Going home?

April 11, 2014

11April2014Going home

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Can our heroes redesign London’s roads? Priceless

Mary in hospital hints about goig home sometime next week

Scrabbletoday, I win and get over 400,Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Perlita Neilson – obituary

Perlita Neilson was an actress who starred as Anne Frank and declined the chance to go to Hollywood

Perlita Nielson, circa 1957

Perlita Nielson, circa 1957 Photo: getty images

6:48PM BST 10 Apr 2014

CommentsComment

Perlita Neilson, who has died aged 80, was one of the few child actresses in theatre to mature gracefully and successfully into an accomplished exponent of the classics.

She came to prominence as an adult in 1956, in two West End productions — as Nina in Michael Macowan’s revival at the Saville of The Seagull; and as the 13-year-old Jewish heroine in The Diary of Anne Frank.

As Nina, she achieved what few actresses manage with conviction: the transformation of a charming, romantic, starry-eyed adolescent into a tragically resigned provincial actress after a failed love affair with a famous novelist.

As the doomed Dutch schoolgirl incarcerated for two years with other Jews during the Second World War, scarcely daring to stir from her Amsterdam attic for fear of betrayal to the Gestapo, Perlita Neilson’s performance at the Phoenix Theatre led to her being invited to star in Hollywood’s film version of the play; she declined the offer, as it would have meant signing a long-term contract that would have kept her away from the stage.

Instead she went on to build a growing reputation in theatrical classics, especially in Shakespeare, Shaw and Oscar Wilde, as well in numerous plays for television.

She was born Margaret Phillipa Sowden on June 11 1933 in Bradford, but spent her early life in Argentina, where her father, Wilson Sowden, worked as an engineer. After her birth, her mother Isabel returned to Buenos Aires, where Margaret attended stage school and appeared aged nine with a variety group of the British Community Players.

She and her mother returned to Britain in 1945, and Margaret made her first foray on to the West End stage at the London Coliseum when she was 14, as Minnie in Annie Get Your Gun. The following year she played Lisa in Peter Pan (Scala) and was then cast as little Anukta in Tolstoy’s The Power of Darkness (Lyric, 1949).

Up to this point it had been “the sheer fun” of being on stage that had appealed to her. It was as the child marquise in Aimée Stuart’s Lace on Her Petticoat (Ambassadors, 1950) that she began to show her true mettle as an actress.

Perlita Neilson as Anne Frank (REX)

Aged 19, Perlita Neilson played in two Arts Theatre productions: Giraudoux’s The Enchanted and Romilly Cavan’s The Sun Room. By now she was attracting some serious critical attention.

During a spell with the Bristol Old Vic (1954-55) she gave what Kenneth Tynan described as a “perfect” performance as the terrified, hysterical servant girl Mary Warren in the British premiere of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; while her role as Dido in Marching Song, by John Whiting, won praise for its “heart-wringing pathos”.

Other Bristol credits included Hero in Much Ado About Nothing; Perdita and Mamilius in The Winter’s Tale; and Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice.

After her West End triumphs in The Seagull and The Diary of Anne Frank, Perlita Neilson appeared at the Dublin Theatre Festival in The Importance of Being Earnest, then went on to enjoy spells in repertory at Oxford and Nottingham, returning to London as Ellie Dunn in a revival of Shaw’s Heartbreak House (Wyndham’s, 1961), which later toured in Europe.

She continued to appear on the West End stage throughout the 1960s, and in regional rep until the mid-Seventies.

Among her television credits were The Eustace Diamonds (1959); as Harriet Smith in Emma (1960); Maigret (1961); Fall of Eagles (1974); and The Day of the Triffids (1981).

For the last 20 years of her life she lived quietly in a small garden flat in Brighton, where for a time she had worked in a bookshop. Her marriage to the production manager and cinematographer Bruce Sharman was dissolved.

Perlita Neilson, born June 11 1933, died April 7 2014

Guardian:

The parliamentary commissioner for standards does not propose penalties (A mess – and only Ukip, the anti-politics party, will benefit, 9 April), she sets out her investigation and her findings. Her role is to be an investigator, not a judge. Your article also suggests that “the MPs may have taken a dispassionate look at the evidence but they lost sight of the politics”. The committee’s job is to take a dispassionate view of the evidence. We leave the politics to others.
Kevin Barron MP
Chair of the committee on standards 

• If the Office for National Statistics introduces new measures of economic performance next year (Editorial, 9 April), shouldn’t it issue revised statistics on the same basis for the previous five years to enable a fair comparison to be made, rather than allow George Osborne to claim “a strikingly better record than many have expected”?
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• Didn’t Sajid Javid have a mother (Bus driver’s son the first of 2010 intake to be in cabinet, 10 April)? Or did she drive the bus? Why do journalists so often ignore the fact that two parents contribute to a person’s development, not just one?
Sue Smith
Stourbridge, West Midlands

• Ted Hughes (Letters, 9 April)… wasn’t he the husband of Sylvia Plath?
Vee Singleton
Framlingham, Suffolk

• Your pedantic correspondent (Letters, 10 April) might be able to tell his arpeggios from his descending scales, but can he count? The “predominant piano theme” in Abba’s only memorable song surely contains only four notes not five.
Mike Hine
Kingston on Thames, Surrey

• You have to go to Yorkshire to indulge yourself at the Idle Working Men’s Club (Letters, passim).
Andrew Bailey
Wrexham

• In response to Margaret Squires’ plea for an end to this long-running correspondence about curious place names (Letters, 8 April), I’m sure many Guardian readers live in Hope (Derbyshire).
Ian West
Telford, Shropshire

Let the press utter not one single note of triumphalism, much less a fanfare, over the resignation of the culture secretary, Maria Miller (Report, 10 April). The cabinet minister’s passing is not a victory for the media over Westminster, rather an inevitable consequence of her own actions and the outraged public’s disapproval thereof. Neither must it be used as a justification for what her political colleagues will call a witch-hunt and what journalists will attempt to justify as a dogged pursuit of wrongdoing driven by popular opinion. This was an instance where the press functioned true to its role in our parliamentary democracy: a political misdemeanour was exposed in the public interest and the matter was not allowed to rest until a realistic outcome was achieved. That is all. As generations of reporters might have said to long-gone copytakers: “Ends message. No more to follow.”
David Banks
Editor, Daily Mirror 1992-94

• Is it now time, after yet another case of MPs’ expenses being thrown on to the front pages, that the government buys a house in each constituency so that all MPs have a home to live in while representing their constituents. This will end what seems to be the constant issue of MPs and their housing expenses that makes so many of the public angry.
Tim Battersby
London

• When it comes to cases like Miller, it is surely time to consider again the one demand of the 1838 People’s Charter that has never been implemented, namely the election of parliaments annually. Later 19th-century radicals amended the idea to elections every two or three years, but the institutional framework to hold MPs to account more frequently than the present five-year term would surely allow for much greater accountability of elected representatives.
Keith Flett
London

• Now that it has been revealed that the lay members of the parliamentary standards committee have no voting powers, I think the time has come for these cases to be heard by a different tribunal. My own preference is for a panel of, say, 12 lay members, each of whom has a vote. I believe such a tribunal already exists and could therefore be brought into use quickly and cheaply.
Steve Elliot
London

• Not enough attention has been paid to David Cameron saying in his letter to Miller that “I hope that you will be able to return to serving the government on the frontbench in due course” (Maria Miller’s resignation letter and David Cameron’s reply, 9 April). Miller hasn’t so much resigned as demoted herself temporarily from the cabinet. That isn’t good enough. There is no place for her in parliament – she should resign as an MP, or be thrown out. She should face a criminal investigation, and the full weight of the law if found guilty.
Bianca Todd
Principal speaker, Left Unity

• Like athletes found guilty of using drugs, there should be a specified period during which disgraced ministers cannot return: three to five years would be about right.
Tim Symonds
Burwash, East Sussex

Steve Hewlett (Comment, 7 April) says that news publishers, including the publishers of the Guardian, are considering their options for self-regulation of the press. He writes at length about one proposed regulator, Ipso, which has been created by the publishers of the Mail, Telegraph and the Sun. Ipso is independent of neither press owners nor politicians – who sit on its board – and is effectively a continuation of the discredited PCC.

The alternative regulator, which Hewlett does not name, is Impress, the independent monitor for the press, which was launched in December with the backing of Sir Harold Evans and a range of other distinguished journalists and free speech campaigners.

Guardian readers who would like to encourage their favourite newspaper to join a regulator which is independent of both press owners and politicians may support our crowdfunding campaign at indiegogo.com/projects/the-impress-project-phase-two.
Jonathan Heawood
The Impress project

George Monbiot’s conclusion that corporations “have no right to run our lives” is right, but wishing that “it would be better still if governments and global bodies stopped delegating their powers to corporations” (How have these corporations colonised our public life?, 8 April) is far too meek when standing in the wings is the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which will give unimagined powers to companies. Rum when, as Monday’s Guardian reported: “The London-York-Edinburgh service is run by Directly Operated Railways, which returns all profits to the state.” I use the line regularly. It’s very good.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• George Monbiot demonstrates how the global giants control politicians; the previous day Gary Younge reported on how “the US supreme court has accelerated the capture of democratic politics by a wealthy elite” (Welcome to the greatest charade that money can buy, 7 April). This guarantees that people like the oil tycoon Koch brothers will control the US politicians who should be opposing climate change. Louis Brandies, the 19th-century jurist, wrote: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” We have the choice, if we recover our voices and votes.
John Airs
Liverpool

• George Monbiot and Gary Younge illustrate how prophetic was the science-fiction novel The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. Published in 1953, it describes where the trends discussed in the two articles are taking the world. It seemed like fantasy as recently as the 1970s, but it gets more like reality every year.
John Wils

Sergei Lavrov’s article (It’s not Russia that is destabilising Ukraine, 8 April) is a masterpiece of half-truths and disinformation which shows that destabilisation doesn’t always need troops and tanks.

The ousted, corrupt Yanukovych government brought Ukraine to its knees economically and administratively. Lavrov is right on one point: it will take years to make Ukraine a well-run and stable democracy. That task will be made much harder by a Kremlin prepared to destabilise the situation still further, and justify its actions with the mantra of protection of Russian speakers without any regard for the truth.

Lavrov ought to read the latest poll by the International Republican Institute with Gallup. Two-thirds of ethnic Russians in Ukraine do not perceive any threat because of language or ethnicity; more than 80% of Ukrainians do not support Russia sending in its army to protect Russian speakers (and that includes two-thirds of respondents in the south and east), while three-quarters want Ukraine to remain a unitary country (including 60% in the south and east).

The door for negotiations is open, and the possibility of discussions between Ukraine, the EU, US and Russia is welcome, but those negotiations have to be on equal terms. If Russia can stop its economic blackmail of Ukraine, stop its campaign of misinformation and stop its demands on constitutional change, then dialogue will have a chance. If not, then we’ll all be living in the dangerous cold war world of the past.
Iryna Terlecky
Vice-chair, Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain

• Ever since Russian military forces started the aggression on Ukraine, I cannot get rid of the feeling that this isn’t real, this can’t be happening. Russia can’t invade Ukraine. Russia can’t consciously destroy the whole post-war international order. Sergei Lavrov, a diplomat par excellence, can’t insist on Russia’s right to behave internationally like an elephant in a china shop.

Yet it is real and it has happened. Lavrov tries to strike a conciliatory tone, bemoaning Ukraine’s “complex tasks in constructing a sovereign state”. But in the same breath he is blemishing the west for its “unproductive and dangerous line” on Ukraine and praising Russia for its effort in “supporting the independent Ukrainian state” and “promoting early stabilisation”. Now, this latter part really caught my eye.

If “supporting the independent Ukrainian state” means chopping off a chunk of territory, then, yes, Russia did nicely. And if “promoting early stabilisation” means flooding Ukraine with Russian citizens who beat people and tear down Ukrainian flags from administrative buildings, then yes, Russia contributed greatly.

It was pointed out that Russia subsidised Ukraine through low energy prices. It is only a half-truth. Six years ago, it decided to use the energy supply as leverage on Ukraine. Ever since we have been paying more than most European consumers. And now (obviously, as another act of “support”) Russia is about to charge us one and a half times more than the others.

Lavrov’s parallels between war-torn Kosovo and peaceful Crimea are equally misleading. Neither the eastern partnership nor the Nato enlargement was directed against Russia. Neither Russia nor anyone else can lecture Ukraine on what to do with its own constitution.

Let Russia demonstrate its real intention by deeds, not by words.
Volodymyr Khandogiy
Ukraine ambassador to the UK

• Lavrov is right that “de-escalation should begin with rhetoric” and that there is a need to “return to serious common work”. If only such sentiments were true of Russia’s position towards Syria. The conflict may have dropped from the headlines and there is not the same bombastic rhetoric being hit back and forth by Washington and Moscow, but it is a clear case of Russia not following its words with actions. How else can Damascus’s continued non-compliance with the Russian-agreed UN security council resolution demanding aid access to country be explained? Russia has strong relations with the Assad regime and as shown in a new European Council on Foreign Relations report this week has allowed the Central Bank of Syria to open several rouble accounts at Russian banks VTB, VEB, and Gazprombank as well as finalising discussions to allow the Regime to print money there. A clear sign of Lavrov’s willingness to work multilaterally and avoid a return to cold war tensions would be for him to pressure Damascus to allow aid in immediately while working with Kerry to find a date for the next Geneva peace talks.
James Denselow
London

• Lavrov’s extraordinary claim that Russia is not “imposing anything on anyone” in Ukraine comes weeks after his country has illegally annexed Crimea and while he demands constitutional reform to ensure that Ukraine would be subservient to Russia as “non-aligned”. Having picked apart Georgia and Moldova, Russia is now attempting to do the same to Ukraine. Having got away with it twice, the Russians are banking on weak western responses so they can have their way again. Surely the time has come for Nato and the EU to take a much tougher line? Are we really going to abandon Ukraine in the way that Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland were abandoned during the cold war?
John Strawson
University of East London

Your recent article (Gay men warned on serious dangers of ‘chemsex’, 9 April) highlights the serious threat to both individual and public health posed by the emergence of “chemsex”. While this impacts overwhelmingly on the gay community and in particular (although not only) in London, it is important to recognise other groups are also affected by the growing use of these drugs (as well as “legal highs”), including young people, students and clubbers, as mentioned in another of your articles on the same day (Steroid users pose new HIV infection threat, experts warn).

The strong association with high-risk sexual behaviour and sexual ill-health, including the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, has highlighted the need for better links between sexual health and drug services. However, very few integrated services exist, and those that do are now only available to local residents due to recent changes in NHS commissioning. We are concerned that this will severely restrict access to care for these vulnerable groups from all areas of London. We call on local authorities in London to jointly commission fully integrated, London-wide, open access, LGBT-specific (but open to all) sexual health and drug services, and for other local authorities to do likewise in areas where similar problems have been identified.
Dr Ann Sullivan Consultant, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Jan Clarke President, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, Dr David Asboe Chair, British HIV Association, Yusef Azad Director of policy and campaigns, National Aids Trusts, Dr Emma Devitt Consultant, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Christopher Hilton Consultant liaison psychiatrist, West London Mental Health Trust/Imperial College London, Dr Alan McOwan Lead clinician, 56 Dean Street, Dr Michael Rayment Consultant, Homerton University Hospital,, London Dr Fiona Burns Consultant, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Christopher Scott Consultant, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Alan Winston Reader in HIV medicine, Imperial College London

Independent:

Times:

Sir, We are three war widows. Two of us can retain our war widow’s pension entitlement if we remarry or cohabit and one of us cannot (Forces Pension Society letter, Apr 9 & 10). This is purely a lottery as to when your husband was killed. There is a wrong time to die!

If a serving person was killed before 1973 or after 2005, his widow is free to remarry while retaining her pension. Others, like Squadron Leader Garry Lennox, killed in the first Gulf War, leave widows whose war widow’s pension is paid under the 1973 War Pensions scheme, and is forfeit if they remarry or cohabit.

Surely as we commemorate the start of the First World War we can ensure that all our war widows can keep their pensions for life. We urge the prime minister to do the decent thing by the post-1973 war widows.

Anne Lennox

Fran Hall

Renee Linder

The War Widows Association of Great Britain

Sir, Campaigning for the equitable treatment of service widows is an uphill struggle. My husband, an RN helicopter pilot, was killed on duty in 1966. At that time I had a child of six months and was pregnant with another. Two years later I married another serviceman, a Royal Marine subaltern. The MoD promptly removed my war widow’s pension, leaving him to raise the family without their help. The unfairness of it rankles still, but entreaties over the years have proved fruitless.

Elizabeth Linn

Hurstpierpoint, W Sussex

Sir, It is argued that it is unfair if armed forces widows/widowers lose their pensions upon remarriage or cohabitation. Exactly the same applies to bereavement benefit and so if the rules are changed for armed forces personnel, it should also apply to bereavement benefit for civilians. To do otherwise would be unjust for those who have lost a partner and have children to support, just because their partner was not a member of the armed forces.

I imagine that the principle is that once the widow or widower meets a new partner they no longer need the state’s support. While I question this principle and the difficult position it puts a widow/widower in, should the system be changed for armed forces widows/widowers, it should also change for everyone else.

Peter Causton

Frodsham, Cheshire

Sir, The shabby treatment of service widows is not confined to the rule on co-habitation or remarriage. During my 38 years’ service in the RAF, pensions were a closed book. Officially they were described as generous, giving a pension of half one’s final salary. Service pay was much lower than comparable civilian jobs to fund this pension. In my case my pay was much less than similarly qualified civilian pilots.

The arcane rules governing widows’ pensions were never publicised, so I was not aware that if I should marry after leaving the service my wife would not be entitled to half my pension should I predecease her. Had we married while I was serving, she would be entitled to half my pension for the rest of her life. However, we were married after I left the service, so as a widow she will be entitled to only about one quarter of my pension. The new Armed Forces Pension Scheme would be an ideal opportunity to redress this and other inequities of previous regulations.

AR Bell

Goldsborough, N Yorks

We waste vast quantities of food. With the right health and legal controls one solution is to feed it to pigs

Sir, One way to reduce the shocking amount of waste food discarded by consumers in industrialised nations — highlighted by the House of Lords EU committee — is to remove the ban on feeding waste food (swill) to pigs.

Heating products contaminated with pig diseases such as foot and mouth to 100C for 1 hour will render them safe for feeding to pigs. Leaving responsibility for the heat treatment to farmers is inadequate. In 2001 the failure of one farmer to follow the rules resulted in the FMD epidemic which cost the UK some £10 billion. Strict procedures to ensure that waste food was properly heat treated and handled could, for example, be done at licensed premises under the supervision of local authorities.

In addition to reducing our scandalous waste of food, removing the ban would be a significant financial benefit to pig farmers who no longer have to buy expensive feed, often based on imported grain.

Alex Donaldson

(Head, Pirbright Laboratory, Institute for Animal Health, 1989-2002)

Burpham, Surrey

A reader praises Tony Blair for his willingness to state unpopular truths about western military action in Syria

Sir, Tony Blair was right to criticise Parliament’s failure to approve military action against Syria and to predict catastrophic consequences both for the people of Syria and for the UK (“We’ll pay for staying out of Syria”, Apr 8).

The long-term damage to Britain’s special relationship with the United States is incalculable and while the decision may have been forgiven by the current US administration, this will not have gone unnoticed by
those aspiring to succeed Barack Obama.

Not only has the free world permitted the use of chemical weapons to go unpunished, it is hard not to conclude that such appeasement of the Assad regime has at the very least provided succour to President Putin.

I have always disagreed with his politics but Mr Blair deserves my respect for his courage, foresight and willingness to state unpopular truths.

Philip Duly

Haslemere, Surrey

Some say depression is over-diagnosed among the elderly but Esther Rantzen says it is all too common, and ignored

Sir, The chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ old age faculty, of which I am a member, is misguided in suggesting that millions of older people are suffering from undiagnosed “depression” (Apr 8).

Depressive disorder is hugely overdiagnosed in all age groups, including the elderly. Yes, many older people have grave problems with illness, disability, bereavement, loss of independence and isolation. Such distress reflects poorly on our society, but it is not a disease to be treated by doctors.

Yet antidepressants are dished out like proverbial Smarties to the elderly. Common side effects including falls, confusion and salt imbalance can occasionally lead to serious ill-health and even death. I seek not to alarm the relatively small number of older people who are truly mentally ill and for whom the benefits of such drugs outweigh the risks, but overtreatment is the true crisis.

Dr Richard Braithwaite

Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, Jenni Russell (Apr 10) correctly spotlights the feelings of loneliness and loss that all too often afflict older people. When The Silver Line launched in 2013 we commissioned a survey which found that 2.5 million older people admitted that they often felt lonely, but there is a stigma attached to loneliness which prevents them reaching out for help; 84 per cent don’t confess their feelings even to their family, because they don’t want to be a burden. It’s not just pride, it’s about a national attitude to older people. Some 800 callers a day are using the free, confidential 24-hour telephone line because, as one said, “When I get off the phone, I feel like I belong to the human race.”

Is it not a disgraceful reflection that anyone in the UK should feel they are no longer a part of the human race, simply because they are older?

Esther Rantzen

The economic conditions are right for us to be much more adventurous and high-tech in the way we build our houses

Sir, The rising cost of building sites has pushed the ratio of “site cost” to “fabric cost” from about 1:5 40 years ago to about 3:2 now. This, and the the serious skill shortage highlighted by Mike Bialyj (letter, Apr 7), should be an opportunity to drag house construction out of the past.

Modern industry is an impressive mix of consumerism, technological innovation and highly sophisticated production methods, all applicable to the problem of providing homes — in stark contrast to the conventional brick-built house, a soulless kit of parts, archaic, inflexible, expensive, technically inept, environmentally destructive and aesthetically joyless.

A change of approach must come, sooner or later.

R. Goodall

Bewdley, Worcs

The founder of the Virgin Group reckons his investment in Virgin Galactic will be the best he has ever made

Sir, You spoke of Virgin Galactic being a black hole (Apr 7). Sadly we won’t be travelling that far, but if you mean our finances on Earth, I’m pleased to say it’s anything but a black hole. I believe our investment in Virgin Galactic will prove to be the best I’ve made in 40 years of business.

As to Virgin Atlantic, now the 787s are finally arriving after a three-year delay, it will return to profitability by the end of the financial year as we forecast in our two-year plan.

Virgin Atlantic has a proud tradition of challenging the status quo for the last 30 years, and we look forward to doing the same for the next 30.

Richard Branson

Virgin Group

Telegraph:

SIR – A report was launched last week which calls on the NHS to do more to prevent increasing numbers of people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities from developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes diagnoses in BME groups have increased by 21 per cent in the past three years, compared with 14 per cent in the white population. At the current rate, half of all people from BME groups will have developed diabetes by the time they are 80.

The NHS spends around £8.8 billion a year on treating type 2 diabetes, 80 per cent of which is on avoidable complications. Clinical commissioning groups need to implement strategies to improve outcomes in BME groups, target NHS health checks at people from a younger age in BME groups and improve understanding of diabetes in BME groups. The Government and the NHS need to recognise the severity of the problem, and take action now.

Virendra Sharma MP (Lab)
Chair of the Diabetes in BME Communities Working Group

Professor Wasim Hanif
Professor Diabetes & Endocrinology, Clinical Director, University Hospital Birmingham

Professor Kamlesh Khunti PhD
Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine, University of Leicester

Adrian Sanders MP (Lib Dem)
Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes

Keith Vaz MP (Lab)
Vice Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes

Lord Lyndon Harrison
Vice Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes

David Lammy MP (Lab)

Dr Chris Walton
Chair, Association of British Clinical Diabetologists

Jacqui Stevenson
Acting CEO, African Health Policy Network

Harj Nijjar
Business Unit Director, Janssen

Dr Abdul F Lakhdar
Consultant endocrinologist, Barts Health NHS Trust, Whipps Cross University Hospital

Dr Partha Kar
Clinical Director, Diabetes, Portsmouth hospitals NHS Trust

Professor Sauid Ishaq
Professor of Medicine MD Gastroenterology, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Milan K Piya
NIHR Clinical Lecturer, University of Warwick; and University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust

Professor Guy A Rutter
Head of Section of Cell Biology, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London

John Lehal
Managing Director, Insight Public Affairs

Jenne Patel
Equality and Diversity Manager, Diabetes UK

Professor Kamlesh Khunti PhD
Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine, University of Leicester

Dr Stephen Lawrence
GPSI Diabetes, Primary Care Medical Advisor, Diabetes UK/Clinical Diabetes Lead RCGP

Dr Sheldon Steed
Founder, mumoActive Limited

Professor Satyan Rajbhandari
Consultant Physician, Lancashire Teaching Hospital, Honorary Clinical Professor, University of Central Lancashire

Dr Trudi Deakin
Chief Executive, X-PERT Health

Philip Newland-Jones
Advanced Specialist Pharmacist Practitioner for Diabetes and Endocrinology, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Nina Patel
Diabetes Nurse Consultant, Ealing Hospital NHS Trust

Dr Gary Adams
Associate Professor in Diabetes Health and Therapeutics, University of Nottingham School of Health Sciences

Dr Jyothis T George
Senior Clinical Researcher, University of Oxford

Amanda Cheesley
Long Term Conditions Advisor Royal College of Nursing

Dr Harpal Singh Randeva
Clinical Director Ambulatory Services, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust

Gurdev Singh Deogon
Principle Diabetes Podiatrist, Warwickshire Institute for Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism [WISDEM], UHCW NHS Trust

Dr Albert Persaud
Co-founder and Director, The Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation International Foundation

Rajmohan Thampi
Chair, Diabetes UK Ealing Voluntary Group

Dr Pankaj Sharma
Head, Imperial College Cerebrovascular Research Unit (ICCRU), Imperial College London & Hammersmith Hospitals

Dr Ken Earle
Consultant Endocrinologist, St George’s Hospital Trust

SIR – Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, describes London’s air quality as “intolerable”, and promises that “we can beat it”.

If Mr Johnson really wants autumnal London air to “be alpine in its freshness” or, in spring, “like champagne”, he’s going to need to take the problem much more seriously. His claim to be spearheading a “relentless drive to reduce pollution” is pure fantasy. Mr Johnson’s big idea for action is the ultra-low emission zone, which will take another six years to get started. It’s nowhere near enough.

The Green Party is the only major party taking the issue of air pollution seriously and calling for workable measures, such as a ban on idling for parked cars. We need to cut the amount of traffic on our city centre roads and move towards cleaner transport.

Jean Lambert MEP (Green)
London E17

SIR – One of the most polluted places in Britain, the Euston Road in London, is already four times over the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide levels. These are certain to increase if government plans for HS2 go ahead, making Euston the largest inner-city construction site in Europe. Multiple long-term road closures and a thousand daily lorry journeys for 10 years will add to the number of Londoners killed by Britain’s failure to tackle a major health threat.

Air pollution must not be allowed to get worse before it gets better.

Martin Sheppard
London NW1

Tips on ordering a pint that’s served with a smile

SIR – As the author of How to Open and Run a Successful Bar, I believe that the reason for poor service in many pubs is simple. Customers don’t tip, as they do in America and most European countries, so there is no need for the staff to be polite.

Sadly, the jolly barmaid has become as rare as the whistling errand-boy.

Christopher Egerton-Thomas
Hove, East Sussex

SIR – Gordon Hughes asks what makes a “proper pub”. My local, The Queens Arms, displays a sign outside: “No lager, No children’s room”.

This seems to make the establishment work very well.

Jonathan Hancock
Cowden, Kent

SIR – I went into a “proper pub” some years ago and on ordering drinks at the bar saw a sign that said: “In case of fire, lift this flap”. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and lifted the flap. Underneath it said: “Not now, you idiot, in case of fire!”

On returning to my table, I saw all the locals laughing at me.

Peter Gilbert
Ditton, Surrey

Willow tree hazards

SIR – The slowing of water flow into rivers from the outer edges of the catchments may be a priority, but enhancing the flow out of the rivers into the sea is of even greater importance to the intensely floodable areas surrounding the lower reaches. There, overgrown willow trees on the water’s edge are a serious impediment to flow, and a contributory cause of flooding.

Gloucester, on the lower reaches of the Severn, is a case in point. The trees used to be managed in the days of horse-drawn barges, and the passage of the barges moved the silt. Now, the outfall of Britain’s longest river is becoming choked with silt and overgrown willows. This adds to all the problems of man-made obstructions in the flood plain, including a huge landfill site.

Jeremy Chamberlayne
Gloucester

Confidential banking

SIR – When I was 18, I wanted to buy a new motorcycle. So, accompanied by my father, I made an appointment to see the bank manager regarding a loan.

He told me how much the loan would cost, but then asked me to go away and work out whether I could afford the repayments on my salary. I said, surely he knew how much I was earning as my salary was paid into my account, to which he replied: “Of course I know, but it is confidential, and if I mention it, your father will then know too.”

John Snook
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Banquet faux pas

SIR – In view of the past troubles, was it tactful of the Queen to include a “bombe glacée” on the menu at her banquet for the Irish president?

John Sorrell
Paris

156 Comments

SIR – I was relieved to hear of Maria Miller’s resignation from the Cabinet, not a moment too soon.

But does this limited action indicate that she considers her behaviour is acceptable fir a backbench MP?

Ray Melvin
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

SIR – It speaks volumes for the poor ethics of Mrs Miller that she has resigned because of the “distraction she has caused to the Government” and not because of her deceit which, if undertaken by most other workers, would almost certainly have resulted in dismissal and criminal charges.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

SIR – At last Mrs Miller has resigned, but she must not be allowed to walk away without paying back the £45,000 she owes the taxpayer. She was not found innocent by the law, but by a panel of MPs who may have dodgy expenses as well. The police need to investigate whether a crime has been committed here.

Peter Cresswell
Enniskillen, County Fermanagh

SIR – No doubt we shall be told that it is the expenses system that is the problem, not the dishonesty of MPs. Every one of them should be reminded that the Parliamentary Green Book states: “Parliamentary allowances are designed to ensure that MPs are reimbursed for costs properly incurred in the performance of their duties.”

Edward Huxley
Thorpe, Surrey

SIR – Why all the fuss about Maria Miller? Surely it is the members of the Commons Standards Committee who should all be sacked. It is this committee, with representation from all three main parties, which, by its dismissal of the recommendations from an exhaustive investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, reignited the perception that financial indiscretion by MPs will continually be pushed under the carpet.

R Michael James
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

SIR – David Cameron’s biggest weakness? His failure to understand public opinion and take appropriate action. This weakness could cost him the next election.

Captain John Maioha Stewart (retd)
Breisach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

SIR – Maria Miller may have resigned but, yet again, David Cameron has shown what a weak leader he is, and how out of touch he is with most people in this country. He seems determined to lose the next election by continuing to ignore public opinion.

Michael Slater
Dibden Purlieu, Hampshire

SIR – The continuing distrust of MPs and their expenses, and public fears over attempts to gag journalists following Leveson, have hit a bursting point over Maria Miller’s case, the rights and wrongs of which appear to be immaterial.

I lament the loss of a female member of the Cabinet and a good politician but the fact that a group of MPs can alter by tens of thousands of pounds the verdict of the independent commissioner for standards on expenses, and that an aide is prepared to use a thinly veiled threat about press freedom to deter a journalist’s probing is simply not acceptable.

Maria Miller herself actually played no part in either of these, but she provided the scenario and has to take the rap.

Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – I reckon this guarantees a record low turnout for the general election.

Paddy Germain
Marden, Kent

SIR – In light of Maria Miller’s resignation, is it not time to re-examine the issue of Government-funded mortgage payments on MPs’ second homes? If the Government refunds an MP’s mortgage payments, the Government, in effect, shares in the equity in their property. And if there’s a capital gain when the property is eventually sold, then surely the Government should recoup a slice of that gain – it shouldn’t all go into the MP’s pocket.

Graham Tillotson
Oxshott, Surrey

SIR – In America, all administration appointees must be approved by Congress. Perhaps we should adopt a new policy here that any individual who has to resign from the Cabinet is no longer allowed to return.

David Bowman
Andover, Hampshire

SIR – Doubtless to counter the bad press over Maria Miller’s expenses, David Amess and 14 other Tory MPs list the achievements of the Conservative Party in giving the poorer members of our society a better life (Letters, April 9).

If they hadn’t given away so much of Britain’s sovereignty to unelected and corrupt foreign bureaucrats in Brussels, they might well have had something to shout about between now and May 22.

Carole Taylor
New Milton, Hampshire

SIR – Search as I might, I could not find in the letter from David Amess (and 14 others) one item in the long list of achievements by Conservatives that is so proudly claimed by the Prime Minister.

Surely, one of the 15 signatories might have suggested the introduction of same-sex marriage in the list.

Arnold Kingston
Four Elms, Kent

SIR – If MPs were all issued a go-anywhere rail card and an Oyster card, there would be no need for travel expenses, and the rail companies could pick up the bill.

Don Edwards
Manningtree, Essex

SIR – The resignation of Mrs Miller is not enough. We want our money back.

Michael Cleary
Bulmer, North Yorkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – The suggestion by consultancy firm Grant Thornton (“TCD says it will ’act’ on ideas for rebranding”, April 9th) that universities need to become more commercially self-sustaining is a welcome one but does not go far enough. The idea should be extended to secondary and primary schools, which could do much more to bring in income rather than simply relying on the State to fund them, as if education were a public good.

The education of young people, who do not pay any taxes, places an uneconomical burden on the precarious finances of our State. Primary schools could begin by attracting fee-paying international five-year-olds to generate new income. While this might reduce the number of places available to Irish students, the important thing is that profits are made. Educational institutions are, first and foremost, businesses, and their job is to create wealth. If, as this report suggests, they are currently at breaking point due to ever decreasing Government funding, the solution is obvious. Increasing commercialisation will enable the Government to waste less money on this parasitic sector and invest in areas that actually make a return to our economy. Yours, etc,

PROF KEVIN MITCHELL,

PROF AOIFE MCLYSAGHT,

Smurfit Institute of Genetics ,

Trinity College Dublin

Sir, – As a young student at TCD I remember a day in the early 1980s spent discussing history and revolution in Ireland with my father. I, in youthful fervour, had expressed a criticism of pointless violence and professed a lack of support for the 1916 rising and its participants. My father, born when Ireland was under British rule, was not impressed. His retort was this: “You’d not be attending that godless college of yours if there had been no 1916.” It seems Trinity is now about to make his then politically motivated comment the truth by taking the Bible from its logo. There is no incompatibility between Christianity and scholarship, nor should any institution deny its roots. The Emperor’s new clothes only left him naked. Yours, etc,

ISOLDA O’CONNOR,

Kilnaclasha,

Skibbereen

Co Cork

A Chara, – In light of the current discussion regarding the rebranding of Trinity College, your readers might be interested to know that according to the college’s website “The legal name of the College is ‘the Provost, Fellows, Foundation Scholars and the other members of Board, of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin’ and should be used on all legal documentation relating to the College.” Le dea-mhéin,

SEÁN Ó RIAIN,

Gort an tSeagail,

Achadh an Iúir ,

Contae an Chábháin

Sir, – It is not surprising that the rebranding of Trinity College Dublin is creating such a lot of heat and noise. After all, the stakes are so low. Yours, etc,

BRIAN AHERN,

Meadow Copse,

Clonsilla,

Dublin 15

Sir, – While atheists are understandably challenged if asked to swear on the Bible, the book, or rather collection of books, is increasingly becoming a problem for Christians too. The Bible contains some of the vilest racist, sexist and homophobic remarks in literature. It is inexplicable that female garda recruits, not to mention gay and lesbian gardaí, could hold this book up as symbolic of the values they intend to uphold. One can only assume they do not know all of what its written in it.

It is time to remove from this book all remarks that give offence to human beings. Just as we have regular constitutional amendments to remove injustices from our legal system, so too we should have regular amendments of all so-called holy books to remove all that is offensive to human beings from their pages.

In the gospel of St Mark (2:27), Jesus is quoted as saying that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” So too it might be said that the Bible was made for man, not man for the Bible. If there are offensive words within its pages let us have the courage to remove them so that the book might adequately serve us rather than we it. Yours, etc,

DECLAN KELLY,

9 Whitechurch Road,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14

Sir, – Sean Alexander Smith (Letters, April 10th) finds it strange but true that the  Holy Trinity and Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ are referred to in the preamble of the Constitution. I don’t find it one bit strange. It simply reflects the religious and cultural heritage of the vast majority of the people of this island, going back to the time of St Patrick.  Understandably, at swearing-in ceremonies the Bible is used. Jewish or Muslim people can use their respective holy books , the Torah or Koran as the case may be. People with no metaphysical beliefs , such as humanists, can make a secular affirmation of allegiance to the State. So I don’t really see what the problem is ? In this pluralistic world there is room for all of us and no one need feel left out. Yours, etc,

JOE MURRAY,

Beggars Bush Court,

Ballsbridge,

Dublin 4

Sir, – I didn’t see any objections to Presidents Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela or Mary Robinson putting their hands on the Bible during their innaguration ceremonies. Neither were there objections to one saying “So help me God”, to another saying “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us” and the latter praying “May God direct me so that my Presidency is one of justice, peace and love.”

So what exactly is the problem with a new garda being allowed to do the same. Surely the New Testament, which Heather Abrahamson (April 8th) wants to exclude, is the great book of inclusion, where enmities and hostilities are broken down (Eph 2:8-18), where equality is proclaimed irrespective of background, culture or gender (Gal 3:28) and the message is one of peace and reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-19). Have we become so “modern” and “multicultural” that we should take offence at such things and choose to settle for the least common denominator for fear of upsetting the latest fad. Yours, etc,

SEAMUS O’CALLAGHAN,

29 Bullock Park,

Carlow

Sir, – Fingal County Council decided on March 31st not to support the holding of a plebiscite in relation to a directly elected mayor for the Dublin metropolitan area. Most media comment on that decision has been very critical. However, I watched the webcast of the meeting and was struck and indeed impressed by the reasoned and mature approach of all the councillors who spoke, both for and against the plebiscite.

Some of the arguments against the plebiscite rested on the view that a Dublin metropolitan mayor would not be in the interests of Fingal residents. However, it was the logistics and timing of the proposed vote which generated most cross-party support.

I heard Fianna Fáil , Fine Gael, Labour and Socialist Party councillors highlighting what they saw as insufficient detail or clarity in the proposal together with a lack of real public awareness of what was at stake. The conclusion seemed to be that it would be folly to hold a plebiscite as proposed on May 23rd.

In rejecting the plebiscite as framed, I believe Fingal councillors have acted not just in the interests of Fingal residents but also in that of Dublin as a whole. They did not deserve the negative comments made about their decision.

I would recommend anyone interested in the issue to look at the webcast of the meeting, which is available on the Fingal County Council website. Yours, etc.

DANNY O’CONNOR,

Seapark,

Malahide,

Co Dublin

Sir, – With reference to the Fingal councillor who voted against the plebiscite on a directly elected mayor on the basis that, if Dublin had a mayor there would be “no chance of getting a pothole fixed in rural Fingal”, perhaps that is the extent of the issues he faces in his electoral area.

In representing his constituency, how far does a councillor’s responsibility extend? Does it extend to how Dublin as a city region may fare in a competitive global market? Or do double yellow lines in Balbriggan mark the limit? I would have welcomed the plebiscite on a directly elected mayor in May, not least as it might have raised public debate, in Dublin and nationally, about what constitutes appropriate governance for our cities, towns and localities, and indeed our role as an electorate in that governance.

By the way I recently reported a pothole to Dublin City Council, via the council’s website, without resort to councillors or TDs. It was fixed today. Yours, etc,

FINOLA O’DRISCOLL,

Larkfield Gardens,

Kimmage,

Sir, – It is good to hear that a member of the British royal family is to be invited to the ceremonies in 2016. Before dissenting voices make themselves felt, let me recall that French president Jacques Chirac invited German chancellor Gerhard Schröder to the Normandy beaches for the 60th commemorative celebration in 2004. This was in remembrance of a conflict which ultimately led to the end of the second World War, the last of many dreadful conflicts between those traditional enemies France and Germany. In the process of making friends with neighbours, no one was forgetting anything: Chirac recalled, for instance, that the chancellor’s father had been one of the millions killed in the war and Schröder explicitly referred to German atrocities. Seen in the context of the world today, Europe is a small place. Let us greet every step, every gesture, which brings us together. Yours, etc,

GERARD P MONTAGUE,

Zaumberg,

Immenstadt,

Allgäu,

Germany

A Chara,  – The Taoiseach’s use of the term “our authentic historians” (April 10th) in London is interesting given the opinion piece by Roy Foster in your paper on the previous day. Foster writes that British rule in Ireland by the time of the revolution was not oppressive. He seeks to minimise the revolutionary generation’s actions as flowing from mere Anglophobia. I doubt if the new mutually fulfilling relations between our two countries will be “nearly as good as sex”, as Foster appears to think.   Yours, etc,

ANTHONY JORDAN,

Gilford Road,

Dublin 4

A Chara – The word “Our” in the title of the article by Mark Hennessy (“Our special love/hate relationship with Britain”, April 5th) should have alerted me to the fact that this did not concern the likes of me living in South Armagh. The fact that the “hate” part of that relationship – something with which we might have had a possible understanding in these quarters – wasn’t even alluded to, suggested that this was one for those south of the Border.

The reason the term “Éire” grates from the mouth of an Englishman (or a Northern unionist for that matter) is that it is used specifically to refer to the 26-county state and not to the island of Ireland. If you want to call the 26 counties “Ireland” then please be consistent and cut the Six Counties off your tourist maps. And see how you sell that to the Yanks.

Yours, etc,

KIERAN MURPHY,

Dromintee,

Co ArmSir, – One frequently hears and reads of people reaching out for, and seeking basic truths about, the probable order of things. This is normal and good, as we are all spiritual as well as temporal beings. It might however help to use logic in thinking in this spiritual field. For example, our universe is moving (expanding) so it must have had a beginning, and therefore have been created (the “Big Bang”). In this context, arguably the only type of entity which could have created our finite universe is an infinite one. However, we are finite beings and so cannot comprehend the concept of infinity. There is therefore a tendency for people to try to to explain the infinite in temporal terms.

However if there exists an overall infinite universe then as finite beings there is an infinite amount that we cannot and do not know. This wisdom was well expressed in the early 1500s by Michel de Montaigne when he wrote: “All I know is that I know nothing, and I am not even sure about that.” Socrates said much the same thing: “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” This wisdom should encourage us to keep open minds on spiritual matters, and as advised by Albert Einstein, continue learning all of our lives, right to the very last day. Yours, etc,

TOM MOLYNEUX,

Ripley Hills.

Bray.

Co Wicklow

Sir, – Edward Hanlon (Letters, April 9th), calls the Big Bang theory “bonkers”. He is limiting himself in his scope, why stop at the Big Bang if you are prepared to deny overwhelming physical evidence and the expert opinion of thousands of scientists? He can use the same method of simple denial to classify our currently accepted “Theory of Gravity” as bonkers, but is he prepared to jump off his house roof to prove his point? Your Etc. Sean McGibbon 10 The Knoll Cashel Downs KIlkenny

Sir, – Shane O’Doherty (April 8th) suggests a study to observe the effects of removing the bus lane. There’s no need. On Conyngham Road in Dublin every morning from eight to nine the rules are simply ignored. From my apartment I have a bird’s eye view of the lead-up to the Chesterfield Avenue/Infirmary Road junction. Motorists turning left queue in single file for the lights in the left lane for 300 metres. The effect is not to speed up their own journeys one iota but merely to impede the progress of several buses, each carrying 50 or more passengers.

The selfishness of the car drivers would be blameworthy even if an advantage were gained. But in fact their actions are not just illegal but futile. Fortunately I have other transport options, namely Luas and bicycle. Many do not. Mr O’Doherty’s dismissal of these people on the basis of taxation is obnoxious. Yours, etc,

PAUL KEAN,

Long Meadows Apartments,

Conyngham Road,

Dublin 8

Sir, – I was dismayed to read Shane O’Doherty’s comments on cyclists’ safety. Not only are his remarks objectionable; they also disregard the observable behavior of motorists in Dublin city. Surely I cannot be the only person to have noticed that the number of drivers who treat red traffic lights and pedestrian crossings with nothing but contempt has reached epidemic proportions? Education and enforcement of the rules of the road for all road users are desperately needed, now more than ever. Yours, etc,

GARRET LEDWITH,

Tudor Road,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6

Sir, – Much of the debate on Heidegger’s legacy (Fintan O’Toole, April 5th, and Letters, April 8th) rests on a misunderstanding of what it means to interpret a philosophical work. The injunction on the reader is to approach the work thoughtfully and critically.

Heidegger’s major work, Sein und Zeit (1927) – Being and Time in English – is an attempt to see what role time plays in our understanding of being. While it can and should be questioned whether such a project has political implications, insofar as the Enlightenment project of understanding nature mathematically works with a distinction between events that occur in time and the timeless laws that govern them, insofar as philosophical theology traditionally speaks of God’s eternity as distinguished from creation and insofar as Plato distinguished the timeless and the true from the temporal, Heidegger can be seen to be raising an issue of central philosophical significance.

I would suggest that the consideration of the relation between Heidegger’s work and politics and between philosophy and politics more generally is ill-served by thoughtless polemic. Yours, etc,

DR AENGUS DALY,

Carnaper Str,

Wuppertal,

Germany

Irish Independent:

Padraic Neary Tubbercurry, Co Sligo – Published 11 April 2014 02:30 AM

* I refer to an article by Brendan Keenan (April 10), regarding the type of recovery we need. Nobody in good health should want ‘recovery’ unless they erroneously think they are ill. That appears to be where the economic establishment of the world is at the moment: deluded, mistaking the greatest economic success ever for failure.

Also in this section

See no bubble, hear no bubble, speak no bubble

Women laid groundwork for Michael D’s visit

Injustice in our way of life

Economic activity at its most basic is providing the goods and services required by the human race. All through history there has been failure: inability to provide enough, leaving shortfall between what could be produced and what was needed. This gap in supply and demand always meant we needed to produce more, thereby facilitating the need and opportunity for continual economic growth.

As the production process depended substantially on human labour, employment was always guaranteed. At the end of the 20th century, everything changed. The introduction of computerisation enhanced life and was especially successful in commercial matters. Suddenly we could produce practically everything, in abundance, and transport it anywhere in the world at minimal cost.

As the economic diagnosis was wrong in the first place, wrong policies were enacted to rectify the situation. Conversion of debts from private to national incurred public debt that will run for generations. Austerity pushed an enormous number into penury, and policies making those employed work harder, longer and into later retirement are about as wrong it is possible to be in a world where work diminishes by the second.

The real tragedy is that the policies adopted by the Irish and EU Governments have not addressed the real problem at all. Instead of ‘recovery’, we need adaptation. Rather than recover, we need to adapt to the very best economic time that ever existed. The first step is to understand what has really happened: how technological success has transformed economic activity forever. Then we should thank our lucky stars to be living at this time.

SUGGESTION WIDE OF THE MARK

* It was bad enough to hear that the queen of England might help out with the 1916 celebrations – but the suggestion by our esteemed President that we should support the England soccer team in Brazil is out, out, out!

SAME OLD 1840S OPPRESSION

* The 1840s are back again. The international and Wall Street bankers are the absentee landlords, still able to suck the blood of the timid. The havoc they caused in America and beyond was pure evil, yet none of them were ever charged with fraud. Bernie Madoff screwed his own people and was rightfully punished. The land agents of the 1840s are our bankers. The politicians of today are the small farmers of old, who exported their produce while their cousins starved to death. The Garda are no different than their RIC counterparts – all Irishmen, who see injustices every day yet do very little. The lawyers are the Lords, the starving peasantry are the unemployed, and the Catholic Church, and all other churches, are still the same – silent.

This time, we can’t blame the English.

THE HANDSHAKE HORRORS

* During that ‘Irish’ night (before the President’s visit), I saw someone extend his hand to the queen who appeared not to ‘notice’ the gesture. Must be a bit like a western showdown when one meets her highness. . . keeping an eye trained on her ‘gun hand’, waiting for her to make her move?

OUR JOB TO MAKE A BETTER WORLD

* World Health Day on April 7 has passed unnoticed. It is fair to state that the World Health Organisation has been admirable in championing the rights of the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the poor in societies across the globe. It has had an unparalleled track record in defending those who endure unspeakable torment and ill health; political, sexual, racial and social prejudices; and those who suffer from the ills and dilemmas of contemporary societies in pursuit of health-related millennium development goals.

There have been successes in downgrading several communicable and non-communicable diseases since the advent of the 21st century. However, there are daunting challenges that lie ahead as the world evolves into an increasingly interdependent and unpredictable entity. This demands urgent action to ease the burden of gender inequality, youth unemployment, social and economic disparities, carbon dioxide poisoning and environmental degradation and, most importantly, man’s inhumanity to fellow human beings. This lies outside the purview of the ministries of health and transcends to encompass the realms of education, housing, environment, defence, economy, foreign policy and transportation, to mention just a few.

This demands us to be creative in sparking debates, spurring social change and instigating social dialogue – in summary to work towards the betterment and advancement of the human race.

IT DOESN’T FEEL A YEAR OVER 700

* Amidst the tsunami of verbal diarrhoea we have had to endure from the Irish media during the President’s visit to Britain, one phrase confused me. It was the “800-year relationship” between our islands. Am I right in thinking that “relationship” in journo-speak means “unrelenting brutal colonisation”?

CIVIL WAR POLITICS STILL RAGES

* The letter from Fr Tom Grufferty (April 10) kind of touched a nerve for me. I can also understand where (I think) Fr Tom is coming from insofar as, back then, official Ireland was conspicuous by showing very little interest in our British exiles, other than on St Patrick’s Day.

Such places as the Banba Hall on the Foleshill Road in Coventry were very far from Aras an Uachtarain on a Saturday evening, and reading the ‘Irish Press’ at the back of the church on Sunday morning might be as close to home as one might get for a long time.

Those were the days when, if there was a photo of a politician in the paper, he (for there were no shes) would, most likely, be kissing John Charles McQuaid’s ring.

But all that is in the past and the queen has come to our place and Official Ireland has called over to Windsor and believe it or not, Catholicism is no longer compulsory in either Ireland or Britain – and the job of both heads of state is to represent all citizens in their respective countries.

Earlier, I commented on understanding Fr Tom, but in all this growing up and forgetting the past with the old enemy, we are still fighting the Civil War at home.

Why can’t Fianna Fail and Fine Gael agree to hang the portraits of Dev and Mick side by side in the Taoiseach’s office and not behave like children each time there is a change of government?

Now, about Westminster Abbey!

Wendy and Susan

April 10, 2014

10April2014Wendy and Susan

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Can Hyde-Brown pass his exam? Priceless

Mary in hospital visit her with Wendy and Susan

Scrabbletoday, I win just by three points,Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Sir Maurice Drake – obituary

Sir Maurice Drake was a High Court judge who presided over some of the most high-profile libel actions of his time

Sir Maurice Drake

Sir Maurice Drake Photo: PHOTOSHOT

7:10PM BST 09 Apr 2014

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Sir Maurice Drake, who has died aged 91, was the High Court’s principal libel judge from 1991 to 1995; earlier he was one of the most fluent and persuasive advocates at the Bar.

Robust and straightforward, Drake was particularly adept at handling difficult criminal cases, and often unusually candid with juries. Concluding his summing up in a murder trial at Reading Crown Court, he said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the facts are for you, the law is for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t comment on the facts.” He then told them that he thought the defendant was innocent.

Drake was normally more subtle in expressing his opinion, and he very rarely misdirected. He was careful with the detail and expert at summarising it. A passionate believer in the jury system for all the reasons connected with justice, he nevertheless made no secret of the fact that he was also attracted by its theatrical possibilities.

His most dramatic case was probably the Gillian Taylforth libel trial in 1994, which resulted from a story in the Sun describing how the actress had performed an “indecent act” on her fiancé in her Range Rover on a slip-road off the Al.

Gillian Taylforth arriving at court in 1995

Much of the evidence in the case was so fruity that some commentators were asking if it did not undermine the dignity of and respect for the legal system; the propriety of the proceedings was dented by the direct way George Carman put his case (“I suggest, if we go back to basics, that you were giving him a blow job because you had both had a merry day”). But Drake – a man of the world – seemed determined that the jury should get the whole picture.

Among the exhibits he allowed the jury to see was a six-year-old video — showing the EastEnders actress at a party cavorting with a German sausage — used by Carman to rebut her claim that she was not an exhibitionist.

More unusually, Drake permitted the court entourage to troop out to the High Court’s car park, where Miss Taylforth purported to re-enact what she claimed had been an innocent comforting gesture to her sick fiancé. Afterwards, in another vehicle, two Sun feature writers, quite unable to suppress sniggers, simulated the version of events that was ultimately believed by the jury.

Drake attracted publicity of a different nature a year later, this time for taking the unprecedented step of openly discussing the fact that he was a Freemason, and had been since 1948. It was, he said, a chance for indulging in harmless play-acting, good dinners and friendship, rather than secret deals and career advancement.

“An outsider might say it is a lot of grown men behaving like children,” he said. “I can understand that, but it is fun all the same.” He denied any conspiracy: “If I were trying to sentence somebody and they tried to signal me or whatever, I would have to restrain myself from increasing the sentence.”

Frederick Maurice Drake was born on February 15 1923 and educated at St George’s School, Harpenden. During the Second World War he served in Nos 96 and 255 squadrons of the RAF. Short-sighted, he was prevented from becoming a pilot, and trained as a navigator flying in Beaufighters; in 1944, after a number of successes against enemy aircraft, he was awarded a DFC.

On demobilisation in 1945, Drake went up to Exeter College, Oxford; he later read for the Bar and was called by Lincoln’s Inn in 1950.

He joined chambers at 4 Paper Buildings in the Inner Temple, and developed a busy common law practice, dealing with crime, tort, contract and libel, plus a lucrative sideline in licensing – his ability to charm magistrates off their seats made him much in demand by Ladbrokes and others.

Drake’s popularity among solicitors owed much to his advocacy. He was at his best when up against it. He would lean back, smile, and calmly deliver a measured and articulate argument. He had faultless timing in both civil and criminal cases and was a ruthless cross-examiner. He was also an attentive instructor to his many pupils .

Drake’s clients included Mary Whitehouse, awarded damages from Ned Sherrin for his quip that in order to be up late enough to watch Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life she must have been “on the streets”. He also acted for the Bay City Roller Les McKeown, jailed for three months after assaulting photographers at a pop concert; and Sir Oswald Mosley, who would regularly consult Drake – who did not share his client’s political sympathies – on various libel suits.

Drake also prosecuted in all three of the so-called “terror pickets” trials at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973. The defendants were the ringleaders of 300 flying pickets who had swarmed on to a Shropshire housing site in 1972 “like a hoard of Apache Indians”, according to Drake, chanting: “Kill, kill, kill, capitalist bastards. This is not a strike, it is a revolution.”

The guilty verdicts removed fears that existing laws were not strong enough to deal with terror tactics in strikes. They followed government pressure on chief constables to abandon their reluctance to act in industrial disputes because of anxiety about the political consequences.

Drake was deputy chairman of the Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions from 1966 to 1971; deputy leader of the Midland and Oxford Circuit from 1975 to 1978; and a Recorder of the Crown Court for six years from 1972. He was appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1978, assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division, and from 1979 to 1983 sat as the presiding judge on the Midland and Oxford Circuit.

The Carl Bridgewater murder trial was one of Drake’s first on the bench, and presented him with the difficulty of one of the defendant’s confessing and implicating his three co-defendants, but then declining to give evidence in court. The case later became something of a cause célèbre, and in February 1997 the men’s convictions were overturned after suggestions that the police had fabricated evidence in order to secure the all-important confession. Throughout the long campaign to overturn the verdicts, however, no criticism was made of Drake’s handling of the original trial.

Thereafter, the reputation that Drake built as one of the QBD’s most gifted and reliable trial judges rendered him a natural choice to take over the jury list when Sir Michael Davies retired in 1991.

One of the earliest high-profile libel trials at which Drake presided involved the actor Jason Donovan, awarded £200,000 in 1992 after an article in the Face magazine had alleged he was “queer” and had lied about his sexuality. Drake advised the jury that to call someone “queer” in the 1990s “may not be defamatory” and that the matter was “highly debatable”. But the additional slur that the squeaky-clean Donovan was a hypocrite tilted the verdict the plaintiff’s way.

Jason Donovan, who won £200,000 libel damages in 1992

The dozens of squealing girls who had packed Court 13 were ecstatic. “I am heterosexual,” the actor announced outside the court. A fan shouted: “There is justice! There is justice!”

Other notable protagonists who came before Drake included Teresa Gorman, awarded £150,000 (reduced to £50,000 on appeal) from her aptly named constituent Anthony Mudd, for a slur in a pamphlet around election time; Claire Latimer, the Downing Street caterer who settled her action against the satirical magazine Scallywag over an alleged affair with John Major; David Mellor’s friend Mona Bauwens, who also settled her case against The People; and Richard Branson, who won an apology from British Airways over a dirty tricks campaign.

Drake also presided over the case between Lady Foster (wife of the architect Sir Norman) and Customs officers at Heathrow, over allegations of false imprisonment and “slander by conduct” – being marched through the airport concourse in full view of the public. The jury failed to reach a verdict, the defence counsel having described the plaintiff as “insufferably grand”.

Drake continued to sit on serious criminal cases when required, and sentenced a 15-year-old arsonist to six life sentences after he admitted starting a fire in a department store in which two pensioners died and 82 other shoppers were injured.

The following year, jailing a shoplifter for five years for the manslaughter of his pursuer, Drake said he would be delighted if the outcry surrounding the case resulted in higher sentences for manslaughter – at the time he was constrained by Court of Appeal guidelines.

In another case, Drake turned down the Chelsea footballer Paul Elliot’s claim for damages from the Welsh international Dean Saunders, over an allegedly “over the top” tackle that ended Elliot’s playing career. But he gave short shrift to the suggestion that players in contact sports “consent” to the risk of being seriously injured, saying they had every right to seek redress from the courts.

Drake retired in 1995, but continued to hear occasional cases and interlocutory applications; in 1996 he granted an interim injunction to prevent further publication of photographs taken of Diana, Princess of Wales, by a hidden camera while exercising at the LA Fitness Club.

Drake was variously vice-chairman of the Parole Board from 1985 to 1986, and Nominated Judge for appeals from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal from 1985 to 1995. A keen Liberal, he was also at one time the mayor of St Albans.

He listed his recreations in Who’s Who as music, opera (he sang for the Harpenden Amateur Operatics), gardening, and sea-fishing. Although he hated clubs, he was very clubbable.

Drake was an extremely good-looking man who enjoyed the company of women. But he remained devoted to his wife May (neé Waterfall), whom he married in 1954; they had two sons and three daughters.

Sir Maurice Drake, born February 15 1923, died April 6 2014

Guardian:

Your editorial (Faith in the figures, 9 April) speculates on whether the changes to the national accounts methodology to be applied this autumn amount to coincidence or conspiracy. They are neither. The changes are the result of new international standards which have been discussed and agreed by experts, over many years. In the case of European Union countries such as the UK, both the substance and timing of the changes are specified in European law. The Office for National Statistics has no discretion to vary either.
Joe Grice
Chief economic adviser, Office for National Statistics

• I see the residents of London’s Kensington Park Gardens are protected by armed police officers at each end of the street (No benefits street, G2, 8 April). I wonder how many of the aforementioned residents are actually contributing taxes to pay for policing and any other public services they enjoy.
Margaret Farnworth
Liverpool

• If you’re going to attempt musical analysis (In praise of… The Winner Takes It All, 7 April) it’s always better to actually understand the meaning of the musical terms employed. The predominant piano theme in Abba’s song comprises various descending scales of five notes, not arpeggios. Yours, pedantically.
Bill Hawkes
Canterbury, Kent

• Annie Murray, a “saga writer”, objects to your reporter writing that the saga genre is “much maligned” (Letters, 8 April). I suspect that Snorri Sturluson would be turning in his grave at the usage of “saga” by both of them.
Bruce Holman
Waterlooville, Hampshire

•  Travelling with friends through Wrynose Bottom in Cumbria, I didn’t realise the unpleasant implications until one of the company read the name from the map (Letters, 9 April).
Tim Boardman
Stafford

• It is possible to be smartly dressed in Matching Tye in Essex. I’m still trying to find Handkerchief somewhere close by.
John Hunter
Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire

Former PM Tony Blair. ‘Perhaps the difficulty lies in Blair’s tendency to be self-righteous, in his unwillingness to apologise unequivocally for anything,’ writes Bruce Ross-Smith. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Zoe Williams’s touching plea to reconfigure the legacy of the former PM (We need to talk about the legacy of Tony Blair, 9 April) only serves to reinforce the widely held view that even the “liberal” media is incapable of offering the radical analysis of our current woeful condition that the times demand. It was Blair’s first lieutenant Peter Mandelson who offered the view he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, and so the deregulation of the City continued apace while the Tory assault upon trade union rights and their ability to protect the wages of the poor went unaddressed. The eroded minimum wage has now become the standard wage for almost all those newly employed in the manual sector (many graduates) and they now have no way to protect themselves. They won’t starve, but their capacity to wrest some just reward from the obscene growth of capital returns for the powerful has been swept away.

The increased investment in public services under Blair was entirely founded upon the naive belief that deregulation of the markets and their introduction into the public sphere would lead to unending growth – no more boom and bust! It was Blair’s mantra that people did not care who provided their services, only that they received them, as though the health professional working to maximise profits for private investors was no different from a public servant. The current Labour party has inherited, and continues, this embrace of the neoliberal agenda and that is why it now seems so irrelevant to that huge section of the populace on the left now effectively disenfranchised.
Tim Towers
Chichester, West Sussex

• As Polly Toynbee has often stressed on these pages, the achievements of Tony Blair‘s New Labour governments were considerable and durable, and Gordon Brown’s three-year administration added to those achievements. Zoe Williams is also right to say we shouldn’t judge Blair only on the basis of his military interventions (etc) and foreign policy. Perhaps the difficulty lies in Blair’s tendency to be self-righteous, in his unwillingness to apologise unequivocally for anything which happened on his watch, in his no doubt unintended habit of speaking in Pharisaical “voices”, both orally and in print. Humility is not Blair’s strong point. It is, however, a virtue.
Bruce Ross-Smith
Oxford

• It is both commendable and accurate for Zoe Williams to insist that the legacy of the Blair years should not be smothered by the war-crime notions of Iraq. Unfortunately, little of great political courage or imagination was done during these years to match the expectation of many of Labour’s grassroots supporters. For these women and men, pride is taken that their party created the NHS, the Open University, national parks, affordable and shame-free social housing, the first arts minister and much more. Civilising ideas were made concrete.

Sadly, New Labour appeared to many to cave in to the hostile media on the one hand and doubtful economism on the other. That’s when “they’re all the same” took hold. The state of the nation today would suggest that a dynamic surge of political courage, imagination and creativity could restore Labour’s magnetism. Without it the future of Britain looks like a tedious shopping mall with “offers that must end” repeated ad nauseam, and with nothing beyond.
Ian Flintoff
Oxford

• Zoe Williams exhorts us to be fair and remember that there was more to Tony Blair than just Iraq. Well, yes: he also tried to turn Britain into an authoritarian state with identity cards, vast government detention powers and mass surveillance. Economically, he renewed the drive for privatisation and commercialisation of public services. Since leaving power he has toured around preaching war against everyone in sight, and earning multimillions from vaguely defined services to various dictators he had got to know.

On Blair’s credit side, Williams mentions the peace process in Northern Ireland, and claims that the present government wouldn’t have done it. But it would. It was caused by the IRA leadership finally accepting after 25 years that they weren’t winning, and any government in London would have welcomed it and responded in the same way.

All Williams can really say is that the national minimum wage dates to his time. But any Labour government at this time would have done it, and the only thing remarkable is how out of character this particular act was to everything else Blair did; it must have been forced on him by overwhelming party pressure. But all right: the national minimum wage. Anything else to be said for him?
Roger Schafir
London

Two hundred years ago slavery was socially acceptable – it was part of life. It was only when it became part of a political agenda that this changed. As you report (8 April) that film director Steve McQueen and others throw their support behind demands for planned anti-slavery laws to be toughened up, Care also demands that the focus goes beyond that of organised criminals and “victims” to the estimated 68 million domestic workers who dwell behind the closed doors of people’s homes.

Globally, one in 13 female wage workers is a domestic worker. More than half have no established working hours or the legal right to a minimum salary and more than a third have no right to maternity leave. All people should be entitled to decent working conditions, and yet paid domestic workers around the world have been historically excluded from these provisions. This exclusion is a breach of their human rights and has left millions working in exploitative conditions, hidden from view and unregulated.

No one is saying we should put an end to this work. Our new report on decent work for domestic workers highlights just how vitally important it is to the economy. States need to enforce the rights of domestic workers and recognise the key role they play in the wider global economy.
John Plastow
Chief executive, Care International UK

• Maybe the reason why the UK’s growth will exceed the rest of Europe (Britain will lead world’s growth, says IMF, 9 April) is that we have a workforce that is very poorly paid – more or less slave labour. Was that in Cameron’s mind when he strenuously bargained away the European social contract some years ago, and is that the reason overseas companies set up operations here?
D Wharton
West Kirby, Wirral

Crucially, the state-run east coast mainline franchise, between London King’s Cross and Scotland, is the only line where the franchise holder, East Coast, has to compete on part of the line with non-franchised private railway companies, known as “open access”.

Research from the Centre for Policy Studies, Rail’s Second Chance: Putting Competition Back on Track, shows east coast mainline passenger journeys increased by 42% at stations that enjoy rail competition, compared with 27% for those without competition; revenue increased by 57% where competition occurs, compared to 48% for those without; and average fares increased by only 11% at those stations with competition, compared to 17% at those stations without. Those open-access companies which compete with East Coast – Grand Central and First Hull Trains – also consistently record the highest passenger satisfaction statistics of UK train companies. They receive no money from the government.

As a result of this competition more passengers have been attracted to the railway overall and, consequently, East Coast has been able to pay a year-on-year increase in its premium to government. But while there is some open-access rail competition on the east coast mainline, the west coast mainline long-distance rail franchise, operated by Virgin, still faces none.

More rail competition is in the interests of the passenger, the taxpayer, the government and the regions, particularly the north. The Labour party should support more open-access rail competition, alongside franchises, and not support a policy that risks delivering a more subsidy-hungry railway.
Tony Lodge
Research fellow, Centre for Policy Studies, and author of Rail’s Second Chance

It is shocking, but perhaps not surprising, to read of the impact of the public-private partnership between the Lesotho government and Netcare on healthcare across Lesotho (Finance deal threatens Lesotho’s hospitals, says Oxfam, 7 April). However, public-private partnership can work in an African healthcare setting, and this has been demonstrated over the last six years by the success of the Health Improvement Project Zanzibar (HIPZ) in transforming services on the island.

Since 2006, an innovative model of collaboration between HIPZ and the Zanzibar government has seen a huge improvement in care at Makunduchi and Kivunge hospitals. This partnership improves healthcare provision without commercial gain for individuals or corporations, or the accruement of debt, with an ultimate aim of long-term sustainability.

The success of this model has required a number of crucial factors: a commitment to fully understand local needs, an open-minded and pragmatic approach by the HIPZ team (recognising the importance of listening to local staff), consistent investment in local staff, and transparent monitoring of outcomes, but with the acceptance that improvement is slow and often difficult to demonstrate in the short term. This largely unknown model of collaboration demonstrates a stark contrast to that seen in Lesotho.
Dr Jon Rees, Mr Ru MacDonagh, Roma Walker, Dr Nick Campain
On behalf of the HIPZ Trustees

• Your article rightly raised concerns about healthcare costs in Lesotho. The World Bank Group is working closely with the government to identify cost-effective solutions to improve health for the people of Lesotho.

We would like to clarify a few key points. The public-private partnership health network – which serves a quarter of the population – accounted for nearly 35% of the total health budget. While this is a significant allocation of the budget, it is about the same percentage spent on the facilities under the old system. Most important, the network is delivering better results.

As the article noted, maternal and infant mortality rates have declined and the quality of care provided has improved at the new health facilities. These important achievements have driven greater-than-expected demand at the network – which includes four primary clinics and the only referral hospital open to all citizens.

We are working in several areas to help the government of Lesotho to further expand access to high-quality health services for women and children, especially those living in remote areas. We welcome the opportunity to work with all stakeholders so that everyone in Lesotho, especially the poorest, is able to access the essential health services they deserve.
Laurence Carter
Director, PPP transaction advisory services, International Finance Corporation

• The letter you published referring to the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (9 April) is misleading. We are an independent UK-registered charity and Mr Blair, as our founder and patron, carries out his work in Rwanda on a pro-bono basis. As such he is well placed to comment on the country – its progress and its challenges. AGI derives no profit from its partnership with the government of Rwanda. A quick look at our website (www.africagovernance.org) will tell you that we work with several African governments to help them drive the development that lifts their people out of poverty.
Nick Thompson
Chief executive, Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative

Your analysis (A public admission of what many are saying in private, 5 April) repeats the assertion that “ageing alone [is] estimated to add £1bn a year to the NHS‘s costs”, but then adds that “most of us use the NHS mainly in our last two years of life”. Those two years are the same whether one is in one’s 70s, 80s, 90s or beyond. There is no sudden additional burden on the NHS that can justify current handwringing and claims as to its unaffordability. Our “ageing population” is reducible to two causes: adults are living healthier lives for longer and are having fewer children. Most parents take their children to the GP more often than they take themselves, but no one complains that child health is an unsustainable burden on the taxpayer. Please can we have fewer spurious arguments against universal public provision, and less ageism? It’s bad enough being accused of hoovering up all the houses without being forced to apologise for wilfully continuing to breathe.
Dr Anne Summers (aged 70, as it happens)
London

Independent:

The moment I heard David Cameron offer Maria Miller his warm support, I suspected her ministerial career was doomed. There is a long history of prime ministers giving colleagues the kiss of death by publicly supporting them when they are in trouble.

