which was indicative of people’s attitudes at the time.

Yet the reality was being dealt with in various Irish solutions to Irish problems.

Unmarried mothers were sent to Magdalene laundries or other mother and baby homes. Sexual abuse, while occurring in institutions and families, was never spoken about. Homosexuality was illegal.

Unless we in this present-day society realise that we are all inter-connected and that, as John Donne said, we are aware “for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee”, our children and grandchildren will be just as shocked as we are today,





It is with great disappointment that I learned recently that RTE has no plans to provide any live coverage of the forthcoming Special Olympics national finals. Next weekend’s finals will be the culmination of four years’ training by thousands of athletes, not to mention the priceless social, educational and mental health benefits for them.

The national finals will feature 1,500 athletes competing in 14 different sports, supported by 3,000 volunteers and thousands of family members who will travel to Limerick for this amazing event which occurs only once every four years.

Considering that this will be one of the biggest sporting events in our country this year, I feel it deserves live coverage.

As Limerick is the city of culture we are also missing out on promoting the city as a tourist destination. Following RTE’s response to me on the issue, I set up an online petition urging it to reconsider its decision and have been delighted with the ongoing support countrywide that the petition has received.

As a mother of an athlete who is fortunate to have qualified for the finals I wouldn’t miss this opportunity for the world.





Dear Taoiseach, your government has not fulfilled its election promise to address in a fair and equitable manner the financial debacle left by the previous administration.

In spite of that failure, your government preaches economy from the ivory tower of an enviable salary and pension plan regime, whilst bowing in abject servility to the international financiers and corporate interests who have turned the lives of so many into a living hell.

If you really want to serve Ireland and her people, please sacrifice your political identity and do what the country requires.

If you are unwilling or unable to accept such a responsibility – and assuming that you and your colleagues possess a modicum of genuine human empathy – you will resign en masse.



Irish Independent


June 9, 2014

8June2014 Relaxing

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage torelax and sort some books

Scrabbletoday, I wins the game, and gets just over 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Gerard Benson – obituary

Gerard Benson was a poet who brought Hardy and Milton, Auden and Yeats to the London Underground

Gerard Benson, Poems on the Underground

Gerard Benson with one of the Poems on the Underground

6:11PM BST 08 Jun 2014

Comments1 Comment

Gerard Benson, who has died aged 83, spent his life bringing poetry into Britain’s public spaces.

“Poetry has been hijacked by professors and locked up by libraries,” Benson despaired. In response, he held writing workshops in hospitals and prisons and was a strident member of the Barrow Poets — a transient group whose anarchic programme of readings brought poetry into pubs and village halls during the Sixties.

His belief in poetry as a crowd-pleaser was vindicated when, in 1986, he helped the American author Judith Chernaik launch Poems On The Underground. Benson, Chernaik and the poet Cicely Herbert chose five poems, or excerpts, to be displayed across 3,000 advertising spaces in carriages throughout London’s Underground service.

The scheme was a huge success — and continues today — as bundled, battered and bruised commuters were soothed by whistle-stop balms from Hardy and Milton, Auden and Yeats.

Gerard John Benson was born on April 9 1931 at Golders Green, London, into difficult circumstances. His mother, a young Irish teacher, gave him up for fostering, leading to a decade housed with a family of Christian fundamentalists, a period Benson recalled as riven by “an absence of love”.

During the war he was evacuated to Norfolk, and on his return to London found a new family waiting in the guise of his “Auntie Eileen” and her husband, the Romanian composer Francis Chagrin.

An adolescence steeped in culture beckoned. However, Benson could not settle. Clashes with teachers and Eileen resulted in counselling. His National Service — as a coder in Gibraltar — brought a respite from these troubles, but as a civilian he drifted through a series of unsuitable jobs (including clerk and porter).

A teacher-training course at the Central School of Speech and Drama put an end to this peripatetic professional journey. For 20 years he taught diction and verse-delivery at the school. His involvement with the Barrow Poets (who originally sold verse from a street barrow) during the Sixties drew on his love of live performance. One American newspaper suggested that their recitals were “as offbeat as the Beatles when they started life in a Liverpool cellar” and helped bring poetry into the mainstream.

However, nothing could have prepared Benson for the popularity of Poetry on the Underground. For selections, which were refreshed every four months, he drew material from a broad array of periods and styles and from poets from across the globe (Pablo Neruda proved a particular favourite). The constraints were more practical — with the posters’ modest scale (approximately 24in by 11in), and an average Tube trip lasting just 13 minutes, brevity was paramount (epic Norse verse was unlikely to get an airing).

Travellers loved the poems so much that reprints were required to replace stolen posters; and a collection, 100 Poems on the Underground (1992), became a surprise bestseller. The idea soon travelled beyond London. “When the boss of the New York bus and train system saw it, he started Poetry In Motion over there,” recalled Benson. “I went over to the launch and did a reading at Grand Central Station.”

Benson published 10 volumes of poetry, including To Catch an Elephant (2002); Omba Bolomba (2005); and A Good Time (2013). Poems on the Underground: A New Edition, which he edited with Chernaik and Herbert, appeared in 2012. He was made Bradford’s poet laureate (in 2008), and his autobiography, Memoir of A Jobbing Poet, will be published later this year.

Shortly before his death Benson recorded a selection of his poems for the BBC’s poetry archive, starting with a sonnet entitled Beginning which captured an existential, and personal, tally of life’s offerings: “Adventure, sorrow, puzzlement, delight were waiting”.

Benson married three times, lastly, in 1984, to Catherine Griffiths, a fellow poet, who survives him with a daughter of his second marriage. A son predeceased him.

Gerard Benson, born April 9 1931, died April 28 2014


Wheels on or off? Nigel Farage speaks to the media after the declaration of the Newark byelection, 6 June 2014. Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

The revelation of 800 babies buried in unmarked graves in Galway is horrifying (Unearth the grim truth, 5 June). But this was not unique. Bristol Radical History Group has established that 3,300 babies and others were buried unmarked in an old cemetery behind the Eastville workhouse. Death records from 1855 to 1895 establish that these burials happened, and human bones were found in the 1970s. We are pressing for a memorial.
Dr Di Parkin
Bristol Radical History Group

• Car spotted with English flag (Letters, 7 June), Ramshill Road in Scarborough, 7 June. Ukip reassured.
Pete Lavender

• Carlsberg may be Danish (Letters, 7 June) but as one of the biggest brewers in England, at least they’re here, which is more than Saint George ever was.
Rev Cllr Steve Parish
Ex-chaplain, Carlsberg-Tetley, Warrington

• There is a peculiar media insistence that Hadrian’s Wall is synonymous with the Scottish border (Lego anger at no vote stunt puts another brick in Hadrian’s Wall, 7 June). Most of Northumberland is north of the wall. Why must we be cast into a kind of stateless limbo?
David Wedderburn
Haltwhistle, Northumberland

• Given Nigel Farage’s propensity for posing with a pint, surely his juggernaut should now be referred to as a jug o’ nought (Result puts the brakes on Farage’s juggernaut, 7 June)?
David Reed

Ehab Badawy claims that Egypt has “crossed the democratic rubicon” in the recent presidential election (Letters, 3 June). What kind of democracy condemns hundreds of people to death in a trial lasting minutes based on the uncorroborated “evidence” of a police officer? What kind of democracy locks up activists such as Alexandrian lawyer Mahienour el-Masry and her colleagues for two years because they stood in the street with placards calling for the murderers of Khaled Said to be brought to justice? What kind of democracy locks up journalists such as al-Jazeera photographer Abdullah al-Shami without trial? Or detains people like Mohamed Sultan, who has been in jail for months because the police wanted to arrest his father?

Ahdaf Soueif (Egypt’s revolution won’t be undone, 30 May) is right to point to the shallowness of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s love affair with the Egyptian people. For all the new military regime’s attempts to fabricate a populist facade, it is clear these are the same generals and police chiefs who ruled under Mubarak. She is also right to emphasise the courage and resilience of the activists who oppose al-Sisi.

On 5 June we handed in a petition to the Egyptian embassy in London. It was signed by over 5,600 people and called for a halt to the death sentences against the regime’s opponents. We were joined by trade unionists, lawyers, students and activists in demanding the release of all political prisoners, including Mahienour el-Masry, Abdullah al-Shami and Mohamed Sultan. We are determined to continue to mobilise international solidarity with all those in Egypt who still hold to the goals of the January 2011 revolution: for bread, freedom and social justice.
John McDonnell MP, Brian Richardson Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Andy Reid Egypt Solidarity Initiative, Nadine el-Enany, Mika Minio-Paluello

George Szirtes (Poetry is felt, not fathomed, 3 June) seems unaware that his oddly elitist dismissal of “the People” (twice), and their alleged inability to “get” a “difficult” Eliot or Auden, seem to validate Jeremy Paxman‘s concerns (Today’s poets write mostly for each other, says Paxman, 2 June) and to do a disservice to poetry itself as a relevant communicative art form.

By dragging in – while pretending to dismiss – the outdated modern versus traditional dichotomy, he manages to imply that the very “comprehensibility” of a Betjeman, Larkin or Wendy Cope leaves them in some way lacking in his more obscurantist poetic stakes. He makes no mention of arguably the greatest of recent poets – Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison – whose life’s work in poetry has been very much about how to extend the reach of the “stolen” language of poetry to those disfranchised by background or neglect.

The real charge about the direction of much contemporary poetry is the neglect by many poets of the pressing realities, as well as the mysteries of unprecedented events, around us – which were the very stuff of life to countless generations of great poets from Homer and Virgil, through Shelley and Byron and latterly Heaney, Harrison and Walcott, all of whom and many more managed not to “slam down [words] like dominoes”. Why this “disengagement” should be happening is the subject of a long and serious transatlantic debate accessible on my own and others’ websites.
Ralph Windle
Witney, Oxfordshire

•  Jeremy Paxman’s lament that contemporary poets “now seem to be talking to other poets” and that poetry “has connived at its own irrelevance” is depressingly familiar. These are the kind of statements that have characterised traditionalist reactions to advanced or unfamiliar arts in all periods – in particular music, painting and sculpture. It isn’t only that, as Michael Symmons Roberts points out, “we have lost the sense that poetry sits halfway between prose and music” (I would argue that the recent surge of interest in prose poetry adds another dimension to that sense) and that we need education to counter this loss, but that the reader needs to be open to how poetry achieves its effects: the resonance provided by the lingering or striking image, the play of language, the sound of the musical phrase, the division of thoughts into lines, and the register of the poem on the page. Such openness requires patience as well as developing the ability to absorb and respond to strategies, which in turn requires time and exposure to poetry, not only education. Our bite-size culture doesn’t seem hospitable to the effort required.
Robert Vas Dias

•  As a German-born British citizen I have always admired the eminently public role played in this country by that most “difficult” and “elitist” form of literature, poetry. For example, which German newspaper would be comparable to the Guardian in running a regular poetry section in its review columns, illustrated by an art form so closely connected with its poetic tradition, ie wood engravings (or at least images resembling that noble genre)? Not to mention the public office of the poet laureate. Hence, Jeremy Paxman’s view strikes me as preposterous. And where else but in Britain would such a pronouncement be published on the front page of an internationally acclaimed newspaper?
Professor Martina Lauster

•  Seamus Heaney explicitly sought a voice that would be understood in the farming community from which he came, and other poets such as Carol Ann Duffy or Simon Armitage are likewise concerned with accessibility. Conversely, Dylan Thomas remains stubbornly popular – although much of his verse is difficult to understand. Maybe poetry is not a dominant form because it is rather resistant to merchandising. Few poems get made into films or printed on T-shirts; that is hard for poets but perhaps not for poetry. Your paper is full of stories about Fifa bribery – that’s where cultural forms end up when they’re thoroughly merchandised and exploited.
Alan Horne
Poynton, Cheshire

•  If Jeremy Paxman feels that poetry today is often written for other poets, and does not engage with “ordinary people”, then perhaps he’s looking in the wrong places (such as poetry competitions). If he were to seek out poetry written by ordinary people who are poets, he would discover Britain has a vibrant poetry culture, full of work relevant to people’s lives. Superb writers such as Attila the Stockbroker, Elvis McGonagall and Racker Donnelly perform regularly around the country, and of course Adrian Mitchell‘s books are all still in print.
Peter Ostrowski
Wickford, Essex

•  If poets want to engage with ordinary people, perhaps they could consider dispensing with the p-word altogether? My own work tackles topics such as public breastfeeding, the rise of Ukip and the merits of dry shampoo, but whenever I say I’m a poet, people think I’m going to start banging on about daffodils and nightingales, so I now use the term “rhymer” to describe myself.
Ettrick Scott
Ovingham, Northumberland

•  If the poetry judge Michael Symmons Roberts’ idea of “the public” is “people who would be embarrassed not to have read the latest Martin Amis” then he is clearly thinking of a different public than the one to which Jeremy Paxman refers.
Julie Baber
Woollard, Somerset

•  Mr Paxman will be delighted to hear that henceforth I shall write exclusively for “ordinary” people and look forward to sales of my books going through the roof as Ukip voters queue to buy my poetry.
Geraldine Monk

•  George Szirtes’s eloquent defence of the function of poetry in the context of Jeremy Paxman’s comments reminded me of Auden’s similar sentiment in memory of WB Yeats: “For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper”
Francis O’Neill
Keighley, West Yorkshire

Rosemary Tonks in 1969.

Rosemary Tonks in 1969. Photograph: Associated Newspapers/Rex

I first met Rosemary Tonks at the Group poetry meetings held in the 1970s at Edward Lucie-Smith’s Chelsea house. She immediately gave the impression of a coiled spring waiting and needing to be unsprung. Surrounded by the voices of conventional wisdom, she manifested the loner’s stare into, and the need to speak of, the indescribable future before it was too late. As she wrote in one of her poems included in her first book Notes on Cafes and Bedrooms:

I knew the poet’s rag-soft eyelid was
the gutter’s fee
For the way down to life. I had
My lodgings in that quarter of the city
Like a cat’s ear full of cankered
Where November wraps the loiterer as
spiders do their joints.

I was apprenticed to the moth bred
from my clothes…

This Rimbaud-esque deliberation precisely coincided with my instincts at the time. It also led the critic Al Alvarez to spread the word and alert the unsuspecting to the fact that Rosemary had “a real talent of an edgy, bristling kind”. She was indeed a one-off job of singular memorability.

In her second book of poetry, Iliad of Broken Sentences, her publisher wrote, with exquisite accuracy: “The deserts of the Middle East are again equated with city life … to its anguish, its enraged excitement, its great lonely joys.” All three definitively marked her out as a modern visionary.


Your D-Day report’s front-page headline (7 June) asked what lessons we have learnt in the intervening 70 years, then concentrated on the Ukraine. The European elections suggested a problem far closer to home – and that the victors and the liberated of the Second World War have greater difficulty learning some lessons than the losers.

Voters in many of the European democracies turned to unashamedly populist parties. These parties are exploiting anger, hatred and intolerance, the spawning grounds for xenophobia and racism.

They preach contempt of the established political parties; hark back to their perceived glories of nationalism; demonise immigrants and minority groups; and rail against long-term attempts at international cooperation such as the EU. Ring any bells from the 1930s?

Meanwhile, the two European Axis powers, Germany and Italy, cast their votes predominantly for the mainstream parties – despite, in Italy’s case, previous support for a colourful populist party. Coincidence? Perhaps – or maybe a keener desire to avoid the mistakes of history.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France

One minute it’s the continuing First World War commemorations, the next it’s the anniversary of D-Day and the Second World War. When will it stop? To celebrate heroic fighting is one thing, but war itself should never be celebrated. Neither should those who took us there.

Readers may not have seen these facts in the recent coverage: Winston Churchill was against D-Day. He was far more interested in holding on to our empire, and especially our trade routes to India via the Mediterranean. That’s why between Dunkirk and D-Day, the British barely engaged the German military on land at all.

Russia, in effect, won the Second World War, by sacrificing millions of troops and gutting Hitler’s forces. Stalin urged the allies to open a western front years earlier, and it was only when President Roosevelt agreed, and Churchill was outvoted, that D-Day went ahead.

Germany’s leaders let loose a military that created havoc throughout much of Europe, but Britain and its allies then committed atrocities of their own.

We are told that D-Day led to decades of peace. Tell that to the Vietnamese, Koreans, Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Panamanians, Cubans, Egyptians, Chileans, Palestinians and Nicaraguans.

Colin Crilly, London SW17


It seems that you do not know – or want to forget – history when you head your editorial “We should remember it was an alliance of East and West that made victory possible” (7 June).

You seem to have forgotten these facts:

In 1939 Stalin made an agreement with Hitler that when Hitler marched into the front door of Poland, Russia would march into the back door of Poland – how many innocent Polish people died has never been certified. And after the war, in 1945, Russia under Stalin occupied many countries – until they were freed in the 1990s.

So the Russia of the past cannot hold its head high as your editorial seems to suggest, and the West must be concerned about what is the aim of the present leadership of Russia.

Michael Moss, Ickenham, London


Gove is the reason I am quitting teaching

We in the teaching profession are accused of denying “working-class children access to anything stretching or ambitious”. What angers us so much is that Michael Gove has not consulted the profession adequately.

We teach mixed-ability children from all backgrounds. For able children, we choose challenging texts. By choosing different texts and resources, we work hard to engage the interest of less able children who may have learning difficulties or problems with motivation and commitment. Examination boards have also worked hard to develop materials that are accessible to a full range of students and to which they can relate.

I have loved teaching English. I have chosen different ways to enable students to achieve A* grades and those of lesser ability to exceed expectations. Gove’s reforms will make it impossible for me to enthuse, motivate and inspire my students. I will now be leaving the profession and I will be using my transferable skills elsewhere where they will be valued more highly.

Martha Patrick, London SE13


Tory Education ministers Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss seem to  be changing the UK national curriculum purely to ensure that the nation’s children are fit for the workplace.

If that’s their plan, then they need to start teaching about employment rights and trade unions, too.

Jo Rust, King’s Lynn, Norfolk

If Michael Gove wants to “drain the swamp”, then why doesn’t his department insist on all pupils being taught evolution, cosmology and palaeontology?

The answer, of course, is that too many people have a vested interest in maintaining ignorance. We need to ensure that all pupils leave school knowing that “faith” is not a sensible way of understanding the world.

Peter Foxton, Buckhurst Hill, Essex

Don’t surrender the flag to bullies

Charles Garth (letter, 7 June) advocates putting an Islamic symbol such as the crescent on the flag of St George in order to include those of the Muslim faith in England in the national football cause.

Why exclude Hindus, Sikhs and our Chinese communities? Perhaps they are not threatening enough and do not scare him and, unlike bullies in all walks of life, they do not require placating by the weak and afraid.

Michael R Gordon, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Charles Garth suggests that we include a crescent in the English flag to keep Muslims happy.

But far from being an expression of a multicultural society, this would only give rise to charges of favouritism from other minorities who would feel discriminated against.

So I suggest that in the other three quarters we add the Petrine cross keys for Roman Catholics, the kirpan for Sikhs, and the wheel of Ashoka for Hindus and Buddhists.

Alternatively, we could just have a black and white flag with a pink border to show we are neither racists nor homophobic and definitely have nothing against Taoists. Who could possibly disagree?

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

An Islamic crescent in the top left corner of the flag of St George?

According to Muslim culture, that would signify an alignment with the values of the flag. Surely any Muslim flying such a flag would be identified as an apostate and executed?

David Rose, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Let’s have a campaign to save Ingrams

I was greatly distressed by Richard Ingrams’ employment problems at The Oldie. I have appreciated his “awkwardness” over the years and the good it has done.

The UK has a maturing workforce, and accommodations should be made for this and other matters. I suggest that being “one of God’s great squad of awkward Englishmen” is a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The matter should be taken to an employment tribunal. To raise the £900 or so required to support this action, an Awkwardnessballs Fund should be initiated. I will be one of the first to contribute.

Aidan Challen, Cambridge


Secret courts are a sign of defeat

Britain faced up to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union without sacrificing our system of justice. It beggars belief that we need to sacrifice it now for fear of the Big Bad Terrorist.

A bunch of medieval loonies is no threat to us; support open British justice and leave secret trials to the faint hearts and totalitarians.

Barry Tighe, Woodford Green, London


When is a WAG not a WAG?

With the imminent arrival of the World Cup, I am confident that we will be inundated with salacious gossip about the camp followers, normally known as WAGs. While this acronym works when describing groups of these vacuous entities, please do not fall into the trap that many of the red-tops  do of describing one such person as a WAG. While that person might be a wife and girlfriend, that would in itself merit a different story in the scandal-seeking press.

The correct acronym for a singleton of the species should be derived from the phrase “wife or girlfriend”, but I do understand that this might cause difficulties with a large proportion of your readership. Perhaps you might be tempted to ignore stories about these people altogether – and just report real news.

John Broughton, Broad Haven, Pembrokeshire


Sir, I last wrote to you in 1991 just after the death of my 16-month-old daughter Jemima. She would have been 24 today. At the time the NHS was getting a bashing in the press and I wanted to acknowledge the amazing care my daughter and I had received from her nurses and doctors.

What no one knew at the time, however, was the cause of her death. It was not a virus as was thought — she had presented with croup and ended up on life support as doctors tried to battle a virus which they believed had attacked her heart — but her reaction to the sedative that she had been given on the best advice. As I understand it, the sedative had been used successfully on heart patients at Great Ormond Street and it was thought it would be equally effective on patients with upper tracheal infections. The drug hadn’t been previously used in this capacity. Five babies lost their lives.

The cause became apparent some months after my daughter had died. The issue I have always had is the way in which I found out. My mother called me at work, telling me to come home and not turn the car radio on or listen to the news. As we waited for the 6pm news she told me there was something on it about my daughter, and indeed there was an item about five children who had died in a similar way.

A hospital spokeswoman was at pains to reassure everyone that this couldn’t happen to them as they had located the source of the problem and the drug wouldn’t be used again. The problem was this had happened to us and no one had had the courtesy to tell us before the public.

The case of the baby that died of septicaemia has brought this back to me (“Infant dies, 14 poisoned ‘by hospital food drips”, June 5). My heart goes out to the baby’s family. The death of a child has a lasting impact on the family, particularly on siblings. I don’t think my son has ever come to terms with the loss of his sister. He was nearly 3 at the time but it affected him in ways we didn’t understand then. There was no support available for him to process his grief and guilt. I am pleased that this is offered now and I would urge any parent to find help for their children, however young, in these circumstances.

In our case a legal test case was brought by one of the families, and a verdict of death by misadventure was recorded. As I have since found out — mainly having watched the unfolding of the Hillsborough case where a similar verdict was initially recorded — this does not mean that it was an accident, which was what we took it to mean, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to decide who was at fault.

Since I discovered this the verdict has always angered me, not because I wanted compensation — the idea of money as compensation for the loss of my child appals me — but I would have liked to know where the responsibility lay and to receive an apology. It would have helped with my healing process and that of my son.

I hope this letter will highlight the impact on the family of tragedies such as this, in the hope that their plight does not get lost amid the arguments about blame, drug company profits and medical reputations.

The family of the child that has died and those families that have had to anxiously watch their sick children suffer more are the ones who have suffered the greatest loss.
I hope this is acknowledged and that they receive the support they need.

Caroline Gilmartin

London W12


Sir, I share your concern at Mr Justice Nicol’s unprecedented decision to hold a complete criminal trial in secret (Leader, June 6). Equally worrying is the reasons for his decision cannot be reported and, until the decision was challenged by the media in the Court of Appeal, the public were not even to be allowed to know that such a trial was to take place.

Terrorism charges cannot justify this departure from our tradition of transparent justice. It is worth recalling the words of Lord Hoffmann in 2004 when the government sought to justify a derogation from the right to personal liberty guaranteed by article 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights on the ground that, after 9/11 in the US, there was a “public emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

Lord Hoffmann concluded: “The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.”

To hold a secret trial would, equally, be to give the terrorists a victory: the Court of Appeal should not give it to them.

David Lamming

Boxford, Suffolk

Sir, You find it worrying that a trial should be held in secret. I find it worrying that you, in ignorance of the facts, believe that your opinion on how the trial should be conducted should carry more weight than that of a judge who is in possession of the facts.

Henry Haslam


The inhabitants of the Chagos Islands are still not allowed to return to their Indian Ocean home

Sir, On June 10, 2004, Privy Council orders deprived Chagossians of the right to return to their homeland, the Chagos Islands. The orders bypassed parliament, overturned a high court judgment and a ministerial decision to proceed with a feasibility study. As High Commissioner to Mauritius at the time, I warned the FCO that such an undemocratic device would land the UK in costly legal actions and international opprobrium.

The Chagos Islands APPG (all-party parliamentary group) has pressed for a settlement of this Cold War legacy and for a resettlement feasibility study, now in progress. The study will report by January, in time before the election for ministers to make decisions about the islands.

The legacy of the last government was a contested marine protected area surrounding the Islands. This government can do better by removing a blot on the UK’s human rights record.

David Snoxell

Coordinator, Chagos Islands APPG, High Wycombe, Bucks

Soviet spivs seem to have had a lively trade in objects claiming an association with the last tsar of Russia

Sir, I was surprised by John Miller’s account (Lives remembered, June 6) of Victor Sukhodrev showing him a piece of wood said to have come from the cellar door of the house where Tsar Nicholas II was shot.

In about 1980 the Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky also placed into my hands a piece of wooden tracery from a door that he said he had rescued from Ipatiev House after Yeltsin — then the local communist party boss — had ordered its demolition.

I wonder whether some Soviet spivs, like medieval pedlars of saints’ bones and fragments of the true Cross, were then doing a lively trade in pieces of the last thing that the tsar and his family saw before their murder.

Michael Binyon

London SW17

Portable digital technology is a challenge to the old-fashioned organisation of taxis and hire cars

Sir, This week London is going to halt when angry cabbies protest about the Uber car service. They say Uber is taking their work but does not have to respect the same regulations.

Since Uber and Hailo appeared people have begun to realise that the private hire and taxi industry has enormous potential. As a trade, we should embrace these changes and accept that global taxi brands are coming. I think Uber is wrong in seeking to eliminate the taxi operator altogether, rather than working with existing networks. Private operators already have two thirds of the market and providing an excellent service.

Uber may be the Goliath of the taxi industry but the market is gearing up to meet the challenge head on. We live in dynamic times.

Chris Jordan


Michael Caine, in his first major role as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, defends Rorke’s Drift in ‘Zulu’ (1964)  Photo: REX FEATURES

6:58AM BST 08 Jun 2014

Comments54 Comments

SIR – The nobility and bravery of the Zulu in war is not in question but many “facts” about the British in the Zulu War surely are.

My great-great-grandfather was a civil surgeon who volunteered his services in the Zulu War. The Zulu were surprised to discover that the British doctors treated all of the wounded equally. By contrast, the Zulu took no prisoners and killed the wounded – men, women and children alike.

In the film, Michael Caine’s character may utter disparaging remarks about “cowardly blacks”, as mentioned in your report, but if he had done so in real life he would have been in contravention of the British Army’s Local General Orders. These stated: “Officers must make earnest and constant efforts to prevent [native] drivers and leaders being beaten or ill-treated or the slightest injustice being done to them.”

The truth is that over half the 17,000 soldiers fighting under the British flag in the Zulu War were black African, 1,000 of whom were Zulu dissidents. Why would they choose to fight for the wicked British imperialists?

In 1879 many of the Africans who made up the majority of the population of the state of Natal had been driven from Zululand as a result of Zulu expansion and were therefore bitterly anti-Zulu.

In seeking volunteers from the black community of Edendale near Pietermaritzburg, a local leader is recorded as saying: “We have sat under the shadow of the Great White Queen for many years in security and peace. We are her children and in this time of great peril she sends to us to help her against our common foe. We all know the cruelty and the power of the Zulu King.”

Nicholas Young
London W13

SIR – It was depressingly predictable that a voluntary agreement has led to food manufacturers doing very little to reduce the sugar content in their best-selling items. We need the Government to take firm action.

There is no point in only blaming individuals for their unhealthy diets, when food companies spend billions of pounds trying to persuade us to eat and drink things that are bad for us. And with diabetes alone costing the NHS £10 billion a year, sugar-related diseases affect us all.

People have the right to make their own choices, but why do we allow firms to pressure us into making the wrong ones? For the sake of our physical health and the nation’s financial health, I believe that it is now time to ban the advertising of sugary drinks, processed food, takeaways, alcohol and confectionery.

Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent

Leaving the EU

SIR – The comment from the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, John Cridland, that both large and small businesses consider membership of the EU to be in Britain’s national interest is exactly the narrow thinking that annoys many ordinary people.

Voters rejected the Tories because they, the voters, are concerned about the moral and social aspects of our nation, not just its economic prospects.

Jonathan Longstaff
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – If not Jean-Claude Juncker for president of the European Commission, then who? Is there a candidate who is not an arch federalist? I suspect not.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

SIR – Oh, for a return to those halcyon days when fog in the English Channel meant that Europe was cut off.

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Threat from Syria

SIR – As a British Muslim, I would like to express my deep concern at the tepid way in which the Government is responding to the very real threat posed to Britain by individuals travelling to Syria to participate in militancy.

There are numerous videos on the internet featuring individuals with notably British accents boasting about their violent activities in that country.

Commentary by analysts suggests that many of these individuals are likely to be involved in very serious criminal acts such as torture and murder.

Indoctrinated with radical Wahhabism and trained as militants, these individuals pose an extremely high risk to the security of our country upon their return.

S W Hussain
Bradford, West Yorkshire

Pensions farce

SIR – Yet again the Government tinkers with private-sector pensions, this time enabling workers to place their pensions in a “mega-fund”. This is highly questionable, and still risky.

Meanwhile, the private-sector taxpayer contributes substantially to the generous unfunded public-sector pension schemes which are entirely risk-free and propped up by the Government’s borrowing.

Private and public-sector pensions are a farce.

Bill Parish
Bromley, Kent

Crisis? What crisis?

SIR – Can someone explain why we have a “housing crisis” when between 1970 and 2012, 9.5 million new homes were built and yet the population increased by only 8.3 million. Did we go on a demolition spree at the same time?

What we should be looking at is why the cost of buying a new average-sized house has moved so far beyond average salaries. In 1970 I bought a three-bedroom detached house with garage and central heating for £4,000. My salary was £1,600 a year.

Nigel Wiggins
Briston, Norfolk

Putin and the Prince

SIR – Vladimir Putin’s aide accused the Prince of Wales of “historical ignorance”. We all know that Prince Charles received a brilliant education.

As for President Putin, I have read all of his statements in newspapers and on television for the past 20 years, and found no sign of historical knowledge.

He presumably knows a little geography, however – of Crimea.

Oleg Gordievsky
London WC1

SIR – Last week, Prince Charles called for “a fundamental transformation of global capitalism”, in order to fight global warming.

The following day, he flew to Romania in a private jet, so that he could spend a few days on holiday there.

Is it any wonder nobody takes him seriously?

Paul Homewood
Stocksbridge, West Yorkshire

Magpies – the biggest threat to songbirds

SIR – Until the domestic cat learns to fly it is always going to be an inefficient predator of flying creatures (Letters, June 1).

The greatest threat to all avian species comes from other relatives, such as the family corvidae, especially magpies. They are extremely active this time of year, raiding nests and taking fledglings while other magpies distract the distraught mother. Recently I watched in horror as magpies picked off several newly hatched mallard ducklings on their first outing from my duckhouse, too swiftly for me to intervene.

Magpies in particular have now reached epidemic proportions in Britain and should be classed as vermin, to be controlled by whatever means available.

Bob Harrison
Ashford, Kent

SIR – Last year a pair of rare tree sparrows nested in my neighbours’ garden. Magpies took all the fledglings. This year they have killed one of the newly arrived adult birds. Their arrival in our village has been devastating.

Felicity McWeeney
Hartburn, Northumberland

Well met

SIR – Regarding Kate Fox’s assessment that we no longer know how to greet a stranger, I am not sure that I am too perturbed by this – as long as I am not confronted by “Hi there” or “Hiyah”.

Paul Sargeantson
Watlington, Oxfordshire

SIR – What is the matter with “Hello” unless the formal “How do you do” is necessary? I prefer “Good day”, though it may be slightly old-fashioned.

Anthony Messenger
Windsor, Berkshire

SIR – The words of greeting are much less important than a look in the eye, a firm handshake and a smile of welcome. If it looks like a kiss is being proffered, I welcome that, too.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

SIR – Most of my friends feel that one must shake hands when saying “How do you do?”. Since so many people now carry bacteria on their hands, it often feels safer to dodge the handshake and to bestow a kiss on the person’s cheek instead.

Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset

SIR – Personally, I never kiss men, and for ladies, the number of kisses depends on the attractiveness of the recipient and how many kisses she will tolerate before thumping me.

J P Briggs
Petersfield, Hampshire

SIR – As a Ugandan-born British citizen who ran away from the toxic politics of tribe, clan and religion, I was attracted to come to Britain mainly because of its issue-based politics and attendant social stability.

Although Tower Hamlets is a mixed borough, with “45 per cent white and 32 per cent Bangladeshi”, it is unlikely to be an accident that of the 18 councillors elected last week, “all are Bangladeshi”.

This will harden the attitudes of racist people who see immigrants as a threat to their way of life, fuelling their fears that non-whites are becoming a dominant group in London.

Ethnic minority communities must work with the authorities and put in place robust procedures to prevent what happened in Tower Hamlets from occurring in other boroughs. Ghetto politics, in which a particular community appears to unfairly influence the outcome of an election, must not be allowed to happen.

Sam Akaki
London W3

SIR – The reported electoral machinations in Tower Hamlets should not surprise us.

All this sort of thing requires is a determined leader of a strong immigrant community to organise, by fair means or foul, the support of members of the same ethnic or cultural persuasion. This is par for the course in many countries, paricularly on the sub-continent.

Our system is not difficult to manipulate either. It must be improved and elections better supervised if this threat to our democracy is not to creep on to the national scene.

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – Andrew Gilligan reports on the intimidation of vote-counting officials in Tower Hamlets.

Recently in India some 500 million votes were counted electronically and no incidents were reported. The results were declared within 24 hours and a new government was elected.

I suggest that we import these electronic voting machines from India for our next general election so that there is no suggestion of interference with counting votes.

H N R Murthy
Basingstoke, Hampshire

SIR – Muslim extremism has been on the rise in Tower Hamlets for several years now. Its targets have included women who dress in Western attire, the gay community and businesses that sell alcohol.

The vast majority of Muslims in this country (and elsewhere) are decent people, quite happy to live among and alongside non-Muslims. But, unfortunately, the poisonous activities of the few are having a negative effect on how the rest of us view the Muslim community as a whole.

Muslim leaders in Tower Hamlets need to be more pro-active in rooting out and identifying to the authorities the rotten apples in their midst.

The Government and the police, for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities, have been pussyfooting around for too long instead of taking action against those whose avowed aim is the destruction of our culture.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – If our mainstream political parties want to know why so many people in Britain have voted Ukip, they only have to read stories about voting improprieties in Tower Hamlets and the Islamisation of schools in the Birmingham area and they will have part of the answer.

What has gone on in Tower Hamlets is the sort of thing we expect in lawless and undemocratic countries, not in the capital of Britain.

The Electoral Commission appears to be doing nothing. Why haven’t the police been called in? Why isn’t the Government doing anything?

Jeannie Harvey
Chislehurst, Kent

SIR – The Department for International Development provides 56 pages of advice and vast sums of money for election assistance and monitoring around the world. Would it be too much trouble for someone to pop round to Tower Hamlets?

Gill Chant

Irish Times:

Sir, – Over 70 years ago my mother found herself seeking refuge in a mother-and-baby home, St Patrick’s on the Navan Road, having been evicted by her father. She refused to give her baby up for adoption and remained in the home with her baby for a time, breast-feeding and taking care of her baby.

There was an outbreak of gastroenteritis while my mother was there and many of the babies succumbed and died. My sister survived. My mother asked the nuns if my sister could be quarantined but they refused. She approached the doctor one day on his rounds and explained that her baby was healthy and could she be quarantined and he agreed.He also asked her if she would breast-feed some of the other babies. She did. My mother later married and she is now 94. My sister is the mainstay of our family. – Yours, etc,



Salrock, Renvyle,

Co Galway.

Sir, – The recent publication of Echo’s Bones by Samuel Beckett has been hailed as a commendable achievement by Denis Donoghue (“Samuel Beckett’s forgotten story”, Weekend Review, May 24th). I feel that in fairness to Samuel Beckett, who was a dear friend, a contrary view needs to be expressed.

Denis Donoghue has recounted the history of Echo’s Bones in detail. Briefly, Beckett’s first collection of short stories, More Pricks than Kicks, was accepted for publication by Chatto & Windus in 1933. Charles Prentice, the senior partner at the publisher, suggested to Beckett that the work might benefit from an additional climatic vignette. This was not a simple request as the protagonist, Belacqua, had been very decisively killed off in the penultimate chapter, “Yellow”, when the physicians tending to his minor ailment in a Dublin nursing home “had clean forgotten to auscultate him!” and he is assuredly laid to rest in final chapter, which unequivocally declares Belacqua “dead and buried”. Nonetheless, Beckett obliged his publisher with an additional story entitled Echo’s Bones in which he fantasises about the goings-on of Belacqua et al in a less-than-convincing phantasmagorical after-life. Prentice was horrified and wrote to Beckett warning that not alone would the story “lose the book a great many readers”, but he regarded it moreover as “a nightmare” that gave him “the jim-jams”. He even explained his rejection with a frankness that is refreshing: “People will shudder and be puzzled and confused; and they won’t be keen on analysing the shudder.”

The young writer was offended by this rebuttal – initially, that is – and he nicknamed his publisher “Shatupon And Windup”. However, having thought about it, he was glad to see More Pricks than Kicks published as originally submitted and he then discarded the text of the rejected chapter and transferred the title to the poem Echo’s Bones, which is an exquisite expression of the dilemma that was then facing him as an artist searching for his means of expression. This should be affirmation enough that Beckett did not wish to see the title of the poem confused with the earlier story, but even more telling in this regard is the fact that all along the years since 1933, Beckett never sought to have the rejected additional chapter included in More Pricks than Kicks on the occasions when that book was several times reprinted or published elsewhere.

In my many discussions with Beckett on the publication of Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which he described as “the chest” into which he threw his “wild thoughts”, and which he agreed should be published “some little time” after his death, he never ever mentioned Echo’s Bones as a work in need of similar consideration.

There has been laudatory comment on the achievement of Mark Nixon, who edited the publication of Echo’s Bones, both by Donoghue and other reviewers, such as John Banville (New Statesman April 28th) but this is, with respect, an irrelevant observation. The issue is simply this: does the essay, Echo’s Bones, merit publication as a writing befitting one of the greatest literary figures of this century?

