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

Feeling Better

February 25, 2014

25 February 2014 Feeling Better

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to pick up the Admirals barge an not drop it.

Very tired tidied upstairs. Both of us a bit better garden tided

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




Alice Herz-Sommer, who has died aged 110, was a pianist whose unending optimism came to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. She survived two years in Terezín, the “model” concentration camp used by the Nazis to convince the outside world that they were treating Jewish prisoners well, and at the time of her death was the oldest known Holocaust survivor.

Having achieved success in Prague as a child pianist in the 1920s, Alice Herz-Sommer was a finalist in the Vienna International Piano Competition in 1933 before playing for Artur Schnabel in Berlin. The critics at her early performances were enthusiastic. In 1923 the Czech newspaper Bohemia noted how when she performed Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major Op 110, “her interpretation measured up to that of [Wilhelm Bakhaus] her famous rival”.

When Czechoslovakia was annexed by the Germans in 1939 she sought solace by learning Chopin’s 24 Études. Her husband Leopold was required by the SS to work for the Jewish Community Organisation, drawing up lists for “transport”. Eventually, in July 1943, he too was required to make the journey to Terezín (or Theresienstadt) with his wife and their infant son.

Alice Herz-Sommer’s first recital in Terezín was organised by Otto Zucker, a leading member of the Autonomous Jewish Administration in the camp. Meanwhile her son took part in Brundibar, an opera written by Hans Kraza for the camp’s children. She also took part in performances of Verdi’s Requiem directed by the conductor Rafael Schaechter. However her mother, husband and other family members all died, while she and her son lived in a barrack room in appalling conditions.

After the war Alice Herz-Sommer returned to Prague. But finding that anti-Semitism had taken hold in her homeland she eventually made her way to the new nation of Israel, where she taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory and often appeared in concert.

She settled finally in North London in the 1980s, where she became the doyenne of the Jewish musical community, living an independent life full of good humour and insisting that optimism was the key to her longevity. “Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful,” she told Alan Rusbridger in 2006. “And when you are old you appreciate it more.”

Alice Herz was born on November 26 1903 in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. She was the fourth child of Friedrich, the wealthy owner of a factory that made weighing scales, and his wife Sofie, and was quickly followed by a twin, Marianne (Mizzi). She had three elder siblings.

Sofie, who was from a musical Moravian family, had been a childhood friend of Gustav Mahler and took young Alice to the premiere of his Second Symphony. The family also socialised with Franz Kafka and his associates. The music in this secular Jewish family was dominated by Dvorák, who was still alive when Alice was born, while the Prague of her childhood was a cultural and intellectual melting pot of Germans, Czechs and Jews.

Irma, Alice’s elder sister, was her first piano teacher and she played duets with her violinist brother. She also had lessons with Václav Stepán, who had studied in Paris with Marguerite Long. Her diminutive height was of concern, and for a while Alice’s father paid for her to be stretched in an orthopaedic machine. It had little effect – other than to cause great pain – and she never grew taller than 5ft.

She recalled knitting socks for Habsburg soldiers during the First World War, despite the rampant inflation, poverty and hunger. The end of that conflict led to a rise in Czech nationalism – and with it anti-Semitism. Despite this, in 1920 she entered the German Academy of Music and Drama in Prague, which was headed by Alexander von Zemlinsky, a former pupil of Brahms. There she was taught by Conrad Ansorge, who had been in Liszt’s masterclasses in 1885 and 1886.

Her formal concert debut came in the spring of 1924 when she performed Chopin’s Concerto in E minor with the Czech Philharmonic to a sold-out hall, drawing rave reviews. She continued to perform regularly in Prague and also built up a solid collection of private students. Meanwhile Max Brod, Kafka’s publisher, was singing her praises among his intellectual acquaintances.

In 1933 Alice was invited to take part in the first Vienna International Piano Competition – but she forgot the date and had to take an overnight train and beg the organisers to allow her to be heard a day late. She made it to the final, but often wondered if better organisation on her part might have led to outright victory.

She was in Wenceslas Square on March 16 1939, cautiously observing the German invasion, when an open-topped vehicle came past carrying Adolf Hitler, his right arm lifted in a Nazi salute. Over the next three years her rights and freedoms were gradually whittled away. Like all Jews she was required to wear a yellow star on her coat and soon was barred from teaching non-Jewish piano students. “Everything was forbidden. We couldn’t buy groceries, take the tram or go to the park,” she recalled.

Her sickly 72-year-old mother was deported in 1942 carrying just a small rucksack, never to be seen again, and the following year Alice, her husband and their son were sent to Terezín. Even before they were out of the door their neighbours and former friends were taking their pictures, carpets and furniture.

While in captivity Alice Herz-Sommer gave more than a hundred concerts, often drawing strength from the Chopin Études that she had memorised. She recalled many years later how the Nazis had used Terezín — where hundreds of writers, artists and musicians were incarcerated — to present a false impression to the outside world. “We had to play because the Red Cross came three times a year,” she said, adding contemptuously: “It was propaganda.”

Yet some individuals did retain their humanity. On one occasion she was summoned by name by a Nazi officer. Fearing the worst she approached in trepidation, but he simply said: “I can hear your concert from the window. I come from a musical family and understand music. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

After their Russian liberators arrived in May 1945, Alice and her son — one of only 130 children to survive the camp from 15,000 who were sent there — returned to Prague. A midnight concert that she gave on Czech radio was picked up on short-wave in Jerusalem. It alerted her family, notably Mizzi, her twin, who in 1939 had left on the last train out of Prague to escape to Palestine, to the fact that she was alive.

In 1949, with postwar anti-Semitism still swirling around Prague and the Communists tightening their grip, Alice Herz-Sommer finally joined her family in Israel. She was appointed to the teaching staff at the Jerusalem Conservatory, learnt Hebrew and rebuilt her life. For almost 40 years she enjoyed “the best period in my life… I was happy”.

Although the war was little discussed in Israel, when Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina by the Israeli Secret Service she was invited by Gideon Hausner, the Attorney General who was a friend and also a pianist, to witness his trial in 1962. “I pitied him,” she later said of Hitler’s lieutenant.

By the 1980s Alice Herz-Sommer was once more feeling isolated. Many of those in her immediate family who had survived the Holocaust had died and the younger ones were working outside Israel.

In 1986 she moved to Belsize Park, in North London, to be near her son. There she studied with the University of the Third Age and enjoyed swimming up to 20 lengths a day until the age of 99. When she lost the use of two fingers she re-learnt much of the piano repertoire for eight fingers, continuing to play — alone or with friends, including the cellist Anita Wallfisch who had played in the Auschwitz orchestra — well into her second century and recommending a diet of fish, chicken soup and Bach to her many visitors.

Her story was told in A Garden of Eden in Hell, by Melissa Müller and Reinhard Piechocki, published in 2007; she was also the subject of two films by Christopher Nupen; Everything is Present, a tender portrait made in 2010, and his earlier We Want the Light. The Lady in Number 6, a short documentary about her life directed by Malcolm Clarke, has been nominated for a prize in this year’s Academy Awards .

Speaking to Haaretz in 2010, Alice Herz-Sommer declared that, despite everything, she did not hate the Germans. “[What they did] was a terrible thing, but was Alexander the Great any better?” she said. “Evil has always existed and always will. It is part of our life.”

She married Leopold Sommer, a businessman, in 1931. He was sent from Terezín to Auschwitz and then Dachau, where he died from typhus in 1944.

Their son Stephan adopted the name Raphael while growing up in Israel. He became a successful international cellist, but died suddenly from a heart attack while on a concert tour of Israel in 2001. “I am grateful that he did not suffer,” said Alice Herz-Sommer, who herself had suffered enough during her eleven decades.

Alice Herz-Sommer, born November 26 1903, died February 23 2014





Your leader (All change in 2015, 22 February) wrongly implies that voters may be removed from the registers ahead of the May 2015 election as a result of the change to individual electoral registration (IER).

The transition to IER will begin this summer (and from October in Scotland) by matching voters’ details in the registers against other official records. Any voters who can be matched in this way – which we expect to be up to 80% of them – will be automatically transferred to the new system. Any voter whose details can’t be confirmed through data matching will be contacted and invited to supply additional information in order to confirm their register entry on the new system. However, they will not be removed from the current register even if they fail to supply the information needed to transfer them to the new system and they will remain on the register for the 2015 general election.

There will be people who are not currently registered to vote at all and, while they will be targeted through awareness campaigns and encouraged to register, if they have not registered in time for the 2015 general election then they will not be able to vote. But this would also be the case under the current system.

It’s also worth noting that IER will make it possible for the first time to register to vote online, which should help encourage younger people to register.

The transition phase will be completed in December 2015 (later, if more work is needed to get people registered individually) and only at that point will any unconfirmed entries be removed from the registers.
Andrew Scallan
Director of electoral administration, Electoral Commission

Like Ian Jack (Eating out in Britain…, 22 February) I love eating out but hate having to shout over my food and strain to hear conversation on my own table. How can we possibly solve the world’s problems, exchange intimacies or enjoy a good joke or anecdote if we have to compete with constant high-decibel hilarity from other tables? We aren’t always in celebration mode when we join friends to eat. Could restaurants that establish quiet areas be awarded Good Mood rosettes? Pressure for smoke-free areas, child-friendly dining, wheelchair access and special dietary requests produced results. What couldn’t designers achieve with artfully handled soft furnishings, strategically positioned screens and acoustic panels.
Barbara Crowther

•  Ian Jack really doesn’t need to go as far as Antwerp to experience pleasant, un-shouty restaurants. He simply needs to get out of London. Oh, and to remember not to confuse “London” with “Britain”.
Katy Jennison
Whitney, Oxfordshire


Your report on a Syrian asylum-seeker (18 February) made for pretty grim reading. I cannot comment on Mr Chikho’s case. But I can tell you that the wrongful criminal prosecution of genuine refugees has been all too common in recent years. Attempting to enter this country using false identity documents or genuine documents belonging to someone else is – rightly – a criminal offence. But parliament created a statutory defence for refugees genuinely fleeing persecution section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and section 2 of the Immigration and Asylum (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004. Someone fleeing for their life from a brutal dictatorship, a war-torn country or from a failed state will not be able to call into their local post office to obtain an up-to-date passport.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has to date referred 21 cases of refugees fleeing persecution for appeal. Convictions have been quashed in all of these heard by the courts so far. We are reviewing or are about to review 60 or so other cases. There may be many hundreds more who have yet to come forward. It is absolutely right that we should safeguard our borders against anyone who seeks, improperly, to enter the country. But equally we should not add unnecessarily to the misery of the genuinely persecuted by wrongfully prosecuting them for an offence of which they are not guilty and for which charges should never have been brought.

There is also the cost. We expect publicly funded defence lawyers and prosecutors to understand the law and not advise clients to plead guilty inappropriately or to bring prosecutions unnecessarily or wrongly. There is the waste of public money on legal aid, on prosecution costs, on the original court case, on our costs in reviewing the case and of the courts and the lawyers (again) in reconsidering the conviction. To say nothing of the costs of imprisonment itself. There may also be subsequent claims for compensation and redress. And all this on top of the unnecessary suffering and distress being imposed on those who – surely – have already suffered more than enough. Like Mr Chikho, I hope Syrian refugees who arrive here have a better start than he did. I hope that anyone who arrives here genuinely escaping persecution will be treated properly, humanely and respectfully. British justice is still, rightly, regarded as gold standard. We must keep it that way.
Richard Foster
Chair, Criminal Cases Review Commission



To assume, as the signatories of your letter do (24 February) that opposition protesters in Venezuela are responsible for the violence, rather than largely the victims of it, flies in the face of the reported facts. The protesters are simply fed up with a government that, despite massive oil wealth, has delivered inflation at 56%, a murder rate that would shame any civilised country, empty shops and little hope for its young people. Elected or not, the shambolic stalinism of Chavismo is not working, and the government is getting increasingly and dangerously nervous.
Hugh Weldon

• My bank, HSBC, seems to think that it is reasonable to give bonuses worth more than I earned in my whole teaching career (Report, 24 February). Last week I received a letter telling me the bank is no longer giving interest on my account. Time to change bank, I think.
Jane Eades

• David Smith (Letters, 24 February) writes that if you don’t have access to a computer then you are excluded from the Co-op’s “Having your say”. I called the membership contact centre and was told a paper copy can be sent out, if requested. So to all excluded members who want to participate, call 0800 023 4708.
Rita Machin

• Interesting as early-flowering plants may be (Letters, 22 February), I am more fascinated by the plants that have never stopped flowering. I’ve still got penstemon and coreopsis flowering, the alstroemeria has never stopped growing and flowering and a wall basket of summer fuchsia and lobelia has only just started to fade.
Marie Blundell

• I think you missed one of the true heroes of the flood (Money, 22 February). Catherine Bell of Cockermouth Paper Shop never missed out on delivering the Guardian, even on the morning after, when her shop was in ruins. She was one of the first traders to reopen and helped get the town back on its feet.
Jim Samson
Cockermouth, Cumbria

• Like Gilbert O’Sullivan (Letters, 21 February), I cannot understand why the Brits and the Folk awards were scheduled the same evening, no matter how I try.
Sean King


Normally sage Martin Kettle seems to have lost his sense of reality over Scotland (Comment, 20 February). When George Osborne and his allies – lamentably including Ed Balls – proclaimed that an independent Scotland would be barred from the sterling zone, most European and American commentators recognised a political threat rather than a serious economic judgement. They wondered how much of the ban would survive a possible Yes vote for independence this September. As for Jose Manuel Barroso’s claim that Scotland might be barred from EU membership, which Martin Kettle calls “an important warning”, this clownish blurt seems to have no support from embarrassed European commission colleagues.

Kettle is right to say that the referendum contest has suddenly taken up heavier “political weaponry”. Currency is heavy. But it can be inflated. This is politics, not banking. Given the will and a bit of ingenuity, Osborne’s “impassable” obstacles to currency union can be messily or neatly circumvented. Osborne’s line, if followed through, would require customs barriers at the border – which nobody – English or Scottish or even a denizen of Littleminster-on-Thames – wants to see. Does Kettle really think Osborne would go through with that?

Salmond is probably wrong about Scotland’s automatic entry to the EU: there will indeed have to be a fresh application. But nobody is going to sever Scotland’s thick web of EU connections and programmes while negotiations go on. As for an assured veto … British diplomacy has failed to nudge the Spanish into that folly. Why should Madrid do London a favour in the middle of another Gibraltar wrangle? Finally, it’s sad to see this usually judicious columnist tell readers that Scottish interest in independence is about anti-Englishness and orchestrated by the SNP. He should get out of London more.
Neal Ascherson

Ruth Wishart (Letters, 21 February) must know different people to me in the Scottish Labour party if she believes that the Yes Campaign has considerable support. My own constituency party, one of the biggest and most active in Glasgow, has received no resolutions of support for independence and it’s extremely doubtful there will be any move in that direction at the Scottish Labour conference in March. This is strikingly different to the positions taken up – sometimes in open revolt against the leadership – in the devolution debates of the 1980s. What we have seen is a handful of Labour figures from 1990s coming out for Yes, and the brief emergence of Labour for Independence, which has now vanished. In contrast, every serving Labour MP and MSP in Scotland has backed the Better Together campaign and likewise no Labour councillor has indicated anything other their support for the UK.
Peter Russell

• While Larry Elliott is right that Scotland using the pound is not real freedom, the alternatives are worse. The sensible answer is to stay together. A lot of proud Scots are beginning to ask the question, could we keep our British citizenship if Scotland sleepwalked into independence rather than be ruled by an increasingly arrogant SNP?
NH Lamond
Rothesay, Isle of Bute

• A Scot living in England will become a foreigner. What type of foreigner depends on whether Scotland is in the EU or not. In the EU and they will be no different to a Romanian or Pole. Outside they will be like a Russian or Ukrainian living here. That means residence and work permits, unless legislation changes matters. All this and they do not have a vote in the referendum. Surely a breach of their human rights.
Gerard Cavalier


Watching the Ukrainian revolution unfolding, especially in Lviv, my mind goes back to 1960s Edinburgh and my elderly Polish landlady telling me about growing up in what was then Lemberg in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. When the Emperor Franz Josef died, her primary-school teacher put black crepe round his portrait on the classroom wall and she cried because he reminded her of her grandfather. After the first world war, she found herself a citizen of Lwów in the new republic of Poland, but it reverted to Lemberg in 1940 when the Nazis marched in. By the time the Russians arrived and turned it into Lvov, she was reunited with her soldier husband in Scotland. She didn’t live to see it become the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Fairly puts the Scottish independence referendum into perspective, doesn’t it?
Harry Watson

• Whatever happens in the short term, I suggest that partition is the real answer to Ukraine‘s problems. Hope for “strong relationships with both east and west” (Editorial, 22 February) is hardly realistic: the division between the Russian-inclined and predominantly Russian-speaking east and the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking and anti-Russian west is irreconcilable. But it would be perfectly feasible for the eastern area to affiliate to Russia and the western area to be free to link to the European Union, even if a split might be less painless than between Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is certainly difficult to see the easterners being content for the whole country to be taken into the arms of the west – and, more to the point, President Putin has shown he would use his economic throttle-hold to prevent any attempt to do so. But he might now accept the compromise of partition.
Edmund Gray
Iffley, Oxford

• Attempting to liberate Ukraine may be high-minded of the EU, but questions arise (Editorial, 24 February). 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 can’t wait to help rebuild Ukraine. Will Britain’s “hardworking” taxpayers consent to bailing out Ukraine?
Yugo Kovach
Houghton, Dorset

•  European Union officials have said, in advance of any vote, that an independent Scotland might find it impossible to join the EU. Now those officials apparently believe (Ukraine fallout shifts spotlight to Kremlin, 24 February) that Ukraine – with no legitimate government and huge political and cultural schisms – might be eligible. Is this the same EU that Chris Huhne refers to as conferring “a blanket of democratic stability … and the rule of law” (Comment, 24 February?
Martin Freedman

•  Is nobody concerned that at least one member of the new regime in Kiev says the trouble lies with an “international Jewish-Marxist conspiracy”?
Paul Baker

•  Does William Hague really think that President Putin takes kindly to the thinly veiled threat obvious in the words, “any external duress … would not be in the interests of Russia” (Ukraine fallout shifts spotlight to Kremlin, 24 February)? If Hague wants to encourage Russia from intervening militarily in the Ukraine, then he would do better than apply external duress on Moscow. It really is time that we had a foreign secretary who understood how international diplomacy works.
Les Summers
Kiddlington, Oxfordshire

• We’re being gulled into looking east at Putin when we should be looking west for the massed ranks of the Chicago Boys waiting to move into and exploit the vacuum and impose a neoliberal economy. Can we hear Naomi Klein’s take on all this?
Alan Marsden
Penrith, Cumbria

• As we note the extravagance of the Yanukovych mansion (President’s palace, 24 February), perhaps we should also review the several residences of our own head of state.
Jef Smith




Attempting to “liberate’ Ukraine may be high-minded of the EU, but questions arise.

Are there any geographical limits to an expanding EU? Include Armenia, Georgia and Turkey, and the EU would border Chechnya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

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? It has, after all, just been given the thumbs-down by the Swiss.

Is it wise of the EU to entice Ukrainians into abandoning their economic dependence on Russia without offering transitional aid? Do we want a basket-case on our hands? Will the EU’s taxpayers consent to bailing out Ukraine?

Since when has it been in the West’s interest to encourage the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government?

Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

It was my great good fortune a few years ago to travel by boat down the Dnieper from Kiev to the Black Sea, and it was evident that Kiev was not representative of the rest of the country.

The current unrest in Kiev is at best a family squabble – egged on and encouraged by us (and for what?) We should stop making mischief and leave the family Rus to resolve their own problems.

Tom Palin, Southport, Merseyside

The media is now grudgingly admitting that the neo-Nazi Svoboda and Right Sector parties played a part in the recent uprising in Kiev. That’s all been downplayed because the rebels are after “greater European integration”. But Europe also contains the likes of the Front National, the Golden Dawn and Jobbik. Is that the “Europe” Ukraine wants to “integrate” with?

Revolutions are indeed the locomotive of history, but not all locomotives are going forward.

Sasha Simic, London N16

The east of the Ukraine, around Donetsk and Kharkiv (Kharkov), used to be the heavy-industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. I simply cannot see Moscow surrendering it to “the West”.

John Whitehead, London EC2

What a contrast! In Ukraine we see citizen combatants, wearing European colours, going to fight and die for the chance to join the Community. In the UK we see purblind zealots and taproom wiseacres sparing no effort to compromise our future by trying to pull us out of the Community.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Bishops speak out on poverty

As an atheist, I was astonished at your attack on the churches for speaking out about the growing problems of poverty and destitution in this country (editorial, 22 February). They see it at first hand.

Our local church is the receiving depot for food donated to the food banks. Crisis at Christmas and Shelter are both church initiatives. The problem is growing at such a rate that you should be running your own campaign to highlight it, not colluding with this government to pretend it isn’t happening.

Susan Knight, Penarth, South Glamorgan

I would be surprised if bishops thought they had “a divine right to be heard” on the Government’s welfare policies. What I expect they do believe is that they have a duty to speak. Whether or not they are heard is largely a matter for you and your colleagues in the media,

Dr Robin Orton, London SE26

At a time when commentators and political leaders are bemoaning the apathy and lack of interest in British politics, the intervention of the bishops should be applauded. Is your editorial an example of otherwise liberal and rational minds turning feral when the critique comes from a quarter they do not like?

Canon Paul Denyer, Bristol

Whenever all the experts are in agreement on some controversial issue one can rest assured that whatever opinion or solution they proffer is almost certainly wrong.

The day a letter from the academic establishment was published claiming that Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies were ruining the country, the economy turned round.

No sooner had “every scientist in the world” agreed – some 15 years ago – that global warming was out of control than the warming stopped, and has yet to restart.

Now we have serried ranks of Christian bishops alleging that the Government’s welfare reforms have precipitated a “national crisis” of starvation and homelessness. Ian Duncan Smith should take heart because their dodgy “facts” are less troubling than their belief that leaving generations languishing on benefits is a moral policy.

Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

My loyalty to The Independent was sorely tested by the editorial but is bolstered by Andreas Whittam Smith’s 20 February article supporting the right of priests to speak out about the plight of our poorest citizens.

It is the duty of all who see hardship and suffering to speak out and try to do what they can to help  – and the Church has as much right as anyone to shout loudly.

Jane Cowan, York

Your editorial fell into the trap of equating a plea for the poor with making a political case. If the Government can be shown to have caused extremes of distress and poverty by its new policies, then it is the duty of the church leaders to speak out. They would be in dereliction of their duty not to speak up for the poor.

If by doing so, they point the finger at a government policy then so be it, but they nowhere advocated a party policy as such.

Anthony D Wood, Liskeard, Cornwall

If church leaders feel compelled to enter the debate about benefits (a political issue) rather than poverty (a moral issue), I think they should broaden their shoulders and try to “own” the whole problem. For example, can we have their views on, how, as a society, we generate the wealth required to sustain 1.1 million households in which nobody works?

M R Battersby, Gosport, Hampshire

Bus services need to be paid for

The key role of London’s transport network is supporting the growth and development of the city it serves (“Public transport should be an asset, not a penalty, for developers” 21 February). The development of the Docklands, Stratford and our proposed extension of the Northern Line  to Battersea are testament  to that.

But supporting new housing schemes, like the 3,000-home development alluded to in your article, costs money. That development, in south-east London, has been made possible by the construction of a new London Overground station. But future residents will also need bus services. Every additional bus mile is a net cost, and every bus route needs staffing and support. Given the pressure on our funding we are simply unable to just put on more service without developer contributions.

With those contributions we can provide the services necessary to support their developments, they can prosper and their residents can access the type of successful transport services they expect.

Sir Peter Hendy, London’s Transport Commissioner, London SW1

NHS data-sharing: more facts, please

Those like me who oppose personal health data being made more widely available are accused of scare-mongering.

The principle here is that of informed consent. If I had been informed in a clear and open fashion about how my information could be used and what uses will not be permitted, perhaps I would be more likely to agree to sharing my data.

It is not as if research has been impossible without access to this data. Gathering data by individual surveys, which means that data subjects are fully aware of how the data will be used, is far preferable to open access to national data sets.

Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

Wrong side of the Mersey

Sadly, I note that Birkenhead has crossed the Mersey into Lancashire (“Where have all my neighbours gone?”, 22 February). Birkenhead, on Wirral peninsula, my home town and the constituency of Frank Field, our most respected MP, was for hundreds of years in Cheshire. Then someone decided without consulting the 500,000 folk effected, to call Wirral, and of course Birkenhead, Merseyside. But never, ever, Lancashire.

T C Bell, Penrith, Cumbria

Who sanctioned this strange usage?

I’ve always thought that “sanctions” meant approval. That aside, it’s a word used when a country imposes financial, trade or political punishments on a recalcitrant, immoral or war-torn country far away. Why did someone in government choose the word “sanctions” to mean the withdrawal of benefit payments from British citizens?

Tim Cleal, Coventry





Sir, The “subsidy” of Scotland and the use by the UK of “Scotland’s” oil revenue are often raised as negative points in the context of the independence debate, but surely this is to view things entirely the wrong way round.

Pooling resources, together with a host of chance historical circumstances, has given the UK a global hub in the form of London. The sheer level of productivity in this centre of finance and trade undoubtedly creates its own problems, but a positive corollary is that the rest of the UK can enjoy higher levels of stability and public spending than it could otherwise afford — Scotland and Skegness as much as Cornwall and Cardiff.

People who talk of “subsidising” Scotland or taking “its” oil seem to be wanting a situation where we don’t cooperate, don’t earn as much, and don’t enjoy the enhanced fruits of a successful collective endeavour. We should be rejoicing that we all benefit from London’s productivity, and all benefit from North Sea oil.

John Shields

Avochie, Aberdeenshire

Sir, As a “born-beyond-the-border” British subject with significant Scottish ancestry, I believe Alex Salmond, in his proposed referendum, is excluding not only those expatriate Scots who could help his cause but also those whe could contribute to its lasting success. He seems to have forgotten that some of the most successful luminaries of recent centuries were Scots who did not always live in Scotland.

Quite apart from politics, literature and the arts, those luminaries include (among others): John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, James Dewar, John Boyd Dunlop, Alexander Fleming, James Gregory, Douglas Haig, David Hume, David Livingstone, John McAdam, Robert McAlpine, Charles Macintosh, Adam Smith, Robert Thomson, Robert Watson-Watt, James Watt, and, finally, two personal choices of mine — my late boss, Sir William Slimmings, one of the “great and the good” of the accountancy profession, and a late relative of mine, Professor Ralston Paterson, a world authority on cancer treatment.

The last two both made major contributions to society of which Scotland should be rightly proud, but did not live there. Did their choice of residence make them any less Scottish? If they, and the others mentioned above, were alive today, I think they would care deeply enough about their spiritual homeland to feel very strongly about being denied a say in its future.

Don Porter


Sir, Jean Mathie (letter, Feb 21) says that graduates from Scotland would not be able to get employment south of the border if Scotland obtains independence.

This did not happen with Irish independence. Citizens from the Republic were still able to join all government departments in the UK, including the security services, the diplomatic service, etc. In short they were able to enjoy all the benefits accorded to UK citizens.

Why should it be different for Scottish independence?

K. Evans

Sherford, Somerset

Sir, On your front page yesterday you reported Susan Rice, the US National Security Adviser, as saying: “It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the US to see a country split.”

And Scotland?

John Stafford

Weston-on-the-Green, Oxon



Many schools apply themselves to dismantling anxiety and creating the conditions for true flourishing by building resilience

Sir, I am delighted that The Times has had the courage to draw attention to the rise in stress-related illnesses among young people and especially young women (report and leader, Feb 22). This has been a concern among school leaders and parents for some time and is not confined to the UK: headteachers from New York to Beijing share the same concerns.

The causes of such illnesses are complex. The intense pressure created by the media to have an impossibly air-brushed appearance, together with the understandable anxiety of parents to see their children succeed in a Darwinian climate of shrinking employment opportunities, are only two factors.

Contrary to popular myth, many of the schools to which you refer apply themselves to dismantling this prevailing anxiety and creating the conditions for true flourishing by building resilience: the resilience that all young people will need. Next month, leading schools will gather for a conference to take this work forward at a greater pace. However, we cannot tackle this alone and all those with influence over the young — including the media — must play their part.

Clarissa Farr

High Mistress, St Paul’s Girls’ School, London W6

Sir, Your report illustrates an understandable lack of awareness about the role of the qualified school nurse. Specialist Community Public Health Nurses undertake a specialist degree after their nursing qualifications that equips them to be an ideal first port of call for young people. These nurses can provide an invaluable resource as they are trained in early identification and referral, as well as having listening skills. Unfortunately, there are fewer than 1,500 qualified school nurses in the UK, and numbers are dropping. Until the Government puts money behind the school health service we have little opportunity to support those like Grace — mentioned in your report — to navigate the path to wellbeing within their own school community.

Jessica Streeting

School nurse and practice lecturer

London SW1


Many of the improvements seen over the past decade were due to innovative approaches, but recent changes have put this progress under threat

Sir, We, a group of frontline clinicians and experts in cancer care, are today warning the Government and NHS not to neglect cancer services and thereby risk stalling the progress in cancer care of recent years.

Many of the improvements seen over the past decade were due to innovative approaches, mostly coming about because of the dedicated infrastructure to support them. Recent changes have put this progress under threat. The cancer networks infrastructure has been significantly reduced; the National Cancer Action Team (NCAT), set up to provide leadership in the implementation of cancer policy, has disappeared; and NHS Cancer Improvement, responsible for a huge range of developments in the quality of cancer services, has been merged into a generic improvement body with no remit to focus on cancer specifically.

In a report we are launching today on behalf of PACE UK (Patient Access to Cancer care Excellence), we outline how these changes have led to a reduction in expertise and make a series of recommendations to cancer policymakers and commissioners. These recommendations include supporting clinically-led specialist working groups to advise those working in the new structures to drive collaboration and the sharing of best practice, building cancer expertise within the new commissioning bodies, and clarifying the long-term pricing and reimbursement schemes for new medicines to ensure patients continue to benefit from innovative therapies.

We are now at a crossroads in cancer care and must do all we can to ensure patients receive the best care possible.

Dr Mick Peake, National Cancer Intelligence Network; Dr Greg Rubin, Durham University; Andy Mcmeeking, North & East London CSU; Andrew Wilson, Rarer Cancers Foundation; Dr Robert Glynne-Jones, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre; Dr Ian Watson, GP; Professor David Ferry, Wolverhampton Hospital; Jesme Fox, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

The House of Lords, including elevated clergy, cannot pass a law. It has the power only to advise, amend and sometimes, frustratingly, delay

Sir, Cardinal Nichols may not be obliged by his superiors to decline an elevation to the House of Lords, if offered, as he would not become a legislator (letter, Feb 24). The House of Commons is the legislature, elected by the people. The House of Lords, including elevated clergy, cannot pass a law. It has the power only to advise, amend and sometimes frustratingly delay Acts of Parliament.

The Lords should not therefore be denied the experience and wisdom of senior Roman Catholic clergy, or of any other religious persuasion.

John H. Rosier Wyre Piddle, Worcs



While many readers have written with details of particular school punishments, this tale directly involves The Times

Sir, A time-consuming punishment at my prep school in the 1950s was to be given a page of The Times and to be required to cross out all the vowels by the next day (letter, Feb 22). A tariff was in force, the more serious offenders always being given a copy of page 1, which in those broadsheet days was packed with personal announcements in small print.

D. R. Thorpe

Banbury, Oxon




SIR – Anthony Seldon wrote an excellent article regarding the loss of children in the First World War.

It should be remembered that on the solemn occasion of the burial of the Unknown Warrior in 1920, the guests of honour were a group of about 100 women who had lost their husbands and all their sons in the war. Their pain must have been immense.

James Sanders
Haywards Heath, West Sussex

SIR – Anthony Seldon mentioned the loss of Julian and Billy Grenfell, but among the children of their aunt and uncle, Pascoe and Sophia Grenfell, there were even greater losses.

Twins Francis (VC) and Riversdale, the youngest of their 13 children, were killed within months of each other in the first year of the Great War, but this followed the deaths in the service of their country of Pascoe, in the Matabele Rising of 1896, Robert, at Omdurman, and Reginald, who died of illness in India in 1889.

Serena Merton
Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire

SIR – George and Roland Boys Bradford were not the only brothers to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Charles John Stanley Gough and Hugh Henry Gough won the VC in 1857 and 1858 respectively. The former’s son, Johnnie Gough, also won the VC, in 1904.

Christopher Normand
Worthing, West Sussex


SIR – I receive contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance during treatment for cancer. This requires original GP medical certificates to ensure payment. My latest certificate has apparently been “lost”, so payment has stopped.

On ringing the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) call centre, I was told that at least half of the many phone calls received there relate to “lost” medical certificates.

It appears that certificates are sent via the Royal Mail to a DWP “mail opening-only centre”, which dispatches them to the correct benefits centre for processing.