Andy Coulson was a victim of this. There were several examples under Blair. Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett were ministers whom he stood by as they fell from grace.

Prime ministers and their advisers just don’t get the fact that the public expect very high standards of their representatives in Parliament.

John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire

David Cameron backing Maria Miller because she was doing a good job shows (yet again) his bad judgement. All of his ministers caught out in wrongdoing have been given his full support.

It isn’t just the system that spared Miller that is in need of reform, but the whole of Westminster. The stink of corruption is wafting across the country where national assets such as the Post Office and the NHS are being looted by Tory party friends.

Julie Partridge, London, SE15

Before we fall for the story that Maria Miller has at last done the decent thing, let us note that she has resigned, she says, because her presence has become a “distraction from the vital work of the Government”. So she still lacks the recognition of having behaved badly – just as she failed to realised that to utter the words “I apologise” is not thereby to apologise. Voters take note.

Peter Cave, London W1

I know it’s difficult for us Northerners to appreciate the complexities of living down south, but according to my route planner, the time it takes to get from the train station nearest to Maria Miller’s home in Basingstoke to Westminster is 58 minutes, while the journey from her second home in Wimbledon takes 36 minutes.

A promising career lost, and great expense for the taxpayer, all for the sake of 22 minutes. And she could have done the Independent crossword to fill the time.

Colin Burke, Manchester

When MPs, caught with their hand in the expenses till, are pursued by the media, they regularly bleat “Witch-hunt!” When will they be taken to task for using this inappropriate metaphor? Surely, there were no witches.

Art Tanner, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Would Glasgow defy referendum vote?

I would like to draw attention to the possibility of a break-up of Scotland if the referendum results in our leaving the UK.

If there is a small majority for independence in September, I wonder whether Glasgow and the west of Scotland will accept that decision? Perhaps people in the west will want to follow Northern Ireland in staying in the UK. It was recently reported that in a poll of 2,589 Glasgow University students 62 per cent voted no, and 38 per cent voted yes to the referendum question. The pro-independence website Wings over Scotland states that “Glasgow is the heart of Unionist darkness in Scotland”.

Given the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, it is perhaps inevitable that many Glaswegians see independence as an airy-fairy notion that favours hoity-toity Edinburgh more than down-to-earth, businesslike Glasgow. Independence has already been shown to be potentially bad for business in many ways: for example, shipbuilding could be threatened.

The proximity of the south-west to Northern Ireland means that Unionism resonates much more with people there than those in the east. It is therefore possible that south-west Scotland will fight for the right to remain in the United Kingdom. What will then become of an independent Scotland when an area containing half its population opts to stay in the UK?

If the referendum produces only a narrow majority one way or the other, those on the losing side may have feelings of resentment for years to come.

Alistair J Sinclair, Glasgow

Lord Robertson, the former Secretary General of Nato, has warned that Scottish independence would threaten world stability.

I’m certain that in Kiev, Kharkiv and Donetsk they talk of nothing else than the “cataclysmic” “geo-political” consequences (to use Robertson’s words) of a “yes” vote in Scotland.

Sasha Simic , London N16

‘The train don’t stop here any more’

As quaint as they might be, request stops (“Stop the train, I want to get off”, 9 April) can also be a hazard for the unwary traveller.

Many years ago, one Saturday night, I was travelling back from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon after a few tinctures with an old friend. As a regular commuter on that line, I knew that the next stop after Bath was Bradford.

I may have closed my eyes momentarily, but then the train slowed down and a young lad in the compartment got up in readiness to get off. “Next stop after Bath” I said to myself, and alighted from the train when it stopped.

As the train pulled away I failed to see the lights of the town I expected, and making my way along the platform saw the sign “Avoncliff”. I stumbled in the darkness across the viaduct and groped my way to the Cross Guns public house.

It was like a scene from a gothic novel as I pushed open the door. The few locals huddled over their pints all went silent and looked up at the windswept stranger who entered the bar. I thought an explanation was due: “I’ve just got off the train.”

The landlord looked at me in an old fashioned way. “The train don’t stop at Avoncliff,” he said. The locals joined in: “The train ain’t stopped ’ere for years.”

It had that night. I found out later that it was a request stop.

John E Orton, Bristol

BBC ‘balance’ on climate change

The letter from the BBC Trust member Alison Hastings typifies the complacent approach to climate change adopted by the BBC (8 April).

On the last three occasions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a major report, BBC News has interviewed Bob Carter, a retired geologist from Australia who belongs to the Non-IPCC, Bjorn Lomborg, a well-known sceptic, Nigel Lawson, who chairs the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and Richard Tol, an economist affiliated to GWPF.

It is true that Richard Tol contributed to the latest IPCC report, but his submission was the only academic study out of 20 claiming that climate change might be beneficial and was rejected by the IPCC as unduly complacent.

There is not a single reputable scientific journal in the world that disputes the reality of climate change, nor of man’s contribution to it. Yet the BBC seems utterly incapable of moving beyond  the science to the much more urgent question of what needs to be done. It is high time that the BBC ditched its obsession with political balance and started reporting the facts.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Free schools: my revolutionary plan

Why do papers blather on about free schools? Anyone would think they were Westiminster’s way of sidestepping the fact that state schools have been mismanaged.

I think the concept is so fantastically marvellous that I am going to set up a free hospital. I will start with maternity (on the basis that I have had three babies).

I will apply for government funding which they can siphon off from my local health authority. In anticipation of the success of this project I am already converting my leaky garden shed into a birthing pool.

Amanda Baker, Morpeth, Northumberland

No compensation for prisoners

Jim Jepps (letter, 9 April) expresses the sort of liberal viewpoint that is leading to the disintegration of civilised society. Of course it is not “just fine” for one convicted criminal to be “shanked” in prison by another convicted criminal. However, the alleged victim should not be awarded compensation; the perpetrators should be severely punished in a way which would necessitate legislation.

Those tasked with the day-to-day running of the prison service ought not to be held responsible for the actions of the criminals they are detaining.

David Mitchell, Edinburgh

Pickles at prayer

Archie Bland’s suggestion (8 April) that Eric Pickles should don a sandwich board the next time he wants to intervene in an argument about religion and secularism raises an important question. With the pickles in the sandwich will we have cheese or ham, or possibly both?

Peter Clark, Hartford

Times:

The hurdle between low-paid workers and Employment Tribunals has cut appeals by nearly 80%

Sir, Joy Drummond (letter, Apr 8) highlights the government’s pickle over tribunal fees. It has insisted that fees were not introduced to deter potential claimants but rather to recoup the costs of such litigation from those who choose to litigate.

Now that claims have fallen by 79 per cent, a figure that surely cannot just include “frivolous” cases, ministers are hinting at a review. However, if the government continues to insist that fees were introduced simply to recoup costs, there seems little point in changing things. Only if the government now concedes that it sought to remove claims that in its view should never have been brought, can a proper reassessment be made.

Richard M Fox

Chair, Employment Lawyers Association

Sir, Potential claimants to an employment tribunal must now first notify Acas. Acas has a legal obligation to seek a settlement with the employer. Its conciliators, who are not legally trained, cannot give advice on the merits of the claim to either side. Faced with the prospect of large fees, claimants will feel under heavy pressure to accept whatever can be negotiated without regard to the merits of the case.

There is another twist. The exemption scheme for those on benefits or who are on a low income does not extend to those on contribution-based jobseekers allowance, the very allowance that all those who can bring a claim for unfair dismissal will be on since they will have had to have worked for two years to qualify to bring such a claim. It is perhaps no surprise to discover that 97 per cent of claims for fee exemption are being declined.

A system that has served so well those who have been badly treated by their employers and which has had the support of administrations of both colours for many decades has been brought low. It is indeed a scandal

Dr PS Lewis

Adviser in Employment Law, Newmarket and Rural Cambs Citizens Advice Bureaux

Sir, Charging fees to bring employment tribunal claims has certainly allowed a lot of employers to get away with shoddy treatment of their workers, but there is also a sharp fall in spurious claims by ex-employees. I have seen many examples of such claims, and their damaging effect on employers, often small businesses. Before tribunal fees were introduced, many lawyers helped ex-employees bring weak claims knowing that it would be cheaper for the employer to settle than to fight.

Now we have to strike a balance between allowing mistreated staff some redress and helping employers avoid huge legal fees and payouts to employees who don’t fancy working.

James Goldman

London NW4

Even a lapsed Welsh-speaker admits to being foxed by Welsh road signs — so spare a thought for ordinary Angloglots

Sir, The letter from my long-lost cousin Judge/Barnwr Dafydd Hughes (Apr 3) made me wonder how many of the cases before Welsh courts arise because non-Welsh speakers (or lapsed ones like me) have difficulty in quickly interpreting the road signs in the Principality because the same fonts are used for both the English and Welsh versions of place names and warnings.

Gwilym Roberts

Newick, Sussex

One reader reckoned her spaniel met the criteria for school entry. Another wishes her grandson would learn to “stay”

Sir, I have just spluttered over my coffee while reading the letter about the springer spaniel which satisfies the criteria for age 2 school entry. Perhaps we could borrow him to train our 2-year-old grandson who behaves like a very sweet and unruly labrador puppy. “No”, “Stop” and “Stay” would make an excellent start.

Judith Ornstein

Bushey Heath, Herts

Alfred the Gr8? Text-speak is starting to affect the spelling of children’s first names. Who knows where it will end?

Sir, Text-speak (Apr 5) has reached forenames. An acquaintance recently came across “L-a”, pronounced “Ladasha”. What hope is there for old-fashioned ones like Albert and Mabel?

Peter Sergeant

Hathern, Leics

The state visit by the president of Ireland reawakens sharp memories of unfinished business

Sir, I was disappointed at your Peter Brookes cartoon (Apr 9), showing Martin McGuinness walking off the red carpet leaving a trail of red footsteps.

Although Mr McGuinness’s true activities within the IRA are still not clear, the future of Anglo-Irish relationships must involve looking forward and not dwelling on the violence of the past.

This will be extremely difficult for those who suffered directly during the Troubles from the actions of the various paramiltary and military groups. I feel this cartoon to be irresponsible and does not help the reconciliation process. It is likely to aggravate the still on-going tensions.

Tony Pawson

Formby, Liverpool

Sir, I take exception to comments by the former Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Hain (Apr 7). To suggest that we should not prosecute terrorists responsible for acts of savagery against police officers and the wider community amounts to a gross betrayal.

Officers in the RUC GC were the same as officers in every other police service in Great Britain — would Mr Hain countenance an amnesty for killers and bombers in his own Welsh constituency if there were a Welsh terrorist equivalent of the Provisional IRA?

No, he wouldn’t, but he persists in relegating Northern Ireland, and its people, showing no sensitivity or genuine acknowledgement of the immense contribution my officer colleagues made to the delivery of a more peaceful region.

As in every corner of the UK, those who donned the uniform to serve their country, and paid the ultimate price, deserve to be honoured and not treated as some cheap political pawns by politicians who’ve lost or mislaid their moral compass; 302 officers were murdered by terrorists — republican and loyalist — during the Troubles, and a staggering 210 deaths are unsolved. Is that a price Mr Hain is prepared for us to pay?

He and Mr Blair embarked on a grubby, secretive and massively offensive Administrative Scheme for “On-the-runs” to give political cover to Sinn Fein.

It has ended poorly, and Mr Hain should be big enough to now acknowledge that he made a dreadful mistake and apologise to the widows and dependants who still grieve the loss of their loved ones.

Terry Spence

Chairman, Police Federation for Northern Ireland

Telegraph:

Plant willow trees to slow the flow of flood water

Willows played an important role in the Somerset Levels.

Taking a punt on the willow: Peter Graham’s oil painting 'Glad green summer’, 1997

Taking a punt on the willow: Peter Graham’s oil painting ‘Glad green summer’, 1997 Photo: Getty Images/The Bridgeman Art Library

6:58AM BST 09 Apr 2014

Comments22 Comments

SIR – The role of willow trees in slowing the pace of drainage into rivers on the Somerset Levels was of paramount importance. But the number of willows has dropped for no apparent reason, and I have heard of no plans to restore these trees. Along with the removal of mud and debris from the rivers, slowing the flow of flood water into the rivers should be a top priority.

Granville Cayley

Angmering, West Sussex

SIR – The Conservative Party is the natural home of working people. Today’s party is the party for everybody in society, from every walk of life. We remember that Conservatives who have done the most for the poorest, from Lord Shaftesbury and Randolph Churchill to Lady Thatcher, didn’t necessarily come from working-class backgrounds. We also remember that Harold Macmillan, the Conservative who appealed most to working-class voters, was by no means working class himself. Social class doesn’t matter, but using power to help working-class people matters a lot. And that’s what Conservatives have done and are doing.

We’re proud to belong to a party that extended the franchise to working-class voters, gave the right to picket and the right to a ballot to trade unionists and was responsible for far-reaching measures to improve the conditions of the poorest.

We’re proud to belong to a party that demolished the slums, built millions of new houses, gave council-house tenants the right to buy their own home and gave millions of citizens the right to participate in a share-owning democracy.

And we’re enormously proud to belong to a party that is lifting the poorest out of tax, cutting fuel duty, increasing the minimum wage, reviving manufacturing, capping payday loans, reducing inequality to its lowest level for almost 30 years, and fighting for full employment. This is a message we must be shouting from the rooftops between now and next May.

David Amess MP (Con)
David Skelton
Director, Renewal
Nigel Adams MP (Con)
Andrew Bingham MP (Con)
Jackie Doyle-Price MP (Con)
Andrew Rosindell MP (Con)
Alec Shelbrooke MP (Con)
Laura Sandys MP (Con)
Paul Maynard MP (Con)
Bob Neill MP (Con)
Neil Carmichael MP (Con)
Mark Prisk MP (Con)
Robert Halfon MP (Con)
Guy Opperman MP (Con)
Mark Harper MP (Con)

London SW1

Election mailshot

SIR – David Cameron has appointed someone to send a letter on his behalf, by Royal Mail, to all small businesses informing them of the National Insurance rebate they will be entitled to. Why does he think this is necessary, as we had received the same information from HM Revenue & Customs by email a month ago?

Such blatant electioneering gives no credit to our intelligence, and bears the hallmark of Gordon Brown telling us how lucky we were to have our taxes paid back to us through government handouts.

Polly Thomas
Tonbridge, Kent

Classical Georgians

SIR – When we lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, we spent many nights at the wonderful opera house and concert halls. The local audience was extremely enthusiastic and there were many shouts of “bravo” at the end of the performance.

Children were taken by their parents and presented bouquets to a large number of performers at the end. Students would buy the cheapest tickets possible, and at the last minute, before the start of the opera or concert, would rush down to the stalls to take up any empty seats.

This is a country where classical music is appreciated by the majority of citizens.

Carol A Parkin
Poole, Dorset

A pie and a pint

SIR – Gordon Hughes asks what makes a “proper pub” (Letters, April 7). Visiting a pub in Yorkshire some years ago, a friend spotted a sign behind the bar: “A pint, a pie and a friendly word.”

Ordering a pie and a pint, which the landlord served with a scowl, my friend said: “What about the friendly word?” – to which the landlord replied, in his thick Yorkshire accent: “Don’t eat t’pie.”

Tony Liddicoat
Ongar, Essex

Re-routing HS2

SIR – Now that it is accepted that the need is for increased HS2 capacity rather than reduced journey time (report, April 7), alternatives to the planned route to the Midlands should be reconsidered, unconstrained by the straight stretches and minimum radius bends dictated by very high speed.

While achieving cost reductions and greater public approval, a more direct route north out of the capital’s suburbs would mitigate damage to the environment and economy of north-west London, particularly during the eight-to-10-year construction period.

Those who invoke the can-do approach of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Robert Stephenson should remember that those engineering giants had an almost clean slate to work on, with minimal existing infrastructure and barely half the population density of today.

Ian Simcock
East Grinstead, West Sussex

Educating children

SIR – Sending children to school aged two will not give them a better start to their education. The solution lies in our excellent parent and toddler groups. These already operate in most of our towns, cities and villages, and they are generally run by enthusiastic volunteers.

The best groups already encourage parents to engage with their children in craft activities and songs. Why not use this excellent resource to educate parents in how to help their children develop.

Heather Stewart
Worcester

Linen origami

SIR – Caroline Chaffe asks for advice on the best way to fold fitted sheets. Easy. Lay the sheet on the bed, right side downwards. Fold the four elasticated sides inwards until you have an oblong, then bring top to tail and continue folding until you have a neat parcel.

Don’t give up using fitted sheets – the flat sheets never stay in place.

Jennifer Harper-Jones
Farnham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Nobody will see the fitted sheet in the linen cupboard, nor on the bed if it has been made properly. It is better to relax and enjoy the time saved from the tyranny of hospital corners.

Peter Jones
St Neots, Cambridgeshire

The politics behind man-made global warming

SIR – Charles Moore tells us that “the game is up for climate change believers”. Certainly, the game ought to be up; but there are far too many vested interests at stake for it to be so.

The biggest problem is the credibility of all those leading politicians who swallowed the whole “man-made global warming” nonsense, hook, line and sinker, and who now lack the guts to admit that they may have been wrong. So long as these politicians remain in positions of power, they will carry on with the pretence, oblivious to the harm they are doing to both the most needy of their fellow citizens and the competitiveness of their countries’ industry and commerce.

John Waine
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

SIR – In 2008, Lord Lawson published his monograph An Appeal to Reason — A Cool Look at Global Warming. It contained an impressive analysis of the (then) science and economics and offered an approach for policy makers. The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report plays down the need for expensive “mitigation” (for example, wind turbines) and embraces resilience and adaptation. This strategy mirrors Lord Lawson’s 2008 analysis.

Dr Tony Parker
Ringmer, East Sussex

SIR – We have had steady warming since the second half of the 19th century. If this was man-made, there would have been marked acceleration in the second half of the 20th century but there was none. In fact, the warming has stalled.

There have been warm periods before: in the Middle Ages, Roman and Minoan times.

Andre Zaluski
Billingham, County Durham

SIR – Charles Moore is right. For the past four billion years, the climate on Earth has been determined by the influence of the sun, which has varied in predictable and unpredictable ways, and continues to do so.

Ashley Catterall
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

SIR – The Conservative Party is mobilising its loyal big guns to move the Maria Miller issue from one of morality to one of reforming an expenses disciplinary system.

Politicians once understood that voters can easily detect the aroma of immorality, but today’s MPs want to get re-elected at any cost. They think we are too stupid to differentiate between inappropriate behaviour and procedural errors.

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

SIR – I find it impossible to reconcile David Cameron’s dogged support for Maria Miller with his failure to back Andrew Mitchell.

One has apologised, albeit grudgingly, for serious errors involving taxpayers’ money, while the other has yet to be found guilty of anything other than possibly being discourteous to two policemen. It makes no sense.

George Edwards
Swansea, Glamorgan

SIR – While it is admirable to defend one’s chums, Mr Cameron’s stance risks undermining all of George Osborne’s good work on the economy. It is time for Mrs Miller to fall on her sword, and also repay the full amount.

W J Auger
Hopton Wafers, Shropshire

SIR – The Prime Minister may well consider it wise to sack Mrs Miller before she resigns. Otherwise he may have to resign himself so that the Conservatives at least have a slim chance of success at the next election.

Russ Hill
Radstock, Somerset

SIR – The Prime Minister and MPs of all parties have just woken up to a fact that voters have long known: MPs cannot be trusted to stand in judgment on their fellows, particularly when it involves expenses.

As it is difficult to see who would be responsible for appointing completely independent members to a standards committee, it is time voters were given the right to recall their MP, as promised by all three party leaders. Wrongdoers would be judged by their electorate. That would be very democratic and fair.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – While Maria Miller’s wrongdoing has rightly hit the headlines, the shocking expenses being claimed by MEPs should surely be given more prominence since British taxpayers’ money is also involved.

Such unaccountable largesse serves to illustrate that the only way the EU survives is by keeping everyone involved onside by encouraging greed, thus discouraging criticism. The case against Mrs Miller would almost certainly not have come to public attention had she been an MEP.

David Taylor
Lymington, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I echo Vincent Hearne’s sentiments (Letters, April 9th). I moved here from my birthplace in England aged 19. Since then, I have studied and qualified here, work for the Irish health service and have married an Irish man with whom I have two small children.

I am proud of my heritage, love the country I was born in, but also love the country I have called home for 15 years. The relief I felt when Queen Elizabeth visited here with such evident success in 2011 took me by surprise. Similarly yesterday I felt unexpected pride watching our President represent us so well at Windsor.

I may well be seen as a “plastic Paddy” or a “blow-in” for the rest of my days on this island, but that’s OK. Teasing and humour show how our relationship, once volatile, has matured into a mellow easy-going friendship. There are many English people working and living in Ireland, and yesterday our leaders set us a great example of how the diaspora should continue to feel at home on each other’s soil. Yours, etc,

CAROLINE WILLIAMS,

Granite Terrace,

Inchicore,

Dublin 8

Sir, – Reflecting on the state of Anglo-Irish relations in the context of President Higgins’ s State visit to Britain, military historian Tom Burke told a remarkable story on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday (April 9th).

He pointed out that a brother of one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation (Eamonn Ceannt), was killed while fighting in the British army at the Battle of Arras in April 1917. Also that a brother of Michael Malone, one of the leaders of the Volunteers at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, where 28 British soldiers – and indeed Malone himself – were killed during the Easter Week fighting, had died while serving in the British army in May 1915.

Is there a more revealing and poignant example of the intricate warp and weft of Anglo-Irish relations that is being painstakingly mended by events like this State visit, and that made by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011? Yours, etc,

STEPHEN O’BYRNES,

Morehampton Road,

Dublin 4

Sir, – The present improved state of relations between Britain and Ireland, so well exemplified in the reciprocal visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Higgins and the presence of Martin McGuinness at the Windsor Castle banquet, suggests that the mass of people on these islands do not live lives of quiet desperation but, rather, lives of desperation for quiet.

To protect and continue this still fragile progress towards political and social quiet the approaching commemoration of 1916 should avoid becoming a glorification of violent revolution and become instead a commemoration of the sacrifice of the lives of both combatants and non-participating civilians and of the economic hardship suffered by all the people of Ireland during and after the succession of conflicts that began with 1916 and continued up to recent times.

 It would be a tragic error if an upsurge of patriotic sentiment should result in new support among the young for the small but dangerous minority who still believe that the Armalite is an essential accompaniment to or substitute for the ballot box.  Yours, etc,

DENIS O’DONOGHUE,

Countess Grove,

Killarney,

Co Kerry

Sir, – How good it is to be alive at this point in history when our President can make a hugely successful visit to our great neighbour and witness the genuine warmth of feeling that now exists between our two countries. But surely a huge opportunity to underline the depth of the mutual appreciation we now have was missed by the failure to make a promise to grant each other 12 points at every future Eurovision Song Contest. Yours, etc,

LIAM RYAN,

Ballina/Killaloe,

Co Tipperary

Sir, – Amidst the clamour and self-congratulation of the various media outlets and diplomats on the occasion of the President’s visit to London and the subsequent “normalisation” of relations between Britain and Ireland, I can’t help noticing the rather large elephant in the room that is the continued British occupation of the northeastern corner of Ireland.

What nation, other than perhaps Vichy France, would resume full normalised relations with a foreign power while it continues to deny that nation’s inhabitants the right to determine their own future? Yours, etc,

CÍAN CARLIN,

Priory Road,

London N8 7EX

A chara, – B’fhéidir go bhfuil an ceart ag Alan Titley (Bileog, 9 Aibreán) go bhfuil clais dhothrasnaithe idir poblacht agus ríocht nach féidir a léim ach ní raibh an chuma sin ar na himeachtaí i gCaisleán Windsor agus na maithe agus na móruaisle ón dá thír ag suí chun boird le chéile.

Is léir gur breá leis na Sasanaigh an mustar is mórdháil agus go bhfuil na hÉireannaigh anois ag sodar ina ndiaidh. Caithfidh mé a admháil gur bhain mé an-spórt as an scléip ar fad. Ní fhéadfaí é seo a shamhlú cúpla bliain ó shin! Cruthaíonn sé arís gurb í an pholaitíocht ealaín na féidearthachta agus gurb iad na Briotanaigh na seanmháistrí san ealaín sin. Is mise,

SÉAN Mag LEANNÁIN

Bánóg Rua,

Cillín Chaoimhín,

Co Chill Mhantáin

Sir, – How long will it be after the presidential party returns home before the revisionists and their fellow travellers start clamouring for us to rejoin the British Commonwealth and wear the poppy each November? Yours, etc,

KEITH NOLAN,

Caldragh,

Carrick-on-Shannon,

Co Leitrim

Sir, What a moving sight it was to see those two old arch-enemies having dinner together: the Provo Martin McGuinness and the Stickie Eamon Gilmore. To think that less than a generation ago they were at one another’s throats. Sweet. Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Ceannt Fort ,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8

Sir, – Your Education Correspondent (April 9th) could not have been more ineptly informed about the provost’s response to the discussions on Trinity’s name and coat of arms.

The discussions were initiated by the provost and board on Friday last at an open college meeting. Your paper reported accurately that I spoke in favour of retaining and standardising the coat of arms and the name, Trinity College Dublin, in our documents. Where appropriate we can substitute the frequently used abbreviations, Trinity, or Trinity College or TCD.

Trinity is the essence of our name, as meaningful for us as Imperial, or Harvard, or Cambridge, or Karolinska, or MIT or ETH or Caltech, is for those institutions. The fact that few of your readers have heard of ETH or Caltech (my second alma mater) does not matter to the great Swiss Institute of Technology or to the magical California Institute of Technology. Those who need to know do know, and they know why they know.

I was at the scholars’ dinner on Monday where I heard the best provost’s speech of that annual occasion for more than a decade, for which the provost received warm and prolonged applause. Those of us who were among the strongest critics of the mooted changes stood the longest and applauded most sincerely. In a fine address, after thanking David Berman for his memorial discourse on the philosopher AA Luce, welcoming the scholars of the decade (two from 1944), and congratulating the new scholars and fellows, he spoke at length on the name and coat of arms, saying to us all that he and the board would take stock of the points raised in the discussions. His language was Trinity language and, while I await further developments, I do not expect the board to make changes that will detract in any way from the value and meaning of our coat of arms and our name. I heard no heckling at the dinner – there may have been some banter at the back of the hall but one happy scholar does not make a summer.

We are the University of Dublin and while this legal fact may be valuable in certain circumstances, our task is to enhance the awareness and reputation of Trinity. That reputation depends on many factors, but most of all on our 420-year record, our graduates and on our current staff and students.

More than half of the 14 new fellows are not Irish. Many of our new scholars do not have recognisably Irish names. These academics and their successors, some among the new scholars, are the future of Trinity, and would not have come to Trinity Light. I hope Irish people will be pleased that Trinity ranks overall 30th in the world in the Times Higher Education Top 100 Most International Universities (2014) and overall 61st in the World in Research Influence (Citations) among the Top 200 Universities. A large question is whether the Government will realise and foster the global status and long-term potential of Trinity.

DAVID MCCONNELL,

Professor of Genetics,

Senior Fellow,

Smurfit Institute

of Genetics,

Sir, – As one of the many thousands of Irish people who worked in the British National Health Service I was pleased to read (April 4th) that President Higgins would pay tribute to the contribution made by our fellow nationals to this institution. My mother, aunt and sister worked in Britain as nurses, and my my wife and I as doctors – for over 75 years in total. Certainly the NHS itself has not recognised the contribution of the Irish to keeping afloat what is often an imperfect but nevertheless admirable healthcare system.

The service is certainly the object of regular criticism from patients and staff, but outside observers would be foolish to believe that the British would be willing to give it up for a mixed private/public health service, with all the inherent inefficiencies and conflicts of interests that that involves. The NHS retains the affection and stirs the pride of the nation, as was seen in Danny Boyle’s contribution to the opening of the Olympics in London in 2012.

The experiences of the two world wars produced in Britain a deep desire that things should never be the same again and that housing, education and health to what was called the common man should become priorities. William Beveridge, an economist, whose work led to the foundation of the NHS, urged that when the traditional landmarks of society were being abolished “now is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field”.

Many of the landmarks of Irish society have been abolished in recent times and we have an opportunity to use our experience to also advance in the areas of housing, education and healthcare. Those of us who have worked in a society that allows the patient to see the doctor when he or she is ill know it is more moral than one where the sick patient asks permission to “leave the money in next week”.

This is an example of a relationship that must be redefined by universal values that include good healthcare that is available when citizens believe themselves to be in need. Yours, etc,

TOM O’DOWD MD,

Professor of General

Practice,

Trinity College Dublin

Sir, – Shane O’Doherty (Letters April 4th) belittles cyclists and people like me who commute by public transport on the basis that he, as a car driver, contributes more to the national economy than we do.

The tobacco industry could apply an equally plausible argument, or the arms industry, but that would be to ignore the common good, the health and welfare of our society and, indeed, our appalling legacy of a ruined planet in the name of a spurious concept Mr O’Doherty refers to as “the economy”.

As Colm Moore (Letters, April 7th) points out, typically 75-per-cent-empty cars make up 80 per cent of traffic but carry less than 40 per cent of passengers. Mr O’Doherty lists the plethora of expenses involved in owning a car. Here are some more thoughts he can ponder: as a typical car owner today, he will devote three to four of his 16 waking hours to his car. For his time, he will travel less than 10,000 miles a year and propel himself at an average speed of less than 8 miles an hour — about the same as a bicycle. And he will have to work up to a day and a half each week just to keep his means of transport on the road. Go figure. Yours, etc,

GREGORY ROSENSTOCK,

Seapoint Road,

Bray,

Co Wicklow

Sir, – In response to Shane O’Doherty’s recent campaign (letters, April 3rd and April 8th) to open up bus lanes, it’s a simple formula – regular buses lead to more passengers, lead to fewer cars, lead to less congestion. This is a well-founded scenario with plenty of evidence globally to support it.

Rather than dispensing with bus lanes, a better tack might be pressing Dublin Bus to supply passenger numbers on certain routes in order to justify the level of investment that is required to keep them running. The more serious issue here – and I must admit ignorance – is whether or not Dublin Bus is able to provide a service at an affordable price for those who cannot afford to run a car to and from work. Mass transit systems, given their value to infrastructure, are worth investing in.

Perhaps it’s time to reopen the debate on competition on routes versus investment by the State. Yours, etc,

PATRICK FALVEY,

Glenogle Road,

Edinburgh,

EH3 5HP

Sir, – Irish humanists are offended by the use of the Bible in swearing-in ceremonies, (Siobhán Walls, April 9th). It is understandable that they feel left out, just as religious people feel left out when atheists declare themselves to be the holders of superior special insight into the truth behind the meaning of existence. The only honest thing to swear by is a question mark. Yours , etc,

EUGENE TANNAM,

Monalea Park,

Firhouse,

Dublin 24

Sir, – Sean Doocey (April 9th) believes that “modern society” might be better served if gardaí honoured the Constitution instead of the Bible. If Mr Doocey’s quest is to locate a neutral document, his choice seems misplaced.

After all, the preamble of the Constitution begins “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority …” and proceeds to acknowledge “our obligations to our Divine Lord Jesus Christ”. Strange but true. Yours, etc,

DR SEAN ALEXANDER

SMITH,

Aiken Village,

Sandyford,

Dublin 18

Irish Independent:

Letters to the Editor – Published 10 April 2014 02:30 AM

* Michael Noonan’s statement that fears of a new housing bubble are ‘wildly exaggerated’ must not go unchallenged.

Also in this section

Women laid groundwork for Michael D’s visit

Injustice in our way of life

Let’s remember who of us went to Britain first

Where has he been for the last seven years?

His comments indicate people like him, who have been completely unaffected by the mess his political class created, or the cuts they heaped on the rest of society – the bulk of which have been imposed since 2011 – have learned absolutely nothing and are reverting to type.

Mr Noonan is in his 70s, so he’ll well remember how much his first house cost and how much he was earning at that time.

Then one of his officials needs to tell him how much the average house now costs and how much the average salary is; then add on childcare and travel costs and Mr Noonan will find that, even with two incomes, the figures do not add up. Price inflation is still unsustainable when it exceeds four, five, six times the available salary.

Of course, the reason Mr Noonan prefers to wallow in denial, like those in the Fianna Fail-led government before him, is because if he has to face the reality that property is still overpriced in Ireland, it means that he’ll have to face up to the personal debt timebomb he has been avoiding so carefully since he took office in March 2011.

Ireland is a small country and it is simply astounding that after all this time, there is no agreement between the banking industry and consumer advocate groups on a formula to give debt-laden people a financial review to determine if their debt level is sustainable.

But until then we have Mr Noonan continuing the Ahern, Cowen and Lenihan head-in-the-sand school of economic thought.

A family home should not cost more than three to four times the combined income of those applying for the mortgage and instead of mortgage terms expanding into third and fourth decades, the price of a property in Ireland is still too high.

So what if you aren’t getting enough interest on your savings? Aren’t you lucky you have spare money to save?

So what if you have negative equity?

There are worse things than a hypothetical financial loss.

The real issue Mr Noonan has failed to address is if a person has a sustainable debt burden.

Two people can have the same amount of debt but if their income is vastly different, someone is carrying a heavier debt burden.

This is the elephant in the room this Government refuses to address, but it is preventing the domestic economy recovering.

And we need it to recover so Ireland can build on credible sustainable economic growth, instead of pinning all our hopes on a few US high-tech firms.

DESMOND FITZGERALD

CANARY WHARF, LONDON

VISIT IGNORED CHURCH

* As an Irishman working happily in England for over 40 years as a Catholic priest I am astonished that the state visit of the President of Ireland does not include any acknowledgement of any current Catholic institution.

I have the greatest admiration that the state visit should include Westminster Abbey and Coventry Cathedral but surely an engagement to Westminster Cathedral could have been included.

Many of our finest Catholic churches were built by Irish navvies and by the pennies of the poor. There is something seriously amiss with the Anglo-Irish diplomatic service or with Aras an Uachtarain. I strongly suspect it is the latter.

FR TOM GRUFFERTY

PARISH PRIEST

THE ROYAL SPELL

* RTE’s correspondents covering the visit by President Higgins to the UK seemed to have been very taken by the occasion, their obsequiousness was in abundance. I don’t know how many times I heard how the British are the best at pomp and splendour.

I have seen the French, Italians, Germans, Russians and even the Vatican at the pomp and splendour business and they are also very very good and sometimes better. That’s republics for you!

K NOLAN

CALDRA HOUSE

CARRICK-ON-SHANNON,

CO LEITRIM

THINK OF OUR EMIGRANTS

* It smacks of bread and circuses. An Irish president visits the queen. Our national lack of confidence kicks in.

He brings a virtual cabinet, a Labour minister rides in a horse and coach and RTE give over the station to the visit. BBC gives the visit 15 seconds. One might have thought we reached Mars such is the drooling and mirror reflecting.

It might shock us to know that the last High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, visited London. Long before we championed women at the top table, Achill’s Grainne Ui Mhaille visited the court of another Elizabeth and both conversed in Latin.

Between 1957/1965 , my spell in Eachleam national school, Blacksod, Mayo, virtually every child who graduated sixth class took the Mail Boat to Holyhead or the Clyde. Once there, they ‘tattie howked’ (picked potatoes) or laboured on sites.

In this week of faux congratulations of a state visit to a country 40 minutes away by Government jet, lets not forget the poor emigrant who traversed that journey by boat but never came back.

They did this state a greater service often with cash-filled letters home.

JOHN CUFFE

MEATH

GET REAL RUAIRI

* So Ruairi Quinn thinks that students are finished courses by St Patrick’s Day and spend the rest of the year revising. This minister hasn’t a clue what happens in the classroom.

How can he make statements like this and be allowed to get away with it. As a maths teacher at all levels, I can assure you that I will be teaching new topics in maths right up to the day the students leave with little or no time for revision. Mr Quinn has been told repeatedly that there is way too much content in the new Project Maths courses and has refused to listen.

I and most other maths teachers have to take our students for extra classes, at lunchtime or outside school hours, just to get through the course. When will this minister listen to the people “at the coal face”?

NAME AND ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

MAKE ‘NEVER AGAIN’ LAW

* Maybe a few tragic facts and figures taken in isolation from Eamon Meehan’s and Mike Pflanz’s articles re. ‘Twenty years on, from Rwanda‘ (April 7) might bring home the reality of two words ‘Never again’.

For example: “Over the course of 100 days in Rwanda, close to one million people, mostly Tutsi, were murdered – on a scale and at a speed not seen since World War II.”

Jean de Dieu Burakari, a survivor of the eastern Rwanda Rukara church genocide said: “They came every day in the afternoon and killed people.

“I was there for nine days. Bodies were rotting and bursting all around me. I hid beneath a bench at the back and I survived only by God’s grace.”

These terrible atrocities were meticulously planned under the watching eyes of the world, which made a decision not to act.

“Since 1945, from Cambodia to Guatemala, from Darfur to Bosnia, genocides and mass killings have claimed the lives of approximately 70 million people.”

To make ‘never again’ really meaningful, the heads of the world’s major powers should sign an international agreement guaranteeing the observance of these two words, endorsed with the signature of the leaders of the world churches, with a commitment to continue praying.

JAMES GLEESON

THURLES, CO TIPPERARY

Mass visit

April 9, 2014

9 April2014hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: our heroes have to take care of farming Priceless

Mary in hospital visit her with Astrid, Anna, and Liz

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Peaches Geldof – obituary

Peaches Geldof was a celebrity whose ebullience and intelligence were scarred by a tragedy-laced upbringing and drug abuse

Peaches Geldof, daughter of Sir Bob Geldof, dies at the age of 25 in Kent

Peaches Geldof was wild, witty and clever Photo: Getty

9:11PM BST 07 Apr 2014

Comments7 Comments

Peaches Geldof, who has died suddenly aged 25, was a journalist, model and television presenter. But her chief occupation was being Peaches Geldof, daughter of the celebrities Bob Geldof and Paula Yates.

This was by no means an easy task. Her parents divorced when she was seven; her mother, also a television presenter, then began dating the Australian rock singer Michael Hutchence, who was found hanged in 1997. Three years later Paula Yates herself was dead of a heroin overdose.

The daisy-chain of tragedy in which Peaches Geldof found herself enmeshed ensured that she was, even before she turned 12, projected firmly into the public eye. It was a spotlight from which she was never able, or never willing, to withdraw. Indeed, it was typical of her relationship with publicity that she gave interviews – to rail against the media. Recently, with the rise of social media, she became a dedicated user of Twitter and Instagram, showering her hundreds of thousands of followers with personal thoughts and pictures. Her final tweet, written the day before she died, was: “Me and my mum”. It provided a link to a photo of the infant Peaches in Paula Yates’s arms.

Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof was born in London on March 13 1989, the second of three sisters, of whom Fifi Trixibelle was the eldest and Pixie the youngest. She would also gain a half-sister, Tiger-Lily, from her mother’s relationship with Hutchence.

Peaches Geldof on the set of This Morning in 2013

Peaches’s upbringing was marked not just by her parents but also by the family nanny, Anita Debney, who reportedly helped provide a stable environment for the three girls. That stability was fatally undermined when Paula Yates went to live with Hutchence. The stress of the bitter divorce was exacerbated by Paula Yates’s drug taking. Anita Debney was fired, and “family friends” later told newspapers that Peaches “got the worst” of the fall out. “I can’t even begin to describe what that poor girl lived through,” said one, Gerry Agar.

On the day of Paula Yates’s death, Peaches and her siblings moved in with Bob Geldof and his French partner, Jeanne Marine. Living in south-west London, Peaches attended Queen’s College in Harley Street.

But it soon became apparent that she was not going to retreat into a normal, if privileged, adolescence. Instead she began writing a magazine column for Elle Girl; The Telegraph and The Guardian also published articles under her byline which revealed a clever, bombastic teenager with refreshingly unvarnished opinions. “At the prospect of spending time in the country, I shudder,” she wrote in this paper. “This feeling hasn’t grown on me gradually – I’ve always hated it. Not only is it boring but, I also genuinely believe that it slowly drives people insane.” Her media career had begun.

By 2006 her fame was such that she was being interviewed in her own right, offering her thoughts on everything from Jane Austen to Tony Blair – her plummy-toned musings peppered with the refrains “Omigod” and “like”. Even then, however, a large part of the fascination she held for onlookers appeared to be whether or not she would manage to avoid the fate of her mother.

“Some newspapers are saying she’s set on the same trajectory as her mother: hooked on fame, got her tongue pierced, goes to too many parties, blah blah blah. I can’t see it,” wrote Robert Crampton in The Times in 2006. Two years later, Giles Hattersley, in The Sunday Times, was more concerned. “I worry for her,” he wrote. “She missed her childhood and now has to cope with living on her own, dodging paps and having all her mistakes splashed on the front pages – and she is still only 19. On reflection, I don’t think she’s like her mother. But this clever, troubled baby-woman would benefit from having her around.”

The person most aware of this was Peaches Geldof herself, particularly as she began to dabble with drugs – something she was prepared to admit (though she denied taking crack, and said that one story of an “overdose” was “overblown”). Comparisons with her mother were, she said, “lame”, fears for her well-being, misplaced, voyeuristic even. “It’s like people almost wish it would happen. But if my mother died in a car crash, does that mean I would have to run out in front of a car and it would be history repeating itself? If I was photographed by a road, would it be: ‘Peaches Geldof gets too close! She’s following in the path of her mother!’ every time?”

By then her media career had quickly moved from print to the screen, first with a documentary series (Peaches Geldof, Teenage Mind, 2005) and then, three years later, with the reality show Peaches: Disappear Here for MTV. She designed a collection for the fashion label PPQ and signed a lucrative contract to become “the face” of Ultimo underwear. But the deal was scuppered when scurrilous pictures of her and more rumours of drug taking began to circulate on the internet. In 2011 she presented the chat show OMG! with Peaches Geldof on ITV, but it was not a rating success.

Peaches Geldof with her father Bob Geldof in 2009

In September the following year she married Thomas Cohen, a singer with the London band S.C.U.M. — the wedding was held in Davington, Kent, in the church where her parents had married and where mother’s funeral had been held in 2000. Fulfilling a promise made in a Telegraph column to “carry on this ancient tradition of exotic yet pointless names” she named their sons Astala Dylan Willow and Phaedra Bloom Forever. The children’s arrival seemed to mark a new era in her life. “I’m in bed by 8pm nearly every night,” she said in October last year. “This is not what I thought I’d be doing three years ago when I was the poster girl for partying in London.”

It was her second marriage, following her first, brief, union, in August 2008 — at the age of 19 — to Max Drummey, a musician with the American band Chester French. They had known each other for a month and announced their split after nine months.

Peaches Geldof’s evident curiosity stretched far and wide. She declared herself fascinated by “quantum physics” and “wormholes” and “Stephen Hawking’s theories and Richard Dawkins’s theories. I’ve always been really interested in how we came to be and why. Which is how I guess I got involved in spirituality and stuff.”

In 2009 she declared that she was “a Scientologist. I feel like I needed a spiritual path. I felt I was lacking something when I didn’t have a faith.” That November she attended the 25th anniversary of the International Association of Scientologists at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex, with 5,000 other Scientologists — reportedly including the actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

She later flirted with elements of Judaism and then, last year, waxed lyrical about “a belief system to apply to day-to-day life to attain peacefulness”. The system in question was the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) — founded in the early 20th century and indelibly linked to the occultist Aleister Crowley. She had the initials OTO tattooed on her left forearm.

Peaches Geldof seemed to be looking forward to getting old. Or at least older. “I have so much shit put on me,” she said in 2008. “I haven’t felt like I was a teenager since I was 12. I’ve felt like I was 30 since I was 13. I don’t think I had a teenage time. Maybe my twenties will be easier.”

She is survived by her husband and two sons.

Peaches Geldof, born March 13 1989, died April 7 2014

Guardian:

Let me add one more to Larry Elliott’s five warning signs (A corner turned – or just more groupthink?, 7 April). Why have international investors been so keen to acquire UK assets, notably prime property in London? It is because they are confident that UK governments will do whatever it takes to preserve asset values: a collapse in values is the nightmare of any government hoping for re-election. They know too that in quantitative easing our government has a fine instrument for preserving (and boosting) asset values, never mind that it had done precious little for job creation.

But a second-division economy will get away with printing money only for so long as first-division economies are at it too. After that we either carry on printing and watch sterling decline, or stop printing and put our faith in a (miraculous) revival in the balance of payments. At which point investors more interested in dollar value than in the sterling value of their London mansions will head for the exit – a step made all the easier by past removal of all those pesky restrictions on capital movement.

So the sixth warning sign flashes when our slowdown in quantitative easing happens later than in first-division economies.
David Chambers
London

• Larry Elliott’s scepticism about the longevity of the economic recovery might itself have been influenced by the received wisdom it purported to doubt. It puts global warming as a reason for concern, rather than economic growth per se, which is causing “climate change” (a more complex concept than global warming) and other serious environmental degradation.

There is still insufficient attention paid to the fact that we live on a finite planet and that as a result economic growth has to be finite. To get away from this model, one has to look at different paradigms for economics, as well as different measures for assessing how well people are living.

The present system allows the richest nations to fool themselves into thinking that unbridled economic growth can continue, because they can print money, repress interest rates and import resources if theirs become scarce, thus depriving the poorest of basic necessities and social justice. What happens when we can no longer do this? Perhaps the colonisation and exploitation of Mars will keep us topped up?

More “real” realism, please, so that we can explore sustainable long-term alternatives in mainstream economic commentary, rather than confining the environmental discussions to doom and gloom pieces in other parts of the paper.
Dr David Dixon
London

• Articles on economics, as with your leader (A discipline ripe for disruption, 3 April), seldom mention the role of money itself, yet 97% of money in circulation – about £2,200bn – has been created by banks sinking their customers, including the government, into debt (Q1 Bulletin 2014). Banks are reluctant to reveal the interest they receive, but a conservative estimate is 5% on average, indicating that society pays these for-profit companies £110bn a year. Compare this with VAT revenue of £103bn. No wonder personal debt is higher than ever, social services are being cut, and our society inhabits two separate and opposing economic planets.
James Bruges
Bristol

Chris Huhne asserts that wind generation is popular with the British public (The Conservatives’ onshore wind sums are all at sea, 7 April). He omits to say that’s because up to now the British public has been largely unaffected by the development of this fundamentally useless form of electricity generation. However, in the relatively small and thinly populated area of Britain that is the Scottish Borders, many of us have spent much of the past decade fighting windfarm development. Unsuccessfully, it has to be said: in spite of planning policies aimed at preventing undesirable development, some 400 turbines have been built here, and there are many more in the planning pipeline. If those 4,000 turbines across the UK produce about 5% of our total electricity need – when the wind is blowing – be sure there will be a windfarm coming your way quite soon. Let’s see how popular that turns out to be.

Huhne thinks that turbines are “elegant and minimalistic”. Individually on a distant horizon, Mr Huhne, or dozens in vast slabs of metal 70, 80 or more metres high, covering a couple of square miles and in your face on a daily basis? But even if they may be elegant, they certainly are not a solution to a pressing energy need. For every hour a turbine operates it has to be supported by alternative means, just in case the wind doesn’t blow, often when the temperature is at its lowest and our need is greatest. And should it blow too hard, landowners, many of whom don’t live close by and aren’t characterised by Huhne as “venomous nimbies”, can pocket large sums of “compensation” in return for turning them off. So it’s no surprise that here on the A1 at the Scotland-England border, there is a fine panorama of wind turbines 20 miles or more to the north, west and south.
George Russell
Eyemouth, Berwickshire

•  Chris Huhne claims that onshore wind enjoys more than 60% support in polls. May I point out that probably well over 95% of residents live far away from windfarms, and that only a few years ago the percentage of support was far higher. Mr Huhne might do well to consider why protesters against onshore wind appear to be so noisy, as he states. The answer should be perfectly clear to him: while residents affected by close proximity to the HS2 railway line or those affected by close proximity to fracking sites can expect compensation, there is no scheme for those affected by close proximity to wind turbines. Many of these people often live at high altitude in isolated locations, making it vital for such residents to be able to move away in sickness or old age.
Wyck Gerson Lohman
Machynlleth, Powys

• I have some sympathy with the residents of Cornwall who are opposed to the “industrialisation” of their landscape (Turbines plan fans community discord, 5 April), but they continue to enjoy the benefits of industrialisation elsewhere in the UK and the rest of the world. Are they prepared to do without the vast array of consumer goods that are now considered essential for everyday living? Their phones, computers, freezers and vehicles are manufactured somewhere else and travel huge distances to get to them. They must be disposed of somewhere, and the hazardous waste dealt with. Their manufacture, operation and disposal require the expenditure of energy.

We haven’t begun to consider how we can switch from an energy-greedy consumerist existence to something more sustainable, and our government is not giving us any leads on this.
Jill Friedmann
Leicester

•  Everyone, no doubt, will not agree with Chris Huhne that wind turbines are beautiful. But it is undeniable that they are elegant, and a tribute to their brilliant engineer designers and the outstanding skills of the manufacturers. Their design is clearly highly superior to that of the lumpen electricity pylons that lumber across our landscape. However, it is disingenuous to claim they are, like agriculture, just another benign change to the natural climax vegetation of mature forest. Windfarms bring the ethos of the factory to the nature environment and thereby intrude on that soul-healing experience which so many enjoy in getting away from an urban setting. We certainly need windfarms, but out at sea is the ideal place for them.
Jim McCluskey
Twickenham

• Would the government’s decision (Tories plan 2020 ban on onshore windfarms, 5 April) have any connection with the recent news that EDF had had to cut its nuclear output “as the grid was receiving higher wind and solar output from Europe than expected” (Enformable.com, 20 March)? Just in case anyone realises that renewable energy can be very efficient when properly supported?
Pat Sanchez
Littleborough, Lancashire

Tony Blair defends the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that without it “you would have had the so-called Arab spring come to Iraq” (Syria crisis: failure to intervene will have terrible consequences, says Blair, 7 April). Clearly there could be nothing worse than the people of Iraq rebelling against their leaders and deciding their own future.
Given that this interview comes on the same day you publish Blair’s eulogy to the president of Rwanda (Comment, 7 April), perhaps one should not be surprised. Your paper has pointed out (Report, 10 October 2012) that Paul Kagame won the 2010 election with 93% of the vote when three major opposition parties were excluded from the vote, and that two of their leaders were jailed and still languish there. In the same article you reported that “UN monitors accused Kagame of meddling in his mineral-rich neighbour the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supporting a rebellion led by a war crimes suspect and blamed for atrocities including mass rapes.” Then again, holding leaders to account for meddling in other countries’ affairs is probably not something our ex-prime minister would be likely to support.
Declan O’Neill
Oldham

• Kagame’s government has paid for Mr Blair’s African Governance Initiative’s consulting services since 2008, which include Mr Blair’s personal advice to the president. As such, Mr Blair does not write in a personal capacity but rather as a spokesman for Kagame’s government.
Alexandra Reza
St Edmund Hall, Oxford

• Tony Blair’s belief that his views on intervening anywhere might still have any currency shows how very far out of touch he remains with reality.
Mark Lewinski
Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire

Archbishop Welby is right to understand that what is said by the Church of England transmits messages (Welby links killings in Africa to gay marriage, 5 April). The prejudice that kills Christians thought to be gay-friendly is the same as that which kills LGBT people themselves in increasing global homophobic crimes from Russia to Nigeria. Whether failing to support gay marriage here because of the risk it places African Christians under is shrewd or simply handing power to the oppressor can be debated. I am convinced that if such support isn’t forthcoming, those who commit acts of anti-Christian violence are likely to find other reasons to do so. However, one urgent move is now essential – to speak out in support of decriminalising homosexuality across the Commonwealth and wider world. To do this in a joint statement with Pope Francis would be a powerful communication of the church’s non-negotiable belief in God-given human dignity and underline the clear distinction between morality and criminality – just as Archbishop Ramsey recognised when he supported decriminalisation in this country. It would also help reduce the abuse and murder of LGBT folk that criminalisation is perceived to legitimate. As Alice Walker wrote, “no person is your friend who demands your silence”.
Canon Mark Oakley
London

• Archbishop Welby thinks we must sacrifice the longings of gay people for their own marriage on the altar of appeasement of certain murderous Nigerians. He, along with his predecessor, is too spineless to stand up for the gay minority, and exposes his church as incapable of living up to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 1, “all human beings are equal in dignity and rights”, and nothing more than a hotchpotch of amoral stone-age superstition.
Dr Martyn Phipps
Ellesmere Port, Cheshire

• As a gay man I have no objection to straight people seeking to convert, or vice versa (Minister seeks to stop gay conversion therapy, 7 April). It’s as a taxpayer that I agree with Norman Lamb – there is no place for this in the NHS!
David Mungall
London

Edward Thomas remembers Hackney in the 50s as a contented “monocultural society in a cockney setting” (Letters, 4 April). I used to visit my grandparents weekly in Hackney during the late 50s. They and most of their neighbours were of Romanian, Polish, Lithuanian and Russian descent, and many local shops reflected this diversity. Since the early 20th century Hackney has welcomed consecutive waves of immigrants, and everyone seemed perfectly content. Thomas describes life in Hackney as being “a straightforward English way of life”. That’s not how I remember it at all.
Marilyn Finlay
London

•  We know very little about Shakespeare’s life, and his poems have lived on to be reinterpreted by many generations, so do we need to know so much about Ted Hughes’s life (My life of Ted Hughes: the controversy, 5 April)? Leave his life alone. If his poetry is good enough it will live on.
Tristan Moss
Sheffield

• Commenting on his right thumb, broken in eight places, Joe Root (Root signs new Yorkshire deal, Sport, 8 April) is quoted as saying: “You’ve got to take these knocks on the chin and come back.” I wish him success, but trust his batting skills are better than his knowledge of anatomy.
Alan Sykes
Harden

• Looking at the photo of the model of the Battersea power station development (Starchitects’ take on Battersea power station is attacked for ignoring affordable housing needs, 8 April), it occurred to me that in no time another spidery letter will be winging its way to a government department.
David Prothero
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

•  How about the villages of Nasty in Hertfordshire and Ugley in Essex, with the apocryphal headline “Nasty man marries Ugley woman” (Letters, 8 April)?
Jim Waight
Hertford

• I have photographic proof of me looking back in Anger, Bavaria, while on a cycling holiday.
Steve Boardman
Bristol

David Edgar says, too readily, that after the miners’ strike “miners’ wives went back to the kitchens” (Review, 5 April). At Northern College, Barnsley, in 1980, a group of women from Worsbrough established regular short courses for themselves over many years. In 1984 they were part one of the first women’s support groups, published a book on the strike (The Heart and Soul of It, Bannerworks, 1985) and created a theatre group touring the region. After the strike, three of the Worsbrough women, as they became known, progressed via short courses and youth worker training to social work degrees.

For many women in the coalfields, far from their commitment “melting away” as Edgar suggests, this was a period of momentous change, personal and community development, and an essential, perhaps defining, factor in what “David Douglass called ‘values of community, of work, solidarity, of looking after each other'”. The Thurcroft miner was right; something did come out of it.
David Browning
Huddersfield

Polly Toynbee (House building alone won’t end this ladder of insanity, 4 April) is right to turn her fire on the chaotic UK housing market. The absence of definition of affordable housing is the black hole at the heart of every policy to reduce poverty. That failure is destroying the viability of the living wage, and has already destroyed it for the national minimum wage and unemployment benefits in metropolitan areas.

Poverty can only be increased while central government allows the market to extract larger and larger amounts of rent and council tax, by threats of eviction and prison, out of the incomes needed for food, water, fuel, transport, clothes for growing children and other necessities. The poorest tenants in rent arrears will continue to be pushed from pillar to post by demented free market extremists in Westminster.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in May 2013 that in 2012-13 Haringey had accepted 1,833 households from other London boroughs, 1,200 from Islington, and exported 1,282 out of the borough, 1,147 to Enfield. A total of 19,057 households had moved between boroughs in London. That included the impact of the coalition’s housing allowance caps on housing benefit in 2012-13; since April 2013, the bedroom tax, the £500 overall benefit cap and the council tax have been wreaking additional havoc. This is like pouring households into a giant kitchen mixer and expecting them not to get hurt.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• Polly Toynbee rightly identifies the house price explosion as a social disaster, but she misses some of its ramifications. She writes that over-60s “see how their children and grandchildren struggle to find anywhere to live”. If over-60s own the house they live in, they might think that their children will at least be able to live in it after them. But this is not the case, in London at any rate: the house-price explosion will have brought the most modest home into the inheritance tax bracket, and the children will have to sell it and be left with too little to buy anything in London.

Anyone who bought a modest home years ago at a reasonable price would be hit by Toynbee’s proposed 1% property tax; 1% of their home’s supposed current market value could be half their current income, forcing them to sell up and move out. Toynbee and others have pointed out that “social cleansing” of poor tenants is in progress in London. Her proposed property tax would amount to social cleansing of owner-occupiers on modest incomes.

It’s generally understood that current house prices hurt the majority of non-owners; it needs to be understood that high market values don’t help the majority of owners who just want to live in their houses, and can hurt some of them very badly.
John Wilson
London

•  As well as the cheap money policies of the Bank of England and state subsidisation of mortgages that Polly Toynbee mentions, restrictive planning laws imposed by the state (including the Green Belt) mean supply is severely unresponsive to new demand in areas where people want to live. The degree of state interference can be seen most clearly in statistics which suggest land values increase up to 250-fold in the south-east when planning permission is granted. It’s therefore baffling to claim housing an example of market failure. Our housing market is as clear example of government failure through misguided state policies as one could get.
Ryan Bourne
Head of public policy, Institute of Economic Affairs

• Anne Perkins is right about the council tax (Time to ditch the unfair council tax, 2 April). Not only is a revaluation of homes long overdue but the huge gains made by those in the most expensive homes – primarily in London – need to be reined in. Many of those homes are paying a fraction of the bills they had under the last year of domestic rates 25 years ago. It was not uncommon then for the most expensive homes in London to pay domestic rates of £10,000 a year; now, depending on which London borough they’re in, they enjoy bills as low as £1,350 a year.

The crude council tax banding system needs replacing with individual valuations to produce a fairer distribution of the council tax burden. Help could be given for those who are asset-rich but income-poor.

When Northern Ireland scrapped the old rates system it opted for a council tax based on property values but, rather than creating a series of price bands, it opted for individual valuations. To prevent punishingly high bills for those in the most expensive homes, it set a ceiling so that no home would be considered to be worth more than £400,000.

Don’t expect any rush, though, to reform the tax in the rest of the UK. For the foreseeable future, council tax reform remains a political no-go area.
John Andrew
Speldhurst, Kent

• John Harris ridicules as outdated left-of-Labour calls for a mass house-building programme to solve the housing crisis (The Tories own the future – the left is trapped in the past, Comment, 3 April). But a new report predicts that London will be “crippled” if there is no solution to housing disaster.

What would Harris offer to the private tenant whose landlord is demanding a rent increase on his one-bedroom flat in Walthamstow from £800 to £1,200?

This is what is old-fashioned, stuck in the pre-council-house past where landlords’ greed was the only factor determining rents. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition calls for mass building of council homes, for trade union rates of pay in the jobs created in the building and refurbishment schemes, and for rent control, with rent councils to set the cap. To most people, that’s a programme that addresses the future.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge
London

• Given the lack of any coherent policies, the only option remaining to pro-Europe, left-thinking individuals would seem to be a cynical exploitation of the house-price bubble: sell up and move to somewhere warm with nice dinners and cheap wine before they bar the doors against us.
Duncan Grimmond
Harrogate

• I wonder how ministers, let alone the MPs on the standards committee, can be trusted to legislate to rebalance the economy away from property values.
Richard Harley
Alresford, Hampshire

The American psyche is a conundrum (What is the point of Obama’s presidency? 28 March). Over the years I have watched the news, open-mouthed, as ordinary Americans protest with banners saying “Get your socialist hands off our bodies”, “No to a minimum wage” and so on. But upon deeper reflection, I suddenly understand: the population, even that vast number at the bottom of the wealth pyramid, have all been brainwashed by the American Dream: that anyone can make it to the top.

Strictly speaking, the Dream is true – witness the election of Obama – and it is an entirely admirable feature of American civilisation that no one is barred from competing (for wealth, fame or political office). But, in reality, millions of people live desperate lives (poverty, violence, drugs etc) with almost zero chance of escape. I say almost, because that is the key – there is a finite, albeit minuscule, chance of bettering yourself, and this phoney hope acts as the suspenders that keep the Emperor Ponzi’s new clothes on (ie keep the US economy going).

It reminds me of a joke told in our family: I say to my husband “Oh, if only I could win the lottery”, and he says “But Darling, you haven’t bought a ticket”, to which I reply “No, but it doesn’t alter my chances much, does it?” Dream on: a civilised society must have mechanisms in place so that people do not have to rely on luck. As we might say to wean someone off gambling – luck is not a strategy.
Jennifer Coopersmith
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

Propaganda on Ukraine

I was dismayed that your usual excellent coverage of the Ukraine troubles was marred by adopting the propaganda language of government spin doctors (28 March): specifically, that the enthusiastic and voluntary secession of Crimea was repeatedly referred to as a Russian “annexation”. I’m sure that the authors of those articles know that the word “annex”, as defined in several respected dictionaries, means the forceful acquisition of another nation’s territory.

It is disingenuous to accuse Russia of pinching Crimea from Ukraine, since it was the Crimeans who freely, and by 96% majority, decided to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

No matter how much the United States and Nato try to justify their cynical sophistry, the reality is that when a population decides by 96% to realign itself, no one – absolutely no one – has the right to try to stop them, no matter what treaties had been signed on their behalf in some distant past.
Sam Nejad
Geraldton, Western Australia

• Putin gave up on the west (28 March) in part because of the incessant, vainglorious push to the east by both Nato and the EU since 1989. It’s time for three strong leaders (Obama, Putin and Merkel) to meet again in Yalta, Crimea and draw yet another borderline from the Baltic to the Black Sea to delimit mutually agreeable spheres of influence. The Shower Curtain?
Douglas Porteous
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Message to adolescent girls

“If you really want to know what adolescent girls need, you should talk to adolescent girls,” runs the take-out of Hadley Freeman’s article (21 March). Yes, as reported on the BBC recently concerning gender inequality in the professions, adolescent girls do indeed have ambitions, to be lawyers, or whatever, but they need to be sexually attractive lawyers at the same time.

In fact, there was some hesitation over whether they would prefer being plain lawyers or attractive waitresses. Tolstoy’s views on gender equality hardly cut much ice nowadays, but his statement that “women will never enjoy equal rights to men as long as men view them as objects of desire” must be regarded as having some contemporary relevance. Being “bossy” doesn’t go well with being sexually attractive (other than appealing to men’s female domination fetishes): hence bossiness is linked to plainness and absence of attraction.

There have been many TV documentaries recently on hard-core subjects, such as alcoholism, drug-addiction and prostitution, presented not by male investigators, but by young, sexually attractive women – physical appearance or age is not an issue with male presenters. Less physically attractive and older women are confined to radio. The message going out to adolescent girls is: Yes, you can have your place equally alongside men, so long as you are young and physically attractive. Bra burning gets you nowhere.
David Bye
Kosd, Hungary

• Hadley Freeman’s article was the most sensible piece I’ve read about women in a long time, especially her advice for schools. For the record, Miss Piggy was one of my childhood heroines too.
Caroline Sandes
London, UK

Arabs in France

Both David Bell (Deeply troubled but not cursed, 21 March) and Andrew Hussey (in his book The French Intifada) seem to forget the hundreds of thousands secular or Christian Arabs living in France: they’re mostly Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian and indeed north African. They have for decades now adapted and integrated into French life and culture, confidently asserting their place mostly in the middle classes, while in return enriching French society with their rich Middle Eastern background.

There’s definitely no “war” there. As a lot of French people do, let’s not forget that the word Arab is not synonymous with Muslim.
Fares Samara
Kempsey, NSW, Australia

Climbing Mount Everest

Philip Hoare comments on the fact that the people who are determined to climb Mount Everest are seemingly doing so without giving any thought as to why they are doing it or the damage that they are doing to its environment while attempting to do it (28 March).

When I used to climb mountains, if you used devices to enable you to achieve your goal one removed them so as to minimise damage and also so that the next team would have the same challenge. Seemingly these climbers are doing so only to tick off a list of events.

So there should be regulations in place, which one has to sign before one starts, in which waste, debris and aids have to be removed before one leaves. The climbing fraternity should ensure that anyone who intends to climb anywhere should accept their responsibility to maintain any climb for everyone.
Brian Mahood
Hamilton, New Zealand

Compulsory voting is flawed

Edwin Carter presents familiar arguments for compulsory voting (Reply, 4 April) but they are deeply flawed, mainly due to the lack of informed opinion among those who are forced to vote or else face a fine. The real enemy of democracy in Australia is the “donkey voter” who takes no interest in public affairs, doesn’t follow the political news and is probably ill-equipped by education to do so anyway. His – and often her – interests are limited to beer, gambling machines and the footie. They have never had it so good, so why worry?

This is a very elitist view, yet I vote Labor or Green in disgust with the so-called Liberal party’s fascism. Thankfully, these Liberals say they want to uphold free speech.

There was once a cry for “no taxation without representation”. We now have a situation where many people who pay no taxes and have no considered opinions have equal voting rights with those who fund their comfort. Those who pay no taxes should not have the right to vote, let alone be compelled to do so.
Ted Webber
Buderim, Queensland, Australia

Briefly

• In no way do I favour a political merger and acquisition between Canada and the United States (28 March). This idea has been an on-again, off-again fantasy of the United States since the American revolution. It’s a stale idea with little merit.

I would, however, favour the United States and Canadian partnership to build the twice-aborted Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project envisioned by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. This renewable energy project would do far more good for the people of North America than any permanent political union.
Jeffrey W White
Somerville, Massachusetts, US

• I enjoyed your excellent article from Gary Younge on Tony Benn (21 March). As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins (written in 1925): Politics without Principles, Wealth without Work, Commerce without Morality, Pleasure without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Science without Humanity, Worship without Sacrifice. Benn believed and fought for many of these causes.

To quote Younge: “He stood for something more than office and he didn’t pander”.
Deirdre Lane
White Rock, British Columbia, Canada

• Yes, we have some talented bakers making wonderful bread in France, but there are also quite a few mediocre and even bad ones (28 March). And of those 10bn baguettes, a not insignificant proportion are factory-made, tasteless, woolly white sticks sold plastic-wrapped in supermarkets, unworthy of the term bread. France has its share of junk food and these sticks are in that category.
Patsy Pouvelle
Reims, France

Independent:

The Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne (8 April) writes: “The task today is to push power, money, information and choice down to the individual citizen, so everyone can enjoy opportunities a fortunate few take for granted.” His solution: give those fortunate few more money!

He does not actually say so but the logic of his argument is that those “fortunate few” earning a minimum of £150,000 a year are so despondent at the burden of taxation that they are at present marking time, working to rule, and therefore need a tax gift to unleash the “individuality, creativity, originality” which only they possess.

This is all in aid of keeping up with an Asia-driven resurgent capitalism. In other words, more growth, more consumption, more pillaging of finite resources, more pollution, global warming, deforestation, acidification of the oceans etc, etc. Or  to put it another way:  “Foot flat to the floor; there’s a bottomless pit  straight ahead.”

Mr Browne wants “a willingness to challenge stale thinking”, but his own thinking is not just stale but fossilised. It is also extremely unjust and dangerous.

Steve Edwards, Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex

Your editorial supporting a reduction in the 45 per cent tax rate (8 April) demonstrates that you just don’t get it. Tax rates should rise with income, until, at the highest level, they do become confiscatory.

Do we wish to live in a fair society? Morality, not economics, should direct our thoughts. No individual is entitled to preposterous wealth when so many go without; to entertain such a philosophy is to encourage an even more unequal society. Advocates of lower taxes are almost always those who already have too much.

Finlay Fraser, Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Wind, solar or biomass?

While Jane Merrick is of course correct that the British weather is variable (3 April), she is wrong to suggest that this means onshore wind farms don’t make sense.

Onshore wind is cheaper per unit of electricity generated than any other source of renewable electricity. It is also cheaper than new nuclear, which, under current government proposals, will receive subsidies for 35 years as well as up to a £10bn loan guarantee from the Treasury.

Electricity from onshore wind soared by 36 per cent last year compared with 2012 and contributed nearly 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs. Most polls suggest that 70 per cent of the British public are in favour of onshore wind turbines.

It is important to focus on a range of renewables as we move towards a decarbonised electricity mix, but onshore wind has an important part to play for the foreseeable future.