Banville, in fairness, while acknowledging the literary scholarship, which he finds “in its way more fascinating, and certainly more enlightening, than the story the intricacies of which it aims to unravel” does recognise the banality of the piece: “Most readers” he writes, “will find it tiresome or infuriating or both.” It is difficult to reconcile this assessment with Donoghue’s bland acceptance of its literary merit in that he fails to see what made the prescient “Prentice shudder”. Regrettably, the publication of Echo’s Bones would also make its author shudder. – Yours, etc,


Clifton Terrace,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am a teacher superintending the Junior Certificate State examinations, which the Minister for Education wishes to abolish.

What I see each day are educated young women and men of 16 sitting a series of differentiated, fair, demanding, objective, standardised exams.

They have worked for three years and prepared for these exams so they are likely to retain a lot of the literacy, numeracy, science, skills and knowledge that they have acquired.

They wish to be graded nationally on their work in recognised courses of study that are not only valuable for their personal development but lay the foundation for many Leaving Certificate subjects as well.

To these young adults this is not a “low-stakes exam” but a benchmark of accountability that will help them and their families make sound subject choices and, for some, career choices.

The beauty of this system is the broad acceptance that their results are won solely on merit and are not based on any kind of “influence”, that pervasive Irish vice.

I am, like the correctors, paid to uphold the integrity of the exam. What the Minister proposes, to save money, is scrapping this exam, which will deprive these young adults of credible national recognition of their abilities. The fewer State exams, the less State accountability.

Aside from detaching the foundation from beneath the Leaving Certificate, no parent or employer can trust or believe from now on that one school’s marks are the same as another’s.

How can we trust the integrity of marks that may now be influenced by a school’s own desire to protect itself, to hide its faults, such as poor management or teaching? The very same arguments for publishing league tables of schools – openness, transparency and accountability – apply here.

What a dangerous disservice to our young people and our country.

I look forward to the Minister filling out a change-of-mind slip. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – After having spent more than 20 years teaching Leaving Certificate English, and seeing my last son from the class of 2014 go through the honours English paper, I am more than ever intensely frustrated with the exam and with the media commentary on same.

Older readers will remember Honours Paper 1 (Language), which included literary essays from such lusciously named writers as Lamb, Bacon, and Hazlitt. For many, this was the only exposure young readers got to quality essay writing. No modern essayists replaced them. Students today (and their parents) can be heard saying “Sure you can’t prepare for Paper 1”. Is this a desirable “learning outcome” after a two-year course, which marks the completion of one’s secondary education?

Paper 2 (Literature) is where I have a real problem. This is a game of poetry roulette. Bookmakers should get in on it! A terrifying guessing game occurs each year, which I believe could be greatly remedied by the inclusion of printed poems, such as in the Ordinary Level English Paper and indeed in the honours Irish literature paper. In the UK’s A-level and GCSE exams, students may bring their poetry anthology into the exam hall and I quote, “Copies of the poetry anthology taken into the examination room must be clean: that is, free from annotation.”

Here are the roulette rules! There are eight poets each year on the course and four questions. As a minimum students must study at least five poets – say 40 poems. Some gamblers only do the female poets; others only do the Irish poets. Is gambling part of the hidden curriculum?

Then there is the rote or quote learning that ensues. I regularly encountered students who knew quotes verbatim but didn’t know what they meant! Part of the problem is their minds are so addled with trying to memorise quotes that, forgive the pun, they lose the plot.

The current system encourages the rote-learning of quotes, to the detriment of enjoying literature. If the poems were printed on the exam paper or students could reference a clean anthology, an examiner could quickly distinguish the real students who know and enjoy the syllabus from the gamblers.

If I set the paper, I would just offer one to two poets each year out of the eight. The students would have to prepare almost all the poets in advance. Hello poetry. Goodbye roulette. If we simply made this one change, we might see students actually enjoy poetry. It is awful to hear students say after the exam “Thank God, I’ll never have to learn that again!” as they throw their poetry book aside for the bonfire they are planning.

Is this another “learning outcome” the Department of Education envisaged? – Yours, etc,



Iona Road,


Sir, – The Rev Patrick G Burke defends the right of parents to educate their children in a manner that accords with their (the parents, that is) religious beliefs (Letters, 29th May). It is high time that this right was seriously examined.

Beliefs of any kind should be adopted by the believer only after careful reflection – they should certainly not be foisted on innocent children who are in no position to make up their own minds on such matters. In any case, what exactly do parents believe in anyway? The vigorous defence of denominational education seems misplaced when one considers the empty pews in churches of all Christian denominations. How many parents could recite the Ten Commandments, list the Seven Deadly Sins, or explain the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?

Some years ago, corporal punishment was rightly excised from our school system. Why is brainwashing still accepted? – Yours, etc,



Philipsburgh Avenue,

Sir, – John Bellew (May 26th) criticises Eamon de Valera’s decision to chart a neutral course during the second World War when millions of innocent Europeans were being slaughtered by the Nazis.

He asks how this was morally justified, and reinforces his critique of Irish neutrality by suggesting that the Irish State would have been immediately invaded if Operation Sea Lion had come to pass.

This may very well have been true; however, his argument does not acknowledge either the internal Fianna Fáil issue of dealing with a hard-core irredentist cohort that still demanded a united Ireland, or the fact that thousands of Irish families were still ideologically divided, less than two decades after the Civil War.

Neutrality was the only sure way to avoid repeating this tragedy.

This position was forcefully supported by the State’s only Jewish TD, Robert Briscoe, who despite personally believing that an Allied victory was imperative if even a small number of his European co-religionists were to be saved, understood that as long as an English presence remained in Ulster, it was politically impossible to join an English-led war effort.

Briscoe loyally supported de Valera’s stance, and instead attempted to rescue his fellow Jews by ardently embracing the New Zionist Organisation’s attempt to break the British blockade of Palestine. – Yours, etc,


School of History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – The Belfast Agreement ensures that every trifling proposal must get the consent of both tribes before it can be implemented. However, incomprehensibly, when it comes to the most momentous proposal of all, the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, an overall simple majority will suffice. This means that after a 50 per cent plus one vote for Irish unity, one million unionists could be frog-marched into a united Ireland without a single unionist voting for it. So the root cause of the conflict remains the never-ending threat by nationalists to subsume, subjugate or colonise the unionist people in a united Ireland.

Until we lift this threat and declare that a united Ireland is off the agenda until a majority of unionists request it, there can never be real peace between the two tribes who share this island. – Yours, etc,


Silchester Park,


Sir, – While waiting at Port Laoise railway station recently, I noticed the following errors in the Irish version of the “No Smoking” notice in the ticket hall: “Ianrod Eireann” for “Iarnród Éireann” and “Offig Ticéid” for “Oifig Ticéad”.

What is the point of this sloppiness, and why do we tolerate it?

Mind you, this sort of thing is not limited to Port Laoise, nor necessarily to Irish. At Port Laoise also there is an English notice nearby which speaks of passengers not being “renumerated” in the event of loss of their luggage.

And Athlone bus station is described as “Staisun” in one Irish notice, and just near it, in a notice repeated at each bus bay, is a pavement area reserved for “Pedrestrians”.

Those responsible for these things ought to hang their heads in shame. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – “Anything but soccer” will be the cry in many households for weeks to come. As the Labour leadership contest is already fizzling out, perhaps readers might suggest some distractions.– Yours, etc,






Sir, – You may be pleased to know that my two young nephews were fighting over who would keep the “World Cup 2014” supplement (June 4th). The solution? I bought another copy. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

Monday 9 June 2014

Letters: War poisons everyone who participates, including us

Published 09/06/2014|02:30

Winston Churchill: was against D-Day and voted down by Allies. PA

One minute it’s the continuing World War I commemorations, the next it’s the anniversary of D-Day, and World War II. When will it stop? To celebrate heroic fighting is one thing, but war itself should never be celebrated. Neither should those who took us there.

It is interesting to see how certain people are trying to re-write history, especially World War I. And, after all, history is written by the victors. So let me just fill your readers in on a few facts about D-Day that they might not have seen in the recent coverage.

Winston Churchill was against D-Day. He was far more interested in holding on to the empire, and especially trade routes to India via the Mediterranean Sea. That’s why between Dunkirk (1940) and D-Day (1944), the British barely engaged the German military on land at all. Russia, in effect, won World War II by sacrificing millions of troops and gutting Hitler’s forces. Stalin urged the allies to open a Western front years earlier, and it was only when President Roosevelt agreed, and Churchill was outvoted, that D-Day went ahead.

In World War II, Germany’s leaders let loose a military that created havoc throughout much of Europe, but then Britain and her allies committed atrocities of our own. We bombed many thousands of innocent civilians in Germany and other occupied countries. The US dropped two unnecessary atomic bombs, and on another occasion, in a single night, killed 100,000 people by bombing Tokyo. War poisons everyone who participates, including us.

Lastly, I heard that D-Day led to decades of peace. Tell that to the Vietnamese, Koreans, Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, Panamanians, Palestinians and Nicaraguans. I’m sure there’s more.





This week has seen some remarkable claims. That the Normandy landings comprised the greatest amphibious assault ever conducted. That this assault in 1944 broke through “Hitler’s wall” (Barack Obama). That this “Allied invasion” secured freedom for us all from the yoke of Nazi tyranny.

In 1941, the largest invasion force ever assembled was unleashed. This horror machine comprised three million highly trained German soldiers (that’s about the size of the entire population of Ireland at the time), 2,500 aircraft (put them side to side and you could walk across their wings for over 150 miles), 3,000 battle tanks and 7,000 artillery batteries, all spanning an invasion front of 1,000 miles. That’s the distance from the Canadian border to the middle of Texas.

In three years, this juggernaut was gone. Chewed up by the people and Red Army of Russia. Twelve weeks of further horror saw the prestigious Wehrmacht Sixth Army, along with 22 German generals, surrender at Stalingrad. The Russian death toll: over 20 million.

And yet we are expected to believe that American forces, who comprised a mere 30pc of the Normandy invasion, have saved us all from Nazism, a shattered and destroyed imperial project that was wrecked by Russia long before June 6, 1944. A Russia which doesn’t even get a mention as an ‘ally’ in the European bloodbath of the 1940s.

Russia defeated Hitler and freed Europe. . . and nobody else. And while a few skirmishes, heroic as they were insignificant in the outcome of this debacle, 100,000 Russians died per week for four years as opposed to a paltry 9,000 who died on D-Day and the weeks following. . . about a third who died on the roads of America in the same year.

From Paris to Brandenburg to St Petersburg, European soil covers rivers of blood and the skulls of millions, and most of them are Russian.





Martina Devlin is right to conclude that, despite the harrowing discovery of human remains in religious institutions, we must guard against the scourge of absolutism. Perhaps before we pour our disgruntlement on blameless religions, or governments who had shown spinelessness and professional immaturity in dealing with such tragedies, we should blame societies who at times condemned unmarried mothers or children born out of wedlock to neglect, ostracism and abandonment.

No religion has a monopoly on ethical, moral and noble mores. Religions espouse compassion, peace, justice and love. The more we distance ourselves from religious doctrines, the more we become ruthless, indifferent and void. And while it’s true that the recent European elections have propelled parties of racist agendas (disguised under the anorak of free speech) to the European parliament, such results should not be seen as a change of discourse in European societies towards minorities. Europe, which witnessed the most horrendous massacre in contemporary history, the Holocaust, has become defined by its religious and cultural diversity, peaceful coexistence and tolerance. It has always been a shelter for thousands of persecuted people, be they Jews, Muslims, gypsies et cetera and will continue to remain so.





Many are jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation of nuns for the alleged scandals of mother and child homes from the comfortable Irish society of 2014.

Ireland in 1925 and for many subsequent years was more akin to a third world country, a very impoverished state still suffering from a devastating civil war. A grateful cash-strapped government was happy to have a corps of willing Irishwomen called ‘nuns’ willing to work for free, taking over the dreaded workhouses and doing the ‘dirty’ work of the nation. Single forced adoptions? Adoptions were forced on unfortunate single mothers because there were no social services for them and Christian (?) families would not bear the public shame of caring for a daughter who had a child born out of wedlock.





What a benign title, ‘mother and baby home’, conjuring warmth and love. However, those homes were essentially stores for warehousing what was seen as a problem.

Irish society from the foundation of the State onwards can now be seen as sick and tortured, angst- and guilt-ridden, played out on a Catholic-driven alliance between State and church.

The mothers, babies and nuns have become the lightning rod for our compassion and anger. But to remove the stain on the Irish psyche, the focus needs to be broadened. Ireland and its citizens had massive issues around sexuality.

Why the furtiveness? Who set the agenda: church, State, men, patriarchy? This blackness around sexuality and women has manifested itself time and time again. Twinned with child sexual abuse, it’s clear that a massive problem existed and continues to blister.

Domestically it has sundered the nation. Internationally and principally, in Australia, Britain and the US, the number of Irish names that have surfaced regarding sexual abuse is frightening. Unless a broad and transparent inquiry is undertaken on what put the nation on this path, incidents like Tuam will arise ad finitum as the blame game continues.



Irish Independent

Post Office

June 8, 2014

8June2014 Post Office

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get to the Post Office

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins the game, and gets just under 400 perhaps Iwill win tomorrow


The Rt Rev John Baker – obituary

The Rt Rev John Baker was a bishop who ruffled feathers with his stance on the police, gay clergy, battery hens and the Bomb

The Rt Rev John Baker, Bishop of Salisbury

The Rt Rev John Baker, Bishop of Salisbury Photo: PETER ORME

5:32PM BST 05 Jun 2014

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The Rt Rev John Baker, who has died aged 86, was Bishop of Salisbury from 1982 to 1993, having previously been rector of St Margaret’s church, Westminster, and Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Baker was the most able theologian among the bishops of his time, and although primarily an Old Testament scholar he applied his learning to a wide range of subjects, and was a useful member of many committees charged with the production of reports on social questions.

Until his consecration as a bishop, Baker was generally regarded as fairly conservative, both theologically and politically. His most important book, The Foolishness of God (1970), now regarded as a classic, was a sympathetic study of 20th-century questioning of the Bible and traditional Christian beliefs, but its conclusions were reassuring to the fearful and uncertain. An individualistic element in his personality had, however, been evident ever since his school days — and once he became a bishop he turned to a variety of controversial issues with sometimes electrifying effect.

Baker was chairman of a committee charged with examining the theological and moral aspects of nuclear warfare, and when its report, The Church and the Bomb (1982), advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament by Britain he found himself at the centre of a heated public debate. This hardly endeared him to the military personnel — active and retired — of Wiltshire; and no sooner had peace between the bishop and the colonels been restored than he launched an attack on battery farming which immediately aroused the ire of the farming community. Baker was, however, soon recruited as patron of Chicken’s Lib and later became president of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals.

An invitation to give a Christmas address at a service attended by the Wiltshire police force provided an opportunity for the castigation of the constabulary for what Baker regarded as the insensitive handling of anti-nuclear demonstrations. Meanwhile, his public criticism of his own cathedral’s Dean and Chapter for their fundraising activities caused much offence.

The Rt Rev John Baker on the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (ROGER ELLIOTT/SALISBURY JOURNAL)

In 1990 Baker became chairman of a House of Bishops’ working party set up to consider “Issues in Human Sexuality” — primarily the matter of homosexuals in the Church. The report proposed, controversially, that while homosexuality might in some circumstances be acceptable in the laity, it could never be permissible among the clergy. Soon after his retirement, however, Baker declared that this distinction had been a serious mistake, and said that gay clergy should enjoy the same freedom as the laity and be encouraged to marry. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, responded with a statement asserting: “Bishop John Baker’s conclusion suggests a very significant departure from the Church’s current mind and teaching.”

Baker was a fine preacher and teacher who took great pains over everything he spoke and wrote. Standing 6ft 4in tall, he had a commanding presence, and his gaunt countenance added dignity to great occasions in cathedrals and parish churches. His pastoral care of the diocesan clergy was exemplary, and when three children died in a fire at a vicarage he took the parents and the surviving child into the bishop’s house for several weeks.

But Baker was less good at caring for himself, and until illness intervened he drove himself much too hard. Only a few months after undergoing a hip replacement operation he climbed the spire of Salisbury Cathedral to inspect restoration work. He seemed incapable of writing a short letter, and it was surprising that one who was never physically strong stood the pace of episcopal life for so long.

John Austin Baker was born in Birmingham on January 11 1928. His father was a company secretary, but three of his uncles were clergymen and an aunt was a nun. At Marlborough, he was keen on languages and considered a career in the Diplomatic Service, but by the time he was 18 he had decided on Holy Orders, and went up to Oriel College, Oxford, to read Classics. A disappointing result in Mods, however, led him to switch to Theology, in which he took a very good First.

After two years at Cuddesdon Theological College he was ordained, and stayed on as a tutor in Old Testament studies at the college and as curate of the parish church. It was now plain that he was destined for an academic career. He was an assistant lecturer at King’s College, London, from 1957 to 1959 (he would return there as a visiting professor, from 1974 to 1977), then spent 14 years as Fellow, Chaplain and Lecturer in Divinity at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Baker also taught at Brasenose, Lincoln and Exeter Colleges. He was a diligent teacher, and in addition to writing The Foolishness of God he translated several theological books by German and French scholars.

In 1973 Baker was appointed to a canonry at Westminster, and a year later became Treasurer of the Abbey, a demanding post which revealed his financial acumen — though his proposal that the Abbey’s world-famous choir should be closed down to save money did not find support among his colleagues. In 1978 he was made Sub-Dean, and in the same year became rector of St Margaret’s and Speaker’s Chaplain.

A heavy workload in Westminster and elsewhere would not permit him to undertake much more than the formal duties required in the House of Commons, but Baker threw himself into the pastoral work of St Margaret’s and revitalised its life. As always, his preaching was greatly admired, and he arranged a notable series of lectures on the problems of Northern Ireland. His own contribution to this subject took him to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, where he said in 1995: “England should repent publicly of the wrongs it inflicted on Ireland in the same way that Germany did over the Holocaust.”

Baker’s appointment as Bishop of Salisbury added much-needed theological weight to the bench of bishops, though inevitably it made further sustained writing impossible. None the less, he contributed chapters to symposiums on a variety of subjects, including the ordination of women, racism, peace, Northern Ireland and animal welfare.

Strong relations were established between Salisbury diocese and the Anglican Church in war-torn Sudan, and he made several visits to that country, offering support and encouragement to the suffering Christians.

Baker was chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission from 1985 to 1987, and a member of the Committee for Theological Education; the standing committee of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission; and of the Council of Christians and Jews. He also served on the governing bodies of several schools, though he did not favour independent education.

He was awarded a Lambeth DD in 1991.

In retirement Baker became an honorary assistant bishop in Winchester diocese, where he was a much-appreciated preacher and lecturer, and wrote a number of books on the Christian faith.

He is survived by his wife, Jill, whom he married in Westminster Abbey in 1974 and who strongly supported him throughout his ministry and a long period of ill health.

The Rt Rev John Baker, born January 11 1928, died June 4 2014


The only way forward for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats is to go back to the liberal socialist manifesto for sustainable growth on which we fought the last election (“This may surprise you, but Nick Clegg is a very lucky politician“, Andrew Rawnsley, ). He should form an electoral pact with Labour to stop splitting the progressive vote, in order to achieve the electoral and constitutional reform that is our only hope of arriving at a government fit to run a 21st-century economy.

He needs to work with Labour to undo the swingeing cuts to local government that mean they cannot build enough housing, repair roads or properly care for the elderly, and to end the scapegoating of immigrants. Austerity has been falsely peddled as a means of cutting the deficit, when the real reason was to give tax cuts to the millionaires who govern us and who do not need to use public services.

It’s not too late for Clegg to work with Labour before the next election to make it illegal for the corporations in receipt of public money for running public services to be registered offshore for tax avoidance purposes and thereby reclaim our public realm.

Margaret Phelps


Vale of Glamorgan

Don’t malign Machiavelli

I was disappointed to see a review of the book Compelling People used by Iain Morris (New Review) to repeat the libel on Machiavelli that he favoured authoritarianism or even tyranny, though it was not clear whether that was the reviewer’s view or that of the authors of the book. Machiavelli was in favour of a democratic, republican, united Italy, well before those ideas were taken up more generally. The fact that he analysed different methods of persuading people to do things did not mean he advocated harsh methods of persuasion, let alone compulsion, though he did deal with the problems of persuading people in positions of power to do what was for the general good, when they saw greater advantage in doing what was primarily for their own good.

Those who would blame Machiavelli for those who extrapolated his work into harmful compulsion is like blaming Ernest Rutherford for the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Tony Pointon

Emeritus professor

University of Portsmouth

Islington pride

What a shame that Rachel Cooke seems embarrassed to use the “dreaded ‘I’ word” (“Enough of this anti-London bile“, Comment). Despite being regularly mocked by commentators who should know better, Islington is as socially mixed, traditional yet modern, vibrant and politically progressive a place as can be found anywhere. In fact, it stands for all those London qualities she applauds. And Arsenal have just won the cup.

David Sutherland (Ex-Angel Boy)



More landscape artists, please

The argument about building in the countryside goes on (“Lakeland ‘under siege’ as budget hotel threatens to spoil the view“, News). There is no suggestion that existing (old) buildings should be removed, so we should consider why new ones are so hated. It seems to me that there are two factors that make new buildings unattractive. One is colour, if brick is used. Brick is a violent red or orange colour, which shouts out. The other is geometry. Sharp, straight lines and angles perhaps do not fit well into a landscape that has weathered over many years.

Cannot builders use imaginative materials and designs that would fit the landscape as old buildings do? There might be a higher cost but those who want these facilities must be prepared to pay for them and not think they are doing a favour to the local economy by patronising it for a couple of weeks.

Geoffrey Bailey



Roadmap to the future

Driverless cars as described by John Naughton in his article “Is this the end of the road for car ownership?” (New Review) present a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change radically our use and ownership of cars and avoid future massive road congestion. The government has to take seriously this heaven-sent opportunity to plan how we use our roads so that traffic can move freely and efficiently. Toes will be trodden on and lives will be altered, but our obsession with the car has to change.

Derek Dod



Clive’s clever quips

Robert McCrum is right about Clive James’s criticism being funny and rarely wounding (“Clive James defies illness with bravura performance“, News). Reviewing a production of Otello, which starred Montserrat Caballé and Luciano Pavarotti, heavyweights with stupendous voices, he wrote that “Otello had apparently been to Cyprus, but it was clear to me that they had both been at the refrigerator”. Indeed, the lovers were so large that they were unable to even attempt an embrace. Who cared: the singing was wonderful and his comment was just funny.

Jane Kelsall

St Albans

Welcome to Britain? Passengers queue at Gatwick’s passport control. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

We are concerned that proposals to restrict the freedom of movement of people in the EU are gaining traction in the UK (“Labour must take tougher line on ‘mass migration’ from Europe, Miliband told“, (News).

Free movement is a right exercised by millions and has made a major contribution to the prosperity of Europe over the past 30 years. It is the key to Britain’s continued economic recovery. Competition with Ukip for the anti-immigrant vote threatens to undermine support for Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

What is needed is a more realistic approach to migration in the context of broader social change. Younger people, including young EU expats, enrich and sustain our economy as we age. Many Ukip voters have children and grandchildren who will benefit from the chance to study and work abroad. They should be careful what they wish for.

Movement of people will continue to ebb and flow as Europe emerges from recession. However, the migratory peaks of 2005 have been left far behind. We need to sharpen the public policy response to migration.

If Britain stays in the EU (and the opinion polls are moving that way), then free movement must be embraced. There is no prospect of restricting the right to free movement through treaty change.

Roger Casale Chair, New Europeans; Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC;

Roland Rudd Chairman, Business for New Europe; Juliet Lodge Emeritus professor of European studies, University of Leeds;

Simon Hix Professor of European and comparative politics at the London School of Economics; Dr Julie Smith Director, European Centre at Polis, Cambridge University; Don Flynn Director, Migrant Rights Network; Dr Majella Kilkey Reader in social policy, University of Sheffield

The free movement of people within the EU is not immigration, any more than the free movement of people between the different countries of the UK is immigration. EU membership works both ways. The number of EU citizens in the UK (around 2.3 million) is largely comparable with the number of UK nationals who have themselves exercised their right to free movement to live and/or work elsewhere in Europe (2.2 million). If the UK decided to put in quotas, other EU member states would follow suit. This would cause real harm to these individuals.

Matthew Evans

Director, Advice on Individual Rights in Europe, London WC1

There is a problem with telling the British people that immigration “enriches” them (“Immigration should not be blamed for our woes”, Observer editorial). If you mean economically, they have worked out that while it may enrich the rich, it impoverishes the poor. If you mean culturally, you are suggesting that Britain’s 64 million inhabitants are somehow culturally inadequate. There is a similar problem with advocating a principled stance. The electorate have to assume you mean you consider that while your opinions are principled, theirs are not.

In the end, they are likely to suggest that politicians take their morals and principles into a (presumably enriched) private life and turn to someone else in the hope of finding some actual answers.

Imogen Wedd

via email

Congratulations on your excellent editorial, a stark contrast to the letter from seven Labour MPs with their crude stereotype that “the benefits of mass migration have been served in abundance to many wealthy people”.

Instead of the Labour leadership’s current broadly negative and apologetic approach to immigration, they should be leading with an alternative vision of Britain as a plural, multi-ethnic society.

We as a nation have relied on British ex-colonial citizens, immigrants and migrant workers to staff our hospitals, care homes, railways and hotels, to pick our fruit and to man our football teams and Olympic squad – and on overseas students to help support our universities through their fees and research skills.

Gideon Ben-Tovim

Senior fellow in sociology

University of Liverpool


The Liberal Democrats’ problem is that it is no longer clear what they stand for (“Clegg survives a coup…” 1 June). A core of historic Liberals and Social Democrats will appreciate the idea of a moderating influence in coalition, a third voice. But is that enough to remain a significant force? I doubt it.

Those of us who believe in that third voice, its critical role in what otherwise risks becoming a two-party state, might say there is a responsibility on the Lib Dems not just to resort to the “we’ve been here before and recovered” cop-out.

The responsibility is to do all we can to ensure that third voice survives, strong and articulate. The media personalise this as an issue about Nick Clegg – but that’s wrong. The issue is much more fundamental – what do the Lib Dems uniquely stand for? What is their special contribution? Why do they deserve our votes and deserve to survive? There’s intellectual space for this, and an exciting opportunity to stake it out – but time is short.

Chris Naylor

Lib Dem councillor, London Borough of Camden, 2006-14, via email

Margareta Pagano rightly calls attention to the pitifully low turnout at the European elections (“How to win the voters back”, 1 June), but her arguments for changing our “paper-based voting system… to an electronic one” are deeply flawed. We are daily regaled by articles showing the fallibility of computer programs, and of state surveillance of our systems, and it is clear that a reliance on such systems would lack the necessary security.

French elections regularly have a higher turnout than ours, even though all postal voting was banned in 1974 – in favour of proxy voting – because of the evidence of abuse. The presidential election of 2007 had a turnout of 84 per cent for both rounds, and the 2012 contest had a turnout of 80 per cent. It is up to politicians to attract voters rather than searching for some magic bullet.

Michael Meadowcroft

Leeds, West Yorkshire

In contrast to her usually warm and insightful thoughts, Ellen E Jones tars all “incels” (involuntary celibates) with the same brush in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s massacre. I believe passionately in gender equality, and that parity is the solution to this and countless other problems. Rodger was a murderous misogynist, but the wider media have failed to diagnose the fact that its worship of sex and money as the highest possible social achievement contributed as much as anything to what Rodger became. The Independent on Sunday’s Happy List was a welcome counterweight to this.

Michael Johnson

Billingham, Teesside

When will your reporters get this right (“Paxman’s starter for 10…”, 1 June). Not all supporters of independence are nationalists. The debate here is not about identity but about the control we have over all our affairs, free from Westminster.

Bob Orr


The Scots do not hate the English, Mr Paxman; they just hate being patronised. Nor do they like the message of the No camp: “We love you, we need you, we’re better together – but if you do leave, we’ll make you suffer for it!” I think that’s called an abusive relationship.

Carolyn Lincoln


Regarding Nick Clark’s “There will be blood” (1 June), over the top theatrical productions with excessive fake blood – it used to be called Kensington Gore – are nothing new.

Well over 30 years ago I took my eldest daughter to the Old Vic to the first night of Macbeth, starring Peter O’Toole. Even by the first interval the actors were rolling in blood and the audience was rolling with laughter – hardly what the Bard intended!

It came to a climax when Banquo’s ghost, whom no one but Macbeth is supposed to be able to see, appeared at the banquet, in the substantial form of Brian Blessed, covered from head to toe in blood and winking at everyone!

Michael Hart

Osmington, Dorset


Mohamed bin Hammam and Sepp Blatter have been criticised over the bid Mohamed bin Hammam and Sepp Blatter have been criticised over the bid (Mohammed Dabbous)

Blowing whistle on Qatar bid won’t make Fifa play fair

THE allegations against Fifa (“Plot to buy the World Cup” and “Fifa files”, News, and “The greatest sporting event ever sold”, Editorial, last week) remind me of an investigation your paper undertook into the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 2010.

The following week, as the new environment minister, I attended the annual meeting of the IWC in Morocco. I was naively expecting a flurry of resignations and the eating of much humble pie.

What took my breath away was the attitude of many of the national representatives, which was to express fury that any newspaper should have the temerity to question their practices. It was even suggested that this was a plot by the UK to impose “colonial governance” on others.

I hope Fifa members take a different attitude, but I won’t hold my breath.
Richard Benyon (Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries 2010-13), House of Commons

They think it’s all over

Here’s proper investigative journalism — well done, The Sunday Times. The enterprise has served only to bring Qatar into disrepute when it was a chance for it to engage with the modern world. Combined with the country’s use of indentured labour, this must surely be the final nail in Qatar’s coffin as far as this ill-fated jamboree goes.
Chris Mayhew, Horley, Surrey

Lines of inquiry

I would welcome a full inquiry by a body such as the FBI to determine the existence and scope of any illegal activity that may have occurred, and to allow any necessary sanctions to be imposed.
Robert Jones, Glasgow

No result

Even if former Qatari vice- president of Fifa Mohamed bin Hammam was not connected to the bid, his alleged activities corrupted the process and thus the result should not stand.
Don Mackinlay, Woldingham, Surrey

Substitutions at the top

Sepp Blatter’s position as Fifa’s president is untenable, as is that of the executive committee system. How to replace them is the question; transparency is needed.
David Walton, Dubai

Kicked into touch

What some of the critics forget is that bribery and corruption are part of the culture in Middle Eastern countries and throughout African states, though that’s not to say it doesn’t exist elsewhere.

This scandal is set to explode and rightly so. I, for one, would want to see Fifa dismantled: Blatter and his cohorts cannot provide the regulation to eliminate what we have witnessed over the years.
Stephen Mulrine, Via email

Net gains

I am glad this topic is being raised but, let’s face it, any right-minded person already knew that Fifa is corrupt. What surprises me is the sums involved. If these figures are accurate, $5m (£3m) is a very good price given the financial benefits a host country can expect to receive.
Sebastian Cargutt, Leeds

All to play for

Now the story’s out, let’s just get on with rebidding the tournament to countries that respect football. What’s startling, though, is the alleged level of corruption in a state strong on religious belief.
Manjit Khosla, Via email

Undone deal

The only people who can stop this are the sponsors. They have the power to create a new Fifa.
Chris Gott, Rossendale, Lancashire

First 11 fail to score

Eleven pages devoted to the “corrupt” selection of Qatar for the World Cup. I buy this publication to read meaningful world news.
Tom McKirdy, Largs, Ayrshire

Home advantage

One solution to bidding corruption would be to select a single “home” for the World Cup. Such a strategy would also remove the need for the winning host nations to build complex infrastructure such as stadiums, hotels and function venues. Internationally, this surely represents a wasteful duplication of resources.

As things stand, I can’t imagine top football clubs risking the health of their most valuable players in heat predicted to be 40C-50C.
Elizabeth Oakley, Dursley, Gloucestershire

Hot shots

Any corruption is, of course, a scandal but what does it say about Fifa that it only recently conceded playing football in summer could be a problem because of the heat? So at no point previously did it consider this? Never mind corrupt, how about incompetent?
Martyn Westbury, Monksilver, Somerset

Banning burqa in public a step in the right direction

JENNI RUSSELL makes a strong case in favour of a burqa ban (“We rage at a stoning there yet turn a blind eye to the burqa here”, Comment, last week).

Whichever country you choose to cite, we see the barbaric treatment of women by misguided, cowardly, bigoted and often simply criminal men. There should be no question of this being tolerated in Britain, and imposing a ban on the burqa and its equivalents in public places would be both a symbolic and tangible start.
John E Chamberlin, Ashbourne, Derbyshire

Mind-forg’d manacle

I think the burqa should be banned. The place we have to start fighting repression is in our minds — and now.
Maria English, Southsea, Hampshire

Dress code

I agree with Russell. In fact I would go further and insist that all schools should ban any religious or cultural items of dress or ornament to integrate all our ethnic groups and prevent extremism.
Elizabeth Roe, Chelmsford

Taking liberties

The article reminds me of a parishioner who once told me that he would get rid of all violence in society by bringing back caning in schools, the birch for teenage louts and hanging for murderers.

To say “we must stop funding, encouraging and permitting illiberal behaviour” and then to proceed to call for a ban on faith schools and the wearing of the burqa belongs to the same form of tortured logic.

The threat to liberty in this country does not lie with a few extremists but with vocal and unrepresentative secularist fundamentalism — the antithesis of true liberalism.
The Reverend Jim Wellington, Nottingham

Alan Bennett letter created a drama of its own

YOUR profile of the playwright Alan Bennett (“The teddy bear’s claws draw literary blood”, May 11 ) reminded me of the time several years ago when my daughter took the central role for a leading amateur dramatic society in one of his intimate one-act plays. On the off-chance of a favourable reply, she sent Bennett an invitation to attend and received a charming, handwritten letter graciously declining but including a number of salient tips on some of the work’s hidden nuances.

Over the moon, she took the letter along to the next rehearsal, only to be told by the feisty female director: “Who does he think he is, telling me how to direct?”
Jeremy Brien, Bristol

Folly of excluding creative arts at GCSE

IT WAS striking to read the opera company general manager Michael Volpe’s account of his schooling (“Why opera really isn’t just for toffs”, Culture, last week), which saw culture as “a crucial part of life’s intellectual necessities”. In the same newspaper, however, I learnt that the exams watchdog Ofqual may decide drama and the creative arts do not now make the grade as part of the “GCSE brand” (“‘Soft’ GCSEs face axe”, News). What will this brand be worth that might exclude some of the cornerstones of our culture as not sufficiently “academic”? If the creative arts are excluded from courses offered at GCSE, this will lead to them not being taught in most schools. Then the chances of producing another opera boss from a tough inner-city estate will be remote, and opera may just be for toffs after all.
Clarissa Farr, High Mistress, St Paul’s Girls’ School, London


Looks familiar

Atticus amused last week with his story about Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Clement Attlee’s responses to those who told them that they looked like the people they actually were. The Queen was once approached by a tourist who said, “You look just like the Queen.” Her Majesty allegedly replied, “How very reassuring.”
Neville Lloyd, Portishead, Somerset

Political designs

In a review last week Edwin Lutyens was attributed with designing “the vast, Roman- style parliament building” as well as the Viceroy’s House in Delhi (“How little pieces of Britain met the world”, Books). The co-architect of the parliament building was Sir Herbert Baker.
James Offen, Oriel College, Oxford

Border incident

Peter Fieldman (“Britain’s got problems”, Letters, last week) complains of a “loss of national identity” and says it is illegal immigration that is “transforming towns and cities”. It is legal immigration that allows Fieldman to live in Madrid. Has Spain been transformed by his presence?
John Bell, Wrexham

Praising Singapore

In the correspondence headed “Singapore is no place to look for a model of democracy” (Letters, May 25) Roy Hollingworth compared Singapore to North Korea and Syria, while in “Eastern promise” Malcolm Roderick suggested that its dissidents are confined to underground jails, but conceded this was rumour. Having lived there for 15 years I know the ruling party is not perfect, but it has converted a poor nation into one with a high standard of living for its multicultural society with education, health services and a retirement scheme which are the envy of many. To compare this with regimes where mass killings are attributable is an insult.
Malcolm Kelsey, Sainte-Maxime, France

In pocket

Hunter Davies recalling his lack of pocket money as a boy (“Stilettos are fine but kittens remain the cat’s whiskers”, Money, last week) reminded me of my own negotiations with my father. When I was nine, I got him to agree to give me a penny a week for every year of my age. I was chuffed as it meant a half-crown every week when I was 30!
George Pritt, Moor Row, Cumbria

Word to the wise

Can someone kindly explain why “f****** pleb” is so dire an expression as to justify such fury and litigation (“Emails reveal police laid Plebgate trap”, News, and “A trap was laid for Andrew Mitchell”, Editorial, last week). The first word is so commonplace that, almost uniquely in our language, it can serve as a noun, a verb or an adjective, and is uttered daily by multitudes. The second denotes a commoner in ancient Rome, and was an occasional playground taunt in the 1950s, but rather faded away when Latin became optional.
Stephen Garford, London NW6

Poles remembered

AA Gill (“The UKIP tache has Tories twitching”, News, last week) on the Newark by-election kindly mentions the 397 Polish servicemen buried in the town. General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Poland’s prime minister and commander-in-chief, killed in a plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943, lay there for 50 years until 1993, when he was taken back to rest among other national heroes in Krakow Cathedral. Also buried on English soil there are three Polish presidents-in-exile. The Warsaw Air Bridge monument close to the graves commemorates the sacrifice of RAF, South African and Polish aircrew killed flying supplies to insurgents in the Warsaw uprising.
Michael Olizar, London SW15

Corrections and clarifications

An article last week (“Human traffickers made victims collect clothes for bogus charity”, News) was illustrated with a photograph of David Walliams and an unidentified child at an event organised by Dreams Come True, the charity whose name the traffickers were using without its knowledge. We apologise to the child, his family and the charity for using this photograph without permission, and regret the distress caused. Dreams Come True is a bona fide national charity with a mission to “bring joy to seriously and terminally ill children”.

The article “Is a longer life really good news for all?” (Money, last week) suggested that married pensioners live longer than single pensioners. In fact the data shows that married couples and single people have a similar longevity. We apologise for the error.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission ( or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)


Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, 59; Kim Clijsters, tennis player, 31; Ray Illingworth, cricketer, 82; Joan Rivers, comedian, 81; Bonnie Tyler, singer, 63; Derek Underwood, cricketer, 69; Kanye West, rapper, 37


632 Muhammad, founder of Islam, dies; 1929 Margaret Bondfield becomes first female cabinet minister; 1949 George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four published; 1999 former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken jailed for perjury


Many shops do not supply half sizes, or accommodate shoppers who need a wider fit

Best foot forward: a bronze statue at the Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, on Italy’s Amalfi coast

Best foot forward: a bronze statue at the Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, on Italy’s Amalfi coast  Photo: Christa Knijff / Alamy

6:59AM BST 07 Jun 2014

Comments197 Comments

SIR – My feet stopped growing when I was 14, at size 10½. My father had a last made for my school shoes; the rest of the time I wore men’s shoes.