So just who is “losing” all this mail? Is it Royal Mail or is it the DWP system? No one seems to know or care.

This mad situation is being replicated all over the country, taking up huge amounts of time and expense.

The final piece of advice from the call centre was never to post documents (despite the post-paid envelope provided by the DWP), but to queue up at the local Jobcentre, which would then photocopy them and confirm to the benefits centre that it had seen the originals. This is not very practical for someone currently on intensive chemotherapy.

Having lost my certificate, DWP will now telephone my GP to confirm that he signed it. But he may have to provide a letter as well which will have to go to… the mail opening centre! Heaven knows how I will ever recover the lost payment.

Lynne Carlisle
Dronfield, Derbyshire

Steep insurance
SIR – I am mystified as to what constitutes a “flood plain” in the minds of insurers.

When we lived in Dartmouth, Devon, our house was near the top of what was known locally as Cardiac Hill. We looked down on the town and the river.

Our car was insured by Esure, and I thought it might be a good idea to take out household insurance with the same company. It refused to cover the house, as its system showed it as being on a flood plain. I made the point that if we were flooded, most of the country would be in trouble. They wouldn’t be moved. It was a classic case of “computer says no”.

How can insurers judge what cover to offer, if this level of geographic ignorance prevails?

Sue Bright
Twickenham, Middlesex

Plundered parsonages

SIR – Hurrah for the director of Save Our Parsonages (Letters, February 22) and boo to middle-ranking clergy and their accomplices.

The next parish to ours has just had its vicarage declared unsuitable for clergy accommodation, and therefore liable for sale when next vacant. Yet it is remarkably similar to the property just bought back to house our bishop, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

No wonder that, while we still have faith in God, we have little in those who purport to manage his estate here on Earth.

Robin Bryer
Yeovil, Somerset

Stretching a point

SIR – Nike, we are told, is going to make self-tying shoelaces (Letters, February 21). My son has had them for years.

I lace his school shoes with black elastic tied in a bow. There’s no need to undo them, and it saves precious minutes in the morning.

Peta Braddock
Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

Who will be Scottish?

SIR – We know who can vote in the Scottish referendum – broadly those on the electoral register in Scotland.

But if the vote is yes, who will become Scottish citizens? Will it be those who live in Scotland, those born in Scotland, those who now have a British passport issued in Scotland, or (democratically) those who want to be, irrespective of domicile?

Jon Pierce
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – It would be interesting to know the charge, after independence, for sending a letter from, say, Carlisle to Gretna Green.

Terry Warburton
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

Criminal checks

SIR – Employers are legally responsible for ensuring any application for a Disclosure and Barring Service certificate is eligible under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975, and the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records).

We require agreement to a code of practice by all registered bodies that make DBS applications for criminal checks. We publish eligibility criteria on our website, so that employers and individuals can, themselves, understand what can be asked.

We can suspend the registration of any body if we deem that it is abusing the system (Letters, February 18). However, we are aware how challenging a complex policy landscape can be for small voluntary organisations.

Adriènne Kelbie
CEO Disclosure and Barring Service

Royal flush

SIR – Hospitals were patriotic in the Sixties when “On Her Majesty’s Service” was printed on every sheet of (tough) loo paper. Ablutions became less regal on the change to “Government property” in the Seventies.

Professor Sir Malcolm Green
London SW8

SIR – Our host on a holiday in Norway mentioned that he had rented his mountain cabin to Queen Sonja, a keen hiker.

“Did you have to do much cleaning up?”

“No, all we did was to remove pictures of the royal family from the toilet.”

It seems that when only newspaper was available, it was deemed polite not to use any with a picture of the royal family. These were torn out and pinned to the wall.

Professor Sir Alan and Lady Craft
Embleton, Northumberland


SIR – The Princess Royal is right that villages should play their part in allowing new houses to be built. However, how many must we take?

We have a new estate of 17 houses and another of 28 going up in the centre of the village, plus a few odd houses in between.

Of these, only 10 are “affordable”. The others have three, four and even five bedrooms. This is not what villages need. Most will go to outsiders, who will commute, and not to local people.

There is now a new application for 10 more houses. We are always being told how many houses we must have, but however many are built, that number never comes down. We were only a small village and we will soon end up as a town. As usual, we have no say in the matter.

Irene Courtenay
Braughing, Hertfordshire

SIR – My fear is that the Princess Royal won’t be taken seriously because of who she is. I believe that she is right. I have always favoured dispersed development rather than the concentrated development that we continue to witness here in Cambridgeshire.

Many smaller villages could take up to 20 new homes, whose occupants would improve the viability of village schools, shops, churches and pubs.

Geoffrey Woollard
Soham, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Censuses indicate that the populations of many villages in the second half of the 19th century were larger than they are now.

Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – The Princess Royal is naive in imagining that developers might be content to settle for “small schemes of between six and 12 homes” appended to villages. Developers are already identifying villages as desirable locations where the houses they build will be readily saleable at profitable prices. However, their plans call for developments of scores of homes at a time, not just handfuls.

Completed and pending developments in our village would add well over 200 new homes, an increase of almost 50 per cent overall, with consequent strain on the existing infrastructure which is not geared up to accept development on this scale.

That is not in tune with the Princess’s theory of protecting the countryside from “large scale” development.

Jeffrey Elder
Shrivenham, Oxfordshire

SIR – Why further desecrate the country when town centres are dying before our eyes? Build residential property in towns, most of which have existing infrastructure of transport and utilities. Revitalising existing centres would stem urban decay.

Every town I see, North or South, seems to offer no lack of opportunity to do this.

Ian Royston
Uppermill, Lancashire


SIR – Woodbridge Tide Mill became the second working example in the country in 2012, having been first rescued in 1971. Tides on the river Deben in Suffolk aren’t as generous as they are at Eling (Features, February 22) and we can’t work for 24 hours a week, but we can produce between three and five tons of authentic stoneground wholemeal flour in a year, using power only from the tide.

As a private charity run by volunteers, we are dedicated to preserving the tide mill for the community.

The Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge, winners of ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery series, used wholemeal flour ground at our mill in some of its winning recipes.

The mill is open to visitors every day in the summer from April 5, when we will be milling.

Nigel Barratt
Woodbridge, Suffolk




Irish Times:



Sir, – How can we have a rational debate on moving to a new healthcare system when we have no idea how the current system works? Like many others, I have contributed to healthcare costs over many years through PRSI, health levy, universal social charge (USC) and taxation.

If I surrender myself exclusively to the public system then, I can understand the value of my benefits very easily – simply the sum of all costs of my treatment and accommodation.

But if I enter the system via a health insurance policy there is no way of knowing which quantum of the cost of my care is coming from the public fund, to which I have contributed, and which quantum is being met by my insurance provider.

It looks like the general direction is to discount my tax and social contributions over the years and force the insurer to foot the entire cost, leading to catastrophic increases in insurance premiums. Ultimately then, we’ll end up paying for the same services twice?

A starting point in deciding how to react to proposed changes would be to know who pays for what in the current system. Why can’t we see a statement, after any interaction with the healthcare system, which shows how much of the cost was met by the State and how much by the insurer? And also see these same numbers on a national annual basis? Someone must know these numbers – otherwise how could the State negotiate with the insurers? Or am I being naive?

With this information we might be able to understand universal health insurance proposals and assess and debate the issue rationally. Or would that be political madness? – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

A chara, – I have experience as a patient and as a professional of healthcare delivery systems in Ireland, the UK and the US.

There will inevitably be over-testing and over-diagnosis if the “competition-based model” envisaged for Ireland is implemented. There is no evidence from such systems elsewhere that universal health insurance (UHI) leads to efficiency and equity – rather the opposite!

The costs of administration and assessment are likely to be very high. The model of the NHS system, of medical services at all levels being free at the point of need and use, funded by progressive taxation, would best fit Ireland given its size and demographics.

Wide and honest debate is needed based on the social and economic evidence provided by health-care delivery systems elsewhere. – Is mise,


Broad Street,


Iowa, US.

Sir, – Minister for Health James Reilly’s latest wheeze is to lobby for a “minimum mandatory health insurance policy”.

It may come as a surprise to the Minister, but, the population already has a minimum mandatory health insurance policy in place. It’s called “the health service”, and is paid for from general taxation. That includes his salary. I’m not sure I want to pay his any more.

Within that system people on low incomes are subsidised by a system called “the medical card”. People who need more than is provided for by the current minimum health insurance policy pay for private health insurance if they can afford it. The rest of us make do.

The real problems with the failures in the health service lie in its organisation, not with the wheeze that an extra mandatory health insurance policy (otherwise known as tax) will solve those organisational problems.

Mr Reilly would be better engaged in sorting out the organisational problems and outdated work-practices which appear to be rife within the health service before deciding to foist even more expense on the residents of Ireland.

If the Minister is not prepared to do that, he should resign.

Fianna Fáil tried to plaster over the problems of the health service with large wads of cash. It didn’t work then. Why would it work now? – Yours, etc,


Royal Oak Road,


Co Carlow.



Sir, – I share the sentiments expressed by Prof Eugene O’Brien (February 21st). Since 2008 student numbers taking civil engineering have dropped by approximately 75 per cent. A certain “rearview mirror” perspective has resulted in low numbers enrolling in civil engineering with the result that within the next two years the number of graduates nationally looks set to fall below 100.

Against this, there is a definite upward demand for graduate civil engineers particularly on the home market. The employment rate of graduates of the programme at UL has been very positive. For example, 90 per cent of the class of 2013 was in employment by graduation day. Moreover, last autumn we were unable to provide two large Irish employers with the names of graduates still seeking employment.

Today, in addition to its traditional skills in physical infrastructure development and water treatment, the profession has diversified its expertise to embrace growth areas such as energy conservation and supply. Furthermore, successful indigenous companies have radically internationalised their business model and are now successfully operating on an international stage – a change necessitated by the painful drop in national construction expenditure from a peak of €39 billion in 2006 to approximately €7.5 billion in 2012. Students now entering the profession stand to benefit from the silver lining associated with these changes. – Yours, etc,


Department of Civil

Engineering & Materials



Sir, – The Minister for Health and Oireachtas Health Committee deserve recognition for a cohesive approach to the deployment of “soft opt-out” legislation for organ donation (Home News, February 22nd).

The provision of €2.9 million in the 2014 HSE service plan provides an infrastructure to support the prospective legislation. Each year, 80 courageous families save the lives of 200 Irish families by participating in organ donation, with the support and help of intensive care doctors and nurses. This will be secured and enhanced by the political leadership shown. – Yours, etc,



National Organ Donation

and Transplantation Office,

Parnell Street,


Sir, – I do not often find myself agreeing with Joan Burton; however I do agree with her decision to boycott this year’s New York St Patrick’s Day parade because the organisers have banned members from the gay community from marching with banners.

New York is one of the biggest cities in the world, with one of the most cosmopolitan populations, and yet the organisers are very blinkered to the changing attitudes all around the world. – Yours, etc,


Glenageary Woods,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am disappointed to see Gearóid Ó Loinsigh’s letter (February 22nd) criticising the decision to allow the long-term unemployed to work in the Dublin local authorities.

Not only will the local authorities benefit from this venture, but the public served by the local authorities will also benefit from the enhanced quality of the service. In addition, the participants themselves will have the satisfaction of providing a service to the public, the opportunity to raise their self-esteem, and maybe even the opportunity to impress someone enough to be offered employment. – Yours, etc,


Crossabeg, Co Wexford.

Sir, – I fully support the Revenue Commissioners’ reluctance to communicate with Brian Mac a’ Bhaird (February 21st) “as Gaeilge”. Translating government documents into Irish is a complete waste of time and money. Government spending on teaching Irish is estimated to cost about €1 billion per annum.

While gaeilgeorí may hate to hear it, the Irish language is functionally useless in the modern economy, and as such the money spent is an extremely poor investment. It is also widely detested by students, who are force-fed second-rate poetry and literature out of some absurd sense of national pride. While the argument is often made that Irish is an integral part of our culture, culture can survive quite well without unwanted and unnecessary state coercion (see the GAA, Irish dancing and traditional Irish music as some examples).

According to the 2011 census, Irish now lags behind Polish in numbers of speakers who use the language daily outside of school. The fact Irish is not even the second most widely used language despite decades of State policy and funding towards propping it up should prove that the Irish language experiment has been an utter failure.

This pandering to gaeilgeoirí has gone on for far too long. The Irish language is never going to become a widely used language in Ireland and the sooner this is accepted the better. – Yours, etc,


Fossa, Killarney, Co Kerry.


Sir, – It’s important to recognise that there are thousands of excellent gardaí like Maurice McCabe and John Wilson in our (ie the people’s) Garda force. So far too few of them have taken the courageous actions that Mr McCabe and Mr Wilson have undertaken, because they fear the abuse that they and their families may be subjected to. In the interests of justice they need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Genuine mistakes are inevitable in every human organisation. Such mistakes are usually easily resolved if quickly acknowledged and corrected. It is only when a culture of cover-up and false loyalty takes root, that such mistakes lead to disasters in which serious crimes are committed which should have been prevented by proper Garda crime prevention.

In the early decades of its history the Garda force and its members were noted for their dedication, unarmed bravery, and loyalty to the state and to the people. These recent difficulties therefore can and must be overcome.

These difficulties and failures include a culture of denial and complicity with US misuse of Shannon airport, including complicity with the CIA extraordinary rendition programme that led to hundreds of prisoners being tortured in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and elsewhere. Crime prevention must be re-established as the primary role of An Garda Síochána. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I read with great interest Prof James Stuart’s (TCD) findings that, based on his academic research, the corporation tax paid by US multinational companies based in Ireland is at about 2.2 per cent of their profits (Business, February 11th).

I also note Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s rejection of these calculations, claiming the rate is actually close to the standard tax rate of 12.5 per cent, which I would guess is also backed up by academic research.

What figure would the hundreds of academically highly trained and qualified academics on the State’s payroll working in business faculties in third-level institutions all over the country come up with? Something in-between perhaps?

If such a fundamental issue of national economics cannot be adequately resolved by the disciplines that make up business studies one wonders, are these sciences at all? It reminds me of a colleague who famously remarked: “business studies is an oxymoron”. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – I wish to commend the use of the photograph (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters) of the main square in Kiev (Front page, February 22nd). It is an amazing piece in itself and conveys so much without words. Truly a piece of fantastic photojournalism.

All too often it is difficult for us to engage in what happens far away, but the faces of those people are our faces and we can see and share their hopes and disappointments even if they are not ours. – Yours, etc,


Rosscarbery, Co Cork.


Sir, – The local and European elections are three months away and yet there has been an insidious poster campaign underway for several months now throughout Dublin city and county, by not only political parties and their candidates but also unknown aspiring independents.

These posters are election-size ones (complete with the face and name of an Independent or a person in a political party) and fastened to our poles throughout the city and suburbs. The usual pretext is to announce a local meeting under some generalised catch-all slogan, but the motive is clearly to promote themselves.

Apart from the fact that these posters can be a dangerous nuisance, particularly in stormy weather, they are in direct contravention of the law in relation to such obvious political electioneering.

Why do the local authorities not act to prevent this obvious breech of the law by aspiring public representatives, whom one would have thought would be the first to uphold it? – Yours, etc,


Glenvara Park,



Sir, – After reading Fintan O’Toole’s hatchet job on John Patrick Shanley’s new broadway drama (Culture Shock, February 22nd), I am reminded of that old joke: “. . . apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” – Yours, etc,


Sans Souci Wood,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – As a Westmeath man reading Fintan OToole’s review, all I can hope for is that the play’s location outside Mullingar gets the Ryanair treatment; well outside Mullingar. – Yours, etc,



Mullingar, Co Westmeath.



Sir, – Gay being homonymous with happy and carefree, who could not but wish for a gay marriage? Were such marriages the norm and not the exception, those indisposed to the felicitous harmony of two individuals could do us all a favour and lighten up. – Yours, etc,


Longford Terrace,


Co Dublin.



Sir, – Brendan Behan was once asked on the BBC what he thought of Ireland. He said that it was a great place to get a postcard from. Now with his picture on it. – Yours, etc,



Ballincollig, Co Cork.



Irish Independent:


* Billy Keane (Irish Independent, February 24) is to be lauded for his courageous stance regarding the inalienable human rights of homosexuals. Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize laureate, has long been an advocate for the inextricable link between human rights and capabilities. This idea has had a magnetic appeal for hundreds of thousands of people throughout centuries from rebelling against communism to resisting the yoke of slavery, occupation and inhumane conditions.

Also in this section

Back in the shadow of the ‘nearly men’

Ireland’s blind nationalism

AIB rugby fat cats

In the midst of diverse interpretations and conflicting opinions, homosexuals have been used by tyrannies as a smokescreen to mask the ethnic and social chasm in their societies.

It is dispiriting that homosexuality is still a taboo across the five continents. Lesbians are raped as a corrective measure, being treated as women who suffer from sexual starvation. Gays are often beaten, dragged, detained, murdered, doused with urine, pelted with eggs and, in many cases, admitted to hospitals, all to treat them from their homosexuality disorder.

I am not a homosexual but it is abhorrent that the church is still discriminating against homosexuals. There is a pioneering idea, which has been used with some success in Latin America, to promote the human rights of the marginalised and disenfranchised in society, spark national conversation and spur social change on a mass scale.

Puntos, a feminist and non-governmental organisation in Nicaragua, used soap operas, radios and local newspapers to disseminate educational and health knowledge, democratise the debate and encompass cacophonous individual voices.

Research by Middlesex University showed that strategy to be effective in breaking stereotypes and fostering the appreciation of diversity. Most importantly, it emphasised the moral appeal of human right.




* We in TRUST are neither surprised nor shocked to hear of the man sleeping in a bin and miraculously saved (Irish Independent, February 22). We provide on a daily basis a most basic service in a tiny premises for up to 40 men and women. These men and women sleep rough in squats, tents, cars, parks, bins, flimsy sleeping bags in shop doorways – all unimaginable spaces in our capital city and beyond.

The majority are penniless and a few get a bed from time to time. Their physical and psychological conditions and personal stories are horrendous. All carry their possessions on their person and the pain of living is clearly deeply etched on their faces.

In a given month we meet people from 18 to 26 different countries – like many of our own Irish who moved to cities here or abroad a generation ago to work and send money back home. Many of those we meet had a dream of a better future; the dream never materialised and they now are ashamed to go home, some too proud to tell their story, their privacy all they have.

The situation is worse in my experience of working in the field for over 40 years and this for many reasons. This too at a time when a lot of money was made available to address the problem. We have for years been raising our concerns about the lack of good, basic emergency shelter, a first step at least. There has been and continues to be reluctance to accept this fact at all levels.

The time of talking shops is long over and it is time to accept that there is a crisis – “a time of intense difficulty or danger” from my Oxford Dictionary – when is a crisis not a crisis?

The quick-thinking young man who heard the cry for help and pressed the red button and saved a life deserves all our gratitude.





* Sometimes the remedy to a problem may be so simple that we fail to see it. I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of our prisons are badly overcrowded. Building more prisons would be very expensive, especially as our little country is broke – so say our politicians. So in order to prevent any more criminals going to jail, here is a very simple solution.

Instead of them receiving a jail sentence, lock them in a small room alone for an eight-hour period and continuously play the recordings of ‘The Voice’ from the Helix.

They should be strapped in a chair and made not only to watch but to listen to every word spoken from the presenter, to the judges, to those on stage. I know for certain if any of the offenders were threatened that if they ever committed another crime they would be forced to listen again to this programme, they would immediately change their ways.

Having watched last week’s attempt and listening to the judges, I am finding it hard to recover myself.

Mr Shatter, here is your chance to do something that the whole country would applaud you for – bring in the law to have criminals punished in this way. This is your chance, don’t lose it, do it for Ireland and its innocent people. No one should be made suffer this torture every Sunday evening.




* The recent media-driven campaign for so-called free speech just doesn’t ring true. Where was all this outrage and concern for free speech a few months ago when several politicians lost their jobs and were subject to vilification on the abortion question?

It seems to me that the bandying about of the “homophobic” mantra is the result of a real fear that the case for same-sex marriage is not standing up to rational examination.

A number of recent debates in particular involving David Quinn and Paddy Manning (a homosexual man who opposes same-sex marriage) have exposed the serious flaws in the proposal.

Despite his excellent debating skills, it is easy for the usual suspects to denigrate Mr Quinn’s Catholicism, etc; this is not so easy in the case of the excellent Mr Manning.

The latter speaks eloquently and wittily for the many homosexuals who themselves oppose same-sex marriage. It can just as easily be argued that those who denigrate Mr Manning’s views on the subject are themselves guilty of “homophobia”!

So let’s keep the debate clean and don’t assume that the moral high ground belongs to one side only.




* The launch of a free-call connect number by the National Office for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with the Samaritans (Irish Independent, February 20) is to be welcomed. Your editorial on the same day says “suicide is such a serious issue that it cannot be left to well-meaning amateurs”.

However, we should not fool ourselves that just because a counsellor is fully vetted and trained, that everything is hunky dory. Part of the problem is the various schools of psychotherapy, each practitioner claiming their method of treatment is the bee’s knees. For instance, the thinking behind and delivery of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy couldn’t be more different but each therapist could say their particular therapy could help someone with depression.

While I have undergone years of one-to-one counselling, what really helped me get to the source of my problems was holotropic breathwork, a treatment many professional therapists would pour scorn on.

The mind is a complex entity and what may work for one person may be totally unsuitable for someone else. The sad reality is that even in a totally regulated arena, it’s still very much a case of “buyer beware” when someone goes looking for a suitable therapy. As Gerry Ranelagh of the Office of Suicide Prevention says: “People should go to trusted sources and have a healthy scepticism.”





Under the Weather

February 24, 2014

24 February 2014 Under the Weather

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. There is a spy in their midstPriceless

Very tired tidied upstairs. Both of us under the weather 1 book sold

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but gets exactly400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.



Beatrix Miller, who has died aged 89, was the exacting and benevolent longtime editor of British Vogue, who for two decades cultivated a hothouse of creativity at the glossy bible to high-fashion.

With quiet precision she steered the magazine with enormous success through the swinging Sixties, the fey Seventies, and into the hard-nosed Eighties with the same incisive intelligence and feeling for the moment, the same rigorous literary standards and visual discrimination that kept the magazine ahead of its competitors. But it was in her ability to help others achieve their aspirations that she found her forte. “What do you really want to do, darling?” she asked of leagues of impassioned writers, editors, photographers, models and designers.

Beatrix Miller (often known as Bea) was born on June 29 1924, the daughter of a country doctor. Educated abroad, including a period at the Sorbonne, she started her journalistic career as a secretary on the society magazine, The Queen (later Queen), eventually rising to the position of features editor.


After several years, however, she decided to broaden her horizons and in 1956 left to work in New York, where she was offered a job on American Vogue. Two years later she received a call from Jocelyn Stevens, the recently appointed proprietor of The Queen. “You don’t know who I am,” he said, “but I am ringing to offer you the job of editor of The Queen.” Half asleep, she dismissed the offer. “It’s 4am, you’re mad,” she replied and put the phone down. Eventually, after several further nocturnal requests, she was persuaded to return to England and, with the maverick Stevens and the accomplished artistic director Mark Boxer, formed part of a triumvirate which was to turn the magazine into a byword for wit and originality.

In 1964 she was asked to take over the editorship of British Vogue, a magazine which, at the time, represented a life lived in the drawing-rooms of Eaton Square and on the lawns of country houses. But English life had already become much looser, livelier and unconventional. It was to this new world that “Bea” Miller began to introduce the Vogue reader.

“Vogueland” she believed, was “relatively superficial but in the broadest sense it is the mood of the moment translated visually — the words people use, the books they read, the sounds they hear, the houses, they live in, the pictures they look at.” The magazine she created from this brief possessed a freshness and quality that was a particularly English version of glossiness. Opening the pages of one of her issues was like being invited to an exclusive party of the creative, the patrician, the exotic and the influential. Julie Christie, Charlotte Rampling, Joanna Lumley, Jean Shrimpton, Lady Antonia Fraser, Bianca Jagger and Michael Caine were just some of those who appeared in Vogue under her editorship.

Even in the demotic Sixties, however, she continued to attach great significance to the aristocracy and the Royal Family, and was prepared to hold back an issue from the printers to get in photographs of a noble wedding or party.

Often she had insider information. Sarah Spencer, the older sister of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, was at one stage her secretary, while their other sister, Jane, worked in the beauty department. It was scarcely surprising that the 19-year-old Diana Spencer turned to Vogue for advice when she entered the public spotlight.

Unsociable and uninterested in her own personal style (though she always dressed in Jean Muir, her outfits were chosen by the fashion department), Beatrix Miller was not someone who herself craved the spotlight. Her strength as an editor lay in her unerring ability to spot and nourish the talent of others. “Bea Miller had a way of coaxing the best out of everyone,” said the model Grace Coddington.

She rarely took writers from other magazines but liked to discover and foster new talent. Some writers — like Marina Warner — she hired straight from university, but many others (Candia McWilliam, Georgina Howell, Helen Simpson, Leslie Forbes) were the product of the annual Vogue talent competition, which was her entrance examination to the magazine. On hiring editorial staff, she would appraise interviewees’ suitability by asking if they knew the work of the novelist Lesley Blanch (Vogue’s feature editor from 1937 to 1944).

She also had an eagle eye for those whose talents lay in images rather than words and she was fearless in her appointments and commissions. “I’ve got the photographer here for that idea of yours about men of back-stairs influence,” she told the journalist Adrian Hamilton in the late sixties. “Why don’t you come in and try to persuade him?” Her choice was the “famous and choosy” Henri Cartier-Bresson. She also despatched Cecil Beaton to photograph Roy Strong on his appointment as director of the National Portrait Gallery and ushered in a young, wayward David Bailey to becoming Vogue’s unofficial chief photographer.

Grace Coddington, meanwhile, stepped off the catwalk to become Miller’s unexpected choice as junior fashion editor. Miller interviewed her over lunch at the Trattoria Terrazza in Soho. “She seemed far more interested in what I was reading than in what I was wearing,” recalled Coddington, “I could sense myself being mentally marked down as a dimwit. Nevertheless, by the end of the meal I was recruited.”

Miller was a truly great patron because she would permit experiment but not madness, encouraging and understanding and at the same time knowing how far she could push them. She trusted her fashion editors to bring back something marvellous, but never wanted to know too much about how they managed it until afterwards. The downside of this liberal approach was that she was totally unimpressed by practical difficulties.

On one occasion Lord Snowden — a long-time contributor to Vogue — went to photograph the couture collections in Paris in a shoot which involved performing horses, forty-foot backdrops, all-night photography, and a model nearly getting killed. All Beatrix Miller said when she examined the result was: “The dress is no good”. The pictures were never used.

She could, on the other hand, be immensely supportive and would allow editors, against all received wisdom, their head and never allowed editorial to be dictated to by the demands of advertisers.

On retiring, in 1985, she helped set up a “think tank” with, amongst others, Sir Terence Conran and the designer Jean Muir, to provide a link between the government and the fashion industry.

Often likened to a headmistress (all but a select inner band addressed her at all times as Miss Miller), with her upright bearing, ample bosom, round Teutonic face and short, curly blonde hair, she was a quietly formidable presence. Witty and at times endearingly considerate, she avoided all show of ambition, effort or anxiety.

She never appeared on television or gave an interview, rarely attended public engagements and seldom entertained, preferring, when not at her Hanover Square office, to garden or read a book at her home in Chelsea.

Beatrix Miller never married. She was an intensely private and shy woman devoted to her career — a dedication that strove for nothing but the very best. “Legends collect around such editors,” commented one writer on Beatrix Miller’s retirement. “But I was there when one day she summoned 48 members of staff into her office and told us: ‘I want you all to know that, as far as I am concerned, the July issue is a write-off. There is a mistake on page 136.”

Beatrix Miller, born June 29 1924, died February 21 2014






We deplore the wave of violence from minority and extremist sections of Venezuela‘s opposition, that left three dead, 60 injured and saw physical assaults on government institutions, including shots and Molotov cocktails attacks on the state TV channel and a state governor’s residency (Jailed López tells his allies to keep fighting, 22 February). This followed a recently launched campaign by Venezuela’s extreme right for La Salida (the ousting) of the government of President Maduro before his constitutional mandate ends in 2019. La Salida is led by extremist politicians Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, who were both implicated in the 2002 coup in Venezuela. This is not the first time that the sections of the opposition have sought to oust the elected government by unconstitutional means, having lost at the ballot box.

We believe that while people in Venezuela have the right to protest – and that the Venezuelan constitution guarantees these and other democratic rights – this must be done peacefully. There is no justification for violent opposition to the elected government in Venezuela. We strongly support the statement of the Union of South American Nations that violence to seek to overthrow the elected, constitutional government is unacceptable. We join them in both condemning the wave of violence and in supporting calls for dialogue and peace.
Grahame Morris MP Chair, Labour Friends of Venezuela, Colin Burgon Chair, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, Ken Livingstone, Tariq Ali, Billy Hayes CWU, Peter Hain MP, Professor Doreen Massey, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sandra White MSP (SNP), Ken Loach, Professor Julia Buxton, John Pilger journalist & filmmaker
Bruce Kent peace campaigner
Dave Anderson MP Labour
Michael Connarty MP Labour
Richard Gott writer & journalist
Andy De La Tour actor
Paul Flynn MP Labour
Roger Godsiff MP Labour
Ian Lavery MP Labour
Elfyn Llwyd MP Plaid Cymru
John McDonnell MP Labour
Chris Williamson MP Labour
Mike Wood MP Labour
Baroness Gibson APPG on Latin America
Murad Qureshi London Assembly Member, Labour
Professor Julia Buxton academic & consultant
Dr Francisco Dominguez Head of Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies, Middlesex University
Tim Potter Barrister & Haldane Society


y Images

I was pleased to read Jeremy Beecham’s trenchant comments on calling pay and bonuses “compensation” (Letters, 18 February). There is an even worse misuse of language that has even been seen in the Guardian: “high net worth”. People so described are wealthy; only some of them are worthy. Would that Simon Hoggart were still with us since he could lead an onslaught on such nonsense.
Professor Robert East
Kingston Business School

• Please do not include the 2.4 Children supplement (22 February) with the Guardian, even if it is independent. I’ve never witnessed such overt incitement of middle-class angst over private education, academic ability and the right clothes. Let the children be.
Cal Fell
Saxtead Green, Suffolk

• Bullshit alert (Letters, 21 February) surely should not be about “difficult decisions”. They are always “tough”.
Susan Reynolds

• Now Wayne Rooney’s wages are £300,000 a week (Report, 22 February) will he be taxed on PAYE like other weekly-paid workers?
Richard Oxenburgh

• Heard from a commentator after one of the Olympic bobsleigh runs: “They’ve got a mountain to climb now.”
Doug Meredith

• Anyone else share Gilbert O’Sullivan’s outrage at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards being held the same night as the Brits (Letters, 21 February) or is he alone again (naturally)?
BM Corrigan



Britain in the 1930s was gripped by recession and unrest. In 1932, the “hunger marchers” headed for parliament with a one-million-strong petition. About 100,000 people gathered to meet them, but they were obstructed by thousands of police officers, including agents provocateurs masquerading as marchers and trying to incite violence. Journalist Ronald Kidd was in that crowd, witnessing the bloodshed first-hand. That’s why, 80 years ago, on 22 February 1934, he and a handful of friends – HG Wells, AA Milne, Vera Brittain and Clement Atlee among them – formed the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty.

They vowed to protect not only the right to peaceful dissent but “the whole spirit of British freedom”. Threats to freedom reappeared throughout the years. Each time, Liberty was on hand to hold the powerful to account. Its campaigns paved the way for a fairer mental health system, race relations, gay equality and human rights protections. ID cards were rejected and 42-day pre-charge detention defeated.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, Britain is again dealing with economic strife. Protesters take to the streets over legal aid cuts and against police violence. Undercover officers have infiltrated peaceful protest groups and even grieving families such as that of Doreen Lawrence. So Liberty, in its 80th year, is as important as ever, and resolves – with the help of its members – to continue to keep watch.

For the fight for the liberties of the people, as Kidd recognised, is the fight that is never done.
Shami Chakrabarti Director of Liberty, Ed Miliband MP Leader of the Opposition, David Davis MP, Tim Farron MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Doreen Lawrence House of Lords, Frances O’Grady General secretary TUC, Caroline Lucas MP, Malorie Blackman Children‘s laureate, Ken Follett, Nicolas Bratza Past president, European court of human rights, Gareth Pierce Solicitor, Vivienne Westwood, Vanessa Redgrave, Jude Kelly Artistic director, Southbank Centre, John Sulston Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation

• David Hare (Where’s the rage?, 22 February) is concerned about the “quietism” among citizens in response to over-reach by the security services. As he surely knows, the problem goes deeper. The Blair government eroded the freedoms of speech and of assembly, the right to a jury trial, and habeus corpus. It also sustained a change made by the Tories eroding the right to silence by persons being questioned by the police – which undermined the presumption of innocence. And yet, as John Kampfner recently noted, opinion polls have persuaded Miliband’s Labour party that there is little to be gained by promising to restore these ancient rights. The bulldog breed has turned docile.
Professor James Manor
Institute of Commonwealth Studies

• Thirty-three children have died in custody since 1999. Are we really being asked to believe that the Youth Justice Board is only now waking up to the fact that there is room for improvement in the way we lock up these vulnerable children and then subject them to bullying and restraining techniques, and allow some of them to die? The promised review, to be led by Lord Harris (Report, 7 February), is concerned only with the death in custody of 18- to 24-year-olds. The problem of the younger children is to be swept under the carpet yet again. What sort of a government deliberately neglects the welfare of children?
Joan Meredith
Malpas, Cheshire

• You devote three pages to the celebration of Liberty’s work in promoting liberty and human rights over the past 80 (Review, 22 February) but sadly none of your contributors show any awareness that their emphasis on such concepts reflects and sustains the neoliberalism that so besmirches contemporary culture. I grew up in a South Wales valley community where civil rights were not on anyone’s agenda in the 1930s; the concern then, as now, was for a democratic government to attend to the social injustices which prevailed. It is a long time since the historian RH Tawney warned that it is essentially the pike in the pond that benefit from freedom.
Ron Bente
Emsworth, Hampshire



I agree with Kevin McKenna (“Memo to George: England’s bullying of Scots will drive us into the Yes camp“, Comment) that George Osborne’s statement rejecting a currency union is likely to alienate Scots further. But this has more to do with his manner and choice of language than with the substance of what he said. We Scots should be under no illusion that there will be any chance whatsoever that the rest of the UK will agree to share a currency with an independent Scotland.

McKenna asks with incredulity: “Does he [George Osborne] think English company bosses will accept the millions of pounds that tariffs would entail?” Assuming Scotland remains in the EU, there will be no tariffs. What there will be is currency conversion transaction costs – the same costs English company bosses have had to thole, that is, bear, by not being part of the eurozone.

Half of the rest of the UK’s trade is with the eurozone, while something less than 10% is with Scotland.

The question that should be asked with incredulity is – do Kevin McKenna or Alex Salmond really believe that the rest of the UK will agree effectively to underwrite the sovereign debt of a foreign country, in order to avoid these transaction costs on 10% of its trade?

Richard Sloan


Kevin McKenna avoids addressing, as do Salmond and the SNP, the core arguments concerning a currency union. That is, in brief, for such a union to work it would also require a fiscal and banking union and, most importantly, political union. This has been conclusively demonstrated by the eurozone crisis.

I hold no brief for the execrable Osborne and his party but he is certainly justified, as are the Lib-Dem and Labour party leaders, in pointing out the inherent weaknesses, not to say contradictions, in Salmond’s project. As it is, the rest of the UK is essentially being asked to underwrite Scotland’s independence, potentially much more damaging to the UK economy than the comparatively minor transaction costs that McKenna mentions (again, rather slavishly echoing Salmond).

Ian Grant Seton

New Malden


It seems to have passed Kevin McKenna by that all three major political parties (yes, including the main representative of those trade union households whose shared values Kevin rightly holds so dear) are not prepared to underwrite a Scottish bailout in the more than theoretical possibility that Scotland is unable to pay its way in the not too distant future. Working-class solidarity is one thing but a wholesale charity bailout is quite another.

There are many who already think that Scotland gets a pretty good deal out of the Barnett formula. A median-income, middle-aged Geordie may well look across the border with some envy when obliged to fund his children’s university education and his parents’ care home fees while paying for his own prescriptions. It is pie in the sky to expect any regional devolvement that would deliver the same advantages to those parts of England currently enjoyed north of the border, as McKenna seems to think. If Scotland really wants to ride the high wire alone, let it do so without the safety net.

Guthrie McGruer



Why does Kevin McKenna express his sympathy for the potential plight of the 400,000 or so expat English living in Scotland, but take no account of the equally significant number of expat Scots living in the UK? At least the Scottish-based English will be able to vote in the referendum. We Scots now living in England are being denied that privilege. Salmond’s wish to lead Scotland into darkness will affect us no less if granted, and I strongly believe our voice should be heard. There’s still time to set the necessary machinery in place if the will is there.

Gordon Robbie








Your editorial “A God delusion” (22 February) is critical of the letters recently written by churchmen of various denominations to newspapers. I read the letters and found them thought-provoking and, in the main, justified in their doubts about aspects of the Government’s welfare policies.

I was not aware of any claims by the bishops to exercise “special authority”, let alone “a divine right to be heard”. The only “right” claimed would seem to be that of writing to the press to express an opinion – as I am doing now. The papers in question were not obliged to publish the letters any more than you are obliged to publish mine.

As for your suggestion that because churchmen are not democratically elected they should be cautious about stating their well-founded opinions – may I respectfully mention that newspaper editors and columnists are not elected either. If I disapprove of your ideas, I may cease to buy your paper and if I am offended by the stance of a bishop or archbishop I may stop going to his church.

Jenny Bryer, Birmingham


Good on the Church of England bishops! Their intervention was a courageous wake-up call to the Coalition government about the dreadful effects of their “benefit reforms”.

One Tory defender of these God-awful policies suggested that sanctions against benefit recipients are a “last resort”. This, to my personal knowledge, is at best disingenuous, and at worst a blatant lie. As a volunteer for local food banks, I can tell him that sanctions against legitimate claimants for often the most trivial of reasons – five minutes late for an appointment, failure to remember to bring along the appointment card to a benefit review – are immediate and merciless. It is up to people like me to pick up the pieces of these poor people’s broken lives, and to try to help give them some hope.

This awful government is in a barely disguised campaign to demonise and vilify the poor. While continuing to protect their super-rich friends against any suggestion of paying their fair share of tax, ministers relentlessly pursue a wicked campaign to push the poor back to Victorian days when they were utterly helpless, and dependent upon the largesse of the wealthy.

W P Moore, Norwich


Of course the welfare system needs reforming, but over time and with care and compassion. Reforms need to be made, but not at the expense of the genuinely poor and needy.

The Government, with its tedious and patronising buzzwords – “closed curtains”, “shirkers and strivers”, “hard-working families” – may think it is on a moral crusade. In fact it’s an immoral crusade.

It is a disgrace.

Neil Coppendale, Shoreham-by-Sea,  West Sussex


Who will speak out for poor and vulnerable people? Politicians will not – they are all on the side of “hard-working families”. Newspapers by and large will not; it does not sell. Thank God that the church leaders do. In their letter to the Daily Mirror the bishops and others did not claim “an unassailable moral position” (editorial, 22 February), they said “there is an acute moral imperative to act”, which there certainly is. It is the Prime Minister who seeks to claim the righteous high ground by referring to his welfare reforms as being a “moral mission”, while denying the immoral consequences for thousands of people who have no voice.

Anthony Slack, Rochdale,  Lancashire


One reason that the Church has a right, indeed a moral right, to “meddle” in politics is because, in today’s economic climate, it and many charities are expected and relied upon to support the poor and vulnerable, including those who slip through the welfare safety net because of the cutbacks. Indeed the Church is an important part of the “big society” that David Cameron once promoted.

Dave Richards, Combe Martin, Devon


Far from representing a “tiny fraction of the population” in fact over 59 per cent of the population of England and Wales identified themselves as Christian at the 2011 Census. This is rather more than the proportion of the electorate who voted for the Coalition government, yet alone the proportion of the total electorate who voted for the Government.

M Howell, London SE22


When both Government and opposition seem almost at one in agreeing that there has to be a reduction in benefits and in disparaging those on benefits, who will speak truth to power for those who have no voice? A repeated and central concern of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus is that those who are marginalised – the poor, the widow, the “alien in your midst”, the orphan and others – should be not only spoken for, but cared for.

Surely it is irrelevant what percentage of the population the church represents. After all, what percentage of the population is represented by the regularly published trenchant views of The Independent? What is important is the issue  of truth.

Robert Fyfe-Taylor, King’s Lynn,  Norfolk


Religious leaders do not speak by “dint of historical influence” but as representatives of their fellow-believers here and now – whose numbers, incidentally, however much you may wish it otherwise, are very far from being a tiny minority. Drawing attention to injustice and unfairness does not constitute “meddling in politics” – it has been and is the bounden duty of prophets and priests in every age. Presumably you would have directed the same criticism against the Levellers or William Wilberforce?

Michael Broadbent, Bishop Auckland,  County Durham


Hs2 threatens both city and country

Mary Dejevsky (“Fly-unders are the future”, 21 February) mentions the villages that will be blighted if HS2 goes ahead, but not that the greatest loss of homes to HS2 and its infrastructure of construction compounds will be in inner London.

In the London Borough of Camden 226 homes are due to be demolished, more than twice the number (107) on the whole of the rest of the line to Birmingham. The borough will suffer devastation, 24-hour noise, pollution, transport disruption and congestion and thousands of extra HGV journeys over a 10-year construction period. Homes, office blocks and shops will be demolished and other businesses destroyed as they are forced to close for years or lose trade.

Sue Prickett, London WC1


Name and shame these tax avoiders

DJ Chris Moyles admits that he was naïve in signing up to a tax-avoidance scheme called “working wheels” (report, 22 February). You report that the same scheme counted 450 fund managers, celebrities and other high earners between 2006 and 2008 as members.

Do these people not realise that there is a moral dimension to this, in a situation where many are striving to overcome welfare reductions, and are having to resort to food banks in increasing numbers? All members of the scheme should be named and shamed, although I am not sure that they are capable of shame – except in the sense that “it is a shame that I didn’t get away with it”.

John Cooper, London SE23


Parliamentary man on the buses

Finally – an MP with first-hand experience of his brief (“The world was his oyster card”, 22 February). Lord Adonis can now speak with a well-informed voice on infrastructure matters after riding the London night buses for a week. Michael Gove should now endure an Ofsted inspection and Iain Duncan Smith should dine at one of those foods banks he thinks people use by choice. This could be the end of government by Walter Mittys.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln


Atos under fire for doing its job

It is interesting that Atos wants to withdraw from its contract because it has became so unpopular in trying to implement the Coalition’s policies that its employees are subject to abuse and even death threats (report, 22 February). And yet Atos was appointed by our democratically appointed Coalition.

What is the truer voice of democracy – the actions of a Coalition implementing policies not in its manifesto, or the reactions to Atos as it tries to fulfil its contract?

Dennis Leachman, Reading


Nothing wrong with Rooney’s wages

Why all this fuss about Rooney being paid £300,000 per week to play football? Surely about half of this goes in tax to the revenue? A great contribution to the nation.

Chris Harding, Parkstone, Dorset


You report on £300,000 a week for Wayne Rooney – unworthy and obscene!  And on £500,000 raised to help save the elephants (21 February) – worthy and fantastic!

Sue Simpson

Brighton, East Sussex






There have been several proven cases of “victims” of sexual abuse having turned out later to have brought cases mischievously

Sir, The DPP, Alison Saunders, in her robust defence of historic sex abuse prosecutions (“We will carry on pursuing old sex offenders”, Feb 20), has come dangerously close to undermining the acquittal of every defendant who juries have ever found innocent of such crimes with her proposition that there is a “myth” that victims bring these cases forward only for financial or other motives.

The recently acquitted Messrs Roache and Lee-Travis, witnessing Ms Saunders effectively warning the public that they may have got off on the strength of a “myth”, could be forgiven for consulting their lawyers about an action against her for defamation.

There have, after all, in the past been several proven cases of “victims” of sexual abuse having turned out later to have brought cases mischievously. Perhaps, if Mrs Saunders is really sincere in bringing criminal prosecutions on behalf of proven victims where the DPP in the past was reluctant to do so, she might look again at the disturbing number of cases of totally innocent individuals who have been shot dead by the police while minding their own business.

Stephen Porter

London NW6

Sir, I dispute Alison Saunders’s easy assumption of unqualified public support for the policy on prosecuting cases of alleged child sex abuse introduced by her predecessor a year ago. In the past nine months the Crown has lost four high-profile cases — three of them against Coronation Street actors, all of whom were speedily and unanimously acquitted. The decision a year ago to prosecute Michael Le Vell was particularly disturbing, as the NW senior regional prosecutor had declared at the end of 2011 that the evidence against him could not possibly support a conviction. This was reversed in London, without the accession of any new evidence, after an unconscionably long 13½ months.

The field on which this game is played is not a level one. Some complainants — particularly where celebrities are involved — may well be malicious or opportunistic but they act with no hazard to themselves. Their identities are protected, and they face no financial costs. On the other hand, those they accuse are soon named, face months of misery while awaiting trial, and have to bear all the expense of defending themselves. This is surely a disgrace.

J. Martin Stafford


Sir, You report that Mrs Saunders claims that the public would be “horrified” if complaints about historical abuse did not lead to prosecutions. I think the word she sought was “delighted”. The law of the land has decided that the parties were innocent and the public does not enjoy seeing the legal profession fattening itself, largely at public expense, on barmy accusations.

Antony Stanley Clarke

Mosterton, Dorset

Sir, Alison Saunders’s article makes for depressing reading. What qualifies a prosecutor to tell the public that all prosecutions have been, and will be, correctly brought? The DPP cannot possibly know what would horrify the public.

Prosecutors need to acknowledge the fact that both accusers and the accused must be treated fairly. They also need to learn lessons from the outcomes of historic prosecutions.

Roger McCarthy, QC

London WC1


If data linkage in the UK had not been undertaken in the past we would know less about the causes of disease and be ignorant of inequities in access to care

Sir, In the debate about the plans to link people’s health care data (report, Feb 19), scant attention has been paid to the benefits not only in improving individual’s clinical care but also of protecting and enhancing the health of the public. If data linkage in the UK had not been undertaken in the past we would know less about the causes of disease (eg, pregnant women living near landfill sites have an increased risk of giving birth to babies with congenital anomalies), be unaware of the dangers of some treatments (eg, some drugs for asthma were associated with a 50-fold increased risk of death; metal-on-metal hip implants are best avoided in most patients) and be ignorant of inequities in access to care (eg, women are less likely to receive intensive care for some conditions). None of these discoveries, and the remedial action taken, would have occurred without our ability to link patients’ data from different publicly funded databases. Current plans to widen the linkage of hospital and primary care data will lead to further improvements both in the prevention of disease and in the effectiveness and safety of healthcare for the public.

Professor Nick Black, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Professor Lord Ara Darzi, Imperial College

Professor Terence Stephenson, Chair, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

Professor Sir Cyril Chantler, Chairman, UCLPartners

Lord Nigel Crisp, Past Chief Executive, NHS

Professor Dame Nicky Cullum, School of Nursing, University of Manchester

Professor Martin McKee, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Lord Bernie Ribeiro, Past President, Royal College of Surgeons

Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic, University of Cambridge

Professor Norman Williams, President, Royal College of Surgeons of England

Professor David Haslam, Chair, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive, The Health Foundation

Dr Hilary Cass, President, Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health

Professor Sir Robert Lechler, Executive Director, King’s Health Partners

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President-elect, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Professor Sir Andrew Haines, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Midicine

Professor Karen Luker, Head, School of Nursing, University of Manchester

Dr David Richmond, President, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Dr J-P van Besouw, President, Royal College of Anaesthetists

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive, Royal College of Nursing

Professor Iain Cameron, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton

Professor Andy McKeon, Chief Executive, Nuffield Trust

Professor David Adams, Dean, College of Medical and Dental Sciences, University


A serious rethink is required, with ministers appointing and being responsible for the actions of these agencies

Sir, Danny Finkelstein (Opinion, Feb 19) puts his finger on a critical point regarding our public services. So many quangos were originally set up to create a distance between ministers and day-to-day management. The Conservative regime in the 1990s set this ball rolling. But recent events such as the flooding have shown that taxpayers demand elected politicians take ultimate responsibility.

The hypocritical complaints from the semi-professional quangocrats are embarrassing and self-serving. British administrations are too polite to cleanse the Augean stables and so live with the medium-term consequences of poor appointees from the past.

A serious rethink is required, with ministers appointing and being responsible for the actions of these agencies.

Tony Narula

London W2

The Roman Catholic Church does not permit its bishops and priests to be legislators, so Cardinal Nichols will not enter the House of Lords

Sir, Regretfully, Cardinal Nichols may not be elevated to the peerage. The Roman Catholic Church does not permit its bishops and priests to be legislators, and if the archbishop were offered a peerage he would be obliged by his superiors to decline it (as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor had to).

Steve Vince



If David Bowie’s support for the existing union attracts abuse from Scottish nationalists, what hope is there of a sensible debate?

Sir, Tom Burton, after referring to your correspondents’ “negative” views, asks for a “sensible” debate on Scottish independence. Judging by your report “Cybernats attack ‘phoney’ Bowie”, (Feb 21) this may be hard to achieve.

If David Bowie’s support for the existing union attracts such personal and public abuse from Scots who support independence, what hope is there of a sensible debate?

Being English and citizens of one party to the union, Mr Bowie and I are surely entitled to express a polite opinion on the subject, even if we do not have a vote on it. Supporters of independence do themselves no favours by resorting to such tactics.

Martin Pettinger

Herstmonceux, E Sussex






SIR – I would be surprised if all ladies shared Mary Kennedy’s view of beards as mere repositories for dropped crumbs and the like.

After all, the act of shaving is to reduce a male to the state of pre-pubescence, facially at least; there can be few more unnatural acts cosmetically for an adult male than to shave.

It seems likely that the current fashion for beards, whether mere stubble or full whiskers, is a reassertion of their maleness on the part of men in an era when the female principle appears to be in be in the ascendant, at least for the time being.

Colin Broughton
Theydon Bois, Essex

SIR – Andrew C McWilliam claims that beards hinder mate selection by females, who would like to see the features of their prospective partners.

He should grow a beard to discover the advantages. Mate selection is enhanced by a beard: kissing a man without a beard is like eating an egg without salt.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

SIR – I am so sorry to hear of the troubles that Mary Kennedy is having with beards. Competent trimmers are available at larger Boots and similar outlets and, in my experience, a trim to a length of half an inch or so usually solves the problems she describes.

Geoff Cowen
Maidenhead, Berkshire


SIR – Although Matthew d’Ancona outlines the correct strategy to beat Ukip, I fear that David Cameron has made too many mistakes to sway the electorate in his direction.

He may be showing leadership in the wake of the floods, but there are many people up North and in Somerset who will be thinking that, for Mr Cameron, money is no object only when the water arrives in his own back yard. We have the spectre of a Labour victory despite Ed Miliband.

Mervyn Jackson
Belper, Derbyshire

SIR – The attraction of Ukip is its libertarian policies. I can assure Matthew d’Ancona that my own Cannock branch has a quite disparate political base.

Grahame Wiggin
Heath Hayes, Staffordshire

SIR – Supporters of the EU accord on the free movement of peoples, including Matthew d’Ancona, happily plunder Romania and Bulgaria of their expensively educated doctors. These globalists also worship Mammon – hence their eagerness to import cheap labour, driving unskilled pay well below a living wage. This is good, they say, for economic growth. Indeed, but not necessarily for per capita GNP.

Combine that with their approach to immigration, which is tantamount to an open-door policy, and you can say goodbye to a nation state that naturally commands the allegiance of its people. Maybe that’s what the EU is all about.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

NHS priorities

SIR – In the same week that I read about the serious shortage of doctors in NHS Accident and Emergency departments, I learned that my granddaughter (predicted to achieve three As in her A-levels) has not received an offer from any of the medical schools to which she applied.

Robin Smith
Leeds, West Yorkshire

SIR – My solicitors charge £380 per hour in London and £220 per hour in Hertford. The doctor who earned £3,717 for 30 hours spent on call was paid £124 per hour.

Even if he only worked half those hours in hospital, he would have barely earned as much as a country solicitor.

John McNab
Aston, Hertfordshire

Quality of trains

SIR – Every day, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow commuters on the packed journey between Weybridge and London Waterloo. Why does South West Trains not put more trains on at peak times to ferry people in a comfortable fashion? Why does my monthly ticket cost over £260, when people are transported like cattle?

Since I started this commute, the fare has risen far in excess of inflation. Why has there been no discernable improvement to the quality of my daily journey?

David Atherton
Weybridge, Surrey

Benefits street

SIR – The problem is not that there are 5,000 people earning £100,000 (or 21,000 earning over £60,000) while living in social housing. The problem is that there are eight million people enjoying social housing at subsidised rents regardless of need. People earning far less than these amounts are perfectly capable of putting a roof over their heads.

Social housing rents are below the market rate and below the cost of providing the housing.

Tinkering with the system by charging increased rents to higher earners would be chaotic and would not address the cause of the problem. When you sell something for less than it is worth, you create demand that would not otherwise exist.

G L Dees
Alford, Lincolnshire

On message

SIR – During my speech to the Advertising Association, I congratulated the industry on employing half a million people and contributing £10 billion to the economy and £2 billion in exports a year. I praised the Advertising Standards Agency, which I believe does a good job of regulating advertising, but said that politicians should keep an eye on the advertising of alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods because of the huge costs of getting public health policies wrong.

I hope Sir Martin Sorrell , who was not in the room when I gave my speech, will now be satisfied that Labour is pro-business and recognises the benefits the advertising industry brings to Britain.

Helen Goodman
Shadow Minister for Culture
London SW1

Theatre, abridged

SIR – It was heartening to read that a leading theatre director has suggested that theatres should not “dumb down” to attract younger audiences.

But some directors are already doing this. The recent, much-praised West End production of Ghosts had a running time of 90 minutes, without an interval. A London Fringe production of Hedda Gabler was even shorter.

These shortened versions make a travesty of a playwright’s vision, and are a severe disappointment for regular theatre-goers, who expect to see these masterpieces produced in their original form.

Norman Home
London NW6

Protecting flood plains from building projects

SIR – Development on Britain’s flood plain must stop. As a victim of the recent flooding, I have been subjected to the real-life implications of what failure to plan can “achieve”.

Bloor Homes is currently planning to build 400 new properties as part of the central Government-forced, strategic plan placed on Maidenhead and Windsor district council. The scheme, under allocation, and being driven by the Government’s planning quota, is located directly opposite my house on the M4 junction, in Maidenhead.

This area is home to a diverse natural habitat, is green belt, and a flood plain, which today is partly underwater, holding back the flood from Datchet, Staines and other towns and villages.

Take note from the people of Holland, who are now reversing flood plain development and allowing their rivers to do what they have always done.

Rivers, like all living things, need to breathe. Smothering our green belt, which falls into flood plain, with bricks and mortar, is putting a spreading cancer in the lungs of our waterways.

Nick Fontannaz
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – Mark Wilson comments that house purchasers should be warned about possible flooding.

Our house lies between two smallish rivers and falls in an area the Environment Agency website map lists as subject to flooding. But in spite of my recording 28.2 in of rain over the last nine weeks, neither river has overflowed nor, in fact, has either shown any sign of doing so. As far as anyone knows, the house has never been in watery danger since it was built in 1865.

We should therefore be very wary of arbitrary mapping procedures that assume every river valley is a high-risk area.

Ivor Williams
Coryton, Devon

Talking shop

SIR – You report that Junk & Disorderly was honoured for having the best punning shop name in Britain.

The best I’ve seen is a butcher’s in Tooting, called: Halal – Is It Meat You’re Looking For?

Frank Dobson
Morpeth, Northumberland

SIR – Until a few years ago, an antiques shop in Bures, Suffolk, bore the name Den of Antiquity.

A hairdressing salon in Raynes Park, London, bore the title Coiffure by Comber.

On the same street, a doctor’s clinic was denoted by the plaque: Dr Hackett, Surgeon.

Barry McCartney
Sudbury, Suffolk


SIR – Britain has already paid her debt for her involvement in the African slave trade.

In 1808 Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act 1807, outlawing the slave trade.

In the following year, the Royal Navy’s African Squadron was formed, its mission to put an end to the slave trade.

Its enemies were many and formidable: the African tribal chiefs who sold their own people into slavery; the Arab traders who rode shotgun on the slave caravans to the coast; and the slave ships of the rest of the world, heavily armed and prepared to do battle to defend their right to traffic in the forbidden “black ivory”.

That African slavery was a monstrous trade, and that many prominent Britons amassed fortunes on the back of it, cannot be denied, but no other nation had either the will or the ability to stamp it out. The Royal Navy deployed 30 ships and 4,000 men against the slave traders, who were predominantly Spanish, Portuguese and American, and 2,000 British seamen gave their lives so that African slaves might be free, while the 30-year campaign cost the British taxpayer in excess of £2 billion in today’s money.

In 1838, Robert Peart, a slave of Spanishtown, Jamaica, wrote: “Thanks to Almighty God and next to the English nation, whose laws relieved us from the bondage in which we have been held.”

The debt has been paid in full.

Bernard Edwards
Llanvaches, Gwent

SIR – The idea that Britain should compensate anyone for its role in the history of slavery is as preposterous as it is impractical.

Restitution could only be satisfied if Britain were to transport every West Indian of African origin back to Africa. I do not think there would be many takers.

Those who did choose to return to Africa should then sue the governments of countries whose kings and chiefs sold their ancestors to European traders in the first place.

While Britain must take its share of the blame for the evils of slavery, it should take pride in the fact that it was responsible for the abolition of both the slave trade and slavery throughout the Empire, and that it encouraged (and where necessary, forced) the rest of the world to comply.

Nicholas Young
London W13

SIR – If the slavery compensation case against Britain has any validity, may I suggest that our Government take immediate action for similar claims against the modern nations from which the Romans, Vikings and Normans originated.

Each invaded this country, killing and enslaving many of our forebears.

Ken Rimmer
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – My sympathies are with Willie Thompson, the Jamaican striving for compensation from the British Government for the misery of the slave trade.

However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, three quarters of Jamaica was owned by Scots, so perhaps his claim should land on the desk of Alex Salmond, rather than that of David Cameron.

A glance through the street names of Glasgow and Edinburgh reveals strong connections with the Caribbean islands.

Wealthy Scottish landowners had no compunction about despatching their own peasant workers to work as bonded servants beside the Africans on their plantations. Many of the Scottish plantation workers married African slaves, who in turn took Scottish names; Willie Thompson’s own name is a classic example of the Scottish influence in Jamaica.

The plantation owners made huge fortunes from their slave-driven plantations, and many mansions and estates in Scotland still exist through ancestral barbarity.

What they couldn’t bring back to Scotland was slaves, because the laws of Scotland declared that no person in Scotland could be owned by another.

George Wilkie
Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire



Irish Times:



Sir, – The Director General of the Law Society of Ireland, Ken Murphy, writing about the proposed introduction of plain packaging of tobacco, states the Law Society’s concern regarding intellectual property rights and trademarks “would be the same if the underlying product was a food, drink, medicine or any other product” (Letters, February 21st).

Tobacco, however, is unique in that it kills half of its users. In Ireland, 5,200 people die of tobacco-related diseases annually. I would respectfully suggest that if it were discovered that a “food, drink or medicine” was killing one in every two users, concerns over intellectual property rights would be obsolete as the product would immediately be withdrawn.

The Irish Cancer Society is concerned that the Law Society has decided to argue the exact same case on plain packaging as all tobacco companies, particularly on intellectual property rights, but that in the process is representing only one side of a complex argument.

The tobacco industry is trying everything to block, amend and delay the introduction of plain packaging in Ireland and the issue of intellectual property rights is a key argument for it. The Irish Cancer Society has sought its own legal advice on the issue, however and we are informed that the Irish Constitution recognises that in a civil society, property rights have to be balanced by principles of social justice and in accordance with the common good. Plain packaging seeks to protect and promote public health by, in particular, preventing young persons from taking up smoking and consuming tobacco products.

Tobacco companies argue that plain packaging will mean the “acquisition” of their brands by the State. In Australia, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act was challenged in the High Court (the counterpart in Australia of the Supreme Court in Ireland). Japanese Tobacco International and British American Tobacco-alleged that the Act was unconstitutional, as it was an “acquisition” of property by the state. The court held that there was no “acquisition” as the state did not receive any benefit.

Mr Murphy states his concerns regarding international investment implications for Ireland should plain packaging be introduced. Ireland is party to trade agreements such as the Paris Convention and the WTO TRIPS Agreement, but they have not been incorporated into domestic law. The Paris Convention mainly concerns the administration of trademarks, and not their use. It gives parties to the Convention reciprocal rights in other countries when it comes to registering trademarks. The registration and administration of trademarks is not affected by plain packaging. We are advised that the effects on international trade are negligible.

Ireland already restricts the use of tobacco related trademark, for instance in the banning of advertising of tobacco. This measure is the next step to reduce the power of tobacco companies to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking tobacco. – Yours, etc,


Head of Advocacy &


Irish Cancer Society,

Northumberland Road,

Dublin 4.


Sir, – Pat Doyle CEO of Peter McVerry Trust (February 20th) suggests that everyone has a right to a home. As a social worker in the area of mental health, I agree, but finding and especially maintaining the right home for homeless people with complex needs such as; addiction, mental health, intellectual difficulties or a combination of all three is no easy task.

Different levels of support are required and different types of accommodation, from independent living units, to supported or staffed housing units, but for our more vulnerable and challenging homeless, a statutory requirement is needed that publicly-funded professionals from all relevant services work together. A commitment too, where possible, from the homeless themselves to adhere to tenancy agreements and treatment plans will be key to sustaining their right to a home. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.


Sir, – The headline, “Jobseekers to be put to work in local authorities” (Home News, February 21st) demanded an immediate check to see where this was to happen – maybe North Korea or some other such off-the-wall dictatorship? But no, this “initiative” is to take place here in Ireland and what is even more extraordinary is the fact that we are under the governance of a Cabinet in which members of a Labour Party hold a veto.

Aside from the very reasonable view that forcing people to work for a rate of pay that will amount to about half the legal minimum wage is discriminatory – or is a case of the State resorting to slavery – but the denial of the opportunity to protest against this exploitation by the threat to cut welfare supports is repugnant to the values of any democratic State.

This has all the hallmarks of a policy inspired by the views of one William Martin Murphy who was confronted and resisted by none other than the founder of the Labour Party, Jim Larkin. Indeed it was the fact that Murphy organised business owners to deny workers basic conditions that most probably inspired both Connolly and Larkin to consider establishing a political wing to further the interests of workers. As it now appears that the Labour Party has become indistinguishable from its Fine Gael partners in power, how utterly wrong they were. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – In principle I can agree with Dr James Reilly’s vision (Opinion, February 18th) of establishing universal health insurance (UHI). However, there are practical and implementation issues that I find worrying.

Take the proposed split into purchasers and providers of health services. Central to this is some element of competition between providers. However, all our public hospitals (including the voluntary ones) are at present State-financed, very closely monitored (as the board of St Vincent’s will testify) and their employees’ pay and conditions make them public servants all but in name. Real competition will mean allowing individual trusts to negotiate independently over all aspects of their cost structure.

Is the Department of Health ready for this? At present health insurers negotiate on prices with private hospitals, but are forbidden by ministerial edict to negotiate prices with public hospitals. I fear that the mindset of the Department of Health is totally at odds with any meaningful moves towards flexibility or competition.

Dr Reilly makes no mention of where the several billion euro of current direct State expenditure on public hospitals will go. Will there be tax cuts to offset increased premium costs of UHI? If not, will this tax revenue just go to increase public expenditure on non-health areas? To what extent will UHI deliver subsidies to lower-income clients? Will we end up with a universal system which may deliver equality – but at the unsatisfactory level of service at present enjoyed by public patients?

The track record of the Department of Health in estimating the costs of new developments does not inspire confidence. Remember the spectacular underestimate of the cost of giving medical cards to the over-70s – which was a trivially simple exercise compared with the move to UHI. – Yours, etc,


Willbrook Lawn, Dublin 14.


A chara, – I refer to the interview with Alf-Helge Aarskog, Marine Harvest’s chief executive (Una McCaffrey, Business This Week, February 14th).

That you saw fit to print a full page piece painting a very uncritical version of the salmon aquaculture industry, save for a single allusion to the “potential” environmental risks was very surprising.

The arguments for and against large-scale open cage salmon aquaculture are however much more complex, and the outcomes far less rose-tinted than this article would have us believe.

With respect to the promised employment dividend, our Government is right to energetically pursue job creation, but not at the expense of existing jobs. For example the wild crab and lobster fishery in Galway Bay, the proposed site for Europe’s largest offshore open cage salmon farm directly employs 200 people and annually exports millions of euro of high quality shellfish to the continent. These fishermen have expressed grave and well-founded fears that the vast quantities of pesticides to be necessarily used on this enormous site for sea lice control will kill shellfish larvae, leading to a collapse of their hitherto sustainable fishery, as has happened elsewhere.

In addition, this project would imperil Galway Bay’s internationally important remaining runs of wild salmon and sea-trout, in a similar manner to which intensive salmon farming has decimated wild salmon stocks in the west of Scotland and certain Norwegian fjords. In the Galway Bay area, hundreds of jobs in the wider angling tourism industry depend on wild salmon and sea trout returning to their native rivers.

Mr Arskog’s ready access to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture lies in stark contrast to the Minister Simon Coveney’s outright refusal to meet any of the campaign groups arraigned against his plans for the enormous expansion of our open-caged salmon aquaculture sector on the reported grounds that it would necessarily bias his decision-making in this regard. Not only is this stance now open to ridicule, but this again illustrates how much in thrall our political classes are to foreign direct investment (FDI) at the expense of sustaining and growing our indigenous industries. Worse still, this FDI is arguably in direct conflict with an existing and flourishing indigenous industry as described above in the example of Galway Bay.

We would invite your journalist, Una McCaffrey to examine the significant and real (as distinct from “potential”) environmental risks posed by large scale open-cage salmon aquaculture projects, which BIM consistently attempts to justify based on flawed science

In principle we support the development of a sustainable aquaculture sector in Ireland, but certainly not if it risks our existing jobs, our world-renowned inland fisheries which generate €750 million annually and the long-term viability of our coastal communities. – Yours, etc,


Chairperson, Galway Bay

Protection Group,

A chara, – I am delighted to see that Senator David Norris’s proposal was agreed unanimously (“Seanad agrees unanimously to invite Pope Francis to address the Upper House”, Home News, February 20th). However, I was disappointed to see that it was left to Fianna Fáil’s Senator Jim Walshe to suggest the visit should be pastoral in nature. After all, Jesus is on record as saying that we should “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

When An Taoiseach downgraded our diplomatic status a couple of years ago I wrote to suggest it was time for the Roman Catholic church to decide if it wanted to be treated a religion or as a state. Senator Walshe has reopened the discussion.

We now have the opportunity to indicate that we, as a nation, would be happy to welcome a papal visit as a pastoral event, while not treating the Pope as a head of state with all the pomp and ceremony, not to mention expense, that it would entail. – Is mise,


Kill Abbey,

Deansgrange, Co Dublin.



Sir, – On February 18th, Greg Scanlon wonders whether publishing two letters from the same contributor (Derek Henry Carr) on February 15th was a record.

On that same day, February 18th, you published two separate “record breaking” letters (from Greg Scanlon and from John Cronin). Is this a record? – Yours, etc,


Haddington Square,

Beggars Bush,




Sir, – Twice in the last week a bottle of wine has been added in error to my restaurant bill, in addition to the glass I ordered, in two different city centre restaurants. The excuse was, “Oh I pressed the wrong button,” on both occasions. Is this a trend? – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.




Irish Independent:

* It was my hope that Joe Schmidt would end Ireland’s status as the ‘nearly men’ of world rugby.

Also in this section

Ireland’s blind nationalism

AIB rugby fat cats

Letters – Credit to ESB workers

I still believe he can achieve this; a distinction that has proven to be a mission impossible for his predecessors. That said, the shadow of the ‘nearly men’ loomed large over Twickenham.

Yes, we got a performance out of an exceptional group of players, but given that it was Brian O’Driscoll‘s last hurrah, in the home of English rugby, I expected them to meet with the intensity of the white lightning that was inevitable in the opening exchanges.

We were, in fact, blown away. Let’s give them credit for finding their passion and pride later in the game, and in fighting fire with fire, but let us not delude ourselves.

We were not the better team on the day, despite the fact that we would have been considered the better team on any other day.

The unvarnished truth was plain: collectively, England wanted it more.

Playing catch-up from the outset, what we delivered was too little too late.

This was a hugely important milestone for us.

How often do we get to a point where a grandslam is so close to our grasp?

The collective experience and abilities of this group of players, once known as the “golden generation” really ought to have been sufficient to close the deal.

There was the usual individual heroism – from the usual individuals – but overall, we were less than the sum of our parts.

All this is to take nothing away from a well-deserved English victory.

But the taste of what might have been will be bitter for the Irish lads.

Looking ahead, England proved we have a ways to go, and it will be tough – but in Joe Schmidt we have a genuine visionary, one uniquely capable of exorcising the demons of the ‘nearly men’.




* It’s important to recognise that there are many excellent gardai like Maurice McCabe and John Wilson in our force. So far, too few of them have taken the courageous actions that Maurice and John have undertaken, because they fear the abuse they may be subjected to.

In the interests of justice, they need to feel the fear and do it anyway. Genuine mistakes are inevitable in every human organisation. Such mistakes are usually easily resolved if quickly acknowledged and corrected.

We know from history and from other jurisdictions that it is only when a culture of cover-up and false loyalty takes root, that such mistakes lead to disasters in which serious crimes are committed which should have been prevented by proper garda crime prevention.

In the early decades of its history, the Garda force and its members were noted for their dedication, bravery, and loyalty to the State and to the people.

These recent difficulties, therefore, can and must be overcome. Crime prevention must be re-established as the primary role of An Garda Siochana.




* In a piece regarding St Mary’s Rugby Football club, in Limerick, (Irish Independent, February 21) the impression was given that the clubhouse facilities were built by handouts from the State.

The tremendous facility was built by the same spirit that saw Ger Hogan help his neighbours with his horse Peig during the recent floods in nearby St Mary’s Parish. Ger’s family lived a stone’s throw from the original woodhut clubhouse in the Abbey.

It was built from the savings of old age pensioners, a weekly draw subscribed to by good people, which brought in up to €1,500 per week. It was built by members who picketed the town hall for two weeks to push planning permission through.

The clubhouse was designed, engineered, project-managed and physically built by St Mary’s people and when it was opened there was very little money owed to the bank.

So let it be known the proud people of St Mary’s didn’t rely on charity to build this magnificent development.





* Following the news that a young couple with a baby renting a small cottage in Dublin’s docklands for €1,100 per month were told by their landlord of a €200 monthly increase in the rent, is it not time Dublin tenants were given the same legal protections as tenants in London, who may avail of appeals to a Rent Assessment Committee where they feel that rent increases are unfair?

There is no requirement for landlords to provide Building Energy Rating information before being allowed to advertise or conclude an agreement.

Many landlords do not provide or use rent books. Rent increases are effectively outside anyone’s control since the definition of an “open market rate” is Kafkaesque, to say the least: “The rent which a willing tenant not already in occupation would give and a willing landlord would take for the dwelling.”

Tenants in London must be given six months’ notice of a rent increase.

The Irish propensity for avoiding official bodies such as the Private Residential Tenancies’ Board is creating a bubble of greed, with the young, the poor, the elderly and the homeless the victims.




* I am sure I speak for all taxpayers when I request a detailed account of those ministers going abroad for St Patrick’s Day.

After all, we are the ones funding these trips.

Who accompanies them? I note that Ministers Brian Hayes and Ruairi Quinn are staying home to mind the house.

I am cynical enough to believe that Mr Hayes is preparing his campaign for the European elections and that Mr Quinn has been there, done that and burned the T-shirt.

I doubt if the gain from these trips will cover their costs. Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch is going to Mexico. Be sure to give us a Mexican wave, minister!




* Few capitals could conjure up scenes of endurance, fortitude, anguish and gallantry as the Ukranian capital has done over the past few days.

Kiev has now become a symbol of people power against tyranny.

It seems the discourse of history is unstoppable.

From al Tahrir square in Cairo to Independence Square (Maiden) in Kiev, people can no longer be deceived.

People can no longer be silenced by money or power.

When the people become fearless and stand up to their oppressors and break the shackles of this oppression, they can truly become heroic.

It is this victory that has made Ukranians admirable in the eyes of the world.

Now it is time the international community stepped in and helped them to create a vibrant and democratic country.



* The revolution in Ukraine is reminiscent of the collapse of Eastern Europe‘s communist regimes in 1989 and the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

President Putin, you have been warned . . .



Irish Independent



Tidy UP

February 23, 2014

23 February 2014 Tidy up
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to  Take the Todd Hunter Browns at a far away exotic island, but can they find it/ Priceless
Very tired tidied upstairs. 2 books sold
Scrabble today  Mary wins but gets over 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Fanni Gyarmati, who has died aged 101, was best known in her native Hungary as the wife and muse of Miklós Radnóti, whom many consider to be one of the country’s greatest poets.
Radnóti, who lost his life in the Holocaust, dedicated much of his best-known love poetry to Fanni, and the fact that their relationship was never plain-sailing made his verse — and their devotion to one another — all the more powerful.
Miklós Radnóti was 17 years old when he met the strikingly beautiful and erudite 14-year-old “Fifi” Gyarmati in a house in Budapest where they took extra lessons in mathematics with the same tutors. The young Radnóti, an assimilated Jew, exchanged his pencil for hers so that he would have a pretext to talk to her. In order to impress her, he claimed that he was 18. Soon afterwards he began writing her love poems.
Yet after a year or so Radnóti, at his guardian’s insistence, enrolled at a textile college in Czechoslovakia where he met Klementine “Tini” Tschiedel, a Czech-German typist with whom he embarked on his first real affair. The young poet wrote love poems to both girls, but it was to Fanni that he showed his work, even seeking her views on poems written to her rival. Within a year, Radnóti had returned to Budapest and Tini had been forgotten.
Miklós and Fanni became inseparable, and it was she who, in 1931, proposed marriage — on a snow-covered bench in Budapest’s City Park. His guardian and her parents refused to sanction the match until he had completed his studies. They married in August 1935 shortly after Miklós had taken a PhD from Ferencz József University in Szeged.
After a short honeymoon on Lake Balaton, they moved into a rented one-room flat on Pozsonyi Street, Budapest, where Fanni taught shorthand at a school founded by her father, while Miklós established a growing reputation as a poet and translator.
But in 1941, after six years of marriage, Radnóti began an affair with the painter Judit Beck, an old friend of Fanni’s. He addressed his poems Zápor (Rain) and Harmadik ecloga (Third Eclogue) to Judit, but he never kept the affair secret from Fanni. Although it caused her much pain, she somehow managed to remain friends with Judit, who even painted her portrait for her husband. “If it pleases Miklós, so let him be pleased,” she wrote in her diary.
By the time Miklós began the affair, Hungary had entered the Second World War on Germany’s side and introduced a forced labour system that mainly affected the Jewish population. In late 1940 Miklós had been called up for three months’ forced labour service.
By the time he was called up for his second period of forced labour in 1942, the affair with Judit had ended. From his camp he wrote a letter to Fanni, assuring her: “I love you! It is you that I love! And everything but you is just a game!” — and he enclosed a poem, Októbervégi hexameterek (Late October Hexameters), by way of an “apology” for the Third Eclogue. “Mik sent me a poem,” Fanni recorded in her diary. “It is beautiful. He did manage to do it after all, and what a poem! … And him there! To think that he has to abort so many things! In that animal-like existence, in haste, and yet he could write it.”
During his first period of forced labour Miklós had not worn any special marking, but by his second, Hungarian anti-Semitism had become more virulent. He was forced to wear a yellow armband, had his books confiscated and was humiliated and tortured on several occasions, while his poetry was subjected to anti-Semitic attacks in the Hungarian press.
Some days after his discharge Miklós converted to Roman Catholicism, but it did him no good: in May 1944 he was sent to a labour camp in the mining town of Bor in eastern Serbia. There, in August 1944, he wrote Fanni a postcard: “I wrote in my last card that I would be very much with you on our wedding anniversary, and it was indeed so, and thank you Sweetheart for the nine years we spent together. I miss you very much my Sweet and Only One.”
The same month, as Titoist Partisans began to get the upper hand, fleeing fascist troops attempted to force-march Miklós’s group of 3,200 Hungarian Jews back to central Hungary. Most died on the way, including Miklós, who, according to witnesses, was severely beaten in November 1944 by a drunken soldier who had been tormenting him for “scribbling”. Too weak to continue, he was shot dead along with 22 companions and thrown into a mass grave near the village of Abda in north-west Hungary.
After her husband’s death Fanni Gyarmati continued to live in their apartment on Pozsonyi Street, where the sign on the door still reads “Dr Miklós Radnóti”, and set about protecting and promoting her husband’s literary legacy. A posthumous volume of poems, Tajtékos ég (Foamy Sky, 1946), which she compiled, was later hailed by Edward Hirsch as “one of the pinnacles of Central European poetry this century”.
Eighteen months after Miklós’s death, the mass grave at Abda was exhumed. In the front pocket of the poet’s overcoat a small notebook was found, containing some of his most powerful poems, many of them contrasting dreams of bliss with Fanni with the terrible reality he was having to endure. In Hetedik ecloga (The 7th Eclogue), for example, he describes himself (in Thomas Land’s translation) as “Lying on boards … a captive beast among vermin”, but finishes with the lines: “Alone I sit up awake with the lingering taste of a cigarette butt in my mouth instead of your kiss, and I get no merciful sleep, for neither can I live nor die without you, my love, any longer.”
Fanni refused to go to see his corpse. But the complete poems of the notebook, published for the first time in The Collected poems of Miklós Radnóti in 1948, are seen as some of the most important works of literature of the Holocaust.
In 1989 their relationship was depicted in Forced March – a “film within a film” feature drama, directed by Rick King, with Chris Sarandon playing Miklós Radnóti, and Renée Soutendijk as his long-suffering wife.
Fanni Gyarmati was born in Budapest on September 8 1912 into a Hungarian bourgeois family and was later described by friends as a stunningly pretty and intelligent girl who loved travelling and poetry.
After the Second World War and her husband’s death, she took a degree in French and Russian and later became a French and verse-speaking teacher at a theatre arts college.
Fanni Gyarmati won several prizes and received many awards for her work in the fields of literature and education, including the Hungarian Order of Merit.
Fanni Gyarmati, born September 8 1912, died February 15 2014


I agree with Kevin McKenna (“Memo to George: England’s bullying of Scots will drive us into the Yes camp”, Comment) that George Osborne’s statement rejecting a currency union is likely to alienate Scots further. But this has more to do with his manner and choice of language than with the substance of what he said. We Scots should be under no illusion that there will be any chance whatsoever that the rest of the UK will agree to share a currency with an independent Scotland.
McKenna asks with incredulity: “Does he [George Osborne] think English company bosses will accept the millions of pounds that tariffs would entail?” Assuming Scotland remains in the EU, there will be no tariffs. What there will be is currency conversion transaction costs – the same costs English company bosses have had to thole, that is, bear, by not being part of the eurozone.
Half of the rest of the UK’s trade is with the eurozone, while something less than 10% is with Scotland.
The question that should be asked with incredulity is – do Kevin McKenna or Alex Salmond really believe that the rest of the UK will agree effectively to underwrite the sovereign debt of a foreign country, in order to avoid these transaction costs on 10% of its trade?
Richard Sloan
Kevin McKenna avoids addressing, as do Salmond and the SNP, the core arguments concerning a currency union. That is, in brief, for such a union to work it would also require a fiscal and banking union and, most importantly, political union. This has been conclusively demonstrated by the eurozone crisis.
I hold no brief for the execrable Osborne and his party but he is certainly justified, as are the Lib-Dem and Labour party leaders, in pointing out the inherent weaknesses, not to say contradictions, in Salmond’s project. As it is, the rest of the UK is essentially being asked to underwrite Scotland’s independence, potentially much more damaging to the UK economy than the comparatively minor transaction costs that McKenna mentions (again, rather slavishly echoing Salmond).
Ian Grant Seton
New Malden
It seems to have passed Kevin McKenna by that all three major political parties (yes, including the main representative of those trade union households whose shared values Kevin rightly holds so dear) are not prepared to underwrite a Scottish bailout in the more than theoretical possibility that Scotland is unable to pay its way in the not too distant future. Working-class solidarity is one thing but a wholesale charity bailout is quite another.
There are many who already think that Scotland gets a pretty good deal out of the Barnett formula. A median-income, middle-aged Geordie may well look across the border with some envy when obliged to fund his children’s university education and his parents’ care home fees while paying for his own prescriptions. It is pie in the sky to expect any regional devolvement that would deliver the same advantages to those parts of England currently enjoyed north of the border, as McKenna seems to think. If Scotland really wants to ride the high wire alone, let it do so without the safety net.
Guthrie McGruer
Why does Kevin McKenna express his sympathy for the potential plight of the 400,000 or so expat English living in Scotland, but take no account of the equally significant number of expat Scots living in the UK? At least the Scottish-based English will be able to vote in the referendum. We Scots now living in England are being denied that privilege. Salmond’s wish to lead Scotland into darkness will affect us no less if granted, and I strongly believe our voice should be heard. There’s still time to set the necessary machinery in place if the will is there.
Gordon Robbie

How depressingly predictable: the rail link to Cornwall is severed, so some local MPs (and others elsewhere in the south with their own axes to grind) immediately demand that investment be switched away from HS2 to upgrade the network in the West Country (“Divert HS2 billions to rebuild railways in ‘poor relation’ south-west, MPs demand”, News.) Why seek to make this an either/or choice, especially when we are assured that “money is no object”?
HS2 would at least begin to address the gross disparity between the lavish ongoing infrastructure investment in London and the south-east and the notable absence of anything comparable elsewhere.
It may be understandable that regions that have had so little for so long should feel driven to compete against each other for crumbs from the London table, but it is hardly an edifying spectacle. It would make far more sense for them to band together to demand a moratorium on further investment in the capital until per capita investment across the country more fairly approximates that in London.
Chris Haslam
Threshield North Yorks
Men learn the wrong lessons
The wonderful Helen Mirren has only commented on part of the story (“Now Mirren hits out at TV’s body count: ‘Most of these victims are young women”, News).
Yes, many young women are perceived as victims and this is constantly reinforced by both TV drama and news. But she does not comment upon the fact that while many young women are socialised into a passive role, the perpetrators of these crimes are invariably young men who are socialised into an aggressive, competitive and drink-laden culture.
They grow up believing that women “ask for it”.
So before Dame Helen reinforces the cultural notion that women are there to be victims, she needs to look at the ways in which men are socialised.
MJ Tuckwell
Shilbottle Northumberland
The housing market paradox
Rosemary Shewry and I were plainly in different countries in the 1960s and 1970s (“Rent controls led to house boom”, Letters).
She claims that controls dried up private rents in that era. How strange. I was living in a small flat in north London at a quarter of my disposable income (it would cost me a half in today’s equivalents).
And all my young friends were similarly housed, generally with reasonable landlords. The Thatcher house-buying bubble didn’t kick in properly until the 1980s, so where were all the other renters living up until then? And recent flooding must surely have given people second thoughts on building more houses on the natural sponge which is our countryside.
The long-term way forward is to make better, and fairer, use of the existing housing space – by a geographically-based, steeply progressive system of land value taxation. Political dynamite but unavoidable.
And a basic point about capitalism. The more we spend on our housing, the less we have to spend in the high street. What a bizarre paradox that Mrs Thatcher’s idea strikes at the very heart of consumer capitalism.
David Redhaw
Gravesend Kent
My link to the World Service
I feel very strongly that the BBC World Service must survive (“Should UK licence-fee payers still fund the World Service?” Editorial). Previous governments correctly “deemed its excellence, expertise and independence a gift worth beaming round the globe”.
It should in fact be funded (at arm’s length) by the Foreign Office as it was until very recently. I am currently writing about my father, Noel Newsome, director of the BBC European Service 1940-45.
The huge number of letters to him from grateful listeners, national as well as international, testify to the paramount importance of the service in keeping hope alive and to the belief that Britain would triumph.
The BBC should continue to maintain Britain’s voice and place in world affairs. Let us hope there will be no more periods as dire as 1939-45, but who but the BBC can at any time be relied upon for impartial, truthful reporting of news and views?
Penelope Newsome
Two votes for equality
Isn’t it time that politicians claiming to want to see equal numbers of women and men in parliament stopped tinkering around with “shortlists for seats split between the genders”, “all-women shortlists” or “the A list”, and adopted the obvious solution?
If we all had two-member constituencies, with each of us having one vote, we could give one to our male representative and one to our female representative, the objective would be achieved at a stroke (“Labour to hit record for women MPs”, News,).
The fact that this suggestion hardly ever gets even considered is a pretty clear indication that it’s just a matter of lip service and not a genuine ambition.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow Essex


I read with dismay the article “Mothers priced out of the UK workforce by high childcare costs” (16 February). There are countless reasons why mothers of small children do not return to paid employment, not least their desire to be the primary carer of their own children.
Government research published in January “Childcare & early years survey of parents 2012-2013″ shows that parents who have not used childcare in the past year would rather look after their children themselves (71 per cent) while the cost of childcare was cited by 13 per cent as the main reason for being at home.
A fairer taxation policy would allow families better choice with regards to how to care for their children. Tax relief would allow parents flexibility to spend on registered childcare or to supplement a single salary in cases where a second income has been sacrificed.
Instead of comparing Britain unfavourably on maternal employment rates, we could be standing up proudly to announce that British parents put the needs of the next generation before their own for the relatively short time they are young children.
Imogen Thompson
Stockport, Lancashire
The wanton destruction of wild animals (particularly for their ivory) is abhorrent (“Prince William wants ‘all royal ivory destroyed’,” 16 February). But the wanton destruction of any works of art that already exist is equally abhorrent.
Indeed, the wanton destruction of any thing of beauty, be it animal, art or artefact, is abhorrent to civilised people. This “culture” must confront the criminal “economy” of the illegal trade. Only when it becomes financially “unattractive” to the criminals will the poaching of animals and trading in ivory cease.
Malcolm Morrison
via email
The credibility of the Duke of Cambridge might save an elephant or two if he and his trigger-happy brother crushed their own weapons and stopped slaughtering other wildlife. A life is a life, with or without tusks.
EJ Cooper
Barnes, London
I loved the story of hope and recovery (“New start for the homeless that saves lives – and money” 16 February). Fair play to all those involved. We in Edinburgh have Leap (Lothian Edinburgh Abstinence Programme) and it provides a similar service for those once considered hopeless and/or helpless. When you consider that the families and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics may, upon seeing recovery work, finally get some peace of mind, the societal benefits are far-reaching.
Andrew shaw
I was surprised to note that “children and dogs” were described as being welcome at the holiday rental home reviewed last week (16 February). Perhaps this couplet speaks volumes about British attitudes to childhood?
Nick Frost
Professor of social work (childhood, children and families), Leeds Metropolitan University
I agree with Rob Edwards (Letters, 16 February). I was born in 1952. In my lifetime the world’s population has tripled. A high proportion of global (and local) issues are a direct consequence. Yet population is rarely treated as critical by government or individual. Why do so few acknowledge the herd in the room?
Pete Butchers
Meldreth, Cambridgeshire
A big issue with the NHS data-sharing scheme, now delayed for six months, has been flaws in the communications campaign. There appears to be a question mark over whether the information in a leaflet enabled people to make an “informed decision”. And, of greater concern, is the fact that many patients claimed not to have received this information.
Much has been made of the fact that the data will be anonymised but it remained very unclear how this would work. One way to address these concerns would be to carry out a managed trial, before rolling out the plans across the entire NHS.
Dr Martyn thomas
Institute of Engineering and Technology
London WC2


IN THE Somerset Levels we have been on the receiving end of a lot of ignorant remarks about us being stupid to live on a flood plain (Storm Special, News, and “‘The government made us all wet’ and other myths of the flood”, Comment, last week).
The Levels have been managed for 800 years. People have a natural expectation that the waterways will be managed by the state in return for which individuals build businesses (by no means all of them in agriculture), provide employment and pay taxes.
However, the Environment Agency took a unilateral decision to stop looking after the rivers — without consulting people in the Levels, or even informing them that it had been taken. Only with the recent flooding (which we have had for two years in succession) has that decision been brought to light. The people had a reasonable expectation that the contract in existence for eight centuries would continue.
Andrew Lee, Stop the Floods Campaign
There will be flood
It must be heartbreaking to see your home and possessions inundated by floodwater but living in some areas carries a very high risk of this happening, and always has.
David Maguire, Starnberg, Germany
Channelling Aid
Your survey “What the people think” revealed that 72% believe funds for overseas aid should be switched to flood prevention in this country, with only 17% against. Perhaps David Cameron and other politicians are more altruistic than the general population. Or is their insistence that the aid bill of £11bn a year is sacrosanct a longing for the lost glories of empire?
Douglas Kedge, Reading, Berkshire
Building a new Britain
The devastation caused by the biblically savage weather has given the country a perfect opportunity to reinvent itself. Cease the puerile political blame game, scrap HS2 and use the funds to modernise, rationalise and future-proof our infrastructure and communication networks.
Thea Taylor, Alderley Edge, Cheshire
The need to change
Charles Clover listed as one of the myths “that we should not bother planning for the increased rainfall predicted by climate scientists. Lord Lawson, a climate change sceptic, may be right. The odds are that he isn’t.” For more than five years I have been urging governments of both parties to concentrate on adapting to possible climate change, including improved flood defences, rather than impoverishing us by promoting useless wind farms and other costly forms of decarbonisation.
It is a pity he did not take the trouble to read my book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, and in particular chapter three, “The importance of adaptation”.
Nigel Lawson, House of Lords

Protect police from unfounded claims
I WAS surprised by Shami Chakrabarti’s column “A policeman’s lot must include being called a liar” (Comment, last week). It is absolutely right where there is evidence of criminality or misdeeds that police officers should be prosecuted and/or sacked. It is also,unfortunately, the case that every day honourable police officers have to tolerate abuse, accusations of lying and of corruption “as part of the job”. But there are occasions when officers should be protected.
In the Plebgate case there has been extensive, continuing media coverage, stoked up by senior politicians who have no more knowledge of what happened in Downing Street than I do.
However, despite a zealous investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and consideration by the director of public prosecutions, no evidence has been found upon which to base a prosecution or disciplinary proceedings against the officer at the centre of the case. He must have been, and continues to be, subjected to significant stress with his integrity being widely impugned.
In these unusual circumstances, he must be entitled to challenge a widespread perception that he has done wrong. Equally, he is right to seek the support of his trade union. After all, his legal protection is probably the only reason he pays his subscriptions.
Of greater concern to Chakrabarti’s Liberty organisation should be the future of the jury system. Media coverage of police officers being prosecuted for criminal activity is right but its extrapolation to the thousands of other officers undermines support for them.
Sir Edward Crew, Chief Constable, West Midlands Police (1996-2002)

Salmond’s yes argument is a no-no
ALEX SALMOND’S wishes are contradictory (“There’s a £60bn reason the Gang of Three won’t cow us”, Comment, last week). EU membership would dilute Scotland’s independence, while a sterling zone would put its fiscal policy in the hands of the Bank of England and by extension the potentially incompatible fiscal requirements of Westminster.
In any event, an application by Scotland to join the EU but not the eurozone seems highly unlikely to be palatable to Brussels. The statements by the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso can hardly be encouraging.
Meanwhile, Salmond continues on his merry way, fooling a sizeable proportion of the voters with bluster, appealing to their nationalistic hearts rather than their pragmatic brains.
Brian Leigh, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
Another country
Salmond does not speak for the majority of Scottish people. He has hoodwinked many into believing that a pig in a poke is a good thing, and that we can leave our friends and allies by looking to Scandinavia as a panacea for all our ills when we have far more in common with the rest of the UK.
Then there is the irony of the Scots domiciled elsewhere who cannot vote when someone in Scotland from Senegal or Boston can have a say in its future and as a result the rest of UK. Salmond may have fooled some into believing independence would enable us to keep our currency. In so doing he has inadvertently made the best argument for us to remain in the UK. It is madness to create a foreign country within a small island with the same seas.
Jane Ball, Kelso, Scottish Borders
Independent means
Barroso warns that an independent Scotland will not be allowed to join the EU. May England be issued with a similar warning, please?
Don Roberts, Birkenhead, Cheshire

Classical civilisation passes EBacc test
CLASSICS cannot, and should not, be studied in isolation, says Professor Christopher Pelling and that “the language and the culture go together” (“Giving the gift of ancient tongues”, News Review, February 9). We support Pelling. Classical civilisation opens young people’s minds to the glories of the ancient world and we feel a GCSE in the subject should be included in the English baccalaureate (EBacc) from September this year.
Michael Gove said in an interview last year that the “ principal goal of education is enlightenment; the introduction of a new generation to human creativity and the glories of civilisation in all their richness”.
GCSEs in classical civilisation play an unrivalled role in doing this. Of the 35 GCSE-level humanities courses accepted for the EBacc, only one is dedicated to the study of the ancient world. We urge the education secretary to make classical civilisation part of the baccalaureate.
Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture, Cambridge University, Edith Hall, Professor of Classics, King’s College London, Dr Lorna Robinson, Director of the Iris Project and East Oxford Community Classics Centre, Dr Bettany Hughes, Author and Broadcaster, Adrian Murdoch, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Robert Parker, Professor of Ancient History, Oxford University, Ken Pickering, Head of History and Classical Civilisation, Skerton Community High School, Lancashire
Full list of 133 signatories at bottom of page

Saluting Hillary the peacemaker
Andrew Sullivan (“What has Hillary Clinton actually achieved?”, Focus, last week) failed to recognise the role Hillary Clinton played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. I often despaired that we would reach a Balkans situation and we nearly did when the Clintons brought new hope, new confidence and a determination to rid this place of the influence of paramilitaries who killed more people than the police and army combined.
In 1995 President Bill Clinton addressed a mixed audience, including many young people in Belfast. Hillary Clinton waded in with a plan that empowered women to speak out. Hardly a day went by that she wasn’t on the phone to find out what progress was made. This was replicated in many parts of the world in her capacity as secretary of state when she racked up more air miles than any of her predecessors.
John Dallat MLA, Deputy Speaker, Northern Ireland Assembly, Belfast

FGM guilt
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a horrible crime but how on earth do the police think they are going to be able to prosecute travel agents, taxi drivers, money lenders and other abetters (“Police to target FGM abetters”, News, last week) when they are unable to prosecute the parents? What is needed is a change in the law whereby if a girl found to have been subjected to FGM the parents should be presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence, thus avoiding the need for a child to testify against their parents.
Alistair Nicoll, Sheffield
Doing time
I found much to agree with in Camilla Cavendish’s column (“Chasing Savile’s ghost threatens to leave today’s victims behind”, Comment, last week). However, I am confused when she questions whether “it is right for the taxpayer to pay to keep geriatrics in jail when many are not thought to have committed crimes for decades”. What is the right punishment then? Is she suggesting that after a certain time no penalty is necessary?
William Wright, Waltham Abbey, Essex
Banking on Labour
You assert that Ed Miliband is “facing dissent from his own party over his attacks on banks” (“Labour candidates tell Miliband to ‘hug a banker’”, News, last week). There is no contradiction between being a Labour supporter and working in the UK’s world-class financial services sector. For the past two years Labour in the City has existed to prove that point. Launched in 2012 with the shadow business and City ministers alongside the national financial services officer for Unite, we have grown rapidly to be a vibrant voluntary social organisation where Labour-supporting bankers discuss how best to ensure our important financial sector can best serve the needs of the UK’s grassroots communities. We haven’t yet tried hugging as a strategy, but thanks to your article we will consider it at our next meeting.
Kitty Ussher, Former City Minister and Chairwoman, Labour in the City
Community service
If “returning jihadis” pose such a serious risk to British society (“250 jihadis spark UK terror alert”, News, last week) should we not look to the mosques that serve the overwhelmingly peaceful Muslim community for a condemnation of the possibility of “Mumbai-style” attacks here?
George Barnes, Liverpool

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)

Gareth Barry, footballer, 33; Emily Blunt, actress, 31; Bernard Cornwell, author, 70; Peter Fonda, actor, 74; Tamsin Greig, actress, 48; Howard Jones, singer, 59; Kelly Macdonald, actress, 38; David Sylvian, singer, 56; Viktor Yushchenko, former president of Ukraine, 60

1821 death of John Keats, poet; 1945 American flag raised on Iwo Jima; 1958 Cuban rebels kidnap the five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio; 1972 Palestinian hijackers of Lufthansa jet surrender in Yemen; 1997 fire breaks out aboard the Mir space station
Full list of signatories to “Classical civilisation passes EBacc test”
Prof. Sylvia Barnard, Associate Professor Emerita, University at Albany, USA
Prof. Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture, Cambridge University
Prof. Kate Cooper, Professor of Ancient History, University of Manchester
Prof. Robert Fowler, Professor of Greek, University of Bristol
Prof. Barbara Goff, Professor of Classics, University of Reading
Prof. Edith Hall, Professor of Classics, King’s College, London
Prof. Lorna Hardwick, Emeritus Professor of Classical Studies, Open University
Prof. Stephen Hodkinson, Professor of Ancient History, University of Nottingham
Prof. Doug Lee, Professor of Ancient History, University of Nottingham
Prof. Peter Meineck, Honorary Professor of Classics, University of Nottingham
Prof. Neville Morley, Professor of Ancient History, University of Bristol
Prof. Judith Mossman, Professor of Classics, University of Nottingham
Prof. Robert Parker, Professor of Ancient History, Oxford University
Prof. P.J. Rhodes, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History, University of Durham
Prof. Juan Aguilar Ruiz, Professor of Latin, Junta de Andalucia, Spain
Prof. Shipley, Professor of Ancient History, University of Leicester
Prof. Alan Sommerstein, Emeritus Professor of Greek, University of Nottingham
Prof. Maurizio Sonnino, Professor of Greek Language and Literature, Sapienza University of Rome
Prof. Catherine Steel, Professor of Classics, University of Glasgow
Prof. Tim Whitmarsh, Professor of Ancient Literatures, Oxford University
Dr. Emmanuela Bakola, Department of Classics, King’s College, London
Dr. Anastasia Bakogianni, Lecturer in Classical studies, Open University
Dr. Elton Barker, Reader in Classical Studies, Open University
Dr. Mark Bradley, Associate Professor in Ancient History, University of Nottingham
Dr. Emma Bridges, Research Affiliate, Open University
Dr. Catherine Draycott, Honorary Fellow, University of Liverpool
Dr. Jane Draycott, Lecturer in Classics, University of Wales Trinity St David
Dr. Esther Eidinow, Lecturer in Ancient Greek History, University of Nottingham
Dr. Lynn Fotheringham, Lecturer in Classics, University of Nottingham
Dr. Liz Gloyn, Lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr. Emma-Jayne Graham, Lecturer in Classical Studies, Open University
Dr. Lucy Grig, Lecturer in Classics, University of Edinburgh
Dr. Bettany Hughes, Author and Broadcaster
Dr. Peter Jones MBE, Co-Founder of Friends of Classics, Newcastle
Dr. Maria Kouroumali, Independent Scholar in Byzantine Studies, Athens
Dr. Andreas Kropp, Lecturer in Classical Art, University of Nottingham
Dr. Alex Long, Lecturer in Classics, University of St Andrews
Dr. Fiona Macintosh, Lecturer in the Reception of Greek and Latin Literature, Oxford University
Dr. Regine May, Lecturer in Latin Literature, University of Leeds
Dr. Roberta Mazza, Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Manchester
Dr. Janett Morgan, Lecturer in Ancient History, University of Cardiff
Dr. Llewelyn Morgan, Lecturer in Classical Languages and Literature, Oxford University
Dr. Joanna Paul, Lecturer in Classical Studies, Open University
Dr. Richard Rawles, Teaching Associate in Classics, University of Nottingham
Dr. Lorna Robinson, Director of The Iris Project and East Oxford Community Classics Centre
Dr. James Robson, Head of Classical Studies, Open University
Dr. Ursula Rothe, Lecturer in Classical Studies, Open University
Dr. Kim Shahabudin, Lecturer in Classics, University of Reading
Dr. Henry Stead, Research Associate, King’s College, London
Dr. James Thorne, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Manchester
Dr. Betine van Zyl Smit, Associate Professor in Classics, University of Nottingham
Dr. Kostas Vlassopoulos, Associate Professor in Greek History, University of Nottingham
Dr. Amanda Wrigley, Research Fellow, University of Westminster
Dr. Rosie Wyles, Lecturer in Greek Language and Literature, King’s College, London
John Bulwer, Consultant, Euroclassica
Adrian Murdoch, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
Luke Richardson, Executive Officer of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers
Abi Buglass, PhD Student of Classical Languages and Literature, Oxford University
Thomas Derrick, PhD Student of Classics, University of Leicester
Sam Hayes, PhD Student of Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter
Margaret Hilditch, PhD Student of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester
Matthew Lloyd, PhD Student of Archaeology, Oxford University
Claire Millington, PhD Student of Classics, King’s College, London
Manolis Pagkalos, PhD Student of Classics, University of Leicester
Charlotte Parkyn, PhD Student of Classics, King’s College, London
Lucy Pollard, PhD in Classics, Birkbeck, University of London
Guendalina Taietti, PhD Student of Classics, University of Liverpool
David Allsop, Postgraduate Student of Classical Studies, University of Wales Trinity St David
Feona Bowey, Postgraduate Student of Ancient History, University of Leicester
Sheila Brown, Postgraduate Student of Classical Studies, Open University
A Pearson, Postgraduate Student of Ancient History, University of Wales Trinity St David
Gemma Ball, Teacher of Classical Civilisation and Latin
Philip Canning, Head of Classics
Stephen Dobson, Head of Classics
Julia Duffy, Teacher of Classical Civilisation
Paul Found, Teacher of Classical Civilisation
Carole Fox, Teacher and Archaeologist
Catherine Gardner, Teacher of Classics
Andrew Harrop, Head of Classics
Karen Hon, Teacher of Classics
Paul Jack, Teacher of Classical Civilisation and History
Sam Kenchington, Teacher of Classical Civilisation and Latin
Stephen Jenkin, Teacher of Classics
Andy Keen, Head of Classics
Joanna Lashley, Head of Classics
Rob Marshall, Teacher of Ancient History and Modern History
James Miller, Teacher of Classical Civilisation
Victoria Osborne, College Lecturer
Ken Pickering, Head of History and Classical Civilisation
George Pounder, Teacher of Classics
Amy Quinn, Teacher of Classics and Latin
Maria Romana, Teaching Assistant, Boston, USA
Frances Shaw, Teacher of Classical Civilisation, Latin and Greek
Juliana Veysey, Teacher of Classics
Rhiannon Litterick, PGCE Student in Classics, University of Cambridge
Henry Lee, PGCE Student in Classics, King’s College, London
Clare Wightman, PGCE Student in Classics, King’s College, London
Lee Baker, MA in Classics and English Literature, University of Glasgow
Cheryl Barker, MA in Classical Studies, Open University
Emily Bowden, MA in Classics, King’s College, London
Margaret Powell, MA in Classical Studies, Open University
Jackie Unitt, MA in Classical Studies, Open University
Gemma Allen, BA in Classical Studies, University of Reading
Glyn Davies, BA in Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, Oxford University
James Greenwood, BA in Classics and IT, University of Wales Trinity St David
Adam Jones, BA in Ancient World Studies, University College, London
Sue Jones, BA in Humanities with Classical Studies, Open University
Michael McFarland, BA in Humanities with Classical Studies, Open University
Kelly O’Hara, BA in Classics
Elizabeth Shrubsole, BA in Humanities with Classical Studies, Open University
Ben Street, BA in Ancient History, University of Exeter
Faye Witcher, BA in Ancient World Studies, University College London
Edmund Wise, BA in Ancient History, Bristol University
Jo Berry, Undergraduate in Classical Civilisation, University of Exeter
India Collins-Davies, Undergraduate in Classics and English, Oxford University
Sky Emery, Undergraduate in Classical Studies, University of Manchester
Cheryl Gupta, Undergraduate in Humanities, Open University
Matt Ingham, Undergraduate in Ancient History, University of Manchester
Eleanor Jesson, Undergraduate in Classical Studies, University of Exeter
Kath O’Donovan, Undergraduate in Classics, Open University
Dr. W. Plummer, Undergraduate in Humanities with Classical Studies, Open University
Sam Riley, Undergraduate in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London
Louise Wilson, Undergraduate in Humanities with Classical Studies
Lucy Binns, Chris Brown, James Dove, Byron Edens, Lydia Kilbey, Hugh MacPhail, Andrew Orrow, Margaret Powell, Charlie Rose, Andrea Welsbey


SIR – The twice-delayed NHS project is now said to be “vital” for improving the country’s poor cancer survival record.
One of the biggest reasons for poor survival in cancer is late presentation to a health professional. Men are less likely to come early to their GP, particularly when their symptoms are perceived as embarrassing.
If remains as envisaged – unconsented, irreversible, with identifiable information and with personal data being sold to third parties – then people will be increasingly reluctant to attend their GP with such symptoms, through well-founded concerns that details of their consultation will be transferred to a vast government database to their detriment.
NHS England needs to rethink this ill-fated scheme completely, otherwise health outcomes in England may well worsen instead of improve.
Dr Neil Bhatia
Yateley, Hampshire
Silt guilt
SIR – In the blame-game over the flooding on the Somerset Levels, Baroness Young of Old Scone (chief executive of the Environment Agency, 2000-2008) and Lord Smith of Finsbury, her successor, conveniently fill the roles of Witch and Warlock.
They must indeed bear joint responsibility for overseeing policies that led to the accumulation of silt so well illustrated by the time-lapse photographs of the River Parrett at Burrowbridge (report, February 18).
However, most of this silt will have come from cultivated fields upstream, where soil structures may have been affected adversely by years of arable cropping. When heavy winter rains cannot penetrate the compacted field surfaces, storm-water has to run off, carrying with it silt and clay from the soil into drainage channels.
For a long-term solution to this kind of flooding, a return is needed to the practice of alternate husbandry, where fields are cropped for three or four years before being sown out to grass, then grazed or cut for hay and silage for a period. This was normal practice historically and allowed the desirable crumb-like, spongy, porous soil structure to recover.
It is not only the quango bosses who are to blame for creating the current problem. Farmers have a role to play.
John Phillips
Dunblane, Perthshire
Pleased by teasels
SIR – A simple way to attract goldfinches into your garden (Letters, February 20) is to grow some teasels. They come from seed very easily, and the birds love to feed from the dry seed-heads. When the birds have had their fill, the dried plants make lovely interior decorations.
James Logan
Portstewart, Co Londonderry
SIR – On the matter of Scottish independence, there should be mention of Quebec’s one-time flirtation with independence from Canada. I remember well the flight of many company head offices from Montreal to the settled safety of Toronto.
R S Eades
Maidenhead, Berkshire
SIR – If Scotland does become independent, will it disappear from the BBC weather map?
Trevor Neilsen
London W6
Not forgotten
SIR – Joe Shute’s feature, highlighting the work of Bruce Blanche over 30 years to commemorate his uncle, Flying Officer Jim Lyon (who steered a stricken Wellington away from Quainton, Buckinghamshire), brought before the public the fact that so many air crew of Bomber Command lost their lives without going to war. Not all of them are forgotten.
On June 2 1943 the crew of a Whitley bomber, flying out of Honeybourne and on their last training flight before going operational, crashed and died near Broadway Tower in Worcestershire. A Cotswold stone memorial bearing a plaque with the crew’s names was erected, and each year on the anniversary of the event, the local branch of the RAF Association holds a memorial service.
Over the years the stone had crumbled, but the RAF Association raised the funds to replace it with a new one.
Cyril Burton
Abbots Morton, Worcestershire
SIR – RAF Westcott, from which Jim Lyon flew, was used by 11 Operational Training Unit. This unit lost 145 aircraft, all but three of them various marks of Wellington. From this considerable total, 16 failed to return or crashed during operational flights.
William R Chorley
Sixpenny Handley, Wiltshire
Steam tomorrow
SIR – I overheard a woman who had been persuaded by her family to visit the National Railway Museum in York. Not being overly interested in railways, she had been unimpressed by the exhibits, until she saw Mallard. “So futuristic,” she said.
Alex Dow
Cowdenbeath, Fife
Real corkers
SIR – Alex (February 21) can’t identify his wine because a flooded cellar soaked the labels from the bottles. It seems he has been sold a pup. All good claret has the vintage and chateau on the cork.
Charles B de B Madden
London W1
Time and tied
SIR – Will self-tying shoelaces (Letters, February 21) need untying before the shoes can be put on?
Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Merrily we roll along
SIR – Christmas wouldn’t be the same in our house without Christmas-themed toilet rolls (Letters, February 21).
These are removed from their holders at the same time as the Christmas decorations, and any unused paper stored for next year.
Kevin Leece
Gravesend, Kent
SIR – We married in 1955 and I had an uncle who worked in the printing trade. When my husband and I returned from honeymoon we were astonished to find the entire house decorated with copies of one particularly lovely wedding photograph.
I even discovered that the roll of crispy paper in the loo had been printed on each sheet with the same picture.
Wendy Gordon
Henfield, West Sussex
SIR – My father returned from a visit to Switzerland in the Thirties with a decorative loo-roll holder which, when a piece of paper was pulled, played the national anthem. As we were a patriotic family, this caused a dilemma: to stand or not to stand.
Cilla Hall
Bicknoller, Somerset

SIR – The decision by the Church Commissioners (Letters, February 12) to spend a lot of money on a house that the Church has already sold off, for the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who already had accommodation in a palace built for the purpose, is obviously absurd.
The statement by Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, that these decisions were made on grounds of “suitability” gives the game away. At Save Our Parsonages, we are familiar with the term “unsuitable”. This is the term the dioceses always use to justify selling off fine rectories and vicarages for short-term gain, as though a building can suddenly become unsuitable when it has been suitable for hundreds of years.
The Commissioners have said of the house allocated for the bishop: “The property was formerly owned by the Diocese.” We have pointed out more times than we care to recall that dioceses do not, and never have, owned parsonages. They are owned by the incumbent. The dioceses have power to sell them off in an interregnum, but that is different.
The Diocese of Bath and Wells says that “the Church Commissioners have failed to undertake effective consultation at a local level”. But this is just how diocesan officials treat their own parishes, selling off parsonages without local consultation.
Anthony Jennings
Director, Save Our Parsonages
London WC1

SIR – I would support the Most Rev Vincent Nichols when he says that welfare reforms are causing misery (report, February 15).
Working as a volunteer at a Citizens Advice Bureau, I found out about food banks. I decided to help out at one once a month. One man who had heart problems couldn’t afford to heat a room, so his only way to keep warm was to stay in bed. What hope is David Cameron offering this very poorly man?
A young woman with twins under 18 months, who was also looking after a relative’s autistic child, was forced to visit the food bank to feed the family. Citizens Advice was trying to help her, but there had been a mix-up over what she was entitled to, and so she was desperate. What hope does Mr Cameron give these people?
And we call this modern Britain, and are told we are all in it together!
Joan Hall
Hayfield, Derbyshire
Related Articles
Dioceses sell off parsonages for short-term gain
22 Feb 2014
SIR – Perhaps Archbishop Nichols was referring to the people whose benefits had been suspended owing to their having refused job offers, not turning up to Jobcentre appointments or not doing enough to find work – 818,000 incidents since October 2012 (report, February 20).
Dr Leslie Dobson JP
Whitby, North Yorkshire
SIR – The problem with hierarchies is that the elevated members feel the need to make statements, which people believe to be the Christian position.
So we have Archbishop Nichols sounding off about welfare economics even though he is no economist and should perhaps run his ideas past those of us who are.
Priests working in parishes know the safety net is still in place and that the reforms of Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, are part of a moral crusade to help the very poorest in society.
Overall, austerity has brought sanity to Britain’s finances. Challenging the benefits culture is playing its part in drawing people back into work and out of the slough of welfarism.
Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife
SIR – Nobody disputes that the welfare system needed reform. Nobody disputes that there is a small number of people who exploit it to the point of committing fraud. The question, however, is: “What price should be paid to solve these problems?”
By inference, the Prime Minister’s view is “any price”, and this is where he loses the debate.
With crime generally, we accept that the risks of an incorrect decision do not have equal consequences – convicting someone wrongly is somewhat more serious than letting a guilty person go free. This is a sign of a civilised society. So why should it be different with the approach to improving welfare?
The Archbishop is absolutely right.
John Newman
Hinckley, Leicestershire

Irish Times:
Irish Independent:

Madam – Well done to ESB workers who got the country back in the light, back on its feet.
Also in this section
Ireland’s blind nationalism
AIB rugby fat cats
Letters: Syria’s civil war is an affront to humanity
In the country’s hour of need, they did, and are doing, Trojan work, a great job.
They can walk tall.
They have done themselves proud.
They deserve a standing ovation.
And all emergency workers, paid and voluntary, who helped in flood areas, and every place they were needed, did wonderful necessary work.
They all showed a true Irish spirit. And they showed what Irish men and women are capable of and willing to do.
With people like them, our country is in good hands. True, genuine patriotism.
And they didn’t demand bonuses or golden handshakes.
Credit where credit is due.
Margaret Walshe,
Clonsilla Road, Dublin 15
Madam – Though Ruth Dudley Edwards’s article (‘Suicide rates reveal true legacy of Provo violence’, Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014) is challenging, it is nonetheless salutary to remember that one must make a distinction between correlation and “causation” regarding the heartrending phenomenon of suicide. It would also be helpful to resist the temptation to introduce the idea of “another order of suffering” into this sad narrative – an idea which effectively denies, or at least diminishes, another narrative of suffering on this island.
Ms Edwards might care to reflect upon some hard realities which bring home the intensity and ferocity of violence imposed upon our progenitors, inclusive of the police, general security forces and others, by those whom the Irish State has the arrant impertinence to venerate as heroes and patriots within the environs of Leinster House. This order of suffering from 1916 to 1923 does not deserve to be effectively omitted from the scales of human suffering – however unintentionally.
Ms Edwards is fully aware that all three phases of violence – 1916, 1919-21, and 1922-23 – were instigated by Fenian nationalists who threw acid into the face of liberal democracy. Within four years of activity (inclusive of 1916), over 2,500 people had been killed, and 6,000 people wounded. This scale of human suffering must not be divorced from the nightmare of the 30 years of Provo war, for to do so is to give succour to the dastardly violent foundation myths of this unethically founded State and its glorification of sanitised murderers.
I would respectfully request that Ms Edwards should withdraw the phrase “another order of suffering”. Citing the length of the timeframe regarding Provo violence as justification for including the phrase simply flounders when tested logically and analytically. Both orders of human suffering on this island were the same, and reveal the same abhorrent nature of Fenian nationalist fascism.
Pierce Martin,
Celbridge, Co Kildare
Madam – Well done to Tony Fagan on his letter (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014) ‘Hollow words from Sinn Fein’. He speaks such truth. Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald and Co, are so focused on trying to rewrite history that they miss the main point – we are not stupid people, we are quite aware of their agenda.
In Tony Fagan’s letter, he brings to mind the murder of Det Garda Jerry McCabe. Never forget how Ann, his widow, tries to sleep, thinking of her pain and loss.
In relation to Mary Lou, I get the impression she is in total denial regarding the crimes of Sinn Fein/IRA. Let’s ask about the theft of millions of euro by the IRA or the murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.
Ask Gerry Adams why he visits Margaretta D’Arcy in Limerick prison. He says she’s not a criminal. I don’t think he understands the word.
Of course, Mr Adams knows all about the law – he makes his own rules.
Una Heaton,
Madam – We shouldn’t be bullied by those who use half truths to associate supporters of legalised and safe sex work with serious crime. It may be in the interest of the rescue industry to conflate trafficking or soliciting a minor with sex work but it is doing a disservice to everyone else, including victims.
Their judgmental stance towards a person with a disability who may visit an escort for a chat is not unlike homophobia, and they dismiss the views of sex workers who operate willingly.
The UN and Amnesty International have condemned Sweden’s law criminalising buyers of sexual services as dangerous and a health hazard.
It also infantalises women by telling us that we can’t make decisions for ourselves and has broader implications for personal freedoms – the inevitable consequences of a law based on wishful thinking.
Name and address with Editor
Madam – It is a measure of Eoghan Harris’s antipathy to this Government that in condemning it and Alan Shatter, he actually lauds Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014).
One normally expects to find Mr Harris backing a member of Cabinet whom anti-Israeli agitators love to demonise, and backing Garda Commissioner Callinan. But no, the temptation to have a crack at the Government was too strong.
He also rails about some media outlets not being more vocal in the GSOC affair. Might I suggest that the Section 31 mentality which Mr Harris rightly lauded at the time still permeates some media organs. Conor Cruise O’Brien and some like-minded folk from that era must be turning in their graves!
Brendan Cafferty
Ballina, Co Mayo
Madam – One has to smile at William Barrett’s strenuous efforts to undermine the Irish people and its Republic and his underlying arrogance and determination by trying to convince us that we would have been virtually superior beings by staying part of the UK, or being British, and would like us to finally accept this on his behalf (Sunday Independent, Letters, February 9, 2014). I sense an air of bitterness at the loss of his fantasy empire.
He refers to Eoghan Harris’s personal opinion that before 1916, Irish people were content with symbols of the British empire, such as the Union flag and the monarchy, and referred to the British navy as ‘our navy’, while in reality an entire century (and before) was marked by an intense resistance against British rule which culminated in series of revolutionary movements and also outright rebellions.
There was the uprising of 1798, Robert Emmet’s rebellion (1803), Daniel O’Connell (1820s), the Young Ireland Movement (1840s), the 1848 Rebellion, Irish expatriates supporting rebellion at home in the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War (1840s), the Fenian Uprising (1866), the Charles Parnell era (1870s), the Land War (1879), Civil War (1922-23).
The Famine was the final nail in the coffin, where Queen Victoria was openly mocked as the ‘Famine Queen’, in her propaganda-driven visit to Ireland of 1849.
Mr Barrett’s personal fantasies of trying to impose an image of the British empire in ‘glowing terms’ is sadly his own.
Mairead Mitten,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 14
Madam –I refer to article by Eilis O’Hanlon (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014), headed ‘Mortgage sell-off is an act of pure financial treason’.
It is an absolute national scandal to say the least that our Government is willing to allow 13,000 Irish families be thrown to the mercy of vultures – vultures who are invited to buy ex-Irish Nationwide mortgages at crazily low rates.
Oh yes, there is definitely something very rotten in the state of Ireland – especially when the Taoiseach dismisses the genuine pleas of the people who deserve respect, including journalist Eilis O’Hanlon.
I fully agree with Ms O’Hanlon when she says: ‘I don’t know why being confronted with the fact these people don’t give a rat’s ass about us should still be surprising, but it is.’
It is more than clear that An Taoiseach and the current Government don’t give a rat’s ass about the people of this country who have suffered greatly since they used us, the taxpayers, to bail out the bankers and keep them in their overpaid jobs.
Derry-Ann Morgan,
Naul, Co Dublin
Madam – The latest news from Moore Street is very sad (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014).
The Paris Bakery, which represents all that is good in commercial development, preservation and restoration, job creation and a loyal customer base, has been told that its lease will not be renewed by Chartered Land, the same party that has allowed the National Monument to deteriorate.
The contrast was obvious when I visited Moore Street last October and had a delicious lunch at the Paris Bakery. The developer which now seeks to close the bakery has failed to preserve the buildings where the brave men of 1916 spent their last hours as free men, whereas the owners of the Paris Bakery have painstakingly restored the historic building and created a business that brings visitors and tourists to this historic street.
Restoration, not destruction, should be the goal in this historic quarter of Dublin.
A museum developed by commercial interests and dwarfed by a shopping mall will not honour Ireland’s history or properly tell the story of 1916. The National Monument must be restored and the derelict condition remedied. Restoration of the individual buildings and the creation and support of small businesses like the Paris Bakery would support the creation of a heritage quarter and provide context and appropriate surroundings for the restored and preserved National Monument.
Robin Mary Heaney,
Madam – One doesn’t need a masters in psychology to guess the reaction of the organisers of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York if members of the gay community did not participate in the event, irrespective of whether or not they marched without banners proclaiming their sexual orientation.
However, in the past, the organisers of the parade were delighted to have as Grand Marshal a former ‘Chief of Staff’ of the Provisional IRA – a terrorist gang that murdered men, women and children in an attempt to achieve a ‘United Ireland’ by force.
Tony Moriarty,
Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W
Madam – I wish to express my concerns about Brendan O’Connor’s article on the Vatican (Sunday Independent, February 2, 2014).
It shows a total ignorance of the great work the Catholic Church has done. We all feel great shame about what has happened in our church. But there is shame in all our lives about the things we do to other people. Many paedophiles hid behind the collar. Christ got us to examine ourselves when He said: “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”
You seem to have some atheistic agenda to forget about the 90 per cent-plus good that Catholics did and continue to do.
John Stack,
Co Clare
Madam – As the country recovers from the latest storm, I can’t help wondering if anyone else has recognised a cruel irony. As we are all aware the ESB group of unions, including members working for ESB Networks, held the country to ransom with threats of power outages over Christmas to protect their generous pensions. They were vilified by many as being over-paid, greedy and pampered. With each storm tens of thousands lost power, many of whom would no doubt have shared these anti-ESB worker views. How fitting it is that they have had to rely on those self-same “pampered” workers to restore their power supply.
Marcus Pull,
Kilmacud, Co Dublin
Madam – I refer to an article by Fiona O’Connell (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014).
I feel the comment re our rivers ie “that with all the toxic fertiliser and animal waste we keep pumping into them” is grossly unfair to one of our most important industries.
She might look at Ear to the Ground of February 13 on RTE Player and the very impressive O’Dwyers Butchers from Cashel.
I’m sure she would agree that they represent all that is best in Irish food production.
Donal Dilworth,
Glanmire, Co Cork

Month off

February 22, 2014

22 February 2014 Month Off

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to ftake Sir Willowby to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, but end up I Shanghai by mistake Priceless

Last day of Peter for a month, boxes exchanged

Scrabbletoday I wins but gets under 500, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.




Susan Hillyard, who has died aged 87, was the “First Lady” of the lost world of Abu Dhabi’s expat community before oil changed the region for ever; when she arrived in 1954, most of the emirate’s population had never set eyes on an English woman before, a potentially difficult situation she smoothed out through her cheery embrace of the emirate’s culture and people.

At that time Westerners of any description rarely visited the region, let alone a young Englishwoman decked out in trim skirts and cardigans, with a make-do-and-mend Home Counties demeanour and a beaming smile. Susan Hillyard, her husband Tim — a BP representative — and their daughter Deborah, were the first Europeans to settle in a city that had yet to become a hub for the oil industry. While Tim oversaw the construction of an offshore exploration centre and liaised with Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan — the ruling emir of Abu Dhabi — and his brother Sheikh Zayed Al Nahayan (later the first president of the United Arab Emirates), Susan Hillyard was left to settle into an alien environment where “civilisation” consisted of a kerosene-run fridge and a copy of The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide.

But she soon fell in love with the region. By the time BP struck oil in 1958, at the Umm Shaif offshore field, she had become a valued link between the closeted realm hidden behind the walls of the royal palace of Qasr al Hosn — with its veiled sheikhas and heady incense — and the gin-and-tonic set of émigrés and struggling oil prospectors.

She was born Susan Watt on May 2 1926 at Weybridge, Surrey. Her father Ronald Watt and grandfather, AP Watt, were literary agents and, aged six, Susan wrote a short play titled The Burglar which her grandfather sent to Rudyard Kipling (whom he represented). Kipling wrote back encouragingly.

She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before going up to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she read Modern History and served as secretary to the university Conservative Association the term before Margaret Thatcher became its president. Coming down, she taught History, Latin and English at Jersey College for Girls, Châtelard School in Switzerland, and St Helen’s in Quebec.

On her return to England from Canada she was introduced to her future husband through a mutual friend. The “chemistry was instant”, she recalled. They were engaged within three weeks. After their marriage in 1950, the couple moved to Baghdad where Tim was working and where Susan taught English and History at Baghdad University. From there the pair set off, three years later, for Abu Dhabi.

When her husband first proposed the move Susan was taken aback. “Aberdovey?” she asked. “What is BP doing in Wales?” Correcting her, Tim, who had previously travelled around the Gulf, explained that they would have to build their own house and she would need to learn Arabic as soon as possible. “My eyebrows shot to the back of my head,” she recalled. ‘“Dead easy,’ said Tim, ‘You go to the zoo, stand in front of the camel enclosure, and when you can say ‘Ghuqghq’ like them, you’ve cracked it’.”

Their sea passage to Abu Dhabi took them via Dubai and Bahrain. When Susan attempted to wash Deborah’s nappies over the side of their dhow a large grey shark swooped on the dangling bait .

They arrived at night in September 1954, to the crack of a rife shot from a nervous port guard, and settled into the house that Tim had built on the edge of town. By modern standards “Bayt Al Yard” (Arabic for Hillyard’s House) was rudimentary: a whitewashed cube, its walls were constructed out of coral heads harvested by pearl divers — their porosity helping to keep it cool — and the water for the cement had to be brought from Dubai, the water in Abu Dhabi being almost as salty as the sea.

BP, they soon realised, were counting the pennies and conditions were harsh. “Life, in fact, was grim, not just for the inhabitants but for us, even though we were used to hardship having gone through the war,” Susan wrote years later. “There was no blood, but toil yes, sweat aplenty for eight to nine months of the year and tears of loneliness, despair, and, I hate to confess it, self-pity.” She was, however, resolved to make it work and so embraced the sunny side of her new life. “Moaning is tedious and laughter has much more to recommend it,” she declared.

Susan Hillyard was to become such a fixture at the court of Sheikh Shakhbut — where she struck up close bonds with the women — that she was present at a royal birth. When their English friend dangled the baby boy by his feet to drain fluid from his lungs (the practice of many an English midwife) the surrounding Arab women were aghast. Only when the new mother repeated the action did the group relax.

Susan Hillyard threw elaborate birthday parties for Deborah, for which scores of local children were rounded up by a BP driver calling out “Deborah’s Christmas, Deborah’s Christmas”. The young guests were treated to sweets and introduced to English party games (a special shopping trip to Bahrain was required). “I had got in 144 bars of chocolate and 144 balloons,” Susan remembered late in life — for the 288 children who played pass-the-parcel and tag on the sand plains outside Bayt Al Yard.

The family became an incongruous yet accepted part of the landscape. She recounted the story of a tradesman arriving from the Buraimi Oasis at the crossing to Abu Dhabi Island who greeted the guard in the traditional fashion:

“Peace upon you.”

“And upon you be peace. What is the news?”

“There is no news. By God, Al Yard’s [Hillyard’s] lorry is stuck in the sabkha.”

“In God’s name what a mess!”

“What is to be done? It is the will of God. At least there are no camels involved.”

The family left Abu Dhabi after the discovery of oil in 1958 as Susan was concerned that if they stayed longer Deborah would later find it difficult to integrate with English children. Tim’s BP postings took them first to Canada, where a second daughter, Susanna, was born in 1960, and subsequently Alaska, Libya and Australia, before returning to England in 1967. In the early 1970s Susan was a consultant to Shell Oil on a proposed project to educate 25 Muscati boys from Oman at a British boarding school.

Tim Hillyard died in 1973 and Susan subsequently settled in Derbyshire where she was active in the Anglican church and researched her memoirs. Before the Oil (2002) was a labour of love, written at the insistence of her old friend Sheikh Zayed who declared that she was “now the only person who clearly remembers Abu Dhabi as it was”.

Abu Dhabi was to change forever and Susan Hillyard was a great source of information on the city’s social history (she advised the British Museum and architects restoring the Qasr el Hosni). She returned to the city a final time in 2007 to find it unrecognisable from the small port she had known 60 years earlier. Until the end of her life she remained fascinated by the links between Western and Arab cultures; in her last days Susan Hillyard’s family sat reading to her from her own annotated copies of the Bible and the Koran.

Susan Hillyard is survived by her two daughters.

Susan Hillyard, born May 2 1926, died February 16 2014





I agree with most of Suzanne Moore’s rage against the awards (I’m sick of awards ceremonies, G2, 20 February) but if she had pressed the BBC red button on Wednesday evening and avoided the Brits she would have seen another side of our cultural life in the form of the Radio 2 Folk Awards. The designer gowns, six-inch heels and all the rest were replaced by comfortable jeans, loose shirts and the kind of pretty dresses you might wear to visit your gran. More importantly, the award winners displayed fine talent and a grounded attitude to life which will carry them far in their musical careers. Even the boot camp for the Young Folk Award nominees (shown on film) was a model of fun, hard work and a co-operative spirit. These awards didn’t have the glitz and the glamour associated with the ceremonies that Ms Moore was describing but they involved rounded personalities who represent an authentic voice in our arts scene in Britain.
Jan Ross
Exmouth, Devon

• Dr John Boardman (Letters, 21 February) wonders when the idea of joined-up thinking between science and land-use policy will infiltrate Defra. I suggest that he doesn’t hold his breath. There’s no sign that authoritative, peer-reviewed science has recently had any impact on government policy on climate change, drugs, health, crime, national security, or anything else I can think of.
Nik Holmes
Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

• How much time are employers expected to invest reviewing the 50-plus job applications submitted each week by a DWP claimant (Jobseekers live in culture of fear, 19 January)? A waste of everyone’s time.
Robert Felix
Woodford Green, Essex

• Please let Scotland go (Letters, 17 February). If Scotland separates from the UK we English can have double summer time again and then my grandchildren can play out as late as we did in the second world war.
John McGarry
Bittadon, Devon

• Only 76 apologies to Scotland from England (G2, 20 February). The list of apologies to Wales will be a bit longer.
MJ Lewis
Wakefield, West Yorkshire

• Just picked the year’s first wild garlic leaves from the somewhat soggy banks of the River Irwell.
Bob Hargreaves

That it is mutual and communitarian and supports and finances left-of-centre political action are the historic principles on which the Co-operative movement is founded (Co-op Group accused of endangering political party, 18 February). This is the package. If members want to shop and get services from stock-market quoted retailers then they can. If members do not want to support left-of-centre political action then they do not have to join or shop at the Co-op. Chief executive Euan Sutherland’s quote “that in recent years the Co-operative has lost touch with its customers and members [I note he puts 'customers' before 'members'] and with the communities within which it operates – we haven’t been listening” is the kind of vacuous platitude expected from someone whose experience has been in stock-market quoted companies where principles are rare and often sacrificed for profits.

Encouraging members to dismantle the historic principles of Co-operative movement through a “what do you think?” questionnaire is absurd. I am not aware of any stock-market quoted company that has ever asked its customers if it should give the vast sums some of them do to the Tory party. The Co-operative Group appears to have been badly managed as a co-operative. Members are furious with what has happened to mutuality at the now so-called Co-operative Bank. If the group goes belly-up because of mismanagement, then kick out the managers, change the governance structure and retrench, but this does not mean co-operative principles have to be ditched.

Sutherland’s job is to manage the group as a mutual and a co-operative not, as is suspected, slim down some of the businesses for selling off. I am not aware that, since his appointment, he has introduced himself to members, made any statement that he is committed to mutuality and co-operative principles or written to members with his plans.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

• I appreciate the group is heavily indebted and know the board is formulating a strategy to allow us in the co-op to move forward – this to include consideration of all the society’s assets. We were encouraged that our insurance business is not now to be sold, but am anxious to ensure disposal of our Co-operative farms will not be considered. Some assets are, because of their finite value, more important long-term than others. We must protect our farms which could ultimately enable us to control the provenance and integrity of major areas of our food chain.

As the largest farmer in the UK, producing from Aberdeen to Canterbury, we are nurturing a priceless asset. We could lead in “sustainable innovation” and move from being Britain’s largest farmer to its “leading farmer”, demonstrating a long-term commitment to stewardship and the community, a beacon of sustainability. Land is finite, probably the most precious of resources. Once land is gone, particularly in UK, it is well and truly gone. Land holds the key to production of food, water and energy, and also control of the environment, fracking, and development. I have been assured that our farms are not being considered for disposal and we need to ensure this stance is maintained. We have it in our hands to restore public confidence in the quality of our food. We need to remind ourselves of our values and principles. Are we just another business or something very different? The decisions that are taken now will give the group the opportunity the show “our difference” and bring us back to where we started.
Marlene Corbey
Salisbury, Wiltshire

• I filled in the questionnaire and there was no question that asked whether funding to the Co-operative party should continue. Had there been, I would have said yes – the Co-operative party is part and parcel of the overall Co-operative. The question asked was whether it is appropriate for “big business” to donate to political parties. To that I responded “no”. Big business is, for me, and for most people, organisations, often multinational, making huge fortunes on the back of the British taxpayer – not the small Co-operative movement donating a comparative small sum to the party which is part of the organisation. Should anyone interpret the question as referring to the Co-op’s support for the Co-operative party they are being deliberately disingenuous and could face a legal challenge.
Carole Underwood
Kendal, Cumbria

• Letting go of structural links with the Labour party does not mean the Co-op has to abandon politics (Editorial, 18 February). It could return to being a movement influencing and enriching different mainstream political parties. Yes, it might have to work hard to get a hearing with the Tories, but then it has often struggled to gain support for co-operative principles at Labour conferences. As a lifelong Liberal who grew up in a co-operatively built house, I have often regretted my own party not challenging the 1927 link with Labour. If a former Bradford councillor has inadvertently encouraged a more open debate on the matter, so much the better.
Rev Geoff Reid

• I am a long-time member of both the Labour and Co-op parties. Now I find that the latter has more ideas on alternatives to private enterprise, namely co-operatives. Further, the Co-op party is less dominated by wealthy elites than the Westminster Labour party. Has the time come for the Co-op party to put up parliamentary candidates quite distinct from Labour?
Bob Holman

• The Co-operative is to be congratulated on its online “Have your say” initiative to help inform the future development of its business and co-operation in the UK. Co-operatives are about collective action, where people join together to find practical solutions to their everyday problems. How can the conversation include the 25% of citizens who could benefit from Co-operative structures and approaches who do not have internet access?
David Smith
Newport, Gwent


What is it Ivor Mitchell (Letters, 15 February) thinks parents ferrying their children to school in cars will be doing after dropping them off? Driving home and sitting on their sofas eating chocolate biscuits? Sadly, I don’t have time to spend 40 minutes walking to my son’s school and 40 minutes walking back because I have to work, keep up to date with ever-increasing professional demands, food shop, cook healthy food from scratch, clean the house, wash the clothes, sort the recycling, tend my garden to encourage wildlife, do voluntary work, keep up with modern technology to make sure my children are safe, keep in touch with my elderly relatives, check my bank statements to make sure we haven’t been scammed, regularly switch our insurances, utilities, bank account and credit cards, keep up to date with politics so I can vote in an informed way, make sure my kids are doing their homework so they will have a hope in hell of getting a job, have a social life, have a sex life, get seven hours sleep and all the many other things that responsible parents and adults are expected to do these days. Gone are the day when you could just push your kids out the door and send them on their way.

Have you taken a flight anytime in the last decade, Mr Mitchell? Do you buy food from your supermarket that has been flown around the world? Do you buy products using palm oil, such as raisins and soap, which are contributing to mass deforestation? Are you consuming products made in China, where new power stations is being built at an alarming rate? Maybe you should look at your own lifestyle before pointing the finger at other people? Finger pointing – very thinly and smugly disguised as irony.
Claire Norris
Oswestry, Shropshire



Local politicians must take action to protect provision of quality for young children. We are profoundly concerned about the widespread loss of local early years provision of quality and the resulting harm to children and their families. We understand that the resources available to local government are being reduced, and therefore difficult decisions must be taken. But we urge local politicians to protect early years provision, which can have a lifelong, positive impact on young children and their families. Otherwise, we will all pay in the long-term for cuts being made in the short-term.

Since 2010, the number of children’s centres in England has reduced from 3,631 to 3,116; and some of these centres are information hubs open in name only – “half a person and a bunch of leaflets” as Naomi Eisenstadt, the first national director of the Sure Start Unit, has summarised the situation. The House of Commons select committee also reports that “many maintained nursery schools have closed in the last decade” (over a hundred in England) despite robust evidence to show that they offer the best outcomes to disadvantaged young children. The benefits of attending a maintained nursery school last right the way through the school system: their closure represents the worst sort of short-term thinking. The youngest and most vulnerable children are being harmed by these irresponsible actions.

Where is the quality for two-year-olds? Local government has a vital role to play in the successful delivery of the national programme to provide free nursery places for disadvantaged two-year-olds. We know children will only benefit if they attend a good-quality early years setting with appropriately qualified staff. So we are dismayed that some councils fund settings without a good Ofsted rating, and further dismayed by the cutbacks to training courses and to teams of early years advisers. Without training and ongoing support, how will quality be sustained and the poorest settings improve?

A recent report on summer-born children has highlighted the pressure being put on children and parents by local authorities and schools to enter reception class before the age of five.

All these short-term actions which damage children in their early years will have an upward impact as they go through their schooling. This in turn damages communities. Local authorities must do more than blame national government and the economic recession. We therefore call on candidates in the forthcoming local elections in England and Northern Ireland to stop cutting early years provision and pledge their support for the high-quality provision that will benefit young children and their families now, and for years to come.

Helen Moylett President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, Prof Tina Bruce Marion Dowling, Retired Her Majesty’s Inspector, Bernadette Duffy Head of Thomas Coram Centre for Children and Families, Prof Aline-Wendy Dunlop, Jean Ensing Retired HMI, Professor Chris Pascal, Rosemary Peacocke Retired HMI Prof Iram Siraj, Lesley Staggs Retired national strategies director of early years, Prof Kathy Sylva, Prof Colwyn Trevarthen, Denise Hevey Emeritus professor in education, University of Northampton, Anne Nelson National Association for Primary Education, Wendy Ellyat Save Childhood Movement, Jo White Headteacher/head of centre, Portman Early Childhood Centre, Dr Margy Whalley Director, Pen Green Centre for Children and Families and Pen Green Research Base, Ben Hasan Chair, National Campaign for Real Nursery Education, Jane Payler Chair, Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators, Pamela Calder On behalf of The Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network, Melian Mansfield On behalf of Early Childhood Forum, Nancy Stewart Early Learning Consultancy Emeritus professor Tricia David, Nick Swarbrick Oxford Brookes University, Dr David Whitebread University of Cambridge, Beverley Nightingale University Campus Suffolk, Rosalind Godson Unite/Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, Penny Webb Proprietor of Penny’s Place Childminding, Kathryn Solly, Edwina Mitchell On behalf of OMEP, Michelle Melson, Chris Palmer Chair of trustees of Centre for Research in Early Childhood, Birmingham (CREC), Maureen Saunders Trustee of CREC, Sheila Thorpe Trustee of CREC, Professor emeritus Philip Gammage Trustee of CREC, Professor emerita Janet Moyles










Suppose you are wealthy and have £3m to stash away; you have several choices. You could buy gold, which will cost you around  1 per cent to store and insure – £30,000 a year; or you could buy property in New York State which will cost you around 1.5 per cent in taxes – £45,000 a year.  Or you could try a London property, costing you around £2,000 a year in band H council tax, £1,000 a year if you are clever enough to keep it empty. Which would you choose?

The answer is obvious:  simply charge taxes the way that most other countries do, as a percentage of value. This would send most of the parasites rushing out of the country and would push down London prices drastically.

Most of us would see our council tax remain the same, or go down, and councils would have enough money to take care of the local community.

The rather silly “mansion tax” would be complicated and full of loopholes, collect less and benefit central government rather than the locality in which the property is located.

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire


Ed Miliband’s declaration of war on housing shortages is his latest in a series of welcome moves to win the young vote. Housing is arguably the biggest issue for today’s young. There are not enough homes out there, particularly in urban areas and London in particular. Prices are too high, first-time mortgages impossible and rents (the only other option) unaffordable. At the same time, young people are feeling the fall in real wages far more than other demographics.

As Miliband identifies, this is bad news all round for the UK. If young people can’t get a foothold in the cities, businesses are denied access to their life-blood.

Miliband has identified an area where he can make a play for an electorate still very much up for grabs ahead of the 2015 election. The Conservatives continue to prioritise their 45-65 year-old sweet spot, while the Lib Dems have failed to recover from reversing their promises on tuition fees. Despite Labour, and Ed Miliband especially, spending much of the last few years struggling for an identity, they may just have stumbled across one by standing for the interests of the young.

George Baggaley, Director, @NextGenParty, London SW12


How outsourcing cripples  government

Andreas Whittam Smith (21 February) is so right to call for an end to outsourcing.When the practice started, government was naturally seen to be the “intelligent customer” for the services provided. Four decades later, an unintended consequence of privatisation and outsourcing has been a catastrophic loss to government of institutional memory and intelligence.

The need for public interest institutions to fill the gap is now blindingly clear.

Bill Bordass, London NW1


The invented ‘crime’ of blasphemy

The various Muslim signatories, including Sadiq Khan, (report, 20 February) rightly condemn the imposition of the death penalty upon Mohammed Asghar on trumped-up charges of blasphemy. They conveniently focus on the execrable human rights perspectives of this appalling case but ignore its underlying theological dimensions.

What the Pakistani clerics and their Wahhabi-Deobandi paymasters must be told in no uncertain terms is that nowhere in the Holy Qur’an is there any scriptural foundation for blasphemy. The “crime” of blasphemy is an invented doctrine originating from a toxic fusion of questionable hadith (prophetic sayings of Muhammad) and perverse ecclesiastical opinion (ijmah). Neither of these secondary and often suspect sources can override the primacy of Islam’s divine text, which repeatedly says that Almighty God is exclusively responsible for everyone’s spiritual destiny. And not some over-zealous Pakistani court.

Therefore, leading British Muslims should be less pusillanimous and more proactive in exposing the twisted theology of a corrupt Pakistani religious fraternity, instead of only denouncing the ultimate legal sanction that now faces this poor elderly British citizen. It would be better and more effective to wage a combined human rights and theological campaign to secure the release of Mohammed Asghar, rather than just appealing to the good conscience of the Pakistani authorities to defer the death sentence.

Dr T Hargey, Imam and Director, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford


The joke about  German cheese

I was very pleased to see an article extolling Germany as a tourist destination and how to get there by train (The Traveller, 15 February). I have been visiting this beautiful and friendly country for over 40 years and it saddens me that so few people form the UK take the trouble to find out what Germany is really like.

In mentioning various delicacies I really think you should have mentioned Handkäs mit Musik in Frankfurt. This consist of a very low-fat cheese, the portions of which are moulded by hand during manufacture. It is served with bread and a sauce made from chopped raw onion.

It is, of course, best accompanied by Ebbelwoi, which is the dialect name for apple wine. The combined effect of this and the raw onions on the digestive system manifests itself a few hours later. Hence the Musik. Who says the Germans haven’t got a sense of humour?

Donald Payne, Tipton, West Midlands


Misleading  ‘fair tax’ badge

The so-called “Fair Tax Mark” has no basis in fairness whatsoever (Ben Chu, Outlook, 20 February). If it is used in marketing literature by companies that happen to be marked as compliant, it will mislead some investors and consumers into believing that these companies are somehow better than those which prefer not to waste time on such subjective and unscientific badges.

It is for politicians to enact tax laws which provide the appropriate balance between collecting taxes to meet essential public expenditures and ensuring that the country is sufficiently attractive to entrepreneurs and global investors.

There are many wholly acceptable reasons why some companies, and, yes, even multinational companies, pay less tax than a cursory glance at their accounting profits might suggest. The reasons are more often than not complex, and are always incapable of being reduced into a mark out of 20.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with your columnist; this “mark” is certainly not “pro-business”.

Stephen Herring, Head of Taxation, Institute of Directors, London SW1


Give councils power over their money

In his column on 12 February Oliver Wright discusses devolution of power outside London, looking back to the powers of Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham. He identifies the problem as the calibre of locally elected officials.

But who would want the role when council income is tightly restricted by Whitehall and central government will try to micromanage the frequency of refuse collection? Elected mayors and police and crime commissioners do not devolve power; they are merely a distraction. Years of experience have taught me that proposals to increase devolution more often have the opposite effect.

Devolution will not happen until finance is devolved and government grant is less than local tax income. Until then we will get over-zealous enforcement of parking regulations and other ways of increasing local authority income.

The City of Nottingham has part-financed a tram line extension from a levy on business parking, but that is an exception. It would be interesting to know why it succeeded while schemes elsewhere failed. The city rejected the option of a mayor, so the reasons lay elsewhere.

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex





Sir, A couple of years ago I found my 17-year-old son and three friends breakfasting after a sleep-over. All four had had or were about to have major shoulder reconstruction surgery as a result of rugby injuries. Having seen frequent paramedic, ambulance and air ambulance emergency responses at youth rugby tournaments, I ought not to have been surprised (“Fearful parents are forcing their children off the ball”, Feb 18, and Simon Barnes, Feb 21).

Professional players are very fit but still get hurt. Youth coaches (and touchline parents) urge their players to show similar speed, commitment and aggression. However, children are much less well prepared. No wonder serious injuries result and parents become protective.

Stewart Mccallum

Aston Upthorpe, Oxon

Sir, Rugby can be a healing sport, not a hurtful one. My elder son was overweight, dyspraxic, prone to emotional outbursts and shunned by his peer group. Unlike any other sport, mini club rugby, which encourages all sizes, personalities and abilities, gave him a place where he was valued, encouraged and eventually lauded by his teammates as a tenacious prop.

The value this gave to his life was beyond measure. I now have an active, confident and outgoing son at university. Most of this change in his early outlook was as a direct result of his participation in mini rugby.

Claire Barnett

Humshaugh, Northumberland

Sir, Professor Allyson Pollock’s work shows that a young person has a 20 per cent chance of being injured in a full season of rugby. Mr Henderson of Bristol says that his experience of coaching and refereeing does not bear this out (letter, Feb 19). When I played rugby at school I sustained a fracture every other year, on average. I once had two fractures in one game, although I still finished it. My experience on its own would give a figure in excess of 20 per cent.

However, I do realise that no single individual’s experience can give a full picture of the risks.

Greg Wright

Frome, Somerset

Sir, The more a child is shielded from risk today, the harder it will be for them to make safe and informed decisions tomorrow. Minor knocks and spills are powerful teachers — especially about the threats and opportunities posed by time and gravity, but also about our friends. The consequent damage to our bodies (and sometimes to our pride) is an essential part of learning and growing. The main danger comes, I suspect, when children who have never been allowed to play in the streets, hills or woods suddenly have to deal with hitherto unknown risks. The later they learn, the more they are likely to struggle. Of course, the more skilled they become the harder they will push their luck, and so tragedies will always occur in our play and our sporting life.

David Boorer

Llandovery, Carmarthenshire

Sir, Parents not letting their children play sport saddens me. My three sons, now middle-aged, played cricket, football and rugby at school. There were minor injuries and visits to A&E but no serious sporting injuries. On one occasion my middle son came home after playing a school match. When I mentioned that he had blood on his face he replied “I wondered why people on the bus kept looking at me.”

Anne Bartlett

Poole, Dorset



Changes to the system and the setting of targets mean that family law cases are being rushed and not prepared for properly

Sir, We are concerned by the case in the Family Proceedings Court (“Family court judges are ‘in cahoots’ with social workers”, Feb 19) about a baby reunited with the mother after an appeal in the High Court revealed a system of “rubber stamping” by the lower court. We are also concerned that a fellow psychologist apparently provided a report that was prepared in a day without having time for adequate investigation.

The Ministry of Justice emphasises that delay is to be prevented and cases are to be concluded within 26 weeks regardless of the circumstances of the case.

Local authorities and social services are scrambling to “front load” assessments so that when the case gets to court, it can be concluded as quickly as possible, preferably with minimal or no analysis from an independent expert.

In the rare cases where experts are being instructed, we are presented with ever tighter deadlines, less time in which to see families, lower fees, and often with instructions not to read all the documents, ie, we are not able to spend the time we know that is required to do the job properly. As a result senior experts are leaving this field in droves, and those who remain are at risk of developing excessively cosy relationships with local authorities, affecting their independence. We believe that this is unlikely to secure children’s best interests.

Dr Kari Carstairs

Dr Mair Edwards


Travellers should be wary when accepting offers of help with their luggage — it may well be from an opportunistic thief

Sir, Now that the skiing season is under way, I hope our recent misfortune will serve as a warning to others.

Travelling by train through the Valais region of Switzerland, we had to change at Visp. This meant going down to a lower level and then up again to the right platform. No lifts or trolleys, so we had to struggle with cases, boots, etc, and we were grateful for the offer of help from two polite strangers. In fact, they helped themselves . . . to our valuables.

The Swiss police told us that for three years highly professional gangs, usually East European, target hapless travellers. Although the offer of help with luggage is a known ploy, there are no warning notices, and we saw no police on the platforms.

I hope the Swiss authorities will address this problem with more urgency than they have hitherto.

Roslyn Pine

London N3


For some teachers, writing out lines or learning poetry was considered a suitable punishment. Others were more inventive

Sir, The headmistress of my school decreed that learning poetry or Shakespeare should be always a pleasure, and so was unsuitable as a punishment.

Writing out lines was considered pointless and bad for handwriting.

If you were caught without your hat or beret or wearing it “inappropriately”, however, you had to wear it in school for the whole of the next day.

I don’t know if it worked but now I rarely leave the house bare-headed, and often wear a beret, but almost always at a rakish angle.

Janet Hutson

North Ferriby, East Riding


The present system of land registry needs serious improvement when it comes to transparency and accountability

Sir, Whatever concerns Hilary Mobbs (letter, Feb 18) has about the short public consultation and proposed changes to Land Registry, it is clear from my experience over the past three years that the present system needs serious improvement when it comes to transparency and accountability.

In 2011 the Land Registry refused my sister and me title to more than half the land in our hill farm, which has been owned by our family since 1875. We discovered from searches that third parties (including our tenants who have been paying us rent for it for over 40 years) had been granted title to some areas.

Our requests (with payment) to Land Registry to see evidence of third-party ownership are repeatedly rebuffed by the Registry with the claim that it has failed to retain the relevant documentation. An electronic record without documentation is unjust and is an encouragement to fraud.

Louise Donnelly

Talybont, Gwynedd





SIR – Colin Bond asks why Scotland wishes to throw away any independence by becoming a full member of the EU (Letters, February 18).

The answer is simple: the emotional driver is separation from England rather than real independence. England needs to understand this and to avoid a situation where, with “devo-max”, Britain could become like Belgium, with so much delegated to the separate nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) that nobody knows or cares if there is no central government for a year or more.

Brian Fredrick

Le Biot, Haute-Savoie, France

SIR – Allister Heath (Business, February 19) makes a compelling argument on the economic issues surrounding Scottish independence. His closing proposal, however, suggests centralising monetary policy but devolving fiscal policy. Would this not recreate the problems of the eurozone on a smaller scale?

David Paul

Bromley, Kent

SIR – If Scotland achieved independence but failed to acquire EU membership, then would it be necessary for Scots wishing to work in England and Wales to obtain work permits? Quite what happens to the many itinerant Scots who already work in England and Wales is equally uncertain: would they be illegal immigrants?

P R H Preston
Modbury, Devon

Dressing the part

SIR – John Bercow, the Speaker, has asked party leaders to curb “yobbery” at Prime Minister’s Questions. There is no doubt that the Speaker himself is the problem. His predecessors wore the robes of an office respected by MPs. He dresses like a prep-school master, and is treated as such.

Peter Howard
Kingsbridge, Devon

Coming up for air

SIR – The best option for Clive Witcomb, who, on reaching London, had a long queue for an Underground ticket(Letters, February 17), would have been for his party of five to take a taxi for their short journey. This would have been cheaper than the Underground, even with Oyster or add-on fares, and quicker, and they would have had the luxury of a seat each.

Kenneth Wilshire
Cheam, Surrey

Paper in the cigar box with instructions for use

SIR – Two of my paternal bachelor great-uncles ran a farm well into their nineties. The lavatory paper (Letters, February 20) was Daily Telegraph pages, cut into three vertically and folded into a cigar box.

However, a note on the lid declared: “The Editorial sheet [which was changed daily] is for reading purposes only – to be placed back on top in the box.”

Patrick Tracey

SIR – I am obliged to carry sheets of white toilet paper with me at all times as I am excruciatingly intolerant of the dyes used in coloured paper.

Barbara A Southward
Southend on Sea, Essex

SIR – I remember a retired gamekeeper and his wife living up in the hills who always had a bucket of dried hay.

William Tait

SIR – Anyone who matches the loo paper to the colour scheme ranks with those naff people with a fluffy cover for the seat.

Michael Ellwood
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – As a joky Christmas present, I gave my future son-in-law a roll with sudoku on each sheet. I wonder how long he spends in the little room.

Pauline Gurney

SIR – If anyone sold blue paper with a ring of 12 gold stars on each sheet, I’d buy it.

David Peters
Waterlooville, Hampshire

SIR – My wife places the roll on the holder with the loose leaf against the wall. Initially this was accidental, but after raising it, I think she now does it maliciously.

Mark Downs
Leigh, Lancashire


SIR – Am I alone in finding the rules to curling very similar to those of Mornington Crescent?

Tony Kemp
Weston-sub-Edge, Gloucestershire

SIR – As an Englishman, I shall rather miss rooting for Scottish curlers at the next Olympics if Alex Salmond has his way.

Michael Hart
Mannings Heath, West Sussex

SIR – Could someone, please, please, invent extreme curling?



SIR – As landscape architects, architects, engineers, hydrologists, ecologists and other specialists with the experience necessary to tackle flooding, we would like the Government to be aware that the expertise of our professions is available and, we believe, urgently required.

While we are pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will provide leadership and funding, it is essential that government actions are based on best practice developed over many years.

Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy.

We need to look at how forestry, land management and soft-engineered flood alleviation schemes can hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, and how dredging may assist in the lower reaches.

We need to fit sustainable drainage systems comprehensively for existing buildings and all new buildings. Buildings and land that cannot be properly protected should be made resilient to withstand flooding. All new housing on flood plains must be resilient when built.

Co-operation is needed between the professions, the water companies, internal drainage boards, local authorities, the Environment Agency, and Natural Resources Wales. They must all work with landowners and residents to be effective.

In the Environment Agency are people experienced in addressing these problems, as there are among the members of all our organisations. We need to mobilise that joint expertise.

We are asking David Cameron to convene without delay a cross-departmental conference, including the professions, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Communities, the Environment Agency and National Resources Wales, similar to the one convened to address the problem of ash dieback.

S E Illman
President, Landscape Institute

George Adams
President, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers

Heather Barrett-Mold
Chair, Institution of Environmental Sciences

Martin Baxter
Executive director – policy, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment

Shireen Chambers
Chief executive, Institute of Chartered Foresters

Adam Donnan
Chief executive officer, Institution of Environmental Science

Michael Doran
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

John Gregory
Institute of Fisheries Management

Sally Hayns
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

Louise Kingham
Chief executive, Energy Institute

Steve Lee
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management

Karen Martin
Chief executive, Arboricultural Association

Dr Peter Spillett
President, Institute of Fisheries Management

Alastair Taylor
Chief Executive, Institution of Agricultural Engineers

Professor William Pope
Chairman, Environmental Policy Forum

Mike Summersgill
President, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

Jim Whelan
Council Member, Institution of Environmental Science

Print off, drop in, opt out

SIR – I too received no information about opting out of the new NHS database (Letters, February 19). But at a website called one can print off an opt-out letter, sign it and drop it in to one’s GP. That is what I did.

Cynthia Denby
Edgware, Middlesex

Pointed observation

SIR – Nul points in your letter heading (February 19) is not French, whatever fans of the Eurovision Song Contest may think. So I must pedantically award you nul point.

Professor Emeritus Peter Lack
London N10

To knot or not

SIR – You report that the sportswear giant Nike expects to release self-tying shoe laces by 2015.

If the technology could be applied to black bow-ties, I would be seriously interested.

Philip Brennan
Oxhill, Warwickshire


SIR – Like most of your readers, I know people who are on benefits. One of them has, I think, some lessons to teach.

I have known him since he was a toddler. His home circumstances were not settled and it was little surprise when, in his teens, he took the easy option of living “on the social” rather than qualifying himself for a job. Now he is in his late forties, still on benefits, still unqualified. He owns nothing and has no future. He is angry, aggressive, dishonest and deeply unhappy with himself and the world.

I often think that had he not been offered that poisonous choice when young, he would now be a happy and valuable member of society.

It also strikes me that the money wasted over decades on bribing him to be useless could have been far better spent on providing him a job. But the state, always ready to solve its immediate problems by throwing other people’s money at them, pre-emptively siphoned money out of the productive parts of society.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols should reflect that offering the option of a life on benefits amounts to tempting people to be useless, unhappy, pauperised failures. Many of us lack the strength of character to resist.

Nicholas Guitard
Bude, Cornwall

SIR – Have I got this right? David Cameron’s “moral mission” is based on the idea that the only way to motivate poor people is to give them less money and the only way to motivate rich people is to give them more money.

Nigel Pedley
Matlock, Derbyshire

SIR – The universal opinion is probably that people should work for their living, but there are those who cannot.

I have encountered a woman who, having left a violent partnership, with her children, while pregnant, waited five weeks for any money to be allocated. When her child was born prematurely, her benefits were stopped pending reassessment.

She is one of very many cases of real hardship. Could Mr Cameron or Iain Duncan Smith explain how she and her family were expected to eat?

Chris Doyle
Carnforth, Lancashire

SIR – Archbishop Nichols says that some people are left hungry and destitute for weeks on end. David Cameron says that the safety net remains in place.

Which is it? They cannot both be right.

John Bunting
Godalming, Surrey

SIR – It seems that “the buck stops here” has truly died. Why should young people bother learning resilience (report, February 11), if leaders such as Nick Clegg blame incompetent officials for people being reliant on food banks?

Ian McKenzie


Irish Times:


Sir, – Am I alone in my scepticism that the universal health insurance proposal from Dr James Reilly is likely to represent good value for the citizens of Ireland? I can’t help but suspect that, as a former head of the Irish Medical Organisation, the Minister might have a bias towards protecting the interests of his profession.

The proposed system is based on that of the Netherlands. In 2011, the 12 per cent of GDP which the Dutch spent on healthcare was the highest in developed world after the US. During the same year, the United Kingdom provided universal healthcare to its people in the form of the NHS, while spending slightly less in GDP terms than Ireland (9.3 per cent v 9.4 per cent). Taking value for money into account, surely the UK health system is a better model to aspire to than the Dutch one? – Yours, etc,


Admiral Walk,

Maida Vale,

London, England.

Sir, – Household charges, local property tax, universal social charge, next up comes water charges – the full range of delights that this wretched Government has imposed on struggling Irish citizens since they took over from Fianna Fáil in 2011.

Its latest proposal to further financially cripple the populace, for the good of our commercial elite, is explained in your Front page story (Martin Wall, February 22nd): “People who refuse to purchase mandatory cover for a basic package of health benefits would have the costs deducted from their earnings or benefits under confidential Government proposals for its new system of universal health insurance”.

Leaving aside the emotive words such as “mandatory” and “refused”, this latest escapade could end up costing the average citizen hundreds if not a few thousand euro per person per year and, although some citizens might still have elected to avail of our public health system this will no longer, essentially, exist. And of course, as per usual, we need to implement this because it’s “the norm across the European Union”.

Perhaps someone can explain to me what part of all of the above does not amount to effective dictatorship? – Yours, etc,


Stillorgan Road,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Minister for Health James Reilly’s proposal for universal health insurance (Home News, February 21st) came as quite a surprise to me. That a health insurance package could cost an individual over €1,600 came as a shock. That it would be mandatory and could be deducted at source from the earnings or benefits of any dissenters almost sent me into palpitations.

This is more nanny-state interference with an individual’s right to choose. Many already struggle while contributing compulsory payments for their health care through PRSI and the universal social charge. Is the Minister so myopic he cannot see this? – Yours, etc,


Dunleer, Co Louth.

Sir, – I am reading the Sunday newspapers on February 16th and it feels like I am watching the Groundhog Day movie. The flashbacks and memories of the gardaí trying to frame me for a murder that didn’t happen aided with the help of Garda informants comes rushing back to remind me of the injustice committed against my family and I at the hands of corrupt gardaí, each day repeating itself over and over and at the stroke of midnight the nightmare starts over again and again. What has changed?

These are the issues that need to be addressed.

Garda reform and recommendations from the Morris Tribunal report need to be implemented.

GSOC: to be given the powers and properly funded by Government to be totally independent and no member of An Garda Síochána past or present to be allowed to work for the GSOC.

GSOC: to be given oversight powers of senior Garda management right up to the rank of Garda Commissioner when allegations of wrong-doing are made against senior Garda management. GSOC: to be given the same powers as its counterpart in Northern Ireland. GSOC: to be given the remit and powers to investigate complaints against the force from allegations made by Garda whistleblowers.

The establishment of new policing boards for each Garda district in Ireland to be put in place with proper powers to enable them to hold senior Garda management to account for policing and that the current joint policing committees be terminated. I have been a member of Donegal’s joint policing committee since 2009. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The former Garda inspectorate Kathleen O’Toole’s work over the five years she was in the job needs to be fully published.

Informants: oversight and constant inspections by an independent authority needs to be established concerning their operations and handling to ensure that no criminality occurs.

For example, after the Morris Tribunal, the Garda force was required to register informants under its Covert Human Intelligence Source system (CHIS). Informants are not supposed to be actively engaged in criminality. What watchdog ensures that the rules are not broken?

See Fr McVerry’s (Jesuit Centre for Faith & Justice) report ( on the Morris Tribunal in 2004 long before its conclusion and An Garda Síochána Bill 2004. It makes for interesting reading. See also Morris’s reports.

The problems that have been aired over recent weeks all stem back to the handling by An Garda Síochána of informants and the intelligence-gathering conducted through their flawed system CHIS.

We must have an independent oversight of the Department of Justice as this is where the heart of our problems lies and their relationship with the Minister and Garda Commissioner is questionable to say the least in a modern day democracy. Reform needs to happen here also.

The question that now needs to be asked is how many innocent people are in jail at the hands of corrupt gardaí. We need to stop this and begin to look at policing in the past, present and into the future so we can learn from our mistakes. Accountability.

Publish the Carty report (internal Garda investigation): this will show why we need reform of the Garda.

So what has changed? Nothing. The only thing that has changed is the gardaí have more power and what comes with more power, more abuse of power.

A threat to justice anywhere in Ireland is a threat to justice everywhere in Ireland. – Yours, etc,



Lifford, Co Donegal.



Sir, – The Constitutional Convention meets today and tomorrow to discuss social economic and cultural rights in the Constitution.  In 1937 the idea that people had economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, as we now call them, was well ahead of its time. 

Is is hardly surprising therefore that basic social and economic rights are expressed as being directive as opposed binding on legislature. Article 45 starts by stating the principles of social policy in the article are intended to be of “general guidance” to the Oireachtas. Financial constraints played a part in ensuring these principles of social policy were non-binding.

What is surprising is that the right to a home or suitable accommodation is not mentioned in the principles of social policy. It cannot be that housing conditions in 1930s were that far beneath the radar.

Given the current crisis in housing, and the likelihood that it is going to get worse, I hope that the members of the Constitutional Convention see the merit of including in the Constitution a right to a home or suitable accommodation as a fundamental right, not just one which is of general guidance to the Oireachtas.

If the members of the Convention have any doubts about the need for a specific right to housing, which is binding on the legislature, I suggest they read Fr Peter McVerry’s very informative letter “Lack of help for the homeless” (February 21st). We have to give people in housing need more than just a sleeping bag.


Ashdale Road,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.


Sir, – Olivia O’Leary (Opinion, February 14th) gave the best possible analysis of the parish pump politics with which we are afflicted in this State. However, all the blame must not be laid on the politicians, as the old adage has it; in a democracy we get the politicians we deserve. As anyone who has canvassed is well aware, the most frequent question is: what can you do for me?

With the new council set-up we have a good opportunity to modernise TDs to deal with national and international affairs: if there’s not enough to keep them busy, reduce their numbers. The parish pump would then be left to councils and the local property tax a council tax applicable to all householders.

Meanwhile a citizens advice bureau should be set up in each town to advise people of their rights. – Yours, etc,



Bunclody, Co Wexford.



Sir, – It is regrettable that the Alliance Party MLA Anna Lo has been subjected to a flood of racist insults over comments she made in regard to the flying of flags and displays of sectarian murals during the forthcoming Giro d’Italia cycle race in Northern Ireland. It is further regrettable, but not surprising, that some senior members of the DUP were not more supportive of the views expressed by the PSNI and the Alliance Party at the comments directed at Ms Lo.

Italian race supporters considering waving their national flag in support of their team should be advised to exercise caution. In 2012 leading NI victims campaigner Willie Fraser branded a school in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone as “the junior headquarters of SF/IRA” and “an IRA training ground” having mistaken an Italian flag flying outside the building for an Irish Tricolour. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Alliance MLA Anna Lo has worked hard for all her constituents and other people throughout Northern Ireland regardless of race, religion or political allegiances. She has always taken a stand against racism and sectarianism and it is extremely sad that she herself is the subject of racist abuse.

We will never have peace until we have a real shared society for everyone. To say that paramilitary murals and symbols should be retained as they attract tourists to Northern Ireland is a strange way to enhance tourism. We should not glorify the dreadful deeds done by paramilitaries and should feel shame if people coming from overseas regard this as what defines our country and makes it worth visiting.

I want tourists to come here to enjoy our beautiful countryside and the friendliness of most of the people without having to confront sectarian and racist symbols. – Yours, etc,


Cairnshill Avenue, Belfast.



Sir, – Every time I read an Irish newspaper I get a sense of déjà vu. Now we are being told that 3,000 people will be forced to work for their dole, with an extra €20 thrown in for their bus fare. They tried this scheme in the 1980s. I remember the shocked look on the Anco (as it was then) interviewer’s face when I told the person I wasn’t interested in its “work experience”, having spent one year as a “temporary clerical trainee” in the civil service. It was just a cheap labour scheme. I went to London and got some real work experience.

Then as now we have gutless, toothless trade unions giving the okay to these cheap labour schemes. Yes, nobody will be displaced, but people will end up doing real work for no money, undercutting working conditions. With trade unions like those, is it any wonder they country is in the state it is. What ever happened to them standing up for workers rights? They should instruct their members to have nothing to do with it. That means not dealing with those on “work experience”. – Yours, etc,


Calle 12D,

Bogotá, Colombia.


Sir, – I want to thank Irish Rail for their excellent service to us passengers travelling on the 11am Dublin to Cork line on February 12th, the day of storm/hurricane Darwin.

The train stopped as expected at Mallow, but we were then told it could go no further because of debris on the line. We were told buses for those going to Cork would be available. However, we then heard that buses could not travel either as it was too dangerous and we were advised to stay on the train where it was warm. Mallow station itself had no power. We remained there for five hours where free food and hot drinks were available as long as supplies lasted, which was most of the time, I think.

A member of the train staff kept walking up and down the train sharing what small bits of information he had in a very good humoured way, and, as happens in such circumstances, conversations started up.

What really made the uncertain wait tolerable was the information we were being given informally and readily. I commend the staff for continuing to be at our service throughout the long wait. – Yours, etc,


Brian Dillon Park,

Dillon’s Cross, Cork.



Sir, – Brendan Behan must be smiling wryly that due to the “self-adhesive” stamp he has escaped having the citizens of Ireland lick his posterior (An Irishman’s Diary, February 21st) . – Yours, etc,


Pinecroft Grange,




Sir, – It is amusing to observe those teasing suggestions that The Irish Times be rebranded as “The Rugby Times” or as Michael Durack more recently suggested “The Leinster Rugby Times” (February 21st). Personally I’m hoping that after today we would all be happy for the rebranding to be “The Grand Slam Times”! – Yours etc,


Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.


Sir, – The response of the Department of Social Protection (February 19th) to welfare payments to homeless people comes straight from the manual, but bears little resemblance to what is actually happening on the ground.

I know many homeless people who have been, and continue to be, denied welfare payments for weeks, even months, on end. Homeless people are routinely told that welfare payments can only be paid if they have an address, and to provide proof of their address, they must furnish receipts for several nights’ hostel accommodation. They are also expected to pay for their several nights’ hostel accommodation, even though they have not yet received any welfare payments!

Dublin City Council will no doubt reply that homeless people are not refused accommodation if they have no money. Again this is straight from the manual, but in practice, a homeless person who contacts the homeless helpline at 2pm (when beds are available) will be asked if they have money to pay for their night in the hostel and if they say “No”, they will be told to ring back at 10.30pm, at which time all the beds will have been filled.

Many homeless people, when they seek accommodation, are offered sleeping bags to sleep rough because there are not sufficient beds available. They, therefore, have no receipts and will not be paid. Others choose to sleep rough because much of the emergency accommodation available is full of drugs, their belongings are robbed, their dignity is destroyed. They feel safer sleeping on the streets. They, too, have no receipts and will not be paid.

There is a growing crisis of homelessness which is being ignored. More people will be unable to access a bed when the “cold weather” beds, which were provided several weeks ago, are closed down at the end of March. It is difficult enough being homeless without being penniless as well. To survive, they have no choice but to beg, borrow or steal. – Yours, etc,


Jesuit Centre for Faith and


Upper Sherrard Street,

Dublin 1.




Irish Independent:


* This year is the 100th anniversary of World War I and it is natural that there will be debates and arguments on the reasons for a war that led to the deaths of an estimated 10 million soldiers.

Also in this section

Mixed signals from EU across the barricades

Letters: From women’s liberation to conservatism…

Letters: Patrick’s Day purse better spent elsewhere

But modern war 100 years later is equally inhumane, with a civil war on an epic and vicious scale affecting civilians in Syria. Efforts by the UN and the US, urging both sides to end the conflict, have failed.

The war is three years old and last year the UN Secretary General said 100,000 people had been killed and 9.5 million had fled their homes within Syria. This is twice Ireland’s population.

This war has displaced millions of people from their homes, not knowing if they will ever return. Some are living across the border in tent cities in Lebanon and Jordan and others have moved to Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Irish and international charities are in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, but they can’t do it alone. The governments of the US, Britain, Kuwait, Australia, Japan, Russia, Norway, Italy, Finland, Canada and Ireland and other countries have sent aid.

The UN has repeatedly told the Syrian government to preserve the lives of non-combatant civilians and captured enemy forces in the regime’s attacks on what it believes are enemy bases.

Thousands of refugees rushed over Syria’s borders this month, claiming that they had been fired on by government jets.

Some say charity begins at home, but the Choctaw Indian people in the US looked into their hearts and sent money that they collected to our own humanitarian crisis in the 1845-49 Great Famine. They suffered, too, in their history.

President Mary Robinson remembered them at one of the many 150th anniversary of the Great Famine events in the 1990s.




* So the Minister for Justice and Defence is being called on to resign and the Taoiseach and his Cabinet have expressed full confidence in Alan Shatter. What does history teach us about the current situation?

For that answer, one may look at Mr Kenny’s statement when the last minister to hold a similar position resigned from his post. It was, of course, Willlie O’Dea. Following Mr O’Dea’s correct decision to stand down, Mr Kenny said: “The refusal of the Taoiseach and his colleagues in government to demand any accountability for this behaviour was the reason that I tabled a motion of no confidence in Deputy O’Dea. Now that he has bowed to the inevitable, he leaves behind a Cabinet whose credibility is in tatters.”

He added: “This debacle raises fundamental questions about the Taoiseach’s willingness to enforce proper standards of behaviour in government.”

To my mind, one of the iconic photographs of the current Taoiseach’s tenure is the image of Mr Kenny chasing a goose. One wonders if Mr Kenny has ever heard of the saying “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”




* I greatly welcome John Bellow’s response (Irish Independent, Letters February 21) to my assertion that “work is dead”. Mr Bellows disagrees with me but his challenge to my viewpoint is an indication that healthy debate on a most important aspect of our future might begin.

The 21st Century is a time like no other; no previous period in history was as successful for the human race. Far from it being a ‘low point’, it is the highest point, economically speaking, the world has ever experienced. The balance of supply and demand has swung greatly in favour of supply. Present economic ideology has no mechanism for restraining or controlling oversupply.

Oversupply adds to the present difficulty by eliminating the great driving force of economic activity through the ages. ‘Growth’ is no longer needed, or indeed possible, in a situation where production has already ‘grown’ to oversupply potential.

This requires urgent management and restraint if business and marketing are to survive and prosper and we are to avoid constant chaos.




* The news of Health Minister James Reilly’s proposal for universal health insurance (UHI) came as quite a surprise to me. That a UHI package could cost an individual over €1,600 came as a shock. That it would be mandatory and could be deducted at source from the earnings or benefits of any dissenters almost sent me into palpitations.

This is more nanny-state interference with an individual’s right to choose. Is the minister so myopic he cannot see this?




* Alan Shatter’s response to opposition questioning: GSOC it to me.




* The received wisdom since the fall of the Wall and the ‘dissolution’ of the USSR in the early ’90s has been that the Cold War is over. However, the recent events in the Ukraine have thrown up some interesting questions regarding whether or not the past truly is behind us.

Ukraine is at a crossroads, having come to a showdown between those determined to keep close to its old Soviet past and those who demand a closer future with the EU.

Furthermore, this issue highlights the extent to which the Cold War still exists in may ways between NATO and Vladimir Putin‘s modern, oligarchical Russia, a Russia ruled by super-rich ex-USSR men.

The idea that history moves in cycles is an old one and a relevant one.




* Surely motorists who use their portable razors at the wheel are in danger of having a really close shave?




* Am I alone in detecting a proliferation of verbal tics in Ireland?

The single most overused verbal tic is the use of the phrase “I suppose…” It may well go something like this:

Presenter: “Well, I suppose, Minister, you are anxious to see an improvement in these figures?”

Minister: “Well, Mary (Sean, Pat, George…), I suppose we have to look at the whole background” blah, blather… ad nauseam.

Another is the widespread misuse of “absolutely”, when in fact, the person merely needs to say “yes”.

Again, some contributors insist on the reply of “correct” instead of a simple affirmative.

If we can moderate these verbal tics, I feel I’d be right in asserting that we could well eliminate supposition absolutely, oh… going forward.




* It is obvious that two women or two men cannot have a child together. But it is also obvious that often neither can one man and one woman.

Does anyone have a case that is not based on the Bible, personal feelings, or on a situation that can just as easily occur in a heterosexual relationship, for barring two people of the same sex who are in a loving relationship from marrying?



Irish Independent



Blood Transfusion

February 21, 2014

21 February 2014 Blood Transfusion

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to find a slogan to encourage recruitment to the Royal Navy. Priceless

Mary blood transfusion, sweep drive and seven books sold

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but gets under 500, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Alison Jolly, the primatologist, who has died aged 76, was an authority on the ring-tailed lemur, and the first to describe the unique social dynamics of Madagascar’s prosimian population at large, disproving the long-held scientific belief that the males are dominant in every primate species.

With an evolutionary history stretching back over 65 million years, the prosimians are the most primitive of all the primates. While other members of the family worldwide — such as bushbabies and tarsiers — were displaced by the arrival of the monkey and the ape, lemurs on the island of Madagascar enjoyed complete isolation from such threats, with the result that around 100 species and subspecies now occupy the same 227, 000 square miles.

It was in this remarkable part of the world, in 1962, that Alison Jolly — one of the first in her field to observe the primates in their natural habitat — began her research at the semi-arid southern reserve of Berenty. Combining a scientific eye for detail with a storyteller’s turn of phrase, she wrote vividly of the human and animal societies she found there.

There were the ring-tailed lemurs with their “racoonlike face masks” and tails like “swaying upraised question marks”; the Tandroy, a native tribespeople with names like He-Who-Cannot-Be-Thrown-to-Earth and The Never-Suckled; and the aristocratic de Heaulme family, French founders of the Berenty estate, who had first set aside the forest reserves.

Most significant for primatologists, however, were her observations on lemur social relationships. In Lemur Behaviour: A Madagascar Field Study (1966), and later in her landmark 1972 textbook The Evolution of Primate Behavior, she established the arguments for what would become known as the “social intelligence hypothesis”. Alison Jolly observed that, while lemurs cannot learn to manipulate objects, as monkeys do, their social skills are just as well-developed. This suggested that social integration was the driving force in the evolution of intelligence, creating what she described as “an ever-increasing spiral”.

A second, equally surprising, discovery arose in tandem with this hypothesis, and concerned male-female lemur interaction. Alison Jolly found that female lemurs were fed ahead of the males, and exerted dominance in other social contexts — a practice that ensured the best physical health and highest possible birth rate in a species whose females were capable of bearing only one infant a year.

In the years following her initial visit to Madagascar, Alison Jolly published more than 100 scientific papers and popular articles, as well as half a dozen books. She was a scientific consultant for the BBC documentary Lemur Island (2007), and a lifelong advocate for the preservation of Madagascan biological diversity and social customs — even as the two seemed to collide, with the destruction of the rainforests and its inhabitants by native Malagasy tribes.

Writing in a 1988 edition of National Geographic, Alison Jolly highlighted this conflict most vividly and movingly in the case of the “aye-aye”, a rare breed of lemur remarkable for its long third and fourth fingers. “In much of the country tradition decrees that [the aye-aye] be slain on sight,” the piece ran, “lest it uncrook its skeleton finger to point out a victim for death.”

Yet she remained optimistic for the future of such species and of the country as a whole, uniting the two concerns in her role on an independent Biodiversity Committee set up to ensure a positive environmental and social outcome from the construction of a large titanium mine on the country’s southern coast. For all its biodiversity, Alison Jolly knew that Madagascar was “no tropical paradise” to its human inhabitants: “They need development,” she insisted.

An only child, she was born Alison Bishop on May 9 1937 in Ithaca, New York, where her mother was an accomplished local artist and her father an author and professor of Romance Languages at Cornell University. She graduated with a BA from Cornell in 1958, then took a PhD in Zoology from Yale.

From 1963 to 1965 she was research assistant to the New York Zoological Society. Upon marriage she moved to England, beginning writing in earnest as a research associate at Cambridge, and later with the University of Sussex from 1971 to 1981. However, the demands of a young family prevented further visits to Madagascar until 1990, after which she made frequent trips to coincide with the lemurs’ “birth period”.

Alison Jolly’s other books on social intelligence, based on her work in Madagascar, included A World Like Our Own: Man and Nature in Madagascar (1980) and Lucy’s Legacy: Sex and Intelligence in Human Evolution (1999), which explored the evolutionary basis of, among other things, bisexuality, the menstrual cycle and the female orgasm.

From 1992 to 1996 Alison Jolly was president of the International Primatological Society, which acknowledged her contribution to the field with its lifetime achievement award in 2010. She was also appointed an officer in the National Order of Madagascar. The tribute that most pleased her, however, came in 2006, with the naming in her honour of a newly-discovered mouse lemur species, the tiny reddish-brown Microcebus jollyae.

Alison Jolly is survived by her husband, the development economist Sir Richard Jolly, and by their four children.

Alison Jolly, born May 9 1937, died February 6 2014




Martin Kettle (Comment, 20 February) derides what he perceives as Alex Salmond’s failure properly to respond to George Osborne‘s insistence that there will be no currency deal and to José Manuel Barroso’s assertion that it would be very difficult for Scotland to remain in the EU. And he supposes the first minister may have concluded that “the game is up”. Yet since Osborne spoke in Edinburgh the polls have shifted markedly towards a yes vote. The latest shows yes up 6% and no down 5%. It’s difficult to portray a consistent upward shift in the yes vote as an indication that the game is up. On Europe, other high-placed commission sources have voiced fears that extricating Scotland from all the European agreements to which it is already a party – from fishing to Schengen to human rights (already embedded in Scots law) – would occasion quite unnecessary chaos.

Finally Mr Kettle should remember those inclined to vote yes in September are a broad church encompassing members of all parties and none. There is a strong Labour and trade union component in the yes camp, and, whisper it, a number of prominent Conservatives currently shuffling uneasily in the closet. Remember too that this is not a Scottish general election: the political nature of the government of an independent Scotland would be decided in such a poll in the spring of 2016.
Ruth Wishart
Kilcreggan, Argyll and Bute

• I fail to see the point of your factually inaccurate piece (Dear Scotland, we’re sorry, G2, 20 February). Was it an example of the English humour we hear so much about, one aspect of which seems to be the belief that all foreigners are funny?
JMY Simpson

Lord Justice Laws and judges Ouseley and Openshaw will long be remembered for a shameful failure of the rule of law embodied in their decision in the case of David Miranda (Report, 20 February). The authorities relied on schedule 7 and section 40(1)(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000, which together entitle them to detain and question persons whom may possibly be “concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. It is not a blanket authorisation for just any concern about national security. But the actual reason for stopping Miranda had nothing to do with his possible involvement with terrorism; it was only to do with his possible possession of materials from Edward Snowden. The judges held that the authorities didn’t have to believe that Miranda was involved in terrorism: they were entitled to detain him to ascertain whether he was. On that reasoning they could detain anyone against whom they had an independent grudge. In his great dissent in the wartime case of Liversidge v. Anderson (1942), Lord Reid wrote: “I view with apprehension the attitude of judges who … when face to face with claims involving the liberty of the subject, show themselves more executive-minded than the executive.” We need him now.
Professor Jeremy Waldron
Chichele professor of social and political theory, All Souls College, Oxford



George Monbiot seems determined to blame farmers for all the current flooding problems (How we ended up paying farmers to flood our homes, 18 February). It is simply not true to claim that farmers need do nothing to protect their soil and still be eligible for CAP payments. Every farmer receiving payment must complete an annual soil protection review. This requires farmers to identify problems – such as erosion and compaction – and set out actions on how to address them. Despite Mr Monbiot’s opinion, farmers have an inherent interest in maintaining their soil in good condition as their livelihood depends on fertile and productive soils. Farmers are also working to make continued improvements in soil management. For example, in the south-west, farmers are participating in schemes such as catchment sensitive farming and soils for profit, which provide advice and training events.

The Journal of Soil Use and Management actually considers the impact that cropping and soil management can have on surface water flows at a field scale. It does not consider the impact of cropping and soil management on flooding. The lessons we should learn from this winter’s floods is all areas, both urban and rural, should be acting across entire catchments to find solutions.
Dr Andrew Clark
Head of policy services, NFU

• George Monbiot is correct that maize is a major problem and is expanding. Defra advice to maize farmers in 2005 was sensible but largely ignored, despite the fact that subsidies were dependant on compliance. Relaxation of these regulations probably will not make much difference. A Defra scheme for assessment of high-risk sites in terms of runoff and erosion is also neglected and academic support for such a scheme seems of minimal interest to the department. One wonders when the idea of joined-up thinking (science policy-land use practice) will infiltrate Defra?
Dr John Boardman
Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford


We are two solicitors currently trying to buy our first home in London or Cambridge (Housing has become the defining economic issue, 19 February). We have been beaten to the few properties we can afford by cash buyers purchasing as an investment and are watching our hard won 10% deposit become ever less effective against soaring house prices. We do not now think we can afford to purchase a property, and know that many others are in the same position.

More house building is essential, but it is not a quick fix, and where new houses would go in cramped London we do not know. In any event, new houses would still be more easily available to investors than first-time buyers. An alternative solution is to remove the incentives for people buying property as an investment, so as to allow more people to buy their first home.

Buy-to let-mortgages should be harder to obtain; additional taxes could be applied to purchasers who already own one or more property. Multiple property owners should be encouraged to sell property and release housing stock to the market. People with money to invest should be given incentives to invest in the stock market or other assets instead. The government should also give consideration to making it easier to negotiate amendments to shorthold tenancy agreements, to make renting more palatable for those unable to purchase.
Charlotte Wright and Chris Durham

Ed Miliband‘s declaration of war on housing shortages is another welcome move to win the young vote. Housing is arguably the biggest issue for today’s young. Quite simply there are not enough homes out there, particularly in urban areas and London in particular. As a result prices are too high, first-time mortgages impossible and rents unaffordable. Young people are feeling the fall in real wages far more than other demographics. If young people can’t get a foothold in the cities, growth is threatened. Miliband has identified an area where he can make a play for an electorate still very much up for grabs. Millennials are disenchanted with the entrenched political parties. The Conservatives continue to prioritise their 45-65-year-old sweet spot, while the Lib Dems have failed to recover from reversing their promises on tuition fees. Labour and Ed Miliband may just have stumbled across a new identity by standing for the interests of the young.
George Baggaley
Director, @NextGenParty

• The Demos study about today’s teenagers (Comment, 16 February) provides a refreshing alternative account. Our hope is that the claimed 15,000 people who in 2012 turned John Tapene’s Words for Teenagers into a viral sensation, will link this article to their Facebook page too. The advice outlined by Tapene apparently came from comments made by a US Judge in 1959! What is clear is that the current generation is not some aberration. Young people remain concerned about their communities, but have turned to alternative forms of democratic engagement. But we need to recognise the diversity of understandings of citizenship held by young people; they are neither all hoodies nor goodies. We are completing a study that seeks to understand how young people construct their own identities as citizens. It reveals that 10 major, distinct perspectives best encapsulate young people’s understandings of being a citizen, the most important of which seem to accord with the findings of Demos. An inclusive conception of citizenship demands that the viewpoints of young people themselves must be heard.
Patrick Hylton, Ben Kisby and Paul Goddard
University of Lincoln

When every effort is now being made to encourage a younger audience to get involved with folk music, what better way to seriously damage this cause than by having the Folk Awards on the same night as the Brits (Report, 20 February)! Is there a country anywhere in the world where two music awards ceremonies and I stress, music, are presented on the same night, in the same city, at different venues?
Gilbert O’Sullivan
St Peter, Jersey

• Some interesting ideas on where to the relocate the House of Lords (Letters, 18 February). Maybe the late Douglas Adams had the best solution – the B Ark?
Nigel Linford
Eastbourne, East Sussex

• Since the Blair government, it has been a legal requirement that a politician who is about to tell a lie is obliged to start the sentence with “the truth of the matter is” or, more simply, “the fact is” (Letters, 20 February). The greater the pomposity, the more outrageous the subsequent lie. I hope this is helpful.
Anthony Hayward
Dudley, West Midlands

• My current bullshit alert is “difficult decision”. This is usually uttered with apologetic gravity which, I suspect, turns to jubilant glee away from the camera.
John Prance

• Re the location of the centre of Britain (Letters, 18 February): surely these claims should be qualified as referring to the centre of mainland Britain? Factor in Shetland and you’ll find that the centre is considerably further north of both Lancaster and Haltwhistle.
Paul Burton

• While the “butter-fried cow’s udder” may not have made it on to London menus yet (Move over sushi, G2, 20 February), my mother-in-law was cooking it in Lancashire decades ago. “Elder”, as it was known, was cooked with tripe, but has been impossible to get hold of since the BSE crisis.
Sally Cheseldine

• My niece in Weymouth was making daisy chains yesterday.
Pearl Carter
Burgess Hill, West Sussex


It is good, as you say, that there is now a political consensus building around the need to offer some childcare from the age of two (Leader, 17 February). However, if this new early learning provision is to be “what is best for children themselves”, it is essential that qualified staff are in place or the evidence shows that these new places will do little to improve social mobility. Our recent Sound Foundations research report for the Sutton Trust found that much current provision for two-year-olds is not yet fit for purpose. Offering less than high-quality places to young children whose parents are not in work addresses neither the child development nor child poverty aims. We have therefore recommended the government delay its planned expansion of free places for two-year-olds and focus on improving the quality of provision for the 20% of two-year-olds already entitled to free places. Investing in relevant qualifications and training for childcare workers is central to ensuring the best outcomes for all children. In the longer term, we will never achieve the quality of care necessary for our younger children without addressing issues of pay and conditions as well as qualifications.
Naomi Eisenstadt, Professor Kathy Sylva, Sandra Mathers Department of Education, University of Oxford

• You sadly note that plans for childcare for pre-schoolers is about “labour market economics” and not “what is best for the children”. What a shameful society we are becoming. For at least the first three years of life, children need regular contact with an adult, obviously best if mother, father or grandparent, who constantly talks with them, plays with them, gives them love and attention. In many homes this is the case, but others are financially and culturally impoverished and in consequence neglect to give their children the early intellectual and emotional stimulus that later in life makes the difference between high achievers and the rest. These are often the children who will struggle with literacy and numeracy at school, and by 16 fail to achieve the five good GCSEs that government is so beholden to. It should be obvious that while a state pension for the elderly is right, likewise there should be state “pension” to protect the very young, so that family care can be universal.

But beyond that culturally impoverished families need support. I would like to see primary education redefined as from age 0 to 11 with schools employing community teachers working in conjunction with Sure Start centres and focusing on the stimulus that adults can give their new-born children – talking, playing, teaching them songs, reading aloud to them. In the long run it would be a much better investment by the state than expecting both parents to work to earn sufficient to pay for child minders. Education is more important than economics!
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• Of maintained nursery schools, 91% were judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in 2012/13, and should be seen as a central part of the solution to high-quality childcare provision, yet they are under threat. As local authorities put their children’s services out to tender and their maintained primary and infant schools become academies, maintained nursery schools have nowhere to go. Current legislation does not provide for the conversion of maintained nursery schools into academies. This causes a fundamental structural problem for a children’s centre which is integrated with a maintained nursery school.

If legislation was adapted to provide for “nursery academies”, economies of scale and reach could also be exploited by the creation of “multi academy nursery trusts”. The particular expertise of the maintained nursery school is distinct from that of the primary school with a nursery class, and offers a crucial resource in supporting disadvantaged children. Such schools should be permitted to take their place amongst the current array of providers and not disappear because of lack of available succession routes such as academisation.
Mary Groom
Partner, Bates Wells Braithwaite

• When government pressure bites, the temptation to take the biggest financial chunk out of early years services seems impossible to resist. When even Labour-led local authorities, once the proud instigators of Sure Start, follow central guidance and leave the provision of early years education and childcare to “market forces”, they can hardly be surprised when the places aren’t there. The poorer the area, the less available the childcare: it won’t make a profit and private childcare providers won’t entertain it.
Gwyn Fields











Helen Croydon’s assertion that too much is expected from a modern marriage is correct – falling in love is one thing, getting married for life is another (“Not the marrying kind”, 19 February). But her solution takes the usual modern path of assuming that if it doesn’t work straight away, or fairly easily, it is not going to work.

Sadly, this demand for instant reward that we have allowed to creep into virtually every aspect of life does indeed make it less likely that modern marriages are going to last, but the solution is the highly unfashionable idea in personal matters that we have to work at it. If modern people worked as hard at marriage as at their jobs, I think we would see a vast improvement in the longevity of married relationships.

Finding the soulmate for life is what you work at in your early adult life, until you find someone who your head and heart tell you is a suitable partner for life, who will be a good person to bring up children with you in your home, and will still be fun to be with even when you are old and less athletic.

I would also assert that the sexual frisson that Helen Croydon suggests disappears in any relationship after a while is there to be galvanised in a deeper and special way in later married life. It may change, but it is no less exciting and satisfying, and the knowledge that you have shared so much together makes the bond much stronger.

Tim Venvell, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire


Helen Croydon invites us to “start with the history” and goes on: “The idea that our Mr or Mrs Right will fulfill us emotionally, sexually, spiritually or everything else is new – 200 years new”.

Helen Croydon’s view of “history” does not include Shakespeare, whose romantic heroes and heroines fall in love and get married; and Hymen, the goddess of marriage, actually appears in person at the end of As You Like It, to bless the unions of the principals.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire


Forget the deniers, just stop fracking

I fear Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (17 February) might be over-optimistic in thinking that “the floods may have finally shocked right-wingers into taking climate change more seriously”.

Like creationists, they seem impervious, no matter how many stacks of robust evidence you present them with.

If Cameron’s government is to show any hint of embracing reality, it must – never mind a moratorium – stop all fracking now. Trying to wring every last drop of fossil fuel from the planet’s crust to convert into yet more climate-changing greenhouse gases is bad enough. Given concerns about groundwater contamination from this process in standard conditions, how much more threatening to the environment might this be with the saturation below ground level and floodwater above it that we are experiencing now and probably henceforth?

Mark Burrows, Weymouth, Dorset

Your correspondents (letters, 18 February) assume that it is important to quell global-warming deniers.

That, like the deniers, is of no great importance. Ignore their bleats for attention. What matters is to get on with acting in case it is going to happen.

There can be no doubt, even in the most befogged head, that a reasonable case has been made.  Safety-first in such an instance, is not just sensible; it is urgent.  Unless we get moving fast we may find  that water in the bilges is not the small leak they believe in, but an iceberg tearing the length of the ship. You cannot mend that at sea.

Let the funny people believe their stories. What matters is to get things done. Now.

Kenneth J Moss, Norwich


Will the Government’s largesse toward households affected by flooding include those with surplus bedrooms?

Stephen Chorley

Dalgety Bay, Fife


Driven to distraction by Google glass?

Your report on the etiquette guide issued by Google on the use of Google Glass (20 February) does not mention whether it includes guidance for the use of the device while driving.

The use of hand-held mobile phones while driving was banned because it was shown to distract drivers from the important matter of concentrating on the road ahead. It seems to me that such considerations would also apply to Google Glass, with the addition also of a restricted view ahead.

As a driver I appreciate that there are already enough distractions in modern vehicles, with all their gadgets, gizmos and toys, without another layer being added.

As a cyclist I am very aware of drivers who continue to use mobile phones, as I wonder whether or not I have been seen. The detection rate of such offences is ludicrously small, but at least it is possible to show if a mobile phone was in use at the time of an accident from its records.

Research into such use of Google Glass must be done, and independently of Google. The use of mobile phones was banned reactively following numerous accidents in which their use was implicated. It may be necessary to ban the use of Google Glass by drivers proactively.

Bob Stephens, Bovey Tracey, Devon


Rates delay helps  local business

It is inaccurate to suggest Bond Street shops are being “subsidised” by deprived high streets through a postponement of a 2015 business rates revaluation (report, 6 January). In fact a revaluation next year would have meant tax cuts for bankers and posh offices in London, and punishing tax rises on independent shops, local pubs, food retail and petrol stations.

Our decision to postpone the revaluation was based on the most comprehensive research available, compiled by the independent Valuation Office Agency using professional judgements and rental market evidence. They estimate that over 800,000 premises would have lost out. Tax stability is vital to businesses looking to grow and help improve the economy. In London, offices would have seen their rates bill fall in 2015 by £440m per year.

Postponement will ensure tax stability by avoiding sharp changes and unexpected hikes in business rate bills over the next five years, vital to businesses looking to grow and help improve the economy.

Brandon Lewis,  High Streets Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government, London SW1


Olympic stars and their babies

I watched the GB women’s curling semi-final on BBC2. The presenters, Steve Cram and Jackie Lockhart, had an interesting discussion about two of the team who had recently had babies and whether it had improved their game, and Cram differentiated between one woman who was married and the other woman who had a partner and was “not married”.

When I watched the GB men’s curling semi-final in the afternoon, there was no explanation of whether they were fathers or married, or had partners. I am so disappointed that the BBC still judges women athletes by their marital status and whether they have given birth. What on earth has this got to do with anything?

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset


Exploited greats  of football

What Stephen Westacott (letters, 19 February) and those who hark back to the good old days of football forget is that Sir Tom Finney and other legends like him were effectively enslaved and, due to a long-since-abolished maximum wage, paid a pittance of their real value to the club they played for.

Had Finney, Matthews or Wright been offered the equivalent of £300,000 per week, I’m sure they would have happily accepted it. Sadly for them they were destined to remain in servitude to the cabal of greedy football club owners whose coffers and social standing were boosted by their association with these exploited greats of the game.

John Moore, Northampton


Street of  the sober

The wrong print has been used to support Owen Jones’s article on the dangers of alcohol (20 February).

Beer Street shows a scene of contented beer-drinkers, where the only loser is the pawnbroker. The matching print, Gin Lane, would have been more appropriate, with its drunken mother dropping her baby down a stairwell and a man pawning the tools of his trade to pay for his addiction.

Terry Lloyd, Chorleywood,  Hertfordshire


Keeping  the pound

In the event of a “yes” vote in the Scottish independence referendum, may I suggest Poundland as the obvious new name for the remaining parts of the United Kingdom?

Kim Thonger






Sir, I doubt that a balanced discussion on the pros and cons of Scottish independence will ever be possible. Alex Salmond, as leader of the Yes campaign but also leader of the SNP, can campaign on short-term, party political issues (benefits, taxation, tuition fees) while staying coy about the long-term issues (the pound, Europe, Nato). The No campaign, with representatives from across the political spectrum, does not have a unified voice with which to campaign on short-term issues and can only address the long-term consequences of independence.

Recent announcements from Westminster and Brussels suggest that an independent Scotland is unlikely to be able to share the pound or to join Europe. Instead of accepting these statements, Mr Salmond remains confident that he can renegotiate these positions after securing a Yes vote. So Scots are expected to vote first and then find out what they have voted for.

All of us, Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish, deserve better than this.

Dr Susan Laing

Dulnain Bridge, Grantown-on-Spey

Sir, Alex Salmond is playing poker, gambling that George Osborne is bluffing in saying London would not strike a deal with Edinburgh on a currency union. George Osborne is playing bridge — explaining to all parties what cards are in his hand and trying to make it clear the contract he is prepared to make.

Surely it is better for the electorate to know the position on a currency union before they vote? Otherwise they will be going to the casino rather than the polling station.

John Belton

Marlow, Bucks

Sir, Alex Salmond is at his most wily with his stance over the pound sterling. Deep down, he undoubtedly realises that the campaign for independence is a lost cause. But now he has his get out excuse.

He can blame the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish who have stated that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to keep the pound. He can blame the EU for not guaranteeing membership. He will be able to hold his head high and say that he has done his best for the people of Scotland but factors outside the country leave voters with little choice but to reject independence; a face-saving trick.

Jack Harrison

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Sir, In all the pros and cons of Scottish independence being discussed, I am amazed that the issue of graduate employment has not been mentioned. One only has to consider the numbers of one’s friends and family who, over the years, have had to move south due to lack of sufficient good graduate opportunities in Scotland, to realise that independence could seriously damage the prospects for countless future graduates.

Jean Mathie

(retired careers adviser)

Larbert, Stirlingshire

Sir, Your correspondents (Feb 19) have an almost wholly negative view on the merits of Scottish independence.

May I suggest that not everyone in Scotland is deterred or flustered by the disinformation emanating from all three Westminster parties?

There is a sensible, and historic, democratic debate to be had. Let’s have it.

Tom Burton



We helped to create the European Union and the European Convention of Human Rights was largely drafted by British lawyers

Sir, The Bishop of Coventry in his fine letter (Feb 14) asks your readers to remember the carnage caused by the raids on Dresden and Coventry, and points out that “Europe twice descended into Hell in the last century”. You also quote the President of the Supreme Court as saying “Britons have an aversion to Europe, and find the idea that foreign courts can overrule decisions of Parliament little short of offensive” (report, Feb 14) He follows this somewhat arrogant assertion with the customary vindication that the UK has not been successfully invaded since 1066 and as a whole “was peculiarly averse to, and particularly suspicious of, being told what they can and cannot do by Pan-European bodies.”

Like many of my generation, I gave up seven years of my youth in the hope of preventing a third descent into hell in Europe in this century. We helped to create the European Union, convinced by Churchill’s cry that ”jaw jaw was preferable to war war”.

The European Convention of Human Rights was largely drafted by British lawyers, leading, as Lord Neuberger points out, to the creation of “institutions involving the trading of a degree of national sovereignty on self-determination, in return for chosen mutual co-operation”. He goes on to assert that when the UK was a world power, the idea that it was one of several equal European states would have been greeted with contempt by most British people.

I regret that I have lived to hear the head of my great profession using the language of the last century, that will lead inevitably to violence and war and against which we fought with such conviction. I assure his Lordship with some confidence that he does not speak for the majority of that profession who would, I am sure, agree with the bishop that “friendship is better that enmity”.

Lord Hutchinson, QC

House of Lords


It would be in the national and long-term electoral interest of both coalition partners to maximise the extensive common ground between them

Sir, The two Lib Dem internal groups demanding the abandonment of the leadership’s intention to produce a politically equidistant manifesto represent the far-left spectrum of the party’s membership (letter, Feb 19). Right-of-centre Lib Dems, including the manifesto’s author, David Laws, understand that their electoral appeal in 2015 must be as a responsible party of government with a creditable record of achievement in coalition with the Conservatives.

In the event of another hung parliament, it would be in the national interest and long-term electoral interest of both coalition partners to maximise the extensive common ground between them for a further five years and prevent the calamity of an anti-enterprise Labour government. This outcome offers the realistic medium-term prospect of a realignment of Britain’s centre right with defections from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives offset by defections of recalcitrant Tories to Ukip.

Philip Duly

Haslemere, Surrey


In some parts of the country spring appears to have sprung already, with fruit trees flowering and ladybirds galore

Sir, I am not the only being to have enjoyed a sunny afternoon in my garden; my fruit trees and bushes are alive with ladybirds. A sign of how mild our winter has been.

Ralph Bates

Aller, Somerset.



‘A comprehensive distance-based lorry charging system would incentivise logistics operators to get better efficiency out of their HGVs’

Sir, Reducing the number of empty trucks on our roads would also have huge road safety benefits, given that HGVs are four and half times more likely to be involved in fatal collisions than cars (“Filling empty lorries could save £160m a year in fuel”, Feb 19).

So, it is surprising that the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight did not mention a comprehensive distance-based lorry charging system, which would incentivise logistics operators to get better efficiency out of their HGVs and result in safer, cleaner and less congested roads.

In just four years Germany’s charging system reduced the number of empty trucks by 11 per cent and increased loaded runs by over 2 per cent because of the financial penalties for running partially or totally empty.

It is disappointing that the UK is introducing an inferior charging system in April which will not make HGVs pay for the safety, pollution and congestion impacts they impose on society.

Philippa Edmunds

Freight on Rail Manager, Campaign for Better Transport, London N1




SIR – I received my notification about the NHS database a fortnight ago. It was not addressed to me but came with other junk mail that Royal Mail relentlessly pushes through my door. By chance my wife spotted the NHS logo.

As the leaflet suggested, I consulted my GP surgery – which asked me to forward it, as they had not seen a copy. Is this what the NHS calls informing the public?

Peter East
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – Rightly, people are concerned about how their personal medical records will be used under the new “” scheme.

As leading patient organisations, we believe that use of information contained in patients’ records will be overwhelmingly beneficial: people with serious diseases will be diagnosed earlier and have a better quality of life. It would be unethical, and even dangerous, to deprive patients of this.

Hospital data have in the past 25 years led to real benefits. Yet 90 per cent of patient care takes place outside of hospital.

Patients need to be enabled to make an informed decision about whether they are willing for their information to be used. The NHS must take the time to listen to the concerns raised and ensure that the clear benefits of this new system aren’t put at risk because of poor communication.

Caroline Abrahams
Charity Director, Age UK
Kay Boycott
Chief Executive, Asthma UK
Chris Askew
Chief Executive, Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Simon Gillespie
Chief Executive, British Heart Foundation
Dr Penny Woods
Chief Executive, British Lung Foundation
Barbara Young
Chief Executive, Diabetes UK
Ciarán Devane
Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support
Arlene Wilkie
Chief Executive, Neurological Alliance
Paul Jenkins
Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness
Jon Barrick
Chief Executive, The Stroke Association

PM v Archbishop

SIR – Well done to David Cameron for his response to Archbishop Vincent Nichols . Figures in the Church in Britain have moved to the liberal Left, sermonising on the responsibilities of the state and the rights of the individual, rather than the other way round.

There is an increasing acceptance of the situation where it pays more not to work, as though this were part of the natural order rather than an offence against the Gospel. Taxes are seen as a form of income redistribution – enforced charity – rather than a means of providing the state with the resources to function effectively.

It is not the state’s responsibility to provide charity (which it does badly): it is our personal responsibility. It is also our personal responsibility to work if we can, to support ourselves and our dependants.

Ian Johnson
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – Archbishop Nichols clearly accepted the need for welfare reforms. What he attacked was that vulnerable people could be punished for a mistake in completing a form by being left without benefit for 10 days or more, with no means of support.

Mr Cameron needs to explain why the Government – which, he claims, acts with a social conscience – allows this to happen.

Tony Charnock
Parbold, Lancashire

Upstairs, downstairs loo

SIR – Coloured lavatory paper is one thing. But what happened to interleaved flat-pack paper?

My mother maintained that toilet rolls were for upstairs, but downstairs, where guests might go, flat packs were de rigueur.

I remember once we visited an aunt who lived in a large bungalow and Mother was horrified to find that the lavatory had a roll. Her rule remained inviolable even though there was no “upstairs”.

Arthur W J G Ord-Hume
Guildford, Surrey


SIR – One striking fact about the coming referendum: Scotland is in danger of being (politely) ignored.

Even if Alex Salmond loses the referendum, it is likely that he will gain more than 40 per cent of the vote. (This is more than the winning party in a Westminster election.) He will then be First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, remain in the currency union he wants, and will surely be in a strong position to argue for much great autonomy for Scotland.

How will Anglo-centric politicians at Westminster respond?

Kenneth Jones
Groby, Leicestershire

SIR – No one concerned for the Union should rest content with Alex Salmond’s present discomfort, with polls suggesting Scotland will stay in the United Kingdom.

First, he has bounced back before, and polls breed complacency.

Secondly, despite holding the referendum at a time and with an electorate of its choosing, if the SNP loses narrowly, it will want to put the question again until it gets the “right” answer. The bigger its defeat, the less reasonable that will seem.

Thirdly, the United Kingdom’s achievements since 1707 are such that the outside world views as perverse the possible repudiation of constitutional arrangements that have served so well.

September 18 is of immense importance for all of us and, between now and then, “Team GB” members in and out of Scotland would do well to assert their belief in the Union.

Professor Sir Roger Williams
Reading, Berkshire

Bird’s-eye view: patient quest for the goldfinch

SIR – Just over three years ago we moved to our new house and were disappointed at the paucity of wild birds. We established a feeding station with the usual seeds and fat sticks, plus a special niger feeder. It wasn’t long before sparrows, starlings and coal tits started to appear, along with unwelcome magpies, but no goldfinches.

A friend who knows about birds said that it could be a couple of years before goldfinches found our food. Sure enough, after three years, goldfinches have become regular visitors. Be patient: goldfinches will eventually find you.

Eric Page
Alloa, Clackmannanshire

SIR – Bird feeding where we live is competitive. Our birds demand not only what they like, but the best possible quality. Otherwise, they’re off down the street.

Sunflower seeds – the favourite of all of the finches – have to be dehusked, for instance. Our goldfinches will take niger, but only occasionally. Peanuts are the favourite of almost all of our tits, but not from wire nut-feeders; they far prefer to take whole nuts from seed feeders. They fly to a branch, clamp the nut under a claw, and chip away merrily. Long-tailed tits prefer fat slabs. Blackcaps and starlings favour those with added insects.

A real winter treat for goldfinches are the seeds from Verbena bonariensis, which must never be cut down at the end of summer. There are many good reasons for growing this plant, but the chance of seeing winter-feeding goldfinches is the best one.

Arthur Sotheran

Permission to flood

SIR – Angus McPherson is wrong to blame local authorities for granting planning permission for developments on land liable to flood.

Councillors, with knowledge of the area they represent, will usually refuse planning permission. The developer will appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which has no local knowledge. It may consult the Environment Agency, which also has limited local knowledge. If it indicates an area hasn’t flooded recently, the local decision will be overruled.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, needs to look at the Planning Inspectorate and the Environment Agency, neither of which, in my experience, is fit for purpose, or, indeed, promotes localism.

Councillor Geoff Austin (Con)
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

SIR – In my time at the helm of the largest private crematorium company in Britain, Chichester Crematorium was flooded by the Lavant , and vandals burnt down Randalls Park Crematorium, Leatherhead. We had both running again within days.

Simon Field
Arundel, West Sussex

Bus blather

SIR – The new London buses are rather nice, but come with constant, unnecessary noisy announcements. Need we be reminded at every stop how to use our payment cards? As for the warning, every two minutes, to “watch out for traffic when leaving the bus”, I had never thought of throwing myself in front of the nearest lorry, but if this intrusive cacophony is not abandoned, I may have to reconsider.

Who imposed this unwelcome racket? The bounder must be named and shamed.

Timothy St Ather
London SW13


SIR – You report that Chinese children of all classes perform far better in mathematics than even the best British students. But if you examined history teaching in China, you would find results that would make Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, blanch.

Here is what elite Chinese students who make it into the LSE and Oxbridge have been taught:

Chinese history over 2,000 years is a record of unbroken ethnic Chinese rule. (In fact, almost half was non-Chinese.)

Britain introduced opium to China. (In fact, it was already widely grown and used.)

Tibet has always been part of China. (In fact, it was usually independent.)

June 4 1989 in Tiananmen Square was a “riot” in which many soldiers and police were killed. (In fact, hundreds of unarmed protesters were murdered by the Chinese army and police.)

Jonathan Mirsky
London W11

SIR – Last year I taught A-level maths and physics at a private school in Chengdu, where students studied for 12 hours every weekday. It seemed at times that A-level maths was insufficiently challenging for my students: half the group scored 100 per cent in the first module and all 23 students got an “A” when they took the exam a year earlier than their British counterparts, and in a foreign language.

The key to China’s success is persistent hard work, a very strong emphasis on rote learning, rigorous discipline and the burning desire of every student to be “number one” – a salutary lesson, perhaps, for students in Britain.

Robert Nield
Hartford, Cheshire

SIR – It would be interesting to know the class sizes which achieve these results in China.

In the late Nineties, I was in India talking to children who seemed to me to be very bright compared with children of the same age in Britain. When I asked them how many were in their class, I was told that there were about 80 – far more than the 30 or so considered too many by British teachers.

The school worked two shifts, with different children in the mornings and in the afternoons, and the children paid a few rupees for their education each week.

The other factor was that, when the children arrived home from school, the television was off and covered with a cloth (even when India was playing cricket) and the parents discussed with the children what they had learnt at school that day.

Brian Tordoff
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire


SIR – As landscape architects, architects, engineers, hydrologists, ecologists and other specialists with the experience necessary to tackle flooding, we would like the Government to be aware that the expertise of our professions is available and, we believe, urgently required.

While we are pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will provide leadership and funding, it is essential that government actions are based on best practice developed over many years.

Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy.

We need to look at how forestry, land management and soft-engineered flood alleviation schemes can hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, and how dredging may assist in the lower reaches.

We need to fit sustainable drainage systems comprehensively for existing buildings and all new buildings. Buildings and land that cannot be properly protected should be made resilient to withstand flooding. All new housing on flood plains must be resilient when built.

Co-operation is needed between the professions, the water companies, internal drainage boards, local authorities, the Environment Agency, and Natural Resources Wales. They must all work with landowners and residents to be effective.

In the Environment Agency are people experienced in addressing these problems, as there are among the members of all our organisations. We need to mobilise that joint expertise.

We are asking David Cameron to convene without delay a cross-departmental conference, including the professions, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Communities, the Environment Agency and National Resources Wales, similar to the one convened to address the problem of ash dieback.

S E Illman
President, Landscape Institute

George Adams
President, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers

Heather Barrett-Mold
Chair, Institution of Environmental Sciences

Martin Baxter
Executive director – policy, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment

Shireen Chambers
Chief executive, Institute of Chartered Foresters

Adam Donnan
Chief executive officer, Institution of Environmental Science

Michael Doran
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

John Gregory
Institute of Fisheries Management

Sally Hayns
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

Louise Kingham
Chief executive, Energy Institute

Steve Lee
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management

Karen Martin
Chief executive, Arboricultural Association

Dr Peter Spillett
President, Institute of Fisheries Management

Alastair Taylor
Chief Executive, Institution of Agricultural Engineers

Professor William Pope
Chairman, Environmental Policy Forum

Mike Summersgill
President, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

Jim Whelan
Council Member, Institution of Environmental Science

Print off, drop in, opt out

SIR – I too received no information about opting out of the new NHS database (Letters, February 19). But at a website called one can print off an opt-out letter, sign it and drop it in to one’s GP. That is what I did.

Cynthia Denby
Edgware, Middlesex

Pointed observation

SIR – Nul points in your letter heading (February 19) is not French, whatever fans of the Eurovision Song Contest may think. So I must pedantically award you nul point.

Professor Emeritus Peter Lack
London N10

To knot or not

SIR – You report that the sportswear giant Nike expects to release self-tying shoe laces by 2015.

If the technology could be applied to black bow-ties, I would be seriously interested.

Philip Brennan
Oxhill, Warwickshire



Irish Times:


Sir, – The response of the Department of Social Protection (February 19th) to welfare payments to homeless people comes straight from the manual, but bears little resemblance to what is actually happening on the ground.

I know many homeless people who have been, and continue to be, denied welfare payments for weeks, even months, on end. Homeless people are routinely told that welfare payments can only be paid if they have an address, and to provide proof of their address, they must furnish receipts for several nights’ hostel accommodation. They are also expected to pay for their several nights’ hostel accommodation, even though they have not yet received any welfare payments!

Dublin City Council will no doubt reply that homeless people are not refused accommodation if they have no money. Again this is straight from the manual, but in practice, a homeless person who contacts the homeless helpline at 2pm (when beds are available) will be asked if they have money to pay for their night in the hostel and if they say “No”, they will be told to ring back at 10.30pm, at which time all the beds will have been filled.

Many homeless people, when they seek accommodation, are offered sleeping bags to sleep rough because there are not sufficient beds available. They, therefore, have no receipts and will not be paid. Others choose to sleep rough because much of the emergency accommodation available is full of drugs, their belongings are robbed, their dignity is destroyed. They feel safer sleeping on the streets. They, too, have no receipts and will not be paid.

There is a growing crisis of homelessness which is being ignored. More people will be unable to access a bed when the “cold weather” beds, which were provided several weeks ago, are closed down at the end of March. It is difficult enough being homeless without being penniless as well. To survive, they have no choice but to beg, borrow or steal. – Yours, etc,


Jesuit Centre for Faith and


Upper Sherrard Street,

Dublin 1.


A chara, – I am a frontline healthcare professional in a large acute Dublin hospital. My patients, their family members and my colleagues struggle daily with limited (and ever reducing) resources to provide high quality healthcare. So you can imagine my frustration with the ongoing GSOC bugging saga. How many hours have been wasted debating this topic in the Dáil? How many column inches have been wasted writing about this allegation? How much money will be wasted in having a retired judge write a report (just what Ireland needs!) rather than helping my patients.

May I respectfully suggest that our politicians, journalists, the Garda Síochána and GSOC learn a little common sense. I feel they have an overinflated view of themselves. Sure who would want to infiltrate GSOC? This isn’t Edward Snowden and the CIA! – Is mise,


Priory Grove,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.


A  chara, – As I watched the news on Tuesday I couldn’t help wondering what kind of Europe we’ve been left with. In Kiev, “protesters”, with their faces covered by balaclavas, draped in the EU flag and armed with bricks, Molotov cocktails and other weapons, were attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government.

In the same news package it was reported that the EU – which supports these “protesters” – is to consider sanctions against the Ukrainian government. José Manuel Barroso said “there are no circumstances that can legitimise or justify such scenes”.

Where were the sanctions for the governments of Spain and Greece when they deployed their respective police forces against relatively peaceful workers that had the audacity to march against the financial upheaval being foisted upon them by EU crisis management policies. Where was the “shock and utter dismay” from the EU? Yet in Kiev there are people wearing balaclavas and throwing petrol bombs – people who in other circumstances would be classed by some as terrorists – and they to be appear enjoying the support of the EU. Perhaps the EU sees them as a means to an end, to bring Ukraine into the European fold. – Is mise,


Lismore Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.



Sir, – Could I suggest that, for his next birthday, someone should give Minister for Justice Alan Shatter a box set of Yes Minister DVDs?

There he will find several examples of how to act quickly to prevent an incident turning into a full-blown crisis.

A worried minister for administrative affairs pleads with Sir Humphrey to find him a way out of the latest leak/scandal/crisis.

“Not to worry, Minister,” replies Sir Humphrey. “We will set up a top-level inquiry, hear expert evidence from everybody involved, and issue a definitive report in six months, which will conclude that the leak/scandal/crisis never happened, and will make a detailed set of recommendations, which, if implemented, will ensure that the crisis, which never happened, will never happen again!”

Where are all our experienced Sir Humphreys when our country needs them? I expect they have taken the package, and will not, and cannot, be replaced. – Yours, etc,


Broadway, Co Wexford.

Sir, – The Seanad unanimously agreed a motion inviting Pope Francis to address the upper house (Home News, February 20th). While this is a positive good, there is an injustice to be rectified before such a visit. At least five Irish priests have been silenced under an unjust process which is still in existence and whose administrator, Archbishop Müller, will be promoted tomorrow to the rank of a cardinal, the highest ranking position in the Catholic Church after the Pope.

While each man has had to continue to live under their unjust sentences, one of these elderly priests who has suffered gravely over the years is now very poorly. Unless there is a redress of these injustices either by the Vatican or the religious orders concerned, these men will have to carry these heavy unjust burdens to their graves. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,

Malahide, Co Dublin.



Sir, – Perhaps it might help Fifa reconsider the location of the 2022 World Cup if each game started with a minute’s silence for each person who died in the construction phase.

Currently Qatar would have over six hours of silence before each game. – Yours, etc,


Westbury Drive,

Lucan, Co Dublin.


A chara, – As a Gaeilgeoir I prefer to communicate with government departments and State agencies as Gaeilge, but am coming to the conclusion there is an unofficial policy at Government level to discourage this. The following examples illustrate the point.

In the first year of the Local Property Tax, I wrote to the Revenue Commissioners requesting that all correspondence between them and me in that regard be done as Gaeilge, including explanatory booklet and bill. The request was ignored and I had no choice but to invoke the assistance of An Coimisinéir Teanga (the Language Commissioner). I estimate that more than a dozen letters were written before that simple matter was successfully concluded – by me, by An Coimisinéir Teanga and by the Revenue Commissioners. Stout resistance was encountered from the last of those.

Recently I again had to invoke the assistance of An Coimisinéir Teanga to obtain the Irish language version of Form DD1 which applies to exemption from VAT and VRT for those with adaptations to their vehicles to suit a driver or passenger with a physical disability. Twice I wrote to Revenue for the form to be provided as Gaeilge but my request was ignored in favour of the English language version. The requested one finally arrived, as Gaeilge.

It is interesting to note that the Revenue Commissioners have an impressive website that pretends there is a choice of either official language but, on closer examination, it transpires that there are serious discrepancies.

By contrast, those in charge of collecting the household charge had no difficulty in doing the entire matter as Gaeilge and without fuss.

Many of my friends are Gaeilgeoirí but, sadly, several of them have abandoned their efforts to deal with the State as Gaeilge. They cite numerous examples of obstacles being placed in their paths.

Is it any wonder that Seán Ó Cuirreáin has resigned as An Coimisinéir Teanga?

Saturday’s march in Dublin shows there are many in this country who believe in the value of our uniqueness of language and richness of identity and also that most of those whom we have elected to lead us are not remotely interested. – Is mise,


Carraig Mhachaire Rois,

Co Mhuineacháin.



A chara, – It is true that dental health in Ireland has improved since the introduction of a fluoridated water supply in the 1960s (FR Baigel, February 20th). However, it is equally true that access to cheap fluoridated toothpaste and better education occurred over a similar period, and has achieved very positive outcomes.

Fluoride is a very effective topical treatment in the prevention of gum disease and cavities, but adding fluoride to the water supply is unnecessary in a modern economy and only serves to overexpose us to it.

Given the recent concerns over fluoride, surely the precautionary principle should apply and water fluoridation be discontinued? – Is mise,


Herbert Avenue,




Sir, – Olivia O’Leary (Opinion, February 14th) is quite correct in the following statement, “So what should TDs be doing? They should not be competing with their constituency colleagues to do county councillors’ jobs, they should be engaging with politics at a national level and with the wider public debate. Too often the researchers they are now allowed to employ are diverted to constituency work.”

But we are about to elect a whole bunch of county councillors from which our national parties will select their candidates for the Dáil.

Why are we surprised if they continue to conduct council business?

It is not so long since they could legally hold down the both “jobs”. – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Drive,

Muskerry Estate,



Sir, – I refer to the article ‘Tobacco firms to argue against plain packaging for cigarettes’ (Home News, February 13th) in which it is stated “Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Murphy told The Irish Times the views contained in it [the Law Society submission] represented those of the Law Society as a whole, and its 10,000 members, and had been endorsed by the Society as a whole, rather than the Committee.”

In fact, in my conversation with Harry McGee, I pointed out that the society is the representative body for 10,000 solicitors. However, I never stated that the views expressed by the society were endorsed and held by its 10,000 members.

It would be completely unrealistic to expect all 10,000 members to endorse and hold every view expressed by the Law Society. Solicitors are perfectly free to disagree on various issues and often do.

The society regularly participates in consultations on a wide range of issues that affect the public and the profession. Some 20 formal submissions were made by the society in the last two years alone. We believe the formulation of public policy benefits from this contribution of the profession’s expertise and experience. This belief is shared, it seems, by the great many Government departments, agencies and Oireachtas committees that repeatedly request the society’s input.

While submissions are usually drafted by expert committees, the whole process operates under the governance of the society’s elected council. All submissions are seen by the council and made on behalf of the society rather than by a particular committee.

Hundreds of submissions have been made by the society over the years. Controversy has been very rare.

When the president of the Law Society, John P Shaw, and I appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on February 13th, 2014, we made clear that the society was not in any way whatsoever defending the tobacco industry. We stated clearly that tobacco has a disastrous impact on public health and we support the policy objective of reducing smoking to the greatest extent possible.

We were and remain concerned, nevertheless, with the Irish and international legal implications of the concept of plain packaging as such. Trademarks are key assets of most international investors in Ireland. Great care should be taken in interfering with them.

The Law Society’s concern would be the same if the underlying product was a food, drink, medicine or any other product that benefits from trademark protection. – Yours, etc,


Director General,

Law Society of Ireland,

Blackhall Place,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – The ESRI has identified the small number of houses under construction as likely to result in a future housing shortage (Business, February 18th).

But a more serious problem is the shortage of students studying civil engineering and other courses in construction.

The numbers taking civil engineering at UCD has fallen from about 70 per annum five years ago to just 14 today – and this trend is typical of numbers in other colleges.

There is already a shortage of engineers and this will become much more acute as the recovery in construction gathers pace. The knee-jerk reaction in student choice five years ago is now coming home to roost! – Yours, etc,


School of Civil,

Structural & Environmental


University College Dublin,



Sir, – There is a view, dating at least from the 1996 Report of the Constitutional Review Group, that a new Article should be inserted in the Constitution to confirm the establishment of the office of the Ombudsman, to provide for the independent exercise of its investigations and other functions in relation to administrative actions, as determined by law, and making provisions similar to those applying to the Comptroller and Auditor General (at Art 33).

Perhaps there should be a discussion in relation to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission having a constitutional status, and for the same reasons?

Interestingly, An Garda Síochána is not mentioned in current editions of Bunreacht Na hÉireann . However, there is a fleeting and transitional reference to “the Police Forces of the State” (“an Póilíos“) in the 1937 text at Art 61, and this article (and others) were to be omitted from any official text of the Constitution published after the entry of the first President into office (Art 52.1). Nevertheless, Art 61 (and others) were to continue to have the force of law (Art 52.2).

Art 61 was to ensure the continuance of the Defence Forces and the Police Forces of Saorstát Éireann subsequent to the coming into operation of the 1937 Constitution. Does Art 61 exist? Does it definitively exist? – Yours, etc,






Sir, – Paul Regan (February 19th) proposes The Irish Times be rebranded “The Rugby Times”. Given the inordinate column space devoted to Leinster rugby this season, may I suggest “The Leinster Rugby Times”. – Yours, etc,




Co Clare.


Irish Independent:

* As I sat watching the news yesterday evening, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of Europe we have been left with.

Also in this section

Letters: From women’s liberation to conservatism…

Letters: Patrick’s Day purse better spent elsewhere

A sincere and heartfelt thank you to the ESB

In Kiev, ‘protesters’, with their faces covered by balaclavas, draped in the EU flag and armed with bricks, Molotov cocktails and other weapons, were attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government.

In the same news package it was reported that the EU – which supports these ‘protesters’ – is to consider sanctions against the Ukrainian government. Jose Manuel Barroso said: “There are no circumstances that can legitimise or justify such scenes.”

Where, I wonder, were the sanctions for the governments of Spain and Greece when they deployed their respective police forces against relatively peaceful workers that had the audacity to march against the financial upheaval being foisted upon them by EU crisis-management policies? Where was the “shock and utter dismay” from the EU?

Yet in Kiev, there are people wearing balaclavas and throwing petrol bombs – people that in other circumstances would be classed by some as terrorists – and they appear to be enjoying the support of the EU. Perhaps the EU sees them as a means to an end – of bringing Ukraine into the European fold.




* I read with interest the article in Wednesday’s Irish Independent about the decline in the consumption of potatoes and how people are eating more rice and pasta.

Faced with the poor quality and price of potatoes currently, is it any wonder that busy families are opting for faster, cheaper-quality carbos?

In the past couple of years, the quality of potatoes has dropped and the price has increased. Which would you like to do – open a bag of pasta and pop it on the stove or wade through a bag of potatoes to find enough good ones for a meal, then peel them and cut out the bad bits?

And I am talking about the washed product here. If you buy unwashed, be it on your own head, with muck and stones included.

If the IFA, Bord Bia and Teagasc are serious about promoting potatoes, they need to look at what is being produced and put on sale, rather than scratching their heads wondering why consumers are switching.

And price is an important factor. The price of potatoes is high and one would expect a correspondingly high quality of product.

So let’s look at the real issue here.




* To my knowledge, the early Christians facing the daily threat of persecution and death wasted precious little time complaining or criticising the pagans. God knows they had every right to. They were positive in their undying faith.

It is discouraging nowadays to find the Catholic media constantly harping on about those who disagree with us. For example, why waste time and space complaining about the United Nations? Would it not be better to show the world an example of Christian magnanimity; take the good part of the UN statement for what it’s worth and use it to help us tidy up our own house?

Accentuate the positive; forgive, show good example, like Christ on the cross.




* Once again we have the usual furore relating to the supposed ban (as it is portrayed in some quarters) on gay persons participating in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade.

It needs to be emphasised that there is absolutely no ban on anyone taking part in the parade because of their sexual orientation per se. The ban is on carrying banners, which is a different matter altogether.

Given that there are other occasions, such as Gay Pride parades, when gay organisations can proclaim their sexual orientation and carry banners to that effect, why do they insist on wanting to use another event for a purpose for which it’s not intended, ie as a sort of sexual orientation identity parade?

Would it not be deemed utterly ridiculous if heterosexuals in the NY parade were to carry banners proclaiming their sexual orientation?

Besides, America being America, if the organisers of the NY parade were to concede to one group in this matter (carrying banners proclaiming their orientation or whatever), how many other groups would demand similar rights?

Lastly, if the mayor of New York (or Boston or anywhere else) decides to boycott the parade, that’s his choice.




* Patrick Neary (Letters, February 20) believes that “work is dead” thanks to modern technology. There may be some merit in his argument but since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the same assertion has been put forward, yet the sky hasn’t fallen in.

Back then people quickly moved from an agrarian society to an industrial one. Increased mechanisation did not result in a reduction in employment but due to labour laws being weighted in favour of industrialists, those driven to seek employment in manufacturing were often forced to live as paupers.

Thankfully, in most western countries that is not the case today. It has been over 200 years since the industrial revolution, yet humans through their ingenuity and imagination keep finding ways to create employment through new enterprises.

The cyclical nature of modern economies means we will encounter low points such as the one we are currently enduring. That too will be overcome by dint of hard work and the human will to succeed.




* At the present time, elderly men can be seen on television breaking rocks and elderly women filling glass bottles with petrol in the city of Kiev, to be thrown at their own sons – the police – all in the name of democracy.

This conduct appears to be lauded by the leading political heads in the West!




* With regards to Colette Browne’s article (Irish Independent, February 19) concerning the so-called inability of Irish youth to consider any reining in of their sexual liaisons, it may be useful to paraphrase the wisdom of the late, great GK Chesterton: “Abstinence has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried!”




* I have noticed the term ‘begrudger’ being bandied around quite frequently when describing the typical Irish person, especially in the context of the payment of massive salaries. I think it is an unfair and lazy insult mainly used by those (and there are many) of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ brigade.

Many of the so-called begrudgers are decent, hard-working (or unemployed through no fault of their own) ordinary people, who are smart enough to see that a huge amount of the high achievers and elite in this country have got to where they are through nepotism, political connections, corruption and cute hoorism. Are we supposed to applaud these people and accept gracefully that they are worth so much more than the rest of us mere plebs?

I have only respect for decent people who have done well for themselves through sheer endeavour and honesty and I firmly believe the vast majority of people feel the same.



Irish Independent






Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers