March 7, 2014

7 March  2014 Sharland
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee is having a row with Nunky Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired. Sharland comes to call
Scrabble today  I win but get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, who has died aged 90, crammed even more careers into her lifetime than her Oxford contemporary Margaret Thatcher, whom she supported with gusto from the back benches during 27 years as MP for Lancaster.
In her time a social worker, dairy farmer and barrister — as well as a mother of four voted “No 1 Country Housewife” — she also managed for nine years to serve in both the Westminster and European Parliaments.
She achieved all this in the face of setbacks that would have crushed others: the death of her first husband in a car crash in which she lost her memory, and five narrow election defeats, one by just 76 votes and two at the hands of Robert Maxwell.
Conservative on social issues and a committed Methodist, Elaine Kellett (she added the “Bowman” after marrying again in 1972) campaigned for a better deal for widows, tighter abortion laws and the return of the death penalty, and against moral laxity and Sunday trading.
In the Commons, she was at a disadvantage. Blessed with the speaking manner of a Valkyrie educated at St Trinian’s, the moment she rose to speak Labour members would break into a chorus of trilling that undermined whatever point she was trying to make.
She was at her most effective during Harold Wilson’s last government, when she repeatedly needled the Health Secretary Barbara Castle by repeating newspaper rumours that she had undergone private medical treatment. She caused a stir after the passage in 1975 of the Bill to quash penalties on the rebel Clay Cross councillors (who had refused to increase council house rents, as required under the Housing Finance Act of 1972), flinging 30 pieces of silver on to the clerks’ table. One coin hit a junior minister in the eye, and in the ensuing scuffle her handbag spilt open.
In 1983 she memorably joined Labour’s Clare Short in baiting the Tory employment minister Alan Clark, who was gabbling through his first ministerial speech, on equal pay for women, after an extremely good dinner.
Dame Elaine shared her European political career with her second husband, Edward, whom she met when they were aldermen on Camden council. They were elected to the European Parliament together in 1979, becoming the only husband-and-wife team there until she stood down in 1984.
Elaine Kellett-Bowman was born Mary Elaine Kay on July 8 1923, the daughter of Walter Kay, a company director, and the former Edith Leather. Brought up in Lancashire, she was educated at Queen Mary school, Lytham, and The Mount, York, before wartime service as a land girl.
After the war she took Modern Greats at St Anne’s College, Oxford, staying on to take a postgraduate welfare diploma with a distinction. She knew the then Margaret Roberts, “but as a Methodist. I had no idea she was interested in politics.”
She dated her own interest to meeting Anthony Eden at the age of five; her experiences as a social worker in Liverpool and the East End of London rekindled the flame. Her first husband was a farmer in North Wales, and in 1952 she became a Conservative councillor at Denbigh; later that year, aged 28 and already a mother of three children, was selected to fight Nelson and Colne. As one of the youngest candidates in a party led by the ageing Churchill, she attracted national attention and was chosen to open the transport debate at the 1954 party conference.
After the 1955 election — when she halved Sidney Silverman’s majority — she was selected for South-West Norfolk, which Labour had won by just 193 votes. Her husband took a local farm, and when the Labour member died Elaine Kellett campaigned vigorously despite being pregnant. She looked set to capture the seat, but in the March 1959 by-election Labour increased its majority to 1,354. Readopted for that October’s election in which the Tories won a landslide victory, she fell 76 votes short.
Two months later her husband was killed in a collision with a lorry. Despite suffering serious head injuries in the accident, she took over the running of the 149-acre farm while bringing up her children; her ability to cope brought her the accolade “No 1 Country Housewife of 1960” from the Women’s Institutes .
Having lost her memory, she gave up politics, but after her surgeon told her she must “stop her brain from rusting” she read for the Bar through a Middle Temple correspondence course. She not only passed her finals in 19 months while simultaneously running the farm, she also carried off the 1963 Chrystal Macmillan Prize as the Inn’s top woman candidate. She was called to the Bar the following year.
By then she was the candidate for Buckingham, facing a Labour opponent described by The Daily Telegraph as “tall, dark, flamboyant and wealthy” — this was Capt Robert Maxwell. The future newspaper proprietor reacted to her attacks on Labour by trying to have her removed from the Press Council, of which she was one of the first lay members. Maxwell won the seat, and in 1966 held off a further challenge from her with the slogan: “Let Harold [Wilson] and Bob finish the job.”
In 1968 she gave up the farm and moved to Hampstead to practise at the Bar, joining Camden council and chairing its welfare committee. She was selected for Lancaster, a 233-mile commute, and in 1970 took the seat from Labour by 1,741 votes to become one of a record 15 women on the Tory benches.
Within a month she had co-sponsored a motion expressing concern at the relaxation of the divorce laws, and urged the Lord Chancellor to end the “slave market” in which widows seeking damages for their husbands’ deaths had their prospects of remarriage taken into account. When the sex educator Dr Martin Cole showed his controversial film Growing Up to MPs, she walked out exclaiming: “I would shoot that man.”
Her independence of mind did not endear her to Edward Heath. She rebelled over efforts to impose central control over local government; and when price and pay controls were introduced in 1972, formed common cause with the Labour Left to try to have farm workers excluded.
Her involvement with the European Parliament began in 1975 after the referendum vote to stay in the EC. The Strasbourg assembly was then filled from national parliaments, and Elaine Kellett-Bowman was one of seven Tories chosen.
When the first direct elections were held in 1979, she was elected MEP for Cumbria, keeping her seat in the Commons with the blessing of her constituency association. By doing so, she gave up any chance of a ministerial job during the first five years of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership. She still made her presence felt at Westminster, notably as one of the rebels who pressed Jim Prior, the Employment Secretary, to take a more hawkish approach to the trade unions; but she decided that one term in two Parliaments would be enough.
Her commitments in Europe caused her no problems at Lancaster; in 1983 her majority there — previously tight — soared to 10,636, and she was never troubled again until her retirement in 1997.
She was appointed DBE in 1998.
Dame Elaine was a governor of Culford School for 40 years, and from 1999 to 2001 president of the National Association of Widows.
She married first, in 1945, Norman Kellett, with whom she had three sons and a daughter. In 1971 she married Edward Bowman, who changed his name to Kellett-Bowman beforehand; he survives her.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, born July 8 1923, died March 4 2014


Your story (Hunting ban in danger of being undermined, say animal welfare groups, 3 March) omitted important facts. As you reported last October, the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs, backed by many other rural organisations and a cross-party group of MPs, has called for one simple amendment to the law. Currently, farmers are limited to using two dogs to flush and shoot a fox that is killing lambs under the conditions of an exemption. In large areas of upland Britain, and especially in those areas of Wales where forestry predominates, the current limit on the number of dogs renders the exemption completely impractical. Research in Scotland, where the ban on hunting imposes no limit on the number of dogs that can be used to flush, shows that using more dogs is both more effective and arguably more humane as the period between a fox being found and shot is reduced. The proposal is therefore simply that the limit on the number of dogs that can be used in the exemption is removed to bring the law in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland. The pursuit of foxes with dogs and traditional hunting would continue to be illegal.
The RSPCA, in particular, is disingenuous in suggesting that this would constitute “wholesale amendment” or “drive a coach and horses through the ban”. It has met with our representatives and knows exactly how limited the proposed amendment is. Meanwhile it’s sister organisation the SSPCA has always been supportive of the legislation in Scotland which we seek to mirror.
David Thomas
Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs

It’s a sad day when the newly appointed lord chief justice feels that we need to investigate the possibility of a cut-rate (and, it seems, third rate) criminal justice system because we can no longer afford to run the existing one (Report, 4 March). This echoes the nonsense spouted by Chris Grayling about the need to cut lawyers’ fees in the crown court.
The criminal justice system suffers from the most appalling and endemic inefficiency. In the last calendar year I was involved in cases of murder where a total of 24 working days were wasted. In no case was the conduct of counsel for either the defence or prosecution to blame. Judges go on courses and to meetings in court time; the arrangements for allocating judges to cases well in advance are farcical; the privatised organisations charged with bringing prisoners to court on time fail repeatedly to do so and are rarely, if ever, penalised; jurors arrive late or not at all; the CPS can barely cope with the service and disclosure of documents; there is a culture of unpunctuality. Grayling, who has repeatedly rejected offers to discuss all this with the Criminal Bar Association, thinks he can solve the problems besetting the system by cutting the pay of the only people still working flat out to keep it alive.
Now the lord chief justice talks about restricting jury trial in fraud cases and creating a new tier of criminal court to sit without a jury at all. None of this provides a remedy for the present mess. If we simply cut out the shocking levels of waste, we can run a proper justice system, with juries and within budget. Someone needs to get a grip, not tear down the whole edifice.
Nigel Rumfitt QC
• The scales of justice, according to ex-Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain, have “comfort letters” sent to ex-terrorists on one side (Comment, 27 February), balanced against an amnesty for all soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre on the other. Personally, I do not recognise that as justice on either side.
Neil Sinclair

We strongly agree with many of the points George Monbiot makes in response to the recent floods (The benefit dependency that the government loves, 4 March). George notes that the changes he wants to see will lead to a reduction in production. He is right that this could helpfully lead to less grain and protein being wastefully fed to farm animals, many of which spend their entire lives shut up indoors, and less grain being produced for biofuels on land which should be producing food for people. His argument is greatly strengthened by the overwhelming need to change our diets in the face of the rising tide of ill-health linked to over-consumption and obesity, costing the NHS over £5bn annually. UK farming could easily support healthy diets, with more fruit and vegetables, and less meat and dairy, and with a focus on grass-fed meat rather than industrial chicken and pork.
George argues against the almost unconditional payments made to farmers under pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy, which is why we and others have long argued that all payments to farmers should be made under pillar 2, where payments can be linked to genuine benefits which farmers deliver for society, like more wildlife and, in other EU countries, less greenhouse gas emissions and more jobs. George is right to castigate the damaging impacts that a crop like maize can have, but not all farming is the same, and we would argue that organic farming, using the sun’s energy rather than fossil fuels to provide fertility, with grass leys needed on all farms, and with deeper and denser rooted crops, ensures that soils can absorb and hold more water in times of heavy rain. By holding water, soils on organic farms also provide resilience against what will probably be the next climatic shock to hit the UK – another “exceptional, one in 100 years” drought like the one we suffered in 2011.
Peter Melchett
Policy director, Soil Association
• In his ongoing crusade to rewild the countryside at the expense of UK agriculture, George Monbiot again seems determined to ignore key facts. He continues to repeat the line about maize growers being entirely exempt from soil protection rules even though it isn’t true. He insists on portraying farmers as wanton destroyers of the soil when their livelihoods (and the country’s food production capabilities) rely on them maintaining fertile and productive soils.
As for his statements about pesticides, no product is certified for use without undergoing extensive trial evaluations of environmental risk and these registrations undergo regular review. Metaldehyde, which Mr Monbiot mentions, is critical to UK crop production and is the subject of ongoing registration review in the UK as well as a rigorous and targeted stewardship campaign supported by manufacturers, water companies, farmers and regulators to find smart solutions to ensure it doesn’t enter water. As the population grows we have to find ways to produce more food while impacting less on the environment. How we achieve this is the debate that attention should be focused on.
Dr Andrew Clark
Head of policy services, NFU
• The government spends £108.9bn a year on the NHS, yet only £3.2bn on agriculture. Disease is often a consequence of poor diet. Since 1970, the supermarkets have come to control farm incomes. Most farms are now dependent on subsidy. The exceptions are those who have paid off their mortgages, and can afford to farm more sensitively. Some post-mortgage farmers own huge estates, some own just a few acres. However, most independent farmers are above retiring age and their children, faced with dire economics and oppressive regulation, do not want to inherit. It’s likely that up to 60 % of UK farm land will be sold in the next decade and most will be bought by investment companies, whose shareholders will demand maximum profit until the ecosystem collapses.
Monbiot claims inspections happen “once every 100 years” but our experience was of three inspections a year. The advertised fines would have bankrupted us. But we are also monitored by satellite, and from aircraft. Monbiot’s agri-environment schemes are greenwashing. No official surveys are undertaken before the schemes start, the government ignores farm species lists, and imposes a standard management plan regardless of its affect on existing rarities. No ecological surveys are conducted during or after the scheme, but subcontractors are sent to ensure that rules are being obeyed, effectively ensuring the local extinction of rarities that the government had not considered worth enquiring about.
Huw Jones
St Clears, Carmarthenshire
• I congratulate George Monbiot on his attack on modern farming practices. We witness these in our valley, which spreads west towards Guildford from Dorking. In our village there is a stream which runs continuously throughout the year, even in times of drought. It’s catchment area is primarily Leith Hill and the water is generally clear, no matter how hard the rain is falling, until it meets the arable farming land in the base of the valley. At that point it is joined by water from the deep drainage ditches from the fields which is a yellowy brown sludgy mess due to the run off. As Monbiot has consistently pointed out, this practice of over-draining what are often bare fields not only leads to flooding but is in blatant disregard of the necessary conservation of the soil that farms rely on for their, and our, long-term future.
Mike Naylor
Westcott, Surrey
• Given the finding that diets rich in animal protein may be as harmful to health as smoking (Report, 5 March), the chancellor must give serious consideration to our suggestion of a tax on meat, eggs and dairy products. We can get all the nutrients that we need (without the saturated fat and cholesterol) from healthy vegan foods. The government can prolong the lives of millions of people, not to mention save those of animals.
Ben Williamson
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

After much public protest, the government agreed in 2007 to call for the return of the British residents from Guantánamo and thus recognised their right to live in the UK as long-term British residents. Five have returned – only Shaker Aamer remains, despite facing no charge or trial. He has been denied justice for over 12 years. He is not therefore a “former” British resident, as stated in Ian Cobain’s otherwise excellent piece (Report, 6 March). Even David Cameron has called for Shaker’s release and return to the UK as a matter of urgency. We need to believe he means it.
Joy Hurcombe
Worthing, West Sussex
• You report that Michael Gove’s daughter will go to Grey Coat school, a girls’ comprehensive school in central London (Report, 5 March). It is indeed a girls’ school, but Westminster in the past ran the local sixth forms as a consortium: my son, based at Pimlico School, did his A-level French at Grey Coat and was the first boy to win the school French prize!
Jennifer Coates
Emeritus professor of English language and linguistics, University of Roehampton
• A wallchart of countries invaded by Britain and the US on one side and those invaded by Russia on the other would be welcome, if somewhat lopsided (Letters, 6 March).
Ian Wright
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
• The Rowson cartoon (5 March) shows Putin about to checkmate the white queen with his king. Also there’s no white king on the board. Was the metaphor “impossible position”?
James Walsh
• I was very sorry to hear of Mike Parker’s death (One font to rule them all, G2, 5 March). Perhaps the Guardian could arrange to scatter his ashes on San Serriffe?
Dave Headey
Faringdon, Oxfordshire
• When I was a child we went to the lavatory to do our business (Letters, 6 March). I feel it is a useful term now for much of what goes on in the City.
Linda Weir
Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire

Matthew Goodwin’s and Robert Ford’s insightful analysis of male working-class support for Nigel Farage (Comment, 6 March) left out two key considerations. First, the feeling of being left behind is now engulfing growing sections of the middle class and their children; and second, the need to consider what change of policy direction could tackle this sense of personal and community insecurity. Key to addressing these problems is not just to reject job-killing austerity. A sense of being left behind is also a factor in manufacturing and service jobs being relocated to countries with lower taxes and wages. House prices are being yanked out of people’s reach, partly by the uncontrolled flow of foreign capital into empty luxury properties or buy-to-let in the name of foreign investment. Finally, the way UK population growth, both recent and projected, will make it so much more difficult to deal with social, food and energy shortfalls must be faced.
What should change is the acceptance of open borders to the flow of goods, services and money. In Europe that also applies to open borders to the flow of people. All polls show most people in the UK want a reduction in population growth and present levels of immigration. A sensible desire given the incredible official projection that the numbers living in the UK will increase by 10 million over the next 25 years, and that around 60% of this is expected to come from immigration and the children of migrants. The only way to see off the extreme right here and in Europe is for the politically active to provide a programme to protect and rebuild domestic economies to provide a secure future for all, not just the very wealthy 1%.
Colin Hines
East Twickenham, Middlesex
• The established political parties have reasons to fear Ukip, but they are not those quoted by Goodwin and Ford. Despite winning a 22% share of the national vote at last year’s local elections, trumping the 17% achieved at the 2009 Euro election, these impressive results mask the fact that they were achieved on 35% turnouts, which is now customary at mid-term elections. Sections of the electorate have previously flirted briefly with non-mainstream parties such as the National Front, SDP, Greens and BNP, but the historical precedents are not encouraging for Ukip. Moreover, voters expect their elected representatives to be professional, moderate and competent.
Ukip is handicapped by its having no more than three or four spokespersons capable of conducting media interviews and by the constant flow of adverse publicity which suggests political values of intolerance and bigotry. The threat posed to the three main parties by Ukip is psychological, not electoral. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have yet shown the slightest inclination to engage with the party. Ukip will implode when its philosophy is challenged, its arguments debunked and its leader given enough rope that his fag sets fire to it.
Philip Duly
Haslemere, Surrey
• While Goodwin and Ford are right to warn that Ukip could threaten Labour, it is a simplification to accuse the Blair government of not showing “much interest in left-behind voters”. Labour established the minimum wage, lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, improved social housing, invested heavily in Sure Start, schools and the NHS and promoted concessionary travel for pensioners. If their record on these issues could be criticised, it was the failure to make enough of these achievements. Doing good by stealth is not a recipe for political success.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords


I am not sure that Chris Blackhurst “gets” capitalism any more than Labour does (“Labour’s hysterical anti-big business stance”, 5 March).
Since acts against “forestalling, regrossing and engrating” in Elizabethan times, through anti-trust acts in early 20th century America, to modern competition laws, there has been a broad acceptance that free markets are not always benign. Labour’s pronouncements against market failure in energy falls squarely within this tradition.
As for Waitrose offering free coffee and newspapers, this may strike their strategists as a good competitive wheeze, but to those who make their living from selling those products, it smacks of predation. Given the broad cross-party support for the reinvigoration of the high street, I would have thought the promotion of free and fair competition was a laudable aim.
As for the banks, just speak to the many small businesses that have been refused loans and sold dodgy products and you will find broad support from this sturdy class of capitalists for the idea that “something ought to be done”.
Labour is simply reflecting the concerns of both producers and consumers, hardly a hysterical or opportunistic response to current failings of the capitalist system. And by the way, Chris, the next time you are in Costa’s, ask them if you can have your two-shot latte for nothing.
S R H Jones, Malvern, Worcestershire
Your spokesman for big business, Chris Blackhurst, is at it again. This time he’s criticising Labour. He says that Miliband is “rounding on the energy companies”, “lashing out at the banks” and “pledging to restore the 50p top rate tax”. What’s not to like about these policies?
Stuart Gregson, Alton, Hampshire
James Moore’s proposal (5 March) for a collective noun for bankers – “a whinge of bankers” – gives rise to a most vulgar but appropriate spoonerism.
D J Walker, Macclesfield, Cheshire
Climate change: it really is us
The Geological Society supports the Royal Society’s position on climate change (report, 27 February). The geological record of climate change shows that most of the warming of the 20th century was not natural.
The solar energy driving our climate varies through long-term periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit, and short-term changes in the Sun’s output. The amount of solar radiation from orbital changes declined steadily in the northern hemisphere through the past 10,000 years, and will decline further over the next 1000 years. In response, our climate cooled into the Little Ice Age between AD1400  and 1850.
A solar cycle of roughly 210 years is superimposed on that decline. It led to the temporary warming of the Medieval Warm Period, and to the warming between 1900 and 1950. We should now be cooling back towards the average of the Little Ice Age. We are not headed in that direction because the CO2 in the atmosphere has risen far enough to override the 210-year solar cycle, creating man-made global warming.
Geologists know that CO2 made temperature rise in the past, for example at the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary 55 million years ago. As CO2 then declined, the Earth gradually cooled into the Ice Age of the past 2.6 million years. Within the Ice Age, orbital changes periodically caused the oceans to warm and at the same time to emit CO2, which boosted the rise in temperature. It was once thought that temperature led CO2 in the Ice Age, but we now know that CO2  and temperature rose together then.
The positive link between CO2 and temperature in the geological record tells us that we should be wary about adding yet more CO2 to the atmosphere. For more information see
Dr Colin Summerhayes, (Vice President,  Geological Society of London,  2010-2013), Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University
Careers teachers need business help
The furore around Vince Cable’s comments on teachers and careers advice has obscured a vital point – that teachers have been given the responsibility for careers guidance without the means to deliver (“Teachers ‘have zero knowledge about world of work’ ”, 6 March).
In our recent survey of teachers, over half said that previous experience of business is important to delivering careers advice – yet a majority have little or no experience of business and industry. Indeed, three quarters stated they would like more support from businesses.
The only way to tackle the current crisis in careers advice is for business to engage in their local communities and work with schools more directly, through placements and workshops, to provide the much-needed insight into the skills that young people need. Why should we expect teachers alone to handle this? Their expertise is the classroom, business people’s expertise is in business, and the two need to come together to help our young people find their way.
Roxanne Stockwell, Principal, Pearson College, London WC2
Vince Cable is right that teachers know little about the world of work. I have no idea how I advise a pupil to become a member of a minority political party which ends up in power, via Cambridge, a university lectureship and a stint as a corporate economist for big oil, as Cable did.
Is it possible to capture that essence of privilege and share it with the children in careers lessons, or would that remove the exclusivity of Oxbridge and the professional middle-class networking that leads to jobs in big companies and the lifestyle that allows you to make comfortable decisions such as plumping for a career in politics?
It’s time our MPs had some real-world work experience.
Ian McKenzie, Lincoln
Ukraine: security  is for everyone
Owen Jones’s attempt (6 March) to offer an anti-war argument over Ukraine comes unstuck when he becomes an advocate of Russia’s security needs, which he says are “informed by the fact that it has been repeatedly – and catastrophically – attacked from the West”.
This is special pleading for Russian to have an opt-out from international law. I wonder if Jones – and other anti-war campaigners – will raise “security needs” the next time that Israel takes military action.
John Strawson, Reader in Law, University of East London
Time to put a tax on meat
Given the finding that diets rich in animal protein may be as harmful to health as smoking, it’s time for the Chancellor to give serious consideration to PETA’s suggestion of a deficit-correcting tax on meat, eggs and dairy products in the Budget later this month.
At the very least, the Government should require cigarette-style labelling: “Warning: Consumption of this product can cause cancer, heart disease, strokes and other diseases that can lead to premature death”.
We can get all the nutrients that we need (without the saturated fat and cholesterol) from healthy vegan foods. The Government can prolong the lives of millions of people, not to mention save those of animals, by treating the animal-agriculture industry in the same way that it treats the tobacco industry – with suspicion and contempt.
Ben Williamson, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, London N1

Helping creative genius along a bit
Robert Duncan Martin (letter, 6 March) seeks to decry creative writing courses by pointing out that great writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen succeeded by sheer force of genius.
By the same token, one could say that Brunel had no engineering degree and David Garrick did not go to drama school, and question the need for any higher education at all. But we are not all natural, intuitive geniuses. Who knows how many “mute inglorious Miltons” might have blossomed into great writers if a helping hand had been available?
John Smurthwaite, Leeds
Holidays in term-time
Vicki Mangan got her cheap(er) holiday (letter, 3 March) because travel operators and the airlines and hotels they use have to balance year-round income and expenditure. If we had staggered school holidays and a five-term school year – which I wholeheartedly support – peak costs would probably come down, but off-peak costs would almost certainly rise accordingly. What was that about a free lunch?
Stephen Mullin, London EC1
Climactic moment?
Your article on developments in the female condom (6 March) is headlined on the front page as a “breakthrough moment”. I’m no expert but I would have thought that a breakthrough in a barrier contraceptive was the last thing one would want.
Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

Sir, John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, says that animals killed to produce kosher and halal meat “bleed to death” (“Stop Ritual slaughter of animals . . .” Mar 6).
All animals killed in the slaughter house bleed to death! The question is whether they are stunned before their throats are cut. Blackwell fails to record the considerable failure rate of pre-stunning, especially of chickens, which are electrocuted before their throats are cut.
I hope to read of Blackwell’s campaign to ban factory farming or inhumane transport of live animals, which inflicts more trauma on animals than any of the current acceptable methods of slaughter.
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Northwood, Greater London
Sir, If we must accept “humane” as describing the method that causes the least suffering in an animal in its last moments of life (Mar 6), then John Blackwell’s argument, that “slitting animals’ throats and allowing them to bleed to death causes unnecessary suffering”, if true, would indeed be a justification to ban it. It is, however, an argument seriously flawed and based on a misconception.
Shechita, the Jewish method of slaughter, conforms to the UK legal definition of “stunning”, that is to “render an animal unconscious until death”. Far from excluding stunning, it actually both stuns and slaughters in one action, making it the most immediate and efficient method.
Blackwell tells only half the story. Conventional pre-stunning methods often fail to induce unconsciousness. Indeed pre-stunning is designed in the interests of abattoir operators and inflicts momentary pain and distress on millions of animals.
Jack Lynes
Pinner, Middx
Sir, The bleeding of an animal in ancient times related to the concept (Leviticus) that the blood was the “life” and this belonged to the god who gave it, the basis of all sacrifice, even in Christian theology. Both Jews and Muslims are a small minority in a land which demands prior stunning of animals for food as a rule of law. Mr Blackwell’s informed professional opinion should not be brushed aside for ancient taboos in foreign lands which knew nothing of science. Meanwhile, your leader is entirely correct about the horrors we inflict on food animals in intensive rearing.
Roger Payne
London NW3
Sir, Not that I eat crab or lobster, but I understand that to cook them they are placed in boiling water while still alive. Methinks that double standards seem to prevail.
Peter Spill
Redbridge, Essex
Sir, There is no case for halal slaughter without previous stunning. This is a recoverable state, ie, although unconscious, the animal is still alive, so can have done to it whatever these religions feel necessary without the terror and pain involved to a sentient animal.
This country has evolved many laws over hundreds of years to ban what it considers barbaric practices, regardless of faith, and we should not allow these laws to be broken in the name of religion.
Ann Rignall
Kenilworth, Warks

It is high time UK consumers started to worry about soaring gas prices as a consequence of the crisis in Ukraine
Sir, Russia is the biggest supplier of gas to Europe so it is inevitable that the crisis in Ukraine will affect prices here. Already the markets are spooked, with UK wholesale gas prices up by around 10 per cent. This would equate to a gas price rise of 5-6 per cent for homes if the costs were passed through to customers. If the crisis deepens, wholesale prices are expected to rise further. The longer the crisis goes on the more likely it is that there will be an impact on UK energy prices, for example, a 20 per cent hike in wholesale prices normally equates to price rises of more than 10 per cent to households.
Energy prices have risen in each of the past four years; let’s hope that this crisis is solved quickly so that more price rises are not on their way soon.
Mark Todd

The Army should not be allowed to act any longer as judge, jury and prosecutor in courts martial
Sir, You are right in your editorial (Mar 4) that the Army should not be prosecutor, judge and juror during investigations into alleged offences. The RAF had the same system when I was serving as a personnel officer in the 1980s. An airman could be charged with an offence by his superior officer, have his charge heard by that officer, be remanded for a court martial which would be tried by RAF officers and then have the trial reviewed by RAF Command Headquarters. That airman might well be defended at court martial by the officer who heard the original charge. This would never happen in civilian life.
Until the Services develop a completely separate system of justice, it will be hard to prove objectivity.
Hannah Walker
(Squadron Leader, Ret’d)
Cattistock, Dorset

MEPs are proposing radical redesigns of lorry cabs to give more protection to cyclists and pedestrians
Sir, The Department for Transport wrongly asserts that amendments supported by MEPs to EU lorry design rules would not benefit UK road users (“Bereaved relatives call for bigger and safer lorry cabs”, Mar 3).
Numerous road safety campaigns across the UK have stressed the urgent need for safer lorry designs to help to protect vulnerable road users. The current brick shape design is not fit for purpose. It has too many blind spots, and a front that can push pedestrians and cyclists underneath the wheels. Failing to act now would almost be an act of negligence.
Existing design is dictated by the need for the cab to occupy the shortest possible length, hence the flat-fronted vehicles on our roads, which are poorly designed for aerodynamic and safety performance. We have proposed to make the safety requirements mandatory so that even urban trucks would be safer.
Under these proposals, drivers’ direct vision would be improved by reducing the blind spots under the front windscreen and the side of the cab. And the new designs would also fit an energy absorbing crash management system to reduce the damage in a collision, and pedestrians would be protected by adjusting the frontal design to minimise the risk of someone being run over.
As Liberal Democrats, we are supporting these proposed changes, as we want to see safer lorry designs to protect cyclists and pedestrians from harm.
Phil Bennion, MEP
Baroness Ludford, MEP
Fiona Hall, MEP

Monster potholes after the winter’s rains are shocking but no match for 11,000 new holes in Philadelphia
Sir, Your photo of the M2 pothole in Kent that was 15ft deep sent a shiver down my spine. I’ve seen my share of potholes this snowy year on the East Coast of the United States, but I’ve haven’t found anything to compare to that monster.
Does that North Kent pothole set a UK record? A world record?
Philadelphia, where I work, will set a pothole record this year. We don’t have anything that deep, but as of March 4, we’ve hit a new high in holes: 11,000.
John Loftus
Hatboro, Pennsylvania

It is all very well wondering where our hourglass figures and waistlines have gone – we just eat more these days, much more
Sir, Portion size has a lot to do with our increased waistlines (“How Britain’s waistline expanded”, times2, Mar 6). A recipe for a quiche in my 1974 edition of The Times Cookery Book by the late Katie Stewart, requires a 20cm (8in) flan tin and suggests a serving for 4-6 portions. Wine glasses have also become oversized. Our children are horrified by the size of claret glasses we had as wedding presents more than 40 years ago. No room to swirl and sniff, let alone quaff.
Heather Newman
Yarcombe, Devon


SIR – You report that a high-protein diet is as bad for health as smoking. The American study on which this claim is based does not qualify what sort of proteins were being eaten; it simply looks at how certain animal proteins can be inflammatory and increase factors that stimulate tumour cell growth.
I am a nutritionist and have seen many studies that draw links between animal protein and cancer. However, when it is a typical American diet that is being studied, the meats are often processed, cured, full of additives and preservatives, intensively reared and generally of poor quality. I have yet to see a study that finds such a link with high-quality, natural animal produce.
Ben Pratt
SIR – The medical and scientific communities appear to be hell-bent on extending human life, whether through diet or medication or genetic manipulation. The world suffers from over-population. We need a more considered and rational allocation of resources.
Related Articles
How to create a fairer tax system for the less-well-off
06 Mar 2014
Weak Western powers should not continue to fan revolution abroad
06 Mar 2014
John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey
SIR – Should we stop eating altogether? No harmful fats, no sugar, now no high-protein foods. I, for one, am totally confused.
For years, we have been advised to eat a minimum of five fruits and vegetables per day. Sugar antagonists now say fruit is high in sugar, especially melon, grapes and bananas, which have beneficial nutrients.
Everything in moderation is the key.
Stella Bowman
Prestwich, Lancashire
SIR – Not having been a lifelong non-smoking teetotal vegan, how many years have I lost?
Michael Brotherton
Chippenham, Wiltshire
Smiley’s people
SIR – John le Carré’s portrayal of John Bingham as George Smiley perhaps reflects le Carré’s own career in the Secret Services. He failed to impress those best placed to know on each side in the Cold War: Dick White (arguably the best director in the history of the Secret Services) was critical of him; and Yuri Modin (Philby’s KGB case officer) wrote that there were “truer, more subtle portraits of the profession” than le Carré’s.
Michael Esther
Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
SIR – Lord Lexden makes a most uncharacteristic mistake in his letter regarding the late John Bingham, Lord Clanmorris. He writes that the peerage was “an Ulster title without property”. In fact, the full title was Clanmorris of Newbrook – Newbrook being in Mayo, a county in Connaught, not Ulster. The property may have gone by the time John Bingham inherited the barony but, according to The Complete Peerage, the family held 18,111 acres in Mayo and Galway, valued at £8,263 a year in 1883.
C D C Armstrong
Voice in the wilderness
SIR – Apparently the Government’s wildlife advisers have told farmers to call “shoo” before they shoot pests that they discover attacking their crops. Presumably they come upon these animals in fields that could be many hundreds of acres in size.
I have a garden of a quarter acre. Calling “shoo” to magpies usually has little effect.
What sort of voices are farmers expected to have?
P F Fairclough
Tattenhall, Cheshire
SIR – The starting rate of tax is 20 per cent on incomes above £10,000 per year, but those on a minimum wage are paying 32 per cent on part of their income, since we must include the employee’s National Insurance contribution of 12 per cent, which is simply a form of income tax by another name. It is not earmarked for the National Health Service or pensions; this tax should be abolished.
If the better-off were to agree to give up most of their tax reliefs, excluding their personal allowance, then significantly more than £40 billion a year would be generated. This could be used to convert the three rates of tax currently at 32 per cent, 42 per cent and 47 per cent to just two rates of tax: 20 per cent and 35 per cent.
Lord Jacobs
London SW1
SIR – Instead of raising the personal allowance, we should have a much more progressive tax system, starting with a 10p or even 5p rate for the lowest paid. We should also sharply increase the minimum wage, reduce employers’ National Insurance contributions to compensate, and stop paying benefits to those in work. This would encourage people to work, and do away with a whole raft of bureaucracy. The Government should carry out a cost/benefit analysis on this.
Related Articles
Weak Western powers should not continue to fan revolution abroad
06 Mar 2014
Not all high-protein diets are unhealthy
06 Mar 2014
Paul Beasley
Lower Stondon, Bedfordshire
SIR – I think that business rates should be called enterprise tax.
When you rent a commercial property, such as a shop, you pay 40 per cent of your rent to the council, but that does not include rubbish removal. For that, you have to pay an additional charge from £1 to £3 per bag. At least I get my bins emptied for my domestic rates.
Penny Cole
Watlington, Oxfordshire
Academic visa fees
SIR – A young Turkish scholar, studying in America, was coming to Oxford to give a paper on the important excavations of the Byzantine harbour in Istanbul. Happy to pay her own air fare, she then realised she would be charged an extra $470 for a visa.
She could not afford this, and so she didn’t come. The episode is shameful. What does charging visitors sums like this do, apart from promote Britain’s decline as a centre of academic excellence? Short-term academic visitors should not be charged.
Mark Whittow
University Lecturer in Byzantine Studies
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Profitable gifts
SIR – Lady Sainsbury was not only a benefactor of the arts. In the Nineties, private practice in NHS hospitals was no longer discouraged. St Mark’s Hospital, where I was clinical director at the time, embraced the change.
Lady Sainsbury and her husband, Sir Robert, felt strongly that profits from private health care should be ploughed back into the NHS, especially for the support of teaching and research. To this end, they funded a 17-bed private ward with incorporated outpatient facilities for St Mark’s after its move to Northwick Park, Middlesex. It still flourishes 20 years later.
James P S Thomson FRCS
London N1
Zero gravity
SIR – What is all the fuss about Gravity? Apart from the scenery created by clever technology, the story is implausible, the acting by the principal performers less than memorable, and the ending laughable.
Eric Marsh
Hathersage, Derbyshire
Put away the wellies, and start wearing shorts
SIR – For me, a sign of spring is to be able to wear my short wellington boots instead of my tall, knee-length ones to wade through the paths flooded by the River Meon in our village.
Josie Dyson
Droxford, Hampshire
SIR – My central heating boiler broke down on Monday and my wife and I were frozen. Spring has not arrived here.
Rob Dowlman
SIR – Spring must be here. I’ve just seen my first Spitfire flying over: a beautiful sight and sound.
Christopher P Hill
SIR – For us, the most obvious sign of spring is when our post lady starts wearing shorts again.
Ian Whitmore
Lower Froyle, Hampshire
SIR – I know that spring has sprung when I hear the buzz of my neighbour’s electric sander on his beautiful old wooden yacht.
David Morris
Helensburgh, Argyle and Bute
SIR – Frogspawn is forming, lambs are leaping, pheasants are foraging, buds are bursting, and Year 6 pupils are practising alliteration for their SAT examinations in the spring.
Heather Gosling
Taunton, Somerset

SIR – The trend in recent foreign policy by the major Western democracies has been to encourage revolution. The Arab Spring has produced nothing but discord and mayhem on an international scale, while events in Ukraine promise ever more dangerous prospects.
Vladimir Putin can afford to smirk when he looks at those who oppose him: a weak American president, a powerless EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a divided British Government, a French president who lacks credibility and a German chancellor who poses no military threat.
The division of Ukraine should be accepted. Western leaders should stop posturing and turn their attentions to correcting the many problems that face them at home, while at the same time strengthening their economic and military defences to meet future threats.
Mick Richards
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire
SIR – We chose to depend on gas from Russia and oil from the Middle East. It would have been better to have developed nuclear energy, which can power everything. Ships run on it. Why not cars?
Ian Macleod
Whitchurch, Shropshire
SIR – I share President Putin’s view of events in Ukraine, not those of William Hague, who supports the US and EU (German) expansionist policies. The Russians have had to remove genocidal killers from their land and that of Ukraine. They have a greater right to protect the interests of people in that region than Western human rights activists.
Gordon Black
Stockport, Cheshire
SIR – Lt Gen Sir Richard Vickers tells us that we made no response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The reason we did not intervene is that we had learnt our lesson in Hungary in 1956. We encouraged the Hungarians to rise up against Russian tyranny and then did nothing to help them. We accepted that Hungary (and Czechoslovakia) were part of the Soviet sphere of influence, just as we thought that Suez was in ours. Rollback was dead and America accepted that it would not risk a third world war in order to liberate Russian vassal states.
Paul Jones
Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire
SIR – There never has been an option to place aircraft carriers in the Black Sea (Letters, March 4). The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits prohibits the passage of large naval vessels through the Bosporus. Non-Black Sea states, in particular, are limited to naval vessels being no larger than 15,000 tons on entering the Straits.
This disqualified our old Invincible class carriers (22,000 tons), all American carriers (105,000 tons) and the current French carrier (40,000 tons).
The Harriers would have been limited to operating from the northern Aegean – a non-starter, I’m afraid, because of range issues. The new Queen Elizabeth class carriers will fare no better, as they fast approach 70,000 tons.
Captain Michael Booth RN (retd)
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – It was somewhat ironic that the reception hosted by President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin in honour of Seán Ó Cuirreáin (“Lack of services in Irish dismays Higgins”, Home News, March 6th) took place at exactly the same time as Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley was being questioned at an Oireachtas subcommittee on the issues raised by Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s decision to retire early from his post as the State’s first coimisinéir teanga.
Speaking “as President of Ireland”, Mr Higgins stated that he was “greatly concerned at the apparent low level of ability to fulfil the rights of citizens who wish to interact through Irish with the State and its agencies”.
Reporting on the big march that took place in Dublin a few weeks ago, your Irish language editor Pól Ó Muirí (Bileog, February 19th) remarked on the gulf which exists between the Irish-speaking community and the general English-speaking public, saying they hardly inhabited the same planet, let alone the same country! As one of the thousands of people who marched down O’Connell Street that day on our way to the Dáil, I have to admit you could not help noticing the puzzled look on the faces of Saturday shoppers as they waited patiently for the buses which were backed up behind us.
A lot of these onlookers, I’d say, were thinking to themselves, have that crowd nothing better to protest about? Haven’t they got recognition for Irish as a core school subject, haven’t they got their own radio and TV stations funded by the Government, haven’t they got the constitutional right to use Irish in their dealings with the state? We Gaeilgeoirí have to acknowledge that the general public would be quite correct on the first two of these propositions – Irish does still hold a central place in our education system, and Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 are both excellent stations which punch far above their weight.
Where the general public’s perception falls down is on the third proposition – that we Irish speakers have the right to use Irish in our dealings with the State. In theory and under the Constitution this may be the case, but in practice it is usually impossible or else extremely difficult to use Irish for official purposes. This has long been the weakness in the State’s overall policy on the Irish language. As Mr Ó Cuirreáin put it, the State imposes a duty on students to learn the language and then frequently puts obstacles in their way of using it for official purposes.
I know a section of the public will still say, so what? But the point is that it does not make sense for any of us if one arm of the State is contradicting what another arm of it is trying to facilitate. If, as a country, we want Irish to survive even as a small minority language, the State will have to take the practical steps necessary to provide for the right of Irish speakers to use the language in the public sphere. As a former civil servant myself, I’m convinced that this is above all a question of political and administrative will and does not have to involve any extra resources.
No language can survive if its use is confined to just private and domestic contexts. A lot of us now feel we can only practice the language with other consenting adults behind closed doors. No wonder people look at us as if we had two heads the odd time we muster the courage to march down the main street of our capital city. – Is mise,
Hollywood, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – There is a great opportunity to utilise the assets at the disposal of Nama to allocate permanent homes for various voluntary bodies that operate from shared or rented premises. Many of the premises being disposed of by Nama are being sold for prices that are not even giving proper value to the taxpayer. The benefit or profit is going to a new breed of speculator, many of whom are from outside the country. It was speculation and speculators who got us into this predicament in the first place.
The largest part of the capital cost of any building is the site, the building structure and the building envelope (exterior covering). Fitting out of premises to suit the needs of any particular group is a minor cost in relative terms.
Organisations such as Jigsaw, working to better support young people’s mental health and wellbeing, would benefit greatly from having permanent bases in the community. Removing the worry of rents or leases from the management of such groups would free them to apply their time and skills where they are more appropriately utilised.
Consider the sports and social clubs that do not have permanent bases, such as boxing clubs, martial arts clubs, drama societies and many others, that depend on the generosity of others and the availability of already oversubscribed community halls to provide incredibly important social outlets.
We already have much of the human infrastructure in place in the form of organisations such as Foróige, the Scouts, Autism Ireland, active retirement groups, Care for the Aged, Mental Health Ireland, Aware and “men’s shed” groups, to name but a few, that could operate the premises and take the responsibility for the upkeep and security of the buildings.
The appointment of one person at a national level and the assignment of liaison responsibility to a person within Nama, to investigate community needs and match needs with the physical resources available, could achieve long-term benefits.– Yours, etc,
Co Galway.

Sir, – Your report (February 22nd) on the forthcoming auction of a photograph of Kevin Barry will have diverted many a downcast rugby fan. The photograph “depicts” Barry (in Belvedere jersey) sprinting for the Blackrock try-line during the Leinster Schools’ Junior Cup final in 1917. (The try was converted and Belvedere won 5-3). Though in the Junior squad that season, Barry did not play in the final. From the bench, as first substitute, he presumably had a good view of the real try-scorer, H Kelly, whose brio completed a fine move initiated by Ross Barnett and N Redmond. Barry switched to hurling in 1918 before taking up rugby again in his last year at Belvedere. This time he was picked for the Senior Cup but a semi-final defeat by Blackrock in 1919 meant that he never did get to have that rugby moment at Lansdowne Road. – Yours, etc,
St Jude’s Avenue,

Sir, – The new building regulations require builders and “assigned certifiers” to sign-off to local authorities for new building works.
Private contracts for new homes, extensions and other buildings are private. They are arranged between the clients and their chosen main contractors and/or their subcontractors. Developers and home builders decide what they want in a building. Designers help to achieve the required result. Most building work is carried out in accordance with building regulations.
A small number of projects received planning permission but were not inspected nor monitored by fire regulators or other local authority supervisors. To whom will the new regulation bring peace of mind?
It is surprising that any professional institute would be prepared to back this regulation. The law in this country does not imply a warranty that a professional will achieve a desired result, eg a surgeon cannot guarantee that their patient will be cured by the treatment given to them and a solicitor cannot guarantee that their client’s case will be won in the courts. But designers are now expected to guarantee that a building they designed will be fit for the purpose for which it was designed and that it was carried out to the design, specification and building regulations by signing a document certifying those works, which must then be submitted to the planning authorities.
Will the planning authority take direct legal responsibility if the assigned certifier or the registered builder has gone out of business before any building defects become apparent because this regulation is now legally required? The appointment of a full-time “clerk-of-works” individual for the duration of the contract, plus an “assigned certifier” who will have to be available to alter drawings and specifications in accordance with the contract, will be a minimum requirement.
Those costs will certainly eliminate self-building and a considerable amount of small to medium building works throughout the country.
The registered builders will need to be on constant alert to all design details and variations, which will have to be recorded under the registration certificate and changed under the terms of building contract. Separate contracts may be required for assigned certifiers. Building contract conditions will be used more than ever in order to shift responsibility between the designers and the builders.
A greater likelihood of litigation will arise as the contracts for certification compliance are not time limited. Insurance is renewable annually.
The additional building costs to the developer and home builder are going to be considerable. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – While Fintan O’Toole (“EU proves EU disciples of austerity wrong”, Opinion & Analysis, March 4th) is undoubtedly right that the “benefits” of austerity have been oversold, he is profoundly wrong to hold up the United States as an examplar of good economics.
What he has missed is trade. The US current account deficit was $361 billion last year. Meanwhile Germany, China, and Japan enjoyed surpluses of $257 billion, $176 billion, and $57 billion respectively.
Anyone with a credit card can throw a good party but the trick is to pay the bill.
Because of a pattern of huge trade deficits that has now persisted for more than three decades, the United States is not only completely hollowed out but has become more heavily beholden to foreign creditors than any great power since the last days of the Ottoman empire a century ago. – Yours, etc,
Elm House,
Sussex Road,

Sir, – Gregory Rosenstock (March 4th) has offered an entertaining, if slightly overwrought, description of the social and environmental costs of widespread car ownership. It is, however, worth mentioning the overwhelming benefits derived from the proliferation of the motor car.
The society described by Mr Rosenstock is fundamentally not one which is obsessed by cars, but one obsessed with mobility. When compared to the static, highly localised nature of life prior to the emergence of the car as a tool of personal mobility, we can appreciate the true value of our car-derived freedom which he dismisses as illusory.
Indeed, the very fact that people do expend such colossal effort in terms of money and resources to build, buy and run cars is proof of the value which cars offer to modern society.
The fact that Mr Rosenstock might disapprove of such priorities is rather beside the point. – Yours, etc,
Armstrong’s Barn,
Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In response to my letter about Ukraine, Roland Evans (March 6th) states that “Nato has changed its functions and is not aimed at encircling Russia”. However, I read on your front page (“Nato and EU pledge to intensify pressure on Moscow”, March 6th) that “the Pentagon was stepping up flight training with the Polish airforce and the US role in Nato air patrols over the ex-Soviet Baltic states”. They haven’t gone away, you know. I am not an apologist for Russian imperialism. I’m just one of the hundred thousand who marched in Dublin, and the million more who marched in London, against the invasion of Iraq.
Military “intervention” in other people’s countries is a savage and outdated method of managing international relations, and demonising foreign governments is one of the bad habits which encourages this aberrant behaviour. Mr Putin is not a good man but neither is he a stupid one. The way to deal with him is to do a deal. The most urgent question is how to stop Ukraine falling apart in a catastrophic civil war. They will need all their neighbours to help, with negotiations not armaments, if the cataclysm is to be avoided. – Yours, etc,
Rock Road,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – For a brief moment, reading your “Kerry condemns Russian aggression” headline (March 5th), I thought the Skibbereen Eagle had been revived. – Yours, etc,
Haddington Park,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – I doubt it is a coincidence that Ireland’s lambing season coincided with the killing of an Irish-bred white-tailed eagle, which was found riddled with gunshot pellets (Home News, March 5th). These magnificent birds are principally scavengers and usually feed on carrion, birds, fish and small mammals – rarely, if ever, are they known to prey on lambs. If I am wrong in my assumption about this coincidence, then this action amounts to a wanton act.
It is a dastardly deed which has deprived our island of one of only a handful of these majestic creatures that once soared in numbers along our shorelines and lakes. – Yours, etc,
Co Louth.

Sir, – Can we be sure that electronic cigarettes do not cause harmful side-effects to bystanders who are exposed to them? Apparently the laws on smoking, advertising and promotion do not apply, or are not enforced, in the case of so-called electronic and vapour cigarettes. Pop-up stalls and vendors sell them without obvious restrictions. I have seen smokers “light up” their e-devices in restaurants and shopping malls with no obvious concern for their own or anyone else’s health or the sensitivities of those around them. Can we be sure that the sale and use of these devices should remain unregulated? – Yours, etc,
Moyclare Close,
Baldoyle, Dublin 13.
Sir, – Paddy Agnew’s Rome Letter (“Imagery of Italy clashes with reality of ruins”, March 5th) contrasts the haunting beauty of the Rome depicted in the Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza with the crumbling reality of the near-bankrupt Eternal City. However, the most sardonic feature of the Fellini-esque take on latter-day Roman decadence is that it was funded by Silvio Berlusconi, whose family newspaper, Il Giornale , dubbed the award “Berlusconi’s Oscar”. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Further to Clare Quinn’s letter (March 5th) about the Simplex crossword on Monday last, the Chambers Dictionary (2011), which all serious cruciverbalists have to hand, lists five possible spellings: piranha, piraña, piraya, perai and pirai. Anyone unfortunate enough to be savaged by one or many might of course call them something else. Yours, etc,
Charleville Road,

Sir, – How can Alan Davies be the eponymous star of the TV series Jonathan Creek (“Born on this Date”, March 6th)? This must be a very curious translation of the Greek that you are using here! – Yours, etc,
Strand Road,
Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Sir, – What a wonderful photograph by Aaron Pierce of the mighty wave in Sligo (Front Page, March 6th). However I am intrigued that it was “first surfed in 2010”. How is this possible? To paraphrase Heraclitus, “you can’t step twice into the same wave” ! – Yours, etc,
Dale Road,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Dermod O’Byrne (March 6th) is absolutely correct. I was just saying to my friends the farmerette and her sister the soldierette how perplexing that story was about the French president and the actor. Maybe the sub-editoress should be taken to task. – Yours, etc,
Threadneedle Road,

Irish Independent:

* “Twenty-thirteen was a good year for Ireland,” proclaimed Jose Barroso in UCC where, in granting the European Commission president an honorary doctorate, one of Ireland’s oldest and most respected institutes of learning reverted to the old Irish practice of forelock-tugging to our masters.
Also in this section
Threat to hare is horror story that shames us
NATO partly responsible for Ukraine crisis
We can’t deny anyone the right to express love
“A successful exit from the economic assistance programme,” continued Mr Barroso, without a touch of irony; and then, in the final blow, “And you had precious solidarity and financial support from the European Union and its member states.”
When you’re already one of the smallest and weakest in a group, a friend doesn’t take advantage of your weakness, doesn’t force you to accept the debts of others as a condition for coming to your aid. Yet, that was the kind of ‘solidarity’ we received from the EU, the European Commission and the ECB.
“Financial support”? Mr Barroso said: “I personally made the case to other European leaders for lower interest rates and longer maturities on Ireland’s loans.” Ah yes, extend and pretend – how much debt write-off have we had? Not a cent. Rather, we have had the entire losses of the institutional investors/gamblers in the then private Irish banks imposed on us, including the ‘coupons’, the interest on every one of those failed bonds of those failed banks.
He went on to point out how much we’ve taken from Europe in the last seven years – “nearly €14bn in European Union budget support for agriculture but also for social and infrastructure investment as well as research”.
What, Mr Barroso, no mention of what Europe has gained from Ireland, the value of the fish taken from Irish waters, for instance?
“Ireland has returned to ‘normal’ in EU terms,” he says, “The European Commission has always been on the side of Ireland, one could even say one of your best friends.”
Is a national debt of €210bn normal? Or double-digit unemployment figures, which, if truth were fully told, are nearer to 20pc than 10pc?
If Mr Barroso and his commission have been one of our best friends then God help us.
* I would like to commend Martina Devlin for her article this week regarding pensioners.
I am 50 and had to retire early as I received a diagnosis of MS four years ago. I was vice principal of a large Gaelscoil but am still actively involved at the school in my areas of expertise. Fortunately I can manage my illness very well. I am a musician and last year organised a trad music festival in my village to commemorate a successful recording artist from early 1900s who went to America from our village and am also involved in local community games.
The objective of this letter is not to put my efforts on a pedestal or elect myself as person of the year; I write merely to applaud your proposal that perhaps an organisation similar to the one in Sweden be initiated at political level.
While I would not fit into the category of Good Public Pension, I still feel that there are many bright, innovative and interested retired citizens not on the gold-plated pensions, who would be of immense benefit to our country in their areas of expertise.
My personal thoughts on the Senate discussion/referendum last year was that people who work in voluntary areas in their communities would be given periods to express opinions, ideas, etc, in the Senate because they were the ones involved with the public in a real and everyday way. Elected representatives on long-term placement can often forget the difficulties and challenges encountered by the families of our country once they enter the halls of power. There are thousands of excellent people giving their energies, expertise, etc, to help the community on a daily basis. I am happy for you to use my letter but would prefer if my name weren’t used.
* Zoe Lawlor (Letters, Irish Independent, March 5), of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, draws attention to Amnesty International’s latest one-sided report attacking Israel. Amnesty is an NGO that means well and often works for good purposes. However, it is questionable what business Amnesty has compiling reports on defence and security matters. On February 10, Amnesty’s secretary-general Salil Shetty admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera: “We are not experts on military matters. So, we don’t want to, kind of, pontificate on issues we don’t really understand.” This begs the question of why, then, Amnesty compiled such a report on military and security-related issues in the first place.
Amnesty’s latest attack on Israel reads like a publicity stunt rather than a serious report. The 87-page document consists of randomly selected, unverifiable and sometimes even contradictory accounts, often from people with a political agenda against Israel.
As long as Amnesty continues to ritualistically condemn Israel for defending its civilians and soldiers and treats the Palestinians like children, it is pushing a possible peace between the two parties further away.
* While I agree with the sentiment expressed in Sean McElgunn’s letter “Mystery of Life” (March 6), this kind of kumbaya belief isn’t the reality. If only it were.
If only people would believe what they want to believe and that was it. However, the problems arise when organisations and institutions co-opt that belief for their own agenda.
The power of faith lies in its coercive ability – it is, unfortunately, rife for misuse. And where dissenting arguments arise, they are met with deaf ears, because, “it’s my faith, it’s what I believe”. That level of certainty can’t be touched by reason.
Why I strongly disagree with Mr McElgunn is twofold. Firstly, for many, faith is not a free gift. It’s not even a choice, it’s a label given to them upon (or before) birth.
Secondly, in stating “the fact that there is something demands a cause”, Mr McElgunn applies a distinctly anthropocentric perspective to something that is not bound by such laws, namely, the universe.
* I was called for the first time for jury service last week. I joined a large crowd of people filing into a courtroom. The names of 449 people were read out and the names of those present, well over 400, were put in a box.
The 400 people and the box then moved to another courtroom and imagine my surprise when I found out that the 449 people had been called for just one jury panel for one day.
Then we were all given details of the case and 20 names were taken at random from the box. Some of those called were given exemptions and that left two women and 10 men. The remaining 380 of us were told we could go. We had been an hour in the courthouse.
Does this happen every day in our courts? Is it necessary or usual to call this number of people in order to find 12 for one jury?
As I am retired it was easy for me to attend but many of the others there would have had to change work times, make other arrangements for pre-school children and elderly in their care, etc.
Jury members get no expenses, only a free lunch each day. I realise, of course, that if only retired people served on juries they wouldn’t be representative of society but calling these big numbers puzzles me.
Irish Independent

Under the Weather

March 6, 2014

6 March  2014 Under the Weather
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge as to test a new automated navigational system Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired.
Scrabble today  I win but get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


René Ricard, who has died of cancer aged 67, was a cultural provocateur in Andy Warhol’s circle of oddballs, transsexuals and aspiring “superstars”.
Art critic, actor, poet and painter, Ricard was a Renaissance man for the cocaine age. However, he accepted that, by conventional terms, he had never worked a day in his life. “If I did,” he said in the 1970s, “it would probably ruin my career, which at the moment is something of a cross between a butterfly and a lapdog.”
Ricard’s contemplative, literary-minded nature was at odds with the more chaotic aspects of Warhol’s studio entourage at The Factory. To his famous mentor, he was “the George Sanders of the Lower East Side”. Not that Ricard was able to emulate the laconic Hollywood star: in Warhol’s 1965 film Kitchen, Ricard was seen washing dishes to the hum of a refrigerator while the director’s tragic muse, Edie Sedgwick, sneezed in the background (an attempt to cover her fudged lines). “It was a horror to watch,” stated Norman Mailer.
The following year Ricard starred in Chelsea Girls, Warhol’s split-screen portmanteau tribute to residents of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. The notorious landmark on West 23rd Street was, in reality, Ricard’s on-off home for more than four decades. In its cloistered confines he wrote poetry and art criticism, painted experimental oils and nurtured his reputation as a recluse. “Don’t call out ‘René! René!’” he remonstrated with one visiting interviewer. “I know who I am. You have to knock and say, ‘It’s Ariel’ so I know it’s you.”
Albert René Ricard (he was always known by his middle name) was born on July 23 1946 in Boston where, as a gay, gangly teenage aesthete, he later modelled for the city’s art schools. In the early 1960s he moved from Massachusetts to New York, quickly settling into life as a struggling poet, before meeting Warhol in 1964 through the artist Al Hansen.
Ricard’s time at The Factory saw him experiment with acting (including the title role in The Andy Warhol Story in 1967, a self-flagellating biopic made by its subject) along with free verse. He would sit at their “happenings” wrapped in furs. “The Factory was a cold, frightening, forbidding place,” recalled Ricard. “I mean, it was all silver. It was frigid. Andy never gave us money but he took us out to eat every night. He’d take the whole Factory to a place called Emilio’s and would be so high on amphetamine that he couldn’t eat. He’d serve himself an olive and cut it into 36 slices with the knife and fork.”
In October 1978 the Chelsea Hotel became synonymous with debauchery when Sid Vicious was arrested in Room 100 for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. In the aftermath, Ricard penned a column for the New York Times justifying a bohemian hotel life fuelled by other people’s money. “I should be paid to go out,” he postured. “You see, I’m good for business. I class up a joint.”
During the 1980s Ricard’s art criticism for Artforum and Paris Review promoted the fledgling talents of Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel. In 1981 he published a piece entitled “The Radiant Child” which introduced the work of Jean Michel-Basquiat, the black graffiti artist who would become the enfant terrible of the Manhattan art scene. Ricard’s interests were unapologetically avant garde, although some journalists claimed he eschewed objective criticism in favour of “high-octane” appreciations built on “panegyric, vituperation and gossip”.
His other art writing included a monograph on the Italian painter Francesco Clemente (a 1999 collaboration with the photographer Luca Babini) and exhibition catalogues for shows by William Rand (Bleeker Gallery, 1989) and Philip Taaffe (Gagosian Gallery, August 1999).
Life at the Chelsea was monastic; his apartment consisted of a single room and a shared bathroom (he ate out). “I don’t own anything,” he said in 2007. “I always manage to come up with the rent, knock wood. ‘Poet’ is not a salaried occupation. And anyone reading this who’s in need of a poem, we can talk.” Being a man of letters at the Chelsea was not, however, without its benefits. “He writes something and brings it downstairs,” said his neighbour Raymond Foye. “I type it up, he likes to revise. It’s a very rewarding relationship.”
Ricard published four volumes of poems: René Ricard 1979–1980; God With Revolver (1990), which included his artistic representations of the poems; Trusty Sarcophagus Co (1990); and Love Poems (1999), which collected his verse alongside drawings by Robert Hawkins. His poetry echoed the streetwise wisdom of Leonard Cohen’s songs. In The Death of Johnny Stompanato (named after the gangster killed by the daughter of his lover, Lana Turner) Ricard detailed the aftermath of a punch-drunk romance:
“So you submit to that mild form of boxing called love.
Then, happy he’s earned his keep
He picks your pocket, drives off in your blonde Lincoln
And you pass out.”
A 2003 show of paintings and drawings in New York was followed, in 2008, by an exhibition of new work at London’s Scream Gallery, staged by Julian Schnabel. “He was this invisible force behind so many artists in the Eighties,” said Schnabel of Ricard, adding: “There’s a lifetime behind his work. He’s a grown-up.” In his late work he scrawled neon shades of green, orange and blue text over his and others’ oil paintings. One canvas has the adage “Sometimes it’s OK to throw rocks at girls” scribbled over a painting of a diamond ring. Collectors of his works include the model Kate Moss and the music producer Mark Ronson.
Ricard’s eclectic artistic trajectory was, he maintained, all intended “to amuse and delight, giving my rich friends a feeling of largesse, my poor friends a sense of the high life and myself a true sense of accomplishment for having become a fixture and a rarity in this shark-infested metropolis.”
René Ricard, born July 23 1946, died February 1 2014


In a persuasive article arguing the case for a forceful western response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, even at the cost of some harm to British economic interests (Ban Russia from the City, 5 March), Malcolm Rifkind says: “The last time the alleged need to protect ethnic brethren was used as a justification for invasion and annexation in Europe was the Sudetenland, and the shame of the Munich agreement in 1938.” Can this be the same Malcolm Rifkind who was defence secretary from 1992 to 1995, at what has been termed the country’s “unfinest hour”, when the internationally recognised Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was devastated by an invasion by Serbia on precisely such a pretext of defending ethnic brethren (replicating a pattern already pioneered in its earlier assault on Croatia)? The same Rifkind who, as foreign secretary in 1995, helped prepare the infamous Dayton accords, awarding half of Bosnia’s territory to an entity – Republika Srpska – carved out by genocide and ethnically cleansed of its non-Serb population; a settlement that saddled the country with an unworkable constitution linking political rights to ethnicity?
Quintin Hoare, Branka Maga,
Noel Malcolm

It comes as no surprise that the “massive renovation” of the Picasso museum in Paris should have cost twice as much and taken more than twice as long as estimated (Report, 5 March). It comes as no surprise that the architect should celebrate his own renovation as a “development” of spaces that “respects” the listed 17th-century building. Nor is it a surprise that during the building’s five-year renovation the contents – Picasso’s works – should have been shuttled around the world to raise money to pay for the escalating building work.
What comes as a truly horrible surprise is that all of Picasso’s 5,000 works have been “cleaned, restored and reframed” for the opening. It beggars belief that some urgent “conservation” necessity should have struck all of these modern works at the same time. We can only conclude that Picasso’s art has been cosmetically spruced-up to match the new decor. The consequence is that all of these works have been severed at the same historical moment and to the same prevailing taste from their previous and likely varying states of conservation or non-conservation. When individual works in a collection are restored and returned to view it is possible to compare them fairly and critically with previously restored and non-restored works. The administrators of this museum have removed that possibility of appraisal at a stroke. We must hope that proper records – including high-quality, directly comparative photographs – were made during the treatment of each work, and that these will be made available to interested parties.
Michael Daley
Director, ArtWatch UK
• Professor Thornes is surely wrong when he states that the rainbow depicted by Constable requires the sun to be behind the observer and is therefore wrong (Report, 5 March). This situation applies only to a full rainbow, whereas Constable’s rainbow is a partial one. The error appears to be based upon the shadow in the left foreground. It is this shadow that is wrong, not the rainbow.
Dr Allan Dodds

Now that the police have brought to court a person accused of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock at Broadwater Farm (Report, 5 March), I’m sure we can now be confident that they will similarly spend time doing the same to the police officer who murdered Blair Peach at Southall.
Ged Peck
Luton, Bedfordshire
• Aditya Chakrabortty’s article on university vice-chancellors’ salaries (G2, 4 March) reminded me that heads of universities and colleges in Scotland are called principals, and the collective noun for them is said to be “A lack of”.
Dr Athol Murray
• While mindfulness gains popularity and we hear of its increasing use in schools (Weekend, 1 March), I want to bring your attention to the long held practice of Quakers, where we gather in silence to calm the mind and focus the attention. While other schools start bringing this mindful practice in to their extended curriculum, Sidcot School in Somerset celebrates the fact that they have provided breathing space for staff and students for over 300 years.
Jacqueline Bagnall
Director, Centre for peace and global studies, Sidcot School
• On 3 September 2003, you published the following article: “Asteroid 2003 QQ47, a lump of rock the size of Ben Nevis, could hit Earth at a speed of about 13 miles a second on 21 March 2014, to cause the kind of destruction expected in thermonuclear war, experts warned yesterday.” Any chance of an update as my standing orders are due out on the 19th?
Stuart Burrows
• So the “protein man” of Oxford Street was (at least half) right – protein is bad for you (Meat-rich diet may be as harmful as smoking, 5 March) – albeit that the link with lust is still to be proved…
Sue Durham
• I assume the Big Jobs party (Letters, 4 March) will be presenting their motions to the House Of Commons? They can’t be more noxious than the current ones.
David Witt
Malmesbury, Wiltshire

The government is searching for measures to use against Russia (Putin and Obama’s war of words, 5 March). How about this one: reverse the pusillanimous failure to follow the recommendations of a coroner and hold a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko (Coroner ‘cannot cite Russia’ in Litvinenko case, 20 December 2013). This would have the added attractions of providing a measure of justice for Litvinenko’s widow and ensuring, albeit belatedly, that the dead man’s human rights were acknowledged.
Stephen Bailey
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
• What matters is not the posturing of Putin or Obama or the lesser lights of Hague and Merkel, but the welfare of the peoples of the Ukraine. What is needed is co-operation not confrontation in the establishment of a constitution that safeguards the different groups, preventing any one group dominating others and affording each a degree of autonomy.
Brian Crews
Beckenham, Kent
• The situation in Ukraine is completely different to Georgia (What next?, 3 March). As a Russian turned British, I have no love for Putin, but I believe I understand his motives. Putin fears that Russians living in Ukraine will be severely maltreated and he is determined to stop that. If the new Ukraine government respects humanitarian principles he will leave it in peace. If it turns into a bunch of thugs, he will make life very difficult.
The misunderstanding of Putin in the west only makes it more likely that someone will do something stupid.
Lena Mas
• Britain is wittering above its weight again because the Ukrainians have lost a piece of real estate they shouldn’t have had in the first place. Time to strike a deal. How about Russia pays $12bn for the Crimea? Ukraine could use the money. And we could all do with our leaders calming down and accepting reality. Or are we going to send all these Russian kids home from our private schools?
Eric Clyne
Arbroath, Angus
• Fifty years ago when there was a stand-off between Russia and the west, the threat was nuclear annihilation. Today it is their expulsion from the World Cup. I presume this is progress.
Richard Partridge
Lewes, East Sussex
• Given the Nato sabre-rattling over Ukraine, one wonders if this historically excellent organisation has not lost its way. I am now too old to be listed on the British Army reserve of officers, but I certainly would not wish to be mobilised to fight the Russians on the Crimea. It did not work all that well the last time.
Godfrey Bloom MEP
Independent, Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire
• Given Susan Bailey’s strictures against the Guardian’s continued use of the Russian spelling for the Ukrainian capital (Letters, 5 March). Will she now demand immediate action by Marks & Spencer with regard to the chicken section of their chilled cabinets?
Richard Lewis