One thing that I have noticed over the years is the lack of half sizes: usually I can only get a 10 or an 11, but even for these I mainly have to travel or shop online.

Val Pallister
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – The problem isn’t only with large sizes. I wear a 6½ to 7, depending on the make. But I have had endless problems buying shoes to fit my wide feet.

For years I was told by exasperated shoe shop assistants, as the boxes piled ever higher, that “the shoes will stretch with wear”.

I always ended up with blisters.

Angela Walters
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Why did all the real heroes of the day have to sit out in the hot sun (or it could have been in the pouring rain), while the big-wigs had more comfortable seats sheltered from the elements?

June Mundell
Castle Cary, Somerset

SIR – At this time when we remember our losses in two world wars, can we also spare a shred of pity for all the fallen, on whichever side they were fighting?

Brenda Bywater
Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire

SIR – For Operation Neptune, the invasion fleet of British and American ships, 796 civilians were specially selected. One was a 17-year old school boy (Bill Shonfield) who lied about his age, as did Norman Thompson, born in 1879.

All served with the Royal Observer Corps, and were temporarily enrolled as Petty Officer (Aircraft Identifier). Their sole role was to recognise both friendly and hostile aircraft approaching the fleet, both to alert the defences and to prevent casualties through friendly fire.

Ten were mentioned in despatches, but their wartime service is largely unknown.

Dennis Bates
Bromley, Kent

SIR – Indeed bicycles were issued for the D-Day landings (Letters, June 6). My father, recounting his memories of 72 Field Company, Royal Engineers, mentions how he was issued with a bicycle for forward reconnaissance. It was the first bit of kit he lost, while going up the beach.

He lived for many years in fear of a bill from the War Office for the loss.

Richard Moore
London SE21

SIR – There are British D-Day veterans and widows still alive in Commonwealth countries. Because they have retired abroad to be close to their families in places such as Australia or Canada, they suffer a frozen British state pension. Yet had these British veterans retired in the United States, Israel or EU countries, their UK state pensions would be indexed each year.

Sir Peter Bottomley MP (Con)
London SW1

SIR – In a recently screened German series about five young people in the Nazi era, D-Day is mentioned thus: “One hundred and fifty thousand American troops have landed in Normandy.”

John Rook
Enfield, Middlesex

SIR – A shot of D-Day often shown on television is of British soldiers disembarking from a landing-craft, one of whom is shown looking to his right and out to sea.

I have often wondered what happened to him and if he survived the day. Does anyone know?

Diana Goetz
Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Sunday 8 June 2014

New party invite

Published 08/06/2014|02:30

Madam – We are now witnessing the rise of nationalism and socialism among our electorate.

History shows us very clearly that this combination is potent, and has the potential to create extremely dangerous outcomes for our country.

France is certainly not a socio-economic model to follow. The French have not balanced their books for over 40 years, and the country has lost some of its brightest and best to London where well over a million French citizens now work and reside.

By supporting the rise of Sinn Fein, we will sleep-walk into trouble.

In order for Ireland to recover, we must be led by people who have the skills, knowledge and experience of working in the real economy.

Career politicians, of which there are many, quite simply do not understand the life of an SME and therefore are no longer required to represent us.

Thankfully, in our hour of need, there are very talented TDs such as Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly who have come from industry and have clearly demonstrated that they understand the workings of the real economy.

More importantly, they are not afraid to speak out against the establishment, and will make the required change.

We need both Mr Ross and Mr Donnelly to now come together to form a party, along with other individuals such as David Hall, Lucinda Creighton, Jonathan Irwin, Diarmuid O’Flynn and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, to lead us back to prosperity.

Olivia Hazell,

Clane, Co Kildare

Sunday Independent


June 7, 2014

7June2014 Out

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get to the Co Op!

Scrabbletoday, I win the game, and gets just under 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Francis Disney – obituary

Francis Disney was a prison officer who chronicled a thrilling Somerset tale of executions, riots and redemption

Francis Disney at the walls of HMP Shepton Mallet

Francis Disney at the walls of HMP Shepton Mallet

6:05PM BST 06 Jun 2014

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Francis Disney, who has died aged 83, was a prison librarian at HMP Shepton Mallet, and delved into its 400-year history to produce an immensely colourful account of riots, reprobates and redemption.

Disney found that Shepton Mallet’s prison, which sits at the heart of the sedate Somerset town, was the source of murky and marvellous material. It had seen numerous jail breaks (some more successful than others); incarcerated the Kray Twins; put down a major uprising by inmates in the Fifties; and survived a fire, in 1904, during which prisoners, wardens and firemen manned the hoses together (and no one attempted to abscond). It also earned a grisly reputation for wartime executions, carried out by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint — the infamous uncle-and-nephew team of hangmen.

Entrance to Shepton Mallet illustrated in Francis Disney’s history

During his 15 years as an officer behind the 75ft-high stone walls at Shepton Mallet prison, Disney became fascinated by its gruesome past: “I was a prison librarian here and my office was in the room used by the Americans for executions [During the Second World War it served as an American military prison]. Sixteen people were killed by hanging in that room. I never used to feel scared by any ghosts, though. If these walls could only talk, it would be with the voices of people under persecution.”

Francis John Disney was born on October 24 1930 in Exeter, where his father was a taxi driver and his mother a seamstress. He attended the city’s John Stocker School before taking up an apprenticeship in motor engineering with British Railways.

After his National Service (1952-54) he continued working as a motor mechanic, first for Devon County Council and then the RAC. He joined the Prison Service in 1965, training at Leyhill before being stationed at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. He also served at Aylesbury Young Offenders Prison and Bedford Prison.

During his time at Shepton Mallet (1975-90), Disney oversaw inmates sentenced to short terms of up to four years. “I enjoyed my time there,” he recalled. “Most of the human race are OK, except for the crime they have done. There are few evil people. I suppose I have only met four or five evil people who would have murdered their mother and thought nothing of it.” He considered the prison a microcosm of society with its “happy side and the sad side, and the dangerous side as well”.

In 1984 he secured the Queen’s permission to write Heritage of a Prison: HMP Shepton Mallet, 1610-1985, for which he delivered a pacy narrative. “My writings are told in the vein of a story and I have left out most of the mundane statistics,” he stated. The first edition sold out (two further reprints followed, including a revised edition in 1992). Disney traced the prison’s history through the public records and the very fabric of the building. “We started looking through the past and uncovering all kinds of things,” he recalled about his investigations. “Staircases that led to nowhere and windows that had been bricked up.”

Built on cornfields, the prison (also known as Cornhill) opened in 1610 under King James I’s order that each county keep a “House of Correction”. Disney noted that “conditions were very, very unsavoury” as it filled with rogues and prostitutes. “This resulted in outbreaks of the dreaded disease of Gaol-fever,” he noted, as inmates succumbed to “promiscuous mixing and the purchase of favours”.

The 20th century also provided Disney with plenty of eyebrow-raising anecdotes . When two prisoners working outside to tend the local churchyard broke into a house they received a Queen’s pardon of seven days because they had seen a distraught pensioner trapped inside. Less benign was the prison chaplain’s copy of The Secret of Happiness by the evangelist Billy Graham — it held a hacksaw in its hollowed-out pages. And it was behind Shepton Mallet’s bars in the Fifties that Reggie and Ronnie Kray — serving time for avoiding National Service — first met Charlie Richardson, who would become their rival in the gangland wars a decade later.

Copy of Billy Graham’s The Secret of Happiness with a hacksaw hidden inside

Disney suggested that the prison’s controversial role as a US military jail — or “glass house” — during the Second World War had been the inspiration for EM Nathanson’s The Dirty Dozen. There were 18 executions of American servicemen (sentenced to death for murder or rape) at Shepton Mallet during the war years. Three prisoners were by executed by firing squad, the rest by hanging.

The hangings were carried out by the Pierrepoints, who were obliged to abide by American protocol. In the British way of doing things, the death sentence was carried out within seconds of the condemned man being led from his cell. But America required the prisoner, even at the gallows, to hear the list of charges against him. “The part of the routine which I found it hardest to acclimatise myself to was the, to me, sickening interval between my introduction to the prisoner and his death,” noted Albert Pierrepoint in his memoirs, Home Office Executioner.

A more heart-warming wartime role was given to the prison’s unoccupied women’s wing, which stored treasures — including the original manuscript volumes of The Domesday Book — from the archives of the Public Records Office, which was at risk during the Blitz.

Disney helped to set up the prison’s museum, gave lectures on its history and provided tours before its closure in April 2013 — an event he found discombobulating. “I know every inch of this building. Seeing it being decommissioned is very strange and emotional.” Shepton Mallet was, he maintained, more than a correction facility: “A prison is not normally considered a valuable. I do question this. Shepton Mallet Prison is of value. It is of architectural value; it has been of value to society in many areas and continues to be of value to Shepton Mallet town.”

HMP Shepton Mallet at the time of its closure (JAY WILLIAMS)

All proceeds from his book and lectures went to a local cancer charity in memory of his former colleague, John Izatts, who had helped Disney with his research.

In 1991 Disney was awarded a BEM (in recognition of his charity work) and the Imperial Service Medal.

Francis Disney married, in 1960, Linda West, who survives him with their two sons and a daughter.

Francis Disney, born October 24 1930, died May 20 2014


This part of Lennie Goodings’ homage to Maya Angelou took my breath away with pride: “So it was that 15 years after the first US publication, we published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in a Virago paperback. Maya appeared on Afternoon Plus. It was a heartfelt, bold interview and Maya talked about the part in her book where she is raped at eight and how she became mute until literature coaxed her back into speaking. The TV switchboards were jammed; the reviews and features that followed were stunning. Maya beamed straight into British hearts” (Review, 31 May). Then I thought, ouch! How could a woman leave out the name of the interviewer? The female interviewer. Women still remain underrepresented on screen and so I have always felt the need to name names to help redress the imbalance. Maya became a lovely friend after we met at that interview. But it was great what Lennie wrote about her.
Mavis Nicholson (the interviewer)
Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Powys

Harry Leslie Smith’s account of his sister’s death in 1926 and his eulogy to the NHS moved many readers. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

I was born in 1937, and when I was a month old my father collapsed in Stratford High Road with pneumonia and pleurisy. When he was sufficiently recovered, he spent some weeks convalescing, during that time my mother had no income and the last of my parents’ money went on paying for an ambulance to bring him home.

Later I remember my father when he was working as an orthopaedic technician, getting off his pushbike, and having heard about the new NHS, greeting my mother with the words “Thank goodness, we shall never have to worry about getting sick again” (What happened to the world my generation built?, G2, 5 June)

So my generation is healthier and living longer thanks to the care we have received throughout our lives from a service run by dedicated clinicians and not run for profit by the cheapest provider. We have heard so much about the excessive “cost” of the NHS, but this belies the truth that in England we spend less per capita on health than most other developed countries.

Of course those promulgating this myth often have vested interests in the private companies, often foreign, that are gathering like vultures in the hope of the fat profits they hope to make from our illnesses and health needs.

The politicians behind these insidious plans are intent on dismantling a service which was, before they interfered, the envy of the world. But then they are far too young to remember life before the NHS, and if things get really grim they can afford to pay for private care.
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire

Gary Kempston illustration Illustration: Gary Kempston

• The answer to Harry Leslie Smith’s question is that Conservative MPs, such as Oliver Letwin and John Redwood, got their hands on it. When working for Rothschild bank’s international privatisation department, they laid plans for the Health and Social Care Act which were fleshed out in the Adam Smith Institute’s report, The Health of Nations, in 1988, the same year Old Etonian Letwin published his book Privatising the World. In 2004, Letwin, then Tory shadow chancellor, invited businessmen to his West Dorset constituency, encouraging them to work together to win contracts for a new PFI local hospital. According to one participant, Letwin told his audience that within five years of a Conservative victory “the NHS will not exist any more“.

Letwin, now minister of government policy, has overseen both health secretarys’ work since the 2010 election. The bill widens the door, opened by New Labour, to NHS privatisation, closure of hospital services, selling off hospital land to create a service funded, not from general taxation but by individual payments to insurance companies. As Harry puts it: ” … the NHS stripped down like a derelict house …”

As Michael Portillo said: “They [the Tories] did not believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do [to the NHS]…”
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• My father was born in the workhouse infirmary in Colchester in 1900. My mother’s family fled from the terrible poverty of Glasgow’s Gorbals to London in 1904. I was fortunate to spend my early life in a country where conditions improved. I am only 79, but I remember when the Labour party defended the weak the sick and the poor. I pray that the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, read Harry’s touching story of his sister Marion’s life and death.
John Munson
Maidstone, Kent

• Dear Harry, thank you for reminding us of the awful conditions that the NHS replaced. Rarely have I been so moved by an article in the Guardian. The piece by Harry Leslie Smith, so beautifully written, should be sent to every MP and member of the House of Lords who voted for the Health and Social Care Act so that they can realise the enormity of what they have done.
Ann Lynch
Skipton, North Yorkshire

• I am in my 70th year, rather than the 91 years of Harry, but I too despair at the dismantling of the welfare state that meant so much to working-class people. How is it that the elderly can forget so easily and vote for political parties, which now includes the Labour party, who want to privatise all the services that working-class people depend on?
Colin Lewis
Blackwood, Gwent

• Three words stood out for me: “taxation benefits everyone”. Discuss.
Mike Pender

• Harry Leslie Smith’s eulogy to the NHS measures the levels of improvement in society following the second world war and the opportunities that have been missed. The NHS did not create an equal society, but it gave access to healthcare irrespective of means to pay and made strides in medicine which were available to everyone. It became a model to aspire to. The NHS as a public service has saved or ameliorated countless lives throughout most of Harry’s life. The solution to the rising cost is raising contributions, not selling it off. If we were a more equal society, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Dr Graham Ullathorne
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• My mother is 89 and lost the sight in one eye as a child because her parents could not afford any treatment. I was born in 1945 and survived pneumonia and rheumatic fever as a young child because of the NHS. Harry Leslie Smith’s wonderful lament made me weep.
Andrew McCulloch
Collingham, Nottinghamshire

• Best piece of writing I’ve seen in years. Mr Gove should make it compulsory reading in all schools.
Rosemary Adams
Hunmanby, North Yorkshire

• How ironic that at a time we are commemorating the outbreak of the first world war and the D-day landings of 1944, we are betraying the hopes and aspirations of the generations involved. They wanted a better future for their children and grandchildren, one which removed the fear of illness, poverty and lack of opportunity. We, their children and grandchildren, should be deeply ashamed of our wilful destruction of their legacy.
Carole Rowe
Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

‘The former prime minister gave a passionate, persuasive and often quite funny defence of the UK.’ Photograph: Rex Features

Michael Billington should have made his way along to a packed Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket on Tuesday evening (Angry and unlovable, is this the real Gordon Brown?, 6 June), where the former prime minister gave a passionate, persuasive and often quite funny defence of the United Kingdom. He always was and still is highly popular in Scotland.
Ronnie McGowan

• The shoebox flat rented out after 16 hours (Report, 4 June) looks positively spacious compared to the university-managed student accommodation where my daughter lives in east London. Her rent is £175 per week for a 12 metre-squared room. It is becoming increasingly difficult for students to study and live in London unless they have part-time jobs and/or financial support from their parents and other sources.
Carole Vartan
Marple, Stockport

• As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-day (Operation Overlord) (D-day remembered, 6 June), let us not forget the second invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon) on 15 August 1944. That equally important theatre of operations completed the liberation of France within three months of Overlord.
Dominic Shelmerdine

• When I lived in Oxford in the 1980s, we knew Noilly Prat as Noisy Prat (Letters, 6 June), because the person drinking it usually was one.
Tom Locke
Burntisland, Fife

• Are you using aversion therapy to stop me drinking beer (Pulling in the votes, 5 June)? First of all there was that Farage photograph with a tankard of Greene King’s I was hoping to be drinking IPA from just such a tankard tomorrow.IPA. Then, you have Boris pulling a pint of GK’s Abbot Ale. Incidentally, did Farage notice that behind him, there was an the insult to the country he is supposed to defend? There were several St George’s flags with the word Carlsberg written on them. I believe this is still a Danish brewer, though they do own Tetley and Scottish & Newcastle.
John Fisher
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

• The football World Cup is almost upon us and yet I have not yet seen one car “sporting” the English flag – is this just a local phenomenon or more widespread? Should Ukip be worried?
Doug Sandle

Jean-Claude Juncker with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. who is pushing his candidacy to become EU commission president. Photograph: Pool/Getty Images

When proposing a candidate for the EU commission president, the Lisbon treaty instructs the European council to “take into account the elections to the European parliament” and states that the commission president “shall be elected by the European parliament” (Report, 28 May). When the EU governments added these words to the treaty, it was widely seen as a significant break from the past, as from now on the choice of the most powerful executive office in the EU would be done in a more open and democratic way. We find it disingenuous to claim, as some heads of government have done, that these treaty changes have no meaning. They believe that as heads of states and governments they have the right to choose the president of the commission and the European parliament should ratify. In this interpretation, the parliament can veto, but not take initiatives.

The alternative view, taken by the main political parties before the European elections, claims that the council must take into account the outcome of the elections. European citizens, therefore, have a word to say about who leads the European commission, which alone makes proposals for European laws. The first approach has contributed to the perception that distant “Brussels” takes decisions over which citizens have no control. The second approach aims to return sovereignty to the citizens of Europe. It seeks to balance the excessive power of the council by the democratically elected European parliament.

In the spirit of the new treaty, Europe’s party families have nominated candidates for the commission president before the election. The candidates fought a rigorous campaign, criss-crossing the continent. There were several live TV debates between the candidates and the media have covered the candidates’ campaigns. And, crucially, the candidates have argued about the direction of the EU. In short, this was the birth of democratic politics in the EU. We acknowledge that the system is not perfect. Nevertheless, this was an encouraging start, and in time this process has the potential to enable European citizens to engage with EU level politics far more than they have been able to do up to now.

We hence urge the heads of government not to kill this new democracy process at its birth. We urge the members of the European parliament to rally around the candidate who got most seats. The European People’s party has emerged from the elections as the largest group. The European council should therefore now propose the candidate of the EPP: Jean-Claude Juncker. This would follow the spirit of the new treaty and also be consistent with the way the chief executive is chosen in most of our national constitutions: where after an election the president or monarch invites the candidate of the largest party to have the first go at demonstrating that he or she has the support of a majority. Proposing someone other than Juncker would be a refusal to recognise the changes in the treaty. It would also further undermine the shaky democratic credentials of the EU, and play into the hands of the Eurosceptics across the continent.
Prof Dr Stefan Collignon, Prof Simon Hix, Prof Dr Roberto Castaldi, Prof Dr Jürgen Habermas, Mr Costas Simitis former prime minister, Greece, Prof Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, Prof Tony Giddens, Prof Dr Claus Offe, Prof Dr Ullrich Beck, Prof Paul deGrauwe, Prof Dr Gianfranco Pasquino, Prof Dr Hans-Werner, Prof Christian Lequene, Mr Brian Unwin former president, European Investment Bank Prof Dr Antonio Padoa Schioppa, Prof Dr Sebastian Dullien, Professor Ulrich Preuss, Prof Dr Nadia Urbinati, Daniela Schwarzer Director, German Marshall Fund, Dr Ettore Greco, Director, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Prof Dr Lucio Levi, Dr Enrico Calossi, Coordinator of the Observatory on Political Parties and Representation, European University Institute Prof Dr Massimilano Guderzo, Daniela Schwarzer Director, German Marshall Fund, Flavio Brugnoli Director, Centre for Studies on Federalism, Dr Giuseppe Martinico, Prof Dr Francesco Gui, Prof Jerónimo Maillo, Graham Bishop, Prof Dr Bernard Steunenberg, Prof Dr Gustav Horn, Graham Avery, Prof Dr Karl Kaise, Paul Jaeger Associé, Russell Reynolds Associates, John Loughlin Director, von Hugel Institute, Prof Dr Leila Simona, Dr Francisco Pereiro Coutinho, Prof Steven Hasleler, Prof Dr Mario Telò, Prof Dr Piero Graglia, Bertrand de Maigret, Prof Stephanie Novak, Annabelle Laferrere, LSE, Dr Matej Avbelj, Prof Constanca Urbano de Sousa, Pedro Gouveia e Melo, Dr Matej Avbelj, Prof Dr Gianluigi Palombella, Prof Armando Marques Guedes, Carlos Botelho Moniz Lawyer, Portugese Society of European law, Brendan Donnelly Director, Federal Trust, UK, Dr Henning Meyer

• Surely a fatal objection to Juncker becoming president of the European commission is that he is a former prime minister of Luxembourg, which vies with the Republic of Ireland as the biggest tax stealer in the EU. For example, Ian Griffiths described in detail how Amazon and Luxembourg deprive the UK of rightful tax payments (Report, 4 April) .

It is incredible that the EU didn’t deal with the tax-stealing problem decades ago. Instead it has expanded geographically and the European commission has expanded its activities outside its competence while letting the tax problem grow. The EC needs to come up with proposals for fixing it now – Juncker is not the person to lead it in this effort.
John Wilson


At a party recently with friends, all similar to myself (early fifties, working-class background, professional graduates, Labour voters), I confessed that I had voted Lib Dem at the last election, and one by one the others did too.

We did so for the same reasons. We saw the Lib Dem promises as a more left-wing manifesto than that offered by the Labour Party. We could not see anyone in the Labour Party who was like us.

My great-grandfather died canvassing for the emerging Labour Party. He wanted representation. His MP was rich and lived elsewhere. He wanted someone to stand up and complain about his poverty, about his zero-hours contract on the docks and about the desperate prospects for his children.

The result was that my grandparents were represented by Bessie Braddock, a local woman whom they could trust would stand up for them.

My parents had Eric Heffer who worked on  the building sites with my dad.

I had Terry Fields, a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage. Who will my son have? The rumour is Euan Blair: rich and from elsewhere, typical of the modern Labour MP – looks and sounds good on TV but no idea of what it is like to struggle.

So I have been disenfranchised. I will never vote Lib Dem again. Like my friends, I was conned. I will never vote Ukip but can see why people do. They appear “real”.

I haven’t left the Labour Party, the Labour Party has been taken from me and my people by middle-class people who thought they knew what was good for us.

We have come full circle. My graduate children are working in coffee shops and bars on zero-hours contracts with no rights, each with a personal debt that is bigger than my mortgage at their age and no effective trade union to stand up for them.

Meanwhile the rich get richer. How did that happen after 13 years of a Labour government?

We need to throw this lot out and start all over again.

Tony Packwood, Liverpool


While I applaud the Labour Party’s promise to educate our young people on the importance of voting (“Labour’s class action to raise voting rates”, 6 June), it will be of little use unless trust in our political process is restored.

The electorate needs to be assured that casting a vote is more than just a choice between varying degrees of evil.

A promise of a law to allow constituents to recall an MP would be a good first step to achieving greater confidence that politicians will represent the will of the people, not their own self-interest.

Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk


Let the grass grow – to feed the sparrows

Charlie Smith in Dulwich (letter, 4 June) rightly welcomes the chirp of his sparrows, and I believe he’s correct in his observation that numbers appear to be rising. There has been an almost universal decline.

Wales has proved to be the exception. Maybe it’s the continuation of traditional farming practices; we are not entirely sure.

The RSPB is one of the many organisations investigating the decline of the house sparrow. No one has yet established the cause or, more probably, causes, of their dramatic drop in numbers. However, we do know that a lack of the right food and a lack of nesting places are contributory factors.

Young sparrows need plenty of protein, and older sparrows crave carbohydrate. The demise of the sparrow reflects the paucity of insects and seed in the environment, so get messy outdoors and let the grass literally grow under your feet and go to seed.

We have anecdotal evidence within London that the chirpy Cockney sparrow is starting to rally. Great effort is being made by ourselves, local authorities, organisations such as London Underground and other conservation NGOs to restore natural food availability in the capital.

Sparrows, bats, bees and butterflies will benefit, and the colours and sounds of nature will enrich Londoners’ lives.

As for The Independent’s offer of a reward for whoever reveals what’s behind the population collapse of the house sparrow, I suspect it will remain unclaimed, as we are now aware that there is a hugely complex web of factors driving a downwards trend of as much as 60 per cent of our UK wildlife.

Sorry to end on such a negative note, but we are all doing too little too late to sustain our green and pleasant land.

Tim Webb, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds , London SW1

There seems no shortage of sparrows in this area of the North York Moors. We have two sparrow families nesting in the house tiles and at least two more families in next door’s hedge. And many other villagers have reported plenty of sparrow activity.

We regularly, breakfast time and early evening, have at least six to eight on the feeding station, and another 10 waiting their turn on the fence. They make a lot of noise, but we spend many happy hours watching them.

Christine Wainwright, Goathland, Yorkshire


New flag needed for today’s England

Soon we will see England flags fluttering proudly from cars as our heroic football team sets out in Brazil to bring the World Cup back to the home of football.

But in this outburst of commendable patriotism, we must not forget that peace-loving Muslims living among us could well be offended by the flag of St George. Not only is it associated with the bloodthirsty Crusaders as they raped, murdered and pillaged their way to the Holy Land, but in recent times the flag has also been hijacked by far-right political parties.

Therefore, to avoid stirring up racial resentment, to make the flag more inclusive and to show we are a truly multicultural society, might it not be appropriate to incorporate an Islamic symbol such as a crescent into the top left corner?

Then Muslims could happily join in cheering Steven Gerrard and the lads. Come on, England!

Charles Garth, Ampthill, Bedfordshire


Yes, we boomers  were lucky

I was born in 1944 and I regard myself both as a baby boomer and lucky. Jane Jakeman (letter, 6 June) got it right when she argued that pre-Thatcher we voted for a decent equitable society, where employers were encouraged to look after their staff, rather than screw them to the deck, as many do now.

It is correct that only 10 per cent went to university, but many of us, including me, were taught at a polytechnic, where the employer paid our tuition fee and paid for day release

When we left school we found there were plenty of jobs; we needed only basic qualifications to get them. Nurses learnt their trade in real hospitals dealing with real people, and while they were not well paid, they were at least earning while they were learning. Nowadays, they practice on dummies while at university, have learnt nothing about life and graduate with huge debts.

Students today leave university to find their are few decent jobs to compensate them for all their efforts, and while many will not earn enough to repay their student loan, it is a millstone round their neck. We were, indeed, a lucky generation. Today’s young people will only be able to survive if they went to a top university or have parents able to pay off their student loan.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey


Democracy is being undermined

Congratulations are in order: in unveiling proposals whereby frackers will not need to seek the permission of those residing above ground before drilling beneath them, David Cameron has become the first Prime Minister in history both figuratively and literally to undermine the democratic processes of this country.

Julian Self, Wolverton, Milton Keynes


Now ‘now then’ needs to be reclaimed, then

Now then, sir. It’s disappointing that “Now then” reminds Lin Hawkins (letter, 6 June) of Jimmy Savile. It didn’t occur to me for a minute that it would, and if it is a common view, then remedial action is imperative. The battle to reclaim “Now then” from the clutches of Savile starts now. Reight?

Mark Redhead, Oxford

“Now then” may have Lin Hawkins thinking of Jimmy Savile, but I will always associate it with Fred Trueman. In cardigan and tie, smoking his pipe and pint in hand, he would open each episode of the 1970s Yorkshire TV series Indoor League with a brusque “Na’ then” as he introduced the viewer to the serious business of darts, bar billiards and arm wrestling.

Bill Cook, London N11

‘Honour’ and ‘killing’ have no connection

Please stop the use of the disgusting phrase “honour killing”. This euphemism suggests a justification for what is simply plain, misogynistic murder.

Ken Fletcher, Liuzhou, China


Getty Images

Published at 5:00PM, June 6 2014

The commemorations are seen by many as a reminder that freedom does not come easily

Sir, As we commemorate the D-Day landings, may I put in a word for the others who fought in the war. My father volunteered in 1939 and was in the British Expeditionary Force. Rescued from Dunkirk he took part in the famous opening barrage at El Alamein. Later he fought at Monte Cassino. After the war he was spat at in the street because he didn’t take part in the D-Day landings. This, of course, was Churchill’s fault as he downplayed the war in Italy so that the Eighth Army became the “Forgotten Army”. Let us not make the same mistake now, and take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those who fought for our freedom.

Dennis J Hickey

Southport, Merseyside

Sir, 70 years ago today, my father Jack, an RE officer, having spent many months in the military operations directorate at the War Office working on plans for the Normandy landings, dropped two ranks to volunteer for front-line service. On D-Day he landed on Juno beach in a Canadian LST, part of the first wave. He was awarded a DSO for bravery. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived.

I and so many of my generation are eternally grateful to all those thousands who gave their lives for our freedom. Every day I pass his photograph watching over me from the hall table. Every day I thank them all and so should we.

Andrew Hamilton

West Camel Somerset

Sir, On June 6, 1954, in my parish church, I heard one of the most vivid sermons in my life. The preacher started his sermon “Ten years ago today thousands of young men stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe.”

Ten years after D-Day memories were still fresh and it was just but a year after the Korean War, so everyone was well aware of the cost of defending freedom. The passion and expression of the sermon rightly encapsulated the country’s belief that freedom does not come easily and was well worth the fight.

I hope that this weekend at least one priest rekindles that passion with a sermon based on D-Day. It would be a timely acknowledgement of the bravery of the thousands who “stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe”.

Ian Proud

London W5

Sir, Before D-Day my grandfather lent his house to an assembly of US commanders, including Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War, General Marshall, Chief of Staff US Army, Admiral King, Commander in Chief US Naval Fleet, and General Arnold, Commander US Army Airborne, as they made the final preparations for the landings. The generals wrote to him, most movingly, after D-Day, of their stay and of the tranquillity of his garden amid the pressure of those last few days. The meeting was so secret I have seen no reference to it outside my grandfather’s papers.

The choice of location was not entirely random: Stimson had been a house guest in 1943, when my grandfather was appointed director of the construction of the Mulberry harbours used in the invasion.

The harbour breakwaters, the Phoenix units, can still be seen at Arromanches. They are a unique memorial, commemorating not suffering or destruction but audacity and British brilliance. They are long overdue for recognition as a UN World Heritage Site.

Simon Gibson

Eastleach, Glos

When you forget your passport you can still steal back into the UK – if you are carrying the right bits of paper

Sir, When Finchley Cricket Club went on tour to Holland in the 1980s one of our party forgot his passport and was allowed to travel freely, there and back, by showing the UK and Dutch officials his name on a label that his mother had sewn into the waistband of his cricket trousers.

Terry Wilton

Wavendon, Milton Keynes

Sir, A colleague once used a National Trust card to clear UK passport control. The card never leaves my wallet in case of similar emergencies.

Antony Hurden

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Sir, Arriving for lunch at the Reichstag, we found that passports were required for entry. After five, rather long, minutes we were admitted on the strength of our North-West Leicestershire old–age bus passes.

CN Grist

Castle Donington, Leics

Sir, Spare a thought for those with dual nationality. Shortly before 9/11 I returned to the UK on a visa-less Australian passport, having forgotten to take my UK passport on a trip down under. I was allowed in after producing a copy of Private Eye. Immigration officials agreed it was near-conclusive evidence of Britishness.

Alice Adams

London NW3

A distinguished writer notes the instances of friendliness she found on her recent visit to the great metropolis

Sir, Having lately been bemused by surveys of the relative likeableness of various cities, I made notes during a recent two-day visit to London. Apart from acquaintances, I conversed with 28 strangers — hotel workers, waiters, shop assistants, taxidrivers and a couple of officials. Ten were European foreigners, four were Asians and one was a New Zealander. The only one who did not seem likeable was a very English cabbie, a class of Londoner I generally find delightful, but I was homesick by then and I expect he thought me nasty too.

Jan Morris

Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd

The ceremonial which surrounds the Queen’s speech may strike younger voters as bizarrely irrelevant flummery

Sir, As a council candidate I spent ten minutes on polling day convincing a reluctant 18-year-old to vote for the first time. My pitch about maintaining a thriving democracy did not include reference to any of the following, heard during the coverage of the Queen’s speech: the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor, the Earl Marshal, the George IV diadem, the Speaker’s Chaplain, Sovereign’s Heralds, Trainbearers, Black Rod, the Great Sword of State, the Cap of Maintenance, the Robing Room, the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Pages of Honour, and calls of “hats off strangers”.

John Slinger

Rugby, Warks

Sir, Is there any significance in the fact that in Peter Brookes’s cartoon of the Queen’s speech (June 5) the former Lord Lyon King of Arms is wearing a tabard of the Scottish Royal Arms leading the Sovereign in the procession in the House of Lords?

Thomas Woodcock

Garter King of Arms, College of Arms

London EC4

Richard Dawkins’ suspicion of children’s stories continues to puzzle the champions of creativity and imagination

Sir, Professor Dawkins (June 5) thinks it is “statistically too improbable” for one living creature to turn into another (The Frog Prince). Are the odds any better for billions of atoms to turn naturally by chance into a living cell?

Chris Bow

Stapleford, Cambs

Readers of Brideshead and viewers of the film seek the real-life locations that inspired the novel

Sir, Professor Fawcett (letter, June 3) suggests Madresfield Court as the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Castle. A more obvious candidate is Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, which Waugh would have known through his friendship with Cecil Beaton and the Herberts.

Waugh placed Brideshead in a Wiltshire park with a castle that gave its name to a Georgian successor. It was the seat of a Catholic family and the house contained a famous chapel.

Old Wardour Castle overlooks a lake that points to the new mansion on a nearby hill. The largest Georgian house in Wiltshire, Wardour Castle, has splendid interiors and a spectacular chapel. It too was the home to a Catholic dynasty, the Arundells. I recommend Wardour Old Castle as a picnic spot: strawberries and a bottle of Château Peyraguey would seem appropriate.

Nigel Thomas

Netherstreet, Wilts

Sir, Professor Fawcett deplores the use of the baroque Castle Howard as a visual shorthand for Brideshead, but there was good reason for its use in the TV film. In the novel Charles Ryder says staying at Brideshead signalled the end of his love for the medieval and his “conversion to the baroque”. The Flytes may be based on the inhabitants of Madresfield; the architecture of Brideshead Castle is clearly not.

David Bertram

Teddington, Middx

Sir, I expect Waugh, like other writers, had a variety of sources of inspiration. His description of Brideshead’s central rotunda reminds one of Ickworth and is very far from the Arts and Crafts of Madresfield. The chapel and family are, of course, undoubtedly those of Lady, and the exiled Lord, Lygon.

Neville Peel

Mottram-in-Longdendale, Cheshire


SIR – Allison Pearson accuses baby-boomers of being “too selfish” to volunteer. The “baby boom” is generally considered to have occurred between 1945 and 1965. As the average retirement age is just below 65, surely the majority of baby-boomers are likely to be still in full-time employment.

As a recently retired 63-year-old, I, along with a number of my contemporaries, have recently taken up volunteering for the National Trust, among other organisations.

Pamela McAuley
St Neots, Huntingdonshire

SIR – Allison Pearson says she feels guilty about not volunteering. Yet it doesn’t follow that our generation is selfish.

One of the potential upsides of an ageing society is a larger pool of people with the time to employ their skills and experience in voluntary work. Nor is there reason to panic about the future: much evidence suggests that today’s young people are even more altruistic than past generations.

Volunteering models will change. At the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, where I am executive director of volunteering and development, we are seeing more people undertaking “micro-volunteering” actions, online or through smartphones, for example.

Fortunately, the impulse to altruism is a trait hard-wired into us all.

Justin Davis Smith
London N1

SIR – I look round the committee of the small charity I work for, and we are nearly all over 80, having been involved in charitable ventures for many years. I wonder if it is a coincidence that we were the “lost” generation, who were about 10 when the war started. We were old enough to know what was going on; we accepted the bombing, went without holidays, and were infected by the general feeling of goodwill towards others. Where is the next generation of volunteers to come from?

Ann Flute
Bampton, Oxfordshire

SIR – A lack of National Trust Volunteers? Wonderful. I shall now be able to enjoy the architecture unaccosted.

Paula Brain-Smith
Minehead, Somerset

Plastic’s not my bag

SIR – I was delighted to hear in the Queen’s Speech that the Government plans to tackle the problem of plastic bags with a levy, and so hopefully reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill.

Can it link to this a restriction or ban on the sleeves that are now extensively used to distribute most of the catalogues and junk mail I receive? I have to admit that I do not always separate each mailing into the separate constituents for recycling; it would be far more effective if plastic sleeves were banned or taxed, prompting a change back to paper envelopes.

If this proves more expensive, it may have the added benefit of reducing somewhat the amount of junk mail that arrives on my doorstep every morning.

Richard Dalgleish
Kingsclere, Hampshire

SIR – Has anyone given thought to how many elderly and disabled people have their groceries delivered? It will take the poor delivery men and women far longer to unload each order into people’s kitchens without bags. Plus, how will the frozen and chilled items be separated?

Judy Williams
Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset

SIR – A two-litre plastic milk bottle weighs five times as much as a plastic bag. Why not set an end date for their use? Milk can be supplied in cardboard boxes, which it should be possible to recycle.

Charles Cooper
Malvern, Worcestershire

SIR – How will history remember this Coalition? As the destroyers of plastic bags.

Morton Morris
London NW2

Music with art

SIR – I went to the National Portrait Gallery recently and was astonished and irritated to find they were pumping loud pop music throughout the gallery. Apparently on Thursday evenings – crassly titled “The Late Shift” – a DJ is hired to spin a variety of tracks.

Art galleries represent one of the few havens of peace available in the modern world. They offer a sublime chance to engage with a beautiful work of original art, often centuries old, at close quarters.

They present an opportunity to lose yourself in both the technique of the painter and the subject matter. This intensely visual and internal experience is somewhat corrupted when you’ve got Joy Division, Art Garfunkel or Salt-N-Pepa inescapably in your ear.

If I want to listen to music while I look at art, I can take my iPod. I don’t, because I like to do one thing at a time. Equally, if I happened to go clubbing one evening, I wouldn’t want someone shoving a Holbein under my nose.

Sam Pollard
Beckenham, Kent

Blinded by science

SIR – Richard Dawkins suggests we lose the “statistically improbable” from children’s literature. No King Arthur, Mary Poppins, Ratty, Mole or Badger? No Eeyore or Dumbledore? No Wombles or Matilda? No more going on a bear hunt? It is a bleak and colourless world, indeed, that the professor offers.

Rev Anthony Buckley
London SE22

SIR – In most fairy tales there is an evil person or a spoilsport. Is that Richard Dawkins?

A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey

Britain and Sparta

SIR – Boris Johnson engages in typical political sophistry when he suggests our country will fall like Sparta if we do not accept migrants (report, June 5).

Mr Johnson is using flawed logic to justify EU rules over which, by his own admission, we have no control. He should explain to us how, if uncontrolled migration is so good for our country, there are strict immigration restrictions on Commonwealth citizens?

Being against uncontrolled immigration does not mean being anti-immigration, but I would not expect one of the Westminster elite to “get it”.

Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

BBC Russian service

SIR – Andrew Wood, Vladimir Bukovsky and others call for the BBC to revamp its Russian service (Letters, June 2).

The BBC is already a significant source of information in Russia. Audiences for the BBC’s Russian language service are at their highest level since 2000. We reached nearly 14 million people in May 2014, an annual increase of 78 per cent, through BBC Russian online, in addition to BBC content available on partner news websites.

The BBC Russian television bulletin is available on Dozhd TV, with regular BBC updates on another Russian television channel, RBK. Two BBC Russian audio programmes — Pyatiy Etazh (Fifth Floor) and BBSeva –­ are also available for listening online.

BBC Russian is at the forefront of digital innovation in the World Service, and we use the most effective means to make our content available to as many people in Russia as we can. Our presence on social media is growing rapidly, too.

BBC News currently reaches more than a quarter of a billion people around the world, and we aim to increase this number. The Russian service is making a strong contribution to this target.

Behrouz Afagh
Controller, BBC World Service Languages
London W1A

Got the bottle

SIR – My milkman informed me of his imminent retirement and I suggested a few hobbies to keep him occupied: golf, birdwatching, or maybe collecting something. “Like milk bottles?” he replied.

Can readers think of good hobbies for a retiring milkman or other tradesman?

Janet Newis
Sidcup, Kent

SIR – In the past couple of weeks, at least three cars in Orkney have caught fire; one was a write-off. The cause of each fire was a spark or heat in the engine compartment which ignited starlings’ nests.

The other day I removed a starling’s nest from the rear wheel area of my car.

Drivers, beware!

Suzan Woodward
St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney

Follow our coverage of the D-Day commemorations here

SIR – My parents enjoyed several cycling holidays in northern France just after the war. When the local people saw the Union flags on my parents’ saddlebags, the hospitality was overwhelming, and in many cases extended to an invitation into homes and free meals. There was no doubt in my parents’ minds that the local population understood the role Britain had played in D-Day and in the liberation of France.

Visiting Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, I was pleased to see that this gratitude did not seem to have dissipated. Buildings were decked out with Stars and Stripes, Maple Leaves and Union Flags in equal number, and local children placed flowers on the graves of soldiers unknown to them.

History cannot be learnt only from books, and while this tradition of remembrance continues, the people of northern France will know the facts and, I believe, show their gratitude.

Mike Baker
Fetcham, Surrey

SIR – Michael Smedley (Letters, June 5) laments that only the Americans are remembered by the French for the Normandy landings. It is perhaps just as well.

An estimated 360,000 French civilians were killed during the Second World War, the majority of these during the D-Day invasion and subsequent drive to the German frontier. This is as opposed to around 60,000 British and Commonwealth civilian fatalities.

After the landings, little was done to mitigate French civilian losses or damage to property. It was the mistaken tactic to bomb towns to rubble prior to an infantry advance.

Terence Hollingworth
Blagnac, Haute-Garonne, France

SIR – The American PR machine was not limited to the filming of the D-Day landings. In Operation Market Garden, a push north from the Belgian border up to Arnhem, American reports indicated that the British, having crossed the bridge at Nijmegen, stopped in the late afternoon “and got their teapots out”. In reality, the leading tank, commanded by the future Lord Carrington, was under orders to halt until infantry support caught up with the column.

Michael Cattell
Mollington, Cheshire

SIR – In all the accounts I have read of D-Day, little mention is made of the part played by the bicycle. In the 1944 book “Stand By to Beach!”, there are two photos taken by the Royal Canadian Navy showing troops carrying bicycles ashore. They also feature in a painting by C E Turner, which appeared in the Illustrated London News, of the landing on the Normandy coast.

The bicycle would have been a silent and speedy method of moving inland. Were they solely used by the Canadians, or did the British go by bike as well?

June Green
Bagshot, Surrey

Irish Times:

+A chara, – Our Government has a responsibility to ensure that the Tuam deaths are properly investigated. An Garda Síochána has an opportunity to redeem its battered reputation by seizing this opportunity to carry out a criminal investigation in the name of all the little children who died due to neglect and perhaps worse in Tuam and in most likely other “care homes”. Dare we hope that this occurs?

I and other friends cannot abide this injustice visited upon defenceless little children by church and State. We will be marching from the Department of Children to Dáil Éireann next Wednesday at 7pm. – Is mise,


The Capel Building,

Mary’s Abbey, Dublin 7.

Sir, – The media should be very wary of using the term “septic tank” to describe the structure containing the child burials at St Mary’s mother-and-child home at Tuam. It is offensive and hurtful to all those involved. The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.

In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries. The stone could be temporarily removed to allow the addition of additional coffined burials to the vault. Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs.

Many maternity hospitals in Ireland had a communal burial place for stillborn children or those who died soon after birth. These were sometimes in a nearby graveyard but more often in a special area within the grounds of the hospital. It was not a tradition until very recently to return such deceased infants to parents for taking back to family burial places.

Until proved otherwise, the burial structure at Tuam should be described as a communal burial vault. – Yours, etc,


School of Geography,


and Palaeoecology,

University Road,

Queen’s University,


Sir, – In relation to infant deaths in mother-and-baby homes, James Deeny, who was appointed chief medical officer in the 1940s, provided interesting insights in his biography.

With a death rate in Bessborough, Cork, of over 50 per cent (100 out of 180 babies born), Deeny personally inspected the home. He said that, initially, he could find nothing wrong. Then he asked staff to undress the babies.

In his own words, he found “every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diarrhoea, carefully covered up. There was obviously a staphylococcus infection about. Without any legal authority I closed the place down and sacked the matron, a nun, and also got rid of the medical officer.”

He added, “The deaths had been going on for years. They had done nothing about it, had accepted the situation and were quite complacent about it.”

Bishop Lucey of Cork complained to the papal nuncio. The nuncio complained to de Valera but Deeny’s report made clear that his decision was the right one.

He recorded that with a new matron, medical officer, disinfection and painting, the death rate fell to single figures.

Deeny wrote of his attempts to deal with infant mortality in the wider community too – “it was very difficult. All sorts of vested interests were involved and the in-fighting was terrific. I came in for a lot of ‘stick’ and abuse.” – Yours, etc,


Douglas Road,


Sir, – Where the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned, a nasty streak of intolerance seems to be emerging. No sooner is there a disclosure about some aspect of church-related matters but politicians and opinion-makers are on their high horses condemning priests, bishops or entire religious congregations in the most emotive and abusive language.

Before a verdict of guilty is pronounced, surely the normal legal process should take place with the evidence being analysed and tested. – Yours, etc,



Tuam, Co Galway.

Sir, – Were the poor little innocents afforded the dignity of a baptism before their premature death or were their distraught young mothers told their babies would be residing in Limbo in perpetuity? – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – We must not forget that “fallen” women who had children out of wedlock were often denounced and abandoned by their own families and by society at large. This is our heritage.

We may blame the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed they are not blameless, and we may blame the State, which has always exhibited a shocking level of spinelessness when it comes to protecting the children of our nation. However the reality is that these women and children were abandoned by their own families. They were an embarrassment; unloved and unwanted, they had no one to protect them. When we apportion blame as a society, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. – Yours, etc,


Nordahl Bruns Gate,

Bergen, Norway.

Sir, – Regarding the place of religion in our schools, may I suggest an excellent model from my own life experience? I grew up in South Africa, where unlike our republic, the Catholic Church is a tiny, although well-respected, denomination. My sister and I were trained in the faith at wonderful catechism lessons given on a Saturday morning in our Johannesburg parish.

Parents made an affirmative decision to enrol their children in these little hubs of religious education, and although they technically stole from our weekends, we all had great fun. I completed my first communion and first confession within these groups – which were often led by Irish nuns.

The greatest advantage to this example? It left other children untroubled by religious ideas in school, and fostered a deeper, more enduring community of children as believers in their appropriate zone. – Yours, etc,



Chao do Loureiro,


Sir, – It has been reported that the party emerging from Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance will not apply the whip on issues of conscience (“New political party plans to recruit Independents”, Home News, June 3rd).

In her time in Government, Ms Creighton voted for cuts to single mothers, the sick, the elderly, as well as a raft of regressive taxes. I wonder if these and similar policies shall fall under the remit of “issues of conscience”, or whether, as I fear, moral concerns apply only to the unborn? – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Your editorial of June 6th (“Too early to relax on budgets) makes a positive reference to the willingness of trade unions to persevere in the correction of Ireland’s public finances.

For the record I should make it clear that, while we have from the onset of the crisis recognised the need to rebalance the public finances, we believed that the adjustment should have been scheduled over a longer period. Our reasoning was that growth should have been allowed a greater part in the heavy lifting needed to achieve balance.

The social cost of the austerity policies of the troika has been extreme.

Moreover, the policy has largely failed, as can be seen from the fact that Europe’s growth rate in the first quarter of this year is just 0.2 per cent. The belated action of the ECB to stimulate the euro zone economy and ward off deflation is welcome, but an admission of the failure of austerity nonetheless.

The problem of debt – sovereign, business and personal – remains a significant drag on growth at a domestic level. Deflation poses a major risk in this respect. Europe must be made to honour the commitments given to the Taoiseach at the European Council in June 2012, namely to sever the link between banking and sovereign debt. Unless this is done, growth may not, because of the disastrous policies of the troika, reach a level necessary to allow Ireland achieve debt sustainability in the medium term. – Yours, etc,


General Secretary,

Irish Congress

of Trade Unions,

merging from Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance will not apply the whip on issues of conscience (“New political party plans to recruit Independents”, Home News, June 3rd).

In her time in Government, Ms Creighton voted for cuts to single mothers, the sick, the elderly, as well as a raft of regressive taxes. I wonder if these and similar policies shall fall under the remit of “issues of conscience”, or whether, as I fear, moral concerns apply only to the unborn? – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The return of chaotic scenes to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), as outlined on this page by Prof Benjamin Wold (June 6th), is completely unacceptable and has no place in a modern and open democracy.

Queues out the door were supposed to be a thing of the past when the bureau underwent extensive and expensive renovation work last year, coupled with the introduction of an appointments system.

While these changes may have been well intentioned, they are not working and are forcing people contributing to the Irish economic recovery to sacrifice a day’s work and disrupt their home life to queue in the open air from 6am for the benefit of paying expensive registration fees.

As a matter of urgency, the Government must act to ensure that the GNIB is given every possible support to clear backlogs, including greater use of regional Garda offices as well as online technology.

The current difficulties are just one symptom of the failure of successive governments to introduce comprehensive immigration reform.

Our immigration system lacks clear rules and guidelines, does not offer clients the protection of the Office of the Ombudsman and is slow to provide protection and supports to vulnerable groups, such as victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

It is time for political leadership to be taken not just on the delivery of services at Burgh Quay but also our entire immigration law. – Yours, etc,


Immigrant Council

of Ireland

Andrew Street,

A chara, – While I’m reluctant to add further to the free publicity that the club “Church” has already garnered by shouting “down with that sort of thing” (“Smart clubbing, unholy nights”, Life Style, June 4th), there is something deeply disturbing not only in the casual sacrilegiousness of the concept, but in the gushing approval it received in the article.

If such mockery were aimed at the sacred beliefs and symbols of Islam or any other faith it would provoke outrage and be declared at least offensive, if not indeed a hate-crime. Why when Christianity is the target should it be encouraged and treated as good clean fun? – Is mise,


The Rectory,

Clogh Road,


Sir, – Further to your editorial “Towards a low-carbon society”, May 31st), while it is the duty of any government (in Ireland or elsewhere) to provide leadership towards achievement of critical climate goals, and while reducing energy demand is a key element of reaching those goals, we are, whether we like it or not, “energy citizens”. The fact that many of us, if not most, appear to be indifferent to climate issues – because the effects are deemed to be temporally or geographically remote, or because we are disengaged, or we are in denial – we have to accept that the effects of a changing climate are occurring now, will only increase in their impact, and we have to take personal responsibility for our actions. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 16.

Sir, – I see a spokesman for Fianna Fáil’s ard chomhairle’s rules and procedures committee stated that, despite the disappointment at the decision of Mary Hanafin to proceed to contest the local election against the wishes of the party’s candidate ratifying process and procedures, they took all “circumstances” into account and now consider the matter closed (“Fianna Fáil drops disciplinary threat against Mary Hanafin”, Home News, June 6th).

Presumably these “circumstances” include helping to win two council seats for Fianna Fáil in Blackrock, Co Dublin? And the lesson for today is break all the rules you want – just make certain you win! – Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,

Sir, – The media goes into overdrive year after year during the first three weeks of June with an almost pathological obsession with the Leaving Certificate examinations.

This is an unwarranted distraction for students. Such hype and distraction by the media is likely to exacerbate stress levels not only in students but also in parents. At this time, students are under enough stress without magnifying it.

It is also quite deplorable that in this country, when the Leaving Certificate results are published, pride of place is given to the tiny percentage of students who score the maximum number of points – not a word about the majority who get an average score or the students who, despite socio-economic deprivation, linguistic, behavioural and other limiting factors, struggle with the help of dedicated teachers and manage to pass the examination with hard work and perseverance and against all the odds. – Yours, etc,


Moyglare Village,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Regarding the presence of men dressed up as women at the mini-marathon (June 5th), might it have something to do with the fact that there is no marathon exclusively for men? – Yours, etc,



Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – It’s called having a bit of fun, and raising money for a deserving cause in the process. Lighten up! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – As a self-employed person, I pay a percentage of my earnings in PRSI but am entitled to nothing if my business fails and will receive a State pension only marginally greater than a non-contributory pension. I am sick and tired of being told I must provide for myself yet subsidise everyone else. – Yours, etc,


Knocklyon Court,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – In view of their centenary pretensions to the lord mayoralty of Dublin (Front Page, June 6th), perhaps Sinn Féin needs reminding it played no part at all in the 1916 Rising? – Yours, etc,



Douglas Road, Cork.

Irish Independent:

* Every now and then a story comes along which stops one in one’s tracks. A story which makes a person question their belief in the innate decency of man or woman.

That story is the tragedy that was revealed finally to the world by Catherine Corless. Photos can be found online of the children taken while they were “in care” at the mother-and-child home in Tuam. Grim, joyless faces with pained eyes stare hard-faced back at the camera, reminiscent of those children we saw pictures of in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s after the fall of Ceausescu. What desolation was visited upon them that ripped the childlike joy from their eyes and replaced it with a deadman’s stare? How can the final resting place of an innocent child be a tank which was used to store human excrement? Is that what their lives were worth?

This story has been in the public domain to a greater or lesser extent since 1975. People knew there were bodies buried there. Why is it only this week that any awakening of the public consciousness has occurred?

Our Government has a responsibility to ensure this matter is properly investigated. An Garda Siochana has an opportunity to redeem its battered reputation by seizing this opportunity to carry out a criminal investigation in the name of all the little children who died in Tuam and in most likely other “care homes”.

I and other friends cannot abide by this injustice visited upon defenceless little children by church and state.

We will be marching from the Department of Children to Dail Eireann next Wednesday at 7pm to protest, to remember and to call for a full inquiry. A candlelit vigil will be held and mementoes of those little lives (shoes, toys, bibs) will be displayed.

If you have been as touched by this tragedy, please come and join us and don’t let apathy once again concrete over these children’s memory.




* The mass burial of hundreds of children in a septic tank in Tuam, Co Galway, demonstrates yet again that the greatest crime in the eyes of the Irish Catholic Church was to be poor.

This was all about money. If you could not contribute to the church coffers, you had no worth or status in Ireland. These children were untouchables, not worthy of even basic respect. These activities have been known about for years but quite simply the church, local communities and Irish society in general simply did not care. There now needs to be a full forensic excavation of this site and others like it around the country, with a complete osteological examination of all human remains.

The full horror of what happened in the name of the Catholic Church and the hypocritical status-driven obsequious class system that underlined it, is exposed for the world to see.




* Martina Devlin’s article on the Tuam babies (Irish Independent, June 5) was excellent. It managed to be both well balanced and an accurate description of Irish society. She did not narrow the focus to a headline-seeking blame game. Well done.




* Reading Peggy Lee‘s letter (Irish Independent, June 5) with regard to the dreadful Tuam story where she says: “The public must consider the tragedy in the context of the country’s economic and social profile of the time.” I say this: No, Peggy. No particular time in our history should be an excuse for what happened here.

All our shameful history needed to be brought out in the open: corporal punishment, the dreadful industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, and now this latest report on the remains of 796 babies, who died at a religious-run and state-funded home for unmarried mothers from 1925 to 1961.

We must not separate these dreadful happenings and realise and accept, once and for all, that as a society we have no excuses whatsoever.




* These children’s mass graves . . . Unspeakable horror. It leaves one speechless and disgusted. This society must stop sweeping under the carpet or burying what it does not want to see.

Hopefully, the shock felt by us will not only lead to a short-lived collective cathartic exercise, but will help this culture of the unsaid to move towards more transparency.




* The controversy over babies’ mass graves is causing great grief to many people. The past may be another country, in historical terms, but we inhabit that too. In even more recent times we have had, and still have, mass graves for babies.

They flourished in more recent times as bereaved parents, who were prepared to bring home their first-born baby, received a letter, such as below, and panicked to allow the hospital to perform its cold, private and non-religious task.

Parents regretted their decision forevermore and some never visited the site of the mass grave. Happily things have improved and such letters are no longer the norm. But as you can see, this occurred in 1970.

Dear Mr -,

I regret to inform you that your wife’s baby died/was stillborn on 23.7.’70.

If you wish to make your own arrangements for burial, you should notify Matron’s Office as soon as possible.

If you wish, the burial can be arranged for you by the Hospital Authorities by getting in touch with the Medical Social Worker or with Matron’s Office without delay, otherwise the Hospital Authorities will find it necessary to proceed with arrangements.

The charge is £2.15/- and should be paid to the Accounts Clerk between the hours of 9am and 4.30pm (12.30pm on Saturdays) or a postal order, may be sent to the Accounts Department. We would ask you to instruct us promptly in order to avoid undue distress.




* The recent disclosures about the Tuam babies, unearthed by historian Catherine Corless, brings home to us again the importance of coming to terms with our past. The English historian EH Carr observed that history is a dialogue between the past and present. Here we have a case of the sad facts of our relatively recent past clashing violently with the perceptions we cherish of ourselves in the present.

The task of the historian is a difficult one. In every community there are taboo areas, subjects which are just too close to the bone for many people. But unless we understand and acknowledge where we have come from, how can we decide where our futures should be? In digging beneath the surface in Tuam, Ms Corless has done her own community, and all of us, some service.



Irish Independent


June 6, 2014

6June2014 Recovered

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee

Scrabbletoday, I win the game, and gets just under 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Hazel Heaton-Armstrong – obituary

Hazel Heaton-Armstrong was a retailer whose family gave refuge to the von Trapps and who spent childhood holidays with the Kennedys

Hazel Heaton-Armstrong

Hazel Heaton-Armstrong

5:32PM BST 05 Jun 2014

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Hazel Heaton-Armstrong, who has died aged 89, was a young girl of 14 when, in 1938, the musical von Trapps took refuge from the Nazis with her family; she later spent school holidays with the Kennedy clan.

The complex connections between Hazel’s family and the von Trapps had developed out of a web of relationships that had their origins in the days before the First World War when cultural and political links between Britain and the German-speaking world were strong. The story of the Heaton-Armstrong family in the 20th century was played out as those ties were broken by two devastating wars.

The youngest of four children, Helen Gabrielle Laura Hazel Heaton-Armstrong was born on July 14 1924 in Kensington, west London, to John (later Sir John) Dunamace Heaton-Armstrong (always known as Jack) and his French-born wife Suzanne (née Bechet de Balan). Although her father was a pillar of the British Establishment as a long-standing officer at the College of Arms (he became Clarenceux King of Arms, the second most senior herald, in 1956), the family had long-standing connections with the Continent.

Hazel’s grandfather, William Heaton-Armstrong (1853-1917), had been born in Austria and married the Baroness Bertha Maxmiliana Zois-Edelstein, oldest surviving daughter of the Austrian 4th Baron Zois-Edelstein. William later served as Liberal MP for Sudbury in Suffolk, from 1906 to 1910, before founding a bank.

Meanwhile, in January 1914 Hazel’s uncle, Captain Duncan Heaton-Armstrong, had taken up the post of private secretary to the newly-appointed King of Albania, the German Prince William of Weid. When the First World War engulfed the Balkans six months later, he escorted two royal infants back to Germany, where he promptly became the first prisoner-of-war of the conflict (he was released two years later in a prisoner exchange). He subsequently wrote an account of Albania’s short-lived pre-war monarchy, The Six Month Kingdom.

After the war Duncan briefly went into business with Capt George von Trapp, an Austrian naval hero who would become famous as the patriarch of the Trapp Family Singers. In 1911 von Trapp had married Agatha (“Agathe”) Whitehead, granddaughter of Robert Whitehead (1823-1905), the man who invented the modern torpedo. After the British government had rejected his invention, the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef had invited Whitehead to open a torpedo factory in Fiume, where his invention facilitated the development of the U-boat. Whitehead, however, had sold his firm to Vickers and Armstrong-Whitworth at the time he retired, so at the outbreak of war in 1914 the company was British-owned.

The Trapp Family Singers (BBC/TELEVISION STILLS)

George and Agathe had seven children, and it was Agathe’s death in 1922 that precipitated the arrival of a novice nun, Maria, from an abbey in Salzburg – and the story of The Sound of Music.

Despite the connection on her father’s side, Hazel’s main connection with the von Trapps was through her mother, who had previously been married to Agathe’s brother, John Whitehead; he had served in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and been killed in action in 1916. They had a daughter, Hazel’s half-sister Mary.

According to the story told in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, following the Anschluss in March 1938 the von Trapp family fled from the Third Reich by hiking over the Alps to Switzerland. In reality, they travelled by train to Italy before making their way to London, where they stayed with George von Trapp’s sister-in-law and her second family, the Heaton-Armstrongs, while awaiting visas to enter the United States. Hazel recalled that the von Trapps sang for the family during their stay before finally leaving by ship for America in September.

Julie Andrews as Maria in a still from The Sound of Music (MOVIESTONE/REX)

Hazel was educated by a nanny and governesses until the age of 14, when she was dispatched to a Roman Catholic convent at which one of her fellow pupils was Patricia Kennedy, the daughter of Joseph Kennedy, the then American Ambassador to London, and his wife Rose. Patricia’s siblings included the future President John F Kennedy and his brothers Bobby and Edward.

At the outbreak of war Hazel’s father, despite having lost an eye in childhood and a leg in the First World War, took leave of absence from the College of Arms to enlist for active service. He was posted to Oxford as a squadron leader in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch of the RAF. With her parents away from London, Hazel spent her exeats and holidays with the Kennedy family, until the Kennedys returned to America at the end of 1940. She did not meet John or Bobby, who had remained in the United States, but she recalled Teddy Kennedy as a “sweet little boy” and kept up with Patricia for many years, naming her eldest daughter after her.

After leaving school, Hazel Heaton-Armstrong joined the Wrens in 1941 and was posted to Rosyth and OrkneyLater she was sent to Malta where, as she recalled, she “danced and danced”.

She was demobbed in 1945 and returned to London, training in photography and working in antique shops. In 1952 she married her cousin Michael (who, as Capt Thomas Michael Robert Heaton-Armstrong, had served as the acting governor of Trieste towards the end of the war). She had known him from early childhood, and at the time of their marriage he was working as a pig-breeder at Bosbury, Hereford.

In 1953 they moved to Scotland, first to a rented farm near Crieff, then, in 1955, to a farm at Couligartan, near Aberfoyle, where they brought up their six children.

They continued to farm pigs until 1964, when it was no longer financially viable. They then took a lease on a shop in Aberfoyle where they began selling Hazel’s creations — decoratively-covered boxes of cook’s matches, waste-paper bins and other items. Within a few years they had acquired several more shops, and by the mid-1980s Armstrong of Aberfoyle had become a sizeable retail concern, with a hairdresser, haberdasher, crystal shop, tweed shop and a Post Office.

A devout Roman Catholic, Hazel Heaton-Armstrong was, for 25 years, a director of St Ninian’s, Gartmore, a school run by the De La Salle religious order. She was a regular attendee at the Roman Catholic chapel in Aberfoyle, and when the owners could no longer lend the room, she and her husband arranged for the congregation to be accommodated at the local Episcopal church, an ecumenical arrangement whereby services were timed so that the Roman Catholics warmed the seats for the Anglicans.

After selling the shops and the family home, in 1987 the Heaton- Armstrongs retired to Portugal.

Hazel Heaton-Armstrong’s husband died in 2000, and she is survived by their three daughters and three sons.


sex education year 6

Seven out of 10 teachers felt they needed more training to deliver sex and relationships lessons properly. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have all stated publicly that sex and relationships education is important, yet Ofsted recently found that it remains unsatisfactory in a third of schools. This is hardly surprising when a survey of teachers showed that seven out of 10 felt they needed more training to deliver the subject properly and that regulations require only a handful of the more biological topics to be addressed. All children and young people need age-appropriate teaching. If pupils approaching puberty don’t learn the proper names of sexual parts of the body, and those in secondary school are taught little or nothing about consensual relationships or sexual health, we are failing in our duty to safeguard pupils.

As the education select committee opens its inquiry, we are calling for a commitment from political parties to make such teaching statutory. This would allow it to be treated the same as other subjects – with educators trained in the subject and sufficient timetable time to tackle real-life issues, including domestic violence, exploitation and pornography. Statutory sex and relationships must apply to all schools, including primary schools and academies, and pupils must be guaranteed to learn medically correct facts about their bodies. Teaching must be pro-active in promoting gender and LGBT equality, and relationships education should count for at least half of that teaching. There is overwhelming support from parents, young people, teachers and health professionals to improve such teaching, so we urge our leaders to give it the statutory status it so urgently needs.
Jane Lees Chair, Sex Education Forum
Dr Mary Bousted General secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
Dr Hilary Emery Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau
Peter Wanless Chief executive, NSPCC
Dr Rosemary Gillespie Chief executive officer, Terrence Higgins Trust
Julie Bentley Chief executive, Girlguiding
Joe Hayman Chief executive officer, PSHE Association
Simon Blake Chief executive, Brook
Dr Audrey Simpson Acting chief executive officer, Family Planning Association
Felicity Owen Director of public health, Cornwall council
Ruth Sutherland Chief executive officer, Relate
Andrew Copson Chief executive, British Humanist Association
Jeremy Todd Chief executive, Family Lives
Ann Furedi Chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service
Ann Hartley Deputy leader, Shropshire council
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Chair, Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education
Rod Thomson Director of public health for Shropshire
Alison Hadley Director, Teenage Pregnancy Knowledge Exchange, University of Bedfordshire
Luke Tryl Head of education, Stonewall
Gill Frances Life member, Sex Education Forum
Andrew Wallis Lead member for children and young people, Cornwall Council
Rhys Hart Member, UK Youth Parliament for Shropshire
Dr John Lloyd President, Institute of Health Promotion and Education
Susie Parsons Chief executive, National Aids Trust
Jennie Williams Director, Enhance the UK
Hilary Pannack Director, Straight Talking Peer Education
John Rees Chair, National PSE Association for advisers, inspectors and consultants
Dr David Regis Research manager, Schools Health Education Unit
Lizzie Boyle Director, Fruition
Ruth Lowbury Chief executive, Medical Foundation for Aids and sexual health
Alice Hoyle Coordinator, RSE Hub
Sue Allen Chair, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Trustees
Paula Power Director, CWP Resources
Yoan Reed Proprietor, Teaching Lifeskills
David Evans CEO, APAUSE
Chris Cowan Company director, Loudmouth Theatre
Rev Jane Fraser Director, Bodysense
Lesley Kerr-Edwards Chief executive Officer, Image in Action
Liz Griffiths National PSHE CPD programme lead
Hilary Dixon Life member, Sex Education Forum
Ellen Adams Coordinator, Sexpression: UK
Denis Cronin Associate director of public health, Cornwall council
Ruth Hilton Member. Sex Education Forum
Melody Dougan Life member, Sex Education Forum

We are calling on Theresa May to review urgently the asylum case of Afusat Saliu and her daughters. Afusat and her daughters, Bassy, four, and Rashidat, two, were deported three days ago to Nigeria (Report, 3 June). This is despite an ongoing judicial review. We urge the home secretary to consider the fresh and compelling evidence in her case. This includes the very real threat that her daughters will be subjected to female genital mutilation (as Afusat was as a child) and the threat to Afusat and her family as Christian converts now they have been forcibly returned to Nigeria.

Afusat and her girls are a valued and integrated part of the community in Leeds; not least for being part of a refugee women’s choir at West Yorkshire Playhouse. They are not just a case or a problem, but a young woman and her children who are in fear for their lives.

We believe Afusat and her daughters deserve at the very least a fair hearing. The government has rightly abhorred the abuse of human rights and violence against women and girls, just this week launching a campaign to end FGM. We believe that it is time to put those principles into practice: give Afusat and her girls a fair trial.
David Hare Playwright
Benjamin Zephaniah Poet and writer
Lemn Sissay Poet and writer
Tariq Ali Writer and filmmaker
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Journalist and writer
Kenan Malik Writer, lecturer and broadcaster 
Daniel Kitson Comedian
James Brining Artistic director, West Yorkshire Playhouse
Sheena Wrigley Chief executive, West Yorkshire Playhouse
Alex Chisholm Associate director, West Yorkshire Playhouse
John McGrath Artistic director, National Theatre of Wales
Vicky Featherstone Artistic director, Royal Court Theatre
Simon Stephens Playwright
Guy Taylor Convenor, Movement Against Xenophobia
Chris Thorpe Playwright
Lolita Chakrabhati Playwright
Christopher Haydon Artistic director, Gate Theatre
Natalia Kaliada Co-artistic director, Belarus Free Theatre
Nikolai Khalezin Co-artistic director, Belarus Free Theatre
Boff Whalley Chumbawumba member and playwright
Rod Dixon Artistic director, Red Ladder Theatre Company
Dr Daniel Bye Lecturer and theatremaker
Lucy Ellinson Theatremaker
Alan Lane Artistic director, Slung Low
Jon Spooner Artistic director, Unlimited Theatre
Dr Hannah Nicklin Theatremaker and academic at UWE
Melanie Wilson Theatremaker
Kieran Hurley Playwright
Clare Duffy Playwright

• It is shocking to read your report (Deportees treated as commodities, 2 June) on how those being deported from the UK are being treated by private contractors. The recommendations of the National Independent Commission on Enforced Returns, by Citizens UK, including the use of pain-free restraint, independent oversight of enforced removals and a more robust system for licensing of the staff involved, should be implemented quickly. These contracts should be returned to the public sector to allow for great accountability. These operations are being done in our name and must be done by treating people with respect and dignity.
Suzanne Fletcher
Chair, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary

Why no mention of the Welsh National Eisteddfod in the Guardian’s music festivals guide? Photograph: Alamy

It would be interesting to know the directorships and other commercial interests of the 50 academics promoting the economic benefits of a Lancashire shale gas industry (Letters, 5 June). Beware the vested interest of “Frackademica”.
Pam Foster
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

• I have been fuming since I received your music festivals guide (31 May). No mention of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, an annual event over nine days with thousands of visitors, or of the Urdd National (children’s) Eisteddfod, lasting a week, the largest youth festival in Europe, nor even of the International Eisteddfod held annually at Llangollen. Yet you mention Iceland, Serbia, Croatia, the Netherlands etc.
Mair McGeever

Menai Bridge, Anglesey

• Your article on the pronunciation of foreign brands (G2, 4 June) omits the vermouth Noilly Prat. They tried advertising it with the slogan “Say ‘Noilly Prat’ and your French will be perfect”. The problem was that hardly anyone could say it, and the campaign was dropped.
Andrew Tucker

• Simon Jenkins (Comment, 4 June) talks of the World Cup’s extortion of billions of dollars from poor Brazil. Brazil isn’t poor. It’s just that the wealth is unevenly distributed among the general population.
Peter Seaton
Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Mondrian, What a man, Framed a chart, Called it art (G2, 5 June).
Louis Hellman

• John Crace on the Queen’s speech (5 June) was not only amusing, but also informative. I had not realised that the royal group was led by the Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary and the Rouge Croix Pursuivant. There’s something to drop into conversation down the pub.
Paul Bagshaw
Southport, Lancashire

• One question: why were those page boys not at school?
Alison Fryer

The debt deal reached between Argentina and the Paris Club group of western countries is not a “good deal” for the South American country (Argentina debt deal could help ease re-entry to international markets, 30 May), but it is fantastic for the UK and others. Argentina defaulted in 2001 when it ran out of money. Most private lenders accepted 33 cents for every dollar owed. That Paris Club countries are now to be repaid double the original debt represents a huge return, six times more than private lenders received. Western countries are breaking their own rules that lenders should be treated equally when debts need to be reduced.

Moreover, Vince Cable admits that 40% of what Argentina owes the UK is from loans to the military junta in the 1970s to buy British military equipment. The Liberal Democrats have a policy to cancel unjust debts from loans to dictatorships, another promise abandoned in government.
Tim Jones
Jubilee Debt Campaign

The debates on what the European project is about miss a salient point made 30 years ago by the historian Alan S Milward. Social democratic and Christian democratic architects of the project ensured its legitimacy by establishing governments that guaranteed political, economic and social rights from the vicissitudes of the market and capital. This contract has been hollowed out by these parties conniving at neoliberal and austerity programmes that would have the founders spinning in their graves.

David Graeber (Savage capitalism is back – and it will not tame itself, 30 May) is correct to point out that the absence of a pole of opposition, in the shape of the Soviet bloc, has fostered the collapse of the regime created by Jean Monnet, Alcide De Gasperi, Robert Schuman et al. No wonder ordinary workers and voters are now doubting the European idea and the big fact that those who waded ashore on D-day thought that they were guaranteeing an end to European civil wars for ever.
Clive Tempest
Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire

•  Seventy years ago, my aunt Margery was working as a WAAF cypher officer in Hampshire. Her journal for D-day says: “At 0130 hours I climbed on the ops roof to see the most amazing sight I have ever seen. On the runway our fleet of tugs and gliders were taking off perfectly timed; above them at about 5,000 ft came a great formation of US Dakotas flying in V formation of three in a flight – the sky was full of twinkly green and red and amber lights, the air filled with the steady purposeful roar of their engines.

“Away in the distance came another fleet, and further off still a haze of lights betokened yet another. Our aircraft and tows circled below them before streaming off to the south. And as they went the first bombers came back…”
Chris Birch

• Adam Tooze (We’re further than ever from D-day vision, 3 June) makes the point about little Englanders’ view of the invasion, but slips into the same error himself when listing countries playing their part, as he puts it, in “winning the second world war”, omitting to mention that, had Overlord failed, the Soviet Union (where the Germans suffered 95% of their losses) was poised to win the war. The courage of British and American soldiers, the French Resistance and others should be warmly remembered, but we should not ignore that of our Russian allies.
Hamish MacGibbon

• John Pritchard’s claim that the second world war was made possible by the Soviet pact with Hitler (Letters, 29 May) is incorrect. From 1933 the Soviet Union worked for an alliance with Britain, France and Czechoslovakia to hold Hitler at bay. It failed, largely because of the Anglo-French commitment to appeasement. After the rejection of the offer of military support in defence of Czechoslovakia, the Soviets came to the view that the British and French were unwilling to fight. So they followed the lead of Britain and France, opted for appeasement and the non-aggression pact with Hitler. An Anglo-French-Soviet alliance would have saved Czechoslovakia and prevented world war two, with its millions of deaths and the Holocaust.
Bryan Sadler

•  On the 70th anniversary of D-Day your readers may be unaware of the existence of one of the British warships that supported the invasion fleet.  HMS Whimbrel escorted landing craft to the Utah and Omaha beach landings. A veteran of many Atlantic and Russian convoys, she later served in the Pacific and is the only surviving British vessel that was present for the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945.

HMS Whimbrel was sold to Egypt in 1949 and is now at Alexandria awaiting disposal. The ship is remarkably unchanged from her second world war condition. The HMS Whimbrel (1942-1949) Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Trust aims to restore the ship and locate her in Liverpool in memory of the many thousands of all services who have no known grave.

An urgent appeal has been launched by the trust to raise the purchase price of £250,000. The ship is too fragile to be towed so a further £1m may be needed to carry the ship home. This is the last chance to rescue her from the breakers. Anyone wishing to make a donation please contact the trust secretary, Chris Pile, at
Rod Pudduck
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Your editorial (Extreme politics, 5 June) about alleged attempts to radicalise Birmingham schools states that Mr Gove’s only level of control of an academy is a critical Ofsted inspection. That is not so. An academy is contracted to Mr Gove. Under that contract, all documents relating to a governors’ meeting are sent to his office in advance and two officials of his department are entitled to attend and speak at any meeting of the governing body. Did any officials attend such a meeting at any academy now being inspected by Ofsted? If so, what failings did they detect in the management of the school and to whom did they report them? If they did not attend any such meeting, when Ofsted reports on that academy, presumably it will note the failure of the secretary of state to ensure the participation of his officials, the agents of control at his command, in the management of the school. It is not Ofsted’s job to see that a contract between a school and Mr Gove is properly managed; it is Mr Gove’s job to do that. Whether he did it well or even at all is what Ofsted needs to make clear in its report.
Peter Newsam
Pickering, North Yorkshire

• Let me present a number of points from five Ofsted inspections I have experienced. First, its creation and its growth are essentially politically driven. Its primary goal, with the support of the press, has been to denigrate state education. Second, the Ofsted agenda and inspection framework has continually changed since its inception and is unrelated and unhelpful to the long-term needs of all stakeholders in education.

Third, the process is data-driven. Inspectors arrive at schools with their minds made up and have left “outstanding” lessons early to avoid grading them as such if this has gone against their preconceived notions. Visits have often been a waste of time and energy for all concerned.

Fourth, schools in the same area have had different inspection teams with varying degrees of adherence to the framework. This has made it impossible for parents to judge the relative merits of local schools accurately.

The one consistency has been the make-up of Ofsted teams over the years. The lead inspector is usually a highly competent education professional but cognisant that he/she has quotas to fulfil in terms of gradings. The second inspector is usually a young turk seeking to develop a career and so keen to follow the Ofsted agenda to the letter. The rest are a ragbag of the retired, the willing and the incompetent. On four separate occasions I have had to correct and explain their misunderstandings and lack of knowledge on the very areas they are meant to be inspecting.
Lee Porter
Former assistant head, Bridport, Dorset

• It’s ironic that Michael Gove is taking a strongly anti-Islamic stance in relation to the “Trojan horse” schools while at the same time promoting a wider agenda centred on strong support for faith schools, for state-funded independent schools and for the right of schools and governing bodies to establish their own distinct ethos. This controversy raises wider issues. It provides a strong case for revisiting the 1944 education settlement which entrenched the role of religious groups in the running of schools and for replacing it with a thoroughly secularised system.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• I was a member of the Ofsted team that put one of the first schools into special measures in the 1990s. We agonised long into the night before making the decision, not on whether our judgments were sound, but on the political consequences of such a decision. Subsequently, the head of the “failed” school got a knighthood. Ofsted has always been political and has only ever paid lip-service to improving educational opportunities for children.
Tony Bayliss

• The chair of governors of one of the schools involved in the Trojan horse controversy has held this position for 17 years. It is against the principles of good governance for one person to hold a role of such influence for such a long period of time. This is true whether the chair is a Muslim, white or middle-class.
Mike Lee
Rossendale, Lancashire

• Ofsted is deeply flawed. It has little to do with school improvement and much to do with passing judgment, often on the basis of unreliable data and expertise. Its reports are turgid, reflecting an obsession with controlling language and thought that bears comparison with newspeak. It employs the same dodgy subcontractors of state services as perform so well in other areas of public life.
Roy Boffy
Former Ofsted inspector, Walsall


I don’t recognise much in Grace Dent’s rant about the “baby boomer generation” (3 June), and am sorry to have to spoil it with a fact.

The “born in 1945 to 1965 bracket” baby boom she refers to, a common currency for the internet generation, describes what happened in the US. ONS data (Pension Trends, Ch.2, 2012) for the UK tell a quite different story.

Here the birth rate spiked in the late 1940s, but by the early-mid 1950s had fallen back close to that in the years before the Second World War. Then it slowly rose again to give a shallower peak around 1965/6. Thus there were two distinct “baby booms”, with greater numbers in the later one.

I belong to the first, postwar, group, for whom the notion that “we had free university education” is grotesque. It’s true that maybe one in 10 went to university, which the state paid for, but this gripe conveniently forgets the nine out of 10 who didn’t. Most of them never had a chance because they were consigned as “failures” to secondary modern schools at age 11, and entered the workplace at 16.

And as young adults starting families in the 1970s, oh how we enjoyed 8-12 per cent mortgage rates and annual price inflation some years of over 20 per cent. But so what – was it ever easy for the young, and is it really surprising that older people have got most of the money? When was it not so ?

This is another example of misidentification of a minority group based on lazy generalisations. The story seems to have wide currency in the media but it really is tosh.

Professor Guy Woolley, Nottingham

I must object to Graham Hudson’s description of us baby boomers as a “lucky” generation (letter, 4 June). We had good opportunities in our lives because our parents voted, as we did in our turn, for a decent and equitable society which levelled the playing fields in health, education and housing. Subsequent generations voted for greed and privilege under Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.

Not luck, Mr Hudson, but belief in social justice got us our good lives.

Jane Jakeman, Oxford

Londoners’ taxes subsidise the rest

I’m sure that, like me, most of your London-based readers did not take Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s suggestion of an independent London very seriously. One bunch of secessionists from the UK is quite enough to be going along with! However, my mind might be changed if there are more examples of the views expressed by your correspondents Peter English and Anthony Ingleton (letters, 3 June).

There aren’t any authoritative figures comparing public spending in the nations and regions of the UK with the taxes raised there, but the consultancy Oxford Economics has done some work in this area in the past. This indicated that, at the end of the long boom in 2006-7, Wales paid for two thirds of the public spending taking place there and Yorkshire around four-fifths. In 2006-7 London’s taxes generated a minimum surplus over spending on London’s needs of £12bn, which went towards public services in less well-off parts of the country, such as Wales and Yorkshire.

No London money, and Wales and Yorkshire (and some other parts of the UK) would have the invidious choice of higher taxes and/or more cuts in services.

Mr English suggests that an independent London ought to be treated in the same way as West Berlin was treated by the Communist regimes around it. Well, that certainly worked a treat for East Germany, didn’t it?

Mr Ingleton compares London unfavourably with Paris, Rome and Vienna. They are all lovely cities, but at the moment the flow of young people seeking opportunity and work is into London from much of Europe, including no doubt some from Paris or Rome or Vienna. The young immigrants can see that London is the most economically dynamic and culturally diverse and interesting city in Europe, if not the world.

Philip Hamshare, London SE27

The Queen mouths  a mixed-up slogan

The Queen in her speech at the opening of Parliament said it was her government’s aim to work towards a “stronger economy and a fairer society”.

I’ve a feeling the Government has got this slogan the wrong way round. Shouldn’t we be aiming for a stronger society and a fairer economy, where all citizens are empowered to contribute to the common good, no matter what their perceived status in society?

A stronger society means public servants being of equal worth to entrepreneurs, and the disadvantaged and vulnerable being treated with compassion. A fairer economy means enabling all working-age citizens to reach their full potential, employers paying all their staff a fair wage, and the Government pursuing far more vigorously all those in society who put their own interests before those of a wider society.

David Eggington, Sheffield

Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are in the midst of civil war; Egypt and Thailand on the threshold. The NHS is in crisis. Food bank queues stretch round the block. House-building is at an almost all-time-low. Energy prices rocket. And Her Majesty’s Bag-Carriers bag our carriers.

Godfrey H Holmes, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

It’s May who looks like a leader

A Tale of Two Ministers surely explains the alleged spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May. Michael Gove’s record as Education Secretary has been one of meddle and muddle, with an increasing toll of failed free schools and faltering academies. Gove has spoken of giving power to parents, while micromanaging education policy and issuing more daily edicts than a North Korean dictator.

In contrast, Theresa May has led firmly and quietly from the centre while devolving power to local people. While Gove has fiddled about with the national curriculum, Mrs May has made our streets safer and overseen a consistent annual fall in crime figures. Gove has become an embarrassment while May has become a credible candidate to succeed David Cameron.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

Better together on D-Day

It feels small-minded, and even disrespectful to the many brave Scots, English, Welsh and Irish who fought bravely and gave their lives, that on the anniversary of D-Day, Scotland is even considering breaking away from a union which has served well Scotland, its people and the world.

Operation Neptune, the largest amphibious operation ever, was a magnificent example of what the British can achieve together: it was planned by the British, commanded by a Scot (Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay), equipped by the British (who provided over 80 per cent of the vessels) and Americans (the rest). The combined co-ordination and manning by English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, Americans, Canadians and other nations ensured success.

Scots and Scotland will continue to have influence and serve the world best as part of a G8 country.

William Ramsay, Coldstream, Berwickshire

Tangled narrative of Parthenon Marbles

Alas, I fear to suggest that Philip Stephenson’s marbles are not exactly where they belong (letter, 3 June).

Am I right to conclude, from his argument against returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, that if I espy some objects in my neighbour’s possession which I believe would “converse … to create a narrative” with objects currently in my possession I would be entitled on contextual grounds to remove them to the “free environment” of my house or garden? Surely not?

Matthew Hisbent, Oxford

Greetings from Yorkshire

Mark Redhead recommends the Yorkshire greeting “Now then” (letter, 5 June)? Shades of Jimmy Savile: “Now then…now then…”

Please, no! “Eh up” will do just fine for now, and, perhaps, then.

Lin Hawkins, Ashcott, Somerset

Mark Redhead might be interested to know that Constantine was proclaimed Roman Emperor in York in 306, and that there is today, in his capital, Istanbul/Constantinople, an area called Eyup.

Coincidence? I think not.

Roger Moorhouse, Todmorden,  West Yorkshire

Marshy wonder of the modern world

A marshy peninsula between two estuaries seems an odd choice, in today’s climate, for the site of a new garden city (“Garden city settles on marshy ground”, 5 June).

 Perhaps they will build it on stilts, and its gardens will become a new wonder, like the hanging gardens of ancient Babylon.

Sue Norton, York


Rex Features

Last updated at 9:17PM, June 5 2014

Surely fairytales stimulate a child’s imagination, so that it can be better scientist

Sir, Imagination is the springboard of science. It is also the stuff of fairy-tales. It is a driver of religion. It is an essential element of human being. Creativity and the betterment of our lot begins with the musing of what if? Empirical investigation arises out of inquisitive speculation.

To be sure, plenty of wacky ideas are born of flawed thinking and improbable metaphysics, but you don’t overcome that by abandoning time-proven sources of imaginative input and stimulus. Rather, the worldview naivety and unthinking gullibility so rightly bemoaned by Professor Dawkins (“He killed God … now he’s after Santa”, June 5) is better countered by the promotion of critical thinking and the imaginative openness of mind that eschews closed dogmatic certainties. A fertile imagination and applied critical thinking are both required for good science. They also happen to be needful for good religion. And both are about more than merely explaining our existence; they inform and enrich it.

Professor Douglas Pratt

University of Waikato, New Zealand

Sir, Will Thomas the Tank Engine and friends be next to be axed by Professor Dawkins, on the grounds that locomorphogenesis is statistically unlikely — and also because they were the construct of an Anglican clergyman?

Peter Arnold

Wellingborough, Northants

Sir, Even as an adult, I still receive presents every Christmas purporting to be from Father Christmas. It reminds me that giving is a joy, even (or especially) when the donor does so anonymously, and it inspires me to do the same. The mythical tradition surrounding St Nicholas teaches this more effectively than any scientific text book. In categorising anything that isn’t scientific as “second-rate”, Richard Dawkins misses out on a profound truth.

David Culley


Sir, Richard Dawkins is far too critical about our childhood fantasies. Childhood is about simple beliefs which broaden our imaginative mind. Rationality develops later with the acquisition of empirical knowledge.

My atheist father instilled his belief during my childhood but I also used to enjoy the mythological tales from the great Sanskrit epics narrated to me by mother. These created a mesmeric and magical world to me. I don’t think my developing mind was harmed in any way from such innocuous stories.

Dr Sam Banik, FRCPath

London N10

Sir, There was an interesting juxtaposition in your news pages (June 5).

On page two you reported that Archbishop Justin Welby spent his day in Nigeria working for the release of 200 abducted schoolgirls. On the facing page you reported that the scientist Richard Dawkins was chiding parents for reading fairy tales to their children. It is hard to imagine either of them doing what the other did.

The Rev David A Baker

East Dean, E Sussex

John Prescott is selling one of his Jaguars to reduce air pollution – sounds good but is it quite logical?

Sir, I read that John Prescott is selling one of his Jags to reduce air pollution (June 4). Surely he should be buying as many Jags as possible, as he can only drive one at a time. As the owner of four old V8-powered cars, I believe I am doing the right thing for the environment by preventing others from driving them.

Peter lloyd

Hatfield Peverel, Essex

Sir, So John Prescott is selling one of his two Jags to help reduce air pollution and now they can both be out on the roads at the same time.

Good thinking, that. Perhaps I can save time by selling one of my two watches.

Nick Campling

Peterborough, Cambs

Look to your membership cards – they can get you out of tricky situations without a passport

Sir, Some years ago a fellow member of my choir forgot his passport but was allowed to travel from Heathrow to Edinburgh on his only form of ID, his choir membership card. The airport official said “We don’t think a member of the London Gay Men’s Chorus would be a terrorist.”

John Moysen

London SE21

While socks continue to single up mysteriously, people with small feet are finding life harder and harder

Sir, Matthew Parris mentions his “fruitless sock-pairing frenzy” (June 4). Husband alive — bags of odd socks. Since he died — none. I do wear socks all the time. Spooky or what?

Jackie Williams

Shaftesbury Dorset

Sir, Increasingly women’s shoes are made in size 4 and up. I take a
size 2-2½. I used to be able to wear a size 3 with much padding and many socks but even 3s are getting bigger.

There are still many of us with small feet who would love to be able to buy a reasonably priced fashion shoes. There is a market — I know someone who takes 1-1½.

In one branch of a national chain the assistant told me that when the buyers come to do the re-ordering they never ask the assistants what they have been unable to supply but simply reorder more in the sizes that have sold. I was told that it is shoes in the smaller and larger sizes that are the most requested but of course they are never supplied.

Jane S. Haworth

Thames Ditton, Surrey

In this year of anniversaries, is it too late to suggest an addition to the Last Night of the Proms programme?

Sir, Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, written in 1905 for the centenary of Trafalgar, was for decades a popular feature of the Last Night of the Proms. This jolly salute to Nelson drew on many sources, including the haunting melody Tom Bowling by Charles Dibdin, who died 200 years ago in July.

This is also the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines, whose bands are renowned for the quality of their music and drill. With these two significant anniversaries this year, in addition to that of the Great War, it is surely time the BBC reintroduces Fantasia on British Sea Songs in September. Its medley and melody are made for the melodrama of the maestro, musicians and merry music makers alike.

Lester May
(Lieutenant Commander RN, retired)

London NW1

The Knowhow shed is big, but there are two in the US which would each swallow a dozen of them

Sir, Ann Treneman described the Knowhow Distribution Centre in Newark as the largest shed in the world (June 3). I am sorry but the Knowhow “shed” at 630,000 sq feet comes into the “large garden” category on a world scale. The Boeing Aircraft Company has two “sheds” in Everett and Renton, Washington, each of 4 million plus sq feet and each one would comfortably hold 12 Knowhow “sheds” but they would be stacked two deep.

Alan Duffield

Upper Breakish, Isle of Skye


SIR – Some years ago when in Normandy to see the remains of the wonderful and successful Mulberry Harbour, I bought a French book, printed in English, called “100 Dates of French History”.

Imagine my horror and disgust to find the entry for “American landings in Normandy” in 1944, without any mention of the troops of Britain and the Empire, which were in the majority. I wonder how many French children and their parents are misled by this anti-British history.

Michael Smedley
Radford Semele, Warwickshire

SIR – The majority of films covering the D-Day landings show a lot of footage of American troops storming the beaches of Normandy, but very little of the British and Canadian assaults.

Could it be that the American commanders thought it more important than the British to have lots of cameramen covering the attack?

As a result of this filming, the youngsters of today could be forgiven for thinking that we played a minor role in the D-Day landings.

Gordon Green
Porlock, Somerset

SIR – It distresses me that Gary Victor (Letters, June 4) should object to Government funding for “events based on attic rummages for mainly unknown relatives from the First World War”.

My father fought in the Salonika Campaign of September 1918, winning the Military Cross for rescuing five parties under fire. Despite being “blown up by a shell”, as the citation states, he recovered.

Not having children myself, I have recently reluctantly had to pass on his Military Cross, together with papers including the citation and the recommendation from the men under him, to the National Army Museum in Chelsea.

David Challen
Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire

SIR – My mother had just given birth to my younger brother and was relaxing in the maternity ward of Beckenham hospital when in burst Dr Shipsey. “We’re back in Europe” he shouted, “and the first man on the beaches was an Irishman.”

The mothers all cheered, but then had to cope with all the babies that had awoken and were adding their cheers to the news.

Bob Hill
Whitchurch, Herefordshire

The Queen’s Speech

SIR – How pleasing for Her Majesty’s subjects in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to hear in the Queen’s Speech that more powers will be devolved to them.

However, this Coalition Government seems to have lost sight of the affront to democracy in England of the West Lothian question. The English are not asking for regional assemblies, nor another separate and costly parliament, just that MPs from other parts of the United Kingdom don’t vote on purely English legislation.

Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – All the Queen’s Speech really gave us was a charge for plastic bags. Is that all that the Coalition could knock together?

Max Harris
Bishops Waltham, Hampshire

SIR – If only Matt’s cartoon of the Queen announcing that her Government would spend the next year lobbing paper balls at the bin and staring out the window would come to pass. We have more than enough legislation and taxes already.

Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire

Syria: they haven’t got it

SIR – After Britain’s destabilising interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and our support for anti-Western elements in Egypt, there is no appetite among the vast majority of the electorate for intervention in Syria (Letters, June 3), not even for “mentoring”, and certainly not for providing military training for anyone involved in that conflict. This is despite the often one-sided media reporting from Syria, which was a stable country before the Western-backed insurrection.

Should the Free Syrian Army and its allies succeed in toppling Assad, it is unlikely that any sort of election would take place there. The establishment of an anti-Western regime sympathetic to al-Qaeda would be much more probable.

British voters trust that the Government has learnt its lesson and will stay well clear of any further interference in the Middle East, where history proves that we just can’t win – those of us who served in Aden and faced rioters in Benghazi certainly found that out.

Lt Col Noel McCleery (retd)
Winchester, Hampshire

Finish your dinner

SIR – When asked what was for dinner, my grandmother would invariably reply “Bally-yan-yan”, the origin and meaning of which was totally obscure and probably part of a now-extinct Norfolk dialect that she reverted to when stressed.

Paul Strong
Claxby, Lincolnshire

SIR – In all of the letters concerning “What’s for dinner?”, it seems as if there is a common theme: providing interesting meals on a daily basis can become an absolute chore. Deflecting with silly answers is a ploy to stop the question.

My family members never ask. They are just grateful to avoid food poisoning.

Gill Pemberton
Medbourne, Leicestershire

Save the date

SIR – I recently received a letter from my GP’s surgery. The date, as postmarked, is May 20 2014. The letter invites me for a shingles vaccine: “The clinic is being held on Friday 28th February 2013”.

Should I contact Doctor Who and ask him to drop me off?

Tom McAlpin

SIR – Many disabled people strongly oppose legalising assisted suicide. We are deeply concerned that a change in the law will lead to disabled people – and other vulnerable people, including the elderly – feeling pressure to end their lives.

Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to do so, we focus on how we can make that possible?

The campaign to legalise assisted suicide reinforces deep-seated beliefs that the lives of terminally ill and disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s.

Dr Alice Maynard
Chairman, Scope
Dr Phil Friend
Chairman, Disability Rights UK
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton
Baroness Grey-Thompson
Ann Macfarlane
Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick
Mik Scarlet
Liz Carr

Agony and Ecstasy

SIR – It is a pity there wasn’t enough space in Obituaries for all those who did not benefit from Alexander Shulgin’s introduction of Ecstasy to the drug market.

Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

A princely prospect

SIR – In the Sixties I lived in a flat which had a loo looking out over the rooftops of Kensington towards the Albert Memorial (Letters, June 3).

It gave one a wonderful sense of well-being to sit on the throne and look across at Albert seated on his.

John Ormsby
London W4

Earl Grey tea and the benefits of bergamot

SIR – As one of the doctors involved in the clinical research on the bergamot phenolic fraction, marketed worldwide as BergaMet, I do not believe that Earl Grey tea will have the same effect as statins in fighting heart disease (report, March 30).

Bergamot oil is taken from the peel of the bergamot orange, not the juice extract. The peel has not been shown to have any effect on cholesterol whatsoever. It is only the juice extract marketed as BergaMet that has the effect described in your article.

BergaMet itself is not a replacement for statins but we have published a paper recently in the International Journal of Cardiology demonstrating a clear synergism using BergaMet and statins together to help lower cholesterol. We have also published another paper in Advances in Biologic Chemistry showing that BergaMet improves the cholesterol profile and protects against fatty liver.

None of these benefits have been shown with the oil used to flavour Earl Grey tea.

Dr Ross Walker
Lindfield, New South Wales, Australia

SIR – Has it not occurred to Kirstie Allsopp and Allison Pearson that many young women choose to go to university to escape being trapped by their own fertility, or at least to have the opportunity of doing so? It may be the case that “one in four female graduates will never have children”, but that does not necessarily mean that they all wanted them in the first place. Graduates are intelligent people, trained to think independently and to draw their own conclusions.

Not very long ago women were a minority in higher education; now they are a significant majority. Possibly rather fewer than three quarters of them will become mothers for all sorts of considered reasons, not simply because of a time factor.

Michael Liversidge
Emeritus Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Bristol

SIR – As a 17-year-old girl sitting my A-levels and hoping to go to university, I find Kirstie Allsopp’s comments extremely disheartening. Many young women value academic aspirations over a traditional domestic role and this should not be discouraged.

Gemma Pimlot
Old Leake, Lincolnshire

SIR – A gynaecologist friend says that, physically, 18 is the optimal age at which to give birth. Another friend had a child at 19. By the time she was 37, her daughter was independent and she was free to devote 30 unbroken years to her vocation.

Is she happy? Well, happier than many women either side of 40 who are either childless or consulting fertility experts.

Michael Upton

SIR – As a working mother with children aged 26, 17 and two years old, I know it is perfectly possible to have a career and raise children. It just requires spending a large amount of your salary on child care.

Verena Cornwall
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – What Kirstie Allsopp advises is exactly how I came to be trapped in an abusive marriage with no means of escape. I had no qualifications and no chance of getting a job that would support me and two young children.

Financial independence is the only way in which a woman can be in an equal relationship with a man.

Margaret Blake
London SE11

SIR – Getting a degree is one step for women to take towards becoming self-sufficient. Women should go out into the world with the determination not to depend on a man. You may meet a nice man. You may not. You cannot rely on the courts to treat you fairly if a marriage ends.

June Bennett
Lytham, Lancashire

SIR – I dread to think how lonely I would be were it not for my large family, and nine great-grandchildren. They exist mainly because my granddaughters trained for their professions immediately after formal education, marrying and raising children soon after that and working part-time.

John Vaughan
Tadworth, Surrey

Irish Times:

Sir, – Would Catholic Church leaders care to tell us how many nuns died of malnutrition and associated illnesses while working in the Bons Secours children’s home and other similar institutions? Were they buried alongside their precious charges in a mass grave? – Yours, etc,


Tweed Street,


Victoria, Australia.

Sir, – There is some loss of perspective in the recent outcry about the sad infant deaths in mother-and-baby residential homes in the past.

Cohorting infants in institutions puts small infants at risk from cross-infection, particularly gastroenteritis. Early infection to the gastrointestinal tract can cause severe bowel damage. Without the availability of recent technology, many such infants would die from malabsorption resulting in marasmus [severe malnutrition]. The risks would have been much increased if the infants were not breast fed.

In foundling homes in the US in the early 20th century, mortality was sometimes reported as greater than 90 per cent among infants cared for in such institutions. Lack of understanding of nutrition, cross-infection associated with overcrowding by today’s standards, and the dangers of unpasteurised human milk substitutes were the main factors. – Yours, etc,



North Circular Road,


Sir, – The proposal to link public sector pensions to inflation in order to contain the growing unsustainability of the present system (Editorial, June 5th) is a distraction from the real problem – how to create a sustainable pension system for everyone.

Sooner rather than later the Government, any government, must grasp the nettle and create a universal pension scheme for everyone – public sector, private sector, those working for someone else, the self-employed, the unemployed, the very rich and the very poor. There should be no tax breaks and everyone should contribute according to their means.

That should be reflected, to a degree, by what they receive, with significant weighting towards those on low to middle incomes.

It would meet with massive opposition from the very rich, employer organisations, trade unions and above all the pensions industry; but the longer it is delayed the harder it will be to create such a system before the current one implodes.

Hopefully I will be too old to be around by the time that happens. The vast majority of your readers will still be around. – Yours, etc,


Station Road,


Sir, – I have been living and working in Ireland since 2007 when I was appointed to a permanent academic post at Trinity College Dublin. For me, living in Ireland is a dream come true. I was born and raised near Seattle in the US and always imagined a life in Ireland.

Perhaps unknown to many in the public is that any non-EU national is required to register with the Garda every year, with a fee of €300 each time. This includes highly skilled workers who have moved to Ireland permanently. Each year since 2007, I have spent the better half of a day waiting for my stamp at Burgh Quay. I am not writing about the past, but rather about a change at the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), Burgh Quay, Dublin.

Only recently this office was made a centre for processing registration nationally, and the result is that people like me, and my wife and six-month-old daughter are required to queue into the alleyway with between 50 to 100 others for an hour or two before being allowed to queue inside for four or five hours more.

This new overcrowding, misdirection and general confusion mean that in order to get GNIB cards for my wife and me, I arrive at 7.30am, wait outside in the elements, just to begin an eight-hour day waiting for a stamp and card. The problems apply also to those who need re-entry visas from the same office, and who are turned away from the office by 8am, having travelled some distance, and often at real expense.

Surely guests to Ireland, who are here to serve and contribute, and who are doing so according to the laws of the land, should expect more dignity when doing so. Since non-EU students from abroad also must endure the same, and because Irish universities are keen to recruit these students, there is certainly a better foot to put forward than this.

In writing this I do so not to criticise the officers, but rather to encourage the Government to prioritise investing in a solution to an undignified problem. If there is any doubt, just imagine your cardiologist from India getting drenched with his wife and kids in an alley at the quay side each year to register with the Garda. – Yours, etc,


Department of Religions

and Theology,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – There is some truth to Vincent Browne’s account of the Labour Party, but it is not the entire story (“Labour has never really had ‘core vales’”, Opinion & Analysis, June 4th).

The older leadership was intensely conservative; they lacked the confidence and imagination to project an alternative to the status quo, even if they wanted to, which they didn’t.

But there were always rank-and-file members of the Labour Party who saw themselves – perhaps still do – as socialists. Theirs, however, was not the socialism of James Connolly. They were too respectable for that. People looking for revolutionary politics could always join the Communist Party or team up with left-wing republicans.

Their socialism was that of the British Labour Party and the postwar welfare state. Some had lived in Britain and brought their politics back with them; universal access to free healthcare and education seemed worth striving for.

The abandonment of anything remotely resembling Labour values by Tony Blair left this segment of the Labour Party here severely adrift. The section associated with Democratic Left had already lost all hope with the collapse of the Soviet Union; the move to an anodyne liberalism, silly red roses and all, was inevitable, as there was nowhere else to go.

Any chance of Labour reconnecting with its social democratic past is dependent on the some kind of revitalising of the broad European left in the search for solutions to the crisis. Right now, there is no sign of that happening. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Sir, – Patsy McGarry (“Just two Catholic priests in Dublin aged under 40, says Martin”, Home News, June 4th) refers to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s vision for the future of the Catholic Church in Dublin, with laypeople, deacons and religious led by fewer and fewer priests.

While the church still has a small number of mature men becoming seminarians, resolving the priest deficit crisis will require decisive action by church leaders sooner or later to allow suitable married men to be ordained. Whatever the merits and equality argument for women priests, there is no theological barrier to allowing married men to become priests. Cardinal Hume in England persuaded the Vatican to allow a number of married Anglican priests to become Catholic priests in the 1990s. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,

Templeogue, Dublin 16

Sir, – After listening and reading so much criticism by so many politicians and other individuals, as a former member I feel compelled to write in defence of the Garda Síochána. I would question many on whether they have vested interests in expressing their views.

Most make their criticism in the broadest manner, by making it against the Garda Síochána in general but then speak of individual members or groups within the force. When they are challenged on the matter, in most cases they will speak of the vast majority of hard-working members of the force carrying out their duties. However, they will already have sucked the morale from those very same members.

The force has been denuded of station accommodation, manpower, transport and finance over the past few years and could certainly do without sweeping criticism of its efforts in keeping law and order throughout the country.

Furthermore, regarding the insinuation that all of the senior ranks of the force are unfit to hold the position of commissioner and that, to add insult to injury, we should look towards a civilian or, worse still in my eyes, a British police officer for our next commissioner, that really is the last straw.

If people need to cast doubt on the abilities of others, they should be brave enough to identify those they wish to criticise and not tarnish the many by making ill-judged and sweeping statements. – Yours, etc,


Bellefield Road,

Sir, – As a GP, I was not surprised to read of the “mess”, as Paul Cullen describes it, surrounding the medical card scheme (“Confusion still reigns over medical card mess”, Home News, June 5th).

Would all politicians stop promising things they cannot give with regard to healthcare and free GP care? There are huge costs involved in terms of money and staff. Are people prepared to pay far higher taxes for all these “new” medical cards covering as yet unspecified conditions? I can already hear the calls to Joe Duffy from people with medical conditions not recommended for coverage by the “expert” group.

And would the Department of Health and HSE kindly stop making long-term medical policy “on the hoof”. – Yours, etc,


Main Street,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – The Irish Times has reported extensively on the king of Spain’s abdication. I refer in particular to your editorial (“Passing on the crown”, May 4th) and to an article regarding this event of historical significance for Spain, which also commented on the king’s role during the transition from dictatorship to democracy in my country (“Unfinished business for democracy in Spain”, Opinion & Analysis, June 4th).

Regrettably, your editorial affirms that the “transition to constitutional democracy [was] far more peaceful – though still bloody – than anyone had imagined possible”. Similarly, the Opinion & Analysis article states that the transition “happened in a relatively bloodless way”.

In my opinion, this is not a fair and accurate description of the transition. It is widely recognised that the Spanish political transition was a peaceful and bloodless process, based on a spirit of consensus among political and social forces, which made possible the adoption in 1978 of our constitution. The Spanish transition has been internationally praised as an example of successful national reconciliation.

Your editorial rightly states that “very few European political leaders of our times . . . measure up to [the king’s] stature” and that many Spaniards are deeply grateful for his role in “clearing the way from that dictatorship to four unprecedented decades of freedom and prosperity”.

The announcement of the king’s abdication opens a new political cycle in Spain. A new generation, represented by the future King Felipe VI, is now called to respond to the challenges of our times, building on the achievements of our successful transition. – Yours, etc,


Ambassador of Spain

to Ireland,

Sir, – Barry Walsh in his letter (June 5th) assessing the relative independence of elected “Independent” councillors while an excellent summation, got one thing wrong. The fact that a group of genuinely independent national politicians lent support and guidance to a number of genuinely Independent candidates cannot in any way indicate that they would, if elected, jump to any diktat of Independent national politicians.

Team Lowry, as Mr Walsh suggests, is a political party by another name and is the kind of structure, together with the “Independents” with party political form, which prevents genuine Independents from achieving success in Seanad elections. – Yours, etc,



Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

Sir, – I beg to differ with Jonathan Baum (June 5th). The sight of a head of government going to a foreign country to lobby on behalf of his compatriots who are “illegal immigrants” in that country is not an embarrassment.

What is embarrassing is that the head of our government, and many members of our parliament, make a virtue of such lobbying while devoting considerably less political capital to the plight of the 30,000 undocumented migrants estimated to reside here in Ireland. A plight, I might add, which they have within their gift to relieve. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.

Sir, – I was saddened when I read Sarah Waldron’s article “Smart clubbing, unholy nights” (Life Style, June 4th). She writes with enthusiasm about the Dublin club that uses for its theme different religious holidays, such as the Immaculate Conception. The accompanying photograph of two of the young men behind the “exciting” idea wielding crucifixes while standing in front of a statue of Christ added to the sacrilege. How fortunate this club was to have been given free publicity in your newspaper. – Yours, etc,




Co Tyrone.

Sir, – So Adrian Mulryan has found the solution to the housing crisis, with all defaulting “amateur” landlords to be forced to sell ( June 4th). Whether “professional” landlords must meet the same fate is less clear. No mention, of course, of the responsibilities of the banks and government which led to such an unprecedented property crash. It would appear that in Mr Mulryan’s world the investor should take the hit regardless of the consequences or the circumstances. If only it were so – banks and unsecured bond holders anyone? – Yours, etc,


Nutley Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – There have been some reports recently that the Reform Alliance may be on the way to forming a new political party (“Reform Alliance gears up”, Home News, June 4th). Not a good idea. The strong message at the local and European elections was that we have mostly had quite enough of political parties in all their various colours, shapes and sizes.

It seems to me that we want our elected representatives to be regularly accountable to those who do the electing and not to their party leaders under an antiquated whip system.

For the electorate to have to wait five years in the long grass is not really very democratic, is it? What about a “No More Political Parties” party instead? – Yours, etc,


Braemor Grove,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – John Bellew (May 26th) is critical of “Eamon de Valera’s decision to keep Ireland neutral” during the second World War. It is worth stressing that a national consensus and all-party agreement backed the popular policy. Two Oireachtas members only – James Dillon and Frank McDermott – dissented.

According to your correspondent, “Hitler flirted with the idea of invading Ireland”. If so, he was not alone. In a broadcast on May 14th, 1945, Winston Churchill stated “had it not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland, we should have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr de Valera”. – Yours, etc,


St Patrick’s Road, Dublin 9.

A chara, – Gabrielle Hyland (June 5th) fails to understand why men dressed in women’s clothing are allowed to participate in the women’s mini-marathon. Has she never heard of drag racing? – Is mise,



Düsseldorf, Germany.

Sir, – Maybe the poor fellas are confused by the word “mini”. – Yours, etc,


Mount Argus Court,

Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W.

Irish Independent:

Letters: Love not power must be the dynamic of the church

Published 06/06/2014|02:30

Pope Francis: is facing history ofchurch abuses head-on. Photo: Reuters

* Fact of history; Christ founded the Christian church. He commissioned the apostles and their successors to guide his church, not by power but by love. For the first three centuries they obeyed him, for the most part.

Since then, with few exceptions, the church leaders have disobeyed him. They have blatantly ignored his command and have governed the church by naked power, in direct contradiction to his clear instructions.

No doubt, many church leaders were well-intentioned, but grossly wrong-headed, in failing to remember Christ’s basic principle, love not power.

All these terrible abuses have resulted from the hierarchy’s gross betrayal of Christ, and his adamant command. Francis is the first pope in 1,700 years to face this glaring fact of history head-on.

Anyone commenting today on the church should be professional enough to make this clear distinction. The church is one thing, the way it has been governed is something altogether different.

For example, would all these abuses have happened, if women had not been systematically excluded from any say in how his church was run?

For the believing Christian, the church is Christ at work in the world, in spite of the weaknesses of mere men.




* When a celebrity dies, the press shouts it from the rooftops, while an unmarked grave discovered in Tuam, Co Galway, hardly made the headlines.

The bones of 800 children were heaped together in an undignified manner. They all had one thing in common – they were born or brought into this world outside of the sacred sacrament of holy matrimony.

Oh, the disgrace. I’m sure these were the words used when the pregnancy was announced, followed by “what will the neighbours think?” Send them away before disgrace is brought on our doorstep.

We must remember this was the time when Ireland was ruled by the crozier and a long-nosed man who caused a civil war.

A child’s grave cannot speak.

Nor justice ever be done to those who caused the suffering and pain.

Be assured it will happen again and again.

Rest easy little ones. At least you are at peace.

The crozier now has little power, sacred vows become obsolete.

Someone once said: This must never happen again. I forget who that was. Do you remember, anyone?




* So, in many homes up and down this country, meal portions have been cut dramatically. Young children make their way to school on an empty stomach, and parents fret over how the mortgage will be paid because one of both are unemployed.

Then comes May, June and as the colleges and secondary schools close for the summer, the drastic decrease of young people in this country is plain for all to see. Most have gone on J1s, instead of sitting at home penniless for the summer. None can get jobs in this country. Why? Because of the absolute greed from businessmen and women. It disgusts me.

For those left at home, there is the constant nagging to get a job that pays good money, not to use it to go out and drink and smoke and other things young people are accused of, but in many cases to put two days’ food on the table. Yet, on a quick estimation, only 15-20pc of jobs pay that and for every one of those there are thousands of applications.

Were the powers that be to take a trip to the airport, they would see tears as parents say goodbye to their children, and vice versa for, in some cases, three months due to the lack of morality this government, who are the cause of all this and can’t give all of its people equal rights, nearly 77 years to the day since the constitution was agreed by the Irish people, let alone give its young people decent pay.




* The subject of trade unions has always been a contentious one in this country; the Lock-Out of 1913 being probably the most striking example of how trade unions can divide opinion. Members and supporters of trade unions point to the need for a representative body for workers, while those of a different mindset often accuse unions of disruption or ‘holding the country to ransom’.

If anything ever emphasised the need for trade unions, however, the situation at Bausch & Lomb in Waterford does just that. The prospect of 200 people losing their jobs and the remaining 900 workers having their wages cut by one-fifth would be bad enough if its Waterford facility was loss-making and the cuts were a necessity to ensure viability.

However, as far as I’m aware, there has been no statement from the company that indicates that the Waterford facility is not profitable. The justification being put forward is that the cost base at Waterford is 30pc higher than its facility in Rochester, New York.

God forbid that workers in two different cities, on two different continents would face two very different costs of living and two very different sets on taxes.




* Last night I had a dream that a thousand candles shone brightly from the windows of Aras an Uachtarain, welcoming all those homeless poor souls eking out a pitiful existence within earshot of Phoenix Park.

President Michael D Higgins, driven by a sense of deep and innate humanitarian philanthropy, had thrown open the doors of his expansive abode to offer succour and shelter to the most destitute.

Children played on the manicured lawns safe in the knowledge that they were, at last, well fed, cared for and human. For the first time in years their parents felt protected, away from the dehumanising ravages of austerity and poverty.

This extraordinary gesture and leadership sparked off a wave of kindness and demonstrated, even to this government, as well as to people of all hues, the compassionate and immediate way to deal with a scourge that has been allowed to explode beyond crisis point.

Alas, as with all dreams, I woke up to the reality of life in Ireland, a land skewed between those on the inside who have plenty and those outside the pale who have nothing, and, as ever, never the twain shall meet.




* I am one of the ‘bureaucratic overpaid public sector employees’ to which Betty Kiely refers (Letters, May 31) and wish to point out that from October 29, 2013 local authorities no longer issue drivers licences. From that date it was handed over to a private company called NDLS.

Ms Kiely was talking to employees of this company and not public sector employees.

No doubt, she was one of the general public who was baying for the blood of public sector employees and for changes to be made. This is the future for the general public as local authority services are eroded and privatised, so get used to it. Every service will be centralised and the public will have to deal with more ‘employees with robotic functions’ on the minimum wage.



Irish Independent


June 5, 2014

5 June2014 Recovery

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee

Scrabbletoday, I win the game, and gets over 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Margaret Pawley – obituary

Margaret Pawley was a back-room girl with the SOE in Cairo and Italy who later made her mark as a writer on Church history

Margaret Pawley

Margaret Pawley

6:00PM BST 04 Jun 2014

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Margaret Pawley, who has died aged 91, was one of an elite group of young women who were recruited to work with the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War; she later became a historian and a leading member of the ecumenical movement.

She was born Margaret Grozier Herbertson on March 22 1922 in Koblenz, where her father was a senior civil servant in the post-war Control Commission. She spoke German and French by the time she arrived at Stratford House School in Kent. After attending secretarial college, she worked at the Royal New Zealand Air Force headquarters in London, but in 1943 she was recruited through her father’s contacts into the SOE. At her first interview she was told: “I hear you’ve volunteered for Cairo as a coder”; and after only two weeks’ training she and four other girls were sent by flying boat and bomber to Egypt.

Once in Cairo, Margaret Herbertson joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (the FANYs), which provided the back-room girls for the SOE — drivers, wireless operators, cipher clerks, intelligence officers, interpreters and housekeepers in safe houses. She was posted to Force 133, coding and decoding signals between headquarters and agents in the Balkans, and was soon drawn into operations, particularly the supply of wireless sets, crystals, spares, batteries and generators which were dropped by parachute over Yugoslavia.

After the Allied landings in Italy, the FANY girls working with SOE stayed close to the front, and after the liberation of Rome, Margaret Herbertson joined No 1 Special Force in Italy as an intelligence officer. From a secret base in the city she intercepted and interpreted German wireless messages, and prepared intelligence reports for daily pre-breakfast briefings. Next she moved to Siena, where she helped set up the SOE war-room and tracked the retreat of the German army. She was eventually demobilised in late 1945.

Margaret Pawley in uniform

Post-war she studied History at St Anne’s College, Oxford. In 1950 she worked as a national organiser for the Women’s Institute, a role that took her on a seven-month secondment to Malaya, where she helped set up a network of WI federations with some 200 branches.

In 1958 she married the Rev Bernard Pawley, who had served with distinction as an Army chaplain and would soon become Vice-Dean of Ely Cathedral. Two years later their tranquil family life in the Close was disturbed when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, appointed Pawley his representative to the Second Vatican Council in Rome.

Bernard and Margaret Pawley lived in a small flat in Rome, and during the next five years dispensed generous hospitality to the Roman Catholic bishops and others attending the Council.

During the long intervals between the sessions of the Council, they returned to Ely to continue what was very much a shared ministry there; and in 1970 Bernard Pawley was appointed a residentiary canon at St Paul’s Cathedral as part of his increasing responsibilities in the field of ecumenical relations. Two years later he combined this work with that of Archdeacon of Canterbury, where Margaret was a lively and hospitable member of the cathedral community.

In 1961 she had become a member of the Foclare Movement – an international movement founded in wartime Italy to promote unity and universal brotherhood. When the movement’s first ecumenical schools were being established in Britain, she became an adviser to the small study group that was preparing them.

With her husband, Margaret Pawley wrote Rome and Canterbury Through Four Centuries (1974, revised 1981), which became a standard work of post-Reformation Church history. Her other books included a biography of Archbishop Donald Coggan (1987); an anthology of prayers, Praying with the English Tradition (1990); and Faith and Family: The Life and Circle of Ambrose Phillips de Lisle (2012).

Her Watch on the Rhine: the Military Occupation of the Rhineland 1918-1930 (2007) addresses the resentment of Germany towards the Allied occupation between the wars, while Obedience to Instructions: FANY with the SOE in the Mediterranean (1999) is considered the definitive history of FANY operations in the region and its support of SOE operations in southern Europe.

Margaret Pawley was awarded the Cross of Canterbury in 1994.

Her husband died in 1981, and she is survived by their son and daughter.

Margaret Pawley, born March 22 1922, died February 28 2014


The Labour leadership has evidently learned nothing from the rise of Ukip. Ed Miliband and Chuka Umunna rush to reassure white voters that they “understand their concerns” about immigration (Labour and Tory frontbenchers call for immigration reform, 31 May). But it should be obvious that the switch of allegiance by working people in Europe from social-democratic parties to the xenophobic right is powered in the long term by the utter failure of the former to provide a progressive alternative to austerity – France provides a particularly clear example. So Labour continues with its promises of austerity into the indefinite future (Labour cannot afford to reverse coalition’s cuts, says finance spokesman, 30 May). When will Labour realise that there is a feasible and popular alternative: ending tax evasion and avoidance, thus reaping £120bn a year and ending the deficit; reversing the privatisations and thus massively cutting costs and improving the quality of public services; and the Green New Deal to reflate the economy and further cut the deficit? That would also enable Labour to challenge Ukip on its ultra-right economic policies, which working-class voters have never even been informed of.
Jamie Gough

• Chris Leslie, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, says Labour “won’t be able to undo the cuts” imposed by the coalition. Labour won’t cut spending on the military, won’t allocate resources to get in more from tax avoiders, won’t plug tax loopholes, won’t increase direct taxes. Why would anyone vote Labour?
Emma Tait

•  I was horrified but, sadly, not surprised, to read that Ed Miliband relies on his aides to provide him with news as to what is happening in the UK (‘I don’t read much UK news,’ says Miliband, 30 May), preferring to interest himself in an American online site, RealClearPolitics, which appears to be dedicated to US politics. As a Labour voter I have been concerned, since the Blair years, of the more and more apparent disconnect between our political leaders and the voters. The fact that Miliband chose to employ an American adviser, at great cost, to guide the party to a hoped-for election victory is more than explained by his choice of daily reading. Does he not realise what message this sends to Labour voters and the British public at large? This man, who wants to lead the nation as its next prime minister, exhibits no importance in knowing on a daily basis what its inhabitants are experiencing, thinking or enduring under this government apart from what his aides, presumably selectively, choose to bring to his attention. It makes one wonder if there is any point in voting for someone who displays such contempt for us, seems to be in thrall to the US and its political figures, and is apparently sufficiently uninterested in the daily life of the nation to bother to read some news himself on a reasonably regular basis. It is not surprising that his relationship with “ordinary people” appears to be somewhat distorted. Perhaps he is covering his back and envisages joining his brother in the US should the next election not go in his favour.
Mary Hardy

• John Harris expresses perfectly the reason for the current frustration of many people with Labour’s gobbledegook (Sounding strange is a sign of Labour’s terminal malaise, 3 June). Hearing senior Labour politicians respond to questions with prepared avoidance cliches, hoping no one will notice, is like watching a child putting its hands over its eyes in the belief that we won’t be able to see them. The closeted environment Labour has inhabited for the last 20 years or so is like an isolated country with its own language, so they won’t understand the article. The best we can hope for is that they do badly in the next election and that the shock forces radical change in the party.
Jefrey Pirie
Totnes, South Devon

• I agree with John Harris’s description of the latest Labour party survey for supporters as banal. I gave up attempting to fill it in partway through and instead sent an email describing it as patronising and silly. In return I received an email thanking me for filling the survey in. I’ve also received emails telling me how the Labour party is acting on what I said in the survey. None of this inspires confidence.
Dr Linda Campbell

• John Harris is worryingly correct about so many of Labour’s problems, particularly those related to “normal English”. He is absolutely correct, too, in his description of the Tories, who are “confident enough to voice their ideas with that bit more clarity and oomph”. Nowhere is that more clearly shown than in the reaction to the EU’s criticism of the government regarding the housing boom (Britain told to rein in property boom by EU, 3 June). With the EU’s executive body urging them to reform the council tax system, build more houses, change the Help to Buy scheme, and bring more people into paying tax, what was the response? “The European commission continues to support the UK’s government strategy”. No embarrassment, just extreme arrogance and disingenuity. Are you watching, Labour?
Bernie Evans

• Could there be any greater illustration in the paucity of Labour’s plans to tackle the causes of the crisis unleashed on Britain and Europe than contiguous articles by David Graeber (Savage capitalism is back – but tinkering will not tame it, 31 May) and Chuka Umunna (We’ll not pose with pints)? Graeber discusses the role of a 1% parasitical rentier class presiding over an ever-increasing unequal social order and pinpoints the disappearance of opposing political systems and decline of oppositional movements as crucial factors in that process. No mention is made by Umunna of this historical shift. He offers us “a high wage, high skill” economy with no indication of how the 1% will be persuaded to part with their loot – and especially says nothing about the need to reinvigorate a drastically weakened trade union movement as an essential means for reversing the decline of wages as a share in national income. Not posing maybe – but so far well off target.
Jake Jackson
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

• While I take Chuka Umunna’s point that Nigel Farage too often gives the impression that the saloon bar of a pub is his office, it is a pity that he feels the need to distance Labour from the idea of posing with pints. The British pub remains under threat from property developers and large pub companies. Moreover, at its best, the pub is a place where all sections of a community can meet and discuss life over a drink, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. That is the complete reverse of Ukip’s vision for the country.
Keith Flett

Oil and gas production platform in the North Sea with burning flames

The Beryl Bravo oil and gas production platform in the North Sea. Photograph: Alamy

Since the Industrial Revolution almost 250 years ago, Britain’s economic prosperity and national energy security have depended on having access to abundant supplies of domestic energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas.

In 2004 the UK became a net importer of natural gas for the first time. Over the last three years, according to industry experts, output in the North Sea has fallen by 38%.

After nearly 30 years of near-abundant supplies of natural gas from the North Sea, we have become more exposed and vulnerable because of our increased reliance on foreign imports of energy to meet our power-generation needs. In 2014 UK government ministers said they expect Britain to be importing nearly three-quarters of our gas needs by 2030. But it does not have to be this way for ever.

According to the independent British Geological Survey, the Bowland Basin, which covers significant parts of north-west England, currently sits on top of 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If we extract only 10% of this valuable resource, that is enough to boost our domestic supply to meet existing demand by at least a further 25 years, according to geoscientific experts.

Globally high prices for commodities and recent innovations mean this is now economically and technologically possible. As geoscientists and petroleum engineers from Britain’s leading academic institutions, we call on all politicians and decision-makers at all levels to put aside their political differences and focus on the undeniable economic, environmental and national security benefits on offer to the UK from the responsible development of natural gas from Lancashire’s shale.
Professor Richard Selley Emeritus professor of petroleum geology, Imperial College London, Dr Ruth Robinson Senior lecturer in earth sciences, University of St Andrews, Professor Ian Croudace Director of Geosciences Advisory Unit, University of Southampton, Dr Lateef Akanji Coordinator of petroleum and gas engineering programme, University of Salford, Dr Godpower Chimagwu Enyi Lecturer in petroleum and gas engineering, University of Salford, Manchester, Professor Ghasem Nasr Director of spray research group, petroleum technology research group and leader of petroleum and gas engineering, University of Salford, Manchester, Professor James Griffiths Professor of engineering geology and geomorphology, University of Plymouth, Associate Professor Graeme Taylor Senior lecturer in geophysics, University of Plymouth, Professor Ernest Rutter Professor of structural geology, University of Manchester, Professor Mike Bowman Chair in development and production geology, and president of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain, University of Manchester, Professor Stephen Flint University of Manchester, Professor Jonathan Redfern Chair of petroleum geoscience, University of Manchester, Dr Kate Brodie Senior lecturer, University of Manchester, Dr Rufus Brunt University of Manchester, Professor Kevin Taylor University of Manchester, Dr Tim Needham Needham Geoscience and visiting lecturer, University of Leeds, Professor Paul Glover Chair of petrophysics, University of Leeds, Professor Quentin Fisher Research director of School of earth and environment, University of Leeds, Dr Doug Angus Associate professor of applied and theoretical seismology, University of Leeds, Dr Roger Clark University of Leeds, Professor Wyn Williams Director of teaching: rock and mineral magnetism, University of Edinburgh, Dr Mark Allen University of Durham, Dr Howard Armstrong Senior lecturer in department of earth sciences, University of Durham, Dr Martin Whiteley Senior lecturer in petroleum geoscience, University of Derby, Professor Jon Blundy Professorial research fellow in petrology, university of Bristol, Dr James Verdon Research fellow, University of Bristol, Professor Adrian Hartley Chair in geology and petroleum geology, University of Aberdeen, Dr David Iacopini Lecturer, University of Aberdeen, Dr Nick Schofield Lecturer, University of Aberdeen Professor David Macdonald Chair in geology and petroleum geology, University of Aberdeen, Dr Andrew Kerr University Cardiff, Professor Andrew Hurst Professor of production geoscience, University Aberdeen, Dr Sina  Rezaei Gomari Senior lecturer in petroleum technology and engineering, Teesside University, Professor Agust Gudmundsson Chair of structural geology, Royal Holloway, Dr David Waltham Royal Holloway, Professor Joe Cartwright Shell professor of earth sciences, Oxford University, Professor Peter Styles Professor in applied and environmental geophysics, Keele University, Dr Steven Rogers Teaching fellow, Keele University, Dr Ian Stimpson Senior lecturer in geophysics, Keele University, Dr Jamie Pringle Senior lecturer in engineering and environmental geosciences, Keele University, Dr Gary Hampson Director of petroleum geoscience MSc course, Imperial College London, Professor John Cosgrove Professor of structural geology, Imperial College London, Professor Howard Johnson Shell chair in petroleum geology, Imperial College London, Professor Dorrik Stow Head of Institute of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University, Dr Gillian Pickup Lecturer in reservoir simulation, Heriot-Watt University, Dr Zeyun Jiang Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University, Dr Jingsheng Ma Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University, Dr Gerald Lucas Edge Hill University, Professor Charlie Bristow Professor of sedimentology, Birkbeck College, University of London, Dr Paul Grant Lecturer, Kingston University

Your report (£16m grant for urgent Southbank works, 30 May) suggests that Boris Johnson has “torpedoed” plans to move the skateboarders in order to repair the Southbank Centre; in fact thousands of us have been energetically campaigning to preserve skateboarding in the undercroft. It attracts skateboarders from all over the country to show off their amazing skills – and crowds to watch them. It is part of the rich diversity of the South Bank. It’s a place where youths can be physically active within a city. The proposal to tidy them away under Hungerford Bridge will destroy that visibility, and the ominous footnote that the new venue can be closed for “events” reveals the real intention: gradually to get rid of the skateboarders altogether.
Jean Cardy

• Can anyone in the government explain to me how costs of onshore wind generation is classed as a subsidy (Energy UK steps up anti-green rhetoric, 2 June), while money to prop up fossil fuels is classed as a tax incentive (FoE attacks tax breaks on North Sea oil, 2 June)?
Janet Roberts
Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

• Shakespeare wrote Richard III in 1592. Queen Elizabeth had reigned for 59 years; in 1587 she had ensured the death of Mary Queen of Scots. He was unlikely to portray Elizabeth’s grandfather, Henry VII, as a usurper. Far safer to make Richard a monster and enjoy royal patronage (Experts put crooked image of Richard III straight, 30 May). The Tower was only downriver from the playhouses.
Vicki Morley
Penzance, Cornwall

• The Church of England is right to kick out clergy who join the BNP (C of E clergy will be defrocked if they join BNP, 4 June). Those who want to espouse the grotesque views of the BNP should take responsibility instead of waiting to be thrown out. To paraphrase an old Sunday Pictorial headline, they should go unfrock themselves.
Tony Robinson

• Cedric Thornberry (Obituary, 4 June) was an “expert in conflict resolution”. He was married and divorced four times. Says it all, really.
Ann Clements
Surbiton, Surrey

The power of the argument of those campaigning against “the privatisation of child protection” is not enhanced by the inaccuracies in their letter (30 May). First, while more than 75% of children‘s homes are private- or voluntary-society- owned, only 19% are private-equity-backed. The children’s homes sector is one of solo and small providers, socially committed individuals or organisations.

Also, there are not “low standards of care” in these homes. The Department for Education’s children’s homes data pack shows that there is no link between ownership and quality of care.

Finally, a colleague and I conducted the most rigorous inquiry into the costs of children’s homes care by means of FOI requests to all local authorities. The most accurate figure of the cost of such care on average, across all needs including high levels that need multi-professional provision, is £2,841 per week. Not only does this, as an annual amount, not total the £200,000 figure used in the letter, but every pound spent is closely scrutinised by local authorities. Other government-funded research shows that these placements are made for reasons of safety, specialism and choice.
Jonathan Stanley
Chief executive officer, Independent Children’s Homes Association

Metal bar door inside a prison

‘G4S helps the Israeli Prison Service to run prisons inside Israel that hold prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory,’ campaigners say. Photograph: Anthony Brown/Alamy

As G4S management and shareholders prepare to participate in the G4S AGM on Thursday, we call on G4S management and shareholders to end the corporation’s participation in Israel‘s brutal occupation. G4S operates and maintains security systems at the Ofer prison, located in the occupied West Bank, and for the Kishon and Moskobiyyeh detention/interrogation facilities, at which human rights organisations have documented systematic torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including child prisoners, held in solitary confinement.

G4S helps the Israeli prison service to run prisons inside Israel that hold prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory, despite the fourth Geneva convention prohibition of the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory into the territory of the occupier. Through its involvement in Israel’s prison system, G4S is complicit in violations of international law and participates in Israel’s use of mass incarceration as a means by which to dissuade Palestinians from protesting against Israel’s systematic human rights abuses.

G4S also provides equipment and services to the Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank that form part of the route of Israel’s illegal wall and to the terminals isolating the occupied and besieged territory of Gaza. G4S’s role in Israel’s brutal occupation and abhorrent prison system is unacceptable and must end. Join our call – add your name to this letter on the War on Want website.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ahmed Kathrada South African politician and former political prisoner, Alexei Sayle Comedian, Alice Walker Author, Angela Davis Author and activist, Breyten Breytenbach Poet and painter, John Berger Author, Ken Loach Director, Michael Mansfield QC Barrister, Mike Leigh Director, Miriam Margolyes Actor, Noam Chomsky Philosopher and author, Paul Laverty Screenwriter, Professor Richard Falk Professor of international law, Roger Waters Musician, Saleh Bakri Actor

•  More than 200 Palestinian children are being held in Israeli prisons. At least two of the jails where Palestinian children are detained – Ofer in the West Bank and Al Jalame in Israel – are supplied with security systems by G4S.

Several organisations, including Unicef in 2013, have documented the ill-treatment of the children inside these prisons. Unicef reported that the abuse of Palestinian youngsters trapped in the Israeli prison system is “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”. At its AGM last year, a number of concerned shareholders questioned the G4S board about the company’s complicity in the detention and abuse of Palestinian children, eliciting the promise of a review of the current situation.

A year on, G4S appears to be as entrenched as ever in the Israeli prison system. This is an unacceptable position for the company, with its headquarters in the UK, to be in. We call on G4S to show it has a conscience and terminate its contracts with facilities where children suffer routine physical and verbal abuse, contrary to the norms of civilised society.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Grahame Morris MP, Richard Burden MP, Katy Clark MP, Chris Williamson MP, Alex Cunningham MP, John Denham MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Paul Blomfield MP, Crispin Blunt MP, Joan Ruddock MP, Mark Durkan MP, Roger Godsiff MP, Hugh Lanning Chair, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Geoffrey Bindman QC, Bruce Kent CND, Caryl Churchill Playwright, Victoria Brittain Journalist and author, Rev Canon Garth Hewitt Amos Trust, Professor Steven Rose, John Austin, Betty Hunter


Thank you for highlighting on your front page (30 May) the under-reported issue of tax credit debt collection tactics.

We are being pursued by HMRC for £2,500, which is solely due to my partner and I each starting jobs over a two-year period. Our changes in income immediately put us in “debt” because the Tax Credits system cannot adapt to significant financial changes occurring late on in the financial year.

We have been hounded by letters and phone calls from a debt-collection agency and so I wrote to our MP and contacted National Debtline for advice. After we wrote to HMRC to complain, as advised, the harassment has stopped – but will no doubt restart as I intend to fight this appalling treatment, and the basic principle of intimidating poor people who are victims of a well-meaning, but flawed, system.

Your report does not mention that “debts” are sold on to debt-collection agencies even before the first stage of the tax credits appeals procedure has been allowed to run its course.

I wrote to HMRC to appeal in October 2013 and received a response just over a week ago after calling several times to request a reply.

The appeals system appears to work on the basis that people will give up if they are ignored and threatened at the same time.

A fair system designed to help low-income families is now penalising and bullying them. The articulate and tenacious may manage to fight these disgraceful tactics but most people are likely to cave in under the pressure of nasty letters and  phone calls from agencies who are experts at harassment and intimidation which stays just within the law.

Lyn Poole, Mossley, , Greater Manchester


Europe: back to the Iron Curtain

Back in the days of Communist parties there was a system called democratic centralism. Ivan’s vote put Dmitri on to the local party committee; which elected a higher party committee; which elected an even higher party committee; which (behind closed doors) elected the Central Committee, where the real power was exercised. Of course, that happened in a place very far distant from Ivan, whose political opinions were ignored once he had voted for Dmitri.

“You don’t seem to like our leader’s policies, Ivan. But don’t you understand? It’s your own fault for electing Dmitri.”

For the Central Committee read the European Council, which may appoint Jean-Claude Juncker behind closed doors to lead the EU. And to think that we were told that the Cold War was all about defending true democracy in western Europe against the hollowed-out, sham version current in the east.

Michael McCarthy, London W13

Nigel Boddy (Letter, 3 June) wonders why those in favour of staying in the EU are so afraid of an immediate referendum. Today’s paper (4 June) provides a graphic example, in the form of a quote from a Ukip supporter talking about Polish immigrants: “You’re walking in the town and you hear them jabber-jabber in their own language then laughing, so you know they’re saying something derogatory.”

What chance is there that such a person will do anything other than vote to leave the EU, simply because he is a xenophobe?

Mike Perry, Ickenham, Middlesex

Taming the chaotic cyber world

There is nothing about the “right to be forgotten” to justify your editorial’s sub-heading: “a licence to rewrite history” (31 May). And if “balancing” is allowed against the well-established “right to know”, what justifies the claim “the latter has to take precedence”? Since it cannot be that it always has to, we are back to the starting point: asking who should decide what ought to be “forgotten” and when.

It is premature to despair at the difficulty of answering such questions and an evasion of responsibility to conclude that until, in some chimerical future, agreed rules operate “across every jurisdiction in the world”, nothing worthwhile is achievable. There’s a clear public interest here and now in protecting privacy, and much else threatened by the chaotic state of the cyber world by extending and improving data protection law.

As with tax law, it is possible to argue for changes even if their remit is restricted and in need of constant adjustment. The “uncomfortable truth” is less that the web is uncontrollable; more that the struggle to humanise it must be a never-ending quest.

But it is a quest no committed liberal democrat can disengage from; for, as J S Mill put it: “All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people” (On Liberty).

Richard Bryden, Llandudno, Gwynedd

Ugly side of the beautiful game

Keith O’Neill’s letter (4 June), praising women footballers for their sporting play, misses the point. Cheating, diving, play-acting, whingeing, berating officials and diving are surely why most people go to watch men’s football matches. What pleasure can there be in watching a game in which no one ever breaks a rule and everyone just plays the beautiful game as it is supposed to be played? Why else are the cloggers and spitters so popular?

Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Uncounted costs of immigration

All the discussion about immigration seems to centre on whether your views are perceived to be racist. How about judging immigration purely from an economic standpoint?

If people from the EU relocate to the UK, having secured well-paid jobs on which they pay tax and National Insurance, I imagine the majority of UK-born citizens will have little issue with this.

What is a real concern is the number of people who enter the UK with few skills and enter low-paid, part-time employment. Someone on minimum wage can be working and still be entitled to housing benefit and council tax support. Those with children will also access child tax credits and child benefit. Then you need to factor in the costs of the household accessing the NHS and education.

EU immigration becomes an issue when households cost the UK economy more than they pay in. No mainstream political party has assessed immigration and its financial cost in terms of in-work benefits. Until they do, people will vote for parties who may have a more sinister edge to their anti-immigration stance.

K Barrett, Mossley, Greater Manchester

D-Day: Don’t forget the French sacrifices

How Anglo-centric is this country going to become? A month or so ago we were hearing noisy claims about the effects the immigrants have on England, and scarcely a word in the press or on TV about the suffering which causes anyone to leave home to cross seas and a continent.

Now we remember D-Day. Those of us who were on active service but not, alas, in Normandy had nothing but the highest regard for those who landed, and knew the slaughter of the first 10 weeks or so. That regard has remained with me all my life (I am now 96).

But where are the expressions of sympathy and admiration for the French people, woken in the early hours of D-Day by the explosions of naval shells from unseen and distant warships, and then all that followed? Homes, villages, churches, and, above all, human lives, cattle, means of living lost or damaged; railways and roads machine-gunned, bridges destroyed, towns such as Caen and Falaise ruined, and all this after four years of enemy occupation. Was it necessary? Of course it was, not just to liberate France but to change the balance of the war.

So, please can we remember too the heroism of the French? Recommendations of English books, films or DVDs on this subject would be a welcome surprise.

Bob Hope, Leicester

Bees from abroad

Tom Bawden’s account (4 June) of alleged dangers to our already declining “native” bumblebees from foreign “invaders” reassures readers by reporting that their “pollination services” could prove “hugely beneficial” (4 June). Should we permit xenophobic traditional bee-lovers to scapegoat a rapidly spreading immigrant species for government failures in “food chain” investment?

David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk

Greetings from Yorkshire

As a fellow Yorkshireman, like Bryan Jones (letter, 4 June), I occasionally use “Eh up”, but my preferred meaningless Yorkshire greeting is the magnificently all-encompassing “Now then”.

Mark Redhead, Oxford


A reference to National Trust volunteers as “little old ladies” did not go down very well

Sir, I am very pleased that Miranda Spatchurst (letter, June 3) raised the issue of the National Trust’s reliance on older volunteers, but I object to the term “little old ladies” (report, June 3). It is demeaning and ageist. None of the volunteers I have met is a “little old lady”. Many are men; all are active, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The 70 and 80-year-old volunteers today put younger people to shame. Many look no older than 60 because they are from the 1960s generation which fought for the women’s rights we take for granted today.

Valerie Howard

Beckenham, Kent

Sir, You ought to stop using the expression “little old ladies” with its patronising overtones. We may be shorter than in our youth but we are not part of an undifferentiated mass of dim, ineffectual if well-meaning bodies. You don’t refer to “little old men” (sounds creepy), do you?

Anne Waugh

King’s Heath, Birmingham

Sir, I am a regular volunteer for the National Trust. I am 5’ 2” tall, 70 and female. This qualifies me as a “little old lady”. I am not worn out — I recently walked 15 miles in one day on Offa’s Dyke and plan to
cross-country ski again next winter.

My fellow women volunteers and I prefer not to be described in these pejorative and out-of-date terms.

Joanna Walsh

Dyrham, Wilts

Sir, The shortage of volunteers will only increase as the pension age is raised. Your correspondent Miranda Spatchurst (“a relatively young 65”) is one of the last, fortunate women who have been lucky enough to receive a state pension at 60, giving them the opportunity (with an income, bus pass and other benefits) to volunteer, and it is to her credit that she has chosen to give some of her time to helping a good cause.

However, since she finds “a four-hour shift on a busy day” exhausting, it is as well that she was not born just five years later, as the government would expect her to work, full time, until she is 66 or older before being entitled to a pension.

I’m sure the thought of just a four-hour shift at 65 would seem very attractive to many. However, since most weekday visitors to National Trust properties are the over-60s, when we all have to work until we are 70 there will be fewer free to enjoy the visitor experience and keep the tearooms busy so reducing the need for volunteers. Problem solved?

Rosalind Taylor

Ashbourne, Derbyshire

Sir, Warnings of volunteer fatigue coupled with concern expressed by the chairman of English Heritage (“Hard-up Britons working too hard to be volunteers”, May 31) about the impact of inadequate pensions on volunteer availability suggest the burden needs to be shared.

Perhaps it is time for the government to harness the spirit of volunteering so evident at London 2012 by extending flexible working laws to encompass a right to time off to volunteer.

Michael Ryley

London EC4

The small print on food labels can be mystifying, especially if it is a French jam giving 110%

Sir, Howard Arnold (letter, June 3) should not worry unduly if he cannot read the small print on foodstuffs.

I have a jar of French strawberry jam which states that in every 100g of jam there is 50g of strawberries and the sugar content is 60g per 100g. Additionally, there is lemon juice and pectin.

Michael Fox

Twycross, Warks

One driver is not very happy about her car’s voice – she, the car, is altogether too peremptory and testy

Sir, Our Toyota Prius has a very snooty female voice (“Bossy, opinionated”, letter, June 3). On arrival at a destination, as the engine is turned off, she testily snaps, “Goodbye”, with the emphasis firmly on the second syllable. Her hostility is palpable.

Kay Bagon

Radlett, Herts


The small print on food labels can be mystifying, especially if it is a French jam giving 110%

Sir, Howard Arnold (letter, June 3) should not worry unduly if he cannot read the small print on foodstuffs.

I have a jar of French strawberry jam which states that in every 100g of jam there is 50g of strawberries and the sugar content is 60g per 100g. Additionally, there is lemon juice and pectin.

Michael Fox

Twycross, Warks

12g stickleback may be confirmed as the largest little fish ever caught

Sir, Your report of the angler landing the record 12g stickleback (“Angler lands big tiddler”, June 4) reminded us of the plant nursery we saw in California advertising the world’s largest bonsai trees.

Gerry & Austin Woods

London SW10

Lib Dem leadership jostling brings some of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes to mind

Sir, I fear that Lord Ashdown’s cryptic Shakespearean warning to Vince Cable — that politicians should “choose their Iagos carefully” — was (no doubt inadvertently) erroneous (May 2).

While visiting the former Nunthorpe Grammar School in York I happened upon a board extolling the virtues of selected alumni, among whom was one Vince Cable. His school successes included playing Macbeth — possibly an early indicator of of “vaulting ambition”.

Thomas Zugic

Wressle, N Yorks


SIR – Church of England opposition to HS2 because some graveyards will be disturbed takes no account of Britain’s proud record of moving human remains, not least in two world wars.

The recent enthusiasm for the reburial of the remains of King Richard III shows how well disposed the nation is to such moves.

This row reminds me of the old song that included the lines: “They are digging up father’s grave to build a sewer… / They’re moving his remains to lay down nine-inch drains.”

Some problems recur in each generation, and the same reactions arise every time.

John Roll Pickering
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – My great-great-grandfather Charles Goodall was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard in 1851. Not long after, he was exhumed to make way for the new Midland Railway. Where he lies now, God knows.

At about the same time, his old home in Kentish Town was also swept away in the name of progress. Governments were even more ruthless then than they are today.

Mike Goodall
Woking, Surrey

Hard hat

SIR – Three years ago I came off my bike as I cornered on a wet road. My head was the first thing to hit the asphalt and I’m glad I was wearing a helmet (Letters, June 3). I’d make a helmet while cycling compulsory.

Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent

SIR – I had stopped at roadworks near the junction of a lane when two cyclists came round a bend very fast and one crashed into my car. She was flung across the bonnet and smashed into my windscreen head first. The windscreen was cracked right across, and where her head hit, it caved in with a deep dent. Her bicycle was written off but she was unhurt.

Diana Smurthwaite
Newton Abbot, Devon

SIR – In my experience, cyclists wearing cycle helmets are more likely to take foolish risks or be too timid. This is an invaluable labelling system that aids motorists subjected daily to two-wheeled road-users’ erratic discipline.

Robin Dickson

King’s head

SIR – One consequence of the abdication of King Juan Carlos is that the new king of Spain will never be named on the obverse of a coin.

The European Central Bank permits some nationalist symbols, but has effectively condemned all eurozone monarchs to anonymity. King Felipe will probably appear as an unnamed effigy.

In the EU, loss of sovereignty leads eventually to a loss of the sovereign.

Tim Clarke
Calbourne, Isle of Wight

Losing contact

SIR – Last week on holiday I had my wallet stolen. I spotted the loss and cancelled the one debit card in it. A replacement duly arrived. It is of the “contactless” variety.

Have we gone mad?

I need no longer provide a Pin for purchases of less than £20. A thief could notch up hundreds of pounds of small purchases before I discovered the theft.

Are we really saying that £20 is an insignificant amount? Tell that to a hard-up pensioner or struggling family.

Christopher Pratt
Dorking, Surrey

Personal war memories

SIR – The Government is funding schemes to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. September is also the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and this Friday is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the world’s greatest military operation, which resulted in freeing millions from the Third Reich.

Both wars are commemorated on Remembrance Sunday, but from the Second World War we still have people with us who took part and can recall their experiences. We also have many civilians who provided the tools for victory by growing food, digging coal, building aircraft and manufacturing ammunition.

I do not understand why the Government is focusing funding on exhibitions and events based on attic rummages for mainly unknown relatives from the First World War when we still have living Second World War participants.

Gary Victor
Porthcawl, Glamorgan

Slippery statistics

SIR – John Langridge of Sussex was singled out for his slip catching (Letters, May 31), though in another slip, you illustrated the letter with a picture of his brother Jim, also a Sussex (and England) cricketer.

Awesome as his tally of catches (784) may be, the table is headed by Frank Woolley of Kent and England, with 1,018 catches, nearly all at slip, in his 978 first-class matches between 1906 and 1938. Wally Hammond wasn’t bad, either: 819 catches, again almost all at slip. Phil Sharpe was their successor.

David Frith
Guildford, Surrey

Two’s company

SIR – I, too, growing up in a farmhouse in Suffolk, had a double-seat closet at the end of the garden (Letters, June 2). One seat was at a higher level than the other, for the children as far as I was aware. My greatest fear when I was little was falling in, never to be seen again.

Mum always accompanied me there, I think, for that very reason. I never take my en suite for granted.

Heather Tanner
Earl Soham, Suffolk

SIR – In Norwich Castle there are two double-seat closets facing one another.

Time for a rubber of bridge?

Ian Carter
Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire

The church of St Andrew, Alfriston, on the bank of the river Cuckmere in East Sussex Photo: Derek Payne/Alamy

6:59AM BST 04 Jun 2014

Comments191 Comments

SIR – David Benwell (Letters, June 2) points out the undoubted beauty of West Sussex. But has it got the equal of East Sussex’s gorgeous Alfriston village, the charm of Lower Willingdon, the splendour of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, or the calm beauty of Exceat with its spread of salt marshes and wildlife?

They’re different aspects of the whole glorious county, I’d say, being diamond-wedded to a girl from Willingdon, East Sussex, and the brother-in-law to her sister, who has lived most of her life in West Sussex.

Roderick Taylor
Bourne End, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I fully second David Benwell in his eulogy of West Sussex. The other county reference point is, of course, Cowdray – the home of British polo. And this is the height of the polo season.

The Ambersham field is Cowdray’s best. There is highly placid countryside, a club house offering lovely home-made cakes, the thwack of the ball and charging of polo ponies.

And that is not even to mention the elegant leggy ladies at the legendary polo parties.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – The European Commission feels it is qualified to advise the Chancellor of the Exchequer on British housing policy. That surely confirms that Brussels should be left to concentrate on the chaos of the eurozone.

Paddy Germain
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – The Commission pronounces that Britain “continues to experience macroeconomic imbalances which require monitoring and policy action”.

Have its members no sense of irony?

Robert Langford
Coventry, Warwickshire

SIR – Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, must be rubbing his hands with glee at the many extra votes he will get after the news that the unelected European Commission is giving our elected Government advice on how to run British economic policy.

This from a Commission running an EU so mired in scandal that its own auditors regularly refuse to sign off its accounts.

This from a Commission whose own attempts to bring the EU out of the recent depression have been pitifully slow. Do these people still not realise how much more unpopular such advice makes them?

Stephen Reichwald
London NW8

SIR – If it were proposed that Britain’s next prime minister should be selected from unelected candidates, by unelected appointees that no one knows and whose power will not be controlled by Parliament, it would be overwhelmingly rejected.

So why do members of our elected Parliament disapprove so strongly of a growing political party that objects to power being put in the hands of the new president of the European Commission by such means? It seems democracy has become dangerously selective.

David Rammell
Everton, Hampshire

SIR – David Cameron’s jibe about no one ever having heard of the European Commission front-runner Jean-Claude Juncker echoes Nigel Farage’s “Who are you?” taunt to Herman van Rompuy when the latter became leader of the EU Council.

The never-heard-of-you charge could have been levelled before their appointment at virtually anyone in the present contingent of powerful, unaccountable and overpaid oddballs in Brussels – including the former Maoist, and ex-prime minister of Portugal, José Manuel Barroso (the current President of the European Commission), and the one-time treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Baroness Ashton of Upholland (the EU High Representative).

Tony Stone
Oxted, Surrey

SIR – Jean-Claude Juncker must regret his parents’ not having sent him to Eton.

Norman Hart
Walton on the Naze, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – Noel Whelan’s piece examining the background of the so-called Independent councillors elected at the local elections was quite revealing (“Independents can never be seen as a homogenous group”, Opinion & Analysis, May 31st).

If you do the maths from the information he provided, you can deduce that 194 candidates who were not members of registered political parties were elected to local authorities. Of these, 35 are former members of Fianna Fáil, and approximately half of which were still members of that party until weeks before the election. Some 17 others are former members of Fine Gael, and 10 are former members of the Labour Party. Some 22 others were backed by Independent members of Dáil Éireann.

So in other words, less than two-thirds of the “Independent” candidates were genuinely Independent, and together they won just 12 per cent of the total number of seats.

So how does this reality square with the notion, which seems to have been accepted universally, that Independent candidates swept the boards at the recent elections at the expense of the“established political parties”, when 58 per cent of the seats were won by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour with a further 17 per cent of the seats going to Sinn Féin?

Furthermore, how can any of the 22 members who were elected with the backing of current Oireachtas members possibly claim to be “Independent”?

For example, the group of councillors backed by Michael Lowry in North Tipperary describe themselves as “Team Lowry”, and vote together as a block in the county council. They share a website, used joint election posters and regular advertise jointly in the local media.

Prof Basil Chubb described a political party as “any group of persons organised to acquire and exercise political power”. So what is this Lowry group if not a political party by another name? And how can they possibly claim to be “Independent” when they clearly dance to Mr Lowry’s tune?

It would certainly seem that while many voters sought to reject the political party system in order to support Independent candidates, a large number of them were sold a pup by candidates who were anything but “Independent”. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.

Sir, – I dropped my son to St Mary’s Academy, CBS, Carlow, an hour before his first Leaving Certificate examination was due to start. It was a particularly wet morning. Standing at the gate, in the lashing rain, was his year teacher, Ms Laura Walshe, with a large, bright umbrella and an even larger, brighter smile of encouragement for her students as they arrived. I was impressed but not very surprised. So many of the teachers I have met over the years, at both primary and secondary level, have showed the same dedication, commitment and care towards my children. I’m grateful to them all. – Yours, etc,


Tullow Road,


Co Carlow.

Sir, – There are two sides to every coin. As a student I spectacularly failed the Intermediate Certificate exam, and even more spectacularly failed the Leaving Certificate. It seemed to all and sundry at the time that I was a hopeless case, so much emphasis had been placed on education. The perceived “failure” turned out to be the foundation of a truly remarkable life to date. A blessing in disguise. The best “education” in life has in my experience absolutely nothing to do with examinations. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The articles on June 3rd by Carl O’Brien (“Free pre-school year fails to narrow gap between children of different social classes”) and Joe Humphreys (“Parent mentoring scheme giving a new start to education”) confirm the view that preschool education and parenting support programmes in Ireland need more investment.

The articles refer to recent Irish research that affirms what we already know – parents are the biggest influence in a child’s life and their life chances are closely related to their socio-economic circumstances.

We need an early childhood education sector that not only provides high-quality care and education to children attending services but that reaches out and supports parents across the spectrum of class, and particularly those who struggle because of poverty, difficult lives or troubled childhoods. This requires high levels of investment, skilled and qualified staff, with national responsibility for the provision of the service. Early Childhood Ireland’s pre-budget submission calls for increased investment to bring us from 0.4 per cent to 1 per cent of GDP in line with good international practice.

We know quality early childhood education will repay at least seven-fold. We also know that only quality counts. As our politicians battle over revised budgets, they must think to our shared future, which is invested in the present experiences of our youngest citizens. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Early Childhood Ireland,

Hainault House,

Belgard Square South,

Sir, – I read with dismay reports of the recent High Court settlement between the Irish Medical Organisation and the Competition Authority (“Agreement reached on IMO representation in medical card talks”, Home News, May 28th).

For much of the last year, the IMO promised GPs that it would fight “tooth and nail” for their right to full representation and to act as a trade union. Members who were disillusioned by the shocking revelations surrounding a €9.6 million pay-off to a former chief executive were urged to remain loyal throughout this imminent legal battle.

However, in a gesture worthy of the Grand Old Duke of York, the IMO having marched its members up the steps of the High Court, proceeded to rapidly march back down again. The reported “settlement” effectively means the union representing general practitioners has given a legal undertaking that it will not undertake any form of withdrawal of labour.

This utter capitulation has been rewarded with a guaranteed ministerial “audience”, which is a far cry from the ability to engage in full negotiations.

In response to these developments, the National Association of General Practitioners issued a statement condemning this agreement and highlighting the multiple failures of the IMO. Regrettably, despite the fact that the NAGP has over 1,000 members, it remains excluded from all future contract talks.

Presumably the Government will be far happier to “negotiate” with an organisation willing to give legal assurances not to engage in any industrial action, no matter how badly its GP members are treated. – Yours, etc,


Bush Road,

Sir, – I welcome the fact that Lucinda Creighton and supporters are progressing plans to develop a new party (“New political party plans to recruit Independents”, Home News, June 3rd). Surely most of us would welcome a party that will respect freedom of conscience on moral issues, and time limits on ministerial appointments, but if it is pigeon-holed as a right-of-centre conservative party, it will not have the support of those of us that can be both left and right of centre on different issues, such as pro-enterprise policies, fair taxation and excellent and accountable public services. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,


Sir, – There is clearly a need for an alternative means of marking the end of a life; an alternative, that is, to the ceremonial of organised religion as we experience it in Ireland.

It may well be that ritual and religion are part of the human evolutionary condition so that ritual (as a form of drama) has a positive cathartic effect. While I found the piece by John Fleming quite fascinating (“A funeral with no cross, no icons, no priest”, Rite & Reason, June 3rd), I was confused by a reference to “secular prayers”. Prayers to whom and for what?

Mr Fleming claims that the deceased “lives forever” in the music. We live in a finite world and, I suggest, “forever” has no meaning in that context, however consoling the thought of music might be.

Together with the reference elsewhere to a “requiem”, the piece suggested to me that the there was still a clinging to the traditions of Christianity, particularly the Roman version. – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,

Marley Grange,

A chara,– Further to Andy Pollak’s recent letter (May 31st), the Belfast Agreement, endorsed by a large majority, North and South, expressly provides for a route to Irish unity by way of a border poll. It is clear, therefore, that the constitutional position of the North will change if and when a majority so determine.

Many people, North and South, myself included, believe that partition has failed economically, socially and politically; that it has maintained sectarianism; and that it has blighted relationships across this island and between Ireland and Britain. Citizens have a right, not only to express these views but to pursue the objective of Irish unity, peacefully and democratically.

That right is given clear endorsement in the Belfast Agreement.

In a similar vein, those who have a more positive view of partition are free to make their case and to put it to the people.

To arrive at a position that some issues are beyond discussion fundamentally undermines the democratic process. – Is mise,


Sir, – One get used to Ministers talking nonsense, and Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon proves no exception (“Using computers should be an option in Leaving Cert exams, says Minister”, Front Page, June 3rd).

To describe the present examinations as a “handwriting marathon” that demands “three hours of constant writing” is nothing short of gross exaggeration. He does point out that “some will always like pen and paper”, as if such candidates were freakish in some way. People who agree with the Minister can expect “an environment” in which candidates “feel most comfortable”.

I imagine that, given a personal choice, many would opt for the comforts already to be found at home where they study.

This would stop them worrying about “cramped hands” and Mr Cannon could stop worrying about our “languishing” in the global education league table. – Yours, etc,


Killarney Heights,

Sir, – Among those who must question their role in the latest outbreak of seasonal incivility in Howth in Dublin are the public transport operators who carried the perpetrators to their destination (“Garda on alert at Dublin coastal spots”, Home News, June 1st.)

The attitude towards fare evasion and anti-social behaviour on Iarnród Éireann in particular might be best described as shooting fish in a barrel. Families travelling on quiet Sunday morning trains are highly likely to be targeted, while passengers are left to fend for themselves at times when such trouble might be expected.

Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus make good money from Fingal commuters. In return, they need to stand with the residents of this generally pleasant and quiet area and adopt a proactive approach to ensuring that fare-evaders and troublemakers are deterred and removed. – Yours, etc,


Turvey Walk,


A chara, – The title of Padraig O’Morain’s article “People without sleep can destroy our lives” (Health + Family, June 3rd) doesn’t pull any punches. Nor should it.

While Mr O’Morain focuses on the damage done to the global economy by gung-ho, sleep-deprived financial traders and subsequent all-night government debates, I would urge your readers not to forget the work practices of Ireland’s non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs). It has long been recognised that the rosters under which we work are unsafe for patients.

These rosters also have grave impacts on doctors’ quality of life, as indicated by growing rates of physician burnout, increased emigration of newly qualified doctors and – tragically – car crashes and even suicides by NCHDs who had been working unsustainable hours.

Thankfully, efforts are finally being made to improve this situation, and the Irish Medical Times recently reported that compliance with the European working time directive has increased over the past year. However, many hospitals have yet to fully implement the provisions of this directive for all medical staff.

Mr O’Morain’s article is a timely reminder that this issue must remain a priority for hospitals, the HSE and the Oireachtas, for the good of patients and doctors alike. – Is mise,


Sir, – I was having a nightmare. I was at lunch with a mixed age group of eight people. I and another woman were having a conversation across the table. At the other end of the table the host was arguing with another guest. The rest of the guests or family were involved in “conversations” or other communications with absent acquaintances through iPhones, e-phones or whatever other electronic devices they held at knee level under the edge of the table cloth.

Only it wasn’t a dream. It was reality. – Yours, etc,


Lower Kilmacud Road,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Albert Collins (June 4th) is quite right about our foreign policy stance during the second World War. Ireland was neutral on the Allied side.

It was neither the first nor the last time that we made use of creative ambiguity to hedge our bets and have it both ways. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,


Sir, – For the last few days workers have been busy installing water meters in my area. To date I am not aware of this work causing any protests, abuse of the work crews or sabotage of equipment.

I would have thought of this as newsworthy, but thus far I have not seen any journalists or camera crews in attendance. – Yours, etc,


Temple Villas,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I beg to differ with Larry Donnelly (June 4th). The sight of a head of government going to a foreign country to lobby on behalf of his compatriots who are illegal (no inverted commas) immigrants in that country is an embarrassment. – Yours, etc,


Dargle Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I fail to understand why men dressed in women’s clothing are allowed participate in the women’s mini-marathon. – Yours, etc,


Glenoughty Close,


Co Donegal.

Irish Independent:

It was sad to learn of another dark chapter in our history regarding a cemetery holding the remains of 796 babies, toddlers, children and young adults who, it is believed, died of malnutrition or infectious diseases at a religious-run and state-funded home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, Co Galway, from 1925 to 1961. It closed in 1961 and a housing estate was built in its place.

A local historian and genealogist heard of the forgotten resting place and has set up a committee to raise funds for a commemorative plaque at the cemetery.

It will cost €7,000, and more than €4,000 has been raised. The local community and local politicians are very supportive. It is thought the children were buried without coffins in unmarked graves. It is proposed that an inquiry be held as to why so many died over 40 years.

There will be nice state speeches in 2016 for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, but little said of what a difficult country it was back then. It is still hard for those most in need to be listened to by the State.

Take, for example, the discretionary medical cards removed as an austerity measure from those with serious illnesses and conditions, who were over the threshold for a normal medical card.

Children and adults with serious illnesses had these cards removed with no taking into account of the costs of their medical treatments and supports. All healthy children under six, in comparison, get medical cards regardless of their parents’ wealth.

The Government steadily ignored all the pleas and now says it will respond to voters’ anger, shown at the recent local and European elections, and legislation may be passed to solve it – which shows the power of voting.

I appreciate being Irish, but not the way the country is run at times. Governments, and the public service which runs the country, can get it wrong and are slow to put it right.



The sadness surrounding reports on the Tuam, Co Galway, mother-and-baby home reminds us all of our not-too-distant past. The public must consider the tragedy in the context of the country’s economic and social profile of the time.

One wonders if the fathers of all these ‘unwanted’ children should have input into the proposed inquiry, given that they have more to answer for, rather than simply blaming the religious order of nuns who inherited the expectant mothers seeking shelter.

As a friend of many nuns, who dedicated their lives to serving Ireland’s education and healthcare development during the period, it would be wrong not to engage with all relevant parties.




No money for medical cards; no money for special needs assistants; no money to open much-needed hospital wards; no money for funding charity groups; and no money for the elderly or vulnerable. But mention an MEP losing their seat, or a councillor who failed to get re-elected, and the money for the golden handshakes and pensions magically appears. Is there a full wallet somewhere especially for the elite and chosen few?




Why should we even listen to the troika or European economists? They say deflation is undesirable and that they know all things economic so, all things being equal, we should not be in deflation.

The proof of the pudding, though, and the proof that these people haven’t a clue what they are talking about, is that austerity is causing deflation. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the less money that one pours into a system, the less money there will be to tax.

But let’s take a cynical view of what is happening. Is the centre of the EU experiencing austerity? The centre is getting increasingly wealthy as a result of austerity. The centre is also beginning to expand political power that is not respectful to member nations. The centre is assuming control, based on the centre’s version of how poor or rich the periphery is.

These are the actions of an empire. All empires collapse when the centre becomes ignorantly rich based on taxes it levies on the periphery.

The news from the European elections that €200bn worth of fish has been harvested from Irish waters by our “European friends”; that Ireland contributes €2bn in taxes; and all the hidden social welfare that leaves this country for non-national children who never lived here paints a very unfriendly picture of our friends at the centre. It is also beginning to paint a very poor picture of the parties who have negotiated with our European friends.




The global opprobrium resulting from the death sentence handed down to Meriam Yahia Ibrahim in Sudan, for refusing to repudiate her Christian faith, seemingly has had an impact. The Sudanese government is giving indications she will be released. However, the worry is that ‘leniency’ could be forgotten once her plight slips from the media spotlight.

I would urge the people of Ireland to keep the pressure on the Sudanese government by writing to their embassy in London at 3 Cleveland Row, St James’s, London SW1A 1DD, or emailing .uk to express their concerns. Alternatively, they may use the form letter to be found on the Christian Solidarity Worldwide website.



PURPLE HAZE COVERS E-CIG DEBATEIt seems some people are using e-cig devices to ingest liquid cannabis. If the HSE hears about this it will suffer an attack of the vapours.




On the Labour leadership question I have heard the view expressed that Arthur Spring lacks “relative experi-ence”. Surely that’s one thing the man has . . . the experience of a relative?




King Juan Carlos‘s abdication of the throne is commendable. Like Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands before, time has come for a renewal of the monarchy institution.

It is true that Queen Elizabeth II has been a source of strength, unity and cohesion in Britain. Her untrammelled grace, dedication and intuitive empathy has had far-reaching domestic and international clout beyond limitations.

Her nation is grateful for her sense of duty and sound judgment at times of turbulence and economic and political frustrations. However, it is time to inject young and fresh blood in the monarchy.




Archbishop Diarmuid Martin speaks of the “dire need for priests in Ireland”. He should see where the problem is. Only celibate males may apply, women definitely not wanted.

It took the Catholic Church some 1,800 years to stop supporting slavery. Ordaining women as priests must wait much longer – unless Dr Martin and other bishops dare to suggest otherwise to Pope Francis?



Irish Independent


June 4, 2014

4June2014 Betteish

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee

Scrabbletoday, I win the game, and gets under 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Sir Eldon Griffiths – obituary

Sir Eldon Griffiths was a Tory MP who served as Sports Minister under Heath and spoke up for the police at Westminster

Sir Eldon Griffiths in 1984

Sir Eldon Griffiths in 1984 Photo: REX

6:42PM BST 03 Jun 2014

Comments2 Comments

Sir Eldon Griffiths, who has died aged 89, was a high-profile journalist and polemicist who entered the Commons in 1964, seemingly with glittering prizes within his reach; in the event, he only became Minister for Sport under Edward Heath, and although a Right-winger, he was not on Margaret Thatcher’s wavelength, and spent the rest of his 28 years as MP for Bury St Edmunds on the back benches.

At home on both sides of the Atlantic, Griffiths was a successful journalist with Time-Life; the supplier to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer of its last studio lion; he was Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s speech writer; and a habitué of the American lecture circuit who moved to California while still in the Commons.

Rangy, articulate, but dour, Griffiths was a political loner, and not over-popular on the Tory benches. Live on television, he embarrassingly mistook his colleague Jerry Hayes, almost a neighbour as MP for Harlow, for a socialist.

In 1987 he managed both to alienate Sir Jeffrey Sterling, chairman of P&O, and cause a parliamentary row. Griffiths was piloting through a Bill to extend Felixstowe Docks, and suggested P&O hold a reception for MPs when it was debated. He then spoke at the 1922 Committee about P&O “pouring champagne down MPs’ gullets”; there was uproar in the House, and a furious Sterling cancelled the reception.

Griffiths was pro-hanging, robust on defence, a hawk on Vietnam, opposed to sanctions against South Africa and Rhodesia and anti-Stansted Airport; but pro-Europe, whales and nuclear power. In 1966 he abstained on a censure motion on Roy Jenkins over the escape of George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs, out of respect for Jenkins’s performance in the House.

That was one of his first actions as parliamentary consultant to the Police Federation, a role he fulfilled until 1988 except when he was serving as Sports Minister. He dealt with seven Home Secretaries, including his Federation predecessor James Callaghan, rating Willie Whitelaw the best; Whitelaw returned the compliment by asking Griffiths to draft a Bill outlawing replica guns.

Many of Griffiths’s interventions reflected his roots as a policeman’s son: the time it took officers to get their expenses, the low calibre of some chief constables, the lack of rights for officers facing disciplinary hearings, and the requirement for them to “hang around public lavatories to catch men soliciting each other”. But he was never, as one Labour MP claimed, a “copper’s nark”.

Above all, he believed officers needed protection. A Bill he promoted in 1970 to make 30 years the minimum sentence for murdering a policeman on duty was defeated by just seven votes. After the Conservatives’ 1979 victory he tabled a Bill to bring back hanging — then, on its defeat, appealed for the execution of a killer in Jersey to be halted.

Eldon Griffiths at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool, 1972

Griffiths urged the return of internment in Ulster, earning himself a place on an IRA hit list. He supported picket line officers at Grunwick and during the miners’ strike, and opposed the creation of a disciplinary offence of racial prejudice. He demanded an inquiry into why the suspected killers of WPC Yvonne Fletcher were allowed to return to Libya and, while consistently championing better police pay, urged them not to confront the government over it. He did, however, demand the resignation of the Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees for losing the confidence of the service.

He had his own experiences of the police and of crime. Griffiths’s wife narrowly escaped an IRA attack on the Carlton Club; in 1983 a traffic patrol woke him on the hard shoulder of the M11; and three years later his car was stolen and used in an armed robbery at Walthamstow.

Griffiths was an active Minister for Sport, a post he held for four years despite complaining that he could not live on the salary. He compensated the Cricket Council for half the losses caused by cancellation of the 1970 Springbok tour, and after the 1971 Ibrox disaster he piloted through the licensing of major stadiums. Later, with Sir Hugh Fraser, he founded the Special Olympics (UK) for the mentally handicapped.

Inheriting the chair of the Sports Council, Griffiths persuaded Sir Roger Bannister to take over and gave the Council executive powers. He tried to broker a deal when the Association of Tennis Professionals boycotted Wimbledon in 1973, and presided over the birth of Sunday football to save floodlighting in that winter’s coal emergency; a boom in attendances made it permanent.

Griffiths owed his appointment to his robust support for sporting links with South Africa. Convinced that sanctions would not end apartheid, he walked out of a service in Bury St Edmunds’ abbey ruins when Dr Trevor Huddleston attacked arms sales to South Africa.

He set two principles as Sports Minister: “Government should reduce its interference in the day-to-day management of British sport and, internationally, British sportsmen should be free to play with anyone they chose.” Yet he later denounced British participation in the Moscow Olympics after the invasion of Afghanistan.

Sir Eldon Griffiths in Newport Beach, California, in 2009

It was Griffiths who moved the successful resolution on EC membership at the 1969 party conference. He chaired the Conservative Group for Europe because of the EC’s strategic importance, having earlier proposed an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent.

Eldon Wylie Griffiths was born at Wigan on May 25 1925, the son of a Welsh police sergeant. After Ashton Grammar School he saw war service with the RAF, then took a double First in History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

His love for the United States was kindled during a year at Yale. There he played American football, but was cautioned for heel-tapping, a technique learned playing rugby. Henry Luce, the veteran proprietor of Time and Life, had ordered the recruitment of some graduates, and Griffiths was hired. Over a period of six years he worked in Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle before joining the foreign desk in New York.

While in LA, he struck his deal with MGM. A lion-tamer called up to fight in Korea needed a home for his four-year-old lion Fagin, and Griffiths took him, writing a screenplay about his travels with the lion which paid for his first house. In those days MGM kept a resident lion so that visitors could be shown its trademark, and Fagin filled a fortunate vacancy. He was not replaced.

In 1956 Griffiths moved to Newsweek as foreign editor, and soon afterwards endured an unnerving appearance before Lord Chief Justice Goddard after the magazine carried a grossly contemptuous report — of which Griffiths had no pre-knowledge — of the Dr John Bodkin Adams murder trial. Goddard exonerated Griffiths, and Newsweek escaped with a £50 fine. On a happier note, he captained an American cricket team against the Lords Taverners.

He became chief European correspondent of the Washington Post in 1961, but after two years took a pay cut to join Conservative Central Office as speech writer to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the new Prime Minister. Griffiths combined the job with pig farming in Sussex, prolific journalism and searching for a seat — eventually being chosen to defend Bury St Edmunds in a May 1964 by-election. With a general election looming, Griffiths raised Tory morale by holding the seat, but Labour returned to power that October.

After a maiden speech on the transatlantic relationship, Griffiths rebelled over a Budget proposal to deny tax relief to compensated victims of Nazi persecution. His support for the Vietnam War stung the Labour government and even the White House, which denied his claim that President Johnson resented Wilson’s “peace trophy hunting”. Nearer home, he championed legalised commercial radio as Labour moved to ban the offshore “pirates”. In 1968 he was voted on to the 1922 Committee executive.

Prior to the 1970 campaign, Griffiths coined the slogan: “Mr Wilson seems better than he is. Mr Heath is better than he seems.” Heath took this as a compliment, and made him Parliamentary Secretary for Housing and Local Government — soon in a new Department of the Environment — under Peter Walker, with duties wider than sport.

Griffiths prepared the 1973 reorganisation creating regional water authorities; was energetic over air pollution and toxic waste; and announced the choice of Maplin Airport on the Thames Estuary, taking the Maplin Development Bill through its early stages as opposition grew. He also launched the first experiment with cameras to detect bad driving on motorways.

On the Conservatives’ defeat in 1974 he became Shadow Industry Minister, attacking Tony Benn’s plans for intervention and nationalisation. He pilloried Benn over the collapse of Court Line, referring his conduct to the Ombudsman and accusing the government of not accepting the verdict that Benn was guilty of misrepresentation.

Mrs Thatcher made Griffiths her first European spokesman, overseeing the party’s lukewarm contribution to the 1975 referendum campaign, but he quit within a year.

During the Thatcher years Griffiths rebelled against petrol tax rises in Sir Geoffrey Howe’s 1981 Budget; applauded the recapture of the Falklands; tried to defuse the row over abolition of unions at GCHQ by suggesting a parallel to the Police Federation; supported UK citizenship rights for the Hong Kong Chinese; and accused bishops of “dodging” the issue of homosexual clergy.

Griffiths chaired the British-Iranian and Anglo-Polish parliamentary groups and the Friends of Gibraltar Heritage. But his great enthusiasm after America was for India: a director of one of Swraj Paul’s engineering firms, he set up Indira Gandhi’s 1978 visit to Britain.

He lost heavily in the stock market crash of 1987. When, six years later, his first wife sued her solicitors for negligence over their divorce settlement, it transpired that since leaving the Commons he had been paying her 5p a year.

He moved to California in 1990, commuting until the 1992 election and seeing off an attempt from the wealthy Thatcher confidant David Hart, an inconvenient constituent, to succeed him.

Griffiths became chairman of the “non-political” World Affairs Councils of America, and president of its branch in Orange County, of which he was an honorary citizen. He was also Regents’ Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and director of the Centre for International Business at Chapman University.

He was knighted in 1985.

Sir Eldon Griffiths had a son and a daughter with his first wife, Sigrid. In 1985 he married Betty Stannard, who predeceased him. Last year, he married Susan Donnell.

Sir Eldon Griffiths, born May 25 1925, died June 3 2014


‘The flow of taxpayers’ money into the bank accounts of private health companies is certainly going to achieve an increased flow of money to the wealthy,’ says Rik Evans. Photograph: YAY Media AS/Alamy

We, as leaders of NHS organisations and organisations providing NHS care across England, believe that the NHS is at the most challenged time of its existence. Rising demands mean that the cost of providing the health service rises every year by about 4% above inflation. At the same time, the services we commission and run are not designed to cope with the care needs of the 21st century – especially the large number of people with multiple long-term conditions and an increasingly elderly population.

As local organisations, we are urgently planning the transformation of how we care for people to ensure we continue to deliver a service that meets people’s needs and improves the public’s health. Our plans start to address the challenges that are well set out in the 2015 Challenge Declaration, published by the NHS Confederation on 6 May, in association with medical royal colleges, local government and patient organisations. But more will need to be done if we are to be successful.

With a year to go to the general election, it is vital that the political parties recognise the scale of the challenge we are addressing – and that their manifestos must address. At the 2010 general election not one of the political parties mentioned the financial challenge facing the NHS in its manifesto. In 2015, the parties must address the full range of challenges facing the NHS or take responsibility for it becoming unsustainable in the form people want it.

We call on each of the party leaders to publicly recognise the challenges facing health as spelt out in the NHS Confederation’s 2015 Challenge Declaration – and to ensure their manifestos are written to support how we will address them.
Rob Webster Chief executive, NHS Confederation, Ron Kerr Chief executive, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Peter Homa Chief executive, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Prof Tricia Hart Chief executive, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Matthew Patrick Chief executive, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, Stuart Bain Chief executive, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, Jonathan Michael Chief executive, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Tim Goodson Chief officer, Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group, Christopher Baker Chair, Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Marie Gabriel Chairperson, East London NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Avi Bhatia Clinical chair, NHS Erewash CCG, Stephen Swords Chairman, Hounslow & Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust, David Edwards Chairman, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust, Michael Luger Chair, Airedale Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Nick Marsden Chair, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, Prem Singh Chairman, Derbyshire Community Health Services Trust, David Griffiths Chairman, Kent Community Health NHS Trust, Ken Jarrold Chair, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust, Stuart Welling Chairman, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, Stephen Wragg Chairman, Barnsley NHS Foundation Trust, Chris Wood Chair, Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gary Page Chair, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Robert Dolan Chief executive, East London NHS FT, David Wright Chairman, James Paget University Hospital FT, David Jenkins Chair, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Ruth FitzJohn Chair, 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, Stephen Ladyman Chairman, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Harry Turner Chairman, Worcestershire Acute NNS Trust, Jane Fenwick Chair, Humber NHS FT, Hugh Morgan Williams Chairman, NTW NHS Health Trust, Jo Manley Director of operations, Hounslow Richmond Community NHS Trust, Dr Christina Walters Programme director, Community Indicators Programme, David Law Chief executive, Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, Julia Clarke Chief executive, Bristol Community Health CIC, Matthew Winn Chief executive, Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, Simon Perks Accountable officer, NHS Ashford CCG & Canterbury and Coastal CCG, Stephen Conroy CEO, Bedford Hospital, Stephen Firn Chief executive, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, Katrina Percy Chief executive officer, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Mark Hindle Chief executive, Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Christine Briggs Director of operations, NHS South Tyneside CCG, John Wilderspin Managing director, Central Southern CSU, Alison Lee Chief executive officer, NHS West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Andrew Cash Chief executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Christine Bain Chief executive, Rotherham Doncaster & South Humber NHS FT, Sarah-Jane Marsh Chief executive officer, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Tracy Allen Chief executive, Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust, Chris Dowse Chief officer, NHS North Kirklees CCG, Stuart Poynor CEO, SSOTP, Dominic Wright Chief officer, Guildford & Waverley CCG, Steven Michael Chief executive, South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Mark Newbold Chief executive, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, Andrew Donald Chief officer, Stafford and Surrounds and Cannock Chase Clinical Commissioning Groups, John Matthews Clinical chair, NHS North Tyneside CCG, Lisa Rodrigues Chief executive, Sussex Partnership NHSFT, Jonathon Fagge Chief executive officer, NHS Norwich CCG, Steve Trenchard CEO, Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation NHS Trust, Louise Patten Accountable officer, Aylesbury Vale CCG, Jane Tomkinson CEO, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital FT, Allan Kitt Chief officer, South West Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Darren Grayson Chief executive, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, Katherine Sheerin Chief officer, NHS Liverpool CCG, Edward Colgan Chief executive, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, David Stout Managing director, NHS Central Eastern Commissioning Support Unit, Andrew Bennett Chief officer, Lancashire North CCG, John Brewin Interim chief executive, Lincolnshire Partnership Foundation Trust, Andrew Foster Chief executive, Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, Richard Paterson Associate chief executive, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, Glen Burley Chief executive, South Warwickshire NHS FT, Joe Sheehan Managing director, Medical Services Ltd, Robert Flack Chief executive, Locala

• I am grateful to Ian Birrell (The NHS must evolve – or face a painful death, 2 June) for helping to keep the debate about privatisation of the NHS alive. Last Thursday I resigned from my position as vice-chairman and non-executive director of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust over the decision by the board to privatise hotel services – catering, cleaning, portering, security and reception. I had been a board member for almost seven years and a member of NHS boards in Cornwall for more than 25 years.

My opposition to this decision is based on pragmatism. A number of years ago I sat on the small committee which determined the out-of-hours contract for Cornwall. I was the only member of that committee who didn’t support the granting of the contract to Serco. I had researched Serco’s governance procedures and found them wanting. Unfortunately for patients in Cornwall it wasn’t long before the committee’s decision became a costly mistake.

A cursory trawl reveals a long list of employment tribunals and strikes by low-paid workers in these outsourcing companies. The only way these companies can reap large profits for shareholders and pay ludicrous salaries to senior executives is by reducing the terms and conditions of employment of the workers they inherit from the NHS.

At least Birrell is being consistent with his previous article (Salute the super-rich, 13 May). The continued flow of taxpayers’ money into the bank accounts of private health companies is certainly going to achieve an increased flow of money to the wealthy.
Rik Evans

•  While I am sure there are wasteful practices in the NHS, managers and clinicians would have more time to deal with these if the service was not being regularly reorganised and subject to cuts which make planning difficult. We are a wealthy country, as Cameron reminded us in Gloucestershire, and since 2009 have slipped down the OECD list of expenditure on the NHS.

Much money could be saved by getting rid of the market, where huge sums are going to accountants and lawyers because CCGs think they are forced to put services out to tender under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This was supposed to have reduced bureaucracy and put clinicians in charge but this has not happened nor has the health secretary stopped managing the NHS while being relieved of the legal responsibility to “secure and provide a comprehensive health service”. The private company that runs Hinchingbrooke hospital has a good PR machine but it has not managed to achieve the savings it proposed when it made its bid, and this was a well-run hospital destabilised by the private unit built in their grounds.

The NHS has handed back to the Treasury more than £3bn in the last two years. This money could be used to assist the hospitals whose finances are insufficient for their workload or have high PFI costs. We can afford our NHS, despite our ageing population, as long as politicians stop trying to restructure it and the wasteful competition enshrined in the 2012 act is eliminated by repealing this pernicious piece of legislation. More money needs to go to the GP services, which have acted as efficient gatekeepers that allowed the NHS – despite being underfunded for decades – to be rated by independent sources as one of the most cost-effective health services in the world.
Wendy Savage
President, Keep Our NHS Public

•  Ian Birrell is surely right in pointing out that the debate around the huge challenges faced by the NHS largely revolves around cheap politics. But then his article reproduces two of the main delusions at the centre of that debate: that the NHS is excessively expensive, and that privatisation would reduce costs. Even a cursory comparison with the health systems in other industrialised countries suggests that the NHS is underfunded, but relatively efficient. In comparison with systems that systematically pay doctors more for treating people more, the NHS tends to undertreat patients. Funding it though taxation costs much less than paying out-of-pocket or via insurance and costs have spiralled out of control in countries such as the US or Switzerland that have let the market rule and the insurance companies cash in. Considering the fact that most of us consider our health to be rather more important than most of the other things that make up the economy, we should remain sceptical of pundits who think privatising is the answer, without even understanding what the real problems are.
Thomas Smith
Neston, Wirral

•  I welcome Ian Birrell’s plea for an open and honest debate. But there are some questions he does not refer to. There are successful publicly run hospitals in the NHS; what are their characteristics? Is the psychology of profit-making to be accepted as the only motivation? Can we not identify and cultivate the qualities of good leadership and management in the public service? Rethinking the funding basis is obviously essential. Procurement traditions and other habits can surely be shaken up within a public service. Is all the world a market?
Howard Layfield
Newcastle upon Tyne

•  Ian Birrell says that £100bn is “roughly the current cost of the health service”. Roughly the current cost of corporate and elite tax avoidance and scams is £120bn. Now what could we do with the excess £20bn?
Ted Woodgate

Your editorial about Egypt‘s election (Full circle, 30 May) does your readers a disservice in its wilful disregard of critical facts. Contrary to the assertion that the election was “flawed”, election monitors, including a mission from the European Union, concluded otherwise. The EU, summing up the consensus view, declared that “the election took place in a democratic, free and honest atmosphere.”

The claim that the Egyptian people failed to show up to vote is simply not true. Twenty-five million Egyptians stood in line to pick their next president, undeterred by soaring temperatures or the threat of terrorism and despite the fact that balloting coincided with a religious fast. This level of voter turnout was robust by any global standard.

Contradicting any suggestion of voter apathy, this election capped an unprecedented level of political engagement for the Egyptian people, who have now taken part in seven nationwide polls since the 25 January revolution – a record of participation that shows just how far Egypt has travelled since 2011.

Far from coming full circle, Egyptians are resolutely following a roadmap to their future. They are on a path that they have chosen, that reflects their political reawakening and where their vote counts. They have crossed the democratic rubicon and there is no turning back.
Ehab Badawy
Spokesman for the presidency of the Arab republic of Egypt

‘Increasingly Ofsted appears to be used as Michael Gove’s enforcement,’ says Robin Richmond. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Several major Ofsted reports are due to be published about the so-called “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham which are alleged to be at the centre of a plot to “Islamise” schools (Six schools criticised in Trojan Horse inquiry, 2 June).

The reports will be a landmark in British educational history and the history of Britain as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, for better or for worse.

First-hand accounts of the Ofsted inspections that have emerged are disturbing. They suggest that inspectors were poorly prepared and had an agenda that calls into question Ofsted’s claim to be objective and professional in its appraisal of standards in schools serving predominantly Muslim pupils.

Numerous sensationalised leaks have reinforced the perception of a pre-set agenda. It is beyond belief that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be “outstanding” are now widely reported as “inadequate”, despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership team and the same governing body. In at least one instance, these conflicting judgments were made by the same lead inspector. This has damaged not only the reputation of the schools but the integrity of the inspections process.

This is uncharted territory, with Ofsted seemingly being guided by an ideology at odds with the traditional British values which schools are meant to espouse, particularly fairness, justice and respect for others. We, the undersigned, believe that such an approach compromises not only Ofsted’s impartiality but also the British education system itself.
Tim Brighouse, Robin Richardson Former director of the Runnymede Trust, Salma Yaqoob, Tom Wylie Former HMI, Ibrahim Hewitt Education consultant, S Sayyid University of Leeds, Arzu Merali Islamic Human Rights Commission, Sameena Choudry Equitable Education, Baljeet Singh Gill Ruskin College, Massoud Shadjareh Islamic Human Rights Commission, Farooq Murad Muslim Council of Britain, Arshad Ali Institute of Education, University of London, Maurice Irfan Coles, Abdoolkarim Vakil King’s College London, Gill Cressey Muslim Youthwork Foundation, Steph Green Ruskin College, Mustafa Draper, Abbas Shah, Tasawar Bashir, MG Khan Ruskin College

• Surely Ofsted is losing all credibility (Leak reveals inspectors’ U-turn on ‘Trojan Horse’ school, 31 May). Increasingly it appears to be used as Michael Gove’s enforcement. This is not the first time Ofsted judgments have been rejigged, as many schools forced into academy status against the will of communities and parents can attest. In this process Ofsted’s framework for the inspection of schools is revealed as flawed. Judgments of good and inadequate schools are unreliably based on test and examination results. Until Park View it was unacceptable to judge a school as inadequate, or for that matter to judge the quality of teaching as poor, if the examination and test results were good.

Further, the inspection of Park View must again throw some doubt on the competence of inspectors. In 2012 it was revealed that some inspectors had no experience of working with children and were not qualified teachers. Ofsted’s methods are not the objective process that has been assumed and are clearly subject to manipulation.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

Ken Loach misunderstands the role of the critic (‘Sack the critics’ – Loach attacks preconceptions about working-class characters, 31 May). It is not to take political stands or support sides in social arguments, but simply to assess the art. They do this from a profound knowledge of their specialist art forms that allows them not only to review works of art but to write more widely on the subject, as was cogently demonstrated in the very same edition by your theatre critic, Michael Billington, and your visual art critic, Jonathan Jones.

Mr Loach may feel hurt when critics appear not to have appreciated the political point he wants to make, but that is not their task and he would feel a lot more hurt, I am sure, if critics with their objective understanding were replaced, as he suggests, by people with opinions only and no appreciation of the art form.
Simon Tait
President, The Critics’ Circle

• I am outraged at the treatment of Ken Loach at the hands of Picturehouse Cinemas. Bath’s Little Theatre, owned by the chain, usually hosts a benefit screening of Mr Loach’s films to raise money for his beloved football club, Bath City. But Picturehouse refused to allow such a screening for Mr Loach’s latest feature, Jimmy’s Hall, apparently because he recently lent his support to staff at Picturehouse’s Ritzy Cinema in Brixton in their demand that their employer pay the London living wage.

Since Cineworld acquired the group Picturehouse have moved away from the open independent spirit that characterised the grouping of established independent cinemas, to a tedious multiplex monoculture. Mainstream Hollywood productions now dominate programming. World cinema has been reduced. These changes have been profitable; Picturehouse made a pre-tax profit of just under £1.6m, up from £531,000 the previous year according to their 2012 accounts; operating profit up by 25%. The staff at the Ritzy are asking for an increase that amounts to 21% to take their pay to a mere £8.80 per hour – clearly affordable given the increase in profit. It would be nice if Picturehouse reversed its policy; Bath would like to celebrate its most famous cinematic son. It would also be wonderful if staff at the Ritzy were also to get what they deserve – a living wage.
Malcolm Lewis

White Mouse

Jonathan Bate put the row over the removal of Of Mice and Men from the syllabus into perspective. Photograph: Redmond Durrell /Alamy

The row about Of Mice and Men being removed from the GCSE syllabus (Letters, 26 May) was put into perspective by Jonathan Bate on the Guardian books blog (30 May), where he took the blame. Good for him. But that still leaves us with the mystery: “Who put Roman numerals into the statutory mathematics curriculum?” It certainly was not the subject advisory panel, on which I sat, because we know that they do not help to develop “secondary readiness” in mathematics, nor do they help international comparisons. Would the person who did so please own up so we can have a public debate about why they are now a legal requirement instead of an interesting option?
Professor Anne Watson
University of Oxford

• On 29 May you reported the US secretary of state, John Kerry, advising Edward Snowden to “man up“. Later, I was visiting the Matisse cut-out show at Tate Modern, where I read of the extraordinary courage displayed by the artist’s daughter, Marguerite, who was tortured by the Gestapo for her part in the resistance. Why does Kerry regard bravery as a manly quality?
Barbara Davey
Ceres, Fife

• Economists do reach conclusions (Letters, 31 May). It’s just that their conclusions are usually heavily qualified with the caveat ceteris paribus – so and so obtains other things being equal. But as some wag once pointed out, in the real world, ceteris very rarely remains paribus.
Alistair Richardson

• For those of us fortunate enough to have been born in and still live in London, we are happy to regard London as a foreign country and have long done so (Letters, 3 June). The spirit of Passport to Pimlico lives on in the Londoners’ consciousness. Proud to be different.
Ilona Jesnick

• If Spain becomes a republic (Report, 3 May), could one say that “the reign in Spain is going down the drain”?
Julian Dunn
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

• In the photo of Rickie Lambert (Sport, 3 June) there is a sign saying “Players Entrance”. Is this a statement or a command?
Richard Wood
Toddington, Bedfordshire

The analysis of Thai politics in your leader (Waiting for democracy, 30 May) is, as far as it goes, spot on. But it does not go far enough. While noting the incomplete democratic revolution of 1932 and the place of the royal court in the “old” establishment democratically overthrown by Thaksin Shinawatra, it underplays the decades-long campaign by the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, to recoup power for the monarchy.

Paul M Handley (in The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej) observed: “[r]ather than accepting his position as simply a benign cultural object like the modern Japanese or British monarchs, Bhumibol made himself a full-fledged, dominant political actor”.

Reviewing Handley’s book for the New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma commented: “Bhumibol has never had much time for elected politicians, whom he tends to denigrate as selfish, venal and divisive. Tough military men and loyal bureaucrats are more congenial to his vision of unity, order and harmony under the wise, selfless, and virtuous monarch”.

Buruma is too kind. A revanchist monarchy is the central impediment to democracy in Thailand. It is probably too much to expect a religious people like the Thais to accept Denis Diderot’s advice that “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” But there will be no democracy in Thailand until the monarchy is abolished.
Geoff Mullen
Sydney, Australia

The alienation of children

Alex Renton’s indictment of prep and public boarding school (23 May) will have rung bells for a lot of old inmates. And (unlike your Guardian Weekly headline, The abusers could still be teaching) he’s wise not to make too much of the physical cruelty and sexual abuse entailed. What does more damage is the routine alienation of young children from family and community, and the systematic substitution of formal hierarchy, models and discipline for the intimate interaction of home life.

For working-class families, to have a child taken into care has been a proof of failure; for certain middle-class families, it’s still proof of success, and a prudent investment in future success – however partial – as emotion and energy are diverted to competitive performance.

I blame the middle-class parents. If not my own, then theirs who brought them up unable or unwilling to care for us, or trust any common humanity beyond their class. I can’t say I suffered much at school, but by the end of each school holiday I felt the cold and darkness creeping in. When the school train pulled away, the tears may have been in my parents’ eyes, not mine.

Not every painful separation is avoidable. We all know about cutting the cord. But who asks what happens at the other end of the cord, inside the baby? Could that be where a lot of later emotion comes home to roost, as subsequent partings and losses flit back to the old grand central station, onetime source of everything?
Greg Wilkinson
Swansea, UK

Schools of economists

I enjoyed Aditya Chakrabortty’s article on the state of university economics departments (16 May). I am encouraged to hear that current students are demanding that they be taught rather than indoctrinated. Perhaps the problem is that these economics schools are being considered in the wrong light.

As any liberal arts professor might suggest, let’s start by “unpacking” the institution’s title: while a “school of economics” is clearly economic for the university, the “school” part has obviously been read in the wrong context. Instead of being a place of learning and open debate, please think of these institutions instead as large groups of cold-blooded vertebrates moving in unison to find food and protect themselves from perceived threats.

This type of “school” is better used for studying the biology of complex human systems or as economics case studies themselves – how they are used by universities to collect revenue or “food” from students, alumni and corporate partners, and how their policies move according to shifting currents rather than better understanding.

Only rarely should these “schools” be thought of as a part of a university’s attempts to be a source of enlightenment.
Dave Scott
Toronto, Canada

• Aditya Chakraborrty’s statement that “mainstream economists are liberal in theory but can be [sic] authoritarian in practice”, just misses the crux of the issue: namely, the impact of peer review. That practice may well be beneficial in physics or chemistry but, in other disciplines, it is the weapon by which a senior tenured faculty ensures that young aspirants cannot rock the academic boat – even where the ship is run by fools!
Philip Stigger
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

The death of the novel

Yet another dire prediction that books, especially novels, are doomed (23 May). And yet another reference to Marshall McLuhan, who apparently predicted the advent of the books’ nemesis, the internet, as the inevitable result of the broadcast technology that existed in his time.

In any case, Will Self laments the possible loss of his livelihood as a novelist, and predicts that students expecting to follow in his footsteps will be swallowed whole into the swamp of unread theses, coming up for air only to teach others like themselves who will face the same fate. Such, as Self says, is the inevitable follow-up to “a self-perpetuating and self-financing literary set-aside scheme to accommodate writers who can no longer make a living from their work”.

Self ignores the fact that there are vast numbers of non-writers who still buy novels, and who consider it one of life’s greatest pleasures to lounge comfortably with a good hardcover book. I have no idea whether the invention of the telephone was considered the work of the devil, but it made us more conversant. By the same token, books in any form are living messages from writers to whom we can still respond.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada

The horrors of coal

While I agree with Simon Jenkins (23 May) that coal power must go, I think he could do with having a better look at the energy sector. Oil, gas and nuclear all receive (very) large subsidy, and add to the problem of climate change. The renewable issue is mostly with their intermittent nature.

The solution is clearly development of distributed-energy storage, which would enable us to avoid the use of coal as the back-up power source. I find the idea of using neighbourhood-scale hydrogen power very compelling – the hydrogen can be produced by renewable energy and then used to fill the gaps from the renewable supply.

The answer to the climate problem is going to need new ideas to fix it – relying on slightly different mixes of old ones is sure to fail.
Rohan Chadwick
Bristol, UK

• I largely agree with Simon Jenkins’s prescription to focus more on gas and nuclear power to reduce coal use. Yet, in discounting solar and wind power, he missed the big picture. While it is true that coal dependency is rising in Germany and electricity is costly due to high use of solar and wind power, the investment made in creating a market for these technologies has brought down costs dramatically over the past 10 years – with an eight-fold reduction for solar. The rest of the world benefits. Solar and wind power need to be part of the global solution to climate change.
Phil Napier-Moore
Bangkok, Thailand


• It shouldn’t surprise your writer that since the US has interfered with elected governments in Egypt and Ukraine, the Iranians think they may be next (23 May). They remember that their elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, was overthrown in 1953 in a coup that the US bragged about. In the 1980s, the US contributed money, weapons and intelligence toward invading Iraq during a war that cost hundreds of thousands of casualties. Why wouldn’t they be cautious?
Patricia Clarke
Toronto, Canada

• Many Canadians would agree with Saeed Kamali Dehghan on Why Canada is so wrong about Iran (23 May) – but again, please, it’s the Stephen Harper government, not “Canada”.
Julia Fortin
Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada

The recent election of Syriza in Greece (Report, 26 May) offers a vibrant glimmer of hope for the future of social and economic democracy in Europe. At the same time, however, the rise of rightwing nationalism, stoking racist and antisemitic sentiments, threatens the ideals of a plural and democratic Europe. Media accounts that misrepresent the importance of the growing electoral support for Syriza as the rise of leftwing “extremism” must be countered in the strongest of terms. There is no contemporary symmetry between the so-called “extremism” of left and right.

The efforts to dismiss the emphatic call for economic justice in both Greece and Spain (Podemos gathered 8%) as “populist”, “anti-European” or “scepticism” misreads their political reach and importance. These radical left victories cannot be compared with the rise of the Front National in France, Ukip in England, the strengthening of antisemitic parties in both Greece and Hungary as well as anti-immigrant populism in Belgium and Denmark.

The rise of the “Eurosceptic” right wing, with its clearly racist platforms, is a direct result of austerity policies. The rise of the left, on the other hand, offers a critique and alternative to social and economic inequalities spawned by austerity policies. To prevent violence and despair spreading further, the European Union needs new alliances across national borders and a radical rearrangement of its institutions to achieve greater democracy and economic equality. A major public debate should be launched to discuss the future of the EU, the role of solidarity and social justice, and the contemporary meaning of the “idea of Europe”.

The success of a democratic public debate, however, depends upon truth and transparency in the media representation of political movements and their claims. We demand vigilant attention to the difference between political objections to austerity that seek greater inequality and those that seek greater equality. Only then can we see more clearly how the future of democracy is at stake.
Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar, Costas Douzinas, Wendy Brown, Slavoj Zizek, Chantal Mouffe, Toni Negri, Joanna Bourke, Sandro Mezzadra, Drucilla Cornell, Engin Isin, Bruce Robbins, Simon Critchley, Jacqueline Rose, Eleni Varika, Micael Lowy, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jodi Dean


The editorial “Wards of Wisdom” (31 May) failed to contain any words of wisdom from either the writer or Simon Stevens. Cottage hospitals are mentioned without any definition of what they are or were. Well, I remember what they were like back in the 20th century, and we were glad to see them closed and replaced by district general hospitals (DGH).

They were used as a dumping ground for elderly and some not so elderly frail individuals. There was no hospital doctor cover or responsibility, and a GP would visit once a week. Most management was left to the overworked nursing staff, who did their best.

Occasionally patients would find their way over to the DGH, where any number of conditions would come to light that, once correctly diagnosed, could be treated. These cottage hospitals were closed down because they did not work.

The good old mistreated and abused NHS was built on the GPs and local district general hospitals. I fear the DGHs may be emasculated into “new cottage hospitals” under the misleading slogan “bringing your care closer to home.”

I do not like the way the leader writer and Simon Stevens are categorising people on the basis of age. Apparently according to them these people (implicitly older people) “need something different from the highly specialised, technically sophisticated treatment required for stroke victims. They need careful monitoring by vigilant staff who can spot things when they go wrong and intervene before a problem develops into a crisis. This care should largely be delivered at home and might be co-ordinated by a local hospital in a seamless service.”

This is contradictory rubbish. How can you be carefully monitored at home by vigilant staff when living alone or with a frail partner in poor-quality rented accommodation, with an inadequate number of community nurses and GPs working their socks off already? It implies that second-rate care is the fate of our ageing population unless you can afford private care.

Kenneth G Taylor MD FRCP , Consultant Physician, Birmingham

Before Labour commits itself to a big rise in NHS spending, it would do well to examine the record of the spending and performance of the service over the past ten years.

NHS net expenditure increased by 84 per cent from £57bn in 2002/03 to £105bn in 2012/13. Over the same period the number of beds available in NHS hospitals fell by 26 per cent from 183,826 to 136,487, to reach the present crisis level of 2.6 beds per thousand of population compared with an EU average of 5.3, France 6.0 and Germany 8.0.

Bed occupancy rates between 2002 and 2013 averaged 85 per cent, leading to severe overcrowding, increased risk of infection between patients, and premature discharges due to shortage of beds. Moreover, the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry and the increasing number of reports of avoidable hospital deaths and cruelty by staff to patients indicate that the quality of care is deteriorating.

It is now nearly 40 years since the publication of my Theory of Bureaucratic Displacement, exemplified by the NHS. The theory indicated that: “In a bureaucratic system increased expenditure will be matched by fall in production.” Milton Friedman found that this applied to the US public school system and referred to it as “Gammon’s Law”.

The law has never been refuted, its statistical predictions have been fulfilled with precision, and its social implications have been amply demonstrated. It is time for us to take it into account before circumstances force us to do so.

Dr Max Gammon, London SE16

Boomers’ luck is not our fault

I normally enjoy Grace Dent’s column, but treating all baby boomers as one homogeneous lump, as she does on 3 June, is sloppy. None of us expected this huge rise in house prices, which pays for nothing unless we sell and downsize, nor are we necessarily happy about it, because of the damage it does to our children’s prospects.

What we did do is to work hard, pay significantly higher taxes and save for our pensions, which are, quite rightly, taxable.

The jibe that we all voted Ukip is statistically risible – the vast majority must have voted for other parties and many are quite happy to live in a culturally diverse society

One area where Grace Dent and I do agree is that we were lucky – hardly our fault – and we have absolutely no right to whinge now.

Graham Hudson, London SW19

Too few men fight for women’s rights

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right to ask the question “Where are all the men?” when it comes to campaigning for women’s rights (2 June).

Unfortunately, women have largely been on our own as far as protest is concerned, and while there have always been some supportive men, more often than not the male contribution to the female cause is one of intimidation and putdowns. It is therefore extremely optimistic to think that the current protest in India is likely to be any different.

Ultimately, the world is still defined in male terms and is a world in which women’s issues are something of an inconvenience.

After all, when a man needs to be able to organise his arms deal or sporting fix with some gentleman almost anywhere in the world, dear me, just how awkward it would be to bring up the topic of female rights, particularly when they can be so handily swept under the carpet of “culture” or religion.

Clare Moore, Rustington, West Sussex

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s contention that all men are indifferent to violence against women is nothing short of ridiculous. Of course the vast majority of us deplore acts of violence – whether against women, or children, or other men; but unlike Ms Alibhai-Brown, we do not put them in different categories.

A woman in India and a teenage boy in Peckham are equally deserving of our protection; the question is whether the brutalised minority who threaten them can be reasoned with.

Anthony Gardner, London NW10

A greeting from Yorkshire

If other parts of England are struggling with the demise of the traditional forms of greeting, including “How do you do?” and a kiss on the cheek (Rosie Millard, 2 June), may I suggest the entire nation adopts the time-honoured Yorkshire method?

With experience, the simple phrase “Eh up” can be employed to convey a wide range of emotions and can easily be adapted to meetings with everyone from complete strangers to next of kin.

Even in the mouth of a novice it can be used as a friendly but not over-friendly ice-breaker and avoids the angst associated with handshakes and kissing.

Bryan Jones, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Sparrows return to Dulwich

Some years ago The Independent ran stories on the decline of the sparrow population in the UK. I don’t remember the cause of this decline ever being established.

Here in East Dulwich in south London the sparrow population appears to be on the rise over the past couple of years. Although nowhere near previous levels it is heartening to hear them chirping in the hedges in the parks and streets. I wonder if any of your readers have noticed a similar increase in other parts of the UK.

Charlie Smith, London SE22

Harmony on the football field

Roy Hodgson has promised that his players will sing the national anthem loud and proud this summer, but thinks “we’re great until the second verse comes along because we don’t really know that”. The answer must be to draft in the help of Gareth Malone. A true team-building exercise. Imagine what singing in four-part harmony would do for on-field co-ordination.

Patrick Walsh, Eastbourne

John Moore claims that men’s sport is “superior in terms of skill, strength, power and entertainment to women’s” (letter, 2 June).

I watched the women’s FA Cup Final at the weekend, and what a pleasure it was. No cheating, diving or play-acting. No pushing or shirt-pulling at set-pieces. No whingeing or berating of officials. And no spitting. Men’s football could learn much from the women’s game, if the authorities had the courage.

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

Still a prince in waiting

Given how long he has been waiting, it does seem harsh that when a vacancy appears for a European monarch Prince Charles is apparently passed over without even an interview for the job.

Keith Flett, London N17


PA:Press Association

Published at 12:01AM, June 4 2014

Opponents of fracking need proper assurances that it will be carefully regulated

Sir, I agree with Sir Paul McCartney and the others who signed the letter on fracking (June 2) that we need to talk about fracking, and any debate should take account of all the facts as presented in the recent studies in the UK by eminent institutions and individuals including the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, Public Health England, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management and Professor David Mackay and Dr Tim Stone. All conclude that in a properly regulated industry the risks from fracking are small. We are happy to discuss the merits of shale gas development with anyone who comes to it with an open mind. On this basis, Sir Paul, hopefully “We can work it out”.

Ken Cronin

UK Onshore Oil & Gas

Sir, The joint report on fracking by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society (available online) was published in June 2012. Its primary conclusion was that fracking can be carried out safely. Our standard of living depends on secure, affordable energy supplies — if coal is no longer acceptable, we can rely only on nuclear power and fracked gas to meet our needs.

Sir Donald Miller

Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire

Sir, If energy bills swallowed the same percentage of Sir Paul’s income as they do of mine he might see things differently.

Rod Mell

Embsay, N Yorks

Sir, I congratulate Sir Harold Kroto on assembling a galaxy of successful stars opposed to fracking, but I wonder if any of them can provide evidence of a single, proven instance of fracking causing water, soil or livestock contamination during the half century since the technique was first employed.

I assume all of them realise that while their success enables them to ignore the high cost of gas in the UK, to deny fracking would be to ignore the huge reduction in the price of gas that fracking has given to ordinary people, commerce and industry in the US. To ignore the benefits of fracking, sensibly regulated, would deny us the enhanced commercial and industrial competitiveness we need and the arising growth of new employment opportunities. We have immense wealth under our land — which must be realised to benefit us all.

Sir Kenneth Warren

Cranbrook, Kent

Sir, The letter from Sir Harold Kroto, a distinguished carbon chemist, and 150 assorted others is a paradigm of the English disease: the urge to do nothing, run out of fuel and wonder why it happened, is all too common.

It is not true that fracking is banned in US states; only Mora County, a low-income community in New Mexico, and a few US cities have banned fracking within city limits; California has just rejected a proposed moratorium. North Dakota, the home of fracking, is the second biggest oil-producing state, and the combination of fracking and horizontal drilling is changing the economy of the US, where gas costs a third of what it does in Europe.

In North Dakota over 2,000 farmers are now millionaires, and if the owners of the land above the gas in this country received royalties of one-eighth of the value of the gas, as they do in the US, fracking in the UK would be viewed very differently.

John Culhane

London W14


Respected Christian institutions in the country need to look outwards instead of squabbling over legalities

Sir, Your report on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Pakistan (May 31) did not mention the historic role of Christian institutions in public life.

When I arrived in Pakistan in 2006 General Musharraf was president, and 12 of 17 of his closest associates had been educated in Christian colleges — Musharraf at Forman Christian College, Lahore, with which he retains strong links.

Further, these Christian institutions should build on their considerable educational resources to look outwards and carry forward the visions of those who established them — visions often articulated in terms of service to the whole of society, Muslims, Christians and others.

The university college in Peshawar where I served as principal for four years was partially nationalised in 1973/74, and its governing body restructured to represent the college, the church, Peshawar university and the provincial government. This has worked well but of late tensions have developed between the church and the rest of the board. And this, I believe, is the crux of the problems in many churches in Pakistan: just when they need to reach out collaboratively and offer service, they withdraw and squabble among themselves.

In one of his addresses in Lahore the Archbishop stated that the churches in Pakistan are under siege; be this as it may, I believe that they display a siege mentality which their current leaders seem unable to overcome.

The Rev Dr David L Gosling

(former principal of Edwardes College, Peshawar)



The outcomes of Yes and No votes in the Scottish referendum are very different – one is longterm, one is temporary

Sir, Of course we should not dodge a fight, particularly on Europe and Scotland (“Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight”, June 3), but the problem with the Scottish referendum is an imbalance between the two outcomes, one of which will settle the matter at least for the foreseeable future, and the other which will not. It is a fair bet that, within an hour of defeat, Alex Salmond will proclaim “The fight for independence continues!” But would you bet on Alistair Darling, in the aftermath of a Yes vote, calling for a reunification campaign?

Chris Handley

Kew, Surrey

It is 20 years since 1,000 children buried time capsules pledging to work for a saner, safer world

Sir, June 5 is World Environment Day, the 20th anniversary of the planting of eco time capsules in Britain (Botanical Gardens at Kew and at Ness) and abroad. Their ethos is the saying: “We have not inherited the Earth from our grandparents, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren”.

The capsules contain environmentally relevant items, good and bad, and address our grandchildren two generations later in 2044. We apologised because we anticipated serious damage to their “loan” of this extraordinary, beautiful and bountiful planet which is our only home (

We believed then and still believe that solutions exist. The commemorative event on Thursday is in association with the charity Population Matters, which campaigns not only to reduce all our environmental (and carbon) footprints but also the “number of feet” (ie, of humans doing the footprinting): through education and fully accessible, voluntary family planning. Thus children in rich as well as poor settings should arrive by choice rather than chance.

We and the thousand children who in 1994 produced their letters, poems and pictures for the time capsules made a continuing pledge to create “a saner, safer and sustainable world”, such that our grandchildren in 2044 would question our need to apologise.

Professor John Guillebaud

Susan Hampshire

Sir Crispin Tickell

A reader recalls how a new wonder drug helped nurses to save the lives of severely wounded soldiers in 1944

Sir, My recollections of D-Day (Normandy Landings, May 31) are of helping to save over 30 wounded soldiers who arrived back, soaking wet and covered in sand. Four doctors had certified that they were certain to die of gas gangrene, but our team under Lady Florey had cleared a ward the day before D-Day, knowing we would be given enough patients to try out our first large experimental batch of penicillin. Every soldier survived, even though it was very painful for them, and it took a long time.

Sir Ernest Florey, working in another hospital got the second batch of penicillin. Every patient had a different dose, as we were still experimenting, but we knew to give it for longer than the first recipients, who were not given it for long enough, so died.

Rosemary Powell

London W6


Encore: ‘Spectators Applauding at the Theatre’, engraved by Benard and Frey, 1837 Photo: Bridgeman Art Library

6:58AM BST 03 Jun 2014

Comments110 Comments

SIR – Michael Henderson’s piece on the invasion of the standing ovation from America brought to mind my visit to see Dame Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit last week.

Although Dame Angela was deserving of the standing ovation at the end of the play, it was forced on the majority of those in the stalls by the first row, who started it off, since those behind could not see otherwise.

Perhaps theatre managements ought to apply the rule once seen in many music halls: “No standing or whistling allowed”.

Bill Glennon
Newton Abbot, Devon

SIR – I make no apology for being one of those who stood to applaud Dame Angela in Blithe Spirit. I suggest, however, that those few who got to their feet at the end of the Spice Girls musical, Viva Forever, should never be allowed to step inside a theatre again.

Andy Moreton
Ickenham, Middlesex

SIR – We don’t need more “cottage hospitals” as Simon Stevens, the new chief executive of the NHS, suggests. The word cottage implies a bungaloid, possibly thatched, old building.

We need modern community hospitals, with multiple facilities: such as thriving consultant out-patient clinics, in-patient beds for any chronic patients, and in-beds for acute illness that can be treated by GPs. There should be as many ancillary facilities as possible, including X-ray, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dental surgery and podiatry, with good parking.

If the NHS boss wants to see a prime example, he should visit Buckingham.

Dr C R Brown

SIR – Cottage or “community” hospitals are not in danger of being closed (Letters, June 2), but larger district general hospitals are. These until recently offered A&E services and most consultant-led specialties, including maternity and children’s services. One by one these services are being moved to very big, usually teaching hospitals in cities to which travelling is difficult and where car-parking is next to impossible. We are told that only such big centres offer safe treatment, with doctors seeing and doing more procedures regularly than those “out in the sticks”.

This threatens services to everyone, particularly the elderly and children. Services are remote and lack connection with local GPs, who cannot get to know specialists far from their practices.

Peter Hayes
Chairman, East Cheshire NHS Trust 1990-2000
Siddington, Cheshire

SIR – Dr Andrew Bamji(Letters, June 2) writes that “’care closer to home’ has been a mantra for many years, but no evidence has ever been produced that shows it is clinically or financially advantageous’’. I agree that proof of its advantages might be hard to find – nearly as hard as finding the advantages of the many layers of highly paid managerial posts created in the NHS.

But it’s difficult to put a value on such things as first-rate palliative and terminal care, post-operative rehabilitation and recuperation, and occupational therapy and physiotherapy departments that don’t need a 20-mile journey to a major hospital.

Here, there is also a minor injuries unit, which must take some pressure off A&E departments at other hospitals.

Georganne Johnson
Halesworth, Suffolk

SIR – If Simon Stevens wants hospitals to treat people locally, he should reverse the decision to transfer A&E and maternity services from St Helier and Epsom hospitals to the monolithic St George’s, Tooting, as proposed by the Better Services Better Value quango. Better still, he should put that quango on the rarely used bonfire and transfer its funds to patient services.

Maurice Hills
Sutton, Surrey

Irish Times:”

Sir, – The only surprise about the European Commission’s warning to the Government regarding the agreed €2 billion in spending cuts for 2015 was the restrained tone of its delivery (“Brussels puts further pressure on Coalition over policies”, Front Page, June 3rd).

The troika had hardly left our shores when those who were left in charge of the instruction manual reverted to type.

Most of the talk centred on rising employment figures, more jobs in the pipeline and confidence in our ability to ride out the storm. The Minister for Finance even welcomed the return of rising house prices as further evidence of business as usual.

But the feel-good factor diverted our attention from the primary goal of debt reduction.

Anti-EU rhetoric and the recent scramble for council seats seem to have adversely affected the judgment of those whose job it is to play by the rules (ie, the government of the day). Like it or lump it, we accepted the terms of the bailout and we must honour that agreement. – Yours, etc,


The Demesne,

Killester, Dublin 5.

Sir, – Economically, it is difficult to justify continuing to take fiscal policy instruction from Brussels. Ethically, it is impossible. Persisting with this callous EU experiment will merely confirm our bankruptcy is no longer just financial but has become moral. – Yours, etc,


Sydenham Court,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – It seems inappropriate for the European Commission to issue advice and guidance to each of the member states as to how to manage their individual economies in the hiatus between the election of Members of the new European Parliament and the first meeting of the new parliament.

What the elections demonstrate is not a rejection of Europe as an entity (except in the case of a small minority), rather a willingness of Europeans to share the development of their peoples and its economies in a collaborative fashion. This desire should be a clear message to the European Commission to step back and listen to the people to whom it is ultimately responsible. – Yours, etc,


Spencer Villas,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – In a recent article on suicide (“Number of deaths by suicide fell overall last year”, Home News, May 31st), it was concluded that deaths by suicide had fallen by more than 6 per cent when comparing the CSO suicide mortality figures for 2013 to the figures published in 2012.

The article did not clarify that this conclusion was based on comparing the preliminary suicide figures for 2013 to the preliminary figures for 2012. Research conducted by the National Suicide Research Foundation has shown that the preliminary suicide figures published by the CSO are consistently lower than the final suicide figures. The discrepancy between the preliminary and final suicide figures varies from +6 per cent to +20 per cent. This means that, in principle, the final 2013 suicide figures may turn out to be even higher than the final suicide figures for 2012.

For example, in 2008, the preliminary suicide figures were 424 and indicated a significant reduction, whereas the final suicide mortality figures included 82 additional suicide cases (final number, 506), thus turning 2008 into a year with one of the most significant increases. We would recommend caution in interpreting the preliminary suicide figures, and suggest reviewing whether there are any benefits in publishing preliminary suicide mortality figures. It was for this reason that several years ago, the National Suicide Research Foundation developed the Suicide Support and Information System (SSIS), representing a real-time database or register of suicide deaths.

With funding from the National Office for Suicide Prevention, the SSIS was implemented in close collaboration with coroners in Cork city and county between September 2008 and March 2011, covering all consecutive deaths by suicide. Information on factors associated with the death and the deceased were obtained in an appropriately sensitive and confidential manner from sources including coroners, the family, and healthcare professionals who had been in contact with the deceased.

In this regard, the SSIS obtains information on cases of suicide at least two years earlier than the CSO and provides in-depth information on patterns and risk factors of suicide that is vital and more timely information for suicide prevention initiatives.

Further steps are being undertaken to implement this system in other regions in the country. – Yours, etc,



National Suicide

Research Foundation,

Western Gateway


Sir, – I wish to expand upon Marie Coleman’s points (May 30th) about the Labour Party’s decision not to contest the 1918 general election. Dr Coleman’s points about the party’s performances in the 1920 local and 1922 general elections illustrate that the 1918 decision had little effect on its resilience.

The 1918 abstention has for too long been used as a ready explanation for Labour’s inability to move beyond its position as the “half” party in a “2½” party system. The party’s failure to provide credible opposition in the Free State parliament during the 1920s might go further in explaining its traditional weaknesses.

The party, under Tom Johnson, failed to capitalise on the Boundary Commission debacle in 1925, it refused to tarnish its image of respectability by supporting the non-payment of land annuities, and it actively sought the accession of Fianna Fáil into the political mainstream.

When de Valera’s party eventually entered the Dáil, it did so with a programme that borrowed heavily from Labour, but which had no hang-ups about presenting a respectable image. When a Fianna Fáil minority government was established in 1932, it was with Labour’s support under William Norton. Report from the party’s annual conferences in the early 1930s read like Pat Rabbitte’s “81 per cent of the blame” rhetoric of late.

Johnson’s fear of the effects of default, and Labour’s failures in the 1920s and early 1930s, are much more illuminating in the study of the party’s development than a decision made in 1918, which most agree was a pragmatic move in the context of the times. – Yours, etc,


University of Ulster,


Sir, – Every so often, it seems that we Irish Americans need to be reminded of how impotent we have allegedly become. This time, the messenger is Colm Quinn (“Why Irish America should not expect special treatment on immigration”, Opinion & Analysis, June 2nd). It’s his “realist” view that immigration reform will not happen any time soon and that the Irish Government is wasting its time advocating for the 50,000 undocumented Irish on visits to Washington.

Mr Quinn is profoundly mistaken on two levels.

First, despite being based in Washington, he clearly misapprehends the current political climate there. While his disdainful characterisation of a hyper-partisan Congress is accurate, he neglects to mention the reality that the Republican Party is divided on immigration. Its leadership recognises that the party is headed for electoral oblivion unless it quickly alters the perception that it is anti-immigrant.

Irish and Irish American political leaders can play a unique role in getting the US hard right to see that the “illegal immigrants” they sadly rail against are not just Mexicans. The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, working in concert with other immigrant groups, has spent the past several years making this case. Their efforts were crucial to winning over one prominent Irish-American Republican congressman, Paul Ryan, to the pro-reform side.

Second, at a moral level, it is incumbent upon Ireland’s political leaders to use their unparalleled access to the White House and Capitol Hill to advocate for the undocumented Irish living and working in the shadows of the US. These men and women may live there, but their families and friends are here, and worry constantly about their precarious situations.

The Irish undocumented did not cease to be Irish when they left and deserve the ongoing assistance of the country of their birth.

Mr Quinn is right that the Government should push for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but he is wrong to assume that immigration reform cannot happen and to assert that the Irish Government should not do its utmost at every opportunity for the undocumented. And as countless Irish Americans would surely remind him, we’re far from a spent force. – Yours, etc,


School of Law,

NUI Galway.

Sir, – About 88 per cent of people in Poland are Catholic, but religious education is optional in schools. Parents decide whether children should attend religion classes or ethics classes. I have spoken to numerous Poles who were amazed when I told them that the religious institutions control nearly all of the primary schools in Ireland.

I hear it said that parents do not have to send their children to religious-controlled schools, but the reality is that many parents do not have a choice. I know of several couples who have no religious beliefs and yet have their children baptised just so they may be admitted to the local primary school and for no other reason. – Yours, etc,


Stocking Avenue,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – We can learn a lot from the experience of others, particularly Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain has advanced much further down the secular educational route than us, yet statistics continuously confirm the academic superiority of faith schools. In Northern Ireland, Catholic schools continue to outperform academically all other school types. Besides, despite a lot of loose talk to the contrary, if the most recent Irish census is to be believed, we still live in a surprisingly unicultural society, with 92 per cent of people identifying themselves as Christian. It would seem to be an extraordinary unnecessary gamble to attempt to dismantle the current educational model to placate a tiny minority of dissenters. – Yours, etc,


Balreask Village,

Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – If parents wish for their children to be given religious instruction surely this could be done on a Sunday, after Mass, as is the case in many other countries? Why does the world’s richest, largest and most powerful church need to dip its hands into the pockets of the taxpayer?

I recall only one science lesson in primary school – one half hour where we played with magnets. However we spent hour after hour memorising prayers, catechisms, hymns, preparing for communion and confirmation. All at the expense of every taxpayer – regardless of their faith or lack of it – and in a school that was legally entitled to discriminate against teachers for their sexuality, religion, marital status and so on.

Some republic this is! – Yours, etc,


Pairc a’ Chrosaire,

An Rinn,


Co Waterford.

A chara, – We are told that a senior Fine Gael source (“Kenny faces pressure to shake up Fine Gael’s senior ranks”, Front Page, June 2nd) feels that a major reshuffle of the Cabinet, and in particular a move for the Minister for Health, would demonstrate that the lessons of the election drubbing have been learned. Yet this would be a demonstration, if it were needed, that no lesson had been learned. A major change in the treatment of the most vulnerable in our society and an end to unfair stealth taxes would show that a lesson had been learned. – Is mise,


Garrán Llewellyn,

Ráth Fearnáin,

Baile Átha Cliath 16.

A chara, – I note that Tony Blair has shared his reflections on leadership qualities with your London Editor Mark Hennessy(“EU must meet concerns of its citizens, warns Blair”, June 3rd).

In describing the baser political path one might embark on, Mr Blair says, “When you start to ride that tiger what happens is that it takes you in directions that you can’t control. Then you end up in a big mess”.

I assume he is referring to his jaunt with George W Bush? – Is mise,





Sir, – It is most curious that Sean Ó Riain (“How to avoid the mistakes of the Celtic Tiger”, Business, May 29th), should, in his quest to remake Irish society, seek to enhance markedly the power of the State which so actively encouraged the misguided investment in property development which has resulted in our present financial penury.

His oblique reference to the narrowness of our tax base obscures the fact that enabling his desired level of public spending and investment would necessitate the levying of far higher taxes on those on low to average incomes. Furthermore, it is worth asking why the European social model which he holds in such high esteem would have encouraged the investment of so much private European capital in Ireland as opposed to in their own economies.

Although Mr Ó Riain notes that public-sector employment has shrunk since 2008, he declines to mention that the far more precipitous declines in our GDP and private workforce have made the public sector account for a far larger proportion of our economy than it did in 2008. Has this realignment of wealth in our society made the readers of The Irish Times feel any more materially or socially fulfilled than they were in 2008? – Yours, etc,


Armstrong’s Barn,

Sir, – I read with interest the letter from the Irish Property Owners’ Association (June 2nd). One word that stuck out is “courage” used in the context of investing. Investing in property is not about “courage”; it is about risk, reward and return on capital. Too many amateur landlords ignored the latter. 

As for the State, it should have the courage to instruct the banks to foreclose faster on defaulting rented property – to tackle those who bought at levels that will never lead to a return on capital. Returning these properties to the market would lead to lower prices.

There is nothing to be gained by continuing to subsidise accidental landlords – the “buy to regret” sector. – Yours, etc,


Hesperus Crescent,

Isle of Dogs, London.

Sir, – One gets weary at the persistence of the many people like John Bellew (May 26th) who continue to attribute Irish neutrality during the second World War solely to Eamon de Valera.

The simple fact is that all parties in Dáil Éireann unanimously voted for neutrality at the outbreak of the war.

Fourteen other European countries were neutral and only Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal succeeded in maintaining their neutrality throughout the war.

The others had theirs violated.

It is now also well known that Ireland secretly engaged in pro-Allied activities throughout the war while successfully maintaining a facade of absolute neutrality. – Yours, etc,


Bishopscourt Road,


A chara, – Whatever about “something very valuable” being lost (June 2nd) following the decision to abolish town councils, as a local historian, might I ask the county councils to ensure that the valuable historical records of abolished authorities are not lost? – Is mise,


Gleann na Smól,

An Charraig Dhubh,

Átha Cliath.

Sir, – I wish the date of the Leaving Certificate could be moved to December. We could do with some good weather around Christmas. – Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Further to David Griffin’s bemusement at the Weather Watch prediction “A wet evening with the odd spot of rain”, perhaps it was raining between the showers. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

It has been interesting seeing last week’s election results. Despite almost 400,000 people unemployed, not to mention the large numbers forced to leave Ireland to seek work, it is the several hundred local councillors and the small number of MEPs who lost their jobs who have finally forced government action on a number of critical issues.

Also in this section

Letters: Our political system is suffering from a meeting disease

Letters: Let students get on with exams without a media fuss

Letters to the Editor: Beaten, but no defeat

It has also been worrying that two further jobs – leader and deputy leader of a certain political party – have taken up such a huge amount of media time and energy.

We have been told that the medical card issue will now be solved by an ‘expert group’, yet to be appointed. This is a change of terminology from the phrase often used some years ago when the health system was being reorganised and we were led to believe it would give us ‘centres of excellence’, until it transpired that phrase was no longer fit for purpose – a bit like some of the actual centres.

Earlier in the year, when the Aer Lingus workers’ pension scheme was identified as a major issue, we were also told an ‘expert group’ had been appointed, but it appears there has been limited progress on that front to date – and based on the action taken last Friday, that agenda may now have to be broadened.

I wonder, do those jobs for ‘experts’ pay much and how can people apply?

Two other much-abused terms should also probably now come under scrutiny: the words ‘ombudsman’ and ‘regulator’, widely used but, without appropriate resources or direction, hampered in carrying out any significant functions, if maybe useful in ticking government boxes?

And when it comes to taking money, rather than using one of three words (tax, charge or levy), perhaps for Budget 2015 stick to the tried and trusted one ‘tax’ – it’s much clearer and we all know that it means cash going in only one direction.





The GAA is making the referees’ job impossible. I would not ref a match now for love nor money.

The rules need to be simplified, not multiplied. The black card is the last nail in the coffin. Worse still, every new regulation inexorably demands another, and so on ad infinitum.

Why not just make holding a foul, as in the old days, and let the referee be the judge? Why is the ref’s job so clear-cut in rugby and so complicated in Gaelic? But, of course, I am talking through my hat, and the pundits, as always, are right.





The EU seems to have become quite vociferous on what is good for Ireland’s financial health. One can only assume that this is as a result of the Fiscal Compact treaty that was half-passed in Ireland recently. The reason I say half-passed is of course that the Irish have developed a tradition for having two referendums on European treaties.

As Angela and Enda know well, the Irish are merely waiting for Francois Hollande to re-negotiate the treaty as promised in his election manifesto. If he has any problem, then perhaps Enda could suspend the workings of the treaty until such time as we get around to having the second referendum: 2020, perhaps, or maybe some other point in the future . . . ultimately we’ll decide, I suppose!

Anyway, it’s nice to see Olli Rehn and others rabbitting on about what is good for Ireland when we haven’t even decided yet whether that is any of his business or not.





Brian Walker’s theory that between April 26-29, 1922, 10 Protestant men in west Cork were killed in retaliation for sectarian attacks on Catholics in Northern Ireland is plausible (Irish Independent, May 31).

Some 229 people were killed there between February and May 1922. The violence began with the expulsion of 6,000 from Belfast shipyards in July 1920. Protestant trade unionists were also victims. One, James Baird, later observed that every Roman Catholic was excluded, “whether ex-service man who had proved his loyalty to England during the Great War, or Sinn Feiner”. By November, “almost 10,000″ were affected.

Thousands of Catholics were also driven from their homes. An April 1922 agreement between Michael Collins and James Craig to give restitution to expelled workers collapsed near month’s end. Northern Protestant church leaders’ support for the shipyard expulsions was also reported that month.

However, there is a problem with Walker’s notion of North-South sectarian reciprocity. Southern Protestant congregations were, at the time, denying sectarian tensions, while denouncing attacks on Catholics in the North. The day it reported the west Cork killings, the ‘Southern Star’ reported Protestants in Schull condemning “acts of violence committed against our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen”. The British Empire journal ‘Round Table’ noted in June 1922: “Southern Ireland boasts with justice that it has been remarkably free from the sectarian hatreds that have come to characterise Belfast.”

Why, then, did the killings take place? Some research indicates an IRA perception that the victims had collaborated with British forces. Walker dismisses one possible contributing factor, the simultaneous killing in nearby Macroom of three British Intelligence officers. The British denied their officers’ intelligence function and the IRA denied arresting and killing them. It is possible this led to acquiescence in a purely sectarian narrative for the simultaneous civilian killings.

This is speculative, but makes more sense than Walker’s theory of retaliatory sectarian attacks. My view is explained in more detail in ‘Field Day Review’ 2014.






I was amazed by Alex White’s decision to use the Rosie Hackett Bridge to announce he will run for leadership of the Labour Party. If ever there was an incongruous juxtaposition of two names, surely this was it. One is a barrister from a middle-class background, while the other was a working-class activist from a Dublin tenement.





The posters have been removed from their elevated positions on lampposts and other points of visibility. Now, would those who put themselves forward as candidates mind removing the plastic ties which kept the posters in place? Some of those have been in place not only from these but the 2011 and 2009 elections. And they look unsightly.





Another Women’s Mini Marathon today, and I am delighted for all the participants and beneficiaries of a fantastic effort.

I would just like to point out that if this effort had been called the ‘Men’s Mini Marathon’, it would never have been allowed to flourish.

In fact, I am sure that if there had ever been a ‘Men’s Mini Marathon’, every entrant would have been accused of being sexist.



Irish Independent


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