Nick Molho, Head of Climate and Energy Policy, WWF-UK, Woking, Surrey

Jane Merrick’s views on the inefficiency of onshore wind turbines reflect mine about solar “farms”. As a broad supporter of green initiatives, I naively thought that there was a grand plan to situate solar panels on domestic and commercial roofs, brownfield sites and areas of no agricultural or scenic value, a great way of gaining an extra dividend from these sites. Not so, it seems.

Applications are flooding in, all over the country, to snatch the cash and cover thousands of acres of good-quality agricultural land with solar panels in a modern gold rush. This at a time when we have an increasing population,  a need for land for new housing, land being lost to coastal erosion, and an annual food import bill of some £8bn. And are reliably told that world food production is set to fall.

At least the footprint of a wind turbine is small and sensible things can be done with the surrounding land.

Tim Colyer, Diss, Norfolk

Surely only a political mind could dream up the insanity that is currently encompassing Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire.

You truly have to wonder at the idea that it would be environmentally worthy and economically viable to convert the largest coal-fired power station in Europe to one that burns wood (biomass) – wood chips that need importing over 3,000 miles from the forests of North Carolina.

Common sense makes it obvious that destroying acres of forests, processing them into wood chips then transporting these thousands of miles will not prove environmentally or economically viable.

The wood-fuelled furnaces produce 3 per cent more carbon dioxide than coal, and twice as much in gas emissions. In the longer term, you and I will be paying £105 per MW/hr for Drax’s biomass electricity, compared with the current market cost of just £50 per MW/h.

Drax says it is simply responding to government policy. Only out-of-touch, misinformed and foolish politicians could wreck the environment in the name of saving the planet. Our whole UK energy policy belongs in the madhouse.

Dave Haskell, Penparc, Cardigan

The Great War against German aggression

A new First World War comic-book is designed to combat Michael Gove’s “jingoistic” interpretation (report, 2 April). It is important to remember the stories of those on all sides of the conflict and of the pacifists and the shell-shocked executed as cowards, and to remember the awful loss of life. It is wrong, however, to call Gove’s interpretation “jingoistic”.

Wilhelm II of Germany had imperialist ambitions, and used the conflict in the Balkans as a way to escalate to a full-scale European war. The victors’ peace imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk in 1917, where the latter lost Ukraine, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Belarus, shows this imperialist agenda.

Recent research has revealed that the German “rape of Belgium” in August and September 1914 actually occurred. The German high command ordered systematic atrocities against the Belgians, killing 6,000, destroying 25,000 homes in 837 settlements and displacing up to 1.5 million Belgians (20 per cent of the population). Up to 10,000 workers were forcibly removed from Belgium to build German roads and military facilities. The German army also dismantled Belgian factories, relocating machinery to Germany. Belgium, the sixth largest economy in the world, was reduced to a mere shell of its former self and never fully regained its pre-war economic activity.

The majority of Britons saw the war as a painful but necessary way to stop German aggression.

Harrison Edmonds, Cheadle, Cheshire

Farage’s leap into the unknown

Mary Dejevsky is right (4 April) that the appeal of Nigel Farage is his anti-establishment rhetoric. But he is also a hugely entertaining and persuasive communicator, well able to hold his own in televised debates as well as in front of a packed audience of students at the LSE in January.

He will obviously do well in the European elections, but when it comes to the referendum, voters will not be prepared to take that leap into the unknown and withdraw from the European Union. Better the devil they know.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

Nightmare of an old folks’ home

Grace Dent’s “dream old-folks’ home” (8 April) sounds like a version of hell to me. The prospect may have been what drove Anne to suicide.

The point about assisted dying is that it provides people with another option. We all have our own views of what constitutes a good quality of life; it’s no one’s business to tell someone else how they should feel.

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

Killer’s payout for prison attack

The press appears to agree that Levi Bellfield, who is in prison for killing three young women, should not have been allowed to sue the prison service after being attacked in jail. They seem to be ignoring the fact that the relatively small payout amounts to little more than a rare slap on the wrist for the authorities for allowing prisoners to attack each other with weapons.

Have we really degenerated so much that we think being shanked in prison is just fine?

Jim Jepps, London NW1

Royal visits to rich countries

It seems that the royals tend to frequent only the richest Commonwealth countries, such as New  Zealand, Australia and Canada, whenever they make official trips abroad, while the vast majority of poorer Commonwealth countries rarely appear on their schedule. Is there a specific  reason for this that your readers may know about?

Chris Ryecart, Dovercourt, Essex

Parliament must regulate itself

Despite the general disquiet about its handling of Maria Miller’s expenses claims, Parliament, at least the elected part of it, should not concede authority over its members to another body. A future government might stuff any independent oversight authority with its own people to harry independent-minded MPs.

John Hartland, Cambridge

Times:

There are good reasons for paying for the BBC but the TV licence isn’t the best way

Sir, Emma Duncan’s call for the BBC to be funded on a subscription basis risks undermining the corporation as a unique national asset (“The licence fee is stifling the BBC’s creativity”, Apr 7). Its basic requirement has always been to reflect diverse interests and opinions across the country, free of government and commercial control. Also, who is to produce events that demand huge resources such as the general election, the Olympics and other national occasions? Maybe the BBC has grown too large, maybe it has faults in meeting changing expectations and there are difficult issues about how it is financed, but do we want the next Coronation to be sponsored by Tesco? At least we have one institution that appears to work.

Terence Hughes

London SW15

Sir, One reason I’ve been happy to pay the licence fee is to be free from advertising but with recording I can fastforward through the ads at 30 times the speed — very satisfying. TV advertising may be booming but for how long? And how much will my subscription TV cost if advertising fades away? However, competition is a powerful tool and the BBC should be subject to it: yes, kill the licence fee.

Michael Stubbs

Brighton, E Sussex

Sir, I often visit Canada, where the TV is universally unwatchable and gifts of DVDs of BBC programmes are gratefully accepted. I always return feeling proud of our BBC and keen to enjoy the incredible value of my licence fee. Long may it continue.

John Priestley

Shipley, W Yorks

Sir, Emma Duncan weakens her argument by ignoring recent BBC drama successes such as Line of Duty , The Fall and Peaky Blinders , not to mention the entirety of BBC Radio and BBC online content.

Tak-Sang Li

Borehamwood, Herts

Sir, There are many British institutions but few great ones. The BBC has become great in its quintessential presence in British social life and also in its worldwide appeal.

The anachronism of the licence fee, dating from the 1920s when wirelesses were first licensed, based on ownership of the means to receive communications, has no place in this digital age. When technology ownership is ubiquitous, licensing is outdated and wrong. Emma Duncan hits the spot in identifying a complacency within the BBC on two fronts; popularity and creativity. She blames the licence fee for featherbedding the BBC’s structural and artistic deficiencies. However, she does not propose a solution. Might I suggest that just as another great British institution, the Royal Family, has faced changes in its funding and scrutiny from the National Audit Office, the BBC might benefit from appraisal and new funding sources.

Brian East

London W13

Sir, With the overdue recognition of the need to allocate a greater proportion of defence spending to the overseas aid budget can we also ensure that the budget for the BBC’s World Service falls under international development as well? Perhaps then this valuable resource might also receive the funding that it richly deserves.

David Moss

London SW13

The rules which govern the unfair situation of Service widows must the changed

Sir, We appeal to the Prime Minister to bring justice to Service widows who lose their pension on cohabitation or remarriage. This includes most such widows, current and future.

This situation is at odds with the Armed Forces Covenant, which exists to redress disadvantages the Forces community may face in comparison to other citizens; for widows, as a result of Following the Flag, this includes rarely accruing an occupational or full state pension.

Most women affected by the widows’ rules receive pensions of less than £3,000 a year. Many cannot afford this loss, so face a life of enforced solitude. Removing the rule would cost £250,000 a year, much less if the cost of monitoring compliance and tracking down transgressors is taken into account.

The latest rules rectified matters for some widows, but the Treasury has vetoed further change, apparently not accepting the principles underpinning the Covenant.

The new Armed Forces Pension Scheme, due for implementation in April 2015, is a unique opportunity to simplify a complex and unfair system and introduce a common rule for all Service widows from that date, avoiding 40 more years of misery for those affected.

Vice-Admiral Peter Wilkinson

Royal British Legion

Admiral Sir Ian Forbes

Forces Pension Society

Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Ridgway

Confederation of Service Charities

Air Marshal Sir Christopher Coville

Forces Pension Society

and Kate Adie (Forces Pension Society), Dr Ros Altmann (former government pension adviser); Martin Bell (Forces Pension Society); Admiral Lord Boyce; Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Craig of Radley; Sir Nick Harvey, MP; Lord Hutton of Furness (chairman, Independent Public Services
Pensions Commission 2010-11); Joanna Lumley (Forces Pension Society); Group Captain Bill Mahon (ret’d) (RAF Families Federation); General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux;
Kim Richardson (chair Naval Families Federation); Lord Robertson of Port Ellen; Catherine Spencer, Army
Families Federation;
Gisela Stuart, MP

Trust in police and politicians is too important to our democracy to be left to their self-discipline

Sir, Apropos the Police Federation, the Prime Minister has described the police as Britain’s last great unreformed public service (leader, Apr 7), and the Coalition is threatening to reform it should it fail to do so itself. It is true that several serious failures have badly affected the trust hitherto enjoyed by the police. However, public trust in Parliament is also at an all-time low, yet Mr Cameron has set his face against demands to reform a system that allows MPs to have the final say on those accused of abusing their expenses.

Trust in the police and in politicians is too important to be left to self-discipline. The political parties must address this in their manifestos for the next general election with policies upon which voters have a choice.

G. M. Waddington

Detective Superintendent (retired) Messingham, Lincs

The European Azerbaijan Society writes to clarify the status of Nagorno-Karabh, under “illegal occupation”

Sir, You quote Baroness Cox (Apr 5) saying that Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian enclave “relocated by Stalin to Azerbaijan”. In fact Nagorno-Karabakh has always been part of Azerbaijan, and legally still is. Four UN Security Council resolutions say so, and not a single country in the world disputes Azerbaijan’s rightful sovereignty, which endures despite Armenia’s illegal military occupation.

Lionel Zetter

The European Azerbaijan Society, London

The debate over Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughtering animals for food involves the problem of mis-stunning

Sir, There is a certain tragic irony when “leading vets” claim to have been misled by faith communities (Apr 5) on the number of animals mis-stunned in the UK. We take no pleasure in having to expound the depth of the problem of mis-stunning, and the apparent determination of animal welfare groups to creatively gloss over the problem makes it all the more troubling. To be clear, the Government’s figures do not show the number of animals mis-stunned every year in UK slaughter houses; they show the number of recorded mis-stuns. To take one example, studies from Europe and the US place the numbers of mis-stunning of poultry each year, in the tens of millions. Defra’s figures for last year recorded just 13 cases. Mis-stunning is not properly recorded in the UK, and that is part of the problem. The real question is why animal welfare groups avoid the problem rather than addressing it urgently and honestly.

Henry Grunwald, QC

London NW5

The cost of childcare proposals in Scotland is likely to be dwarfed by the massive expense of becoming independent

Sir, On the subject of the SNP’s childcare proposals you report the view that “SNP ministers have not put a pricetag on the proposals” (Apr 4). I would suggest that that cost, whatever it might be, would be a drop in the ocean compared to the undeclared, probably unconsidered, cost of reshaping hundreds of institutions, agencies, etc, in fields ranging from issuing driving licences to ambassadorial representation — surely a massive bill to be paid before Scotland can start thinking of financial benefits.

Stuart C. Poole

Edinburgh

Telegraph:

SIR – Prudence Seddon can no longer fit her bulbous toothbrush into the holder. She should push it into the holder with the bristles going in first. I have been doing it for years.

Judith Kent
Holland-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – Because toothbrush manufacturers have changed the contours of their handles, I can no longer find a toothbrush that is comfortable to hold in my right hand and that allows me to change my grip as necessary for the brush head to connect with all teeth from every angle. Several new-design toothbrushes are now languishing unused in the holder.

Erika Sciama
London NW3

SIR – Worse than a sloping basin in the bathroom is a rounded edge to the bath. Where do you put your gin and tonic?

Rev Roger Holmes
York

SIR – Despite the engineering accolades being heaped upon them, building the two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers was an expensive mistake.

Access to UK base ports will be limited because of their draught. We will not have sufficient escort vessels to maintain the necessary associated task groups, and the overall logistical support required will place unacceptable demands on our impoverished fleet and support facilities.

Jump jets do not require a platform of 65,000 tons in order to operate effectively. The only justification for a vessel of these proportions is for conventional strike aircraft requiring arrester gear and launch boosters, complete with a fully angled deck, providing interoperability with American navy carriers. Plans to include these features were cancelled due to cost.

The previous, prematurely discarded Invincible Class carriers of 20,000 tons had proven themselves to be highly versatile and cost-effective vessels. Three of these smaller carriers could have been built in individual yards for a similar price.

Cdr D L Deakin RN (retd)
Totland Bay, Isle of Wight

Starting to read early

SIR – Sally Goddard Blythe claims that “It can take up to seven years for some children to develop the eye movements necessary to support reading”, and that a third of the children who enter school “may not have all the physical skills in place to support academic learning”.

This is no more than an updated version of the “reading readiness” excuse that progressive educators have been using to explain away their failures for the last century. Hundreds of schools – many serving disadvantaged families – succeed in teaching all children to read long before their seventh birthday. They do so by teaching the necessary sub-skills, including tracking print from left to right, as opposed to waiting for some mythical developmental milestone to pass.

Delaying reading instruction is the surest way to demoralise children with learning difficulties and to perpetuate educational disadvantage. At most, half an hour per day is needed, leaving plenty of time for “learning through play”.

Prof Tom Burkard
Easton, Norfolk

Co-operative banking

SIR – My somewhat eccentric grandmother had a meeting with her bank manager in the late Sixties. Their business concluded, he politely asked her to let him know if there was anything else he could help her with in the future.

Taking him at his word, my grandmother telephoned a few days later asking him to come to her house and he arrived to find several chicken coops that needed moving.

With admirable sang-froid he rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.

Dominic Weston Smith
Fernham, Oxfordshire

Selling British cars

SIR – Of course car manufacturing in Britain benefits from EU membership.

A survey for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders states correctly that 49 per cent of UK-produced vehicles by volume are exported to the rest of the single market. But in 2012, the proportion of British car exports going to the rest of the EU by value was only 37 per cent. Between 2007 and 2012, Britain’s car exports to the rest of the world more than doubled from £5.8 billion to £13.4 billion, while over the same period Britain’s car exports to the rest of the EU declined from £8.6 billion to £8 billion.

If Britain left the EU, World Trade Organisation rules would force the EU to tax British car exports at the same 10 per cent tariff rate the Japanese and Americans face, which would be a problem for British car manufacturers. But Britain could replicate most of the benefits of single market membership by negotiating a new inter-governmental customs union-based preferential trade agreement with the EU.

If such an arrangement left them with unimpaired access to British markets, continental exporters would have no moral grounds for objection if such an arrangement left them with unimpaired access to UK markets.

Ronald Stewart-Brown
Trade Policy Research Centre
London SW1

Eva Braun’s ancestry

SIR – It is not the case that “many Ashkenazi Jews in Germany converted to Catholicism”.

The majority of German Jews, especially those in the Prussian provinces, leant towards Protestantism, with many reform communities introducing organs and choirs during the latter part of the 19th century. Thus, they tended to convert to Protestantism, and there were many mixed marriages.

Stephen Cameron Jalil Nicholls
Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex

Frontierswoman

SIR – The man who inadvertently travelled to Spain on his girlfriend’s passport reminded me of the time when my wife passed through, not one or two, but four border controls using her deceased father’s passport.

Only on the final examination was any comment made. The lady looked at my passport, at me, at my father-in-law’s passport and then at my wife. With a look of despair she said, “Thank you, sir,” and returned both to me.

John Pickles
St Peters, Guernsey

Folding business

SIR – Could someone please inform me how to fold a fitted sheet without it looking like a crumpled mess in my linen cupboard? Until I know how to do this I will have to continue using traditional flat sheets.

Caroline Chaffe
Southborough, Kent

Introducing children to the delights of opera

SIR – As a trustee of Operaluna, a charity designed to bring opera to new audiences, I disagree with Rupert Christiansen that, when it comes to the operatic voice, “kids don’t like it, don’t understand or identify with it”. My experience is that high-calibre and enthusiastic operatic performers can harness the imagination of young people.

Our charity facilitates opera workshops for state primary school children in Wiltshire. Many of the young people who participate in these workshops have no experience of opera; they have never been to London, let alone visited the Royal Opera House or English National Opera.

Who knows whether any of the young people who participated in the workshops ran to the library to find out more, as Mr Christiansen did as a boy. But i8f just one of them feels that the experience broadens their horizons and gives them a taste for the sheer joy of music-making, the charity will have done its job.

Laura Ingram Hill
Pewsey, Wiltshire

SIR – We should expose children to opera, alongside many other music genres, because in order to make informed choices and to make sense of what we like and don’t like, we need variety.

We also know that early exposure to music in very young children helps to boost the imagination and improve communication and language skills.

Children who learn a musical instrument are often more advanced in maths and languages, as well as being more organised in their approach to learning. They are also able to engage with others more confidently.

Caroline Crabbe
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – What would happen if any of us fiddled our expenses at work? Surely a sacking would follow. I will not be voting for a party that condones Maria Miller’s behaviour regarding her expenses claims.

Jan Lindsey-Clark
Hindhead, Surrey

SIR – If ever there were a case for maintaining press freedom, the latest scandal concerning Maria Miller and her expenses must surely fit the bill.

Whatever its flaws, the press represents the last bastion against corrupt government. No wonder those in power are eager to see press freedom curtailed.

Catherine Castree
Fetcham, Surrey

SIR – David Cameron has made much of the fact that a House of Commons Committee on Standards, consisting of “lay” members as well as MPs, has decided not to place serious censure on Maria Miller, meaning she will escape repaying £40,000 in expenses claims. Mr Cameron relies on the fact that nobody will actually read the report.

If you read the report there are constant references to Mrs Miller providing incomplete documentation, not consulting properly on financial matters as advised, and not providing all the information requested. She failed to respond properly to requests for information. This has taken 14 months.

Terry Maunder
Leeds

SIR – Before ministers are appointed to the Cabinet, they should be required to sit a short intelligence test:

1. You have two homes and spend more nights each year in one than the other. Which one is your main home?

2. Can you recognise whether your parents are also living in one of your homes?

Guy Smith
Reigate, Surrey

SIR – What is the point of Mrs Miller resigning? Like previous corrupt ministers – Mandelson, Laws, etc. – she will take the parachute payment and then be quietly reintroduced a few months later.

David Steer
Rockwell Green, Somerset

SIR – Iain Duncan Smith supports Mrs Miller by saying “if we’re not careful we end up with a witch-hunt of somebody”. I would be interested to hear his definition of the difference between a witch-hunt and the pursuit of moral (and lawful) justice.

Stuart Ashton
Whitley Bay, Northumberland

SIR – We are constantly being told that we live in a “compensation culture”, riven by arrogance, greed and self-interest.

On reflection, perhaps Mrs Miller is indeed the best choice for the post of Culture Secretary.

Mick Richards
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I was born in England to Irish parents who had emigrated in the 1950s, along with so many others, in the hope of a better life. I learned to tie my shoelaces there, went to school, played on the street and made friends. We would visit Ireland on our holidays, so I was giddy with excitement when it was announced that we were selling the house and moving back to the old country. It was time. We were going home. I was nine years old.

My first day in primary school in Drogheda was like a scene from Oliver Twist . I had stepped back 100 years. Nevertheless, children are adaptable and I soon settled in to a new life, new street and new friends.

I was as Irish as anyone, perhaps more so having experienced emigration, but a small part of me was of England. I was of two countries in the same way that we are all of two parents. And my countries were not happy. In fact, they were divorcing, in a bitter, painful and drawn-out way. I remember the hunger strikes as the darkest time. Like a child trying to reconcile his warring parents, I would tell my friends that English people did not wish Ireland ill. And when I emigrated to England in the 1980s, along with so many others, in the hope of a better life, I would explain to my English friends that things happen for a reason in Ireland — that there was a traumatic history that could not be denied.

Roll forward a few years and Queen Elizabeth is wearing green and our President, Michael D Higgins, is standing on red carpet on a State visit to the United Kingdom. My parents have reconciled after so many lost years and are together again. They are talking and laughing and having tea parties in the garden. The family is reborn. Yours, etc,

JAMES COYLE,

Hawthorn Park,

Swords,

Co Dublin

Sir, – Born in England of an Irish family a little over 60 years ago, I, along with many others in the same circumstances, have developed a technique of ignoring as graciously as possible the many slights, and worse, which come with the turf.

It is a sad thing to feel obliged to keep a low profile as regards your heritage, to not know quite where you fit in to the grand scheme of things. From being a bit of a Paddy to the English, to taking stick for my Brit accent in Ireland, I cannot tell you just how good it feels to see the President of Ireland, and as such, the Irish people, being so well and warmly received in London, and rightly so.

Full marks to all who have brought about this momentous change. What great comfort to think that the troubles of centuries could be on the way to becoming a thing of the past, consigned hopefully to history, not to be forgotten, but to be found in a better place.

To be able to celebrate what is great about both countries, their peoples and civilisations – and there is a great deal to celebrate of both nations – is a truly liberating and uplifting moment. I am not overly given to sentimentality, but today I shed a tear of joy and was surprised that it could taste so sweet. A truly great day indeed. Yours, etc,

VINCENT HEARNE,

Bonnaud,

Nabinaud,

France

Sir, – Your correspondent John Rogers (Letters, April 7th) equates commemoration of the upcoming centenaries with the glorification and celebration of blood sacrifices, and refers in a somewhat jocose manner to the events at Gallipoli, the Somme and at the GPO.

While in the past we may have heard phrases such as “our glorious dead” I doubt if those who wish to commemorate the death of an ancestor 100 years after the event are trying to glorify them. They may rather be trying to get some semblance of recognition that they actually did exist and that they did die in the fields of France, Belgium and Gallipoli for causes which at the time were seen and believed to be a matter of world importance.

The problem in Ireland is that these war deaths were overtaken by the events relating to the Irish rebellion and by the time the survivors of this horrific rather than glorious war came home, Ireland had moved on, nationalism had been fanned by the execution of the leaders of the rebellion, and although they were Irish themselves they were treated like pariahs. It became almost shameful to even mention the 40,000 to 50,000 Irishmen who perished.

In even the smallest town in other European countries there are monuments recalling the names of those who died. More than 700 men from Galway died, for example, yet their names are not recalled anywhere in that city. Now, at the centenary of the start of the first World War, there is an opportunity for Galway and every other town in Ireland to correct this continuing slight. For those who lost family, it is not a celebration, but a long overdue commemoration. Yours, etc,

DICK BYRNE,

Craughwell,

Co Galway

Sir, – Once again this weekend I have read (twice) the unchallenged view in the columns of The Irish Times that, this State shamefully ignored or neglected Irish participation in what Gay Byrne continues to call “the Great War”.

This is getting boring. I write as someone who lost a great-uncle in that war and who has visited the Belgian memorials to the dead. Given the way the commemorations have evolved in Britain, does Gay Byrne really believe it was realistic or appropriate for a fledgling state, in the immediate aftermath of the War of independence to have found time to commemorate a war which was largely fought over five miles of muddy ground on the Western Front and which was a complete waste of all of those Irish lives?

It is now almost obligatory to wear a poppy if you wish to appear on British TV during November, and the symbol has been used to justify the illegal war in Iraq and to silence criticism of the presence of British troops in Afghanistan. Quite incredibly, people like Gay Byrne are more concerned with criticising post-independence silence about first World War dead and survivors than with taking the British government of the time to task for encouraging his father, my great-uncle and their comrades to go to death or injury in Gallipoli, the Somme and Messines ridge.

A hundred years on let’s have a proper debate in which iti is legitimate to criticise propaganda. And if we do commemorate, can we not also point out the folly of the whole sorry escapade, bury any talk of noble sacrifice and question why a war to end wars is now used to justify, and silence criticism of, current illegal conflicts? Lest we forget. Yours, etc,

PATRICK DALY,

Rock Street ,

Tralee

Sir, – Ellen MacCafferty (Letters, April 8th) asserts that GPs are “virtually public sector workers”. Really? I am sure doctors around the country are popping corks to hear that they are now entitled to huge pensions, like other public sector workers.

What GPs earn from the GMS is information that is freely available, on a practice-by-practice basis, from the HSE. But Ms MacCafferty would like doctors to publish what they privately earn in nett terms, so that she and people like her can judge what is fair. Why stop there? She might also like to know what cars they drive, where they holiday, where they live and what schools their children attend?

What I would suggest is that she should read, if she is interested, the OECD report 2013 into the remuneration of medical specialists, which ranked Ireland at the bottom of the OECD countries in terms of earnings as a multiple of the average industrial wage.

The idea that the rush of Leaving Certificate students to do medical degrees is proof positive that the earnings “must be worthwhile” is risible, especially in the context of over half of current medical graduates leaving these shores within two years of graduating, presumably for better pay and conditions abroad.

Finally, while it is true that everyone in business has to pay running costs, not everyone has to endure the abuse that GPs do for having the cheek to ask their customers to actually, God forbid, pay for their services. Yours, etc,

TURLOUGH

O’DONNELL FRCSI

Ardilea,

Dublin 14

Sir, – As a practising rural GP, living on a peninsula the size of Louth, I concur with the sentiments of my GP colleague Dr Valerie Collins (Letters, April 7th). Dr Collins’s description of the day-to-day demands on a rural GP is very apt. Couple this with the dictatorial health regime, which refuses to negotiate meaningfully on contract issues, and the result is a disillusioned workforce, which cannot be in the best interest of any of the stakeholders, most importantly our patients. Yours etc,

DR KEITH SWANICK,

Swanick Family Practice,

Belmullet,

Co Mayo

Sir, – According to a recent survey, people perceive that doctors tell the truth 89 per cent of the time, TDs 23 per cent and Ministers 20 per cent. GPs say that their unwell and elderly patients are losing their medical cards to fund the under-sixes. They say GPs are leaving and we will face a manpower crisis in the next five to 10 years. They say we need planning and investment before universal healthcare can work. The Ministers and TDs say they are lying. Are they? Yours, etc,

DR ELUNED LAWLOR,

Loughboy Medical Centre,

Kilkenny

Sir, – Heather Abrahamson (Letters, April 8th) objects to the use of the Christian Bible to swear in new members of the Garda Reserve. Back in 1957 I was commissioned an officer in the FCA. At the ceremony, in Cathal Brugha barracks, there were 25 of us, 24 Catholics and one Jew. The 24 marched up in groups, saluted the flag, bared our heads, took up the Bible and swore the oath of allegiance. The Jewish officer marched up, saluted the flag, left his cap on, took up the Jewish holy book and swore the oath.

I am sure that today the same applies: one can swear on whatever book is holy to the religion of which one is a member, be it the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita or any other. So Ms Abrahamson can rest easy. I do not think that the State is trying to force any particular religion down the throats of anybody. Yours, etc,

BRIAN P Ó CINNÉIDE

Essenwood Road,

Durban,

South Africa

Sir, – What, I wonder, does your front page photograph (April 5th) of the Garda Reserve graduation ceremony say about equality in our 21st century Irish society?

A deserved pat on the back for racial and gender equality, it would seem, and a smack in the face for the non-religious. Yours, etc,

SIOBHÁN WALLS,

Chairperson,

Humanist Association

of Ireland,

Royal Terrace West,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin

Sir,- Regarding the photograph on Saturday of the new gardaí holding aloft what appeared to be Government-issued Bibles, would it not be more in keeping with modern society and their role in it if they were swearing on the Constitution? Yours, etc,

SEAN DOOCEY,

Ballyoran,

Castlelyons,

Fermoy,

Sir, – Correspondence about our prospective universal health insurance scheme has pointed to its probable non-affordability and negative reference has been made the Netherlands. Has any attention been given to the case of Belgium?

There insurance is provided by several non-profit-making mutual societies ( mutuelles ). Every resident must be insured and has a free choice of mutuelle . The monthly contribution is paid in equal shares by the insured person and his or her employer. It covers the individual and dependents, and is calculated pro rata on the level of earnings. The unwaged have their contribution paid entirely by the state. Thus the system is designed to ensure that the mutual societies have adequate resources.

In operation, the insured person pays directly for treatment and medicines and then claims reimbursement from his mutuelle on the basis of an authenticated receipt. However, through a national institution (the INAMI), encompassing the medical professions, the hospitals, the pharmacies, the mutuelles and the state, precise maximum prices are periodically negotiated and fixed for every known form of treatment or care. Each treatment is accorded a number which has to be inscribed on the receipt given to the patient. A significant point is that those maximum prices ( charges conventionnées ) are much lower than those demanded in Ireland.

The patient has a free choice, at every stage, of GP, specialist or hospital. All are in abundant supply. Perhaps the Belgian system is worth a glance in the current discussion. Yours, etc,

DAVID M NELIGAN,

Silchester Road,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin

Sir, – It is wonderful to hear from TK Whitaker and to remember his many contributions to Ireland (Weekend, April 5th). Long may this 97- year-old enjoy his days salmon-fishing and his couple of pints afterwards.

One of his very important, but less remembered, contributions to the country was to chair the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System, which reported in 1985. In the light of recent Garda controversy and the promise of an independent Garda authority, it is pertinent to recall how the Whitaker Committee severely criticised the Department of Justice’s stewardship of the prison system and advocated “a separate executive agency or board”, established by statute, to run the prisons. This has never happened, and the Department’s control of the prison system is as strong today as it ever was.

The Whitaker Report also proposed that Ireland have a low prison population, with prison used only “as a last resort”, and it set out clear pathways to achieve this. It also wanted much smaller prisons. Importantly, it stipulated “basic living conditions” which all prisoners should have — yet today’s prisons fall far short of these standards in almost every important respect. It is high time to look again at what the Whitaker Report had to say about our prison system. Yours, etc,

DR KEVIN WARNER,

Kilgarron Hill,

Enniskerry,

Co. Wicklow

Sir, – Your recent report on property tax by Fiach Kelly (April 5th) and the views of commentators that the economy and the housing market are now picking up are a timely warning to all homeowners that the property tax time-bomb is already ticking.

Last year almost 97 per cent of homes were returned to the Revenue Commissioners at values under €500,000. However, the new property boom is on its way and houses valued in May/June 2013 at, for example, €375,000, have now jumped to €500,000 and beyond. Homeowners who have been paying €14 a week will easily qualify to pay more than €20 a week, or €1,000 a year, when the next review comes around. And it will not stop there. There is something patently unfair about a tax on a home that rises dramatically at the whim of the markets.

May I appeal to your homeowning readers to raise this issue with candidates in the local elections? I hope that they will ask candidates what their attitude is to runaway house prices that automatically raise the taxes of homeowners, and ask what their parties propose to do about it. Any solutions offered should be noted, and voters should seek the application of necessary measures soon rather than having to wait for a review some years away. Additionally, homeowners should remember party responses now with an eye to the next general election. Yours, etc,

PEADAR SLATTERY,

Bettyglen,

Sir, – In the late 1970s or early 1980s, Spike Milligan, in his Q series ( Q4 , Q5 , Q6 etc ) of comedy programmes screened on BBC television revealed ( if that is the right word) that life began under the carpet on the fifth floor of Harrods department store in Knightsbridge in London.

That may sound a bit daft but it seems no more bonkers to me than claims by certain boffins that they have detected ripples in space which originated very shortly after the Big Bang went off, over 13 billion years ago. Yours, etc,

EDWARD HANLON,

Loreto Park,

Troys Lane,

Kilkenny

Sir, – Imagine if you will a world where male employees were free to wear both suits and other smart casual attire to work while female employees were required at all times to be dressed formally in business suits. In the interest of equality and political correctness I don’t think such a state of affairs would last too long in the modern world. Yours, etc,

DAVID FLYNN,

Somerton Lodge Mews,

Somerton,

Dún Laoghaire

Sir, – The death of Mickey Rooney brings to mind a quote (along the following lines) attributed to him. “If you must get married, do so very early in the morning … then if it doesn’t work out you may not have wasted the full day. ” Yours, etc,

TOM GILSENAN,

Elm Mount,

Beaumont,

Dublin 9

Irish Independent:

Many moons ago, when I worked in the ESB, we had planned a power switch-out in a rural area of West Limerick. These switch-outs, for maintenance and repairs, were always arranged for weekdays between the hours of 10am and 4pm and the customers would be notified two to three days in advance. This was done to confine disruption to a minimum for the mainly farming community and, as a result, was met with little or no resistance.

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Injustice in our way of life

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However, this particular switch-out, which was arranged for Wednesday, July 29, 1981, was different. When the notification commenced on the Monday, all hell broke loose. The official on the doorstep was met with stern resistance and, a short time later, the phones in the office were hopping. We menfolk scratched our heads and wondered what major event we had missed.

Phonecall after phonecall conveyed the same message and asked the same question – mainly from the womenfolk: “Are you aware that the royal wedding is taking place on Wednesday?” Mna na hEireann would not be excluded from the 750 million viewers who tuned in around the world for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

It came as no surprise to me that, years later, the seeds for this week’s historic Presidential visit to Britain were sown by three women: Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth.

Therein lies a message for us menfolk!

PAT MCLOUGHLIN

NEWCASTLE WEST, CO LIMERICK

 

TERRIBLE GRIEF FOR BOB

This morning I received a text from a very good schoolmate: “Can there be anything worse than losing a child?” We were both in school with Bob Geldof.

I have admired this man for many years, for both his great goodness to humanity and his great intellect and courage to speak out, with regard to all aspects of life in this country and beyond. No words of mine will help him or his family, but I do pray that the awful passing of his beautiful young daughter Peaches will not destroy this man, as the world would be a poorer place for it.

BRIAN MCDEVITT

GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL

GAA: PLAIN OLD BUSINESS

Recently, I was listening when the usual ‘it’s a disgrace’ brigade on the Joe Duffy show bemoaned the sale of 20 GAA games to Sky Sports for this year’s Championship.

Since the announcement was made, there has been hysteria surrounding this issue because Irish people will have to pay for an expensive Sky package to watch a handful of games.

There seemed to be a cry that the GAA had somehow reduced us all to an inevitable trip to the pub of a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon to watch our counties. Nonsense!

This deal is a resounding endorsement of our game; one of the biggest sports carriers in the world has come knocking. The sole argument against this move has been money; people won’t be able to afford Sky Sports, they say. They will, however, be able to go to the pub – and the complainers seemed to be leaning toward the pub rather than actually going to the games to support their teams, which would cost roughly the same.

On a broader point, not every GAA game is shown on television at present anyway, but local and national radio keep us up to speed. I have often listened to my county playing on local radio because the game was not offered on television. Your local stations are always going to keep you informed, and the outcry has been nothing short of pure histrionics.

Forget about the GAA’s spin of wanting to bring the sport to the diaspora – this Sky Sports deal is plain old business, and extremely shrewd business too. Sky Sports has grown viewership and interest in the NFL and Super League in Britain, and there is every reason to believe the GAA will see an increase in participation in clubs across Britain as well.

JUSTIN KELLY

EDENDERRY, CO OFFALY

MONEY TALKS LOUDEST

Bruxelles is often regarded as being too directive in matters which could be best handled at national level. But sometimes it does leave margin for manoeuvre.

In dealing with free competition in the broadcast media, member states were allowed designate within reason events of national interest which must remain available on a free-to-air system. The Government nominated the GAA Championships as such an event. This was accepted by the EU.

When the EU was dealing with the preservation of water through the introduction of water charges, the Government argued that we should be exempt from that requirement. It pointed out that with the rainfall we enjoy we would always have adequate supplies, essentially once we reduced the leakages in the system. Again, this was accepted by the EU.

How things change when we look beyond a principle and see a cash cow.

JOHN F JORDAN

KILLINEY, CO DUBLIN

 

OVER-PRODUCTION

I refer to an article on deflation by Professor Stephen Kinsella (April 8).

Deflation has taken hold. There is no alternative in a world that produces too much of practically everything without any controls or restraint except the crude law of the market.

Cutthroat competition drives prices into the ground; survival means pricing the competition out of existence. At best, prices stay static, at worst, they decline to levels that eliminate all profit, precipitating epidemic business failure, which we now experience.

As long as over-production remains, deflation will only get worse. Historically the problem never existed before, except of course in the experience of agriculture in the EEC about 50 years ago – mountains of beef and butter; lakes of milk, wine and olive oil. The Common Agricultural Policy took care of that problem with production quotas and payments to produce less. Not a perfect solution – it broke all freedom-of-trade rules and is considered heresy by economic purists – but it saved farming in Europe. What happened to farming back then has happened to practically all production in the 21st Century.

I listened yesterday to a tirade on food wastage supposedly promoted by supermarkets; the world threw away half the food it produced last year. That is why we had vegetables at five cent just before Christmas – a time when historically prices were increased. They are not increased any more; desperation to sell more is at crisis point. Unregulated over-production breeds such selling mania and deflation.

We need new economic thinking; it is past time that politicians and economists saw the inadequacies of their ideology and faced the realities of the technological 21st Century.

PADRAIC NEARY

TUBBERCURRY, CO SLIGO

 

WE’RE NOT ALL TO BLAME

In his letter of April 8, Philip O’Neill is continuing the promulgation of the ‘we are all to blame’ mantra in relation to the bankrupting of the country.

We are not all to blame. A small number of the most powerful people at the head of the government, financial institutions, etc, made the decisions during the boom which bankrupted the country. The rest of us were simply not told of the risks of the policies pursued during the boom.

Philip O’Neill is wrong, therefore, when he says that “our minds become atrophied and failed to notice”.

The truth is, we were not told, by those whose business it was to do so, until the troika landed.

A LEAVY

SUTTON, DUBLIN 13

Irish Independent

Hospital

April 8, 2014

8 April2014 yet another hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: our heroes have to negotiate a treaty for part of the planet Venus Priceless

Mary in hospital visit her play Scrabble I win just for once

Scrabbletoday, I wins

Perhaps Iwill win again tomorrow.

Obituary:

Mickey Rooney – obituary

Mickey Rooney was an icon of American youth and energy who was as prolific in his marriages as he was on screen

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney Photo: REX FEATURES

5:58PM BST 07 Apr 2014

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Mickey Rooney, the actor, who has died aged 93, was in the Thirties and for much of the Forties the very image of how Americans liked to think of themselves — brash, energetic and eternally young.

As a child star and later a teenager, he epitomised American get-up-and-go, with a cheeky, cocksure arrogance that won him a wide following, especially in the United States. Though he never got an Oscar for his work, in 1938 he shared a special award with Deanna Durbin “for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement”. In keeping with their stature, the awards were pint-size Oscars.

GALLERY: Mickey Rooney’s life in pictures

Mickey Rooney in a film still for Not to be Trusted (REX FEATURES)

Diminutive but pugnacious, Rooney managed to look like an adolescent until well into maturity. He was still playing Andy Hardy, the chirpy judge’s son which was his most famous role, until the late Forties, when he was nearly 30.

Like many young players renowned in their teens, however, Rooney found difficulty in landing suitable adult roles. He continued to work and was prolific into, and beyond, his seventies – at the age of 90 he filmed a cameo for The Muppets (2011). But the parts were seldom challenging and many of his films barely received a cinema release even in America.

He became better known for his private life than for his work. A prodigious earner at the peak of his popularity, he amassed some $12 million but kept none of it. Most of it went in back taxes and to pay alimony to his many wives (he had eight, of whom the first, Ava Gardner, was the best known). By 1962, he was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Ava Gardner and Mickey Rooney after their marriage in 1942 (REX FEATURES)

Drink was also a problem, but one to which the solution appeared in remarkable circumstances. As he recounted it, he was dining in a Los Angeles restaurant when up stepped a heavenly messenger with bright golden hair. “God loves you,” the angel said. From that moment Mickey Rooney was a born-again Christian and mended his ways. None of his fellow diners saw the angel.

Mickey Rooney’s real name was Joe Yule Jr. He was born in Brooklyn on September 23 1920, the son of vaudeville performers Joe Yule and Nell Carter, who divorced when he was seven. He joined the act almost from the cradle and, at the age of only 15 months, appeared on stage as a midget, dressed in a tuxedo and sporting a huge rubber cigar. At six, he was a movie actor, making his screen debut (again as a midget) in Not to Be Trusted (1926).

His real screen career began when his mother saw an advertisement placed by the cartoonist Fontaine Fox, who was looking for a child to impersonate his comic strip character Mickey McGuire. Fox took a shine to the boy and he got the job, appearing in some 80 episodes between 1926 and 1932, when the series was wound up. In fact, he was so closely identified with the part that his mother wanted him to adopt the name Mickey McGuire professionally. Fox refused so he became Mickey Rooney instead.

In his early years Rooney worked for a number of studios and was eventually placed under contract by MGM because David O Selznick thought he would be ideal to play Clark Gable as a boy in the film Manhattan Melodrama (1934). MGM guaranteed him 40 weeks’ work a year but reserved the right to loan him out to other studios.

One such arrangement, with Warner Bros, resulted in the best performance of Rooney’s career, as the mischievous Puck in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Barely 15 at the time, he was perfect casting — impish and with a gurgling laugh that might be construed as innocent or knowing; it was hard to tell.

At MGM, his career took off in 1937 when he first played Andy Hardy, son of Lionel Barrymore’s Judge Hardy in A Family Affair. Planned only as a programme filler, based on a minor Broadway play, it became an unexpected hit and exhibitors begged MGM for a sequel. In the end, the series ran to 15 episodes over the next 10 years, with one ill-judged afterthought in 1958, Andy Hardy Comes Home. Lewis Stone replaced Barrymore as the judge after the first film.

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in Strike up the Band (REX FEATURES)

Rooney appeared in much else besides, often opposite the equally youthful Judy Garland. In such films as Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937); Babes in Arms (1939); Strike Up the Band (1940); Babes on Broadway (1942); and several of the Andy Hardy series, they became the most popular team in movies. He also played a juvenile delinquent opposite Spencer Tracy’s priest in Boys’ Town (1938), and its 1941 sequel Men of Boys’ Town and took the title role in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939).

The success of these films and especially of the Andy Hardy pictures was good for Rooney’s image but bad for his ego. Increasingly bumptious and swollen-headed, he was the only actor on record to have come to blows with MGM’s feared studio boss Louis B Mayer. Rooney wanted the rights to do the Andy Hardy series on radio as well and lost his temper when Mayer said no. Rooney got a hike in salary out of the fracas, but Andy Hardy was never broadcast.

During the war, Rooney served in the Jeep Theatre, entertaining more than two millin troops, but was unable to recover his popularity in peacetime. Summer Holiday (1948), a musical version of Ah Wilderness!, proved a dismal failure, while nobody had anything good to say of Words and Music (also 1948), in which he played lyricist Lorenz Hart to Tom Drake’s Richard Rodgers. What attracted particular criticism was that the script ignored Hart’s homosexuality, portraying him as a red-blooded American male.

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms (REX FEATURES)

Rooney’s subsequent film career was mostly a catalogue of further disappointments. Especially regrettable was his bucktoothed Japanese photographer in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and his contribution to Stanley Kramer’s leaden comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Against these and many equally as bad, can be set only occasional high points, such as Baby Face Nelson (1957), in which he was cast against type as a Tommy gun-wielding gangster; Pulp (1972), again as a gangster, this time inviting Michael Caine to write his memoirs, and The Black Stallion (1979), for which he received an Academy Award nomination (but did not win) in his supporting role as a horse trainer.

In 1983 he was presented with a second Oscar honouring his lifetime’s work. By the end of his career he had appeared in several hundred films.

He enjoyed a big stage hit in 1979 with a nostalgic tribute to vaudeville called Sugar Babies opposite the dancer Ann Miller. It ran for five years on and off Broadway but failed to translate successfully to London.

In 2003 Rooney and his eighth wife Jan Chamberlin began an association with Rainbow Puppet Productions, providing voices for some of the company’s films. Four years later, in 2007, Rooney made a debut in British pantomime as Baron Hardup in Cinderella at the Sunderland Empire, a role he reprised in the subsequent two years at Bristol and Milton Keynes.

In 2011, as well as his role in The Muppets, he appeared in an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, recalling how his dead father had appeared to him one night at a low point in his career telling him not to give up.

Rooney published two volumes of autobiography, of which the second, Life Is Too Short (1992), was conspicuously ungallant about such former movie queens as Norma Shearer and Betty Grable.

Mickey Rooney married, first, Ava Gardner; secondly Betty Jane Rase; thirdly Martha Vickers; fourthly Elaine Mahnken (all the marriages were dissolved). He married, fifthly, Barbara Thomason (who was shot dead by her lover in what may have been a double suicide pact); sixthly Margie Lang; seventhly Carolyn Hockett (both dissolved); and eighthly Jan Chamberlin, who survives him. He had seven children.

Mickey Rooney, born September 23 1920, died April 6 2014

Guardian:

y Devlin/PA

The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, gave an odd speech at the Conservative conference at the weekend (Report, 7 April). We were told that Britain is a Christian nation, which is true, and “militant atheists” should all “get over it”. Yet he failed to understand what it is that secularists are actually campaigning for. We don’t mind that most people are Christian. We definitely don’t mind Christianity being a part of public discourse. What we object to is Christianity, as a majority opinion, being imposed on everyone else. We believe that everyone should be on a level playing field, regardless of their beliefs, and that the state shouldn’t favour one particular religion.

On the specific example he cites, prayer in council meetings, he completely misses the point. The problem is that it shouldn’t be part of the formal meeting. People have a right to pray wherever and whenever they like, but they don’t have a right to force it on to other people or force it onto the official minutes. If, for example, the majority of people became atheists, we would still have no right to begin any council meeting with an ode to Richard Dawkins.
Christopher Curtis
Milton Keynes

• Giles Fraser (Comment, 7 April) rightly takes Eric Pickles to task for crass Christian flag-waving at the Conservative conference, but then refers to “a handful of middle-class atheists who think that reading half a chapter of The Selfish Gene at university has turned them into zeitgeist-surfing cultural radicals”. Most of the many atheists I know have considered their position very deeply, and have read widely in forming their view. Not all people who call themselves Christian have thought as conscientiously about the belief they hold.
Paul Surman
Oxford

•  If this is a Christian country (which I would like to think it is), why does the current government seem so much to enjoy humiliating the poor, the sick and the unemployed, and driving them into destitution; a very unchristian course of action. No, Eric Pickles, it is not a Christian country.
David Santamaria
Bushey, Hertfordshire

Thank goodness for the perceptively eloquent Ian Jack alerting us to the virtual extinction of our once broad industrial base (Britain’s manufacturing workforce may soon be gone. Will no one act? 5 April). The biggest cause of this is the increasingly open borders which have decimated our domestic manufacturing. In response, the “globalisation is unstoppable” brigade can only babble about “rebalancing” and indulge in delusional ravings about the “march of the makers” pluckily triumphing in export markets. Let’s get real here: this hasn’t, isn’t and can’t happen. The only way to rediversify UK manufacturing is to protect it with a “site-here-to-sell-here” approach. At this point the unimaginative will splutter: “But we are part of a single market of open borders?”

Haven’t they noticed that the socially and politically corrosive free movement of people is being rejected by the majority of Europeans? The result is increasing talk of stopping it by renegotiating the EU treaty. To be logically consistent, we also need to introduce a continent-wide reduction in the flow of money and goods as well. The young struggling to get on the housing ladder are waking up to the disastrous effect of the uncontrolled influx of foreign capital purchasing an estimated 85% of prime London property.

Yet it appears that only the extreme right is willing to make the case that globalisation has to be halted by taking back control of national borders. As a result, the right is expected to romp home in next month’s Euro elections. Isn’t it time that Europe’s left, greens and small-c conservatives, all desirous of sustainable and democratically controlled local economies, united to consider working towards a co-operative grouping of nation states that can at last legislate for a more protected, secure and hopeful future for their citizens.
Colin Hines
Author, Progressive Protectionism

• I was pleased to read UK unemployment was around 1% in the 1950s (What does ‘full employment’ actually mean?, G2, 2 April). But I doubt Beveridge defined it as 3%, when he wanted more jobs than workers because lack of work was more distressing for a worker than lack of an employee was for a business.

And not everyone who wants a job can get one under Nairu [the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment]. Its pool of people who must live on benefits frightens those in employment enough to curb their pay. Full employment cannot be sustained if businessmen raise prices and depress wages to optimise their company’s profits.
George CA Talbot
Watford, Hertfordshire

• You praise a company that replaced 4,000 workers with 100 and achieved great productivity success (Hints from an old textile town on how to solve Britain’s ‘productivity puzzle’, 1 April). Another word for this is efficiency. But will you next claim the resultant unemployment is the fault of lazy, shiftless benefits cheats? It’s time for all of us to rethink what we mean by productivity and efficiency and take a hard, cold look at who gains from their pursuit. I suggest that inefficiency is more democratic and better for the society as a whole. If it takes more people to produce something, there will be less profit for the wealthy and more work for everyone.
Proctor Taylor
Rushlake Green, East Sussex

I was sad to see Sam Wollaston (TV review, 4 April) considers that “good entertaining television” justifies the showing of yet another programme that reinforces the false view that all our jobless teenagers are workshy, ill-mannered and undeserving, but asserts that “recent arrivals from Eastern Europe are nice and hardworking”. All the teenagers I know fit into the category nice and hardworking, jobless or not. Sam should get out more.
Margaret Hermon
Clitheroe, Lancashire

• The death of an outstanding politician, committed to social welfare, human rights and personal responsibility, should have made the front of every national newspaper. By displacing Margo MacDonald‘s passing to page 12 in favour of Sir Bruce’s “provisional retirement” (Didn’t he do well? Brucie bows out, 5 April), was the Guardian making a bigger political point?
Dr Phil Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker
Fife

• It was interesting to read that millionaire wind farm owner Juliet Davenport considers Cornish villagers battered by her company’s PR machine to be “a privileged vocal minority”(Report, 5 April ).
Stuart Mealing
Holsworthy, Devon

• “We want to deliver the wind that’s been built already,” says a government source (Tories plan 2020 ban on onshore windfarms, 5 April). Let’s hope it doesn’t get lost in the post now that the Royal Mail has been privatised.
Peter Bendall
Cambridge

• Your reporter (Dorries goes on Mersey mission as a novelist, 5 April) writes of the “much maligned” saga genre. Maligned by who, I wonder? Guardian journos? Or the thousands of people who enjoy reading them? (And, yes, I am a saga writer).
Annie Murray
Purley on Thames, Berkshire

• This endless cataloguing of town names (Letters, 7 April) in the attempt to raise a laugh has become rather Dull (Perthshire, twinned with Boring, Oregon) and should end forthwith.
Margaret Squires
St Andrews

Congratulations to Sir Richard Thompson, President of the Royal College of Physicians, on his frank diagnosis of the NHS and for telling it as it is (Report, 5 April). His description of overworked clinicians “running around like scalded cats” vividly sums up the sense of pressure doctors are facing in the NHS. And he rightly highlights the fact that the NHS is under-doctored, under-nursed, under-bedded and under-funded.

Like physicians, psychiatrists are under pressure to deliver quality care with a minimum of resources. They witness the distress of patients and carers who are sent long distances to receive care because they are unable to access local services. Children as young as 12 are being left on adult psychiatric wards – which is completely unacceptable. And the decline in old age psychiatry as a result of “ageless services” means older people with mental health issues are not receiving the specialist care they need.

The real risk in all this is finance becoming a bigger driver than care and compassion, which brings us back to what none of us want – a recurrence of what happened at Mid Staffordshire.
Professor Sue Bailey
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Independent:

It is time that the issue of MPs’ expenses was resolved. The current situation brings the whole House of Commons into disrepute.

A constituency, probably in outer London, should be selected and a commission established to determine a reasonable level of expenses for the work of the MP of that constituency. A figure should be determined for each other constituency using the first as a baseline. MPs would receive the amount determined for their constituency with no deductions or additions for any reason. The savings in administration would be substantial.

Constituents would decide, ultimately via the ballot box, whether they were receiving value for money. As long as an MP provided a service that satisfied their constituents then how the money was spent would be irrelevant. They could employ anyone, member of their family or not. Erroneous claims could not happen, because there would be no claims.

Phil Smith, Maidenhead, Berkshire

There is a lot of coverage about an individual politician’s expenses. This suits a lot of people who believe politicians are generally corrupt, and distracts attention from our political system itself. People want to scapegoat individuals and focus on personalities. However, our whole political system needs substantial reform.

Our electoral system distorts the outcome of a vote; there is no recall of MPs; we don’t elect our House of Lords and they are unaccountable; we don’t elect our head of state; little has changed since universal suffrage in 1928, and just having the vote isn’t enough. They had the vote in the Soviet Union. Above all, we only have a meaningful vote for our legislature every five years.

Martin Peters, Taunton, Somerset

Andrew Mitchell was jettisoned by the Prime Minister and forced to resign as Chief Whip for allegedly calling a jobsworth policeman at the gates to Downing Street a pleb – an allegation Mr Mitchell has consistently denied. Yet Maria Miller retains Mr Cameron’s “warm support” despite a serious finding of non-cooperation with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the perfunctory apology that she gave to the House of Commons on 3 April. And this is to leave aside the fact that Mrs Miller was required to repay £5,800 admittedly over-claimed by her in respect of mortgage interest on her London home.

Once again the Prime Minister’s judgment is called into question.

David Lamming, Boxford, Suffolk

It is my experience that anyone caught fiddling their state benefits is not only made to repay their ill-gotten gains in full but can be lumbered with a substantial fine to boot.

Mrs Miller, on the other hand, is asked (asked, mind you) to repay £45,000 of our money, only to have it later reduced to a paltry £5,800. But never mind, she has Mr Cameron’s full support, which speaks volumes about his judgement and the character of this government.

David Hooley, Newmarket, Suffolk

You are right to call for an end to MPs policing colleagues’ expenses (editorial, 7 April). But MPs’ expenses are only the latest example of self-regulation failing. Is there any sector where self-regulation is actually effective?

Dr Alex May, Manchester

Visitor let down by British police

I recently graduated from the University of London, and travelled from Hong Kong to attend the ceremony. I was an LLB student, paying more than £20,000 into the UK economy for my course. Happily, they taught me much about the law.  Unfortunately, my visit to London taught me some unwelcome lessons about the English justice system.

I was celebrating my success with a small group of overseas friends in a smart restaurant in Bayswater when my handbag was surreptitiously stolen by two nearby diners. The culprits left behind a mobile phone and there was CCTV operating.

If this had happened in Hong Kong, a posse of policemen would have taken action within minutes of my reporting a crime, in an effort to apprehend the culprit, either on the premises or in the vicinity. But this is London.

In response to my 999 call, I was told that there was no death or injury, so no policemen would be sent. I was shocked to be told that the nearby police stations had all closed for the day, so I would have to make my way to West End Central station to make a report. After a long wait in line, I made my report to one of only two officers on duty there.

They gamely attempted to show interest, but were clearly overworked and dispirited. When I requested a printout of my report for insurance and passport purposes, I was informed that all I could have was a crime reference number.

Some days later, I received an email from the case management unit, claiming they were investigating but effectively closing the case. Without a trace of irony, the email incorporated a mission statement from the Metropolitan Police Service: “Total Policing is the Met’s commitment to be on the streets and in your communities to catch offenders, prevent crime and support victims.”

We have learned that an abiding strength of Hong Kong society is our rule of law, perhaps the greatest legacy bestowed by Great Britain. But now I fear that the rule of law will quickly evaporate if the enforcement agency is abolished.

Becky Kwan, Kowloon, Hong Kong

The revelation by the Metropoliitan Police Federation that there is a “climate of fear” within the Met will come as no surprise to rank-and-file officers.

There has always been a culture of bullying and manipulation of crime figures within the police service. This has been exacerbated in the Met since 2011 and is now endemic. Grillings reminiscent of The Wire and sackings of borough commanders by senior Scotland Yard officers have become common knowledge throughout the force and this target culture works its way down the ranks.

Chris Hobbs, London W7

English tradition of multiculturalism

I was surprised by Edward Thomas’s reminiscences of monocultural Cockney Hackney in the 1950s (letter, 4 April). When I arrived at university in London at that time, one of my first excitements was meeting the very clever, articulate Jewish students from Hackney Grammar School, alma mater of Harold Pinter among others.

A few years later I lived and taught in Hackney and “monocultural” is the last adjective I should have used. Many of my pupils had East European or German surnames, their parents and grandparents having fled Nazi Germany or the earlier generation of Russo-Polish pogroms. My neighbours were Hasidic Jews from Czechoslovakia who spoke Yiddish at home.

I don’t suppose the residents of Hackney “asked for diversity” but they had welcomed the immigrants with generosity and in return got bread and bagels from Grodzinskis even on Christmas Day and wonderful smoked salmon and pickled herrings in the market.

I like to think of this multiculturalism as a part of the “English way of life” recalled by your correspondent.

Jenny Bryer, Birmingham

BBC guidelines on climate science

I disagree with the view that the BBC needs clearer editorial guidelines on the reporting of climate change (“The BBC must not confuse climate change with politics”, editorial, 2 April). The BBC already has editorial guidelines, which are approved by the BBC Trust, alongside a robust complaints process which ensures that concerns about content are dealt with without fear or favour.

In our 2011 impartiality review of the BBC’s coverage of science, the Trust directed the BBC to ensure that equal weight should not be given to well established fact as opposed to personal opinion on this topic. We note that the BBC has said that it seeks to avoid this happening.

Alison Hastings, BBC Trustee, London W1

Cross-channel smog goes both ways

In reports about the pollution cloud which affected parts of the UK last week, and to which continental Europe contributed, why was it never mentioned that, since the prevailing wind here is from the west, usually the reverse happens?

The Low Countries and northern France have no choice but to suffer, sometimes for weeks on end, pollution exported from Britain. I am myself from Lille, in northern France.

Paul Watremez, Bournemouth

Addicted to e-cigarettes?

Does Janet Street-Porter (5 April) have any evidence that e-cigarettes are causing addiction? I understood that such research as is available suggested that, overwhelmingly, they were being used by smokers trying to give up. If so, her remedies would be wholly counterproductive.

Michael Dempsey, London E1

Times:

Sir, The Prime Minister’s wish to retain Maria Miller in his Cabinet and “move on” (Apr 7) demonstrates arrogance and how out of touch he is with the world beyond Westminster. Instead of trying to defend the indefensible he should concentrate on working with Unionists in energising the lacklustre No campaign in the Scotland referendum because unless this referendum is made a political imperative the breakup of the UK and consequential decline in our global standing are at hand.

Professor Cedric D. Bell

Liphook, Hants

Sir, As an expat Scot, living in England, I share your readers’ abhorrence of Miller’s expense claims, of her cronies in Parliament overruling the independent watchdog’s findings and the Prime Minister seeing nothing wrong in it.

I also share the frustration at the lack of a credible alternatives to the three main parties which are alike in their greed and disdain for voters. I am worried about the impact this will have on the Scottish referendum in September. People resident in Scotland do have an alternative (I purposely do not use the word credible) and can show their opprobrium of MPs in Westminster by voting Yes to independence.

I believe that Cameron has just handed a trump card to the SNP.

Bob Raeburn

Froggatt, Derbyshire

Sir, You report that the chairman of the Conservative Party has suggested that it is time to draw a line under the matter of Maria Miller’s expense claims. No, it is time for Maria Miller to go, and if Grant Shapps cannot see that then he too should go. We cannot afford to have people who behave in this dishonest way involved in our Government.

Professor Colin Davidson,

Ardfern, Argyll

Sir, May I ask how many of your readers would be able to claim reimbursement for their parents’ accommodation?

The scrutiny arrangements for MPs’ expenses seem to me badly flawed if MPs can simply ignore the findings at will, and have the Prime Minister endorse their behaviour.

Of course, to retain Ms Miller in charge of arrangements for policing the press does show that Mr Cameron still has a sense of humour.

John Harris

Winchester

Sir, You say (leader, Apr 5) that the Maria Miller saga is not over yet because despite the recent reforms of the allowances system, it is not close to working well.

The Maria Miller saga could not have happened under the new system because we have banned MPs from claiming for mortgage interest payments. The idea of the taxpayer supporting an MP in building a property portfolio was one of the practices from the past most strongly objected to.

You suggest giving MPs a sum of money with no receipts or questions, and so no transparency, as a way of avoiding future scandals.

I would argue that such a solution based on removing transparency doesn’t remove the likelihood of a future scandal, rather it guarantees one.

The reformed system has stopped the egregious practices of the past and saved the taxpayer a huge sum of money — £35m and counting.

The 80 per cent fall in claims at Employment Tribunals masks a vast human tragedy. It is time for a thorough review

Sir, I support Caspar Glyn QC’s call (letter Apr 3) on the Government to urgently review the effect of the introduction of fees for Employment Tribunal claims, which are now down to just a fifth of previous levels.

Employment Tribunals were a practical and cost-effective means of redress for workers denied basic employment rights such as the right to wages due, the minimum wage, minimum holiday and the right not to be dismissed or ill-treated arbitrarily or for discriminatory reasons.

Those most in need of employment protection are often the lowest paid. It is always hard for such workers to get justice, especially in non-unionised workplaces. Now it is even harder for the low paid to bring claims to enforce the law. Within this 4/5 drop in claims there will be a huge number of meritorious claims. Even if the claimant can raise the fee, small claims will not justify that cost given the risk that it will not be recovered.

When pressed on this at a recent Westminster Forum, Jenny Willott, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, did not rule out a review of Employment Tribunal fees but gave no indication of when or how this would take place. If the Government’s stated support for working people is to have any credibility this barrier to justice in the workplace must be removed.

Joy Drummond

Employment Partner

Simpson Millar LLP

London EC1

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities clarifies its relationship with the Mayor of Rome

Sir, The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) has not agreed to fund the restoration of neglected Roman monuments, contrary to your report (Apr 2).

Last year we celebrated 80 years of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Italy. As part of that an archeology exhibition was held in Rome, and last month the Mayor Rome visited Riyadh at the invitation of the Governor of Riyadh.

SCTA was set up in 2001 with responsibility for the preservation and exploration of the archeology and history of Saudi Arabia — Islamic, pre-Islamic and ancient. It is not within its mandate to fund restoration work in other countries.

Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz

Students from private schools are not all ill-mannered – though perhaps behaviour is influenced by geography

Sir, Here in Dulwich, south of the river, we have three independent schools, and my children attend or attended one of them. When meeting their friends, fellow pupils and friends’ siblings and, of course, parents, I have found them to be invariably well mannered, well spoken and well behaved. There are two state schools and, by and large, their pupils, with some exceptions, are also similarly disposed. Perhaps it is the North London air that caused the issues for Mr Steven (letter, Apr 5)?

Neil Jones

London SE24

By what strange accounting is it more cost-effective to throw away perfectly usable, as-new disabled equipment?

Sir, Last week I tried to arrange for some disabled equipment to be collected, ranging from sticks to wheeled walking frames and chairs, all in perfect order and some entirely unused. I was told that the NHS no longer collected such items because they bought them for “buttons”, and cost analysis had shown that it was uneconomic to collect, clean and reallocate them, and I should just take them to the tip. I protested at the waste and was told that at the tip the items would be collected and sent to the third world. Not quite so terrible then. However, at the tip, I was told that no such system was in place, and the whole lot was tossed into skips.

What accounting system could possibly justify such a shocking waste of resources?

Lesley Byers

Bournemouth, Dorset

Telegraph:

SIR – My favourite country pub, The Cock Inn, in Ide Hill, Kent, has a sign outside: “Warm beer, rude staff, grumpy regulars, PROPER PUB.”

I agree with the last statement, but what makes a “proper pub”?

Gordon Hughes
Beckenham, Kent

SIR – The Clegg-Farage debates have proved useful in persuading the vast majority of voters that the sensible strategy is not to follow Nick Clegg’s subordination of British interests to the undemocratic European Union, nor support Nigel Farage in his unsubstantiated view that it is impossible to reform the European vision to everyone’s satisfaction.

Most people would like to stay in the EU providing substantial reform is achieved. The problem with voting Ukip in a general election is that it is unlikely to return one Ukip MP but very likely to attract enough votes to damage severely the prospects of a Conservative majority.

There is growing evidence that David Cameron can achieve significant support from other European leaders in his determination to improve the relationship and return certain powers to the British Parliament that it should never have lost. Only by voting Conservative can we be certain that he will have the opportunity to carry out those negotiations and then be able to present the results to the British electorate in a referendum. If he succeeds, then we will vote Yes. If he fails, we will vote No. The British public will make the decision, but not if Ed Miliband is prime minister.

John Sharp
Great Glen, Leicestershire

Telephone gatekeeper

SIR – Like James Shone, we enjoyed our BT blocking telephone until my husband was in hospital and we found that he could not ring me as the telephone would not accept the withheld number.

We have solved this with a little machine called trueCall. It allows you to register all family and friends on it, and they automatically get through. Anyone else has to say their name, and we press 1 to accept the call or 3 not to. This works perfectly and our evenings are now peaceful.

Helen Penney
Longborough, Gloucestershire

Unimaginable

SIR – I have a friend with no television and no computer. Will he have to pay for a television licence? He is being hounded by the licensing authorities already – they don’t believe that anyone could live without a television. The only fair way to pay is by subscription.

Joan Freeland
Colyton, Devon

The right receptacle

SIR – Prudence Seddon asks what to use now that toothbrush handles have become so bulbous that they no longer fit into the receptacles designed for them. The best toothbrush holder I have had (and still have now, after 30 years) is a stone, James Keiller, Dundee marmalade jar. It is timeless, spacious and easily cleanable.

Sarah E Critchard
Stamford, Lincolnshire

SIR – My electric toothbrush will only stand up on the slight slope on the side of the basin when I display more patience than I can normally summon up in the morning. It’s very annoying. Industrial designers really should take note.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

SIR – I suggest putting fresh flowers in the toothbrush holder and toothbrushes in a small vase.

Alan S Skyrme
Mexico City

Afghan Vietnam

SIR – The admirable Christina Schmid calls Afghanistan “our Vietnam”. In many ways she is right.

Like the Americans, we went in to prevent the expansion of an aggressive totalitarian foe. Like them, we found ourselves fighting an enemy that did not abide by the rules of war, and which hid within the local population. Like them, we found ourselves fighting on behalf of an often ungrateful and corrupt local elite. Like them, we paid a price every time we hurt the innocent, while our opponents killed and intimidated their own people as a matter of policy.

History has unmasked communism for the inhumane evil it is; it will do the same for fundamentalist Islam. Vietnam and Afghanistan were both just causes.

We differ from the American experience in one regard: it has not taken the British people decades to re-learn how to respect their fighting men and women, and their sacrifice, even if they disagree with the politicians who sent our Forces to fight.

I hope that our “Vietnam” experience does not make us forget that we were fighting for a good cause, or make us unprepared or unwilling to do it again.

Victor Launert
Matlock, Derbyshire

‘Dillan and Cathleen’

SIR – Last week, while discussing this year’s centenary of the birth of the writer Laurie Lee with his widow, Kathy, in the Woolpack Inn, Slad, conversation turned to that other poet, Dylan Thomas, and his wife Caitlin.

Kathy and Laurie knew them very well as “Dillan and Cathleen”, and had many interesting drinks with them at the Chelsea Arts Club, the Man in the Moon, the World’s End and other places. Mrs Lee maintains this tradition with a small glass of beer with a tiny bit of gin in the top.

Chas Wright
Uley, Gloucestershire

SIR – In Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters, Paul Ferris, the volume’s editor, writes “Caitlin – the first syllable is Cat, not Kate”, and Thomas refers to “Darling Caitlin my dear dear Cat” in one letter from 1943.

Dinah Parry
West Hill, Devon

Enjoying life

SIR – Only in Great Britain could the suggestion that we enjoy our food be met with hostility.

Eddie Lewisohn
London N6

Learning through play is best for young children

SIR – The organisers and signatories to the letter headlined “Gradgrind for tiny tots” have abused their academic positions by inventing a position attributed to Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, and attacking this without waiting to read what he said.

The video posted on your website, and any fair reading of the report itself, show that Sir Michael is advocating precisely the combination of learning and social skills that characterise the best nursery practice. The website of one of the signatories, Victoria Sadler, rated outstanding by Ofsted, is an excellent example of such practice, and Ofsted’s concern is that work of this quality is less often available in poor areas.

Deliberately constructing a view that is at variance with the truth – indeed constructing it before the truth could be known – is an exercise in media manipulation, not a contribution to debate.

I urge readers to read the report on the Ofsted website and judge it on its merits.

John Bald
Independent educational consultant
Linton, Cambridgeshire

SIR – It can take up to seven years for some children to develop the eye movements needed to support reading. Some evidence suggests that children forced into near-point activities too soon develop myopia to accommodate the visual stress.

Research carried out in schools has indicated that up to a third of children may not have all the physical skills in place to support academic learning at the time of school entry, and there is a correlation between immature physical skills and lower educational performance.

The early years are for developing the physical, language and social skills needed for life, not through formal instruction, but by exploration through play.

Sally Goddard Blythe
Director, The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology
Chester

SIR – If two-year olds from poor homes are to be put into nurseries, then mums or dads must be there too. How else can good parenting skills be learnt?

Susan Day
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

SIR – Air Commodore Michael Allisstone laments the lack of leadership exhibited by our political class.

Perhaps the example of the Armed Forces could solve the expensive accommodation problem for MPs who do not live a commutable distance from London. (I’m not including Basingstoke in that, by the way: it’s only 50 minutes plus a 10-minute stroll from Waterloo.)

Why don’t we have officers’ mess-style arrangements for MPs, where they can stay in London at short notice for a fair price?

It could be in a renovated military unit: secure, a short ride from Westminster, and funded by all the current second-home claimants. Any spare capacity could be taken up by parliamentary staff.

Harry Roberts
Crondall, Hampshire

SIR – Swedish MPs living more than 31 miles (50 km) from the centre of Stockholm are given a basic, 600 sq ft flat owned by the parliament, which is responsible for repairs and updates. Nearly all Swedish MPs live full-time in their constituencies, and treat the weekly journey to Stockholm as a commute.

James Vaux
Bembridge, Isle of Wight

SIR – Your front-page report on the Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s abuse of expenses and David Cameron’s support for her, demonstrates yet again politicians’ contempt for voters.

Is this really the same man who was “appalled” and “understood public anger” at the abuse of the parliamentary expenses system exposed by the Telegraph in 2009?

I am starting to wonder whether Mr Cameron really wants to win the next election, as he may find the electorate’s memory is better than his.

Angus McPherson
Findon, West Sussex

SIR – As an NHS worker, I am fully aware of how taxpayers’ contributions could be spent more judiciously than on Mrs Miller and her ilk. But this is about more than money.

MPs should lead by example. The ethos of personal gain and get-what-you-can permeates our society. Compensation culture (increasingly prevalent and costly to the NHS) and tax evasion are but two examples. Who can blame the residents of James Turner Street (featured on Benefits Street) for adopting such a policy?

We recently heard of the mutual respect between Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher: polar in their political views but both principled, committed and honest. If we are to restore public confidence in politics, we urgently need to bring back such a fundamental ideology.

Dr John Trounce
Hove, East Sussex

SIR – Now we know what David Cameron meant by: “We are all in this together.”

Peter Leatherbarrow
Wortwell, Norfolk

Irish Times:

Sir, – Frank McDonald’s article (Opinion & Analysis, April 4th) and your editorial of April 1st are welcome responses to the urgency of the latest report from the IPCC. But the fact remains that the issue of climate change has failed to engage public discourse in the way that it surely ought to have by now.

Arguably the factor that more than any other contributes to this failure is a general misunderstanding of how risk is assessed. For example, the persistent misuse of the term “sceptic” in this context only serves to obscure the reality of the risk inherent in climate change.

Two components come into play with risk assessment: a) the probability of an event occurring and b) the consequences of such an event occurring. An event with a 98 per cent chance of occurring but with minimal consequences would not generally warrant much in the way of preventive measures being adopted. On the other hand a potentially catastrophic outcome with a 2 per cent probability of realisation would warrant more diligent attention. To be clear, risk assessment cannot predict the future: what it does well is identify and model probable outcomes, derived from currently identified trends.

The overwhelming, peer-reviewed, scientific consensus about climate change is a) that it is happening and its temperature-raising component is currently largely driven by human activity and b) that left unchecked, the consequences of this will be catastrophic. “Overwhelming” here is conservatively estimated at 98 per cent on both counts – ie the aggregate level of risk is huge.

So-called sceptics are entitled to disagree with this consensus, but if they are to be true to the sceptical tradition they must surely acknowledge the reality of the identified risk. By flatly denying the validity of current models of future climate – saying, in effect, that the probability of catastrophic outcomes has a 0 per cent chance of occurring – without offering any credible alternative models of future climate, they are in denial and not in any way engaging with the evidence in a way that the term “sceptic” would imply.

A straw increasingly clutched at by denialists as weather events become more unpredictable – as current climate models predict they will – is to seize on cold weather events as evidence against climate change predictions. This would equate to attempting to construct tide tables based on a one-minute study of wave motion: another example of a complex, chaotic phenomenon masking a far simpler underlying trend.

Also the apparent pause in atmospheric heating observed in recent years as the oceans absorb for the time being unexpectedly high levels of energy – incidentally accompanied by growing acidification as more carbon dioxide is absorbed with devastating impacts on marine ecology – has “sceptics” champing at the bit to shout down the overwhelming scientific consensus of the urgent reality of human-driven (aka anthropogenic) climate change. In truth, the risk to the planet is both real and unaffordable, this being the only home we have.

PETER WALSH

Heathervue,

Greystones,

Co Wicklow

Sir, — I have recently immigrated to Ireland, in part to escape from Obamacare, the health system in the United States.

Now I see that Irish Ministers are proposing Universal Health Insurance (UHI) for Ireland. This suffers from the same deficiencies as Obamacare in the US. Indeed the two plans are identical in their core essentials, which require that everyone will be a private patient, everyone will be required to buy health insurance and the government will promise to subsidise insurance for the poor.

This is not the same as single-payer, universal health care. Like Obamacare, the UHI scheme is a gift to private, for-profit insurance companies, providing them with a captive market of customers who will pay to enrich those at the top. And those at the top of insurance companies are not even in the public sector; this is the private sector.

Both America’s Obamacare and Ireland’s proposed UHI are policies to enrich insurance CEOs, by herding the population like sheep into buying from the private sector even when they are unwilling to do so voluntarily. That is the opposite of freedom.

France, Germany and Canada are among the states which have shown that a single-payer model can be a viable solution. Ireland should consider that model, and Irish people should fight for it.

At the end of day, insurance from the private sector is a sociopathic business model, driven by the profit motive, and only two roads lead to increased profits: charge more, and pay out less. That is Ireland’s future if UHI goes ahead. I have seen this movie before, and I can already tell you that in the next act the system deteriorates.

To fight against this loss of freedom and choice, Irish people should fight for single-payer health care.  Yours, etc,

JOHN PATRICK KUSUMI ,

High Street ,

Tuam ,

Co Galway

Sir, – The primary failing of largely empty bus lanes at rush hour is that they force two lanes of cars into one lane where motorists intending to turn left further along must wait an unnecessarily long time to reach the filter, meanwhile clogging up the single lane now allowed to them. This is very evident on the Con Colbert Road on the approach to the junction leading to Conyngham Road and on Wolfe Tone Quay on the approach to the junction leading to Blackhall Place and on the Merrion Road approaching various left turns.

The arbitrary priority given to the – often absent – bus passengers is difficult to justify given that individual motorists going to and coming from work are contributing y more to the national economy through buying cars, paying exorbitant motor tax and insurance, regularly buying petrol or diesel, paying for NCTs and for a range of other motor-related repairs and parts, while bus passenger may contribute nothing toward road use.

With regard to the safety of pedal cyclists in Dublin, it is some years since I have seen any cyclist stop for a red light at any junction, while many of them refuse to sport lights or high visibility vests at night, even during the winter months.

If, as is argued, opening up bus lanes at rush hour is a folly, then let it be proved by a measured study. Yours, etc,

SHANE O’DOHERTY,

Hollybrook Road,

Sir, – The many GPs who have written in to the letters page (in response to Brian Devitt’s letter of April 2nd on their pay) are, to my mind, extremely coy about what they do actually earn. They tell us about their overheads and how hard they work, but that’s all. Why is their remuneration such a secret? Aren’t they virtually public sector workers in that a large proportion of their earnings comes from the public purse? I suggest that the GPs’ own representative organisation tell us straight out what is the average GP’s take home pay and we can judge the fairness or otherwise for ourselves? If it really is as bad as implied, they will earn the sympathy they deserve.

As it is, the rush of Leaving Cert students to enter medical degree courses, all of which are heavily subsidised by me, the taxpayer,would suggest that the returns must be worthwhile.

And could I just mention that everyone in business has to pay rent/mortgage, heat, lighting, general and water rates, staff costs etc, not just GPs? Yours, etc,

ELLEN MacCAFFERTY,

Lansdowne Crescent,

Ballsbridge,

Dublin 4

Sir, – With reference to your front-page article “ ‘Basics of language’ need more attention”, I would like, as a teacher of English over many years, to point out the following. The Junior and Leaving Cert exams, with their attendant pressures, influence teaching heavily, as we know. There has been no requirement in the English exams for students to show understanding of how language actually works and is put together through parsing and analysis. As a result, many students actively resist attempts by teachers of English to tackle sentence structure and word function, knowing these will never be an exam requirement. What understanding they have of the main parts of speech they gain through foreign language learning.

To give parsing and analysis exam status, even for a small percentage of marks, would encourage students to study the structure of language, and, one would hope, write it more correctly. In addition it would give teachers more support in teaching these skills. Yours, etc,

HILDA GERAGHTY,

Corbawn Lane,

Shankill,

Dublin 18

Sir, – I was surprised to see the photograph on your front page (April 5th) of the new Garda Reserve recruits holding aloft the Holy Bible. Is this really the image we wish to portray of the guardians of peace in this country? We are a multicultural society now and not a religious state. Our police force should be upholders of the law of the land and protectors of all members of society. This display is sending out the wrong message.

On the same subject, I am regularly puzzled by the presence of the Christian Bible on the tables at our polling stations during elections. Why not the Koran? The Old Testament? Any other document one can swear on if one is not affiliated to a religion? These trappings convey exclusion rather than inclusion and should no longer have a place in the secular functions of the State. Yours, etc,

HEATHER

ABRAHAMSON,

Roebuck Lawn,

Clonskeagh,

Sir, – I was under the impression that legislation introduced, wisely, by a previous government prevented the littering of our streets with posters tied to lampposts and other street furniture to a short period prior to an election.

It now appears that many candidates for the forthcoming local and European elections are getting around the prohibition by announcing “public meetings”. There is a proliferation of such posters appearing on street furniture over the last month throughout the Dublin area and possibly further afield. They all have one thing in common – the name of the person calling these meetings in large letters, generally with their party affiliation as well. The subject of the meeting is generally in much smaller lettering.

This is quite simply a way of getting names before the public. What are our local authorities doing about this? And will these “poster-pests” be prosecuted? Will the councils take down the posters or compel those breaking the law to do so? I will wait and see. I hope I won’t have to wait until after May 23rd.

ANTHONY KEANE,

Meadow Vale,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin

Sir, – Walking through our capital city today one becomes aware of what seems to me a great anomaly for a republic.

In a week when our President is in some ways closing a circle in our relationship with Britain with his State visit, Dublin’s streets are still teeming with signs of ascendancy and empire. On leaving Leinster House, for instance, a TD will walk down Molesworth Street, a thoroughfare that bears the name of Viscount Richard, whose allegiance was firmly to the kingdom of Great Britain.

Is Little Britain Street, in the north inner city, still a fitting title in a city that has been firmly Irish since 1922? Westmoreland Street? John Fane, once lord lieutenant, was a 10th Earl and a British Tory politician. Grafton, Henry Fitzroy, was the illegitimate son of Charles II and a deputy of William of Orange. His name, because of the street named after him, has lived on through centuries of Anglo-Irish turbulence.

Jervis, Marlborough and Leeson are others whose legacy is set in stone. Are these names essential to our identity, or is it time to take our streets back? Davitt, Stephens and Kickham Street might be more vital to a nation that, population-wise at least, has still not recovered fully from the Famine. Collins has an avenue, but surely he is more important to us than Westmoreland. And who better to kick Grafton into touch than Brian Boru? Yours, etc,

JODY MOYLAN,

The Paddocks,

Clontarf,

Sir, – Today’s (April 7th) tragedy on the Luas Red Line demonstrates the dangers inherent in having so many unguarded junctions on busy city streets between motor vehicles and the massive steel-wheeled trams.

I work in Smithfield, and my colleagues and I regularly witness collisions at the blind junction with Lincoln Lane, where motorists cannot see the tram until they are on top of it. Until the entire street layout can be reorganised and the Luas line properly bridged, there is one cost effective measure that could help to reduce the numbers of injuries and deaths suffered at these junctions.

As a motorist, I hate driving over ramps but I do recognise that they slow cars down, especially those with sharp brick edges. Such ramps should be laid on streets leading to Luas intersections as a matter of urgency. I would also recommend the installation of angled mirrors on the corners of buildings as a further protection for Luas and other drivers, as well as the pedestrians who of course are the most vulnerable of all. Finally, the Jervis intersection must be recognised as too busy with pedestrians and cars, and too narrow, to permit an unguarded crossing.

If retailers oppose the closing of this street to vehicles, they should be required to pay for a full-time crossing guard to police the junction. If these simple measures are not taken soon then more people will die. The authorities need to act now. Yours, etc,

ARTHUR DEENY,

Rock Road,

Sir, – I have been amused by the suggestion that the Government parties’ drop in support in the polls was because the electorate is disappointed with the management of the Department of Justice. Could it be that the electorate is weary of this tedious drama? What was said and when it was said is petty in comparison to real world concerns and given the choice of listening to nothing or hearing more about the gardaí, I’d choose silence. Perhaps if the Government could steer the media to topics we wanted to hear about they would fare better.

S LYDON,

Eagle Valley,

Wilton,

Cork

Sir, – With reference to Fintan O’Toole’s worry (“The Nazi past that causes a cultural problem”, April 5th) that the surreally overrated insights contained in Heidegger’s philosophical work “can’t be dumped”, let me reassure him: they can.

For Heidegger was not only a Nazi in his private views, he was also an inveterate purveyor of empty pretention in his intellectual life. In the opinion of many philosophers (and others), 21st century philosophy would be far better off if it abandoned the very worst of the anti-Enlightenment, nostalgicist pretension that hobbled the discipline during the 20th century, primarily due to the influence of Martin Heidegger. Yours, etc,

JAIME HYLAND,

Kuckhoffstraße,

Berlin

Sir, – I was an academic member of staff in Trinity College Dublin for 33 years before my retirement. The logo and name of the college is a very trivial issue and more substantial matters determine its international reputation.

In fact the argument as outlined in your columns is reminiscent of the debate over how many angels would fit on top of a pinhead.

Not only the logo, but other issues in the antiquated traditions of the college need to addressed. These include the giving of scholarships without a means test and the subsidy of a free meal each evening to fellows and scholars. Yours, etc,

PROF GREGORY J

ATKINS,

Shielbaggan,

New Ross,

Co Wexford

Sir, — Culturally, modern Ireland differs from England about as much as English-speaking Canada from the US: hardly at all. As past differences fade, nostalgic delusions to the contrary seem only to thrive. Yours, etc.

DENIS O’CONNOR,

Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario

Canada

Irish Independent:

We persist in shutting out the thought that current economic imperatives do not necessarily support social and political conditions conducive to human flourishing.

Also in this section

Let’s remember who of us went to Britain first

Garda cadetship vital

We must move from organ donor cards to a list

Our President’s intention of focusing our minds on the relationship between ethics and the economy could do much to confront the bewildering assumption that the current ordering of the creation and distribution of wealth is self-justifying and does not have to render an account of its workings and their consequences.

This assumption of moral neutrality has created a world where the distribution of wealth is justified only by the efficiency of the systems that create it.

Moral sensitivity does not sit easily with unfettered capitalism, it tends to subvert it. We have colluded in allowing economic activity to develop a life of its own, accountable only to itself.

The Celtic Tiger years in Ireland were an eloquent testament to the absurdity of this position.

The economic life of the country was colonised by dodgy builders and bankers.

The attempt to perpetrate the myth that the economy is the business of politics and therefore does not have to render an account to anybody is beginning to be seen for what it is – an earnest march to nowhere, where politics and big business feed on one another in the thoughtless exploitation of the country’s resources.

Mr Cowen declared, with plausible innocence, that he did not see the financial crash coming. Of course he didn’t, as he took the attitude we all took – we didn’t feel it was our job to look.

Besides, if we are experiencing the bounty of a broken gambling machine, we don’t seek to have it fixed.

We become convinced that the laws of economics are not man-made but part of the nature of the world. Our minds become atrophied and fail to notice the naked structural injustice at the heart of our way of life.

PHILIP O’NEILL, EDITH ROAD, OXFORD

 

THE IRISH UNIFORM

One of the multitude of failures, albeit peripheral, since the foundation of the State is the inability to show any form of national dress/ costume. The wearing of the kilt was tried, but failed.

Irish men, a notoriously disastrous species when it comes to sartorial matters, have not taken up the challenge, unless of course we count the baggy, grey tracksuit that Irish men between the ages of 11 and 55 cling to.

The female Irish dancing costume was the nearest we had till the emergence of rococo curls, spray tans and day-glo/hi-viz dresses.

But there is hope. In recent years, as Ireland has gone from being a country to an economy and our nationality a sellable brand, a national costume of sorts has emerged. It consists of a green rugby shirt, a leprechaun hat with ginger beard attached and a stick-on plastic arse bearing the motto ‘pog mo thoin’.

It started its popular rise during domestic national events but I’ve noticed it has now travelled to Irish events all over the globe, most particularly the St Patrick’s Day parades throughout the world.

Despite initial misgivings, I have to accept that it is now our national dress. I hope that our President dons a full leprechaun outfit during his jolly-up with the British oligarch Elizabeth.

PATRICK COONEY, BEAUMONT, DUBLIN 9

 

TIME FOR REFLECTION

As a student of Irish history, I believe that the visit of President Michael D Higgins will provide a great opportunity to reflect on our history, something that I believe we desperately need.

Napoleon Bonaparte said that “history is a lie agreed upon” and he could well have been describing the history of this country. For far too long now, the view of Ireland’s history has been dominated by the old, and false, mantra that it was 800 years of oppression by Britain. There are so many lies to this that it is hard to know where to start.

The original invaders who came to our shores were not “British”. Britain, as such, did not exist until 1707. Nor were they English-speaking or Protestant. They were French-speaking, Catholic Normans led by the Plantagenets, who were a French dynasty. These people’s primary concern was with maintaining their lands in France. Lands they were able to maintain due in no small part to their invasion and subjugation of England to provide them with valuable resources.

The atrocities committed during this subjugation are well known, particularly the infamous “Harrying of the North”, which devastated the north of England. Let us also remember the fact that the Normans were invited into Ireland by the King of Leinster and supported by local nobles and chiefs.

Next up, the foreign invasions of Ireland. For 700 years, England has been demonised and criticised for invading Ireland and damaging the country. But they were not the only ones to do so. The Scottish did it in the 1300s led by Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, to support the war for Scottish independence, not Irish freedom, and numerous atrocities were committed by the Scots. The French, Spanish and Germans followed in their footsteps. Yet we forget these countries’ transgressions against us and continue to solely blame Britain for all our ills.

If ever there was a time for reflection, it is now.

COLIN SMITH, CLARA, CO OFFALY

 

HOLDING HIS HEAD HIGH

This month marks the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the mass murder of as many as 800,000 ethnic Tutsis by the Hutu majority.

We should constantly remind the UN of its fecklessness in dealing with this preventable atrocity. The charismatic Canadian General Romeo Dallaire had been given the unenviable task of commanding the small UN peacekeeping force that had been in situ in Rwanda since 1993.

Early in 1994, he was aware of arms being massed by the Hutus and warned the UN that murder was being planned on a large scale. His warnings went unheeded. He was given 2,600 ill-equipped soldiers and provided with a UN mandate that did not grant authority to disarm the militias. He argued that if given 5,000 well-equipped soldiers and a mandate that would allow him direct intervention, he could prevent the tragedy that was about to unfold. This fell on deaf ears. When the killing started, he once again pleaded for more troops but instead the UN reduced his forces to a token level.

Against almost insurmountable odds, he managed to save tens of thousands of lives. In the aftermath of the Rwandan carnage, very few in western civilisation could hold their heads high but General Dallaire is one who certainly can.

JOHN BELLEW, PAUGHANSTOWN, DUNLEER, CO LOUTH

 

FEELING SHATTERED

I am shattered reading about Shatter, day in, day out, in your paper, and nothing really changes.

It really is time to move on.

BRIAN MCDEVITT, GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL

 

REMEMBERING ROONEY

The passing of Mickey Rooney brings to mind a quote (along the following lines) attributed to him on the subject of marriage. “If you must get married do so very early in the morning . . . that way, if it doesn’t work out, you may not have wasted a full day.”

TOM GILSENAN, BEAUMONT, D9

 

Write to Letters to the Editor, Irish Independent, 27/32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1, or e-mail them to independent.letters@independent.ie. Name and address must be supplied for verification. Lengthy contributions may be edited.

Irish Independent

Another hospital visit

April 7, 2014

7April2014 another hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: rhurbard farmer revolts Priceless

Mary back in hospital visit her play Scrabble she wins but I get closer to winning

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Alan Davie – obituary

Alan Davie was an artist who won the admiration of Rothko and Pollock, and later embraced ‘magic symbolism’

Alan Davie, Scottish artist

Alan Davie in his studio at his home near Hertford Photo: CAMERA PRESS/EAMONN MCCABE

6:39PM BST 06 Apr 2014

CommentsComment

Alan Davie , who has died aged 93, was arguably Scotland’s most respected painter of the post-war era, winning international acclaim from both critics and fellow artists, among them Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and David Hockney.

Davie was probably the first British painter to appreciate the significance of American Abstract Expressionism, having seen Pollock’s work in Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in Venice in 1948, an experience that inspired him to paint with more improvisation and on a much larger scale.

But Davie was soon to distance himself from the Abstract Expressionists and develop his own style: “We were just all saying the same thing, that art is spontaneous, so let’s just let the subconscious flow,” he later observed. “I thought if I want to make a big painting without thinking consciously about it, all I have to do is walk around the floor with liquid paint. But there was a problem. I realised that being that free was itself too restricting. You can make lovely messes — like Pollock. But the art’s not saying anything.”

By the early 1960s Davie was drawing increasingly on myth and “magic symbolism”, viewing himself less as an artist than as a medium, or shaman, borrowing signs and symbols from cultures as diverse as the Navajo Indians, the Caribbean islands, Aboriginal Australians, and the Ancient Egyptians, Celts and Picts. “Symbolism,” he once said, “is quite an apparent theme in a lot of my work. I use it to kind of suggest narratives that I have in my head.”

Alan Davie was born at Grangemouth, in the Forth Valley, on September 28 1920, the son of a schoolmaster and amateur artist who encouraged the boy to draw from childhood. Alan was also a talented pianist, and when he saw the jazzman Coleman Hawkins playing in an Edinburgh record shop he took up the saxophone.

From 1938 to 1940 he trained as a painter at Edinburgh College of Art, where his tutor condemned him as arrogant when, in his first life class, he painted the velvet backdrop behind the model yellow instead of its actual brown: “He wanted to boot me out of the college.”

Alan Davie’s ‘Entrance for a Red Temple No 1′, 1960 (TATE GALLERY)

Following wartime service with the Royal Artillery, Davie became a professional saxophonist with an Edinburgh-based swing band which also toured Europe. In addition he wrote poetry, made pots, designed textiles and worked as a jeweller .

In 1947 he married Janet (“Bili”) Gaul, an art student, and the couple travelled across Europe together, arriving in Venice in time for the 1948 Biennale, the first since the war. Davie later recalled: “There were huge exhibitions of Picasso and Paul Klee, and for the first time I saw the work of my American contemporaries – Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning. I started painting again, working on big rolls of paper on the floor in cheap hotel rooms.” Peggy Guggenheim was impressed by what she saw, bought two of his works, and recommended him to the leading London gallery Gimpel Fils.

For the first seven years Davie failed to sell a single painting at the gallery. In the early Fifties he was offered a job teaching jewellery design at the Central School of Art by its principal, William Johnstone, who recorded: “Alan and his wife were living on Poor Relief at William Oley’s artists’ settlement at the Abbey, New Barnet. Nowhere could Alan find work, and he had to walk all the way to Holborn to see me.”

But Davie was making a name for himself abroad, and in 1956 he paid his first visit to New York. This proved to be his making: encouraged by Rothko and Pollock, de Kooning and Franz Kline, in the same year he had his first New York exhibition; it was a sell-out, most of the paintings being bought by major institutions, MoMA among them.

Yet his memories of the visit were not entirely happy: “They were very enthusiastic about my work, which was very strange to me, having come from London where my work was considered rubbish by the critics at that time. Jackson Pollock was very excited about my work. He was a lovely guy, and we stayed the weekend at his house.

Alan Davie’s ‘Birth of Venus’, 1955 (TATE GALLERY)

“But we realised quite quickly he was virtually being killed by his art. He was feted as being the greatest artist alive and there was a lot of jealousy around. We went to several parties and it was pretty horrific. They knew that when he was drunk he would do crazy things, so they would all try to make him drunk to see what happened.” Pollock died in a car crash only few months after he and Davie met.

Davie returned to Britain to take up a fellowship at Leeds University , and an exhibition at the Wakefield Art Gallery transferred to the Whitechapel in London in 1958, launching him as a significant figure in the British avant-garde, a position he shared with William Gear, who was associated with the European COBRA group. David Hockney was among the many young British artists influenced by Davie, whose exotic cloaks and long beard made him something of a shamanic figure .

In the early Sixties, Davie bought a house near Land’s End bringing him into contact with the St Ives group of artists. Some of his paintings featured in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), one of the most successful films of the counterculture era; and in a 1967 monograph, Alan Bowness, future Director of the Tate, described Davie as being “among the major figures in the art of our times”.

Alan Davie with his poodle, Belinda

Davie was appointed CBE in 1972, but although he continued to paint and exhibit, his work — increasingly focused on the mystical and transcendental (he was a follower of Zen Buddhism) — enjoyed less public recognition; he became something of an outsider. There were, however, many retrospectives, including Barbican, New York and Ireland (1993); Chicago (1994); and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh in 2000. His works are held in public collections worldwide, among them the Tate Gallery, the Gulbenkian Foundation and MoMA in New York.

He was elected a Senior Royal Academician in 2012, and a major exhibition of his work opens on April 7 at Tate Britain.

A man of seemingly limitless energy, Davie was an enthusiastic glider pilot and had a passion for driving E-type Jaguars. From the mid-Fifties he and his wife (who died in 2007) lived near Hertford; in 1974 he bought a house on St Lucia in the Caribbean, where he took up underwater swimming and set up the Alan Davie Music Workshop — “There’s a connection,” he once said, “between jazz and what I do with a brush, in that it seems improvised and random.”

In old age, his views on the contemporary art world were trenchant: Damien Hirst was dismissed as “a brilliant businessman”, and Tracey Emin “isn’t an artist either”.

As for his own work, he observed: “I don’t practise painting or drawing as an art, in the sense of artifice, of making an imitation of something. It’s something I do from an inner compulsion, that has to come out.”

Alan Davie, born September 28 1920, died April 5 2014

Guardian:

We welcome the amendment being debated in the House of Lords on Monday that will provide guardians for trafficked children. These vulnerable children have already been subjected to the worst kinds of abuse imaginable, including forced labour, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Specialist independent guardians are an essential part of ensuring they receive the highest protection possible to prevent further abuse.

A report last year by the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society, commissioned by the Home Office, found that an inadequate level of protection for trafficked children was being offered by professionals and agencies who were meant to be supporting them. This cannot continue.

Without anyone to speak up for them and their best interests, these child victims are at great risk of going missing from care, and of further abuse and exploitation. These are children alone and scared in a foreign country where they often don’t speak the language and have no understanding of the processes and systems that they must go through. They urgently need a dedicated person who is legally responsible for supporting them in all aspects of their life.

A wide range of international and domestic bodies recommend the introduction of guardians, including the UN committee on the rights of the child and the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (Greta).
We commend Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Baroness Royall of Blaisdon for bringing forward this amendment and for raising this important issue on many previous occasions.

Members of the House of Lords have an opportunity to make a real difference to trafficked children. By supporting this amendment they will help to ensure guardians are provided to give trafficked children a voice in decisions made about them, help keep them safe and support them to recover from the trauma they have suffered.

Wayne Myslik Chief executive, Asylum Aid, Celia Clarke Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Puja Darbari UK director of strategy, Barnardos, Bridget Robb Chief executive, British Association of Social Workers, Nola Leach Chief executive, CARE, Paola Uccellari Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, Professor Carolyn Hamilton Director of International Programmes and Research, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, Andrew Radford Director, Coram Voice, Dr Helena Kaliniecka Service manager, Dost Centre for Young Refugees & Migrants, Bharti Patel Chief executive, ECPAT UK, Dr Edie Friedman Executive director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Baljeet Sandhu Director, Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit, Vaughan Jones Chief executive, Praxis Community Projects, Heather Knight UK co-ordinator, Stop the Traffik, Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society

What a shame that the plug was pulled on accreditation of the heterodox economics course organised by the Manchester University students (Editorial, 3 April). As you point out, insights and breakthroughs in the emergence of an economics fit for the 21st century are coming from many disciplines – anthropology, sociology, psychology, neuroscience, etc – but all too rarely from within economics faculties themselves.

Despite this most recent setback in Manchester, however, the citadels of economics orthodoxy have been breached and a wave of innovative new academic programmes is emerging. These include a postgraduate programme here at Schumacher College that would be recognised not just by the 18th and 19th century moral philosophers that you cite, but also by more recent thinkers following in the footsteps of Rachel Carson and Fritz Schumacher who recognise the economy as being embedded not just within social and political structures but, also and more broadly, within the web of life in which human society is but one thread.
Jonathan Dawson
Head of economics, Schumacher College

• Behind the shield of mathematical formalism, economics has given remarkably little attention to its hidden moral assumptions. Only very recently has the American Economic Association agreed to implement even a very modest ethical code for people submitting papers to its journals. Yet economists have more influence over people’s life chances than all other social scientists. Doctors and engineers have similar influence, and both professions devote attention to morals and ethics. Let us hope that the disruption you predict will lead economists to engage with the ethical duties appropriate for such a discipline.
Professor Robert H. Wade
London School of Economics

Surely the solution to the “Shmita” question (Loose canon, 5 April) would be to do it by rotation farm by farm. Thus the whole country would lie fallow once every seven years as per Biblical injunction; just not all at the same time.
Jeremy Muldowney
Heworth, York

• I am not a member of any political party, but I found the Ed Miliband picture and comment distasteful (Can you make this guy less weird?, G2, 3 April). More Daily Mail/playground bully than what I would expect from a paper I have been reading for over 55 years.
Ann Jones
Market Rasen, Lincolnshire

• Readers setting out to follow your correspondent’s advice (Letters, 4 April) may find that they go hungry both because Chipshop is in Devon, not Cornwall, and because its name has nothing to do with the humble spud, fried or otherwise. It is derived from the tokens with which miners of Devon Great Consols were paid. These could only be redeemed at the mine owner’s (chip) shop.
Angus Doulton
Bere Ferrers, Devon

• When the government eventually legislates that cigarettes should be sold in unbranded packets (Report, 4 April), can we hope that all their policies which have clearly been thrown together on the back of a fag packet will have the space to be better thought through?
Andrew Gosling
Colchester, Essex

• Actually, it was Liquid Paper that Bette Nesmith Graham invented (Letters, 5 April).
Henry Malt
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

It is time for MPs’ expenses to be totally overhauled (It would transform politics if MPs actually had to come from their constituencies, Deborah Orr, 5 April). I propose that expenses be tied to the constituency, travel and accommodation costs, and allocated according to the distance of the constituency from parliament, there would be an allowance for office space and staff, again linked to the constituency, as these costs differ around the country. MPs whose constituency is over, say, one and a half hour’s travel time (by public transport) would be allocated sufficient expenses to rent modest accommodation in London. If they choose to have somewhere more comfortable (with a duck house, etc), then that would be funded from their private resources, not the public purse.

Similarly, travel expenses would be second class, with an allowance for a fixed number of journeys to and from the constituency. Should they choose to have a chauffeur-driven limo, the extra cost of that is met from their own pocket; should they choose to travel less often than the allocation, they may pocket some expenses, but they may lose their seat next time round if the constituents feel underrepresented.

If an MP chooses to employ family members, rather than qualified administrators, it will be their business not ours. Once the allowances have been worked out for each constituency, they can be reviewed annually but the time spent doing this would be far less than the time currently spent checking every single item claimed for. Another advantage is that MPs will also be able to keep their spending habits private. Simple but fair.
Liz Taylor
Bristol

•  Deborah Orr and others have commented on possible solutions to our MPs’ regrettable tendency to overclaim expenses. My solution is simple. Every year every MP should be required to make information about the expenses they have claimed to their constituents. Then a public meeting should be called at which any constitution can ask their MP any question they wish regarding their expenses. Any MP who fails to comply without reasonable excuse, to be decided by their constituents, should be required to refund all expenses. Any MP who is found to have given false or misleading information, to be decided by a court of law, should be automatically recalled and a byelection held within three months.
Andrew Tampion
Hinckley, Leicestershire

• How can Iain Duncan Smith justify the bedroom tax where the poor are forced, through lack of appropriate housing, to live in a house with bedrooms they do not need, when government ministers are allowed to use taxpayers’ money to buy houses in the capital which also have an excess of bedrooms they have no need for? The difference here is that the poor do not have a choice and cannot afford to buy a house, whereas the MPs can sell the house bought with the aid of the taxpayer and pocket all the profits accrued.

How simple it is for MPs to get richer in this way, and still be so arrogant when dealing with the needy. It is time they were forced to hand back any profit made to the taxpayer when their second homes in London are sold.
Donald Swarbrick
Patna, Ayrshire

• Actually, Maria Miller saved a lot more than half an hour a day by living in Wimbledon rather than Basingstoke. It’s only 16 minutes from London Waterloo on South West Trains, not the 45 minutes Ms Orr suggests, so that’s a time saving of about an hour and a half a day.
Martin Platt
London

•  Sorry to disagree but I think that Maria Miller is an ideal secretary representing the culture of those who think of themselves as our leaders – the culture of greed, arrogance and complete indifference towards us plebeians (Letters, 5 April).
Stephen Davies
Sandbach, Cheshire

•  Centuries ago all flour had, by law, to be bought from the local mill. It was measured out using a standard container. If the person dispensing the flour held their thumb inside the container, this displaced a small amount which would eventually add up to an unearned profit. The extra portion was known as “the miller’s thumb”.
Roy Harrison
Bristol

Independent:

Your editorial (4 April) on house building is welcome, but I think there is a core problem which is tragic and insoluble. Any party which succeeded in getting enough new housing built, in the right places, to dent prices would be committing political suicide.

Those who vote already own houses and would not take kindly to negative equity. Buy-to-let owners, looking for capital gains, would not like lower prices either.

There are those desperate for lower house prices. But they more often than not do not vote. The moment they become home owners and voters, they too will want house prices propped up.

Britain will never enjoy good-quality housing, affordable by nearly everyone.

Trevor Pateman, Brighton

I agree that “Britain’s building rate is pathetic”, but not that “a solution seems very far off”. Your leader and the speeches of the politicians omit the word “productivity”.

Office blocks use components made off-site on an industrial scale, assembled by crane. Houses are still being constructed brick-upon-brick, using methods unchanged from Roman times. These methods are very labour-intensive, and labour is costly. They are also very slow.

“Prefab” was a derogatory word after the Second World War, but variety can be introduced by using different colours and materials. Town houses using these methods in the early 1960s were built by Wates in Dulwich and Span in Blackheath, south London, usually grouped around a cul-de-sac where children could play.

Someone, such as the Prince of Wales, should offer a prize for the design of a good house, affordable and a pleasure to look at.

William Robert Haines, Shrewsbury

Your suggestion that more homes should be built may seem the obvious answer to the current shortage.

However we need to consider that Britain is a small island which can’t keep expanding to suit demand. There comes a time when we have to say no to more development of green spaces, no to more airports and infrastructure.

The problem is the population. It needs to be limited so that everyone can enjoy living here.

Martyn Pattie, Ongar, Essex

Your leading article of 4 April gives welcome emphasis to the gap between housing supply and demand.

Could someone in the construction industry please give an explanation of why this gap exists when we have capacity to build, healthy customer demand, ample unemployed people, low inflation and a government desperate to get the economy moving. What is the missing piece in the jigsaw? I would love to know.

Oh, and by the way, we are about to demolish four tower blocks in Glasgow which could accommodate four thousand people.

Rodney Freeman, Harkstead,  Suffolk

Why degrees don’t impress employers

In her letter of 2 April, Dr Maria Gee, senior lecturer in accounting at the University of Winchester, berates employers for only employing Russell Group graduates or those with 300+ Ucas points. As a retired lecturer in accounting, I can explain why this is the case.

The reality is that no more than 25 per cent of the population has academic ability, so with more than 40 per cent of the population going to university it should be obvious that many should not be there. What they should be doing is taking advantage of the many talents they have which are just as good as being able to cope with academic theory.

Now universities are under pressure to publish research and award good grades, and the only way they can do this is to dumb everything down. The result is that, outside top universities, a 2:1 degree is a worthless piece of paper. The real problem is that the difference between a top 2:1 (69 per cent but not rounded up to a first) and the bottom 2:1 (59 per cent rounded up) is vast. One student is intelligent, hard-working and highly employable, while the other has probably not learnt how to get out if bed in the morning. Yet they both have the same piece of paper

When universities go back to setting proper standards, then employers will again believe their degrees.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Leveson charter for a free press

The events in Croydon described by Andy McSmith (“Long arm of the law leaves another journalist hacked off”, 2 April) have nothing to do with Hacked Off, Leveson or the Royal Charter.

In fact the Leveson/Charter system will increase the freedom of journalists to do their job. It reduces the scope for political meddling in self-regulation and frees the press from the “chilling” effect of bullying litigation by the wealthy. The only freedom it seeks to curb is the freedom of papers to mistreat the public without being accountable for it.

Sadly, the big newspaper companies are still  resisting this.

Brian Cathcart, Director, Hacked Off, London SW1

It is obvious that the Maria Miller furore is being stoked by the print media because she is involved in implementing Leveson. It is a blatant attempt by them to sabotage the process. Most worrying is that politicians know this but are still so intimidated by the press that they dare not say so.

Keith Brawn, Portchester, Hampshire

Israel’s right to east Jerusalem

Gordon Broadbent asks (letter, 1 April) why we are applying sanctions against Russia over Crimea but not against Israel for annexing East Jerusalem. The answer is simple: Jerusalem did not previously belong to any sovereign state.

Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish state of Judea for over 1,000 years until conquered by the Romans, who spitefully renamed their new colony Palestine. It stayed a colony under all successive conquerors until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The San Remo Conference of 1920 resolved to give the whole of Palestine back to the Jews and this was ratified by the League of Nations two years later. Britain was awarded the mandate over Palestine, specifically charged to make it into a Jewish homeland with close settlement.

Instead, Britain sheared off 83 per cent of the territory to create the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, and did everything possible to retain control of the remainder. When, in 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the remainder of Palestine, with Jerusalem “internationalised”, the Jews reluctantly accepted the small consolation of less than 10 per cent of the original Palestine, but the Arabs rejected the plan and five Arab states waged war on the one-day-old Jewish state. Transjordan illegally seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, throwing out thousands of Jews who had lived there for generations. For the next 19 years, Jordan did not even allow Jews to visit their Holy Sites in Jerusalem  and Hebron.

In annexing East Jerusalem from a regime that had no legal claim over it, Israel was simply regaining its historic rights, in accordance with the League of Nations resolutions. Incidentally, many Arabs who live in East Jerusalem are very happy to be part of a democratic country with full civil rights, rather than being subjected to the tyranny and cronyism of surrounding Middle Eastern countries, or their own Fatah or Hamas.

Alan Halibard, Bet Shemesh, Israel

Gladys, a big name in Bolivia

Linda Grant (“Ask Horace, Cecil, Gertrude or Gladys if there is such a thing as a timeless name”, 5 April) might be reassured to know that linda is in constant use in Latin American Spanish and Portuguese as an adjective agreeing with a feminine noun meaning  “pleasant”, “lovely”.

She would also be interested to know that Gladys is a popular name in Bolivia. There is even a restaurant called Tía Gladys (Aunty Gladys) in one of the main thoroughfares of La Paz.

I would also like to remind Ms Grant that Prince Harry is officially Prince Henry of Wales, but it was announced soon after he was born that he would be known as  Prince Harry.

Rosemary Morlin, Oxford

The name Gertrude “effectively extinct”? (Report, 4 April) Not in this household. Number three dog is called Gertie, or by her full name of Gertrude when she has hidden my shoes again.

Jan Cook, South Nutfield, Surrey

Eat up your nice spinach curry

I was very disappointed in Rosie Millard’s column (2 April), in which she supports all the prejudices encouraged by the food companies to sell junk food to our children. In particular, her jibe about spinach curry was out of place. A curry of chick-peas and spinach (chana saag) is very tasty, readily available in most Indian restaurants and one of my favourites – and I’m anything but vegetarian. There is a recipe that adds tomatoes and that’s three of your daily portions of vegetables, or you could try aloo saag (spinach and potatoes).

John Day, Lyon

Times:

“If Scots vote for independence, it is unthinkable that any Scottish MP should be allowed to vote in the Westminster Parliament”

Sir, You are right (leader, Apr 3) to reject the argument that Scotland should be disenfranchised from the 2015 general election in the event of a vote for independence this year.

However, there is the question of how the subsequent negotiations are dealt with in the UK parliament running up to Mr Salmond’s target date for independence of March 2016 (chosen for his convenience to fit in with the Scottish parliament elections in May 2016).

March 2016 is unrealistic: between this September and then there is a UK general election in May 2015 and it is unlikely that meaningful negotiations can begin until the new government is in power.

Thereafter, negotiations will be complex. The legislation will be necessary at Westminster, which may well be controversial in both Houses, and in the Scottish Parliament. There will also be negotiations with the EU and other international bodies. All this cannot be achieved in an orderly fashion between May 2015 and March 2016.

Surely the sensible answer is to accept that the whole process will take much longer and that Scottish independence day, when Scottish MPs leave Westminster, will coincide with a general election in the rest of the UK. Or an even better answer would be for Scotland to vote No in September.

Peter Mackay

Kincraig by Kingussie, Highland

Sir, For some years English voters have seen Scottish MPs voting at Westminster on issues of purely English interest, while Scotland has its own parliament in which only Scottish MPs may vote. This undemocratic situation was tolerated because English voters believed that Scots favoured the Union with England — a union which has given the Scots such a disproportionate grip on the political, commercial, financial and cultural life of Britain. If Scots vote for independence before the next general election, it is unthinkable that any Scottish MP should be allowed (even in the interregnum) to vote in the Westminster Parliament.

Stephen Porter

London NW6

Sir, With due respect to Alex Massie (Thunderer, Apr 4), there is no reason why the English should try to persuade the Scots to remain in the Union. The onus is on Scotland, which asked for the referendum.

David Harris

London SW13

Sir, You say that “Scottish voters will choose whether they wish to remain part of the UK”. The truth is that voters, irrespective of nationality, ancestry or birth, who reside in Scotland will be casting ballots, whereas Scots who reside in the rest of the UK are denied any say whatsoever. The SNP has long claimed that sovereignty in Scotland lies with the people of Scotland, but the de facto truth is that this plebiscite will be decided only by people in Scotland.

David McKirdy

Mansfield Woodhouse, Notts

Sir, John Stevenson cannot seriously propose denying the voters of Scotland participation in their sovereign parliament in 2015, even if they are going to have a new sovereign parliament of their own in 2016. And as a fellow Scot he should know that patronising advice from south of the border is never welcome and is invariably counter productive.

Mike Gibbons

Cartmel, Cumbria

The unrestricted spread of pornography online is harmful to both young and old. ISPs must act to prevent further damage

Sir, We are all under 30 and we share a deep concern about our generation’s consumption of pornography. There is an online epidemic of hardcore pornography, and even children are largely unprotected from it.

Research and our experience show that pornography is taking a real toll on the mental, emotional and physical health of many of our peers and poses a serious challenge to public health in the UK.

It is very far from the harmless, victimless activity portrayed by the powerful industry. It is warping young people’s views of sex and body image and impeding the formation of healthy relationships.

We urge the government to ensure the main internet service providers (ISPs) complete the introduction of network-level filtering by the end of this year and encourage all remaining ISPs to do the same. If self-regulation does not work, the government must introduce legislation; it must make effective age verification a priority; it should highlight the harmful and potentially addictive nature of pornography; and it should help parents with internet filters and talking to their children about the dangers of online porn.

Jonny Adams; Bethany Becconsall; Kate Massey-Chase; Sarah Percival; Aston Stockdale; Maktuno Suit

The Right Honourable Kim Howells, a former Foreign Minister, responds to Matthew Parris’s accusations levelled at Blair’s government

Sir, I didn’t move in the lofty circles that allowed Matthew Parris access to Tony Blair’s innermost visions of his own destiny (“Afghanistan was a crime. Here are the guilty”, Apr 5). I was but a humble Foreign Minister when British forces were moved from Mazar-i-Sharif in north Afghanistan to Helmand in the south. Matthew is right, though, to question the role of big shots in determining that crucial shift. I remember the horror and irritation on the faces of senior FCO Afghan Desk officials filing into my office when they learnt that, without consulting them, I’d given Defence Secretary John Reid a list of questions that I believed needed answering before our troops marched south.

I’d just returned from Helmand where I’d met some brave US soldiers who, with a small number of recently arrived British forces were (literally) holding the fort at Lashkar Gah. They told me that they were never sure, when out on patrol, who was shooting at them. Bring a good fitter with you, they warned, you don’t want to be trapped out there in the dark. We sent plenty of good fitters but, from the beginning, they and their comrades were forced to fight in Helmand in a campaign that had been planned on the basis of inadequate intelligence-gathering, absurdly optimistic military assumptions and political decisions taken on the advice of generals and career diplomats who were certainly fighting a war, but not necessarily the one we thought we were fighting.

Rt Hon Kim Howells

Pontypridd

The present market forces and tax regime will cause many to be excluded from the housing market for their whole lifetime

Sir, Your reports on surging house prices and Conservative demands for tax breaks (Apr 4) crystallise a worry that is increasingly at the heart of many ageing households.

If house prices continue to rise, and the surge in housebuilding seems unlikely to slow or reverse matters, the present market forces and tax regime will concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands as many become excluded from the housing market, forcing more and more into rented accommodation for their lifetime. Where possible, good taxation should be a tolerable incentive for work and investment. Reducing the ability of generations to pass on wealth as housing or business investment is probably one of the biggest disincentives any government can lay on its citizens.

John Garstang

Rampton, Cambridge

“While approximately 7 per cent of primary legislation is enacted in Brussels, the total that comes directly on to the UK statute book is 70 per cent”

Sir, The selective use of statistics in the Clegg-Farage debate did nothing to advance the case for the UK’s continued EU membership. While

approximately 7 per cent of primary legislation is enacted in Brussels, the total that comes directly on to the UK statute book, often by qualified majority, is 70 per cent. What also demeaned the debate was the Deputy Prime Minister’s support for a referendum in the event of further significant transfers of power from Britain to the EU. This would, of course, be unlikely to happen, since any changes could be incorporated in the existing Lisbon Treaty, without the need for a referendum.

John Barker

Prestbury, Cheshire

Les hommes et les femmes de Royal Tunbridge Wells take a more continental approach to culture than their commoner neighbours

Sir, More than 50 years ago, the cinema in Tunbridge Wells advertised the Jacques Tati film Mon Oncle. The following week, the film moved to Tonbridge, where it was advertised as My Uncle. Voilà la différence.

George Welham

Wadhurst, E Sussex

Telegraph:

SIR – I read Sir Roger Bannister’s article on his epic race with great interest as it brought back memories for me. In May 1954 I was a young engineering assistant with the City of Oxford.

On the morning following the race, my colleague and I were summoned to the office of the City Engineer. There he instructed us to leave whatever we were doing, to draw a surveyor’s measuring chain from the store, check its accuracy and then proceed to the Iffley Road running ground. Our task was to measure the track’s inside lane, six inches in from the edge, to check that Sir Roger had run one mile, no more and no less.

I have often wondered what would have happened had we reported it to be a yard short, or whether we would have had the courage to have reported it thus.

Fortunately we were able to confirm the track’s accuracy and report to the City Engineer that Sir Roger had indeed run 1,760 yards in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.

John Barrell
Andover, Hampshire

SIR – Fining Network Rail £70 million seems an odd way for a government to improve the punctuality of the country’s rail network.

Perhaps finding it extra money to cope with increased passenger numbers would have been a better solution. Another alternative might to renationalise of the whole network. Then the Government would only be able to blame itself.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

SIR – Your leading article indicates that Network Rail is looking for more money for its future plans.

Based on my observation of Network Rail’s work on our local railway, I suggest that close scrutiny of its project management should be undertaken first. I have seen contractors sitting in vans at all times of day, reading papers or fast asleep, while expensively hired equipment lies idle. No private organisation could afford such a poor use of resources.

Ken Himsworth
Saxilby, Lincolnshire

Killing, not helping

SIR – Regarding Lord Falconer’s Bill on assisted dying, Richard Mountford insists that a change in the law is necessary because “assisted dying already takes place” although “the legal system is (rightly) reluctant to prosecute those who help a terminally ill loved one who wishes to end their own life”.

Mr Mountford does not reveal how he knows this, since “people do it secretly”, but even if he is correct, how does he know that such deaths are voluntary? And even if they are, why insist that the answer is killing rather than helping?

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

Leaving the EU

SIR – Far from being the only means of leaving the EU, the use of Article 50 would scupper our chances of doing so since we would still be in it, but subject to (supposed) renegotiation. This would allow David Cameron to bamboozle the public for years with fake hopes of a new deal.

The only way out is for Britain to break the relevant treaties and leave. This act would explode the fallacy at the heart of the europhiles’ position, that our departure would leave the EU unchanged. In fact, our leaving would trigger the EU’s collapse.

Neither France nor Germany has the nerve to call an end to the farce but both would be secretly delighted if we took on the job. It is time to show yet again that when Europe needs saving there is only one nation it can look to.

John Sheridan Smith
Southampton

SIR – With regard to Janet Daley’s article on the European Union, public opinion is like the water in a boiler, with the various political parties acting as escape valves to prevent a dangerous build-up of pressure.

The way some europhiles would have it, all of the valves would be permanently shut, all the main parties being unfailingly pro-EU, no matter how high the pressure goes.

The appearance of Ukip might be considered an attempt to bleed off some of the pressure through a new valve. Those who dislike Nigel Farage and Ukip should consider whether the Front National, or Golden Dawn, are more to their taste.

Peter Davey
Bournemouth, Dorset

Competitive power

SIR – The Government still insists that we have a competitive electricity market and yet wind farms were paid a record £8.7 million last month not to generate. The total figure last year for not generating was £32 million which of course, we customers have to bear.

Compare the situation before privatisation. The Central Electricity Generating Board would have just instructed a plant not to run, without making any payments. Lower-cost generation was given priority so power stations competed to get their operating cost down.

John Spiller
Long Ashton, Somerset

Pots and kettles

SIR – John Avlon should not fetishise liberal capitalist democracy. All too often, Western democracies have resorted to rendition, torture, cyber-warfare, assassination, terrorism and war.

They keep the strangest company, from the kleptocratic Saudi regime, which is playing the destructive sectarian card against “apostate” Shi’ites, to Egypt’s military regime, which is issuing death sentences en masse. We’ve got to start practising what we preach. Then we can criticise Vladimir Putin.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Summer Time blues

SIR – British Summer Time was introduced during the First World War to save energy. But this is a fallacy because any energy saved in the light evening will be used in the dark morning.

Any mother can tell you how difficult it is to get a baby to sleep in broad daylight and how impossible it is to get an adolescent up in the dark.

Now we learn (report, March 30) that it also causes a spike in heart attacks. How many more examples of BST’s insidious nature are needed before we return to having GMT all year round?

Frankie Blend
Mere, Wiltshire

Planning inspectors’ subjective decisions

SIR – Monty Taylor appears happy that unelected civil servants – the planning departments of local councils and the Planning Inspectorate – have power to overrule the decisions of local planning committees, when the latter represent the local population likely to be affected by a development.

My understanding is that it is also in the power of the planners to overturn the planning committee’s decisions on points of planning law. This system seems highly undemocratic.

The autocratic power of the planners was brought home to me recently. My planning application received strong support from local residents, local parish council and borough councillors. But the planners did not like our house design. Why should the subjective opinions of planners regarding the aesthetics of a design be given so much more weight than those of local residents, especially when planning departments have pushed through some of the ugliest developments ever built in the past 100 years?

Peter Rusby
Stockbridge, Hampshire

Legal investigation

SIR – Having seen that there is now a call for the rail regulator to be investigated along with the energy regulator, I am wondering whether the outrageous idea that Islamic law should be adopted in this country, shouldn’t result in an investigation being made into the Law Society.

Peter Smith
Middleton, Suffolk

The Scottish play

SIR – Am I the only person other than the “mystery minister” to have listened to the afternoon play on Radio 4 recently which dramatised the meeting between David Cameron and Alex Salmond after a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum?

They eventually agreed that the Scots could keep the pound in return for the UK keeping the Faslane naval base. Will fiction become fact?

Pamela Gibson
Seaford, East Sussex

Call me a nuisance

SIR – I read that the Government intends to implement a Nuisance Calls Action Plan in order to tackle nuisance calls. So many people will ring up the Nuisance Calls Action Plan Centre to complain about nuisance calls that before long they will be the ones getting fined for wasting valuable government time.

Ivor Morgan
Lincoln

SIR – Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, contends that “The rich West is ruining our planet” (Opinion, March 30).

I suppose the elimination of smallpox, the virtual elimination of polio, the discovery of penicillin, day-patient cataract surgery, mobile phone and web technology which brings instant communication to millions in the developing world (bypassing inefficient infrastructure), and farming techniques which feed billions more than Thomas Malthus envisaged, are all examples of how the rich West is heaping misery upon the poor.

Dr Williams should have a little more faith in human ingenuity.

Steve Willis
Olney, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I was glad to read Dr Williams’s warnings about our responsibility for climate change in your headline last week.

Climate change has an overwhelming scientific consensus behind it, and will threaten the most impoverished citizens of our world in particular in the next century.

Unfortunately, it is still largely business of usual with regard to fossil fuel emissions. Action is drastically and urgently needed.

Graeme Elder
London SW19

SIR – Whose lifestyle does Dr Rowan Williams blame for the climate change that melted the ice from the last Ice Age?

Elizabeth Simpson
Fordington, Dorset

SIR – Water vapour is a greenhouse gas. It drives the natural cycle of evaporation from the oceans and precipitation on land that is essential to our primary food sources. No one should be surprised that an increase in surface temperature will result in greater evaporation, higher volumes of water vapour in the atmosphere and thereby more precipitation and flooding.

Climate change will happen from a variety of natural causes. We should focus our efforts on coping with the consequences rather than futile attempts to stave off the inevitable.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

SIR – In writing about the devastating consequences of climate change, Rowan Williams is taking up the scriptural warning that failing to adhere to God’s commandments results in Judgment. The increase in greed, selfishness, debauchery, moral laxity and idol worship has been fuelled by permissive legislation. The Church has largely fallen in step and revised its teaching to become politically correct.

Yes, the burning of fossil fuels may contribute to the global warming crisis, but is it not possible that it is but a symptom of a deeper malady?

John Capel
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – We know that mathematical analysis of unstable processes has no predictive value, and it is folly to base political decisions on computer models valid only for a few days. Keeping the lights on is a first priority, and closing coal and gas power stations is reckless.

If 0.045 per cent of CO2 in the atmosphere is critical, and 0.035 per cent is not, then this will be easily solved by engines running on hydrogen rather than petrol. To do this over two to three decades is manageable, leading to the “hydrogen economy” which could solve energy problems for all time. Let’s get started.

John Evans
Cambridge

SIR – Any report that requires more than 2,000 pages to make its case, deals with matters that are beyond its brief and recommends that substantially more jobs for academics are required is not worth the paper it is written on.

Rather than joining the cacophony of debate on climate change, Dr Williams would do better to focus his efforts and preachings on the solution to many of the world’s problems, including man-made climate change, if it is indeed man-made: slowing the rate of population growth.

James Mattinson
Pathhead, Midlothian

Irish Times:

Sir, – In response to Frank McDonald’s call (Opinion & Analysis, April 4th) may I make the following suggestions, directed at the probem of how to reduce our greenhouse gas production to a level consistent with globally stabilising it.

First, identify the sources of methane and carbon dioxide production in agriculture and research how to reduce them. I suspect these may be artificial fertiliser production, animal feed mix composition, and fossil fuel use in product production and transport, especially bulky intermediate products. This suggests a need to revive mixed farming, with livestock of all kinds, tillage of food and fodder crops, and horticulture, in a large-scale managed system, owned co-operatively. Also to recycle all urban biomass waste back to the soil as fertiliser.

Second, on’t drive to work; live near workplace and all basic retail services. This implies a serious look at urban planning and public transport policies: a city should be seen as an interconnected mesh of local townships. It also implies amending taxation policy: car tax should be totally based on fuel and insurance on mileage; car design should be supportive of long life with occasional use. Note that with current internet technology, a network of rural towns could be equivalent to a city, and probably less energy-intensive.

Third, to facilitate residential mobility the rental market needs to be developed and seen as normal. Current finance policy dealing with the mortgage problem needs to encourage the bank to accept ownership of the house by the bank as cancelling the mortgage, with option to stay on as a tenant, or relocate, without negative equity burden. In this context if would be better if banking were a State-owned public service and owning a managed rental and maintenance service with local government participation.

Fourth, we need to address the problem of how to stabilise the human population on our finite planet, so far a taboo topic it seems. Perhaps via some sort of opt-in licensed skilled professional motherhood, with well-managed large families, with many childless aunts and uncles? All possible alternatives to wars and starvation need to be considered.

I look forward to some of these options emerging as topics for socioeconomic and political analysis in the media and in government. No doubt many others will emerge. Yours, etc,

DR ROY H W JOHNSTON,

Techne Associates,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Frank McDonald’s excellent article reflecting on the findings of the latest IPCC report on climate change raises the issue of how to increase food production to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. The idea of matching the demand by increasing beef and dairy output is alarming, given the proven contribution that livestock makes to carbon emissions.

As a non-vegetarian who enjoys eating meat in moderation, I do not necessarily advocate a meatless diet but I am very aware of the consequences, both health and environmental, of our addiction to animal protein. With so much focus at present on obesity and unhealthy eating, perhaps we should look at increasing awareness also of the environmental consequences of our food choices.

It takes about 10kg of feed to produce 1kg of beef and the resultant carbon emissions are the equivalent of driving a family car 170km. This kind of awareness might make people rethink a meat-every-day diet and introduce a greater proportion of non-meat and -dairy dishes into their menu planning. The rise of obesity and heart disease in countries such as Japan, which hitherto has had a low meat and almost zero dairy intake but is now adopting a more westernised diet, also highlights the wisdom of revising our eating habits. Yours, etc,

SALLY SWEENEY,

Carrigavantry,

Co Waterford

Sir, – Shane O’Doherty (Letters, April 4th) asks “would it be possible to measure the impact of suspending scarcely used bus lanes for a few months and allowing rush hour traffic the full road space to flow more quickly“? This is a misunderstanding of the purpose of bus lanes and the workings of traffic flow.

Traffic jams are all ultimately caused by conflicts in traffic flows – for instance, at junctions and roundabouts (and occasionally by accidents along roads). Tailbacks are caused by a traffic conflict ahead, and a lack of capacity at the point of conflict. The purpose of bus lanes is to change the priority of vehicles in reaching the points of conflict – giving a peak bus with 80 passengers priority over a car with an average of perhaps two occupants.

Suspending the operation of bus lanes would do nothing to improve overall traffic flows, as these are governed by the flows across and around junctions and roundabouts. The justification for the provision of bus lanes is that it minimises the average journey time for road users as a whole. Yours, etc,

TIM WILSON,

Watson Park,

Killiney,

Co Dublin

Sir, – I have to point out the folly of Shane O’Doherty’s suggestion (Letters, April 4th ) that bus lanes be opened up to cars at rush hour. The choke points on Dublin’s traffic system are not on the “empty” lengths of bus lane but at the many junctions on its radial routes and the bridges across the rivers and canals, where there is often no bus lane.

All Mr O’Doherty’s suggestion would do is move the queue nearer the junction – it would in no way hasten deliveries, workers or shoppers through the junction. However, it would have a devastating effect on the service speed of bus journeys and the safety of pedal cycle journeys and send many of those users to their own cars, which would in turn further congest the choke points and in the process delay Mr O’Doherty and everyone else even more. Based on Dublin City Council’s annual cordon counts, we must note that cars are 80 per cent of the traffic but carry less than 40 per cent of the passengers. However, I will commend the car for one thing: it is the most efficient system in the world for moving empty seats, as cars are typically 75 per cent empty. Yours, etc,

COLM MOORE,

Kenilworth Square,

Dublin 6

Sir, — George Orwell, in “Politics and the English Language”, identifies “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness” as three elements of insincere political language.

This rich tradition lives on in labels such as “family values”. Just as forbidding people full closure of unsalvageable relationships in the form of divorce cannot credibly be aligned with “family values”, neither is it very pro-life to uphold restrictive abortion laws which, according to the World Health Organisation, have no effect on abortion rates but do increase maternal mortality rates.

Fact is another much-abused word. Mr Stack speaks of “the simple fact that up to half of the State’s voters are being ignored”. Does he honestly believe that up to half of Ireland would oppose divorce in 2014? Furthermore, the most recent poll in this paper (June 12th, 2013) showed overwhelming support for less restrictive abortion laws.

If “family values voters” wish to see their views validated, they will need to abandon the mainstream media: the consensus Mr Stack identifies therein merely reflects a consensus in the population at large. Yours, etc,

WILSON JOYCE,

Main Street,

Chapelizod,

Dublin 20

Sir, – Jim Stack is of course perfectly entitled to express his views and his belief that they are underrepresented in the media and political life. What is objectionable is the hijacking of the term “family values” for a brand of social conservatism, ie anti-marriage equality, anti-divorce and anti-choice.

Are these views “pro-family“? I would suggest in the case of a loving gay couple or even a heterosexual couple wishing to remarry; or the case of a growing family that has to deal with the terrible dilemma of whether or not to carry a foetus with “a condition not compatible with life” to term, government enforcement of such “family values” would be most definitely “anti-family”. Yours, etc,

NEIL BARRETT ,

Shelford,

Cambridge,

United Kingdom

Sir, – Brian Devitt (Letters, April 2nd) suggests that the average GP earns €250,000 per annum. This is not true. I do not know whether it is the average GMS payment to doctors or not but it is certainly not earnings, which can be defined as wages or profit. Mr Devitt confuses turnover with earnings. A doctor’s expenses include basic costs like rent/mortgage of premises, heat, lighting, general and water rates, insurance – of personnel and premises, computer systems, medical indemnity, as well as the employment of receptionist(s) and nurse(s). The heaviest expenses, particularly for those in single-handed practices, are locum ones.

Every day I go to work I take the complaints and cares of others on my shoulders. I carry oxygen and a defibrillator, morphine and adrenalin. I am prepared to deal with minor headaches and major brain tumours, to try to differentiate between indigestion and heart attacks, to listen to hypochondriacs and the terminally ill, to vaccinate babies and suture lacerations. I drive alone to strange houses in the dark and try to help people in distress. My default setting is being at the service of the public 24/7/365 .

I would like to know exactly how much Mr Devitt thinks I should earn for this work, and these working conditions. Yours, etc,

DR VALERIE COLLINS,

Market Street,

Killorglin,

Sir, – I respectfully disagree with the recent correspondence criticising that traditional bastion of the male wardrobe, the suit. So many of these critics have closed their minds to the garment’s possibilities and have, very probably, never experienced the joy of a handmade suit created just for them.

Unlike both Harry McGee (Fashion, April 2nd) and John Thompson (Letters, April 3rd) I love to wear a well-cut suit and have done so for many years. Indeed, if I may say so, MrMcGee looked far more commanding a presence in the Canali suit he was being persuaded to buy in Brown Thomas than in his uninspiring, if practical, comfortwear.

And surely if one must commute by bicycle (a commendable, even brave, decision!) isn’t it normal practice to travel in one’s cycling gear and change into the suit when one reaches one’s workplace? I have managed for years to travel in complete comfort on public transport and to arrive at work with the degree of sartorial elegance I desire.

A bespoke, hand-tailored suit is something to appreciate and can be described as the creation of a skilled craftsman. Nor need a suit be a symbol of “dull uniformity” as Mr Thompson asserts. Indeed it is a garment which boasts a vast array of possibilities, both in terms of style, material, shade and weight. Materials range from the heavier, such as flannel or serge for the cooler Irish climate, to more breathable varieties such as a cool, lightweight wool or light gabardine which, unlike the linen look Mr McGee complains of, won’t crumple so much.

Pinstripes, rope stripes, subtle plaids and houndstooth make for interesting patterns and a gentleman need not limit himself to the boring palette of navy, dark grey and black. What of light grey in spring or summer or the vast varieties of which blue offers in addition to simple navy? Shades of brown, olive, and tan were also once popular choices, though not so much in recent years, yet these too would be less formal and provide variety and contrast.

Finally, I note that the “suit” which so many Irish men have, inexplicably, adopted as regular daywear in the last decade or so is the last refuge of the sartorially bankrupt: the track suit. Yours, etc,

DAVID MARLBOROUGH,

Rowanbyrn,

Sir, Your supplement (April 4th) on Anglo-Irish relations carries the headline “Normal Relations Finally Restored”, implying that relations between the two countries have been “normal” at some time in the past.

When would you suggest that that was? 1168 perhaps? Yours, etc,

FERGUS CAHILL,

Cuil Ghlas,

Dunboyne,

Co Meath

Irish Independent:

Letters to the Editor – Published 07 April 2014 02:30 AM

* AFTER nearly a thousand years with an axe to grind with perfidious Albion, Michael D has been dispatched to bury the hatchet with Queen Elizabeth. About time, too. The new relationship between our two islands deserves to be defined and the spectacle of a state visit is the appropriate window dressing. When the queen came to call on us, she showed real statecraft, but it was her own quiet dignity and respect for the pain of our shared past that resonated.

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She set the bar very high for Michael D, but in his own unique way Michael is also a force to be reckoned with. I, for one, hope that this time he will step away from the academic lectern and speak not in the language of lofty metaphor with allusions to Greek and Roman mythologies, but instead that he will ground his message in the legacies of the ghosts of all the navvies whose hobnailed boots were worn to the heel on the Kilburn Road.

The Irish and English working man have always had a respect for each other.

Let’s not get misty-eyed – there was racism and discrimination – but that is the nature of tuppence ha’penny looking down on tuppence.

The politicians and royalty will set their seal on our new era, but these ties were first made by working men. These days, the Irish in London are more likely to be graduates, and more luck to them.

What matters most of all is that the focus of the future must be on what we have in common rather than the tragedies of the past.

M O’BRIEN

SANDYCOVE, CO DUBLIN

EIRCOM ‘SYSTEMS ERRORS’

* As one of the Eircom customers to be notified by post, last Wednesday, that “due to a systems error” the direct debit had not been taken from my bank account, I was not too sure if the error was mine or the bank’s – but there was no indication that it was the fault of Eircom, and there was no hint of an apology.

I then spent over an hour trying to contact the special unit which had been set up to deal with the problem – and upon reaching person number seven, he was the first to understand what I was talking about.

The best that he could do was suggest I should come to some arrangement with my bank.

When I pointed out that subsequent bills from Eircom carried the usual receipt acknowledgement and, therefore, there was no question of my account having any arrears – his response was that that didn’t matter.

I suggested that Judge Judy would have a different view and that Joe Duffy would probably get about a week out of this. He told me that I still had to pay my bill.

But by going down the direct debit route, isn’t that what I was trying to do in the first place?

Oh, I almost forgot. Eircom did let me know that they would delete the €11.50 fine for nonpayment of the direct debit.

So everything is OK now. . . ?!

RJ HANLY

SCREEN, CO WEXFORD

GAA’S WRONG PRIORITIES

* The recent decision by the GAA to enter into a contract agreement with Sky Broadcasting is a wrong call. There were several options open to the GAA to bring our games to a greater audience. In fact, most Irish people abroad have a number of options available to them to view our games.

This is going to deny many genuine fans here at home the opportunity to see up to 14 matches this season and obviously this is only the beginning.

It also leaves many questions for the future of the national broadcaster, which has a long tradition with the association.

The GAA authorities are losing focus. Too much interest in commercialism!

MARTIN CROWLEY

MIDLETON, CO CORK

HURLING: A WORLD SPORT

* I am an old man, like Simeon was when he held the child Jesus in his arms. Now that hurling will begin to be shown to the outside world via a major international broadcasting company, I, too, can die happy, but hopefully not for some time yet.

JOSEPH MACKEY

GLASSON, ATHLONE

VALUING WHAT WE HAVE

* I was never much of a GAA player – in fact you could call me useless – but when I lived in Boston and then Riyadh, it didn’t really matter, because just taking part in training and organising was enough. The fun and bonding was a great experience, and knowing an Irish community was there in the GAA was a great comfort.

There’s very little left in Ireland that I can say is brilliant, but the rise of the GAA in the last few decades has been one of those fantastic success stories. It has managed to bring the sport into the modern era, make it cool and fashionable, and bring it into the larger towns and cities while still hanging on to its country base, allowing both societies to blend into one. It’s been a remarkable feat – and even more remarkable is that it has been done by local communities run by volunteers.

For some reason, the GAA have now decided that money is their prime objective – not sport, and not the communities that make up this organisation. We have probably one of the most unique voluntary sports organisations in the world and now they have decided to take the first step in destroying this icon.

So they have decided to sell out to Sky. Can they not see and appreciate what we have? If they go ahead with this, it will be the beginning of the end of a wonderful organisation. The people’s organisation – the GAA.

DAVID HENNESSY

RATHNEW, CO WICKLOW

A HUG SOLVES … NOTHING

* So, ‘Disgusting-gate’ is not over yet. It looks like this phone-a-friend story is ‘Shatter-proof’. Now that the commissioner has retired/resigned/ been pushed, it shows that behind each good man is a good woman. The new Interim Commissioner has bravely announced that her force “will embrace whistleblowers”. Ah, sure there’s nothing like a good old hug to put things right.

SEAN KELLY

TRAMORE, CO WATERFORD

NO AWARD FOR ‘THE IFFYS’

* Sitting a collection of Irish provincial film and TV industry egos at round tables and allowing them access to booze before an awards ceremony for their peers, with a crowd constantly and rudely chattering throughout the live presentations, made for truly cringeworthy television. A better name for this embarrassing mediocrity would be ‘the IFFYs’!

K NOLAN

CARRICK-ON-SHANNON, CO LEITRIM

THE WALLS HAVE EARS

* Given the ongoing controversy about garda phone bugging, Liam Power says that it “begs the question as to how many others were also surreptitiously eavesdropped on” (Letters, April 5).

When the technology is there to allow people who have an interest in such things to know what you had for your breakfast, why are we surprised?

In the competitive world of crime prevention, the principle is that the technology is there and it would be incompetent not to use it.

The implication of that fact is that all of us should conduct our affairs in such a way that we could sell the family parrot to the town gossip.

Nowadays the family parrot is everywhere. And even worse, the town gossip is also everywhere.

What Liam Power calls the “GUBU-esque” furore about access to data is, therefore, so 1980s – and ignores the surveillance realities of the 21st Century.

A LEAVY

SUTTON, DUBLIN 13

Hospital visit

April 6, 2014

6April2014 hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Accidental

Devolution for Birmingham Priceless

Mary back in hospital visit her play Scrabble

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Bob Larbey – obituary

Bob Larbey was a scriptwriter who mined the comic potential of suburbia in The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles

Bob Larbey (right) with his writing partner John Esmonde

Bob Larbey (right) with his writing partner John Esmonde

5:46PM BST 04 Apr 2014

Comments12 Comments

Bob Larbey, who has died aged 79, co-wrote with his professional partner John Esmonde some of Britain’s most popular television sitcoms, most memorably The Good Life (1975-78).

Amiable and easy-going, Larbey was at school with Esmonde in south London just after the war. The pair sought escape from their humdrum jobs by spending their evenings and weekends writing comedy scripts. By the early 1960s they had enjoyed modest success with sketches for radio programmes such as I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and, for television, The Dick Emery Show.

Bob Larbey

Their first major television breakthrough, however, came in 1968 with Please, Sir!, a series for ITV set in a tough south London secondary modern school; it would generate a feature film and a television sequel, The Fenn Street Gang. Frank Muir, then head of entertainment at LWT, cast John Alderton as the idealistic young teacher Bernard “Privet” Hedges who struggled to keep the unruly pupils of Class 5C in order.

As Larbey celebrated his 40th birthday, he and Esmonde devised their most popular and successful series, The Good Life. In the first episode, screened in 1975, Tom Good, a draughtsman for a plastics company (played by Richard Briers), himself turned 40, seizing this occasion to drop out of the rat-race by jacking in his job in favour of suburban self-sufficiency with his wife Barbara (Felicity Kendal).

Rather than give up their comfortable, semi-detached home in Surbiton, the Goods turned their garden into a smallholding, with pigs, a goat, chickens and assorted fruit and vegetables.

Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life

Although the couple’s lifestyle baffled and often appalled their social-climbing neighbours, Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry Leadbetter (Paul Eddington), the foursome always remained friends, and it was this rapprochement that commended the series to the middle classes, at whom it was poking fun. (Larbey himself confessed that he was too impractical to embrace self-sufficiency, but its general philosophy appealed to him.)

While The Good Life was attracting some 15 million viewers a week on the BBC, Larbey and Esmonde were enjoying further success on ITV with their RAF sitcom Get Some In! (1975-78). Starring Robert Lindsay in his first important television role, and featuring Tony Selby as the drill instructor barking orders at 1950s National Service “erks”, the series drew on the writers’ own experiences (Larbey had been in the Army, and Esmonde in the RAF).

After The Good Life, Larbey and Esmonde wrote three further series for Richard Briers, starting with The Other One (1977-79), in which the central character could not have been more different. Perhaps because Briers was cast as a compulsive and unscrupulous liar, the show failed to generate any of the affection viewers had felt for the wholesome Goods, and it was cancelled after only two series.

Larbey struck out on his own with A Fine Romance (1981-84), starring Judi Dench in her first television sitcom, alongside her real-life husband, Michael Williams. “From first to last,” one critic noted, “Bob Larbey’s scripts were well-written, providing not only laughs but also an underlying intelligence.”

He rejoined Esmonde to create another popular and long-running vehicle for Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89), in which the star returned to suburbia as Martin Bryce, an anally-retentive fusspot and do-gooder, with Penelope Wilton as his long-suffering wife, Ann.

Penelope Wilton, Richard Briers and Peter Egan in Ever Decreasing Circles

In Larbey and Esmonde’s last series together, Down To Earth (1995), Briers played Tony Fairfax, an expatriate struggling to adapt after returning to Britain from South America; but once again viewers did not warm to his character, and it ran for just seven episodes.

The youngest son of a carpenter, Robert Edward John Larbey was born on June 24 1934 in Lambeth, south London, and educated at the Henry Thornton School in Clapham, where he was captain of tennis and became friends with John Esmonde, two years his junior.

On leaving school Larbey took a job in an insurance office in Soho, then did National Service with the Army, stationed in Germany with the Education Corps.

When he and Esmonde started writing sketches, working together at nights and weekends, they submitted a few to the BBC, which eventually accepted one for a programme starring the comedian Cyril Fletcher, earning them a joint fee of two guineas. Having saved money from their day jobs, they gave themselves three months to make a go of writing full-time.

Their first radio sitcom was Spare a Copper (1965-66), featuring the Carry On film star Kenneth Connor as a bungling policeman. The pair followed this with two further radio series, You’re Only Old Once (1969), with Clive Dunn as a spry pensioner, and Just Perfick (1969-71), adapted from the Larkin family stories of HE Bates.

Meanwhile, Larbey and Esmonde had established a toehold in television, starting with sketches for The Dick Emery Show in 1963. Their first full-scale television sitcom, Room At The Bottom (1967), for the BBC, was about a gang of factory maintenance men . It made little impact, but the following year the success of Please, Sir! (1968-72) propelled them into the front rank of television comedy writers. Turned down by the BBC, the show was snapped up by ITV, attracting a weekly audience of 20 million viewers .

As their careers prospered, the pair worked business hours in an office in the centre of Dorking, midway between their respective homes, often acting out scenes together and noting down spontaneous bursts of dialogue. Distractions were confined to occasional glances at televised cricket.

In the 1980s they created Brush Strokes (1986-91), in which Karl Howman starred as a womanising painter and decorator, with Gary Waldhorn as his boss. They wrote a second sitcom for Howman called Mulberry (1992-93), in which he played the manservant of a cantankerous old spinster Miss Farnaby (Geraldine McEwan).

Although in The Good Life Larbey helped to make Surbiton synonymous with suburbia, he never visited the town he made famous. “To be honest, we were just looking for something that sounded like suburbia in big capital letters,” he explained. “We just picked it at random.” The series was actually filmed in Northwood, north London.

In 2004, 30 years after its original screening, The Good Life was ranked ninth in a BBC poll of viewers’ favourite sitcoms.

Bob Larbey married Patricia (Trish) Marshall, a script-reader for LWT, who predeceased him in 2006. Their son survives him. John Esmonde died in 2008.

Bob Larbey, born June 24 1934, died March 31 2014

Guardian:

The skyline statement (“London’s skyline is about to be transformed with 230 new towers“, In Focus) coincided with the submission last week of a planning proposal for what would be the tallest residential tower in Camden, north London. This massive development right next to the only green space in Swiss Cottage would dwarf Basil Spence’s adjacent Grade II listed library. Despite residents’ representations, no real changes have been made to the scheme. Indeed, the height of the tower has been increased from 16 to 24 storeys.

The bland and characterless tower would loom, without any relationship, over residential neighbourhoods. Its shocking and profound impact on the surrounding conservation areas has been ignored. No thought has been given to the ways the tower will appear from Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s Park.

This damage might be justifiable if the development was offering permanent affordable housing for families. Yet of 184 flats, fewer than 14% will be allocated to social housing. The developers’ proposed model of mass private rental has not been tested successfully for five years or more anywhere in London. How can five-year tenancy agreements for small flats built over the most polluted traffic gyratory in Camden, targeted at young professionals and offering no facilities for families, build a sustainable community?

The proposed development hinges on the fact that Camden council recently reclassified Swiss Cottage as a major town centre, without any real consultation with residents. This means that high-rise building can now be encouraged here. The heart is being ripped out of local democracy. Hand in glove with the developers, London’s councils and its mayor are forcing these highly inappropriate developments on communities, irrespective of their vocal opposition.

Sarah Howard Gottlieb

Swiss Cottage Action Group

London NW3

Civic democracy will continue to be powerless as long as a minister, on a whim, can grant planning permission. In Vauxhall, three of the 10 towers about to engulf Vauxhall Cross came into being in this way, despite enormous opposition.

The St George Tower (or Vauxhall Tower) was granted on appeal by John Prescott in 2005, despite advice from his advisers in December 2004 that it “could set a precedent for the indiscriminate scattering of very tall buildings across London”.

The two towers to be built on the Kylun/Wendover site were approved by Eric Pickles in August 2012. He was apparently advised that they “would kick-start the area’s regeneration”. Two years on, the empty site is again for sale.

Pauline Gaunt

London SW8

London’s problem is not its changing skyline or the number of tower blocks springing up. It’s what those tower blocks are being built for that is the real issue.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson approved two blocks in Islington that the council had turned down because there was insufficient housing for people on low incomes. Using his planning powers, Johnson has now given the go-ahead to the two schemes with the proviso that there should be 30% “affordable units” out of 1,000 homes.

But that is meaningless. The government’s definition of affordable is 80% of market rents, which means that for Islington a two-bedroom flat would let at £22,256 per year, affordable only to the City workers down the road.

This is happening across the capital with developments that will do nothing either to improve London’s housing situation or cater for its citizens.

Architectural fashion changes; Centre Point was once regarded as a blight on the landscape but is now seen as a masterpiece. It is not a skyline commission that is needed, but a housing commission to examine urgently the fundamental issues around homes for Londoners.

Christian Wolmar

(seeking Labour nomination for the 2016 mayoral election)

London N7

Catherine Bennett lashes out against Tony Hall’s new agenda for more arts on BBC (“Why has the BBC gone back in time to define itself?“, Comment). For instance, she doesn’t think there is much relevance in presenting opera from the “subsidised but stratospherically inaccessible Royal Op era House”. Is the ROH really so inaccessible? Despite having the lowest public subsidy – 23% – of any major opera house in Europe, tickets start from £4 and we manage to sell 50% of all tickets for £55 or less.

With 40% of our audience under 45, we have a younger audience than most opera houses in the world and our education work reaches almost 50,000 people each year. We have 27,000 student bookers for discount schemes and our live cinema relays are seen in the UK and globally by hundreds of thousands. Our YouTube channel has hours of insights freely available and there are the free activities, including BP Big Screens around the country.

If the Royal Opera House is so inaccessible, then surely one would think putting more of its work on TV would actually be a rather good idea?

Kasper Holten

Director of opera

Royal Opera House, London WC2

Scottish leaders’ fine record

Alexander Linklater has a very blinkered view of creativity and opportunity in Scotland that sharply contrasts with his pitch that “the union belongs to the Scots, it’s at the heart of our cultural identity“, Comment. He accuses the “popular and effective” SNP Scottish government of having “no record on culture”. Clearly, control of broadcasting is of no consideration in Mr Linklater’s world, so he obviously hasn’t noticed the BBC bias saga or the blind spots in BBC programming and underspend in Scotland.

On traditional arts, our indigenous languages and support for internationalising the very best of Scottish cultural output in all genres that feature in the Edinburgh international festivals the Scottish government is very active with limited resources.

Rob Gibson

Evanton

Ross-shire

The consequence of inaction

Regarding your leader column views on the criteria for making a military intervention (“Our view on foreign intervention is in chaos. We need a solution“, Comment). The decision as whether to make a military intervention should take account of the consequences of not taking action. Doing nothing is a course of action in itself, with possible consequences.

Peter Halsey

Radlett

Herts

Give us proper pensions parity

I was puzzled about the pensions provisions in the recent budget and then I read Michael Freedland’s excellent article (“Sadly, new deal is too late for me (and a million or two others)“, in personal finance.

I agree with Michael and think that these annuity holders should not be excluded from the new deal. They should have a choice too.

If the government built new roads purely for new drivers, while only allowing existing drivers to drive on the old roads, it wouldn’t make sense. If for an illness or condition, the NHS offered treatments and possibly cures only to the newly diagnosed and left existing patients bereft of these it also would not make sense. Pensions should be treated in a similarly fair way.

Clearly, if annuities have been received, then the pension pot is smaller. That can’t change, but they should, from the time of the introduction of the provisions, be able to take the remaining pension pot as cash. That would be fair and equitable.

Barrie Gordon

Cambridge

Don’t dismiss ADHD drugs

There is no doubt that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), like many other diagnoses, is a syndromal diagnosis and that pathways into ADHD are multiple (“ADHD ‘not a real disease’ says US neuroscientist“, News). Equally, a range of social and psychological interventions are indicated.

However, there is good evidence to show that severe ADHD, or hyperkinetic disorder, has a significant neurophysiological and genetic component and that stimulants are safe and effective treatments, alongside social, educational and psychological interventions. Non-pharmacological interventions are indicated in mild to moderate ADHD but stimulants form the core of the management of severe ADHD. To argue that they are not indicated puts at risk highly vulnerable children and their overburdened families.

Dr Peter Hindley

Chair of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry

Royal College of Psychiatrists, London E1

A picture to die for

Robert Stummer’s article (“Message of love hidden in medieval graffiti“, News) provided a gratifying and welcome insight into an otherwise forgotten source of social history: graffiti, especially Lydgate’s rebus, notably: “Farewell Lady Catherine.” He is mistaken in thinking that cater is a term for a die; rather, it is the four of a die roll, clearly depicted in the photograph. We still retain the ace and deuce for one and two, three is trey, four cater, five cinque and six sez.

Ian Russell Lowell

Penzance

Snapshot Val Waters View larger picture

Snapshot … back row, from left to right, Uncle Fred, Val Waters’ grandfather and Uncle Syd; seated, Aunt Elsie, Val’s grandmother and mother.

Snapshot: Our much loved Uncle Fred

This photograph, taken around 1920, is very important to me, as it’s the only one I have of all the members of my Hodges forebears before disaster struck in the form of illness. I was born just too late to remember Uncle Fred, but my childhood was filled with stories about him. He is standing on the left, looking quite young. Next to him is my grandfather and on the right is Uncle Syd. Seated are my favourite aunt, Auntie Elsie, with my grandmother in the middle and then my mother, holding a kitten.

Fred was a naughty little boy, so one Monday morning when she was doing the washing, Grandma was persuaded by a neighbour to give him some drops of Mother Segal’s Soothing Syrup (containing laudanum), but it made him so dopey that she never did it again. When Fred developed heart trouble (no surgery for it in those days), she nursed him so devotedly that she ruined her health and had to rest every afternoon.

As he grew up, Fred became much loved by all the members of the family. He had a good sense of humour, and was popular at school, where he was voted the most public-spirited boy. He and Syd used to go courting two sisters in the next street and their dog fetched the right girl when they called.

However, as Fred was never well enough to hold down a job, there was no engagement. He was a very handsome young man (my mother kept photos of him) and the family were broken-hearted when he died, aged 23.

Elsie would never talk about him. Syd woke one night and heard Fred’s voice saying, “I’m going now, Syd” – at the exact time he died, he discovered later. My grandparents had a tablet erected over his grave and my grandma and cousin used to lay flowers there.

As for the girl he’d courted, when she did get married several years later, she laid her wedding bouquet on his grave, with her husband’s agreement.

The Hodges were a working-class family who worked hard. All four children managed to pass the exam that enabled them to attend the local grammar school, though only my mother chose to stay on in the sixth form and go to university.

I feel very proud of them.

Val Waters

Independent:

Synthetic phonics, far from letting down pupils with dyslexia, is effective for the majority and, coupled with the phonics check, can help to identify those who may be dyslexic or need a different approach (“Dyslexic pupils not helped by reading method”, 30 March).

Structured teaching of lettersound links and how to blend sounds were key components of “dyslexia teaching” long before synthetic phonics became commonplace in schools. We know that many pupils at risk of dyslexia can progress well with a structured phonics programme but would flounder if left to learn more holistically. To read in the broadest sense requires an orchestration of many other skills of which decoding is but one and, for fluent readers, one that they may seldom use; but decoding is a hurdle at which many children have fallen and it is right that early teaching of reading is directed at helping as many children over this hurdle as possible.

Dyslexia Action has supported the use of the phonics check, which involves the ability to read “non words”, as part of a process to identify those who may need a different approach. However, it should not be the only piece of evidence used to examine children’s reading. Neither should it force a straitjacket of prescriptive teaching on to those who have moved on to more advanced stages. Dyslexia Action has been working with the Department for Education to develop information and guidance for teachers on materials and on decisions about their use; more information about this can be found on our website.

Dr John Rack

Director of education and policy Dyslexia Action

Egham, Surrey

In reply to Richard Garner’s personal view regarding synthetic phonics; that is precisely what has happened with my six-year-old cousin. He can read fluently. Or he could. Now he insists on spelling out every word phonetically, even if he knows the word. He seems to think that you have to read like that.

In addition, he is penalised for wanting to read books he enjoys, and his learning has slowed as a result. As a child, I loved books, and would read in my own time for pleasure, even at the age of six. I really believe the key to improving reading is to evoke a passion for books, not turn this generation of children into phonetic robots.

Helen Brown

Sheffield

Joan Smith is right that religion is losing the argument on abortion, contraception and gay marriages (30 March). But if she were to speak to some of the many people, young and old, who worship at one of the newly established non-denominational churches, or, indeed, to a lot of nonconformists, she might be surprised to find that the majority of modern-thinking Christians agree.

Gillian Cook

Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Consumers can indeed play a strategic role by pressing brands to ensure decent treatment for overseas workers (“Cheap products carry a high cost”, 30 March). Thousands who signed our petition on Rana Plaza helped persuade brands to sign the legally binding Bangladesh safety accord. But retailers’ voluntary approach has still left workers toiling long hours for well below a living wage. It is time for government action to end this scandal.

Jeff Powell

Campaigns and policy director

War on Want, London N1

I was alarmed by your report (“Gaia visionary advocates city living”, 30 March) intimating that Chesil Beach had lurched into Devon. Having expended considerable energy climbing to the top of Portland on a clear day, I can assure you that the entire beach is still in Dorset.

Joe Trevett

Society of Dorset Men, Weymouth, Dorset

Columnist Andrew Martin (30 March) refers to “preparing for a dinner party” and what “dinner party hosts are supposed to ask”. Am I alone among your readers in never having been to a dinner party?

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Times:

GPs flooded by patients – and we’re struggling

CAMILLA CAVENDISH needs to spend a day shadowing me to see life from this side of the fence. I have been a GP for 30 years in the same practice and have seen huge changes in the way we operate (“Dr Useless says he’s busy. Fine, I’ll be off to the pharmacist then”, Comment, last week). I did not vote for the 2004 contract, which heralded the inability to close our list, which has nearly doubled over the past five years as disaffected patients from other practices and eastern European land workers flood in. We are unable to attract new doctors so we struggle on — with 35 to 40 patients awaiting the emergency doctor on a Monday morning. This is not medicine but crowd control.
Dr Clive Warren Boston, Lincolnshire

Investment needed
We are grateful to Camilla Cavendish (“Dr Useless says he’s busy. Fine, I’ll be off to the pharmacist then”, Comment, last week) for pointing out the huge asset of the pharmacist in the community and pleased that she found her local pharmacist to be so good.

However, different but complementary services and expertise are already offered by general practitioners and pharmacists to patients in surgeries and pharmacies every day.

Care is becoming more complex with the challenges of an ageing population, more patients presenting with multiple and complex conditions and more patients with mental health problems.

GPs are working record hours in surgery and making up to 60 patient contacts a day. Pharmacists dispense about 1bn prescriptions a year alongside the provision of an increasing range of NHS services.

Treatments are being carried out in general practice that 10 years ago would have been immediately referred to a hospital physician and pharmacists are already carrying out medication reviews, supporting people with long-term conditions to stay well and preventing illness through stop smoking services.

Both our professions would like to see a shift in resources that allows investment in primary care and services that promote wellness, preventing costly and unwanted hospital admissions.

This includes increasing the number of GPs who could provide more appointments and longer appointments for patients. A modest rise of only 1% per year would ease the pressures on other parts of the health service, ensuring that patients get access to their general practice when they need it.

We would like to see the NHS make better use of pharmacists’ skills by enabling patients to share their electronic health record with pharmacists and rewarding pharmacists for the quality of the care delivered, as well as better patient outcomes. The NHS will get the most from medicines when pharmacists are better utilised throughout the health system.

Ultimately, the answer to increasing demand, with scarce resources, when patients rightly expect high-quality care will come from collaborative, not competitive, working between GPs and pharmacists.

Enabling pharmacists and GPs to share the care of our population will only come about if patients and their carers see the benefits of such an arrangement and confidence develops that this provides better, safer care.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair Royal College of General Practitioners,

Dr David Branford, Chair, English Pharmacy Board, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Barriers to diagnosis
Not for the first time, GPs are left to shoulder the blame for more failures within the NHS. While I acknowledge that my GP colleagues do need to take some degree of responsibility, a difficult task is made more so by current referral channels.

The two-week-wait system has made no difference to rates of early cancer diagnosis. It only works well where the diagnosis is obvious anyway, such as with breast or skin.

Delays are increased by the barriers put up to GP access to diagnostics such as ultrasound, endoscopy and MRI. GPs can increase rates of early cancer diagnosis but must have the tools to be able to do so.
Dr Peter Holloway GP and Clinical Commissioning Group, Mendlesham, Suffol

Too few radiologists
We share the aspiration of Harpal Kumar (“GPs must end culture of delays”, Focus, last week) to achieve diagnosis of cancer at an earlier and therefore more treatable stage. However, we have reservations about his proposed strategy of carrying out diagnostic tests on more people.

The demand for imaging tests has already far outstripped the ability of NHS radiology departments to cope. With around half the number of radiologists per head of population that other western European nations enjoy, we simply do not have the capacity to interpret significantly larger numbers of scans.

We support the national screening programmes for breast and bowel cancers, which can best be detected by imaging. Earlier diagnosis of other cancers will most reliably be achieved by targeting imaging to people with specific symptom complexes and risk factors. We have been producing guidelines for doctors on the appropriate use of imaging for more than 20 years and we are keen to work with Cancer Research UK, healthcare leaders, Macmillan Cancer Support and other stakeholders to ensure that imaging strategies are designed to promote earlier diagnosis.

If this involves an increase in the number of people undergoing tests, significant further investment in radiologists and radiology services will be required.
Giles Maskell President  Royal College of Radiologists

Smear test delays
In 2003 the age to enter the NHS cervical screening programme was raised from 20 to 25 years as evidence showed that screening in the lower age group had little impact on rates of invasive cancer. Cellular changes related to HPV infection are common in younger women, but largely self-resolve.

If a woman of any age presents to a GP with cervical cancer symptoms, she must be urgently referred to a gynaecologist. A smear test at that stage would introduce further delays, even if the public thinks otherwise.
Dr Sally Wood Ludlow, Shropshire

Mum’s raw deal on pay

I COULD not agree more about women being penalised for part-time working (“Wise up, bosses, and make this mother’s day”, Eleanor Mills, last week). As an accountant I can get £35,000 to £40,000 pro rata working part-time; full-time work pays much more overall.

All of the mums I know are graduates but a very small percentage of them work — it is just not worth it. In Denmark both the mum and dad tend to work part-time. This seems a much more equitable solution.
Gill Crane Alton, Hampshire

Flexible friends
Employers continue to consider flexible working cases on an ad hoc basis. Thus many parents, especially women, are forced to leave work, taking vital skills with them. Family Lives believes that flexible working should be seen as a dynamic policy for all (men, women, old and young) to support staff to combine work, care and family life.
Anastasia de Waal Chairwoman, Family Lives

Dear dad, let’s talk

I felt very sad when I read the Mother’s Day article “Do you get on with your mum? My relationship is complex and messy” (Katie Glass, Magazine, last week), but it appears to have struck a chord with many.

My husband had a very difficult relationship with his dad, and eventually wrote a letter. The result was not an outpouring of anger or regret but a much better relationship — my husband was 59 and his dad 89. Took them a while, but it improved things.
Name and address withheld

NHS faces a weighty issue

As always, Rod Liddle has hit the nail firmly on the head with his take on obesity (“Chew on this insult, lardbucket. It’s for your own good”, Comment, last week). When I was an NHS consultant in Essex, I very politely advised a patient at my pain clinic that she could improve her back pain by losing weight. Her daughter, a hospital administrator, reported me to the authorities for being “disrespectful” to her mother.
Dr Charles Gauci, Gozo, Malta

Gluten-free isn’t a fad for coeliacs
I know Liddle is often tongue-in-cheek and that it is a fad to say you are wheat-intolerant. However, there are people, like my daughter and granddaughter, who have coeliac disease, which means they have to eat gluten-free. Going out for a meal is a nightmare, and imagine telling a child she cannot have an ice cream or chocolate sweets that contain gluten. Not life-threatening, but hard to live with.
Lesley Charnock, Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire

Intolerable string ban

BANNING steel-stringed instruments from prison would be a travesty and a truly cruel punishment for one prisoner I met when I worked in HMP Elmley, Kent (“High security, low voltage as prisons outlaw guitars”, News, last week). Elmley houses not only some of the country’s most dangerous men, but also Sarah Baker, a transgender life-sentenced prisoner, who has now served 26 years.

I knew little about Baker but soon discovered that she was full of remorse for her crimes.  I was left almost speechless by the sincerity of her words. More amazingly, I also heard  that she was a violinist and had been friends with the late, great virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin — had she not been in prison, some people felt that she could have been Britain’s greatest violinist. She used to practise for 14 hours a  day, starting with the “Kreutzer” sonata, and then Bach’s partitas for solo violin, followed by  two violin concertos. She would always end with Paganini’s caprices, which often annoyed her neighbours.

Meeting a transgender violin-playing life-sentenced prisoner was not only one of  the most surreal moments in my life, but also the greatest.
Name and address withheld

Melody maker
I do hope that staff in the 49 establishments to which Billy Bragg donated guitars inspected them to see if any files were enclosed.
Ray Watson, Beckenham, southeast London

Losing our cool

I FAIL to see how warming will improve Britain’s climate (“London a flashpoint for climate change”, News, last week). First, we shall start to lose our traditional crops and livestock. Working in summer will become intolerable and affect productivity.

Finally, the loss of the cool British seaside with its pleasantly tepid waters will be a disaster.There will be nowhere to hide from the beastly sun, while tropical fauna invade our beaches with their foul stings and noisome teeth. I don’t like it, sir.
Quentin Lotte, London SW6

Tax blowing in
Last week we were inundated with warnings about climate change, with reports from the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — and then there were the Sahara sands polluting our air.

In my humble view, it was an orchestrated campaign to alarm us all into a state of acute responsibility — in itself a fine objective. So why do I keep wondering if we are being softened up for a raft of new rules, penalties and taxes?
Allan Falconer Nottingham

Points

Toff luck
In November 1995 I went for a job interview at Carlton Communications (“Toff at the top”, Editorial, March 23). The man who interviewed me was smooth and ambitious. His name was David Cameron. I later got the stock “no, thanks, but we’ll keep your details on file” letter. This surely makes me the only Old Etonian to whom the prime minister hasn’t offered a job.
Boris Starling, Dorset

Desert dreams
Your article “Desert gives up Lawrence’s hideout” (News, March 23) refers to the perfect preservation of a Lawrence guerrilla camp to the east of Aqaba, from which he planned his raids on the Hejaz railway. Many of those attacks took place in Saudi Arabia as the railway line from Damascus approached Medina. When working at the new industrial city of Yanbu on the Red Sea coast, close to where Lawrence stayed at times, I ventured east towards the railway. Finding track remains, I followed it north toward the Jordan border across perfect viaducts, and found well-preserved wrecks of trains (no rust in the desert). Your article and the associated interactive map online recalled happy times in the desert — a privilege.
Clive Peacock Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Germans do remember
Harry Mount says the Germans don’t remember the First World War (“Lying cold and alone: the war dead Germany struggles to remember”, News Review, March 23), but if he visits the cemetery in Cannock, Staffordshire, dedicated to German dead of both world wars, he will find Germans looking at all the graves and spending time in the moving memorial chapel. If we had a joint memorial service for the Great War, the Germans might take part, over here.
Jane Kelly, London W3

Prince of smiles
How I had to smile on reading Prince Andrew extolling the merits of failure, sitting in the palace with his “HRH” teacup (“Failure is good for you — and I should know”, News Review, last week).
Dudley Holley, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Corrections and clarifications

We have been asked to clarify that if beaches do not pass the EU’s new bathing water directive, signs might have to be erected warning the public about water quality (“Kiss me quick before 45 top beaches close”, News, March 16). However, no beaches would actually close, and people would be free to choose to swim or not.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

Birthdays

Rory Bremner, impressionist, 53; Paul Daniels, magician, 76; Myleene Klass, presenter, 36; Ian Paisley, former first minister of Northern Ireland, 88; Anita Pallenberg, model, 70; André Previn, pianist and conductor, 85; Paul Rudd, actor, 45; Dilip Vengsarkar, cricketer, 58; James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, 86

Anniversaries

1896 first modern Olympic Games open in Athens; 1917 America declares war on Germany; 1924 first round-the-world flight takes off from Seattle (it takes 175 days); 1944 introduction of PAYE income tax in Britain; 1994 the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi die in a plane crash, sparking the Rwandan genocide

Telegraph:

SIR – Given that Nick Clegg has so dismally failed to put the case for our continued EU membership, and that opinion polls show that the Lib Dems may have no MEPs at all in a few weeks’ time, my question is: what is the policy of the Labour Party on the EU?

I have examined the Labour website. It tells me about Ed Miliband, the shadow cabinet, its MPs and candidates. How strange that it does not even mention the European elections on May 22.

Hugo Jenks
Bath, Somerset

Golden-tongued

SIR – Rear-Admiral Frank Golden valued his dual nationality. He told me that he cherished the memory of the astonishment on the faces of those greeting him when, on an official visit to the Republic of Ireland, he was piped aboard an Irish naval vessel and, in the uniform of a British admiral, answered his welcome in fluent Gaelic.

Christopher Macy
Lincoln

Post earliest of all

SIR – A wooden posting box in Lyme Regis (pictured) lays claim to being the oldest surviving in Britain (Letters, April 4).

It is still set in its original place on the wall of the Old Lyme Guest House, which was, from 1799 to 1853, the post office.

It has a vertical and a horizontal slot, reflecting changing government guidelines.

John Powell
Tavistock, Devon

Too fat to fit

SIR – Why have toothbrush handles become so bulbous that they no longer fit into the receptacles designed for them?

My white bathroom holder has “Toothbrush” in blue letters and four three-quarter-inch holes. The guest room container also sports an oval aperture for the toothpaste, from a pretty rose-covered range of bed linen and accessories sold by Marks & Spencer. No use now. What do I use instead?

Prudence Seddon
Stourton Caundle, Dorset

A better sort of earl

SIR – Two of the Earl of Rosslyn’s forebears would have been particularly delighted by his new appointment as master of the household to the Prince of Wales.

His great-grandfather, the 5th Earl, who gambled away the family fortune in six years and then devised a system to break the bank at Monte Carlo (but failed), was part of the Marlborough House set that fawned on the future Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. He was tolerated because his sister, the Countess of Warwick, was for a time the Prince’s maitresse-en-titre (later she tried to use her love letters to blackmail the Royal family, but was forgiven).

The new senior courtier’s grandfather, who died in 1929 as Lord Loughborough before inheriting the earldom, tried but failed to win the friendship of the next Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII. “He was sacked from the RN College, Osborne, my first term there in the summer of 1907”, the latter recalled. He was much taken, however, with Lady Loughborough, as was his brother, the future George VI, her lover before his marriage.

In entering the service of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the current Earl has made up for the failings of his predecessors.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Bad call

SIR – Infuriated at receiving unwanted calls from abroad and from British firms that do not abide by the Telephone Preference Service, I too invested in the BT blocking telephone (Letters, April 4).

It was excellent until I realised that many doctors and hospitals withhold their numbers, and that I was missing vital calls. I had no alternative but to cancel the service.

James Shone
Southwell, Nottinghamshire

Becher’s trick

SIR – Peter Oborne (Comment, April 3) tells that Captain Becher’s party-trick was “leaping on to the mantelpiece from a standing start”.

I have seen it said elsewhere that C B Fry would do the same, but starting with his back to the fireplace.

Is either feat properly attested? Or is either actually much commoner than one supposes?

Lachlan Mackinnon
Ely, Cambridgeshire

Enjoy! We’ll see about that

SIR – The politest reply that I can suggest to a waiter’s “Enjoy” (Letters, April 4) is: “I’ll try”.

Helen Atkin

Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – A late friend of mine was known to respond to instructions by waiters to “Enjoy” by saying wearily: “Enjoy is a transitive verb and requires an object.”

That was usually the end of the matter.

Charles O’Connor
London SW7

SIR – A frequent response by a waiter to any request is “No problem.”

As the politically correct brigade has substituted the word challenge for problem, I say: “You mean no challenge.” Result: incomprehension.

Vincent Howard
Barton Stacey, Hampshire

SIR – Worse is a television interview ending with, “Thanks for your time,” and, “My pleasure.” It makes me cringe.

Malcolm Cross
Plungar, Leicestershire

SIR – Two grizzled New York comedy writers I worked with in Hollywood, on being exhorted to “Have a nice day” by a head waiter, snapped back in unison: “Don’t tell us what to do!”

Lord Grade of Yarmouth
London SW1

SIR – Which particular aspect of the Maria Miller scandalis the most infuriating?

a) Her attempt to screw the maximum out of a sloppy expenses system.

b) The overruling of the conclusions of an independent body, which had spent 14 months reaching its conclusions.

c) The unseemly support shown by colleagues just before her apology in the House of Commons.

d) The backing of the Prime Minister, who values her contribution.

They still don’t get it!

Peter Edwards
Coleford, Gloucestershire

SIR – The House of Commons did itself no service on Thursday in its treatment of Mrs Miller.

When will parliamentarians of both Houses learn that this country craves leadership by example in high places?

Air Commodore Michael Allisstone (retd)

Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – I agree with Peter Oborne (Comment, telegraph.co.uk). Mrs Miller should have been sacked, and even deselected by the party.

How can the public have confidence in Parliament if MPs get away with this kind of action?

Michael Davey
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – This can only reinforce the view that collectively politicians are not to be trusted and continue to look after their own.

It’s appalling that, after the uncovering of the expenses scandal by The Daily Telegraph, these so-called “honourable” members can still make life-changing capital gains funded by the public.

John Cooper
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – The headline on your leading article “Mrs Miller should say sorry to taxpayers” almost certainly reflected the reaction of 99 per cent of the British public to the latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending saga of MPs’ expenses.

So did your following remarks, “Do MPs not know what their main homes look like? This will strike many voters as another example of the political class protecting its own – and apparently undermining their own regulator to boot.” All this hammers one more nail in the coffin of public trust in politics and politicians.

It is almost beyond parody that Maria Miller is the Cabinet minister charged with overseeing politicians’ attempts to force newspapers to sign up to an archaic, post-Leveson Royal Charter form of press regulation that would do more for politicians’ self-interest than the taxpaying public’s right to know.

Hopefully, the public will also take note of the fact that, once again, it took a newspaper to alert the public to Maria Miller’s questionable interpretation of parliamentary expenses; not to mention the clumsy attempts by government officials to lean on the Telegraph, citing the Culture Secretary’s keynote role in the press regulation debate.

Despite the desperate efforts of Maria Miller and the Prime Minister, with his hasty declarations of support and desire to call the matter closed, the aftershocks of MPs spurning the judgment of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner will reverberate through to next year’s general election. David Cameron’s decision to leave Maria Miller in place is one he could come to rue on polling day.

Paul Connew
St Albans, Hertfordshire

SIR – Why did Maria Miller need a “second home”? There are many trains between Basingstoke and London, and the journey takes less than 90 minutes. The journey from Wimbledon, where her other home was, takes half an hour.

So we taxpayers seem to have paid more than £90,000 to save this MP an hour a day.

Peter Burke
Carnoustie, Angus

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – The garda commissioner makes his way up from the rank and file membership as opposed to some countries that operate a cadetship. The skills needed to perform in middle management are not necessarily adequate to fulfil the huge range of responsibilities as commissioner.

Also in this section

We must move from organ donor cards to a list

Put lead in your pencil and use your vote

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

If future commissioners are to possess the capabilities to steer the force towards excellence, two criteria must apply. Firstly, there must be a sprinkling of candidates joining from time to time capable of surviving at the various levels and eventually taking on the giant expansion of skills required to perform as head of the force.

Secondly, the promotion system must be capable of identifying, selecting and promoting these members. sergeants, superintendents, chief superintendents and commissioners have a major say and a veto at every stage of promotion of subordinates. The chances of these fulfilling the second criteria are low. The statistical chance of both criteria existing is very remote.

Middle management have plenty to do without the need to be involved in assessing staff for promotion. It is likely that some excellent staff are blocked along the way by managers who are not up to the job themselves or just don’t understand the need for fair objective selection. Simply put, if your chief doesn’t like you, you are not going anywhere. If cadetship is not in the frame, the services of outside help to oversee promotion by continuous assessment, based on ability, will be vital. Nepotism, sporting prowess, and luck are poor alternatives to clarity of thought, training, leadership and skill. Three commissioners forced into involuntary retirement since 1978 prove the need for change.

Val Martin,

Cavan

BEHAN SOLD SHORT ON LITERACY LEGACY

Madam – Having long been familiar with the critical work of Anthony Cronin and his thoughts on the inordinately talented trio of Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, and Flann O’Brien, I must take issue with some of the points he raises in his interview with Willie Kealy, regarding the literary legacy of Brendan Behan (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014).

Cronin states in relation to Behan: “… as if there’s a solid achievement to commemorate, which, alas, there isn’t. I wouldn’t think – aside from Borstal Boy, which I think is not even in print at the moment – that there’s not much to rest the reputation of the writer on”. I think Cronin sells Behan the writer very short in this assessment.

In fairness to him, Cronin at least mentions Borstal Boy, although he appears to undermine this mention by surmising that it’s not even in print at this point in time. Woe betide any writer who stakes his or her reputation on the exigencies of the publishing industry. The reputations of writers tend to go in and out of fashion, a point that Cronin himself noted some years ago in relation to the unfairly neglected Aidan Higgins. Borstal Boy itself ranks very highly in the realm of prison autobiography, bearing comparison with Jean Genet‘s The Miracle of the Rose and Our Lady of the Flowers. Indeed, Behan’s work surpasses Genet’s in its sympathy with the human condition and in his refusal to treat his characters as mere puppets and playthings.

Cronin also refers to The Hostage as “a totally different sort of entertainment”. This is a fair enough comment, but what about An Giall (the Irish-language play on which the inferior The Hostage is based and which is far more than an entertainment) and The Quare Fellow – both classics of modern Irish drama? And what about Behan’s fine poems in Irish and his masterpieces of short fiction, After the Wake and The Confirmation Suit? All in all, not an inconsiderable achievement on which to base a literary legacy.

Jim McCarthy,

Sandymount, Dublin 4

POLITICIANS SHOULD SO SOME REAL WORK

Madam – The headline to Eilis O’Hanlon’s article (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), – “For our seasoned politicians, ignorance isn’t merely bliss, it’s good business” – angered me. Yes, true, if it’s merely a game of French roulette among themselves, while forgetting they are in charge of running a country.

Good leadership was never so necessary in Ireland as now. Tens of thousands are unemployed, mortgage debt is a disaster and the population is burdened with new schemes and taxes.

Nevertheless, for the past few weeks nothing mattered in Dail Eireann – only problems with whistleblowers and phone tapping. Both are connected with inefficiency at the top and little to do with rank and file. As for ‘whistleblowers’ – they weren’t always known by that name! The only whistleblowers familiar to the general public would be those with the local hunts or refereeing matches. Culture changes – apparently it is now honourable and necessary to have a new professional whistleblowers’ outfit set up to combat wrong-doing in higher places. So be it!

Undoubtedly, the next time-waster in Government will be the local elections, when it would serve the country far better if they got their ‘ear to the ground’, started straightening the economy and created some jobs.

James Gleeson,

Thurles, Co Tipperary

A LITTLE CHARITY WOULDN’T GO AMISS

Madam – For many years, Emer O’Kelly has been one of your finest journalists, not least in respect of her consistent criticism of the Catholic Church’s dreadful behaviour with regard to clerical sex abuse. Many of the latter columns, indeed, were written long before it was fashionable to ask serious questions of the Catholic hierarchy. It was a huge disappointment, therefore, to read her column (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), regarding former TD Patrick Nulty. This is a relatively young politician whose career has been abruptly ended and whose misdeeds have been splashed all over the national media. He has also publicly admitted to having a drink problem.

This very public shame, however, was not enough for Ms Kelly, apparently. She doesn’t consider the adjective “inappropriate”, as used in the media, to be sufficient to describe Mr Nulty’s actions. She manages to describe his behaviour as “pathetic”, “inexcusable”, “sleazy”, “exploitative”, “sordid”, “distasteful” and “contemptible”. He is among the “sad, inadequate people” who “indulge in such behaviour”. His career is ruined, and “many people will say, deservedly so”, Ms Kelly among them, clearly.

When I had finished reading Ms Kelly’s column, the phrase “kicking someone when he’s down” sprang to mind.

While Ms Kelly is clearly no fan of the Catholic Church, a little Christianity would have not gone amiss in her column.

Jim Hickey,

Waterford

AMERICANISATION CATCHES ON FAST

Madam –I think Carole Molloy (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), is wrong when she suggests your reporters are ‘Americanised’ after spending their gap year in the States. More likely after having been there for a week’s holidays!

Patricia Keeley,

Dublin 6W

NO ‘SOUTHERN IRELAND’ IN ATLAS

Madam – In response to John McClung‘s letter taking offence at Northern Ireland being called “the North” (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014), and John Brady’s letter in response (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), saying that “Ireland” is the name of this country, I was watching the Channel 4 Countdown where actress Maureen Lipman raved about her love of drinking a pint of Murphy’s in Beara in “Southern Ireland” which she repeated several times.

I checked my atlas, and googled it, but could not find “Southern Ireland” anywhere. Also Ireland is not one of the British Isles, the correct term is the British Isles and Ireland.

Pat Kelly,

Blackrock, Cork

TAKE DECISION ON

FLUORIDE MYSELF

Madam – Carol Hunt (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), wrote an article entitled ‘Brush up on mind control and methods to medicate’. She stated that the fluoridation of our water system is for our common good and any other opinion is “pure (bull)**it”. I beg to differ, and take extreme offence to her language. I do not want someone else deciding whether I should have fluoride added to my water for my own good. I can make that decision for myself.

Sharon McCarthy,

Tuam, Co Galway

SICK TO THE TEETH OF WATER DEBATE

Madam – It is with complete frustration that I write to you regarding an article by Declan Waugh and the fluoridation of water in Ireland.

He makes endless claims regarding the dangers of fluoride. I am appalled that a national paper is printing this. I hope this is the last we hear of Mr Declan Waugh and his campaign in your paper.

Anita Byrne,

Clonmel, Co Tipperary

WOMEN PASSED OVER FOR YEARS

Madam – The issue of the under-representation of women in the parliaments of what are supposed to be representative democracies is an interesting topic for debate as is highlighted by your two correspondents Robert Sullivan and Hugh Gibney (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014).

The facts are that we are told that something like five per cent of TDs elected since independence were women and between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of the Dail at the moment are men. That can be accepted as a law of nature or it can be challenged by saying that it is inefficient to marginalise the interests, perspectives and talents of the majority of the population that are women in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.

The recent introduction of the condition that political parties have a minimum quota of women candidates in the next general election before they qualify for public funding has focused the debate.

What is proposed here is an increase in the number of women candidates, not, as stated by Robert Sullivan, ‘forcing us to vote for women’ and ‘sticking’ them into Leinster House. If the women on the ballot paper do not get elected that is the end of the matter.

Hugh Gibney raises the issue of ‘men of superior ability’ being ‘passed over’. The fact is that many more women of superior ability have been passed over throughout the years since independence because they did not even get as far as being considered by what Hugh Gibney himself calls ‘the relevant powers that be’.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13

UKRAINE FACES JOB CATASTROPHE

Madam – Dan O’Brien’s article “No Place for Weakness in Face of Grave Danger” is, in my view, ill-informed. I am married to a lady from a former USSR state which is now a full EU member – Latvia.

Russia has no economic interest in taking over Ukraine. Latvia was promised much when it joined the EU. When Russia was forced out of Latvia employers disappeared, and so did jobs and salaries.

They were not replaced with EU or American companies. All State pensions guaranteed by Russia disappeared. The result was economic catastrophe and today I know Latvian shop workers who earn €250 a month. So all young people left and went to Ireland and the UK as their immigration working laws were more lenient than continental Europe.

Most jobs in Ukraine are from small to medium sized local companies. The Ukraine is being sold a pretty picture in much the same way as Latvia was. Their only benefit will be the ability for their younger generations to emigrate and send home some money to their elders.

Damian Moylan,

Longford

PRAGMATIC POLITICS NEEDED

Madam – My thanks to William Barrett (Letters, Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014) for his kind remarks. A seconding of his praise for your efforts towards encouraging a new politics.

As I write, the UN publishes its report on climate change for the benefit of those of us who experienced during the winter no mildly-moist intimations of the mortality of our planet’s doomed ecosphere. The legitimate demands of the Ukraine and the re-emergence of Tsarism have slipped us back into a new cold war, to the delight of the world’s military-industrial complex. We are being urged to solve our ‘energy security’ problems with questionable (but sectionally lucrative), quick-fix ‘solutions’ such as nuclear power and ‘cheap’ shale oil. The virus of endemic insoluble civil war spreads from the Middle East. The EU performs its snail’s-pace minuet towards serious economic, financial and institutional reforms. The success of which are all crucial to the viability of our socio-economic system (or ‘non-system’, if you prefer). But for which there is no political will, let alone zeal, among any of our European non-leaders. The wretched of the earth call out for pathetically small measures towards their subsistence and self-dependence but we cannot and – deliberately – will not hear them through the triple-glaze windows on our hearts.

Grotesquely and almost unbelievably, we can now calculate the day, the month and the year when all life on this planet will no longer be viable.

And yet in this tiny country, our ruling class is preoccupied with a sitcom about who, when, where did or did not get official communications – and process them according to standard or even commonsense procedure.

What is missing from our political equation is a pragmatic social democratic party, aware that the politics, the policies, the decisions, the actions, not ‘just’ of the future but of now, must be European and global.

They must earn the future by displaying a courage and creativity for which they have had too few role-models in the recent past.

Maurice O’Connell,

Tralee, Co Kerry

REDRESS THE DEBT

Madam – Six years after the Irish banking debt hard landing that destroyed the Irish economy, Sarah McCabe (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014) has reported that Irish banks with recapitalised salaries and pensions for themselves, now require normal protocols in terms of debt collection for the doomed debt ratio products of 2005 to 2008. Normal debt collection protocols would apply to normal valued debt only.

From 2005 to 2008, Irish banks were selling unsustainable debt products, with the purpose of competing for aggressive profit growth.

In 2014, protocols include bonus claw back and redress for customers. Mortgage debt products that were doomed from day one will require special protocols to redress the devaluation of bank customers’ lives.

The correct protocol for Irish banks is to redress all 2005 to 2008 doomed debt ratio products before seeking an abolition of the cap on bankers’ pay.

Irish banks should be banned from declaring profitability before they redress all doomed debt ratio products of 2005 to 2008.

A long term customer- and Irish economy-friendly banking strategy is required to replace today’s aggressive profit growth strategy that ignores the Irish economy. Bank customers are the Irish economy.

Irish banks that cannot redress their doomed debt ratio products will fail the 2014 stress tests. The sustainable and honest financial reporting provided by a longer-term banking strategy is more likely to help a bank pass its stress test.

Honest financial reporting and doing the right thing for their customers may yet save Irish banks.

Mike Flannelly,

Galway

Back in hospital again

April 5, 2014

5 April2014 Back in hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to test a new navigational aidPriceless

Mary back in hospital

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Margo MacDonald – obituary

Margo MacDonald was the charismatic face of the SNP in the 1970s whose fervent socialism led to splits with her own party

Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald was a doughty fighter for independence and a political gadfly who championed a variety of causes Photo: CHRIS WATT

5:46PM BST 04 Apr 2014

Comments66 Comments

Margo MacDonald who has died aged 70, was the larger-than-life face of Scottish nationalism, the winner of a sensational by-election at Govan in 1973, an inaugural member of the Scottish Parliament and the political and marital partner of Jim Sillars, who quit Labour to found his own party before also winning Govan for the SNP.

Margo MacDonald was living proof of the party’s fractiousness. Convinced that nationalism was as much about personal liberty as freedom for the Scottish nation, she twice left the party — under duress in 1982 when its leaders lost patience with her Left-wing 79 Group; and again before the 2003 Holyrood elections, sitting for her final two terms as an Independent.

Margo MacDonald was uncomfortably far to the Left for a party establishment she branded “tartan Tories”, but the SNP found it hard to live without her charisma from the moment in November 1973 when she captured solidly Labour Govan with a majority of 571.

Her tabloid image as a glamorous 29-year-old publican’s wife (her first husband, Peter, was licensee of the Hoolet’s Nest at Blantyre) did her no harm against a lacklustre opponent. But while her fervour and good looks made her a natural for television, she was serious about her politics and resented being called a blonde bombshell.

The inadequacies of Labour’s Harry Selby, a hairdresser, could not alone explain the collapse of its vote. The novelty of a forceful woman candidate in a working-class Glasgow seat was a factor. So, too, was the widespread belief that, while Edward Heath’s government had been disastrous for Clydeside, a tired Labour Party had little to offer.

Yet the result also reflected a growing local militancy stemming from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-in, and an upsurge of pressure for independence that caught Labour unawares. The publication in mid-campaign of the Kilbrandon Report recommending a Scottish Assembly, and Labour’s lukewarm response, was just the boost the SNP needed.

Margo MacDonald spent barely two months in the Commons before Heath called — and lost — a snap election. In that time she raised the standard of an independent Scotland drawing strength from North Sea oil revenues, capturing more headlines back home. The February 1974 election was bitter for her, but sweet for her party: boundary changes gave Selby his revenge by 543 votes, but the SNP gained six other seats, causing panic in both main parties.

Labour made a painful U-turn over devolution in time for a further election that October; Margo fought Govan again, but the margin widened. As the SNP’s senior vice-chairman, she urged the party Leftwards and, as Wilson and later James Callaghan saw even their modest devolution proposals hampered by lack of a clear Commons majority, she scorned their “hollow assembly” and upped the pressure for independence.

She tried once more to return to the Commons, in a by-election at Hamilton in June 1978. The omens were good: this was her home town, and the seat Winifred Ewing had captured in 1968 to launch the SNP as a serious force. But a hiding from Labour in the local elections got her campaign off on the wrong foot, the future defence secretary George Robertson proved a tough opponent, and despite her warning that if she lost there would never be a Scottish assembly, Labour doubled its majority. That August she became Scottish director of Shelter.

Labour got its devolution scheme on to the Statute Book, and a referendum was set for March 1979. Despite her reservations, Margo Macdonald campaigned energetically for a “Yes” vote. And when the campaign team was formed in 1978, she and Sillars — then leader of the two-MP Scottish Labour Party — were thrown together.

Margo MacDonald with Jim Sillars after their marriage in 1981 (CAPITAL PRESS)

She had separated from her husband two years before, and Sillars’s own marriage had broken down. Both wanted an independent, socialist Scotland, and their partnership was strengthened by the inconclusive result of the referendum and Sillars’s loss of his seat in the 1979 election (triggered by the passage of the SNP’s consequent no-confidence motion in Callaghan’s government).

Even before the referendum and the SNP’s heavy losses, she had founded the 79 Group within the party, aimed at securing a more socialist programme. This cost her the SNP vice-chairmanship at the 1979 conference, but gained a powerful recruit in Sillars, who joined the party and the Group. They married in 1981.

For a time, Sillars and MacDonald looked to their supporters a “dream ticket” who could lead the SNP Leftwards to victory. But the leadership had had enough; it cracked the whip again, and Margo resigned from the party, blaming Winifred Ewing. Sillars stayed in. He would himself win a by-election at Govan in 1988; his wife did not campaign for him despite her past triumph there, but was with him for the declaration of the result.

Margo MacDonald was back in the SNP by the time Tony Blair’s government delivered a Scottish Parliament. She stood for Edinburgh South in the first Holyrood elections in 1999, but became an MSP by virtue of topping the SNP’s list of candidates for the Lothians. She again enjoyed a bumpy relationship with the party, especially after John Swinney replaced Alex Salmond as its leader. Impatient with his moderation, she was expelled in January 2003.

Re-elected as an Independent that year — she backed the Scottish Socialist Party during the campaign — she joined a non-party group comprising health and senior citizens’ campaigners and defectors from Labour and the SNP. In the 2007 elections, only she among the Independents survived.

Her greatest contribution as an MSP was to leak in 2004 a report on the soaring cost of the new Parliament building. Discontent over the more than 10-fold increase in the original estimate of £40 million came to a head, and her action led to the First Minister, Jack McConnell, setting up an inquiry which pilloried a number of the officials responsible.

In 1996 Margo MacDonald was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Six years later she made her illness public, and demanded the legal right to end her own life. She launched a campaign for assisted dying to be legalised, and cooperated with a BBC documentary exploring both sides of the argument.

She explained on the programme: “The possibility of having the worst form of the disease at the end of life has made me think about unpleasant things. I feel strongly that, in the event of losing my dignity or being faced with the prospect of a painful or protracted death, I should have the right to choose to curtail my own, and my family’s, suffering.”

Margo Aitken was born on April 19 1943 . After attending Hamilton Academy, she trained as a PE teacher at Dunfermline College. Inspired by Winifred Ewing’s victory at Hamilton, she joined the SNP and in 1970 contested Paisley. In 1972, aged 29, she was elected a party vice-chairman; months later she was an MP.

After her break with the SNP she reinvented herself as an Edinburgh-based journalist. In 1985-86 she presented Radio 4’s Sunday Colour Supplement and the consumer programme Face the Facts, and she continued to broadcast frequently.

Margo MacDonald leaves two daughters from her marriage to Peter MacDonald, whom she married in 1965 and divorced in 1980. Jim Sillars also survives her.

Margo MacDonald, born April 19 1943, died April 4 2014

Guardian:

Michael Meacher claims (Letters, 2 April) that our proposals “kick away” free NHS care at the point of service. Quite the opposite: they reinforce this principle. As the Guardian reported on Monday, Solving the NHS Care and Cash Crisis proposes various hypothecated health taxes to tackle the £30bn black hole in the NHS budget. Introducing dedicated health taxes is not a madcap, rightwing idea – the move was actively considered by a previous Labour shadow cabinet. Our proposals would include a £10 a month payment from all non-exempted adults, collected with the council tax, to support individualised health MOTs and continuing personal support for healthy living. People may not like paying more taxes for an effective NHS, but we would argue that Britain has little choice, precisely so we can preserve the principle of free at the point of use and clinical need.
Norman Warner House of Lords
Jack O’Sullivan Oxford

• Every NHS doctor, every day, sees a disproportionate number of patients with illness caused by poverty and the associates of poverty – smoking, obesity, alcohol, drug use, domestic violence. The NHS should be predominantly paid for by those whose privilege is to need it least. Then it will be there for all of us when we need it. This is how tax works.
Dr Helen Holt
Consultant physician, Bournemouth

• Polly Toynbee illustrates this government’s aversion to progressive taxation, regardless of falling revenues and the resulting dereliction of public services. I believe the fairest way would be for pensioners, like me – the people who would benefit most – to pay national insurance. This could also be part of the answer to the problem of social care, which should be incorporated into the NHS.
Trevor Lashley

The prime minister refuses to sack Maria Miller over her claiming of £45,000 in accommodation allowances (Report, 4 April), while at the same time introducing a spare-room tax for the poor. Even worse, the so-called standards committee waters down an independent probe’s criticism of her expenses. The cross-party MPs overruled the key findings, demanding that she should hand back just £5,800 of taxpayers’ money.

The committee’s final report states that even if the commissioner was strictly right about the rules, it was “inappropriate” to apply them. Really? If a welfare benefit claimant had been found guilty of claiming benefits that they were not entitled to, they would be on their way to prison. In Westminster, Maria Miller’s “punishment” was being forced to apologise to the Commons. Not because she defrauded the taxpayer, but because she didn’t cooperate with the independent investigation.

We have been told by David Cameron that his welfare reforms are part of a moral mission. He wants to end the something-for-nothing culture. Hence the food banks, hence the sick and disabled dying when benefits have been withdrawn, hence the spare room tax for the poor; it’s for their own good. Yet he also says Maria Miller shouldn’t have to resign. Morality is always for the little people.
Julie Partridge
London

• Your report suggests the culture secretary did all she could to obstruct parliament’s investigation by “consistently responding with lengthy procedural challenges” and repeatedly failing “to provide information when asked for, or to respond adequately, to the commissioner’s questions”. The committee’s conclusion that Miller “did not pay as close attention to the rules of the house as she should” seems remarkably feeble. Surely a cabinet minister should be expected to set a better example. The lesson for any aspiring criminal seems to be first obstruct all police investigations by any available means and for as long as possible; and, second, if you are charged, get a group of your mates to sit on the jury.
Professor Robert Williams
Durham

• During the 2009 “expenses scandal”, David Cameron insisted that what was at issue was not the money itself: “How much needs to be paid back is not really a legal issue, it’s actually a moral and an ethical issue.” Does a 34-second apology deal with the latter point?
Professor Ralph Negrine
University of Sheffield

• So Denis MacShane loses his seat and gets sent down for 12 grand, while Miller apologises, repays six out of more than 40 grand and stays in the cabinet.
John Smith
Sheffield

Health warnings on air pollution should not be seen as isolated incidents (Editorial, 3 April). In recent years we have seen rates of major respiratory illnesses increase and in London alone an extra 4,000 premature deaths occur each year as a result of poor air quality. The European commission recently launched legal action against the UK for failing to meet mandatory air pollution targets. If we want to avoid dramatic government interventions like banning half of all cars on the road in major cities – which Paris has enacted – we need to adopt a much more proactive approach. Helping people to take simple, practical steps to rethink their travel plans can have a dramatic impact on air pollution.

In partnership with Barts NHS health trust, we are working to improve local air quality, through the development of cleaner air zones to benefit patients and incentives for suppliers and visiting vehicles to switch their engines off and operate cleaner vehicles. These sorts of initiatives are not just necessary for the environment, they will also help all of us to live longer, healthier lives.
Caroline Watson
Partner, Global Action Plan

• It’s easy to play the blame game when it comes to air pollution, but we are much less adept at coming up with answers. Air pollution is one of the most complex challenges we face – it doesn’t respect international or political boundaries. Much of it comes from the way we live our lives, but, above all, it’s usually invisible. So in some ways we should be grateful to the clouds of Saharan dust for reminding us of the importance of the air that we breathe, which most of us take for granted. The media coverage given to the smog is almost unprecedented, but what a tragedy it would be if this dispersed as soon as the dust stopped falling on our cars. I hope instead that it acts as a wake-up call for us all, especially our political leaders, and that healthy air is seen as essential a human right as clean drinking water and enough food for all.
Ruth Chambers
London

• The latest pollution crisis offers a compromise over the global warming debate: take all such measures to reduce CO2 ,N2O emissions that may affect long-term global warming as will also reduce immediate threats to health from pollution. It may be that action on the second will fulfil all the criteria for the first.
DBC Reed
Northampton

• The reduction in pollution following the 1956 Clean Air Act failed to match the positive impact resulting from the switch from toxic “town gas” to North Sea Gas just over a decade later, when “at national level in England and Wales, infant mortality rates fell rapidly from the early 1970s and into the 1980s” (Health Stat Q 2008 Winter;(40):18-29). A similar reduction in infant death rates following a switch to natural gas occurred in Turkey, as reported in January 2013 by Resul Cesur, Erdal Tekin and Aydogan Ulker.
Michael Ryan
Shrewsbury

• The current risks to health identified with the addition of airborne dust to existing pollution levels illustrates only too well the unforeseen consequences of the interventions made by London councils to limit the speed of vehicles to below 30mph. Speed humps, alternating pinch points, chicanes, additional roundabouts and zigzag parking ensure that vehicles have to be driven in lower gear, with frequent stops and starts thus increasing harmful exhaust. Diesel particulates are particularly dangerous and a 30% increase in diesel vehicles over recent years has ensured a rise in pollution, even before the addition of cloud dust.

The supposed safety suggested by these measures are more than offset by the increased health risks for all the population and especially for young undeveloped lungs frequently blasted by exhaust fumes in their outward facing buggies.
Chloe Baveystock
London

• It’s not just Tories in Westminster who fail to understand the pollution crisis (Report, 4 April). Here in Uttlesford our local council is about to approve a development plan that guarantees traffic gridlock in our town. Air quality levels in Saffron Walden already breach EU limits. Perhaps we should all stay indoors for the foreseeable future?
Richard Gilyead
Saffron Walden, Essex

• Lovely photo of the Angel of the North in the smog (3 April). Shame that, as your map shows, we had very low levels of pollution that day. We have had lots of mist – commonly known up here as a sea fret.
Sally Watson
Newcastle upon Tyne

Like Edward Thomas (Letters, 4 April) I am approaching my 70th birthday. Unlike him I grew up in a provincial city in the 50s and 60s where few if any black faces were to be seen. I moved to London over 40 years ago and live in a neighbouring borough to Hackney, where I, my children and my grandchild live, work and play happily and harmoniously in a “melting pot of people of other cultures” and it is really all rather wonderful. And, Edward, I invite you to join me for a coffee, or a pint in Broadway Market, so that you can see for yourself the diversity and vibrancy which exists there 60 years from your recollection of it.
David Harrison
London

• Re your headline (4 April) “Average family £974 worse off in 2015 – Balls”. Please convince me that’s an attribution and not a comment.
John Emms
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• After itemising Prince Charles’s many exemptions, privileges and prerogatives, including his right to the assets of anyone who dies intestate in Cornwall, Robert Booth writes (Peer proposes ending prince’s tax privileges, 31 March) that Lord Berkeley’s bill, to be put before the House of Lords and designed to put an end to those arcane anomalies, is “unlikely to become law”. Why not?
Victoria Glendinning
Bruton, Somerset

• I think you’ll find Tipp-Ex (G2, 3 April) was invented in Texas by Bette Nesmith, mum of Mike Nesmith, one-time Monkee.
Alan Fry
London

• If you’re driving around experiencing all these places (Letters, passim), you might want to avoid Carsick in Sheffield.
David Hamer
Sheffield

• I’ve driven through the Shropshire village of Knockin several times. I am still looking in vain for the shop.
Ian Gordon
Folkestone, Kent

• Aware that this posting risks bringing the thread to an end, can I mention that during a tour of rural Burgundy a year or two ago, we had a clear run through Anus, a small hamlet.
Les Farris
South Petherton, Somerset

It was great to read the review of Home (3 April), but Lyn Gardner’s assumption that foyers are so called because they are “just somewhere you pass through” couldn’t be further from the truth. In France, where the foyer movement started, the word has many meanings, including home and hearth, and was intended to signify a home from home for young migrants to the cities after the second world war. In the UK the word has never been understood. I remember, when running the Foyer Federation, being asked by a bemused person whether cinema foyers really needed a federation – and a puzzled conversation about the convention on “voyeurs” taking place in Liverpool. Fortunately the institution is better than its name and about to celebrate its 21st birthday, providing over 10,000 young people a year, like those in Home, with a springboard to develop their talents and rejoin the mainstream.
Carolyn Hayman
London

Independent:

What is all this about winning or losing the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg? Either you agreed with the one or the other. I doubt if many changed their minds: neither deployed any new arguments. Clegg used logic, Farage emotion.

The use of this debate was twofold. It exposed the arguments, and the “exit poll” gave an idea of how people would vote if there were a referendum today.

The good news for the “ins” like myself is that only about a sixth of the population needs to be convinced. The problem is how the ins are going to speak to the feelings of those who are not convinced by logic.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury, Somerset

Save at the very end, nobody mentioned the word “war” in the Farage-Clegg debate on the EU. Both Farage and Clegg are too young to have experienced war in Europe.

For over 500 years nations in post-medieval Europe waged war against one another. In the last century two world wars shattered Europe. My mother had her eldest brother killed in the First World War (Ypres) and her youngest brother killed in the Second (Crete). I was born in 1938 and my father, having survived Dunkirk, was absent on active service from 1940 to 1945, so that I did not recognise him when he returned home.

My mother, sister and I slept in the cellar of our house in south-east London for the duration of the war. A good job too because the house opposite us was bombed flat in 1944 by a V2 rocket.

A united Europe (whatever its faults) is far preferable to antagonistic separate nations, and the Ukip isolation policy is simply a false dream based on outdated 19th-century notions.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent

Listening to the televised debate on Wednesday evening, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a London Cockney setting reflected by the Broadway Market round the corner, a series of cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them. That is why his views carried little weight with me.

Edward Thomas, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Cinderella law: will social workers cope?

Frank Furedi (“The Cinderella law: emotional correctness gone mad”, 2 April) points out that every mother or father is  at risk of being labelled an abuser under the proposed “Cinderella law”.

The Government has proposed this new law just when the NSPCC reports that the threshold for intervening in a child’s life is actually being raised because of record reporting of child abuse. But a huge amount of this reporting is already needless. Department for Education figures for 2012-2013 show that, in England, there were 145,700 needless referrals to children’s social services in one year. Child protection is about a child “suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm”. When so many children are needlessly reported, this does indicate that people already overreact.

So why does the Government want to broaden the definition of child abuse even further, thus creating more cases for an overloaded system? Sixteen children known to Birmingham social services died in a five-year period. A report severely criticised Birmingham social services over the poor quality of referrals, leading to a surge in demand that could not be met.

Detecting child abuse in the community is akin to finding a needle in a haystack for overstretched social workers. So why make the haystack even bigger by creating more cases that will need assessment?

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man

Consistent, loving care is critical in building the human brain, so it certainly is time that our child-protection laws reflect the long-term mental and physical damage caused by the emotional neglect and abuse of children. The announcement that the Government intends to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal offence is an important step.

Understanding the critical importance of the emotional well-being of children is vital to the well-being of society. There is a raft of evidence to show that when infants receive warm, responsive, consistent, attuned, loving care their brains develop well. They are then able to grow into adults with the capacity for empathy and the facility to become good, caring parents themselves.

Lydia Keyte, Chair, What About The Children? Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Frank Furedi claims our Sutton Trust report “Baby Bonds” is driven by “an authoritarian impulse whose main consequence is to diminish parental authority”. In fact, the report is driven by an egalitarian impulse, whose intended consequence is for public policy to better support parents, precisely in order to generate, as Furedi puts it, “more opportunities for children, and indeed parents, to realise their potential.”

Furedi offers no evidence to counter our empirical finding – from a review of over 100 academic studies – that a secure emotional relationship with a parent can have an important influence on children’s life chances, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

Sophie Moullin, Princeton University, Professor Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University, Dr Liz Washbrook, Bristol University

Nasty Party kicks out A-level student

What a PR disaster the removal of the 19-year-old student Yashika Bhageerathi has proved to be! It shows Theresa May in her true colours as a member of the “Nasty Party” who, having failed to meet her targets for immigration, attempts to keep her numbers up by picking on a young, vulnerable girl who came here to avoid abuse. The removal of her alone, without her mother, and a failed attempt to remove her on Mothering Sunday, only added to the disaster.

The Home Office showed a complete lack of common sense and compassion in this case. What difference would it have made if Yashika had been allowed a further six weeks here so she could take her A-levels and return home with a qualification? Instead Britain is once again portrayed as an uncaring nation instead of a just and caring society.

The only people who deserve credit in this sad situation are the head, staff and pupils of the Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield – they may have failed but they are heroes in my book.

Ken Smith, Hinderclay, Suffolk

Why no auction for Royal Mail?

You conclude (editorial, 2 April) that “Mr Cable was still right to be cautious” over the privatisation of the Royal Mail, on the grounds that privatisations cannot be guaranteed to be successful, and that “the effects of hindsight and ‘froth’ are impossible to judge”.

Maybe so, but it is hard to understand why the Department for Business did not, apparently, even consider the use of a properly designed sealed-bid auction, instead of the conventional book-building exercise. Nor, apparently, did the National Audit Office consider this as  an option.

The Treasury uses such auctions to sell government bonds, Google was floated using one, so why not for the Post Office? At least then everyone would have had a chance at getting some shares, and the selling price would have been more likely to settle at the market clearing price, providing that the auction process was properly designed.

David Harvey, Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

Abuse of women becomes fashion

Oh dear, here we go again. The editor of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani, thinks she is campaigning in some way against the abuse of women by actually showing nicely arranged “fashion” images of pretend victims (The Big Read, 3 April).

This happens again and again in film and media. You are not reflecting the horrors of society, you idiots, you are simply joining in and adding  to them.

Sue Nicholas, Cranleigh, Surrey

The battle of Richard’s bones

If there is doubt (“Car park bones disputed”, 28 March) as to whether the Leicester Greyfriars burial is indeed that of Richard III, or of a contemporary similarly slain in battle, perhaps they should be honourably interred as the Unknown Warrior of the Wars of the Roses.

Peter Forster, London N4

Times:

The Culture Secretary’s “apology” for overclaimed expenses has not defused the row

Sir, On Thursday Maria Miller made what must rank as one of the most disgraceful and contemptible speeches ever heard in the Chamber (“Fury grows as expense row minister clings to job”, Apr 4). That she was not howled down is almost as disgraceful and yet another blot on the collective reputation of our MPs.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites

Fishbourne, W Sussex

Sir, It is difficult to know which is more depressing: that a minister, heavily criticised by a Parliamentary committee for her obstructive attitude to its investigation which ordered her to repay overclaimed expenses, should have the gall not to offer her resignation; or that the Prime Minister does not require it.

Robert Rhodes, QC

London WC2

Sir, The Maria Miller scandal shows that party politics and allegiance will always trump truth and justice, and this extends to the highest levels. Is it any wonder that so many of our politicians are held in contempt? It is also a good reason why their ability to influence and control the free press should be strictly limited.

Dr Brian Bunday

Baildon, W Yorks

Sir, The real scandal is that an over-claiming MP can remain on the state’s payroll. In any other walk of life they would now be an
ex-employee.

Roy Hamlin

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Sir, The decision by the Conservative-dominated Commons Committee on Standards to overturn the ruling of the “independent” Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards regarding Maria Miller is akin to someone found guilty in court having the sentence referred to his or her family for the final resolution.

Douglas Kedge

Sonning Common, Oxon

Sir, It appears that the State has provided £90,000 towards Maria Miller’s £420,000 mortgage, just over 21 per cent of total repayments; her property, purchased for £234,000 in 1995, achieved a capital gain in excess of £1.2 million when sold this year for £1.47 million. Is it mischievous to suggest that this matter might satisfactorily be laid to rest if Mrs Miller considered a donation to good causes equivalent to 21 per cent of her profit — causes that she promotes as the Culture Secretary?

Nick Gandon

Hertford Heath, Herts

Sir, David Cameron even went so far as to claim that Miller “was cleared of the original allegation made against her”. Well, actually no she wasn’t; the independent investigation found her guilty. It was the Standards Committee which labelled the over-claimed expenses an “administrative error”. MPs seem to make the same administrative error over and over again. In other words, they judged her by their own rotten standards.

It is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – it is time to rename his birthday in his honour

Sir, Since this is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, St George’s Day, April 23 — the assumed day of Shakespeare’s birth and the known day of his death — should be renamed as Shakespeare’s Day and declared a public holiday, replacing the May Day Bank Holiday.

We should emulate the Burns
Night tradition with Shakespeare Suppers, in celebration of the Bard and his works. Finally, his plays and poems should be brought into perpetual copyright for the benefit of the nation.The royalties should be used to establish a Shakespeare Fund to support young and emerging artists.

Anthony H. Ratcliffe

London W1

A diverse group of Jews explain their concern at the regulations preventing prisoners from reading books

Sir, We, a diverse group of British Jews, are concerned at regulations that prevent prisoners having books (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4050474.ece).

Jewish culture, in its many religious and secular incarnations, is united by a deep-rooted conviction in the power of the written word. As the “people of the book”, the life of the Jews has been sustained for millennia by studying Jewish texts and writing new ones. Books are the source of our solace and our redemption.

We are therefore sensitive to any attempt to restrict access to books, whether suffered by Jews or anyone else. In particular, when prisoners have limited access to books, we are concerned that they will be denied the possibilities of self-improvement and self-understanding that reading provides.

We do not dispute the principle that privileges should be earned in prison, but we do not see books as a privilege but as a resource through which prisoners can transform their lives.

Keith Kahn-Harris (editor, The Jewish Quarterly); Stephen Pollard (editor, The Jewish Chronicle); Devorah Baum, Marc Goldberg, David Paul, Marc Michaels, Deborah Kahn-Harris, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, Rabbi Danny Rich, Student Rabbi Robin Ashworth-Steen, Anthony Julius, Shauna Leven, Vicky Prais and Daniel Silverstone, Kevin Sefton, Lawrence Joffe, Edie Friedman

A reader is appalled by the speed with which personal computers become obsolete and have to be wastefully junked

Sir, We are replacing our computer next week because support for its operating system is being withdrawn. We must also replace a four-year-old printer as it is not compatible with the new machine’s operating system. What a waste of raw materials. It is as if the computer industry has not heard of global warming.

Audrey Pawsey

Harpenden, Herts

Maths for apprentices and craftsmen needs to be practical rather than burdened with academic proofs and principles

Sir, Sir John Armitt et al (letter, Apr 1) say maths and English education for apprenticeships must be contextual and practical rather than academic.

I failed the 11+ so my education was biased towards life as an apprentice. School, technical college and polytechnic studies were practical, easy to understand in the context of experience gained in the workplace, and I often put them into practice in day-to-day tasks.

After my apprenticeship and some years as a master craftsman I went to university to read mathematics with computer science. The change was startling: exercises and discussions were based not on practical problems but on first principles and academic proof of theory. This would have been of little use when I was an apprentice or a craftsman, but in my subsequent career as a chartered engineer the academic first principles were invaluable.

Armitt is quite right: educational requirements for an apprenticeship must be contextual and practical, and the current insistence on academic learning for all is misplaced.

John Martin

Swarthmoor, Cumbria

A long-serving teacher finds that students from a religious background have a grasp of basic moral principles

Sir, When I first taught, in the 1970s, I used to ask students to respond to scenarios involving ethical dilemmas. It was the moral reasoning that I was looking for rather than just a response.

When I repeated the exercise in my last year of teaching I was not surprised to find that many students simply could not understand why it might be considered wrong to steal money collected in school for a charity (provided you were smart enough not to get caught); or why it might be considered wrong to bully someone into providing sexual favours by threatening to spread gossip about them; or why on earth anyone would help an old person who had collapsed in the street.

What did give me pause for thought, however, was that students from religious backgrounds — Christian and Muslim, a significant proportion of whom being from ethnic minorities — met incredulity when they were brave enough to suggest that stealing, lying and bullying might be wrong.

When those who deem themselves to be morally and intellectually superior to “religious” people proclaim their superiority they should consider the feelings, values and culture of these lesser beings — who else will clean the Übermenschen’s houses, nanny their children and repair their plumbing?

R. Howgate

Great Kimble, Bucks

Telegraph:

Withy farmers need flood control in Somerset

The recent floods prevented the withy harvest this year

Flexible working: Somerset withies being woven into a willow coffin at Stoke St Gregory  Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 04 Apr 2014

Comments11 Comments

SIR – I am with Germaine Greer in supporting Somerset’s withy industry, but that is no excuse not to dredge the River Parrett.

Withies must be cut while the plant is dormant – once they shoot, it’s too late – which means January and February. A flood such as the withy farmers have suffered this year is a disaster, as they simply couldn’t get on to the withy beds to harvest their crops.

I worked as clerk to five of the internal drainage boards that cover much of the affected area. Even then (I retired 14 years ago) my boards were agitating against the deliberate neglect of the River Parrett.

For more than 100 years our forefathers had developed a regime that maintained high water levels in summer and emptied the watercourses in the winter to provide flood storage. That system created the area’s undoubted wildlife interest in the first place. The 2014 floods have done major damage to wildlife habitats.

No amount of dredging would have prevented flooding, but a properly dredged river wouldn’t have taken two months to clear the water.

Alone of the principal Somerset rivers, the Parrett has no tidal sluice. This means that tidal silting is a major problem.

A tidal sluice would be expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as the millions spent on “fashionable” bird reserves – and nowhere near as expensive as clearing up after this winter’s floods.

John Hunt
Curry Rivel, Somerset

SIR – Mary Riddell is right: British justice is indeed under threat.

There are 773 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who were given minimum sentences of less than two years. So they are not the most serious of offenders. They were sentenced before 2008. Yet they are still in prison more than six years later.

When indeterminate sentences were abolished in 2012, Parliament gave Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, the power to secure the early release of these prisoners. But he has declined to exercise that power. Quite apart from the sense of injustice, their release would save the taxpayer £30 million a year. When may we expect him to act?

Lord Lloyd of Berwick
London SW1

Get knotted

SIR – Japanese knotweed is not a frightening weed, and is easier to kill than horsetail.

First remove and burn the dry stalks from last year’s growth. As soon as the new red shoots appear, cut them down. Do not put them in the compost bin. Continue to cut the new shoots every week until the autumn, when they will stop reappearing.

Continue the treatment the following year when there will be far fewer shoots. It could take three years before it is all gone. If the shoots are in tarmac or cracked concrete, it might be easier to use a weedkiller, but you will need to reapply it each time the shoots appear.

S Beswick
Whitehaven, Cumberland

Electronic cigarettes

SIR – I am a 70-year-old retired consultant surgeon who smoked for 50 years until March 14 2013. On that day I smoked 30 cigarettes. The next day I gave up smoking and purchased an electronic cigarette kit online. I have not touched a cigarette since.

I use the lowest nicotine dose of 6mg. I now hardly ever use the device. I have not put on weight and I have saved £5,180 out of taxable pensions.

If only electronic cigarettes had been available years ago.

John Storrs
Canterbury, Kent

Dylan in the South

SIR – In North Wales, Dylan would be pronounced “Dullan”, in South Wales “Dillan”. Since Dylan Thomas lived in South Wales, he would probably have said “Dillan”.

Mike Maloney
Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire

Second thoughts

SIR – Britons suffered a severe jolt last Sunday morning when, by Parliamentary decree, they were obliged to rise an hour early in order to arrive at church on time.

A similar jolt is expected in a few months when we will be forced to wait an extra hour before we can enjoy our morning cups of tea.

All this could be avoided if British software engineers and Swiss watchmakers lengthened the second ever so slightly in the summer months and shortened it in the winter months. There would be no noticeable daily effect.

“Summer seconds” and “winter seconds” would be used for all purposes except for those of a scientific or sporting nature, where “standard” seconds would remain in use.

Jack R Richards
Codicote, Hertfordshire

It’s an ill wind…

SIR – It is unbelievable that on the day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that climate change is one of the greatest threats to our planet, David Cameron, who once claimed he was going to have “the greenest government ever”, declared that he wanted to stop all onshore wind-farm development.

He may think this move will win votes, but survey after survey, the last as recent as December, show that 64 per cent of people approve of wind farms.

Peter Edwards
Delabole, Cornwall

Buying silence

SIR – Hilda Gaddum asks if any authority has powers to stop annoying cold calls from overseas that fall outside the control of the Telephone Preference Service. I can answer: Yes!

We too were driven to distraction by such calls. The solution was a telephone from BT that blocks all “number withheld” calls, as well as all overseas calls that I have not registered in my “favourites” memory.

It was the best £45 I have ever spent.

Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

Pillar to post

SIR – A photograph (April 2) showed “Britain’s oldest postbox”, from 1855, at Holwell, Dorset. In Guernsey last summer, I saw a pillar-box installed in 1853 on the site designated by Anthony Trollope when he was a postal surveyor.

John Piffe-Phelps
Oswestry, Shropshire

Medieval pest

SIR – Roger Gentry wonders whether dormant Black Death viruses are being unearthed by the Crossrail excavations disturbing burials under Charterhouse Square in London.

I was a medical student at Barts, living in Charterhouse Square in the Fifties. I remember being taught that the Black Death was caused, not by a virus, but by a bacillus Pasteurella pestis, an anaerobic bacterium. I understand this was renamed Yersinia pestis in 1967 after Alexandre Yersin who discovered it in 1894 as the causative agent of bubonic plague.

However, the huge size of rats seen in Birmingham recently (report, April 2) will not encourage complacency.

Dr Wendy Roles
Sunningdale, Berkshire

How to reply when the waiter says Enjoy!

SIR – His Honour Judge Patrickwonders how to reply to a waiter’s annoying injunction: “Enjoy!”

My usual response is simply: “What?” This obviously does sometimes lead to a lengthy discussion, but the point is made and hopefully remembered.

Sarah Allen
Bridgwater, Somerset

SIR – My response is: “Really?” It has the desired effect. The puzzled expression adds something to proceedings especially if the course is not interesting in itself.

Rev Dr Gareth Jones
Chaplain, Cardiff University

SIR – I consider “Enjoy” to be the English equivalent of “Bon appetit”, which I have always found charming, though it doesn’t translate well. The only response I can offer is a polite “Thank you.”

David Barnett
Thetford, Norfolk

SIR – Being ordered to “enjoy” reminds me of the time in a California store in 1983 when I overheard a customer being told by a sales lady to “have a nice day”. His reply was: “No thank you, I have made other arrangements.”

Valerie Harbidge
Cowling, North Yorkshire

SIR – Now Nick Clegg has made it clear that there is no justification for Britain to remain part of this corrupt, anti-democratic organisation, perhaps David Cameron could get on with the referendum before the country consigns him to history.

David Rammell
Everton, Hampshire

SIR – One question put by a member of the audience to Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg during their debate on Wednesday was: “What will the EU be like in 10 years’ time?”

According to the EU’s own statistics, its share of world GDP has already shrunk from 30.9 per cent in 1980 to 18.3 per cent in 2014. By comparison, the share of world GDP in other advanced countries over the same period has declined by only 7.6 per cent, while that of the rest of the world has increased by 20.1 per cent.

This pattern is projected to continue to 2050. By then, the EU’s share of world GDP is forecast to fall by a further 8.4 per cent, that of advanced countries by another 4.6 per cent, but that of the rest of the world to rise by a further 13 per cent.

Thanks to EU restrictions on negotiating our own trade agreements, we have already lost out in world markets. But we could gain a larger share of world GDP in future if we left the club.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – Do we take it that Ukip and the Lib Dems are the only parties interested in the forthcoming European elections?

Peter Amey
Hoveton, Norfolk

SIR – You can’t help thinking how much better two former Liberal Party leaders, Lord Steel and Lord Ashdown, would have dealt with the inconsistencies and unexpurgated bias spouted by Nigel Farage in his two debates with Nick Clegg.

Despite the audience’s apparent willingness to be swayed by his bellicose and unrealistic views, Mr Farage once again had no original thoughts to offer, and could only try to win support by denigrating all those with whom he disagreed.

Dr Robin J Harman
Farnham, Surrey

SIR – Whatever else Nick Clegg said during his televised debate with Nigel Farage, at least he got one thing correct; his use of the term “human disaster”. A “humanitarian disaster” is a complete contradiction. It is a corruption imported from the American media by lazy and impressionable British journalists during the late Eighties.

Michael R Gordon
Bewdley, Worcestershire

SIR – During the EU debate, Nick Clegg accused Nigel Farage of wanting to turn back the clock and see W G Grace opening the batting for England.

I’m voting Ukip.

Bernard Anghelides
Paddock Wood, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government will shortly publish a strategy designed to reactivate the construction sector through easing perceived obstacles to development. Such a move is welcome; there is significant capacity to boost construction to a sustainable level and in the process create jobs and build much needed infrastructure, in particular homes. According to the latest Housing Agency report, we need 80,000 new homes by the end of 2018, half in Dublin.

Many aspects of the construction strategy have been well flagged, including provisions to relax density requirements in urban areas to enable developers to build fewer, larger houses on sites instead of apartments, in order, we are told, to meet demand for family homes.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in referring to the construction strategy in the 2014 Programme for Government, says that the plan “will be based on enterprise and high standards, not speculation – we are never going back to the culture that nearly destroyed our country”. One aspect of our culture which has indeed damaged our country is urban sprawl. According to Dublin City Council’s study with DIT and UCD on Demographic Trends in Dublin 2012, “we have an American-type urban and regional settlement pattern, based on low density housing and high car dependency. The 2011 Census confirms that a pattern of population dispersal has continued even during the recession. This presents challenges with regard to provision of infrastructure; provision of social services; complex commuting patterns and accessibility; energy costs.” I am concerned that in the context of the need for new housing development, many voices are clamouring for us to make precisely the mistakes we made in the past through continuing to promote urban sprawl.

The topic is emotive, as evidenced by the reaction to recent comments by the head of the Department of Finance. A broad-ranging talk on construction and property issues – from the need to provide public housing to people who can no longer afford mortgage payments to the professionalisation of apartment block management was reduced in media reports to a reference to three-bedroom semi-detached houses.

It is possible to develop attractive family homes without resorting to the popular but unfortunately unsustainable two-storey house. The problem is that we have failed to convince people of the benefits of higher densities or the positive aspects of apartment living. To do this we need to broaden the discussion to include qualitative issues – not only in relation to the design, construction, management and maintenance of the apartments themselves but to consideration of the neighbourhood as a whole.

Developing homes and neighbourhoods in a sustainable way will pay dividends on many levels, including fairness (more people able to live closer to jobs, amenities and services) and health: the design of buildings and public spaces in cities and towns can lead to positive changes in our lifestyle and ultimately to greater levels of physical activity, which combat the root causes of obesity.

A Government strategy to re-energise the construction sector is welcome – but only if it doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate urban sprawl. Yours, etc,

ALI GREHAN,

Dublin City Architect,

Civic Offices,

Wood Quay,

Dublin 8

Sir, – The Housing Agency’s report projecting housing need over the next five years presents a significant opportunity to break with the mistakes of the past and ensure a considered, evidence-based approach to planning. However it also provokes pressure for a return to laissez faire, developer-led planning that must be resisted.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the modern Irish planning system, which sought “to make provision, in the interests of the common good, for the proper planning and development of cities, towns and other areas”. The National Planning Conference in Limerick this month marks this anniversary and will ask if 50 years on we have learned to avoid a knee-jerk reaction in the face of the need for new homes.

Serviced urban land remains a scarce resource that needs effective management. To construct places where people want to live, work and build communities, we must think long-term. Large volumes of low-density housing development produced at minimal cost to developers and maximum price to the consumer contributed to the problems of the property boom and often made “places” unsustainable as provision of services to low-density, remote developments became financially impracticable. This legacy must never be repeated.

As Ministers Hogan and O’Sullivan’s foreword to Local Area Plans – Guidelines for Planning Authorities (June 2013) states, we must focus on “settlements and place, rather than just development …We need to plan for communities, not for profit”.

The Housing Agency report lays down a challenge, not just for professional planners, but for all disciplines engaged in place-making. How do we ensure that good quality, affordable, efficient, well-designed houses are built where they should be and that real place-making remains at the forefront of the planning and housing agenda?

The Department has produced a range of guidelines designed to inform planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, developers and the general public. Today we have a more comprehensive suite of guidance than ever before which demonstrates the aspiration at national level to deliver quality places. Rather than complaining about densities and the planning system we simply must implement these and get on with building high-quality, sustainable places. The days of parachute planning and place-making must be at an end. Yours, etc,

MARY CROWLEY MIPI,

President,

Irish Planning Institute,

Great Strand Street,

Dublin 1

Sir, – I refer to recent statements by Leo Varadkar in relation to the funding of Irish Rail. Mr Varadkar justifies his assertion that rail is inefficient on the basis of the relative numbers carried, compared to Dublin Bus or Luas. This is a shortsighted and simplistic analysis, which ignores the fact that the average rail journey is many multiples of the average Dublin Bus or Luas journey and is thus of more social and economic import.

The economic worth of the railway shouldn’t be casually dismissed – ask the people of Donegal how that region has fared since the destruction of rail infrastructure in the North West. Nor would I be particularly confident that bus-based solutions have the ability to address the transport needs of the Dublin area given that the usage of Dublin Bus services has declined sharply, from 149 million journeys in 2003/4 to 115 million in 2012. Indeed Dublin Bus carries substantially fewer passengers than in the much smaller Dublin of the 1960s while rail usage (excluding Luas) has increased by a factor of four. Indeed significant sections of the rail system are heavily congested, resulting in serious service degradation, particularly along the Dublin/Belfast corridor. Yours, etc,

ANTHONY GRAY ,

Wheaton Hall,

Drogheda,

Co Louth

Sir, – Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar is warning of possible closures on our railway network. However, on the European election campaign, his party colleague Jim Higgins MEP is still supporting the notion that the Western Rail Corridor (WRC) should be extended further. Mr Higgins is well aware that European TEN-T transport policy has made the Western Rail Corridor a non runner for European funding and there is going to be no Dublin money for this scheme.

Mairead McGuinness MEP is backing growing support in the West for the WRC to be converted to a greenway to protect the route until such time as a railway might become possible. Lorraine Higgins, Labour Party MEP candidate, and Luke Ming Flanagan, independent MEP candidate, also support the idea of a greenway.

Galway, Mayo and Sligo county councils, all with Fine Gael majorities, are against this policy, which would provide a huge boost to tourism for relatively little capital outlay. The councils seem to share the view of the three sitting Western MEPs, Jim Higgins, Marian Harkin and Pat the Cope Gallagher, that we apparently still have the money to open old rural railway lines in the West of Ireland and run them at a huge loss. It’s irresponsible politics.

Were the Minister to make it clear to our MEPs and councils that not only are some of our existing rail lines under threat but that there is no chance of more loss-making lines being reopened then perhaps they might throw their support behind a project that has a realistic chance of happening and which would bring jobs to the West. Yours, etc,

BRENDAN QUINN,

Sligo Mayo

Greenway Campaign,

Enniscrone,

Co Sligo

Sir, – Why are the views of philosophers, theologians and sociologists on our society mostly ignored, David Nelson asks (Letters, April 4th). Silly question, easy answer: there is no money in philosophy, theology or sociology. And if there is no money in philosophy, theology or sociology, they’re not worth anything, are they? That’s what kids in Ireland mostly learn, isn’t it? Ignore this message: it was written by a philosopher. In the context of the free market economy, it’s worthless. Yours, etc,

DR GERARD P MONTAGUE,

Zaumberg,

Immenstadt,

Allgäu,

Germany

Sir, – Amid the events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cumann na mBan and its role in the struggle for independence, it should not be forgotten that members of that organisation were subsequently committed to the overthrow of the independent Irish state. One of its core activities in the first decade of the Irish Free State was the attempted undermining of the criminal justice system through persistent and co-ordinated jury intimidation.

Many examples of the menacing circulars sent to jurors’ homes and posted in public places survive in the National Archives, National Library and the Dublin Diocesan Archives. This campaign supplemented the activities of those who were willing to attack jurors, such as the men who shot John White in Terenure in 1929. He had been foreman of the jury which had convicted the Republican Con Healy of shooting at members of An Garda Síochána. Indeed, Cumann na mBan referred to the fate of Mr White in one of its leaflets as a warning to other jurors. Yours, etc,

MARK COEN,

Durham Law School,

Stockton Road,

Durham,

United Kingdom

Sir, – Edward Collins (Letters, April 3rd) is under a misapprehension. I did not write in to moan, or to look for sympathy, but to draw attention to the simple fact that up to half of the State’s voters are being ignored by the political system and by the media.

Mr Collins portrays us as diehard conservatives, impotently angry at the loss of our former power and glory. In fact, Mary Stewart has been campaigning tirelessly for years against the death penalty, as well as against abortion, and I was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party until it adopted pro-abortion policies.

Personally, if it were not for the issue of abortion, I would not bother to write these letters at all. Does anyone seriously think that a Catholic like me would write to The Irish Times expecting “sympathy” for my position?

I was merely pointing out to your readers, and hopefully to politicians, that while there may be consensus in the media about various issues, large numbers of us have different views, and will vote accordingly. I feel that I need to do this because the media, for the most part, are not doing it for me.

Yours, etc,

JIM STACK,

Lismore,

Co Waterford

Sir, – The Government’s white paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI), published this week is fundamentally flawed.

It will place an immediate financial burden on families, and the only consultation process open to the public is restricted to deliberating on what this “competing insurers” model will look like. Meanwhile, there is no consultation of any kind taking place on any other options, such as those recommended in Dr Jane Pillinger’s 2012 report The Future of Healthcare in Ireland .

That report recommended that the competing insurers model, as proposed by the Minister, should not be adopted before all the options have been evaluated in terms of quality, equity, access to services and medium and long term value for money. The report was ignored by the Minister.

Families will be required by law to have health insurance, but there is a real risk that this will be an impossible financial burden from the very start, particularly for the growing number of people without health insurance who don’t qualify for a medical card.

This group will be required to purchase health insurance for every member of their family. While the Dutch insurance model provided the Minister with his initial inspiration for this UHI scheme, it should be noted that children are actually insured for free under the Dutch model.

The question of cost remains, but it appears that no evaluation of any other funding model has been undertaken. We have been trying to get the message across to the Minister that other options need to be considered, such as the “single-payer” social insurance model used in France, Germany and Nordic countries.

Apart from a cursory late briefing on the day of publication, where questions were not invited from trade unions or patient groups, there has been no engagement with the Minister on these issues.

The experience in other jurisdictions which have similar models of competing insurers, has been a continuing rise in the price of compulsory insurance, coupled with increasing restrictions on the health services covered. They have also experienced rising readmission rates as more people experience complications after they’ve been discharged. This can be attributed to the financial incentives to discharge patients early.

The Minister’s estimate of €900 per individual seems almost optimistic, but if this model is established, the costs are likely to continue to rise. The Minister has also boasted that the scheme will ensure no additional cost burden to the State, which will mean that the only means of raising extra revenue will be through individual insurance premiums.

Finally, if we really want to get the measure of where this scheme is going, it is telling that the €100 charge for emergency departments will remain in place. Yours, etc,

LOUISE O’DONNELL,

National secretary,

Health & Welfare division

IMPACT,

Sir, – Brian McDevitt (Letters, April 2nd) is using out of date and inaccurate figures in his comments on GP incomes. As a general practitioner, I get on average €85.80 per year for a medical card patient under the age of 70.

For this sum, I provide medical cover to my patients for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This is before tax, and before paying staff, premises, equipment and computer costs and what is required to ensure out of hours cover etc.

For years my private patients have been subsidising my medical card practice and sustaining the standard of practice that we are trying to provide. This situation has been exacerbated by the 35 per cent cut in medical card fees unilaterally imposed by the Government in the last three years.

The recently appointed professor of general practice in UCC, who has come from the United Kingdom, has been quoted as describing the GP service in this country as “gold dust”. Under current Government proposals it may well become just dust. Yours, etc,

DR EAMONN FALLER,

Crescent Medical Centre,

The Crescent,

Galway

Sir, – Brian McDevitt’s letter reflects the success of the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health in convincing the general public that global payments to a GP practice reflect the remuneration of the doctors involved.

By this logic, the situation is indeed even worse than Mr McDevitt imagines it to be since I can reveal that a certain Dr J Reilly received €13 billion in payments last year, which does seem excessive.

In Dr Reilly’s defence it should be said that this money is used to fund the health service. On a micro level the payments are the global payments to practices which fund nurses, secretaries, heat, light and medical supplies among other things. As these fees have been cut successively in recent years, the private fees that Mr McDevitt refers to are increasingly used to support the provision of services to medical card patients. Although the State has the responsibility to provide services to this group, it does not appear to be willing to adequately fund it. Yours, etc,

SÉAMUS McMENAMIN,

Family Doctor,

Baile Átha Luimnigh,

An Uaimh,

Co Na Mhí

Sir, – Your Irish language columnist Caoimhe Ní Laighin misleadingly states in her article(“Cinniúint na Catalóine”, April 2nd) that there are “77,000 cainteoir ag an nGaeilge”. This is not correct. The number of Irish speakers who claim to use Irish daily “outside the educational system only” should not be equated with the total number of Irish speakers, as your columnist has done. Many Irish speakers living outside Irish-speaking communities do not easily get opportunities on a daily basis to use Irish but they are still Irish-speakers.

In my opinion a better measure of the number of active Irish-speakers is the number of people who claim in census returns to use the language at least weekly outside education. This figure, according to the 2011 census is 188,000 for the 26 counties.

The 2011 census taken in Northern Ireland showed that there were 64,847 people who claimed to be able to understand, read, write and speak Irish. Unfortunately we don’t have figures for daily and weekly users but I would suggest a figure of approximately 16,000 would not be an exaggeration, giving a figure of a little more than 200,000 for the number of people who use Irish on a regular basis within the island of Ireland.

DONNCHA

Ó hÉALLAITHE,

Gaeltaighde,

Indreabhán,

Co na Gaillimhe

Irish Independent:

Published 05 April 2014 02:30 AM

* Leaving my local supermarket some days ago I stopped to put some change on the table for the Kidney Association, a fantastic organisation that has done some great work over the years.

Also in this section

Put lead in your pencil and use your vote

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

Coming back from the mother of all mistakes

I never pass its table as, many years ago, a friend of mine who was on the waiting list finally got his new kidney and I saw first-hand what a difference it made to his life.

Unfortunately he has since passed, but it left a lasting impression on my life. I now always carry my organ donor card in my wallet. But, as we all know, we often leave our wallet and driver’s licence behind, which delays any decision regarding organ donation or discussions with next-of-kin.

Investigating the matter further, I discovered that carrying an organ donor card merely indicates your intention to be an donor but does not give permission. Your next-of-kin still need to be contacted first which, understandably for the hospital, can be a very difficult conversation considering the trauma the family is experiencing.

With this in mind, I contacted my local hospital to ask if they had a list of donors which I could add my name too, “unfortunately not” was the reply – no such list exists.

Would it not make more sense to have a list of donors, where you could sign up and complete all the necessary legal forms with the consent of your next-of-kin?

Your name and medical details could be stored on computer, to be accessed only in the event of death, which removes the need to contact grief-stricken families.

Given the power of computers and with time-critical decisions required, it would also mean that your details could be immediately matched to somebody on the waiting list. If there were no suitable matches in Ireland your medical details could be instantly matched to somebody in Europe.

None of this is rocket science and, in this age of computers, carrying a small card that is easily lost or misplaced is obsolete.

I’m sure a properly constructed list, which could run in tandem with donor cards, would lead to more organs becoming available, dealt with in the fastest possible time and with a lot less stress on the donor’s family.

EUGENE MCGUINNESS

CO KILKENNY

PRESIDENTIAL PRECEDENT

* President Michael D Higgins has launched a national debate about values.

Perhaps President Higgins could lead from the front on issues he refers to, such as justice and equality, by reducing his salary to a reasonable level.

Real leadership would be for the President to publicly declare what he accepts as a reasonable salary and pension.

SEAMUS CULLEN

SEACREST, KNOCKNACARRA, CO GALWAY

COURAGE TO RISE AGAIN

* With regard to Brian McDevitt’s letter (Irish Independent, April 4), on NNI Press Pass winner Elayna Keller’s work on bullying, here are some great words of inspiration from Stan Rogers‘s ‘The Mary Ellen Carter’.

“And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow. With smiling b****rds lying to you everywhere you go. Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain. And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.”

The great Liam Clancy‘s version is a source of great solace to those who listen to it. Try it.

MARK ROTHWELL,

CASTLECOMER, CO KILKENNY

A FAMINE OF OUR IDEALS

* I don’t feel particularly sorry for TDs involved in scandals. But as we leave all decency behind, the Irish world becomes less and less like the ideal we aimed for in our founding values. Partially, it is the politicians’ greed and indifference that has created this “me fein” attitude.

It was bizarre for me to find anti-Semitism in Australia and the unfounded nature of it, hatred for no reason. Hatred passed on.

Now, there is a certain amount of crying wolf in depicting criticism of Israel’s actions as anti-Semitic. Israel is often regarded as doing the wrong thing. But, as many Israelis acknowledge, they are now protesting with the Palestinians for peace in their mutual homes.

But who are we to be sending Nazi imagery to any Irish person? Is this the country we want? Where we make light of genocide? Us, who survived a famine brought upon us by the notion that we too were “unwanted” and, therefore, also disposable.

You may not like Justice Minister Alan Shatter. You may think he does a bad job. But this? Come on people, we are better than this.

PAULINE BLEACH

WOLLI CREEK, AUSTRALIA

STATE’S LISTENING EAR

* Now that it has been established that recordings of conversations took place in several garda stations and the prison service – most of them illegally – it begs the question as to how many others were also surreptitiously eavesdropped on?

In true GUBU-esque fashion, it would appear, in hindsight, the shenanigans of Sean Doherty and his cronies were boy scout-esque in comparison.

LIAM POWER

SAN PAWL IL-BAHAR, MALTA.

OVER-70S CARD SCANDAL

* The HSE is currently reviewing the medical card entitlements of thousands of over-70s following Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s appalling changes to the income thresholds in Budget 2014 and, in particular, the income thresholds that apply to couples.

The following statistics will demonstrate the unequal and scandalous treatment of couples in this age bracket.

* The single threshold was reduced by €5,200 per annum.

* The threshold for couples was reduced by a staggering €15,600 per annum – that’s €7,800 each.

* The new annual threshold for a single person is €26,000.

* The new annual threshold for a couple is €46,800 – this works out at €23,400 each.

It is extraordinary that no threshold applies to the new GP Visit Card for children under six. So millionaires with children under six will be entitled to it. What a joke.

JOSEPH NAUGHTON

CORBALLY, CO LIMERICK

LOSING TRAIN OF THOUGHT

* I refer to recent statements by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar in relation to the funding of Irish Rail.

Mr Varadkar justifies his assertion that rail is inefficient on the basis of the relative numbers carried compared to Dublin Bus or Luas.

This is a very blinkered, short-sighted and simplistic analysis. It ignores the fact that the average rail journey is many multiples of the average Dublin Bus or Luas journey and is thus of more social and economic importance.

The economic worth of the railway to places like Galway, Killarney or Westport shouldn’t be casually dismissed – ask the people of Donegal how that region has fared since the destruction of rail infrastructure in the north-west.

While Irish Rail may well need to make further savings, it also needs to grow the business and aggressively exploit the substantial improvements in railway infrastructure.

I wouldn’t be particularly confident that bus-based solutions have the ability to address the transport needs of the Dublin area given that the usage of Dublin Bus services has declined sharply from 149 million journeys in 2003/4 to 115 million in 2012.

Indeed, significant sections of the rail system are heavily congested, especially in the Dublin area, resulting in serious service degradation, particularly along the Dublin/Belfast corridor.

ANTHONY GRAY

WHEATON HALL, DROGHEDA, CO LOUTH

Irish Independent

Under the Weather

April 4, 2014

4 April2014 Under the Weather

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to transport a diplomatPriceless

Mary under the weather

Scrabbletoday, I win , Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Richard Vaughan – obituary

Richard Vaughan was a medieval historian and ornithologist who studied bird life from Europe to the wilds of the Arctic

Richard Vaughan

Richard Vaughan

6:04PM BST 03 Apr 2014

Comments5 Comments

Richard Vaughan, who has died aged 86, had the distinction of being both a much-respected academic historian and an ornithologist of international repute.

As an expert on the Middle Ages and an accomplished linguist, he was a university professor in three different countries. As a man gripped by a lifelong passion for observing and photographing birds, he published hundreds of papers and articles in journals and magazines; these were widely respected – his writings on the birds of the Arctic were particularly admired in Russia.

Richard Vaughan

Richard Vaughan was born at Maidenhead on July 9 1927, the son of a Colonial Service lawyer who eventually became Chief Justice of Fiji. As a 15-year-old pupil at Eastbourne College during its wartime evacuation to Radley, his skill at catching in his hand food regurgitated by nesting swifts provided such valuable new evidence on their diet that he was acknowledged (as “a schoolboy near Oxford”) in David Lack’s classic Swifts in a Tower.

His precocious expertise soon led him to be invited on field trips by many other leading ornithologists of the day, including James Fisher, WB Alexander, HN Southern and BW Tucker. While still in his teens he contributed to Country Life the first of what would eventually be nearly 100 articles on birds, illustrated with his own photographs.

On National Service after the war, stationed on Salisbury Plain as an Education Corps librarian, his reading of all 400 books which were standard issue to Army libraries led him to aspire to become a professional historian. At Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he was awarded a double First, and in 1953 became a college Fellow. Fluent in Italian (he would eventually become conversant with 13 languages), he spent one summer wandering around parts of the Abruzzi so remote that each valley still had its own distinct dialect.

In 1955, according to legend, he proposed to his future wife Margaret Morris only on condition that she could identify each species of duck in St James’s Park. In 1958 he published what became the standard work on the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris, who was also an artist (a talented painter himself, Vaughan created Christmas cards meticulously illuminated in medieval style).

Richard Vaughan observing bird life

Between 1962 and 1976 he completed his major work, a four-volume account of the pivotal part played in late-medieval Europe by the Duchy of Burgundy, having in 1965 become professor of history at Hull. As his family grew to include six children, he took them on camping holidays across Europe, where they could swim while he photographed birds — notably for his pioneering study of the rare Eleanora’s falcon, which nests in colonies on unoccupied Mediterranean islands, feeding its young on migrating birds.

Unaware of his reputation as an ornithologist, the Hull history department was bemused when three star-struck young birdwatchers turned up to ask whether its professor was “the Eleanora’s falcon Vaughan”.

So immersed was he in the Middle Ages that he was known to observe that “history stopped in 1492”. But in the late 1970s he leapt forward to the modern age, producing in 1978 a revealingly original account, based on key documents, of the origins of the European Community. In 1981 he became professor of medieval history at the Dutch university of Groningen, where he also became chairman of its Arctic Centre.

Vaughan’s interest in the Arctic had been sparked by a spell in Hull hospital, where a fellow-patient had been a retired whaler. The whaler’s stories led Vaughan to take an expert interest in both the history and birds of the Arctic. His many subsequent visits to the northern parts of Norway, Greenland, Russia and Canada inspired more books in addition to several he had already published on British seabirds. They included his monumental In Search of Arctic Birds (1992) and The Arctic: A History (1994)

After a year at the University of Central Michigan, he retired to a cottage on the North York Moors and then, in 1996, to Porlock in Somerset. Although this saw an end, after 50 years, to his inimitable contributions to Country Life, under such titles as “The Choughs of Grindelwald”, “Tragedy of the Ebro Delta” and “Amorous Lapwings”, his knowledge of bird life across Europe was so comprehensive that, when a friend asked him whether it was possible that birds of prey he had seen circling high above the Gorge du Tarn in southern France could have been Egyptian vultures, he immediately replied: “There were 21 of them, weren’t there? They were introduced there a few years ago.”

In 2005, with his daughter Nancy, an academic naturalist, he published the definitive monograph on the rare stone curlew, a bird he had loved since first observing it on Salisbury Plain 60 years earlier. In 2010 his last book, Rings and Wings, gave a delightful account of the four 19th-century pioneers of bird-ringing, at which Vaughan himself had become expert in his early teens, setting traps round the Devon garden where he spent his wartime holidays.

Richard Vaughan is survived by Margaret, who acted as his field assistant for five decades, and by their two sons and four daughters.

Richard Vaughan, born July 9 1927, died March 4 2014

Guardian:

• We agree with every word written by Robert Shore (Let’s hear it for the Midlands, G2, 26 March), especially the claim that the “Mercian supremacy” laid the foundations for a “unified” England. To remind the sceptical: Mercia was once so important in the continental context that London was perhaps seen as its sea port.

We have constructed a walking/ studying Mercia project to cross Mercia on foot, constructing a modern walkers’ Spaghetti Junction with the existing Mercian Trail in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Our routes use towpaths (canals represent the Mercian contribution to the industrial revolution) to link Wessex from the Thames Path to the Pictish/Scottish kingdoms via the Pennine Way. Our “low speed 1″ could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of HS2. Studying follows walking: exploring the evolution of the Mercian landscape, places and language. Mercian explorers are welcome to contact us by email at mercia.project@yahoo.co.uk.
Christopher Gowers, Malcolm Southan
Oxford (Outer Mercia)

The failed asylum claim by Yashika Bageerathi and her family and the deportation of the 19-year-old back to Mauritius exposes the inflexibility of our immigration and asylum system (Report, 3 April). Especially at a time of heightened rhetoric and the public demonisation of immigrants who come to the UK, there is little scope for discretion. The definition of a refugee is an artificial construct developed to deal with displaced persons in Europe after the second world war. It was also a cold war tool, elevating issues likely to advantage those fleeing political oppression, while ignoring equally valid but differing claims of economic harm. To come within the definition, you need to flee state persecution because of your “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (the definition has been expanded to include your sex or sexual orientation). It does not take heed of those facing starvation nor, as in the case of Yashika, the threat of violence from a family member. Those claimants are destined to become “failed asylum seekers” or “economic migrants”.

Yashika’s case is not exceptional. The family would have been expected to have moved to another area, or to have looked for protection from the state. Far more difficult claims for asylum are refused on a regular basis. Her excellent school results and the potential for her to become an asset to the UK are not relevant to the decision. There are many unaccompanied minors who are similarly deported upon their 18th birthdays, regardless of the reception they will face upon return. Hopefully this difficult case and the outcry it has caused will start a debate about the system as a whole: about who should be allowed to stay and about whether there should be discretion in these cases.
Dana Carli

Polly Toynbee is over-generous to George Osborne (Comment, 1 April). VAT inspectors’ salaries are £35,000 only in London – in the rest of the UK the starting salary is £22,000 and, due to the chancellor’s policy of no annual increments for the civil service, this is where you stay. Also, she underestimates the benefit we achieve for the country; I have identified additional VAT 20 times my salary this year. She is, however, correct in her overall analysis of what seems to be the chancellor’s dogmatic ideology in cutting HMRC staff even if the result is failure to collect all the tax that is due.
Ian Arnott (VAT officer)
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

• In his review of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (3 April), Michael Billington claims that it is actually based on a 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That particular film was a remake of a 1964 movie called Bedtime Story, starring Marlon Brando and David Niven.
Noel Hannon
London

• Re the famous Shrewsbury flower show (Letters, 29 March). It is so important that Shrewsbury Town’s opening fixture of the 1985-86 season against Crystal Palace was postponed to avoid a clash with the festival. I remember because I nearly set out from Manchester to watch the mighty Palace on the wrong day.
Michael Cunningham
Wolverhampton

• Not far from Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire, Upperthong and Netherthong are well worth popping into (Letters, passim).
Fr Alec Mitchell
Manchester

• If your readers get a bit peckish seeking out these weirdly named places they can always call in at Chipshop in Cornwall.
Rob Parrish
Starcross, Devon

• I agree with the suspiciously aptly named Roger Plenty (Letters, 3 April). Overpopulation is a problem, but can be alleviated by tackling its root cause, unconscious coupling.
Marcus Weeks
Hastings, East Sussex

The death sentence handed down to 529 protesters by an Egyptian court (Report, 24 March) should have produced much more than mumbled regret from the British government. This was a political show trial in which less than half the defendants were present in court. Their defence lawyers were not in the court either. The trial has been condemned by Amnesty International. The protesters were not, as reports have routinely claimed, all supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and revulsion at the verdict stretches across the political spectrum to include all but the most determined supporters of Field Marshall El Sisi. All this takes place against the background of the outright banning of Egypt‘s largest opposition group, which followed the shooting by the Egyptian army of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters last year. The British government should call in the Egyptian ambassador and demand that this judgment is withdrawn with immediate effect.
Mark Serwotka General secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union
Steve Turner Assistant general secretary, Unite the Union
Ken Loach Film director
Helena Kennedy QC
Alaa Mohamed Chair, British Egyptians 4 Democracy
Basma Muhammad Co-ordinator, International Anti-Coup Pro-Democracy Alliance
Andrew Murray Chief of staff, Unite the Union
John Rees Co-founder, Stop the War Coalition
Mohammad Soudan UK representative, Freedom and Justice Party
Louise Christian Human rights lawyer
Bernard Regan Chair, Sertuc international committee
Caryl Churchill Playwright
Peter Oborne Chief political commentator, Daily Telegraph
Lindsey German Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Carl Arrindell Head of current affairs, Islam Channel
Paul Mackney Former general secretary Natfhe/UCU
Chris Nineham National secretary, Counterfire
Steve Bell Treasurer, Stop the War Coalition
Kate Hudson
Cherry Sewell Officer, Greek Solidarity Campaign

Maryam al-Khawaja’s claim that having Formula One in Bahrain causes human-rights violations (Report, 28 March) is little more than attention-seeking from an unrepresentative voice. Not only is there no evidence whatsoever to back this claim up, why on earth would the overwhelming majority of people – including the main opposition parties, such as Al Wefaq – support the hosting of the race if that were to be the case?

The independent inquiry in 2011 – led by one of the world’s leading human rights experts, Cherif Bassiouni – resulted in a comprehensive report and a series of recommendations for extensive reform, which was fully accepted by the government. At no stage did this report find any links whatsoever between human rights violations and Formula One, with over 9,000 testimonies taken into account. Bahrain welcomes and celebrates in the joy of Formula One, with attendance at the race representing almost 10% of the total population of the kingdom. It benefits the whole country, irrespective of religion and political affiliation and our upcoming race will be a true testament to that.
Alice Samaan
Ambassador of Bahrain

• Once again we hear pronouncements from Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted (Report, 3 March), who reveals his lack of understanding of what constitutes high-quality early years education. The purpose is not to prepare children for school but rather to give them opportunities where they can learn about the world and those in it in through their explorations of what interests them. Supported by adults who pay close attention to what they are doing, they are encouraged to express and share their developing ideas and feelings and to feel confident about what they already know and can do rather than experience failure at the start of their journey as lifelong learners. All children, from all backgrounds, will learn when what and how they learn is respected.

Wilshaw should know that evidence from neuroscience shows that we continue to be learners throughout our lives – and this tells us that learning is not a race to predetermined goals but a continuing search for meaning. He could take some time to read what people like Vygotsky and Bruner, Malaguzzi and Trevarthen have said about early learning. Do we really want our young children to be introduced to formal learning before they have had opportunities to develop the skills they need for this through everyday exploration of situations that make human sense to them? Do we really want to have our two-year-olds learning, by rote, to count and chant the sounds of our non-phonetic language? Do we really want to prepare our thinking and competent young children to be able to do no more than meet a series of meaningless targets measuring little that matters?

By all means provide funding for all schools to set up nursery classes. But if this is a serious attempt to improve early childhood education in this country, look to the funding, the philosophy and the knowledge base.
Sandra Smidt
Early years consultant and author, London

• Quite how we got to the point where one person decides what is a good school beats me, but now Michael Wilshaw is deciding what is a good pre-school education.

Too many children lack basic language and counting skills when they start school, says the chief inspector, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The cure once again is to improve the quality of teaching, when all the research points to child poverty, poor diet, housing, healthcare, parenting and environment as the major factors associated with under-achievement. Improve those and you improve achievement.

However, Wilshaw is not one to refer to the evidence, let alone understand research findings. We know his grasp of statistics is shaky with his reference to “one in five children leaving primary schools not reaching average”. A good pre-school experience is well documented, but in the face of all the evidence Michael Wilshaw focuses on a weak vision of quality: teaching and learning as a sterile process by which pre-school children acquire skills.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

• Can Michael Wilshaw, who called for childminders to teach toddlers to hold a pen, actually read? Childminders do exactly what it says on the tin
Malcolm Severn
Belper, Derbyshire

Nigel Farage‘s task was relatively easy (Clegg tactics fail as Farage romps home in EU debate, 3 April). Brusque, good-humoured bigotry supported by bluster will always seem to beat thoughtful well-informed analysis. And Nick Clegg did not seem able to think on his feet. There is a difference in kind between “law” and “regulation”. The EU has contributed to 7% of our laws but to over 50% of our regulations. These regulations, worked on by the small committees which Ukip MEPs spurn, have resulted in, for example: cleaner air, cleaner beaches and rivers, the banning of harmful food additives, smoke-free workplaces, improved child and animal welfare, cross border policing, some control over human trafficking, support for democracy and human rights – and much more. And most strikingly we have had peace in what for centuries had been a war-torn Europe. In spite of the “knock out” which Ukip supporters have claimed for Clegg, I shall be changing my allegiance from Labour to the Lib Dems.
John Saunders
Oxford

• In 1975, I voted no in the referendum. Bear in mind the question was should we remain in the EU? Forty years on and we are part of a very different organisation. Whereas the EU In 1975 was without a doubt a free-trade organisation, the current EU is still free trade but now also supports a strong social policy aimed at ensuring that workers in one EU country cannot be exploited to take advantage of the free trade policy. Why didn’t Mr Clegg make this point during the debate? Could it be that he does not support strong rights for “hardworking people”?
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Ian Traynor (Report, 3 April) says that Nigel Farage’s military superpower is an EU that does not exist. Let me remind him of the billions being spent on the Eurofighter Typhoon – the world’s most advanced swing-role combat aircraft, offering agile performance, interoperability and unrivalled flexibility. A lot of money just for airshows.
John Daramy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• Watching the televised debate, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a cockney setting reflected by Broadway market round the corner, cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited in his wish were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg therefore necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them.

That is why his views carried little weight with me on Wednesday. I make no bones about it. I do not want mass immigration. I do not want multiculturalism. I do not want diversity. I do not want political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Rather, I wish to be allowed to continue to live my life immersed in my own culture, with all its foibles and its faults as well as its joys, and not immersed in a melting pot of other people’s cultures, no matter how beneficial that is perceived to be for my own culture.
Edward Thomas
Eastbourne

• Your coverage includes a brief expose on Nigel farage using a private company to avoid taxes. People use private companies for many reasons, sometimes for tax reasons, often because the contracting party will only deal with a company and not an individual. Farage is dangerous and his view offensive, but a petty and half-baked article about his tax affairs isn’t going to help people focus on the real reasons why we should be concerned about the rising profile of him and his party.
Tim Maynard
Castle Hedingham, Essex

• “Farage romps home in EU debate”. I expect it of the Mail or Express but does the Guardian need to present politics as a reality show. The ownly losers will be ordinary people and the poor if either of them “wins”.
Michael McLoughlin
London

• Top marks to Nick Clegg for taking on Farage. My revulsion for the Ukip leader went through the ceiling.
Bridget Wright
Malltraeth, Anglesey

• Ukip if you want to, I’m staying awake and aware.
Rev June Freshney
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Naomi Wayne writes: As a 17-year-old first-year law student at the LSE in 1968, I dropped in on a lunchtime meeting addressed by Tony Benn. Well to the left of the then centrist minister, I was at odds with his views, and said so. Ten minutes later, the meeting ended and when Benn emerged he made a beeline for me and launched into a passionate defence of his position. We spent several minutes disagreeing with each other. I was hugely impressed, not with his arguments but with his desire to engage on an equal footing with a young and obscure student and with his total lack of self-importance. Deference was dying in 1968 but for Benn it had never existed.

Hugh Kerr writes: When I was selected as the Labour candidate for the European parliamentary seat of Essex West and Hertfordshire East in 1994, the Labour party was a little doubtful, since I was a known leftwing socialist. However, since all seven Westminster seats that made up the constituency were Tory-held, the party didn’t believe I would win, so let me run. My brief was: “No money, staff or speakers, just keep the Tories busy!” I invited Tony Benn to head up my opening rally but, knowing his strong anti-EU views, not to speak about Europe. He gave a wonderful half-hour speech on socialism to 500 people, we raised £5,000, and I was elected three weeks later.

Barbara Hall writes: During the 1960s, I worked at the National Economic Development Office. One day I arrived back at Millbank Tower after lunch, before a council meeting was due to start. As I reached the door, a number of so-called captains of industry, newly arrived in their chauffeur-driven limousines, swept past me, allowing the door to slam in my face. Then came Tony Benn: he opened the door for me, stood aside to let me pass, walked to the lift with me and pressed the button for my floor, chatting amiably the while. His old-fashioned courtesy and respect for a complete stranger provided a stark contrast to the behaviour of those who had gone before.

Colin Thomas writes: Tony Benn was regarded with great affection in Bristol and, when he left the city to become the MP for Chesterfield in 1984, there was a farewell party for him at which I was asked to sing the Ballad of Joe Hill, but after the lines “Says Joe: ‘What they can never kill, Went on to organise'”, I forgot the words. Tony Benn saved me from embarrassment by joining in the last verse: “From San Diego up to Maine, In every mine and mill, Where workers strike and organise, It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill, It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.” And it’s there we’ll continue to find Tony Benn, too.

Independent:

What is all this about winning or losing the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg? Either you agreed with the one or the other. I doubt if many changed their minds: neither deployed any new arguments. Clegg used logic, Farage emotion.

The use of this debate was twofold. It exposed the arguments, and the “exit poll” gave an idea of how people would vote if there were a referendum today.

The good news for the “ins” like myself is that only about a sixth of the population needs to be convinced. The problem is how the ins are going to speak to the feelings of those who are not convinced by logic.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury, Somerset

Save at the very end, nobody mentioned the word “war” in the Farage-Clegg debate on the EU. Both Farage and Clegg are too young to have experienced war in Europe.

For over 500 years nations in post-medieval Europe waged war against one another. In the last century two world wars shattered Europe. My mother had her eldest brother killed in the First World War (Ypres) and her youngest brother killed in the Second (Crete). I was born in 1938 and my father, having survived Dunkirk, was absent on active service from 1940 to 1945, so that I did not recognise him when he returned home.

My mother, sister and I slept in the cellar of our house in south-east London for the duration of the war. A good job too because the house opposite us was bombed flat in 1944 by a V2 rocket.

A united Europe (whatever its faults) is far preferable to antagonistic separate nations, and the Ukip isolation policy is simply a false dream based on outdated 19th-century notions.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent

Listening to the televised debate on Wednesday evening, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a London Cockney setting reflected by the Broadway Market round the corner, a series of cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them. That is why his views carried little weight with me.

Edward Thomas, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Cinderella law: will social workers cope?

Frank Furedi (“The Cinderella law: emotional correctness gone mad”, 2 April) points out that every mother or father is  at risk of being labelled an abuser under the proposed “Cinderella law”.

The Government has proposed this new law just when the NSPCC reports that the threshold for intervening in a child’s life is actually being raised because of record reporting of child abuse. But a huge amount of this reporting is already needless. Department for Education figures for 2012-2013 show that, in England, there were 145,700 needless referrals to children’s social services in one year. Child protection is about a child “suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm”. When so many children are needlessly reported, this does indicate that people already overreact.

So why does the Government want to broaden the definition of child abuse even further, thus creating more cases for an overloaded system? Sixteen children known to Birmingham social services died in a five-year period. A report severely criticised Birmingham social services over the poor quality of referrals, leading to a surge in demand that could not be met.

Detecting child abuse in the community is akin to finding a needle in a haystack for overstretched social workers. So why make the haystack even bigger by creating more cases that will need assessment?

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man

Consistent, loving care is critical in building the human brain, so it certainly is time that our child-protection laws reflect the long-term mental and physical damage caused by the emotional neglect and abuse of children. The announcement that the Government intends to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal offence is an important step.

Understanding the critical importance of the emotional well-being of children is vital to the well-being of society. There is a raft of evidence to show that when infants receive warm, responsive, consistent, attuned, loving care their brains develop well. They are then able to grow into adults with the capacity for empathy and the facility to become good, caring parents themselves.

Lydia Keyte, Chair, What About The Children? Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Frank Furedi claims our Sutton Trust report “Baby Bonds” is driven by “an authoritarian impulse whose main consequence is to diminish parental authority”. In fact, the report is driven by an egalitarian impulse, whose intended consequence is for public policy to better support parents, precisely in order to generate, as Furedi puts it, “more opportunities for children, and indeed parents, to realise their potential.”

Furedi offers no evidence to counter our empirical finding – from a review of over 100 academic studies – that a secure emotional relationship with a parent can have an important influence on children’s life chances, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

Sophie Moullin, Princeton University, Professor Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University, Dr Liz Washbrook, Bristol University

Nasty Party kicks out A-level student

What a PR disaster the removal of the 19-year-old student Yashika Bhageerathi has proved to be! It shows Theresa May in her true colours as a member of the “Nasty Party” who, having failed to meet her targets for immigration, attempts to keep her numbers up by picking on a young, vulnerable girl who came here to avoid abuse. The removal of her alone, without her mother, and a failed attempt to remove her on Mothering Sunday, only added to the disaster.

The Home Office showed a complete lack of common sense and compassion in this case. What difference would it have made if Yashika had been allowed a further six weeks here so she could take her A-levels and return home with a qualification? Instead Britain is once again portrayed as an uncaring nation instead of a just and caring society.

The only people who deserve credit in this sad situation are the head, staff and pupils of the Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield – they may have failed but they are heroes in my book.

Ken Smith, Hinderclay, Suffolk

Why no auction for Royal Mail?

You conclude (editorial, 2 April) that “Mr Cable was still right to be cautious” over the privatisation of the Royal Mail, on the grounds that privatisations cannot be guaranteed to be successful, and that “the effects of hindsight and ‘froth’ are impossible to judge”.

Maybe so, but it is hard to understand why the Department for Business did not, apparently, even consider the use of a properly designed sealed-bid auction, instead of the conventional book-building exercise. Nor, apparently, did the National Audit Office consider this as  an option.

The Treasury uses such auctions to sell government bonds, Google was floated using one, so why not for the Post Office? At least then everyone would have had a chance at getting some shares, and the selling price would have been more likely to settle at the market clearing price, providing that the auction process was properly designed.

David Harvey, Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

Abuse of women becomes fashion

Oh dear, here we go again. The editor of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani, thinks she is campaigning in some way against the abuse of women by actually showing nicely arranged “fashion” images of pretend victims (The Big Read, 3 April).

This happens again and again in film and media. You are not reflecting the horrors of society, you idiots, you are simply joining in and adding  to them.

Sue Nicholas, Cranleigh, Surrey

The battle of Richard’s bones

If there is doubt (“Car park bones disputed”, 28 March) as to whether the Leicester Greyfriars burial is indeed that of Richard III, or of a contemporary similarly slain in battle, perhaps they should be honourably interred as the Unknown Warrior of the Wars of the Roses.

Peter Forster, London N4

Times:

Sir, You report that the Commons Science and Technology Committee, chaired by Andrew Miller, wishes to censor those who question their position on climate change (“Crackdown ordered on climate-change sceptics”, Apr 2). No one can rationally argue that the climate does not change, it always has. What does require uninhibited debate is whether human activity significantly influences the global climate and, assuming that it does, the efficacy of measures proposed to reduce that influence and the manner in which such measures would be globally enforced.

Rob Harris

Farndon, Cheshire

Sir, Scientific theories can be corrected, often at no greater cost than wounded pride. Should our economic competitiveness and future living standards be ruined by unnecessary green policies, the damage will prove much more difficult to correct.

Mr Miller should welcome the critics for attempting to hold the science to account and for raising public interest in the subject, rather than trying to gag them. Where huge decisions are to be made, it is important that rigorous public debate takes place.

Mark Franklin

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir, Your report is a timely reminder that climate change is not wholly man-made and that this should be reflected in climate related policies.

Indeed, the IPCC has stated that up to half of the steep rise in global temperature that occurred in the second half of the last century was due to natural causes. Accordingly, it would seem sensible to reallocate some of the funds earmarked for carbon reduction such as subsidising renewable energy, to fund adaptation to the effects of climate change, especially as the UK emits only 1.5 per cent of global carbon. This rebalancing of expenditure would include upgrading of flood defences, including the Thames barrier. Such a change in climate related policy makes economic sense and would surely be welcomed by the majority of tax payers.

James Snook

Bowdon, Cheshire

Sir, I read with some concern the proposal that BBC editors should seek clearance to give air time to climate change sceptics. This subject is most difficult to understand, and we can only do so by the most rigorous application of the scientific method.

This must involve vigorous questioning of all research by those who may discern an alternative explanation. Indeed, such scrutiny can sometimes lead to new penetrating insights. While the sceptic camp does seem to contain its share of the loony Right, there are also honourable men and women who should not be censored.

H. J. Wyatt

Harrow, Middx

Sir, In seeking to gag climate change sceptics, the chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee is inviting ridicule.

Since when have arguments been won by stifling debate? To attack the BBC for airing Lord Lawson’s view is crass. The BBC is a routine proselytiser for the “warmists” and largely ignores those who question its orthodoxy. Perhaps Mr Miller has difficulty explaining why global temperatures have not shifted in the past 16 years while CO2 levels have rocketed, and why near-record levels of ice persist in the Antarctic.

Let’s have answers, not gags.

Peter Pallot

London, W6

Published at 12:01AM, April 4 2014

The decimation of the criminal bar will deprive us of an important layer of protection against corrupt police

Sir, We acted for the acquitted lead defendant in the Daniel Morgan murder trial, and the revelations from the Ellison Review (“Met will always have corrupt officers, says chief”, Mar 28) do not surprise us.

The trial process revealed that a “supergrass” had implicated a very senior policeman in corruption. Junior officers had reported this but no evidence of their report could be found in the files of the Metropolitan Police. No senior officer had any recollection of being told anything about it. The tape of the “supergrass” interview could not be found. That there was a tape was revealed only because the junior officers kept a copy of the tape for their own protection.

The point of this anecdote is that it was only thanks to the hard work of defence counsel and the integrity of prosecution counsel that this was revealed.

So, people would do well to reflect on the loss of combative lawyers who are prepared take on the state on their behalf, before it is too late. The cuts that Mr Grayling proposes to VHCC (Very High Cost) cases will decimate the criminal bar and neuter the defence in particular.

The Morgan murder occurred in 1987 and is unique in telling us how the fee income of barristers has been reduced in the intervening 25 years. The lead defendant was first charged in 1989 (the case was later dropped). In 1989 junior counsel would have been paid £100 per hour for a case of this type. In 2008, 19 years later, a QC would have been paid just £94.50 and a junior £61 per hour respectively. In 2014, after the latest cuts, a QC will be paid just £63.70 per hour and a junior just £42.70 per hour.

These are turnover figures and for the most difficult cases; there is no holiday pay, no pension entitlement and expenses of about one third of turnover need to be deducted from these figures.

The Bar only asks for a pay freeze and a pause to reflect on the potential destruction of a world class system. Sadly it is the juniors who will suffer most as it is the income of those at the top of the profession that helps support those at the bottom under the chambers system. No profession can survive this attrition.

Richard Christie, QC

Jonathan Lennon

EC4

Commercial bus fares are rising fast, and free passes are a growing drain on cash-strapped local authorities

Sir, The Labour Party may be right to pledge a freeze on rail fares (Apr 2), but there is an even more urgent need to freeze bus fares.

Outside London there are no controls on commercial bus fares. In many places fares are rising faster than inflation. The result is that, on many routes, seniors using their free passes outnumber fare-payers.

Worse still, the reimbursement to bus operators for carrying seniors is (usually) based on a percentage of the average fare charged. If fares go up, the bills to local authorities go up automatically. The expenditure on free bus travel is one over which cash-strapped authorities have no control. In a bid to save public expenditure Parliament should legislate an immediate freeze on bus fares.

Dr Roger Sexton

Nottingham

A former donor explains why she was compelled to refuse to allow her embryos to be used by another woman

Sir, As a former egg donor, I know that embryos are destroyed (“Three-parent baby law will lose votes, Cameron warned”, Mar 22). However, it is not because they are seen as a disposable commodity. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Hefa) doesn’t give the full story.

I was approached about embryos from my donated eggs as the recipient had completed her family. I asked if one could be given to my younger sister (who had suffered an early menopause) as this would mean her child would be related by DNA. This was not permissible as she was not on the clinic’s waiting list.

In addition, had I let the embryos be used, I would have had to surrender my anonymity, potentially giving a stranger rights to my estate when I die. I hated refusing permission for re-use, but I also had to protect my own son’s future interests. I doubt I am the only former donor who feels this way.

Mrs J. Pilsworth

Willingham, Cambs

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools announces that a London school has found itself some premises

Sir, Your report “Homeless free schools cause chaos” (Mar 31) said Marylebone Boys School may not open due to problems finding a site. I can now confirm that the school has secured a permanent site for 2016 and will therefore open this September.

Lord Nash

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools

Telegraph:

SIR – “The erosion of childhood” is becoming a theme of concern to citizens across the political spectrum.

The latest salvo in this “paradigm war” for the heart of childhood has been discharged by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. In a letter to all early-years inspectors, he instructs them to judge nurseries mainly in terms of preparation for school. They must “teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading”.

This utilitarian shift from experience to content betrays an abject (and even wilful) misunderstanding of the nature of early childhood experience. The determination to dragoon England’s young children into unconscionably early quasi-formal learning is catastrophic for their well-being, and is setting up many for failure at a very young age.

England’s early years education and care is safe in the hands neither of Sir Michael Wilshaw nor of the current incumbents at the Department for Education. We urge Sir Michael and the DfE to stop digging in their current “schoolifying” hole, and step back from this misguided drive to over-formalise England’s early-years sphere.

The alternative might be that these policy-makers end up precipitating the first wave of professional “principled non-compliance” with government policy that our education system has known in living memory. Any government that underestimates the strength of feeling on this issue, and the resolve to resist it, does so at its peril.

Dr Richard House
University of Winchester

Jess Edwards
Coordinator, Charter for Primary Education

Philip Pullman

Neil Leitch
CEO, Pre-School Learning Alliance

John Coe
National Association of Primary Education

Christine Blower
General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Professor Penelope Leach
Birkbeck College, University of London

Michael Rosen

Christopher Clouder
Co-founder, Alliance for Childhood

Sue Gerhardt

Sue Cowley
Co-Chair, Stanton Drew and Pensford Preschool

Philipa Harvey
Senior Vice President Elect, NUT

Kevin Courtney
Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Dr Dennis Atkinson
Professor Emeritus, Goldsmiths, University of London

Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey

Emeritus Professor Ron Best
University of Roehampton

Professor Joyce Canaan
Birmingham City University

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita, Lesley University, Cambridge, MA

Michael Fielding
Emeritus Professor, Institute of Education, University of London

Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage

Tobin Hart
Professor of Psychology, University of West Georgia

Professor Dave Hill
Anglia Ruskin University

Barry J Hymer
Professor of Psychology in Education, University of Cumbria in Lancaster

Professor David Ingleby
University of Amsterdam

Professor Del Loewenthal
Director, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, University of Roehampton

Professor Emerita Janet Moyles

Professor Jayne Osgood

Carl Parsons
Visiting Professor of Social Inclusion Studies, University of Greenwich

Professor Michael Patte
Co-Editor, The International Journal of Play

Professor Heather Piper

Professor Andrew Samuels

Brian Thorne
Emeritus Professor, University of East Anglia

Dr Terry Wrigley
Visiting Professor, Leeds Metropolitan University
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Ballarat, Australia

Dr Jonathan Barnes
Senior Lecturer in Primary Education

Dr Teresa Belton
Visiting Fellow, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

Dr Jon Berry
Professional Doctorate (EdD) Programme Tutor, University of Hertfordshire

Simon Boxley
Programme Leader, Undergraduate Education Studies, University of Winchester

Diane Boyd

Shirley Brooks
Senior Lecturer, Early Years Care & Education, University of Winchester

Sue Callan

Dr Julia Cayne

Hatice Choli
Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Greenwich

Dr Alison Clark
Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies, Open University

Sue Cox
Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

Dr Gail Edwards
Lecturer in Education, Newcastle University

Judith Flynn
Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher
Reader in Educational Leadership and Management, Metropolitan University

Jill Harrison
University of Greenwich

Dr Gordon Ingram
Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, Bath Spa University

Christine Ivory
Early Years Programme Coordinator, Faculty of Education, Liverpool John Moores University

Sarah Jacques

Dr Paulette A Luff

Dr Gee Macrory
Principle lecturer in education, Manchester Metropolitan University

Alpesh Maisuria
Senior Lecturer, University of East London

Dr Jennifer Patterson
Senior Lecturer in Education, Greenwich University

Gillian Reid

Dr Kathy Ring
Senior Lecturer, York St John University

Dr Leena Robertson
Middlesex University, London

Jenny Rust

Dr Sebastian Suggate
University of Regensburg

Dr Judith Suissa
Reader in Philosophy of Education, Institute of Education, London

Peter Tallant

Chris Watkins
Reader in Education, University of London Institute of Education

Vanessa Young
Principal Lecturer Education, Canterbury Christ Church University

Pat Adams

Oona Alexander

Anna Alston

Helen Ard

Catherine Armstrong

Richard Brinton

Jodie Brooke Aujla

Kevin Avison

D. Babouris

Peter Barlow

Jane Barnard

Susan Barnicoat

Catherine Beaumont

Victoria Benson-Coakes

Kerri Bishop

Safa Bowskill

Dr Gail Bradbrook

Jenny Brain

Caroline Brooks

Laura Brown

Sarah Bryant

Tabitha Burgess

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Emma Callow

Elizabeth Carlson

Paula Champion

Bridget Chapman

Marie Charlton

Regine Charriere

Anna Chesner

Ruth Cohen-Rose

Anna Colgan

Lucy Cox

Amy Crane

Gill Crawshaw

Louise Crook

Nancy Crookes

Kirsty Curtis

Amy Dadachanji

Hazel Danson

Lynne Davies

Margaret Dobbs

Polly Donnison

Louise Doublet

Susan Dovbenko

Ellie Dowthwaite

Mary Jane Drummond

Robin Duckett

Jon Duveen

Dr Andrew Evans

Andy Evans

Rachel Ford Blanchard

Irène François

Ian Gilbert

Dr Melanie Gill

Lavinia Gomez

Nick Grant

Debra Greatorex

Sam Greshoff

Fleur Griffiths

Jane Hallman

Philippe Harari

Martin Hardiman

Gemma Hawkins

Jutta Hepworth

Felicity Higginson

Isla Hill

Julie Hill

Grethe Hooper Hansen

Ann Hedley

Rosemary Hope

Saira Horner

Peter Humphreys

Nina Hurst

Kate Irvine

Lesley Jackson

Ruth James

Kate Jangra

Agnes Javor

Alice Jenkinson

Marianne Johansen

Katie Jordan

Amerjit Kambo

Beverly Keenan

Tracy King

Rupert Kingfisher

Keith Kinsella

Janet Klaar

Sarka Kubschova

Martin Larger

Trisha Lee

Mary M Leue

Kai Yee Low

Sophie McCook

Kevin McQuaid

Dorothy Marlen

Richard Masters

Alys Mendus

Christine Merrick

Gabriel Millar

Eleanor Milligan

Philippa Mitchell

Doug Morgan

Ben Morris

Winny Mossman

Julie Mountain

Dr Ursula Nerre

Vincent Nolan

Kathryn Norgrove

Daniel North

Nicola Nugent

Simon O’Hara

Kate O’Keefe

Marjorie Ouvry

Sara Paiola

Sandra Palmer

Justelene Papacosma

Emily Pardoe-Williams

Matthew Pardoe-Williams

Lynn Parker

Marie Peacock

Linda Pound

Matt Purkis

Carolyn Purser

Patty Ramirez

Natasha Ramm

Dr Bronwen Rees

Jane Roberts

Stefan Richter

Karen Ripper

Jill Robinson

Joyce Lillie Robinson

Maria Rodrigues

Louise Rogers

Anthea Rose

Victoria Sadler

David Seagrave

Dorothy Shirley

Simon Small

Ralf Smits

Susie Steel

Vicki Stinchcombe

Rosemary Stocks

Rebecca Stubbs

Dr Terry Sullivan

Elizabeth L. Swann

Jonathan W. Swann

Inbar Tamari

Laura Taylor

Pippa Taylors

Helen Thomas

Julie Thomson

Sara Tomlinson

Sarah-Jane Tucker

Anna Tuhey

Kiri Tunk

Rev Dr Chris Walton

Rachel Ward

Theresa Waterhouse

Penny Webb

Graham White

Jan White

Rosanne White

Vicki Wilcox

Francine Williams

Mervyn Wilson

Ros Wilson

Julia Wilton

Courtney Winstone

Charlotte Wright

SIR – In convicting a gambling addict for stealing some £13,000 worth of luggage from trains in the Devon area (report, March 29), the judge commented that the layout of luggage storage may have facilitated the crimes.

These crimes were almost certainly committed on trains operated by First Great Western (FGW) and Crosscountry, both of which have made life easier for such criminals. This is in spite of the constant exhortations on platforms and trains to keep a good eye on luggage.

When FGW rebuilt its High Speed Trains, in order to increase passenger capacity, it removed almost all the tables from standard class. Previously it had been possible to store a case between two back-to-back seats. All that is left is the inadequate space at the end of the carriage.

Crosscountry inherited a fleet of Voyager and Super Voyager trains that were always poorly served for luggage space, with atrocious overhead racks. In refitting their trains, it removed mid-carriage luggage racks and converted the refreshment area into a luggage storage space, making it impossible for passengers to follow the instruction to watch their luggage.

David Muir
Stoke Gifford, Gloucestershire

Stay-at-home mothers

SIR – This country has completely lost the plot. A Cinderella law is being proposed to stop emotional child abuse. But this abuse begins when mothers go to work while their children are young. There are babies of three months old in crèches, and many others with child minders, all of which costs a lot of money.

Would it not be better for women to nurture their own children at least until school age? Benefits for child care should instead go to mothers to look after their children. Poor parenting is the root of the huge problems we have with the youth of this country.

Lady Bull
Arkesden, Essex

Brighter name

SIR – There is no doubt that the correct pronunciation of Dylan Thomas’s name is “Dullan” as the y in Welsh is invariably pronounced this way. However, my understanding is that his mother insisted on his being called “Dillan” in order to avoid the possible nickname “Dull One” being used.

Howard Thomas
Newent, Gloucestershire

Knot our problem

SIR – Japanese knotweed is indeed a scourge. Our city council has issued information leaflets about the issue.

However, despite reporting to the council several outbreaks of the stuff near our home, we are just told that nothing can be done about it, because the plant is growing on private property.

Michele Platman
Birmingham

Boiling on the blower

SIR – I have been receiving endless nuisance calls in the form of a recorded message telling me that I am entitled to a government-funded new boiler. As they come from overseas, the Telephone Preference Service will not take any action.

It is amounting to harassment. Does no authority in this country have powers to stop such annoying cold calls?

Hilda Gaddum
Macclesfield, Cheshire

Order with your order

SIR – Among many other signs of reaching middle age is increasing irritation in restaurants at being ordered to “Enjoy!” Is there an appropriate response?

His Honour Judge Patrick
Wood Green Crown Court
London N22

Virtues of the Mainwaring type of bank manager

SIR – My father was a Mainwaring-type bank manager and I have the notes he made prior to speaking to his local Rotary club in the Fifties. The notes are on 18 sheets of small pink notepaper, obviously obtained from my mother – not for him the crime of using bank notepaper for private correspondence.

“I have been variously described by my friends as the man who will always lend you an umbrella when the sun is shining, or lend you money provided that you can prove that you don’t need it.” Then, a little further on, “To the customer, the manager is an amalgam of accountant, solicitor, tax expert, financial adviser and a sort of financial father confessor.”

“He carries a further responsibility, that of example to the younger generation whom, he hopes, will earn his pension.”

Shirley Browning
Kingston, Dorset

SIR – Forty years ago, I would ring my local branch and fix an appointment with the manager. In his office, an assistant would produce the relevant ledgers, while his secretary provided coffee and custard creams. The manager would peruse my accounts, and ask what I wanted the loan for. When I told him a sports car, he replied, “Silly bugger – but you are only young once, and we are well insured.”

Patrick Tracey
Carlisle, Cumberland

Japanese whaling ban is an international victory

The efficacy of the International Court of Justice

Getting its own back: smashing a whalers’ boat in a 19th-century French oil painting  Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY

6:58AM BST 03 Apr 2014

Comments48 Comments

SIR – The International Court of Justice’s judgment ordering a temporary halt to Japan’s cull of whales in the Southern Ocean is a victory for international law, diplomacy and international relations.

That two modern states can bring to court a dispute over the fate of whales is a mark of man’s sophistication and the state of development of the international legal order. The decision wisely leaves room for Japan to revamp its whaling programme to meet the international whaling treaty’s requirements for scientific whaling.

The ICJ has lived up to its reputation as the world’s court by demonstrating its willingness to resolve all forms of international disputes that may be brought to its attention by UN member states.

Dr Gbenga Oduntan
Kent Law School
Canterbury, Kent

SIR – Evan Davis’s Mind the Gap series suggests to me, a retired architect, that Britain needs a North East-West City.

The NEWC would not be some half-baked Liverchester or Manpool, but a linear city of the North, pulling together the hubs of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull.

Our Victorian forefathers had the vision to create the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal. Along their banks planning restrictions should be relaxed to let market forces develop them.

There is already the M62 corridor, which could be widened to an eight-lane super highway. The proposed HS2 would only need to go to Manchester to link up with a rapid East-West network.

After all, London is only a city made up of conjoined towns and villages. Why should Liverpool not become the West End, Manchester the Square Mile, Leeds the Oxford Street and Hull the Felixstowe of the North? National Park areas between would equate to Hampstead Heath and the Royal Parks.

Let us all be bold. If the BBC can see the economic sense in coming up North to Media City, Salford, then this could and should happen for others.

Coulton Booth
Garstang, Lancashire

SIR – Jenny Roach, a Liberal councillor, says that councillors fight destructive planning applications on behalf of their constituents. But what if a councillor approves of a scheme?

Here in Oxford, councillors frequently ignore public opinion and approve projects that are destructive to the historic character of the city. Institutional interests (the University) often seem to trump environmental concerns.

An independent planning champion, as suggested by Sir Terry Farrell would have advantages. But an architect should not be appointed to this role. I recall the former architects’ panels in historic cities. It was impossible to find any architect who would criticise the work of another architect. Professional solidarity proved an insurmountable barrier.

Paul Hornby
Oxford

SIR – Sir Simon Jenkins is right about government planning policies threatening the countryside, but they have already damaged towns and cities. Councils allow unsuitable developments knowing refusal will only lead to another successful appeal by a developer to a compliant minister.

Labour has put forward no vision of what a planning system should do. Its Town and Country Planning Act 1947 had protected the countryside but allowed appropriate housing and industrial development. Conservatives largely adopted this policy. It did not limit growth in the following two decades, which saw an unparalleled boom.

I do not know if this issue will cost the Conservatives votes, but it deserves to wreck their chances.

Roger Backhouse
Ilford, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government’s white paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI), published this week is fundamentally flawed.

It will place an immediate financial burden on families, and the only consultation process open to the public is restricted to deliberating on what this “competing insurers” model will look like. Meanwhile, there is no consultation of any kind taking place on any other options, such as those recommended in Dr Jane Pillinger’s 2012 report The Future of Healthcare in Ireland .

That report recommended that the competing insurers model, as proposed by the Minister, should not be adopted before all the options have been evaluated in terms of quality, equity, access to services and medium and long term value for money. The report was ignored by the Minister.

Families will be required by law to have health insurance, but there is a real risk that this will be an impossible financial burden from the very start, particularly for the growing number of people without health insurance who don’t qualify for a medical card.

This group will be required to purchase health insurance for every member of their family. While the Dutch insurance model provided the Minister with his initial inspiration for this UHI scheme, it should be noted that children are actually insured for free under the Dutch model.

The question of cost remains, but it appears that no evaluation of any other funding model has been undertaken. We have been trying to get the message across to the Minister that other options need to be considered, such as the “single-payer” social insurance model used in France, Germany and Nordic countries.

Apart from a cursory late briefing on the day of publication, where questions were not invited from trade unions or patient groups, there has been no engagement with the Minister on these issues.

The experience in other jurisdictions which have similar models of competing insurers, has been a continuing rise in the price of compulsory insurance, coupled with increasing restrictions on the health services covered. They have also experienced rising readmission rates as more people experience complications after they’ve been discharged. This can be attributed to the financial incentives to discharge patients early.

The Minister’s estimate of €900 per individual seems almost optimistic, but if this model is established, the costs are likely to continue to rise. The Minister has also boasted that the scheme will ensure no additional cost burden to the State, which will mean that the only means of raising extra revenue will be through individual insurance premiums.

Finally, if we really want to get the measure of where this scheme is going, it is telling that the €100 charge for emergency departments will remain in place. Yours, etc,

LOUISE O’DONNELL,

National secretary,

Health & Welfare division

IMPACT,

Nerney’s Court,

Dublin 1

Sir, – At present everyone in the State is entitled to free treatment in a public hospital paid for by our taxes.

Under the new proposal, it seems, everyone will be entitled to free treatment in a public hospital but we must pay for private health insurance as well as paying our taxes to fund it. The difference will be that there will be no option for some to go to private hospitals as happens at present, so the whole population will use the public system, which is unable to cope with the numbers currently using it. Sounds like a lose-lose situation to me. Yours, etc,

AVRIL HEDDERMAN,

Priory Grove,

Stillorgan,

Co Dublin

Sir, – Brian McDevitt (Letters, April 2nd) is using out of date and inaccurate figures in his comments on GP incomes. As a general practitioner, I get on average €85.80 per year for a medical card patient under the age of 70.

For this sum, I provide medical cover to my patients for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This is before tax, and before paying staff, premises, equipment and computer costs and what is required to ensure out of hours cover etc.

For years my private patients have been subsidising my medical card practice and sustaining the standard of practice that we are trying to provide. This situation has been exacerbated by the 35 per cent cut in medical card fees unilaterally imposed by the Government in the last three years.

The recently appointed professor of general practice in UCC, who has come from the United Kingdom, has been quoted as describing the GP service in this country as “gold dust”. Under current Government proposals it may well become just dust. Yours, etc,

DR EAMONN FALLER,

Crescent Medical Centre,

The Crescent,

Galway

Sir, – Brian McDevitt’s letter reflects the success of the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health in convincing the general public that global payments to a GP practice reflect the remuneration of the doctors involved.

By this logic, the situation is indeed even worse than Mr McDevitt imagines it to be since I can reveal that a certain Dr J Reilly received €13 billion in payments last year, which does seem excessive.

In Dr Reilly’s defence it should be said that this money is used to fund the health service. On a micro level the payments are the global payments to practices which fund nurses, secretaries, heat, light and medical supplies among other things. As these fees have been cut successively in recent years, the private fees that Mr McDevitt refers to are increasingly used to support the provision of services to medical card patients. Although the State has the responsibility to provide services to this group, it does not appear to be willing to adequately fund it. Yours, etc,

SÉAMUS McMENAMIN,

Family Doctor,

Baile Átha Luimnigh,

An Uaimh,

Co Na Mhí

Sir, – Your Irish language columnist Caoimhe Ní Laighin misleadingly states in her article(“Cinniúint na Catalóine”, April 2nd) that there are “77,000 cainteoir ag an nGaeilge”. This is not correct. The number of Irish speakers who claim to use Irish daily “outside the educational system only” should not be equated with the total number of Irish speakers, as your columnist has done. Many Irish speakers living outside Irish-speaking communities do not easily get opportunities on a daily basis to use Irish but they are still Irish-speakers.

In my opinion a better measure of the number of active Irish-speakers is the number of people who claim in census returns to use the language at least weekly outside education. This figure, according to the 2011 census is 188,000 for the 26 counties.

The 2011 census taken in Northern Ireland showed that there were 64,847 people who claimed to be able to understand, read, write and speak Irish. Unfortunately we don’t have figures for daily and weekly users but I would suggest a figure of approximately 16,000 would not be an exaggeration, giving a figure of a little more than 200,000 for the number of people who use Irish on a regular basis within the island of Ireland.

DONNCHA

Ó hÉALLAITHE,

Gaeltaighde,

Indreabhán,

Co na Gaillimhe

Sir, – In response to Brenda Morgan’s argument (Letters, April 1st) about computers and their negative effects on the learning process, it has to be stated that digital literacy is an integral part of the Irish curriculum, supporting children’s learning in a positive way.

Piaget’s constructivist theory would indicate that computers support children’s learning in design and construction of projects and contribute to the cognitive development of the child. The teacher facilitates this through the correct use of such ICT tools such as laptops, iPads and interactive whiteboards.

Such technology supports inclusion, from the less able to the more able child, thus ensuring that every student actively participates in the learning process. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure children have the skills and knowledge necessary to be at the cutting edge of the digital economy we live in.

Young learners are fast becoming fluent in computer coding as they are educated in becoming the innovators of tomorrow. As an educator, I strongly believe that a balanced approach counteracts overdependence on screens. Oral expression and writing remain a vital part of this well of rich learning experiences that are nurtured within the curriculum. — Yours, etc,

AINGEAL Ní MHURCHÚ

CREAGH,

Baltimore,

Co Cork

Sir, – Recently cosmologists have detected ripples that they claim were triggered by the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang, which occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago. (Actually the Big Bang was a soundless phenomenon. It was more silent than the keys tapping this computer.) Most scientists agree that 13.7 billion years ago space-time was created and that prior to that there was a void.

In contradiction to the “beginning” theory, I hold that the multiverse, which contains countless universes, has always existed. Most cosmologists claim that in it new, similar and dissimilar universes to ours are constantly evolving and disintegrating.

Void is indestructible and unchangeable. Despite the claim by the religious that “God is all powerful”, he would be incapable of destroying void. (God is habitually referred to as he and hardly ever as she, they or it.) The religious also assert that “the creator of all things” is eternal and that there was only “null and void” before he created the universe, in effect before he created the Big Bang. If he is eternal and the universe had a beginning, the question presents itself: before creation how did he occupy himself? Since he was existing in a void he could not do anything, because there was nothing to do. He could not think, because there was nothing to think about. He could not see, because there was nothing to see. He could not hear as there was no medium for transmitting sound. The religious will dismiss this with a “mysteries which we cannot understand” response.

Of course the real mystery, which it seems we are destined never to find answers to, is the mystery of life. There appears to be a mental block preventing us from resolving it. Yet while we cannot make sense of life, if there was no life it would not make sense either. Yours, etc,

FRANK COLUMB,

Carriglea Drive,

Firhouse,

Sir, – It was with increasing frustration that I read the contribution of President Higgins (“Time for citizens to forge a better future for our country”, April 2nd).

In vain I looked for a reference to the farmers, fishermen and foresters who harness our natural resources. Where was mention of the doctors, nurses and educators who nurture our human resources? I saw no recognition either of the scientists, the engineers and the entrepreneurs who discover and develop the resources we will use tomorrow.

While I commend the President’s call to rethink the ethics and philosophy of tomorrow’s Ireland I am disappointed that he has failed to recognise what is being achieved by these citizens today. Without physics, chemistry and biology, along with the technology to make the sciences concrete, the President would be left discussing and philosophising in the dark shadows of Plato’s cave. Yours, etc,

EDWARD FLAHAVAN,

Fews,

Kilmacthomas,

Co Waterford

Sir, – The President’s article in yesterday’s Irish Times prompts a question: why are the views of philosophers, theologians and sociologists on our society not given the same prominence as those of economists? Yours, etc,

DAVID NELSON,

Growtown,

Dunshaughlin,

Co Meath

Sir, – Munster coach Rob Penney’s rant against refereeing standards was an indication of the problems faced by professional rugby in this area but not, I suggest, in the way he meant it.

Yes, I think referees are inconsistent and, in some cases, even sub-standard. However one of the reasons that this state of affairs is allowed to continue is the partisan nature of rugby. Mr Penney was not complaining about poor decisions made by the referee but only about those which adversely affected his team.

In this respect he is the same as all participants in rugby, whether players, management or supporters. Consequently, every decision made by a referee in a rugby match, whether correct or incorrect, will have the support of half the people and anger the other half.

Mr Penney and his counterparts are in the best position to influence any attempts to improve refereeing standards, but until they start looking at this area of the game impartially they will, correctly, be seen merely as moaning because they lost the game. Yours, etc,

DAVE ROBBIE,

Seafield Crescent,

Booterstown,

Sir, – In rebranding itself, Trinity College Dublin has announced that it will update what it calls its “logo”. But the logo is actually a grant of arms, recognised in 1901 by the Ulster Kings of Arms (now the Chief Herald).

Has anyone at the college actually contacted the Chief Herald’s Office (attached to the National Library) to seek permission to change the coat of arms? Seems a bit of an oversight if not! Yours, etc,

STEVEN C SMYRL

FIGRS, MAPGI,

Sydenham Terrace,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6

Sir, – Your correspondent Denis Duff from Greystones (April 1st) suggests that Ireland needs a nuclear power station at Moneypoint.

But with the prevailing Atlantic winds, the west coast is the worst option for such an installation. It would surely make much more sense to put it on the east coast to disperse the whatever radiation might be leaked after the almost inevitable accident or leak or attack or “minor incident”.

Somewhere around Greystones perhaps, with the sea in front and reasonably empty mountains behind would be ideal, with the waste stored nearby. Yours, etc,

FRANK NEENAN,

Tullow Road,

Carlow

Sir, – A propos Sylvia Thompson’s piece on the pursuit of happiness (Life Science, April 3rd), might I suggest that there is much we can learn from philosophers on that topic.

Having reached something of a crisis in his own life, John Stuart Mill tells us in his Autobiography that the key to finding happiness is to realise that it is a mistake to seek it directly.

To achieve happiness we should rather immerse ourselves in a life that is packed with a diverse range of activities from which we derive satisfaction.

Reflecting on such a life will reveal to us that it is a happy one.

Yours etc

HARRY McCAULEY,

Maynooth Park,

Maynooth

Co Kildare

Sir, – Will the GAA be celebrating its bicentennial with hurling having become a major international sport? Yours, etc,

JOSEPH MACKEY,

Glasson,

Athlone,

Co Westmeath

Irish Independent:

* The elation of the Irish electorate in March 2011 quickly turned to deflation and angst.

Also in this section

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

Coming back from the mother of all mistakes

Taxpayers left to foot the bill yet again

Three years on, the words of Pat Rabbitte ring in their ears about pledges to get elected; the electorate feels totally “shattered”, no doubt leading innumerable people to think, either, “I will never vote again” or “I will spoil my vote at the local and EU elections”.

The latter is a wasted vote; not even looked at by candidates.

The ancient Chinese proverb “Revenge is a dish best served cold” provides every dissatisfied elector with the best tool to teach the Tweedledum and Tweedledee a lesson they will never forget.

Bertie’s “oul pencil” used properly on the ballot paper at the May elections will empower you.

The number of candidates on the ballot paper in your constituency is the number of votes you have; grasp this golden opportunity to number every box on the ballot paper, and reserve, with relish, the last four numbers in the order of your choice for the four main parties.

If even 10pc of a constituency did this it would send alarm bells off.

Recall, in the Meath East by-election, how Fine Gael crowed it had a massive win; when in fact more than 50pc of the electorate did not vote.

Put lead in your pencil in May and do your duty by casting your vote. Be what Kenny and Gilmore and their nodding acolytes are not: “The indomitable Irishry” invoked by W B Yeats!

DECLAN FOLEY

BERWICK, AUSTRALIA

DA WHISTLEBLOWER CODE

* Coming soon to a cinema near you. A sort of Irish ‘Da Vinci Code’ spine-chiller. Based on the best-selling novel by Dan Murphy: ‘Da Irish Whistleblower Code.’

It all begins on a busy street near Government Buildings, and a strange, mad monk with long, blond hair is seen rushing into a clandestine meeting beneath the bowels of the building.

Intrigued, Professor Shatterproof follows this mysterious intruder, and discovers a terrible secret, as he observes a coven of hooded men at a strange filling cabinet on top of an altar.

Waiting till they had left, after they had finished whistling a strange chant, he discovers a thrown-away piece of paper on the floor, with encoded names and a map of a maze of underground tunnels.

And so begins a race against time to save the Government from collapse.

Shatterproof has to find the meanings behind the symbols that are dotted around the city. Twists and turns are everywhere. Denial, subterfuge, obfuscation. It’s an epic tale of cover-up.

Who is the whistleblower? What information does that person have? What happens to the whistleblowers, and keepers of the strange secret? All will be revealed in due time.

ANTHONY WOODS

ENNIS, CO CLARE

IRELAND’S RETURN

* So, Stoke City footballer Stephen Ireland is being considered for a return to the Irish International soccer team. Reports suggest assistant Ireland team manager Roy Keane has expressed his approval at a possible return.

On the basis of talent, ability and form, Stephen Ireland would be a most welcome addition to most international football teams, but on the basis of loyalty, honour, moral integrity and values becoming of one who is chosen to represent their national football team, he falls short.

I do not expect Roy Keane to share this view.

TOM COOPER

TEMPLEOGUE, DUBLIN 6W

WISE WORDS

* When things are said to you,

No matter what time of day it is,

No matter how old you are,

No matter where you are,

No matter how long ago it was,

No matter how drunk someone is,

No matter if you know the person or not – it hurts.

And it sticks.

By Elayna Keller, from her first-hand account of being a target of bullies.

We need say no more, only read her wonderful words.

Elayna, of course, won the NNI Press Pass Competition.

BRIAN MCDEVITT

GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL

OUT OF TOUCH

* I am an award II Gaelic Coach and have been training under-age groups for 14 years.

I recently had a preseason session for the coaches and had a question-and-answer session with some of the kids.

I asked were they watching the Dublin-Kerry match a few weeks ago and then realised that it was only on Setanta, now Sky sport.

I cannot believe how out of touch the GAA hierarchy is with the grassroots.

Let them do what they want with Sky but ensure all games are shared between RTE, TV3 and TG4.

KEVIN HEALY

ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

HEALTHCARE CONCERNS

* It is good to see Dr Reilly has outlined his new system.

It is to be hoped that the system will be introduced within five years as foreseen and that time will not be wasted in searching for the perfect system.

Better to start and adapt as necessary rather than procrastinate and delay.

But one initial word of warning. Dr Reilly has estimated that the 40pc who hold medical cards will not be liable to pay any premium and that a further 30pc will have their payments heavily subsidised.

The remaining 30pc can hardly be recognised as universal.

JOHN F JORDAN

KILLINEY, CO DUBLIN

REALITIES OF ARTHRITIS

* Arthritis is a debilitating disability, which affects around 915,000 people.

It is widely believed arthritis is an illness that accompanies old age but in Ireland alone around 1,100 children suffer from arthritis.

People’s perception of arthritis is often associated with pain; while this may be true, it fails to represent an accurate depiction of the daily struggle suffers endure.

Pain is merely a component, which contributes to a larger picture. Unless one suffers with arthritis, they cannot truly comprehend the disability accurately.

Arthritis Ireland organises various events for teenagers who have arthritis. The JA road-trip is a prime example.

The road-trip allows teenagers to discuss their illness and discover different pain-management techniques.

Arthritis Ireland also organises a number of activates and this gives teenagers an opportunity to try things they thought they never could do as a result of arthritis.

Arthritis Ireland runs frequent workshops to demonstrate new ways of dealing with pain.

It also helps people to cope with the problems they may encounter as a result of having arthritis.

Thank you for the time it took to read my piece.

DANNY DE VAAL

AGE 15 ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* “Walking (minus) the line”?

Is the threat of a cut to train services a case of ‘fright at the end of the tunnel’?

TOM GILSENAN

BEAUMONT, D9

Quiet day

April 3, 2014

3April 2014 Quiet day
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to tach Navigation Priceless
Mary better potter around
Scrabble today, I win by three points, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

 

Captain Harry Beckingham – obituary
Captain Harry Beckingham was a bomb disposal officer who dealt with lethal butterflies in Hull and survived gas poisoning in Ilford

Captain Harry Beckingham
6:17PM BST 02 Apr 2014
4 Comments
Captain Harry Beckingham, who has died on his 94th birthday, was a bomb disposal officer in the Second World War.
On the outbreak of war, Beckingham, a draughtsman fresh from technical college, was posted to 35 Bomb Disposal Section, which was subsequently incorporated into 5 Bomb Disposal (BD) Company RE.
He was given a day’s training at Sheffield, at the end of which, as he said afterwards: “We were given a drawing which showed how to deal with an unexploded bomb.” This depicted a wall being constructed around the bomb with corrugated metal and sandbags, with an area left so that a man could crawl inside and place a charge.
After the start of the Blitz, Beckingham worked on unexploded bombs first in the north of London and then – after moving to the Duke of York Barracks – in the West End, Fulham and Victoria.
One day his section was called out to the centre of Ilford to dig for a bomb when “out of the blue a German plane swooped down on us, machine guns blazing as he roared past”. Beckingham dived for cover, while the rest of his squad took shelter in nearby shop doorways.
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The next thing he knew, he was waking up in hospital. It turned out that he had fallen into a concealed camouflet – a chamber filled with odourless carbon dioxide created when a bomb exploded underground.
Such accidents almost invariably proved fatal. The bottom of the hole could be 30ft deep, and there was often no way of knowing that the bomb had already exploded. Rescue attempts were forbidden because they usually only added to the casualties.
Fortunately for Beckingham, a policeman had seen his head suddenly disappear, and his colleagues had rushed over and pulled him out — although not before he had breathed several lungfuls of the deadly gas.
Henry William Beckingham was born at Ludlow, Shropshire, on February 28 1920 and educated locally. He was commissioned in 1943 and posted to 12 BD Company RE in Leeds. That summer he was kept busy clearing butterfly bombs from the hedges and ditches around Hull. He had to use straw, set alight, to burn off the thick undergrowth so that he did not miss any of these lethal devices.
In September 1944 he was posted to Task Force 135, which had assembled at Plymouth for the liberation of the Channel Islands. He was involved in clearing British minefields in the Weymouth and Penzance areas until May 1945, when he embarked for Jersey as commander of a detachment of 24 BD Platoon.
He went to the Pomme d’Or Hotel on the esplanade and took prisoner the head of the German civil administration on the island. The hotel was to be used for the Task Force’s commander, and he checked the place for booby traps.
Beckingham took his unit to Guernsey at the end of the month and was involved in clearing mines and bombs along the coasts of the Channel Islands until May 1946, when he was demobilised in the rank of captain.
After the war he worked for the building division of English China Clay at St Austell, Cornwall, and subsequently as a consultant at Ilkley, Yorkshire. Settled in retirement at a village in Cumbria, he enjoyed sailing, gardening, and travelling.
Beckingham published Living with Danger: Memoirs of a Bomb Disposal Officer (1997) and Achtung! Minen! Guernsey (2005).
Harry Beckingham married first, in 1945, Joan Walker, who predeceased him. He married, secondly, in 1990, Mavis Hayward, who survives him with a son and a daughter from his first marriage.
Captain Harry Beckingham, born February 28 1920, died February 28 2014
Guardian:
Once again we can applaud the UK government and its partners for taking a global lead on the rights of women and girls (Jolie steps up campaign to eradicate use of mass rape as weapon of war, 31 March). The London summit in June will bring unprecedented focus to sexual violence in conflict and, for that, Angelina Jolie and William Hague deserve great credit.
As the Guardian points out, the challenge will be to translate public attention into lasting change. In that mission, I believe one thing is particularly crucial: engaging youth. Let’s make sure that young women – and men – are given the platform in June so that they are not passive victims but agents of change. Ms Jolie and Mr Hague have, with others, led the way. Now, to ensure a future free from sexual violence in conflict, the experiences and recommendations of young people affected by these horrific crimes must shape the summit’s outcome.
Tanya Barron
Chief executive, Plan UK
Shirley Williams asserts (Letters, 2 April) that ex-Soviet satellite members of the EU are “bound to democracy and the rule of law”. Would that include the laws in Estonia and Latvia that deprive native-born residents of citizenship rights on the basis of ethnicity?
Ian Sutherland
Bury, Lancashire
• The gift of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s eminently re-readable short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (What book would you send to a prisoner?, 1 April) would encourage any prisoner, like Shukhov in the gulag, to develop a personal code of survival under the regime inside while purposefully preparing for release into a much harsher environment outside.
Dr Mark Stroud
Llantrisant, Glamorgan
• Experience suggests that, for some prisoners, Jane Austen is just what they’re waiting for. One of our reading groups at a women’s prison reported a lively session with Pride and Prejudice. “That first scene, guy walks in and says no one here worth dancing with – all been there, haven’t we?”
Professor Jenny Hartley
Prison reading groups, University of Roehampton
• Dangling participle alert (Evans tells jury of ‘absolute hell’ of sex allegations, 1 April): “While giving explicit details of how he and the young man performed sex acts, the judge stepped in to halt the questioning by Evans’s barrister.”
John Sibbald
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
• Surely conscious uncoupling (Letters, 31 March) is what the railwayman does between the engine and the carriages?
Stuart Waterworth
Tavistock, Devon
• Flintshire has the Devil’s Village (Letters, 28 March), but we are the only place in the world to have the place names Purgatory and Paradise just a few miles apart. We’ll be walking this route next All Souls’ Day as part of the Laurie Lee festival: cordial and indulgent invitations to all.
Stuart Butler
Stroud, Gloucestershire
• And when in grumpy mood, we’ve been known to take a seaside break at Buggerru in south-west Sardinia.
Tony Scull
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Your report (Scotland plans to move to right after independence, 1 April) reminded me of a similar decision, back in the 1970s, by an ex-colonial country, determined to throw off the shackles. To smooth the transition, it was suggested that cars should make the switch first, followed by buses and trucks a week later.
Barry Wendt
Ambleside, Cumbria
• I presume there is a Möbius strip inside the traffic interchange towers shown in your illustrations of Scottish plans for the road system after independence? Without such a geometric device, the traffic would emerge on the same side of the road.
David Reed
London
• 1 April. Page 3: a recommended diet, consisting almost entirely of green vegetables and warning of the dangers posed by dried figs. Page 5: Scotland, after independence, would adopt driving on the right and introduce vast spiral interchanges on its borders. Page 6: Phyllida Barlow’s latest sculpture, Dock, which appeared to be the contents of a colossal builder’s skip emptied into a room at Tate Britain. Which was the spoof?
James Hornsby
Abington, Northampton
• Every 1 April, Guardian readers need to beware of the spoof story. This year it was just too easy to spot: “Osborne vows to create full employment.”
Anthony Matthew
Leicester
• Two fools in the news on 1 April: the first sells off a 300-year-old national asset at nearly half price; the second lauds the deviousness, low cunning and total untrustworthiness of President Putin. I really do believe that the average market trader and person in the street would apply more intelligence and common sense to their analysis than this prize pair put together.
Mike Saunders
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

ms/Demotix/Corbis
Ken Loach’s article (Labour is not the solution, 28 March) has received a fantastic response – 250 people joined Left Unity over the weekend, when we held our first national conference.
But Labour supporters would rather see us pack up our things and go home. They tell us not to rock the boat for fear of letting the Tories in next year. New Labour was founded on the assumption that Labour could tack as far as it liked to the right and still count on the left vote for lack of an alternative. And tack right it did. Now we have a Labour party signed up to Conservative spending plans, privatisation and a benefits cap that will hit disabled people hard and push 345,000 children into poverty. And whatever you do, don’t mention the (Iraq) war.
Left Unity’s conference in Manchester on Saturday agreed to campaign against austerity and war, to introduce a 35-hour week and a mandatory living wage, and to renationalise the rail and energy companies. These are policies that the vast majority of British people support but Labour, ever in the pockets of big business, will not even consider them. What does this say about the Labour party today? What does it say about the state of British democracy? This is exactly why we need Left Unity.
Salman Shaheen
Principal speaker, Left Unity
• As every year passes, the influence of the left in the Labour party diminishes; it’s almost non-existent now. In 1994, Ralph Miliband wrote in Socialism for a Sceptical Age: “The emergence of new socialist parties in many countries is one of the notable features of the present time … their growth is essential if the left is to prosper.”
The parties Ralph Miliband was referring to have developed into the Party of the European Left, an alliance of left parties in European countries. Opinion polls indicate that those parties, which have a clear policy of opposing austerity and privatisation, and which support the re-founding of Europe on a socialist basis, will get increased support in the forthcoming European elections. Syriza in Greece has 23.9% support, Izquierda Unida in Spain 14.1%, Front de Gauche in France 9% and Die Link in Germany 8%.
In Britain we have no opportunity of voting for such a party. Left Unity’s conference agreed to support the Party of the European Left’s call for a refounding of Europe on a socialist basis. For socialists in the Labour party there is an alternative – Left Unity.
David Melvin
Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester
• In threatening to split Unite from Labour (Back workers or lose election, Miliband told, 2 April), my friend Len McCluskey would be sadly destined to repeat history. Small splinter left parties in Britain have never succeeded, only played into the hands of the Tories by dividing their opponents and undermining the ability of Labour – the only party capable of forming an alternative government – to win. Far too many of my constituents, like many others, are being devastated by this Tory-Lib Dem government and are desperate to defeat them.
Peter Hain MP
Lab, Neath
• Deborah Orr wrote a very interesting article (Workers are treated with contempt in Britain. This should be Labour’s focus, 29 March), which, if I read her right, called for what at one time was described as a “middle way” between adherence to the state and reliance on the market. Leave aside the fact that her knock at New Labour may well have been misplaced (I do not believe for a moment that the Brown government was defeated in 2010 because it was New Labour), and it is possible to see that the critique she offers has been debated for the past 30 years. The battle lines of the 1980s were about a throwback to Friedrich Hayek and the “liberated individual” of Margaret Thatcher’s free-market values, and old Labour with its paternalistic, top-down approach to solving genuine problems.
The question that Orr did not answer is how you mobilise the power of people in their own lives with the influence of the state to tackle vested interests, from wherever they come, and to unite people against such vested interests across national boundaries in a rapidly developing global power struggle. The truism that all of us have to address in politics is: “Those who have power are those most likely to be in power.”
David Blunkett MP
Lab, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report makes it clear that the future of world agriculture is precarious (UN warning over world’s food supplies, 31 March). The international mechanisms to address the complex challenges remain weak, and the UK must, as it has done in energy policy, show leadership. We need to re-engineer the UK’s food and farming system, not only because we can no longer look to global markets for a safe, secure food future, but also because we need that system to play its full part in adapting to, and reducing the severity of, climate change.
As a priority, less food must be wasted from field to fork: producing more is pointless when so much energy, effort and land is squandered through waste. Decarbonising food supply across the supply chain to cut greenhouse gas emissions is essential, but we also need to give farmers incentives to manage land in ways that store carbon to cut emissions further. Last, we need to reappraise the supply of farmland as a long-term productive resource: in a world of falling crop yields, volatile markets and unpredictable weather, farmland cannot for much longer be regarded as simply ripe for “development”.
Graeme Willis
Campaign to Protect Rural England
• If most of those working on an ageing aeroplane warned the owners there was more than a 50% chance of it crashing, then the plane would be grounded. As most climate scientists now say there is a more than 75% chance of average global temperatures exceeding a 4% rise by the end of this century, if not sooner, we surely want to take drastic action as soon as possible. The costs of not reducing greenhouse gases will far outweigh the cost of investment in alternative sources of energy. Governments, transnational corporations and others need to act now to prevent catastrophic global warming.
But they need us to tell them so – now. As well as emphasising the urgency for action, we also need to work on building up the resilience of local communities to adapt. Local communities as well as nations need to come together to work on local projects to respond creatively to climate change. Green or environmental groups, such as Transition Towns, that are already doing this need greater local and national support. We need to work together for the common good, for example, to promote local food, and we cannot afford to wait to do this until an emergency happens, such as the floods on the Somerset Levels.
Rev Timothy Fox
Lancaster
• The letters from Raymond Blanc et al and Caroline Lucas MP (1 April) call for action to combat climate change, but their suggestions will not achieve what is needed. Caroline Lucas rightly says that “80% of known fossil fuel reserves” will have to stay in the ground if we are to tackle the problem by cutting emissions. However, as China, India, Brazil and others continue to expand their energy use massively, it is now beyond all reasonable doubt that nothing like 80% will stay unburnt, even in the unlikely event that countries such as the UK were to reduce their usage to zero.
Environmentalists, businesses, governments and the UN now need to accept that the only feasible solutions are to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere by means of reforestation and carbon scrubbing, and to cool the planet artificially by means of geo-engineering.
Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent
• The latest pre-election trial balloon from David Cameron (Tories plan new attack on windfarms, 2 April) reflects a party that is not seeking a sensible energy policy for Britain. Instead it is clear that the Conservative party has adopted a strategy of chasing after Ukip, seeking to be more extreme. It seems that the fanatical opposition to windfarms from some on the right might soon prompt David “hug a husky” Cameron to be pictured instead taking an axe to a wind turbine, because the floated policy suggests that the Tories want to see existing turbines pulled down.
Britain trails nearly all the European Union in providing renewable energy – we can boast of being ahead only of those global giants Malta and Luxembourg – meanwhile, states such as the US and China are surging ahead with renewables. The refusal to provide a secure, supportive investment environment for renewables in the UK risks losing opportunities for jobs and businesses.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party
• The septennial report of the IPPC adds further weight, if any was needed, to the assessment of risks posed by climate change, not only globally but to the UK economy, environment and society, not in some distant era but in the near future with potentially damaging effects on future generations. The first obligation on politicians of whatever hue is the protection of their citizens. In reality, whatever consensus existed in the UK has effectively dissipated and decisive action seems as far away as ever. We have the European elections pending and the general election in 12 months . Who would bet that the global climate and the coming storm will register on the electoral radar? To continue to dissemble and prevaricate in the face of risks to national security and wellbeing of this magnitude would surely be a criminal abrogation of political responsibility.
I call on government, together with all the parties, to initiate, facilitate and fund a sustained national debate on the risks and options, conducted in regional venues and across the web, between business, civil society and the scientific community between now and May 2015.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex
• Is it too much to hope that the catastrophic effects predicted for climate change later this century will feature in party manifestos next year? Or will this generation of political leaders go down in what remains of human history as those who lacked the courage and honesty to face the world’s greatest crisis?
Rev Neil Richardson
Ludlow, Shropshire
• One thing missing from the climate change debate is any suggestion that we might address world population growth. Surely it must be obvious that this crisis would be easier to cope with if population was stable or declining. But no one mentions this. Why?
Roger Plenty
Stroud, Gloucestershire

Tony Benn always tried to argue a case through reason rather than endlessly repeated slogans. His approach to political discourse was rooted deeply in his sense of history, as in the campaign against the banning of Peter Wright’s controversial book Spycatcher. At a protest event at Speakers’ Corner in ‘Hyde Park, London, in August 1987 we each took it in turns to read aloud some of the more explosive extracts from the book in defiance of government injunctions preventing publication of any part of it, with its extraordinary revelations about alleged illegality by the intelligence services.
Tony’s presence probably deterred the police, who could be seen nervously consulting with their superiors on their walkie-talkies over whether to arrest us. In a fine piece of oratory he inveighed against state censorship, invoking article one of the bill of rights of 1689. He said he was speaking out as a citizen, as an MP, as a privy counsellor and “as a member of the committee of privileges of the House of Commons to warn that we cannot, and should not accept this restriction on our liberty”.

Independent:
Your editorial of 2 April is absolutely right to say that “science is not opinion” and to identify the climate change deniers as coming from the political right.
The reason the BBC cannot find experts in climate change to argue against the phenomenon is that no scientist worthy of the name would do so. What we are seeing is a new variation on the science-versus-religion debate: the god of the new dogma is the free-market.
The deniers are nearly always very comfortably off, or supported by billionaires such as the Koch brothers. In their arguments they are wrong about almost every detail except the truth which really haunts them. It is that their free-market model, based on unfettered pillaging of our planet’s resources, has to end if climate change is to be checked.
If not, we are headed for the greatest extinction of species (including our own) since the Permian era. However, like all religious fanatics, the deniers would no doubt consider that a small price to pay to protect the sanctity of their dogma.
Steve Edwards, Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex
Kate O’Mara’s theatre rescue
We at the Kings Theatre in Southsea are deeply saddened at the death of Kate O’Mara (Obituary, 1 April). Kate spent much of her youth at the Kings, which was built by her great grandfather in 1907 and later run by her actor/manager grandparents.
She loved theatre generally, and the Kings in particular. She performed here many times. We particularly remember her outstanding performances in The Taming of the Shrew and An Ideal Husband.
When the theatre was in its direst need – in danger of being converted into a theme pub or, worse, demolished – Kate became a supporter of Akter (Action for Kings Theatre Restoration) and, later, a patron of the rescued and rejuvenated theatre.
I know Kate was delighted that her beloved theatre is going from strength to strength. We will miss her passion and enthusiasm.
Paddy Drew, Southsea, Hampshire
Seven a day? Who can afford it?
We hear that if we eat seven portions of  fruit and veg a day we will live longer. Well, I’m afraid that all but the wealthy are going to die before their time.
The government recommendation of five a day was bad enough, and the poorer in our society could not have managed that. Has anyone who makes these recommendations ever thought where the money is going to come from? Anyone who actually goes shopping will realise that five a day for a family of four for seven days will cost more than their budget for an entire week’s groceries. We are now seeing fruit sold at prices per item instead of per weight.
They should think before making silly recommendations that are beyond so many people’s reach.
Dave Croucher, Doncaster
Public health doctors appear to have been taken in by the report regarding the benefits of eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Only a moment’s reflection is needed to realise that those eating larger amounts of fresh fruit and veg are likely to be people who understand the benefit of a healthy lifestyle and can afford to pay for it. So they are probably, also, doing the other things that are part of a healthy lifestyle, such as taking exercise, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation; in addition, they are likely to have the knowledge to seek medical advice for early intervention for any health problems.
By increasing the quantity of fresh fruit and veg consumed from one portion a day to seven or more, you may improve your health and therefore reduce your risk of dying, but until all the other factors have been excluded you cannot know by how much. It’s misleading to suggest that we only have to change our diet to reduce our risk of dying by  42 per cent.
Michael Charvonia, Southgate, Middlesex
Two of the top 20 charities, receiving £100m-plus, are Cancer UK and the British Heart Foundation. I assume people hope these research charities will find the answer to these endemic ills. Yet how upset and angry people get when told we are eating junk and that eating healthily may well help us avoid suffering these diseases.
I suppose the real answer is that people want to go on eating a high meat, sugar, fat, salt, alcohol, soda-pop and refined-grain diet and do as little exercise as possible. They give to these medical charities in the hope they will come up with a pill, potion or procedure that allows them not to change their unhealthy lifestyle.
Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent
Squash is not just for toffs
Squash may be “too brutal” for Roger Federer, but Lalit Bhadresha (letter, 26 March) makes a good case for bringing this sport into the Olympics. Sadly, here in Britain squash has the reputation of being a game for toffs and is little played by teenagers in the state education system.
But squash is easy to learn, can be played all year round, develops agility as well as stamina, and unlike contact sports can be enjoyed throughout our working lives and beyond. It would be relatively inexpensive to incorporate a couple of squash courts whenever a new school is built, and this would be a very cost-effective way of developing physical fitness in young people.
David Hewitt, London N1
Childless marriage is still marriage
Commenting on gay marriage, Kevin O’Donnell (letter, 31 March) defines marriage as the potential for children. That is a dangerous path. We struggled with infertility for several years. If it had been proved that one of us was infertile and therefore lacked the potential to have children, would we have been less married or not married by this definition? Infertility is a big enough cross to carry without adding this idea to it.
Brian Dalton, Sheffield
England’s share of humiliation
I think the performance of the cricket team this winter has finally sent Stephen Brenkley over the edge (2 April). Waitrose may or may not regret sponsoring the England cricket team, but they won’t be bothered about the share price as they are part of the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership.
Rob Edwards, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Every student’s education benefits us all
I am shocked that you should defend tuition fees (editorial, 1 April).
Who, among those who support tuition fees, would like to live in a society without education – a society without architects, engineers or doctors? Who can imagine what such a society would be like?
There would be much less informed discourse, more superstition, no scientific medical care or ways of fighting disease, no safely designed buildings and none of the fruits of technological progress that make the life we know possible. Who wants to step into a lift built by an unqualified engineer?
It would be a return to the jungle. We all need education, whether we take it personally or not. When we visit a doctor, switch on a light, flush a toilet, take a ship, a plane or any vehicle we are benefiting from education.
Everybody who takes an education is benefiting us all and we should all be grateful; we all need educated people. It is those who do not take an education who should be penalised.
What sense is there in making education obligatory until a certain age and then obliging people to pay to continue?
The goal of education should be simple – to nurture everyone according to their ability. The better we do that the better our society will be. Education is the best and most important investment we can make.
Dennis Leachman, Reading
You ask “How can it possibly be fair for those without a university degree to stump up for the income-boosting education of those who do?” (editorial, 1 April). That is entirely reasonable.
But should you not also ask “How can it possibly be fair for those graduates who repay their debt to society by doing comparatively low-paid work in nursing, teaching or social work to stump up for the income-boosting education of highly-paid graduates in banking or hedge fund management?”
The answer to both questions is the same. The fair way to pay for higher education is to use the income tax system to ensure that the more a graduate is paid, the more they pay towards the HE costs of all graduates, while non-graduates are left with nothing to pay towards HE costs at all.
What is blatantly unfair is to charge all graduates the same £9,000 per year, regardless of how much financial benefit they gain from their graduate status.
David Rendel, (Higher education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, 2003-2005), Upper Bucklebury, West Berkshire

Times:
Sat-nav is marvellous when it works, but when it stops we have to fall back on old tech
Sir, Maps are not just a means of getting from A to B; they are a source of interest and pleasure (report, Mar 31; letters, Apr 1 & 2). Perusing a map, one can discover lanes and byways, remote villages, churches, monuments and much more. We live in a county with very many little lanes, and our map-reading friends arrive on time while our sat-nav friends get lost.
Joan Westall
Newton Ferrers, Devon
Sir, It’s not just roadworks which are not recognised by sat-nav. En route to a meeting in Burton on Trent last week I was held up by a lorry fire on the A38 near Sutton Coldfield. As the diversion signs were deficient, I switched on the sat-nav.
How I wished afterwards that I had stopped for just a few minutes to consult the map. The satnav did not know where the accident was, nor even that one may not turn right across a major dual carriageway. By contrast, the map showed a simple detour.
Sat-navs certainly have their place, but the humble map, though several years out of date, is still a worthwhile travelling companion.
Howard Lamb
Wargrave, Berks
Sir, I am curious how Bernard Kingston (letter, Apr 1) with his memorised road map could outwit the sat-navs of his fellow guests travelling through “numerous” roadworks to a central London location. This would require memorising a broad swathe of the road map along the route. Some months ago I was travelling north on the A34 from Winchester to Oxford only to be confronted by a sign on the approach to the M4 warning me that the A34 was closed north of the M4. The resultant diversion was over 30 miles long and I was more than glad not to stop to consult maps but let the sat-nav take over.
Roger Porter
Whaddon, Bucks
Sir, I can assure Bernard Kingston that endeavouring to read an inverted A-Z by the feeble interior car light when trying to navigate in the pouring rain to a house-warming party did not promote any euphoric feelings of spatial awareness in my breast.
Passing the same garage for the second time I was about to abandon the whole expedition when I remembered the much maligned
sat-nav in the boot. Typing in the post code I was immediately greeting by an encouraging dulcet female voice suggesting that I “perform a U-turn, when possible” and was then seamlessly directed to the front door of the location, where I arrived neither hot nor bothered.
Kay Bagon
Radlett, Herts
Sir, Mr Kingston drove to a social engagement in “central London”. Where the hell did he park?
Graham Steel
Dover, Kent
Sir, My recent experiences in the narrow streets of Willesden Green, North London, suggest that throwing away one’s A-Z might be premature. In one week I twice met gigantic lorries advised by their
sat-navs to head for a particular road in NW2 which isn’t wide enough to swing a cat, let alone manoeuvre a juggernaut.
Both drivers very much appreciated my offer to guide them to the other Chandos Road, which is in NW10.
Hefty Employment Tribunal fees have wiped out 80 per cent of claims — good news for unscrupulous employers
Sir, The Government’s own figures showed that its introduction of Employment Tribunal fees of between £390 and £1,200 in July 2013 have wiped out 80 per cent of claims. Most of the claims that have gone were brought by employees alone and without lawyers.
The shop assistant whose boss didn’t pay him the minimum wage, the pregnant woman underpaid for maternity leave, the factory worker denied proper holiday pay, the transport worker sacked for raising a safety concern, the abused migrant worker — they are just not bringing their claims. The effect on women has been to reduce sex discrimination claims by 77 per cent and the effect on other minority groups such as the disabled has been almost as severe.
Should business rejoice at the lower costs in not fighting claims? Not the many good employers I work for. The cowboys are now waking up to a new Victorian landscape where they can strip employees of statutory rights and discriminate, hire and fire at will safe in the knowledge that justice has been locked up behind a pay wall unaffordable to four out of five members of their staff.
I call on the Government to review the effect of fees urgently. The facts now show that tribunal fees are bad for business, bad for hard-working families and have destroyed access to employment justice in England, Wales and Scotland.
Caspar Glyn, QC
Chair, The Industrial Law Society
The National Childbirth Trust rejects the accusation that it is oldfashioned or locked into outdated ways
Sir, Your report “Inside the Bump Class” (Apr 1) gives an outdated view of NCT — we have changed a great deal since the 1950s. We aim to help all parents to be informed about their choices, and we offer information to cover all eventualities that expectant and new parents face: caesarean sections, other interventions and pain relief, as well as straightforward births and home births.
And because not all parents can afford antenatal classes, we provide courses at a discounted rate and many free classes commissioned by the NHS.
Belinda Phipps
NCT
Rebels don’t have big causes like the rebels of the past — but each generation finds something to get heated about
Sir, “Today’s rebels have been left without a cause”, says Hugo Rifkind (Opinion, Apr 1). This was echoed not only by Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) but Jimmy Porter in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), when he observed: “People of our generation aren’t able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the Thirties and Forties . . . There aren’t any good brave causes left.”
However, it does seem that each new generation finds itself a cause — even if it’s only climate change.
m. g. sherlock
Colwyn Bay, North Wales
The energy market shambles stems from weak regulation by bodies who put suppliers’ interests ahead of customers’ needs
Sir, The shambles in the energy market stems mainly from weak regulation but also from a succession of inadequate and badly run consumer bodies. Energywatch never found direction and Consumer Focus had too broad a remit to even begin to understand the energy market. They were out of their depth even on some basic issues.
Ofgem has lacked firm leadership since the tenure of Sir James McKinnon in the 1990s and instead of steering the industry in the right direction it consulted and consulted, and nothing got done.
In my own area of interest I am appalled that Ofgem has not stood up for consumers on billing accuracy. Smart meters will cost consumers £12 billion but they will not address any of the billing errors in gas. This is not a minor issue that can be ignored as some gas users could be paying 10 per cent more for the same level of usage.
So what should be done until the Competition and Markets Authority completes it investigation?
Appoint Richard Lloyd of Which? to guide Ofgem on consumer issues. It would be a culture shock, but it is badly needed. Set up a consumer body solely for energy users with staff who are committed to consumers and also understand the market.
Ray Cope
(former director, Gas Consumers Council), Langford, Beds
Telegraph:

 

State of the history of art will change Civilisation
History of art, as a discipline, has changed. This will be reflected in the new version of Civilisation.

Kenneth Clark presented ‘Civilisation’ in 1969, covering 1,000 years of art and philosophy  Photo: BBC
6:58AM BST 02 Apr 2014
37 Comments
SIR – Those of us who enjoyed Kenneth Clark’s style and learnt so much from his assured presentation of Civilisation 40 years ago, must realise that a revolution has taken place in the teaching and scope of the history of art.
No longer is a linear account of the history of (mainly) Western European art a sufficient account. The place of the art connoisseur – of which Clark, who studied with Bernard Berenson, was such an informed exponent – has been discredited and effectively disregarded by the art establishment; since the Seventies, the “new art history” has triumphed.
Additionally, with the growth of university places in the subject, the old order of discourse within art history has become almost taboo. Thus, the use of terms Clark would have been familiar with, such as style, attribution, beauty, genius and quality, has been replaced by less subjective methodology – ideology, class, and feminist and Marxist readings – to the extent that a new vocabulary is inherently a part of the discipline.
The choice of a suitably informed presenter for the new series is, indeed, daunting. Clark was exactly the right man for his time. I hope that the new programme “for the digital age” will prove as informative and memorable. One thing is clear: it will be quite different.
Hugh McIlveen
Wigginton, Oxfordshire

SIR – A remake of Civilisation calls for Lord Hall, director-general of the BBC, to remind the producers of the tremendous impact Neil MacGregor made with A History of the World in 100 Objects – and all we heard was his voice.
David Blake
Bexley, Kent

SIR – The Campaign to Protect Rural England welcomes the findings of the Farrell Review. It is only through intelligent, proactive planning that our housing problems can be solved. We know that more, and affordable, homes are needed but they must be well located, well designed and built to excellent environmental standards.
An important finding of the review was that our current planning system has become too reactive and reliant on development control rather than forward planning. This echoes the findings of the CPRE’s recent report, which found that the current planning system is undermining local democracy and handing power to major developers.
The balance of power should be restored, with local government and communities having more say in what is built, how it is designed and where it is located.
John Rowley
Planning Officer, Campaign to Protect Rural England
London SE1
Related Articles
The Cinderella Law could undermine the family and parental authority
02 Apr 2014
State of the history of art will change Civilisation
02 Apr 2014
SIR – On the edge of the London Green Belt, there are well-advanced plans by The Jockey Club to build 1,500 homes and a number of commercial units on their Kempton Park estate.
Neighbouring communities face not only the power and wealth of The Jockey Club and their multifarious planning consultants, but also the legal powers of the local council, which sees such a development as the solution to the cap on council tax and rapidly decreasing income flows from central government.
The response of Nick Boles, the planning minister, to this is to raise his hands defensively and say that it is up to local councils to decide whether to build on Green Belt land or not.
Alan Doyle
Sunbury, Middlesex
Climate change report
SIR – The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that no one on the planet will be untouched by the damaging effects of global warming in coming decades.
I wonder if these effects will be as damaging as the policies of governments in response to previous IPCC reports.
Simon Malcolm
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
SIR – The “climatic reality” is that world temperatures are not presently increasing.
IPCC members, whose jobs or status depend on climate change, forecast what might happen rather than extrapolate what is happening, or rather not happening.
Michael Tyce
Waterstock, Oxfordshire
Dillan or Dullan?
SIR – Dylan Thomas, whom I saw through a painful tooth crisis in Iowa, responded to “Dillon”. That’s what John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Ruthven Todd and others who knew him shortly before his death in New York, also called him.
Keith Botsford
London SW18
Fool team
SIR – I note that the £90 England World Cup replica shirts “contain innovative performance technologies”.
Is this an April Fool? If not, perhaps the England cricket team could get some.
James McBroom
Pangbourne, Berkshire
Reforming the Lords
SIR – At a time when the opinion of all MEPs is to be assessed, during the European Parliament elections next month, and a critically important decision is to be made by the Scottish electorate over the 307-year union with England, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are bent on “completing unfinished business” by, once again, attacking the constitution of the House of Lords.
Whereas Tony Blair initiated his premiership with a guaranteed “easy win” and seemingly popular Act to remove the majority of hereditary peers, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are wasting parliamentary time and public funds if they feel that House of Lords reform is a priority in the mind of the public.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
London SW1
Judging the police
SIR – Boris Johnson writes: “Beneath the hullabaloo the police are doing an outstanding job.”
Late last Wednesday night, an officer left my house after my wife reported a burglary. Early on Thursday morning, she received an email from the police saying: “It has been concluded at this time unfortunately there is insufficient information to proceed, and that the specific investigation into your crime will now be closed.” Neither a door knocked nor a neighbour questioned, and 12 hours later: case closed. Surely there should be a tiny bit of a hullabaloo.
Chris Boffey
London N8
SIR – Political correctness, health and safety and increasing regulation have altered the manner in which police officers go about their duties. They have become more inclined to self-protection, which can isolate them from their community.
I remember when the local police got involved in youth club or school activities and had sports teams that competed with other community teams.
Ron Starkey
Kendal, Cumberland
Distinguishing traits
SIR – Can anyone explain why such a high proportion of Members of Parliament, themselves a tiny proportion of the British population, turn out to be stupid, incompetent, criminal or unfit to hold public office?
Jeremy Nicholas
Great Bardfield, Essex
If we double our fruit and veg, what will we get?
SIR – You report that consuming 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day will allow us to live longer. How can that be proven? How does one know if one has lived longer?
Dr E S Garbett
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
SIR – Faced with 10 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, I’m not at all sure that I would want to live any longer.
Martyn Pitt
Hardwicke, Gloucestershire
SIR – There will be precious little time left to do any work if I have to double the time I devote to eating my meals after switching to a 10-portions-a-day fruit and vegetable regime.
Ron Kirby
Dorchester
SIR – Eat 10 portions, live longer, and end up being neglected or mistreated in an old people’s care home.
Keith Moore
Yoxford, Suffolk

SIR – To legislate on the “emotional, social and behavioural well-being” of children is to introduce the worst kind of nannying. Parental cruelty to children is covered by existing legislation.
While all children deserve love, who is to decide how much love is sufficient? The needs of different children vary hugely and some become hard to handle after puberty, if not before. An excess of affection can sometimes be the root of children’s problems and therefore precisely what is not needed.
Well-meaning legislation, brought in at the behest of pressure groups, is often flawed. Parents must be allowed to bring up their children as they think best. While there will be victims in every society, this kind of well-intentioned law may not reach them and it may have the unintended consequence of further undermining the family and parental authority.
Gregory Shenkman
London W8
SIR – Compelling parents to provide emotional input to their children represents not only the height of naivety but also typifies the current trend to manipulate us socially via legislation.
How can an Act of Parliament force a second-rate parent to love his or her child?
Peter Mahaffey
Cardington, Bedfordshire
SIR – The Government is considering making emotional cruelty to children a criminal offence, and yet the same Government is encouraging young mothers to go out to work while penalising those who stay at home.
Peter Seccombe
Bodenham, Herefordshire
SIR – Many children or teenagers go through a stage in which parents appear to be the enemy. What vindictive fun some would have with the Cinderella Law.
We still read of dreadful cases of uncared-for children dying unnecessarily, despite the services in place. Time and money should be spent on securing what is already in place.
Joy Watkins
London SW11
SIR – Legislation to criminalise the parental neglect of children’s “intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development” could, in the hands of liberal totalitarians and case-hungry lawyers, provide a “politically correct” instrument to outlaw religious education, gender differentiation, unfashionable discipline, sexual restraint and even patriotism.
David Ashton
Sheringham, Norfolk
SIR – If children will be able to sue their parents when dissatisfied with their upbringing, will parents have equal rights to sue offspring who have not lived up to their expectations?
Dennis Peirson
Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Irish Times:

 

Sir, – Averil Power highlights some of the problems that attend increasing women’s representation in the Dáil (Opinion and Analysis, April 2nd). It is very unusual for a member of a political party to write an article for the media criticising that party’s action or lack of action. So congratulations to her for her honesty.
She should realise, however, that the recent introduction of the condition that political parties have a minimum quota of women candidates in the next general election, before they qualify for full public funding, has not only focused the debate but it has also started a bitter struggle.
Now, when there is a chance that the more than 50 per cent of the electorate that are women might get more of their kind on the ballot paper the insiders and the incumbents will fight tooth and nail to undermine that effort. As a practising woman politician Ms Power is in a better position than most to see this.
Getting women onto the ballot paper, difficult and all as it is, is only the first step. Getting them elected is not going to be easy. Ms Power is wrong when she says that women candidates have the same chance as men. That was true for the 2011 election, when the average woman candidate polled as well as the average man. But that was the first time this was the case and the result was influenced by the fact that a large number of male independents stood in that contest and got very low votes. In previous elections women candidates attracted fewer votes than men.
Increasing the number of women in the Dáil is not going to be easy and the effort is by no means guaranteed to succeed. Yours, etc,
ANTHONY LEAVY,
Shielmartin Drive,
Sutton,
Dublin 13
Sir , – Averil Power’s contention that Countess Markievicz would be horrified that the party she helped establish hasn’t a single female TD may well be true. However, I think the countess might feel a greater sense of horror at the devastation left in wake of 15 years of Fianna Fáil-led government. I am not sure what would motivate any woman with a memory of the last 15 years to stand for Fianna Fáil – regardless of the supports they may put in place to encourage our participation. Yours, etc,
SANDRA ADAMS,
Parkvale,
Baldoyle,
Dublin 13

Sir, – I have been living in Dublin since 2005 and think it is a wonderful city. Concerning its governance though, I could and still cannot not grasp the low level of decision-making power that elected politicians can exercise vis-a-vis unelected officials at the helm of local government. Dublin is a metropolitan region that is the economic engine for the country. Geographically, it has outgrown its administrative boundaries and people’s concept of the city is not defined by signposts demarcating the city limits. Dublin does compete with other European regions for business. Reassessing the responsibility for the governance of the metropolitan region should not be left in the hands of a small group of politicians in Fingal, who do not seem to see the wider implications of their decision. The development of a democratic governance structure for a city region like Dublin should not be held to ransom by the outcome of the Fingal vote. Maybe the process that allowed a predominantly rural area to determine the future of the city should be revisited. The call on the Minister responsible, Phil Hogan, to reassess the boundaries of the city seems appropriate. Yours, etc,
MATTHIAS BORSCHEID,
Buckingham Street Lower,
Dublin 1
Sir, – The people of Dublin have been denied the opportunity to participate in important decision-making by the rejection by Fingal councillors of the proposed plebiscite on a directly elected major for Dublin. I hope the people of Fingal will send a clear message to these councillors in May and give these so-called public representatives a lesson in democracy. What a missed opportunity for an international capital city! Yours, etc,
DAVID MOORE,
Carrs Mill,
Donabate,
Co Dublin

 

Sir, – Jacky Jones is right to raise the important issue of the lack of individual care plans for people using mental health services (“Second Opinion”, April 2nd). Individualised, person-centred, recovery-orientated plans are a basic requirement of a good quality mental health service.
In 2013, Mental Health Reform worked with our member organisations to define five components of a recovery-focused mental health service: hope, listening, partnership, choice and social inclusion. Working in partnership with individuals who use mental health services and, where appropriate, their family supporters, in a hopeful process of listening and engagement is vital if services are to be effective in supporting a person’s recovery.
In simple terms, people recover better when they are given hope, involved in decisions about their own treatment, offered a range of therapeutic options, and are supported to live a full live in the community.
While we were disappointed that the HSE’s Operational Plan for mental health services for 2014 did not commit to ensuring that every mental health service user would have an individual care/recovery plan, there is now an opportunity for the National Director of Mental Health to drive such an improvement across the country. The implementation of this basic reform could have wide-reaching effects in the system and would benefit everyone who seeks support from the HSE’s mental health services. Yours, etc,
SHARI McDAID,
Director,
Mental Health Reform,
Coleraine Street,
Dublin 7
Sir, – Jacky Jones misses the real point in her criticism of mental health services not providing a care plan for every individual. As a social worker in a multidisciplinary mental health team, I, like others, work with patients with a variety of needs, from the most complex, such as severe and enduring mental disorders, with dual diagnosis of addiction and intellectual disabilities and with limited family support to deal with significant life stressors, to less complex cases where patients can be managed by one worker or be relatively quickly referred back to their GP.
Providing a quality, efficient and effective service entails focusing in on those with the greatest needs, having transparent, screening processes in place to ensure meaningful care plans with a responsible key worker to co-ordinate the plan rather than a superficial one size fits all care plan, merely to tick the box. Yours, etc,
FRANK BROWNE,
Ballyroan Park,
Templeogue,
Sir, — It is not often that, where a controversy arises such as the recent one concerning Trinity’s change of logo, an elegant and simple solution should lie so close to hand.
Why not replace the Bible, not with a blank book but with an image of the Book of Kells (which is of course housed in Trinity)? Those who wish to see the Bible retained could find in the Book of Kells the iconic referencing they would prefer; while those opposed to the retention of the Bible would surely be reconciled to an image of what is, after all, a major Irish cultural achievement, and, more to the point, a striking reminder of a longstanding Irish tradition of learning and scholarship.
Thus the Book of Kells would prove equally acceptable to both parties: the saints and the scholars, the former doubtless less numerous than they were of old but both still, happily, so vocal in our insular home. Yours, etc.,
BRIAN COSGROVE,
Cornelscourt Hill,
Foxrock,
Dublin 18
Sir, – President Michael D Higgins was right to argue (Opinion & Analysis, April 2nd) that “we now have a generational opportunity to ask probing questions about the type of society we wish to build together, and the type of public world we wish to share with one another and with future generations”.
His ethics initiative, aiming to place citizens at the centre of the debate about the future of our society is both topical, timely and welcome. For the development model Ireland chose during the Celtic Tiger era has been shown to be fundamentally flawed – yet to date no alternative vision for a fair and sustainable future for our country has emerged.
Our recent history has shown that Ireland’s problems cannot be solved through a “laissez-faire” approach to public policy, and it has also highlighted the fact that our future is intrinsically linked to decisions (or non-decisions, as the case may be) of the wider international community. But we have yet to develop a plan on how to manage the challenges arising from this new awareness.
The President’s call for a conversation about our values as a nation could not be more timely. Our citizens feel less empowered than ever before, and our public goods have been damaged by greed, breach of trust and by global forces of enormous strength. It is not a good time in which to be rudderless.
Realising this, our colleagues at the United Nations have spent much of the last two years asking every country to undertake discussions about national values and national priorities. It has asked citizens, companies and governments to come up with visions of “the world we want”, to help set the agenda for the global community in the coming decades.
On the back of global UN summits of the past decade, the member countries of the UN – including Ireland – have decided to develop a set of global goals to address the world’s most pressing issues in the coming 15 years, goals that will set the framework for national and international decisions on education, equality, democracy, jobs and the environment and which could end up becoming a sort of second-level constitution for our country.
If we seize the opportunity that the President is offering us to rethink who we are and what our values as a nation are, and ought to be, then we will be all the stronger for it, and all the better able to cope with the challenges associated with being a small country in such an interdependent and volatile world. Yours, etc,
HANS ZOMER,
Director,
Dóchas,
Baggot Court,
Dublin 2

Sir, – I strongly disagree with Frank Byrne’s views (Letters, April 1st) on the practice of women applying their makeup on public transport.
The application of makeup is an intimate and private moment for women in which they construct their daily mask. The public application of makeup is fascinating, and very modern. To watch a woman apply makeup is profoundly erotic (in the post-Freudian sense).
To suffer these small darts of Eros at a time of day when one is moving into the profoundly mundane space of most white collar work is a privilege. Yours, etc,
LEON SHARKEY,
Ryebridge Lawns,
Kilcock
Sir, – I once witnessed a middle-aged lady cut her male partner’s hair on the upper deck of a bus I was travelling on. The episode was punctuated by squeals of delight from the stylist and some loud resistance from her man. Yours, etc,
JOHN O’BYRNE,
Mount Argus Court,
Harold’s Cross ,
Dublin 6W

Sir, – Regarding Hendy Joyce’s suggestion (Letters, April 1st) that summer time augments the hours of daylight (refuted the day before by Kevin Devitte) and the suggestion that Ireland might change to be on a par with Spain and other European countries, he might be surprised to know that there is a movement to return Spain to GMT, the time zone the country geographically falls under and from which it switched during the early days of the Franco dictatorship as a sign of subservience to Hitler’s Germany.
This return is being urged as part of a return to a more Anglo-Saxon timetable, which would help Spaniards get sufficient sleep (they sleep an hour less than most Europeans) and eliminate the huge lunch gap in the middle of the day (few have the luxury of working close enough to home for a siesta). Opposition is coming from the Canary Islands, already on GMT, because it might eliminate the mention they get on the radio every hour. It seems the grass is always greener on the other side of the time zone. Yours, etc,
DAVID O’BRIEN,
Calle Dormitaleria,
Pamplona,
Sir, – The fact that the Taoiseach appointed a justice minister who did not have the powers of time-travelling, clairvoyance and omnipresence seems to disturb Fintan O’Toole, but every cloud has a silver lining and at least the current crisis has enable him to find his faith again. Meanwhile, the only way Mr Shatter will be able to satisfy the perfect is to gallop through Dublin on Shergar, playing O’Carolan’s harp and wearing the Irish crown jewels. Yours, etc,
EUGENE TANNAM,
Monalea Park,
Firhouse,
Dublin 24
Sir, – Marie C O’Byrne’s potted history of Crimea makes it seem entirely logical for the region to be part of the Russian Federation and not Ukraine, and she’s probably right. The problem is, however, not what the people of Crimea want but the fact that the region was effectively annexed by Russia without any diplomatic avenues being explored. This is what makes a lot of countries generally, and Russia’s neighbours in particular, very nervous. Yours, etc,
NORMAN DAVIES,
Belton Terrace,
Bray,
Co Wicklow
Sir, – With European sanctions showing no signs of encouraging Russia to leave Crimea I think stronger action may now be needed. Can I suggest that the threat of a permanent exclusion from the Eurovision Song Contest might help get things moving? Yours, etc,
MARK LEADEN,
College Park Close,
Ballinteer,
Dublin 16

Sir, – Perhaps it is worth reminding Jim Stack, Mary Stewart and others bemoaning the lack of acknowledgement of the views of so-called “family values” voters that their views were, for decades, fully acknowledged and acted upon by successive governments, to the detriment of other excluded groups and individuals. Little concern was recorded at that time by the “family values” populace over the failure to include or acknowledge those who did not conform to an Ireland of conservative Catholicism and patriarchal norms. They cannot expect a huge degree of sympath now that the shoe is (inaccurately) perceived to be on the other foot. Yours, etc,
EDWARD COLLINS,
Niall Street,
Stoneybatter,
Dublin 7

 

Irish Independent:
The GAA decision to give certain championship matches to Sky is a slap in the face to the real GAA supporter.
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The real supporters are the people who travel and pay to attend regularly at their club and county games when at all possible.
They will not be like elected officials of county boards, provincial or other councils who seldom have to put their hands in their pockets to attend.
Even when they are stuck, they will always get a few from part of a golden circle of sponsored tickets.
The same could be asked of the full-time paid officials of the GAA, how many games do they actually pay into?
It is very easy to scoff at the cost this Sky deal will burden the real supporter with, if one attends these games free or with sponsored tickets. There are many people who will only be seen attending games when they do not have to pay to attend.
While I agree with the efforts to generate a wider exposure to our games worldwide, I am not blind to how this also results in junkets for our paid officials.
When asked on the news programme on TV whether the topic should have been brought before the GAA annual congress for approval, the general secretary appeared to me to think those who made the decision were a higher authority.
I would have no great problem with the deal if another channel was allowed cover the game(s) on a free-to-view delayed showing.
I wonder did this thought enter the minds of those negotiating the deal – but then again, why would it?
They will hardly be affected by it.
TONY FAGAN
BELLEFIELD ROAD, ENNISCORTHY, CO WEXFORD

STRUGGLING SUPPORTERS
Croke Park is debt-free. GAA fans are struggling enough as it is – just because a certain number of the population have Sky membership, it does not mean they all have Sky Sports.
MARY COYLE
KILL, CO KILDARE

TIME TO LANCE THE BOIL
The absence of a timely apology has taken out one player and the flames are licking the posteriors of a few more.
Time to lance the boil in this debacle and come clean. Each time the heat threatens Alan Shatter, a grave-faced Enda Kenny informs us of another debacle.
The Gardai, now the Prison Service, and previously GSOC have been dragged into an unholy mess. To each, Mr Shatter has ordered inquiry after inquiry. The problem is this, though: he is the problem.
The Attorney General, the Secretary General of Justice and the head of prisons need to consider their positions. Information on their desks ought to reach the minister in a timely fashion. That this failed to happen is the minister’s fault. He seems to have a poor grip on his minions. So let him lead by example and step down. Then let the trio do what they must do and follow suit.
Ireland’s legal and moral authority is at stake here, not the careers of a handful of highly paid public servants. Mr Kenny needs to lance this boil, otherwise he might be engulfed too.
JOHN CUFFE
MEATH

SPARKING AIR RAGE
Considering the fact that Ryanair carries so many British passengers and has around 15 bases in the UK and Northern Ireland, one would imagine Michael O’Leary would not make such an offensive comment about their queen.
Has Ryanair made enough money and doesn’t need the UK for revenue?
B FITZPATRICK
CASTLEKNOCK, DUBLIN

JOIN THE PEACE WALK
April 2014 is a very special time for the Irish people, but particularly the people of Clontarf, as it is the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf.
One of the events in Clontarf is an Ecumenical Camino Peace Walk. The various Christian churches are supporting this peace walk.
The walk will be held on Sunday, April 13, Palm Sunday, starting at 2.30pm at the corner of the Howth Road and Clontarf Road. The route will move to St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, then to the Methodist Church on the Clontarf Road, then St John’s Church of Ireland on Seafield Road, on to St John’s Catholic Church, Clontarf Road, and finish at St Gabriel’s Catholic Church, Dollymount.
Clontarf passports will be issued and stamped at each church and a certificate given to those who complete the walk. Those who cannot make the full walk are welcome to make a partial walk or call to a church.
On behalf of the organisers and the people of Clontarf, we say: “All are welcome in this place.”
BRYAN HOEY
CLONTARF, DUBLIN 3

PENALTY POINTS
Louise McBride wrote on March 30: “If you have four penalty points, you could pay between 20 and 25pc more for your insurance than someone who has none, and many insurers will refuse to pay out if you haven’t been upfront with them, according to Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs with AA Ireland.”
Mr Faughnan has written in the past about the enforcement of incorrect low speed limits, which leads to many of the penalty points issued in Ireland and results in a 25pc increase in insurance premiums.
In the US, penalty points are not issued for speeding offences unless the driver is stopped by a police officer as it is often not possible to identify the driver.
There are more penalty points issued in Ireland for speeding than the combined number of penalty points for all other motoring offences and this has done little to eliminate road traffic accidents.
FRANK CULLINANE
GLASNEVIN PARK, DUBLIN 11

SINKING SHIP
A short while ago, Leo Varadkar seemingly put his neck on the line and praised the whistleblowers. This was the right thing to do and he received plaudits. I even went to the bother of wasting my time and penned some praise for him.
The reason I say I wasted my time is because he has since come out to bat in defence for Mr Shatter. He accused the opposition of playing “old politics” and pointed to the former garda commissioner not informing the minister about the tapes. He completely ignored the fact that the Attorney General had been informed.
Meanwhile, the Justice Minister resembled Captain Smith of Titanic fame: big on reputation yet in charge of a sinking ship.
DERMOT RYAN
ATTYMON, ATHENRY, CO GALWAY

LOGO LOGIC
Trinity College has reduced its logo colours to two: blue and white. This choice totally ignores the sensitivities of feminist groups who no doubt will eventually register objections over the choice of the prominent blue background (for boys); and anti-racist groups who will certainly not be happy with the white, or indeed with the total absence of black.
To cap it all, anti-Israel activists will have to be be reminded when they pass by the college on one of their protest marches that the blue-and-white flag contains the colours of the Israeli flag. How could the college have spent over €100,000 on this rebranding exercise?
IVOR SHORTS
HERMITAGE CLOSE,
RATHFARNHAM, DUBLIN 16
Irish Independent

 

Mary Home

April 2, 2014

2 April 2014 Mary home
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to search for a stolen yacht Priceless
Mary Home, Peter mr Sorenson we are both very tired
No Scrabble today, too tired Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Sir Robin Dunn – obituary
Sir Robin Dunn was a Lord Justice of Appeal who was decorated in war then dealt with film stars and traitors in peace

Sir Robin Dunn
6:50PM BST 31 Mar 2014
8 Comments
Sir Robin Dunn, the former Lord Justice of Appeal, who has died aged 96, was among the more engaging and colourful members of the bench; he was also awarded an MC in the Second World War .
Dunn’s often lengthy divorce cases made him a fierce critic of their cost to the taxpayer. His bench also became a platform for outspoken social commentary, including, most notoriously, his 1974 remark about the differences between wives north and south of the border.
In the North, said Dunn, wives did not mind their husbands beating them but drew the line at adultery; in the South, the opposite was the case. He withdrew his observations the next day, and apologised to the angry women of the North.
But despite the odd maverick outburst, Dunn was widely liked and respected, and was being tipped as a likely candidate to take over as president of the Family Division shortly before his promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1980.
As a committee member of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, he was at the forefront of its legal battle with the League Against Cruel Sports in the mid-1980s, after the hunt fenced in the League’s so-called “sanctuaries” which it owned on Exmoor.
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Sir Robin Dunn at the Bristol Assizes in 1970
Dunn was also unusual in the ranks of the judiciary in having served as a regular Army officer for 10 years; in 1980 he was made Honorary Colonel Commandant, the highest honour that the Royal Artillery can bestow on a non-serving officer.
The son of a Royal Artillery brigadier, Robin Horace Walford Dunn was born on January 16 1918 and educated at Wellington and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he won the Sword of Honour. He joined the RA in 1938, and fought during the Second World War in France, Belgium and North Africa. He was thrice wounded, mentioned in despatches and awarded a Military Cross in 1944.
On July 8 of that year, Major Dunn, as he then was, was Battery Commander and Commanding Officer’s representative with 1st Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment during an attack on Lébisey wood, near Caen, accompanying the CO on foot with his signallers carrying the wireless sets.
During the whole period of the attack he was under heavy shell and mortar fire, but never failed to maintain communications with the regiment. In the later stages of the assault he organised a fresh fire plan to assist the infantry, who were being held down by an enemy post in the south-west corner of the wood.
The citation for his MC stated: “It was largely due to his efforts that the infantry were enabled to clear the wood with comparatively few casualties. Towards the end of the action Major Dunn was wounded in the head, but refused to go for treatment until ordered by the CO of the Norfolks. During the whole operation Major Dunn, under heavy fire, exhibited a calm and resolute bearing which was an example to both his own party and the infantry.”

Robin Dunn with Field Marshal Montgomery
After the war, Dunn attended Staff College but left the Army as an honorary major in 1948, the same year that he was called to the Bar by Inner Temple. He soon established himself as an eloquent and persuasive advocate, frequently appearing for the rich and famous. While still a junior, he represented Vivien Leigh (in her successful divorce action against Laurence Olivier), and the publisher George Weidenfeld, who was granted a divorce after his wife’s adultery with the writer Cyril Connolly.
Another client was the Russian-born marathon walker Barbara Moore, who alleged she had been defamed by a series of advertisements for shoes, bananas and oranges which surrounded coverage in the Daily Mail of her walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End. She said the advertisements implied that she had undertaken the walk for financial gain rather than to prove the capabilities of a 55-year-old woman on a vegetarian diet.
“Some people may think she’s a crank,” said Dunn, “but most great causes have been started by single-minded people who some consider to be cranks.”
From 1959 to 1962, Dunn was Western Circuit junior counsel to the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Practices. In 1961 he represented the Attorney General at the election petition over whether Viscount Stansgate (Tony Benn) should be allowed to take his place in the Commons following his Bristol South-East by-election victory.
Dunn took Silk in 1962, and as a QC his clients included the former MP Patricia Fisher, injured when a bottle of jewellery cleaner she had bought at Harrods exploded in her hand; the racehorse trainer Florence Nagle, to whom the Jockey Club refused to issue a licence because she was a woman; and the “spoilt” wife of the Swiss film producer Robert Velaise, himself described by Dunn as “a debonair international playboy, expert skier and water-skier, the dashing Don Juan with women”.
One of the highlights of Dunn’s career was the Vassal Tribunal in 1968, at which he represented The Daily and Sunday Telegraph. The inquiry concerned the activities of the homosexual Admiralty spy in Moscow, John Vassal, but an important side issue was whether journalists should disclose their sources.
Dunn was appointed a Judge of the High Court, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division (later Family Division) in 1969.
He was soon ordering the pop singer Gene Vincent to pay maintenance arrears to his former wife or go to prison; granting a divorce to a young wife who objected to her husband’s dressing up in drag; and refusing to believe a petitioner who claimed that his wife charged him half-a-crown for sex.
As presiding judge on the Western Circuit from 1974 to 1978, Dunn proved a tough sentencer. In 1977 he jailed stately home robber Denis Morley — who went in for fast cars, beautiful women and gambling — to 15 years. The trial was the longest in Exeter Crown Court’s history, involving 170 witnesses and more than 700 exhibits. He also gave mandatory life terms to several murderers .
Probably Dunn’s best-known judgment on appeal was in the Sidaway case in 1984. Mrs Sidaway was suing Bethlem Royal Hospital over damage to her spinal cord. She said she was not told of the possibility of such damage before she consented to an operation. But Dunn agreed with the then Master of the Rolls, Sir John Donaldson, that a doctor (or surgeon) fulfilled his duty to inform a patient if he acted in accordance with a practice rightly accepted as proper by a body of skilled and experienced medical men.
Because the surgeon had assessed the risk of damage to the spinal cord at only one to two per cent, he had considered it too remote a risk to form the basis of Mrs Sidaway’s decision on whether or not to consent to the operation. The judges held this to be reasonable after listening to other expert witnesses.
The decision — later upheld by the Law Lords — was welcomed by medics, but criticised by others as legitimising the idea of passive patients and authoritarian doctors. Some went so far as to claim a professional conspiracy, with lawyers closing ranks behind the doctors.
Dunn was among the judges who ruled that a wife’s once-a-week sex ration was fair, and who turned down the Moonies’ request for a retrial following their failed libel action against the Daily Mail.
He warned divorced parents not to try to take revenge on their former husbands or wives by refusing them access to their children. “These courts have said over and over again, that although you can dissolve marriages, you cannot dissolve parenthood,” Dunn observed. He also warned divorced mothers not to expect that custody of their children would automatically be granted to them.
Dunn retired from the Court of Appeal in 1984. He was, variously, treasurer of the Bar Council (1967-69); deputy chairman of Somerset Quarter Sessions (1965-71); and a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Committee on Legal Education (1968-69). He was knighted in 1969 and sworn of the Privy Council in 1980.
In 1994 he published Sword and Wig: The Memoirs of a Lord Justice. He later wrote a book about stag hunting on Exmoor, one of his passions. He was a fierce opponent of the National Trust’s decision to ban stag hunting on their land.
Robin Dunn married, in 1941, Judith Pilcher, who died in 1995; they had a son and two daughters, and one daughter survives him with his second wife, Joan (née Stafford-King-Harman), whom he married in 1997.
Sir Robin Dunn, born January 16 1918, died March 5 2014
Guardian:
When Kingsley Amis was a young man, he was one of many authors swindled by RA Caton, the unsavoury proprietor of the Fortune Press. He took his revenge by incuding in each of his novels an unpleasant, and often unlucky, minor character with Caton’s name. I suggest to the writers who have rallied to protest at the cruel ban on books for prisoners (‘It’s the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard’, 29 March) that the name Christopher Grayling has a certain cracked ring to it. I can see him as an incompetent potboy getting a kicking from Thomas Cromwell, or a bumbling spy caught in a Le Carré double-cross; indeed, the possibilities are endless.
Peter Grant
Oxford
• Ha! The solar panels on the roof in the artist’s impression of the proposed England-Scotland spiral interchange show this is the Guardian’s April Fool spoof (Scotland plans to move to right after independence, 1 April): a cost-benefit analysis would show that there is not enough sunshine in the frozen north of the UK to make it viable.
Lyn Summers
Lancaster
• Most aspects of the plan to revise the road infrastructure in Scotland are perfectly feasible and overdue. However, as a Scottish resident, I disapprove of the cost to the taxpayer of the spiral interchange at the Scottish-English border. Surely the best place to make the change would be when the motorist goes through immigration and visits duty-free, which will be unavoidable without the Schengen agreement.
Matthew Williamson
Isle of Bute
• Great April Fools’ Day story this year (England cap shambolic winter with humiliating defeat by the Netherlands, 1 April).
Geoff Dobson
London
• Anthropomorphic buses are but a later manifestation of what the Romans did for us (Letters, 1 April). A recently discovered fragment of a casket from Caistor is inscribed: “Cunobarrus fecit vivas (Cunobarrus made me, may you live happily).”
Jane Lawson
London
• When I lived in Bishop Auckland 60-odd years ago, there were two outlying so-called villages, Seldom Seen and Never Seen (Letters, 1 April). I went to the former, once. I never saw the latter.
John Abbott
London
The kite flown by a rightwing thinktank that everyone should have to pay for access to healthcare (£10 each can save the NHS, 31 March) marks a crucial turning point in switching towards a fully paid-for health service. This process has been long planned. First Blair encouraged and then pressured NHS hospitals into becoming independent foundation trusts, self-standing suppliers within a competitive market. Cameron took this much further by ruling that all NHS functions would be open to tender by any qualified provider. The Lansley health and social care bill, hatched in deepest secrecy before the 2010 election with not a word about it in the Tory manifesto so that it had no electoral mandate, opened the floodgates for full-scale privatisation of the NHS. But always the mantra was repeated that the NHS would remain “free at the point of service”. Now that assurance is being kicked away.
The thinktank authors decry the NHS as “an outdated, cosseted and unaffordable healthcare system”. They don’t mention that the Tory government has deliberately imposed a £20bn cut in NHS funding over the current five-year period to put it under intolerable strain and maybe breakdown in order to pave the way for a gradual switch to a fully paid-for private service, which has always been their secret aim, just like before 1948. Nor do they mention that the NHS, at a cost of 8% of GDP, is the most cost-efficient in the world, half the comparative cost of the private US healthcare system.
We now see why the Tories have been so keen to demean the NHS on every occasion over the past few months. Cue the need to junk the old, failing NHS and announce the dawn of a brand-new, burnished private healthcare system – and at a bargain price of £10 a month. But remember tuition fees: capped at £3,000, then trebled. If every UK adult paid £10 a month, this new tax would raise £5.4bn. Treble that, or more, and we’re talking serious money for the healthcare privateers.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton
• How dare Norman Warner and Jack O’Sullivan denigrate the NHS in such strident terms? I refer them to the carefully documented report in August 2013 by Dr Don Berwick, who was commissioned to investigate patient safety in the NHS. Berwick recognised that healthcare is political and that the current sustained denigration of the NHS is an ideological campaign which smears “a world-leading example of commitment to health and healthcare as a human right” that should be emulated, and that although the NHS does have patient safety problems, so “does every other healthcare system in the world”. Noting that big changes are needed, Berwick also says the achievements of the NHS are enormous and suggests that “drama, accusations and overstatement” are best avoided.
Reform, which published Warner and O’Sullivan’s report, believes that “by liberalising the public sector, breaking monopoly and extending choice”, high-quality services can be made available to everyone. Recent experiences with private providers to the NHS in Cornwall and Suffolk, for instance, indicate otherwise. Reform was set up by a Conservative MP and a Tory strategist. The membership of Reform’s advisory board shows that it is funded by private companies, with chief executives, chairmen and directors of major pharmaceutical companies, global investment banks, and accountancy firms constituting the majority of board members. Could there be an ideological or possibly even some other agenda here?
Gwen Parr
Pulborough, West Sussex
• It is extremely misleading to describe the thinktank Reform as “independent”. In 2012, its top six funders included Prudential Insurance, KMPG (consultants involved with the NHS), McKesson (a pharmaceutical distributor and healthcare information company), Baxter (a private healthcare company) and BMI (which runs 66 hospitals and treatment centres in the country). These organisations all have a vested interest in the tendering out and privatisation (“reform”) of the NHS and in reports that support the idea of charging for NHS services.
Sean de Podesta
Brighton
• It would have been good if the Guardian had mentioned Norman Warner’s and Reform’s vested interest in criticising the NHS. Warner is an advisory board member of Synlab, a German firm involved in NHS privatisation, while Reform is funded by BMI Healthcare, Serco and Sodexo – organisations that have much to gain from the break-up of the heath service (hat-tip to @SolHughesWriter on Twitter for this information).
Ian Sinclair
London
• The suggestion of an NHS membership fee is the latest example of weird and unsocial reasoning. People apparently won’t put up with tax rises to help the NHS; so let’s complicate matters by charging fees. How does that help – unless the motive is to exclude those unable to pay the fee from NHS services? The denigration of tax leads to lower taxes, leading to reductions in public services, which leads to the wealthy paying for private medicine, private education and, one day no doubt, private street lighting and refuse collections, leaving the dispossessed with ever-dwindling services.
Peter Cave
London
• Alternatively, Warner and O’Sullivan could propose a 0.05% rise in income tax, to raise roughly the same amount, but with no extra collection charges, unlike their scheme, which, if it is anything like road tax, would lose over half the amount collected in administration.
Rod Parfitt
Cleeve, Somerset
• I read with interest your article on a potential £10 per month membership for the NHS. As a surgeon in the NHS, one of the major issues I face with planned and emergency surgery is obesity. Most obese patients are aware of the health consequences of their obesity; however, they don’t seem to know of the hazards they face for abdominal surgery. Simply moving them on and off an operating tables can be hazardous for the staff alone. The risks of surgery and post-operative complications can lead to a prolonged recovery with a risk of major disability. Perhaps there should be an increased membership fee in line with BMI?
Kathryn McCarthy
Consultant surgeon, Bristol
• Nice juxtaposition of headlines on page 2 on Monday: “Pay £10 a month to use the NHS” and “Poorest homes face £120 council tax rise as safety net goes”.
Jeanne Warren
Garsington, Oxfordshire
• The health sector regulator Monitor is committed to parity of esteem for physical and mental health services, and is not recommending that funding for mental health services should be cut by 20% more than for acute hospitals (Mental health services need targeted investment, not even more cuts, 26 March). Under the NHS payment system, national prices are not set for mental health services. Pricing decisions for mental health services are made at local level by commissioners and providers, who are expected to have regard to the national rules but can make their own price adjustments where there are good reasons to do so.
Professor Ric Marshall
Director of pricing, Monitor

Your editorial (29 March) argues that the Byles bill now before parliament, which, for the first time, allows peers to resign, could lead to aspirant politicians using the Lords as a springboard into Commons seats, thus diluting its independence. Though understandable, such fears turn out on examination to be insubstantial.
It is not likely that many people would get peerages under the existing arrangements, then resign and then move on to the Commons. This would clearly be an abuse of the system, which intends lords to remain in the house as working peers. It would not be appealing for a party leader to appoint someone so motivated, as they would be heavily criticised for doing so. The Lords appointments commission, which has to approve political appointments, would be unlikely to support many such people. Constituency parties would be unlikely to choose them as candidates, as their opponents would highlight their ruthlessly self-seeking behaviour.
If it did it happen on any scale, the law could be changed to prevent it; then any politician on the make who had sought to use this route might be left stranded in the Lords. Moreover, anyone going down this route would, under the terms of the bill, be barred for ever from Lords membership, from which so many ex-members of the Commons have obtained a valuable opportunity to serve in their later years.
If the bill was amended in the Lords to prevent ex-members standing for the Commons, however, that would be the end of the current bill. No more private members’ days remain in the Commons this session to consider Lords amendments. The government has made it clear that, so far as it is concerned, unless the bill clears the Lords intact, that will be the end of it. And if the Byles bill fails it will be a major negative for those who argue that piecemeal reform of the Lords rather than a big bang is the right way forward. If as limited and simple a measure as the Byles bill cannot get through, what prospect is there for further piecemeal change in the future?
David Lipsey
Labour, House of Lords
Last night Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage held their second debate (Voters give credit to Farage in head-to-head with Clegg, 27 March). In the first debate, Clegg clearly triumphed on facts and statistics. But the European issue is a complicated one, as much based on emotions, historical attitudes and nostalgia as on detailed knowledge. It may seem astonishing that we Britons debate a possible exit from the EU in the year of the centenary of the first world war.
There have been no new or deadly battles between any EU members since Britain decided to stay in the EEC in 1975. Almost all the countries that were once Soviet satellites have been EU members, bound to democracy and the rule of law by the Copenhagen principles, a far more successful soft-power strategy than all the west’s military interventions put together. It would be sheer lunacy to abandon a European future for a backward-looking, isolated and diminished role.
Shirley Williams
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
In a conventional share flotation, the price shares will fetch is an important issue for the seller, which needs to balance the interests of existing owners in raising cash against the dilution of ownership involved in expanding the share base. Hence the need for expert advice, underwriting etc. In the Royal Mail case (Undervaluing Royal Mail cost taxpayer £750m in one day, 1 April), the institution was going to be sold/privatised no matter what and the appropriate objective was to raise as much cash as possible for the public purse. The obvious way to proceed would have been through an auction based on sealed bids. Shares could then simply have been allocated to willing buyers, in order of price bid. The full volume would have been allocated and revenue to the owners of the institution – the taxpayer – would have been maximised.
The shares would have ended up with those who valued them highest, just as now, but without the intermediary profit. This would also have saved us the cost of the advice of the experts who valued the shares so inaccurately.
Chris Perry
Instow, Devon
• Vince Cable believes what he did was right: “achieving the highest price … was never the aim of the sale”. That’s just the point, Mr Cable: the Tories’ aim was to flog it off regardless. A failed sale would not have been a disaster.
We are witnessing the disaster that all privatisations have engendered, with soaring energy prices, water bills, rail fares, bus fares and on and on, as the new companies, now mostly foreign-owned, try to keep their greedy managers and shareholders happy, while their services decline. And soon Royal Mail services will show the same trend. Perhaps it was just bad timing, but over the weekend I and most other people in north-west London received a flyer from Royal Mail’s operations director telling us that TNT Post UK may be delivering some of our mail, when they feel like it, so our Royal Mail postman “may no longer be wholly responsible for your postal service”. But it doesn’t tell us who to complain to when a letter fails to arrive.
David Reed
London
• Perhaps Vince Cable would care to visit Mid Devon to see some of the benefits he claims were the reason behind the dramatic undervaluing of the Royal Mail share offering. Within two months we received a letter informing us that due to implementing efficiency measures our post was to be rescheduled and may be later. It now arrives between 3pm and 4pm. Royal Mail said it was contractually entitled to deliver mail up to 4pm. The result? A long-established business renting office accommodation in our converted barn has given in its notice because, being mail-order driven, it is unable to cope with such a service.
Andrew Dale-Harris
Oakford, Devon
• There are few business people who manage to cost their organisation £750m with one decision and even fewer who do that and remain in their job. You itemise some of the ways this sum could have been spent, but I find it equally depressing that Vince Cable doesn’t even show any remorse. In the current austerity climate, it is surely vital that every available pound is both collected and spent on the correct priorities.
Pete Radcliffe
Warrington, Cheshire

Your coverage on the situation in Ukraine has dealt almost exclusively with Vladimir Putin and Russian intentions. This is unfortunate. While the events regarding Crimea are serious, focusing mainly on them misses the major problems facing Ukraine: poverty and corruption. These have stifled Ukrainian progress, causing severe economic hardships for the population. Thousands of Ukraine’s young and talented have left the country to work abroad. The diaspora continues.
Ukrainians need to look in the mirror. They have had full independence since 1991 and are ostensibly a democracy. Their “orange revolution” failed because of corruption and their new government under Viktor Yanukovych failed because of corruption and his government’s failure to address the real problems in the country.
Ukrainians need to stop blaming Russia, communism and Stalin and start enacting major reforms. The power to do this is in their hands. The Maidan demonstrators in Kiev represented a good start. There were progressive forces among the demonstrators that signalled the direction in which Ukraine should move. Ukrainians must hold the government accountable and ensure that meaningful reforms are enacted.
Robert Milan
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
• Your report of the US and EU reaction to the Crimean situation is depressing (21 March). The US will always do and say whatever it likes, and there’s no changing that. It is worrying that the EU has decided to take action, however limited, against Russia, as it has the potential to lead to an economic cold war directly affecting all EU citizens. But it is completely outrageous that the UK government should take such an active stance against Russia and Putin. As a British citizen, I am incensed that it should act in this way.
For many years successive British governments have refused to even talk to Argentina about a change of ownership of the Falklands, stating that the will of the inhabitants is paramount. Nobody can possibly be in any doubt as to the will of the vast majority of the Crimean inhabitants, even if there were legal or technical problems surrounding the recent referendum. So for the British government to condemn Russia and Putin and to threaten and take economic action against them for acceding to the will of the Crimean inhabitants is nothing short of 24-carat-gold-plated hypocrisy.
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain
• Many commentators have seen fit to draw an analogy between the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the aggressive expansionism of the Nazi government of Germany that precipitated the second world war. But perhaps the more relevant analogy is the war that preceded it.
The leaders of the great European powers in 1914 did not plan to lead their nations into years of terrible destruction, but they did, through a combination of ambition, ignorance, miscalculation and pride. Let us hope that our leaders are not so foolish, because the potential consequences are not the destruction of a first world war or a second world war, but the nuclear destruction of a third world war.
Alex Gill
Ottawa, Canada
Seems it’s OK for the US and some of its allies, including Israel, to thumb their noses at “international law and order” by invading and occupying other people’s territories when they feel their national self-interest is threatened. When Russia does the same, however, these defenders of the “free world” pretend to be outraged. Double standard indeed!
Ron Date
Victoria, British Columbia,
Canada
Chasing the grey vote
I live in a benighted country that unlike most countries in the democratic world has compulsory voting at all levels of government and am often berated that such compulsion is an infringement of my democratic freedoms. However, I have always been conscious of the fact that with compulsory voting the elected politicians can never totally ignore some or even most sections of society and concentrate only on that part of society that votes. The article Osborne targets grey vote (28 March) reminds me of the strength of a compulsory voting system. When politicians “woo actual voters and sod the rest” democracy suffers and long term the society suffers as well.
The advantage of compulsory voting is that politicians must at least pay lip service to the whole of the society because everyone votes and this advantage far outweighs any infringement on my freedom.
Edwin Carter
Blackburn, Victoria, Australia
Property and generosity
Peter Johnston’s letter (Reply, 21 March) on the apparent discrepancy in the availability of homes in the UK overlooks the elephant in the housing complex: property as a long-term investment. Everywhere in the developed world the demand for the expansion of housing and the consequent erosion of irreplaceable agricultural, recreational and environmentally sensitive land is seemingly irresistible.
While greedy developers and those who depend on construction for their living are partly to blame, the underlying problem is multiple home ownership, accompanied by favourable taxation treatment and the publicly subsidised costs of development. It is in the interest of most investors in residential property to promote the myth of scarcity, as well as frequently maintaining vacancies, to enhance the capital appreciation on which they rely, rather than accepting a reasonable income from rental or leasing.
There is a strong parallel with food production and distribution. It is accepted that there is adequate food produced world-wide to feed the current population, though not at the excessive and wasteful level of first-world nations. Those who control the production and distribution of these essential resources look to the wealthier nations for their profits, rather than satisfying the needs of the wider population.
The injunctions of Pope Francis to the wealthy to “help, respect and promote the poor” will fall on deaf ears, as long as he and other spiritual leaders fail to address the underlying causes of inequality and rely instead on the trickle-down effect – and earning a place in heaven – to motivate them to be a bit more generous to the needy. The world has never worked that way and probably never will.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
Syria’s fight to the finish
It’s become clear that the Syrian struggle now is not Assad’s government against the rest – but rather Assad’s Alawites and the Shias and Christians and others against Sunni Islam (including al-Qaida) – ie minorities of all shades against the Sunni majority (Iran-controlled militia calls on Iraqis to shed blood for Assad, 21 March).
This is the struggle the Middle East is now engaged in. The Alawites face extinction or permanent subjugation by a Sunni majority that they have dominated for too long. That’s why, in fear of extinction, they will not compromise or admit defeat. The outlook is bleak – a fight to the finish.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK
Briefly
• I was delighted to see Tim Entwisle’s commentary in support of taxonomists (21 March). Many people call us bean-counters, but they miss the point. Far from being an arcane branch of biology, taxonomy underlies the study of the world’s biodiversity, and its distribution and evolution.
Species have varied and often astounding strategies for making a living here on Earth. It takes time to develop expertise in a group of organisms, but we now live in an academic world that is too impatient to invest in that time, saying that we are somehow not “productive” enough.
Sandra L Brantley
Albuquerque, New Mexico, US
• The apparent demise of the ice-cream cone (Shortcuts, 21 March) reminds me that as a child we had wafers. These were either wrapped or, as was the case with my uncle in his small shop in Defynnog, prepared on demand. A rectangular wafer was placed in a hand held device which was filled with his own ice-cream another wafer placed on the top and the whole pushed up to be held gently and licked from the sides. Like the wafer the shop is long gone.
Steve Thomas
Yarralumla, ACT, Australia
• Re Oliver Burkeman’s columns, as I don’t necessarily want to change my life, would it be possible to offer an edition of the Guardian Weekly without this headline on one of its pages please?
Adrian Betham
London, UK
Independent:

Students from state schools are more likely to achieve top-grade degrees than those from the independent sector (report, 28 March), and there is a call for leading universities to place more emphasis on applicants’ backgrounds when offering places to study. Great, so all graduates will be on a level playing field in the jobs market, right? Wrong!
Too many employers are unforgiving in the requirements for their graduate jobs. As well as a minimum of a 2:1, they also require 300 or more Ucas points (BBB or higher at A-level). For jobs in IT, to take an example, TARGETjobs lists employers requiring 300 Ucas points or more including: Accenture, CHP Consulting, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Ocado, PA Consulting, SunGuard, Tessella, and TPP.
Many employers have exceptions for those with illness or family circumstances, or for those who are exceptional in sporting or similar achievements, but the barrier still remains for many. Forget how brilliant you are in your chosen subject: what did you do when you were 18? This question might more accurately be framed as “Which school did you attend when you were 18?”, because three times as many private school pupils gain three A grades at A-level as those in state schools.
Leading employers visit universities’ careers fairs but, while almost all will attend Russell Group universities, the number of employers attending universities in the lower half of the “university league tables”  dwindles.
Some employers are coming round to the idea that recruiting graduates from Russell Group universities and with 300-plus Ucas points does not lead to a very diverse intake, and diversity is essential for success in the global markets. Some employers visit universities outside the Russell Group. Some are more open-minded about your past life: TARGETjobs lists AVEVA and Hewlett Packard as employers who do not have a minimum Ucas points cut-off for IT jobs. In accounting and finance, the professional services firm PwC has recently relaxed its graduate  intake requirements for audit and assurance so that if you obtain a first-class degree, the Ucas points requirements drop to 240 (CCC).
As well as universities levelling the applications playing field, employers also need to play their part. I am teaching some fantastic accounting and finance students. Are there any enlightened employers out there who would like to offer summer internships to the highest achieving students? Many do not have the academic requirements you stipulate and may not have the strongest CVs in terms of relevant work experience or volunteering but they are intelligent, diligent, sometimes brilliant.
Dr Maria Gee, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Winchester
I was concerned by your editorial on tuition fees (1 April), which questioned the fairness of making those who do not go to university “stump up” for those  who do.
Applied more generally, this principle would remove the argument for collective, public provision of any service. Why should the healthy “stump up” for the sick to be treated, those without children for others’ education, or those with cars for public transport?
Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would destroy the civilised basis of our national life and create the situation found in the USA where those who can pay for services will do so and those who can’t are excluded and marginalised.
Alan Brown, Bromborough, Wirral
Plainly, the right language matters
Your article on Plain English (28 March) reminded me of the start of my Probation Service career in Barnsley in the early 1960s, where to know the difference between a shovel and a spade was a matter of civic pride.
For a social worker to use the term “sibling” in court invited a broadside below a career water-line. When once asked by a chairman what the term meant, his clerk advised: “I think it’s something to do with chickens, sir.”
One day a “gentleman of the road” appeared, brought off the street for some minor matter which couldn’t be dealt with on the spot. As if speaking to a simpleton, the chairman slowly and deliberately explained to the defendant, to the accompaniment of a nodding clerk, “Your case is being adjourned sine die. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the reply.
It seems judgements on plain English can depend on who is dishing it out.
Roy Spilsbury, Penmaenmawr, Conwy
Simplicity and clarity can go too far, even in official communications. I was once told of a major group in dispute with the Revenue. Top accountants were involved, top solicitors engaged. The issue was referred to leading counsel. They drew up a long, closely-argued case.
The Revenue’s reply arrived by return of post: “Thank you for your letter. I do not agree.”
Robert Davies, London E3
Books for prisoners
The issue of prisoners receiving parcels containing books is not straightforward.
Having taught in prisons for many years, I need no convincing of the value of books in that environment. I came across many prisoners who, for the first time in their lives, were reading and enjoying a variety of books. However, I have some sympathy with prison governors whose perpetual security nightmare is maintaining some degree of control over contraband entering prison. Drugs are easily concealed and screening is neither cheap nor quick (most prisons have to buy in the service of sniffer dogs, for example).
I do wonder how many parcels sent to prisons contained books. Not as many as the literary establishment likes to think I imagine; items of clothing are likely to be higher on the list. Be that as it may, governors know their prisons and it should be left to their discretion to decide what is and isn’t manageable rather than politicians making rulings calculated to appeal to the “give them nothing” brigade.
Sue Turner, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire
April Fools at the wicket
At first glance it seemed obvious that Scottish/UN peacekeeping story was your April Fool spoof (“Peacekeeping plan drawn up by UN in event of a Scottish Yes vote”, 1 April) but then I reached the sports section to read some nonsense about Holland beating England at cricket. How ridiculous! Did you really think we’d fall for that?
Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
Loved the item about the UN’s proposed post-independence referendum peacekeeping force; “Avril Prime” was a gem. I’ve already booked the last remaining room from which to watch the manoeuvres. BMW’s ad was a surprise, though.
John Crocker, Cheltenham
Hey, you had me going there!  That lead story on the front page (1 April) about the Royal Mail flotation. Apparently Vince Cable’s City chums agreed to buy RM shares and promised to hold on to them. But then it’s said they went and sold them straight away at a vast profit.
I mean, honestly, how believable is that? Wasn’t born yesterday y’know!
Ed Sharkey, Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire
Texting in the street
Apple’s pedestrian-avoidance plan for the terminally phone-struck (“Text-and-walk plan for those trying to do two things at once”, 31 March) is  one more blow in the drive to render normal human behaviour redundant.
The massive surge in numbers of those who “walk and talk” has become one of the most annoying features of the urban landscape. It’s bad enough coping with the ear-plug barkers shouting into thin air, but ten times worse with those who simply stare at their phones while veering randomly into fellow pedestrians.
The moment you step out of that door it is essential to have your mobile amulet to hand, ready to combat the hideous dangers of actually observing the world around you. Now, combine that, as some already do, with a bicycle …
Christopher Dawes, London W11
Financial community rumbled again
What arrant nonsense is this clamour for the head of Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. The plunge in insurance company share prices was due to the financial community fearing that they had been rumbled, again, and with just cause. The pity is that the inquiry is not going to be as wide-ranging as at first suggested.
Peter English, Rhewl, Denbighshire
Is this contract really a job?
I am reassured that the Chancellor has signed up to a full employment pledge, or perhaps aspiration. However I am unclear if a zero-hours contract is a job, as it appears to involve a firm commitment neither to work nor to wages, or am I just an economic illiterate?
Lee Dalton BSc Econ, Weymouth, Dorset
Times:
Rising fees seem not to deter many students but interest on their debt is worse
Sir, Fees of £6,000 may end up as a credible position but it is deeply worrying that Labour sees this as its starting point rather than the result of calculations based on a well-designed student finance and university funding system (“Reducing fees would mean fewer students”, Mar 31).
Before you go near the headline- grabbing sticker price of fee levels, there are bigger questions around how students should be supported while they study, how universities should be funded, what the balance of contribution should be and what a well-designed graduate loan system looks like (not like the current one, that is for sure).
We hope to offer some clear thinking and simple steps to improve the loan design, bring down the massive subsidy on loans from the government and re-balance the contribution between the state and individual to higher education. This is less complicated than it sounds. You may end up with fees at £6,000 in some parts of the system, but it is strange to know the answer before you’ve done your sums.
Libby Hackett
University Alliance
Sir, The 45 per cent estimate (leader, Mar 31) means about 9 out of 20 graduates will not repay their loans. The other 11, who not only repay their loans but will continue paying in taxes a lot more than the 9 for the rest of their working lives, might be forgiven for wondering if they are all in this together.
Paul Murgatroyd
Norwich
Sir, You argue that students should pay more for their education. You oppose transferring costs to taxpayers. When I had my hip replaced by the NHS, two of the junior doctors involved turned out to be former students of mine. They told me that my education benefited them. I clearly benefited from their education, as will all the patients they treat until they retire. Those patients will contribute benefit to the community.
It is arguable that each student benefits from their education more than any other single person does. However, if you aggregate all the benefits gained by all beneficiaries, the overwhelming share of the total benefit goes not to the individual student, but to society as a whole. That is why we support education from general taxation.
Philip Burgess
Inchcoonans, Perthshire
Sir, The latest figures show that applicants to university are at their highest level, so graduating with about £40,000 of student debt has not so far been a deterrent to those seeking to benefit from a degree.
However, I wonder how many are aware of the small print. Since 2012 the student loan debt book is finance lent at RPI plus 3 per cent: this is from date of payment not from graduation. But there is minimal information on this: a student logging into his student loan account on the SLC website will not be able to see this, and googling it produces a similar vacuum of data. My son’s loan, currently about £13k, appears to be accruing interest at over £800 per annum. Next year there will be interest on interest and so on until repayment.
Our young people deserve transparency as to the terms and conditions of their indenture. Only a minority will repay their loans, and their repayments will have to carry the write-offs of all the others.
Emma Mackinnon
Fareham, Hants

Don’t blame the witnessess, the solution must start with a co-ordinated community response
Sir, The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, is frustrated by the HMIC report about domestic violence (letter, Mar 31)?
A victim who spends years being physically and psychologically tortured in her own home (and it is usually a woman) is unlikely to be able to deal with the criminal justice system. The answer is the coordinated community response, practised in the UK since 1997.
My former employer, Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, can give him some guidance if he genuinely wants to find out how to respond effectively in partnership, to domestic violence. Specialist domestic violence courts were also set up to deal with this issue and were successful until government and community leaders lost interest.
Why does the State not take responsibility for prosecution rather than relying on the victim’s evidence? Why does a prosecution for a domestic murder rarely fail despite the lack of a live witness? Why is not more said about the perpetrator and the importance of holding them to account while supporting the victim? These are primary functions for police leadership. Sir Peter Fahy may be frustrated, but I am furious that he and others blame the victim for not being in a position to be a prime witness. The statutory sector must stop making excuses and work in a way that fundamentally changes the whole response and delivers justice.
Anthony Wills
Iver, Bucks

Alliance may be the last surviving British wartime sub, but there is a German U-boat too, now acting as a memorial museum
Sir, You report that HMS Alliance is “the only surviving submarine from the Second World War” (“Sailors tell tales of heroism, love and war”; Mar 31). While she may be the only surviving British submarine, the German U995 has stood as a museum in front of the Kriegsmarine memorial at Laboe (Kiel Fjord), since 1972. She was commissioned in 1944 and saw service off north Norway attacking allied convoys, sinking two merchantmen and two Soviet patrol craft. From the end of the war until 1965 she served in the Norwegian navy after which she was sold back to Germany and refitted ready for her current role.
Stephen J. Lockwood
Glan Conwy, Colwyn Bay

 

Superstition and religious faith do not necessarily go together, in fact researchers tend to find the opposite
Sir, Melanie Phillips (Opinion, Mar 31) asks why the large numbers who believe in telepathy, astrology and other paranormal phenomena do not believe in God. And she performs some interesting mental gymnastics to answer her own question — it’s because those who believe in the supernatural resent the moral constraints implicit in religion and prefer “morality-free magic”.
That would be an intriguing explanation, if there were anything in her premise, but paranormal “faith” and religious faith are not mutually exclusive. The One Poll survey that she quotes does not say that they are and nor does a half-century of empirical research. Social scientists have sometimes found a weak negative relationship between the two sets of beliefs, but most studies show either no relationship at all or a mild positive one. In other words, believers in the paranormal are just as likely to believe in God as anyone else.
Stephen Miller
Emeritus Professor of Social Research, City University London
The recent England T20 squad had no players from the winning T20 county sides – what is cricket coming to?
Sir, Those who follow county cricket are told regularly that its main aim is to provide players for England, who then attract large sums of money to be ploughed back into the domestic game. But if the purpose of county cricket is to hone skills and match-winning attitudes, why is it that not one player from the last four teams to win the domestic T20 was included in England’s recent T20 squad? Whatever the reason(s), the selections (including three replacements) were not exactly “spot on” were they?
dr dave allen
Hon Archivist, Hampshire Cricket

 

Telegraph:

 

How Dylan and Caitlin pronounced their names
“Dullan” or “Dillan”, “Kaytlin” or “Kathleen”?

Dylan Thomas (1914-53) with his wife Caitlin (1913-94), whom he married in 1937  Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY
6:58AM BST 01 Apr 2014
29 Comments
SIR – As we approach the 100th anniversary of his birth, can we have some definitive rulings on how to pronounce the Dylan in Dylan Thomas? And for that matter, the Caitlin in Caitlin Thomas?
I know the Welsh say “Dullan”, but I have heard that the poet preferred, and used, “Dillan”. I gather his friends called him something entirely otherwise and much more coprological.
Similarly, Augustus John always insisted that Caitlin was “Kathleen”, not “Kaytlin”.
Any discussion of the poet and his wife has now become a self-conscious matter of style between those who parade their knowledge of Welsh and those who claim artistic kinship with Bohemian London by insisting on different pronunciations of the first names. Does anyone know how they called each other?
Nigel Thomas
Elham, Kent
SIR – After conducting my first wedding as an Anglican priest, on Saturday, I sat down to read that day’s Daily Telegraph.
Two contributions relating to marriage struck me. One was a report on a course of action urged by the bishop in charge of the area in which I lived as a lay person. He is a man for whom I have immense respect and someone whom I regard as a friend.
The second was an opinion piece by a self-confessed homosexual art critic, whom I have never met, but whose comments in his specialist field I have always enjoyed.
I might have expected to find myself in agreement with the bishop and at variance with the art critic. To my great surprise, it was the other way round.
Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and seven unnamed retired bishops, had apparently urged homosexual clergy to follow their conscience and defy the Church of England’s restrictions on same-sex marriage. The comment article was by Brian Sewell: “Why I’m no convert to gay marriage”.
Related Articles
How Dylan and Caitlin pronounced their names
01 Apr 2014
Local champions opposing ugly developments fight with their hands tied
01 Apr 2014
Mr Sewell wrote: “Civil partnerships seemed the final necessary reform, giving homosexuals the right to inherit each other’s property, just as may a man and his wife, and if they want a family, there is now no barrier to them adopting children.”
I had hoped that Church of England liturgy would come to include provisions for church blessing of civil partnerships. I fear that the precipitate and profoundly undemocratic way in which the Marriage Bill was hustled into law has set obstacles in the way of persuasive change. The Church of England will now have extreme difficulty in relating to the law on marriage.
Rev John M Overton
Buxton, Derbyshire
SIR – Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, says that Tories against gay marriage must move on. I have. I no longer vote Tory.
Oliver Pickstone
York
Going up in the air
SIR – New Royal Mail prices contain large hidden rises, especially for airmail. The 10g, 40g and 80g rates are abolished, so one must pay the 20g, 60g and 100g rates instead. What used to cost 88p, £1.88 and £3.08 now cost £1.28, £2.15 and £3.48.
Dr Bernard Lamb
London SW14
BSTeething trouble
SIR – I hear people complaining of being over-tired due to the loss of an hour’s sleep. I know the arguments about British Summer Time reducing accidents. But does research show peaks in the accident rate immediately following the change?
Nigel Parsons
Cardiff
Migrant moths
SIR – My wife and I were astonished to see a hummingbird hawk moth on a daffodil on Saturday. Do they succeed in over-wintering here or have south-easterly winds brought them from the Continent?
John Rieley
Lindfield, West Sussex
Black Death awoken
SIR – Earlier this year scientists assured us that an ancient virus dormant in the permafrost posed no threat to humans as it only ever affected single-celled organisms.
How dormant is the Black Death virus disturbed in the Crossrail excavations?
Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent
Cinderella law
SIR – Robert Buckland MP is helpfully working towards legislation to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal act. He was asked yesterday morning how emotional abuse would be identified, and he said that expert witnesses could assist.
Expert mental health clinicians have reported to the Family Courts for several years on emotional abuse. This abuse is easy to obscure and difficult to identify. The work requires highly experienced clinicians who are allowed sufficient time to interview children and parents.
This Government has cut the number of expert reports. They argue that social workers can identify mental health problems and also that judges will make decisions based on “common sense”.
But social workers are not trained in mental health. And establishing the presence of emotional abuse will not be reached by the exercise of common sense alone. The Government has driven many senior expert witnesses away from the work by severe financial cuts. Those who remain are no longer allowed sufficient time to interview troubled families.
We hope that Mr Buckland will include in the legislation provision for sufficient funding of expert mental health clinicians to do the work that is required.
Dr Judith Freedman
Convenor of the Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Court
London NW3
Kilt conundrum
SIR – Peter Humphreys says of knees and toes that either both or neither should be visible at any time.
As a habitual kilt-wearer, whose wife has forbidden him from wearing sandals when wearing a kilt, what should I do?
James Willis
Glasgow
Prince in peril
SIR – While Prince George looks very nice with Lupo, you should never put a child’s face that close to a dog.
Leslie Watson
Swansea, Glamorgan
SIR – My mother-in-law advised me not to have my children’s names visible on their clothes as a stranger could address them and make them think he knows them.
Prince George is supervised all the time but other children could be in danger.
Anne Weber
Thorpe End, Norfolk
Where have all the Captain Mainwarings gone?
SIR – You report that George Osborne, the Chancellor, wants the return of the “Captain Mainwaring” type of bank manager. Sadly, this particular individual disappeared some time ago, with most of his staff. Apart from counter services, branch matters nowadays appear to be dealt with by call centres.
For several weeks now, I have been trying to contact a branch of my bank without success. In my day, I would have rung the manager concerned and sorted everything out within five minutes.
Now, letters addressed to “The Manager, X Bank, Y Branch” go straight to a call centre and even when addressed to a manager by name, they are often redirected. A bank manager used to have many years of experience, with knowledge of his patch and his customers.
Now one must deal with young “relationship managers” or “lending managers”. Targets seem to be the order of the day, despite having cost the banks millions in reparation payments after customers were sold the wrong services because of them.
Alan Hayhurst
Timperley, Cheshire
SIR – I wonder what Captain Mainwaring would have thought of quantitative easing.
William Rusbridge
Tregony, Cornwall

43 Comments
SIR – Christopher Hope reports that an independent review by Sir Terry Farrell recommends that every community should have a “champion” to fight unsightly development. Communities already have such champions; they are called district councillors.
I am a district councillor and I continually fight battles on behalf of my constituents in relation to proposed inappropriate developments. The problem is not the lack of people willing to fight and raise issues.
The problem is that the Government has introduced policies, in particular the National Planning Policy Framework, that have as a starting point a “presumption” in favour of development.
Factor in to this situation the government inspectors who decide appeals, then add the threat of costs being awarded against an authority, and it is easy to see how poor development is being allowed.
Why create another layer of involvement in the planning process? Let those of us who were elected to represent the people have a stronger voice in order to make a stand against poor design and bad planning decisions.
Cllr Jenny Roach (Liberal)
Exeter, Devon
SIR – The articles by Rupert Christiansen on the proposed new architectural horror in Edinburgh, and Jonathan Glancey on homes fit for people, both point to what has done so much to wreck our towns and cities.
Since the Fifties and Sixties, an ever more tired and soulless late modernism has become a dogma amongst architects and planners. There are steel, glass – always vast areas of glass – and concrete, with nowhere any suggestion of a human scale and character, no decoration, just soulless engineering triumphs. London has suffered especially badly.
When someone such as the Prince of Wales speaks out against this blight of soulless dullness, he is mocked. Town planners and local authorities seem all too ready to give assent to dreariness that brings in money.
One can only hope that some day soon the tide will begin to turn, so we can have new buildings of dignity and character, which do not turn their backs on human scale.
Roger Payne
London NW3
SIR – Why should local authorities not be made legally liable for damage to property arising from their having given planning permission for development on land known to be liable to flooding?
This might cause them to take a more responsible attitude to granting such permissions and make them less susceptible to greedy developers’ often dubious means of persuasion.
Sir Charles Wolseley Bt
Stafford
Irish Times:
Sir, – Phil Hogan, through the offices of a handful of councillors in Fingal, has given Dubliners a massive April Fool’s this year. Whereas 84 per cent of all Dublin’s councillors and 78 per cent of all Dubliners have indicated a will to have a democratically elected mayor, Swords County Hall has set the process back, probably for years.
The Fingal councillors in question should remember that most of their constituents are in Blanchardstown, part of the built-up west of Dublin, and see themselves as Dubliners. Blanchardstown is within the area defined by the CSO as “Dublin city and suburbs” and should remain so.
Swords County Hall has held Dublin transport back for years, calling for an underground metro to serve an outlying town, when a very good bus service will do. Now this self-centred vote brings into question Fingal councillors’ understanding of the concept of being part of a city.
Mr Hogan should now redraw the boundaries so that Swords and Fingal can continue to do the very good job they do of running a mainly rural part of Co Dublin.
That would leave the city of Dublin, including Blanchardstown and the airport, to get on with being the great European capital city its people deserve. Yours, etc,
DAVID O’CONNOR,
Dublin Institute
of Technology,
Bolton Street,
ODRAN REID,
Social, Economic and Planning Consultant,
Willow Park Grove,
Dublin 11,
PADRAIG YEATS
Sir, – When I first came to live in Santry, over 40 years ago, the city/county boundary ran between the sitting room and the hallway of my very modest house. Since then the boundary has been moved a number of times, with very little regard for the social consequences of the changes. The result has been the completely chaotic state of the northern fringe area of Dublin city. Every morning the radio informs us of the traffic build-up on the Drumcondra road between Whitehall Church and the city.
Do Fingal councillors never listen to the radio and if they do, do they wonder where all those commuters are coming from? Are they not aware of how they and their constituents are dependent on the services provided by the city? Have they got their own hospitals, third level colleges or cultural institutions?
Can they not accept that some overall authority will have to be agreed to resolve the problems that are unique to the greater Dublin area? Yours, etc,
LOUIS O’FLAHERTY,
Lorcan Drive,
Santry,
Dublin 9
Sir, – I hope that the good councillors of Fingal have the decency to include their voting record in their decision to prevent Dublin having a directly elected mayor on their posters and flyers for the upcoming local elections. In that way the people can decide if Dublin and democracy have been served by their decision. Yours, etc,
RORY J WHELAN,
Roschoill,
Drogheda,
Co Louth
Sir, Could it be that the Fine Gael councillors on Fingal County Council were influenced by a bigger animal up the food chain, to quote a phrase from the TV series House of Cards , in their No vote against a directly elected mayor for Dublin? Yours, etc,
BRIAN AHERN,
Meadow Copse,
Clonsilla,
Dublin 15.
Sir, – I got up early and ate a healthy breakfast to ensure I would be fully awake before picking up today’s edition of The Irish Times . Opening it with some trepidation, I was determined that I would not be caught out by any prank stories celebrating April Fool’s Day. This year your front page seems to have taken this tradition just a bit too far. The top “story” informs us that the Garda has been keeping thousands of possibly illegally made secret telephone recordings for years. Your next “story” describes how a mere 16 councillors from Fingal appear to have perverted the course of democracy in Dublin by denying its ordinary citizens of the right to vote for our mayor.
But really, your last “story” was just too much! “Politicians win respect of randomly chosen citizens”. Seriously? Just how gullible do you think we all are? Really, you are going to have to try harder on this next year. Yours, etc,
VICTORIA MULLEN,
Old Bawn Road,
Tallaght,
Dublin 24
Sir, – Acres of newsprint have been devoted to the conflict in Ukraine and the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, with Russia being portrayed as the arch-villain of the piece. It is only now that we find a rare voice pointing out that the proposed eastward expansionism of the EU and with it Nato is a well-grounded cause of concern for Russia. Derek Scally, writing from Berlin (March 29th), quotes former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt describing Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “completely understandable”. (One is not claiming his approval thereof.)
There is widespread ignorance in the West of the history of Crimea vis a vis Russia. How many people for example, know that it is only 23 years since Crimea became part of Ukraine? Under Catherine the Great in the early 18th century the Crimean peninsula was absorbed into the Russian empire. It was strategically significant for Russia to have a naval base on the Black Sea, and the Russian navy has been in the Crimea for almost 200 years. (Incidentally, Gibraltar was “acquired” by the British empire later in the same century, also for strategic reasons. Thus did big powers protect their own interests.) Crimea then remained an independent region of the Russian Federation. Its population, language and culture were predominantly Russian.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, then head of the Soviet Union, himself a Ukrainian and former leader of the Communist Party there, did an extraordinary thing (of which he could not have foreseen the political consequences). With a stroke of the pen he assigned Crimea to the Ukraine “to further brotherly love between Russians and Ukrainians”.
One wonders how he had the power to do this. However, since the Crimea and Ukraine were still part of the Soviet Union, the political change had no effect on people’s lives. It was in 1991, only 23 years ago, on the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Crimea, with its majority Russian population, found itself overnight part of a new Ukraine, a different country. Colloquially, Crimeans said they had been handed over “like a sack of potatoes”.
According as Ukraine’s new nationalism expressed itself ever more forcefully, Crimeans resented restrictions they felt demeaned them, for example the downgrading of the Russian language. They wanted Russian to remain (with Ukrainian) an official language. Given their loyalty to Russia,the result of the recent referendum was a foregone conclusion. The result was derided by Western governments and media. Crimeans however who, strange as it may seem to Western observers, do not want to join the EU, are grateful to Putin who enabled them, after a 23-year “exile” to return to the Russian motherland. Yours, etc,
MARIE C O’BYRNE,
Louisville,
Monaghan

Sir, – Is it not somewhat ironic that the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on justice is complaining that the former Garda commissioner was apparently sacrificed in order to protect the Minister for Justice when, in 2005, a former secretary-general of the Department of Health and Children was sacrificed in a blatant attempt to protect the political standing of the now Fianna Fáil leader, Mr Martin.
Indeed, in relation to Fianna Fáil’s call for the resignation of Mr Shatter – before the various inquiries and the commission of investigation into the penalty points and phone recording issues are completed and reported upon – it is worthwhile to recall that back in 2005 in relation to the Travers report on nursing home charges, RTÉ reported Mr Martin as saying that the opposition’s attacks on him on this matter had no credibility, because they called for his resignation before the report was published. As the seanfhocail goes, “what’s sauce for the goose …” Yours, etc,
JOHN GILLEN,
Downside Park,
Skerries,
Co Dublin
Sir, – There is a lot of noise being made about appointing a new commissioner. Surely the establishment of the Garda Reserve included a reserve commissioner — can we not just have that one? Yours, etc,
DECLAN KEANE,
Prosperous,
Co Kildare
Sir, – Anyone following media coverage of the Garda commissioner’s retirement could be forgiven for thinking that he cannot have had any operational responsibility for illegal phone taping. Paradoxically, many of those media commentators now bemoaning his apparent martyrdom are the very ones who had previously been most vociferous in calling for his head. Yours, etc,
PETER MOLLOY,
Haddington Park,
Glenageary,
Co Dublin
Sir, – Sources close to me are fed up listening to sources close to the former Garda commissioner. Yours, etc,
GERRY O’DONNELL,
Castleknock Meadows,
Dublin 15
Sir, – According to Frances Ruane and Emer Smyth, the ESRI Post Primary Longitudinal Study demonstrates that “the current Junior Cycle is not providing an engaging and challenging experience for young people”. The reason promulgated for its inadequacies is the fact that a considerable amount of the current teaching cycle is devoted to “preparing for the Junior Certificate examination, spending extra time on study and grinds, and increased class time on ‘practising’ exam questions”.
This being so, the central issue is surely the nature of the methods used to assess the learning rather than the quality of that learning or the teaching behind it. It is worrying therefore that the new Junior Cycle that will be taught from September is currently without an agreed or even suggested framework of how exactly it will be assessed.
As a teacher of English who has undergone all the currently available in-service training – a one day seminar – I have major concerns about the way in which the Department of Education has gone about its reform of the Junior Cycle. While I welcome many aspects of the new curriculum, I suspect that those behind it have not fully considered the rationale behind much of it. We have been informed that the new methods of assessment are still being determined while Ruairí Quinn is simultaneously asserting that the ship has sailed. Is it not foolhardy to set sail without knowing one’s destination, or that the new destination is going to be an improvement on the old? Yours, etc,
CAROL McGUIRE,
Clogher Road,
Dublin 12
Sir, – Tom Arnold, chairperson of the Constitutional Convention, and indeed of the Irish Times Trust, wrote (April 1st ) of the apparent success and inclusiveness of the convention.
Perhaps it was a success. Perhaps too, next time, it might include some representation from the just under 1,000 elected local government politicians who have an equal – but different – mandate from TDs and a greater mandate in this Republic than the appointed Senators and Northern Ireland representatives who were so included. The involvement of other citizens was a welcome development. Given the specific recognition of local government in the Constitution that exclusion was not. This point was made to the convention while it was sitting — we still await a reply. Yours, etc,
Cllr DERMOT LACEY,
66 Beech Hill Drive,
Donnybrook,
Dublin 4

Sir, – With regard to Chris Goodey’s comment (Letters, April 1st) that the Minister for Health’s statement that GPs in Ireland are among the highest- earning doctors in Europe is “obtusely untrue”, I remember reading a survey many years ago that medical card patients were worth, on average, around €90,000 a year to a GP practice. So many years later, €250,000 a year seems to me to be probably just about right. Considering that patients without medical cards, a big percentage now, pay on average €50 for a visit, I think the dogs in the street know that most of the doctors in general practice in this country are very highly paid. Yours, etc,
BRIAN McDEVITT,
Ardconnaill,
Glenties,
Co Donegal

Sir,  – I was pleasantly surprised that you published the letter from Jim Stack regarding the lack of media coverage of the views of “50 per cent of those who actually vote”.   I cannot understand how it is acceptable that these views are consistently ignored in our national media.   While grateful for this first step in acknowledging this imbalance, may I look forward to it being redressed in the future by The Irish Times ?
Yours, etc,
MARY STEWART,
Ardeskin,
Donegal Town

Sir, – I couldn’t agree more with Frank Byrne (Letters, April 1st) regarding women applying make-up on the bus. I had the misfortune recently to be seated beside a young lady who had the audacity to embellish her eyelashes with mascara while I was eating a box of chips and chicken nuggets. Mascara doesn’t go too well with salt and vinegar, or indeed sweet and sour sauce! There was a time when such behaviour wouldn’t have been tolerated. Yours, etc,
PAUL DELANEY,
Beacon Hill,
Dalkey,
Co Dublin

 
Irish Independent:
Also in this section
Coming back from the mother of all mistakes
Pylons will mutilate our beautiful countryside
Think the unthinkable
The Lord Mayor and the burghers in Cork City Hall have decided in their expansive wisdom and generosity that President Michael D Higgins should shortly be given the Freedom of the City.
No great harm in that, you might say – the only problem is that we, the ordinary people of Cork, will, as usual, end up footing the rather expensive bill through our rates, property and other taxes.
Conversely, there is no money for those citizens who are crippled with negative equity and unsustainable and crucifying debts, no money for the many children daily going hungry to school, no money for the homeless, the aged and the disabled or the thousands who are jobless and in despair.
No money to bring home the thousands of our young and not so young who have been forced to emigrate. No money for our struggling small businesses or to fix our potholed and broken roads.
Miraculously, however, we have plenty of money for a meaningless shindig in the present economic climate and in the throes of a raging recession.
It is, of course, in microcosm, another measure of the disdain and disconnect that those in positions of power and influence have for the lives and travails of ordinary citizens who have been force fed on debilitating austerity for the last six years.
No doubt the people of Cork and elsewhere will express their feelings on this and other matters next May.
JOHN HEALY
BISHOPSTOWN ROAD, CORK
HEARTWARMING STORY
* Reading the Irish Independent on March 24, a beautiful photograph on page 14 caught my attention; surgeon Pat Kiely and formerly conjoined twins Hussein and Hassan Benhaffaf from Cork.
Speaking as a co-founder of charity Straight Ahead (which I confess I was unaware of), Dr Kiely referred to problems caused by delays in carrying out spinal surgery on children at Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals.
Dr Kiely and his fellow surgeons have already given up their free time to operate on 26 children at no cost to the parents.
The twins’ mother, Angie, was quoted as saying “their generosity moves me . . . what they do is life changing”.
It was heartening to hear of such dedication and generosity at a time when we have been bombarded with stories of the obscenely high executive salaries/pensions in organisations like CRC, Rehab, etc – some even having the nerve to tell us they should be earning more and are entitled to bonuses but have (generously) not taken them for four years!
Do these people realise or care about the enormous damage being done to the whole charity sector?
Well done to Dr Kiely and fellow surgeons for the wonderful work you do.
JOHN O’DONOGHUE
MOHILL, CO LEITRIM
HELPING CHILDREN
* I write regarding Sinead Moriarty’s comment piece entitled ‘We’re too busy being paranoid to help a child in distress’ (Irish Independent, March 28).
About three years ago, I noticed two small children playing on a narrow path outside a newsagent’s beside a very busy roundabout in south Co Dublin. I advised the older one, a five-year-old boy, to please be very careful as it was just at dusk and traffic was heavy.
They were still there when I came out and I asked if their mother was in the shop. They said, ‘No, she’s gone to work’. It transpired that the five-year-old was ‘looking after’ his three-year-old sister. I took them to the far side of the road where the path was much wider and safer, and decided I should wait with them until a parent arrived to collect them.
Around 20 minutes later, I asked the boy if he knew where his house was and he pointed to the far side of the roundabout. It seems he had navigated this roundabout safely earlier!
We began to walk, me hoping we were going the right way, and the children chatting away happily. We reached their house about 10 minutes later to find people running around frantically looking for them, including their father who had just fallen asleep in the chair and was horrified to know they had gone so far from home.
I was very glad that I was the person who found them, but the thing is it never crossed my mind to call the police or that my motives might be suspect to anyone. I just wanted to know that they got safely home.
As a mother of four adult children, I would always be very aware of a child with apparently no adult accompanying them.
LILIAN CHAMBERS
BLACKROCK, DUBLIN
TIME FOR THE UNSELFIE
* The so-called selfie in our brave new world serves as the ultimate distraction. One’s self.
This, if I may say so, to use a word of some disputation currently, is little short of being “disgusting”.
Great hardship is being endured by men, women and children in this country and in countries across the world, and to propagate the concept that the self or narcissistic preoccupation should prevail is to veer dangerously close to fascism.
It is a time not for the selfie but for the antithesis of the selfie.
The unselfie.
JOHN KELLY
MULLINGAR, CO WESTMEATH
21ST-CENTURY THINKING
* There is need for far fresher ideas than those implemented by Government (Editorial, Irish Independent, March 31) to overcome the unemployment problems that are accumulating in an entirely unprecedented work situation.
Work is being eliminated on a truly massive scale by rampant automation and much more than stopgap programmes for a few is needed.
There is need on a world basis, or at least a large trading bloc such as the EU or US, to move to much shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement for all.
The maths are simple; more people working less or fewer people working more.
There is also need for Government to generate much more public service employment. Private enterprise will require fewer people even working shorter hours as technology advances.
Employment change is the most urgent crisis we face; greater even than climate change. If employment escalates out of control, as it will without drastic action, and society breaks down, climate change will matter only to the birds.
We need 21st-century thinking for 21st-century employment. There seems little sign of any yet.
PADRAIC NEARY
TUBBERCURRY, CO SLIGO
Irish Independent

 


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