Of the diplomatic approaches Ian Traynor (Report, 3 March) notes in his assessment of Ukraine crisis scenarios, the “contact groups” surely offers the only way forward. Blustering about political and economic costs only helps feed the Kremlin’s long-held belief – one widespread in Moscow’s political class – that the west is always out to do Russia down. Threats of sanctions against Moscow and promises of help to Kiev reinforce Putin’s conviction that what drives the crisis is a plot by the US, Britain and some east European members of the EU, to bring Ukraine firmly into the western fold. Viewed from the Kremlin, even dislocated improvisation tends to look like well-planned conspiracy. It all looks even more malign from the perspective of the hard-line Russian nationalists whom the conservative Putin sees as prospective Ukip-like challengers.
The “contact groups” strategy would be far more fruitful, both in the immediate crisis context and in the mid-term. The EU and Russia should bring together representatives of the major political groupings in Ukraine and mediate talks to map out a road to greater devolution, something the recent congress of eastern regions called for. To get to any kind of agreement will require a lot of leverage from the mediators, but the process itself seems to offer the best way to a political rather than coercive resolution of the crisis.
We should now also look at ways of engaging Russia diplomatically at the European level to talk about a new European security process, with a view to building a new Atlantic to the Urals security framework. Western diplomats sigh at the mention of such grand schemes. Moscow’s proposals for a pan-European security treaty have gathered dust on foreign ministry shelves for the last five years. But even if the diplomats are rightly sceptical about such schemes resulting rapidly in any useful new architecture, they underestimate the benefits of the process itself. More than half a century ago, after long resistance to Moscow’s proposals for a pan-European security conference, the Helsinki process came into being. To many at the time, Helsinki seemed a frustrating waste of effort yet the process made an enormous contribution to the erosion and ending of the cold war.
Long-term engagement would not be primarily for the benefit of Russia or the major western powers. It would be most to the advantage of Ukraine and other countries of the euphemistically named “shared neighbourhood”. I still remember the picture of Ukraine’s international position drawn some years ago by a senior official in Kiev. Ukraine, he said, was supposed to be a bridge linking Europe and Russia yet hovered falteringly just above, and occasionally dipped below, the turbulent waters it was meant to span.
Alex Pravda
Senior research fellow in Russian and East European Studies, University of Oxford
• After the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Irish leader Garret FitzGerald wrote a letter suggesting that his country’s policy on British security concerns might have had a lesson for the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. This is a voice from the past worth revisiting as Europe’s Ukraine crisis is unfolding with potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole continent. While acknowledging that all sovereign states are equal, FitzGerald suggested it is wise for small states geographically situated besides larger ones to ensure their foreign policies do not pose any threats to their neighbours. He contrasted the Georgian independence leaders with his predecessor, Irish leader Éamon de Valera who offered as early as 1920 explicit assurances to Britain about the foreign policy of a future independent Irish state. Ireland’s commitment to British security allowed the latter to preserve their relationship despite the bitterness following the partition of Ireland. Later on, the two governments used their relations within Europe and bilateral ties, including a civic forum set by FitzGerald, to promote a peace settlement.
The late Irish politician’s words resonate well both with the Caucasus in 2008 and Ukraine today. Commenting on Saakashvili, he argued that “by allowing emotion rather than reason, nationalism rather than statecraft, to govern his actions, the Georgian leader has … unwittingly set back his country’s cause – probably for many years in the future”. Ukraine nationalists have also offered multiple opportunities for Putin to play the ethnic card across Russia and to this end, the west has inadvertently unleashed a wave of nationalism in Ukraine masked under the false promise of an expanded Europe. Ukraine deserves and should receive western support, but history teaches that external allies might prove even more dangerous in the absence of local statesmanship and wisdom.
Dr Neophytos Loizides
Senior lecturer in international conflict analysis, University of Kent
• Events in Ukraine are overly driven by political elites. The government could: forge ahead with “ask the people” initiatives and keep ahead of the game; propose to the elected parliament of the Crimean autonomous republic that it suspend all unconstitutional activity and stick with the Ukrainian government until the elections in May; promise that if secessionist parties obtain a majority of the seats, the national government will allow a referendum to be held in Crimea on the possibility of secession, or greater autonomy within Ukraine and some form of association pact with Russia. If the people vote to leave, this should be allowed via a constitutional amendment of article 2. With the promise of elections on secession, the Russians should have no need to invade.
The people’s blood and suffering and wasted resources would be saved everywhere. Of course the cost to Ukraine is losing Crimea, but in the 21st century it is not legitimate to hang on to a territory only for national prestige, when the majority of its people are ethnic Russian and also want to leave. Turchynov and Yatsenyuk, swallow your pride for the sake of peace and faster inclusion in Europe.
Dr Monica Threlfall
Reader in European politics, London Metropolitan University
• With coups in Egypt and now Ukraine, we’ve perhaps become inured to the insouciant manner with which our media and politicians accept the overthrow of democratically elected governments when it suits their interests. William Hague and John Kerry, however, are breaking new ground in threatening Russia if it refuses to recognise Ukrainian politicians who’ve transitioned from opposition to government without an electoral mandate. They must give their own electorates clarity on the issue: just when can an elected leadership be replaced by an unelected one? When would it be OK to overturn the results of their elections in the course of violent demonstrations in Parliament Square or on the White House lawn?
Peter McKenna


The current agony in Ukraine highlights the incompetence of the EU’s “diplomacy”, and in particular the over-promoted Baroness Ashton and her absurd office.
The ludicrously premature entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU raised unwise and impossible expectations in western Ukraine. But to ignore the failures and corruption of Ukraine’s leadership since the Orange Revolution, the special status of Crimea and the mindsets of the ex-KGB rulers of Russia, and to expect Ukraine to move almost seamlessly out of the Russian sphere of influence and towards “Europe” overnight, without even any EU financial aid, displayed a worrying level of ignorance and naivety.
Sensible negotiations for gradually increasing ties with the EU should have kept Russian interests in the loop, including some benefits to Russia such as a renewed pledge that Ukraine would not join Nato, as we promised Gorbachev. But currently the strident rhetoric of the western democracies seems bent on exceeding even our Syrian own-goals, and as long as we follow the Blair/Brown policy of significant dependence on Russian oil and gas, Putin will reign supreme.
John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

US Secretary of State John Kerry has criticised the Russian movement of troops into the Crimean region of Ukraine, as breaching international law.
Is he representing the same United States government that daily sends drones over Pakistan, against the will of Pakistan’s government, to kill Pakistan nationals with remotely fired missiles; that has  had occupying troops in Afghanistan for over a decade; that had occupying troops in Iraq for a decade; that assisted France and the UK with military logistics to invade Libya to remove President Gadaffi’s regime;  that still retains military bases in Germany and Japan 60 years after the end of the Second World War; and is covertly assisting opposition forces in Syria to depose its government?
I only ask.
Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is of Scottish descent, like William Gladstone, Arthur Balfour, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay Macdonald, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister supports Scotland, part of the UK for 300 years, having a referendum on secession without consulting the rest of the UK.
Will Mr Cameron support the people of the autonomous republic of Crimea, only part of Ukraine since 1954, in their wish for a referendum on secession without interference from the rest of Ukraine? Similarly, if other parts of eastern and or southern Ukraine wish to secede without reference to the wishes of Kiev, will Mr Cameron support them?
At least with the Crimea and parts of eastern and southern Ukraine there is a common language and culture not shared with Kiev. This is in contrast to Britain where there is a common language and the Scots have dominated the political life of the nation for well over 100 years.
Robert Milligan, Dover

What does ‘creative writing’ create?
It’s fair enough to debate the value of creative writing courses (“Creative courses a waste of time, says Kureishi”, 4 March). However, my experience at Bath Spa University is not like that of Hanif Kureishi
The students on our creative writing MA are talented and focused. Our courses have close links with the publishing industry and many graduates find agents and publishing deals.  Only last month, one of our graduates who now lectures at the University won the Costa Book of the Year Award.
Quite apart from the commercial aspect, creative writing students are being encouraged to tell stories that matter to them, sometimes stories they have long wanted to tell – and that means no one is wasting their time.
Maggie Gee, Professor of Creative Writing, Bath Spa University

I challenge the supporters of “creative writing” courses to name one celebrated classic author who studied “creative writing”. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and all the rest just did it.
Closer to our time, the likes of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Frederick Forsyth and H E Bates learned their craft on the job as journalists.
No really talented writer needs to undertake a course in their craft. A society desperately short of scientists and engineers should leave writing to the “naturals” and concentrate on encouraging people to take up subjects that will give them a greater chance of success.
Robert Duncan Martin, Upper Harbledown, Kent

How child sex laws were tightened
Having lived through the late 1970s and carried out further research with a view to writing a book, it is clear to me that in trying to slur Harriet Harman, the Daily Mail is being misleading (“The great British paedophilia infiltration campaign”, 27 February).
If you go back to the beginning of 1978, you will find that child pornography was legal and even having sex with children was not considered a serious matter as long as they consented. Early that year, brothers aged 67 and 69 were found guilty of having sex with girls aged 12 to 15, but they were only fined and given a suspended prison sentence.
Around this time Cyril Townsend, Tory MP for Bexleyheath, was pushing a private member’s Bill through the House of Commons that made taking indecent photographs or films of children under 16 illegal, with fines of up to £10,000 and a prison sentence of up to three years.
Mr Townsend received no support from the Home Office, who were unhelpful and raised a number of objections. His Bill seemed destined to fail, but around this time the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) was getting maximum publicity and it became clear the general public found its proposals abhorrent. Voters then pressed their MPs to do something to stop PIE and it was this pressure that led to child pornography becoming illegal. In a strange way we should thank PIE, as it managed to achieve the exact opposite of what it campaigned to achieve.
As Harriet Harman was not involved with PIE, nor ever campaigned on their behalf, she has no reason to apologise for anything.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

GMT and a trick  of the light
David Bracey (letter, 5 March) says that moving the start of British Summer Time to February would give us an extra hour of daylight. It would make no difference to the number of hours of daylight; he means that it would give us lighter evenings.
I was going to school in the North of England during the experiment with British Standard Time in the 1960s, when our clocks were an hour ahead of GMT all year. I recall many mornings where it was still dark for the first lesson of the day.
Using the date of the equinoxes is not the full story. Twenty-four hours is only an average length for the solar day, the time between two successive occurrences of the Sun crossing the meridian. As the Earth is tilted on its axis and its orbit is not exactly circular, solar noon does not occur at exactly 12:00 every day. Although the winter solstice is the shortest day (in terms of hours of daylight) the evenings have by then been getting lighter for over a week. To get evenings in spring as light as in autumn would require putting the clocks forward in January.
Paul Dormer, Guildford

Listen to the prostitutes
What muddled thinking we have from our legislators on prostitution (“MPs urge Scandinavian-style laws on prostitution”, 3 March). The only intelligent contribution came from “Gemma”, the one prostitute interviewed for your report.
There are criminal acts that become entangled with prostitution but they are not an unavoidable part of it. Sex as a commercial transaction need not be exploitative, and it’s patronising to the women to suggest that it always is.
Not all prostitutes are women, and not all punters are men. And how can you possibly have a commodity that is legal to sell and illegal to purchase?
Listen to the prostitutes themselves. They alone seem to understand the problems and what needs to be done to improve things.
Ian Craine, London N15

Of course they are snooping on you
The GCHG spokeswoman’s statement that they are not commenting on anything (letter, 5 March) is merely confirming the obvious.
In a few years there will be no privacy for any form of electronic communication. Technology will outstrip all political attempts at control. If it is possible, someone will do it. The Government will always plead anti-terrorism or commercial considerations to justify the listening or watching.
Meanwhile, be careful what you say or show. If Big Brother is not watching you, someone else is, on his behalf.
Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire


Sir, While the UK may be part of a leading group of nations which are taking policy action on climate change (“Britain ahead of the curve on green targets”, Mar 3), this does not support claims by manufacturers that they risk forcing jobs overseas by making energy too expensive.
The article draws on new research published by the London School of Economics which finds that the UK is a global leader on climate change policy action.
However, the article does not cite one of the key findings of the study — that “medium industrial energy users in the UK pay lower green taxes on their electricity bills than the European Union average”. It demonstrates that these taxes account for around 8 per cent of total electricity costs in the UK, compared to 23 per cent on average in the EU.
This must be taken into account as the Government reviews its carbon commitments. In truth, the UK’s leadership on climate change enjoys widespread support from business. The CBI has stated that the green economy provides over 900,000 jobs and contributes a £5 billion trade surplus.
Andrew Raingold
Aldersgate Group, London, SW1
Sir, It’s all very well “Britain being a global leader on climate change targets”, but while Britain attempts to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2025, those of China and India are increasing massively. Our CO2 production rate is 6 per cent of China’s, but China’s rate is growing at 9 per cent per annum. China plans 450 new coal-fired power stations which will be burning 1.2 billion extra tonnes of coal per annum.
It may be said that the UK should do what it can to reduce emissions — our carbon “production” (indeed, this is enshrined in law) — but what matters is not our production but our consumption. It doesn’t make “green” sense to cut our carbon production while importing billions worth of goods from China which increases our carbon consumption (goods produced using “dirty” coal energy).
According to Dieter Helm in The Carbon Crunch , UK carbon production fell by 15 per cent from 1990 to 2005 but carbon consumption went up by 19 per cent, and that situation continues today.
Paul Turner
Rudloe, Wilts

Poland’s recent prosperity means that it can no longer dodge the question of assets seized from Jews during the war
Sir, While Poland’s leaders play a more central role in European affairs (“Warsaw aiming to be at heart of Europe”, Mar 1), they might reflect that they have unfinished business back home.
In the decade since it joined the EU, Poland has shown its ability to be a responsible and dynamic partner in Europe and on the world stage and, unlike its neighbours, Poland survived the worst of the economic downturn relatively unscathed — “GDP is up by 20 per cent since 2008”.
But alongside harbouring European political ambitions, the Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski would do well to address the moral wrong that continues to deny victims and their heirs the right to recover properties that were stolen by the occupying Nazis, nationalised under Communism and which today belong to democratic Poland or its citizens.
Ninety per cent of Poland’s prewar Jewish community perished in the Holocaust with estimates of the value of their property, and those of survivors, today totalling some $60 billion; properties belonging to non-Jewish Poles far exceed this amount.
Poland has persistently failed to introduce private property legislation, acts of law all other major former Communist countries have enacted. Indeed, despite previous promises to introduce a suitable law, Mr Tusk and Mr Sikorski now refuse to consider any legislation.
While negotiating its accession to the EU, Poland gave an undertaking to make restitution a priority but this commitment was dropped on the grounds of economic hardship, something no longer hindering its government.
Poland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Protocol One of which states that: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.”
The British government repeatedly has urged Poland to fulfil its obligation to return confiscated property to victims, a position most recently reaffirmed in the House of Lords on Thursday (Feb 27).
Poland’s leaders may well have the credentials to steer Europe in the coming years, but before leaving their posts they can create a meaningful and lasting legacy by demonstrating Poland’s willingness to address an historic injustice.
Baroness Deech
Michael Newman
Association of Jewish Refugees

Volunteers are bridging gaps in the A&E system but the service needs to be properly reformed
Sir, The British Red Cross shares Healthwatch England’s concern over pressures on A&E (Mar 4). We also wholeheartedly agree that to tackle the problem at its roots we need to provide better alternatives, including stronger social support networks.
Elderly patients in particular often go to A&E as a first port of call, when there isn’t a significant clinical need but they feel unwell which is compounded by their isolation. We know that A&E units sometimes admit these patients to the wards because staff are concerned about the patient’s vulnerability. This situation is avoidable if the right support networks are in place.
Our staff and volunteers support A&E units across the country by preventing admission to the wards. We help patients who would otherwise be admitted because of social need to safely return home or arrange care elsewhere. This sometimes includes follow-up visits to patients’ homes. Ultimately, however, these services are bridging gaps in a system which needs to be reformed so that people do not turn to hospitals due to a lack of support at home in the first place.
Mike Adamson
British Red Cross

Surrey’s new non-overseas batsman is South African … and Irish … and whatever English cricket says he is
Sir, I read (sport, Mar 4) that Graeme Smith, the retiring South African cricket captain, will rejoin Surrey this season, but also that “he can now play for Surrey as a non-overseas player, having been granted Irish citizenship this year by marriage”.
Is it any surprise that English cricket is in such a mess if its administration can come up with such a ruling?
Adam Gilbert
Edenbridge, Kent

It is high time that the UK had the courage to follow other countries in reforming the rules governing sex work
Sir, I’m delighted that Parliament’s all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade is looking at solutions to prostitution which reduce demand. It’s high time that Britain addressed the inequality that takes place when men buy women’s bodies for sex.
The notion that prostitution is the “oldest profession” leads some to believe we can do little more than regulate it better — that we should follow the Netherlands and decriminalise it. But this leads to increased prostitution levels, normalising the inequalities which sustain the sex industry.
Rather than blanket legalisation we need the more nuanced approach already practised in Sweden. Recent changes in France and Ireland, as well as my report on the subject, accepted by the European Parliament last week, suggest the wind is blowing in this direction. Britain must be ambitious enough to follow suit.
Mary Honeyball
MEP for London

‘In Wales, in an attempt to make you feel you are next in line for their attention, a salesman will be “with you now”’
Sir, In addition to Mr Shamash’s “somewhen” (letter, Mar 5) and the West Country tradesman’s “with you directly”, here in Wales, in their attempt to make you feel you really are next in line for their attention, a salesman will be “with you now”.
It is a good idea, however, to look for a chair, if they suggest that they will be “with you now, in a minute”.
Neil Waller
St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire

SIR – Admiral Lord Nelson is, by now, probably rather used to looking down from his column to see which bands have taken over Trafalgar Square. No longer just a focus for celebration – protest sometimes – it’s often now a music venue promoted by City Hall.
The Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens, by Tower Hill Underground station, is a monument to thousands of merchant seamen who have no grave but the sea. In 2011, Tower Hamlets council gave party licences for functions in the gardens until objections made them see sense. It’s obscene that anyone should think a war memorial a suitable spot for parking one’s glass.
Now, Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, the centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich and a World Heritage Site, is to be an outdoor concert venue in August. What state the place will be in after four nights and 16,000 people is hard to imagine, though the mess that Hyde Park is in after big events offers a clue.
It is often said that the British are “sea blind”. Our civic leaders are deaf, too, it seems, to ancient mariners, dead and alive. Those involved with these plans probably don’t even see these memorials and heritage sites as revered parts of our national story, but as open spaces ideal for loud noise, alcohol and partying – what others might call desecration.
Lt-Cdr Lester May RN (retd)
London NW1

SIR – John Bingham and I were indeed close friends and colleagues. I had, and shall always have, unqualified admiration for his intelligence skills and achievements. He was a most honourable, patriotic and gifted man, and we had wonderful times together.
And surely there can be few better tributes to a friend and colleague than to create – if only from some of his parts – a fictional character, George Smiley, who has given pleasure and food for thought to an admiring public.
But Bingham was of one generation, and I of another. Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies.
John Bingham may indeed have detested this notion. I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence.
David Cornwell (John le Carré)
London NW3
Related Articles
Of course John le Carré took liberties – he’s a novelist
05 Mar 2014
Hunger too important to become political issue, says Bishop of Durham
05 Mar 2014
MS nurse provision
SIR – While we have about 275 part-time and full-time MS nurses, we need at least 300 to meet the needs of more than 100,000 people with multiple sclerosis. MS nurses improve care and co-ordination of health and social services, resulting in reduced hospital admissions.
In Surrey, more than £1 million was spent on emergency admissions for people with MS in 2009-10. The most common causes should not require hospital treatment if properly managed. Elsewhere, £96,000 was spent treating urinary tract infections. This could have been prevented with fast-track treatment. Today, the House of Lords will be debating the status of MS nurse provision. I urge peers to call on the Government to ensure that every person with MS has access to a specialist nurse.
Michelle Mitchell
Chief Executive, MS Society
London NW2
Church choral music
SIR – Correspondents who wish to hear the music of Tallis, Byrd and Bach should attend mass at the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory in Warwick Street, London W1.
Nicolas Ollivant
London SW1
Hunger this Lent
SIR – The fact that more people are going hungry raises acute moral, social and political questions. Hunger is a terrible reality faced by people, mainly families, who find their cupboards empty. The Trussell Trust reports that there were more than 500,000 visits to its food banks from April to December 2013. This figure has increased from 350,000 in 2012 and one third of the recipients were children.
We as a society have allowed this to happen. This is why, together with leaders from other churches, Anglican bishops have invited everyone to consider how each of us might respond in sympathy and solidarity with those who are going hungry. This includes fasting, a long-standing tradition, particularly associated with Lent.
Combating hunger is a challenge not just for the Government but for all political parties. Though political, hunger is too important to be led down a party political cul de sac. It is, therefore, excellent news that an all-party parliamentary group, chaired by Frank Field MP and the Bishop of Truro, is to look into food banks and food poverty. I hope it will be able to report with clarity and speed.
But in the meantime none of us should sit back and wait for its report. The need is urgent now. All of us can support those who face such hunger; we can stand with them through this Lent by fasting or other means. Hunger in our midst is a moral issue. Our response to hunger is a question of what society we want to be; one in which families are left with bare cupboards and depend on charity; or one in which, in Old and New Testament tradition, “they do not hunger or thirst”.
The Right Rev Paul Butler
Bishop of Durham
Bishop Auckland, Co Durham
Middle-class manners
SIR – Peter Brant, head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, says that children must be taught to act and think like the middle classes. He is surely missing the point. The whole idea of social mobility is that people from all backgrounds and accents mix together so as to widen their experience and understanding.
We all seem to want to be middle class with posh accents. I am a proud, working-class man, with a strong regional accent that has not hindered me.
James Conboy
SIR – It is not only some working-class children who need to learn good manners. I work in a boys’ senior independent school, and am frequently appalled by the table manners on display, so much so that I’ve considered offering an after-school activity called social grace.
This would not be a rigorous course of jumping through the hoops of etiquette but a little bit of polish, including the removal of hands from pockets, and the correct way to write a letter and address an envelope.
Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire
Hollywood lightweight
SIR – Even allowing for the huge fees paid to leading Hollywood actors, the £42 million paid to Sandra Bullock for her appearance in the film Gravity seems a disproportionate reward for her contribution.
Admittedly, it can’t have been a comfortable experience being locked in a box, simulating the loneliness of an astronaut adrift in space, but if Alfonso Cuarón, the director, is planning a sequel, I am prepared to undertake the arduous discomfort for a fraction of £42 million.
Raymond Pond
Falmouth, Cornwall
Spawn, not flowers, heralds spring in Scotland
SIR – We may not have many daffodils yet on the west coast of Scotland but here on the Morvern peninsula, I saw frogspawn last week in a pool by the old drove road in the Black Glen 500ft above sea level. This is unprecedented.
Iain Thornber
Morvern, Argyll
SIR – I know spring has arrived because I have just received from HM Revenue and Customs my income tax coding notice for the year 2014-15.
Bruce Chalmers
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – Here in west Dorset, I have just picked my first bunch of rhubarb and there are two globe artichokes forming on very bushy plants.
My two Burmese cats are sunbathing on the “Champagne Terrace”, where we have already quaffed wine aperitifs before lunch.
Julie Juniper
Eype, Dorset
SIR – I will know that spring has truly arrived when the French air traffic controllers go on strike.
Claire McCombie
Lower Ufford, Suffolk

SIR – In 1968, while I was serving with the 1st British Corps in Germany, it became clear that divisions from the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany were moving towards the Czechoslovak frontiers.
I asked my commander whether steps should be taken to enhance the state of readiness by recalling personnel on leave or ensuring the tanks were ready for battle. He replied that no orders to that effect had been received through the Nato chain of command and that the regiment should continue to carry on with normal peacetime training. So as we watched the dramatic events of the invasion of Czechosolvakia, no specific action was taken.
Despite differences from the situation in Ukraine, and the longer distances, I can’t help wondering if commanders of units in the Nato Rapid Reaction Corps, the headquarters of which is based in this country, are now asking similar questions and receiving a similar response.
Lt Gen Sir Richard Vickers
SIR – As a former ambassador to Moscow, Sir Andrew Wood is perfectly placed to recognise the potency of nationalism as an emotional, if not quite rational, Russian need.
Frequently derided by the Western liberal elite, the concept of nationhood – with its powerful resonance of birthright, heritage, history, language and culture – is being tenaciously expressed across the globe from Palestine to Kashmir; from Kosovo to Quebec; and now in the Crimea.
In formulating a coherent strategy for dealing with Russia, failure by Western governments to acknowledge the impact of these forces of nationalism will lead to significant miscalculation with potentially serious consequences.
Lt Col William Pender (retd)
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – We’ve seen the effects of protest in the Arab Spring, where leaders were displaced by interim rulers backed by the mob. President Vladimir Putin cannot allow the events in Ukraine to go unchallenged because his presidency, and perhaps the survival of the Russian Federation, depends on him showing leadership.
There is a powerful and vocal opposition in his country, which feels that it has no outlet with the democratic process; its only recourse could be mass protest, especially if it is shown to be effective elsewhere.
Brian Farmer
Chelmsford, Essex
SIR – Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum was to speak softly and carry a big stick. Now we see Barack Obama, David Cameron and William Hague speaking loudly and carrying feather dusters. Perhaps this is the true legacy of the nuclear age.
David Silber
Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire
SIR – Why did the BBC send Huw Edwards to Ukraine to say so little?
M F G Matthewman
Wombourne, Staffordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – As far as I am aware no lives have been taken by Russian troops in Ukraine, yet Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has carpeted the Russian ambassador over the “breach of international law” and failing to “respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” (Home News, March 5th).
Yet during President Obama’s term of office, US drones have killed dozens of people (including innocent bystanders) in attacks in Pakistan which breach international law and violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I don’t recall the US ambassador being carpeted.
Double standards again? – Yours, etc,
Maynooth Park,
Co Kildare.
Sir, – Arthur Denny (March 5th) makes one mistaken assumption, one unproven accusation and uses facts selectively. The cold war ended a generation ago and Nato has changed its functions and is not aimed at encircling Russia. The new government has shown no interest in joining Nato in its day-to-day struggle to maintain the country’s independence. He ignores the vote in the parliament that voted to replace Viktor Yanukovych. Hardly a coup d’etat. He makes no mention of the 67 violent deaths inflicted by the security forces under the authority of Mr Yanukovych, or the dubious imprisonment of Yulia Timoshenko, his electoral rival. In addition, Amnesty International reports for 2012/2013 outline accounts of police brutality that met little or no sanction.
President Putin makes great play of protecting the rights of the Russian speakers in Ukraine to justify moving troops to occupy barracks and public buildings and airports. There are areas of the Russian Federation that would like to secede, areas that have Muslim populations. Imagine Russia’s reaction if troops from other Muslim countries attempted to occupy airports there to protect non-Russian speakers in those areas. – Yours, etc,
Dundela Park,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – I was called for the first time for jury service last week in the Circuit Court in Portlaoise.
I joined a large crowd of people filing into a courtroom. The names of 449 people were read out and the names of those present, well over 400, were put in a box.
The 400 people and the box then moved to another courtroom. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the 449 people had been called for just one jury panel for one day.
Then we were all given details of the case and 20 names were taken at random from the box.
Some of those called were given exemptions and that left two women and 10 men to be sworn in for jury service. The remaining 380 of us were told we could go. We had been an hour in the courthouse.
I wondered as I left does this happen every day in courts throughout the land?
Is it necessary or usual to call this number of people in order to find 12 for one jury?
As 400 people had turned up it’s possible that over 500 people had been written to initially. Think of the expense attached to that in court staff time, postage, stationery, printing, etc. Those of us who agreed to attend for jury service had been written to twice.
Surely this money could be better spent on rehabilitation programmes for prisoners.
I was mindful in the courtroom that most of those present would not have been called at all but for the case taken by Mary Anderson and Mairin de Burca in 1975 when they challenged the constitutionality of the Juries Act 1927 and won. Up to then only property owners (mostly men) could serve on a jury.
As I am retired it was easy for me to attend but many of the others there would have had to change work times, make other arrangements for pre-school children and elderly in their care, etc. I realise, of course, that if only retired people served on juries they would not be representative of society, but calling so many citizens puzzles me. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – The proposed new GP contract, which runs to 40 pages, is a thoroughly unpleasant document. Although I have had a contract with the HSE for over 20 years, as a GP , “an independent contractor ”, the HSE has not as yet deigned to send me a copy of it.
It has furnished copies to representative groups, even though it maintains that it would be anti-competitive for these bodies to represent and negotiate for me.
I have been posted copies of it by colleagues, and am struck by its venomous tone. Throughout, they do not refer once to doctors, but to “service providers”. The litany of directives is of biblical proportions, including the classic “Thou shalt not take the name of the HSE in vain ”.
The demands include preventive medicine strategies that have not even been attempted by the existing dedicated and fully staffed Department of Public Health (probably because they have not been shown to be of any use), the running of diabetic clinics without any of the staff that would be provided in a hospital, the obligation to be a member of primary care teams that do not exist, and in buildings that have not been built.
I did not spend 10 years training to be a service provider. I do not intend to spend my senior years in medicine weighing and measuring wriggling toddlers.
General practice has been functioning at a very high standard in recent decades. And people, our patients, are overall very pleased with it.
But the thrust of this document is such that I fear the HSE will not be satisfied until it has torn it all apart. – Yours, etc,
Market Street,

A chara, – Fintan O’Toole’s economic analysis is usually impressive for someone with no formal background in the subject; however Tuesday’s column was sadly lacking (“US proves EU disciples of austerity wrong”, Opinion & Analysis, March 4th).
It is always difficult to judge whether macroeconomic measures such as fiscal stimuli were justified, but what one should not do is judge on the outcome. To see why, consider the fact that the US consistently missed its own employment recovery targets for the first two years after the fiscal stimulus was implemented, targets which had been set by the architects of the stimulus. This could lead one to argue that the stimulus was a bad way to increase employment, but could also be seen as an argument that the stimulus was not big enough. Given that we cannot rewind time and test the economy again under a different stimulus package, there is no way of knowing for sure which is the case (although one can make reasoned arguments either way). What it does mean is that the wisdom of macroeconomic policy decisions should be judged on the information that was available at the time, and not by subsequent information.
One of the lessons of the crisis has been the role of central banking policy in keeping government bond yields under control. Paul Krugman expressed concern under George W Bush that the deficits the Bush administration was running would prove disastrous for the American economy. He has since admitted he has learned from the crisis that a central bank which is always willing to print money to buy government debt has the ability to keep yields on government bonds under control, even with debt and deficits ballooning. Such central banking policy is illegal in the euro zone, and so comparing the macroeconomic effects of high deficits and debts in Europe versus America is a case of apples and oranges.
Finally, the Reinhart-Rogoff paper that Mr O’Toole references did indeed contain an analytical error, but this error made a negligible difference to the result with which so many on the left have taken issue. It is disappointing that this fact has not been publicly acknowledged. One can legitimately argue about the methodology that Reinhart and Rogoff used, and it has been shown that a different methodology leads to quite a different result. However both both methodologies can be considered valid. The analytical error, while unacceptable, made little difference when the original Reinhart-Rogoff methodology is employed. – Is mise,
Wyattville Park,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I read with sadness Catherine McCann’s article (“Sisters who ran Magdalene laundries are being treated unjustly”, Opinion & Analysis, March 3rd) and her misplaced sympathy for her erstwhile colleagues. Does she believe, in her heart of hearts, that the Magdalene laundries were operated in a fair, benevolent fashion? Does she sincerely think that the women who were incarcerated there were treated with kindness, were allowed to develop their self-respect, were properly educated by the nuns, were well fed, received appropriate medical treatment when required, and were paid a decent wage for the long, hard hours which they endured in the laundry?
I would point out to her that there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Over 100 survivors of Magdalene laundries, who live in this country, are telling a very different story.
They speak of brutality, of hard work for which they were never paid, of massive unkindness and lack of respect for them as human beings, of deprivation, of having their own children forcibly removed from their care, of abuse which was psychological, physical and sexual in nature.
They speak of being described as “penitents” for committing an act which was far less evil than the acts perpetrated against them by the Roman Catholic Church.
In the case of my great-aunt Esther Harrington (70 years in the Good Shepherd, Cork), who had family who wanted to claim her but were threatened out of it by a local Catholic priest, what would Ms McCann say to that? My grandmother thought she was well respected in the Roman Catholic Church but apparently she was not, because when she wanted to help her sister-in-law she was told she would be condemned from the pulpit and that she would lose her sweetshop, that my grandfather would lose his coal round and the family would be left destitute should she persist in trying to remove Esther from the laundry. Esther was a talented seamstress so obviously she was worth a lot of money to the nuns, which is why they wanted to keep her.
It’s worth noting that Esther passed away in 1987 in the convent, at the age of 83. The good nuns conveniently forgot to put her name on the headstone of the mass grave where she is buried. This was done only last year. What a way to treat someone who had been forced to give her life to an order of nuns.
These orders are not being treated unfairly by the media, but they are being put under scrutiny, their deeds and attitudes are being made public and the public does not like what it sees.
The nuns are being subjected to having to face the truth about their behaviour for the first time and they can’t handle it. – Yours, etc,
Eaton Heights
Co Cork.

Sir, – On reading Conor Pope’s article on the state of Irish Rail’s service and the comments from disgruntled customers (“Customers rail against service on Irish trains”, Pricewatch, March 3rd), one can only assume that many of the remaining rail services are destined for closure.
The mainline services between Dublin and Cork, Limerick and Belfast will probably survive the next series of closures, but the future of the only line that does not serve Dublin, the Rosslare to Limerick Junction, and Limerick Junction to Galway via Ennis, is already in jeopardy following the closure of the Rosslare to Waterford link in 2010, and the very poor timetable between Waterford and Limerick Junction currently in force.
Rather than running trains at times not always suitable to the majority of customers, Irish Rail needs to provide a better timetable that coincides with ferry crossings, commuter links and the needs of schools and colleges.
And in the case of the Rosslare to Limerick Junction link, to provide a through service that actually connects with other services on the mainlines to Waterford, Cork, Tralee and Limerick.
The Rosslare to Dublin service does not meet ferry arrivals, and as a commuter service is always overcrowded – so much so that commuters actually get off the train at Greystones to transfer to the empty Dart trains in order to get a seat for the last part of the journey.
The current three-carriage trains do not have the capacity to take commuters from Wexford to Dublin, and are usually full by the time they reach Arklow, and at this point the train should be increased to six carriages, and commuters advised which half of the train they should board for various stations.
A split train can provide double the capacity without having to change the times when it enters the Dart corridor; failing that, the train should run between Rosslare and Greystones only, requiring people to transfer to the Dart service to complete their journey.
Other services from Dublin serving Sligo, Westport, Galway and Waterford will probably be downgraded and ultimately closed, as the timetables will be cut to a handful of services, thus making travel by road the only viable option. – Yours, etc,
Dunbur Lower,

Sir, – Oliver Connolly was working on behalf of the State when he dealt with Sgt Maurice McCabe. How does this not make him accountable for his actions? – Yours, etc,
Moyclare Close,
Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

A chara, – Paul Waldron (March 5th), commenting on the home renovations incentive scheme, says that getting a final invoice or receipt from a builder can be difficult.
Actually, getting a receipt for payment of the local property tax (LPT) by cheque from the Revenue Commissioners is much more difficult. I requested a receipt when submitting my payment on January 1st. Five weeks later I received a letter from Revenue saying, in bold font, “Please note that Revenue is not issuing receipts for payment of LPT.”
Surely a taxpayer has a right to a receipt, especially when the date of the tax payment is normally significant and late payment can lead to interest and surcharges? – Is mise,
Moyne Road,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6.
Sir, – Paddy Power is running ads offering bets on whether Oscar Pistorius “will walk” after his current trial (Breaking News, March 5th). This is very distasteful as a young woman was shot four times and has died. Paddy Power has offered excuses claiming that it’s a novelty bet, that it’s a bit of fun, that it’s the story people will be talking about all year and that it’s an international story covered by the media. Will the fate of Michael Schumacher feature in its next publicity stunt? Perhaps it might offer odds on the outcome in Ukraine or the next gangland shooting in Ireland?
I doubt it would consider those “novelty bets” a bit of fun. – Yours, etc,
Pococke Lower,

Sir, – Has the word “actress” become so politically incorrect that it is no longer appropriate to be used to describe female thespians in The Irish Times ?
It was most confusing to read in a recent article that the French president had a tryst with an “actor”. In an article on the Bafta awards, your correspondent reported that “actor” Jennifer Lawrence had won the “Best Supporting Actress Award”. I further note that you did not change the Oscar for “Best Actress” to “Best Female Actor”. – Yours, etc,
Rathgar Park,
Dublin 6.

A chara, – Rather than continuing the unedifying spat on your pages between the pro- and anti-Gaeilge lobbies on the merits and demerits of the Irish language, may I suggest we defer to words of wisdom from our much-missed Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney: “Not to learn Irish is to miss the opportunity of understanding what life in this country has meant and could mean in a better future. It is to cut oneself off from ways of being at home. If we regard self-understanding, mutual understanding, imaginative enhancement, cultural diversity and a tolerant political atmosphere as desirable attainments, we should remember that a knowledge of the Irish language is an essential element in their realisation.” – Is mise,
Cluain Sceach,
Baile Átha Claith 14.

Irish Independent:
While welcoming the major conservation initiative to save the curlew and restore habitats essential to its survival, we should not lose sight of other species that are endangered or threatened.
Also in this section
NATO partly responsible for Ukraine crisis
We can’t deny anyone the right to express love
Get us deal, Enda – and you’ll get second term
It would be sad indeed if the haunting cry of the curlew, a feature of rural life from time immemorial and celebrated in Irish literature, song and folklore, were to become a mere memory kept alive only in books and ballads.
It has been quietly slipping away, with about 80pc of the curlew population lost to us since the 1970s.
But this evocative bird is not alone. Though not threatened to the same degree as the curlew, the Irish hare is listed by conservationists as vulnerable to extinction. Like the curlew, the hare is a precious and evocative part of our wildlife heritage. It is a living link to the Ice Age of 10,000 years ago, one of nature’s great survivors.
Unfortunately, increasing urbanisation and the effects of modern agriculture, especially the vast monocultural grass and cereal tracts in the countryside and the mass cutting of hedges, have eroded its habitat, leading to what to the hare might as well be a desert. Compounding this is the grotesque practice of hare coursing.
Contrived chasing and disturbance of hares induces a form of stress that can kill them. Dr Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, has stated: “When a mammal like a hare is chased by a predator like a dog it will show physiological changes associated with extreme fear.”
Such extreme responses, he adds, can result in reduced life expectancy and risk of cardiovascular breakdown. The number of hares killed outright or injured in coursing annually is only a tiny part of the horror story.
It is the long-term impact on the animals captured and subjected to this traumatic and unnatural ordeal that represents the greater coursing-related threat to the hare.
This unique mammal, which under legislation may be netted and used as bait by coursing clubs, should be designated a completely protected species.
The hare belongs to all of us. It is not the preserve of a heartless minority that sees it as a mere plaything for their “sport”.

So Russia has moved troops into Crimea. Eamon Gilmore has bemoaned the fact that international law is being broken. A few salient facts may be in order for Mr Gilmore at this juncture.
Firstly, during their Ard Fheis at the weekend his partners in government decided, despite what it says in the Constitution, to discuss the illegal notion of joining Nato.
Secondly, Russia has stated that it is protecting Russians in Crimea. How is Mr Putin any different to George Bush ploughing into Iraq, where the number of American citizens was far below 60pc.
We know that America has been working behind the scenes to instal a pro-American government during the Kiev protests.
I could go on about how America has been the most aggressive military force since World War II but instead I will ask – if the peacemakers are blessed, then what are warmongers?

Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald is to be applauded for his efforts in instilling the Clare panel with self-confidence and self-esteem (Irish Independent, March 5). Toastmasters International runs a very successful youth leadership programme in secondary schools throughout Ireland. The ability to believe in and assert themselves is the greatest gift we can give the next generation.

Many GPs are unhappy with reporting on fees payable to their practices under the medical card scheme. In particular, we find simple statements, frequently initiated by the HSE spin doctors and uncritically repeated by journalists, are unhelpful.
Recently, it was reported that “top-earning GPs gross over €300,000 annually”. Balanced reportage would include that most GPs are not “top earning” and that capitation fees are properly subjected to income tax.
The rough rule of thumb is one-third for Revenue, one-third for expenses, one third for the GP. Further, while James Reilly is quoted as saying that “research reveals that 1,000 medical card patients are worth €250,000 to a GP”, he is more aware than most that the average list size is rather less than this, and there are few of us now who feel capable of safely caring for a medical card list of anywhere near 1,000 patients.
For your paper and the minister to imply the average GP pockets anything like €300,000 really is foolish. By all means consider spin doctors, but don’t ignore the experience of real doctors.

Life is a mystery. The paramount question is – why? Why is there not nothing? Human beings cannot help trying to find the answer to this great enigma of existence. The fact that there is something demands a cause; that is the way the human mind works. We do not know the answer, but we keep on trying; the best I can manage is to call the cause ‘God’.
Whether you accept or reject this reasoning is entirely up to you. The Christian position is, God exists, and He is Love, who offers all humans love, to enable us to love Him, and oneself and one another. Each person is free to accept or reject God’s offer. That is the best we can manage, to make sense of the great mystery.
Some atheists say they just do not have faith. None of us have faith to start with, as something innate to us. But we all have a conscience and a choice. Faith is a free gift, to be accepted or rejected by free will.

Calls home to mammy are a part of ex-pat DNA; the news in full. “Ack that Brian and Amy would sicken your…” was my last update. Millions across waters will watch at all hours to see himself playing at home for the last time. I wonder if shouts of Cu Chulainn around the Aviva and broadcast across the globe would give us all the opportunity to say slan go foill Cu Chulainn. The calls home flying in. “Could you hear them there in Auckland/Chicago/NY/Sydney/etc? Wasn’t it only magic”.

In a recent government survey it has been established that the Live Register has fallen by 60,000. What they fail to tell us is that 60,000 of our young people have emigrated during that period. I would say that the net gain is zero.

Crediting Philip O’Neill’s mother with compassion (Letters, March 4), wouldn’t her “Mhuise, what harm are they doing?” be applied equally to three people, of whatever gender (or, indeed mixture thereof), who “experience sincere love for one another”? Surely there is “no good reason for denying them the right to the public ritual expression of that love”? In short, would it not be the “gratuitous assertion” of “a flimsy moral edifice” to deny them marriage equality on no other basis than that there were more than two of them?


March 5, 2014

5 March 2014 Caroline

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.Pertwee buys a flee at auction, by accident Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary for treatment me to see Caroline, powee cut

Scrabbletoday Maryswins but get under400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Bernard Perlin, who has died aged 95, was an American artist whose wartime work morphed from propaganda to reportage as he confronted the stark realities of the conflicts in Europe and the Pacific. After the war he snubbed the rise of Abstract Expressionism in favour of the good life in Italy and New England.

As America entered the war Perlin joined the United States Office of War Information. Placed in the Graphics Division, he produced bold, block-coloured posters and lithographs to rally the nation’s morale. His Let ‘Em Have It sheets – in which a GI hurls a grenade while the public are called on to buy more war bonds – were to become ubiquitous across the stores and stations of the American home front. Another, from 1943, declared that “Americans Will Always Fight for Liberty” and pictured contemporary American soldiers set against a backdrop of Benjamin Franklin’s Independence troops.

This patriotic delivery was to be diffused by his experiences embedded in an American commando unit in the Mediterranean. Here he drew and painted works for Time and Fortune magazines.

His gouaches captured the struggle of Greek civilians – often Resistance fighters – caught behind German lines; blood-soaked operating theatres; and soldiers preparing for action picked out in the inky blue of moonlight. He explained that he would often relive a battle in his mind before committing paint to canvas. He also sketched out caricatures and portraits, including a deep-lined profile of General Douglas MacArthur. He later covered the war in the South Pacific and Asia, where he was on board the “Mighty Mo” (USS Missouri) for the formal Japanese surrender, and remained in the region to record the war’s aftermath.

His gouaches captured the struggle of Greek civilians – often Resistance fighters – caught behind German lines; blood-soaked operating theatres; and soldiers preparing for action picked out in the inky blue of moonlight. He explained that he would often relive a battle in his mind before committing paint to canvas. He also sketched out caricatures and portraits, including a deep-lined profile of General Douglas MacArthur. He later covered the war in the South Pacific and Asia, where he was on board the “Mighty Mo” (USS Missouri) for the formal Japanese surrender, and remained in the region to record the war’s aftermath.


Bernard Perlin was born in Richmond, Virginia, on November 21 1918 into a family of Jewish Russian-émigré tailors. In 1934, after his artistic promise had been spotted at high school, he enrolled at the New York School of Design. He then studied at the National Academy of Design Art School and the Art Students League before receiving a scholarship to develop his work in Poland.

On his return, Perlin was commissioned by the US Treasury to paint a vivid mural – depicting a late-1930s country scene – on a Post Office wall in the New Jersey village of South Orange (for which he was paid $2,000). It was a community project that would be a precursor to his Social Realist work during, and in the wake of, the war.

After his wartime experiences Perlin’s delivery turned towards Magical Realism, an informal school with an artistic lineage that can be traced from Frida Kahlo to Edward Hopper. His aim was to capture an “everyday magic” powered by both realism and surrealism.


Perhaps his most famous painting was executed in this period. Orthodox Boys (1948) pictured two boys in their skull caps pondering a Hebrew text on a platform at Manhattan’s Canal Street subway. Behind them a wall displays a thousand doodles – from lovers’ declarations to notes by Nazi sympathisers. It is a snapshot of a specific time and culture given an almost sinister air.

The painting, now in the Tate’s collection, was to inform the development of the young British Pop artist, Peter Blake. “It was one of the first Magic Realist pictures I saw,” Blake said in 2001. “The whole school of Magic Realism was a great influence on my painting.”

Perlin’s post-war career would be guided by an ever-shifting focus – both in terms of style and subject. In 1948, shortly after painting Orthodox Boys, he relocated to Italy, staying for six years, painting what he termed simply “beautiful pictures”. Social realism gave way to dreamlike images of Capri’s cliffs and the Spanish Steps in Rome and took on a new palette of deep reds and shocking greens.

Returning to New York, he was confronted by a transformed art scene. Punchy, beer-fuelled Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, lorded over the network of galleries and seduced – in all senses of the word – patrons such as Peggy Guggenheim. Perlin was repelled by this resolutely anti-figurative and incestuous hothouse environment. He moved to the haven of Ridgefield, Connecticut, “to escape the artificial, ego-pressured world of artists in New York, competing with each other to make the most money”. The leafy confines of New England forged an increasingly Impressionistic and contemplative approach – a 1968 portrait of Truman Capote depicts the author almost dissolving into the white sun-bleached haze of a drawing room.

In the 1970s Perlin stopped painting and, with his partner, later husband, Edward Newell, lived quietly, growing flowers in his small conservatory. It was a respite that would last for many years – he only returned to the easel late in life. “Every painting is like a book,” stated Perlin last year. “Every book is about something different, and has something different to say. That’s what painting is like. People always ask me why my paintings are so different they might have been done by several artists. Well, I’ve gone through many different phases of life — it’s been full of changes, so why would I stick to one technique?”

Perlin held teaching posts at the Brooklyn Museum Art School (1946-48) and Wooster School, Danbury, Connecticut (1967-69). His works are held in many of the world’s leading collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Edward Newell survives him.

Bernard Perlin, born November 21 1918, died January 14 2014






Now that most of the western press has finally dropped the use of the article when referring to Ukraine, I wonder how many revolutions the Ukrainians will need to have for the Guardian to drop the Russian spelling for Kiev (Letters, 25 February). Granted, there is a fast-moving situation on the ground, but the capital of Ukraine has been Kyiv since Ukrainians (east and west) united in a historic vote (possibly the freest and fairest in their history) to secede from the Soviet Union in 1991, causing its collapse. Keep up.
Susan Bailey
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire

•  The British government would appear to have been taken by surprise by the events in Ukraine. Was GCHQ too busy looking at sexually explicit webcam images to monitor the activity of the Russians (Revealed: GCHQ intercepted webcam images from millions of Yahoo users, 28 February)?
Tony Mason

• Your summary of new flag options (Which new UK flag did you choose?, G2, 3 March) omitted one salient point in favour of the first choice, which has a black background: that the Cornish flag of St Piran is a white cross on a black background. Cornwall would then receive the recognition it deserves as a separate entity within the UK.
Roger Brake
Little Trevellion, Cornwall

• When I was a child we went to the loo to do Big Things. Could the Tories ever do that (Letters, 4 February)?
Marjory Lewis
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• If Ishak Ayiris (New Etonian, 1 March) sees “Labour and the Conservatives as two cheeks of the same backside”, where does he see the Lib Dems?
Roger Evans

• First day of spring (Letters, 1 March), and not a single sighting of a hot water bottle in my bed all winter. Has global warming finally reached South Yorkshire?
David Whitehead

• Frogspawn in my garden pond. Game ova.
James Hornsby


Following his resignation as chief executive of the RSPCA through ill health (Report, 25 February), I pay respect to Gavin Grant and I wish the RSPCA success in meeting its challenges. In a relentlessly driven commercial arena, one can feel for the leader of an organisation committed by its constitutional objectives to animal welfare in all forms. Buffeting of the Grant-led RSPCA has been unsparing and frequently contradictory: for having or spending too much money, or too little; for vigorously pursuing prosecution of those violating animals, or for soft-pedalling the issue; for over-asserting animal rights, or for neglecting them.

Too often indeed those traducing the society during Grant’s tenure pursue interests inimical to animal welfare, informed by the commercial imperative alone. In 2013 I was commissioned by Gavin Grant’s RSPCA to chair what became the McNair inquiry and report into Freedom Food, the leading animal welfare assurance scheme. This followed criticisms I had made of the scheme. I was permitted to act wholly independently of the RSPCA, to build my panel as I wished (former Defra secretary Caroline Spelman and veterinary academic Professor David Main) and to take evidence and deploy our findings. The report and its recommendations are no devotional exercise yet have been endorsed unanimously by the governance of the RSPCA.

The RSPCA has a long and distinguished record in alleviating wanton animal suffering. While continuing its work for domestic pets and wildlife, in an age of industrial and sometimes brutal factory farming, and where austerity has depleted regulatory disciplines, the RSPCA must also exert its influence for the wellbeing of those 95% of the nation’s animals in food production. Flaws acknowledged, the RSPCA deserves our support in setting its hand to issues which research shows will affect our own health and that of our planet increasingly over time. As a start it should implement the McNair recommendations without delay. And it should not be chastened by assaults from those far outside the tent of animal welfare.
Duncan McNair
Chairman, McNair inquiry and report



Shirley Williams raises a critical point about the importance of access for humanitarian organisations working inside Syria (Letters, 3 March). In spite of the huge challenge we face working in a war zone, the World Food Programme successfully delivered food assistance to 3.7 million people inside Syria last month. We would like to reach many more. WFP has just completed the last of 24 humanitarian airlifts from Erbil in Iraq to Qamishli in north-eastern Syria, where we are providing assistance to 60,000 people living in one of these areas that are hard to reach by road. But airlifts are costly and no substitute for regular access by truck convoys.

Baroness Williams raises the possibility of “food drops” as a last-ditch measure to reach those in besieged areas. While it would be rash to rule anything out, air drops are probably impractical. They require a team on the ground to secure a drop zone and people in place to collect and distribute the aid when it falls and ensure it gets to the weak and the vulnerable. Insecurity means that it is almost impossible for this kind of deployment under current circumstances.

WFP is grateful to donors who have already provided funds in 2014. However, at present, our operations in Syria are only 5% funded, and support to refugees in neighbouring countries stands at 7% of what is required for the year. $200m is urgently needed for WFP to continue its assistance until the end of April. We would like to scale up assistance further. Airlifts are an expensive option; sporadic and one-off convoys into besieged areas can provide temporary humanitarian relief. But WFP needs continuous and sustained access to provide life-saving food assistance.
Greg Barrow
Director, World Food Programme London Office



You invite readers (Editorial, 28 February) to compare Tory statements in 2006 and the article you published by Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne. The same exercise could be applied to the Guardian and its response to how best to combat poverty. You now write that money by itself is not enough, important as it is. It can put food on the table and lessen stress. But by itself it does not have life-changing qualities. I tried in 2010 in the Foundation Years report I compiled for the prime minister to answer what this other strategy had to be if we are, in the reports’ subtitle, to prevent poor children from becoming poor adults. Life chances of most children are determined early. Gaps in achievement and outcomes are already stark by age three and poorer children arrive at school already far behind their richer peers, less well prepared and less ready for education. These gaps remain, and indeed widen, during the school years. Schools improve the abilities of all children, while failing to reduce class differences. Any anti-poverty strategy worth its name must centre on radically changing life chances before children come into school. Otherwise you will be writing leaders on this very issue to the last day of recorded time.
Frank Field MP
Labour, Birkenhead


The coalition recently lost a battle to close the thriving and solvent Lewisham hospital when an adjacent hospital was suffering financial problems due to government cuts and disastrous PFI debts. The coalition subsequently rushed through an amendment to the care bill (clause 119) which gives sweeping powers allowing Whitehall bureaucrats to close any English hospitals without full and proper local consultation (Report, 27 February). With this “hospital closure clause” in place, no English hospital will be safe from financially driven closures. Local patients, clinicians and commissioners will have little meaningful say in the closure process. Whatever happened to the mantra used by the coalition to sell the recent NHS reconfiguration to us all – “no decision about me without me”. In effect clause 119 brings about a fast-track hospital closure process. Clause 119 is pernicious and hugely damaging to the future of healthcare in England and we implore politicians to withdraw clause 119 or vote against it as it moves through parliament.
Dr David Wrigley GP, Carnforth, Lancashire
Dave Prentis General secretary, Unison
Paul Kenny General secretay, GMB
Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite
Professor Cathy Warwick Chief executive, RCM
Phil Gray Chief executive, CSP
Dr Kailash Chand Deputy chair, BMA
Dr Clive Peedell Leader, National Health Action Party
Dr Jacky Davis Co-chair, NHS Consultants Association
Christina McAnea Head of health, Unison
Dr Ron Singer President, MPU
Profesor Ray Tallis
Professor Allyson Pollock
Clive Stafford-Smith
Dr Louise Irvine
Rachael Maskell Head of health, Unite
Dr Iona Heath
Dr David Nicholl
Prof Sue Richards Co-chair, Keep Our NHS Public
John Lipetz Co-chair, Keep Our NHS Public

• Notwithstanding the Home Office’s duty to manage Britain’s borders, everyone living here should have access to essential healthcare. This is critical for the sick, to help contain disease and, in the long run, for our economy. The immigration bill being scrutinised in the Lords proposes to substantially extend charging for NHS services, including to pregnant women, children, and trafficked people. Around 90% of pregnant women seen at Doctors of the World’s clinic for excluded migrants in east London have received no antenatal care, despite most having lived here for three years before seeking medical help. Home Office access to patients’ data will further exacerbate the problem, as more sick people will be too afraid to access care for fear their details will go to the UK Border Agency. The NHS constitution is clear that healthcare should be available to all regardless of status or ability to pay. Our health service should not be used as a tool of exclusion or immigration control.
Lord Richard Rogers
Trustee, Doctors of the World UK, part of the Médecins du Monde network

• If as Jackie Ashley (Comment, 27 February) indicates, NHS Change Day has empowered staff to speak out, then it will be a positive force in addressing the business management hegemony, introduced in the 1980s. However, it may just reinforce a sort of “Boxer syndrome” (Animal Farm), where staff believe that problems are their fault and they must work harder. The result will not be a better service in the long term, but one where staff, in identifying areas of change, create a rod for management to beat them with. In working better or harder, staff will find that this often results in staff cuts, time and motion studies, and an increase in staff dissatisfaction.

Many of those in senior positions act as administrators and not, as the service desperately needs, leaders. Change is often viewed negatively, or merely cost-related, and as attacks on the status quo. So to suggest that the clinicians at the sharp end of the NHS can create lasting change in a system that doesn’t normally value their views seems to me highly unlikely.
Dr Peter Wimpenny
Gairloch, Highlands



The proposal to link hospital and general practice records through the intended system has generated intense discussion ( is in chaos, 1 March). This has so far been confined to concerns over inappropriate commercial exploitation of the data and leakage of confidential information.

While these are important aspects, we also have concerns relating to what happens when data are not linked accurately. There is increasing international evidence that the inevitable errors occurring during data linkage can distort types of analyses that aims to support. Data such as NHS number and date of birth, which are used to link records, are never perfect and often it is particular kinds of people, for example ethnic minorities, who fail to get linked and thus fall outside the system. Failing to link records for the same person or wrongly linking different people can produce seriously misleading results, even when only a small minority are wrongly linked. More transparency about the nature and extent of linkage processes and linkage error would help medical researchers assess potential distortions and help service providers to improve data quality.

As for confidentiality, this is best preserved by proper monitoring of patient records, with strict security controls on access. Proposals to “scramble” patient identifiers before data leave the GP record systems are not the solution, and would actually make matters worse by increasing the numbers of wrongly matched records. In our view, the current debate needs to include a full discussion of all these linkage quality problems.
Professor Harvey Goldstein University College London & University of Bristol, Professor Ruth Gilbert University College London, Dr Katie Harron University College London, Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson University College London, Dr Mario Cortina University College London , Dr Nirupa Dattani City University

• There is a simple step which can be taken to address the controversy. The Health and Social Care Information Centre should give a public undertaking that it will provide only analysis of GP patient data to outside bodies. Patient data would never be disclosed to outside bodies. Ideally this should be formalised by statute and applied to all patient data gathered by NHS services. Any analysis requested could be subject to ethics committee review and, when complete, identified on the HSCIC website. These steps, quickly taken and appropriately publicised, might support public acceptance of the creation of a highly valuable national healthcare asset.
Malcolm Rogan
Nomansland, Wiltshire

• Your piece on use of patient record data (MPs’ anger at missing data on who has seen patient records, 26 February) quotes Dr Stephanie Bown as saying that GPs “worry that patients’ concerns about could prevent them from speaking openly to their doctor”. Such concerns already do so, whenever an individual is seeking life insurance. The insistence of the insurance industry on an applicant’s agreeing to their GP’s report often leads to reluctance on the part of patients to share symptoms they think might affect their premiums. Similar damaging reluctance to engage in healthcare may precede holidays when travel insurance cover depends on absence of pending hospital appointments.

The public benefit that will follow successful implementation of the care records system is likely to be enormous and the challenge to confidentiality nugatory. By contrast, there is no identifiable general public benefit in the long-established collusion between the insurance industry and the NHS. It should be banned.
Professor Robert Boyd
Adlington, Cheshire

• Improving health services, as far as the government is concerned, will also mean cutting costs by delaying treatment, reducing eligibility for expensive drugs or operations, increasing charges, and furthering privatisation. The computer system would enable it to monitor whether doctors and nurses carry out central instructions. Whether it would really be much use for evaluating treatment – given that so many factors influence outcomes, such as lifestyle and whether patients actually take all the drugs they are prescribed – is another question when it comes to justifying the cost of yet another huge computer system. The Office for National Statistics is trusted and has great experience in analysing the census and other large data sets. It would be much preferred to any private firm. Otherwise the money might be better spent by the Medical Research Council.
Dr Richard Turner






Steve Richards states (4 March), almost in passing, the fundamental truth of the situation in Ukraine, namely that an elected president has been deposed by a diverse (read “motley”) band. Why is the British Foreign Secretary posing, quite literally, with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the apparent supporter of the mob rule which has taken hold of western Ukraine and which has provoked this crisis?

Of course the Russians, both in the Crimea and more widely, feel that their vital interests are under threat and have acted to safeguard them. It is to be hoped that they will continue to act with restraint in a highly inflammable and  dangerous situation, not  of their making.

Roger Blassberg, St Albans, Hertfordshire

That the West lacks the military resources or the will to launch an offensive against Russia’s invasion of Crimea is beyond doubt. It is also doubtful that Putin has much appetite for a full-blown occupation of Ukraine, on three major counts.

First, if he gets Ukraine, he gets back the notorious Chernobyl site whose far-reaching deadly effects are still with us nearly 30 years on. Lurking not far from Kiev, like a sleeping monster, Chernobyl is still there, entombed in concrete, surrounded by miles of radioactive countryside.

Russia would also be lumbered with what little remains of its once mighty Ukrainian-based Soviet military-industrial complex, which dates back to the days of the Tsars. Beyond producing wheat and exporting dodgy ex-Soviet cameras, Ukraine’s economy is less bread-basket than a basket case, hardly a glittering prize  for Moscow.

Third, post-Sochi, an impoverished Russia has Gazprom and Europe  needs Gazprom.

That is why, beyond an ego-trip and some post-Soviet posturing, Moscow will say “nyet” to a full re-appropriation of Ukraine and the West will say “no” to a fight for Crimea.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

William Hague is a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel and as such he is not an anti-Semite; obvious enough, but then why is he backing the Svoboda Party, which has illegally taken power in Ukraine? A brief look at Svoboda’s political make up will make every Jewish person shudder, with their pro-Nazi views and anti-Semitism, but Mr Hague sees no problem.

Anti-Semitism is not something to condemn and then ignore when it is politically suitable to do so. It should always be condemned and Mr Hague’s membership of Conservative Friends of Israel needs revoking.

Dr Kevin Cordes, Derby

Suddenly British politicians have discovered some compassion for east Europeans.

Until Mr Putin’s intervention in Crimea, Ukrainians, like their neighbours in Romania and Bulgaria, would have been seen as a potential immigration threat by at the very least the Faragist wing of the Tory party.

Tsar Vlad the Great offers to take this problem off their hands – and they are all up in arms.

Keith B Watts, Wolverhampton


Dispute over the remains of Richard III

News that scientists at the University of Leicester are subjecting the mortal remains of Richard III to further destructive tests in order to sequence the king’s genome raises serious questions of propriety and ethics.

The university’s custodianship of the remains is currently subject to a legal challenge and therefore sub judice. Renewed testing amounts to what can only be described as a cavalier disregard of the legal process.

Moreover, there has been no independent verification that these tests are either ethical or necessary. Indeed, the university has, in effect, authorised itself to conduct tests that are far from essential and will add very little to our useful knowledge of England’s last Plantagenet king.

Essential initial testing to confirm the king’s identity was sanctioned by Philippa Langley of the Looking For Richard Project (who instigated and raised the funding for the archaeological search), in her contract with University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS).

However, this came with a proviso: Philippa Langley’s contract with ULAS stated that any remains positively identified as Richard III would be transferred to her as custodian to be placed in a prayerful environment to await reburial.

We feel that the university has exhibited contempt for the judicial review process. We also feel that it has refused to honour a contract with Philippa Langley, freely entered into before the archaeological search began.

These are not appropriate actions for an academic institution. They raise legitimate concerns as to what future actions the university may take without suitable authorisation.

Dr John Ashdown-Hill, Annette Carson, Dr David and Wendy Johnson, Philippa Langley, Looking For Richard Project, Lawford, Essex

It’s the future that matters in Ulster

Claire Dwyer Hogg (3 March) refers to the “on the run” letters given to Irish republicans, and the police investigations into Bloody Sunday, and asks: “How can justice be served if a terrorist and an employee of the state are given an equal level of accountability?”

But it is precisely this equality that was claimed by those employing the Armalite and the bomb in their cause of a united Ireland. They claimed, and continue to claim, that they acted as the agents of a future state, their actions sanctioned by a historical imperative that placed them on an equal footing with their British oppressors.

Like so many groups that resort to violence as a means of achieving their ends, they got their feet under the table when it was time to pull the crackers and put on the paper hats. The rest of us just have to live with it, and no amount of commissions or apologies, convictions or “on the run” letters will change what actually happened.

Whether or not any paratrooper is prosecuted over Bloody Sunday, Peter Hain is right to think that the future of us all matters a lot more than any one particular past.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

Reduce the demand for prostitution

I’m delighted that the UK Parliament’s all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade is looking at solutions to prostitution which reduce demand (“Target punters, not prostitutes, say MPs”, 3 March). It’s high time Britain addressed the inequality that takes place when men buy women’s bodies for sex.

The notion that prostitution is the “oldest profession” leads some to believe we can do little more than regulate it better – that we should follow the example of Holland and decriminalise. But this leads to increased prostitution levels, normalising the inequalities which sustain the sex industry.

Rather than blanket legalisation we need the more nuanced approach already practised in Sweden. Recent changes in France and Ireland, as well as my report on the subject, which was accepted by the European Parliament last week, suggest the wind is blowing in this direction. Britain must be ambitious enough to follow suit.

Mary Honeyball, MEP, (Lab, London), London W9

Give us more light in spring

If the Coalition is serious about green issues it can make an immediate saving of UK energy consumption by bringing forward the move to British Summer Time (BST) by four weeks.

The annual move to GMT in late October is approximately five weeks after the autumn equinox, while the reversion to BST is more than a week after the spring equinox. Even if successive governments have resisted shifting to Central European Time because of concerns about Scottish crofters, they have the opportunity to demonstrate their green credentials by changing the clocks in late February to provide an extra hour of daylight for an additional month in spring.

David Bracey, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Spokesperson won’t speak

A GCHQ spokeswoman responded to the latest creepy revelation about their work, that they hoovered up webcam images of millions of people: “We’re not commenting on anything.”

Given that the public debt is now over £1.2trn, would it be unreasonable to suggest that sacking such a spokesperson and saving whatever we pay her might provide modest fiscal relief?

Stuart Bonar, Plymouth

Selling off London

For decades villages have been devastated as wealthy people have purchased holiday homes, pricing locals out of the market and destroying the community spirit, culture and language (especially in Wales). It is ironic that the same is now happening in “lights out London” (report, 3 March) as mega-rich foreigners buy up property not as dwellings but for investment.

Mike Stroud, Swansea





Sir, Sir Christopher Meyer urges us (Mar 3) to see the Ukrainian crisis through Moscow’s prism and says we should not make a drama out of “Crimea’s crisis”. Unfortunately, thanks to most of the UK media, we have had little chance to do anything else for the past month. This is not Crimea’s crisis, it is Ukraine’s crisis, but unrelentingly we hear interviews with so-called representatives of the Russian minority in Ukraine, who talk of the threat from “fascists”, as supporters of the Ukrainian revolution are termed, and argue that Yanukovych was a legally elected president. The BBC makes little effort to challenge such views.

The core of the Ukrainian revolution is formed by ordinary citizens. Most are left wing or moderate, not right wing; many are Russian-speakers or ethnic Russians, tired of the authoritarian kleptocracy run by Yanukovych. Many Russian-speaking Ukrainians are just as outraged by such excesses as Ukrainians, yet one would not know from the British media that there were Russian-speakers and ethnic Russians among those shot on the Maidan. We should not simply accept, as Sir Christopher appears to accept, Russia’s view of its history. Ukrainians are Ukrainians because they have resisted for centuries the idea that they form “part of the Russian nation”. Their voice should be heard.

Professor Robert Frost


Sir, Christopher Meyer is right that we don’t have a dog in the Ukraine fight. Our government should cease its posturing about the gravest crisis of the century and talk of costs to Russia.

The US’s reaction would have been identical to Russia’s had the slightest threat arisen in an area where one of its fleets was based. After all, the US has been doing something not dissimilar in South America for decades.

George Healy

London N16

Sir, Ukraine’s agony highlights the incompetence of EU “diplomacy” and the way that the premature entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU raised unwise expectations.

Ignoring the corrupt failures of Ukraine’s leaders since the Orange Revolution, the special status of Crimea, the lessons of history and ethnicity, and the mind-sets of the ex-KGB rulers of Russia, not to mention the realpolitik of their holding all the geographic, economic, financial, military and energy supply cards, and to expect Ukraine to move near-seamlessly out of Russian influence and towards “Europe” overnight, displayed a worrying level of ignorance and naivety.

Sensible negotiations for gradually increasing ties with the EU should have kept Russian interests in the loop, including obvious points like a renewed pledge that Ukraine would not join Nato, as we promised Gorbachev. But the West’s strident rhetoric seems bent on exceeding even our Syrian own-goals; as long as we all depend on Russian oil and gas, Putin will reign supreme.

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife

Sir, Whatever is decided in the short term, the proper strategic response for the UK to Russia’s actions in Ukraine is to get fracking. A long-term and sustainable energy policy based on UK gas, nuclear and tidal power is long overdue.

Andrew Lodge




The UK must do its utmost to extirpate sexual violence against women and children as a weapon of war

Sir, In war zones sexual violence is as devastating as bullets and bombs. According to Unicef, those most at risk are women and their children, both girls and boys.

One of the starkest reminders is Syria, where an entire generation is at risk of being lost as a fourth year of conflict and unimaginable atrocities approaches.

Between February and May last year nearly three quarters of the Syrian refugees newly arrived in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq who spoke to child protection researchers said that sexual violence is on the rise inside their country.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, this coming Saturday, March 8, we stand together to call for change. In June the UK hosts a crucial global summit on sexual violence in conflict. International leaders must seize this opportunity to defend women and to commit to protect children in war zones from rape and sexual abuse.

UK ministers must do their utmost to ensure that the summit prioritises measures to help children to report sexual crimes and hold their abusers to account. The UK must also secure more funding for psychological and long-term support for child survivors.

Sexual violence in conflict is preventable, not inevitable. Together we can end this.

Jemima Khan; Baroness Lane Fox of Soho; J. K. Rowling; Victoria Beckham; Justine Roberts (Mumsnet); Amal Alamuddin (Barrister); Professor Geraldine Van Bueren; Baroness Stern; Megha Mittal; Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; Sophie Dahl; Lady Edwina Grosvenor; Kirsty Young; The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin; Claudia Schiffer; Cat Deeley; Anita Tiessen (Unicef UK); Sigrid Rausing; Keeley Hawes; Cathy Turner; Ilse Howling; Baroness Grey-Thompson; Denise Lewis; Heather Kerzner


There will be a psychedelic bonfire tonight if an ancient roll of wartime chaff can be found in the loft

Sir, I always called chaff (Mar 3) window because that’s what my old dad called it, and like many aircraft men he “acquired” a supply at demob.

We used to make chains with it for Christmas, my job being to separate the silver paper from its backing which I took outside and set alight. For one short moment the burning waste produced a deep purple magenta-edged flame. I remember it well.

I managed to rescue two big rolls of window from my father’s loft when he died. If I can find them in my loft, there will be a small, short fire behind my shed this evening

Alf Menzies

Southport, Merseyside


The UK must do its utmost to extirpate sexual violence against women and children as a weapon of war

Sir, In war zones sexual violence is as devastating as bullets and bombs. According to Unicef, those most at risk are women and their children, both girls and boys.

One of the starkest reminders is Syria, where an entire generation is at risk of being lost as a fourth year of conflict and unimaginable atrocities approaches.

Between February and May last year nearly three quarters of the Syrian refugees newly arrived in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq who spoke to child protection researchers said that sexual violence is on the rise inside their country.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, this coming Saturday, March 8, we stand together to call for change. In June the UK hosts a crucial global summit on sexual violence in conflict. International leaders must seize this opportunity to defend women and to commit to protect children in war zones from rape and sexual abuse.

UK ministers must do their utmost to ensure that the summit prioritises measures to help children to report sexual crimes and hold their abusers to account. The UK must also secure more funding for psychological and long-term support for child survivors.

Sexual violence in conflict is preventable, not inevitable. Together we can end this.

Jemima Khan; Baroness Lane Fox of Soho; J. K. Rowling; Victoria Beckham; Justine Roberts (Mumsnet); Amal Alamuddin (Barrister); Professor Geraldine Van Bueren; Baroness Stern; Megha Mittal; Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; Sophie Dahl; Lady Edwina Grosvenor; Kirsty Young; The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin; Claudia Schiffer; Cat Deeley; Anita Tiessen (Unicef UK); Sigrid Rausing; Keeley Hawes; Cathy Turner; Ilse Howling; Baroness Grey-Thompson; Denise Lewis; Heather Kerzner


The exclusion of Rangers and Celtic from the riches and glamour of the English premiership is discriminatory

Sir, In response to the challenge of Matthew Parris to generate a positive reason to vote No (Mar 1), I suggest that Mr Cameron studies the makeup of the 1,200,000 people of the West of Scotland, most of whom love football.

If his real argument is genuinely “better together” then he should offer these people something truly positive; the most effective way of doing so is to guarantee that Celtic and Rangers will play in the English Premiership. For far too long these giant clubs have been excluded from England and a share of the richesse because they are Scottish. No other businesses are treated in such a discriminatory way, and it irks many Scots. If Cameron was smart enough, he could ensure that these clubs have a future in the UK and in so doing would increase the justification of their supporters to vote for the union. He might even get a Scottish seat at the next general election for his efforts.

Professor Richard Goldberg



The government must understand that nowadays broadband really is just as vital as all the other utilities

Sir, It must be impressed upon the government that broadband really is now a “vital fourth utility” after gas water and electricity (“How a slow internet can shrink your house value”, Mar 3).

We in Easton, near Wells, have been without broadband connection or landline for over four months. You quoted the property expert Henry Pryor as saying that without broadband, “you’ll struggle with a whole heap of stuff”. He is right. We and eight other households have struggled. Mobile signal is erratic so matters are even worse. Only this morning we were assured by BT that we would be connected. The engineer from BT Openreach had other ideas. There seems to be no communication between one branch of BT and another. This has been the case since last October. Can the country really afford such a shambles?

Anne N. Barnsley-Roberts

Easton, Somerset



Cornwall may have its own word for tomorrow but it has to share some of its linguistic treasures with other regions

Sir, Fossick, cack and fizzogg are Cornish words (Mar 3)? All three were in common parlance in the 1950s and 1960s in Hartlepool, and at least two of them are still used in these parts. Fizzogg is surely an abbreviation of physiognomy, and that isn’t Cornish either.

Arthur Pickering


Sir, It is not just Cornwall that has a regionally specific word for mañana. Here in West Berkshire tradesmen make full use of “somewhen” meaning “yes, they will be coming, but in their own good time”.

David Shamash

South Fawley, W Berks



SIR – John Bingham was one of our most remarkable Second World War spies. The M15 documents that have just been released (“Spy who turned Hitler’s British supporters into unwitting double agents”, report, February 28) show the scale of his achievement in neutralising the espionage of British fascists, who were more widespread than is supposed.

This modest hero, who was also the 7th Baron Clanmorris – an Ulster title without property – was not treated as respectfully as he deserved by his protégé, John le Carré, who immortalised him as George Smiley. He was hurt by the portrayal of his secret world in the novels.

The author, Bingham once said, “was my friend, but I deplore and hate everything he has done and said against the intelligence services”. No one cared more about his country and its institutions than John Bingham, to whom we owe so much.

Lord Lexden
London SW1



SIR – For poor children, getting ahead in life comes less from “acting posh”, as your report put it, and more from being better educated.

But there is no doubt that those working-class pupils who do study in the independent sector, thanks to a scholarship or bursary, gain some of the social skills referred to by Peter Brant, the head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, as well as benefiting from a well-rounded education.

The Society of Heads’ Futures Group, which I chair, has been discussing strategies for widening access to our schools, though we are painfully aware that there are political mountains to climb in order to achieve this. Very few independent school heads would not do more for deserving children from working-class backgrounds given the opportunity, though this does not seem to have been high up on the Adonis-Gove agenda.

Roland Martin
Headmaster, Rendcomb College
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – We are a socially and culturally diverse nation. For Peter Brant to suggest that the working classes don’t know how to hold a knife and fork, and are therefore not likely to succeed in life, is insulting.

Emma Isworth
Elmfield, Kent

SIR – One way to ensure social mobility would be for the Government to bring back assisted places in private schools.

Kate Graeme-Cook
Tarrant Launceston, Dorset

Spring is sprung

SIR – Spring arrived at 7.50am on March 1, when I heard my first skylark of the year singing joyfully high in the sky.

Roger Boyce
Dornoch, Sutherland

SIR – Last week I heard the familiar rasping call of the Crested Mountfield and, later from an adjoining garden, the persistent hum of the Lesser Strimmer.

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – I know spring has arrived when I can see the star Arcturus, low in the east, for the first time each year.

If I want to feel as though spring has arrived a bit earlier, I simply look out for Arcturus a bit later in the evening.

Geoffrey White
Wellow, Somerset

Freemasons’ charity

SIR – I find the ruling that Freemasonry cannot be classed as a charitable institution to be puzzling.

Churches have charitable status and are classed as “exempt charities” in the Schedule 3 list of the Charities Act. This means that they do not have to register with the Charity Commission to enjoy all the tax benefits associated with this.

It is estimated that between 25 and 30 per cent of the United Grand Lodge of England’s charitable donations go to causes with no Masonic connections. Having been a churchwarden, I know that “wholly philanthropic” giving to outside causes by the Church of England falls far short of that practised by the Masons. So where is the even-handedness in the judge’s ruling?

Frazer Walker
Tern Hill, Shropshire

On-the-spot justice

SIR – When I was a police officer, some magistrates’ courts were connected by a tunnel to the police station. Any offender detained the afternoon or night before would be taken to court the following morning to be dealt with.

Very often, the magistrate would bind over an offender to ensure good behaviour. This was excellent because the offender knew he was being watched.

Magistrates were on call to turn out on Saturday and Sunday to deal with any arrests overnight. Now, because many police stations have been sold, justice has to be dispensed weeks afterwards, sometimes miles away.

Neville H Walker
Atherstone, Warwickshire

Honest taxes

SIR – Top of my list of renamed taxes would be VAT. Call it sales tax, as they do in America, and show it separately on every receipt, so that consumers know what they are actually paying for. I have just paid an outrageous sum to the Government for the privilege of moving house; maybe we could change stamp duty to “property purchase tax”.

Paula Bates
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Avoiding high parking costs at Wakehurst Place

SIR – Tony Saunders is mistaken in his belief that charging for car parking could backfire at Wakehurst Place in Sussex. At present, the National Trust pays little, if anything, towards the expense of maintaining the garden, so the absence of National Trust visitors would have very little effect.

However, with an annual pass, which costs little more than twice the entry fee, a car may be parked there every day for a year. Without the revenue from parking, the garden might have to close.

Bernard Breese
Lingfield, Surrey

SIR – My husband and I have been members of the National Trust for about 20 years. We were amazed to discover that from next month, Wakehurst Place is going to charge for car parking, making this a “no-go” day out for many people.

The extra parking charge, an unwelcome added expense for many families, ourselves included, will no doubt affect visitor numbers. People will race round so they only have to pay for one hour’s parking; this means they will not make use of the restaurant, a lucrative side to the business.

It will be a shame if visitors are not able to appreciate the wonderful array of flowers and plants that grow in profusion because of time constraints.

Gill Hill
East Grinstead, West Sussex

SIR – May I suggest that Mr Saunders changes his loyalty to Polesden Lacey in Surrey, where I am a volunteer steward. There is a large shop, a wonderful restaurant and gardens, as well as a beautiful house.

Christopher Bishop
Fetcham, Surrey


SIR – Perhaps we might be in a better position to defend independent Ukraine from a bellicose Russia if the Coalition had not sent several of our aircraft carriers, along with the Harrier jump jets, to the scrapyard. Ark Royal could now be en route to the Black Sea rather than meeting her end in a Turkish scrapyard and being turned into razor blades.

As it stands, thanks to the cuts, Britain barely has the resources to maintain her existing military commitments, let alone launch a new adventure.

Anthony Rodriguez
Staines-upon-Thames, Middlesex

SIR – David Cameron said: “There can be no excuse for outside military intervention in Ukraine – a point I made to President Putin when we spoke yesterday”.

This reminds me of Peter Sellers saying he was “totally against the Second World War and wrote a letter saying so”. Sadly for Mr Cameron, Britain’s global influence has been diluted by the emasculation of our Armed Forces, while our international political strength has been transferred enthusiastically to Brussels.

Peter Ferguson

SIR – Our pompous Foreign Secretary goes to Kiev as though he were Lord Palmerston. We should keep out of this and leave it to the Continentals, especially the Germans, to make fools of themselves by making threats with no means of backing them up.

The situation is analogous to Turkey’s invasion of Northern Cyprus, and a similar partition is the likely (and perhaps not unreasonable) solution.

Dr Peter Greenhalgh
Southfleet, Kent

SIR – Requiring the Ukrainian people to choose between the EU and Russia rather than link with both has been partly to blame for the current situation.

Russia sending in troops has now raised the adversarial stakes. In the days before the EU, various treaty-linked countries would be mobilising armies and digging trenches. The shortcomings of the EU are always justified on the basis of its preventing wars in Europe. Let’s see.

Godfrey Cromwell
Director, British East-West Centre
London SW1

SIR – Russia’s underlying worry is about Ukraine joining Nato. Russia does not want missiles placed in its backyard, any more than America desired this in Cuba in 1962.

Why not reassure Russia that Ukraine will not be admitted to Nato, but that she will be left to work out her own destiny, with both Russia and the West standing as guarantors of her neutrality?

Andrew Norman
Poole, Dorset

SIR – Recent developments in Ukraine and the effective Russian invasion of Crimea are a direct consequence of President Barack Obama’s failure to maintain peace through strength and his taking a feeble attitude towards international crises. Russia should not have been allowed even to consider invading a free sovereign state.

It is lucky that Mr Obama was not the president during the Cold War or we would all be either ruled by Moscow by now or obliterated by nuclear holocaust. Britain must prevent international disaster and lead from the front, forcing Nato to protect Ukraine and maintain peace.

Kieran Bailey

SIR – Is the President Putin now violating the borders of Ukraine the same one who wouldn’t allow aid into Syria because it might violate national boundaries?

Ann Salmon
Chiltington, West Sussex

SIR – Did John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, really just criticise Russia for “invading another country on a phony pretext”?

Bharat Jashanmal
Fairford, Gloucestershire



Irish Times:



Sir, – Notwithstanding the goodwill of pro-European enthusiasts (among whom I would number myself), the reality is that the eastward expansion of the EU is accompanied by the onward march of Nato. The US has signed treaties with Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic to install land-based SM-3 missiles as part of its European defence strategy. Is Vladimir Putin being entirely unreasonable to expect similar treaties could follow Ukraine’s move into the western sphere of influence?

When any gang of street protesters drive a legitimately elected government from office they necessarily teach their fellow citizens the lesson that authority comes, not from the democratic will of the people, but from force majeure .

The people of Ukraine now face the prospect of a civil war even more savage than that in Syria, and all those who urged them into this chaotic position must share in the responsibility for the countless deaths and outrages against the innocent to which it may well lead.

Instead of reaching for familiar bogeymen to beat, well-intentioned leaders and commentators should urge the maintenance of civilised norms, the immediate resumption of meaningful negotiations and a genuine rapprochement with the elected president and all those millions of now disenfranchised citizens who voted for him.

The current provisional government in Kiev has no legal authority and it should not be regarded as the sole voice that speaks for Ukraine. All voices should be heard.

When western commentators poke the bear, it is innocent civilians in eastern Europe who will feels the claws on their back.

There is never a bad time to argue for peace. – Yours, etc,


Rock Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – The big loser from the 1853-1856 Crimean War was uninvolved Austria.

Who will it be this time? – Yours, etc,




A chara, – Perhaps Dermot Mac Murchada was the inspiration for Viktor Yanukovych’s supposed invitation for a Russian invasion.

Stand by for an interesting 800 years. – Is mise,


Westcourt Heights,

Baile an Chollaigh,

Co Chorcaí.




A chara, – I believe the Coalition plan for universal health insurance (UHI) is a confidence trick. I feel that Irish people are slowly realising this too. The reality will be yet another bitter pill for hard-pressed Irish taxpayers.

The current cohort of privately insured individuals in Ireland has reduced in the last five years by about 40,000 per year to the current level of 44 per cent of the population.

This is purely because people can no longer afford to pay for their health insurance.

The other 56 per cent depends upon a dysfunctional and underfunded public system to supply the current “basket” of services.

The Government would have us believe that by donating €1,600 from our dwindling pay packets we will buy a fit for purpose, safe health system for all. This €1,600 will pay for access to a standard “basket “of services but if any extra services are needed then top-up payments to the basic charge will apply.

So, we will move from a two-tier system, where 44 per cent pay a large amount to circumvent the HSE-run public system, to a new two-tier system, where 44 per cent pay a similar amount to avail of what essentially is currently supplied by the HSE.

They will then have to pay even more to escape the inevitable chaos that will ensue.

Therefore with UHI (Irish -style) we will have the same two-tier system, except that the wallet of the tax-paying mortgage holder will be another €1,600 lighter. – Is mise,



National Association

of General Practitioners ,

Mayfield Family Practice,

Mayfield, Cork.



Sir, – The Government recently introduced the home renovation incentive (HRI) scheme with the twin aims of boosting the struggling construction sector and combating the black economy, by offering home owners a rebate on the VAT element of the costs of renovating. On both counts, this is a very positive proposal which will be welcomed by hard-pressed taxpayers.

However, the complicated implementation of the scheme may be its undoing.

In short, it works like this: I find a building contractor to carry out the works, and he provides me with various certificates to show that he is tax-compliant. When the job is complete and paid for, I provide him with my local property tax property ID. The contractor must go online and enter all the details of the job within 28 days of completion. However, I won’t get an immediate VAT refund, but I will receive an additional income tax credit over the following two years for the value of the VAT element of the costs.

Getting a detailed, written quote from a builder can be difficult, as can a final invoice or receipt, so I can see some problems persuading a contractor to go through this HRI process online. There is, of course, a far simpler way to save on VAT which has been with us for quite some time. Which one would you choose? – Yours, etc,



Ballinteer, Dublin 16.



Sir, – EF Fanning’s use of the Census 2011 language question (February 26th) illustrates a statistical anomaly with a self-selective question such as how often people speak Gaelic, which tends to favour romantic sentimentalism over scientific accuracy. It is highly likely that most of the 119,000 Polish speakers are actually fluent in that language. I sincerely doubt the same could be said of the 1.77 million people who claim to be able to speak Gaelic. But the 1.77 million includes schoolchildren.

In fact, only 77,185 people, or 1.7 per cent of the population, claimed to use Gaelic on a daily basis outside of school. It is probable that there are more daily users of Polish than Gaelic. Perhaps the question could be rephrased to ask if you are fluent in Gaelic, or maybe the question should be asked in Gaelic on the English form to see how many people are able to answer it.

Speaking of the English form, for Census 2011 people were offered the choice of the English or Gaelic form. A total of 1,654,447 English forms were collected, whereas only a measly 7,806 Gaelic forms were collected. Or, to put it another way, only 0.47 per cent of census forms were the Gaelic version!

Instead of lecturing English speakers, criticising Government for lack of services, or demanding more force-feeding, perhaps Gaelgoirí should start with themselves and actually use the Gaelic form for Census 2016. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – What a pleasure to read the inspiring letter by Diarmuid O’Flynn (February 28th) on the determined and dignified weekly protest by the people of Ballyhea. They continue to highlight how the Irish people were used to prop up an economic system which perpetuates inequality. We were sold a story that reforms would be implemented to mitigate future speculative financial-based bubbles. We were asked to accept that additional tax burdens could not be imposed on the rich as they needed the financial flexibility to invest and create jobs. Since 2008 there have been no reforms of note in the financial markets, inequality has increased, as revealed by the recent Oxfam report, and, as we have seen in the past week with the liquidation of IBRC, the needs of ordinary people are relegated as an inconvenience to expediency. How ironic then that this week the IMF issued a report stating that inequality was detrimental to growth and that wealth redistribution was economically more beneficial. The irony comes from the observation that the IMF was a key early facilitator of the global roll-out of Milton Friedman’s free market model, which has produced a system of repeated bubbles of increasing severity and resulted in massive inequity. The people of Ballyhea should stand proud each Sunday as they continue to remind us of the dysfunctional nature of this system and the impotence of our elected elite in confronting this reality. – Yours, etc,


Linden Avenue,

Blackrock, Cork.



A chara, – Some countries have wordless national anthems. Spain has La Marcha Real . I can think of one eminently suitable rousing air, which could serve as an anthem acceptable to both traditions on this island.

I refer to Marcaíocht na Bóinne , or to give it its English title, Boyne Water , an air beloved of Orange Order bands, as it originally commemorated the time “when King William came over the Boyne water, on July the first in Oldbridge town”, the self same air to which in 1745 Piaras Mac Gearailt wrote the ever popular Rosc Catha na Mumhan .

Not just rugby, but the whole country should adopt it, and have it replace the much less historical and, if I am allowed to say so, the much less traditional sounding Amhrán na bhFiann . – Is mise,


Gort Leitreach,


Co Liatroma.

Sir, – The Irish rugby team does not represent the “Republic of Ireland” only; it is an “all-island” entity, its membership drawn from two distinct (and mutually recognised, by the way) political jurisdictions. Logically, then, if anthems are to be played, both A Soldier’s Song and God Save the Queen should feature at Ireland matches.

This, of course, could give rise to problems from the flat-earthers who still await the “reintegration of the national territory”. The compromise (like all such, to no-one’s complete satisfaction) was the appalling ditty with which we are currently lumbered. But why do we need anthems at all? Playing for Ireland is now a professional activity, lucratively paid and every inch commercially sponsored.

The games are Roman entertainments, with fireworks, “celebrity” acts, and goodness knows what else. There is little dignity left. Do we actually want the concept and ownership of civic and national pride to be associated with such gladiatorial exhibition matches? – Yours, etc,


Rathasker Heights,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Amhrán na bhFiann has become the national anthem of Ireland? Was there another secret letter from Tony Blair? Surely not? – Yours, etc,


Avondale Road,




Sir, – Jonathan Hession (February 28th) writes, “So, Fáilte Ireland is planning to erect 4,000 road signs along our 2,500km western coastline, in an attempt to attract tourism”. I seem to recall another wing of the State removing one famous road sign in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, because it constituted a health and safety issue, despite having been photographed by visitors from all over the word and appearing in Fáilte Ireland tourism brochures. It’s a crazy little country we live in. – Yours, etc,



Co Cavan.

Sir, – The countryside and the urban environment are now cluttered with signs, bollards, galvanised poles and traffic lights. There seems to be no coordination between the councils and the National Roads Authority, and other agencies such as Fáilte Ireland.

It is not just rural councils that seem to have no sense of the landscape. Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has covered every square inch of pavement with poles and signs.

Saving our towns and villages from the galvanised pole needs urgent attention. As so much attention is now been given to our beaches and the blue flags, let’s also give the rural and urban landscapes the attention they deserve. – Yours, etc,


Rock Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – There must have been a pot of money for signage on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Letterkenny to Buncrana section is littered with Wild Atlantic Way signage, some within yards of each other and adding nothing to one’s navigation of the route. In the days of maps, we suffered from a shortage of signage, but certainly not now. – Yours, etc,


Tara Court,



Sir, – The possibility of further post office closures, with devastating effects on rural communities, is a complete indictment of the management of An Post.

An organisation whose personnel are welcomed at every door, which has a prominent retail presence in every town and village, and which controls a massive national distribution network, has almost unlimited commercial potential. However, it continues to depend upon dwindling mail, State contracts and substantial Government support for its teetering existence.

The workforce and infrastructure of An Post have the capacity to be self-sufficient.

That will only be achieved when An Post’s management realises that they should heed their own slogan and “do more”. Much, much more! – Yours, etc,


Temple Manor,


Co Kildare.


Sir, – Philip O’Reilly (March 1st) is quite wrong in stating that election posters serve no useful purpose. After each election I collect about 20 or so at random (including ties!) and they often come in handy. Indeed, when the recent hurricane blew in the glass in my living-room window, I was immediately able to make it weather-tight with a poster of a prominent TD. My neighbour’s comment on seeing it summed it rather neatly: “It’s the most useful thing the man has ever done.”

Perhaps election posters of sitting TDs should by law remain permanently on posts – just to remind people every day exactly who is responsible for the mess the country is in? – Yours, etc,



Ballineen, Co Cork.


Sir, – I have just finished reading Kathy Sheridan’s article for the fourth time (Weekend, March 1st). I find something new every time I read it. I am impressed and humbled by her stoic yet so honest report on her illness. It should be read by all.

I have never encountered an article which so honestly projected the horror and sheer tedium of this unfair and random illness. I love her work and long may she thrive to provide it. – Yours, etc,


Hawthorn Place,

Clybaun Road,




A chara, – In his letter of March 3rd, Brendan Butler must be unaware that the Archbishop of Tuam has circulated feedback received from his archdiocese to the recent church survey in the spring edition of New Dawn , the esteemed Tuam archdiocesan publication. Apologies are in order at least to Dr Neary (and perhaps to other diocesan pastors) in light of the remarks in Mr Butler’s letter indicating that “Archbishop Martin is the only bishop . . . to publish the results”. Let us acknowledge that the Catholic Church is also proactive outside the archdiocese of Dublin. – Is mise,




Dublin 5.



Sir, – The spelling of piranha is not pirana, as given in Monday’s Simplex crossword. – Yours, etc,


The Folly,




Irish Independent:

Published 05 March 2014 02:30 AM

* The situation in Ukraine and Crimea is now fraught with danger. If violent conflict occurs the people in both countries could once again suffer catastrophically, having suffered more than any other European country under both Stalin and Hitler.

Also in this section

We can’t deny anyone the right to express love

Get us deal, Enda – and you’ll get second term

Letters: Reality is in rag order

For most Ukrainians, Crimea is part of Ukraine, but historically Russia has a substantial claim to it, and the Tartar people have always had ambitions for independence, but their population was decimated by Stalin’s deportation of vast numbers to central Asia.

Russians now make up 58pc of Crimea, with 24pc Ukrainians and only 12pc Tartars. The Crimean peninsula is of vital strategic importance to Russia, due to its vital access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

It is likely that Russia could have lived with a pro-western government in Kiev developing closer economic ties with the West, but it was the spectre of Ukraine joining NATO thereby sealing off Russian strategic access to the south that was always going to be unacceptable.

A total of 23 EU member states are also full NATO members and the others are members of NATO’s so-called Partnership for Peace, so Russia views the EU as being synonymous with NATO. A peaceful solution to the East/West divide in Ukraine should have been to declare Ukraine a constitutionally neutral state, as Austria and Finland are.

This would have allowed for economic co-operation with both Russia and the EU without threatening Russian strategic interests. This opportunity has now been lost. Nothing was learnt from the Georgian/Russian war in 2008.

On April 1, 2008, President Bush said in Kiev that both Ukraine and Georgia should be allowed to join NATO despite objections from Russia. In August 2008, Russia annexed Abkhazia and South Ossetia, provinces of Georgia.

If the Russian de facto annexation of Crimea leads to violent conflict with Ukraine, Russia may also seek to annex a slice of eastern Ukraine from Kharkiv to the Crimea.

Eamon Gilmore described the situation as the most serious European crisis since the end of the Cold War. He is correct, but the EU has gone sleep-walking into it, and NATO indirectly provoked it.





* THE academics at UCC have decided, inexplicably, to bend the knee and touch the cap to Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, at a lavish ceremony to be held in Cork.

Mr Barroso, of course, represents our so-called partners in Europe who used the jackboot in 2010 to insist that our hapless politicians accept the private losses and debts of Irish and European banks to be foisted on innocent Irish taxpayers and that all bondholders be paid in full.

As a result of Mr Barroso’s policies, in collusion with our inept government, Irish citizens have suffered the effects of appalling austerity for the past five years which have decimated Irish society and will do so for generations to come.

As a graduate of UCC, I am disgusted by this meaningless public funded knees-up and extravaganza which again highlights the total disconnect between the insiders and the ordinary Irish citizen.





* RTE Sport is in danger of putting Irish racing on the back burner, and concentrating only on soccer and rugby.

For example, we had two recent winners, namely Eastern Ruler and Elleval, on Thursday last in two prestigious races. Neither victory was mentioned on ‘Six One News’.

I subsequently telephoned RTE and complained, and asked might they be mentioned in the Nine o’clock bulletin? I was told there was no sport on that particular programme.

However, to my immense surprise, as it turned out it had sporting highlights which once more featured soccer and rugby, and racing lost out.





* When something is working well the politicians want to destroy it – the post office; when something fails the politicians want to preserve it – the banks.





* I am in a loving same-sex relationship for more than seven years. As Catholics we would seek to uphold and respect the teachings of the church.

However, we are particularly annoyed by the outburst by all concerned regarding homophobia, given that it is ultimately us – a private couple – who will suffer from this negativity towards our relationship and potential for future state marriage. We pray that our fellow Catholics may continue to show the Lord’s love to one and all.





* This is National Tree Week and time to reflect on and do something about the status of Ireland’s trees.

Our forestry policy has been mainly focused on growing monoculture exotic conifers for cheap construction timber, chipboard and wood pulp for paper.

At one time, the country was covered by native oak and pine woodlands but today we have less than 12pc tree cover, of which less than 2pc consists of native species.

This is surely an opportune time to plant trees and – in the interests of biodiversity and to establish a valuable hardwood industry – we should plant a lot of native trees.





* I am one of those Irish people that Enda Kenny spoke of during his speech at the FG Ard Fheis. I have no party affiliation. I simply vote for whoever I think is best equipped to run my country fairly.

I am sure – as lots of people seem to state from experience – that Mr Kenny is a nice man who does his best, but really Enda . . . “People who play politics with serious issues should hold their head in shame”.

Enda said this and the auditorium erupted in agreement like a crowd of football fans celebrating a goal against their bitterest rivals. I take it that Enda assumes this remark and the expected response was not ‘playing politics’? The way to beat unfairness, Enda, is with playing fair, not slinging bigger lumps of muck.





* Last week, the day after Amnesty International released its report ‘Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank’, another Palestinian, Moataz Washaha (25), was killed by the Israeli army.

The damning report outlines the Israeli military’s “callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children”, during the last three years in the occupied West Bank and calls on the EU and the US to suspend arms and munitions transfers to Israel while it continues to act with impunity.

It is time the Government took a principled stand in heeding the call from Amnesty International, and called for Israel’s special trading relations with the EU to be suspended until such time as it upholds international law.



Irish Independent



Book group

March 4, 2014

4 March  2014 Bookgroup
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to dpick up the Admirals after an exercise. Priceless
Cold slightly better but muddle through Mary goes to her bookgroup.
No Scrabble today


Henry Rollin, who has died aged 102, was an enlightened psychiatrist and champion of Britain’s asylums, which he helped transform from custodial institutions to therapeutic hospitals; during the war he served in the RAF and was required to distinguish between airmen suffering from mental illness and those suspected of cowardice.
At Horton Hospital in Surrey, where he was deputy superintendent from 1948, Rollin set out new therapies for his patients to replace the enforced idleness prevalent in turn-of-the-century care. Wards were redesigned on an open plan and railings removed. Intensely fond of music and theatre himself, Rollin instituted dance classes, inviting musicians and actors from outside to participate. He set up the hospital’s first outpatient clinic, and organised an active schedule of trips and sporting events for those who would otherwise have been confined. Under his leadership, Horton became the leading hospital in the country for music therapy.
Rollin was also a staunch critic of “care in the community”, as set out by Enoch Powell in 1961, frequently pointing out that the community “did not care”. While the then health minister painted a vividly gloomy picture of the era’s mental institutions, understaffed and run according to outdated ideals, Rollin saw a system in need of improvement and expansion, not widespread closure; the alternative facilities struck him as largely unworkable. By the end of the 1960s many of the beds at Horton had been lost, and Rollin left the NHS for a consultant forensic psychiatrist position with the Home Office in 1976.
Not that Rollin regarded the prevailing wisdom of the psychiatric community and its institutions as unassailable. He felt deep regret over many procedures that were accepted practice during his years at Horton, such as the prefrontal leucotomy – the severing of connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain, which often caused a chronic lack of inhibition in patients. The first psychoactive drugs, such as chlorpromazine, had alarming side effects; and he regarded the emerging fashion for Freudian psychoanalysis with suspicion, identifying in some of its proponents a “religious reverence” at odds with his own highly theoretical and practical frame of mind.
Above all, however, he had no patience for the authorities who devoted scant attention and slender resources to the provision of mental health services, while attempts at reorganisation proved fraught. “Doctors and their patients, may I remind them, are not packets of soap-flakes that can be moved from one shelf to the next shelf or from one shop to the next shop with impunity,” he wrote, to the British Medical Journal . “Do I sound disenchanted, disillusioned, or even a trifle paranoid? I am. I bloody well am.”

Henry Rapoport Rollin was born in Glasgow on November 17 1911. His father, a cabinet-maker from Lithuania and trade union leader who spoke four languages, instilled in Henry a lifelong enthusiasm for books and reading. The boy spent his formative years in Leeds and, at the encouragement of his family, studied Medicine at Leeds University, qualifying for clinical work in 1935. It was not a happy experience, and things did not improve with his first position, as a house surgeon for Oldham Royal Infirmary . To escape he enlisted as a ship’s doctor, and in June 1938 sailed to Japan and back on board the MV Memnon.
Still lacking direction after his return, he applied to become an assistant medical officer to the LCC mental health service, where he discovered psychiatry. He wrote his MD thesis on Down’s syndrome, studied psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital and published his first paper in the Journal of Mental Science (precursor to the British Journal of Psychiatry) in 1941.
After acquiring his diploma in Psychological Medicine he joined the RAF as a squadron leader, later rising to wing commander. Before long he was recruited to the team headed by Air Commodore RD Gillespie, one of country’s most eminent neuropsychiatrists, and posted to a WAAF depot with the task of eliminating recruits likely to break down under the stress of training. Later he was transferred to RAF medical headquarters in London, where he had the “agonising” job of distinguishing between genuine mental illness and “lack of moral fibre” among the patients.

Upon his discharge from the RAF he was posted briefly to Cane Hill Hospital, Surrey, where he completed his MD, before taking up the deputy superintendent post at Horton. A 1953 Fulbright fellowship to study psychoanalysis in the United States provided him with invaluable insight into the patient-led model of care, but confirmed his scepticism of the psychoanalyst’s prominence in treatment at the time.
Following his retirement from the NHS, Rollin was swiftly approached by the Home Office to work as a consultant forensic psychiatrist, a position he held for the next 10 years. He also served on numerous mental health tribunals, becoming only the second member of the Parole Board to hold a psychiatric qualification after its establishment by Roy Jenkins under the 1967 Criminal Justice Act.
In the same period he was the sessional psychiatrist at Brixton prison, where he became an authority on mentally abnormal offenders, once fending off attack from a former boxing champion whom he had been trying to assess. Though a skilled boxer himself in his youth, Rollin was able to defuse the situation without recourse to violence. His interest in the field resulted in a Gwilym Gibbon research fellowship at Nuffield College, Oxford, with Professor Nigel Walker.
Rollin was elected a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1976 and a Fellow in 1983.
The author of three books and some 50 editorials in the British Medical Journal, he was also obituaries editor for the British Journal of Psychiatry until the year of his death. Throughout the 1970s he was a regular contributor to the now-defunct World Medicine, then one of the mostly widely read publications of its kind.
Rollin was a leading figure in the fundraising necessary to elevate the Royal Medico-Psychological Association to Royal College status and in the purchase of the college’s first home at 17 Belgrave Square. He built up the library there while serving on many committees and as Librarian for 10 years. Another of his roles was to lead study tours to Denmark, France, Italy and Mexico. A foundation Fellow, on his retirement he was elected to Honorary Fellowship, the College’s highest honour.
Shortly before his departure from the NHS, Rollin had, by his own account, “a late flowering” when he met Anna-Maria Tihanyi, a medical student who became a prominent consultant anaesthetist. They married in 1973 and had three children.
He continued to enjoy opera and theatre in London, followed by a salt beef sandwich, into his final year.
Henry Rollin, born November 17 1911, died February 6 2014


As the one responsible for the statistic that just 11 people have been killed by earthquakes in Britain, I should point out that it is not the case that these died “mainly from falling masonry” (Shelves shaken and cats stirred as south-west hit by earthquake, 21 February). Four did, including two doubtful cases. Two have been killed by falling rock in mines or quarries, two by falling down and three from heart failure. However, we have no figures for the numbers killed by medieval earthquakes, discounting some reports now known to be spurious. The most curious case is that of Mary Saunders, who was so depressed after the Colchester earthquake of 1884 that she drowned herself in the river Stour a few days later.
Roger Musson
•  Great to know that Catherine Samba-Panza, the new interim leader of crisis-ridden Central African Republic, wears red nail varnish (The woman with just one year to address the woes of a failed state, 3 March). What brand of cologne does Robert Mugabe wear?
Alexandra Cosgrave
• All is revealed (Eyewitness: Luzón, Spain, 3 March)! The Devil does not wear Prada – he wears trainers.
Tony O’Sullivan
• The first brimstone butterfly of the year (Letters, 28 February)? I just saw the first fire ant. The weather is obviously going to hell in a handcart…
Barry Ramshaw
•  I thought we might have exhausted the myriad unspeakable abuses of beetroot, but then your Cook section (1 March) not only offers me beetroot and blueberry pancakes but suggests I eat them for breakfast. As anyone from north of Newport Pagnell can tell you, beetroot belongs in vinegar, in a jar. All else is madness. Please could the nation’s chefs find a new hobbyhorse to ride and/or eat.
Root Cartwright
Radlett, Hertfordshire
•  My Poo kept falling out of bed (different teddy bear, different spelling). However, the joke began to pall, so as children we were instructed to go to the toilet to do big jobs. Now that could work: the Big Jobs party (Letters, 3 March).
Jacky Miles
Diss, Norfolk
I read with increasing queasiness the story of Mark Wood, an employment and support allowance (ESA) claimant with mental health problems, whose death by starvation was largely attributable to the Atos assessment of his being fit for work and the subsequent stopping of his sickness benefits (Vulnerable man starved to death after cut to benefits, 1 March).
Years after the Holocaust, ordinary German citizens were called upon by the younger generation to justify themselves: Surely you knew what was going on? Why didn’t you put a stop to it?
I hope I may crave an indulgence to use your paper to put on public record that I was one of those opposed to this government’s policy of abscission against the vulnerable. I submitted to the Harrington reviews on ESA and its assessment processes. I inveighed against the callous manipulation of public attitudes against claimants by the popular press that has driven many people to turn a blind eye to the real agenda. And it is in vain that I now look towards other political parties to protect the weak, when they so obviously realise that the propaganda battle has been lost.
The benefits system has failed those that have most needed help for decades, but it has not until now sought to eradicate them entirely.
Simon Wagener
Wallasey, Merseyside
•  Your article quotes a DWP spokesman stating: “A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist”. But the DWP does not itself request medical documentation, and it is up to the ESA claimants to produce it. Reasons for claimants not doing this include them assuming the DWP has requested medical records, claimants not realising the importance of such records, and disability such as depression or psychosis resulting in default.
Assessors rely on claimants to say what their medical illnesses are, but claimants sometimes give the wrong diagnoses and often don’t understand the complexity of their illnesses. Although Atos assessors fill in a “medical report form”, Atos nurses and physiotherapists far outnumber medical practitioners. Even when hospital records are obtained, the nurse/physiotherapist may not understand important details eg that an eGFR of 17 means that renal function is severely impaired. Without medical records, the Atos medical practitioner assessors also make decisions having woefully inadequate information. On appeal to first-tier tribunals, a significant proportion of sessions are adjourned to get medical evidence covering several years. A “thorough assessment” it is habitually not.
Morris Bernadt
•  Following the death of Mark Wood, who starved to death after his benefits were withdrawn, it is surely time for a citizen’s arrest campaign targeting Iain Duncan Smith. The death of Mr Wood, who was disabled, follows the call for a woman in a coma to attend job training, and cuts to benefits after letters were sent to a blind man that he could not read. The responsibility for these appalling infringements of basic human rights lies squarely with the minister who designed and implemented the system. Could legal experts please advise on the case for charging him with manslaughter? I would be happy to place a hand on his shoulder.
Nicola Grove
Horningsham, Wiltshire
•  Our twin 41-year-old sons, who have learning difficulties, epilepsy and other problems, have just been informed that they will have to reapply for their welfare benefits through a process conducted on behalf of the coalition government by the French-owned private company Atos.
Dr Giles Youngs, who wrote a letter to the Guardian (19 February) about his recent resignation as a medical assessor for Atos, in which he referred to “unrealistic criteria, set by the DWP, for a claimant being awarded employment and support allowance”, is absolutely right in expressing his concerns that people with disabilities are unlikely to be given even a job interview, never mind a job. Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, discrimination still continues, eg in February 1999 we arranged for one of our sons to meet the North Wales personnel manager of the Benefits Agency, requesting that he give our son work experience in its Wrexham office. At the interview the manager said that although they had given work experience to physically disabled people, they had never done so for a person with a learning disability. We heard no more from him.
What confidence, if any, should all disability welfare claimants now have of the work capability assessment in light of Dr Youngs’ revealing and damning indictment of both Atos and the DWP?
Ken and Mary Mack
(72-year-old unpaid carers), Wrexham
•  We are beginning to see the results of several years of campaigning against unjust welfare reforms that target disabled people. But Atos attempting to pull out of its contract (Report, 22 February) represents only a partial victory. Other private corporations are already lining up to take over. So long as the work capability assessment (WCA) regime continues, so will the misery it causes to disabled people and their families, and to the workers involved in implementing a system they don’t agree with.
The WCA should be replaced immediately with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to disabled people or those with chronic health issues or terminal illnesses. The UK government and opposition should follow the Scottish government’s pledge that private for-profit companies are removed entirely from having anything to do with the assessment of disabled people. This area of public policy belongs firmly within the NHS and the public sector.
The PIP contract must be removed from Atos with immediate effect: targets in its handling of the WCA have affected thousands of disabled people, leading to hastened deaths, waits of up to a year, and leaving people without income or food.
Linda Burnip Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts
Tracey Lazard CEO, Inclusion London
John McArdle Co-founder, Black Triangle
Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS Union
Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC
John McDonnell MP
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite
Francesca Martinez WOW petition
Pat Onions Pat’s Petition
Rosemary O’Neill CarerWatch
Sean Vernell National secretary, Unite the Resistance
Eileen Short Chair, National Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Claire Glasman WinVisible (women with visible & invisible disabilities)
Ariane Sacco WinVisible
Mark Harrison CEO, Equal Lives
Kevin Caulfield Chair, Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts
Rahel Geffen CEO, Disability Action in Islington
Lyla Adwan-Kamara Merton Centre for Independent Living
Shaun O’Regan Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign
Barry McDonald Chair, Bromley Experts by Experience
Ian Hodson National president, Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union
Ronnie Draper General secretary, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union
Mick Carney National president, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Manuel Cortes General secretary, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Sean McGovern Unite executive councillor
Rob Murthwaite Equalities rep, UCU London region
Mike Cox Norfolk Disabled People Against Cuts
Dr Stephen Carty Medical adviser, Black Triangle Campaign
Debbie Jolly Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts
Andy Greene Islington Disabled People Against Cuts
Ellen Clifford Croydon Disabled People Against Cuts
Paula Peters Bromley Disabled People Against Cuts
Conan Doyle London Disabled People Against Cuts
Bob Ellard National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Anita Bellows National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Ciara Doyle National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Roger Lewis National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Jane Bence WOW petition
Rick Burgess WOW petition

Simon Jenkins is mistaken in suggesting that I am soliciting tabloid column inches in relation to the sentence handed to Lewis Gill and is wrong to say that I have announced I will be appealing against the sentence (Politics, not law, has become the master of British justice, 28 February).
I have made no such announcement, and am still considering whether the sentence should be referred to the court of appeal. While my office has received nearly 500 requests for me to consider whether Mr Gill’s sentence is unduly lenient, that has no bearing on my decision. Only one person needs to ask me to consider a sentence and if they do, it will receive the same close scrutiny as if 1,000 people had asked me. If I were to refer the case, it would then be considered by three senior judges, and it would be they who would decide if the sentence was unduly lenient or not.
Facts and the law are the masters in this process: that is the only way to ensure justice is properly served.
Dominic Grieve QC MP
Attorney general
We are extremely concerned by the response of the international community to the popular protests that have erupted against almost two decades of misrule in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Editorial, 17 February). Western media and politicians have argued that now is not the time for the western powers to disengage from Bosnia.
In fact, it is time to recognise that external rule in Bosnia has failed. The Dayton agreement in 1995 set up an undemocratic “protectorate”, giving the high representative of the western powers neocolonial authority over a political system that has institutionalised ethnic divisions, while neoliberal economic policies have impoverished ordinary Bosnians regardless of ethnicity.
Do the western powers have any answers to this crisis? The high representative, Valentin Inzko, can think only of threatening military intervention. Periodic threats by the US and the EU to revise the Dayton agreement by recentralising Bosnia have only made matters worse, raising the spectre of secession as Serbs and Croats look to Serbia and Croatia for support. And neither Brussels nor Washington will contemplate reversing the neoliberal economic policies that have impoverished so many.
It is therefore time to terminate the office of the high representative and end outside meddling in Bosnian affairs.
The popular protests have made clear that there is widespread rejection of ethnic divisions and neoliberal policies imposed from above. Free from external economic, political and military pressure, we are confident that the peoples of Bosnia will come together to establish a society based on social justice and national equality.
Samir Amin Economist, Senegal
Cédric Durand Economist, Paris 13 University, France
Emin Eminagić Activist, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition (p/c), United Kingdom
Grigoris Gerotziafas Associate professor of hematology-hemostasis, Université Pierre et Maris Curis (Paris VI), militant of Antarsya in France/Greece
Anna Grodzka Member of parliament of the Republic of Poland
Costas Isihos Member of the political secretariat and head of the foreign policy department of Syriza
Mariya Ivancheva Independent scholar and member of the editorial board of LeftEast, Bulgaria
Stathis Kouvelakis Reader in political theory, King’s College, London, and Syriza central committee, United Kingdom and Greece
Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski Researcher and editor, Poland
Aleksandra Lakić Researcher, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ken Loach Film director, United Kingdom
James Meadway Economist, United Kingdom
Matija Medenica Solidarnost editor, Serbia
China Miéville Author, United Kingdom
Tijana Morača Independent researcher, Serbia
Goran Musić Historian, Austria
Jelena Petrović Red Min(e)d, Slovenia
Dragan Plavšić Lawyer and author, United Kingdom
Florin Poenaru Anthropologist, Romania
Srećko Pulig Aktiv editor, Croatia
Marija Ratković The Culture of Memory, Serbia
James Robertson Graduate student, history, New York University, United States
Catherine Samary Economist, France
Richard Seymour Author and columnist, United Kingdom
GM Tamás Philosopher, CEU, Budapest, Hungary
Mary Taylor CUNY Graduate Center, USA
Vladimir Unkovski-Korica Historian, United Kingdom
Ana Vilenica Uz)bu))na))) editor, Serbia
Andreja Živković Author, United Kingdom

Having worked in Ukraine over some years, including one when inflation was 11,000%, when the west and international financial agencies imposed “shock therapy” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the hypocrisy in the posturing of various outsiders today is chilling. Of course, we should all want non-intervention by Vladimir Putin. But we should recall interventions by those demanding that Russia now desist (Kiev on war footing as Putin’s grip tightens, 3 March).
One aspect of the unfolding tragedy may be minor in itself but signifies a malaise creeping through democratic discourse. It reflects the commodification of politics, led by the United States.
In Ukraine’s last presidential election, Viktor Yanukovych was languishing in the polls with 4% support. Then an oligarch put money together and hired the services of the US Republican party’s leading strategists. They descended on Kiev, repackaged the candidate, stopped him from revealing his character, incoherence and ignorance, and obliged him to adopt words they wanted him to use. Within weeks he was leading the polls.
Meanwhile, his principal rival, also with a murky past, hired Barack Obama’s electoral outfit, at vast cost. As it turned out, Bush’s men won the surrogate election.
Nobody could pretend they did not know Yanukovych was a twice-convicted gangster. But the Americans and others greeted his election as a triumph of democracy. Sadly, this newspaper endorsed that view in a leader.
David Cameron hires an Australian rottweiler to repackage the Tories for the next election. Ed Miliband responds by recruiting an American with a track record on the right. This is not in the same league as in Ukraine, but signifies a rottenness in mainstream politics. We need a countervailing strategy.
Professor Guy Standing
SOAS, University of London
• John Kerry accuses the Russians of acting “in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext”. This should end all debate on Americans’ understanding of irony.
Owain Dew-Hughes
Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire
• Thank you, Orlando Figes (If new Crimean war is to be avoided, Putin must show more restraint than his hero, 1 March), for giving us a potted history of Crimea. It makes the hand-wringing of David Cameron and William Hague all the more nauseating.
Mr Putin is defending the Russian majority, settled in Crimea centuries ago by Catherine the Great, who feel threatened by rightwing elements in Ukraine who have passed a law denigrating the use of the Russian language, and threatening their Orthodox religion.
Which country was it that settled Protestants in Ireland, to form an artificial majority in one specific area, then spent the best part of a century defending that “majority” against the perceived threat of Catholic domination? Black and Tans? RUC? Collusion with the UDF? Boots on the ground? Motes and beams come to mind.
Jane Ghosh
• I think it is a terrific idea to commemorate the first world war by having it again without the horses.
Jane Coles
Twickenham, Middlesex


I was born in Kiev, Ukraine and spend 22 years of my life there. As all my family and friends are Russian speakers, Ukrainian always felt rather like a foreign language that I knew well but hardly used in everyday life. But wherever I went, including the Ukrainian-speaking west, I never felt any pressure to switch to Ukrainian.
Around the country there are enough Russian schools, press and books, TV and radio channels available; many Ukrainian web pages come in two languages. Speeches by Russian politicians about discrimination against the Russian population in Ukraine leave me baffled.
Ukraine is not divided; it is being divided. The main issue that creates tensions between the regions is a massive information campaign aimed at the Russian-speaking regions.
Many people in the east and south rely on the Russian press. Without access to internet and geographically far from the capital, people don’t find it hard to believe the “news” about nationalists seizing power with the aim of killing or exiling all the Russian-speaking population. I tried to watch Russian news to get an alternative opinion but I lost my patience after a report showing “thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Ukraine for Russia”. It showed a checkpoint near the border with Poland.
The real news is much more scary and absurd: Russian soldiers surrounding the Ukrainian military base in Crimea; Russian politicians handing new Russian passports to the Ukrainian militants from the special forces accused in fatal injuries of civilians during the demonstrations in February.
The world needs to act quickly.
Julia Fedorenko, London W1

Here we go again. Russia acts to protect its vital interests – and no one can be in doubt about the importance of Crimea to its security – and the West comes out with threats and bluster. The obvious way out is for the areas of Ukraine which appear to have a majority for closer relations with Russia to break away.
Czechoslovakia broke up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia without any of the dire consequences envisaged by the Western powers in the case of Ukraine. But then, the Czechs are perhaps the only sensible electorate in Eastern Europe.
In a few months’ time, Scotland is going to decide its future, again without earth-shattering consequences. So the Nato countries should tell Kiev to get on and let their local populations decide their own future. The Ukraine crisis is not worth starting another cold war which could so easily change into a hot war.
Lyn Brooks, Ongar, Essex

Within hours of the Winter Olympics ending, the host nation seemed to be willing to start an international crisis. So much for these games helping us to achieve peace and understanding among nations.
The $50bn that the Games cost should have gone toward some true humanitarian relief – because the medals and the hype aren’t getting it done.
Joseph Carducci, Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania,  USA

The current threat to our gas supply should concentrate minds on the need for UK energy independence. Perhaps Ukip might lead the campaign for developing our native non-polluting energy resource, wind farms.
Francis Roads, London E18

Enemies of free expression
Your commitment to freedom of expression is necessary and laudable (Letter from the Editor, 1 March). The examples of the threat to the life of Muhammad Asghar in Pakistan and of the withdrawing of a book on Hinduism by Penguin India, both on the grounds of blasphemy, are indeed harrowing.
But these are in countries in which freedom of expression is pretty much prohibited. It is important to realise that in this country freedom of expression is also under sustained attack by religious groups and their apologists, despite the fact that the law on blasphemy was repealed in 2008. Three recent examples illustrate the point: the removal of posters by South Bank University in which God is replaced by the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”; the attempt by a local authority in Belfast to ban a play which satirises the Bible; and the widespread censoring of the “Jesus and Mo” cartoons.
After the furore of the Danish cartoons, in June 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe provided firm and principled guidance to the effect that ideas “that may shock, offend, or disturb the state or any sector of the population” are protected by the freedom of expression.” I would ask you to champion this marvellous resolution, not only within The Independent but in the media at large.
Dr Rumy Hasan, Senior Lecturer, Science & Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, Brighton

Pupils put under pressure to excel
Matthew Reece’s concerns about his Year-10 pupils (letter, 27 February) are timely and I think widespread. At my daughters’ school, even already high achievers are told of the dangers of failure and that they must work ever harder to attain the grades which will enable them to compete in the workplace.
Our 15-year-old daughter has been working at a pace entirely inappropriate for her age and was exhibiting signs of anxiety, as Mr Reece described. She told us that many of her friends feel the same way. Only by persuading her to work less and ignore what she has been told by some of her teachers have we been able to reduce her anxiety.
The pressure comes top-down from government and is passed on, often without a thought, to the people least able to deal with it. Under Ofsted pressures a “good school” is no longer good enough. Only outstanding is acceptable, which makes a complete nonsense of the words they have chosen.
The welfare of the whole child is missing in Michael Gove’s reforms, but when the response of the Opposition is to come up with ideas aimed at putting more pressure into the system, then like Mr Reece I despair for the future mental health of our young citizens.
Peter Reece, Wigan

No way out of the great travel rip-off
Vicki Mangan (letter, 3 March), commenting on travel companies, writes that “we would not stand for any other service so brazenly increasing their prices” at times of high demand.
Whether this is right or wrong is irrelevant; we just have to accept it. Many businesses have to “make the most” of their revenue opportunities and this translates as “rip people off whenever you can”. Restaurants and hotels whack up prices when a big event is on in town. Prices are “massaged” in many other sectors. Peak-time trains should be cheaper, as they’re busier and you can never get a seat. But they’re not, for obvious reasons.
If you worked for a travel company you might have a different view.
Mark Hunt, Chichester, West Sussex

Vicki Mangan is mistaken in comparing the practices of tour operators, hotels and airlines, whom she accuses of “brazenly increasing their prices”, to supermarkets, which have an effectively endless supply of goods to sell on a 24/7 basis in a fiercely competitive market.
The travel and tourism industry is restricted by capacity in the form of seats on planes and trains, airport landing slots, hotel rooms and the readiness of tourist areas to cope reasonably with visitor numbers.
The industry also cross-subsidises off-peak periods with profits from peak-period trade, often keeping smaller operators in business when they would otherwise fail, and allowing some of us who are child-free to take a cheaper, if a little chillier, holiday when we might otherwise be unable to do so.
John Moore, Northampton

What Cameron wanted from Merkel
It can have come as no surprise to David Cameron that Angela Merkel offered him very little support in his desire to remodel the European Union. Why then did he invite her to spell out her views so publicly?
Could it be that he actually wants the Eurosceptics, inside his party and beyond, to see what this country will be risking if we persist with the reckless proposal to hold an “in or out” referendum on a predetermined date, whether or not satisfactory negotiations will by then have been concluded?
It seems we may have to decide, prematurely, for or against isolation in an increasingly uncertain world.
David Hindmarsh, Cambridge

A cycle of  violence
For the past 50 or so years I have concurred with Howard Jacobson’s opinion regarding the barbarity of punching someone in the face, and have agreed that such an act is wholly unacceptable (Voices, 1 March). However having read the first three paragraphs of his piece – which are nothing more than a prejudiced, intemperate anti-cyclist rant – I’ve changed my mind.
Philip Stephenson, Cambridge


Sir, Now is the hour for Britain’s once-renowned diplomatic skills to be brought to bear on Ukraine. Our diplomats must avoid the stringent language of the US and other G8 members, and recognise Russia’s stand. President Putin will not allow Ukraine to be ruled as a mainly European country, severing its economic links with the Russian Alliance, nor will he ignore the genuine concerns of the Russian ethnic majority in the Crimea.
For our part, surely the EU has enough lame ducks already, without encouraging another to join. It is in our interest to discourage Ukraine’s quest for EU membership, and to make this clear to Russia.
Gerald Gilbert
Weybridge, Surrey
Sir, Regrettably, the right response by Nato to the Russian intervention in Crimea is a military one. Otherwise, as recent (and not so recent) events in the Middle East and the Caucasus have shown, it is all too obvious what the sequence of rolling aggression will be.
There may be elements in the new regime in Kiev who are not of the nicest, but the importance of the Russian occupation and the West’s reaction lies in the effect on those who walk — freely at present — in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius and even Warsaw.
Jeffrey Littman
London NW4
Sir, The occupation by Russia of parts of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law. The fact that there are people of Russian ethnic origin in Ukraine, and particularly in Crimea, does not give Russia the right to invade Ukraine. If Russia is concerned about the safety of ethnic Russians it should raise the matter at the Security Council. There is no evidence of any real or actual threats to the ethnic Russian population and if there were, the Ukrainian government must be given the chance to address them. The reality is that Russia is behaving as the Soviet Union used to do. There are limits to what realistically the international community can do about this but it must be made clear at every opportunity that Russia is acting as an aggressor state.
Irrespective of the response by other countries, the UK should be prepared to impose selective sanctions against Russia, including Russian interests in the UK.
Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz
Aberystwyth University
Sir, With Belarus now surrounded by progressive, increasingly affluent nations on three sides, it is probable that sooner or later it will ditch Putin and embrace Brussels.
The West must adopt the same approach over Ukraine as it did with Communist East Europe and allow Putin’s influence to corrode.
D. P. Rundle
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir, Would the EU allow Ukraine to join? It is almost bankrupt and politically unstable, and would require even more financial support than did Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland. Unpalatable as it might be, returning at least temporarily to the Russian sphere, with its discounted fuel and other trade advantages, and the chance to elect a new corruption-free government, would surely improve Ukraine’s economic situation.
Who knows? The reforming zeal of west-leaning Ukrainians may gradually democratise the whole country.
Donald Murdoch
Waterlooville, Hants

Sir, I am concerned by your report (Feb 28) of Durham University’s plans to reduce the collegiate system which has served it so well. The colleges’ autonomy has been eroded by diminishing the roles of the master and the governing body as part of a centralisation starting in the 1990s. This year the final selection of applicants by the master has been removed. This strikes at the fundamental responsibility of determining the nature of the college and the university. I urge the Durham authorities to reconsider this change.
John Hollier
Sir, The 2013 edition of Castellum, the magazine of the Durham Castle Society, points out that as early as 2012 the management of the university began,“albeit shrouded in secrecy”, a move towards a system of placing students in colleges according to blind automated allocation. In the past it has been regarded as essential that applicants first be interviewed in the department of their choice and then in their first-choice college, the principle presumably being that selection of course and college is a matter of desirable discrimination and of the commitment that results from personal preference.
The differences of corps attitude clearly distinguishable college to college have always been endemic to the character of Durham University. Surely, where plurality of identity and solidarity of common interest serve each other, strength of education can also be found. That is how I continue to see it some 60 years on from graduation as a student at University College.
David Day
Ackworth, W Yorks

The UK should follow the Swedish policy and encourage e-cigarettes, to help break the smoking habit
Sir, I am at a loss to explain the attitudes of the EU and the BMA in ignoring the evidence of success in Sweden in delivering small doses of nicotine by mouth and the consequent hostility towards
e-cigarettes as a socially acceptable way of delivering small doses of nicotine without tar (“Smoking (and European regulation) kills”, Mar 3).
Lung cancer remains the main cause of premature death from cancer in the UK, and it kills more people than breast and bowel cancers combined. Lung cancer and the very unpleasant related cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, etc, are caused by the carcinogens in the tar in cigarette smoke. Nicotine is not a carcinogen.
R. C. F. Leonard
Medical oncologist
Imperial College, London

Amid the talk of the North-South divide it is easy to forget how difficult it is to cross the UK from side to side
Sir, A lot is talked about the North-South divide in England, but there is another division which has an important impact on the country economically and socially. This is the East-West divide.
There are no motorways between the east and west of England until you get to the M62 in the North. Anyone trying to cross the Midlands is faced with having to negotiate an endless succession of roundabouts, villages and small towns.
This is partly for historical reasons, the Romans having built roads radially, and partly for geological ones, for example a series of Edges in the Cotswolds. But the net result impedes trade and travel and needs addressing. The proposed HS2 railway will only exacerbate the situation.
Dr Richard J. Bird
Middleton Cheney, Oxon

What would happen to savings in bank accounts in Scotland if the country was to vote for independence?
Sir, The facts are plain to all who read newspapers or watch television.
Scots still hold the anchors to world-wide engineering, are the best at providing newspaper reporters, superior in international technology, ahead of the rest in the UK in providing oil and gas exploration, tops in providing doctors and surgeons and, most of all, they are away ahead of the world of education and schools.
So why stay with the faded English-based systems encouraged by Cameron and Gove?
terry Duncan
Bridlington, E Yorks
Sir, As a UK resident living in Scotland I — like, I am sure, many others — am very concerned about what might happen to the money in our bank accounts and investments if Scotland were to be independent.
Will our money remain, as we hope, within the sterling zone or would it convert to some undesirably new and possibly uncertain currency?
Some companies are drawing up contingency plans to relocate, should Scotland become independent, but I have been unable to get any advice from banks or building societies, which appear not to have drawn up any plans or guarantees for their depositors and investors.
Perhaps switching one’s main account to an English branch — while still being able to access one’s accounts via a Scottish sub-branch — would be a safe option.
Simon Walton
Kelso, Scottish Borders

“I am getting increasingly annoyed by articles about teenagers, and the adults who keep trying to explain our behaviour”
Sir, I am getting increasingly annoyed at the barrage of articles about teenagers, and the adults who keep trying to explain our behaviour (“Moods and meltdowns: what’s inside the teenage brain?”, Mar 1).
I am 16 and a straight-A student, like most of my friends. We are not as irrational and immature as adults seem to think. We’ve grown up with financial crises and accept that most of us will be unemployed. We no longer flinch at bloody images of war because we’ve grown up seeing the chaos in the Middle East and elsewhere. Most of us are cynical and pessimistic because of the environment we’ve grown up in — which should be explanation enough for our apparent insolence and disrespect, without “experts” having to write articles about it.
Has no one ever seen that we are angry at the world we live in? Angry that we will have to clean up your mess, while you hold us in contempt, analysing our responses as though we were another species?
I would like adults to treat us not as strange creatures from another world but as human beings with intelligent thought — a little different from yours, perhaps, but intelligent thought nonetheless.
Stop teaching adults how to behave around us, and instead teach them to respect us.
Jenni Herd
Kilmarnock, E Ayrshire


SIR – Two letters published on February 27, one telling of term-time hop picking and the other about the freshness of chicken, reminded me of when I was a member of my school’s Young Farmers’ Club half a century ago.
Each term was just long enough to rear 250 day-old chicks to 7lb capons for sale at the end of each term, many of which were sold to staff and parents.
From tucking a live bird under your arm to having it oven-ready with the giblets cleanly drawn and errant feathers duly singed took the more bloodthirsty among us just a few minutes and was so much more enjoyable than end-of-term revision.
Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire

SIR – I am the vicar of eight rural churches, each of which has a small but faithful congregation striving to keep its church part of the life of the countryside. The services of dedicated organists who play for a tiny stipend each week are a vital part of this quest.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has invested enormous resources to find ways to forbid organists from treating their meagre stipends as part of the earnings of self-employed musicians. Instead, our tiny churches are required to treat our 15 or so organists as employees, for the hour a month that they play, and to construct PAYE procedures for each of them.
The administrative costs to the parish of this whimsical and inappropriate innovation by HMRC are out of all proportion to the amounts involved. The refusal of many organists to be subjected to this bureaucracy will damage the life of our churches. It will also deny HMRC the revenue it would otherwise receive from treating our organists sensibly as self-employed.
Large, multinational companies have rightly been castigated for investing vast resources in innovative methods of avoiding tax. The iniquity of their actions lies not in the criminal pursuit of evading taxes, but in the disproportionate effort spent in avoiding contributing to the common good of society. The same rationale applies to HMRC.
Revd Dr John Strain
Compton, West Sussex
Related Articles
A partition of Ukraine may be in the best interests of the West as well as the country’s people
03 Mar 2014
When killing chickens beat revising for exams
03 Mar 2014
Spring awakening
SIR – There seems to be some confusion over the date of the start of spring. As my birthday is on the vernal equinox (regarded by my parents as the first day of spring), I have had a lifelong interest in the subject.
If the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, is Midsummer’s Day, and the shortest, the winter solstice, is midwinter, then the vernal equinox, exactly between the two, must be “midspring” day. This makes the first day of spring six weeks earlier, at the end of the first week in February.
Prof David Allison
New Malden, Surrey
SIR – On Wednesday this week we had a wasp in our kitchen and a red admiral butterfly in the garden. It made me feel as though I should be sitting out on the patio with a glass of cold beer.
John Henesy
Maidenhead, Berkshire
Immunity for soldiers
SIR – Colonel Tim Collins is absolutely correct in asserting that where government directly grants or otherwise facilitates retrospective immunity from prosecution for incidents arising from conflict situations, such as in Northern Ireland, equivalent treatment needs to be accorded to both sides in the conflict.
It cannot be right that the British Government discriminates against its own service personnel, and such discriminatory actions as have been alleged should, by any moral standard, be considered wholly wrong and immediately corrected. A simple letter would suffice and should not take long for a minister to write.
Peter Doyle
Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Opting out of Europe
SIR – One sentence in your leader said it all: “Sources in Berlin claim that Mrs Merkel is willing to grant ‘limited opt-outs’ to Britain as well as more flexibility in the implementation of regulations.”
If Mrs Merkel wants to link the success of the EU to two world wars, she should remember that our forefathers and mothers died to protect this country from German tyranny. As a country we need to decide whether we are now prepared to submit to what Germany “is willing to grant us”.
Above all else, an EU referendum would be about the recovery of our precious democratic right of self-determination.
Roger Kendrick
Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire
SIR – I sympathise with George Meldrum, who feels “browbeaten and threatened by all the bad things that will happen to Scotland if it votes for independence”.
I feel the same way when I hear the dire warnings about leaving the EU.
A J Cozens
Sittingbourne, Kent
London on the map
SIR – Tony Parrack should have no fear. London has its own “flag” already. The London Underground map must be one of the best known images worldwide.
The branding opportunities sought by Mr Parrack are well in place.
Oliver Smith Boyes
Worthing, West Sussex
Doctors recognise dyslexia when they see it
SIR – I suggest the reason that Prof Julian Elliott says that there is no such thing as dyslexia is because he is a teacher, not a neurologist. Doctors are used to making a neurological diagnosis on the basis of a familiar pattern of difficulties with either no physical abnormalities on examination (for example, migraine), or very few (autism). Doctors are also used to seeing acquired dyslexia following strokes, head injury or brain resection for tumours.
I have been involved with “word-blind” children and adults for 50 years. One middle-aged man had been humiliated at school because he could not memorise his spellings, but had gone on to found a multi-million-pound joinery business despite his illiteracy. When I tested him, he rapidly completed a non-verbal reasoning test with a perfect score. Five years later, with the help of a private teacher who did believe in dyslexia, he could read a newspaper.
Dr Christopher Wales
Burley in Wharfedale, West Yorkshire
SIR – Prof Elliott and others acknowledge that dyslexia is a meaningless term and doesn’t exist as a condition. At last.
As a special-needs co-ordinator, I agree that those with literacy problems have “no unifying identifying characteristics, prognosis or response to interventions”. Going down the route of meaningless testing invariably serves only to confirm what people already know. Of course Dr John Rack from Dyslexia Action and others from the British Dyslexia Association claim that tests are valid. Although such formal assessments typically cost parents and carers between £250 and £400 they add nothing to the support that is offered by schools.
My own practice shows that a rapidly increasing number of parents and carers are grateful for the move away from meaningless labels, and towards more structured, measured, needs-driven literacy support for their child.
Garry Freeman
Farsley, West Yorkshire

SIR – With respect to Ukraine, the critical thing for the West now is that it should not be seen to be in full retreat; otherwise dangerous signals will be sent to countries such as Iran and North Korea.
This means that the West must have a plan that is both realistic and positive. If those living in Ukraine want to split the country in two, we should let them do so. It has worked for the former Czechoslovakia and it may have to work in our own country if Scotland (misguidedly) were to vote Yes.
Lord Spicer
London SW1
SIR – In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, America, Russia and Britain reaffirmed their commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and its existing borders.
Related Articles
The needless bureaucracy affecting church organists
03 Mar 2014
When killing chickens beat revising for exams
03 Mar 2014
They also agreed to refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine and agreed that none of their weapons would ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence. Now that one of the guarantors has broken the first two of these commitments, and appears to be ready to breach the third, are not the other two honour-bound to support Ukraine with diplomatic and military assistance?
Hugh Riley
Towersey, Oxfordshire
SIR – Although Britain is a signatory to Ukraine’s defence, there is nothing we can do beyond firing nuclear weapons from submarines. Nato is about as useful as a pot of ice cream in an inferno. That leaves America, which, given Iraq and Afghanistan, has no appetite for war.
Vladimir Putin will get his way, thanks to Western weakness and politicians who have completely misjudged world politics.
Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France
SIR – Understanding among major powers does depend on some tacit recognition of “spheres of influence”. Ukraine has been part of Russia’s sphere since the time of the Tsars. And Russia’s Black Sea fleet is in the Crimea. On that basis, the Western powers are better advised to recognise Ukraine as primarily a Russian issue – just as in 1914, Russia would have been better advised to recognise Serbia as primarily an Austro-Hungarian issue.
John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex
SIR – It is meddling by the EU that lies at the bottom of the crisis in Ukraine.
A democratically elected government has been overturned by groups containing far-Right anti-Semites and the legitimate interests of Russia have been put at risk. President Putin is doing no more than any patriotic leader would do.
Colin Bullen
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – Russia has striven for access to warm waters since the days of Peter the Great, and will not give up control of her Black Sea ports.
If the West could recognise this and give a guarantee to Russia’s rights in this matter instead of its bellicose posturing, both Russia and the West could work jointly to improve the lot of the Ukrainian people.
Harvey Griffiths
Fareham, Hampshire
SIR – It is odd that when the mainly Albanian-speaking Kosovo region wanted to separate from Serbia, we recognised it immediately as an independent country, but when mainly Russian-speaking Crimea wants to separate from Ukraine, we are most anxious to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity. There seems to be no consistency in our attitude.
Andrew J Rixon
SIR – President Putin knows that he could inflict catastrophic damage on the economy of Britain and other EU nations by simply turning off the gas taps.
It is time to build more gas storage facilities, start fracking and become independent of volatile foreign suppliers.
Clark Cross
Linlithgow, West Lothian

Irish Times:
Sir, – There can be little doubt that Angela Kerins, Martin Callinan and Alan Shatter are very talented and able individuals. It is a great pity that they also seem to share another, less admirable, characteristic. They behave as though they believe that any indication of personal humility is a sign of weakness.
History shows us that some of the world’s greatest individuals were noted for their humility. Mandela, Ghandi and John XXIII are prime examples. Pope Francis has shown in a very short time how a little humility can transform people’s perception of a worldwide institution. – Yours, etc,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – I read and digested your report on complaints about food reported to Food Safety Authority of Ireland: “Human tooth, chicken’s head and dirty fingernail among items found in food” (News Home, February 17th). Would there have been complaints if hen’s teeth and clean fingernails had been found? And there’s always chicken head soup to consider. – Yours, etc,
Shandon Crescent,
Dublin 7.

A chara, – Those of us with missing or broken bin lids have been paying water charges for years. – Is mise,
Rockfield Park,
Sir, – It was with a certain sense of national pride that I read of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s particular suitability for a “key EU position” (Inside Politics, March 1st, 2014).
I wish Mr Kenny every success in this important position and humbly suggest that Stephen Collins might devote his energy to sourcing similar international, but remote, positions for the entire Cabinet, sooner rather than later. – Yours, etc,
Co Donegal.

Sir, – And the real winner of the 2014 Oscars is . . . your film critic, Donald Clarke! On Saturday (Weekend, March 1st) he correctly predicted the 10 winners in each of 10 major award categories.
Give that man a gong! – Yours, etc,
Taobh na Gréine,
Bóthar an Chillín,
An Cheathrú Rua,
Co na Gaillimhe.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole’s entertaining column (“A columnist’s job confers some privileges, and obligations”, Opinion, February 11th) refers to his “privileges and obligations” as a columnist, recalling his alleged ownership of a series 5 BMW; he successfully disabused the Sunday Times perpetrators of such vile notions and duly received a written apology the following Sunday. So far, so ecological.
But then, alas, he drops the ball: “I don’t own a car,” he states, “because, to my shame, I can’t drive.”
To his shame? He should be proud of the fact that throughout his life he has (unwittingly, as it happens) contributed positively to a sustainable future for his grandchildren.
Although unlike Mr O’Toole and his colleagues, I don’t occupy “a position of enormous privilege”, I hope I can be allowed this opportunity to remind your esteemed columnist of the virtually irreversible destruction of our planet caused by cars and their attendant industries.
An SUV can weigh up to three tonnes. It takes 99 per cent of all the energy used to propel the vehicle itself; just 1 per cent is used to move the person inside it.
A small leap of imagination conjuring up a world in which people use sophisticated public transport systems and routes that respect nature and the environment puts into perspective the recklessness of vast networks of ever-expanding roads swarmed with billions of angry, lethal vehicles, killing, maiming and destroying in the name of an illusory sense of freedom and independence.
The truth is that people are enslaved by their cars and a traffic code that enhances even more the mass hypnosis of their social conditioning.
Cars are not only lethal, causing countless deaths and injuries worldwide every day, they are alienating, anti-social and divisive; they have depleted our natural resources, destroyed our cities and our atmosphere and blighted our countryside.
Is there a columnist in the country who will finally have the courage to address this century-old horror story?
Does owning a car – or even being able to drive – preclude these columnists from daring to raise the subject? – Yours, etc,
Seapoint Road,

A chara — Many an Irish “pathriot” will be indebted to Desmond Fennell’s latest linguistic lessons (An Irishman’s Diary, February 28th).  Adding a touch of Gaoth Dobhair to those barbaric English consonants D, T, R will gain a man instant entrée to the Élysée, the Wiener Staatsoper or a Milanese cafe. Yet a phrase such as “I’m an OTR” is better avoided in any language, even with the Donegal consonantal touch. And as for practising Fennell’s substitution of the Gaeltacht “ch” for that French or Spanish R, at Gatwick “I’m on dhe chun” will just land you in trouble. Safer to honour tradition with that mellifluous idiom “I’m on my keeping” – ar mo choimheád – and spare any sensitive foreign wincing, shudders or English alarms. – Is mise,
Wightman Road,

Tue, Mar 4, 2014, 01:05

Sir, – Paddy Clancy (“Bus company illegally disguised the time drivers spent at wheel”, Home News, February 27th) reports on a bus company that allowed a driver to be “at the wheel” for 11 hours, which is two hours more than European legislation allows. Compare this with junior doctors in our hospitals, where shifts of 18 to 24 hours are commonplace.
The judge said a driver’s “concentration could not be at full capacity” after driving for more than 11 hours. Where does that leave the patient attending our hospitals and, more to the point, where does it leave the question of liability should any errors occur? – Yours, etc,
Wood Park,
Dublin 16.

Sir, – The global day of action on February 27th for press freedom, which saw protesters gather in over 30 cities around the world, was about much more than the release of four Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt on charges of conspiring with a terrorist organisation to tarnish Egypt’s reputation. It was also a demonstration against the disturbing global trend which has seen terrorism and national security laws increasingly used to silence journalists and bloggers.
New terrorism statutes have provided a convenient tool for governments around the world to gag critics and curb free speech.
Indeed, figures from the Committee to Project Journalists show that more journalists were imprisoned in 2012 and 2013 than any previous year. Unless concerted action is taken, 2014 looks likely to be another record–breaking year for jailed journalists and a new low-point for freedom of the press. – Yours, etc,
Willow Road,

Sir, – Thirty years ago I was covering a High Court case for this newspaper. At the end of the case there was a technical part of the judgment I did not understand. After unbelievably lengthy negotiations, it was agreed that I could have a brief audience with the judge. He clarified the point that was worrying me. I was walking out the door when he called me back. He said, “Why don’t you chaps ever write about how badly paid judges are? Maybe you might think of writing it yourself?”
I was astounded, but refrained from mentioning the meagre rations I was on in The Irish Times . His Lordship is now in the great courthouse in the sky, but it is now clear to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. – Yours, etc,
Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Jo O’Donovan (March 1st) misses the point when he says the argument by the Chief Justice and the president of the High Court to the effect that the reduction in remuneration and expenses will produce a “second best” judiciary is a gratuitous insult to the thousands of health workers, gardaí, teachers, etc, who have endured pay cuts without any hope of redress.
With all due respect to our health workers, gardaí and teachers, I doubt many of them left much more lucrative professions to pursue a career in the public service. I can say with some confidence that the vast majority, if not all, judges of the High and Supreme Court voluntarily took substantial pay cuts upon leaving private practice for appointment to the bench. If cuts keep coming then the best barristers will stay at the bar and our judges will indeed be “second best”. It would be a grave danger for our legal system if in court the advocates were nearly always better lawyers than the judge. To highlight this issue is not an insult to members of the public service, but rather a statement made in their interest. A member of An Garda Síochána would not for example like to see defence counsel in a trial have a vastly greater knowledge of the criminal law than the presiding judge.
Also, Mr O’ Donovan takes umbrage with the title of “My Lord”, calling it proof of the existence of a stratum in our society whose self-assessed worth places them on a different plane to anyone else. By virtue of statutory instrument 196 of 2006, the proper mode of addressing a judge is to call them “judge”. Who made this rule? A committee consisting of three current Supreme Court judges. In fact I have seen former Chief Justice Murray correct barristers who call him or his fellow judges “My Lord” and ask that they be addressed simply as “judge”. – Yours, etc,
Law Library,
Four Courts,
Dublin 7.
Sir, – Olivia O’Leary (“Government needs to call senior judges’ bluff on pay”, Opinion & Analysis, February 28th) writes that “maybe those who lead more modest lives would have a better understanding of what life is like for many citizens who come before their courts”. I always thought that the essential attribute of a judge was that he or she had an extensive knowledge of the law which would be applied in resolving disputes between citizens, rather than knowing, for example, what type of supermarket the citizen frequented. By way of analogy, would Olivia prefer to attend a doctor who could deal effectively with her complaint without appearing to know how difficult life was for many persons, or attend one who was useless but engaged in a long conversation about inequalities in our society? – Yours, etc,
Dublin 16.

Sir, – If John B Reid (February 28th) is a genuine rugby fan, he really should realize that the Irish rugby team is a beacon of sense and realism in a sea of darkness and ignorance. If he cannot see the sense in the current arrangement, where a world-class team uses a neutral anthem to enable all traditions to claim ownership, then he should move his support to the other traditions where the Tricolour or union flag are flown. Of course he would have to content himself with the choice of either being beaten off the field or playing a mongrel code when it comes to international matches. – Yours, etc,
Co Westmeath.
Sir, – John B Reid seems to be labouring under the mistaken impression that the Irish rugby team is the national team of the Republic of Ireland. If this were the case, then it would be only proper for Amhrán na bFiann to be played at all matches, irrespective of location. But it is not.
As with many other sports, rugby is organised on an all-Ireland basis and the Irish team is not just the team of the Republic, nor even of Irish nationalists, but of the island of Ireland as a whole. Ambiguity between the island and the State is a constant cause of controversy, but the IRFU has correctly recognised that Irish rugby draws support from all traditions on the island.
The current policy that Ireland’s Call be played at away matches is entirely proper, as it reflects the cross-jurisdictional nature of the sport and does not favour one jurisdiction over another. To play the anthem of the Republic in addition at away games would reintroduce politics into a sport that has made a virtue of remaining above the constitutional question.
Amhrán na bFiann is played at home games in the Republic in honour of the State. The only inconsistency in this policy is that no State anthem is played in Belfast, which implies that games in Ravenhill are not “home” games. The honourable solution to this inequity is to play Danny Boy at Ravenhill in the same capacity that Amhrán na bFiann is played in Lansdowne Road’s Aviva Stadium.
Whether or not one finds Ireland’s Call sufficiently rousing, it performs a vital function in keeping divisive politics out of Irish sport. – Yours, etc,
Dublin 14.
Sir, – Whether or not the playing and singing of the IRFU’s compromise anthem Ireland’s Call at international rugby matches stimulates players and spectators alike should be irrelevant. Like our national flag, our anthem should not, under any circumstances, be compromised.
It is also my view that those players honoured by being selected to represent this nation in any sport and who feel unable to respect our anthem and flag should do the honourable thing and refuse to play.
Furthermore, the Government should make it unambiguously clear to the IRFU that the national anthem of Ireland is Amhrán na bhFiann not Ireland’s Call . – Yours, etc,
Templeville Road,
Dublin 6w.

Sir, – Russia’s autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin has reacted brutally to the ousting of Victor Yanukovich, who was responsible for violent assaults against the people of Ukraine. It is now well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson that people are endowed “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights governments are instituted . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government”.
For all those who value such rights in their own nation it is time to stand with the people of Ukraine. If the response to Mr Putin’s aggression is nothing more than rhetorical red lines, who can say he will stop at Ukraine while there are Russian-speaking populations across eastern Europe?
It is indeed time to stand together or hang separately. – Yours, etc,
Shandon Street,
Co Waterford.
Sir, – “Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be ‘deeply destabilising’, the US president said” (Obama warns Putin against intervention in Ukraine, World News, March 1st). As opposed to our “stablising” interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Iran . . . and our machinations in Ukraine and other Russian border regions?
As Roger Cole implies (March 1st), unless some hard truths are spoken to the deaf ears of rampant power, another dark age will inevitably descend.
It is way past time for the pillars of our society to cease preening on being allowed to sit at the Nato table with the big boys and to engage both brain and a trace of spinal cord. – Yours, etc,
Castleview Estate,
Co Galway.
Sir, – I have no sympathy whatsoever with the current Russian actions in the Crimea. Indeed, as an Irishman, I am only too aware of the historical constant: that major powers are ever in the position to bully and invade weaker countries and justify this in terms of their own strategic interests or so-called humanitarian concerns. But I do wish the same powers would spare us the arrant hypocrisy of tut-tut-ing each other. – Yours, etc,
Green Road,
Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:
* The issue of gay marriage surfaces on a regular basis, stirring up the predictable array of prejudice and gratuitous assertion.
Also in this section
Get us deal, Enda – and you’ll get second term
Letters: Reality is in rag order
Letters: It is in all of our interests to work for peace
Invoking what is referred to as “the teaching of the church” is particularly unhelpful, even for Catholics. Moral life is not a matter of following a set of prescribed rules or teachings, cultivating docile recipients of doctrine rather than encouraging free, rational discussion between equals. Acting morally requires thoughtful reflection on the demands of life and the imposition of these demands upon oneself.
Appealing to the teaching of the church cannot release us from personal responsibility for our actions. Acting morally is not an expression of obedience but the exercise of intelligence.
Moral discussion must earn its living by supporting the search for rationally motivated consensus.
It seems to me that what was most obvious in the life of Christ was his determination to sidestep religion and its attendant systems of unbending certainty.
The notion of what is natural or unnatural has dogged moral debate for centuries. A flimsy moral edifice was built on the concept of natural law, equating what is deemed natural with what is right.
Appeals to what is natural or unnatural exemplify our tendency to explain the obscure by the even more obscure, serving little logical, theological or moral purpose in determining a life that best befits us as humans.
Our job is not to worship nature; we ought to be its masters, not its slaves.
Reason lifts us above the chance events of the natural world. To describe any act as unnatural unfortunately gives us a licence to intensify our disapproval.
Whatever view we hold of human sexuality, it must be intelligible.
If two people, of whatever gender, experience a sincere love for one another, I can think of no good reason for denying them the right to the public ritual expression of that love. As my mother would say: “Mhuise, what harm are they doing?”
* Even though in his speech to the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last weekend Enda Kenny was quite certain that there is no alternative to Universal Health Care, he might like to be informed about a recent milestone passed by his Government and his Health Minister in particular.
Anuerin Bevan became minister for health in the new Labour government that took power in the UK following the end of World War II.
Despite bitter opposition from the vested interests of the British Medical Organisation, he still managed to set up the British National Health Service, which is funded from a specific National Insurance tax without any of the administrative burden, duplication and waste of the Universal Health Care system.
At the same time, that Labour government was also trying to rebuild a country – and they did it.
The Fine Gael/Labour Government has been in office since March 9, 2011, or 1,089 days, but it can’t even manage to build a children’s hospital that has been in the making for over 20 years. So what hope is there of it creating a functioning new national health system, no matter how many terms it has?
* Russia’s autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, has reacted brutally to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych. It is now well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, that people are endowed “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights governments are instituted . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government”.
For all those who value such rights in their own nation, it is time to stand with the people of Ukraine.
* I would be grateful if you would allow me via your Letters page to inform the citizens of The (Christian Democratic) Republic of Ireland of the umpteenth re-enactment “Flight of the Earls Festival”.
For centuries, the bards recalled the September 1607 Flight of the Earls in oral history. Circa 1922, it became part of the school curriculum of the independent Irish Free State.
In recent years, the Soldiers of Destiny started a re-enactment. They erroneously thought the original flight occurred in March, hence the reason an elite group of actors and their managers participate in the “Annual Flight of the Earls Festival” held each year in the month of March.
Whereas the original flights went to European nations, the modern-day Earls fly first class all over the world where they initiate the locals into the arts of Irish dancing, eating bacon and cabbage and downing pints of plain while holding out a bowl for donations . . . of jobs and more jobs for Mother Ireland.
The lead actor gets to visit the most powerful man in the world. The powerful man is given a bowl of shamrock (this is not a faux rock, but a plant) in a crystal bowl.
So be proud of the team of globetrotting elites acting as Irish Earls abroad on Ireland’s National Day as they “trip the light fantastic” in their fantasy land where all is well . . . with themselves alone!
* Obama, Cameron, et al to Putin: We’ll huff and we’ll puff, but we’ll only close some bank accounts.
* Regarding ‘The castle that stood 800 years’ (Irish Independent, March 1), about the demolition of Coolbanagher Castle, Co Laois – this is shameful! And a serious failing by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A monument of national significance allowed to be razed to the ground in the space of less than two weeks without a proper statics or conservation study.
Did the engineers not consider protecting both the public and the monument by provisionally fencing off the area, and by the buttressing or bracing of unstable parts?
Valuable lessons must be learned from the heritage management and care of monuments in Greece and many other earthquake-affected countries. Too late for this monument, unfortunately!
* If, as a result of losing the contract to pay out pensions and other social welfare allowances, post offices fall to perceived “progress”, the effect would be devastating.
Many older people are averse to the use of electronic fund transfers. But the loss of one’s local post office would represent more than a mere inconvenience or challenge to one’s electronic or computer proficiency. Many towns and villages have already lost their garda stations, local shops or pubs; or all of these.
Adding the post office to the list would be the final blow to the people of those districts. What is the point of having so many picture-postcard towns and villages if they have no shops, pubs or post offices for visitors as well as locals to call to?


March 3, 2014

3 March 2014 Jill

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to deliver an ambassador, can they find the right country?Priceless

Cold slightly better but muddle through Jill comes to call.

Scrabbletoday Iwin but get under400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.




Alain Resnais, the film director, who has died aged 91, was one of the most important, original, controversial and fashionable of the post-war generation of French film-makers known collectively as the New Wave.

Elliptical, elusive, literary and occasionally unintelligible, his films defied conventional forms of cinema storytelling in favour of complicated editing that sometimes took little account of plot or characterisation but created instead a compelling air of mystery and depth.

His two most famous works, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), made him the most intellectually difficult film director of his time. Above all he was an “auteur”, a director who stamped his personal style on every film he made, even though he might, as Resnais did with distinction, engage eminent authors, like Marguerite Duras or Alain Robbe-Grillet, to write his screenplays.

Time and memory, illusion and reality, were Resnais’s favourite themes, and his stock characters were a sort of displaced person. Later in his career he found a rich vein of material to explore in the plays of Alan Ayckbourn.

But while he was accused of obscurity and pretentiousness, and of academic coldness in expressing emotion, his films extended, if only for a while, the frontiers of 20th-century cinema. The editing of image and sound, sometimes overlapping, sometimes clashing, often merging, always amazing, challenged the imagination and stirred the critical faculties.

And no fact of Alain Resnais’s life seemed to strike a stranger note than his assertion that the films which first inspired his ambition to become a film director were those in which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced. Or was it Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler? He could never be sure. “I wondered if I could find the equivalent of that exhilaration,” he recalled.

If he never did it was perhaps because of his highly cultivated attitude to serious cinema. His character and temperament were more attuned to the theory of film and a kind of intellectual square dance which was far harder to bring to the screen with “exhilaration” than the art of Astaire and Rogers.

Alan Resnais was born at Vannes, Brittany, on June 3 1922, where his father was a pharmacist. A sickly child, he had a severe Jesuit education and was a voracious reader, consuming everything he could get his hands on from serious literature to thrillers and comics. As a schoolboy he made 8mm and 16mm amateur films.

His fascination with Thirties Hollywood dance films determined the nature of his career. “They had a kind of sensuality of movement which really took hold of me,” he reflected. “I decided then and there that I was going to try to make films which would have the same effect on people.”

He moved to Paris and flirted with an acting career before studying film editing and directing at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques; after a year he left, to his later regret, without completing the course. In place of such formal training he drew instead on his appreciation of comic books. “What I know about cinema is learned as much from comics as from films,” he admitted. “The rules of how to cut, how to frame, are the same.”

During a year’s military service in 1945 he served entertaining Allied troops in Germany and Austria and after the Second World War made 16mm shorts and medium lengths films, beginning his career in professional film as an editor and cameraman.

Although two of his short early films were fiction – one featuring his neighbour, the actor Gérard Philipe – mostly they were documentary studies of modern painters, which he made in order to meet the artists concerned and to learn about their work.

Some were shown on French television, but it was his first commissioned documentary – on Van Gogh in 1948 – that launched his career as a director. Similar shorts on Gauguin, and on Picasso’s Guernica, which he co-directed with Robert Hessens and for which Paul Eluard wrote the script, also brought him credit, though none of them hinted at the distinctive, somewhat surrealistic style which was to make him famous.

He collaborated with Chris Marker on an anti-colonial short about the decline of African art (Les Statues Meurent Aussi), but it was Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), a study of Nazi concentration camps, which he made with Jean Cayrol, that struck the deepest chord with connoisseurs. It explored what were to become some of his favourite themes – the way in which the cinema could juggle time and memory, past, and present and future, as well as place and space. Powerful yet understated, the film showed Resnais’s ability to handle the rawest of emotions with subtlety and grace, and remains one of his most admired pieces of work.

His distinct visual style emerged more fully in Toute la Mémoire du Monde (1957), which dealt with France’s national library and its miles of corridors and bookshelves. Long, tracking shots conveyed Proustian preoccupations with remembrance of things past and contributed to an elevated, if oblique, view of the archives.

Two other documentaries, Le Mystère de l’Atelier Quinze (1957), which was about industrial illness, and Le Chant du Styrène (1958), about the production of polystyrene (with a witty commentary by the fashionable avant-garde writer Raymond Queneau) completed a series of finely imaginative and inventive short films which some of his critics still consider to be among his most accomplished pieces. Already his reputation was such that fellow New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard was moved to describe Resnais as the “second greatest director in the world after [Sergei] Eisenstein”.

With his first full-length feature, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Resnais created something of a sensation. Collaborating again with a distinguished avant-garde writer (this time Marguerite Duras), he applied his elaborate editing technique to a stylised evocation of an affair in Hiroshima between a French film star and her Japanese lover, while also portraying her remembered love for a German soldier whom she had met in France earlier in the Second World War.

“I wanted to compose a sort of poem in which the images would work only as a counterpoint to the text,” Resnais noted. His treatment of this story of sudden physical passion was neither sensuous nor sensual but highly intelligent, like all his work; criticism was principally about its emotional coldness, and if Resnais cared more for places and landscapes rather than people and character.

In his second and most resolutely surrealist feature film, L’Année Dernière A Marienbad (1961), scripted by the nouveau romancier Alain Robbe-Grillet, Resnais seemed to wallow in ambiguities. Mystery surrounded the film’s three principal characters, and after its release Resnais and Robbe-Grillet only added to the confusion by suggesting conflicting explanations for the plot.

Are the couple who meet so mysteriously in the elegant setting of a grand European spa-hotel former lovers or prospective lovers? Their dialogue and relationship remains as puzzling as their situation, which can be taken as a profoundly arresting exploration of time and memory, reality and imagination, or dismissed as beautifully photographed bunk.

Perhaps most significantly for Resnais, however, it got everybody talking about the art of the cinema and what the director would do with it next.

Muriel (1963) divided opinions sharply between those who admiringly and unquestioningly sat back and let the narrative, however foggy, float by, and those who found themselves running out of patience with the on-screen swirl of undefined relationships. Events were, it was true, somewhat less baffling than before. Based on a story by Jean Cayrol, they concerned a widow in Boulogne (Delphine Seyrig), who invites a former lover to dinner with her and her stepson; he accepts, arriving with his so-called niece. Again the editing – with its flashbacks and juxtapositions – filled the screen with implications and rumination.

For some these uncertainties hinted at fracture and fragility in France’s national identity as the colonial war in Algeria reached a decisive moment; for many spectators, however, it again proved a tale of passion that was strangely and disappointingly passionless, and in which the presence of Delphine Seyrig proved the main consolation.

La Guerre Est Finie (The War Is Over, 1966) was Resnais’s most romantic film and featured Yves Montand reliving in his mind the Spanish Civil War. With a script by the political writer Jorge Semprun, a Spaniard, and with Ingrid Thulin as Montand’s mistress, it enjoyed modest success. Je t’Aime, Je t’Aime (1968), by contrast, was an all-out flop. Working with the Belgian writer, Jacques Sternberg, Resnais approached his favourite theme through science fiction, postulating a hero injected with a serum to see if he can relive a moment of his life. To audiences the result appeared more or less random, and no one knew whom to blame for the failure – the scriptwriter, the actors or Resnais himself.

Half a decade would pass before Resnais’s work again made it to the screen. Thankfully Stavinsky (1974), the story of a swindler who brings down the French government in the Thirties, was a hit. Paying homage to the era of Art Deco and to the style of film-making before the Second World War, Resnais evoked a vanished epoch without much fog or too much fanciful editing. A cast including Jean-Paul Belmondo and Charles Boyer pointed up the theme of gambling as a way of exorcising fear of death, but also underlined the film’s commercial flavour.

This trend continued in Providence (1977), with which Resnais enjoyed a popular success. This he owed to two factors: first, the film was in English; and, secondly, it had a starry cast led by John Gielgud.

The celebrated actor played an ageing novelist sitting for most of the film on a garden lavatory, seeking a subject for his next book . The novelist’s family appear to him in various guises, and Resnais’s preoccupations report for duty once again: identity, time, place and whether what we are watching is real or imaginary. By this stage in his career few people were still trying to make literal sense of a Resnais film; it was a relief not to have to try.

Popular success continued with Mon Oncle d’Amerique (My American Uncle, 1980), a typically fragmented study of three French youths from different backgrounds observed by a professor of social behaviour. It won the Special Prize at Cannes, and earned considerable respect with audiences.

Despite his recurring themes, however, Resnais’s work did evolve. From the early Eighties, often working repeatedly with the same actors, he incorporated musical and theatrical tropes into his work. La Vie Est Un Roman (Life is a bed of Roses, 1983) alternated song and dialogue to tell three stories set in different eras; L’Amour a Mort (Love unto Death, 1984), was a four-hander in which Resnais conceived of music as a “fifth character”. Meanwhile Gershwin (1992), a documentary; On Connait La Chanson (Same Old Song, 1997), which was openly indebted to the work of Dennis Potter; and the filmed operetta Pas sur la Bouche (Not on the Lips, 2003), all signalled his interest in popular song and theatrical form.

The latter concern he had already made explicit in two films: Mélo (1986) an adaptation of a play from the Twenties, and Smoking/No Smoking (1993), from Alan Ayckbourn’s play Intimate Exchanges. Smoking/No Smoking saw all the female characters in the three distinct stories played by Sabine Azema, while another Resnais regular, Pierre Arditi, took on all male roles, as Resnais guided audiences through possible consequences of apparently trifling decisions.

Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places, 2006) was another Ayckbourn adaptation, as was his last project Aimer, Boire et Chanter (The Life of Riley, 2013) which was well received at the Berlin film festival last month. Though unlikely to convert many Resnais detractors, the film proved that the director had become an extremely graceful and skilful orchestrator of themes, that were, by their nature, convoluted and hard to portray.

Alain Resnais married, first, in 1969, Florence Malraux, daughter of the novelist Andre Malreaux. He married, secondly, in 1998, Sabine Azema.

Alain Resnais, born June 3 1922, died March 1 2014





The heartbreaking picture in the Guardian of ashen-faced, starving refugees in Syria (Refugees emerge ‘like ghosts’ from Damascus ruins, 27 February) brought to mind accounts of a similar situation I read about as a schoolgirl in June 1948. These accounts were of a Berlin under siege from the Red Army, in its bid to take over the whole city. All road and rail land routes had been deliberately blocked so that supplies of food, medicines and other goods could not get through.

At a time when political leaders were bolder than now, President Truman, determined to avoid a direct military clash with his erstwhile Russian ally, mounted an air bridge that took food, clothing and other necessities to Berlin, and succeeded in feeding its population for over 300 days. At the height of the airlift, 8,000 tons of food and other supplies were delivered to Berlin every day. The siege was lifted and there was no war.

True, the western allies had access to an airport in Berlin, Tempelhof. But given modern technology, food drops now could be taken direct to refugee camps, maybe even by unmanned aircraft.

The proposal for such an air bridge to the starving people of Syria, many of whom are already dying, should be made to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. The UNHCR could be invited to oversee the loading of cargo, to satisfy themselves that no arms or military supplies would be air-lifted to Syria. Russian inspectors could be asked to be part of these teams.

Western governments cannot be complicit in what is clearly becoming a Syrian holocaust.
Shirley Williams
House of Lords


It is pointless to argue with Iain Duncan Smith about his egregious and unscientific views about defining and combating poverty (Treasury blocks Duncan Smith plans for child poverty targets, 27 February). But it can’t be repeated often enough that any characteristic he and George Osborne claim causes poverty such as “worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction, or debt” and which fails to cause it to individuals and families such as those of the unhappy Duke and Duchess of York and the unfortunate Hans Kristian Rausing (the Tetra Pak heir) and a great many other people right across the income spectrum, cannot be taken seriously as social analysis. These “black swans” expose these politicians’ fixed beliefs as worth no more than beliefs about creationism or a flat Earth.

If these two Conservative politicians were serious that “This is such an important issue – it is vitally important that we take the time to get it right. We have seen how the wrong measures based on inadequate data and simplistic analysis drive misguided and ineffective policy”, then they would follow the recommendations of the Commons select committee on integrated child credit in 2001 to fund an expert committee to review the range of methods available and advise the government of the day. Politicians are not, as such, qualified to make such judgments, though it is a well-known but widely shared illusion that, in the absence of study and comprehension, great political power, like excess alcohol, brings scientific competence.
Professor John Veit-Wilson
Newcastle University


Samuel Johnson was more charitable towards the Scots than Neil MacGregor (Ian Jack’s column, 1 March) when he said that the English had nothing to fear from the union as they now had the Scots to do their thinking for them.
Dr Allan Dodds

• When I was young, we didn’t do a poo in our family, we went to the toilet to do our hardwork. Embarrassing as I got older, but I’d second that name for the Tories – the Hardworkers’ party (Letters, 28 February).
Bridget Gubbins
Morpeth, Northumberland

• I am 63 years old and have lived in Norfolk, South Yorkshire, Hampshire, South Gloucestershire, West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. This is the first year for as long as I can remember that there has not been snow on the ground in December, January or February. I have missed it.
John Gaskin

• Three hearty hearty cheers for Giles Fraser (Loose canon, 1 March). His piece about choral evensong and its way of binding together the “petitions and inchoate yearnings” of “those gathered in the pews” really hit home. Thanks, Giles, and God bless you for every word.
Victoria Owens

• If we run short of Gilbert O’Sullivan quotes (Letters, passim), could one of your other well-known correspondents assist? Perhaps David Hockney would even make A Bigger Splash?
Andrew Palmer


‘A pernicious new turn took place in 2012 when London Metropolitan University lost its “highly trusted sponsor” status, to catastrophic effect for students in the middle of their courses,’ write Mette Berg, Nicola Pratt and 160 others. Photograph: Gavin Rodgers/Rex Features

British universities have been positioned as central culprits for failing to regulate their intake of foreign students, while rendered dependent on “overseas” student fees because of government funding cuts. A pernicious new turn took place in summer 2012 when London Metropolitan University lost its “highly trusted sponsor” status, to catastrophic effect for students in the middle of their courses. Since then, universities have been preoccupied with managing accountability demanded by UK Visas and Immigration (formerly the UK Border Agency), and, in effect, have become its proxy. Academics at a number of universities in the UK and beyond have now become concerned at this state of affairs, and at the methods used to establish bona fide student status.

We, the undersigned, oppose the acquiescence of Universities UK members in acting as an extension of UKVI, thereby undermining the autonomy and academic freedom of UK universities and trust between academics and their students. We object to the actions of universities which:

• Use mechanisms of pastoral care, such as monitoring of student attendance and meetings with tutors, as mechanisms for monitoring non-EU students, or so-called Tier 4 visa holders, on behalf of UKVI.

• Treat UK/EU and non-EU students differently with regard to determining their ongoing academic standing.

• Construct and deploy systems of monitoring and surveillance such as biometric scanning systems and electronic signing-in mechanisms to single out non-EU students.

• Agree to monitor behaviours that may be unrelated to academic endeavour, and allow this data to be used by UKVI in determining the supposed legitimacy of non-EU students.

We note that UUK released a briefing document on 10 February regarding the House of Lords’ second reading of the immigration bill, in which UUK registers concern that landlords are required to check the immigration status of tenants. We urge UUK to go further and declare its rejection of the practices described above. We call on Universities UK, on behalf of member university vice-chancellors and principals, to oppose the discriminatory treatment of non-EU students in all forms and publicly affirm:

• That the quality of academic work should be the primary criterion for determining academic standing.

• That all students be treated equally regarding their attendance at classes, and that their right to privacy be respected, irrespective of their nationality.

• The right of universities to autonomy in making decisions on progression and retention of non-EU students.

Dr Maha Abdelrahman University of Cambridge
Dr Reem Abou-El-Fadl Durham University
Prof Gilbert Achcar SOAS, University of London
Dr Christine Achinger University of Warwick
Dr Sam Adelman University of Warwick
Prof Nadje Al-Ali SOAS, University of London
Dr Anne Alexander University of Cambridge
Dr Miranda Alison University of Warwick
Prof Louise Amoore Durham University
Dr Dibyesh Anand University of Westminster
Dr Rainer-Elk Anders Staffordshire University
Dr Walter Armbrust University of Oxford
Dr Andrew Asibong Birkbeck, University of London
Dr Sara Jane Bailes University of Sussex
Dr Oliver Bakewell University of Oxford
Dr Bahar Baser University of Warwick
Prof Les Back Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Victoria Basham University of Exeter
Dr Alex Benchimol University of Glasgow
Dr Mette Louise Berg University of Oxford
Prof Gurminder Bhambra University of Warwick
Dr Claire Blencowe University of Warwick
Prof Elleke Boehmer University of Oxford
Dr Maud Bracke University of Glasgow
Dr Chris Browning University of Warwick
Dr Lorna Burns University of St Andrews
Prof Ray Bush University of Leeds
Dr Rosie Campbell Birbeck, University of London
Prof Bob S Carter University of Leicester
Prof Nickie Charles University of Warwick
Dr Chris Clarke University of Warwick
Dr Rachel Cohen City University of London
Prof Robin Cohen University of Oxford
Cole Collins University of Glasgow
Prof Christine Cooper University of Strathclyde
Prof Gordon Crawford University of Leeds
Dr Jonathan Davies University of Warwick
Dr Ipek Demir University of Leicester
Prof Thomas Docherty University of Warwick
Prof Toby Dodge LSE
Dr Renske Doorenspleet University of Warwick
Prof Costas Douzinas Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Elizabeth Dowler University of Warwick
Dr Franck Duvell University of Oxford
Jakub Eberle University of Kent
Dr Juanita Elias University of Warwick
Hannah El-Sisi University of Oxford
Safinaz El-Tarouty University of East Anglia
Prof David Epstein FRS University of Warwick
Dr Elizabeth Ewart University of Oxford
Ali Fathollah-Nejad SOAS, University of London
Dr Sara R Farris Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Robert Fine University of Warwick
Tina Freyburg University of Warwick
Prof Bridget Fowler University of Glasgow
Prof Des Freedman Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Matthew Fuller Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Manuela Galetto University of Warwick
Paul Gilroy
Dr Jane Goldman University of Glasgow
Dr Priyamvada Gopal University of Cambridge
Dr Toni Haastrup University of Kent
Juliette Harkin University of East Anglia
Dr Sophie Harman Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Oz Hassan University of Warwick
Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly University of Warwick
Prof John Holloway Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Mexico
Prof John Holmwood University of Nottingham
Dr Michael Hrebeniak University of Cambridge
Dr Aggie Hurst City University of London
Marta Iñiguez de Heredia University of Cambridge
Prof Engin F Isin The Open University
Matt Jenkins University of Newcastle
Rev Dr Stuart B Jennings University of Warwick
Dr Hannah Jones University of Warwick
Dr Lee Jones Queen Mary, University of London
Salman Karim University of East Anglia
Prof Rebecca Kay University of Glasgow
Dženeta Karabegovic University of Warwick
Salman Karim University of East Anglia
Dr Sossie Kasbarian University of Lancaster
Dr Nitasha Kaul University of Westminster, London
Prof Rebecca Kay University of Glasgow
Dr Alexander Kazamias University of Coventry
Dr. John Keefe London Metropolitan University
Dr Dominic Kelly University of Warwick
Prof Laleh Khalili SOAS, University of London
Dr Paul Kirby University of Sussex
Dr Nicholas Kitchen LSE
Dr Maria Koinova University of Warwick
Dr Alexandra Kokoli Middlesex University
Dr Vassiliki Kolocotroni University of Glasgow
Dr Dennis Leech University of Warwick
Dr Samantha Lyle University of Oxford
Mr Paddy Lyons University of Glasgow
Dr William McEvoy University of Sussex
Dr Robert McLaughlan University of Newcastle
Prof Martin McQuillan Kingston University London
Dr Graeme MacDonald University of Warwick
Dr Alice Mah University of Warwick
Dr Maria do Mar Pereira University of Warwick
Prof Philip Marfleet University of East London
Dr Vicky Margree University of Brighton
Dr Robert Maslen University of Glasgow
Dr Lucy Mayblin University of Sheffield
Dr John Miller University of Sheffield
Dr David Mills University of Oxford
Dr Drew Milne University of Cambridge
Latoya Mistral Ferns University of Warwick and Durham University alumna
Sian Mitchell University of Warwick
Prof David Mond University of Warwick
Dr Liz Morrish Nottingham Trent University
Dr Pablo Mukherjee University of Warwick
Roberta Mulas University of Warwick
Dr Simon Murray University of Glasgow
Ghandy Najla University of East Anglia
Dr Michael Niblett University of Warwick
Dr Marijn Nieu University of Warwick
Dr Patrick O’Connor Nottingham Trent University
Prof Martin O’Shaughnessy Nottingham Trent University
Dr Goldie Osuri University of Warwick
Dr Ian Patterson Queens’ College, Cambridge
Prof Adam Piette University of Sheffield
Prof Alison Phipps University of Glasgow
Dr Loredana Polezzi University of Warwick
Dr Nicola Pratt University of Warwick
Dr Rupert Read University of East Anglia
Dr John Regan University of Cambridge
Dr James Riley Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Dr Stephen Ross University of Victoria, Canada
Dr Chris Rossdale City University of London
Prof Paul Routledge University of Leeds
Andrew Rubens University of Glasgow
Ali Saqer University of Warwick
Prof Derek Sayer Lancaster University
Prof Jan Aart Scholte University of Warwick
Dr Jason Scott-Warren University of Cambridge
Dr Robbie Shilliam Queen Mary University of London
Dr Nando Sigona University of Birmingham
Prof Melanie Simms University of Leicester
Dr Andrew Smith University of Glasgow
Dr Vicki Squire University of Warwick
Dr Samuel Solomon University of Sussex
Dr Nick Srnicek University College London
Maurice Stierl University of Warwick
Dr Mariz Tadros Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex
Dr Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor University of Leicester
Nick Taylor University of Warwick
Prof Olga Taxidou University of Edinburgh
Dr Andrea Teti University of Aberdeen
Lisa Tilley University of Warwick
Lauren Tooker University of Warwick
Prof Charles Tripp SOAS, University of London
Dr Mandy Turner University of Bradford/Kenyon Institute, Jerusalem
Dr Maria Villares Varela University of Oxford
Dr Vron Ware The Open University
Dr Dave Webber University of Warwick
Dr Polly Wilder University of Leeds
Dr Aaron Winter Abertay University
Dr Nicholas Wright University of East Anglia
Prof Patrick Wright King’s College London
Dr Yoke-Sum Wong Lancaster University

• As current students enrolled on a master’s in social work course, we feel strongly about some of the points in Martin Narey’s report Making the Education of Social Workers Consistently Effective (Society, 19 February). We believe that Narey seriously fails to appreciate the role of employers in social work training. Employers should have a statutory duty to provide placements and to facilitate an initial post-qualification year of continued assessment and support.

Practice is ever more dynamic and university staff cannot be expected to carry all of the responsibility for the end product. Partnership working should mean the best of both worlds – theoretical and ethical underpinning of effective, challenging practice. Several of us have extensive life experience and have spent some years at the frontline as social work assistants. We strongly disagree that raising Ucas points is the way to achieve consistency and effectiveness in newly qualified social workers. Investing in home-grown people such as ourselves who are committed to our localities and their services is a better path to take. Academically, we also challenge a report which relies so heavily on the anecdotal rather than the factual.
Karen Hodgson, Laurence Shonhiwa, Lauren Morgan and Jen Crooks
University of Worcester

• It is great to see the YouGov research commissioned by the Guardian into the value of higher education (Report, 26 February). Almost 60% of parents believe degrees are poor value for money, yet two-thirds of parents still think that the traditional full-time university model will benefit them in entering their chosen career path. We are regularly made aware of the high unemployment figure for graduates, so why do so many parents want their children to go down a path that will leave them in debt and with no guarantee of a job at the end of it? Puzzling, isn’t it? While it is encouraging to see that almost half of the parents surveyed said they were positive about apprenticeships, there is a still long way to go to promote the alternatives to university to parents, students and society. The National Apprenticeship Service has 17,000 apprenticeship roles available at any given time and they have found that up to 85% of apprentices stay in employment. It is for each individual to decide what career path they take but as a society we need to channel ambition and educate young people about all the ways in which they can reach their full potential.
Hattie Wrixon
Co-founder of 










Before the Bolshevik revolution my grandparents owned an estate in Ukraine, not far from Kiev. Everyone there spoke Russian and thought of themselves as Russians.

Like so many Russians, they often spent holidays in Crimea, where the only significant number of non-Russians were the indigenous Tartars and small populations of ethnic Greeks, Bulgarians, Germans and Romani. In the most recent census 77 per cent said Russian was their first language, 11 per cent Tartar and 10 per cent Ukrainian.

The only reason Crimea is currently part of Ukraine is that in 1954 Khrushchev transferred it for administrative convenience to the Ukraine region of the Soviet Union.

 The only fair and realistic solution to the present crisis is to hold a referendum and let the people of Crimea decide the future for themselves.  There’s not much doubt what the outcome would be.

John Landell Mills, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

While the politicians run around like headless chickens over the Ukraine-Russia-EU situation, they should take a look at a little piece of land sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea.

Like eastern Ukraine, it has a large Russian naval fleet, it has a predominantly Russian population, and its language is Russian. It is an exclave of Russia called Kaliningrad Oblast. Its railway system relies on co-operation with Polish Railways, and in particular with Lithuanian Railways, over whose tracks Kaliningrad’s trains have to pass to reach Russia. It works without threats of war.

If the people of eastern Ukraine want to be Russian, and the people of western Ukraine want to be allied to the EU and Nato, then let both halves of the country have what they want. Why force a war when 23 years of cohabitation in the Baltic States shows that it is possible for Russia and EU and Nato countries (all formerly under the control of the USSR) to live together?

Tony Olsson, Ilfracombe, North Devon

Before the British media start pontificating about sinister “masked men” seizing government buildings and darkening the utopian “new dawn” of the Kiev coup (“Masked men of the Crimea overshadow the country’s new dawn”, 28 February), they should recall that only a few days ago they cheered on the seizing of government buildings and the overthrow of an elected head of state – and managed to overlook the fact that some of those taking part in the revolution were armed, masked, and affiliated to neo–fascist groups.

Before our politicians start pontificating about restraint and international law, they should also recall the example they repeatedly set with brutal and illegal aggression against so many distant countries, from Iraq to Libya. It is western chickens, not Putin’s, that appear to be swooping in to roost in Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Peter McKenna, Liverpool

The price of a roof over your head

Concerning the rise in private rents (report, 27 February), I calculated some figures this week.

I started teaching in 1990. My gross pay was £15,000. My council rent was £9 a week, or something over £400 per year. A new colleague joined us this academic year. His gross pay is £27,000. His private rent is £200 per week, or £10,000 per year. Furthermore, my council rent stays in the local area, whereas my friend’s private rent ends up 6,000 miles away, in a now richer city.

Frank Jacobs, London E3

How to dry out the Somerset Levels

When looking for a cure for the Somerset Levels every winter, I think the so-called experts and politicians are mistaken to concentrate on dredging the Rivers Parrett and Tone.

These are half-empty for about half of each day and overfull for the other half. This is of course because they are tidal; in earlier centuries Langport was a busy seaport. They can dredge the waterways as much as they like but the rivers will continue to be full at high tides.

Therefore the “Thames Barrage Solution” is clearly the correct one. At its mouth the Parrett is about 600 metres wide, but there is also a new tidal bird sanctuary there and it might therefore make best sense to construct a barrage about three kilometres inland, where the river narrows to less than 200 metres.

Once the barrage is up, the Somerset Levels can drain into a river about five or more metres lower than at present. A single powerful pumping station at the dam can the lower the river even more if desired, and of course farther dredging would also be helpful. In summer the river could be kept full and this would aid groundwater levels during droughts (remember them?).

Professor R N Thompson, Blackford, Wedmore, Somerset

My medical history is not for sale

I am a retired geriatrician. I applaud the idea of my truly anonymised clinical data being used for medical and public health research.

Count me out, however, if the data is to be made available (for which read “sold”) to commercial organisations including private healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. If as seems likely the supposedly anonymised information can be back-referenced to me, who legally holds that information and is responsible for its use or misuse? My GP? The Department of Health?  NHS England? A big pharma company? A chain of private healthcare providers (perhaps when I hit 80 they’ll try to entice me into one of their lovely retirement homes)?

All in all, I think I’ll keep myself to myself.

Shame about the probable benefits to society of knowing about my anonymous frailties (broken down by age and sex of course) – but my medical history is not for sale. The NHS should already have the information but it is so incompetent it can’t set up a national IT system or a call centre that works. So what hope for

Dr D J Walker FRCP, Henbury, Cheshire

Brazen greed in the school holidays

Many may share my recent experience in booking my family’s summer holiday. Because my daughter’s school is expanding its buildings she will be starting her summer holidays two weeks before all the other schools, and returning a week later. Thankfully, we had not done what we usually have to do and book our summer holiday a year in advance. This has enabled us to take our holiday one week later, saving us a staggering £995.

Everything is the same: airports, flight times and apartment. The only difference is the date we travel. We would not stand for any retailer hiking their prices at a time of high demand; your local supermarket does not increase its prices on a Saturday because that is a peak shopping period.

Mr Gove’s plan for schools to determine their own term schedules will just encourage tour operators to extend their peak periods.

I do not know what the answer is, but I know that we would not stand for any other service so brazenly increasing their prices.

Vicki Mangan, Liverpool

Rational discussion on paederasty

David Crawford (Letter, 28 February) reminds us of the Ancient Greek distinction between paedophilia (good) and paederasty (bad). But Socrates was happy to describe himself as a paederast, even though he probably never had sex with boys. The Athenians were much more capable of discussing such matters calmly and rationally than the British popular press.

George MacDonald Ross, Leeds

Ulster ‘get out  of jail’ letters

A large part of the start of the Irish troubles stemmed from the inequities in the way Catholics were disadvantaged as against Protestants.

It seems from the way the amnesties were only given out to republicans that neither Sinn Fein nor the British Government saw a problem in creating a secret deal to undermine equality of treatment under the law by only offering such “get out of jail free” letters to republicans.

That the deal was enacted by that slippery ferret Blair is probably less of a surprise.

Clive Tiney, York

Graeco-Scottish independence deal

The recent involvement of George Clooney, Boris Johnson and others in the debate regarding the true home of the Parthenon Marbles made me realise that this will all be resolved when Scotland votes for independence and the marbles can finally be moved to Elgin.

Ron Bird, Pinner, Middlesex

Scientists! What do they know?

I have read in much of the media recently that “The brains of older people only appear to slow down because they have so much information to compute, much like a full-up hard drive, scientists believe”. It certainly makes me feel better, as my brain has certainly slowed down, but it is reassuring to know that is because I know so much. Who am I kidding?

Barbara MacArthur (87), Cardiff







It is wrong to suppose that a “Yes” vote in the referendum would result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom

Sir, Professor Jeremy Waldron (letter, Feb 28) is wrong to suppose that a “Yes” vote in the independence referendum would result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom. All the legal opinion that I have read is clear that the secession of Scotland would leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland intact, albeit somewhat diminished in size and population. The continuing UK would be bound by all its current international treaties and obligations and could carry on using its current official name unless and until it decided otherwise — following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 it was some years before Parliament formally replaced “Ireland” with “Northern Ireland” in the UK’s name.

The old Kingdom of Scotland ceased to be in 1707. Although Scotland exists for many purposes in UK domestic law, at present it has no legal personality in international law. If Scotland were to become independent in 2016 that would change, but the Scotland that emerged at that point would in legal terms be a wholly new entity, not a restoration of the pre-Act of Union state. This would no more affect the continued legal existence of the United Kingdom than would the secession of Yorkshire or Cornwall.

There appears to be no reason why the UK should not carry on using the Union Flag if it wanted, or why it should change the name of the BBC. The latter would still be the UK’s national public service broadcaster, although of course Scotland would expect to receive a fair share of its assets. Professor Waldron may be assured that none of this has anything to do with the “English bullying” he professes to dislike. It would simply be the natural consequence of the secession of just one part of an existing state for the purposes of forming a new state.

Ian Stevens
Leamington Spa, Warks

Sir, Why a need to change either our name or our flag if the Scots decide to secede? After all, names are names and not descriptions. As a wit once observed, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Besides, England was itself once formed from the union of kingdoms, Mercia, Wessex, etc. And why change a jolly good and very familiar flag, the Union Jack? Flags serve decorative and, for the most part, vacuously symbolic purposes. If references are required, these may be purely historical. The civil and state ensigns of Mauritius display the dodo, a long defunct entity, and I see from the shirts of the Russian ice hockey players that Russia has now revived the Tsarist two-headed imperial eagle on its coat of arms, a design whose splendour was obviously considered to outweigh its current relevance.

David Houghton

Sir, To equate Northern Ireland with Ulster, as Carlton Christensen appears to do (letter, Feb 28), is not — notwithstanding common usage — strictly correct. The six counties of Northern Ireland are only part of the ancient province of Ulster. Its other three counties are in the Republic of Ireland. The split is the result of the partitioning of Ireland that occurred after the last, and only previous, secession from the Union in 1922, when the southern part of Ireland, as the Irish Free State, now the Republic, left it.

Tony Phillips
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks



The fall in the numbers of teen pregnancies is welcome – but it isn’t just due to the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy

Sir, The significant fall in the teenage pregnancy rate since 2008 is very welcome but Philip Collins’s suggestion (Opinion, Feb 26) that it can be attributed to the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is difficult to reconcile with the evidence. The Strategy started in 1999, and despite hundreds of millions of pounds being spent for the first eight years of operation, there was very little noticeable effect on unwanted pregnancies. Indeed, by 2008, the under-16 abortion rate was higher than at the start of the Strategy.

The recent dramatic fall in underage pregnancy only started in 2008. It seems unlikely that measures such as access to emergency birth control (the morning-after pill) suddenly started being successful from that point. Indeed it is notable that the decrease, if anything, accelerated after the Strategy finished in 2010. Further, a wide range of research has established beyond reasonable doubt that easier access to emergency birth control has no effect in reducing teenage pregnancy or abortion rates.

Even more worryingly, recent research from the US and the UK suggests that the promotion of emergency birth control is associated with increases in rates of sexually transmitted infections.

The true reasons behind the recent decrease in teenage pregnancy rates are not well established but there are several possible candidates. These include increased use of long-acting reversible contraception (which has much lower failure rates than condoms or the pill), demographic change and fewer young people leaving school with no qualifications.

Even more intriguingly, over the same period we have also seen significant decreases in alcohol and drug use among young people, factors which are known to be associated with early sexual activity and pregnancy. Hopefully future research will shed light on the importance or otherwise of each of these factors.

Professor David Paton
Nottingham University Business School

It is right to remember the three Church of England clergymen who were awarded the VC during the First World War

Sir, The Rev Frank Parkinson is right to remind readers of three Church of England clergymen who were awarded the VC during the First World War (letter, Feb 28). However, it is worth pointing out that they received the awards for their heroism in performing their duties as chaplains, typically by making (sometimes repeated) forays to rescue wounded soldiers and to minister to them under heavy fire. In the hell of the battlefield they tried to save life, not to take it.

The Rev Dr Paul Hamlet
Ipswich, Suffolk


The project codenamed Window did deployed ‘chaff’ from aircraft to give the enemy a radar image of ‘false bombers’

Sir, The project codenamed Window did indeed successfully deploy “chaff” — aluminium-coated strips of paper — from aircraft to give the enemy a radar image of “false bombers”, as Ben Macintyre correctly states (Opinion, Feb 28). And 617 (“Dambuster”) squadron used it as a feint in this way in at least some of its raids. On the eve of D-Day, however, 617 was deployed in relays over the Channel to drop waves of chaff over a period of eight hours, timed to give the effect of a slow-moving convoy, several rows of ships deep, moving at seven knots, towards the Pas de Calais. Apparently it worked so well that for a while it confirmed Hitler’s obsession with the Pas as the most likely invasion site, and delayed vital deployments towards the Normandy beachhead.

The Rev Stephen Wilson
Faversham, Kent

Sir, Ben McIntyre’s mention of “chaff” reminded me that my mother, a primary school teacher, somehow acquired a whole box of rolls of “chaff” and used it to make Christmas decorations for the school hall for at least 20 years after the Second World War. The decorations had to be above head height because the edges of the tape were sharp enough to cut small fingers — as I found out to my cost when “helping” her in my early years.

Roger Bloxham
Crowborough, E Sussex


Norman Baker is to be applauded for his political courage as the present drugs anarchy causes squalor, crime and death

Sir, Norman Baker is to be applauded for his political courage (“Sell danger drugs on the high street, says minister”, Feb 28). The present drugs anarchy causes squalor, crime, damage to health, and death. It hits poor people the hardest. The social and economic costs of organised drug crime in England and Wales are estimated at £10.7 billion annually. New psychoactive substances, easily synthesised and cheaply produced, peddled on the internet, have added a new dimension of danger. Prohibition will never create a drugs-free world, and drug usage continues to increase and mutate. The safer course is legalisation of production and sale of selected drugs combined with strict regulation of quality and availability, decriminalisation of personal use of all drugs, taxation to discourage use, honest information and education to support people to make responsible choices, and appropriate treatment and support for problem drug users.

There are signs that public opinion is now more ready to accept reform, and the UN Secretary-General has called for an “open debate that considers all options” in advance of the UN Special Session on drugs in 2016. Other countries have been developing rational and humane policies. The prospect of reducing harm in Britain through such a strategy depends on the political parties agreeing to a concordat and refraining from exploiting the drugs issue for electoral purposes.

Lord Howarth of Newport
House of Lords





SIR – My favourite punning shop name was a hairdresser in Plymouth called Herr Kutz.

David Norsworthy
Saltash, Cornwall

SIR – Wright Hassall, a solicitors’ in Leamington Spa, Lock keepers, a canalside hairdresser in Stone and Bodgett and Scarper, builders in Nottingham.

Chris Myatt
Stone, Staffordshire

SIR – Dolittle and Dally is an estate agent’s in Kidderminster.

Dr A V Parke
Berrynarbor, Devon

SIR – While walking down a street in l’Opera district of Paris, I was tickled to see a small bakery called Au Plaisir du Pain.

Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire

SIR – Often parked near here is a painter’s van which bears the legend: “Patel and Co., painters and decorators – You’ve tried the cowboys, now try the Indians.”

Dr G P Cubbin
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – In Germany, I noticed a florist called Blumen Eck.

Albert Edward Short
Blackpool, Lancashire

SIR – Over 60 years ago a butcher in the east of Glasgow had a window-sign which read: “Always pleased to meet you – always meat to please you.’

Allan MacIntyre
East Kilbride, Lanarkshire

SIR – I have seen several ladies’ hairdressers called “Curl up and Dye”.

Bill Wilson

SIR – Auckland, New Zealand has a Chinese Restaurant called Luv-a-Duck.

Jan Rae
Witney, Oxfordshire


SIR – Michael Gove, the education secretary, can’t be criticised for trying to raise standards in all schools.

However the Coalition is failing to tackle the far greater problem of children coming into the education system with poor language and social skills as a result of negligent parenting.

Nick Alford
Ruislip, Middlesex

SIR – You rightly highlight the important work Michael Gove is carrying out at the Department for Education and how low the standard of education in this country sank under Labour.

But rather than stopping at opening more academies and free schools, one way really to make state schools indistinguishable from private schools would be to privatise them all. Parents would be allowed a voucher for each child equivalent to the amount the state is spending and would then be free to shop around, topping the voucher up if they wished their children to attend a more expensive school. Competition would drive swift improvement and restore our country to its position in world rankings.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – I fail to see how more academies, entrance lotteries, highly paid managers or even improved Ofsted ratings can help. It is more important to improve the quality of learning in the classroom.

David Cooper
Rossendale, Lancashire

Ukraine crisis

SIR – American interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine has played a large part in bringing it to the verge of civil war.

But the EU has spent 20 years trying to prise Ukraine away from Moscow’s orbit, and the net result is political catastrophe. Russian hard cash will probably be the only solution to paying Ukraine’s debts, accompanied by sanctimonious wailing from EU politicians. This will be a major political defeat for EU apologists, including the Prime Minister.

Timothy Stroud
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Of course we all dislike repressive governments and would rather they quietly expired. But if the cost of getting rid of them is to plunge their societies into prolonged violence, economic collapse and political chaos, it is clearly too high.

Ukraine is embarked on an uncertain path but if it unravels it will not be forgotten that it was on the back of a quick-fix deal thrust on the government and the liberal opposition by EU enforcers. Ukraine, God help us, is now an EU problem. Vladimir Putin understands that reality trumps moral imperialism.

Brian Pottinger
Launceston, Cornwall

Solicitors’ fees

SIR – The comparison between the fee paid to a locum doctor and the hourly rate charged by a solicitor is misleading. The doctor’s fee is akin to a salary in that the recipient does not have to meet administrative expenses out of it, as those costs have already been borne by the NHS. In contrast, the solicitor has to account for those costs as a self-employed business, including insurance, secretarial support and materials, office space, professional fees and training.

In the last year, approximately 1,000 solicitors’ practices have been forced to close due to financial pressures, whilst the criminal Bar is in crisis through lack of legal-aid funding.

Tim Wallis
Newbury, Berkshire

Clever King Charleses

SIR – Jasper Copping’s remarks about the intelligence of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are rather unfair. He has clearly never owned one.

I have a 16-month-old who is extremely responsive to training, good at agility and behaviour classes and who doesn’t miss a trick at home. In 50 years of dog ownership, he is the most intelligent dog I have owned.

Kate Robinson
Dornoch, Sutherland

Pirates ahoy!

SIR – I was disappointed to read that the film Captain Phillips faces claims that it exaggerated the heroism of the eponymous captain (report, February 23). I was also once the captain of a container ship and the victim of a pirate attack. Every action portrayed by Tom Hanks was nothing less than would have been expected of any British or American sea captain faced with a similar situation.

A captain is expected to put his ship, his crew and (perversely) the pirates before his own safety, and that is what Captain Phillips did in the film.

Capt Peter J Newton
Chellaston, Derbyshire

Advertising is central to British business

SIR – The Advertising Association is indebted to Helen Goodman MP just as we are to Ed Vaizey MP, Sir Nick Harvey MP and everyone else who spoke at our recent summit.

We are also grateful to Sir Martin Sorrell for pointing out in these pages (Business, February 16) that advertising works for people, for business and boosts UK competitiveness. Ms Goodman also noted the sector’s economic contribution of £10 billion gross value added and £2 billion exports together with safeguards to the public via the Advertising Standards Authority.

Ms Goodman is right to suggest that advertising leaders must stay in touch with the world and its politics to protect their regulatory stability and freedom to compete. Sir Martin is also right that the default position for policy-makers should be to support the advertising sector and to preserve its independent self-regulation.

Tim Lefroy
Chief Executive
Advertising Association
London SW1

Slavery compensation

SIR – It is unseemly for someone to require compensation on behalf of the suffering of people who died long before the claimant was born.

Those white people who feel the need to link themselves in chains and apologise for the sins of their fathers regarding slavery, are more than likely descendants of people who never employed a slave but found themselves up chimneys or down coal mines at an age when they would now be attending primary school. We should acknowledge past wrongs, keep calm and carry on.

Mervyn Jackson
Belper, Derbyshire

Mustard moustache

SIR – Chris Harding says that kissing a man without a beard is like eating an egg without salt.

My mother’s expression (having been married to a mustachioed military gent for many a year) was “kissing a man without a moustache is like eating ham without mustard”.

Penny White

SIR – I have often wondered if the weekly and fortnightly shavers, with their so-called designer stubble, also bathe with the same lack of frequency.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

SIR – Russia’s Peter the Great had the best view on beards: he put a tax on them.

Christopher Egerton-Thomas
Hove, East Sussex



SIR – As a campaigner who has spent the last 13 years raising awareness about the risks of flooding, I have written to the Prime Minister to ask him what lessons have been learned from the recent floods. These were not a “one off” – the last decade has seen several big floods and each one seems to have been worse.

Despite the economic climate, the Government must invest more in flood risk management. Not just in hard engineered defences, but in natural methods such as reforestation – the opposite of cutting down vast swathes of historic forest in favour of housing developments, as promoted by the Environment Secretary in December.

We must stop building on flood plains. If we have to build on them, we must insist that developers build houses that are resilient to flooding, making use of sustainable urban drainage, green roofs and grey water recycling. Urban flooding is on the increase because we’ve concreted over too much of the country. We should insist that local authorities, developers and individual householders use permeable paving. We must work with nature, not against it.

Mary Dhonau

SIR – Christopher Booker’s comments (“How the flooding of Somerset was deliberately engineered”, Opinion, February 23) were misleading.

Southlake Moor is flooded annually by the Internal Drainage Board as part of a locally agreed flood management plan, regardless of the long-term weather forecast. The landowners are in agreement and receive a payment from Natural England.

Dredging will soon take place on five miles of river channel where the Tone and Parrett meet at Burrowbridge. This is a key stretch of the river that has been specifically identified as suitable for dredging. I

In addition, we are currently carrying out the single largest pumping operation ever in Somerset. Our pumps are working 24 hours a day to drain an estimated 90 million tons of floodwater.

Since the start of December 2013 England has seen extreme weather, the wettest winter since records began and exceptionally high groundwater and river levels. In Somerset, around 100 properties have flooded but our defences have protected more than 3,500. Nationally 1.4 million properties have been protected.

Richard Cresswell
South West Director, Environment Agency
London SW1

SIR –Tom Chivers asks “whether a wider consensus on the reality of man-made climate change will translate to any changes in policy”, following the flooding.

Even if climate change is “man-made”, nothing that Britain does to reduce carbon emissions will make a jot of difference. Thus, there is no justification for any of the green taxes which Labour imposed and which the present administration has maintained so steadfastly.

John Waine
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

SIR – Research conducted by McCright and Dunlap in 2011 suggests that climate sceptics are likely to be older, male and politically conservative. This dovetails with recent research from Yale University, which links risk perception with political allegiance. It is a mistake to make a direct link between global warming and the short-term floods in Britain, the polar vortex in America, or the extreme heat in Melbourne. But there is a longer-term trend, and it is supported by data. There is a very strong consensus among scientists about climate change.

Adrian Baskerville
Soberton, Hampshire

SIR – Some people are demanding that the Government should be sued for flood compensation. Surely it should be the individuals responsible: members of the last government, of the Environment Agency, civil service or the RSPB, WWF and others who promoted the abandonment of areas to flooding. In other professions, personal indemnity insurance is required – why not in this case?

Prof Michael Jefferson
Melchbourne, Bedfordshire


Irish Times:



Sir, – Fionnuala Walsh’s suggestion (February 27th) that colour coding the cable ties used to affix political posters to utility poles might lead to naming and shaming candidates into removing them post election is an excellent idea. However, it relies on the unproven assumption that all political candidates have the capacity to feel shame and respond to moral pressure.

On the other hand, there is overwhelming proof they are responsive in the matter of “recovering” expenses. I suggest all cable ties be candidate coded and supplied by the local authority; that they be sold to candidates for one euro each; that this be refunded, less a product and handling fee, when they are taken down and returned.

The candidates’ accounts would be charged €10 for any cable tie – or poster – not removed within four weeks. Any remaining expenses incurred by the local authority could be recovered by a direct deduction from taxpayers’ subventions to the party leader’s allowance – we have positive proof that candidates respond to the power of the whip and that party leaders have little hesitation in using them when they feel the pinch. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,

Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Barry Colfer (February 28th) suggests I report those in breach of poster legislation to the local authority or litter warden. I had to laugh. The upcoming election is for the local authority and what litter warden would cross those likely to be his bosses? He then suggest the easy solution of looking away – I had to laugh even more. Sure any time there’s an election here as soon as you turn around there’s another poster glaring at you (or if you’re really unlucky the candidates themselves!). – Yours, etc,


Harrisons Place,


Sir, – With the impending waiting lists likely if the Minister for Health’s GP proposals are to be believed, I wonder what use will be free GP care when there is no GP appointments?

The only performing part of the health sector (interestingly also, the only part outside HSE control) is about to drown. – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – The best workplaces supplement in The Irish Times (February 27th) made for wonderful and positive reading. Its shows the way forward to industry, the direction that companies need to go to become great employers. I was delighted to see the way employers are valuing their employees through trust, respect, fairness and consultation. This in turn feeds back from employees into the company, making them great places to work.

I was surprised however, to note that there was little reference to mediation in the workplace. Companies are like families; and like any family, disputes are bound to break out. Having a disputes resolution system in place would be high on the list of priorities of any manager or HR department, I would have thought.

Perhaps if the Mediation Bill were published, it would make alternative dispute resolution more mainstream in Irish business. Please, Minister? – Yours, etc,


Coomhola, Bantry,

Co Cork.




Sir, – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin must be congratulated for his release of the findings of the recent survey on the family (Home News, February 28th).

Earlier in the month a spokesperson for the Irish bishops stated, “Any release of the Synod findings would undermine the integrity of the information collecting process if there was to be a comment from the Irish bishops.”

The bishops of England and Wales also refused to release their findings stating “according to the wishes of the Holy See the summary of the findings is confidential”.

We now have a record to be proud of. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is the only bishop in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland who had the courage to ignore “the wishes of the Holy See” and to publish the results and maybe be damned for it.

However, with Pope Francis advocating more openness in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Martin is more in tune with the thinking of this Pope than the rest of his bishop colleagues who, hiding behind the highly-spun fig leaf of “Holy See wishes” refuse to exercise their Episcopal autonomy. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,


Sir, – There appears to be a fundamental inaccuracy with respect to the legal analysis in Cadhla Ní Frithile’s letter (“Homeless crisis as temperature drops”, February 14th) in which Ms Ní Frithile laments the plight of a homeless man who finds himself on the streets of Dublin “caught in a trap of injustice”.

The injustice stems from the fact that the homeless man must produce two nights’ hostel accommodation receipts in order to receive welfare payments. I have no doubt what Ms Ní Frithile says is correct, and unjust.

But Ms Ní Frithile then argues Bunreacht na hÉireann states, quoting Article 45, that “justice and charity shall inform all institutions of the national life” and that the Minister for Social Protection would be “in clear breach of the Constitution” were she not to remedy the aforementioned injustice.

What is omitted, however, is the preceding qualifying statement to Article 45, which reads as follows: “The principles of social policy set forth in this Article are intended for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The application of those principles in the making of laws shall be the care of the Oireachtas exclusively, and shall not be cognisable by any Court under any of the provisions of this Constitution.”

As such, it is clear that one cannot be in breach of Article 45, as it is simply not possible: neither Ms Ní Frithile, nor the unfortunate homeless man, could successfully mount a claim arguing the Minister transgressed Article 45.

For better or worse, it is for our elected representatives to decide what “justice and charity” entails, whenever the distribution of resources is concerned; it is for the courts to determine the citizens’ respective rights and liabilities. Such is the nature of our constitutional scaffolding. – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park East,

Dún Laoghaire,



Sir, – So Dublin City Council is banning the use of power tools – jackhammers and concrete saws – by construction and utility maintenance workers in historic parts of Dublin city (Olivia Kelly, Home News, February 25th). A commendable idea. Any chance they might send a spare copy of the rules down to their country cousins in Kildare County Council? – Yours etc,


Dublin Road,

Leixlip, Co Kildare.


Sir, – The outstanding moment of the recent documentary on Irish aviation (RTÉ1) was when a contributor described how the late Brendan O’Regan, on being commissioned to run an operation in Shannon, was so embarrassed at the size of his salary that he gave some of it back! God rest Brendan. Those were the days! – Yours, etc,


Stradbally North,

Clarinbridge, Co Galway.



A chara, – I must agree with most of what John B Reid writes. He refers to the “cringe factor” of playing only Ireland’s Call at Ireland’s away matches.

However, his suggestion that both this and Amhrán na bhFiann should be played simply does not go far enough. The national anthem of Ireland is Amhrán na bhFiann and not any other little ditty.

Our national rugby team is in danger of losing its proud identity completely. The historic name of Lansdowne Road has been replaced by the name of an insurance company and our national flag appears to have morphed into a mobile phone advertisement. – Is mise,


Mc Dowell Avenue,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – John B Reid (February 28th) highlights the political difficulty of agreeing a suitable anthem for the Irish rugby team.  This was compounded in their last encounter by the English persisting in the use of the British national anthem, the words of which are possibly more familiar to some 20 per cent of the Irish supporters than the words of the anthem of the Republic.  I cannot understand this English persistence.  We have a wealth of great national music on this side of the Irish Sea (by Elgar, Holst and Parry to name but a few), and it really is time to remind our opponents that the Devil has all the best tunes!  – Yours, etc,


Merton Road,



Oxon, England.



A chara, – Irish has been described as a functionally useless language (Eanna Coffey, February 25th). This may come as a surprise to the 200 Irish speakers of An Ghaeltacht-sur-Seine here in Paris.

The Irish are remarkable among “English speakers” on mainland Europe in their appreciation for and willingness to learn other functionally challenged local languages such as French, German and Spanish. A great many from other English-speaking countries are notorious for keeping to English-speaking circles and expecting the locals to speak English.

Not so the Irish, and particularly those who can speak some Irish. They have great respect for other people’s languages, plus a willingness and ability to learn them. This comes from first having respect for their own language.

This is not only useful, it also creates enormous goodwill towards the Irish and Ireland, and dare I say it, could perhaps be considered functional! – Is mise,



An Ghaeltacht-sur-Seine

(Conradh na Gaeilge, Paris


Rue Gaston Paymal,




Irish Independent:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is as earnest and committed an individual as whoever has put their back into shovelling us out of the debt doo-doo with which we have been swamped.

Also in this section

Letters: Reality is in rag order

Letters: It is in all of our interests to work for peace

Rural post offices are community’s lifeblood

I like Enda, how could you not like him: he is a stand-up guy, he bit off more than a herd of hungry elephants could chew when he first got his teeth into the task of being Taoiseach at a time when the country was banjaxed by a combination of the FFers, and the ‘kill the patient if necessary to pay for the cure’ tactics adopted by the troika.

Well, they said it couldn’t be done. They said we’d be swallowed up in a tsunami of toxic debt and the vultures and vampires of Wall Street and Frankfurt would feast on our collective carcass.

Enda, Michael Noonan, Leo and Richard and the rest of the Fine Gael frontbench, to their credit, have held this diabolical assault at bay for the moment.

Of course, the sacrifices of the ordinary man or woman who has borne the real whiplash of austerity, who is now almost senseless after seven years of cuts and flailing, do not feature in the script. The toll taken on Joe Public does not show on the record.

As I said, I like Enda – yesterday I heard him tell Aine Lawlor he would be flattered but nonetheless adamant that he would decline the job of EU president.

Sound man. He said he would not turn his back on the Irish people. Steady on, Enda, I cautioned. You see, he is going all-out for a second term to finish the gig.

Well my point to Enda is this: the people who voted for you have given everything they have. What they now require of you is to go to Europe, not as EU president accepting a token trophy for saving Europe’s banks, but as the leader of a people who will not be cowed.

Brussels promised retrospective action on the bank debt. Enda, you must now go and make good on that deal.

When you return triumphantly with such a prize, I guarantee you will get your second term.

You will become that rare thing in Irish politics: a man who has delivered.




* At the weekend, the general viewing public were treated to a vision of the economic future of Ireland by none other than Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance. There was good and welcome news with NAMA managing to sell a large section of state assets at what some property experts believe is the bottom of our property crash, but we need to get moolah in so some credit is probably due to that somewhat secretive organisation.

One very worrying aspect of Mr Noonan’s speech, however, was that he expressed a personal desire to see a third bank in the Irish economy to promote competition. The promotion of competition is an unarguable point and Mr Noonan deserves credit for this hypothesis. One glaring misnomer, however, is that the last time I was in one of my local towns I happened to see the following names over buildings that had holes in their walls for ATMs – Allied Irish Banks, Ulster Bank, Bank of Ireland and PTSB.

Although a degree in finance or economics from Trinity, or any other third degree institution, escaped my errant youth, I did happen to go to an excellent local and rural national school. There I learnt a little bit of counting and the relationship between numbers, or mathematics as it is called, was bestowed upon my then childish intellect.

Now, maybe my teacher was wrong but it seems to me that there are currently four main banks in Ireland. And again I may be wrong but I was taught that two is not four. Then again I learnt the repetitive nature of history as well, so can one surmise that we will be treated to another late-night session of Dail Eireann to “save” two of the four banks and will the mortgage books then be offered en masse to vulture funds?




* Regarding buildings constructed with defects during the boom, there is not as yet any mechanism to prevent further Priory Hall debacles.

The practice in Ireland of granting Fire Safety Certificates in response to plans, supporting paperwork and a fee being supplied to a building control authority means that the certificate is granted before any construction has even begun, and quite without any verification during the build that the plans are implemented partially or fully.

Surely logic and safety demand that the Fire Safety Certification should only be issued following careful checks of the completed construction?

To allow such a dangerous loophole to unscrupulous developers and builders is to lead some into temptation to the endangerment of others.

Surely our legislators can block this loophole?




* No man had more influence in shaping our civilisation than Socrates. He was a stonemason who lived nearly five centuries before Christ. He fought as a foot soldier in two wars.

In the 5th Century BC, he believed in the One God, and he died for that belief. Because of his technique of questioning all the things that the Athenian society of the time took for granted, he was likened to a gadfly stinging a horse.

It got to the point where the ruling party could stand him no longer, and hauled him into court on trumped-up charges of blasphemy, denying and insulting the gods. Socrates was condemned to death by poisoning. He chose to take the cup of hemlock from his jailer and drank it.

Socrates obviously had faith. Was his faith essentially the same as mine? If not, why not? There is only one heaven. As knowledge advances, understanding deepens, and one’s faith grows accordingly. Moral teaching has to have the capacity to deal with the moral problems of today, without being hidebound by former precedent. Remember the Lord’s parable, warning against putting new wine in old wineskins.




* Recent events have demonstrated to the world potential dangers and ramifications of weakness in domestic politics and international relations. The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes nice guys really do finish last and, when you are dealing with issues of security and stability, they usually do more harm than good.

Weakness can damage immensely a state’s ability to do anything on the international stage, too. One need only look at the situation with regard to Britain and Syria. The vote in the Westminster Parliament against military intervention left Britain with no real leverage to deal with a man like Assad.

The current crisis in Ukraine will be the ultimate test for the West. If it chooses the non-violent route or indeed reneges on its defence commitments to Ukraine as outlined in a 1994 treaty, not only would it be a massive coup for the Russians, but it could also fundamentally undermine Western nations militarily, since if they won’t fight then why spend money on the military, and also diplomatically, as reneging would destroy the credibility needed to forge any agreements of any nature. We would be left with toothless lions and clawless eagles to defend us.

The sad fact is that, sometimes, we needed to forgo speaking softly and instead wield the big stick. Playing hardball is, from time to time, the only way to do things.



Irish Independent




March 2, 2014

2 March 2014 Lists

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to sort out a mole in their midst? Priceless

Cold slightly better but muddle through sort Doctor Who list

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but gets under400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Frank Rushbrook, who has died aged 99, was a world expert in the problems of fire prevention and control in ships, port installations and offshore structures.

It was in the late 1950s, while he was working as chief fire officer at East Ham, the area of London which includes the Royal Docks, that Rushbrook first became interested in ship fires.

In 1959 a report in The Times recorded that, following a fire on board a ship moored in the docks, the listing vessel threatened to turn turtle. However, “Chief Officer Frank Rushbrook, of East Ham Fire Brigade, wearing a self-contained frogman’s outfit, dived to the flooded lower deck. By closing eight portholes he enabled the ship to be pumped out.” The incident led to the founding of Britain’s first underwater rescue service.

Later Rushbrook returned to his home city of Edinburgh, where he became Firemaster of the city’s South Eastern Brigade. Recognising the need to train firemen and sailors in how to deal with ship fires, he built a mock-up of a ship on dry land, which is still used to train firefighters and mariners in how to deal with conflagrations at sea.

He wrote two definitive textbooks: Fire Aboard and Ship Fires and the Law, a practical guide to recent developments in maritime law. He was also in great demand as an expert witness, called to give evidence on multimillion-dollar claims on ship fires all over the world.

In 1970 he persuaded the University of Edinburgh to establish a Department of Fire Safety Engineering, under David Rashbash. Rushbrook became a regular lecturer and generous benefactor to the new department, inspiring students with his vivid memories of dealing with real-life fires. A laboratory was named in his honour, as well as lectures and studentships.

Rushbrook’s great hero was James Braidwood, who founded the world’s first municipal fire service in Edinburgh, and he became the driving force behind the campaign to erect a statue of Braidwood that now stands in the city’s Parliament Square.

The son of a professional photographer and engraver, Frank Rushbrook was born in Edinburgh on December 6 1914. Aged 14 he left George Heriot’s School to join his father as an apprentice, but business was not good and he decided to join the Edinburgh Fire Service as a photographer. This led on to his career as a fireman.

During the Second World War he served in Edinburgh with the National Fire Service and recalled an occasion when he was sent up a ladder to rescue a woman trapped on the upper floor of a tenement in Leith where the front wall had been blown down by a bomb. The woman refused to be rescued, explaining that she could not leave because she had not got her teeth: “What do you think the Jerries are dropping?” Rushbrook inquired. “Sandwiches?”

Rushbrook took part in the first fire prevention course run by the British Fire Service in 1944, and served as third officer in Leicester and deputy firemaster of Lanarkshire before becoming chief officer of East Ham in the 1950s. He returned to Edinburgh in 1960.

Always a keen swimmer, Rushbrook kept himself physically fit and was still going to the gym and playing golf in his 90s. He was a past president of the Institution of Fire Engineers, and in 1998 was presented with an honorary lifetime achievement award by the International Association of Arson Investigators. He was appointed CBE in 1970.

In 1938 Frank Rushbrook married Violet Mack, who died in 2001. His son, Ian, a well-known financier, also predeceased him. He is survived by a daughter.

Frank Rushbrook, born December 6 1914, died February 17 2014





English Heritage has long been of the view that Smithfield market really matters, and has worked hard over the years to protect it. But, as Rowan Moore says, it is a finely balanced judgment about what should be allowed to happen here (“The bloodless battle of Smithfield“, New Review). I’m sorry that Rowan mistakes our thoughtfulness for fluff. The market’s key components are already highly listed, and it stands within a conservation area. Not only is the area protected, but under government guidance its component parts can be regarded as “heritage assets”, too. We are proud to be the curators of the National Heritage List for England, but would never claim that listing is the only path to protection. We look forward to Smithfield finding a new future which respects its undoubted historic importance.

Roger Bowdler

Designation director

English Heritage

London EC1

Late benefits cause misery

Iain Duncan Smith apparently wants to cut child poverty(“Coalition to unveil radical plans to cut child poverty“, News). He could start with two steps which surely even the likes of Cameron and Osborne could not regard as lavishing goodies on the undeserving poor. First ensure that all claimants receive their benefits on time. Late benefits are a major cause of families having to rely on foodbanks. Second, insist that they receive their full entitlements. Official figures show that one million people a year do not receive their full housing benefit. In all, mistakes deprive welfare claimants of £5bn.

Bob Holman


Do superstores create jobs?

Your piece on the Margate supermarket debate raises issues old and new (“Facebook stirs up political storm in a seaside teacup“, News). The new aspect surrounds social media. The older aspect is the thorny question of whether or not superstore developers really are “bringing jobs” – or are simply stealing them from elsewhere. Would it not considerably enhance the local democratic process if the government were to produce an up-to-date, authoritative and definitive statement on the alleged job creation by our now dominant big four food retail chains?

Alan Hallsworth

Professor emeritus

Portsmouth Business School


Sochi’s artistic legacy

Despite the obscene cost and the absence of dissent against Russia’s human rights abuses (“For all the nagging concerns, Sochi’s legacy will be sport“, Sport) the Sochi Olympics may have a legacy unintended by Vladimir Putin. Highlighting the home nation’s unique contribution to classical literature, ballet and music in the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies might inspire young Russians to pursue the civilising effect of the arts rather than the greed of the oligarchs and the narrow nationalism of their president.

Stan Labovitch


Strange to say

“…it’s the worst thing that ever happened to our family, worse than the Nazis” (Andrew Sachs, Q&A, New Review). Really, Andrew?

Pete Lavender


Chelsea is in safe hands

I was disappointed to read your article, “Celebrities unite in local revolt against Chelsea becoming a ‘ghetto of the rich‘”, News. It seems most of what I told your journalist was ignored in favour of a piece that was clearly already written.

Kensington and Chelsea council wants our borough to be thriving, prosperous and lived-in. Sadly, we do not control who buys property or whether they live here permanently, but we are determined to keep the character of the area by preserving its diverse mix of uses. We have protected local businesses and offices by securing an exemption from a change in planning law to allow offices to be converted into homes, we have a policy to protect local shops and pubs, we are consulting on controlling the scale of basement developments, and we are developing plans to ensure new housing developments contain a mixture of different types of home.

It’s unfortunate for Mr Schumi that he and his freeholder have been in dispute for years, but that is not a matter for the council. The Sutton Estate has already submitted one plan, which was rejected by the council, but some of the housing is inaccessible and incapable of further significant improvement and there is the potential for it to become a really attractive, welcoming place for all its current residents to live in.

Cllr Nicholas Paget-Brown

Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Kensington Town Hall

London W8

Brainy, but maybe not bright

Ray Kurzweil’s pill-popping, weekly injections of dietary supplements and belief in his immortality suggest that he has severely overestimated the time until computers are more intelligent than humans (“Are the robots about to rise?“, New Review).

Dr C Ian Ragan

London SW10



John Naughton’s article made some important points, but ignores the real problem, the low salaries paid to professional engineers and scientists. A bright pupil will recognise that the stem subjects are hard. So why bother with these subjects, when it is possible to waltz through arts A-levels, go to university, study the same easy options, and get a better, well-paid job on graduation? Until we wake up to this problem we will not get our young studying engineering, technology or science and we will not have a future, let alone a bright one.

John Owen (CEng)


One way for all our young people to have access to the latest development in science and technology, and to solve the debt problem for graduates, would be to waive fees for all undergraduates willing to spend their second year in state schools, as classroom assistants, while writing a dissertation for their degree before returning to university (“Our young people need to study science and technology for a brighter future“, Comment). This would keep teachers up to date with the latest research and enable talented young people to study for a degree.

This pool of talent would overcome discipline problems by changing the dynamics of the classroom and facilitate the use of computer applications, which would eliminate the attainment gap between public and state schools.

Margaret Phelps


Vale of Glamorgan

You present challenging pieces about empowering human intellect through problem-solving mathematics and practical science and technology. You also do well to expose the mechanistic character of high performance in current international test leagues. Yet you render the entire question academic by confirming what has been predicted for over a decade, namely that certainly by mid-century computers and related robots will have overtaken human intellect (“Will 2029 be the year when robots have the power to outsmart us all?“, News). The key singularity will be philosophical, not technical – when, as in Dr Strangelove, the computers refused to obey their masters.

We need a new concept of society in which serving the public becomes a career justifying a decent living wage paid for by those still paying taxes, but also reducing some of those public service costs as presently financed. We need a fresh respect for caring communities and social discipline.

Mervyn Benford



It’s a result of 20 years of decreasing funding. I’m an electronics graduate and in regular contact with a couple of my lecturers 20 years later. They say that lecturing today is more about how much money you can bring in through research funding or attracting overseas students than education.

Every year, they produce 100 EE (electronic engineering) graduates – on average, 70 of these are from Asia and of the remaining 30, around half take jobs in finance or accountancy, which means that only 15 EE graduates take jobs in the UK electronics industry.

The average starting salary as an electronics engineer is £25,000; the average in finance is £40,000. In Germany, you cannot call yourself an engineer unless you have chartered status and a chartered engineer is paid around the same as a doctor.

I got out of engineering within three years of graduating due to the low salaries. It’s the best decision I ever made. Until the UK values engineers as much as other countries I don’t foresee the situation changing.

Chris Paris






Shelagh Delaney was a victim of hype. I’m glad her play [‘A Taste of Honey’] has been revived. Now it can be judged fairly

Mike Leigh

Posted online

Your article “Risks of nuclear leak sparks call for flood works” (23 February) highlights the risks of climate change-induced flooding to the nuclear waste dump at Drigg in Cumbria. The risks however go much further.

Nearly all the UK’s nuclear power stations have been built on the coast to access sea water for cooling, leaving at least 11 vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Nuclear power stations at  Berkeley, Gloucestershire and Bradwell, Essex are virtually at sea level, and Dungeness nuclear plant, Kent is only 2-5m (6-16ft) above sea level and at high risk from beach erosion.

Indeed, accelerated coastal erosion may, for many sites, provide a far greater worry than sea-level rise alone, with the Sellafield complex in Cumbria and other sites, including Sizewell, Hunterston, Wylfa, and Somerset’s Hinkley Point at long-term risk.

While Hinkley Point, where the proposed Hinkley C reactor is to be built, is protected by sea defences and rock outcrops in front of the power stations, the cliff line and shoreline show evidence of erosion by the strong tides of the Bristol Channel and the wind and wave action to which the point is exposed. Nirex believed that over the next 100 years rising sea levels and strong tidal flows would isolate the headland. It concluded that over the next 300 years the area may well be flooded, leaving the site surrounded by sea on three sides. What logic suggests this is a suitable location to build a nuclear power plant?

Ian Ralls

Friends of the Earth, Nuclear network  co-ordinator, Cambridge

The truth is that we as a species have no idea what to do with nuclear waste, to make it safe for the next 300,000 years, its toxicity period. Given that, it would be the height of irresponsibility to commission more nuclear power plants at this time.

Dr Rupert Read

Green Party lead MEP candidate


I read with sadness your article “Thousands of HIV patients go hungry as benefit cuts hit” (23 February). I run a charity for those with autism and last week we had a carer unable to bring a 16-year-old lad to our half-term scheme because she did not have enough money to put on her oyster card. I have had people wanting employment with us fail to attend interviews because they did not have the fare. Travel costs in London combined with benefit cuts are causing those who are already disadvantaged to become prisoners in their communities.

Liza Dresner

Director, Resources for Autism

London NW11

As Pete Butchers notes (Letters, 23 February) there is a herd in the room with regards to population. However, as China is discovering, controlling population by limiting the number of children born exacerbates the situation where rising life expectancy places a larger burden on the state, with an enhanced birth rate being the most palatable alternative. The other option would be state-mandated euthanasia in the style depicted in the film Logan’s Run, something even the most charismatic politician may find a hard sell.

Alan Gregory


And so the news is out – an independent review of the badger cull has declared that it failed in terms of effectiveness, and humaneness. But we need to look to the future – a future in which farmers need an answer to bovine tuberculosis, which is devastating cattle herds. And a future in which badgers are not scapegoated or slaughtered.

In Wales they chose to vaccinate badgers and bring in tighter farming practices, and in the last year have seen a 33 per cent fall in the number of cattle slaughtered. Their way is the right way. I will be reaching out to the new NFU President to say “let’s work together”, as together, farmers and wildlife supporters can beat this disease, without having to beat on each other.

Dominic Dyer

Chief executive, The Badger Trust, and policy adviser, to Care for the WIld, Horsham

Shelagh Delaney was a victim of hype (“A victim of sexism … ”, 23 February). She had all the journo ingredients for a whizz story, they claimed she’d never been to a play. I’m glad her play’s been revived. Now, it can be judged fairly.

Mike Leigh

Posted online




No religious bar to stunning animals before slaughter

THE normal method of the slaughter of a food animal, not only in the EU but everywhere in the civilised world, is to stun it before cutting its throat (“Sorry, animal rights can’t hold a candle to religious faith”, Comment, last week).

However much religious representatives say otherwise, throat-cutting causes pain. My professional bodies — the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association —  have called on the UK government to require the pre-slaughter stunning of all animals.

Denmark has invoked the right of all EU member states not to allow the exception to stunning. Muslim ritual slaughter allows for stunning. For example, all sheep killed in New Zealand are halal, but they are all stunned first.
Andrew Wilson, MRCVS, Edinburgh

Muddled thinking
Dominic Lawson seems to have got himself into an awful muddle over female genital mutilation (FGM) and circumcision. Most people feel FGM is an assault on a minor, as is circumcision. To differentiate between the two on the grounds that one is for the purpose of depriving the victim of sexual pleasure or that one bestows unintended health benefits, or to equate either with baptism, seems an almost wilful disregard for logic.
The Reverend Ian Williams, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire

Annoying Heathrow noise travels long haul

LAST Tuesday I greeted a friend about 20ft away outside my house. She cupped her hand behind her ear and looked skywards as a plane lumbered overhead (“Heathrow noise ‘really annoys 1m’”, News, last week). Another friend once brought her 2½ -year-old daughter to visit. To my surprise the little girl pointed upwards and said, “Noisy aeroplane”. A small child, unaware of the political dimensions of Heathrow expansion, was struck by the loudness of the planes. Yet Putney, where I live, is not included on the terminal’s noise-contour maps.

Even though my windows are double-glazed I hear the planes. Liars and lobbyists may split hairs about decibel levels but the acid test is: if you are woken at 4.30am by aircraft, and if you can’t hear what someone a few yards away is saying, the planes are too loud.
Elizabeth Balsom, Putney, London

Moving experience
Even 1m people affected by aircraft noise is a huge underestimate. I moved to Blackheath in southeast London — almost 25 miles from Heathrow — in the summer months, not knowing it was under the turning point for the planes, which fly much lower in winter. The noise was unbearable, with several planes a minute from 4.30am onwards. We were forced to relocate.

We now live in Camden, north London, where visitors are often surprised by the aircraft noise, and have spent thousands of pounds installing secondary glazing with acoustic glass. Neither of these areas is anywhere near those supposedly affected by noise.
Alice Adams, London NW3

Ear to the ground
The government and aviation industry are sticking with the community-annoyance threshold of 57 decibels, despite the research being more than 30 years old. The more recent Anase (Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England) study published in 2007 has been sidelined — the figures are said to be not “robust”.

However, the 1980s research is itself flawed, because rural communities were not included. The government has been accused of directing the outcome of the Airports Commission in determining the need for additional UK runway capacity. It could start to redeem itself by giving the Anase report an unbiased hearing.
Rachael Webb, Dunton, Buckinghamshire

Breach of the peace
The many people “really annoyed” by noise around Gatwick are also much greater than the official estimates. In addition, far more than 1m people visit the areas of outstanding natural beauty within Surrey, East and West Sussex and Kent every year. As aircraft noise is more intrusive in places where there is low background noise, many of those visitors will find their expectation of tranquillity unmet.
Caroline Tayler, Nutley, East Sussex

Lack of scientific thinking on adapting to climate change

I REOPENED Nigel Lawson’s book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming on reading his letter “The need to change” (Letters, last week) and found I had made 69 criticisms of his scientific arguments in chapters one and two (spanning 38 pages).

His problem is that he does not think like an experienced scientist. As a result of dismissing climate change mitigation his only line of defence against extreme weather is adaptation — hence chapter three of his book.

But accepting his business-as-usual argument, the limits of adaptation will be relentlessly stretched in terms of effectiveness and cost. In this desperate situation future generations will face former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”.
AH Roberts, Harrogate

Alternative route
Lawson fails to understand that recourse to wind power and solar energy is an adaptation to the depletion of oil, gas, coal and uranium, not a lot of which will be around by the end of the century.

Wind will soon provide 10% of our electricity and with deep-cycle batteries many householders with solar panels and LEDs are able to live comfortably off-grid.

Whether climate change is real is incidental: the future will be grim without alternative energy.
John Busby, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

EU school visits no junket

THE scheme reported on in your article “Eurocrats take the gravy train back to their old schools” (World News, last week) is organised jointly with governments. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has co-signed letters to UK schools and last week called online for more speakers. The aim is to explain what officials do and to get more British people working in EU institutions. Some who attack the EU as an “ivory tower” seem to object to officials speaking to people and answering questions.

Our staff do not get “two days off work”. Legitimate expenses are paid and they go straight back to work, or, if trips are self-financed, they get an extra day’s leave — without expenses. Finally, officials go alone, not with press officers.
Jacqueline Minor, Head, European Commission Office in the UK

Weighing the evidence in Plebgate case

SIR EDWARD CREW, the former chief constable of West Midlands police, attacked “politicians who have no more knowledge of what happened in Downing Street” than he did (“Protect police from unfounded claims”, Letters, last week). I assume he is referring, among others, to me. Let me put him straight. I went to a great deal of trouble to examine every second of the available video evidence of Andrew Mitchell’s interaction with the police on the night of Plebgate, and compare it with police-sourced “accounts” of the events.

In summary the evidence showed there was no group of shocked onlookers. There was only one member of the public present who was taking an interest in what was going on. Two others passed by, but they were much further away than the other policeman who heard nothing.

It also showed that the interaction between Mitchell and PC Toby Rowland fell into three distinct parts: at the main gate, the move from the main gate to the side gate, where Mitchell was pushing his bike away from Rowland and no conversation was possible, and at the side gate.

The interaction at the side gate lasted about five seconds. I cannot see how the reported conversation of about 40 words can be fitted into that time. I try to apply forensic logic to every case I take up, in this case as in every other. That is what justice demands. I hope Crew would agree.
David Davis MP, House of Commons

Educational development

I DISAGREE with Michael Gove and, by implication, Christopher Pelling and the 133 signatories of “Classical civilisation passes EBacc test” ( Letters, last week) that the principal goal of education is enlightenment. But then perhaps I would as a father of three, and with a grandchild, plus a PhD in education and training. None of which makes me — or them — right. There are perhaps four basic reasons for schooling: personal development, preparation for adulthood, society and social integration. Family life provides most of this. Hopefully schooling will enhance all four.
Dr Ian Clements, Hove

Latin primer

Regarding two articles on Latin in schools and the language in general (“Giving the gift of ancient tongues”, News Review, and “Salve, Papa Francisce, your Latin tweets are super-frigidi :-)”, Speakeasy, both February 9), I would like to add that Latin and to some extent Greek are now learnt by many as living languages. As for lightweight comments about the Pope’s tweets — they go to show that there is no reliable Latin- English translator online . All return garbled sentences, unless indeed something has been lost in translation.
Frances Petty, Carradale East, Argyll


Public access
As a solicitor representing one of those who believes he was harmed in utero by the hormone pregnancy-test drug Primodos (“Victims start ‘new thalidomide’ fight”, News, last week) we face a hurdle. The claimant needs to see and evaluate all the clinical trial evidence available at the time to Schering, the drug’s manufacturer. In spite of formal requests Bayer, which took over Schering in 2006, has refused to release it. It is imperative that there is a system in place that requires all clinical trials, even those of more than 40 years ago, to be made available for scrutiny.
Dr Sarah-Jane Richards, Head of Product Liability, Secure Law, Cardiff

Hunger strike
Without diminishing the importance of events in Ukraine, your article entitled “Poorest cannot afford to eat, food minister admits” (News, last week) surely reflects a key issue of our times. “Reform” of welfare is just slashing the budget. The government must be called to account for the impact its policies are having on people in this country.
Dr Malcolm Bourne, Child Psychiatrist, Blackburn

Rice crackers
I do hope those who like Tim Rice’s work will realise they are now indirectly supporting UKIP (“Don’t cry for me, David Cameron”, News, last week). Of course, Rice is fully within his rights to dispense his money as he sees fit — as are his consumers.
Mark Dines, Redbourn, Hertfordshire

Canvas opinion
If someone wanted to destroy all recordings of Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary because it had once been attributed to Henry Purcell, or all copies of The Two Noble Kinsmen because it may have been partly by Shakespeare, there would be an outcry. So how can the granddaughters of Marc Chagall have the right to destroy a painting because someone who wasn’t the artist might have painted it (“Chagall art faces trial by his family”, News, last week)?
Elizabeth Bullen, Southampton

Royal flush
In 1948 the late King Farouk of Egypt said: “Soon there will be only five kings left — the king of England, the king of spades, the king of clubs, the king of hearts and the king of diamonds” (“Yell all you like. Britain will be a republic”, News Review, last week).
Amir Shivji, Kingston upon Thames London

Corrections and clarifications

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)


Alexander Armstrong, comedian, 44; Jon Bon Jovi, singer, 52; Daniel Craig, actor, 46; John Irving, novelist, 72; Elizabeth Jagger, model, 30; Chris Martin, singer, 37; Harry Redknapp, football manager, 67; Andrew Strauss, cricketer, 37; JPR Williams, rugby player, 65; Tom Wolfe, author, 83; Ian Woosnam, golfer, 56


1904 birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr Seuss), writer and illustrator of children’s books; 1949 B-50 Superfortress Lucky Lady II completes first non-stop around-the-world aeroplane flight; 1956 Morocco gains independence from France; 1969 maiden flight of the Concorde airliner; 1970 Rhodesia declares itself a republic





SIR – Parisians, Romans and Athenians leave their capitals en masse in July and August to spend their holidays in the same places as the British. They are willing to pay high prices.

As British holiday companies book rooms for the whole season, they expect to pay a lot less for high-season accommodation. It is supply and demand, as with any industry, and changing term dates will not make any difference.

Mavis Roper
Uppingham, Rutland

SIR – Some MPs have suggested that staged school holidays would help. In Calderdale we had “wakes weeks” in June and September, and so avoided high-holiday rates. They were abolished in the Eighties because the local education authority did not like transferring staff for these different holidays, despite a public poll that showed overwhelming support for the arrangement. Bureaucratic convenience will always win.

Paul Hornby
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire


SIR – Whatever David Cameron may have achieved in getting backing for European Union reform from Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, he cannot hope to get agreement across the EU board.

If the status quo is unacceptable to Mr Cameron, where is he to go (if he wins the election in 2015) with no agreement – which certainly looks impossible by 2017?

Such reform exemplifies unconvincing plastic politics. With the EU, it has been going on for more than a generation.

D R Taylor
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – After Mrs Merkel’s speech to Parliament, only a No 10 spin-doctor could maintain that a serious renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership is possible. She said: “There will be no fundamental reform of the European architecture.”

It will, then, be interesting to see what powers Mr Cameron tries to get back from Brussels. And when will he reveal this?

The real choice facing Britain is either to stay in an increasingly controlling EU, as new powers are transferred to Brussels, or to leave and then negotiate a trade and co-operation agreement.

We must decide if our future lies primarily with Europe or rather with the emerging world beyond our continent.

Graham Stringer MP (Lab)
London SW1

SIR – Large organisations are already preparing to move out of Scotland, should its electorate vote to leave the United Kingdom. It follows that, should Britain vote to leave the EU, banks and other institutions will relocate to the EU.

Britain can ill afford to lose tax revenues from the banks, which contribute one sixth of all tax received by the Treasury.

Financial institutions will move head offices, probably to Frankfurt. Europe would never tolerate the centre of European finance being outside its control.

The EU was spitefully swift after the Swiss referendum on mass immigration. Billions in contributions to joint research programmes have been cancelled. The Swiss are not even EU members. If Britain leaves, retribution will be devastating.

Roger West
Appenzell, Switzerland

SIR – The Royal Gallery was an appropriate venue for Mrs Merkel’s address, for it features the Daniel Maclise mural of Wellington meeting Blucher at the climax of Waterloo, where the Prussian kept his promise by arriving in time to deliver the coup de grace to Napoleon’s forces.

No politician referred to it.

Cdr Alan York RN (retd)
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

SIR – Conservatives who want to reclaim sovereignty from the EU are described as Right-wingers. Scottish Nationalists who want to reclaim sovereignty from the UK are Left-wingers. How is this possible?

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Northwood, Middlesex


SIR – Colonel Tim Collins (Comment, February 27) was spot on with his assessment of the Good Friday agreement as a “peace at any price” deal.

To my mind there never was a “peace process”. What the government of the day did was in fact surrender to the IRA and concede all its demands, including the release of all its prisoners, and the still continuing Bloody Sunday inquiry.

This leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those of us who served in Northern Ireland as part of the security services who still remember atrocities such as that at Warrenpoint, where the IRA murdered 18 British soldiers. Where is their inquiry?

The British Government always maintains it will never negotiate with terrorists or surrender to their demands. That is exactly what it did with the IRA.

Richard Acland
Chepstow, Monmouthshire

SIR – It was not the hand of history on Tony Blair’s shoulder. It was the hand of Judas.

Len Evans
Diss, Norfolk

SIR – As a retired solicitor, I was appalled by your headline “Victims of IRA bomb cheated of justice” (February 26). The victims are indeed cheated, as are all who believe in the rule of law in our country.

No police officer of any rank, nor indeed the Attorney General, nor any other government officer, has the power to absolve a suspect of a crime where there is sufficient evidence to bring the suspect to trial. Mr Justice Sweeney’s ruling in the case reported has offended my “sense of justice and propriety” by the failure to continue the trial before him.

To allow anyone to grant immunity from prosecution without proper process can only lead to anarchy.

John Hardy
Stockport, Cheshire

Russians in Ukraine

SIR – Adolf Hitler used the German-speaking peoples in Czechoslovakia to excuse his invasion. Hopefully the Russian people will refuse to allow President Vladimir Putin to emulate him in Ukraine.

Dave James
Tavistock, Devon

Signs of spring

SIR – Colin Heaton (Letters, February 28) is adamant that the first day of spring is the equinox. Logically that would make the summer solstice, June 21, the first day of summer. So the first day of summer would also be midsummer’s day?

Today, even this far north, the grass is growing and the mower needs servicing.

Peter Mosley

SIR – If the beginning of March is the beginning of spring, it is curious that we persist in maintaining the Greenwich Mean Time of winter until March 30.

Why we do not adjust the clocks two months after the winter solstice, as we made the corresponding adjustment about two months before it, on October 27?

Winter is as much a state of mind as the state of the weather. An extra hour of daylight in the evening during March would lift the winter blues.

Peter Moreton
Milnthorpe, Westmorland

SIR – I heard the dawn chorus this morning at six o’clock. It preceded, of course, the banging and hammering of the builders in the village constructing all the new homes.

Jane Wallen
Tilston, Cheshire

Assad or al-Qaeda

SIR – We Syrians have lived for decades under a brutal dictatorship that has deprived our people of our human rights. This is what we have risen against, demanding our freedom.

The vast majority of fighters are Syrians who want freedom and are fighting Assad and al-Qaeda at the same time, because Syrian people want neither of them. We just want democracy and civilisation.

The choice in Syria is between democracy and dictatorship, between stability and endless violence. The alternatives are not Assad or al-Qaeda (Peter Oborne, Comment, February 27). This is the story that Assad wants people to believe. But it is a false choice: a guarantee that our country will remain prey to terrorist organisations, drawn into the vacuum created by the Assad regime’s violence. It is Assad’s violent and criminal dictatorship that has cynically enabled and encouraged al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism.

Monzer Akbik
Spokesman for the Syrian Opposition

SIR – Peter Oborne offers a much-needed critique of the Syrian insurrection.

Undoubtedly Saudi Arabia is the most dangerous, destabilising presence in the Middle East. Why were we surprised when the Saudis refused to take up their seat on the UN Security Council when this would have led to the exposure of their hypocrisy as instigators of terrorism and as the least democratic state in the world?

Bruce Borthwick

Inflatable flora

SIR – Don’t be surprised to learn that the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is imposing sizeable car parking fees at Wakehurst Place (Letters, February 28).

Kew Gardens possibly holds a record for inflation beating. At the time of sterling decimalisation, in 1971, the entry price was 1p. Now it is £14, which is an increase of 1,400 times. Would that my pension had appreciated by a similar factor.

Gesto Ranald
Itchen Stoke, Hampshire

Wrong kind of beaver

SIR – The beaver to reintroduce (Letters, February 27) is the Eurasian beaver, Castor fiber, not the American species, Castor canadensis. The former’s dam-building is, allegedly, more modest.

Anthony Baker
Winscombe, Somerset

Church choral music in peril

SIR – Llandaff Cathedral has had to release five lay clerks from its choir. As we move towards a more secular society, we are in danger of losing access to some of the greatest music ever written, which can currently be heard free, sung by superb choirs across the country.

Cathedral music is the very embodiment of both scholastic and musical endeavour. To be able to hear Tallis, Byrd, Palestrina, Bach, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Stanford or Ireland drift sublimely to the skies in the most beautiful of structures is surely a tradition worth preserving.

I can appreciate the difficult dilemma faced by cathedrals (and churches generally), of either having to finance the repairing of the roof or maintenance of other services. But should we allow such a tradition to decline, we as a society would wither on the vine and we would have no one to blame but ourselves.

Peter Davis
London W1

SIR – The thought of non-musical liturgy is awful to contemplate. Here at St Mary’s, we have had no regular, paid organist for years. We are fortunate that our incumbent is a talented musician who has revived a flagging choir and finds time in his overloaded schedule to take choir practice.

Nora Jackson
Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

SIR – When away from home, I check the music list of the nearest cathedral to choose an expertly performed choral evensong, available on almost every day of the week, with free admission.

Christian worship aside, this is a most important pleasure of our country’s heritage, akin to visiting an art gallery or museum. We must take steps to prevent live English church music falling into neglect and disappearing from our cultural scene.

Richard Osborne
Alcester, Warwickshire



Irish Times:




Irish Independent:

Madam – As another ‘rag week’ comes to an end, or glorified drinking fest would be more appropriate, we hear about the money raised for different charities.

Also in this section

Letters: It is in all of our interests to work for peace

Rural post offices are community’s lifeblood

Letters: Give the children room to embrace GAA

All well and good, but the reality is that the lives of ordinary decent residents are held to ransom during this drunken orgy, where house parties, damage to properties, urinating on the streets, overturning bins, vomiting where the mood takes, unacceptable levels of noise late evening and early morning, are all the norm.

It would appear that residents living in this region are only second-class citizens with no rights. The promotion and low-cost sale of alcohol during rag week by off-licences and other retail outlets that dropped leaflets into properties near UCC only exacerbates an already unacceptable situation.

There is a need for more robust policing as well as landlords taking responsibility for the behaviour of students in their properties, and UCC must also shoulder responsibility for the large number of students who misbehave in residential areas – and adequately deal with them.

Tom Harrington,


Sinead’s distorted tirade

Madam – Re: Sinead O’Connor’s article, ‘We need to rescue God from religion’ (Sunday Independent, February 23, 2014) – to give a platform to this lady is incomprehensible. Personal views are one thing but distorted ones are another.

After all, this is the same lady who was made a priest by someone who is being investigated for marrying a 15-year-old and 14-year-old.

Let’s get real.

The Sunday Independent is taking a cheap shot at religious and the Catholic Church in general by allowing this tirade by an individual who on past evidence really doesn’t know where she stands on anything other than a negative attitude to everything positive.

When she talks of “church”, is it the Catholic Church, or the Church of Ireland, maybe Presbyterian or Methodist?

This is not explained in her article.

Just who is she attempting to align herself to? She is walking on sand and has been doing so for years.

V O’Dwyer,

Carrigaline, Co Cork


Madam – In last Sunday’s edition an article under the headline ‘Church still evades moral accountability’ stated that our congregation had “flatly refused” to make an additional contribution towards the costs incurred by the State in its responses to abuse in industrial schools.

On the contrary, our congregation committed to making an additional contribution which in December 2009 was valued at €117,506,800 composed as follows: to Cara Nua, the independent trust for former residents: the sum of €20,000,000 cash plus properties then worth €11,590,000; to the State: properties then worth €80,856,800; and to the voluntary sector: properties then worth €15,060,000.

This contribution of €117,506,800 was in addition to the sum of €33,091,114 which had already been contributed and the ongoing commitment of the congregation in contributing to the funding of Towards Healing.

Sr Margaret Casey,

Congregation Leader, Sisters of Mercy

Clondalkin, Dublin

Views on North are ‘blinkered’

Madam – The article by Ruth Dudley Edwards (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014) was typical of many she has written over the years. In her view of the world the conflict in the North was all the fault of republicans. And the legacy of that conflict is ours also.

She claims concern for the health of the citizens of west Belfast and of the levels of poverty and suicide they experience, and maybe she is concerned for them, but I see no similar concern for the people of Foyle which has higher levels of claimants on welfare, suffers from significant poor health outcomes and has higher levels of suicide than west Belfast. But then Foyle has been represented by the SDLP for longer than Sinn Fein has held the west Belfast constituency and she likes the SDLP.

Ms Edwards also ignores the reality of suicide as an issue for citizens across this island. Last September the annual report of the National Office for Suicide Prevention concluded that 495 people took their own lives in this State in 2010. Eighty per cent of these were men. A second report from the Suicide Support and Information System (SSIS) carried out over four years in Cork, found more than 40 per cent of victims had worked in the construction industry, and 13 per cent in agriculture.

Men accounted for 80 per cent of deaths – and factors pointed to were unemployment (39.3 per cent), drug abuse (29.4 per cent) and a history of self-harm (31.3 per cent).

There was no conflict in this State to account for the high level of suicide or the numbers of men taking their lives.

Perhaps if Ms Edwards took the time to look at the history of deprivation and ill-health in the North she might discover the very real connection that exists between the legacy of structured political and religious discrimination experienced by the nationalist community under decades of first unionist and then British rule. That’s where the real problem lies and that is one more reason why we need to end the link with Britain and build a new Ireland that can realistically and effectively tackle these issues.

Gerry Adams TD,

Leinster House, Dublin


Madam – In the Business section of the Sunday Independent (February 23, 2014), Conor Lenihan in the article, ‘We need to talk about Russia’, maintains we can learn lessons from Russia. “He says that Russia is now experiencing tensions between traditionalists and modernisers over social issues – such as gay rights – which mirror what happened in Ireland in the Eighties over issues like abortion and divorce.”

Anyone who saw the recent Dispatches programme on Channel 4, Hunted, which detailed Russia as a country which exhibits disturbing violence against its openly gay community would find it difficult to stomach such a comparison. The programme showed young gay men being baited and lured into being beaten up and humiliated simply for being gay. An interview was carried out with one young man who had lost the sight in one eye during one of these beatings.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, but even before that, Irish people never stooped as low as carrying out similar gruesome acts as depicted in that programme against its fellow citizens on a regular basis.

I suggest that Russia can learn a lot from us regarding respect for its fellow citizens and we needn’t look for inspiration to oligarchs. We all know what the greed and selfishness of a minority in this country resulted in.

Thomas Roddy,



Madam – Reading Emer O’Kelly’s review of Sive at the Abbey, I wondered if I had seen the same production. I was very disappointed with the interpretation.

I found the shouting so loud that the often incisive and perceptive dialogue was lost.

Sive was believable, Mena, the wicked aunt, did show her humanity – but everyone else seemed determined to make the most noise.

But, the most unrealistic performance came from Sean Dota, an aged bachelor farmer, who looked more like a retired civil servant, or a remnant of Celtic Tiger Ireland.

I’ve seen far better amateur productions.

Kitty Carroll,

Kilmallock, Co Limerick


Madam – So Colm McCarthy thinks the Irish people are over-reacting by believing that corruption is widespread in Ireland. He is using a very narrow definition of corruption. The dictionary says that corruption is “dishonest exploitation of power for personal gain”.

I would ask if a person holds a job in the public sector and does not do their job properly is that not corruption? A whole list of people had jobs paid for out of the public purse with responsibility to the taxpayers. Instead their loyalties lay with the politicians who gifted them their jobs. Is this not corruption?

Public cynicism about the way the country is being run is justified because bad decisions are being taken. There are no votes in doing the right thing. That is certainly morally corrupt.

Philip Dwyer,

Thurles, Co Tipperary


Niamh Horan’s article on doorstepping Timothy Dalton (Sunday Independent, February 23, 2014). I found the premise of the article — tenuously linking Dalton to the GSOC offices via a role he played in the late Eighties — to be a farcical justification for bothering a private citizen to get herself a few lines of print. I suggest she finds better uses of her time.

Tom Moylan,


Dublin 4


Madam – I would like to comment on the item, ‘Expert staff shortage puts pathologist’s office under pressure’ (Sunday Independent, February 23, 2014). This office is not fit for purpose. Successive governments have ignored the many pleas over the years to bring this office up to acceptable standards in the area of forensic medicine and suspicious death investigation.

The review of the coroners’ service in Ireland in 1999, included a submission from Dr John Harbison outlining the lack of mortuary and X-ray facilities needed to carry out a forensic autopsy. In 1997, Dr Harbison appealed for funding to address this very issue.

A defendant is entitled to a complete forensic autopsy report to assist him or her in their defence against a charge of murder. It appears, that even defence teams are not interested in seeking out evidence that can be of benefit to clients.

This begs the question: why was the bog body Clonycavan man, exhibited in the National Museum, afforded a gold-standard forensic autopsy? This was remarkable, as the information was never going to be served in a book of evidence.

Kieran Doyle, Cork


Madam – I was rather amused to read in the Sunday Independent (February 23, 2014) Eoghan Harris (Labour looked after Shatter, and their pensions) comparing Micheal Martin going to the Taoiseach with a garda dossier as akin to Liam Cosgrave in 1970 on the importation of arms.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle, Martin is no Cosgrave. In fact Martin admired Haughey of 1970 fame, a man who subverted the State as Mr Harris alluded to when Haughey passed away in 2006.

Brendan Cafferty,

Ballina, Mayo


Madam – Sometimes the uproar in the Dail is amusing. Who’d want to be a Ceann Comhairle? His hands, in the air, lips moving, couldn’t be heard as all are shouting at same time. It is comedy.

Or is it a ploy to distract from issues like the disappearance of billions of euro, of accountability and of decency and common sense. We sure live in a crazy world amid unrest, injustice, waste. This sad old earth is in need of some mirth. And the Dail can supply that.

Kathleen Corrigan


Co Cavan

Your columnist is out of her depth

Your columnist is out of her depth Madam – I was surprised at your alarmist and unfounded piece by Fiona O’Connell on water fluoridation (‘Argument for fluoridation doesn’t hold water’, Sunday Independent, February 23, 2014). It is hard to know where to begin in criticising the serious flaws in this piece.

Hydrofluorosilicic acid is not banned by the EU. In fact the European Parliament has declared that there are no legal concerns with water fluoridation as long as the limit of 1.5ppm is maintained – a position that’s far from a ban. Most of the other comments in the article on the chemical nature and origins of fluoride for water fluoridation have a similar relation to the truth.

The linking of a shopping list of complaints to water fluoridation is scaremongering at its worst and wholly unworthy of your paper. There is no evidence for any of the claims made, and to print an article that doesn’t make it clear that this is merely an opinion is appalling. No mention is made of the fact that the USA provides fluoridated water to roughly 70 per cent of its population. This is not a uniquely Irish phenomenon – and neither, sadly, are the opponents the issue attracts.

Newspapers that touch on science should at least be reviewed by someone with the relevant expertise, so as to avoid undermining one of the few successful public health initiatives in Ireland.

Cllr Padraig McLoughlin,

Stoneybatter, Dublin 7


Madam – It is with shock and dismay that your paper has given publicity to the campaign against fluoride (Sunday Independent, February 23, 2014).

Has Ms O’Connell researched all the scientific claims? It is widely known within the international scientific community that fluoride, at correct levels, is not harmful.

In Ireland the levels in our water are safe, and indeed are below the EU recommendations. Fluoride in water is not banned by the EU. The EU allows each individual country to decide if they administer it, and how. Parts of the UK are fluoridated. Germany fluoridates through salt. The USA and Australia also fluoridate their water.

In this country depression and other mental health issues are a real problem. The rise is due to many factors including alcohol, drugs, obesity and stress. Some forms of depression are genetic and hereditary. To claim fluoride is the reason is very dangerous.

I’m sure Ms O’Connell meant well, but I hope that any further reporting in your paper on this issue will be well researched, as opposed to opinion.

Anita Byrne,

Clonmel, Co Tipperary


Madam – Irish Water has an urgent obligation to immediately take on board the issue of fluoride. The health of the men, women and children of Ireland is at stake. Other countries were quick to recognise the risk and take the appropriate action. Columnist Fiona O’Connell wrote a timely and very informative article on the subject last week (Sunday Independent, February 23, 2014).

Our Department of the Environment developed a National Drinking Water Monitoring Programme in 2004 to ensure our testing regimes and standards were in line with European drinking water standards. Isn’t it strange, then, despite 98 per cent of Europe rejecting water fluoridation, that Ireland and Singapore remain the only nations with mandatory fluoridation policies?

Our Environment Department and Irish Water must take the problem in hand before any charges are made.

James Gleeson,

Thurles, Co Tipperary


Madam – Thank you for finally covering the water fluoridation problem in Ireland. Please continue to keep this argument current, especially if they are to charge us for this water.

Jane McGuinness,

Rush, Co Dublin

Sunday Independent




March 1, 2014

1 March  2014 Wood
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to sort out an unidentified intruder, can it be a ghost ship? Priceless
Cold slightly better but muddle through take the planks up stairs
Scrabble today  Mary wins  but gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Irving Milchberg, who has died aged 86, was the wartime leader of the “cigarette sellers of Three Crosses Square”, a gaggle of Jewish youths who sold smokes to German officers in wartime Warsaw while covertly spiriting food into the city’s ghetto and smuggling arms to the resistance.
For four years Milchberg’s survival, along with approximately 20 other youngsters, relied on a balancing act of “extreme fear and extreme hubris”. By hiding in plain sight they went unnoticed even to the hawkish SS who were garrisoned at the heart of their trading patch. In occupied territory a Jewish surname could be a death sentence, so Milchberg adopted the gentile name “Henrik Rozowski” and later the nickname “Bull”. His friends were safely known by the Polish versions of Toothy, Hoppy, Conky, Baldy, Whitey, Carrot Top and Chopper. Like the Baker Street Irregulars, this gang of street urchins “bargained, haggled and undersold each other eagerly” while helping others in need.
After the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto in November 1940 the Jewish community, approximately 30 per cent of the city’s population, had been jemmied into a district representing less than three per cent of the city’s space. Three Crosses Square sat in the Aryan area in the Central District, where a triumvirate of crosses capped St Alexander’s Church and two facing columns. It had been a major thoroughfare from the 18th century and during the occupation became a hub for the Nazi machine. The SS, German gendarmerie and Gestapo were all stationed in its vicinity.
Yet Three Crosses Sqaure was something of a haven from the horrors of war and the nearby ghetto. According to Joseph Ziemian, in his memoir The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square (1970), life there was “relatively normal”; and Milchberg and the crew bartered packets of cigarettes and theatre tickets. Even so, it was a dangerous business. Milchberg was careful and resourceful,
acquiring a work permit for the Ostbahn railway yard, where he unloaded coal trucks.
The Ostbahn workers became a channel to resistance units within the ghetto. Using a network of contacts, including an uncle and a tram-conductor , Milchberg smuggled in small arms hidden in hollowed-out loaves (the only food allowed through the barricades). The weapons added to the cache used by the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Uprising of April and May 1943.
To the other boys and girls he was a natural chief. “In their eyes he was grown-up and experienced,” wrote Ziemian. “Bull had authority.” Milchberg, however, took a practical view of his wartime bravery. “To tell you the truth, I never thought much,” he said last year. “If I had to do something, I did it. I didn’t have time to analyse it.”
Ignac Milchberg (later known as Irving) was born in Warsaw on September 15 1927 into a merchant family which traded in household goods. His upbringing was a happy and relatively affluent one. “Warsaw was once the centre of my universe,” recalled Milchberg late in life.

After the invasion his family was rounded up and placed in the segregated quarter, crammed into a single room above a grocery. His father “appraised the situation correctly early on and was among the first of the ‘outside’ workers” – those allowed beyond the walls to work in the lumberyards. This kept the family in food. “The very idea of going to a favourite football field only five blocks away was like going to the moon,” Irving later recalled.
Milchberg lost his entire immediate family in the war. His father was executed in 1942 by a German gendarme after attempting to smuggle a packet of saccharine into the Ghetto. The sentry told him to run and then shot him in the back. “At this tragic moment, although only 15 years old, Bull showed a surprising energy and ability to cope. He established contact with other outside workers and through them exchanged clothes and other articles for food,” noted Ziemian.
In the wake of his father’s murder Milchberg was detained, but he managed to escape in the swirling crowds in the Umschlagplatz, which had become a holding pen for the Treblinka trains. On returning to the family’s room he found the door wide open – a bad sign. Inside, however, nothing had been touched. He cried out for his family, but there was no response. His mother and three sisters had been sent to Treblinka where they all perished. From 1940 to 1943, more than 400,000 of Warsaw’s Jews died in the walled Ghetto or in the camps.
Milchberg escaped two further deportation attempts, finding safety in the kindness of strangers: he was taken on as an apprentice to a cobbler then as assistant to an ice cream maker. The threat of death hung over all parties. While being chased in the street by anti-Semitic Poles he fell and seriously injured his leg. The cobbler, once again, hid him (this time in his attic) against the objections of his terrified wife, before delivering him to a sympathetic doctor.
After the war Milchberg relocated to Canada, where he settled in Niagara Falls and opened a jewellery store. It was there, in 1953, that he met his wife, Renee, a visiting tourist. Renee’s war had been similarly dramatic, as she had managed to survive for years in a Russian labour camp.
In 1993 Milchberg travelled to Warsaw, in the company of his daughter Anne, for the first time since emigrating. He was accompanied by a Canadian film crew. In Return To The Warsaw Ghetto, an hour-long documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Uprising, he was left visibly shaken by the ghosts of his wartime youth. Hoppy (Josef Szindler) and Frenchy (Kazik Gelblum) were just two of the cigarette boys killed by the Germans. “You handle it by having a family, by creating a new life for yourself,” he declared in defiance. “We need to show those murderers that we survived, in spite of them.”
He is survived by his wife Renee, along with a son and a daughter.
Irving Milchberg, born September 15 1927, died January 26 2014


I am amused by the tone of some of the reporting of recent events in Ukraine, in particular the shock and outrage at the discovery of the level of luxury enjoyed by the Ukrainian head of state at his private residence (All the president’s bling, G2, 25 February). The pictures we were shown, however, were of a lifestyle that seemed positively spartan in comparison with that enjoyed by our own head of state, whose series of private residences make that curiously ugly chalet near Kiev seem modest in comparison. Likewise, we are expected to share disgust that Mr Yanukovych and his party have been kept in power by contributions from the nation’s super-rich. But why does calling such persons oligarchs make them any different from the super-rich who, for their own vested interests, bankroll the Tory party? “Look homeward,” wrote John Milton.
Robert Smallwood
Eastham, Worcestershire
• You say (Report, 26 February) that Crimea is “the only region of Ukraine with a majority of ethnic Russians”. Whatever the dubious term ethnic might mean here, the most recent authoritative survey shows that Russian is the language spoken at home over a good half of the country, not only the east. The language situation is more complicated still, since in much of central Ukraine the vernacular is a mostly Russo-Ukrainian mixed dialect called Surzhyk.
Robin Milner-Gulland
Emeritus professor, University of Sussex
• Before western opinion-makers start pontificating about armed “Russians” seizing government buildings in Crimea (Report, 28 February), they should recall that only a few days ago they cheered on the seizing of government buildings in Kiev (and never noticed that some were armed and affiliated to neofascist groups). They should also recall the example set by brutal and illegal aggression against so many countries, from Iraq in 1991 to Libya in 2011.
It is western chickens – not Putin’s – that appear to be coming home to roost in Ukraine and the autonomous republic of Crimea.
Peter McKenna
• I was amused to read about Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s concern that the aberrant behaviour of anti-government forces in Kiev should not be regarded as legitimate since it stems from a mutiny. If that is the case, then the mutiny of sailors on battleship Potemkin and the ensuing revolution – which ultimately established Lenin, Stalin and succeeding cronies and thugs such as Putin – is an equally tenuous basis for the legitimacy of the Russian state. The only significant difference is that in Kiev there has been a genuine public uprising against a violent and corrupt state. In Russia one violent self-serving clique merely supplanted another more moribund one.
Alistair McIntosh
Burford, Oxfordshire
• Simon Jenkins (Comment, 26 February) conflates Tahir Square and Maidan and assumes that many of today’s activists are students and middle class. But the majority of the Maidan were not that young and were unlikely to be students. He says Yanukovych has some semblance of legitimacy, albeit threadbare, but Yanukovych delegitimised his position as president by his tyrannical actions. The “crowd” which Jenkins disdains were understandably unpersuaded by the patchwork peace deal brokered at short notice to keep in place the regime which the day before had murdered and terrorised its own people.
Richard Wainwright
• It was already clear that Crimea is a special problem for Ukraine when I was part of an EU delegation 20 years ago, advising the new government on public finance, not long after independence. The new ministers wanted advice on objective criteria for distributing central funds which would satisfy Crimea as a special case, without overt discrimination. It is reasonably clear what needs to happen now: an elected president and interim government, with emergency financial support co-ordinated by the IMF in a troika with Russia and the EU, will need to work out a federal constitution (like Germany) with a stated timetable and subject to continuing international supervision, after which provinces including Crimea must be offered a referendum (like Scotland). As Simon Jenkins says, getting from here to there will be anything but easy – but Tunisia is (hopefully) showing the way.
Alan Bailey

Professor David Marsland (Letters, 26 February) may not be aware of the scores of churches involved in housing the homeless every night, especially in London, and the hundreds of churches around the country accommodating food banks.
All this for free and supported by local congregations, clergy and bishops (my local church just donated another £300), and staffed by large numbers of volunteers. Our support for the welfare state must run into millions.
Meanwhile fat-cat bankers triple their pay and there isn’t even a bonus tax, and Amazon, Starbucks, Google etc are still busily avoiding paying tax.
These would perhaps be more appropriate targets for your ire, Professor Marsland, and I trust that you are donating generously to your local food bank, even if it is in a church.
Rev David Haslam
Methodist Tax Justice Network

I was disappointed to read Patrick Strudwick’s article (It’s a scandal that therapists are not regulated like doctors, 27 February). ChildLine volunteers receive far more than a “few in-house training sessions” with all new volunteers enjoying a comprehensive 60-hour training programme. The programme requires the volunteer to secure specific standards ahead of becoming an active volunteer. They are then mentored by a supervisor for several initial shifts and receive ongoing training as well as daily briefing sessions. Our supervisors are also highly experienced and well-qualified professionals.
Mr Strudwick mentions that we are “part-funded by the government”. But government funding only covers a very small proportion of the running costs of ChildLine and our adult helpline provided by the NSPCC, with the vast majority of funds depending entirely on donations from our generous supporters. Our service has existed for 27 years and has spoken to over 3 million children. We are proud of our volunteer staff, as well as our paid workforce, and the incredible service they deliver to vulnerable children, many of whom have nowhere else to turn.
Peter Liver
Director, ChildLine
• It is incorrect, as well as damaging, to suggest that mentally ill patients in the UK are left at “the mercy of the untrained, the unqualified and the unethical”. The psychotherapy and counselling professions are regulated by organisations such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy. The quality of our registers has recently been endorsed by a government-backed professional standards authority scheme. Many of our members in the NHS work with distressed and suicidal patients. It is a standard requirement for NHS positions that psychotherapists are registered with an appropriate professional body to ensure high standards of care and ethical practice.
On gay conversion therapy, Mr Strudwick has done good work. The voluntary (not statutory) regulators of the psychological professions have taken his work forward. UKCP has published clear and specific ethical guidelines for therapists, and we have worked with other professional bodies to develop public information on this disturbing practice. This will be released shortly. Regulation of healthcare professions can be improved, but I do question the simple assumption that all ills could be cured by state regulation, and voluntary regulation is no regulation at all. Vulnerable people suffering emotional distress might read the article and think most therapists are untrained. Mr Strudwick risks harming the people he wants to protect if his article frightens them away from seeking professional help.
David Pink
Chief executive, UKCP

I see that even the Guardian is not immune from using government-inspired rhetoric: “Lowest paid workers likely to get inflation-busting 3% increase” (Report, 27 February). After national insurance and tax deductions they’ll be lucky to get 2% of their extra 19p per hour increase. Hardly inflation-busting.
Chris McGorrigan
Ulverston, Cumbria
• Now we have seen through the sentencing of the killers of Lee Rigby that terms of whole-life and 45 years are lawful (Report, 19 February), are these to be handed out to the killers of women and children – or must they be reserved for those who kill soldiers?
Angela Singer
• Schools minister David Laws lauds “sharp-elbowed parents” who fight for their children’s rights (Report, 27 February). Two questions arise: who made education a battlefield in which rights have to be contested? And what happens to those children who don’t have sharp-elbowed parents?
Ann Burgess
• A huge thank you to Susie White (Country diary, 28 February) for rekindling my teenage years fishing under Oakpool Bridge on the East Allen. The idyllic time I spent in the Keenley valley working at Gill House and Hindley Hill farms was punctuated by descending Appletree Bank, flycasting in those very same pools, and, yes the ever-present dipper was there even then.
Angus MacIntosh
Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire
• We haven’t been following the recent correspondence about Gilbert O’Sullivan songs (Letters, 28 February), but from now on we will.
Tim and Corry Walker
Abingdon, Oxfordshire
• A brimstone so late in the month (Letters, 28 February)? That’s nothing. I saw my first one this year on 8 February in West Sussex.
Emma Dally
• And a tortoiseshell yesterday.
Deirdre Flegg
Poole, Dorset

Emmeline Pankhurst is again being given the oxygen of publicity (Pass notes, G2, 24 February). Remarkable woman that she was, voted woman of the millennium in 2000, nonetheless Emmeline Pankhurst was neither a peace activist in the first world war, nor was she ever force-fed for the cause. Although she was part of the hunger-striking campaign, the Liberal government would never have dared to risk the fragile frame of this “reed of steel” by giving permission for torture to be carried out on the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The Pankhurst who did endure this punishment some 13 times was her daughter, Sylvia. Her mother and her older sister supported the war effort and were employed by David Lloyd George to persuade women into munition production. Emmeline went to Russia as Lloyd George’s emissary during the war. There is a photograph of her saluting the Women’s Battalion of Death, marching past with fixed bayonets.
Some years ago, David Doughan, Librarian at the Women’s Library, told me that when Emmeline addressed a packed Royal Albert Hall, her passionate “Join us” was delivered with a faint Lancashire accent, a challenge that the greatly talented Ms Streep will surely meet with aplomb.
Sylvia Ayling
Woodford Green, Essex
• Priyamvada Gopal (Comment, 28 February) says it all – or nearly all – on the subject of remembering and honouring the heroism of the first world war refuseniks. I still painfully recall the considerable social pressure to “register” for the armed forces when I was 18 in 1956. I knew I was wrong to comply with the stridently expressed, but vacuous, arguments of those around me, but it took a stronger young man than I was to resist. I shall avoid any of the commemorations unless the group identified by Ms Gopal is included, alongside a second neglected group – that which comprises soldiers who were killed or maimed, and who were all someone’s son, brother or husband, but happened to be German.
Bob Caldwell
Daventry, Northamptonshire

The financial sector has shown its true colours in the past few days. Its main driver is greed, with total absence of compassion, integrity or honour.
In the financial sector it is accepted that despite the business making losses, the top employees still get large bonuses.
RBS was saved by money from the Government, ie money from the whole country, which could have otherwise been spent on projects of value for ordinary people.
Shady, immoral or illegal activities come to light and fines are imposed. Again, these fines come out of money originally provided by the general public.
RBS, still afloat only because of money from the public, is making huge losses. Despite this, a huge sum is put aside for “bonuses”.
Barclays is still showing a loss and is laying off 7,000 lower-paid staff but at the same time is increasing bonuses by 10 per cent (to the highest-paid staff). The Government seems to think that restricting bonuses to once the annual salary is a punishment, even when the annual salary is £1m.
One of the factors that appears to have influenced Standard Life in looking at possibly moving out of Scotland is that, if the vote is yes, the tax regime might include increasing tax for the higher earners.
Even pension fund managers have been known to give themselves a large bonus, which is almost the same as stealing money which should have gone into funds to provide better pensions for those who pay in their hard-earned cash.
I have been told, by someone in the financial sector, that only by paying bonuses can they insure that people work hard. What an insult to the rest of society. Doctors, nurses, teachers, lecturers, farmers, fishermen, miners, police, builders, garbage collectors and almost everybody not in finance work hard without ever getting a bonus.
In no other business would senior staff take pay rises (and certainly not bonuses) if their business was making a loss. The financial sector is amoral.
Dr Evan Lloyd, Edinburgh
The bonus pot at RBS of £500m is beyond belief. Every year, when bailed-out banks pay themselves eye-watering sums, banker apologists in the media trot out the same well-worn cliché. They say we need to pay this money to stop good staff leaving.
The bankers being paid bonuses at RBS have presided over six consecutive years of losses. Some bankers have been involved in the mis-selling of PPI and rigging the Libor rate, defrauding everyone. If these are the “right” people, who knows what the wrong people would do.
Most working people have had years of wage cuts and austerity to pay for the bank bailout. Bankers now get bonuses simply for turning up to work.
The blame for the banking crisis lies at the door of Labour and Tory politicians who, after six years and a £1.2 trillion taxpayer bailout, are still allowing bankers to dictate the rules.
Alan Hinnrichs, Dundee
Let me get this straight
Despite reporting an £8.2bn pre-tax loss and despite huge losses for six consecutive years and despite the £45bn taxpayer bailout and despite the fact that shares are now worth 326p (and the taxpayer paid 500p per share) and despite the RBS chief executive eloquently describing the situation as “We are too expensive, too bureaucratic and we need to change”, the intention is to pay out £576m in bonuses.
It all makes perfect sense. Does RBS stand for Right Bunch of Shysters?
Alex Taylor, London W5
Immigration is not UK’s big problem
Net immigration rose by 200,000 last year – where’s the problem? We know that immigration is good for our economy and that immigrants make a substantial net contribution.
During the past year we have seen record falls in unemployment and our economy has been growing faster than those of other European nations. So where is the problem?
The problem seems to be that our infrastructure, particularly the NHS, hasn’t grown to match the increase in our population. Even if net immigration were reduced to zero, our infrastructure would still be under strain.
But we are a wealthy nation growing wealthier, in no small part due to immigration, so is it too simplistic to ask why we haven’t been investing enough of this extra wealth in our infrastructure?
Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon
In 2009, Gordon Brown, following the publication of a poll showing immigration was the biggest issue cited by defecting voters, and perhaps realising he was coming up to an election he was unlikely to win, upped the ante on immigration and launched an attack on the student visa system.
In what could be seen as a desperate game of one-upmanship, David Cameron’s last bet was a promise to reduce net migration to under 100,000.
When decisions like this are taken by politicians to win elections, rather than in response to evidence or as a step to developing a sensible and achievable result and a long-lasting national strategy, we sadly end up with squabbling, recriminations and broken promises.
David Wilkins, London W12
We are certainly not alone
Your editorial (“Earth 2.0?”, 28 February), commenting on the discovery of 715 new planets, concludes that the discovery of signs of life on such a planet “would raise the deepest philosophical questions about our own place in the universe” and “would mean that… in all likelihood, we are not alone. And that would change everything.”
It is difficult to know what you mean. We are part of the universe, not separate from it. We are composed of elements that probably occur everywhere. We are products of the universe. We probably represent an example of an assemblage of molecules that in time would arise inevitably in certain conditions. And we are not alone – look at the myriad life forms on Earth.
Newton’s contribution to the Enlightenment was the demonstration that the Earth is not unique, and that the same physical laws apply elsewhere, perhaps everywhere, in the universe. So let us go another step and recognise that the laws of life are probably universal too. Identification of another 715 planets, including warm damp ones, changes nothing.
Gavin P Vinson, London N10
You report on the 715 planets newly found – of which four are “neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water, which we must assume to be essential ingredients for life”. I do not profess to be an expert, but is it not conceivable for life forms to exist that do not depend on water nor on the other elements or compounds necessary for life on Earth?
I remember an episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk and his cohorts arrived at a planet where the life forms were silicon-based and mistaken for canisters. In the words often attributed to Spock: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” When we talk of planets suitable to support life, we should qualify “life” with those words.
Stephen Wright, Pinner, London
Time for rethink on how we treat animals
I found Bob Comis’s disquiet on being a livestock farmer (“Farming confessional”, 26 February) interesting, including all the hoops he’s going through to justify what he does.
He has an idea that “conscientious animal farming is necessary for a transition towards a vegan world”. Surely, being part of an industry that produces 60 billion animals a year as a “crop” makes him part of the problem rather than part of the solution?
He feels he is betraying the 500 pigs he breeds, fattens and trucks to slaughter each year. As a vegan, I agree. I suggest he stops being part of an industry that uses animals as a product. His conscience will let him rest far easier and the vegan world he hopes for will come that tiny bit closer.
Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent
With 5,000 animals being killed each year in European zoos (report, 27 February) it’s obvious that the aim of zoos’ breeding programmes is not to breed animals so they can be rehabilitated to the wild, but to breed them so they can be gawked at. If zoos were genuinely seeking to “save” species they would be rehabilitating them to the wild, not killing them.
When circuses came under fire for imprisoning “exotic” animals, zoos needed a reason to enable them to continue confining them. Hence the “breeding programmes” that they are quick to mention whenever a new baby rhino, lion or giraffe is born. The truth is that nothing attracts zoo patrons– and their money – like a new “wild” baby.
If we genuinely want to conserve species we need to conserve their habitat.
Jenny Moxham, Monbulk, Victoria, Australia
The Scots won’t have to switch off BBC
“Vote ‘Yes’ and you will lose the BBC, Scots are warned”, you report (27 February). “Vote ‘Yes’ and you will lose the BBC, unless you have a satellite dish, Scots are warned”, surely?
Goff Sargent, Loughborough, Leicestershire

Sir, Jenni Russell has hit the nail squarely on the head regarding the poor in this country (“Only the State can protect the poor in this crisis”, Opinion, Feb 27). Politicians on both sides of the divide have failed to take in the lessons of recent history and the fates of so many of their own constituents. So many people work hard merely to stay still while even more slip backwards. The cost of living is too high in this country despite what mere statistics might suggest. Recent reports also suggest that wages have risen and more of us have extra money in our pockets. This is wrong and to base future policy on such untruths is merely storing up trouble for the future.
Ms Russell seemed to find it shocking that so many families have no savings. The real shock is that in the Britain of the 21st century so many of us are just one wage away from disaster. We are constantly told we must save for our old age (what is National Insurance for?), but with what? Most can barely exist to the end of the month.
Andrew Harrison
Holmfirth, W Yorks
Sir, Jenni Russell identifies “the huge structural changes” affecting modern economies, especially those affecting wage levels. In the 1960s, more than 60 per cent of our national income derived from wages and salaries. By 1997, this figure had fallen to 50 per cent. Not twenty years later, it has fallen to 40 per cent. The consequences are diverse, and incongruous. Who would have thought a “small government” Conservative Chancellor would, year after year, raise taxpayers’ money to subsidise the wages paid by firms?
In economic terms, it probably matters little how the national income is made up. However, we live in a political economy, and when interest, rents, capital gains and dividends make up more than 60 per cent of earnings, and most of society is excluded, we must eventually expect a political response. Work has to pay, or why engage in it?
All our political parties have been in power while this happened, and one is left wondering why our senior politicians went into politics in the first place.
Mike Clegg
Lytham St Annes, Lancs
Sir, How exactly does one define poverty (“ ‘Faux’ poverty”, letter, Feb 28)? It surely depends on individual expectations. To me absolute poverty is homelessness with no possibility of a comfortable bed, or at least one good meal each day.
In the early 1970s, with two young children, I often ordered a bag of potatoes and a dozen eggs from the milkman on Wednesday morning; this fed us until Friday, when my husband got paid (the milkman’s bill was paid on Saturday morning).
Recounting this story to my granddaughter, she said “You must have been really poor then?”
I didn’t feel poor at the time.
Linda Miller
Dereham, Norfolk

The case for Scottish independence does not depend on yields from North Sea oil, the net fiscal deficit, or whether Scotland could remain in the EU
Sir, When Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, that which had been a national asset — the fishing grounds — became a European Community asset. We might prompt some honesty in the Scottish independence debate if it was made clear that North Sea oil would, by a similar process of negotiation, remain a community asset owned jointly by the North and South Britons. We could also be honest by admitting that Scotland has a fair claim on its proportion of whatever gold reserves Gordon Brown did not sell off.
However, the case for Scottish independence does not depend on venal calculations of the yields from North Sea oil, the net fiscal deficit, or whether Scotland could remain in the EU. Rather, it depends upon the continued renaissance of genuine radical thinking and genuine national culture, freed from the shackles of a stultifying political class at Westminster.
David Radlett
Lecturer in Law, University of Kent
Sir, I hesitate to tangle with a fellow of All Souls, but I challenge Professor Waldron’s analysis (letter, Feb 28) of the right of an inanimate body (“UK-EWNI”) to claim Britishness. This island was known by Julius Caesar, on his brief excursion, as Britannia. For centuries its northernmost mainland extremity was accurately known as North Britain. Continental Europeans more often describe the island’s inhabitants as English no matter from whence they actually hail.
Should secession ensue, I suspect that many millions of those citizens relegated to the role of spectators in the forthcoming poll of the North Britons would have no objection to the BBC being thenceforth known as the EBC — notwithstanding the seemingly disproportionate number of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish currently represented by it, at least on Radio 4.
R. J. Plunkett

The principle of prioritising treatment of the young over the old has merit, but each case must be dealt with individually
Sir, In principle I am with Matthew Parris (Notebook, Feb 26) when prioritising treatment of the young over the old, but then I think, hang on a minute, I’m doing all I can to stave off ill health and dementia, both for my quality of life and so not hopefully to overly burden the State. I exercise, eat the right foods, socialise with friends, make love with my wife, pay my taxes, act charitably and do not smoke or drink much alcohol. So if at some future date I need some help from the NHS, I may well be irritated if resources are diverted instead to a younger model suffering from, say, an alcohol, smoking or obesity-related condition such as Type 2 diabetes.
It’s a difficult one to call.
Geoffrey Wood
Sir, Matthew Parris should feel no guilt over the cost to the NHS of his hand operation. If everyone who could actually opted out of the NHS — prompted by their conscience or anything else — how long would it be before they objected to contributing to it? It only works if most people support it, and that means using it.
philippa hutchinson
London NW6

It must be time for female leaders to stop the convention of greeting male counterparts with a kiss — a handshake should suffice
Sir, Is it not time for eminent women in the public world to make one last stand for equality by demanding an end to the ridiculous and relatively recent convention of being greeted by their male counterparts with kisses on the cheek (cover photograph, Feb 28)? Please, women leaders, send your aides ahead with the message that, friendly though you hope your meeting will be, you would much prefer a polite but distant handshake.
Professor Brenda Almond
Lewes, E Sussex

The principle of prioritising treatment of the young over the old has merit, but each case must be dealt with individually
Sir, In principle I am with Matthew Parris (Notebook, Feb 26) when prioritising treatment of the young over the old, but then I think, hang on a minute, I’m doing all I can to stave off ill health and dementia, both for my quality of life and so not hopefully to overly burden the State. I exercise, eat the right foods, socialise with friends, make love with my wife, pay my taxes, act charitably and do not smoke or drink much alcohol. So if at some future date I need some help from the NHS, I may well be irritated if resources are diverted instead to a younger model suffering from, say, an alcohol, smoking or obesity-related condition such as Type 2 diabetes.
It’s a difficult one to call.
Geoffrey Wood
Sir, Matthew Parris should feel no guilt over the cost to the NHS of his hand operation. If everyone who could actually opted out of the NHS — prompted by their conscience or anything else — how long would it be before they objected to contributing to it? It only works if most people support it, and that means using it.
philippa hutchinson
London NW6

‘Hospital data is already being used for medical research without patient consent, with the Government using Section 251 of the NHS Act 2006’
Sir, Most of the discussion on NHS England’s is around patient data uploaded from GP surgeries. However, hospital data is already being used for medical research without patient consent, with the Government using Section 251 of the NHS Act 2006.
It is to be hoped that NHS England will now include in the opt-out form (but preferably an opt-in form) a section for hospital records.
Dr Martin F. Seely
Worsley, Manchester


SIR – As long-standing National Trust members, my wife and I were horrified to find that, from April, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which leases the estate at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, will be imposing car parking charges there, including for National Trust members. Parking for one hour will cost visitors £2, and an all-day stay will be £10.
We regularly visit with our friends, buy lunch and spend money in the shop. I cannot see this continuing with the charges as proposed.
I urge those responsible to think again about the scale of the charges before they find it financially backfiring on them.
Tony Saunders
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – During the 19th and early 20th centuries, housing was the burning political issue. Rent control was created to provide affordable housing for the soldiers who had fought alongside our politicians and officers during the First World War. Should our present politicians be doing something about housing, too?
There can be no question that the price of housing is artificially sustained by commercial rings, which really means price collusion. There never was such a thing as an auction without a ring, which is why it is crucial to attach a reserve to whatever may be sold. Though such rings have been outlawed, Parliament can never eliminate them altogether. But in the field of housing, a modest start could be made by an improvement of record-keeping at the Land Registry. We need standardised and consistent forms of entry in order comfortably to follow through how, from one sale to the next, the price of a property has been prejudiced by commercial interests.
Lord Sudeley
London NW1
West End winner
Related Articles
The Bloody Sunday soldiers deserve immunity after the Hyde Park ruling
28 Feb 2014
Prohibitive parking charges at Wakehurst Place
28 Feb 2014
SIR – Tim Walker suggests that if there had been people of equal stature to myself around me, I would never have written about such an uncommercial subject as Stephen Ward.
Ignoring that the show’s director is Sir Richard Eyre, the former head of the National Theatre, the producer is Robert Fox and the writers are both Oscar winners, Mr Walker suggests that Jeffrey Archer (who incidentally proposed to me no fewer than 14 titles for the show) might have questioned the commerciality of the subject matter.
The difference between success and failure in musical theatre is a horrifyingly fine line. However, I believe that if you choose a subject purely because it appears commercial, catastrophe looms.
If money was the only goal, would I have embarked on a musical (strangely not mentioned by Mr Walker) that was inspired by an anthology of poems by a dead poet (and not lyrics by Tim Rice), was directed by a commercially untried director from the Royal Shakespeare Company, was presented by a young producer who had had no major West End hit, which featured dance heavily at a time when it was perceived that West End dancers had two left feet and certainly couldn’t sing and dance at the same time, was opening in a graveyard theatre in which even Grease, starring Richard Gere, had flopped, was to open with most of its investment missing – causing me to take a second mortgage on my house – and, worse still, featured human beings dressed as cats?
We are all immensely proud of Stephen Ward. But what makes a hit musical? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.
Andrew Lloyd Webber
London WC2
Farmer’s almanac
SIR – You report that today is “officially” the last day of winter.
The first day of spring is Thursday, March 20, the vernal equinox, so the last day of winter is surely March 19.
Colin Heaton
Brindle, Lancashire
SIR – I live in a small village in Germany. On Wednesday I witnessed the first and sure sign that spring is here.
Was it a cuckoo? A crocus? Snowdrops? No, the Italian ice cream parlour reopened after the winter break.
Flt Lt Graham Chipperfield (retd)
Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Treating dyslexia
SIR – Reading came easily to me as a child and, like Prof Elliott of Durham University, I spent most of my life sceptical that dyslexia existed; I thought poor teachers were to blame.
Then I had a stroke in my visual cortex at the age of 60 and lost reading skills that had previously enabled me to scan and comprehend up to 30,000 words a day.
After the stroke I could scroll very slowly down narrow columns of type, but couldn’t remember what I had just read. It was impossible to read across a wide measure without putting a ruler under each line. I had to retire hurt from my work as a writer.
Help came a few years later, when I was introduced to the dyslexia clinic at my alma mater, Aston University.
There, I was prescribed yellow-tinted glasses that maximised the contrast between print and page. It took time, but my brain rewired itself and, 12 years later, I can now read, though not quickly. I also still confuse words of similar length that begin with the same letters – for example, versatility and Versailles.
I still believe poor teaching is the cause of illiteracy in the majority of cases, but equally that there is a neurological basis for the genuine dyslexia of a minority. My optician recently installed a colorimeter device and prescribes tinted glasses to dyslexic children. I understand their reading skills blossom as a result.
Ian Hamilton Fazey
Flying the flag
SIR – Tony Parrack asks what flag to fly to represent London.
He could adopt the one used by the City of London: an adapted Cross of St George with a red sword in the top-left corner.
If he wants a wider representation of London, there are the arms granted to the now defunct London County Council, comprised of a St George’s flag surmounted by a golden lion, over three wavy bars, representing the River Thames. The St George’s cross was later replaced by the Greater London Council with a red field surmounted by a modern gold crown.
Jonathan N Fox
Green Street Green, Kent
Status quo divorce
SIR – We have decided to split everything evenly, but she will stay on as the cook and I will remain as the chauffeur-gardener.
Cdr J R M Prime
Old Bedhampton, Hampshire
Armed Forces recruitment from Scotland
SIR – If Scotland were to become independent, would it remain a member of the Commonwealth? If so, the British Army and other parts of the Armed Forces could still recruit there as they do at present from the Caribbean, Kenya or Fiji.
Scotland would have to set up its own defence systems if it wished to remain in Nato. I suspect Alex Salmond has not budgeted for that, either.
Sue Doughty
Twyford, Berkshire
SIR – Any suggestion that the Union flag might change in the event of Scottish independence is preposterous. Scotland does not own the colour blue, and the Union flag is at the core of what it is to be British.
White and red are the colours of St George, while blue is the predominant colour of the Royal Navy.
Gregory Shenkman
London W8
SIR – Mr Salmond is keen to tell us that an independent Scotland would aspire to emulate Norway. It was not long ago that his aspirations for Scotland were to emulate the small “successful” economies of Iceland and Ireland, and we all know what happened there.
Professor Jeremy Dibble
SIR – I, like many fellow Scots, have been a “Don’t know” for quite some months on the matter of separatism. Now, I am tired of being browbeaten and threatened by all the bad things that will happen to Scotland if it votes for separation.
Are those outside Scotland frightened of losing us? Don’t be afraid, we won’t be that far away.
My mind has now been made up. I refuse to be cowed or scared by the plethora of disasters that we are told will befall us if we go our own way.
George Meldrum
SIR – We now have a situation where a suspected IRA terrorist charged with a bombing atrocity on the streets of London has been given immunity from prosecution, while soldiers who were serving the Crown on the streets of Belfast can still be charged with murder.
The Government should stand up for our Armed Forces and push through an Act of Parliament giving all who served in Northern Ireland similar immunity.
Phil Harris
Crewkerne, Somerset
SIR – Given the ruling handed down by Mr Justice Sweeney to throw out the prosecution against John Downey, does this now mean that British soldiers facing prosecution for the Bloody Sunday shootings will be accorded similar protection (Tim Collins, Comment)? Surely the IRA cannot have everything its own way?
A D Holman
Related Articles
Parliament should intervene to control house prices
28 Feb 2014
Prohibitive parking charges at Wakehurst Place
28 Feb 2014
SIR – In May 1982 my wife and I attended a peaceful garden party at Buckingham Palace which was interrupted by the brutal murder of four soldiers of the Royal Horse Artillery by the IRA. The complete inability of the British legal system to bring the accused to justice can only be described as inhuman and lacking in integrity.
Members of the judiciary and civil servants responsible for this poor performance must be held to account and punished, otherwise our democratic society will be exposed to the further erosion and decline of its moral values.
Major Michael Addenbrooke (retd)
Hepworth, West Yorkshire
SIR – We must all feel despair at the news that the suspected Hyde Park bomber will evade justice. All those involved in the decision to promise him immunity from prosecution have blood on their hands and must be made accountable.
While in a democracy we must accept that some unpopular decisions are necessary for the greater good, it seems that secret deals behind closed doors resulting in the Good Friday Agreement are totally unjustifiable. Perhaps it was really the Black Friday Agreement.
Kate Graeme-Cook
Tarrant Launceston, Dorset
SIR – Your report “Victims of IRA bomb cheated of justice by a ‘monumental blunder’” suggested that the monumental blunder was committed by the police in sending a letter.
In fact it was the Blair government’s concession in favour of terrorists.
Peter Thompson
Sutton, Surrey
SIR – The victims are, indeed, cheated, as are all who believe in the rule of law in our country. To allow anyone to grant immunity from prosecution without proper process can only lead to anarchy.
John Hardy
Stockport, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Olivia O’Leary’s article on judicial remuneration (Opinion, February 28th) should be compulsory reading for our much-beleaguered Cabinet.
Chief Justice, Mrs Susan Denham and the President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns argue that the reduction in remuneration and expenses will produce a “second best” judiciary.
What a gratuitous insult to the thousands of frontline staff in our health services, gardaí, teachers, etc, who have endured pay cuts without any hope of redress, and most of whom will never even see a salary that will remotely match their lordships’ pensions.
The statements of “mluds” is further proof, if further proof is needed, of the existence of a strata in our society whose self-assessed worth places them on a different plane to everyone else.
Now, where’s that bottle of wine . . . I need a well-rounded, full-bodied vintage with a good nose to wash the taste of disgust from my mouth!
Could “mluds” advise or even better, refer me to the “mendicant monk”? – Yours, etc,
Ballon, Carlow.
Sir, – As a mendicant friar I read with intense interest Olivia O’Leary’s column (Opinion, February 28th). Your distinguished columnist writes “It’s not easy, being a mendicant friar . . . with a taste for fine wine”.
As someone who dabbles a little in church history as well as living the day-today life of the aforesaid profession, I can assure Olivia O’Leary that the two roles are not at all incompatible. – Yours, etc,
O’Connell Street,
Sir, – How refreshing and encouraging to read Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s honest appraisal of the results of the consultations on church teachings in Dublin (Home News, February 28th).
It comes as no surprise to me that the people consulted felt that there was a “theory-practice” gap in the church’s perception of issues like same sex unions, divorced people remarrying and homosexuality. Pope Francis continues to engage with his flock through his ministers to bring these aforementioned topics into the limelight. His honesty and inclusiveness will add value to all Catholics’ lives. – Yours, etc,
Co Wexford.
Sir, – That Catholic teaching on marriage is “poorly understood” is scarcely surprising (Home News, February 28th). For any teaching to be understood, it must first be taught. – Yours, etc,
Callary Road,
Mount Merrion,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has promised Ireland will have “world-class” protections for whistleblowers by Christmas. The main objective he said was to ensure “the protection of workers in all sectors of the economy both public and private against reprisals in circumstances where they make a disclosure of information relating to wrongdoing which comes to their attention in the workplace”.
Might I suggest he discusses his proposed legislation with the HSE, which has recently produced a draft contract for the provision of services by GPs for children aged under six. This document contains a clause which states that the GP “shall not do anything to prejudice the name or reputation of the HSE”. Failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement can lead to the termination of the contract. – Yours, etc,
Health Centre,
Co Wexford.

Sir, – In the Editorial “Obama’s army” (February 28th) and in the report “America’s military set to slim down” (World News, February 28th) much is said about the overall size of the US defence budget. However, these comments did not include some basic facts. A congressional budget office report on the 2013 defence budget stated $150 billion goes to salary and basic benefits (such as housing) for current and retired service members; this is 28 per cent of the base budget. $130 billion is dedicated  to health care for injured, ill or disabled veterans. $48 billion is allocated for the defence department health programme for service members and their families.
The defence budget is not all about weapons systems. To a very significant degree it is concerned with providing for those individuals who voluntarily put themselves at risk in defending the nation, and for the families of such dedicated individuals. – Yours, etc.
Shandon Street,
Co Waterford.

A chara, – Niall Ginty (February 28th) is correct when he highlights the discrepancy between the Census figure he quotes and the true number of Irish speakers. A more accurate reflection of the situation would be the 77,000 people who say they speak Irish on a daily basis outside of the classroom. Therefore, if he wanted to have a conversation as Gaeilge with random people on the street he probably wouldn’t get very far. Why would he? Irish is a minority language.
I do take issue with his mindset, which is widespread among monolingual speakers in this country: “I only speak English, therefore, everyone else should too”. – Is mise,
Bóthar na Ceapaí,
Cnoc na Cathrach,
Sir, – Many of your negative-sounding correspondents on the question of the Irish language – in recent times and over the years – are living in a warp, or illusion, that manifests itself only in their own limited time and space. They are not visionaries – people who can see into the past and far into the future. They cannot see the richness and the vastness of the Irish language as it stretches back to pre-Christian times and moves boldly and imaginatively into the future, albeit almost friendlessly.
The awful limitations of their vision means they cannot see and admire the language in the past, present or future, cannot speak it, embrace it, read its literature or sing its songs. Why don’t they just shut about it, then? What exactly is their problem? Might it be some form of nagging, unacknowledged personal or collective guilt, or some form of self-loathing which is typical of many post-colonial societies?
So, we must look to visionaries for guidance on the subject, the likes of Emerson, who says: “Where are the Greeks? Where the Etrurians? Where the Romans? But the Celts are an old family of whose beginning there is no memory, and their end is likely to be still more remote in the future, for they have endurance and productiveness – a hidden and precarious genius.”
That vision should keep us going for a while, Celts and non-Celts alike. – Yours, etc
Gleann na gCaorach,
Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – There were presidential elections in the Ukraine in 2010. There were a total of 3,249 international observers including several from Ireland supervising the election. The international observers including those from the OSCE called the election transparent and honest.
This government has now been overthrown and the leaders of the European Union supported its overthrow.
When the Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty, which was in essence about accelerating the centralisation and militarisation of the EU, the response of the Fianna Fáil government was to abolish the Forum on Europe, chaired by Maurice Hayes (who had believed in and supported democratic debate). Then, with the rest of the Yes side, it spent millions of euro ensuring a Yes vote in the second referendum.
Whatever the values of the EU are, a commitment to democracy is not one of them.
Yet, however bad it might be to live in a profoundly anti-democratic EU, already some of the EU fanatics are calling for “intervention” in the Ukraine. Does this mean the EU battle groups are going to be sent to the Ukraine? What would be the consequences of such a decision? Would Russia stand idly by?
The Red C poll commissioned by the Peace & Neutrality Alliance in September 2013 showed that 78 per cent of the Irish people in the Republic supported a policy of Irish neutrality, so I am confident of the wish of the Irish people not to become involved in the conflict in the Ukraine that could so easily spiral out of control. I am not so confident that the political/media elite will allow such views to be expressed, let alone supported. After all, the corporate media largely ignored PANA’s Red C poll. – Yours, etc,
Glenageary Park,
Dún Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Claims that the Irish electricity system will be in danger of blackouts due to renewable energy or upgrading the transmission network are without basis (“Reports for anti-pylon group warns of ‘blackouts’ and dearer electricity”, Home News, February 20th).
Developing the national grid will in fact improve security of supply and reliability through stronger infrastructure, and will facilitate inward investment and regional development, as well as enabling Ireland to meet its targets for renewable energy.
On numerous occasions in recent years up to 50 per cent of electricity being carried on the Irish transmission system has come from wind generation. Ireland and EirGrid are recognised as world leaders in integrating wind energy.
The European Union has set binding targets for renewable energy to be achieved by 2020. EirGrid has put in place a detailed programme of work to ensure that Ireland can achieve these targets by delivering 40 per cent of electricity through renewable energy.
Through the use of smart technologies, new procedures and the upgrading of our transmission infrastructure, we will integrate renewable energy to ensure a safe, secure and reliable supply of electricity. – Yours, etc,
Communications Manager,
Shelbourne Road,
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – Sir Ivor Roberts (Opinion, February 25th) quotes Churchill to the effect that, in general, “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”. He agrees that this was not the case in the lead-up to the second World War “knowing what we now know about Hitler”, but argues that the policy of appeasement was well worth trying. Leaving aside the fact that many people, Churchill among them, did indeed “know about Hitler”, he argues for the appeasement policy on three grounds:
1. Britain and France were far too weak in the mid-1930s to stand up to Hitler. However, he omits to mention that Germany at the time of the re-militarisation of the Rhineland (1936) was weak too, and that Hitler would probably have been stopped in his tracks had Britain and France reacted.
2. An isolationist Congress would never have allowed US intervention – Congress was just as isolationist in 1939, when Britain and France did declare war on Germany, as they were in 1936.
3. Hitler did not enter into a “devil’s pact with Stalin” until August 1939 – there was no such pact in September 1938, when Britain and France abandoned Czechoslovakia to its fate.
Appeasement is discredited for a reason. (Peace in our time, indeed). – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Regarding John B Reid’s letter (February 28th), one need not be a professional rugby analyst to know that the reason for Saturday’s loss was anything but an anthem (or lack thereof, as Mr Reid claims). England’s defence and discipline especially in last 15 minutes had more say in the matter than a mere song.
Having been at this game, I can tell you that the particular song posing a problem in Reid’s perception, was in fact sung with absolute gusto by the thousands of Irish fans present in the Twickenham stadium who got behind their team throughout the entire eighty minutes of play. “National embarrassment”? Nothing like that at all. – Yours, etc,
Ballymore Lane,

Sir, – I refer to an article by Chris Johns (Business, February 28th), expressing a great need for “growth” in Europe.
Growth! The elusive elixir of economic recovery. Continual increasing economic production? It was always wanted in the past to bridge the shortfall between what could be produced and what was needed. Not any more, however.
The 21st century has ability to produce everything in abundance; to overproduce on a gross scale, if not restrained. In such a situation economic “growth” as known through history is unnecessary and impossible. Economics of “growth” are overtaken by economics of “sufficiency” or enough. We must learn to survive and prosper without the big G. – Yours, etc,
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo.

Sir, – Having regard to Fionnuala Walsh’s suggestion (February 27th) that the abandoned cable ties that litter and deface poles and lampposts all over the city, should be colour coded, I would suggest that a far simpler, more sensible, practical and environmentally acceptable practice would be the comprehensive banning of the erection of all posters and other such material on poles and lampposts.
The erection of such material serves no useful purpose; it only contributes to the litter and the defacing of an already seriously compromised environment. – Yours, etc,
Grosvenor Place,
Dublin 6.
Sir, – Fáilte Ireland must be applauded for its Wild Atlantic Way initiative aimed at driving tourism along the western and southern coast (Home News, February 27th).
However, why is Waterford excluded? Is our Atlantic coast not good enough?
As we clear up the ocean wave damage from the recent storms in Tramore, we are quite puzzled. – Yours, etc,
Johns Hill,

Irish Independent:
* I do not share Gerard O’Regan’s sentiments that few have suffered as much as Russia, and therefore its agonised history won’t allow it to look the other way.
Also in this section
Rural post offices are community’s lifeblood
Letters: Give the children room to embrace GAA
Ballyhea still says ‘No’ to this gross injustice
Russia is such a wonderful place. I have visited Russia and tremendously enjoyed the hospitality of its people, the attractiveness of its nature and the splendour of its iconic palaces, cathedrals, opera and ballet theatres and museums. Just visit the Hermitage overlooking the Neva river in St Petersburg and see the grandeur of this gem and relax in its surrounding canals and parks. It has an unrivalled corpus of literature collections and cultural treasures.
Russia was also the bulwark of human consciousness against Nazis. It rose on its feet at a critical juncture in history defending humanity against the barbarism of Nazism. I visited the Holocaust memorial museum in Kiev (which was part of the USSR for centuries), depicting images of death chambers, famines and the moral depravity of man towards fellow human beings.
It is true that the Russian empire is besmirched with criminal mischiefs. But every empire has had its share in cruelty. British involvement with slavery stretches over 2,000 years. The Amritsar massacre is regarded as a seminal moment of the British rule of India, when British troops fired on unarmed protesters in Punjab, killing up to 1,000 and possibly more within 10 minutes. The Ottoman empire was responsible for the Armenian genocide and other massacres. And above all the Holocaust is still vivid in the consciousness of humanity as the most depraved act history has ever witnessed.
Those who do not learn from history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them. It is immensely important to build bridges of trust and cooperation with Mother Russia and Ukraine. The east-west strife is going to plunge the world into an abysmal spectacle. It is for that reason the agonised history shared by humanity is bound to allow all nations to traverse their political differences for the betterment of human lives.
Proud of our care
* I recently had the misfortune of having to travel home from America to be at my Dad’s bedside as he struggled through his last days of life. My Dad’s last days were spent on the Laurel ward at James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Dublin.
I have been away a long time, but like to stay in touch with all the goings-on in Ireland, the quality of healthcare being very much to the forefront of many discussions.
Well, let me tell you that there may be many process and funding issues, but there is nothing wrong with the quality of care offered by the nursing staff, at least on the Laurel ward at JCMH.
My Dad was there for two-and-a-half weeks and I had firsthand experience of the care offered for 11 days. I was there with my Mam and five siblings and they could not have done more for our Dad, our Mam and for that matter all of us. There is something so very genuine about the Irish nurses.
They made us feel so welcome during our difficult time and I will be forever grateful to them for that.
I will look back over the last few weeks with great sadness but also with great pride at the service that was provided to my family in the much maligned health services of Ireland.
From the bottom of my heart thanks to the palliative care team and all on the Laurel ward at James Connolly Memorial Hospital.
* Question: How do you deliver letters to people on the run?
* May I just refer to what is in my opinion a worrying organisation called Pure in Heart.
The group goes around the country giving sex education talks in schools. It has used such tactics as taping teens’ wrists together before pulling it off, all in the name of promoting sexual abstinence.
What in God’s name is this all about? This to me seems to be very stressful for young school kids and should not be tolerated. Have we not learnt from the mistakes of the past?
* David McWilliams writes excellently on an employment anomaly that defies logic or justice, but is of minor consequence compared to the jobs disaster that will descend on society if there is not a serious rethink of work, jobs and employment in the 21st century.
Unemployment is a catastrophe for the individual, the family and society. Since industrialisation, employment is the only dignified method for inclusion of the masses in the economic life of the world. While work was a necessity in the production of goods and services, there was sufficient employment to sustain coherent society.
All that is changed; technology and automation is eliminating work on an enormous scale and the process is accelerating. Unless policies of generating more jobs from a diminishing pool of work are urgently implemented, the social implications could be horrendous.
The ‘Economist’ highlighted such a scenario last month; sadly no Irish politician, economist, newspaper or broadcaster even mentioned the article.
One hundred years ago the leaders of Europe marched their populations into a devastating catastrophe because they failed to understand the enormous transformation of warfare by advancing technology.
The present leadership of Europe lead us towards what could be an even more horrific conflagration because they fail to understand the transformation that technology has wrought on economics in recent decades.
I conclude by quoting Mr McWilliams’s final sentence. “We can put our heads in the sand because the answers are too awkward, but that’s hardly a strategy.”
* I would be grateful for the opportunity of both informing and inviting readers to a very special and poignant event next month.
On April 2, 2014, at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin, a service will take place in honour of 222 babies and young children who died in the Bethany Home, Orwell Road, Dublin, during 1922-1949.
The service will commence at 4pm, and we are delighted that representatives from four of the main Christian denominations will be participating.
In addition, we are pleased to be able to announce that following the service, a memorial headstone will be unveiled at the cemetery.
We wish to acknowledge that the considerable cost of the headstone has been met by the Department of Justice, sanctioned by Minister Alan Shatter.
For too long, the short lives of these children have been unacknowledged and their remains unmarked.
It is appropriate that at last we can now rectify this situation, and that all of us have the opportunity to pay our respects, and to jointly remember a very sad occurrence in our history.
I therefore heartily extend an invitation to all, to join with us on this very special day.


February 28, 2014

28 February 2014 Cold
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to sort out an unmanned lightship which has become adrift nPriceless
Cold slightly worse but muddle through the day
Scrabble today  I win but gets under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Valery Kubasov, who has died aged 79, was a Russian cosmonaut and the first man to perform a vacuum-welding operation while in orbit; later he accompanied Alexei Leonov on the first joint Soviet-American flight – the so-called “handshake in space”.
By the end of the 1960s, Soviet mission planners were already looking ahead to the era of the space station, and plans were under way to test the rendezvous system of the Soyuz craft by having two capsules dock in orbit. The pressure on both Soviet government officials and cosmonauts was heightened by the recent success of the American Apollo 8 mission, which had sent a team around the Moon over Christmas 1968.
To top the achievement, the programme’s manager (and later minister of Defence) Dmitry Ustinov envisioned a simultaneous operation (or troika mission) between three craft – the first ever attempted. Soyuz 6 would carry engineer Kubasov and his colleague Georgy Shonin into orbit, where they would try to weld different materials in weightless conditions; Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 8 would follow over two days, and the pair would dock together as Shonin captured the moment on film. “Man must build himself a house wherever he goes,” commented the Soviet magazine Nedelya: “in the mountains, on the bottom of the ocean and now in space.”

On October 11 1969, Soyuz 6 lifted off amid cold rain and strong winds, beginning the busiest week in the history of the Soviet space programme thus far. Five days later Kubasov took the controls of the “Vulkan furnace”, a squat green cylinder inside the unpressurised orbital craft which he operated remotely from Soyuz 6’s descent module . Via an electron gun, Kubasov tried out three different welding devices.
His success with all three was heralded in the Soviet press as the dawn of a new era for zero-gravity operations, in part to distract from disappointments elsewhere; Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 8 had failed to dock correctly. The press did not report that when he re-entered the orbital module of Soyuz 6 to recover the samples of welded metal, Kubasov found that the furnace’s low-pressure compressed arc had almost burned a hole through the module’s hull .
None the less, the operation placed Kubasov among the USSR’s top-ranking cosmonauts, and two years later he was selected for the Soyuz 11 crew, to spend more than a month at the world’s first space station, Salyut 1, with his commander, Alexei Leonov (the first man to perform a “spacewalk”), and research engineer Pyotr Kolodin.
However, fate intervened at the last moment, when Kubasov developed a lung infection hours prior to launch . Though he protested that he was perfectly fit to fly , by the time the problem had been identified as a simple allergic reaction, the crew had been grounded and the backup team had taken over. Leonov and Kolodin were furious, but as it turned out all three had a lucky escape. When Soyuz 11 touched back down in Kazakhstan, the entire backup astronaut crew was found dead, the cabin having depressurised on re-entry.
The tragedy was a cause for public mourning across much of the world, and for a time it looked as if the Soviet Union might not recover its position in the space race. In 1975, however, Leonov and Kubasov came together again, for the culminating moment in Cold War Soviet-American relations; the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP).
Plans for a “handshake in space” had begun under President Nixon three years earlier, as part of his détente strategy. While the Soviets sought recognition as America’s equal, it was Nixon’s hope that the mission would open doors to further cooperative efforts.
On July 15 1975, after 18 months of joint training, the American and Soviet crews launched within seven-and-a-half hours of each other, meeting in orbit two days later and 120 miles above the Earth. Leonov and Kubasov’s American counterparts were Apollo commander Brigadier General Tom Stafford, with civilians Deke Slayton and Vance Brand, and it fell to Leonov and Stafford to perform the weightless handshake, followed by an awkward bear hug.
By all accounts the mission was a resounding success and a major propaganda coup for both nations . Over the next few days Kubasov worked alongside Brand in the cramped Soyuz, which the Russian nicknamed the “Soviet-American TV centre in space”. There, Kubasov broadcast a live travelogue , and wondered aloud which of the two halves of the Earth was the more beautiful, before concluding diplomatically that “there is nothing more beautiful than our blue planet”. Later, at a space-to-ground conference attended by both crews, he expressed his hope as an engineer that their work would pave the way for a time “when space will have whole plants, factories, for the production of new materials ”. Kubasov and Leonov returned to Earth on July 21, their landing televised across the world . In recognition of their achievement, both cosmonauts received the Order of Lenin, and a “Gold Star” medal – Kubasov’s second, after his historic welding mission six years earlier.
Valery Nikolayevich Kubasov was born on January 7 1935 in Vyazniki, Vladimir Oblast, some 300km northeast of Moscow. His father was a mechanic, and Kubasov later remarked that he grew up in “the world of nuts, bolts and wheels”. He graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1958 and went to work at the OK-B1 design bureau headed by Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, the USSR’s leading rocket engineer and the man who had put Sputnik 1 in orbit.
There, Kubasov was one of just a handful of civilians who passed the medical screening for consideration as potential candidates in a spacewalk mission from Soyuz 2; but the mission was cancelled after another cosmonaut, Vladimir Komorov, was killed when Soyuz 1’s parachutes failed to open on re-entry. The Soyuz 6 launch two years later was to be Kubasov’s first experience of space flight.
Kubasov commanded his third and final mission in May 1980, when he joined the first Hungarian astronaut, Bertalan Farkas, on the expedition to the USSR’s Salyut 6 space station in Soyuz 36. He retired from the cosmonaut team in March 1993, and became deputy director of RKK Energia, the prime contractor for the Russian space programme and the company behind the construction of Soyuz spacecraft.
Valery Kubasov is survived by his wife, Lyudmila, and by their two children.
Valery Kubasov, born January 7 1935, died February 19 2014


The main reason for the decline in bookshops (Report, 22 February) is the end of the net book agreement about 20 years ago, since when any book can be sold at any price. France has not made the same mistake. As a result Paris now has more bookshops in four arrondissements alone than in all of the UK. When the net book agreement ended, parliament promised to revisit the decision if it saw “harm resulting”. If the absence of almost any bookshops, let alone independent bookshops, throughout most of this land is not harmful to our culture and civilisation, we would like to know what is.
Professor Peter and Eleanor Davies
Linghams Booksellers, Heswall, Wirral
• Simon Jenkins says (Comment, 26 February) “crowds rarely display judgment – and rarely turn on the light of democracy”. Really? Barely eight months after the poll tax riots, the three times elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was toppled. I think we can reserve judgment on Ukraine’s future for at least a similar period.
Paul Morrison
• The hubris of Co-op Bank threatened the whole movement (Report, 27 February). There are other banks sympathetic to the Co-op Bank’s philosophy, so would it not be better to sell off the bank rather than the farms and pharmacies? How many big landowners or megapharmas share Co-op principles?
Fr Julian Dunn
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
• The Workers’ party (That’s us, say Tories, 25 February)? Don’t they mean the Hardworkers’ party?
David Evans
Ashton under Lyne, Manchester
• Cameron and Osborne appear in hard hats and hi-vis jackets (Letters, 25 February), but which cabinet members are wearing the police uniform, bike leathers and Native American headdress?
Jenny Keaveney
Canterbury, Kent
• The Brits and the Folk awards on the same evening (Letters, 27 February)? Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?
Adrian Brodkin
• First Brimstone butterfly of the year.
Richard Cureton

Here’s another valuable exposure by the Guardian of some shocking figures (Revealed: 10,000 people living at risk of domestic violence, 27 February). However, through its coy choice of words, this article pitches the story towards an acute awareness of women’s victimhood while shying away from an account of men’s criminality. The words “woman” and “women” occur 13 times in the article, which reports that 10,952 are deemed to be at “high risk of violent death in the home, or of suffering serious violence”. What category of person carries out these vicious attacks? The “perpetrators” are their “partners” (12 uses of these words). Lesbian women, perhaps? No, actually: men. (There is a hint: the word “men” slips into the story once; also one “husband” features.)
We make this point not to pick nits but to question policy choices. So long as the spotlight is on the female (and juvenile) victims of sexual and gender-based violence, while the masculinity of the attacker is veiled in gender-neutral words, the thrust of policy will continue to be toward protection. What about prevention? We need to face and question the fact that the most dangerous creatures on earth for women and children are not big cats or intrusive parasites but their husbands, fathers, male lovers and sons. Your article could have, but did not, prompt a useful Guardian editorial on the urgent need for conscious social policy to reshape masculinity – for men’s sake as well as women’s.
Professor Cynthia Cockburn University of Warwick, Professor Ann Oakley Institute of Education, London
• I read with weary horror and disbelief the catalogue of preventable errors the police made in “protecting” Cassie Hasanovic from her husband’s violence (Report, 27 February). Surely the time has come to remove responsibility for this vital work and that associated with rape from the police and establish an entirely new national force competent and committed to and capable of investigating and protecting women at risk of and being subjected to domestic violence and rape. To read that the PCC adjudged the officers had acted appropriately suggests that the PCC too has lost the plot.
Richard Stockford
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
• That domestic violence places 10,000 women and children at high risk of death or serious injury is a major concern. The number is indeed likely to be higher due to under-reporting. There are concerns that, in some instances, children may replicate the actions of a domestically abusive parent. Over a two-year period, of 83,469 contacts made to the charity, 27% of callers were seeking advice regarding their children’s aggressive behaviour. Of total calls relating to child behaviour, 88% of calls concerned a child’s aggressive behaviour within the home. While aggressive outbursts can be a normal part of a child’s development, many of the families we are in contact with are dealing with more serious and entrenched problems. Families who find themselves unable to manage their child’s physical or verbally aggressive behaviour need a range of advice and support. The stigma attached to abuse can prevent families from seeking help early, thereby preventing the problem from spiralling out of control.
We urge all parents and families facing serious behavioural challenges to seek support, for the sake of their children and their own wellbeing. We are concerned that there is a significant unmet need in terms of statutory support in this area. Children with, or at risk of developing, more serious problems such as conduct disorders, need the right intervention at the earliest available opportunity, otherwise the cost to the child and the family is a grave and tragic one, but it is one that is avoidable if the right support is made available.
Jeremy Todd
Chief executive, Family Lives

Patrick Collinson tells us that first-time buyers are the losers (Analysis, 27 February) from the 1980s dream of a property-owning democracy, but the greatest losers are low- to lower-middle-income tenants. The deregulation of lending, the abolition of rent controls and the free flow of money in and out of the UK in the 80s created an international free market in property in the UK. Through no fault of the tenants, the cost of housing benefit to the taxpayer rose to £23bn because landlords exploited a market in short supply by raising the rents the housing benefit pays for.
Both the Labour and coalition governments have tried to lower that £23bn by capping housing benefit, which increases the rent payable by tenants. The coalition has simultaneously cut the value of incomes. They have thrown thousands of families and individuals into rent arrears, forcing them to move away from their communities into temporary and overcrowded accommodation. Any breakdown of family and community in today’s Britain has much to do with the lack of secure, decent and affordable housing. Meanwhile, landowners and vendors, without lifting a finger, get richer and richer as a world market in British property increases the value of their first and second homes.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• Bringing empty homes back in to use is a win-win situation for all involved (Scandal of Europe’s 11m empty homes, 24 February). Working with local councils in Yorkshire and the north-east, Centrepoint is using government grants to bring back into use 50 one- and two-bed homes for young people who would otherwise be homeless or trapped in temporary accommodation. Working with local training providers, Centrepoint supports young people to gain new construction skills, gain experience working on the building sites, and then offers a tenancy in the newly refurbished property.
Funding to bring empty homes back into use not only provides a place to live for a homeless young person but it also provides them with the skills to move away from benefits and into work. Projects like these also benefit local communities by breathing new life into streets which have often been neglected. The government has been right to focus on bringing empty homes back into use, but so far there has only been funding to bring hundreds rather than thousands back into use. The chancellor should use next month’s budget as an opportunity to increase capital funding to speed this process up, and get more young people into a home and a job.
Paul Noblet
• CPRE agrees with Sarah Wollaston (Comment, 23 February) that the proposed changes to development rights for agricultural buildings poses a huge threat to national parks. We would go further and argue that this alarming threat extends to the wider countryside. The lack of affordable homes in rural areas is already having a detrimental impact on life in some parts of the countryside. Allowing the conversion of agricultural buildings to large, unaffordable houses in unsustainable locations, with little or no constraint, will only however exacerbate this problem. More affordable housing is needed in rural areas, but the government should reconsider its proposals. Instead it should encourage affordable housing through a genuinely plan-led system, with proper weight given to local need and circumstances.
John Rowley
Campaign to Protect Rural England
• Sam Forbes’s moving account of his time in London’s “houseboat slums” and of how he was forced to live in a “tiny, mouldy room in a freezing barge on the Thames” is a reminder of just how out of control London’s housing market is (G2, 24 February). Boris Johnson is turning London into an enclave for rich investors by building properties only the super-rich can afford. It is driving more and more people into desperate housing arrangements like Mr Forbes found himself in. Ordinary Londoners are being priced out of a wild west property market which has driven average rents up to £1,468 a month – a huge proportion of average local take-home pay. It’s even harder to lay down permanent roots in London when house prices now average £441,000 – or 16 times the average local individual income.
The Green party will put Londoners before investors by building more affordable housing and introducing rent controls. Only such measures will stop more people slipping into dangerous housing.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party of England and Wales

The search for justice for the families of the Hyde Park bombing has revealed that the price of peace for Northern Ireland is a “get out of jail free” card for murderers, handed to them by the political negotiators of the day (Editorial, 27 February). These negotiations resulted in a dividend for politicians of their place in history and a pretence at peace. It is a woefully unbalanced transaction – the price of this “peace” wasn’t paid by politicians, but by victims and their families. Our family hasn’t seen justice following the murder of our parents at La Mon, 36 years ago this month, along with 10 other people, despite alleged involvement of high-ranking Sinn Féin politicians (Hansard, February 13 2003). Now it’s clear that justice will continue to be denied to us, and to many more families, due to the negotiations of those very same politicians. If this were happening “abroad”, we would point out the corrupt nature of such practices, but I wonder if we have the insight or courage to remove the mote from our own eyes.
Dr Andrea Nelson
• Ian Cobain is surely right in suggesting that the political logic of the Labour government’s approach to the Good Friday agreement will see the collapse of the case against the man accused of the Hyde Park bomb as the correct outcome (Report, 26 February). Irrespective of the particular particular mistakes made in this case, surely the real political question lies in the whether those who have been lauded and secured lucrative careers for securing the “peace process” tilted their views and decisions in favour of Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA either out of political favouritism or out of naivety in dealing with superior negotiators.
Bob Osborne
Professor emeritus, University of Ulster
• You claim the Good Friday agreement “has now delivered nearly 15 years of peace”. The number of shooting and bombing incidents since the agreement exceeds 2,800. The official security threat level has been “severe” for the last seven years. You ask much of the word “peace”.
Steve O’Neill

As a matter of law, Tony Blair can never face war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court because the elements of crime for the crime of aggression have not been agreed (G2, 27 February). However, on 10 January 2014 my firm and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights lodged a formal complaint to the ICC about the systemic abuse of hundreds of Iraqis in the period 2003 to 2008 while being interrogated by UK interrogators. The defence secretaries at the material time knew (or ought to have known) that interrogators were being trained to use, and were using, coercive interrogation techniques that were in flagrant breach of international legal standards. But who insisted the UK had an interrogation capability in Iraq that allowed us to punch our weight with our co-illegal aggressors, the US, knowing that a lawful approach to interrogation did not permit the use of such techniques? The complaint to the ICC has been made to explore the potential of criminal accountability for such systemic issues at the very top of the military, civil service and potential chain of command.
Phil Shiner
Principal, Public Interest Lawyers

The unregulated trade in gold is fuelling wars and brutal human rights abuses in places such as eastern Congo and Sudan, which is why it is important this story came to light (Confidential papers raise fears over conflict gold, 26 February). The actions of Ernst & Young and the Dubai regulator, while perfectly legal, undermine trust in the industry at a critical time.
In our view, the Dubai metals regulator, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), could not have secured a clean audit result for a major gold player without Ernst & Young’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the ethics involved. Auditors like Ernst & Young play a key role in assuring the public that companies are meeting important standards. If auditors can’t be relied upon to put ethical principles above business interests, progress in cleaning up the global mineral trade will be jeopardised. Public disclosure is a major incentive to improving business practice. This case points to the need for stricter guidelines for conflict minerals audits to ensure that all findings – especially critical ones – see the light of day. There may also be a need to consider new rules for auditors to reduce the tension between safeguarding the public interest and promoting client or commercial concerns.
Global Witness is calling on Kaloti Jewellery International to immediately release its unpublished audit report, and is urging the government of Dubai to investigate any breaches of conduct by the DMCC. The authorities should also address the inherent conflict of interest in the DMCC’s role both as a regulator and a promoter of trade.
Annie Dunnebacke
Deputy campaigns director, Global Witnes


If one is an honest person, and one assumes that Harriet Harman is that, one should be careful about the company one keeps.
If the possibility of a legal post appeared at the National Council for Civil Liberties, should not Harriet Harman, as a lawyer, have examined  the affiliations of the NCCL? Due diligence is the modern term.
Accepting a job from a pressure group that gives house room to an organisation like the Paedophile Information Exchange hardly seems to have been a good decision at the time and now returns as an unwelcome guest.
Anthony Eisinger, Buckland, Surrey
As Christian Wolmar writes (“The great British paedophile infiltration campaign”, 27 February). the word “paedophiles” translates literally from the Greek as child-lovers. But there is more than one Greek word for love. The root phil- is non-sexual; a philogynist is an admirer of women, the opposite of misogynist.
The name of Eros, the Greek god of sexual love, gives us the unambiguous term “paederasts”. If the Paedophile Information Exchange had called itself the Paederasty Information Exchange, the libertarian left might have been less easily infiltrated,
David Crawford, Bickley, Kent
Best way to challenge Uganda gay ban
Dr Michael B Johnson (letter, 26 February) is mistaken to argue that our financial support through the Department for International Development to Uganda be stopped until Uganda lifts its ban on gays.
I have for many years helped to raise funds for youth projects in Uganda and realise that cutting financial support will hurt ordinary people in Uganda and do nothing to end this ban. It will be far more effective if British charities that give to Uganda stress that they support gay rights. Ugandan politicians who then accept the money in their country will be seen to be hypocrites.
Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands
Limits to religious tolerance in Israel
Murray Fink is being a bit disingenuous in his encomium on religious tolerance in Israel (letter, 26 February), as many Israelis have discovered when they attempted to marry a non-Jew, or someone not recognised as Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate. As an ethnocracy with democratic institutions Israel is a compendium of social and racial paradox that can only vaunt its supposed equality when this is set against the failings and fanaticism of its less than perfect neighbours.
Civil marriage does exist under the Civil Union Law of 2010, but only for those registered as belonging to no religious group at all, while inter-faith marriage is impossible. The confusion and obsession surrounding race, religion and nationality, and the anachronistic historiography of the Israeli establishment ensures that religious freedom remains unequal and inconsistent for many in Israel.
Christopher Dawes, London W11
Allow parents to let a child die
Sympathy and applause are due to Peter John Sipthorp for his letter (27 February) about the life of his son.
Those of us who agree with his views on prolonging life, but who have never been in his unfortunate position, may hesitate to express our opinion because of accusations that we would see it differently if it were our child. It was his child, and he has come out and said that extending John’s life was wrong, not only because of the prolongation of suffering but also because of the cost.
If treatment gives a good experience to the patient whose life is extended, cost should not be a significant consideration. But when parents and professionals are in agreement that it would be humane for a child’s life to be ended, is it reasonable to impose the double whammy of increased suffering to the patient and family and huge expense to society because some people who do not have to deal with the problem believe their views should be pre-eminent?
Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire
Ukraine: Russia has a right to be heard
If we are to plot a way forward as regards Russia and the Ukraine, we do not need to return to the stale old cold-war Russophobia that Harold Elletson purveys (Comment, 26 February). Sure, there are some deeply dislikeable aspects to Moscow’s posture today, but to cast it as near-Satanic does no one any good.
Russia has a right to be heard on the matters of eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. The enthusiasm shown for western Ukraine, by US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and others (for no better reason than that the people there are “less foreign” than the easterners), shows a narrow and defensive mentality, when the aim should be to seek out and promote good governance wherever it can be found in the world.
There may be more that is good in western than eastern Ukraine; but there are Russian people in the east, and in the west, despite its aspirational boutique lifestyle, there are fascist remnants of the wartime pro-Hitler regime of Stepan Bandera. To endorse the west and dismiss the east would be crazy. Maybe John Kerry, along with David Cameron and William Hague, have, in their careful wording, got things approximately right.
Christopher Walker, London W14
Here come the green Tories – again
Your second editorial on Wednesday provoked me to check the calendar: no, it’s not 1 April. Just before the last election, the Tories announced “the greenest government ever” and duly forgot all about it when (nearly) elected.
Just before the next election, they make some greenish noises and your leader writer falls over in admiration. Astonishing.
David Gould, Andover, Hampshire
Beware of talking down to the Scots
The Government evidently thinks it has a killer strategy against a Yes vote in Scotland. They are coming at them from several different angles with a carefully planned sequence of ministerial statements on a variety of issues.
It is all designed to counteract Alex Salmond’s effortless if facile confidence in the workability of independence. But as the Tory presence in Scotland is now so weak, there appears to be no one left to point out to Cameron why this could prove highly counter-productive, and why the wily Salmond (who has charisma and political skills unmatched south of the Border) will be looking even more smug than usual.
Those English among us who have lived for any time in Scotland know that if there is one thing really guaranteed to get up Scottish noses it is the English talking down to them; and in this respect I have some sympathy with the Scots. I personally think independence would be a mistake for Scotland, although it would help the Tories’ parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster. But if Cameron wants to drive more people into the Yes lobby, he is going the right way about it.
The UK Government should have kept well out of the debate, letting the Scots make their own judgement about Salmond’s plausibility; they are not children who have to have adult truths laboriously pointed out to them by paternalistic Englishmen.
Gavin Turner, Gunton, Norfolk
Looking at the map you published on 25 February, which located the oil and gas fields in the North Sea, spawned a wicked thought.
We currently live in a sovereign nation recognised by the United Nations as “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, which comprises four regions, all of which have historically been nations in their own right. Scotland became incorporated over 400 years ago in 1603. The Scottish National Party chooses to ignore this current status, draw the map of international waters as if Scotland were already an independent sovereign state, and assign the mineral wealth within these boundaries as “Scottish oil”. If September’s referendum favours independence, I suggest that the following action be taken by the Shetland Isles Council.
The islands, having been incorporated into Scotland in the late 15th century, largely retain their original Nordic culture and could, quite as legitimately as Scotland, claim a unilateral right to political independence through a plebiscite of their 23,000 inhabitants. (The precedent will have been established).
They too could draw a map of territorial waters according to accepted international principles and claim the mineral rights therein as “Shetland oil”. (The principle will have been established). A favourable vote (the remainder of the Scottish people having been excluded – the principle will have been established) would result in the reassignment of about a third of the “Scottish oil” to the Shetland Islanders, who, with wise exploitation and investment of this asset, should enjoy a work- and stress-free life in perpetuity.
John Harvey, Bromyard, Herefordshire


Sir, Further to your article “Ministers in dispute over BBC in Scotland” (, Feb 27), if Scotland becomes independent, then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK-GBNI) will cease to exist, because “Great Britain” will be broken. So two new countries will come into existence: (1) Scotland and (2) the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (UK-EWNI). The fact that UK-EWNI has the words “United Kingdom” in its title doesn’t mean it is the same United Kingdom as before.
So by what right will UK-EWNI have access to the British Broadcasting Corporation? Indeed, what right will UK-EWNI have to anything that is “British”, given that Britain is broken? Will UK-EWNI even be a member of the EU or the UN Security Council, given that it will be a different country from the one that held those memberships before Scottish independence?
I ask these questions only because I dislike English bullying.
Jeremy Waldron
Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, All Souls College, Oxford
Sir, With reference to your article “Out of the blue, a new Union Jack” (Feb 26), the Acts of Union united the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Ireland is no longer a kingdom nor is it united with England; neither Northern Ireland nor Wales has ever been a kingdom, the latter being for administrative purposes part of England.
Should Scotland secede from the Union, there will be no United Kingdom. What will be left is the kingdom of England and the province of Ulster. While constitutional lawyers will probably wish to argue as to the exact legal description of that entity, it is hard to see that it constitutes a united kingdom in the sense of the Acts of Union. The need for a union flag is unclear. The remaining kingdom already has one.
Carlton Christensen
London EC4
Sir, Should Scotland decide to leave the UK, and take the St Andrew’s cross with it, it will give the opportunity to have Wales’s flag of St David included in the Union Jack. Of the four possible new flags suggested by the Flag Institute, that shown at top left in your report is the most apt. Alas it only goes halfway in showing only the yellow cross of St David and omitting its black background. This can be corrected by simply replacing the eight blue triangles by black ones.
Reg Gale
Lighthorne, Warks
Sir, Don Porter (letter, Feb 25) gives a list of Scotsmen who lived in England who benefited the UK. He omitted to mention various Scotsmen who assisted with the downturn in the economy in 2008. These include the then Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and some Cabinet ministers. The two banks heavily involved were the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). This does not give us much confidence in Scotland’s ability to run its own economy if the “Yes” vote prevails.
Stuart Mccann
Parkgate, Cheshire

‘We are turning out a profession whose members take it for granted that teaching is just a matter of following the set curriculum’
Sir, It is not surprising that the teaching of facts and learning by rote have led to a generation over-reliant on Google (News, Feb 27). What education has lost over the years of increasing interference from education ministers is the desire to motivate and inspire pupils, not by trying to instil useless facts but to teach them to question, research and reflect.
This also applies to the teachers themselves. With increasing numbers of student teachers being trained in schools by staff who frequently have neither the time nor the energy to devote to this demanding task, we are turning out a profession whose members take it for granted that teaching is just a matter of following the set curriculum. They do not understand the need to reflect deeply on their own practice in order to understand not only how to teach but how their pupils will learn in a way best suited to the individual.
We must not lose sight of what Confucius said: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.
Lynne C. Potter
Retired headteacher, adviser and inspector, Hexham, Northumberland

The 30mm machinegun in the Warthog anti-tank aircraft’s nose was not ‘the largest and most powerful cannon ever put on an aircraft’
Sir, In your report on the Pentagon’s proposed cancellation of the Fairchild Republic A10 Warthog anti-tank aircraft (Feb 26), it is stated that the 30mm machinegun in the aircraft’s nose was “the largest and most powerful cannon ever put on an aircraft”. Not so. In 1944 the Luftwaffe fitted a 75mm BK 7,5 cannon to some two dozen Henschel HS 129B-3 anti-tank aircraft for use on the Russian front.
Edward Thorpe
London N6

By the standards of Chinese teachers, anything less than 100 per cent in a maths test counts as a failure
Sir, It’s not only in China that the Chinese are leading the way in how maths should be taught (“Maths teachers told to copy the Chinese”,Feb 26). In Auckland, New Zealand, last week, our 14-year-old grandson was told by his Chinese teacher after a maths test that anything less than 100 per cent would be regarded as a fail. Presumably with the support of his headmaster, the teacher then pre-empted any parental indignation by saying that this was the standard he had expected throughout his teaching career and would continue to do so.
Fortunately, our grandson passed.
Judy Lee
Rotherham, S Yorks

There may be genuine concerns about the ability of a large organisation to keep its data private, despite reassurances
Sir, Dr Seely (letter, Feb 25) is correct to be concerned regarding privacy and the NHS computer system.
A couple of years ago the NHS Trust in which I worked underwent a “data cleansing” process. Personal data held on each employee was sent out for them to confirm. We received each other’s.
Dr John Herbert
Scarisbrick, Lancs


SIR – Encouraging the return of beavers should not be entered into lightly. Their image appeared for a period on Canadian postage stamps in the Sixties when I was living in a heavily forested area of Northern Ontario.
They felled many trees and created extensive swamp-like areas where blackfly bred and swarmed in June, biting every uncovered area of the body – my husband bore the scars for the rest of his life. The government removed their image from the stamps due to the nuisance they caused.
Kate Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire
SIR – Beavers’ dams would make a useful contribution towards flood control. Wales and England should follow Scotland’s example and bring back the beaver.
Janet Elson
Shaftesbury, Dorset

SIR – On the failure to bring a prosecution against a suspect alleged to have been involved with the Hyde Park bombing in 1982, the QC defending John Downey says that if the prosecution went ahead it would “bring the administration of criminal justice into disrepute”. On the contrary, it is the failure to prosecute in this case that has caused enormous disrepute to our justice system.
It shows that a technicality is regarded by the system as being more important than a true search for justice.
David Whitaker
Alton, Hampshire
SIR – If the Crown Prosecution Service is unable to prosecute John Downey for the alleged killing of four soldiers in Hyde Park in 1982 due to an administrative error, surely the RSPCA can bring a prosecution for killing seven horses in the same incident. They are very good at such things.
Simon Watson
Romsey, Hampshire
Barn conversions
SIR – The wellbeing of the rural economy in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) is being undermined by the extraordinary U-turn by the Coalition.
It is hard to grasp the Government’s logic. Last year, it introduced regulations to allow the change of use of farm buildings to commercial purposes. Now, it blocks the same sort of regulations in National Parks and AONBs for the conversion of derelict barns into much-needed homes.
If we stifle change, our landscapes will no longer be economically and socially viable and the environment will suffer. This apparent U-turn will do no good for the rural economy.
Henry Robinson
President, CLA
London SW1
French ski instructors
SIR – Like Boris Johnson, I, too, have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a wonderful week’s skiing in the French Alps.
But not only is it impossible for British nationals to work as ski instructors, the French have also contrived to make it impossible for chalet hosts to take their guests around the mountains acting purely as guides, under threat of an enormous fine, in the mistaken belief that this service takes trade away from French instructors.
British ski companies, furious at their inability to provide this valuable service, which they have been able to do for many years, are advising their guests to have nothing to do with Ecole du Ski Français. So everybody is a loser.
This is one more example of the ability of the French to ignore their own rules.
John Bennet
Totland Bay, Isle of Wight
Artistic delights
SIR – Dea Birkett, director of Kids in Museums, writes that for many connoisseurs “there’s no squeal of delight” when they encounter a Tintoretto, just a murmur of “Mmm”.
One might imagine that the intensely serious Ruskin was such a one. In fact though, when he saw Tintoretto in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, he was so surprised and overjoyed that all he could do was “lie on a bench and laugh”.
Bernard Richards
Brasenose College, Oxford
Armed Forces Union
SIR – While the campaign to ensure that Scotland does not leave the United Kingdom is gathering momentum, I have seen little comment on the fact that the Armed Forces of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales are all closely integrated.
I served in the war in the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, which was comprised of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the 1 Highland Light Infantry and the 1 Royal Welch Fusiliers. We all fought together until the end of the war, and had a great respect for each other.
I, and I’m sure many others, would be happy to act as recruiting agents to enlist as many ex-servicemen as possible under the banner “we are one”.
Sir James Spicer
Beaminster, Dorset
SIR – The prospect of Scotland adopting “sterlingisation”, or keeping the pound without a formal currency union with the United Kingdom, is likened to Panama’s relationship with the US dollar.
This is interesting, given Panama’s proximity to Darien, the destination of the failed Scottish expedition of 1698 that took with it more than a third of the wealth of Scotland and led directly to the Act of Union.
Mark Horne
Odiham, Hampshire
Fit to curl
SIR – Matthew Sample is clearly unaware of the fitness levels of competitors in high-level sporting events. Even in events that require no apparent physical exertions, to perform at an Olympic peak, one must be totally fit to last the pace and endure the competition.
That is why curlers go for cross-country runs and why they are called athletes.
Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset
Doing lunch
SIR – While living in Yangon, Burma, 10 years ago, I used to buy my chicken from the market next door to our apartment building, because I knew it was fresh, rather than from the local supermarket, where the electricity supply was intermittent. I knew it was fresh because the chicken man would choose one for me from the coop, club it over the head, and then clean it for me while I waited.
Valerie O’Neill
Worth, West Sussex
Bridge can help the brain keep active in old age
SIR – The failure of the tribunal to uphold the arguments of the English Bridge Union concerning the payment of VAT on entry fees puts it at odds with other countries both inside and outside the European Union and with the Charity Commission’s view of bridge.
To restrict VAT relief to those activities that require a physical element rather than a mental one does a disservice to bridge and other mind sports.
As your article pointed out, there is strong evidence that being involved in a competitive and mentally stimulating activity keeps the brain going and helps ward off the onset of dementia.
Jeremy Dhondy
Chairman, English Bridge Union
Shillingstone, Dorset
SIR – The English Bridge Union cited croquet as a sport where physical skill plays second fiddle to mental skill. My pedometer recorded a distance of three miles during a croquet match. There is no such physical component to bridge.
Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent

SIR – The MPs’ debate and the bizarre online petition about the high cost of holidays outside school term time shows a worrying disconnect between people and reality.
Why should MPs be involved in the cost of holidays? Government interference in our lives is so endemic that people don’t recognise a free market when they see one. School is compulsory and should be taken seriously. Holidays, though desirable, are optional, and as such should be budgeted to fit in with our other discretionary costs.
The cost of holidays reflects the price people are prepared to pay. If you don’t like the price, don’t go. When people stop buying them, holiday prices will fall.
Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire
SIR – It is technically possible for schools to set holiday dates for times outside of the traditional periods. However, we must bear in mind the constraints laid upon schools by the dates fixed for external examinations. These run from May (Key Stage 2 SATs) until the completion of the GCSE and A-level examinations in June.
Since the preparation period for the examinations is at its peak in March and April, schools are left only with the start of July to utilise as off-peak holiday time. Since this July window is used for end-of-year events such as sports days and prize-givings, there is little time left for an earlier start to the holidays.
Lynn Murthwaite
Crosby, Lancashire
SIR – Varying holiday dates from county to county will not solve the problem of high costs, it will just extend the period during which the highest prices are charged.
B P Reynolds
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
SIR – In Lancashire, whole towns used to shut down for two weeks, beginning in June and occuring until August. These were called “wakes weeks”. With the demise of the cotton industry, and the advent of external exams, this practice was forced to end. School holidays in August affect teachers and their families as well as pupils, and an end to the automatic price rise would be most welcome.
Patricia Conroy
Ludlow, Shropshire
SIR – At the school I went to, on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire borders, we had the four or five weeks from early September to early October as our “hop-picking holiday”. I think it was the Education Act 1944 that put a stop to that useful source of income for me.
E M Griffin
Colyton, Devon
SIR – If you have one child in a primary school and one in a secondary school with different holiday dates, which child do you leave behind when you go away?
Michael Lyons
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I wish to disagree strongly with the opinion piece by Dr Jacky Jones (Health+ Family, February 25th). GPs are working flat out. There is little or no extra capacity in the GP system at present.
Attempting to treat childhood obesity by repeated visits to GPs has no evidence base in fact. Childhood obesity is multifactorial in origin and there is no evidence that GPs working on their own have any effect on children’s weight or lifestyle behaviours which are at the core of the issue. There is also a much more serious side to this.
Because of the lack of extra capacity in the GP system, such consultations can only be carried out by neglecting patients who are in need of our services. These include children and adults with acute illness who need to be seen on the same day. They also include those patients with chronic illness such as high blood pressure and diabetes, many of whom get the bulk of their care in general practice. There is not room for both. – Yours, etc,
Cregan Avenue,
Kileely, Limerick.
Sir, – Dr Jacky Jones (Health + Family, February 25th) attempts to celebrate the under-sixes medical card with a lovely scenario of a GP and a practice nurse spending 25 minutes explaining to a mother that chips and soft drinks are indeed bad for her overweight child.
Under the new contract, GPs will be obliged to measure and record the height and weight of each child three times a year.
Dr Jones appears to be removed from the realities of general practice in Ireland. I give examples of a number of typical calls.
Caller A: I have central chest pain – can I see the doctor? Or Caller B: My blood sugars are running very high – I need to see the doctor. Or Caller C: I have just found a breast lump – I need to see the doctor.
Receptionist: Sorry the doctor is fully booked for the next 10 days measuring children and discussing their weights and recording their parents’ smoking status for the HSE.
All callers: Why didn’t the HSE simply employ a panel of dieticians who could visit schools and identify at risk children and liaise with their parents and let the doctors get on with doing their job?
Receptionist: Because the HSE did not once seek the advice of doctors before introducing this morally and medically flawed concept to the public, hiding behind the competition authority as a reason for non-engagement.
All callers: What will I do?
Receptionist: I’m afraid you’ll have to go to A &E where the waiting times are down to 45 hours if you hurry! – Yours, etc,
The Clinic,
The Old Quarter,
Ballincollig, Cork.

Sir, – I live part of the year in Wales, where you can hear more Welsh in five minutes than Irish in a year in nearly every part of Ireland (this is no exaggeration).
The unwelcome truth is that very few of us have any intention of ever speaking Irish. Instead we have long ago opted for cuplafocalarism, This consists of putting road signs, notices, documents and all the rest of it into Irish (even better if it can be done at European level) regardless of whether it is used or not.
Meanwhile, we blithely continue to speak our real native language, English. It shouldn’t fool a 10-year-old. But we are quite content with this nonsense and woe betide anyone who questions the emperor’s attire. – Yours, etc,
Meadow Grove, Dublin 16.
Sir, – In the course of my work, over many years, I travelled the entire island of Ireland. I know very little Irish, but that was never a problem. No one I ever met had any difficulty in speaking to me in English.
In fact, everyone I met or did business with spoke English. This also applied to shops, theatres and pubs. The only other languages to be heard, mostly in the high season, were, Spanish, French, German and some East European languages.
So I would like to challenge any one of the letter writers who accept the accuracy of the 2011 Census (which states 1.77 million speak Gaeilge on a daily basis), to stand with me on the main street of any large town or city in Ireland (apart from Galway) to hold a short conversation with passers by, as Gaeilge. Any takers? – Yours, etc,
The Demesne,
Killester, Dublin 5.
A chara, – I agree with Revd Patrick G Burke (Letters, February 25th) that “the so-called financial experts” destroyed the Irish economy. And they were ably aided and abetted by a lot of our politicians and developers. In fact its arguable whether we own our country any more. We own the Irish language, but it seems a lot of our people do not value it very highly. Maybe our new immigrants – the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Nigerians – might succeed where we have failed. “Níl tír gan teanga”. – Is mise,
Cúirt an Choláiste,
Dún Dealgan, Co Lú.

Sir, – Now more than ever people should be encouraged to engage with the political process and with existing and aspiring public representatives, as we set about building the foundations of post-crisis Ireland. This includes free and open public discourse, which inevitably involves public meetings, electioneering and often-derided campaign posters.
Dr Vincent Kenny (February 25th) correctly points out that the rules governing the correct erection, control and removal of publicly displayed election posters are outlined clearly in legislation (see for example, the Electoral (Amendment) (No 2) Act 2009). If anyone observes incorrectly displayed or inappropriate posters, I would strongly encourage them to make a report to their local authority or litter warden.
Meanwhile, rather than bemoaning the use of posters as a feature of our democratic system, I would ask Dr Kenny to spare a thought for the billions of people around the world who do not live in a democracy, and who do not enjoy the freedoms of expression and association and the full democratic franchise we have in Ireland. In any event, there is an easy solution to the problem: avoid looking at election posters. – Yours, etc,
Pembroke College,
University of Cambridge,
Sir, – Michael Drury’s rather dry analysis (February 26th) of why Spain won’t object to an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU is needlessly legalistic. Spain won’t object because, having fished its own waters to extinction, the only place left for its fleets to trawl are off the Scottish coast, and that can’t happen if Scotland is not part of the EU’s “Beggar Your Neighbour Club” – Yours, etc,
Harmonstown Road,
Artane, Dublin 5.
Sir, – James Moran (February 22nd) suggests that a “citizens advice bureau should be set up in each town to advise people of their rights”. In fact, there is a nationwide network of Citizens Information Services already in existence. The service is funded and supported by the Citizens Information Board and a full list of all centre locations is at – Yours, etc,
PR/Promotions Executive,
Citizens Information Board,
Townsend Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – I slightly disagree with Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, February 25th) when he says that Ireland is an autocracy. We are not (yet) an autocracy but if we want real democracy then it’s time to abandon systems of governance that have repeatedly failed our State, and its citizens.
Since independence three parties have carved up all the top public posts and made themselves as untouchable and unaccountable as possible. This – in the 21st century – is a surefire recipe for repeated failure and lurching from crisis to crisis. Top-down centralised and male-dominated governance has been a disaster for the biggest church in the State, and for the State itself.
Any successful business, club, community group or family farm knows that openness, accountability, meritocracy and best practice are the keys to long-term survival and success. Staying in touch with the grass roots rather than pandering to vested interests also helps, as does thinking long rather than short term. The foundations of a successful state are hardly rocket science, but real change will only come when the people demand better standards from their public representatives. None of us are here forever so it is up to all of us to leave behind the legacy of a better Ireland to the generations to come. Otherwise how will we answer our grandchildren when they ask what we did to make Ireland a better place? – Yours, etc,
Orwell Gardens, Dublin 6.

Sir, – On March 2nd, we mark the third anniversary of the first “Ballyhea Says No” protest march. Every week since March 6th, 2011 we have marched in Ballyhea and Charleville, all with one purpose – right the wrong that was done with the imposition of €70 billion of private bank debt on the shoulders of the Irish people.
We have been told that people’s protest is pointless, achieves nothing. However, we point to so many momentous changes throughout the ages, from Kiev and North Africa in recent years, to the civil rights marches in the North, in the US, and other examples of achievement through public demonstration.
We’ve been told that it’s all too late, that the bank money is all paid. We point to the €25 billion in sovereign bonds (issued in payment of the promissory note), now sitting in the Central Bank, awaiting sale; we point to the €3.1 billion bond (issued in payment of the 2012 promissory note), likewise held by the Central Bank. We point to the euro-zone leaders’ statement of June 2012: “We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns”, the inherent recognition that what was done to Ireland was wrong. We point to the fact that on foot of this statement, Ireland is owed the €20 billion taken from our Pension Reserve Fund to fund the bank bailout, and should not have to pay the remaining €20 billion or so now owed to the various EU emergency funds.
We’re told this was our own fault – Irish bankers, Irish regulators, Irish politicians, Irish electorate; we say this was all due to the launch of a fatally flawed currency, with neither foresight nor oversight as hundreds of cheap billions poured from the core of Europe to the periphery, swamped several economies, all on the watch of the ECB.
We’re asked how long we’ll continue to march – as long as it takes. Our campaign isn’t founded on the shifting sands of hope or optimism, foundations all too easily undermined; our campaign is founded on determination. Three years ago we determined that what was being done to us was wrong, with no consultation with the people as successive weak governments were bullied, browbeaten and blackmailed into accepting a debt that isn’t ours. We are now determined that this wrong will be exposed for the world to see, and that this wrong will be righted.
For this one day, we ask your readers to come and march with us in Ballyhea, 10.30am, March 2nd. This is about your family, this is about your future. – Yours, etc,
Co Cork.

Sir,– It will not be the first time Brendan Behan will appear on a postcard (Tony Wool, February 25th). In 1952, my late father Tom Nisbet, RHA, painted a portrait of Brendan which was used on an Irish postcard and I believe it was very popular, especially with tourists. It portrays Brendan sitting in the snug of McDaids pub in Harry Street (next door to my father’s Grafton Gallery), holding a pint of plain.
Every time I look at a framed copy of the postcard it reminds me of a rather bedraggled man walking down Pembroke Street in a light brown suit and putting a two-and-sixpenny coin into my hand. – Yours, etc,
Co Wexford.

Sir, – The Irish national rugby team is perennially put at a disadvantage during “away” fixtures as a result of the Irish Rugby Football Union failing to continue the tradition of having our national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann , performed alongside the national anthem of the opposing “home” team. This was demonstrated most painfully last Saturday when the national anthem of England, God Save the Queen , was performed with gusto and admirable pride by the English rugby supporters at Twickenham. Irish rugby supporters had to endure the unflattering contrast of a glorified pub song, Ireland’s Call , being played in lieu of Ireland’s national anthem.
The “cringe-factor” that this unnecessary situation elicits will be further accentuated when the Ireland rugby team travels to Paris next month, and has to endure Ireland’s Call being matched-up to La Marseillaise . The comparison from an Irish point of view can be summed-up in two words: national embarrassment.
In addition, if our President or our Taoiseach were to be in attendance for an away match, they would have to (as I’m sure they have done so previously) suffer the ignominy of our national anthem not being played despite our head of state or head of government’s presence in the stadium.
There is a reasonable solution to this increasingly unacceptable situation at “away” fixtures. If, for the sake of a small number of rugby players from the unionist tradition in Northern Ireland, Ireland’s Call is to be retained by the IRFU, then the IRFU should allow Amhrán na bhFiann to be performed before Ireland’s Call at “away” matches, just as both of these songs are officially performed for the Ireland rugby team at “home” fixtures in Dublin (a practice which has never been objected to by opposing national teams).
Having two songs performed at away matches would not be unreasonable (and would be excusable on the basis that there exists a border which divides our nation), as this is what is essentially practised by several other rugby nations such as New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji; each of whom perform effectively a second anthem, in the form of a war dance, after their sung anthem. It is time for the IRFU to restore our national anthem at “away” matches and end the disgrace of its absence. – Yours, etc,
Knapton Road,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Thank you for publishing the timely and wise column by Sir Ivor Roberts (“We should remember the lessons of how we stumbled into war in 1914”, Opinion, February 25th).
I have watched – with sad fascination – as both Europe and the US have responded to the Great Recession of recent years with ill-chosen austerity measures. Although I am saddened, I am not surprised by the consequent widespread discontent expressed towards centre and left-centre governments by citizens throughout Europe, and the accompanying rise of growing nationalist sentiments. The Balkans continue to fester even as the powder keg of the Ukraine and the dense stumbles of Japan toward her neighbours pose obvious flashpoints of conflict.
Just as various militaries tend to concentrate on how to better fight the last war, so also does it seem that foreign policy elites often draw misleading conclusions about what behaviour to shun if we are to avoid the next war. I think the Russian-European situation has become unnecessarily more tense by the unwise expansion of Nato eastward. I hope the European Union’s efforts to achieve stability in the Ukraine bear fruit, but this cannot happen without respecting Russia’s legitimate interests. – Yours, etc,
NE 134th Place,
Portland, Oregon, US.

Sir, – So, Fáilte Ireland is planning to erect 4,000 road signs along our 2,500km western coastline, in an attempt to attract tourism. That’s one sign every 625 metres. Has Fáilte Ireland completely lost its sense of direction? – Yours, etc,
Northumberland Avenue,
Dún Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – For many years the top-rated programme on RTÉ Radio1 was The Gay Byrne Hour which ran from 9.10am to 11am. This year we have “Seachtain na Gaeilge” running from March 1st to 17th. I hope they are not a foretaste of our upcoming 1916 centenary celebrations. – Yours, etc,
The Rower, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – The “Jailbreak” fundraising activity (Sorcha Pollak, Home News, February 24th), in which third-level students attempted to get as far away as possible from Ireland within 36 hours, with no money, was very successful.
That model would be most beneficial for the Government to follow on the annual Patrick’s Day exodus. Give Ministers €100 each, give them time off from the Dáil, and see how far they get within a given time frame. This would prove attractive in the current financial time in reducing costs, and test the skills of each Minister. – Yours, etc,
Carins Road, Sligo.

Irish Independent:

Updated 28 February 2014 02:47 AM
As a disabled person I’m living in a rural community whose post office is among those potentially targeted for closure by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte.
Also in this section
Letters: Give the children room to embrace GAA
Ballyhea still says ‘No’ to this gross injustice
Keane’s courageous stance on human rights
And like many of my fellow citizens throughout the country, our local post office is of the greatest importance for me personally on many fronts. And I would safely say that rural post offices are the lifeblood for small villages and the businesses therein.
But owing to the chasm between the powerful decision-makers and the common people and an inability to see the impact of decisions on us all, some seat-polisher hidden away at great expense to Joe public is advising the closure of these post offices without knowing how much their presence is valued and needed within small communities.
Then again, it is obvious that city-dwellers like Mr Rabbitte need not be overly worried about the consequences of such actions. Our shakers and movers are sheltered from the enormity of the unnecessary stress and inconvenience these closures will bring upon elderly people and the disabled, along with everybody else in remote communities.
Post offices offer excellent services for social welfare recipients and old age pensioners as they allow them to collect entitlements in a safe environment and also to pay all types of utility bills. The post office is a meeting place for many elderly citizens who know their financial transactions can be done in privacy but also in very safe and secure surroundings.
Over the last number of years this Government has declared, when challenged, that it was the troika that deemed it necessary to close a number of garda stations in rural areas to save money. Then many of the same areas lost their bus servers and now their post office is under threat of closure. What next, Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore? Might that be our local schools?
* The banks could make one small effort to thwart the types of scams perpetrated on Bank of Ireland customers in Kilkenny and Carlow as reported yesterday. Banks could deny foreign withdrawals of cash unless the customer has pre-notified them of dates they would be in such and such a country.
With credit cards, I was advised many years ago to pre-notify the issuer of travel dates abroad, otherwise their software flags up an oddity about a transaction and it may be refused. It doesn’t take rocket science to apply the same logic to bank cards.
* Congratulations to the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ protest marchers who want “to right the wrong that was done with the imposition of €70bn of private bank debt onto the shoulders of the Irish people” (Diarmuid O’Flynn, Letters, February 26).
The problem arises as to who we should be protesting against, and who should pay to right the wrong.
First of all, given the risks, which were highlighted at the time, our democratically elected government did not have to join the new currency.
Secondly, hundreds of cheap billions did not, as alleged by Diarmuid O’Flynn, “pour from the core of Europe” to this peripheral country.
The decisions to borrow were made by some of this country’s most influential citizens, in charge of its most powerful institutions.
The equivalent decision-makers in most of the other countries which were members of the same “fatally flawed currency” did not borrow to the same extent as Ireland’s decision-makers did. Their countries, therefore, did not go broke. Ireland did.
Thirdly, when Diarmuid O’Flynn says that “Ireland is owed the €20bn taken from our Pension Reserve Fund to fund the bank bailout”, he implies that the citizens of countries who managed their membership of the euro better than we did should pay.
I imagine they have different ideas.
All of us should, however, wish the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ protest marchers every success in their determination to right the wrongs of the past and to remind us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
* Minister Quinn seems intent on pushing through changes to the Junior Cert which I believe are very flawed. Basically, I believe that the model of teachers assessing their own students is fundamentally flawed. What grieves me is the removal of an independent adjudication and awarding body, ie the State Examinations Commission. Instead schools will be free to design their own courses.
The majority of teachers would love some Junior Cert reform. For certain subjects, they have been working off of the same stale curriculum for almost two decades. However, to replace it with a wishy-washy, watered-down, teacher-assessed local certification, whose validity will depend on the school a child comes from, is a big mistake.
* I must commend Limerick City Council on its inspired choice of names for Merchants Quay and Shannon Bridge (February 26). These Limerick landmarks have been renamed Brian Boru Square and John F Kennedy Bridge respectively.
These choices are much more impressive than the name which Dublin City Council eventually chose for the new Marlborough Street bridge in Dublin City. After all of the publicity, Marlborough Street bridge was eventually named after a trade unionist, Rosie Hackett, whom very few Dubliners had heard of.
* Rehab receives €83m in taxpayers’ money by way of state funding, yet we had Chief Executive Angela Kerins saying, “We are not a state-run organisation, nor are any of our staff public servants.”
That may be so, but it’s a jaded mantra that is used to avoid providing details of senior executive salaries: salaries Ms Kerins claims are below the market average.
That taxpayers’ money is not used directly to pay these salaries is irrelevant.
The salient question remains to be answered: could Rehab continue to operate as a business without state funding and still maintain its current salary levels?
* Eric Conway claims (February 25) that many homosexuals are against gay marriage and that this can speak eloquently against it.
But on the other hand, are there not many heterosexuals who are opposed to heterosexual marriage?
To give one historic example, early feminist Sylvia Pankhurst refused to marry the father of her child because she did not want marriage to subjugate her to a husband.
If this is the case – that there is a sizable number of heterosexuals opposed to heterosexual marriage – would this also make a good case against heterosexual marriage?
Maybe, because of all these people on both sides who are opposed to matrimony, there should be no marriages at all.
Irish Independent


February 27, 2014

27 February 2014 Boxes

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to ipick up the Admirals barge again, without turning it into firewood Priceless

Boxes arrive sort some of the books in the garage

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but gets under400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Robert Winser , who has died aged 91, was the senior district commissioner responsible for trying to persuade the Somalis living in northern Kenya to support the independent government of Jomo Kenyatta when Britain handed over control in 1964.

The Somalis roamed the 36,000 square miles of the colony’s Northern Frontier District while regarding Kenyatta’s Kikuyu as a slave people. Even today many dream that their rightful place should be in an expanded Somalia .

Winser had a pleasant manner and enjoyed the advantage of having earlier served in the district during the Second World War. With opposition to Kenyatta so pronounced that some district officers thought that wide areas should be ceded to a Greater Somalia, Kenyatta asked for Winser to be posted back there.

Tensions ran high. Two commissioners were murdered. Winser was told that he was on a “death list”, and had to be attended by a large armed escort of red-turbaned Somali police. On arriving at a baraza of chiefs sitting in a circle under a tree with their women ululating from the back, he would first receive the traditional greeting: “Is it peace?” before being offered tea. He would then assure his hostile audience that he was not going to hand them over to the Kikuyu, and that there was a place for them in the new Kenya. But the Somalis never really agreed, and violence continued for a further 10 years.

The son of a clergyman, Robert Stephen Winser was born on Boxing Day 1921 and educated at Bradfield, where he won the long dormant fly-fishing cup on the river Pang, which runs through school grounds. He then read PPE at Corpus Christi, Oxford. Two of his brothers were killed in action in the Second World War, while Bobby won the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst.

He joined the Colonial Service on the understanding that he would be called to serve with the King’s African Rifles. The voyage to join his regiment took six months, during which Winser was in a vessel that was sunk. Afterwards he found that, because he had paid his bar bills in cash, he was worse off than fellow survivors, whose chits had been lost with ship.

On arriving in Kenya in 1943 he was soon appointed district officer at Garissa, 250 miles from his nearest superior. Much of his time was spent in tribal peacekeeping and persuading Somali chiefs to encourage their men to dig waterholes, which they considered beneath their dignity. As independence drew near he appointed the African chairman of Bungoma County Council.

After staying on for a year following Independence, Winser returned home with his wife, Anne Carrick, a nurse he had met at a Nairobi cricket match, with their son and daughter. He was first offered the post of public relations officer for the British Standards Institute but turned it down, saying that his only experience was of promoting unpopular standards under a mango tree. Instead he became its consumer ombudsman, helping to introduce the kite mark as an international standard for manufactured goods. He later became deputy mayor of Hungerford and did consultancy work in Fiji, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

After his wife died in 2004 he was looked after by two nieces, then by a Zulu lady who filled the house with Xhosa clicks, prayers and laughter.

Robert Winser, born Boxing Day 1921, died December 20 2013






The early success of Fahma Mohamed’s Guardian-backed campaign to end FGM is hugely exciting for two reasons (Gove to write to all schools as he backs anti-FGM fight, 26 February). First, we are now surely on the right path to ending this practice at home and abroad. Fahma’s belief in the power of education is particularly inspiring; only when young girls know their rights will FGM be consigned to history, be that in Britain or Burkina Faso. Second, Fahma has shown that a campaign driven by young people can have twice the impact, with twice the speed. Like Malala Yousafzai before her, Fahma has secured quick action from those in charge. Are we entering an era when change is delivered more quickly by the children whose rights are denied than by the adults charged with protecting those rights? I think so – and Fahma, we’re right behind you.
Tanya Barron
Chief executive, Plan UK

•  Many congratulations to Fahma Mohamed, the women’s organisations involved, Ban Ki-moon and yourselves for supporting this remarkable campaign. NAWO’s voice here is enriched by the members present who called for this letter of support at an open meeting last Friday of the UK NGO CSW Alliance of some 100 women’s and development organisations. However, Michael Gove has been recalcitrant and slow to respond to the voices of many expert women’s organisations which have sought for the action he is now taking. Fahma does not fail to mention that she knew nothing about FGM until her organisation told her. It must not end here: schools must be directed and enabled from the top to become knowledgable about and to act to protect girls not only from FGM but also from forced marriages in which boys – especially those with learning disabilities – may also be at risk. It is one thing to put guidance up on a website (which I, personally, could not even find) and quite another to write to every school in the way Mr Gove is finally prepared to do for FGM. The hands-off, anti-red-tape attitude does not protect children.
Annette Lawson, June Jacobs and Zarin Hainsworth Chair & co-vice-chairs, NAWO


We all know Simon Jenkins’s views on the subject (How much is it costing to scare us into paying for HS2?, 21 February), as he has been given so many opportunities to restate them. Could we please occasionally hear from at least some of the many supporters of the proposed line who live north of the river Trent – or is the prospect of travelling by train to Manchester, Leeds or Sheffield to interview them simply too daunting?
Chris Haslam
Skipton, North Yorkshire

• Grant Shapps’s rebranding of the Conservatives as the Workers’ party (Report, 25 February) is copied directly from Sweden’s rightwing Moderaten, who a few years ago branded themselves as the “real” workers’ party – ie of workers rather than shirkers. Free schools are another Swedish crib (they’re failing there, too). It’s interesting – Orwellian? – how the “Swedish model” has been turned on its head.
Bernard Porter

• Either Harry Watson’s or his Polish landlady’s memory is at fault when he suggests that the city’s name reverted to Lemberg when “the Nazis marched in in 1940″ (Letters, 25 February). Lvov was within the area of Poland invaded by the Soviets in 1939, and the Germans did not march in until 1941.
Robert Cairns

• Laurie Penny’s open letter to the swimmer Rebecca Adlington (Comment, 25 February) was commendable. Shakespeare says it all: “In nature there’s no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind.”
Tony Tucker
Frodsham, Cheshire

• “We have absolutely no intention of doing anything about this” is invariably “Make no mistake, lessons will be learned from this” (Letters, 24 February).
Adrian Brodkin

• Unlike Gilbert O’Sullivan (Letters, 26 February), I can understand the broadcasting of the Brits and the Folk awards on the same evening, ooh wakka doo, what a day!
John Petrie


Macleod for the Guardian

Ewen MacAskill’s return from the US is timely. His account (Glasgow’s East End, frontline in the battle for Scotland, 24 February) of the current state of play in Scotland‘s independence referendum is the clearest I have seen, in particular his succinct summing up of the danger areas which Better Together “campaigners” seem unable to grasp. Two key vote-drivers are temporarily united in the SNP and in the Better Together collaboration. State protection from market forces (“social welfare”) and freedom from current state control (“wealth creation”) have been successfully yoked by the SNP in stirring terms that we Scots would like to believe in.

The uneasy coexistence of the same conflicting policy goals within Better Together appears to have stymied their appeal to supporters of both, and driven them into barren and defensive negativity, afraid to offer any vision of improvement on present and recent dire times, only warnings of worse if we separate – and those often delivered in exasperated tones that any savvy parent could see would drive their children into independent behaviour.

As one of the disenchanted Labour voters described by MacAskill, I have had many polemics put my way: the most persuasive have been George Galloway’s “Just Say Naw” and a speech on the implications of Scottish independence for business by Rupert Soames, CEO of the Scottish firm Aggreko. Probably, like many, I am hoping that a new way of synthesising realism and vision will start to emerge before September, when the temporary partnerships of the SNP and of Better Together are likely to fracture, with or without a much reduced tax base.
Jane Griffiths

•  For someone with a long perspective on history, I’m amused to see David Cameron and Alex Salmond fighting over the future of North Sea oil (Oil on troubled waters: Cameron jets in to turn up the heat in independence debate, 25 February). A century ago, the south Wales coalfield was the equivalent of North Sea oil, providing energy that powered the development of the British economy. Of course, all the money, and profit, went to London, leaving us as an economic basket case, because the profits weren’t invested here. Mrs Thatcher wasted the wealth from the North Sea in the 1970s, and Cameron wants to do the same now. I hope the Scots keep the profit from the oil and turn Scotland into another Norway.
John Owen
Caerphilly, Gwent

• Larry Elliott logically looks at a variety of financial issues regarding an independent Scotland and that is fine (Why real freedom is not on offer to Scotland, 24 February). We may dispute one or two of his conclusions but that is what debate and examination of the facts is all about. Then up pops the puzzling end quote: “The decisions that matter are made in London … it is the independence of the granny flat.” A reminder of the song, familiar to all Scots, “ye cannae shove your granny off the bus”. But note to the Better Together pro-unionist camp, the second verse goes on “ye can shove your other granny off the bus”. Many Scots believe we have moved on into the second verse with independence ahead.
Stuart Campbell
Hightae, Dumfriesshire

• Neal Ascherson (Letters, 25 February) says that José Manuel Barroso’s “clownish blurt seems to have no support from embarrassed European commission colleagues”. On Saturday, EU commissioner Viviane Reding was in Barcelona saying that the EU “only deals with member states”, so that if there is a division in one of them, that new state would have to apply afresh to join the European community. “And that is nothing new, it is very old.” Ascherson should get out of Scotland more.
Peter Harvey
Barcelona, Spain

• Re Gerard Cavalier (Letters, 25 February), when the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland were established, Irish people had an unrestricted right to live and work in Great Britain, reflecting the historic ties between Ireland and Britain. This would almost certainly be the precedent in the event of Scottish independence and it would not matter, therefore, whether or not Scotland was in the EU.
Michael Cunningham


Simon Jenkins earns his corn through provocation but does not need to encourage young people to follow his example by studying subjects which do not require mathematics (Comment, 19 February). Most people would assume that we have more than enough lawyers, now that they are pestering the public to take out vexatious prosecutions on terms of “no win no fee”. As for salespeople, I do not wish to denigrate the importance of the arts and fashion industries to our economy, but buyers of manufactures are probably more prevalent in the UK than sellers of the same. They require scientific literacy and preferably an ability to speak a foreign language (too much like hard work!).

Since the UK is in the business of buying nuclear power stations, fast trains and flood controls, as well as updating IT systems without wasting more billions, the shortage of scientific/technical expertise in the government, the civil service and the opinion-forming media is a gross disadvantage. Far from castigating mathematics, we should reform pre-university education along the lines of the international baccalaureate, in which all major subjects are compulsory.
CN Dack

• The problems that Simon Jenkins points out are widely recognised in the mathematics education community, here and around the world. It is scandalous that most adults cannot use the mathematics they are taught in secondary school in their later lives, and that pupils actively dislike the subject (even more in the high-performing countries, for reasons that Jenkins outlines).

The potential of a different mathematics curriculum for empowering and enriching lives is well-established. We know how to enable teachers to teach like this, but it involves a profound change in the balance of their practice from pupils’ learning procedures to their thinking through problems that seem worthwhile to them. The reasons these changes have not happened are systemic – a mixture of self-inflicted wounds in policy and bad “engineering” of the design and implementation.

There has been a government decision to broaden the kinds of task in maths exams to include substantial problems; given the inevitable pushback, we shall see what actually emerges.
Professor Hugh Burkhardt


Zoe Williams obscures the context in which army education takes place (Meet the graduates of the mud-crawl challenge, 22 February). Army recruitment materials actively target young teenagers. A child can begin the enlistment process at the age of 15 years and seven months – before they sit their GCSEs. As there is no minimum entrance qualification for many army roles, there is no incentive for would-be recruits to work towards their exams.

Those who enlist at 16 are offered the lowest level of qualifications which can form an “apprenticeship”. This is despite the fact that educationists and industry bodies agree that GCSEs in English and maths are the essential minimum attainment required by all young people to succeed in employment today. The MoD claims that these qualifications are “available” to soldiers who choose to study “in their free time”, but last year just 20 soldiers in an army of over 78,000 enlisted personnel had obtained a GCSE in English or maths within four years of joining.

Ms Williams ignores the fact that the Department for Education has a legal obligation to provide accessible, good-quality education free of charge to all young people. Where it is failing to do so this must be remedied, but not by forcing minors to join the army simply to access their basic right to education.

Raising the enlistment age to 18 would save the MoD over £94m annually. That sum would pay for every recruit now at Harrogate – plus 24,000 of their friends – to do a highly sought-after civilian vocational apprenticeship, every year. Now that really would be hard not to admire.
Richard Clarke
Director, Child Soldiers International

•  Zoe Williams, on her visit to the army college in Harrogate, seems to have been charmed by the pomp and ceremony. But why does the UK have the lowest recruiting age in Europe, and why is it the only permanent member of the UN security council that recruits 16-year-olds into its army? The UN defines a child soldier as any member of an armed group under 18 years old, and the UK has blocked changes to the protocols seeking to make 18 years the minimum age of recruitment. As we enter the centenary of the first world war, let us remember that they had to be 18 years old to join up and 19 years old to fight overseas. Today they can join at 16 and fight overseas aged 18. What progress have we made? A study last year found those recruited at 16 were twice as likely to die as a consequence of deployment to Afghanistan than those who enlisted as adults. Is it not time to be mature, protect our young and raise the recruitment age to 18 years old?
Dr Rupert Gude
Tavistock, Devon

•  I joined the Royal Navy at 15 years old in the 1960s, and a letter was sent home to my parents from the training establishment I was sent to saying: “Our aim here is to build up a boy’s character and at the same time continue his general education.” What my time in training entailed was actually to have my individuality beaten out of me, to suffer endless petty punishments and to watch a bullying culture encouraged by the people put in my charge. A couple of hours in a classroom each day is not an education, and to live in a society where children are trained for war, and to have this dressed this up as an education that is “hard not to admire”, leaves me feeling depressed.
Stephen Mann


At last, a less one-sided view of the problems confronting migrant construction workers in Qatar (Comment, 21 February). Qatar may need to clean up its act, but it is India that has a far greater challenge. As a former construction specialist at the International Labour Office I’m convinced construction workers in India are among the most exploited in the world. They are mostly in precarious, low-paid jobs with minimal standards of health and safety or other protections. Nobody knows how many die each year because nobody keeps count. They are routinely denied the minimal wages owing to them by employers who hold them back to keep the workers in bondage. It is hardly surprising they pay large sums for the chance of regular, well-paid work in Qatar, because it is better than the alternative in India – and they have a better chance of surviving. What Jayati Ghosh doesn’t mention is that the worst exploitation in Qatar is in the small firms managed by the same Indian employers who exploit the workers back home.It is not Qataris exploiting poor Indian workers but other Indians.
Dr Jill Wells
Engineers Against Poverty






A persuasive defence of the planned NHS scheme (Oliver Wright, 26 February) failed to notice our nation’s proven incompetence, however well-intentioned, in the centralised management of data. Surprise, surprise, the NHS has now left more than half of us, by its own initial deadline, still uninformed about its data-sharing proposal.

Being risk-averse, I have already completed an opt-out form. Perhaps Angela Merkel, while she is over here, could give us some tips on management?

Yvonne Ruge, London N20


I find the following statement in the government literature the most troubling.

“NHS organisations share information about the care you receive with those who plan health and social care services, as well as with approved researchers and organisations outside the NHS, if this will benefit patient care.”

This appears to leave the NHS a clear route to the position: “If we allow the sale of parts of this national asset, including patient details, then we will be able to protect 10,000 nurses’ jobs/ 15 A&E departments/ 3,000 midwives (delete as desired).”

The Government has already agreed to sell my DVLA information to supermarkets so that I can be fined if my shopping trip exceeds two hours.

Ray Noy, Wigan


The project has been bedevilled by misinformation from both NHS England and those opposed to it.

Your report of 26 February does not help by stating that is required to enable the NHS to “identify which GPs are over-prescribing antibiotics [and] which are using expensive branded drugs rather than cheaper alternatives”. Every Clinical Commissioning Group in England has been able to access this sort of data and answer precisely those questions for several years using the NHS’s Epact database.

Why has there been no fuss about this database? Probably because the public are unaware of it and it is completely anonymised, with no patients’ identifiable details stored.

Christopher Anton, Administrator, Drug and  Therapeutics Committee, Pharmacy Department, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals  NHS Trust


When a child should be allowed to die

Assisted dying has been having quite a lot of coverage lately. The Belgians are being fair to children, offering them an escape from a horrible death.

At a recent meeting in the Cotswolds, a Liberal Democrat MP and a prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate both stated their approval of assisted dying legislation in this country. We were informed, however, that it was unlikely that the issue would be a part of the Liberal Democrat manifesto. Why not, one wonders.

In my first marriage I had two sons who were born, arguably, into a permanent vegetative state. Neither had any senses or was ever able to hold the weight of his head, the first sign of development.

Before modern medicine they would not have suffered long. My gut feeling at the time was that they should be allowed to die, despite their total inability to make the decision for themselves.

My eldest son John’s tortured existence lasted for 23 years at huge financial cost to the country. He has been dead for around 10 years now and a long time before his death I was informed that his round-the-clock care was costing over £100,000 per annum.

Under such circumstances, in the interests of humanity, would it not be wise to allow assisted dying when parents, medics and a judge agree that, in the interests of the child, this is the correct course of action?

There are many humane causes where the money could be better spent.

Peter John Sipthorp, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire


Pupils under acute pressure to succeed

I am concerned about the impact that monitoring and relentless assessment are having on the well-being of children.

The pressure on them to “reach their potential” academically is so acute, not least due to the constant reminders to parents in the press, that many are suffering as a result.

I am a year 10 tutor; that is to say children, and they are still children, of 14 and 15. Every two weeks I meet with the students individually or in groups and talk to them about their schooling.

This year all I have dealt with is academic (grade) related stress including regular insomnia and feeling sick all the time. I have been a teacher for 16 years in three schools (including a grammar), been a head of year and a pastoral manager for 10 of these, and have not seen this before.

I am very concerned we look after our young people and educate them to successfully and confidently take their place in the world. Education is about building self-esteem, and stressed students are lowering their self-esteem.

Even just to look at this from an entirely cold economic point of view the country may well be storing up a massive future healthcare and lost-work-day costs as people suffering from stress in teenage years are more likely to continue to do so into adulthood.

Matthew Reece, Head of Design and Technology, The Marlborough Church  of England School,  Woodstock, Oxfordshire


The Conservative future is green

To my mind responses to climate change (however it is caused) through renewable energy should fit perfectly with Conservatives (editorial, 26 February).

Renewable energy sources can give individuals the opportunity to control their own energy production, thus keeping it out of the hands of the state; it is by its very nature a form of national self-reliance and thus takes our energy security needs away from foreign production and engagement with murky governments abroad.

In addition, radical innovation in engineering, science and industry is exactly what helped bring Britain to eminence in the first place, giving us a great heritage and reputation at home and abroad. The pioneers of the past would surely be rubbing their hands with glee at the possibilities that modern technology has to offer.

So, come on Conservatives, be true to your whole selves and the past and stop hindering the talents and enterprising spirit of Britain!

John Laird, Rome


If, as your correspondent the Rev Dr John Cameron alleges (letter, 25 February), global warming has stopped and is yet to restart, why is it that Alpine glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet continue to diminish and the Arctic ice sheet is at a record low?

The Rev Graeme Jackson, Gloucester


Expect low interest rates to go on

Anthony Hilton’s account of the City debate (22 February) was both short and misleading.

I have no wish to see a collapse of small businesses and the creation of large mortgage arrears in the UK, and said no such thing. My case was based around Mr Hilton’s point that the new normal level of interest rates was going to be much lower than the 5 per cent average of the previous decade.

I have published charts of past interest rate levels, so people interested can visit my website, and see for themselves. These show that there is no past normal level and that there are long periods of very low rates from time to time.

During the debate, I also pointed out that outside central London, which is buoyed by foreign cash buying, the UK housing market is showing no signs of excessive bubble-like behaviour through too much credit being extended.

John Redwood MP, Wokingham, House of Commons


‘Mail’ rakes up  ancient history

I can think of no politician with greater integrity than Harriet Harman; she is an excellent role model. I am therefore bemused by the Daily Mail’s raking over events of 40 years ago concerning the Paedophile Information Exchange and the National Council for Civil Liberties (“Harman’s row with Mail rages on”, 26 February).

I note that the Mail’s riposte to Harman about the publication of pictures of 12-year-old girls in bikinis is one of aggressive bemusement; but doesn’t the Mail know that no one, especially a male adult, is allowed to get away with taking photographs of children on beaches or playgrounds without raising considerable suspicion?

The Mail should look to itself before accusing others.

Elizabeth Chell, Lyndhurst,  Hampshire


Not sufficiently incentivised?

Perhaps the poor performance of Manchester United in Greece on Tuesday night is indicative that Wayne Rooney is not being paid enough.

Derek J Carr, Bristol





Sir, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the Director-General of the BBC, is to fight to keep the corporation’s licence fee (report, Feb 24). In the late Eighties, in New Zealand, the government took away the licence fee that had been given to the state broadcaster, Television New Zealand, and set up an “agency” to distribute it to any bidding broadcasters or programme makers. In response to this loss of revenue, and growing competition, as Director-General of TVNZ, I oversaw the outsourcing of much of our production and a sizeable reduction of staff.

The agency, “NZOnAir”, chose to spend the money, in part, on what I considered to be “pure public service” programming (that which could not necessarily be commercially funded). However, it also spent it on what I considered to be “commercial” programming (that which would be easily funded by advertising or sponsorship).

As a result it became much more difficult for us to make sufficient “non-commercial” programmes, which I believed were an essential ingredient for any national broadcaster to provide.

TVNZ was part-funded by advertising at the time. I do not consider mixed funding to be a bad thing. Indeed, if the BBC is to be forced to share its funding, it is essential that it, too, should be allowed to compete for commercial advertising and sponsorship revenue. But at the same time, the body that distributes the money so released should be required to fund the sort of programmes that commercial broadcasters spurn.

To ensure there is not a drop in the production of non-commercial programmes, the distributing body must have the goal of serving minorities and minority tastes written into its constitution. Unless it is, British television — and the BBC in particular — will lose much of which it can be immensely proud.

Changing the BBC’s funding will be a highly dangerous step. Before taking such a decision policymakers should study the experience of New Zealand carefully. Some think the change has worked well. I think it is a flawed system, unless it is very carefully controlled.

Julian Mounter

Former Director-General and Group Managing Director, Television New Zealand

Sir, Lord Hall’s supplication will be viewed with a sense of irony by the BBC’s commercial competitors. The corporation’s existence relies not on creative output but on legally enforced licence-fee payers’ contributions. Moreover, a significant proportion of the BBC’s £3.6 billion budget is channelled into its generous pension fund.

He also makes the absurd assertion that top-slicing means “less and less funding for content that we know people love”. This does not reflect the reality of endless old repeats and quiz shows.

The BBC should return to the core values of its founder, Lord Reith, as a disinterested, public-service broadcaster, informing and educating rather than chasing meaningless ratings in competing with its commercial rivals.

This calls for a fundamental restructuring of the corporation, reducing the global reach of its output, shrinking its bureaucracy and putting more of its licence fee into making balanced, high-quality news and documentary programmes.

John Barker

Prestbury, Cheshire


The tax tribunal decision not to classify bridge as a mind sport is a serious blow

Sir, The tax tribunal decision not to classify bridge as a mind sport has put English Bridge at a disadvantage (report, Feb 25). Had it ruled in our favour it would have enabled us not to levy VAT on our competition entry fees, like other sports.

Bridge is a game that is proven to help in the fight against dementia by keeping minds active, and one in which England is a leading nation. It seems counter-productive that our tax authorities do not follow the European lead on bridge.

I expect we will just have to take the case further to seek to ensure an level playing field. It is just a pity that this of itself will take up necessary taxpayers’ money to defend a case in which the UK takes a perversely opposite view to others in the European Union and elsewhere.

Jeremy Dhondy

Chairman, English Bridge Union


Scientists make a breakthrough — but it’s nothing our mothers didn’t know already

Sir, You report a scientific study finding that vinegar can kill superbugs (“Cheap superbug killer”, Feb 25). Haven’t we all learnt at our mother’s knee about the effectiveness of vinegar and brown paper?

Jennifer Fowler

London SW15


The inimitable voice and style of John Arlott still resonates down the decades

Sir, Reading Mike Brearley’s tribute to John Arlott (Sport, Feb 25) and his poetic use of language, a favourite example came to mind: a batsman frozen in a forward defensive stroke, completely beaten by the bowler, was described in that inimitable voice as “standing there like a Henry Moore statue, with the ball passing through one of the holes in his body”.

Richard Hall

Belper, Derbyshire


Don’t make the mistake of assuming all Russian-speaking Ukrainians are pro-Yanukovych

Sir, It is a myth that, if Russian is your mother tongue in Ukraine, you are automatically pro-Yanukovych, Putin and the Kremlin. Ukrainians retain the bitterest memories of the famine (Holodomor — “starvation-death”) imposed by Stalin in the 1930s, and which was a factor in the country’s vote for independence at the break-up of the Soviet Union. President Yeltsin wrongly believed that the large percentage of ethnic Russians in Latvia would undermine the independence of the Baltic States, but these people soon realised how much they would benefit by cutting their ties to Russia and are now loyal Latvian citizens. The attraction of closer ties to Western Europe and the EU will not be lost on Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Canon Dr Michael Bourdeaux

Iffley, Oxford






SIR – The closing ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games was beautiful and tasteful. It was far superior to the opening and closing ceremonies of London 2012, with their incomprehensible themes that the rest of the world did not understand, and their endless pop music.

The Sochi organisers showed respect for the Olympic Hymn, which was rushed through in London, as if we were embarrassed that it might sound too jingoistic. Ceremonies should be classic, tasteful and, above all, comprehensible.

Helen Cunningham
Thorpe, Surrey

SIR – Having listened to coverage of both the Summer and the Winter Olympics, I think the term “athlete” is somewhat overused. While greatly admiring the skill, determination and success of our curling teams, I hardly think they should be described, or would normally describe themselves, as “athletes”. The same applies for those participating in the Summer Games in sports such as the 10-metre air rifle shooting.

What has happened to that once popular and accurate description “competitors”?

SIR – The House of Bishops of the Church of England has recently issued pastoral guidance which states that nobody in a same-sex marriage will be accepted for ordination and that existing clergy will be disciplined if they enter a same-sex marriage. In justifying these announcements, it says: “There will, for the first time, be a divergence between the… definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England.”

They have forgotten their history. The Church of England enforced a view of marriage as indissoluble long after civil law allowed remarriage of divorcees. During this period a king was forced to abdicate because he wanted to marry a divorcee, and Princess Margaret could not marry the man of her choice because he was a divorcee. It was not until 2002 that the Church formally accommodated remarriage of a divorced person.

The bishops believe that the challenge that gay marriage presents to the Church is unprecedented. They will not be able to reason their way to truthful guidance for the present by starting from false premises about the past.

Professor Iain McLean
Nuffield College, University of Oxford
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch
St Cross College, University of Oxford
Professor Linda Woodhead
Lancaster University

NHS data

SIR – Those responsible for the release of confidential patient information should be named. If data protection law has been breached, they should be prosecuted. All data obtained in this way must be destroyed so that patients can, again, seek advice knowing that their medical history is not available to a person in a call centre, or others seeking to profit from their misfortune.

G B Hopkinson
Ashley, Shropshire

The right fanfare

SIR – The best version of the national anthem is the one used by the BBC before the 7am news on the birthdays of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. It is a military band with suggestions of an orchestra, and includes a fanfare. I have recorded it in case I ever need to use it.

Michael Reading
Ash, Surrey

Taxing the nation

SIR – Although still in full-time employment, I have not paid a penny in National Insurance since I reached pensionable age several years ago. Renaming NI as Earnings Tax suggests that this may no longer hold true.

I hope that the Chancellor will bear in mind the power of the grey vote in his deliberations on what could become a very contentious issue.

Roger Smith
Meppershall, Bedfordshire

SIR – The renaming of National Insurance is welcome. However, Earnings Tax is still not right. National Insurance is paid by employers as well as employees. NI is not paid on earnings from savings or investments. Its title should be “Job Tax”.

Martin Collier
St Ives, Huntingdonshire

Unfair fares

SIR – The structure of the academic year is ridiculous because it is based on the Victorian need for children to be out of school for harvest (report, February 25). Everybody is trapped in this pattern, which has led to intense week-long half-term breaks and expensive holidays.

We should move towards a four-term year and more evenly spread holidays. Many of our schools would like to split the Easter holidays from the religious festival for the reason that Easter can be such a movable feast, but the status quo is so deeply ingrained in this country.

If there was less of an expectation to follow the rigid format of term-time and holidays we are all used to, the peak times for high-price holidays would be far less concentrated.

David Hanson
Chief Executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

SIR – While we debate whether travel companies should charge more for holidays taken during half-term, can we also discuss the “single room” supplements charged to travellers who, through no fault of their own, travel alone? I recently paid more than £100 to stay in a room on my own, while couples on the same holiday paid £89.99 between them.

Penny Colman
Melksham, Wiltshire

Revolving devolution

SIR – Derrick Hedley is wrong to think that the West Lothian Question will be settled by Scottish independence. MPs of Welsh and Northern Irish constituencies will still be able to vote in Westminster on devolved issues that only affect inhabitants of England. Perhaps it could be rebranded as the West Glamorgan Question?

Patrick Strong
Heaton, Lancashire

Put the flags out

SIR – London will shortly boast its own .lon domain name, and I think we should have a flag. My front garden flagpole on Saturday flew the Cross of St George for England rugby. On Sunday, I raised the Olympic flag. I fly the appropriate flag for the 4th of July, on Bastille Day and whenever my Argentine mother-in law wafts in for Sunday lunch.

The branding opportunities are endless for proud Londoners: T-shirts, bumper stickers, tea trays, etc. Perhaps the adoption of a flag would even spawn an independence movement, which is all the rage at the moment.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

Pupils benefit intellectually from studying RE

SIR – The lack of support for religious education is astounding given the subject’s merits. No other subject creates as many possibilities for cross-curricular study. Teachers can help students broaden their intellectual horizons by linking RE to history, geography, English, drama, poetry, music, maths – the list is endless.

What a shame that politicised educational dogma, compartmentalised subject teaching and exam targeting so often rob children of opportunities for intellectual growth.

Rev R C Paget
Brenchley, Kent
SIR – In an increasingly uncertain, even fragile world, our children need to be able to think for themselves about the political, moral and personal issues that affect us all.

This requires them to be literate in the forms of thought – both religious and otherwise – that apply to anything from the international affairs of the Middle East to East-West relations in the Ukraine to the ethics of medical research. Children need an understanding of diverse beliefs and philosophies, and this requires a well-rounded education.

Students want to learn how to cope with a future that they will help to shape. To enable them to develop their thoughts impartially, religious education teachers need proper training, as well as sensitivity and expertise.

Esmond Lee
Head of Religious Studies, Trinity School
Croydon, Surrey


SIR – George Osborne, the Chancellor, has no political mandate for offering a “cheque book” to Ukraine, a country outside the EU and with no discernable links to the United Kingdom, without a parliamentary vote.

Russia, which shares a border and close history with Ukraine, has offered £16 billion to assist its financial deficit, so why should we need to do likewise? It is ludicrous that this Government should attempt to revive the anti-Russian stance of the Cold War era and increase our own borrowing, merely to strut upon the world stage for no good reason.

Christopher Devine
Farley, Wiltshire

SIR – The recent support from Western countries for opposition uprisings has largely failed. In Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria, destabilisation, war or greater unrest has followed.

Barry Bond
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – While the West is warning Russia not to use force, the EU is trying to bring Ukraine closer to Europe. This is a tug-of-war. The Russian-speaking east of Ukraine will not want to be European and Russia will not want to lose its strategic ally.

If we are to avoid conflict and secure a peaceful transition, we must ensure that Russia is given the respect it deserves. Failure to build bridges with such a powerful country will lead to more problems here and in the Middle East.

Jeremy Scott
Middlewich, Cheshire

SIR – The people of Ukraine face a dreadful dilemma. Should they submit to the black hand of Moscow or subjugate themselves to the nightmare of Brussels?

Perhaps the best solution is to retain their independence by teaming up with the only two free countries in Europe – Norway and Switzerland.

John Cuthbert
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – The warning from William Hague and the Americans that Russia should not intervene in Ukraine is a bit rich coming from people who are doing just that.

There is no way Russia will give up its Black Sea ports in Ukraine.

Terri Jackson
Bangor, Co Down

SIR – Should Kiev’s young be encouraged to believe that the accord on the free movement of peoples will remain a bedrock principle of the EU? Was it wise of the EU to think it could entice Ukrainians into abandoning their economic dependence on Russia without offering transitional aid? Now that we have a basket case on our hands, our austerity Chancellor is instantly ready with taxpayers’ money.

Since when has it been in the West’s interest to encourage the violent overthrow of a far-from-perfect but democratically elected government?

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset




Irish Times:

Sir, – On February 1st, Limerick city experienced the worst flooding in living history when the Shannon and the Abbey Rivers burst their banks with a surge that devastated homes in many parts of the city.

This Saturday, March 1st, it will be exactly four weeks since I have been able to sleep in my bed, since I could lock my own door and feel secure in my own home. I am a home-owner with a mortgage and home loan to pay on a house that is no longer habitable, and I am depending on the kindness of an aunt to keep a roof over my head.

I am one of the unfortunate ones who could not get flood insurance.

The truly sickening twist in this story is that one month down the road the Government has kept its back turned on the private home-owners who cannot get flood cover. This was an unprecedented event that required an unprecedented reaction. To date the only thing that has been unprecedented is the lack of leadership, from Government, and especially our Taoiseach, in putting the minds of its now critically vulnerable citizens at ease.

To see the British prime minister appear on news channels and declare money wasn’t going to be a problem, left me disillusioned with the country that I love. I felt sick to think that a government I voted for, in the hope of seeing a new Ireland, has left the private homeowners to fight for themselves. What kind of a country have we become, when balancing the books has outweighed the need to repair the homes of its citizens after a natural disaster?

Many Ministers have come down to look at the destruction, always when the cameras are running or snapping. They have looked forlorn and nodded at the sad stories they have heard from us mere mortals that lived in these little working class shells we used to call our homes and when the cameras left, they did too.

The damage to my home has been priced at €40-50,000, I have access to about €10,000, again thanks to the kindness of family and friends. Last week I received a cheque for €2,883 from our Government as its contribution to getting my life back in order, chiefly to be used to buy furniture and appliances. Does it think by this token gesture it has washed its hands of the problem? If so, Government members should be ashamed of themselves.

What good are appliances and furniture in a house with no internal walls, serious structural damage and without power or heat? I am 33 year old, a young professional.

I always wanted to be part of this country and help it regain its status as a great nation. However, after this fiasco I have lost hope. If this is how my country wants to treat those who have been subjected to a natural disaster I no longer want to be here and be part of it.

I have urged our Government not to let its citizens down. My neighbours and I have not asked for help before, and we do not like having to ask now, but we have no choice. We will not beg. We should not have to. It’s sad to say that after getting such a soaking, our Government has left us high and dry. – Yours, etc,


Athlunkard Street,



Sir, – Hearing about allegations of Garda corruption on the news, I must draw attention to one example of excellent work done this week in the course of his ordinary duty by an intelligent caring young guard on his beat.

My son owns a terraced house in a cul-de-sac in Dublin. He travelled to London last Friday, accidentally leaving his front door open.

Soon a young guard on his beat, became aware of the problem, succeeded in tracing the owner’s name from his car licence, contacted him in London and had the house guarded until a friend secured the front door.

That is an example of the brilliant, caring work done by our guards in this country. That young guard serves in Pearse Street station and is one example of the help that I, an old woman, have long experienced, from our hard-working, caring Garda. – Yours, etc,


Hyde Park Avenue,



A chara, – I strongly believe in marriage. My marriage is the greatest comfort in my life.

I am so positive about the institution that I wish to extend its benefits to my gay and lesbian fellow citizens.

Twelve years ago this issue wasn’t on my radar in any way. One lives and learns. Nations also live and learn. Why delay? I can see no reason not to pop the question on the same day as the EU and local election. – Is mise,



An Leabharlann Dlí,

Baile Átha Cliath 7.

A chara, – Rónán Mullen (Opinion, February 19th) and Noel Bolger (Letters, February 13th) conflate two debates, marriage equality and the right of children to be raised by genetic parents. It is possible to be in favour of both.

On the other hand, it is not long since the view of most who are now against marriage equality was that a children would be better raised by an unrelated married couple than by their own single mothers. It is also the case that most of those who adopt or use more modern methods of acquiring non genetic children, are not same-sex couples. – Is mise,


An Pháirc Thiar,

Bré, Co Chill Mhantáin.



Sir, – You’ve got to hand it to Minister for Health James Reilly. His proposed universal health insurance scheme will neatly take care of his two biggest headaches: how to extract more money from the punters, and how to get rid of our system of “community-rating” which has become increasingly irksome for the insurance companies.

This is how it will work. Everyone who isn’t on welfare will be forced to buy a “basic” healthcare package for €1,600 under threat of levy by the Revenue Commissioners (in other words, it’s a “tax”). This basic package will entitle everyone to exactly the same substandard service currently “enjoyed” by those dependent on medical cards – queuing included. “Extras” (ie the benefits people currently buy health insurance for) will now be “risk-rated”, with huge consequential premium-hikes for the old and sick. – Yours, etc,



Carrigaline, Co Cork.

Sir, – Having left the US to be rid of “Obamacare”, I am now to be subjected to “Reillycare”. – Yours, etc,


The Green,




Sir, – While most of Albert Collins’s letter (February 26th) seems to fit the facts filtering through the thickening fogs of covert warfare, his summation of the violently deposed president Morsi, on generalising grounds that “. . . his policies were certainly of an Islamist nature . . .”, seems to feed directly into the increasingly current sectarian bigotries justifying the ever-expanding Bush-war crusaders he rightly decries.

As for Yanukovich and Tymoshenko being “..oligarch(s) with a sickeningly opulent lifestyle . . .”, there are no shortage of such sickeners among what might equally be termed politicians of a “Christian” nature. There is no need to step off this island to locate exemplars. – Yours, etc,


Castleview Estate,


Co Galway.


Sir, – I sat reading “Time to break the silence on noise pollution” (Opinion, February 19th) in a coffee shop where unwanted music was intruding on my peace. This location is another for Ruraidih Conlon O’ Reilly to include in his review of places where we have to bear unwanted noise.

I would take my business elsewhere in the locality except I abhor even more listening to the inane chatter on certain radio stations while I drink my coffee. – Yours, etc,


Grove Avenue,




Sir, – KT Walsh (February 25th) encourages your readers to ask would-be city councillors what they intend to do for the homeless. It is a fair question on a very serious issue.

As leader of the Labour Group on Dublin City Council I am proud that we rejected the manager’s proposals to reduce the sum available for homeless services in the budget this year. Instead, through careful analysis of the budget and political pressure we increased the funding available by €6 million. In contrast the far Left and Fianna Fáil sat idly by and indeed voted against the revised budget.

In my own electoral area I am proud to say that within the next three months we will see the fourth social and affordable housing scheme that I have proposed in recent years go for planning. Together with a earlier initiative I am happy to report that nearly 4,000 units have been provided arising from proposals I made. Sadly, given the abandonment of a social housing provision by the previous Government, this is not nearly enough. There is a long way to go and those with a track record of delivery are those best placed to deliver again. – Yours, etc,


Beech Hill Drive,


A chara, – While there may be some merit in the views expressed by Eanna Coffey (February 25th) regarding the Irish language, I would have to take issue with some of his remarks.

How can a language be described as “functionally useless” when it is still the first language of many citizens born in this State, be they located in Iarthar Ciarraí, Conamara or Gaobh Dobhair or elsewhere on this island? Presumably these citizens can still communicate with each other in their language of birth?

I agree with his assertion that the policy of compulsory Irish has failed. It is a beautiful, sophisticated language and is wasted on those who do not appreciate it. Set the Irish language free and teach it to the willing. – Is mise,


Sandyford View,


Sandyford, Dublin 18.

A chara, – Eanna Coffey’s letter (February 25th) contains the writer’s derogatory comment on a literature written in a language which he deems to be “detested by students, who are force-fed second-rate poetry and literature out of some absurd national pride”.

Then he urges us to see Gaelic games, Irish dancing , traditional Irish music as being worthy substitutes for language – the prime signifier of the Other. As a prose-writer who has written 10 works of fiction in my native language, ie, Irish, I find this attitude hard to take.

Mr Coffey dares to speak for others while he detests the Other that my native language has become in my native country. Furthermore, Mr Coffey, I presume, is aware of the fact that there is an Irish speaking enclave 40 miles from his own doorstep in west Kerry, where I come from. The fact that I received my secondary education in Killarney where I was force-fed English and its oftentimes second-rate poetry and literature, deemed worthy and first-rate, out of some absurd cultural-imperialist pride, is probably of little or no significance to him. – Is mise,


Bóthar na Ceapaí,

Bearna, Co na Gaillimhe.



Sir, – Inspired by Dr Vincent Kenny’s letter (February 25th) concerning the appearance of pesky political posters, I would like to offer a possible solution to a closely related problem: the proliferation of cable ties plaguing lampposts long after polling day.

I suspect that were each party and grouping restricted to a specific colour, the prevalence of cable-tie residue weeks after an election would fall off as most of the offenders could be traced and sanctioned. – Yours, etc,


St Mary’s Terrace,




Sir, – Further to the article “Some drugs are more equal than others” (Health + Family, February 25th), in fact, the CF drug Kalydeco is one of the most fast- tracked drugs of all time, worldwide, because of its effectiveness for those with the so-called “Celtic CF gene alteration”, which amounts to one in nine of the CF population in Ireland and one in 50 in many other countries. Forbes named Kalydeco “the most important new drug of 2012” .

We in Cystic Fibrosis Ireland have seen the dramatic impact of this drug first- hand. As with most drugs for those with rarer diseases the cost is very high because research costs are extraordinarily high and because there are very few patients from which the pharmaceutical company can make a return from their huge investment and risk.

In some CF medical and scientific conferences discussion is on the potential of decades being added to the survival age for many as a result of this drug. For others the benefits will likely be less because they have already suffered considerable lung damage.

Are we supposed to ask our patients to wait 20 years until we are absolutely certain about the increase in survivability, or should we accept the general consensus from clinicians, scientists (and many journalists) that this is a crucial breakthrough in CF healthcare, especially as it has more impact in Ireland that anywhere else in the world. In short, any debate on the funding of healthcare and priorities should be informed by a patient and clinical perspective as well as that of the economist. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland,


Sir, – Among the many disturbing current questions about GSOC, etc, one of the most worrying seems not yet to have been properly aired: is it compatible with the spirit – perhaps, even the letter – of the Constitution for any one person to be minister both for Defence and for Justice – effectively, Minister for State Security? – Yours, etc,


Carysfort Park,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.



Sir, – I have just become aware that Dublin City Council is about to construct, across the street from my house, a Dublinbikes scheme depot on Mount Brown. This will result in the elimination of four on-street parking spaces there. With the planned expansion of the scheme, particularly as it affects my part of Dublin 8, a good number of other on-street parking spaces are set to go.

As a cyclist for more than 50 years, before giving up cycling about a decade ago mainly because of safety concerns, I am very much in favour of the bikes scheme. But it has been introduced, and is now to be expanded, with the unfortunate side-effect of reducing the number of on-street parking spaces. As it is, there is an insufficiency of spaces in this area; the planned expansion will worsen it. Why was it felt that this should/would be acceptable?

By purchasing biennial permits from the council, I, as well as two immediate neighbours, regularly park on that particular part of Mount Brown. We will now be forced to compete with others for the 15 or so remaining spaces further along. If none are available it will mean having to find a space some distance away and paying the resultant parking charge there.

For me, that game may not be worth the candle and I will then most likely decide to call it a day as a motorist and suffer the resultant social isolation. As it is, following a threatening incident, I no longer use the Luas Red Line at night. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort, Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.


Sir, – As described in your issue of February 24th, the proposed new health system would seem to involve an increase in bureaucracy, invasiveness, discrimination and expense (BIDE). Let us BIDE our time until the next election. – Yours, etc,


Lamb Alley, Dublin 8.


Sir, – Chairwoman of Revenue Josephine Feehily predicts “there will be a lot of letters landing in the second half of April” (Home News, February 20th). Presumably she means the letters T, A, and X. – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,

Eganville, Ontario, Canada.



Irish Independent:


* Well done to Miriam Donohoe on the article she wrote about parental involvement with underage GAA teams (Irish Independent, February 17).

Also in this section

Ballyhea still says ‘No’ to this gross injustice

Keane’s courageous stance on human rights

Back in the shadow of the ‘nearly men’

As a primary school teacher, the best schools to work in are those where a boundary exists with regard to parental involvement, i.e., parents make an appointment to meet with teachers, and are not allowed to keep a teacher from teaching the children during school hours because he/she has something to discuss with the teacher about their child.

What Bernard Brogan clearly does not realise, with his recent comment about parents using GAA training as “a babysitting service”, is that should 30 parents show up at every training session for their children it would be impossible for underage managers and coaches to nurture the sporting skills and attitudes in the children – the next generation of GAA players.

Brogan’s vision would cause headaches for underage GAA coaches and managers because parents attending each training session with their children would result in them questioning and criticising managerial decisions if and when their son or daughter were not chosen to play on the team on match day.

This scenario would result in havoc and tension between parents and those involved with coaching the children, and the purpose of underage training would not be carried out if this were the case. Needless to say, the children would not benefit from the quarrelling of their sporting role models and they would not enjoy playing their sports.

The Brogan brothers’ experience of parental involvement at underage level is the stuff which dreams are made of; luckily, for both Alan and Bernard, their passion for playing GAA sports matched that of their father’s.

However, I do agree with Ms Donohoe that “many parents’ own battles are fought by their children on the GAA pitch”.

Advice to parents: if your children are passionate about playing GAA sports, then encourage and support them to do so. But please, allow them to develop their love of national sports naturally and allow them the space at training to do so.

Maria O’Sullivan



* Uganda‘s president has signed into law legislation that criminalises homosexuality. It provides for a 14-year jail term for a first offence and life imprisonment for the offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’.

The only apparent intervention by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore was a statement in which he indicated that he was “deeply concerned” by the prospect of the legislation and that enactment “would affect our valued relationship with Uganda”.

That was a weak response on his part, given Ireland’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council and Uganda’s membership of this body until last year.

This relationship between Ireland and Uganda has cost taxpayers €156m in bilateral development aid between 2009 and 2012. There were 1.5 million people living with HIV in Uganda in 2012 and 140,000 new incidents of HIV infection. This legislation will clearly obstruct effective responses to HIV/AIDS and encourage harassment and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and effectively undermine the objectives of Irish Aid.

What impact will this law now have on the ‘valued relationship’ between Ireland and Uganda, which Mr Gilmore cherishes? Will it result in the imminent and permanent closure of the Irish embassy in Kampala?

Will Irish Aid withdraw from all of the 37 African countries that ban homosexuality on the grounds that each human being is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights worldwide and live a life with dignity and without the menace of intolerable discrimination and the threat of a long prison sentence?




* Colette Brown’s assertion that television viewers take particular note of a female presenter’s dress and looks surely is an insult to the intelligence of most viewers of the news. The prime job of a presenter, male or female, is to present the news in a cogent and comprehensive manner. His or her looks should be a matter of indifference.

When you watch Aine Lawlor or Ursula Halligan, do you take note of what mascara they’re using, or the colour of their hair or dress?

Surely if a female presenter is overwrought with the colour and shade of her dress – as we know has happened in the past – then surely the presenter in question should consider another career and leave the experts to take their seat.




* I once met a man with whom I had a most interesting conversation about deserts. We discussed the notion of the mirage. Mirage now, not marriage.

For those of you who don’t know what a mirage is, it is a false image that appears in one’s vision if you have been out in the austere conditions of a dry desert under a scorching sun without water. He told me that if you ever find yourself in such a position you should blow a whistle. Apparently the shrill and true sound of the whistle awakens the senses to what is really going on.

While I don’t know if he was right or wrong it does make sense, if for no other reason that I once read or heard of a saying: the truth will set you free.

So, remember boys and girls, if you ever see a mirage; that which you desire but isn’t really the case, blow a whistle. Please don’t do it near a pitch where there is a game going on, though, because the players involved might think the game is over, and no-body wants to see all the little boys and girls being disappointed.

They might start fighting or, worse still, if they are immature enough, they might throw their toys out of their prams as they munch on cake or whatever else it is that the youth are gorging themselves on nowadays.




* I recently wrote to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to express my view that the practice of him and his ministers being off the island over the St Patrick’s Day Festival is not only misguided but very wrong.

On our national day, the leader of the 26 counties should be here with us, as should the majority of his Cabinet. St Patrick, you will remember, brought the Gospel to Ireland and for our leaders to be absent on the day that honours him is a disrespect to Christ himself.

In fact, it would be far more appropriate for ministers to visit Belfast and Derry than Washington or Beijing for they are – despite the continuing and by now almost ridiculous British presence – part of the territory of the Irish nation whose existence is witnessed before God by his Son Jesus Christ.

To be frank, the Government is out of touch with Ireland’s pretty harsh reality, a defect that could be easily cured by simply reading the ‘Irish News’ or ‘Belfast Telegraph’ on a daily basis.

A major and historic first step in the healing of Ireland’s ills could be taken on St Patrick’s weekend. The politicians – north and south – could gather at City Hall, Belfast, to declare the new republic of 32 counties on March 15, perhaps?

We could then enjoy a mature, responsible but joyful celebration over the following two days. It is time for all of us on this island to take matters into our own hands and grasp the future. Now is the time to act. All that we need is the courage and political will to seize the historic moment of opportunity.



Irish Independent


Third Treatment

February 26, 2014

26 February 2014 Third Treatment
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to investigate a haunted ship. Priceless
Mary’s third treatment no hold ups Primroses planted
Scrabble today  Mary wins but gets under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Captain John Huckle, who has died aged 89, was thrice decorated for his wartime service, being awarded a DSC and Bar as well as an Arctic Star; post-war he added the Polar Medal.
In October 1946, as an RNVR lieutenant, Huckle was appointed aide-de-camp to the Governor of the Falkland Islands for that Antarctic summer. His duties included supervising a four-man team in the relief of the Antarctic bases which had been established by the Navy to guard against the occupation of remote islands in the Southern Ocean by the Germans or the Japanese. The five men constituted the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey, whose members were known as “Fids”.
He stayed on throughout 1947, first as base commander at Port Lockroy on Graham Land (on the Antarctic Peninsula) and later at Deception Island in the South Shetlands. There — albeit a junior officer — he found himself the sole representative of the British Empire, standing on the foreshore and delivering protests on behalf of the King each time an Argentine or Chilean warship arrived.
Related Articles
Jock Dempster
05 Jun 2013
Lieutenant-Commander Don Ridgway
22 Jan 2014
Commander Eddie Grenfell
30 Jun 2013
The 4th Lord St Levan
07 Apr 2013
In 1948, when Vivian Fuchs arrived at the then southernmost Antarctic base, Marguerite Bay, Huckle volunteered to drive a team of huskies on long journeys to survey George VI Sound. The following year pack ice prevented the relief ship, John Biscoe, from reaching the base, and Fuchs and his scientists, who became known in the newspapers as the “Lost Eleven”, were forced to remain another year, during which time they accomplished several lengthy traverses. Despite the failure of the relief ship to deliver new supplies, Fuchs and his colleagues also conducted a study of emperor penguins at a newly discovered colony.
It was not until February 1950 that the sea ice cleared and John Biscoe was able to break through. Huckle and his original four companions had thus endured three consecutive years in the Antarctic, the first team to have stayed so long on the southern continent. Huckle returned to Port Stanley in 1950 to resume his duties as aide-de-camp. His next challenge was to command the Fids’ 50-ton ketch Penelope during voyages around the colony. With a crew of four sturdy “kelpers” he delivered the first government-issue radio telephones to 20 isolated settlements, which until then had used fire beacons to signal emergencies.
The following year Huckle was appointed King’s Harbour Master, when his responsibilities included the seaplanes used as air ambulances. In order to act as relief pilot for the flying doctor, Huckle spent his first leave in England learning to fly, and subsequently divided his time between running the harbour, flying a seaplane, and serving as relief master of the Falkland government’s hospital ship, Philomel.
He was awarded the Polar Medal in 1953, while an 8,000ft peak on Alexander Island was named Mount Huckle.
John Sidney Rodney Huckle was born at Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, on June 22 1924 and educated at Berkhamsted School. As soon as he could he joined the Navy, serving on the lower deck before being commissioned a midshipman (RNVR). He served first as a submariner before becoming the anti-submarine warfare officer in the destroyer Calder in the 4th Escort Group, which accompanied convoys across the treacherous Arctic seas to Russia.
He was awarded a DSC for his part in the destruction of the German submarine U-1051 on January 26 1945, south of the Isle of Man. On April 8, south-west of Ireland, Calder was credited with sinking U-774 and, 12 days later, in the same area, with damaging another U-boat ; Huckle was awarded a Bar to his DSC. He then served briefly in the submarine Vulpine.
In 1957 he returned to the Antarctic aboard the Danish coaster Oluf Sven, base ship for the Falkland Islands and Dependences Aerial Survey Expedition, serving as the navigator . That season Oluf Sven conducted 800 miles of soundings in previously uncharted waters.
His interest in the Antarctic reawakened, Huckle signed a three-year contract with the whaling company Christian Salvesen to serve as a helicopter pilot aboard the factory-ships Southern Venture and Southern Harvester. He later conceded that this was the riskiest undertaking of his life: searches for whales in underpowered, single-engined Whirlwind helicopters often extended hundreds of miles from the mother-ship over freezing seas; in the event of a ditching, rescue would have been unlikely.
Subsequently he joined World Wide Air Services, an Anglo-American company specialising in oil exploration. This job took him across the world, and his career encompassed more than 10,000 hours’ flying in aircraft from lumbering multi-engined flying boats to tiny three-seater helicopters. His proud record was that none of his passengers ever suffered any injury, although he confessed: “One or two aircraft ended up rather bent.”
His worst experience came while flying near the South Sandwich Islands. Curiosity overcame his habitual caution and, as he peered into a volcano, sulphurous fumes filled the cockpit; without a supply of oxygen, the engine coughed and spluttered, and the aircraft plunged several hundred feet before recovering.
On November 1 last year John Huckle was presented with the newly-created Arctic Star for his services on convoys to Russia .
He married first, in 1953, Ann Hargreaves, and secondly, in 1966, Eileen Uttley, who survives him with a son and two daughters of his first marriage.
Captain John Huckle, born June 22 1924, died December 9 2013


Tim Lott’s quote from the song Turn Around (Family, 22 February) calls for a reminder of one of the finest writers of children’s songs and protest songs of the 1960s. It was not written by Nanci Griffith but by Malvina Reynolds, a California schoolteacher, writer and composer of several immortal ballads – Little Boxes, Morningtown Ride, What Have They Done to the Rain?, and Magic Penny. Credit where enormous credit is due.
Geoffrey Brace
•  Cameron and other guardians of the rich run the country for their own benefit, with many deliberately anti-public, antisocial and anti-human policies. Surely this makes their intended “rebranding” (The Workers’ party? That’s us, say Tories in bid to rebrand, 25 February) an insult to those who are in work, yet still find themselves impoverished.
Mark Jay Smith
•  Hardly a day goes by without David Cameron or George Osborne appearing on TV in hard hats and hi-vis jackets. Do they think posing as construction workers will boost their appeal with the working class?
Dave Taylor
Purbrook, Hampshire
•  The Tories used to berate Labour by reminding us that during its time in office the dead could not be buried nor the bins collected due to strikes. Now Labour has the gift of reminding us that under the Tories and Lib Dems, the poor were allowed to starve or go to food banks (Jonathan Freedland, 22 February).
Lynda Mannix
East Grinstead
• I see that “compensation” (Letters, 24 February) is again being used, with regard to Stuart Gulliver’s bonus (Banker’s £32,000-a-week rise, 25 February) And what has he done to deserve this? Among other things, he has cut 40,000 “roles”. Would those be what we used to call “jobs” or “livelihoods”? Compensation seems due, but not to him.
Marilyn Davies
• Like Gilbert O’Sullivan and others (Letters, 25 February), I’d like to know who scheduled the Brits and Folk Awards on the same evening. But it’s not Clair.
Marie Whitehead

Harriet Harman and former officers of the National Council for Civil Liberties are not the only people to be suffering discomfort about historical associations with the Paedophile Information Exchange (Harman attacks Mail for ‘smear campaign’ over paedophilia, 25 February).
In 1979, as a 19-year-old student, I made my way up from Exeter University to London for my first ever Gay Pride march. The event was filmed by Granada TV’s World in Action, and I recall the confusion and embarrassment when the subsequent broadcast footage showed several of my fellow students marching in close proximity to a large vehicle which had PIE posters displayed all over it.
This was far from an isolated incident. In 1980 I attended a National Union of Students gay rights conference at Leeds University. One of the keynote speakers, who was allowed to address us uninterruptedly for more than half an hour, was a member of PIE. He claimed that pre-pubescent children were fully capable of giving full consent to sexual activity with adults.
When I angrily asked the organisers what the PIE agenda had to do with the rights of adults like myself (still legally underage) to consent to same-sex behaviour, I was brushed off and told to mind my own business.
Mark Dowd
•  Back in the 70s and 80s, few people knew about the horrors of paedophilia. In the early 80s, the Paedophile Information Exchange held its annual conference in the premises of the department of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, where I then worked. Were the department apologists for child abuse? Of course not. It was just another booking from a then-legal organisation, and they welcomed the income. Today people are much better informed and such a booking would be totally inconceivable.
Claude Shields
Haddenham, Buckinghamshire
•  We still don’t know the full facts of the links between the NCCL and PIE in the 70s, but I think we should be very wary of the Mail’s holier-than-thou headlines. Anyone who has had professional dealings with alleged and convicted paedophiles – prison officers, legal representatives, probation officers, prison education teachers etc – may find themselves compromised in future if the Mail decides to pursue their stories.
I was a teacher in prison education for many years and I was paid to improve the educational achievements of a range of offenders, some of whom were convicted paedophiles. The fact that I ran a lively, productive working environment in my classroom did not mean I advocated or espoused any of their sexual proclivities but I was there as a professional person who accepted that they had a right to educational opportunities. If the Mail remains unchallenged, who will they come after next?
Jan Ross
•  Asking Harriet Harman to apologise for working at the National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1970s because a paedophile organisation once infiltrated it is a bit like asking David Attenborough to apologise for working at the BBC because Jimmy Savile worked there too.
Neil Burgess

David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith refer to benefit cuts, sanctions and tougher rules as part of their “moral mission” (DWP accused over action against blind man, 20 February), giving people hope and self-respect. Can it really be moral to blame people for being unemployed and sanction them, when there are well over 2 million unemployed, yet only half a million vacancies? Are people really gaining hope and self-respect when they have to resort to food banks? Should we place much trust in a government that trumpets reduction in unemployment figures, when many people have been driven off benefits into being clothed as “self-employed”, yet earning very little?
Peter Cave
•  It is essential to make a clear distinction between what Mr Duncan Smith is rightly doing to improve the entire benefits system and the quite separate system of cruel sanctions raised by the bishops (Report, 21 February) and earlier by Polly Toynbee (8 November 2013). A young man I have been mentoring was given a three-month sanction in May 2013 for failing to attend a meeting the DWP had not told him about. His appeal was refused in late July. A tribunal hearing on 20 January found against the DWP. A month later he has heard nothing from the DWP, and certainly has not received the money he is owed. Meanwhile he is on a zero-hours contract that has given him no work for three weeks. No work means no money. No money means no food, no heating and inability to pay the rent. He can’t resign because to make himself voluntarily out of work means he would get no benefits for six months even though, in reality, he is not employed. This cannot be right.
Richard Davey
South Petherton, Somerset
•  Instead of complaining about the elected government’s policies, the bishops and archbishops could house thousands of the homeless in their rectories, churches and cathedrals. They could give away half their not-insubstantial stipends to feed the poor. They could sell-off their surplus properties and accumulated treasure, and distribute the proceeds to the destitute directly.
Professor David Marsland
Institute of Social Systems Analysis
• Zoe Williams laments that the left can’t countermand the image of the “not really” disabled by quoting figures (It’s the cumulative impact of benefit cuts that is shocking, 20 February). True; but it would help if Rachel Reeves (“tougher than the Tories on benefits”) didn’t join in the narrative.
Labour councils are persistently pursuing residents who are in council tax and bedroom tax debt – largely the consequence of benefit reforms – with summonses, bailiffs and evictions. This sends a message that those under attack at best aren’t worth fighting for and at worst deserve it. A national local council campaign of legal non-co-operation with the council tax support scheme and bedroom tax, backed by community groups and campaigners, alongside a serious demand for David Cameron to make up the funding shortfall, would cut through any existential doubt that such mistreatment was in some way justified, would give hope to those under attack, and pave the way for fighting off other disastrous welfare reforms. If not now, when?
Cathy Meadows
Nottingham & Notts Scrap the Bedroom Tax Defend Council Tax Benefit
•  Zoe Williams makes a powerful case. In order to understand how shocking the position is, it is surely worth adding that it is now impossible to get legal advice on welfare benefit matters through legal aid. This scandalous policy removes access to justice for a large number of our fellow citizens, many of them disabled.
Willy Bach
House of Lords
• Tenants of private landlords certainly do not escape the bedroom tax. It is delivered to them another way, through the local housing allowance, which takes into account how many bedrooms that household is entitled to for the purpose of assessing housing benefit. The results are the same: move to something smaller if you can find it, pay the rent shortfall yourself if you can, or be evicted.
Emeritus Professor Alison Ravetz
•  As providers of advice services in Newham, one of the most deprived areas of the country, we were shocked to read that a leaked DWP memo suggests sanctioned claimants should pay for appeals (Report, 21 February). We understand that appropriate use of sanctions has an important role in changing behaviours and supporting people back to employment – indeed, we are providers of the Work Programme. However, locally we are finding many problems with the sanctions process. Some claimants do not fully understand the rules; some are sanctioned due to error at the jobcentre; some are sanctioned for very minor offences and even when it is clear they are trying to find work.
For the nearly one million people who were sanctioned last year, the result too often is destitution. We work every day with people who have been sanctioned. We support them to appeal and provide practical support, including emergency food packages, during the period when they are, in effect, destitute. The suggestion that destitute people should have to pay for appeals – which in 58% of cases are successful – would be disastrous for the most vulnerable. Where does the DWP think someone with no income would find £250 to secure their rights?
Geraldine Blake
Chief executive, Community Links
• Has Iain Duncan Smith any idea how many people in UK earn less than £150 a week (EU migrants face new barrier to accessing UK state benefits, 20 February)? As a welfare rights worker I see too many clients who are paid just below that.
Using earnings of £150 a week as a threshold to access benefits would exclude those workers most likely to find themselves having to claim benefit, of which EU migrants form only a percentage. We already subject British passport holders to the habitual residence test; once the crowing about the numbers in work, albeit still in poverty, dies down, will this be applied across the board too?
Vaughan Thomas

The National Farmers’ Union doesn’t appear to grasp the seriousness of soil structural damage (compaction or squeezing the life out of soil) and its implications for water movement in the environment. My peer-reviewed paper published in December 2013 by Soil Use and Management was referred to by George Monbiot (How we ended up paying farmers to flood our homes, 18 February) and subsequently by Andrew Clark from the NFU (Letters, 19 February). In my extensive field study of 3,243 sites, 75% of land under maize showed serious structural degradation (smeared, rutted and severely compacted) and was producing enhanced surface runoff across the fields. This is inevitable when crops are harvested late in the year (October and November) by heavy machinery.
Some 30% (93 sites) of this degraded maize land carried well-drained, naturally permeable soils over aquifer rocks. Historically, rainfall on these soils readily percolates vertically down through the soil and recharges groundwater resources. After maize cultivation, the damage to soil structure is so severe that rainfall cannot penetrate the damaged upper soil layers, and lateral surface runoff results.
A typical winter atmospheric depression (now referred to in the media as a storm) will produce 20-30mm of rain over a 12-hour period. Optimistically, assuming that up to one half of this rain percolates into these damaged maize soils, this leaves the volume of half an Olympic-sized swimming pool (in excess of 1m litres of muddy water) to be shed laterally across the surface of this “sealed” land for every 10-hectare block of maize stubble. So this winter, when the Meteorological Office reports 30 “storms”, every 10-hectare block of damaged land under maize stubble has produced the equivalent of 15 Olympic pools (more than 375m litres) as enhanced runoff. And 196,000 hectares of maize were grown in 2013, an increase of 24% on 2012. How can the NFU fail to understand the implications of this land use for catchment flooding?
Robert Palmer

David Hare does not need to look far to see the rage against the dominance of security services and a supporting judiciary that he finds wanting in England (Where’s the rage?, 22 February). In Dublin I witnessed the public support for another playwright, Margaretta D’Arcy, whose outstanding contribution to Ireland’s artistic life is honoured through her membership of Aosdána. She is serving three months in prison for non-violent protests against Ireland’s complicity in rendition flights and other uninspected US military uses of Shannon airport. By trespassing on airport land, she and her co-defendant, Niall Farrell, are highlighting exactly the lack of democratic accountability of security services of which David Hare speaks, not only in Ireland but in the UK and other European countries.
Scotland Against Criminalising Communities has expressed support for D’Arcy. Glasgow’s Prestwick airport has similarly been complicit with US rendition flights, as have several English airports – another reason for Scotland to dismiss David Bowie’s much-publicised plea and become an independent nation again.
Beth Junor

I read your item on water reserves drying up with anger and consternation (World’s water reserves dry up, 14 February). It is not only farmers around the world who are using these finite supplies to grow food for an ever-increasing, unsustainable population, but also giant mining and energy companies.
In Australia in particular, billions of litres of precious underground water are used to wash coal. The water cannot be reused as it is toxic, but there have been many instances of holding dams leaking into the environment. Also, companies exploring for gas are fracturing underground water aquifers, threatening the livelihoods of whole communities due to contamination of the indispensable underground water reserves.
What is most horrifying is that both state and federal governments are encouraging these activities for short-term gain. Why are we so desperate to get at what’s left of resources? Too many people is always the problem.
Our politicians seem to have lost sight of the fact that nothing can live without water.
Alex Hodges
Birdwood, South Australia
• Two of the major problems occurring from climate change are rising sea levels and drought. Couldn’t a simple solution be for developed and developing countries (some who will suffer most from sea level rises) to build a large number of desalination plants around the world? Linking pipeline infrastructure to drought-stricken areas would kill at least three birds with one stone. Sea levels drop, water becomes available in dry areas, and many jobs would be provided by building and maintaining infrastructure – and mostly in countries that need an economic boost the most.
Desalination plants can be powered with renewables (wave, wind, hydro, solar etc) and the excess salt redelivered offshore, to prevent a local saline buildup. Salinity levels worldwide would remain stable, as the ocean is currently being diluted by glacial melts and large amounts of rain falling uselessly over the seas.
This would take a massive amount of co-operation from a number of wealthy countries, but I dare to dream. It would benefit almost every creature on this planet.
Steve Le Marquand
Terrigal, NSW, Australia
• Perhaps World’s water reserves dry up was not the best choice of lead story for your recent issue – at least for British readers who would be glad if anything would dry up.
Martin Down
Witney, UK
Australia’s global shame
When the Guardian Weekly arrived condemning the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers (Locked up and out of Australia, 7 February) I wanted to weep with gratitude for your showing us up, shaming us publicly to the rest of the world. Then came a letter by Jed Dolwin (Reply, 14 February) trying to justify our government’s inhuman stance.
I feel it is all very well for people living in upmarket suburbs to be happy with the current situation – but can they have any idea of what hell such refugees have been, and are, going through?
I trust I speak for the majority of Australians who have pity in our hearts, and deplore our government’s illegal treatment of people who are only – as surely as we ourselves are – trying to do better for themselves and their families.
Siti Salamah Pope
Perth, Western Australia
• I think your letter writer Jed Dolwin is confusing immigration and asylum seeking. Under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people seeking asylum in a country are not illegal nor are they considered immigrants. People who come to Australia on a visa and overstay may be considered illegal.
Asylum seekers are people who are fleeing countries where their life or freedom is threatened, who have seen their families killed or tortured. They are not in a queue; there is no queue. Anyone who wants to seek asylum must flee their country first, and the concept of an orderly queue is not the reality of the asylum process. Ninety-two percent of people arriving in Australia by boat since 2008 have been assessed as genuine refugees fleeing war, persecution, genocide or torture.
Perhaps Australia has to reassess its population limits, but let us not do this at the expense of those of us who have suffered unimaginable horrors and who only want a better life. Let us not persecute the persecuted to send a message to people smugglers, an abhorrent policy perpetrated by a government with no compassion or regard for their signature on the Geneva conventions.
Seona Gunn
Deans Marsh, Victoria, Australia
• Jed Dolwin is proud to accept 210,000 immigrants per year into Australia, including skilled migrants brought in specifically to take our jobs. On the other hand, he justifies extreme, expensive and inhumane methods to keep out a mere few thousand refugees on the grounds that we have to cap our population. This is a con, designed by conservative politicians to pander to popular prejudice while serving the need of capitalists for cheaper, more exploitable labour. Refugees pay the human price while Aussie taxpayers fund the hugely expensive stunt.
None of the arguments that justify Australia’s current treatment of refugees make sense. When the irrationality of any one argument is pointed out, the refugee haters just drag out another that is equally specious.
S W Davey
St Torrens, ACT, Australia
The joys of solitude
I was rather disappointed with The Joys of Solitude (14 February). I was hoping that Sara Maitland would tell us about her happy life of solitude in Scotland. The article turned out to be a defence of being a loner. I feel the article would have been more meaningful if she simply told us the things she does every day living by herself.
I’m a 72-year-old loner who is happy to be by myself. I live in a small rural town in the foothills of northern California. I enjoy curling up with a good book to read. I love doing crosswords and watch television in the evening. I subscribe to almost 30 periodicals, including the Guardian Weekly, so I’m well aware of what is going on in the world.
I simply prefer my own company. I have contributed to society by being in the military and my 27 years as a public school teacher.
John Bohnert
Grass Valley, California, US
• Just to add a comment or two to Sara Maitland’s excellent article on our fear and negative perceptions of solitude. First, it has historically always been harder for women to withdraw to solitude, because we are expected to keep things running smoothly and not desert our posts; and second, corporate capitalism encourages people to congregate in large numbers, such as in shopping malls and at sporting events, in order to expose the greatest possible number to the advertising of the consumer culture. To step outside both those expectations takes courage and wit.
Sandra Sewell
Tamborine Mountain, Queensland, Australia
• I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sara Maitland’s article The Joys of Solitude. And what better day to contemplate the topic than on Valentine’s Day.
It seems people living in solitude are wrongly viewed with suspicion and accused of living a selfish existence. However I do believe that living in such a way certainly helps to learn much more about oneself. With such contemplation this hopefully leads to self-acceptance and a greater love of self.
I would contend that without knowing and loving this, the closest point of our existence how can we know and truly love others? Ultimately this aloneness leads to true altruism.
Matthew Cattanach
Byron Bay, Australia
Condemning the car cult
“The open sewers of the car cult”: what a brilliant phrase (Worship on four wheels, 31 January). All that glamour, sexiness, speed, convenience and comfort are indeed a lie. Cars not only drive oil wars and climate change; they foul air, water and soil at all stages of their parasitical life/death cycle. They’re the apotheosis of privatised, noxious, armoured living: a hegemony that reduces our cities to noisome rat-runs.
Cars prey on the vulnerable – the young, the elderly, the disabled, the poor, pedestrians and cyclists; turn a third of urban land into a tarmac eyesore; and trump community, displacing us from our neighbourhoods, which become murderous thoroughfares for other people’s busyness. And since it seems we’re unable to give up a habit that is irrevocably harming the biosphere on which our own wellbeing depends, cars aren’t just cult – they’re a life-threatening addiction.
Is being forced to inhale car excrement as harmful, as much an infringement of human rights, as passive smoking? Can one be a car-atheist?
In Australia, cars kill more than 1,000 people a year, and upwards of 4 million native animals. Yet whenever there’s a fatal shark or crocodile attack – three or four annually – we start hysterically and randomly culling sharks and crocodiles.
Wake up. Go sane. Cull cars instead, beginning with our own.
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
• On reading that an independent Scotland might have a struggle to join the European Union (21 February), this is extremely bizarre in the face of the noise now being made about Ukraine.
Jordan Bishop
Ottawa, Canada


Thank you to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (24 February) for her eloquent protest about the impact on children of the Government’s “ideological mission to punish and degrade the poor”. We should be outraged that families in the UK are having to use food banks.
I have worked with ministers in Whitehall, so I appreciate how complex it can be to balance public finances with welfare costs. But the Coalition’s actions are, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says, purely ideological. The money is available (implementing a tax of 0.05 per cent on financial transactions would quickly raise enough to replenish the Local Welfare Assistance Fund, at the very least), but they care more for cosseted bankers than for children in need. Most of the Cabinet have no experience of state schools or NHS treatment or of genuinely striving to make ends meet.
When they lose power, their shameful legacy will be the proliferation of food banks for many and increased wealth for a few.
Jeremy Oliver, London SW12

What is the anti-charity logic of all those repeatedly telling us no one should have to rely on food banks?
It appears to go like this. If anyone can’t or won’t pay for food (either because they can’t or won’t get a job), then government must give them other people’s money to buy some. If some recipients spend that money on things that aren’t food, then government must just give them more of other people’s money.
The same reasoning can then be applied to clothing, housing, heating, and so on – until millions of taxpayers wonder why we’re bringing in foreigners to do “the jobs we don’t want to do” while paying healthy, working-age people to do nothing.
To defend this logic, it is necessary to denounce as “insulting” any references to buying cheaper clothes, downsizing to a smaller (taxpayer-funded) flat or donning a cardigan when cold. Dare to notice tattoos, cigarettes or wide-screen televisions and you’ll be attacked as “judgmental”.
In fact, even to point out any of the above is to invite a furious rant accusing you of dividing “the most vulnerable” into “the deserving and undeserving poor”. No wonder benefits reform has been such a struggle.
Keith Gilmour, Glasgow

I suspect that if M R Battersby (letter, 25 February) had been one of those made unemployed by this government’s ideology, he would expect a civilised country to ensure that he and his family were provided for, until he was in a position to do so himself. As a tax and National Insurance payer he would have a right to expect that.
I think he is falling for Tory propaganda which leads people to believe that all those on benefits do not wish to work, whereas I believe it is only a small proportion who do not.
We should be generating the wealth to keep people employed by creating jobs to work on the country’s infrastructure, such as building adequate flood defences. We should not be making people unemployed in areas such as the NHS only to pay far more in agency fees, and compensation for the resulting inadequate care.
D Wallace, Bradford

Fathers demand right to stay at home?
Terence Blacker (24 February) discusses the postmodern marriage, suggesting things have been improved by a change in gender roles. Mr Blacker cites a survey which found that more than one fifth of fathers would rather care for their children full-time than return to work.
If this is the case, where are these fathers? Why are they not marching in the streets, petitioning government and loudly demanding equal parental rights in the same way second-wave feminists demanded gender equality? If fathers are serious about equal parenting then they should take action immediately.
Of course, they would also have to persuade mothers to loosen their grip on what has, traditionally, been women’s main source of power, in favour of a much less certain outcome. I wish them luck.
Sarah Crooks, Derby

Tax land, not  homes and jobs
The case for a land value tax was well made by Ben Chu (25 February). However, it should be made clear that the annual levy would not be based on the market value (suggesting capital value) of the site but on the annual rental value.
Advocates of land value tax emphasise that in addition to replacing stamp duty, council tax and business rates, taxes on wages, production, sales and savings could be reduced and eventually abolished.
The immediate benefits would be that everyone had more money to spend and the resulting increase in demand for goods and services would provide opportunities for new business start-ups and job creation. Additional benefits that are rarely mentioned are that, unlike other taxes, a land value tax cannot be avoided and cannot be passed on in higher rents and prices, and that marginal sites would be zero-rated to provide an added incentive for new businesses to become established.
Michael J Hawes, Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire

Cut off aid to  anti-gay Uganda
So, after threatening to introduce its anti-gay legislation for over two years, Uganda has finally done so.
While we are obliged to respect other countries’ cultural and traditional norms, the line has to be drawn when those standards conflict with almost universally accepted human rights, and are abhorrent to us here in Britain. And when such a country is a recipient of our financial support through the Department for International Development, as in the case of Uganda, it should be imperative that our aid be made dependent on changes to what we perceive as unacceptable ethical standards.
I look forward to The Independent informing us shortly that the UK’s DfID will be following Sweden’s proposed example and ceasing all aid to Uganda unless and until this abhorrent legislation is rescinded.
Dr Michael B Johnson, Brighton

If Scotland votes to leave
What happens to the Scottish peers in the event of a “Yes” vote for independence? Strangely the House of Lords website does not provide the facility to search on the criterion “Scottish”, but the newly created Baron Livingston of Parkhead, in the city of Glasgow, is now Minister of Trade and Investment. Other Scots peers include Lord Irvine, former  Lord Chancellor, and  David Steel.
Surely even the most ardent supporter of the undemocratic House of Lords could not accept lords of a foreign land enjoying life-long political power over the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, and £300 per day attendance money, tax free. Tam Dalyell’s West Lothian question retains its relevance.
Peter Slessenger, Reading

I’m getting a little tired of people saying that Scottish independence is a purely Scottish affair. After all, the vote has ramifications for the whole world. For instance, if the vote is Yes, then the glow of self-satisfaction from Alex Salmond’s massive, smug face will surely contribute to the reduction of the polar ice shelf.
Steve Wetherell, Corby

Making independent schools affordable
In her price on independent schools (25 February) Rosie Millard makes the all-too-common mistake of picking the biggest number she can find and crafting a lively narrative around it.
The majority of pupils who attend independent school, at least in Scotland, are day pupils who live locally. Annual fees, for those who do pay full fees, are well below £10,000 – not the £30K figure quoted, which is more than any full boarding experience in Scotland would cost.
On top of that, the charity law in Scotland requires means-tested financial assistance for pupils who wish to access the education of independent schools but require fee assistance. The sum of that assistance is well above £30m annually, with bursaries ranging up to 100 per cent.
All of which is why the landscape, seen from here, is a lot more diverse and welcoming than Rosie Millard sees.
John Edward, Director  Scottish Council of Independent Schools, Edinburgh

Safe haven for Christians
Robert Fisk is right to regret the tragic exodus of Christians from the Middle East (24 February). In Egypt, Iraq and other Arab countries, their places of worship are being attacked, their homes and businesses burnt down and their lives threatened.
Christians in Israel, however, are prospering and increasing in number. They enjoy complete freedom to practise their religion and its rituals, like all ethnic and religious minorities in Israel.
Murray Fink, Manchester


‘Wouldn’t it be better for people in England to have to positively agree to the use of their GP data, as is proposed for Scotland?’
Sir, NHS England has a plan to take the coded confidential records of all general practice consultations and upload them onto a central database. The database will include details of prescriptions, tests, mental illness management plans, alcohol consumption and so on — things that, until now, have been considered as confidential between patients and their doctors. It will form the largest coverage database of the population because the NHS covers almost everyone — a very detailed personal record, rather like a super-identity card scheme.
Under the terms of the Health and Social Care Act, 2012 any organisation, including the police, government departments and pharmaceutical companies, will be entitled to apply for access to that central database, called They would be able to use it for profit-making activities. The Departments for Work & Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs have applied for access to personal health data. The groups that will specifically not be allowed access to the database are the patients themselves and their GPs, who are being forced to upload it — it will be a statutory requirement for them do so. Data analyses are potentially useful and at Imperial College we have analysed hospital data in several countries (and highlighted the problems at Mid Staffordshire in the UK), but we have not needed confidential GP data to do so.
Patients are being informed about the system by means of a leaflet sent in the post with the junk mail. Patients can opt out of the system, if they can be bothered, by writing to their GP, but the leaflet says little about the drawbacks. People are told that if they don’t opt out they can change their mind at any time, but in fact once data has been uploaded it cannot be removed or deleted. Six months ago patients were not even going to be allowed to opt out.
The data will not exactly identify people, but experts think that it will be possible, though illegal, to identify some individuals and combine it with the information that organisations with access hold themselves. The NHS and government departments are notorious for data leaks.
After protests, NHS England has decided to delay implementation of the scheme until September, but so far there are no plans to make substantial changes. Wouldn’t it be better for people in England to have to positively agree to the use of their GP data, as is proposed for Scotland?
Professor Sir Brian Jarman, FRCP
Imperial College London
Sir, Your 57 correspondents (letter, Feb 24) rightly draw attention to the benefits of data linkage and cite instances where the sharing of data has allowed valuable health benefits to be realised. That is not the issue with the project. The scope of the information proposed to be held in a central database far exceeds anything previously envisaged.
If the data will be as secure as we are told, why has an exemption from the Data Protection Act been granted? None of the past studies that are listed as having provided such great benefits required such an exemption. Nor were their data made available to organisations, including public companies, in a pseudonymised form that certainly does not guarantee anonymity.
The issue here is not whether or not data linkage has value. That is unarguable. It is one of security, confidentiality, personal choice and the potential for data to be misused.
Clive A. Layton, FRCP
Abbess Roding, Essex

‘It is through engaging with civic society that Christians, Jews, Muslims and others of faith can influence our society’
Sir, Lord Carey of Clifton’s Opinion article (“It’s simplistic for bishops to oppose welfare cuts”, Feb 25) is patronising in tone and outdated in its approach. It is no longer sufficient to repeat the old mantra that Christians and those of other faiths should not meddle in politics. It is through engaging with civic society that Christians, Jews, Muslims and others of faith can influence the shape and direction of our society.
Spending choices by any political administration reveal the value systems which lie behind those choices. The witness of the three great Abrahamic faiths in their prophetic writing (for example, the books of Isaiah or Haggai) contain searing criticism of the political and societal leadership of their times.
People of faith should be more, and not less, involved in thinking politically. Religious leaders are correct to join the debate on the kind of society we want to live in.
The Rev Rebecca H. Watts
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir, There is a longstanding tradition in the Church of England that the clergy do not interfere in the affairs of their former parishes, or in any way criticise or embarrass their successors in office. This principle (it is no more than common courtesy) applies a fortiori to the bishops, and it is regrettable that Lord Carey, since his retirement from office, has continued to intervene publicly in the affairs of the Church in a way which can only embarrass his successors and frustrate them in their mission.
He is free to disagree with them, but he should preserve a humble and courteous silence.
The Rev Alan Robson
Trimingham, Norfolk
Sir, For some time I was puzzled by your front-page headline, “Carey hits out at ‘naive’ bishops in poverty row”. Surely bishops live in palaces, not in poverty-stricken housing. Ah yes! Row as in “dispute”, not as in a line of houses. No wonder foreigners find English difficult.
John Biggs
Oundle, Northants

David Pannick’s defence of judicial review really is important to the moral fabric of our land
Sir, Bernard Harrison’s re-telling of Tom Finney’s reaction to the award of an erroneous penalty for Preston at Brentford in 1950 (Lives Remembered, Feb 20) demonstrates how important David Pannick’s defence of judicial review really is to the moral fabric of our land (“Why judicial review needs protection from our politicians”, Feb 20).
Mr Pannick articulates, as always, the sound reasons why further incursions into the citizen’s right to ask for review of arbitrary or unlawful decisions of the State should not be dependent on anything as crude as the likely result. Mr Harrison recalls the loudest cheer he ever heard at a football ground when Sir Tom deliberately kicked the “unlawful” penalty into the crowd behind the goal. This Government would do well to reflect on what Sir Tom knew: it wasn’t just the result that mattered.
My firm has, over the years, obtained many successful judicial reviews for vulnerable clients notwithstanding the innately conservative judicial view that it would not have affected the outcome. Those decisions have been very useful in making sure people in authority keep to the rules in the future.
Results do matter but they are not as important as how the game is played.
Gregory Stewart
GT Stewart Solicitors, London SE5

‘How much of the North Sea oil would Scotland get if the borders between the fields were drawn on international boundary principles?’
Sir, Your editorial (“UK Oil”, Feb 25) on oil and Scottish independence discusses the issue without mention of what is for many the central point: how much of the North Sea oil would Scotland get if the borders between the fields were drawn on international boundary principles rather than the present arbitrary line of latitude at the border between Scottish and English legal jurisdictions? It is this latter line only that assigns almost all the oil to Scotland, and Alex Salmond disingenuously talks as if that line would survive genuine separation. It could not. No one knows how international arbitration would go, but the best guess seems to be that about half would go to Scotland.
Moreover, if — as polls suggest — Scots voters could be swayed in the referendum by theoretically being either £500 better off or worse off, this realistic future for the remaining oil should be a serious consideration.
Professor Yorick Wilks

Although Charles Edward led the Jacobite attempts of 1744-46,the aim was to secure the throne for his father
Sir, May I draw attention to a rare inaccuracy in your admirable Weather Eye column (Feb 24)? The attempted French invasion of 1744 was indeed intended to secure a Stuart restoration to the throne, but it was the Old Pretender (James Edward Stuart) who would have been restored (as your column says) as James III. Although Charles Edward (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) led the Jacobite attempts of 1744-46,the aim was to secure the throne for his father. It is often forgotten that the latter lived on until 1766; had the ’45 rebellion succeeded, he would have been king for some 20 years.
J. R. G. Edwards
Birchington, Kent


SIR – The Princess Royal’s suggestion (report, February 22) that “small schemes of between six and 12 homes could be scattered around villages”, instead of building large single developments of up to 15,000 houses, makes complete sense.
Small numbers of new and affordable houses will revive villages whose numbers are dwindling, by bringing in young families. This organic growth will provide work for local builders, ensuring that buildings have local character instead of conforming to the tasteless template favoured by large construction companies.
Raewyn Hope-Cobbold
Little Glemham, Suffolk
SIR – Our towns and villages weren’t planned consciously by planners, but grew spontaneously over time. Building new towns and “garden cities” will repeat the mistakes of the 20th century. Families would rather live in areas that have character, soul and history, not places that were solely built for people to live.
Related Articles
Concerns over the Government’s legal aid figures
25 Feb 2014
The unnecessary expense of staging rival Cabinet meetings in Scotland
25 Feb 2014
James A Paton
Billericay, Essex
SIR – The Princess Royal is misguided in suggesting that the problems of new homes can be solved by building small quantities of houses in villages. Such houses would be rapidly purchased as second homes and contribute nothing to village life or help to solve the housing shortage.
Ken Anderson
Peñíscola, Castellón, Spain
SIR – I do not disagree in principle with adding a few houses to each village. But the problem is that old villages and towns discharge their sewage from septic tanks to local fields via combined pipes which carry rain and waste water to the sewage plant. In heavy rain, anything over half a pipeful is dumped into the nearest water course, sewage and all. While Defra claims that this is “approved sewage”, if a farmer inadvertently lets some sewage into the same watercourse, he is fined heavily.
Developers of new housing must be forced to install dual pipework, one for rainwater and one for waste water.
T C Bell
Tirril, Westmorland
Scientologists’ wedding
SIR – The background to Sunday’s Scientology marriage may be more significant than at first appears. In December 2013, the Supreme Court recognised Scientology as a religion.
In 1970, the Court of Appeal had upheld the judgment of the High Court that the Registrar General was right to refuse to register a Scientology building as a place of public religious worship (a prerequisite of registering a building for marriage). The judgment was that Scientology was secular and Scientologists did not worship a Supreme Being.
However, following the Marriage Act 1994, a Scientology building could be registered for marriage as an “approved premises”. Readings and secular additions could be added to the words of declaration and contract required by all non-Anglican marriages in England and Wales.
This week’s ceremony was the same as that which could have taken place without Scientology being declared a religion. The difference is that, previously, it would not have been recorded in the register as according to the rites and ceremonies of Scientologists. While marriage may have been presented as the main reason for having taken this recent case to the Supreme Court, significant financial and other benefits to Scientology stem from such a lifestyle-group having been legally declared a religion. This opens a very wide door.
John Ribbins
Deputy Registrar General for England and Wales, 1983-1994
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Silence is golden
SIR – Unnecessary announcements are everywhere. We are constantly harangued on trains and station platforms. Is the nation afraid of silence?
John Curran
East Leake, Nottinghamshire
Get children into sculpture by letting them climb on it
SIR – Children should not only be allowed in museums, they should be encouraged to visit them (Arts, February 20) by parents, teachers and the museums themselves. Children should be introduced to all categories of culture at a very young age.
My father, John Skeaping RA (1901-1980), was commissioned to carve works that he actively encouraged children to climb on, including a pair of giant granite tortoises in 1938 (now sadly lost somewhere in the Ashdown Forest) and a bear in Irish limestone in 1956, still at a school in Rugby and hopefully still enjoyed by children.
Of course, not all sculpture should be climbed on but some works in the Tate could be easily misconstrued as a climbing frame by a child.
Nicholas Skeaping
Lydford, Devon
SIR – Who had the foolish idea of turning Tate Britain into a kindergarten for the half-term holiday? Loud musical instruments and amplified microphones in every room might have been fun for the hundreds of toddlers running around, but it had nothing to do with the art and made it impossible for anyone else to enjoy the work on the walls.
Dr Michael Paraskos
London SE27

SIR – The House of Bishops of the Church of England has recently issued pastoral guidance which states that nobody in a same-sex marriage will be accepted for ordination and that existing clergy will be disciplined if they enter a same-sex marriage. In justifying these announcements, it says: “There will, for the first time, be a divergence between the… definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England.”
They have forgotten their history. The Church of England enforced a view of marriage as indissoluble long after civil law allowed remarriage of divorcees. During this period a king was forced to abdicate because he wanted to marry a divorcee, and Princess Margaret could not marry the man of her choice because he was a divorcee. It was not until 2002 that the Church formally accommodated remarriage of a divorced person.
The bishops believe that the challenge that gay marriage presents to the Church is unprecedented. They will not be able to reason their way to truthful guidance for the present by starting from false premises about the past.
Professor Iain McLean
Nuffield College, University of Oxford
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch
St Cross College, University of Oxford
Professor Linda Woodhead
Lancaster University
NHS data
SIR – Those responsible for the release of confidential patient information should be named. If data protection law has been breached, they should be prosecuted. All data obtained in this way must be destroyed so that patients can, again, seek advice knowing that their medical history is not available to a person in a call centre, or others seeking to profit from their misfortune.
G B Hopkinson
Ashley, Shropshire
The right fanfare
SIR – The best version of the national anthem is the one used by the BBC before the 7am news on the birthdays of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. It is a military band with suggestions of an orchestra, and includes a fanfare. I have recorded it in case I ever need to use it.
Michael Reading
Ash, Surrey
Taxing the nation
SIR – Although still in full-time employment, I have not paid a penny in National Insurance since I reached pensionable age several years ago. Renaming NI as Earnings Tax suggests that this may no longer hold true.
I hope that the Chancellor will bear in mind the power of the grey vote in his deliberations on what could become a very contentious issue.
Roger Smith
Meppershall, Bedfordshire
SIR – The renaming of National Insurance is welcome. However, Earnings Tax is still not right. National Insurance is paid by employers as well as employees. NI is not paid on earnings from savings or investments. Its title should be “Job Tax”.
Martin Collier
St Ives, Huntingdonshire
Unfair fares
SIR – The structure of the academic year is ridiculous because it is based on the Victorian need for children to be out of school for harvest (report, February 25). Everybody is trapped in this pattern, which has led to intense week-long half-term breaks and expensive holidays.
We should move towards a four-term year and more evenly spread holidays. Many of our schools would like to split the Easter holidays from the religious festival for the reason that Easter can be such a movable feast, but the status quo is so deeply ingrained in this country.
If there was less of an expectation to follow the rigid format of term-time and holidays we are all used to, the peak times for high-price holidays would be far less concentrated.
David Hanson
Chief Executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
SIR – While we debate whether travel companies should charge more for holidays taken during half-term, can we also discuss the “single room” supplements charged to travellers who, through no fault of their own, travel alone? I recently paid more than £100 to stay in a room on my own, while couples on the same holiday paid £89.99 between them.
Penny Colman
Melksham, Wiltshire
Revolving devolution
SIR – Derrick Hedley is wrong to think that the West Lothian Question will be settled by Scottish independence. MPs of Welsh and Northern Irish constituencies will still be able to vote in Westminster on devolved issues that only affect inhabitants of England. Perhaps it could be rebranded as the West Glamorgan Question?
Patrick Strong
Heaton, Lancashire
Put the flags out
SIR – London will shortly boast its own .lon domain name, and I think we should have a flag. My front garden flagpole on Saturday flew the Cross of St George for England rugby. On Sunday, I raised the Olympic flag. I fly the appropriate flag for the 4th of July, on Bastille Day and whenever my Argentine mother-in law wafts in for Sunday lunch.
The branding opportunities are endless for proud Londoners: T-shirts, bumper stickers, tea trays, etc. Perhaps the adoption of a flag would even spawn an independence movement, which is all the rage at the moment.
Tony Parrack
London SW20
Pupils benefit intellectually from studying RE
SIR – The lack of support for religious education is astounding given the subject’s merits. No other subject creates as many possibilities for cross-curricular study. Teachers can help students broaden their intellectual horizons by linking RE to history, geography, English, drama, poetry, music, maths – the list is endless.
What a shame that politicised educational dogma, compartmentalised subject teaching and exam targeting so often rob children of opportunities for intellectual growth.
Rev R C Paget
Brenchley, Kent

SIR – In an increasingly uncertain, even fragile world, our children need to be able to think for themselves about the political, moral and personal issues that affect us all.
This requires them to be literate in the forms of thought – both religious and otherwise – that apply to anything from the international affairs of the Middle East to East-West relations in the Ukraine to the ethics of medical research. Children need an understanding of diverse beliefs and philosophies, and this requires a well-rounded education.
Students want to learn how to cope with a future that they will help to shape. To enable them to develop their thoughts impartially, religious education teachers need proper training, as well as sensitivity and expertise.
Esmond Lee
Head of Religious Studies, Trinity School
Croydon, Surrey

SIR – Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, has written to Chris Grayling’s permanent secretary and to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, to complain that parliamentary answers from the Ministry of Justice are being “deliberately manipulated for party political purposes”. We are also concerned about figures being released on the supposed costs of legal aid.
Mr Grayling quotes £92 million as the cost of “very high cost cases” to justify a 30 per cent cut to legal aid fees, yet ignores the fact that these costs will have already fallen to £67 million by April – a significant reduction in itself.
Shailesh Vara, the justice minister, recently stated that the average barrister’s annual earnings were £84,000, a figure that takes no account of VAT or overheads, which reduce the actual figure by more than half. This is inconvenient information for a government keen to portray all state-funded criminal lawyers as fat cats – a myth we have disproved time and again.
We have attempted to work with the Government to find solutions to provide the £220 million savings they state they need to make, while maintaining the integrity of a legal profession which is revered worldwide. They must be as open in their financial statements to the public as we are in our attempts to achieve both objectives. This has not been the case so far.
Sarah Forshaw QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit
Related Articles
Small housing schemes could revive villages
25 Feb 2014
The unnecessary expense of staging rival Cabinet meetings in Scotland
25 Feb 2014
Andrew Langdon QC
Leader of the Western Circuit
Andrew O’Byrne QC
Leader of the Northern Circuit
John Elvidge QC
Leader of the North Eastern Circuit
Paul Lewis QC
Leader of the Wales and Chester Circuit
Mark Wall QC
Leader of the Midlands Circuit
Ukraine’s future
SIR – The EU has been raising expectations that Ukraine will be able to join Greece and other defaulters in a bail-out, thus increasing the financial burden on Britain and other net contributors.
By doing so, it has increased hopes of a “Ukrainian Spring”, at the risk of baiting Russia and causing a civil war. Western politicians believe that they can inject democracy where it did not exist before, while neglecting the law of unintended consequences. They should stop meddling.
Roger J Arthur
Pulborough, West Sussex
Clubland window
SIR – The splendid East India Club deserves to be remembered, not only for the sad loss of £500,000, but for one of its most distinguished members: Sir Denis Thatcher. He was frequently seen sitting in a window seat, away from the turmoil of No 10.
Leslie McLoughlin
Exeter, Devon
Knot tangled up
SIR – Philip Brennan probably has trouble with his bow tie as a result of using a mirror. The technique is simple, and one I perform when in stationary traffic on my way to the surgery.
Cross the tie ends, leaving one long (to the left) and one short (to the right). Place the left forefinger horizontally behind the long end. Lift the long end behind the finger using the right hand. Tuck the short end into the hole. Tuck the short end into the rearmost space. Adjust by feel, folding forward to test symmetry.
Dr Andy Ashworth
Bo’ness, West Lothian

SIR – David Cameron, the Prime Minister, held a full Cabinet meeting in Aberdeen yesterday. Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, held a full Cabinet meeting in Portlethen, seven miles away, on the same day. They were addressing the future of the North Sea oil industry in light of the Scottish independence debate.
But at what cost, and at whose expense? Each cabinet has its own fully furnished office in Whitehall and Holyrood respectively. Extra expense is unnecessary.
And Mr Cameron is pressing the EU to reduce its costs by having only one parliamentary site, not two.
Martin Hunter
Related Articles
Concerns over the Government’s legal aid figures
25 Feb 2014
Small housing schemes could revive villages
25 Feb 2014
Alex Salmond warned of jobs exodus
25 Feb 2014
SIR – Kenneth Jones suggests that Alex Salmond’s position will be strengthened by a 40 per cent vote for Scottish independence. Even before the unravelling of the Yes campaign, this outcome was unlikely.
The SNP’s 45 per cent vote share at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election was an aberration, achieved on a turnout of only 50 per cent when Labour was deflated following its 2010 election defeat and the Liberal Democrat vote had collapsed. One year later, the SNP became the largest party in Scottish local government but with its customary vote share of 32.3 per cent.
In the Eighties, Alex Salmond was expelled from the SNP for his extreme-Left republican views. While he may avoid a similar fate if the referendum is lost, the most likely consequence will be a reduction in SNP support and an internal challenge to Alex Salmond’s leadership and long-term position as First Minister.
Philip Duly
Haslemere, Surrey
SIR – If Scotland votes for independence, will it still be legal to fly the Union Flag?
Hugh Foster
Farnborough, Hampshire
SIR – If an independent Scotland that bans nuclear weapons is consequently refused membership of Nato, will Nato deploy defensive military forces along the English side of the border as it does in similar situations elsewhere in the world?
Victor Osborne
London W5
SIR – Unwillingness by the “Yes” campaigners to recognise the facts on currency union and the EU insults the intelligence of the Scottish people.
If the SNP said: “It’s full independence we want, with a new currency probably tracking the pound. We will have practical immigration policies to ensure no need for an English border. EU membership is likely in due course, but possibly not immediately. Obviously we take our share of UK debts. It will be tough for a time but let’s stand on our own feet.” Then there’d be something worth considering voting for.
The current desperate gravitation to devo max is embarrassing.
David Hunter
SIR – If Scotland becomes independent, I assume that will settle the West Lothian Question.
Derrick Hedley
Woking, Surrey

Irish Times:

A chara, – Chief Justice Susan Denham warns the Government the quality of judges is threatened due to lower pay which has reduced by “50 per cent for those appointed after 2012” (Home News, February 25th).   The pay would have to be lowered by a lot more than 50 per cent for it to be comparable to the salaries of those working in industries such as engineering, science or information technology, which, because of the world we now live in, are arguably more intellectually demanding careers.
It is time we moved on from the Victorian era and stopped assuming that doctors and lawyers should be earning many multiples more than the rest of society.  There are very simple things such as increasing competition, increasing college places and most of all, encouraging students to do courses based on their interest (not just what pays best), that would serve us all well. – Is mise,
Beverton Wood,
Donabate, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I refer to your Front page story on judiciary pay cuts (February 25th).
I would like to believe that not all judges are motivated solely by financial considerations and that some of our best judges are happy to serve their country for honourable and patriotic reasons. Would our judicial system not be better off without judges whose criteria for accepting judicial posts are largely pecuniary?
Integrity, principle and common sense are surely more important attributes. And of course political appointments should be a no-no. – Yours, etc,
Crosthwaite Park South,
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Surely there cannot be a better illustration of modern values than the news that the chief justice has warned that the Irish judicial system could be seriously compromised unless judges are paid annually a salary slightly more than half of what Wayne Rooney will be getting a week. – Yours, etc,
Seafield Crescent,
Booterstown, Co Dublin.
Sir, – Would Chief Justice Susan Denham’s great fear, ie, a “second best ” judicial system, be any worse than the one that sent Louise O’Keeffe traipsing around Europe looking for justice, or the one which could not define a constitutional right to provide mercy and understanding for the late Marie Fleming? Such a statement also suggests that other officers of law and order in the State, such as the gardaí, are second best, just because they are paid far less than a High Court judge. It is unfortunate that people feel so defined by their income. – Yours, etc,
Monalea Park,
Firhouse, Dublin 24.

Sir, – In recent times we have witnessed the ousting of two democratically elected presidents. The Egyptian president Morsi was deposed in an army coup which, strangely, was not regarded elsewhere as a coup. Pro-Morsi demonstrators suffered about 800 casualties at the hands of the police and army. Little outside sympathy was shown towards the massacred and their families.
The Ukrainian president Yanukovich was deposed as an outcome of anti-Yanukovich demonstrators. Approximately 80 demonstrators were killed by the police. In this case, great publicity and sympathy has been shown towards the dead and their families. Neither of the presidents would seem to be very attractive individuals. In the case of Morsi, his policies were certainly of an Islamist nature. Yanukovich was an oligarch with a sickeningly opulent lifestyle. But his jailed political nemesis Yulia Tymoshenko was equally oligarchic with a lavish lifestyle.
However, if people elect unsavoury individuals in democratic elections then they should be free to dispose of them in subsequent elections.
Finally the US has now warned Russia not to intervene militarily. This is almost amusingly ironic given the long list of American military interventions since 1945 whenever there has been a perception of American political, economic or strategic interests being at stake. In a parallel to that of Russia and its neighbour Ukraine, one would not bet on American non-intervention. – Yours, etc,
Bishopscourt Road, Cork.

Sir, – It is welcome news that Getty Images is collaborating with Sheryl Sandberg on the new empowering “Lean in collection” of stock photographs of women and families (“Getty’s a gas”, Emma Somers, February 17th).
I hope the Getty company will soon undertake a similar review of its currently available images for mental-health terms particularly “schizophrenia” and “psychotic”. The former’s webpage is currently peopled by men wrapped in straight-jackets or brandishing knives while the latter degenerates into a collection of killer zombies and men in hockey masks.
Undoubtedly the images on the Getty website reflect the stereotypes related to those with psychotic illnesses. However, many of the images that are part of the new “Lean in collection”, eg people at work, or with their family, could just as easily be linked to schizophrenia. It would be refreshing if the reality for those who live with chronic mental illness could be reflected on Getty’s pages. It has a duty to provide the media with a “healthy option”. – Yours, etc,
Chair, Trainee Committee,
College of Psychiatrists of
Herbert Street,

Sir, – In his report on the Barroso-Salmond stand-off on whether an independent Scotland would be in or out of the EU, Mark Hennessy writes that some other member states fear that Scottish independence would encourage secessionist forces in their countries (World News, February 18th) . Spain is usually mentioned as determined to veto Scotland’s re-entry into the EU. I believe this can’t happen.
Article 4.2 of the Consolidated Treaty on European Union requires the Union to respect member states’ “national identities inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional . . . self-government”. If the “Ayes” win the Scottish referendum, its independence will become part of the UK’s fundamental constitutional structure, and the EU’s institutions will be required to respect that situation, either by re-admitting Scotland, or, more likely, by deeming it not obliged to leave in the first place.
In the interval after the referendum, the UK would, however reluctantly, have to present forthcoming Scottish independence as a new regional self-government arrangement approved under its laws, and to argue for the retention of Scotland within the EU. Any attempt by Spain to veto this would be invalid as contrary to Article 4.2.
Spain’s fears about this process encouraging Catalan secessionism are groundless. Whether Madrid keeps the status quo, or makes changes in the status of Catalonia short of independence, its policies must be respected by the EU’s institutions, including the other member states in council. – Yours, etc,
Avenue Louise,
Brussels, Belgium.

Sir, – Oh God, here’s more of it; the infuriating, Orwellian misuse of the English language with words and phrases that say absolutely nothing in an attempt to confuse and distort. “Government Ministers are leaning towards . . . a ‘scoping’ exercise to investigate . . . allegations of misconduct and negligence by gardaí” (News Agenda, February 25th).
At least, your article does helpfully inform the reader that the term “scoping” means “preliminary” in this case. Perhaps officialdom might then clarify why the word “preliminary” didn’t suffice to describe their intentions? My initial thoughts were that the term sounded vaguely reminiscent of some procedure carried out under anesthetic via the nether regions of a patient! – Yours, etc,
Stillorgan Road,
Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I wonder does Joachim Fischer (February 25th) consider mathematics to be a “science” . . . after all, 1+1 = 2 and 1+1= 10. – Yours, etc,
The Avenue,
Broadale, Douglas, Cork.
Wed, Feb 26, 2014, 01:07
First published: Wed, Feb 26, 2014, 01:07

A chara, – While Eanna Coffey (February 24th) is more than entitled to his opinion, one feels he may be coming from rather a limited viewpoint. As someone who has managed this far to receive all education through Irish (up to Masters level), and who communicates professionally and personally through Irish every day, nobody told me that “the Irish language is functionally useless in the modern economy, and as such the money spent is an extremely poor investment”.
I believe I may be the antithesis of Mr Coffey’s rather unfounded sweeping statements, along with many others who contribute to Ireland’s modern economy, and who have managed, thus far, to stay in employment since leaving university. I may be part of a minority, but I prefer this to being part of the majority still leaving Ireland to find employment. – Is mise,
Baile na hAbhann,
Co na Gaillimhe.
A chara, – They say you can use statistics in an attempt to prove anything and Eanna Coffey’s letter criticising the use of the Irish language (February 24th) certainly gives credence to that.
According to Census 2011 the main statistic concerning the use of the Irish and Polish languages stated that 1.77 million people speak as Gaeilge  on a daily basis here, while 112,811 speak Polish.  This fact should put the rest of Mr Coffey’s letter in some perspective. – Is mise,
Whitehall Road,
Churchtown, Dublin 14.
A chara, – Perhaps Eanna Coffey is mistaken about the simple demands made by muintir na Gaeilge in the past few weeks. Far from demanding that Irish replace English in Ireland, an aspiration given up on by the government in 1965, fair and equitable treatment by both governments is all we seek. It would seem from Brian Mac a’ Bhaird’s letter that far more resources were squandered by Revenue in trying to dissuade him from using Irish than simply fulfilling its own legally binding commitment as laid out in its own language scheme.
The Iarchoimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin has stated that the structural changes needed to provide these services would be “cost neutral”. It is not a matter of money. It is a matter of practice, recognition and respect. While we all agree, especially muintir na Gaeilge, that changes need to be brought in to the curriculum, hyperbolic accusations that children are “force-fed” like foie gras Gaeilgeoirí are not representative of reality or of the attitudes of all young people. Mr Coffey should ask the thousands of young people who gave up their Saturday at midterm to march for language rights their opinion rather than speaking for them. – Is mise,
Páirc na Canálach Ríoga,
Baile an Ásaigh,
Baile Átha Cliath 15.
A chara, – According to Eanna Coffey “the Irish language is functionally useless in the modern economy, and as such the money spent is an extremely poor investment” (February 25th). Even were that true, why should we value things only on their economic utility? And, given that the country has been economically wrecked by following the wisdom of the so-called financial experts, I see no reason to think that investing in our culture and identity isn’t a sound idea; even if it doesn’t bring money rolling in, at least it won’t end up with us owing foreign banks and investors vast fortunes. – Is mise,
Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Questions are being asked about why Ballinasloe did not score as highly as Roscommon on the ability to respond to patients with life-threatening emergencies (“Bed battle rages on over Ballinasloe”, Health + Family, February 25th).
While there is a 24-hour emergency department located in the town of Ballinasloe, the acute mental health in-patient beds are located a number of kilometres away. If a patient requires an emergency response an ambulance has to be called via the 999 system to respond to the emergency. This takes a minimum of 15–20 minutes (or longer if the ambulance is already responding to another emergency) at which stage the outcome for the patient would be seriously compromised. Roscommon County Hospital has a 24-hour medical response team on site, with medical staff who can respond within minutes if a patient has life-threatening injuries such as severe blood loss, overdose or compromised breathing.
The decision made by the clinical experts was reviewed by the HSE West regional director for performance and integration; it was subsequently reviewed by the national director for mental health services. An implementation team was established in autumn 2013 to plan the reconfiguration; Phase 1 of the Plan completed on January 20th with the transfer (not closure) of five beds to Galway University Hospital; Phase 2 completed on February 17th with the transfer of a further five beds and the implementation team is finalising Phase 3.
It was stated that Ballinasloe has the lowest rate of hospital admission in the HSE West region; almost half that of many other counties. This is a testament to the successful implementation of community services in the East Galway area and is proof positive that when you reconfigure resources from institutions to community front line services, admission rates to inpatient beds drop.
This reconfiguration is a major investment in mental health services in Galway and Roscommon; with an additional 44 permanent staff posts at a cost of €2.6 million. The reconfiguration is solely based on improving outcomes for patients. – Yours, etc,
Executive Clinical Director,
Galway Roscommon Mental
Health Services,
Child and Adolescent

Sir, – Surely Kitty Holland’s report “Men over 40 at greatest risk of suicide, new figures show” should have been on the Front page instead of yet more “news” on the Anglo saga (Home News, February 20th)?
According to the report, 507 people died by suicide in 2012. The statement given by HSE director of the Office of Suicide Prevention, Gerry Raleigh that “Ten people this week will lose their lives to suicide. Eight of those will be men and six of those will be over 40 years of age” is a true catastrophe for Irish families.
That this information was relegated to page 7 is most unfortunate. I would like to encourage Kitty Holland and The Irish Times to continue to focus on this tragic situation. A lost life never touches only one person. – Yours, etc,
Palmerston Park,
Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – Perhaps I am being too simplistic in my approach to funding universal health care. Why not use the tax system? It is very adaptable and it has a record of the income of all adults. People on benefits and on pensions could easily be included. Everybody would pay according to their means. Everybody would be entitled to health care and the only criteria would be need. – Yours, etc,
Shanowen Avenue,
Dublin 9.
A chara, – Has it really come to pass that the Government has so lost the confidence of honest rank-and-file gardaí that the leader of the Opposition has now become the confidential recipient? – Is mise,
Schoolhouse Lane,
Dublin 2.

Sir, – I think Brendan Behan would have preferred to be remembered for The Hostage rather than the postage. – Yours, etc,
Ballyraine Park,
Co Donegal.

Sir, – I shuddered when I read Breda Kennedy’s contribution to the same-sex marriage controversy (Letters, February 25th). She writes: “Gay being homonymous with happy and carefree, who could not but wish for a gay marriage?” Surely the last thing we need is to risk raising the spectre of homonym-phobia in this debate? – Yours, etc,
Woodford Drive,
Clondalkin, Dublin 22.

Irish Independent:
* This Sunday, we will mark the third anniversary of the first ‘Ballyhea Says No’ protest march. Every week since March 6, 2011, we have marched in Ballyhea and Charleville, many times with additional mid-week marches, all with one purpose – to right the wrong that was done with the imposition of €70bn of private bank debt on to the shoulders of the Irish people.
Also in this section
Keane’s courageous stance on human rights
Back in the shadow of the ‘nearly men’
AIB rugby fat cats
We have been told that people’s protest is pointless and achieves nothing. We point to so many momentous changes throughout the ages, from Kiev and North Africa in recent years, back through the civil rights marches in the Six Counties, in the USA and countless other examples of achievement through public demonstration.
We have been told that it’s all too late, that the bank money is all paid. We point to the €25bn in promissory notes sovereign bonds now sitting in the Central Bank, awaiting sale; we point to the €3.1bn bond from the 2012 promissory note bond, likewise held by the Central Bank; we point to the eurozone leaders’ statement of June 2012 – “We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns”, with its inherent recognition that what was done to Ireland was wrong; we point to the fact that on foot of this statement, Ireland is owed the €20bn taken from our Pension Reserve Fund to fund the bank bailout, and should not have to pay the remaining approximately €20bn that is now owed to the various EU emergency funds.
We’re told this was our own fault – Irish bankers, Irish regulators, Irish politicians, Irish electorate. We say this was all due to the launch of a fatally flawed currency, with neither foresight nor oversight, as hundreds of cheap billions poured from the core of Europe to the periphery, swamping several economies, all on the watch of the ECB. This was all foretold by top Belgian economist Paul de Grauwe in an article in the ‘Financial Times’ in 1998 and confirmed by the same economist in a report for the European Commission in 2013.
We’re asked how long we’ll continue to march – as long as it takes. Our campaign isn’t founded on the shifting sands of hope or optimism, foundations all too easily undermined; our campaign is founded on determination.
* The Irish-language protests in Connemara last weekend, reported by Brian McDonald (Irish Independent, February 24), were a damp, unfocused squib.
Irish-language groups, such as Conradh na Gaeilge, contend that the Irish-speaking community is getting angry “at its second-class status” and that the State is to blame because there are not enough handouts.
Conradh na Gaeilge was founded in 1893 and in 2012 taxpayers provided almost €45m to directly support the Irish language, the Gaeltacht and the islands. The language is not growing in daily use, despite a 20-year government target adopted in 2010 to increase daily usage from 83,000 to 250,000 persons, and the day is nearing when the last of the native Irish speakers is born.
The GAA was founded in 1884 and in 2012 slightly over €3m of the €52.7m total revenue earned by the association was accounted for by state funding, an outcome achieved after attracting 1,360,070 supporters to inter-county football and hurling championship games. Over 300 of the 2,550 clubs affiliated to the GAA are international clubs and over 81,000 children participated in Kelloggs GAA Cul Camps in 2012.
If one expression of Gaelic culture that has been nurtured for over a century is thriving and the other, also nurtured for over a century, is withering, surely the protesters need to analyse why Irish-language advocate organisations are failing so badly in achieving their own objectives in evangelising the language, while the GAA advances from strength to strength with minimal state involvement?
* A victorious German general once quipped: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” I would say the same thing about idealism.
Take the recent deposition of Victor Yanukovych as an example. ‘Power to the people’ and ‘pro-democracy’ work fine as slogans but in practice they may have contributed to a nightmare of a problem.
The protesters who gathered in Kiev to take back their country’s future seem to have reckoned without the strength of the pro-Russian half of their country. Every poll taken, whether formal or informal, by journalists or not, indicates that Ukraine is split down the middle between pro-EU and pro-Russia elements.
And none of this takes into account the simple fact that Russia is right next door to Ukraine. It is highly likely that Mr Putin and ‘Mother Russia’ will not take kindly to having their noses diplomatically bloodied with Russia’s “man in Kiev” being run out by what it may see as Western-backed dupes.
Whether it’s the bear or the hammer and sickle, I just hope the protesters and the West realise this before the Russian ruling class takes a swipe at its enemies.
And then, after the bear attacks, how then will we feel about our ideals?
* Why aren’t there any gardai in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’? It’s because they not allowed to whistle while they work.
* Get with it! What branch of internal national security (in any nation these days) needs to actually do the spying on another internal agency when all one has to do is ask for a favour (in lieu of favours given, past, present or future) from those whom we are naturally on such good terms with, such as the US’s NSA etc?
* Ian O’Doherty (Irish Independent, February 24) falls into the trap of attempting to find a simplistic understanding of suicide and the effects such a death can have on the bereaved. Unfortunately, he advocates a return to the attitudes of the past, a dark past well known to people of my generation, a time when the unmentionables of the day were swept out of sight, and whose existence were denied by the institutions of the country, political and religious.
A change of mind will not be effected through harsh prescriptions like Mr O’Doherty’s “fear of eternal damnation”, not through condemnation, but through compassion, which the author Paul Gilbert describes: “Its essence is a basic human kindness, with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living things.”
Compassion is not a cliche.
* One can safely suppose that our Tanaiste fully supports the proposed EU sanctions that may be imposed on the Ukraine. Another way is, as Irish history teaches us, the good old boycott. This is what Joan Burton proposes to do with regard to the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York City.
Considering Mr Gilmore’s staunch and committed allegiance to the proposed referendum on same-sex marriage, would it not be right and proper for Mr Gilmore to call for sanctions at an EU level against Uganda given its recent decision to introduce laws that are, to use the correct term in the correct context, homophobic.
Irish Independent


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers